How Secure are you?
How secure are your devices from intruders? The answer is "it depends", on a lot of things, like what machine you have, what you do, and so on. The short answer is in order of safety (from least secure to most), you'd go: Windows, Unix, Mac, Android/Chrome, IOS. And the OS's are more secure than the Apps you run -- so iOS running only Apps from their Store is going to be a lot safer than a machine that's running software downloaded at random from the Internet.
What are you running?
What OS/device are you using?
- Windows: If you use a PC, running Microsoft Windows, then there are literally hundreds if not thousands of ways that a "hacker" can get into your machine or do damage if you are on a network. It can be a full time job figuring out how to block all the holes. Microsoft knew this when designing things, but they valued the versatility of what being completely open empowered them to do, and didn't value your security as much. Basically they took the "it's your problem, not ours" approach. They learned in the 1990's, that wasn't such a good idea, and have been trying to plug the holes ever since. By Win7 they were starting to get pretty good, and if you keep yourself on the latest software updates, you're safer than most.
- If you use UNIX (or Linux), then it's a lot about configuration. If you know how to plug all the holes, they can be plugged. But because the OS's are OpenSource, programmers have a much easier time, both finding holes, and plugging them. In short, UNIX allows security issues to be found more quickly, published more quickly, and blocked more quickly, so things aren't too bad..
- If you use a Mac, then the problems are reduced in the first place. The Macs were just more secure and designed with more security in mind, so that meant there were fewer things to block. Apple being opaque means that exploits are harder to find, but Apple is hit-and-miss with fixes. They're far better on ones with public exposure, but security folks sometimes ding them on not being so fast unless they're forced. But ones they push updates, their fixes propagate the quickest.
- If you use Android or Chrome, then the OS itself is really secure and Google is fast about fixing things. However, that moves the problem to Applications. Where did you get it? Google's wild-west attitude towards their store allowed many bad apps to be in their store, and users can get the Apps directly, from all over the place. And your security is only as good as the Apps you're running. So OS security is pretty good, App security is mediocre.
- If you use iOS, then the problems are even further reduced. IOS was designed from the ground up to be secure, sometimes too much so. (It hampers programmers ability to make programs that talk together, and so on). But if you haven't jail-broken your phone or tablet, and you're getting all your Apps from the App Store, then you are the most secure generally available OS out there because not only is your OS secure, but the Apps have the most stringent policies, and enforcement.
So the bad news is that network hackers can probably get into your machine if they really want to. But the good news is that the likelihood of being "hacked" is still pretty low.
There are hundreds of millions of computers on the networks, and maybe a few tens of thousands of hackers - and your computer probably isn't very interesting. That puts the odds in your favor. There's anonymity in numbers.
When hackers want to hack something, it is usually some business, and it's usually for some reason. If you're the average home user, you probably aren't that interesting. Some kids may "practice" breaking into your computer, but it is probably so easy as to not be much of a challenge, and fairly boring if they do break in.
Most of the hackers are not malicious. They are curious teens just exploring. I certainly don't feel comfortable with other people walking through my house (or exploring my computer) when I'm not around, but most aren't going to trash the place - just snoop through my closets, drawers and medicine cabinets. There is probably a lot of stuff on your computer - most of it is not interesting. Boredom works in your favor. They snoop and then they leave. So even if you are hacked, vandalism is rare.
The worst part of security issues at there are new tools that make it easier than ever for people to get into Windows computers. There are tools that put things in your computer so that they, and others, can find their way back, and do whatever they want. So if you are using a Windows based computer, it is a good idea to consider some security software to try to protect your machine.
Written: 2002.03.12, Updated 2017.11.24