By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-03-10 Print this article Print

Law No. 5: Weak passwords trump strong security. If I can guess, quickly, that your administrator password is "admin" or something else easily surmised, then Law No. 1 comes into effect because I can run whatever I want on your computer. I can do a lot of damage with just a user password as well.

Law No. 6: A computer is only as secure as the administrator is trustworthy. Microsoft uses business examples in this case to show how important it is to a business that the system administrator be trustworthy, and this is an essential point. Every consultant you hire may require administrative access and need to be trusted with the assets of your business. But its true at home, too. Are your teenagers trustworthy with your computer? Maybe they shouldnt be administrators.

Law No. 7: Encrypted data is only as secure as the decryption key. In public key cryptography there is a private key that only you should have, and its called the "private" key for a reason. If its stored on the computer, then an attacker could get access to it. The same is true of passwords. You need to memorize them or store them in a place that cant easily be compromised. This is inconvenient, but at least be aware of the vulnerability youre creating if you make passwords and encryption keys too convenient.

Law No. 8: An out-of-date virus scanner is only marginally better than no virus scanner at all. "Marginally" is a debatable way to put it. No doubt about it, its better to be up to date, but the most prevalent threats out there are quite old. If the user is not too credulous and you do update the scanner before too long, its not disastrous.

Law No. 9: Absolute anonymity isnt practical, in real life or on the Web. Much of the Web appears to be a place you can visit and interact with anonymously, but this is largely a mirage. Unless youre very careful and sophisticated, you are always leaving clues around as to who you are and how someone could track you down. This usually doesnt matter because, realistically, who cares about what Web sites youre surfing? But dont assume that you are the wind and that you can whisk in and out of sites unseen.

Law No. 10: Technology is not a panacea. Security is, unfortunately, a series of trade-offs with other goals we expect from computing, with convenience usually at the front of the list. Novices may expect security suites that claim to be comprehensive will protect them, but this can never be the whole truth.

The fact that security cant be perfect isnt a reason to criticize anyone—its just a fact of life. You cant do a perfect job, but you can do a good job, and knowing the limitations of the technology is a good place to start.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog. More from Larry Seltzer

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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