Security Technology Explained

How Every Operating System Keeps You Safe

Austin Luong 10-11-2017

Operating systems are responsible for being the go-between for allowing programs to run on your computer. They divide up your computer resources How Much RAM Do You Really Need? How much computer memory do you need? Here's how to check your installed RAM and how much RAM your computer needs. Read More , splitting them up between applications, to let you manipulate the hardware underneath. Put shortly, any machine that can run programs needs one, whether that be macOS, Windows, or Linux Which Operating System Should You Choose for Your Next PC? Buying a new PC? You have more operating system choices than ever. Which is the best operating system for your computer? Read More .


While some operating systems are more secure Qubes OS 3.2: The Most Secure Linux Operating System Qubes OS is a functional and intuitive security-oriented Linux operating system, and is used by Edward Snowden. Does its onus on security, superb compartmentalization, freedom, and integrated privacy features make it right for you? Read More than others, many modern ones these days do their best to protect themselves from potential problems out of the box. As such, it would be erroneous to say that just because some are known to have more exploits than others that they do so out of being bad.

This article will cover some of these techniques that are common to most modern operating systems.

1. Memory Protection

For programs to run, they must be given resources with which they can be quickly manipulated in. This comes in the form of RAM (Random Access Memory) Everything You Need to Know About RAM & Memory Management RAM is your computer's short term memory. Hence, memory management has a significant impact on system performance. Here we explain how RAM works and whether you can do anything to increase its efficiency. Read More , which does exactly that. RAM is a type of temporary storage (anything that happens in it is wiped on shutdown How to Speed Up Windows 10 From Boot to Shut Down Registry tweaks and ominous cleaners rarely fix a slow computer. We have compiled a list of tried-and-true methods that will give your Windows 10 computer an instant performance boost. Read More ), which lets data be written and read very quickly. When an app is started up, the operating system gives it access to a portion of this resource to run in.

Since all programs must use this resource, a malicious program could possibly access another location in memory, which it was not allocated to. A buffer overflow is an example of this. It denotes the manipulation of memory outside of the area they’re supposed to use. This can allow malicious code to run without a user knowing it, or to read things in memory that they shouldn’t.

how operating systems keep you safe


While operating systems 10 Free Operating Systems You Maybe Never Realized Existed Sick of Windows? Not keen on Linux? Consider an alternative, like these free operating systems that you probably haven't heard of. Read More can’t prevent these problems from happening, many modern ones do stop them doing damage. This is done through protecting areas in memory that programs are not allowed to access. Instead of allowing it to do anything, it will merely cause it to crash. Better that, than have any potential security breaches.

2. User Privilege Elevation

Operating systems also use the concept of privileges to help protect and secure down a computer. The idea behind them is that on one computer, there are a number of different users, with different things that they can access. For example, the ability to modify certain things, such as system preferences 9 Mac System Preferences You Haven't Tweaked Yet Whether you're new to OS X or a longtime user, there's probably something in System Preferences you haven't found yet. Here are nine things you might have missed. Read More , is a type of privilege. Without them, any program a user runs might have the ability to compromise the computer, changing the operating system.

Windows, for example, has the administrator account Windows Administrator Account: Everything You Need to Know Starting with Windows Vista, the built-in Windows Administrator account is disabled by default. You can enable it, but do so at your own risk! We show you how. Read More , which allows a user to make system-wide changes (e.g. in restricted folders 5 Default Windows Files and Folders You Should Never Touch Windows contains countless default files and folders, many of which the average user shouldn't touch. Here are five folders you should leave alone to avoid damaging your system. Read More such as where programs are located). Likewise, Linux operating systems have a super user account What Is SU & Why Is It Important to Using Linux Effectively? The Linux SU or root user account is a powerful tool that can be helpful when used correctly or devastating if used recklessly. Let's look at why you should be responsible when using SU. Read More which behaves in the same way, letting you affect almost anything without any sort of restrictions.

With great power however, comes a larger risk of breaking things… and potential damage if, say, malware was run using a high level of privilege. Regular users for example might not be able to ask certain programs to run on start up How to Control Linux Start-Up Services and Daemons Linux runs many applications "in the background" that you might not even be aware of. Here's how to take control of them. Read More . A user with more privilege however, could do so, along with any malicious programs they’re running.


As such, many operating systems these days do their best to lock down the privileges that a user has. This helps to lower any damage that can be caused by programs, 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer We would like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), but we all know there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked... Read More if they exist 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer We would like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), but we all know there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked... Read More . Put shortly, they can’t do as much to the system in that state, protecting it. They instead ask users when something wishes to do something important, so only things which they manually accept get through.

