Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Microsoft offering free security software

Microsoft will be offering free security software. The stocks of security makers McAfee and Symantec were subsequently hammered, though they tried to spin this as a 'capitulation' on Microsoft's part. They are probably right.

Microsoft security software, will pretty much only set the baseline for hackers to work around. Windows is supposedly 'secure', yet hackers have been finding holes and vulnerabilities for years. An extra layer of Microsoft software will only create another layer to hop through. If it becomes widely used it could make the computing world much less secure. Uniformity and ubiquitousness makes things easier of hackers. Also, if it is 'too secure', it will often be bypassed to enable comfortable computer usage. If it is not secure enough, it will not prevent basic attacks.

The computer world could learn from agriculture. Large monocultures are highly susceptible to pests and diseases. An organism that attacks corn would find a heyday in acres of Iowa corn fields. Some extreme weather can also ruin crops all around. To counter this, large amounts of pesticide and other means are used to help fight the problem. And even these means are limited, as pests can evolve resistance.
On the other end, small scale organic cooperative farms are much less vulnerable, even without pesticide. Should the corn pest be in the vicinity, it may not even make it to the farm's corn crop. And even if it does, it would only impact a small portion of the farm (instead of wiping everything out.)
A computer culture with a diversity of platforms is much less vulnerable to widespread attacks. There are very few reports of Mac or Linux attacks. Are those platforms inherently more secure? Well, they may have some security advantages that make them more challenging to attack. But, a dedicated hacker could overcome them if they really wanted to. There main advantage is lack of monoculture. Linux and MAC platforms make up a much smaller share of the computing ecosystem. And even in that share, there are many different versions of the mac and linux operating systems. It would take a much greater effort to create a virus that could successfully attack these systems. And once created, propagation would be more difficult, because there are so many Windows 'dead ends'. It is much easier to create a bug to attack the dominant monoculture.
In the windows monoculture, a variety of 'pesticides' can help prevent spreading of bugs. If everyone used the same security software, then it would be simple matter of creating 'resistant' bugs that could overcome them. If there are a variety of different security systems, then the bug would have to be able to bypass all of them - a much more difficult task.

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