Computer Security Software

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Since the 1960s, computer security software has grown to be an essential part of many business and government operations. As computers grow to play larger and more important roles in information processing, those that use them must continue to develop and implement inventive and comprehensive security measures. Computer security software is one way that users cope with the threats of hacking, information theft, and email-borne viruses.

One of the earliest types of security software was encryption software. Cryptography had been around long before computers, but it wasn't until the 1960s that cryptography became primarily based in mathematics--a shift that reflected the number-crunching abilities of computers. Before that, most types of cryptography had been based on language, but the shift to complex equations and algorithms in cryptography provided encryption stronger than any language-based codes, with flexibility to match.

Encryption software continues to be an important branch of computer security software. To encode and decode files, most current encryption programs use a symmetric key algorithm, an asymmetric key algorithm, or some combination of both of them. While asymmetric key encryption is generally considered to be the stronger encryption of the two, both types have their strengths and weaknesses.

Encryption Algorithms in Computer Security Software

The US Government standard is a symmetric key algorithm called AES. AES, like other symmetric key algorithms, uses a shared secret key to encode and decode data. AES uses the same key for both processes, allowing it to process data quickly and with little demand on the CPU. However, to combat the threat of key discovery by a cryptographic adversary, users must oftentimes employ regular key changes and other key management practices.

Asymmetric key algorithms use two keys--one for encrypting data, and one for decrypting it--to protect data. The decryption key, which is also known as the private key, is unique to the individual holding it. This reduces the need to communicate the key, and helps keep the contents of the file safe. Because of the complexity of the algorithms involved, however, asymmetric encryption requires much more processor power and processing time than symmetric key encryption.

Many commercial computer security software programs use a hybrid key cryptographic system. By encoding the main body of the data with a quickly processing symmetric key algorithms, but encoding the key itself with an asymmetric algorithm, hybrid key systems combine the speed of symmetric key algorithms with the security of asymmetric algorithms. To increase security one step further, many programs will store their private key information on a physical device, such as a small USB hard drive that can be carried on the user's person. Without the device, there is no way to access the encoded data.

Other types of Computer Security Software

Businesses and other organizations must also protect their information networks. Although it would require a lot of processor power to encrypt networks with the same process we use to encrypt files, computer security software provides other options for network security. Network administrators can use enterprise management software, "wall" building programs, and other computer monitoring techniques to keep their data safe.

Many businesses use Enterprise management and computer monitoring programs to not only protect their networks, but also to organize them. They can use computer security software to access individual user workstation data and create user groups, which can then be organized into different levels of server or Internet access. Administrators can also use such programs to monitor the use of computers in their networks, protecting them from viruses and malware through filtering techniques and provide real-time support for users. In most cases, all of these functions can be performed from a single workstation, allowing the administrator to implement software upgrade and company-wide computer use policies simply and quickly.

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