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A group of security professional peers and I gathered for our yearly casual dinner in downtown Washington D.C. Over the years the discussions reflected the current state of affairs in the security industry. Very quickly, something about this years conversation struck a chord.

A few short years back, we sat at the same table and argued about which device sucked up packets the quickest, however, on this night the conversation was much different. The discussion focused around the fact that security has now reached deep into the pockets of billion-dollar companies and in doing so, has impacted Wall Street and legislation as well.

As I sat there, I wondered if this could be true and if so, how did it progress to this point so quickly? For a moment I pondered back over the course of this year.

On a chilly February morning, I remember the first major data security incident. The big news was that a ring of ”identity thieves” conned ChoicePoint into providing them with access to its databases containing personal information on tens of millions of individuals. Full names, Social Security numbers, and addresses. You name it, ChoicePoint has it — and has sold it.

In the spring of this year, I remember hearing that LexisNexis, a $2.1 billion information services concern, became center stage when news of an information leak hit the public news wires. This particular saga began in February when a group of young hackers sent out a blast of junk e-mail promising an attached file of pornographic images. According to published reports, someone in a police department in Port Orange, Fla., and someone in a constable’s office in Denton County, Tex., took the bait.

As spring drew to a close and summer began, CardSystems Solutions became the next to fall victim to a data security breach. The latest and the largest database hack at a credit card processing company had affected 40 million accounts for Visa and MasterCard, while 200,000 records had been stolen, according to one report.

A MasterCard International spokesman said the data security breach at the Tucson-based credit card processing company could have happened because of software security vulnerabilities that were cleverly exploited by the intruders who had managed to install a rogue program to capture credit data on its network.

Are individuals, corporations and the government taking lax security practices seriously?

Just ask John Perry, CEO of CardSystems Solutions, the credit card transaction processing company from whom 40 million credit card records were stolen in June. He told Congress that because of the security breach, his company faced ”imminent extinction” — the result of its two biggest customers, Visa and American Express, having canceled their contracts with the Atlanta-based company. ”CardSystems is being driven out of business,” he said.

According to an independent survey of almost 10,000 adults by the Ponemon Institute, almost 20 percent of those surveyed have stopped using a company because of a security breach that exposed their personal data. The survey also found that 40 percent of the group is thinking of terminating their relationship with such a company and 5 percent had hired a lawyer when they discovered their personal information might have been compromised.

The government has also taken notice.

It’s not every day that Kurt Sanford has the uncomfortable experience of testifying before Congress, defending an industry that has flown well beneath the radar and, thus far, been loosely regulated. But the heat is being turned up on ChoicePoint, LexisNexis and the data-aggregating industry in general.

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Iot Security: Tips And Solution

The Complexity Of The Internet Of Things IoT Security: What Else Do You Need to Know?

Unhappily, this pattern has played out time and time again in the realm of technology: we jump on the latest and greatest, only to worry about its safety after the fact. It’s been the same with the Internet of Things gadgets. Hacks, which can range from harmless to potentially catastrophic, are a common reason for their coverage in the media.

The Department of Homeland Security has put up a detailed document on protecting Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets because of its importance. Even though many things have changed in the IoT world since I wrote this article five years ago, many of the principles and best practices it outlines are still relevant and should be considered.

IoT Security Tips

Here are a few tips mentioned below on IoT security. Those are

All IoT Devices Require Configuration

When smart cat litter boxes and smart salt shakers enter the market, it will be clear that we have reached or are very close to reaching peak adoption for Internet of Things devices. However, you shouldn’t forget about them or believe they come well set up for security. Any equipment left unattended and unprotected leaves itself vulnerable to hacking.

Familiarize Yourself With Your Tech

An accurate and up-to-date inventory of all Internet of Things (IoT) assets is essential, as is knowledge of the sorts of devices on your network.

With the introduction of new Internet of Things or IoT devices to the network, it is essential that you maintain an accurate asset map. Manufacturer and model ID, serial number, software and firmware versions, etc.

Demand Robust Usernames and Passwords

Common practices include reusing the same login credentials across many devices and utilizing weak passwords.

Each employee should have a unique login, and strong passwords should be required. Always update the factory-set password on new devices and consider using two-factor authentication if it’s an option. Use public key infrastructure (PKI) and digital certificates to establish an encrypted foundation for device identification and trust to establish reliable connections.

