Designing Your Own Computer Security Architecture For Total Protection
By now most users are aware of common computer security threats such as viruses, worms, spyware and other malware. They have heard of, and most use, computer security software such as antivirus programs and firewalls, and their ISP probably uses network security software. What many don’t realize, however, is that complete protection requires addressing multiple threats on many levels and is about more than just installing security software on a machine. While there are no quick fixes, designing and implementing a personal security architecture can be fairly straightforward if you stick to the following seven guidelines.
#1: Establish a security policy
You need to decide what level of computer security you want, how much you are willing to invest and, most importantly, what needs to be secured. For the latter, you have to know what is installed on your system. So, it’s always wise to avoid the default policies and choices of installation programs. Instead of choosing the “express installation” option, choose the “custom installation” one so that you can keep track of every individual piece of software that is installed on your machine. Keep a record of this information offline and know where to find it should your system be compromised or crash.
#2: Make sure actions are verifiable
Whenever possible, verify actions. If you have the technical knowledge or can acquire it, it’s preferable to use command line tools (e.g., type commands) rather than checking a box in a graphical window. Using commands gives you more direct control over your system and makes it easier to verify that an action has indeed been carried out.
#3: Only give them what they need, and no more
All processes, users and programs should be given access only to the system resources that they need, and no more. Your computer or network will be that much less vulnerable.
#4: Compartmentalize to contain damage
Like a ship with bulkheads, a system built with containment in mind suffers less damage when it is compromised. This is one of the main reasons for distinguishing between System or Administrator accounts and normal User accounts needed for everyday activities. If an intruder hacks into a User account they typically still won’t have access to the system’s critical configuration files or utilities.
#5: Build several lines of defense
A castle typically had a moat, a wall, a keep and perhaps inner walls. That way, even if the wall was breached, the castle’s defenders were still safe. Similarly, a personal security architecture should have a variety of security features operating at different levels. Instead of relying exclusively on a firewall, for example, a system should use other computer security features such as permissions, authentication, whitelists and blacklists, as well as detection systems.
#6: Keep and regularly review system logs
Keeping a record of changes made to a system is one of the most important ways to keep it secure, to protect it during an attack or to restore it after one has occurred. While you can keep some records of changes by hand, it’s easier to invest in a program such as WinAudit by PXServer or EZ-Audit by ATConsulting that automatically keeps a log of all changes made to the system. Also, your operating system most likely has a built-in feature to rollback to a previous state that you knew was ‘stable’ before an attack happened.
#7: Put in place a comprehensive infrastructure
A system is only as strong as its weakest link. Moreover, the diversity of threats is expanding daily, blended threats are becoming more commonplace and your system may be vulnerable on several levels. You need to put in place protection that addresses all possible vulnerabilities, for example:
- Email scanning
- Rootkit detection
- Identity protection
- Website authentication
- Network monitoring
- Firewall protection
- Automatic backup and restore
- Parental controls
Properly securing your system or home network requires knowledge, discipline and an investment of time. If you are able to take direct control over your personal security architecture, by all means do so. If this requires too much effort or is beyond your level of technical knowledge, however, consider investing in a comprehensive security solution such as Norton 360. Even computer experts may prefer to use an integrated suite of security tools rather than purchasing and installing individual tools in piecemeal fashion.
Whatever choice you ultimately make, remember that a computer system is only secure when viewed as an integrated whole. If intruders breach your defenses in one place, they may be able to attack you in other places as well. That’s why it is critical to put in place a comprehensive personal security architecture.