Security Isn’t Just Avoiding Microsoft (but it helps ;)

“Security Isn’t Just Avoiding Microsoft”

So says this article. Its true (thought it certainly helps ;) What gets me are comments like this:

How would life without Microsoft be different? It wouldn’t be in any meaningful way for those in charge of network security; there would just be a different vendor peddling the dominant operating system.

Consider that Microsoft is not just the ‘dominant’ OS out there; Windows does not just have a plurality, a majority, 2/3, or even 3/4 of the market; they almost certainly have at least 90% of the market, with the vast majority of that (80~85% of the market) as a single version (XP). That is an effective monopoly, or in biological terms a monoculture. Monocultures are highly susceptible to disease [Update March 9, 2008: e.g. some bad news about bananas]; Windows is highly susceptible to viruses, worms and malware far too numerous to list. This is not a coincidence (though shoddy MS coding practices help :P But we’re talking about the monoculture aspect now). Part of the Windows XP monoculture was IE6 (which, due to practically criminal neglect on the part of Microsoft, was especially vulnerable). Right now Firefox and IE7 are helping restore balance, but soon (except in Europe :) IE7 will be the new monoculture and things will get bad again.

What can be done?

– First, the current monoculture must be destroyed!

If you must use Windows, do it as little as possible; consider dual booting with Linux (e.g. Ubuntu). When you use Windows though, try to avoid using IE: use Firefox, Opera, etc.

When buying a new computer, avoid Windows like the plague (no pun intended :) Buy an Ubuntu system or get a Mac. This will take a while to begin to resolve matters though.

– Second, no new monoculture must be created!

Seriously! :) A Mac monopoly or a Linux monopoly (while almost certainly better than a MS one ;) would still be a dangerous scenario. What is needed is diversity. This is what you see in nature and it works.

In Linux I hope that KDE and Gnome remain separate viable codebase projects for as long as possible; it ensures healthy diversity. Imagine how much better things would be if the OS market were divided up more-or-less evenly between Windows, Mac, KDE Linux (e.g. PCLinuxOS) and Gnome Linux (e.g. Ubuntu) and the Browser market between IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Konqueror. More choices would help, though four or five is a reasonable number IMHO. Also if you could have different combos, that would be great (consider that either KDE or Gnome Linux can run pretty much everything except IE and Safari without trouble and IE just needs Wine and a little help).

Diversity will significantly help to reduce the incidence of major outbreaks online. Hopefully its not just a dream and we’ll actually see it in the not too distant future :)

For IT people, “within your own organization” you can help encourage diversity in computing by supporting a good mix of software; it will be more work to maintain, but it will also help make the disasters smaller when they strike ;)

Update May 20, 2008: a very interesting post about South Korea, “the cost of monoculture

This nation is also a unique monoculture where 99.9% of all the computer users are on Microsoft Windows. This nation is a place where Apple Macintosh users cannot bank online, make any purchases online, or interact with any of the nation’s e-government sites online. In fact, Linux users, Mozilla Firefox users and Opera users are also banned from any of these types of transactions because all encrypted communications online in this nation must be done with Active X controls.

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5 Responses to “Security Isn’t Just Avoiding Microsoft (but it helps ;)”

  1. Dick Says:

    I think simply encouraging diversity within a workplace would pay dividends, at least as far as security and productivity. When a major virus or worm hits, those who are using non-MS software will still be able to get their work done.

    I think IT could help move things along by simply distributing live CD’s and open source packages to workers and encourage them to try things out. Right now, MS has a death grip on most businesses and institutions which does threaten the security of any nation or entity that is too reliant on this one company.

    dcik

  2. Steve Jobs snubs Firefox « Limulus Says:

    […] that was intentional, it was certainly irresponsible; the web would benefit from *more* diversity, not less. Also, wiping out a good open source program like Firefox would be a shame :) But I suspect it was […]

  3. Microsoft must be hurting for market share: no more WGA for IE7 « Limulus Says:

    […] and Safari, I highly encourage you to get a feel of what other browsers are out there to avoid monoculture […]

  4. Saskatchewan Wayside Wildflowers (and a little rant about lawns) « Limulus Says:

    […] aside to rant: lawns are a pain; they suck water like crazy and if you want a perfect monoculture you have to apply poisons that are dangerous not only to those applying them, but also to pregnant […]

  5. Seven Years of W3Schools.com Browser Data « Limulus Says:

    […] Paradoxically, with each new IE browser release, the total IE share will almost certainly drop; IE7 won’t be doing that much better than it is now and IE8 will start the replacement cycle all over again.  As people are forced to confront something new, they will temporarily consider alternatives and some of those people will switch.  The current ‘minor’ browsers (Chrome, Safari and Opera) will each gain some market share, though again, it will be interesting to see if any can break out of the ‘minor leagues’.  Once the already open-source Chrome is truly cross-platform, that may happen (and I would be glad if it does, since monoculture is a BAD thing). […]

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