Make Use Of Full-Stack Encryption

Whenever two connected devices exchange information, it is passed from one to the other, and unfortunately, this process frequently occurs without any sort of encryption. While preventing packet sniffing, a typical attack must encrypt data at every transport. All devices should have the option to send and receive data securely. Think about other options if they don’t.

Keep Your Device Up-to-Date

As it may have upgraded the device’s firmware and software after it was manufactured and sold, it is recommended that you perform an update before using it for the first time. To save time, turn on the auto-update function of the device if it has one. And remember to check the device for updates regularly.

Make sure the router’s username and password are changed on the server. Manufacturer names are commonly used as the default for router names. Using your company’s name online is likewise discouraged.

Turn Off Extra Features

Disabling unused features or functions is a useful security measure. It includes Web servers, databases, and anything else where code injection is possible, such as those with open TCP/UDP ports, serial ports, open password prompts unencrypted communications, or unprotected radio connections.

Do Not Connect To a Wi-Fi Network When In a Public Place.

Connecting your network via Starbucks Wi-Fi is bad, even if it isn’t a bad idea in general. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are notorious for having poor security, being outdated, and being unupgraded. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you must connect to public Wi-Fi (VPN).

Create a System of Visitors

With a guest network, guests may use their Wi-Fi safely at home or the office. Guests can access the internet but cannot access your internal network.

If a device is hacked, the hacker will be unable to access the main network and will be forced to stay in the guest network.

Divide Your Network into Smaller Pieces

Organizations can design network segments that isolate IoT devices from IT assets using VLAN (virtual local area network ) setups and next-generation firewall regulations. In this approach, neither party should worry about the other being used from the side.

Also, think about implementing a Zero Trust Network. As its name suggests, Zero Confidence ensures the safety of all digital assets by not supposing any level of trust from any other digital assets, restricting intruders’ actions.

Keep a Close Eye on Connected Gadgets

We cannot overstate the need for real-time monitoring, reporting, and alerting for enterprises to effectively manage the hazards associated with the Internet of Things.

There is a need for a fresh strategy since traditional endpoint security solutions typically fail to protect Internet of Things devices. It necessitates constant surveillance for anomalies. Allowing Internet-of-Things gadgets access to your network without closely monitoring them is equivalent to running a Zero Trust network.


Your organization’s overall IT and cyber security strategy and best practices should include a section on securing your expanding IoT network. As you continue deploying devices to your infrastructure’s periphery, more of your assets will be at risk from cyberattacks.

Cancel Data Sharing Deal With Us, Eu Politicians Urge

European politicians on Tuesday demanded that a broad data-sharing agreement between the U.S. and the European Union be suspended, following allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency illegally tapped banking data.

The Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) allows the U.S. Treasury to access some data stored in Europe by Swift, the international banking transfer company. But allegations that the NSA accessed this data without going through legal channels has led some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to declare the agreement defunct.

None of those present at the Civil Liberties Committee’s Tuesday hearing on U.S. and E.U. countries’ surveillance plans had evidence that the NSA has actually breached Swift. The latest allegations are based on documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden that indicate the NSA spied on Swift. According to the documents, Swift is included in an NSA training manual for new agents on how to target private computer networks.

Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld told the hearing that she considered the agreement “effectively dead.”

“We have no evidence that they have actually been doing this, but they don’t deny it either. So in a way it is irrelevant whether they have used the opportunity so far, because they will continue to reserve that right in the future,” she said, calling for the accord to be terminated.

Fellow MEPs Claude Moraes and Alexander Alvaro also called for suspension as a “minimum option.”

Broken trust

Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that she had requested formal consultations with the U.S. under Article 19 of the TFTP agreement—a first step toward suspension of the deal.

She said she had written to U.S. Treasury Under-Secretary David Cohen on Sept. 12 to ask for the “how, what and when” on the spying allegations, but that she was not satisfied with the responses.

“The TFTP agreement with the U.S. was negotiated precisely to avoid that personal data of EU citizens are exposed without legal guarantees or safeguards,” Malmström pointed out. “We have made that very clear, that if those allegations are true, they constitute a breach of the agreement and the breach of the agreement can certainly lead to a suspension.”

There were however some voices of dissent. “At this point we cannot simply withdraw from the deal,” said German MEP Axel Voss.

