Internet Security: Mechanisms and Operating Systems

Introduction

The internet has transformed the world by increasing communication efficiency. Numerous innovations have been made to exploit the capabilities of the internet and it is possible to accomplish numerous activities today with a computer connected to the internet. However, being on the internet might be dangerous since the internet is not a safe place. There are many security issues that a person is exposed to while on the internet. One’s computer is prone to virus and worm attacks. The computer might also be infected with malware or Trojans. There is a possibility that spyware will be installed into a person’s computer while on the internet. A person is also exposed to the risk of phishing fraud from dishonest persons on the internet. Hackers might also launch an attack on a person’s computer while on the internet. The computer might be high jacked by malicious parties and used to launch attacks on other computers. One is also exposed to adware infection while on the internet.

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Mechanisms and Motivations of Attacks

The security issues identified above work in unique ways and there are different motivations behind each attack. Spyware refers to software programs that download themselves from the internet and install themselves on the user’s computer without their knowledge. The spyware will download and install itself when a person visits certain web pages or clicks on a web link. Spyware is used to monitor the activities on a person’s computer. This software can then steal information or alter preferences leading to reduced computer performance. Broers (2007) warns that spyware can steal users’ personal information, putting them in danger of identity theft.

Viruses are software programs that have been designed to interfere with the normal operation of the computer. The virus code can be written such that when it enters a computer, it disrupts or deletes the data stored on the hard disk. The virus can also interact with computer files and corrupt them therefore making them unusable (Broers 2007). Most viruses are created by hackers or computer programmers and released in the internet. From here, they infect computers and cause disruption by corrupting files.

Worms are malicious software that replicates in the person’s computer sometimes with undesirable effects. They are downloaded from the internet when a person visits a website that is infected. Worms do not need any user action to spread since they are self-replicating (Cisco 2013). This property leads to worms spreading at a very high rate. While most forms only have replicating functions, some are designed to cause harm to the computer. They can therefore damage user files or corrupt the system.

Phishing attacks are carried out by sending large number of emails to random addresses with the hope of baiting unaware internet users. The attacker will send an email with the link to a fake website. Once the user clicks on this link, he is redirected to an elaborate replica of the target website. Bradley (2006) documents that most phishing frauds are very sophisticated and have a professional look and feel designed to mimic the real institution being targeted. Phishing attacks are carried out with the aim of obtaining personal information such as username and passwords from the individual. Users are often asked to enter confidential information such as their username, password, account number, and credit card number. The attackers use this information to access the user’s real account and engage in theft.

Trojans are programs that appear to be useful while they carry out some concealed and often undesirable activity on a person’s computer. Trojans are contained in useful software applications that a user will intentionally download from the internet (Cisco 2013). They can also be transmitted through email attachments. Once installed in the PC, the Trojan initiates operations without the user’s permission or knowledge. Trojans can be used by hackers to gain control of a person’s computer. They can also be designed to steal information from a user and transmit it over the internet.

Internet Security in different Operating Systems

Different operating systems may be exposed to the internet security threats in unique ways. Windows OS is most vulnerable to viruses, Trojan, worm, and malware attacks. Zittrain (2008) reveals that the vulnerability of Windows OS is because many hackers and programmers dedicated a lot of time and resources to creating viruses for the Windows platform. MAC OS has fewer security threats on the internet due to Apple’s limited global market share in personal computers. Hackers and virus creators do not target this platform since if the attack is successful, only a small number of computers will be infected.

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The iOS, which is the OS for Apple phones, is more prone to attacks due to the popularity of Apple products. Even so, iOS devices are more resistant to attacks since they are UNIX based. Android OS is the most popular Operating system for smart phones today. This OS is exposed to numerous internet security risks since most users do not implement even basic protection measures when using their phones (Zittrain 2008). Users are required to install many applications from even un-trusted for their phones. This exposes the user to malware, viruses, and Trojan attacks.

The Linux/Unix OS is also prone to various attacks including viruses, worms, Trojans, and malware while on the internet. However, this platform provides more resistance than Windows and it generally harder to target it since Linux OS is made from a heterogeneous mixture of software (Bradley 2006). Internet attacks exploit security flaws that exist in the operating system of the computer a user is running. Hackers discover these flaws and proceed to use them to carry out attacks. Security holes in Windows OS appear more often and since it takes significant time to fix them, users are left vulnerable to attacks on the internet. Linux has a large community of users who develop patches to deal with vulnerabilities in a timely manner. This ensures that users are able to update their OS before the security problem is made public.

Embedded systems are vulnerable since most are not given the constant security update to ensure that they are safe from internet threats. Malicious elements can therefore exploit vulnerabilities that exist in the system. The network connectivity makes the embedded systems vulnerable to malicious attacks. Parameswaren and Wolf (2008) reveal that the limited processing power of these systems makes it impossible to run the sophisticated defenses against attacks that one can run in computer systems.

Protection against Attacks

Having identified the different attacks, it is useful to highlight how you can protect yourself against them. The user should take measures to prevent malicious elements from attacking. Antivirus software can be used to protect the computer from virus infections. This software can also prevent worms, Trojans, and spam from infecting the PC. Ciampa (2009) declares that regular updates should be made since an antivirus program is only effective if it is current. A person should also apply any patches provided by OS makers to fix security holes. Running patches will prevent security vulnerabilities in the system from being exploited by hackers.

Another way to protect yourself while on the internet it to make use of a firewall. This application ensures that the computer is protected by filtering out suspicious traffic on the network (Ciampa, 2009). Firewalls can be configured to identify spyware and Trojans and prevent them from being downloaded to the computer.

To protect from phishing attacks, the user should never follow links provided in emails from unknown sources. If you want to go to a particular website, it is recommended that you enter the complete address in the address bar of your browser (Zittrain 2008). This will ensure that you are not redirected to a replica site where your personal information can be stolen. The user should also be careful when providing personal information online. Ensure that the site is trustworthy and that it uses security measures such as encryption to protect user data.

Finally, the user should always remember that the internet is not a safe place. Zittrain (2008) advices that vigilance should always be exercised when one is browsing the internet. One should avoid responding to emails from unknown sources or opening attachments containing executable files. The individual should also avoid making software downloads from illegal sites that are known to have viruses and malware.

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References

Bradley, T 2006, Essential Computer Security: Everyone’s Guide to Email, Internet, and Wireless Security: Everyone’s Guide to Email, Internet, and Wireless Security, Syngress, NY.

Broers, N 2007, Personal internet security: 5th report of session 2006-07, The Stationery Office, London.

Ciampa, M 2009, Security Awareness: Applying Practical Security in Your World, Cengage Learning, Boston.

Cisco 2013, Viruses, Worms, Trojans, and Bots, Web.

Parameswaren, S & Wolf, T 2008, ‘Embedded System Security – An Overview’, Des Autom Emb System, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 173-183.

Zittrain, J 2008, The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It, Yale University Press, Boston.

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