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The Internet originally came as a bit of a shock to Microsoft, and although its Windows 95 operating system can deal with the Internet, it doesn't offer much protection against hackers. It's full of security holes.

Windows 98 is much better, and Windows NT has good security.

Security holes (bugs)

The Microsoft Windows operating system was originally developed for individual PCs and secure networks - the kind you get in offices. It wasn't created for the insecure, anarchic network of the Internet.

In the early stages it wasn't designed for the Internet at all, because Microsoft didn't think the Internet was important. The Internet has had to be tagged on to it, and that's led to some weaknesses, commonly known as security holes.

A security hole (or at least the kind we're talking about here) allows somebody into your computer via your Internet connection. Big holes allow them to take over your computer completely. Little holes maybe give access to the contents of your clipboard or the last password you entered.

Other operating systems such as Linux and Mac OS also suffer from security holes, but not to the same extent as Windows.

To be fair, we have to exclude Windows NT here. This is the version used by computer professionals and it has some holes but not many. It's relatively secure.

At the opposite end of the scale is Windows 95, which is riddled with holes and very insecure. If you're on the Internet and a somebody with good computing skills decides to get inside your machine, you'll find it hard to stop them if you're running Windows 95.

Windows 98 stands somewhere in the middle. It's much safer than Windows 95 but nowhere near as good as NT. Windows 2000 is close to NT standard and worth upgrading to if you're worried about security.

All this may come as a bit of a surprise if you thought your personal computer was secure when you're on the Internet. Currently, most personal computers are not secure. The only reason it's not a major problem is that hackers have better things to do than waste their time trying to get inside small computers full of family dog pictures and emails from Aunt Flo. They want to get inside company Web servers and databases, where they can have more fun.

The war between hackers and Microsoft programmers is destined to go on indefinitely. The good news is that Microsoft seems to have realized (only very recently) that it is a major combatant in this war. For many years it didn't seem to recognize that this war existed at all. That's why there are so many insecure computers connected to the Internet right now.

Examples of holes

Improving computer security

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NetworkWorldFusion looks at Microsoft vulnerabilities

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