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I have a lot of experience with software as a developer, and am trying to move from newbie to more informed about present-day security. Everything I uncover makes me feel that personal computers have become horribly horribly insecure, while most consumers (like me) have grown complacent because the old days of constant system crashes, pop-ups, destructive malware, etc. have seemingly gone away. My system never crashes, ever. I never see pop-ups. I block annoying spam and ads. I have never seen a virus scanner find anything (Mac past 3 years; Linux for several years before that; Windows at work managed by IT team).

I am not implying these things represent rock-solid security, just saying, they have made most people believe their systems are more secure when in fact, they seem less secure than they've ever been, with more dangerous threats. Am I wrong in this assessment?

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    Maybe you could define "more secure" first. Perhaps, more secure means less likely to be prevented from engaging in a major life activity as a result of a cyber-attack. Any exploit that caused loss of reputation leading to loss of employment or marriage, drove someone to suicide, or made one a pariah within a community. Unfortunately, I don't think such things are tracked. Absent good data, you're left with claims of loss from businesses which have an incentive to inflate their claimed losses for insurance purposes. Jul 23, 2014 at 21:01
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    Quieter threats, that's all.
    – schroeder
    Jul 23, 2014 at 22:36
  • What's the statute of limitations on such business? 7 years? When a kid is slapped down for misbehaving is he ever given a chance to sit at the grown up table or is he kept in the penalty box forever?
    – Jason Boyd
    May 7, 2020 at 18:44

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I would argue that computers are more secure today than they were in the past for one simple reason known attacks have had operating systems patched against them.

I had a professor tell me once that it was easy to overwrite DOS system memory and it wasn't uncommon for games to overwrite it just so they would have that memory then put it back when they were done. Modern operating systems make overwriting system memory quite a bit harder.

I would also note that with Windows Vista Microsoft moved their development model to one that was security oriented. This included things like: User account control, improvements to the firewall, the inclusion of Windows Defender, ASLR (loads system files to random memory locations to prevent attacks), obfuscating function pointers, intrinsic stack-overflow detection, DEP (in XP SP2 too), application isolation, windows service hardening,

Windows 7 has the security center and Microsoft Security Essentials (as well as the Vista enhancements).

Windows 8 has Secure boot (uses hardware to block rootkits), ELAM, Windows Defender now scans network traffic too for suspicious activity, and AppContainer(Sandbox).

I don't know too much about Macs, but I do know that Apple added some security features. You may find this interesting too.

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Well... It's quite an open/hard question.. I'd say it has become a lot better, but so has the threats!

I remember back in the golden XP days how easy it was to access the Administrator account, since you wasn't asked to give it a password... With Vista and up, it wasn't so easy... However, when someone/something blocks you, well, you simply find a solution... Booting up in Linux and clearing the users password from SAM wasn't that hard. Though you may leave more traces (if you didn't restore your doings...)

UAC also made it a lot harder to make funny apps to annoy your friends with, so yes... In my opinion security has become better...

One way to look at it might be that, for the regular user, security has become a lot better... For big companies, security is still an important question, and since big companies usually handles data from regular users, they might worry too...

When it comes to things like viruses and malware, it mainly depends on courage/stupidity... What files dare you open and what sites do you access. Both OSX and Linux is mostly virus free since the amount of stupid (courageous/unaware) users is higher on Windows... Many companies rely on Windows as well, and they are usually the target, your machine might just be the link between the bad guy and the target...

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    Good explanation. Speaking of viruse/malware from your answer, I think your system's fate depends on your updated antivirus(for system&web) and not on the files you dare to open. Because i don't think we are genius enough to identify to a program's trustworthiness by looking at its icon :) Jul 24, 2014 at 6:08
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    While it is true that the amount of courageous/unaware users is probably higher on Windows, I would take it with a grain of salt since Windows has a market share far greater than OSX or Linux currently at 75% for just XP and 7 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_systems. I would argue that percentage wise they are probably around the same. I've seen some Mac users do some pretty dumb stuff and a lot of them that think "I can't get a virus I'm on a Mac" and take that as I'm safe to do anything. I would say the viruses exist mainly because of the market share 75% vs 6.73%. Jul 24, 2014 at 15:32
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I believe it's gotten a lot better. There are tons of security implementations that makes exploits hard to come by. Grsecurity does a great job at implementing a userland ASLR, along with their RBAC system and PAX usage. SELinux and App Armor are other things that can be used. Along with the low level precautions(ASLR, DEP, Nx, Stack Cookies, SEH) it makes it harder for exploits to occur(Although there are things to defeat these, such as ret2reg, ret2libc, overwriting GOT entries, bruteforcing entropy pools and Return Oriented Programming) but there will or already be future fixes for them.

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