How You’ll See It

Windows, for example, has something called UAC (User Account Control) Stop Annoying UAC Prompts - How To Create A User Account Control Whitelist [Windows] Ever since Vista, we Windows users have been pestered, bugged, annoyed, and tired of the User Account Control (UAC) prompt telling us a program is starting up that we intentionally launched. Sure, it has improved,... Read More . It acts as a means of giving applications higher permissions to do things only if the user accepts it. By default, programs run with only a small set of privileges, with UAC telling the user when they need to do something else (e.g. change system files).

how operating systems keep you safe

Likewise, Linux has something a bit similar, in the form of something called Sudo and Polkit What Is SU & Why Is It Important to Using Linux Effectively? The Linux SU or root user account is a powerful tool that can be helpful when used correctly or devastating if used recklessly. Let's look at why you should be responsible when using SU. Read More . Put shortly, they’re two methods for doing the same thing: running a program with a higher level of privilege. The only real difference is that the latter is used mostly on Linux desktops 5 Great Linux Desktop Environments You Haven't Heard Of There are lots of Linux desktop environments out there -- including some great ones you probably haven't heard of. Here are five of our favorites. Read More , a bit like Windows UAC. Apart from that, they both work similarly, requiring users to enter in a password before proceeding.


how operating systems keep you safe

Mobile operating systems work on a completely different level. By default, users can’t even access such powerful privileges, unless they make some tweaks. This is meant to keep their systems as secure as possible, by limiting what they can do much more. Under iOS, it’s called jailbreaking A Newbie's Guide to Jailbreaking [iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad] Read More . The Android equivalent is rooting The Complete Guide to Rooting Your Android Phone or Tablet So, you want to root your Android device? Here's everything you need to know. Read More . Regardless of their names though, they do similar things.

3. Application Signing

Another important security measure which most operating systems use these days is application signing. It ensures that programs which you run on your computer come from a trusted source. That is to say, one which is not likely to try and hurt you Can Cybersecurity Keep Up? The Future of Malware and Antivirus Malware is constantly evolving, forcing antivirus developers to maintain pace. Fileless malware, for instance, is essentially invisible -- so how can we defend against it? Read More .

Programs, like anything else on a computer, are just made of a series of data. As such, it can be passed through and processed for verification — a digital signature of sorts What All This MD5 Hash Stuff Actually Means [Technology Explained] Here's a full run-down of MD5, hashing and a small overview of computers and cryptography. Read More — to confirm it as correct. Put shortly, this signing of an application makes sure that what you’re running is what you intended.


Usually, this process is done by certain authorities who allow people to sign their code (for a fee). This is meant to help confirm that whatever software is running isn’t designed to harm the users system. Programs with a large user-base generally have the ability to do such things.

how operating systems keep you safe

How You’ll See It

Most operating systems try to have some level of application signing. However, they won’t usually stop you if you try to run programs which aren’t verified. That being said, they do tend to give some level of warning against doing that. One example includes Windows UAC “unknown publisher” warning 10 More Windows 10 Features You Can Turn Off The Windows 10 Creators Update introduced a raft of new features, settings, and apps. We show you which features you can safely disable and improve your Windows experience. Read More .

how operating systems keep you safe

This isn’t something restricted to just a few operating systems, however. Many Linux operating systems The Best Linux Operating Distros The best Linux distros are hard to find. Unless you read our list of the best Linux operating systems for gaming, Raspberry Pi, and more. Read More have something similar as well. This comes in the form of software repositories, locations online which host programs which have all been signed and verified. In theory, so long as you don’t go installing programs from unknown sources Linux PPAs: Installation, Removal, and Security PPAs -- personal package archives -- are a way to install Linux software via the Terminal. But are they safe to use? How can you remove a PPA? And which are the safest PPAs to... Read More , you’re safe. However, that’s not always the case.

For example, mobile phone operating systems all host their programs in a single place. On Android, that’s the Google Play Store, and iOS, the App Store 8 Tips to Get the Most Out of the New iOS 11 App Store After a decade of no changes, the new App Store may feel a bit daunting at first, but there's plenty to love about Apple's redesign! Read More . All applications on them are meant to be trustworthy, and well verified. But that hasn’t always worked out Are App Stores Really Safe? How Smartphone Malware Is Filtered Out Unless you've rooted or jailbroken, you probably don't have malware on your phone. Smartphone viruses are real, but app stores do a good job of filtering them out. How do they do this? Read More in the past.

Not Defenseless

To put things shortly, while some operating systems are thought of as less secure than others, it’s not right to say that any of them are easily broken. In fact, there are many things which happen behind the scenes which help to keep your computer safe and sound.

That isn’t to say they are immune though. Security programs The 10 Best Free Antivirus Software No matter what computer you're using, you need antivirus protection. Here are the best free antivirus tools you can use. Read More are still important, as are techniques to practice on your own 10 Easy Ways to Never Get a Virus With a little basic training, you can completely avoid the problem of viruses and malware on your computers and mobile devices. Now you can calm down and enjoy the internet! Read More . There is no replacement for common sense and sound judgement, after all.

How do you keep your devices safe?

Related topics: Antivirus, Computer Security, Operating Systems, Security Certificate.

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