“We have no information that would indicate that the NSA has additional direct access to the data operated by Swift,” said Rob Wainwright, director of the E.U.’s police agency, Europol. However, he added that “because of the nature of the way in which we work, it’s unlikely that Europol would have this information anyhow.”

Likewise, Swift’s general counsel Blanche Petre said there was no evidence to suggest that there has been any unauthorized access to the data, but added she would be “extremely concerned” if this proved to be the case. “Whenever we believe there is any risk to security of our services we will investigate and take whatever actions we think appropriate to mitigate the risk,” she added.

A third annual review of the TFTP program took place last month, and results have not yet been published. However the second review sparked anger among MEPs last year when it revealed that U.S. requests for European banking data were too vague to assess whether they meet E.U. data standards. But Europol still approved them.

The TFTP agreement was controversial from the start with Parliament only reluctantly agreeing to it in 2010. The European Parliament inquiry is due to present its report on surveillance by the end of this year

Grim(M) Security Tales: Six Security Myths

Information security mistakes are costly, damaging, and all too prevalent. Given the repercussions of poor security strategies (see recent incidents from organizations like TJX, AOL and the VA), one is inclined to believe change agents are in place.

However, organizations continue to drive their security efforts based on fallacies and myths, and make seemingly avoidable mistakes when it comes to information security. I’ll present six common myths, in no particular order:

• Network Defenses will Protect your Kingdom

• Technology/Tools are the Panacea

• Only “Bad” People are Bad

• Security ROI is the Beacon

• Secure Software is Costly

• The Security Breach du Jour is the Most Pressing

1) Network Defenses Protect Your Kingdom

The problem isn’t our networks (which are pretty well protected, by the way). It’s the crappy software we write and put on the network.

There is no discipline or rigor to software engineering like there is in other engineering disciplines. I’m a mechanical engineer by trade with certifications that verify my expertise in this craft. There is no correlation in the software world and we, as organizations that build and buy software, aren’t demanding a change.

Network defenses, like firewalls and intrusion prevention systems, have a place in a multi-layered information security solution, but they can’t protect us from the majority of vulnerabilities – those in the application layer.

2) Technology/Tools are the Panacea

I love tools. I worked for a software testing tools vendor for more than five years. But I also recognize that tools alone don’t make people smarter, nor do they improve the process through which solutions are built. They simply make people and processes more efficient in jobs they are trained to do.

Tools don’t teach a surgeon how to operate. I didn’t become a better mechanical design engineer because I learned how to use AutoCAD; it just made me more efficient in the job I was already trained to do. That’s the problem. There is no training in the application development discipline and no rigor in holding teams accountable to maintaining secure infrastructures. Tools have their place in a complete information security workflow but they require people who know how to operate them to be effective.

3) Only “Bad” People are Bad

Causal hackers aren’t the real threat. Hackers actually help trip landmines that are waiting to be exploited.

The real threats are organized hackers (think terrorist cells or enemy states) who could cripple our infrastructure, utilities and communication systems. Real threats are insiders who already have access and know where the crown jewels are. Companies focus on hackers but that is the wrong assumption. And they always forget that it’s their poorly-written software that allows the hackers to exploit them in the first place. Fix the problem (bad software) and you mitigate the threats.

4) Security ROI is the Beacon

A recent Gartner survey noted that 25% of organizations are looking for a specific return on investment from information security investments. An additional 27% view it as a cost or risk avoidance investment, leaving only 48% of organizations that view security investments as a cost of doing business.

Until organizations let go of the desire to measure security ROI, they will never be satisfied with any investment therein. Your applications and data are liabilities, not assets. They are information security risks and liabilities that need to be mitigated, not exploited for ROI.

If companies thought about their applications as threats or liabilities instead of assets they’d treat them a lot differently, from conception through development and deployment. Think of security investment like an investment in term life insurance – you are mitigating risks associated with a liability, your mortality. We don’t die every year, but does that mean term life insurance is a bad investment?

5) Secure Software is Costly

Though it may add time to the up-front software development cycle, integrating security into each phase of the software development lifecycle (SDLC) saves tons of time and money in later phases.

