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On Unix based systems, I'm often prompted to enter my password before installing or running a program.

Why does this protect me?

If I'm running a kiosk, I understand that a password might prevent someone else from messing with my computer. However, on my own computer, if I want to install something, entering my password won't stop me from running a virus or malicious program.

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This is also similar to UAC in Windows 7 (and Vista), depending on settings. – AviD Dec 27 '10 at 21:00
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Prompting you to enter password is necessary to login into root account, enable user with higher rights. This is done just to prevent user from accidental actions like invalid command "rm -rf /". Sitting all the time under the root is not good idea - you really does not need such rights all the time you work. Also, it stops, prevents and decreases malicious stuff impact.

It is a part of Unix security model's philosophy.

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That protects you because someone can't just pass by your system and install a malware unless they know your password. (General example)

And it also has the benefit of reminding you that what you are doing might mess up your computer ;)

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Isn't your answer similar to my "kiosk" example? – Moshe Nov 21 '10 at 0:58
Yes, but you seem to forget that, unless your computer is in a bank safe somewhere in a concrete cage, someone can have physical access to it at one point or another – Georges Duplessy Nov 21 '10 at 1:01

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