Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

When to buy a new computer, part 2

In part 1 of this series I wrote about Moore’s Law, and pointed out that it can be extremely unsatisfying trying to work with an elderly machine simply because of the fact that they’re often so S  L  O  W — the size and complexity of many of today’s programs overwhelm the old hardware resources and bog them down. Today I’m going to emphasize the security implications of running old software on old machines.

I mentioned that I run across people still using “legacy” PC’s (aka “boat anchors”) in the course of my work much more frequently than you might guess. What I didn’t mention is that one of the first questions I ask my clients (when they call me for support) is, what operating system are they running? That’s because many of these folks still using a machine they bought in the 90’s (or…80’s!) are using the same OS that came with it. It doesn’t happen often enough to astonish, but I do hear “Windows 98” from time to time. I kid you not.

If you are one of those people still running Windows 98, or ME, or 2000, I do not want you feel as though I am sneering at you, or slandering you … but I do want you to think about quitting the practice, and listen to my arguments concerning your security risks. And of course, upgrading; whether or not that means a new machine.

My number one argument for getting a new machine (with a new OS) is because of security. Microsoft has officially stopped “supporting” any version of Windows older than XP Service Pack 2. What that means to you is that nobody is writing and issuing hotfixes and security patches for recently discovered vulnerabilities … the digital Evil Doers discover a weakness, and it isn’t getting fixed for you. Hackers love these versions!

When I mention this fact to the folks I encounter, I am often told that they’re not worried because their “Norton is up to date.” I tell them that’s great. But. (BTW, folks–I do NOT reco Norton.)
This statement is indicative of a great misconception on the part of the general public; one that shouldn’t still be there, but is. The computer “virus” is only one small aspect of protecting your computer. Long gone are the days when the worst that could happen was an email infecting your machine with a virus. Today we live in an era of organized and well financed cyber-criminals. They want to control your machine, and use it without your knowledge. They want to watch what you type so they can drain your savings account, or commit fraud in your name, hurting our economic system and ruining your credit. Get it?

They do this by fooling you into revealing the information, or “hacking” your machine … and they usually hack you via published (known) vulnerabilities that haven’t had the patches applied yet. If you’re running one of these old versions, there’s never going to be a update/patch. Frequent readers of this post know that I frequently discuss social engineering (phishing) and stress anti-spyware scans, and that this is a subject very near and dear to my heart. I truly believe your Windows 98 machine can pose a threat to our national security, as I mentioned in an early post titled “The FBI and Operation Bot Roast“.

I want to make clear — even if all the software on your old version of Windows is patched, and your “Norton is up to date”, you aren’t secure.

Tip of the day: Be aware: each version of Windows is more secure than the prior version … Vista is more secure than XP. Also be aware that this is true in (most, if not all) programs as well … IE 7 is more secure than IE 6 (and cool program 2.5 is more secure than cool program 1.1).

I don’t want you to think that I’m saying the latest stuff is hacker-proof. It’s not. But you want the newest whenever possible, and you need the patches. Security patches and updates fix known vulnerabilities. And you want that.

To read Part 1, click here.
To skip to Part 3, click here.

Today’s free link: Audacity sound recorder allows you to record, and edit sounds (music, voice, etc.) on your PC.

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Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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August 13, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, security, shopping for, tech, Windows | Leave a comment