Application security holes take a long time to troubleshoot, re-code and patch. Microsoft has some good case studies on this utilizing its Secure Development Lifecycle (SDL) internally on applications like SQL Server 2005. I realize they are biased in promoting that but the numbers don’t lie – SQL Server 2005 (which was built using SDL) has substantially fewer security bugs than either Oracle or MySQL. Check the CVE database for verification.

6) The Security Breach Du-Jour is the Most Pressing

This is a psychological problem more than anything. People react to the most recent scare.

For example, lost laptops from ING and Ernst & Young lead to organizations mandating hard drive encryption on all machines that leave the premises. A series of news articles on netbots result in heavy investments in IPS (intrusion prevention systems). This is a trend that is well-documented and a shame.

Organizations feel more at risk simply because they are aware of an incident that occurred at some other organization. The result is over-investment and investment in the wrong places because organizations try to mitigate a risk that they now perceive as real. The fact is that there are many more risks that are much more real and probably more damaging, but the recency trap has sprung. It happens not just in IT.

In 1967 Sweden changed from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right. What happened? In the 12 months following, auto fatalities dropped by 35%. Not because the right side of the road is safer, but because there was a change and people felt more at risk. Twelve months later, auto fatalities were exactly where they were pre-1967. People forgot they were at risk and adjusted behavior. Classic.

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you made it to this point without a major panic attack, that’s good. There’s no doubt that security has been one of the biggest pains faced by the IT industry in the last few years. And it will continue on this painful path if you bury your head in the sand thinking it will go away. Ask yourself:

1) How much value will adding x security control bring to my organization? And how much risk will that control help me mitigate?

2) How do I know I’m improving on security? What do we measure and are we using the right metric?

3) Do I need to make a security investment in this area (the answer isn’t always yes)? And what are the activities that provide the largest security protection here?

4) When I buy or build “y” product, what is the security risk in deploying it and how does that risk vary from product to product?

5) How will tools help my team? And do I need to provide them training to complement the tools?

6) What activities should the IT or development team be doing to ensure secure data and applications? Are we thinking of security at each phase of the software development and management lifecycle?

7) Is my business really at risk in this area or do I just perceive that we are because of recent events?

Common Smartphone Security Features And How They Work

There are several security functions on the average smartphone intended to protect your data from the outside world. Devices have always had several options for users to employ, but as mobile

Gone are the days when devices has only password, PIN, and pattern unlock options. In recent years, product makers have begun adding various biometric security features to smartphones. These measures allow device owners to use various body parts including fingerprints, faces, irises, and voices to unlock their devices.

Table of Contents

These functions can be set up in accordance with a user’s lifestyle. Smartphone users can also set up several unlock features for different security options on a devices. Take a look at all of the unlock features you may find on a smartphone, how they work, and how they may be beneficial to you as a user.

Note: While these directions are more specifically for Android smartphones, they are easily translate to iPhones where applicable


Many smartphone users commonly leave no mode of security on their devices, by setting it to have no passcode of any kind, or by using the Swipe to Unlock setting. This method leaves no mode of protection for a smartphone and typically isn’t recommended. If a device is lost or stolen, other users will have direct access to your most sensitive information.

If you insist on leaving your device without a security feature set, consider having a password protected folder of some kind on your smartphone. You can keep your most important information and apps in that folder, while having easy access to your smartphone for more mundane tasks.

To set this option for your smartphone, access Settings, Lock Screen & Security, and then screen lock type. If you have one, input your passcode or backup PIN to proceed. Select None or Swipe among the lock screen options. Your device will return to the previous settings page to confirm.


The password security option is the same as any other security option for a website or app. You can set a series of numbers, lowercase or capital letters, and characters as your password. A password is considered a high security option, but it depends on the complexity of your password sequence.

To set this option for your smartphone, access Settings, Lock Screen & Security, and then Password. You will see a warning that explains if you forget your password, you will have to wipe your device and take it back to factory settings. This means you would lose all of your data if it is not backed up externally.

Input your password once, select continue, and then again to confirm. If available, select the eye option to your right that will allow you to see the password as you type it. This will ensure you’re typing the password correctly. Select Ok. This will take you to a notifications settings page, where you can decide whether you want to receive notifications on your lock screen and how much detail will be shown on lock screen notifications. Choose your preferences and select Done.

It is highly recommended that you don’t use your smartphone password for any as a passcode for any other device, service, website, or app.


