Today, most PC users use 64 bit operating systems. 64 bit versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 are bundled with almost all new PCs sold today. 32 bit operating systems are a thing of the past – at least on new PCs.
But on older PCs, 32 bit operating systems are still very common. If your computer is more than a few years old, then you could have a 32 bit operating system installed. This is a bad thing if you’re concerned about security because 32 bit viruses are more susceptible to viruses, malware, and other serious computer problems.
How to check if you’re using a 32 bit PC or a 64 bit PC
Check your operating system by going to the Start menu and clicking on ‘Run’. Or, if you’re using Windows 7 or Windows 8, you can simply type the following directly into the search bar before pressing Enter:
This tells your system to run the DirectX Diagnostic Tool, which identifies core parts of your computer, including the amount of RAM you have, the type of CPU and video card you’re using, and most importantly for this article, the operating system version you’re using. At the top of the Dxdiag tool, you’ll see Operating System. As you can see in this screenshot, my operating system is Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.
If you’re using a 64 bit operating system, then your system is already secure for the purpose of today’s lesson. But if you see ’32-bit’ on that line, you’ll want to learn how to make your PC more secure by reading the sections below.
Why 64 bit is more secure
64 bit is more secure due to a number of system architecture differences. Without getting too technical, those differences include:
-Address Space Layout Randomization: ASLR assigns random data locations to programs, making it difficult for viruses to figure out how to attack that data. On 32 bit systems, data locations can be predicted, which means viruses have an easier time finding your personal information.
-Mandatory driver signing: Mandatory driver signing is one of the most important security features with 64 bit versions of Windows. 32 bit users can be victimized by false drivers, which means that inadvertently downloading a seemingly safe driver online can instantly put your computer at risk. Mandatory driver signing requires all important software to be verified by Microsoft’s server. This doesn’t make it impossible for viruses to slip through the cracks, but it makes it significantly more difficult.
Kernel Patch Protection: KPP is a 64-bit exclusive feature that prevents unauthorized software from running on the Windows operating system, even if they’re using “kernels”. Kernels are semi-isolated operating system environments within the Windows operating system which unauthorized software could previously use to launch dangerous applications.
Data Execution Prevention: Data Execution Prevention (DEP) prevents attackers from accessing certain parts of the memory. In other words, important parts of the Windows operating system become inaccessible to data execution operations.
These are only a handful of the software-based restrictions available to 64 bit versions of Windows as opposed to 32 bit versions. Thanks to these and other architectural enhancements, 64 bit versions of Windows are significantly more secure.
What this means for you
If you’re not a techie, then most of the terms above won’t mean much to you. But here’s the important part for you:
Upgrading to a 64 bit operating system like Windows 7 or Windows 8 will give your PC a significant boost in terms of security. Additionally, Microsoft updates its 64 bit versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 more frequently and devotes the bulk of its security resources to these two operating systems.
To upgrade to 64 bit versions of Windows, simply visit your local electronics store and purchase a copy of Windows today.