Vista Security Woes

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Human (In)Security

But while Vista is safer than XP, experts expect online thugs to quickly look for ways to circumvent Vista's protections. One increasingly common method is to use social-engineering tactics to target the person, not the PC.

"People will still execute that file to see Paris Hilton's next video," says Thompson of Exploit Prevention Labs. Social-engineering techniques that send malware in the guise of a game or a sexy video exploit people's curiosity or ignorance to get them to click a tainted link or attachment. If someone clicks, the malware has already evaded half of their computer's automated defenses, including the firewall. "Vista is an improvement," says Thompson, "but it's not the end of the malware industry. Not by a long shot."

Another potential end run around Vista's defenses is to attack programs rather than the operating system. Media players such as the Adobe Flash player and Apple's QuickTime have suffered recent attacks as hackers discover and exploit serious software vulnerabilities--with poisoned online movie files, for example. To keep your machine safe, patching your programs has become just as important as fixing the operating system they run on.

"The applications are sitting on every desktop, and they all have known vulnerabilities," says Andrew Jaquith, a security analyst in The Yankee Group's Enabling Technologies Enterprise division.

For PC users, the message is clear: Though Vista may make things more difficult for crooks, it is far from impregnable. You will still need to apply patches to close the inevitable holes.

And finally, you must still use the same type of antivirus protection that you needed with XP. (For our review of antivirus programs available for Vista, see "Virus Stoppers.")

Vista's Vulnerabilities

To date, three serious holes have been found--and patched--in Vista, as follows:

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