The PIN security option is popular among smartphone users because such codes are typically easy to remember. Users often select numbers that are of significance to them, making them less likely to forget. A PIN is considered a medium high security option, but it depends on the length and complexity of your sequence.

A PIN is typically a series of numbers. Depending on the device, your PIN can be between four and six characters long. Many smartphones use PIN codes as a backup security option for other login methods, so there is a possibility you already have a PIN set up on your device and don’t remember. I

To set this option for your smartphone, access Settings, Lock Screen & Security, and then PIN. Similar to setting a password, you will see a warning about what happens if you forget your PIN. Input your PIN once, select continue, and then again to confirm. Your device will return to the previous settings page to confirm.

On an iPhone you can select within the same settings whether you want a numerical PIN or an alphanumeric Password. On an Android device, the PIN and Password are two different security options.  


The Pattern security option is popular among smartphone users because it is easy to remember and inputting the set pattern design can be fun. A Pattern is considered a medium security option because many users may choose a simple design, however it is easy to modify a common design to a more secure pattern.

To set this option for your smartphone, access Settings, Lock Screen & Security, and then Pattern. Similar to setting a Password, you will see a warning about what happens if you forget your Pattern. Input your Pattern once, select Continue, and then again to confirm. Your device will return to the previous settings page to confirm.


The Fingerprint security option can be used not only as method of unlocking your device, but also as an authentication function for smartphone features, such as payment systems. You can use a set fingerprint to authenticate payment on Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Apple Pay on older iPhones. 

Some devices have a fingerprint scanner within their home buttons, while others have the feature on their back panels. Several newer devices have fingerprint scanners embedded directly in their displays. 

Smartphones typically require users to have a backup security option in place when setting up a fingerprint. You can select a Password, PIN, or Pattern as your backup.

The security level of this option is not clear, since functions such as fingerprint spoofing are possible, but not common. The fingerprint scanners on iPhones are considered more secure than those on Android devices, but the fingerprint scanner is now a rare option on Apple devices.

To set this option for your smartphone, access Settings, Lock Screen & Security, and then Fingerprint Scanner. Confirm your backup passcode and follow the device’s directions for recording your Fingerprint.

On most smartphones you will have to place your finger on the designated scanner location in several different positions for it to register your fingerprint. Do this until the progress is 100 percent. Select Done.

Once complete you will then see a Fingerprint Scanner settings page, which shows how many fingerprints you have registered on your device, the apps and services available for fingerprint verification, and an option to disable or enable fingerprint unlock as your discretion.

Facial recognition

The Facial recognition security option is another method that can be used for both unlocking devices and as an authentication function. The security level of this option depends on the device.

Many Android devices allow users to set face verification for certain apps, but the feature is not considered safe enough for payment authentication. Newer iPhones have Face ID as their only biometric option for unlocking and secure authentication, including Apple Pay.I

To set this option for your smartphone, access Settings, Lock Screen & Security, and then Face Recognition. Confirm your backup passcode and follow the device’s directions for recording your face.

On most smartphones you will have to hold the device slightly slanted and allow your face to align with the circular viewfinder that will record your image.

Once complete, you will be prompted to enable the function. Select Turn On. You will then see a Face Recognition settings page, which allows you to manage your face data, set up app verification and disable or enable the function.

Iris scanning

The Iris scanning security option can be used for both unlocking your device and as a form of secure authentication for payment systems such as Samsung Pay and Google Pay. The feature; however, isn’t that common on smartphones. Many devices favor facial recognition over iris scanning.

To set this option for your smartphone, access Settings, Lock Screen & Security, and then Iris Unlock. Confirm your backup passcode and follow the device’s directions for recording your irises.

On most smartphones you will have to remove your glasses and possibly your contact lenses and then hold the device forward to allow your eyes to align with the viewfinder to scan your eyes. Once complete, you will be prompted to enable the function. Select Turn On.

You will then see a Face Recognition settings page, which allows you to manage your face data, set up app verification and disable or enable the function.

Voice Detection

The Voice detection security option is a little known function that is available not so much for security, but rather for convenience. Users can set up Voice Match so that the Google Assistant on their smartphone will respond only their voice. Subsequently, you can set up Unlock with Voice Match to wake and unlock your device by saying “Ok Google.”

To set this option for your smartphone, access Settings, Lock Screen & Security, and then Smart Lock. Confirm your backup passcode and then select Voice Match. Select Access with Voice Match to record your voice for user with Google Assistant.

