The long awaited successor to Windows XP has been released? It’s Windows 7. What about Windows Vista? Well, to be frank, windows Vista is to the Windows family what DOS 4.0 was to the DOS family. For those of you who do not recall the DOS family line, DOS 4.0 was a bit of a dog… much larger than DOS 3.3 and not nearly as nice ad DOS 5.0.
The idea behind Vista was good, if not old. Get users to run with less than full admin rights and you give the operating system a lot more protection. It really isn’t perfect. This is the model that UNIX has used for years and still there are vulnerabilities being discovered and the Morris Internet worm of 1988 proved that UNIX (the underlying operating system of a modern Apple computer) was quite wormable. Still, the model is much more robust than DOS, and Windows was essentially built upon DOS. Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows XP brought the Windows Platform closer to the UNIX model, but the limited access user accounts were not widely used. With Vista the model was more severely enforced, but with so many annoying dialog boxes that many people turned off the security features.
Windows 7 improves the model, but this does not mean that security software is no longer needed. Believe me, Microsoft would not make their antivirus offerings available on the Windows 7 platform if they could tell you that you don’t need antivirus on Windows 7!
There is no perfect security. There is risk management. If you use Windows XP and do not run as an administrator then you probably are savvy enough not to get a lot of security benefit from Windows 7, but most XP users are running as administrator. Moving to an operating system that you use as a user, rather than an administrator is a smart move and is part of a layered security approach.
Don’t expect technology and especially any single piece of technology to make you safe. An operating system is designed to run programs and viruses and trojans are really only programs. You need to use security products that detect and block threats, but you also need to use good judgment. Windows 7 and a high quality antivirus product is a definite improvement over Windows XP for most users, but becoming more educated about security is the most potent defense regardless of what operating system you use.
Director of Technical Education
Author ESET Research, We Live Security