Security Highlights and Lowlights of 2003

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2003-12-29 Print this article Print

Some good things happened in computer security over the past year. But in this field, it's really the bad news that's important, observes Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer, taking a look at mostly the bad of 2003.

The consensus among security professionals is solid: 2003 was a lousy year for computer security. And the news wont be much better in the year ahead; things are trending for the worse.

While its easy to focus on the security screw-ups of 2003—since there are so many more of them—Ill also try to dredge up some good news. And here they are, the good things that happened in computer security in 2003:

  • Despite all the security mishaps of 2003, the overwhelming evidence shows that if youre informed and diligent you can keep your systems relatively safe from attack. Try to get all the information you can, from here at eWEEK.coms Security Center, as well as from commercial, high-end offerings such as Symantecs DeepSight Alert and Threat Management Services.
    In addition, implement patch management, aggressively block services at the firewall and use intrusion detection where services are open. The bad guys can still get to you, but it will be hard.
  • Since its clear that most users dont apply patches even when they are heavily publicized as being critical, Microsoft began to move towards the default download and installation of security patches. There are problems with this of course, but there are bigger problems with not doing it. This alone should, over some time, improve overall security on the Internet.
  • Microsoft recently began to withdraw support for and sale of Windows NT4 and Windows 98 (and many other obsolete products. Many of these products are more difficult to fix than current software or have problems which cant be fixed, such as Outlook 97.
  • My best, or at least favorite, security column of the year warned of the dangers of collaboration between the FBI and anonymous computer criminals. In the long term, we can seriously curb this sort of abuse if people are aware of it. So be aware.
  • Shortly after I made the suggestion that Microsoft consolidate its security updates for Windows and you shouted in agreement, the company announced that it would ship update CDs,, thus saving dial-up users from a long, torturous and mandatory process.
  • Microsoft recently announced updates to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 that will greatly enhance their security. The bad news: You wont see them until well into 2004. Next page: And now for the bad news ...

    Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

    He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

    For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

    In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

    Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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