Agree to the terms follow the device’s directions for recording your recording your voice. Once back at the “Ok Google detection” settings page, select Unlock with Voice Match and confirm the prompt acknowledging the feature’s limitations. It details that after a few failed attempts, users will have to input their backup passcode to access their device.

Once set, if you say “Ok Google,” your device’s resting screen will turn on and go directly to Google Assistant, waiting for further instruction. Many users may not find this function useful unless they are avid users of Google Assistant. 

More Tips to Manage Your Smartphone Passcode

Users must set a backup passcode to enable a biometrics feature, such as fingerprint unlock or face unlock, but you can also use the biometrics feature as a backup up happen to forget your passcode. As long as your smartphone hasn’t been restarted you should be able to use your biometric options to access the device without a passcode.

The Smart Lock option that enables voice detection has other functions that allow your device to remain unlocked in designated safe spaces. With Smart Lock, you can set your smartphone to remain unlocked while on your person, when connected to Wi-Fi in trusted locations, or when in a location with another trusted device connected to the same Wi-Fi.

Register your device with the manufacturer if they offer such a service. You will need to create a username and password (like the Samsung ‘Find My Mobile’ option), which you can use to log in and make remotely make changes to your device.

Connect your Google account to your phone so you can always confirm that your device is yours if prompted.

Backup the information on your smartphone so that you will have all of your data in the event you have to factory reset your device due to not knowing the passcode.

Usability Vs. Security. How Various Operating Systems Manage Security

There is no such thing as perfect security in the computing world. There’s not even one “best” approach. Operating systems have to balance usability, user expectations, and simple operation with security concerns and do their best to make an appealing blend. Security is often the opposite of usability and flexibility, so finding the right balance is important to building a user base and maintaining longevity.

Different developers have different approaches to operating system security, from challengingly secure to problematically open. These distinctions often come down to philosophical choices expressed through security policies. You can understand how an OS sees itself, its purpose, and its users by examining how the OS handles security.

Highest Security, Lowest Usability: Tails

Tails is an extreme take on operating system security. It’s likely the most secure operating system available to the public. However, it’s extremely difficult to use for general-purpose computing. Tails is a “live” operating system, meaning it can be run on a computer from a DVD or USB drive. Tails has no save state and must start from “zero” on each boot. This fresh start erases any traces of previous user activity or possibly malicious software. When paired with the built-in security programs found in Tails, it creates an extremely secure operating system.

The limitations of this strategy are immediately obvious. Such an operating system is all but unusable for most general purpose computing. So who is it for then? Users who, for whatever reason, require that level of security. You’d only be willing to suffer through this approach if you had an extremely good reason to deal with the downsides. If your personal or professional safety depends on high security, Tails is a good tool. Such strong security can enable hackers and ne’er-do-wells, but it’s also crucial for the safety of whistle-blowers, investigators, and journalists.

High Usability and Security: iOS

Apple’s iOS offers high usability and high security but virtually no options for serious customization of the operating system. It’s a largely inflexible system. If you’re not happy with Apple’s design decisions, you had better hope they change it for you or consign yourself to a life of useless grumbling.

Apple often attracts criticism for its “walled garden” approach to software design on iOS, especially from users accustomed to greater freedom. This criticism is accurate, as any dispassionate user can admit. The choice undeniably restricts users and limits developer freedom, but it is not without its benefits. Designers leverage these restrictions to improve security and usability. When it’s hard to access system data or make changes to the system’s core functionality, less can go wrong, either accidentally or maliciously.

Take a recent example for illustration. Within the last month, some Android users discovered that their Facebook app had quietly hoovered up years of phone call metadata. iOS users, however, had no such problem. And it’s not thanks to the iOS users’ diligence: they’re just as lazy as everyone else. The iOS operating system simply prohibits such data collection.

Of course, this does limit the types of apps available on iOS, restricting user choice and limiting app developers. However, these limitations repay the user with fewer opportunities to break the system or decrease security. This choice represents a fundamental philosophical distinction in operating system security design when compared with more open systems like Windows and Android.

Moderate Usability and Security: Windows

Windows attempts to strike a practical balance between security and usability, permitting users to make major changes to the operating system while still preventing serious attacks. It’s a delicate balance, and Windows walk its tightrope carefully. A misstep in either direction often means a bad user experience or security problems down the line.

