Friday, August 26, 2011

The evolution of online security

In my last blog entry, we had a few brief graveside words about our recently departed old friend, Antivirus Software.

For 12+ years now, our company, Turn Key Solutions, LLC has been selling it to every customer that would listen to us.  99%+ of them did listen, by the way.

In the last 3 years, though, I have had way too many conversations with clients that went roughly like this:

Me: "We need to format your hard drive and either restore from backup, or reload the OS from a clean start.   It's completely bogged down with malware."

Customer: "AAAGGHH!!! <insert the occasional !@#$!%%!!!!> "

Me: "I'm sorry, what was that?  I couldn't hear you because of all the spit coming through my phone."

Customer: "I paid you good money for <insert brand of Antivirus Software> and now you tell me I have a virus!   My <insert position> is going to be down for a whole day!   Do you know what <he/she> costs me???!!!"

Me: "No sir, not exactly.   But it's not a virus that wiped out the computer, it's malware."

Customer: "Don't get smart with me, Henry.  It's the same thing.  This software you sold me didn't work, and I don't want to pay for this!"

Me: "Er, actually, it's not the same thing.   Your employee intentionally installed the <insert name of malware program, usually it's something like "Antivirus 2010">.   Had it really been a virus, your Antivirus software would have stopped it."

Customer: "AAAGGHH!!! <insert the occasional !@#$!%%!!!!> "   

Moral of the story: most of the downtime caused by junk on computers these days seems to be coming from malware.   And my company and our customers are both stuck dealing with the problem.

    A quick recap - here's the basic difference between malware and computer viruses:

    What is a computer virus?   A program that spreads by itself much like a human virus, causes computer harm, compromises security, almost always an intentionally malevolent creation.

    What is Malware?   Software that often sounds like a good software package to the user (ie, free antivirus software), and often does most if not all of what it said it would do.   Harmful results range from loss of productivity to slower computer performance, to forced purchase of software.

    So the obvious solution is this, right?....  SELL ONE STINKING SOFTWARE PACKAGE THAT WILL BLOCK EVERYTHING!

    Okay, phew!   Problem solved?    We can go home now?    NOPE.   Not even close.

    "WHY?" you ask... 

    Simple reason?  Most computers come to a complete crawl when running 3rd party software that provides all the services you need (antivirus, antimalware, phishing protection, inbound and outbound email scanning, firewall, content filter, and, last but not least, logging).   Yes, even your bad-to-the-bone, brand new PC will run noticeably slower when you ask it to do all these functions at a software level.  

    Another very significant problem with the "single package blocking everything" route is that it is inherently insecure.   Users forget to renew the licenses, viruses kill the software, or the software just plain old breaks and leaves you vulnerable.  

    Good Grief.   So what are we supposed to do?



    What's that?

    A basic overview of some pieces of a layered security plan.
    Okay, here's a quick layout I just drew that shows some of the basic pieces of the puzzle that make up a good layered security setup:

    Piece 1: "THE CLOUD":  There are tons of good service providers that you can use as a filter for your network.  These services get rid of bad stuff before it ever gets to ANY of your equipment.

    Piece 2: A current Firewall / Router appliance.   If you bought your office's firewall at Walmart or Office Depot, chances are it isn't cutting it.   Here's a link where Watchguard describes what current, good firewalls can do.

    Piece 3: A firewall package on your PC.   From Windows XP sp3 & up, there's been a decent attempt from Microsoft to integrate this.   IMHO, it's not bad.

    Piece 4: A good antivirus package.   Hint: Use the same one on all your computers, and have them all renew at the same.

    Piece 5: Your PC:  Yep, it's critical to keep it patched, and control what programs get installed on your computers, and how people use your computers.  

    If you're the kind of organization that handles medical data or financial data, you'll need to step up how you secure your computer itself even more. Ie, encrypted hard drives, physical security, etc.

    Piece 6: YOUR USERS.   This is probably the most important piece.   If your users don't want to keep your data secure, or don't know how to, in our experience, the end result is that you're not going to be secure.


    There you have it.

    That's the beginnings of a game plan to truly do best efforts at keep you secure & safe.


    So how do you keep a computer perfectly safe & secure?

    Turn it off.

    For those of us that need to use our computers, though, I can tell you the basic stats:

    Since 1999, our customers that have employed all of the steps I've lined out above just don't get hammered by problems.   It's weird.   Almost spooky.   Their stuff just works.

    And customers with virus & malware problems that adopt a layered security infrastructure?   Strangely enough, the problems just go away.

    It's simple, it's not expensive, and it works.   And it will be worth it, I guarantee.


    Henry D. Overton

    President & Co-founder
    Turn Key Solutions, LLC

    We make technology work for you!

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