Vulnerabilities Are a Declining Factor in Security

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2008-11-03 Print this article Print


All of this leads to another major conclusion of the report-that vulnerabilities themselves are a declining factor in security. It's not just Microsoft, it's an industrywide phenomenon. Malware and social engineering, often in combination, are the way most Windows users get compromised, and often they are convinced through social engineering to bypass the security features in Windows that protect them. The malware industry fights this partly with volume; Symantec now estimates that more malicious software is being written every day than legitimate software.

Even social engineering can be controlled in large part with good, tight management practices. In an enterprise, users should not in any circumstances have sufficient rights on their own systems to install software, for example. My sense is that businesses are moving in this direction, slowly. Consumers are a problem though. I run Vista as a standard user, but whenever I find nontechnical users running it, they are running as Administrator and I doubt they take UAC warnings seriously.

No doubt many Vista users are infected with malware because they just want to see the dancing pigs and ignore every warning Windows gives them. This is a tough problem to solve, but it has nothing to do with vulnerabilities, and every other operating system is as vulnerable to malware, if someone writes it, and to social engineering. Of course, almost all malware is written only for Windows.

I've written a lot about whitelisting lately as a logical and effective solution to malware, but one that has some serious obstacles to it, especially for consumers and small businesses. But imagine if you could do it: If vulnerabilities are becoming manageable and whitelists can be effective, we really could turn the tables on the bad guys. It almost seems in sight.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.

For insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer's blog Cheap Hack.

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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