Some Thoughts on Computer Security

Someone asked me for some quick thoughts about computer security.  After a little thought, this is what I came up with:

90% of computer security is keeping your brain switched on.  Computer security can be divided into 2 types of threats: directed threats and undirected threats.  Undirected threats are general viruses, Trojans etc. etc. that are put out into the internet and let go. There is no *personal* malice in the sense that the author is not trying to hurt any *specific* person. These threats are defended against by virus protection, firewalls, etc. Most computer IT people know about these precautions even if they don’t actually take effective steps to protect against these threats. But *Directed Threats* are aimed specifically at *YOU* and no one else. These threats can take the form of software threats or physical threats.

Physical threats involve securing your actual computer. General anti-theft devices, burglar alarms etc. Should work to protect against theft of destruction of the machine. But there is another, more dangerous threat that is not used very often: an actual invasion into your office or home and a key counter is inserted between the key board and the machine. These little devices (they are maybe the size of a small adapter) can store over 1,000,000 keystrokes. And then, when recovered, they can tell what keys were used. In addition, software can be physically inserted onto your machine to take it over without you knowing it. Software threats are very sophisticated Trojans that can either take over your machine remotely or read back your key strokes.

The cures for the software threats are simple–their strength is that you don’t know they are there. So run checks regularly to find out what software is being used, when the internet is accessed etc. and find out what your computer is doing.  The cures for the physical threats are also simple: you just have to find them and remove them. So *look* at the system periodically when you vacuum out the dust or do regular maintenance. Check for scratches, extra “parts” that you don’t know what they do etc.

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