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Computer security explained for the masses

posted Apr 17, 2013, 3:06 PM by John Jones

(Originally posted on InfoWorld Magazine)

It is often cited that the biggest issue in the fight against worms and viruses and other such malware is uneducated users. If a person doesn't understand why it’s a bad thing to open email attachments from people that he doesn't know, then you can bet that he will open every attachment which comes to him. Several email clients (not just MS Outlook!) will happily open and execute any Visual Basic or batch file that a user clicks on. Then wham! – You've got an infected machine that’s probably already calling home to the nasty individual who wrote the malware and now “owns” the user’s computer – which you as the IT department have to go and fix…

Of course the various network security and bug tracking sites are great about announcing the security flaws and exploits that are found, but arguably their audience is only people who are already pretty savvy about security issues. So I was pleased to see an article written more for public consumption at howstuffworks.com today, entitled “What’s the problem with Microsoft Word?”. The author, Julia Layton, does an excellent job of explaining some computer security jargon and bringing the layman up to speed with the MS Word zero-day flaws which were recently announced. I hope that this is a sign of a new trend of educating the end user in a comprehensible language.

When I was a full time sysadmin and helpdesk tech responsible for a few hundred users and 50 servers, I struggled to explain the same topics to the many end users individually. So instead, I sent out occasional messages via email with some helpful tip on how to use their computer or a link to a web article that contained some useful information on a subject that I knew would tweak their interest. So I always had these sorts of articles bookmarked to send out to my users. They appreciated that I was trying to educate them and I appreciated that I had fewer infected machines to reformat and reinstall.

High Mobley
Co-Owner of q!Bang Solutions