Fortunately, the adoption of Windows-as-a-Service in Windows 10 means that Microsoft can make major updates to the OS over the course of its life. And, in a controversial move, they can also force sufficiently important updates on users whether they want them or not.

It hasn’t always been a smooth road. Windows has sometimes suffered security flaws and software vulnerabilities. The attack surface is immense, and near-universal adoption makes discovering attacks and zero-days well worth the trouble. But considering that the vast majority of computing devices in the world run Windows, it’s a clear indication of the philosophy’s popularity. Perfection is not essential to success. Windows has proven that good-enough security and reliable functionality is an acceptable compromise for most personal and corporate users.

High Usability, High Security: macOS

Just like iOS, macOS offers an attractive combination of high usability and high security. However, users also get the major downside of iOS: limited user control. Apple tightly controls their software and hardware ecosystem, freeing them from the many security and support obligations that Microsoft labors under. As such, they have the freedom to create a highly usable and highly secure operating system, though there have been some embarrassing security black eyes in the most recent version of macOS. The system also benefits from some security through obscurity: with such a small segment of the desktop market, macOS doesn’t represent an appealing target for attackers.

Variable Usability, Variable Security: Linux

Linux might be the most flexible operating system architecture around, meaning it’s hard to say for certain what kind of security or usability the operating system has. It’s not a monolithic entity like macOS or Windows but a common feature in countless distros, ranging wildly in quality, scattered across the world. Thus, to talk about “Linux security” is to paint with an extremely broad brush.

In general, the Linux kernel is secure, but it’s just the core around which you build your own distribution. It’s theoretically easy to add packages that compromise that security, creating flaws where none previously existed. It’s also easy to build an operating system that only you would ever want, offering a degree of customization and control that’s simply impossible on other platforms.

Working with the most popular distros, like Ubuntu and Debian, will limit exposure to security bugs, but it’s a problem that infects all free and open-source software. Free software simply gets less coding attention than paid software, which we all learned to our detriment in the Heartbleed OpenSSL bug. Similar issues could be lurking in other popular open-source utilities, and we might not know until its too late. Like many things in Linux, it’s up to the user to manage their own security, ensuring they have a combination of usability, flexibility, and security that they’re comfortable with.

Moderate Usability, Low Security: Android

Android offers the user far more customization via flexibility. But as a trade-off, it’s far less secure than competing operating systems. This is almost entirely thanks to the distribution strategy rather than any inherent flaw or oversight in the operating system. Android isn’t “broken” or “bad,” but the way it exists in the market creates opportunities for exploitation.

The incredibly open system offers massive flexibility, so it’s cheap, widespread, and familiar to consumers. But from a security perspective, it’s a patchwork of vendor-specific implementations, slow-motion updates and near non-existent support from manufacturers after devices are sold.

Essentially, the only “true” Android experience comes from Google devices, but that represents an incredibly small segment of the market. Android in its purest stock form doesn’t have an inherent or design-based security problem. However, the way fragmentary and variable Android is implemented by vendors creates a potential minefield of security issues.


Perfect security is an illusion. There is no “best” operating system or a “right” approach to security. It’s about finding a balance between what you need and what you want in an operating system. Different strokes for different folks, and different ways to solve the same problem. This is why diversity in the marketplace is so crucially important: sometimes there isn’t a “best” solution, and you want a solution to a problem that best fits your philosophy and needs.

In a broad analysis, Windows manages the most popular balance between usability, security, and flexibility. Users have a significant degree of freedom to customize and even break their systems, but usability and design could be better managed. The many inter-operating parts of the Windows operating system provides fertile ground for security holes and a high incentive for attackers to find those bugs before Microsoft. But with constant patches and updates, Microsoft has done good work staying ahead of the curve.

iOS represents a different but also successful model. The iPhone rules the high-end smartphone market, remaining an extremely popular device year after year with users of all stripes. The usability and security improvements that iOS’ user restrictions enable are apparently well worth it for many users, and the system is well-designed enough that the inflexibility of iOS is barely noticeable.

Image Credit: Jhallard

Alexander Fox

Alexander Fox is a tech and science writer based in Philadelphia, PA with one cat, three Macs and more USB cables than he could ever use.

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