Is Linux Still The Safest Operating System?

When you first started to see personal computers come on the scene back in the late 70’s and early 80’s there was not that much thought about the security of the devices. The people who created them did not envision that soon they would be used to talk to people all around the world. When you finally did get some of the signs that the personal computer would be used for networking, most of the time it was between people who already knew each other or professionals who were using it for work. But as more people started to purchase home computers and the more the networks started spreading, computer security became an issue.

linux-safest-os

Hackers both on the good side of the law and the bad started to figure out that they could use their computer and access another person’s computer over the network without anyone noticing. This especially became a problem when teenagers with nothing else better to do started figuring out that they could do this as well. What started out as little pranks started to become a real problem because they were started to access sensitive information on these computers. The companies that made personal computers and operating systems knew that there had to be a change.

But the change did not come quick enough. While the security changes in the popular operating systems at the time were incremental at best, the hackers got better in wide leaps and bounds. They found that they were able to access systems through a numerous amount of holes in the machine. And through all of this time both the personal computer and the internet started to become more and more popular. There were targets everywhere for a hacker to do damage.

At the time, Microsoft Windows was the biggest operating system in the world. It was both popular in the work place and at home. Since this was the case, most of the attacks on networks were aimed at Microsoft systems. And Microsoft did not handle this very well. They waited and waited until their reputation was pretty much slandered before they got serious when it came to securing your computer. And so even in this time, while Windows 7 is one of the safest operating systems on the market, it still has the reputation of having the most holes. But does it really? What about the other operating systems out there such as Mac OS X and Linux? While OS X has made some improvements lately it is Linux that has always been known as one of the safest operating systems to use. Is it still that way?

What is Linux?

While most people who are reading this article should already know what Linux is, there are some people who do not. Linux is an operating system just like Windows or Mac OS X. The difference being is that it is a completely open sourced operating system that allows anyone to work on the code. This means that if there are any problems with the operating system people can examine the code and figure out a fix for it. Once the fix is made, then it can be shared with the other installations of Linux.

And this is what makes the system so secure. You are able to get fixes all of the time and they come in more regularly than the other operating systems do. Also what makes Linux more secure is that it is based on the UNIX operating systems which when it was built, was built for security. Several people at the same time used UNIX computers so there was always a concern that it needed to be built with protection.

But recently there have been more and more holes found in Linux that have let the bad guys cause more serious damage. The problem with Linux is that it is the most popular server in the world. So while the bad guys are not able to find that many people using Linux at home, they will find Linux on a bunch of servers that are out there. That makes Linux a real tempting target when it comes to exploitation.

While Linux has had more problems than it used to, it is probably just as safe as the other operating systems that are on the market. Where once it had a wide lead when it came to security, that gap has narrowed a lot and there is very little difference between it and the other operating systems. But when it comes to using it as a server, it is still one of the safest operating systems out there. You can make a Linux server very hard to crack into. You just have to be willing to learn about it and make sure that you know what you are doing.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.

Comments

  1. As an addendum to my last comment I am currently using windows 7 and was thinking of running them in parallel ! Is this advisable?

    • What you could do Tom is go over to VMware.com and grab a free 30 day trial of their Workstation software and then install and use Linux in a virtual environment. That will give you a no-risk opportunity to evaluate Linux without disturbing your current Windows installation.

  2. I was thinking of downloading Linux for my home use. Is it safe to do so or should I wait until the arguments quieten down?

  3. windows 7 could be the safest windows version ever…
    but linux was and still IS the safest OS out there!

  4. Michel Blais says:

    Lol, a os security article without mentionning OpenBSD, what a joke.

  5. windows 7 or any version keep itself the most insecure operating system, and linux keep its security better than ever i think lee you need really use linux and then write an article because you appear know just things about win 7… The worst o.s.

