Comprehensive Computer Security
Computer security is not monolithic. A computer is made up of many different components and can do many things, and as a result there are many ways for malware to infect your PC. In response, there are many different types of computer security available. Some are more effective than others at stopping certain threats. To provide maximum protection for your PC you need to understand and use all forms of computer security available.
User Account Control
User Account Control was one of the most hated features in Windows Vista. Users thought it was annoying that they had to authorize programs to run, and as a result they often turned UAC off. This turned into such a public relations debacle for Microsoft that Apple made fun of UAC in one of its many amusing “I’m A Mac” ads.
What many users don’t realize is that UAC is the single most important security feature on their computer, and disabling it dramatically increases the risk that malware will be able to damage your PC. The point of UAC is to prompt the user whenever a program is trying to execute on the computer. But what happens if a virus finds its way onto your PC and begins to run programs in the background?
If you have UAC on, you will notice this because you will receive UAC pop-ups which you don’t expect. You can then deny the program access, limiting the damage done. If you don’t have UAC on, however, the malware will be able to go about its business without problem. By the time you realize something is wrong, it may be too late. Annoying though it may be, UAC is an important type of computer security which should be used whenever possible.
One of the oldest and most common forms of computer security, antivirus programs provide active protection against malware and also perform frequent, through scans of your computer’s hard drive to search for any malware which is installed but not active.
Although still called antivirus software, modern antivirus software is really a comprehensive anti-malware suite which protects against all forms of malware including viruses, worms, and Trojan Horses. Antivirus programs provide this protection by compiling a large database of threats. When the antivirus sees a program which it knows is a threat, it takes action to quarantine and then remove the malware.
While antivirus programs are very important and effective, they are no replacement for UAC. Antivirus programs are only really effective against threats which are known. If a very new malware program threatens your computer the antivirus program alone may not be enough to protect your PC.
A firewall is a piece of network security software which can be installed on your PC. The purpose of the firewall is to create a barrier between your computer and any network it might be connected to, including the Internet. The firewall pays close attention to the information being sent from your PC as well as the information being sent to your PC. If it detects something suspicious, it blocks that information. In extreme situations, a firewall might temporary disable all network connections on your PC.
Firewalls are not capable of detecting and removing malware, but they are critical in preventing malware from doing damage. Many types of malware require a connection to the Internet in order to deliver their payload. Keyloggers, Trojan Horses, and many other forms of malware all require an Internet connection to do real harm. If a firewall is in place, it can prevent that connection from being made.
Although backup software does not protect against any form of malware, it is an important type of computer security because it allows for information to be stored in places which keeps it secure in the event of a malware attack.
The truth is that even PCs loaded with the most robust computer security software are not immune to attack. A dedicated group of hackers can penetrate just about any system. The chances that your own personal computer would ever come under such a significant attack are small, but the point remains - no system is 100% secure. And even if you use every type of computer security available, it will all be for nothing if you did not also use backup software.
Phishing Filters/Web Filters
An increasingly important type of computer security, phishing and web filters are a form of active protection which specifically protects against web threats. Phishing scams and web scripting attacks are both attacks which are difficult for traditional antivirus methods to deal with, so having this extra layer of protection is important.
In both cases, protection is provided by checking the websites you visit for suspicious activity and by comparing them to a database of know dangerous websites. For example, you might be sent an email to what appears to be your bank’s online login page. It would be very difficult for you to tell that this was a fake simply by looking at the page. A phishing filter, however, can look at the code of the website, the website’s security credentials, and the website’s domain name. If the website you are visiting is a fraud, the filter will let you know.
Web filters provide similar protection against threats which are executed through online web scripts which use security vulnerabilities in web browsers in order to gain access to your PC. If the web filter sees that a website you are visiting is a known threat or appears to have malicious code, it will stop the website from loading and inform you.
Most of today’s antivirus programs roll this type of protection into the antivirus suite, but don’t assume that to be the case. Some companies will sell an antivirus-only version of their software as well as a more comprehensive security suite which includes phishing and web filter protection. Be sure that you know what you are buying.