How Vulnerable Is Your Computer?
By: Emma Kavanagh
From the moment you plug in a computer for the very first time to the second it’s properly decommissioned from use, that machine and the data it stores are vulnerable to attack. Viruses, hackers, spyware, social engineering ploys and other threats are just a few of the risks any ordinary computer owner faces.
Understanding vulnerabilities and their various types can provide a solid line of defense against attacks and other threats.
Just What is a Computer Vulnerability Anyway?
In simple terms, vulnerability covers any weakness or potential weakness that enables an unwanted person or program to access a machine. Vulnerability occurs when a computer or its programming has a flaw, if there is an attacker standing ready to exploit that flaw and if the attacker has the ability or tools necessary to exploit the weakness.
Types of Vulnerabilities
Computer vulnerabilities can present themselves in a number of different arenas. The types of vulnerabilities most home computer users need to be mindful of include:
- Hardware: While vulnerabilities of this class don’t necessarily involve a hacker poised to steal data, they can render stored data useless. The vulnerabilities here include such things as susceptibility to damage from the elements, problems with unprotected storage and other occurrences that can render a computer’s hardware system inoperable.
- Software: Vulnerabilities here include software that has been inadequately tested or hasn’t been properly upgraded with the latest security protocols. Most major computer software companies, for example, test their products extensively for bugs, functionality and most importantly vulnerability to malicious attacks. When they find areas of concern, they update programs with new coding that helps block or stop the vulnerabilities. If a program user doesn’t download the update patches, the programming can remain vulnerable to attack.
- Network: Vulnerabilities of this nature occur when networks are unsecured. For example, operating a computer on an unsecured broadband network can open up vulnerabilities that hackers might exploit.
Protecting Against Vulnerabilities
Safeguarding against every type of vulnerability can be nearly impossible since threats can come from many sources, some even accidental. There some measures that can reduce threats and help computer owners protect themselves, their data and their machines from damage, theft or loss. They include:
Since computers are susceptible to humidity, temperatures, water damage, fire, theft and other disasters, it’s important to create regular backups of the information stored on them. To promote computer longevity, be sure to house computers in a location that maintains normal room temperatures and isn’t close to water access.
This particular arena of vulnerability can pose a number of challenges when it comes to providing protections. To get the best lock on a machine and its data possible, be sure to:
- Only download programs from known, reputable sources
- Run antivirus software and other forms of protection regularly
- Update all major applications on a regular basis, including antivirus protections
- Be wary of opening email attachments, especially if they are unsolicited
- Take precautions when using the Internet to avoid any download that might contain viruses and other bits of malware
- Use a virus scan on all incoming emails
- Avoid clicking email links that lead to unknown websites
- Safeguard user names and passwords and be sure to update them regularly
There a several ways to help safeguard against vulnerabilities here. They include:
- Keeping a firewall running and updated at all time
- Taking measures to make certain a network is secured, such as using password protections and encryption
- Keeping all network drivers and programming updated
- Limiting access to the network
While there are lots of ways to help reduce the risk of computer vulnerabilities, the reality is there is no 100-percent, guaranteed way to safeguard data at all times. The more security measures that are put into place, however, the less likely it is a vulnerability will lead to a successful breach that causes a permanent loss of data.