According to a report published November 12 by Aberdeen Group, "Security advisories for open source and Linux software accounted for 16 out of the 29 security advisories - about one of every two advisories - published for the first 10 months of 2002 by Cert (www.cert.org, Computer Emergency Response Team)."
Aberdeen says Microsoft products have had no new virus or trojan horse advisories in the first 10 months of 2002, while Unix, Linux, and Open Source software went from one in 2001 to two in the first 10 months of 2002, that in the same 2002 time period "networking equipment" (operating system unspecified) had six advisories, and Mac OSX had four.
In other words, all except Microsoft had increases in reported vulnerabilities this year.
"Contrary to popular misperception," the report says, "Microsoft does not have the worst track record when it comes to security vulnerabilities. Also contrary to popular wisdom, Unix- and Linux-based systems are just as vulnerable to viruses, Trojan horses, and worms. Furthermore, Apple's products are now just as vulnerable, now that it is fielding an operating system with embedded Internet protocols and Unix utilities. Lastly, the incorporation of open source software in routers, Web server software, firewalls, databases, Internet chat software, and security software is turning most Internet-aware computing devices and applications into possible infectious carriers."
The report lauds Microsoft for having overhauled its development process in an attempt to fix security problems, and says, "Perhaps it is time for some of the suppliers of open source and Linux software to take similar measures."
(You'll need to register with Aberdeen to read the rest of the report -- it's one of their free ones -- but I believe I've covered the Linux-relevant high points here.)
And yet, here I sit with my virus-free, trojan-free Linux box, receiving tons of viruses and trojans from Windows users (that don't affect me), watching news item after news item about sites run on Windows servers getting defaced and broken into.
According to what I've heard from my many sysadmin and network security specialist friends, no OS or network-connected software is secure unless it's administered properly and security patches are applied as soon as they are available.
And then, after I started writing this story, a ZDNet article with the headline Linux utility site hacked, infected came across my monitor, and I started wondering, "What if these Aberdeen people are right? What if this isn't just Microsoft-sponsored nonsense?"
I also think we have enough Microsoft viruses left over from last year that we don't need any new ones this year.
But the real issue is that we all need to be more security-conscious. The Aberdeen report points out that the system with the most reported vulnerabilities can change from year to year, but that the overall vulnerability and incident trend is up. Way up. In other words, whatever operating systems we use, we all need to watch out more for security flaws than we have in the past, and work harder to protect ourselves from them.