Linux is Better: Security

Although Linux has made it into the vocabulary of average people, many don’t know anything about it. They might know that it’s an alternative to Windows, but not why they should consider it. Sometimes the reasons get lost or confused in the din of over-enthusiastic FLOSS supporters … We’re kind of intimidating :)

In this article I’ll provide fact-based information addressing specific weaknesses in other operating systems (mostly Windows) and the related strengths in Linux.

Today, I’ll focus on security, which addresses the operating system’s ability to prevent unauthorized people from accessing or controlling your computer.

Security

In the early days of home computing, all we had was a command line. We could only run one program at a time, the only person with access to the files was the person sitting in front of it, and the web wasn’t even a thought. This was DOS. There were a few different brands, but the most common one was MS-DOS. The “MS” stood for… you guessed it… Microsoft.

Microsoft Windows has evolved from MS-DOS and it’s single-user roots are still evident. Windows has changed a lot to meet modern requirements, but mistakes have lead to critical system vulnerabilities and even problems for legitimate users (See User Account Control Criticism – Wikipedia). It’s an ongoing battle that Microsoft continues to fight because the underlying design encourages an insecure single-user paradigm. As features are added, problems are created that need to be fixed.

On the other hand, Linux (properly named “The GNU/Linux Operating System”) is based on Unix, a secure, multitasking operating system designed to be run by multiple users on a network. Although the Linux source is entirely independent of Unix, the same security model and multi-user paradigm was implemented. (See Overview of the GNU System)

Mac OS X is also based on Unix and implements most, if not all, of the security benefits described for Linux.

An example of these differences can be found in the typical software installation process. On a Windows system, software is installed in a central location for all users and application configuration settings are stored in the same central registry that has the operating system settings. When changes to these critical system files are required, the average user only needs to click on a button to accept the changes. On a Linux system, an average user can’t change any critical system files and can install new software to their home directory without affecting other users.

In terms of security, Linux is better than Microsoft Windows because the Linux security model originates from a multi-user paradigm while Microsoft Windows retains the basic complications of its single-user origin.

6 thoughts on “Linux is Better: Security”

  1. Nice try my friend….such simple and not too heavy stuff makes it easy to digest by an average Joe. Now that’s make your post is nice.
    Now just wanted to know(from the first few lines) How intimidating are we? Because we don’t want to draw them out Right?

    Azhar

    1. An example…
      My local Linux Users’ Group had meeting last weekend and there was one new guy. The new guy doesn’t have an IT background, but became heard about Linux when he wanted to build a home media center with a couple of computers and a TV. The rest of us are all programmers and have a long history with Linux. I got into a conversation with a couple of the other guys about the characteristics of different distributions which lead into a discussion of the virtues of one desktop manager over another. The meeting went pretty well, but the next day the new guy sent an email to the mailing list stating “I learned A LOT from you guys, but at some point I got lost.”
      We spoke on a different level than the new guy was ready for. He didn’t feel like he could participate in the conversation. That’s the kind of intimidation I’m referring to in the article.
      We need to have some way to bridge the gap between the guy who just wants to try out Ubuntu and the guy who is experimenting with different desktop managers. I’m hoping that this article and the others that follow will help with that.

      1. That makes perfect sense. Since Linux is open, anybody can look under the hood and mod/tune/hack it, or develop for it.
        Windows? Not so much.
        I know Windows well from using it for may years (and actually getting involved when NT was new circa 1993, writing a device driver) but I’d get lots at a meeting of Windows devs at Microsoft too.

  2. It comes to my mind the difference in File System Hierarchy and permission strategy create this… difference in security level…

    C:Users kinda like /home
    C:Program Files kinda like /usr/bin
    C:Windows kinda like /sbin and /etc (plus registry) and /var and /bin and … anything else.. <– the problem seems to be here….

    Just random observation… triggered by your software installation idea argument..

    1. Thanks Archayl. That’s probably the closest comparison we can draw between the filesystem layouts of the two Operating Systems. You remind me of one of my biggest irritations about Windows… inconsistency…
      If C:Users is equivalent to /home, what’s “C:Documents and Settings”?
      What are these?
      C:Program Files (x86)
      C:ProgramData
      Where are the files on the users’ desktop stored? C:UsersDesktop, C:UsersPublicDesktop, C:UsersProgramDataDesktop?

      I could go on, but I’m in danger of starting a rant :)

  3. Yes, Linux is intimidating to the average Joe/Jane because it is still deem as “hackers” OS. Blame in on the movies. I am one of those average Joe who are (countless of time) frustrated with Windows flaw. Maybe I’ll also try to bridge that gap since I’m just a normal user who just enjoy lesser, maybe non, frustration using *nix OS.

    p/s the comment section is very easy to digest too hahaha

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