  6. Joe Hulanwebersons says:

    This guys an idiot. Where does he come up with this stuff. Windows 7 security is worse than ever, and linux has never been secure from the start. Everybody knows that having the source code open in Linux makes it a hackable sitting duck since all the hackers can find the loop holes. And everyone thinks windows 7 is great, but I was told that all the new features and bling have created a security nightmare. I’m sticking with windows xp since it is the only truly secure operating system out there right now.

    • I agree with you that Win7 security is no better than previous versions of Windows, but your statement about Linux is as bone headed as article the retail clerk wrote. “Everybody knows” that security by obscurity is one reason why the worlds largest bot farm was found last fall. It contained 1,500,000+ Windows zombies. During that same period of time a Linux bot farm was discovered. It contained only 700 Linux zombies and it took a team of hackers over six months to accumulate that meager total. About the only way you can infect a Linux box is by manually breaking into it. Even that is difficult and it is risky. Being one-on-one it is not a very efficient method to acquire a large number of zombies.

      Why do email attacks against Linux fail? The difference between the security paradigms. When a virus hits the email inbox on a Windows installation an ActiveX control executes any attachments, leading to in instant infection. When an email carrying a maleware payload arrives at at the inbox on a machine running Linux the email just sits there, the payload remaining inert. The user has to
      1) save the payload. In Linux EVERYTHING is a file. Only files can be run.
      2) mark the execution bit. And that assumes that the file is a valid script or ELF binary. If not, nothing will happen.
      3) run the file manually.

      According to Ballmer’s presentation TWO years ago, Linux was at 12% desktop market share. Since then, and as the result of VISTA and Win7′s problems as well, the percentage of Linux desktops has increased. IF the vulnerability of Linux were related only to market share and not quality of code, one would expect that 15% of the 2 to 3 million viruses created each year would be for Linux. The three steps I’ve outlined are the reason why you seldom see a email virus for Linux. They just do not work. In fact, in the 13 years I’ve been using Linux I have yet to see a single Linux virus arrive at my mail box, nor has it ever been hacked, and it is online at leat 12 hours each day.

  7. /* Lee is a Retail Manager who wishes he had chosen a career in Information Security. His non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions. */

    The above says it all. Opinions not facts and false equivalences.

  8. This is the old “hackers hack because it’s popular” meme.
    There is a huge structural difference between windows and Linux.
    Linux with SE linux properly configured vs windows is the difference between a massive monitored safe and a wet cardboard box.

  9. Just wasted my time reading this article. Full of Carp and Garbage.
    Biggest joke of the day – Windows7 is the safest operating system.

  10. Wasted my time reading this article. Yet another Microsoft fanboy writer.

  11. @Rambo Tribble
    sed -i ‘s/Linux/Windows/g’

  12. Another garbage article…

  13. Here’s my breakdown:

    Security: If Linux is a soviet tank, Windows is a custard tart.

    I’ve included just as much justification in my breakdown as you have. :D

  14. Gee thanks for the opinion filled post, not like you provide any information for someone to make an informed decision. Quite frankly, suggesting that Windows 7 is one of the safest operating systems on the market, clearly indicates you have no idea what you speak of.

  15. You have provided no actual security information whatsoever… not even bad information, aside from a some undefended statements and a lack of understanding regarding the history of UNIX.

    You made no mention of security mechanisms, security philosophy, security certification, or even a rudimentary vulnerability count.

    Why make a post like this and not say anything?

  16. Rambo Tribble says:

    With wide deployment, Linux has lost the dubious mantle of “security through obscurity” and the rapid development process has undermined security through a proliferation of regressions and bugs. Still, as you say, the server can be quite sufficiently hardened by the knowledgeable administrator. I would simply add the same can be said of the desktop.

  17. salparadyse says:

    I’ve read some rubbish in my time but this just about takes the biscuit.

    “While Linux has had more problems than it used to, it is probably just as safe as the other operating systems that are on the market.”
    How much are Microsoft paying you to write this?

    Seriously, you are going to get your arse handed to you in a basket for this article.

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