Build a moat for your cyber-castle

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Imagine this: You?re living in a city where, all of a sudden, the crime rate skyrockets. City officials tell you it will be at least several years before it could even have a chance of going down. What do you do? Do you take steps to protect yourself? Upgrade the locks on your doors? Put bars on your windows? Form a neighborhood watch group? Hire a private security force? Move out?

If this sounds familiar, let me remind you all of the computer megalopolis called Microsoft Windows.

On Thursday, the computer security firm eEye published an advisory warning users about a new vulnerability in the latest version of Internet Explorer on Microsoft Windows. This adds to the list of nearly 30 as-yet-unpatched major holes in the browser, according to network security firm Secunia.

So what?

It?s very tempting to ignore all of these warnings and blissfully go on using your computer; in fact, many people do. Carnegie Mellon?s Information Security Office reports that during July and August, 132 new computers were infected with various viruses and worms. This, in addition to 97 computers compromised with spyware and 74 with various other gaping security problems, means that there are a good number of people out there who either don?t keep secure computing habits or don?t know how.

Thing is, it?s easy.

New locks on your doors? Try using a web browser other than Internet Explorer, such as Firefox, which can block many types of pop-up ads and spyware. As a benefit, it?s faster and more compatible, too.

Bars on your windows? Try turning off all of the extraneous services in Windows and installing a piece of personal firewall software. The latest Windows XP service pack does this automatically.

Neighborhood watch groups? There are lots of websites you can subscribe to in order to keep on top of the latest security advisories. The Windows Update service, built into Windows, can help you do this.

Hire a private security force? Installing an antivirus program such as Symantec Anti-Virus for Desktops will help keep watch for any other nasties that have landed on your computer from the Internet.

The most complete (and expensive) option, though, is to simply up and move out. Switching from Windows to another computer operating system is the only way to finally rid yourself of the blight in your (computing) lifestyle.

Somewhat akin to moving to a quieter area with less crime, switching to a Mac or installing Linux makes the practice of secure computing much more accessible. It?s not that there are no vulnerabilities ? there are dozens for both operating systems announced every year ? it?s just that the small number and isolated nature of these vulnerabilities allows the system vendors to fix them. Correctly.

Imagine a world where you can laugh at the latest Windows security advisory, knowing that you?re immune. Knowing that while vagrants are in your neighborhood, there are so few of them that the authorities can catch them before they do any harm.

Hilarious it is, then, to hear Computing Services recommend that Mac users run Norton
Anti-Virus on their machines, a program that adds no benefit to the computing experience, serving instead only to slow your machine down and make it less stable.

I actually went so far as to ask two of their reps why this policy exists; after a few choice moments of disbelief that I would even have the audacity to question such an accepted policy, they eventually said that they wanted to be ready when ?that first problem came around.?

Do these same people have nuclear fallout shelters in their basements, for when that first game of global thermonuclear war comes around?

The point is, it?s utterly stupid to blindly follow what some self-proclaimed expert tells you to do with regard to computer security. Use some common sense, people! If you?re going to partake in a dangerous lifestyle, such as running Windows on your computer, protect yourself. But don?t prevent yourself from using your computer to its fullest potential.