Does Computer Security Matter?

Computer security - protect yourself from hackersComputer security gets talked about a lot, but does it really matter? A computer security researcher proved that it does by connecting a computer running Windows XP directly to the Internet without a firewall. Within two minutes the computer was completely infected with several viruses.

Hackers want the data on your computer or to use your computer to attack other computers. They hack your computer because it’s fun or because it will make them money, and if you think computer security is just a game, they’ll take advantage of you.

Computer Security Basics

These days computer security basics come from two types of programs: anti-virus programs and firewall programs.

Anti-virus programs protect you against viruses that are already on your computer. They scan files for the “signature” of known viruses and prevent those viruses from loading or installing themselves.

Firewalls guard your network connection. They don’t let anyone connect to your computer unless you connect to them first (or you create a firewall exception). This is a very efficient way to block hackers, so firewalls haven’t changed much in 20 years.

Together, anti-virus software and firewalls can block all of the most common computer security threats. But there are still other computer security threats most people don’t consider.

Physical Computer Security

The computer security threat I see most people ignoring is physical security. They assume that a password can effectively protect their computer data and access. But a password is no security if someone can physically access your computer’s hard drive.

Think about it—you spend 40 hours a week at work with your computer, but you leave it unprotected the other 128 hours of the week. Anyone in your office can access the files on your hard drive.

If you have kids, you probably trust your password to keep them off your account. But any tech-savvy kid can download a Linux live CD and, in about 5 minutes, access any part of your computer data—private files, saved passwords, even a list of what websites you’ve visited recently.

We’re reminded of how important physical security is when laptops get stolen—like that laptop stolen from the government administrator with several million social security numbers on it.

“Uh-Oh” Computer Security

Although most people don’t think of backups as security, I beg them to reconsider. I consider anything that makes me feel safe to be security, and nothing makes me feel safer than to know that I have good backups.

There are too many things that can go wrong with your computer today—or even in the next hour. Your hard drive could suddenly die, lightning could strike your computer, you could press the wrong button and delete everything, your cat could step on your keyboard and delete everything, a virus could permanently erase your disk drive, or someone who hates you (like an ex) could deliberately erase all of your hard work.

I lost a lot of hard work on one occasion and it’s an experience I never want to repeat. It’s an experience I don’t want you to have either, so please consider backups as part of your computer security plans.