Security and Windows

It's been a tough decade for Windows users. As Microsoft's operating system entered the dominant phase of its existence, hackers began focusing almost solely on Windows, as that's where all the users are. As a result, various Windows versions have suffered through a seemingly never-ending series of electronic attacks, security vulnerabilities, and high-profile malware breakouts.

In 2003 Microsoft halted development of its major operating system and application products and began an internal review of its software-development practices. The company reexamined the source code to its then-current projects and developed a new softwareengineering approach that is security-centric. Now the software giant will not release any software product that hasn't undergone a stringent series of security checks. Windows Vista was the first client operating system shipped that was developed from the get-go with these principles in mind. That is, it was architected to be secure from the beginning. Windows 7 continues this trend quite nicely and builds off the work begun in Windows Vista.

Is Windows 7 impenetrable? Of course not. No software is perfect; but Windows 7 is demonstrably more secure than its predecessors. And although Windows users will no doubt face awesome security threats in the future, Microsoft at least has the lessons it learned from the mistakes of the past to fall back on. Many people believe that the security enhancements in Windows 7 will prove to be a major reason many users will upgrade to this version. This is completely valid.

We want to expose one myth right now: while proponents of UNIX-based systems like Apple Mac OS X and Linux like to tout the supposed security benefits of their systems over Windows, the truth is that these competitors benefit primarily from security by obscurity. That is, so few people use these systems relative to Windows that hackers don't bother targeting the minority operating systems. Consider this: in 2007, the installed base of Windows-based PCs exceeded 1 billion, but the maker of the number-two OS, Apple, claims just 25 million users. That's right, only 2.5 percent of the Windows user base is using the number-two most frequently used OS on earth. Hackers may be evil but they're not dummies: they know where the numbers are.

This isn't a partisan attack on Mac OS X or Linux. Both are fine systems, with their own particular strengths; and as far as security by obscurity goes, it's certainly a valid enough reason to consider using OS X or Linux instead of Windows. It's one of the reasons we both use Mozilla Firefox instead of Internet Explorer: in addition to various features that Firefox offers, the browser is hacked a lot less often than IE simply because fewer people use it.

Windows 7's security features permeate the system, from top to bottom, from the highprofile applications, applets, and control panels you deal with every day to the low-level features most Windows users have never heard of. This chapter highlights most of the Windows 7 security features that affect the user experience, starting with those you will likely have to deal with as soon as you begin using Microsoft's latest operating system. First, however, take a look at the first thing Windows 7 users need to do to thoroughly secure their system.

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