Let’s Be Careful Out There

USA Today ran an article yesterday that shows how important it is to practice safe web:

[A]n unprotected PC can get hijacked within minutes of accessing the Internet. Once hijacked, it is likely to get grouped with other compromised PCs to dispense spam, conduct denial-of-service attacks or carry out identity-theft scams.

Those are key findings of a test conducted by USA TODAY and Avantgarde, a San Francisco tech marketing and design firm. The experiment involved monitoring six “honeypot” computers for two weeks ? set up to see what kind of malicious traffic they would attract. Once breached, the test computers were shut down before they could be used to attack other PCs. …

The machines tested were types popular with home users and small businesses. They included: four Dell desktop PCs running different configurations of the Window XP operating system, an Apple Macintosh and a Microtel Linspire, which uses the Linux operating system.

Each PC was connected to the Internet via a broadband DSL connection and monitored for two weeks in September. Break-in attempts began immediately and continued at a constant and high level: an average of 341 per hour against the Windows XP machine with no firewall or recent security patches, 339 per hour against the Apple Macintosh and 61 per hour against the Windows Small Business Server. Each was sold without an activated firewall.

By contrast, there were fewer than four attacks per hour against the Windows XP updated with a basic firewall and recent patches (Service Pack 2), the Linspire with basic firewall and the Windows XP with ZoneAlarm firewall.

“The firewalls did their job,” says Russell. “If you can’t get to them, you can’t attack them.” …

While attempted break-ins never ceased, successful compromises were limited to nine instances on the minimally protected Windows XP computer and a single break-in of the Windows Small Business Server. There were no successful compromises of the Macintosh, the Linspire or the two Windows XPs using firewalls. That pattern was not surprising, as Windows PCs make up 90% of the computers connected to the Internet, and the vast majority of automated attacks are designed to locate and exploit widely known Windows security weaknesses.

Intruders repeatedly compromised the Windows XP computer through the same two security holes used by the authors of the July 2003 MS Blaster worm and May’s headline-grabbing Sasser worm, which overloaded computers in banks, hospitals and transportation systems worldwide.

Once again, it’s nice to know there are advantages to using the OS with only a 5% market share.

But as PC owners realize that just running Windows opens their computers to hackers all over the world, that 5% Mac share may change–and then I’ll have to start worrying again.

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