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Friday, September 26, 2003

Windows Security Report hits home..and leads to author's firing

The publication of a report highly critical of Microsoft's security policies and calling Windows "a threat to national security" quickly led the firing of one of authors, Dan Geer, former chief technology officer of @Stake, a security consulting firm.

Slashdot members have been discussing the report and the subsequent fallout.

One of the major thrusts of the paper was the conclusion that the dominance of MS Windows has led to a "monoculture" of computer operating systems, where one virus, worm or other attack can disable millions of computers with a single blow.

Back in 1999, I wrote a piece entitled Genetic Diversity in Computers, where I discussed the same issue. When the population of an animal or plant is depleted to a great extent, one single virus or disease can drive the entire population to extinction quite easily. With some diversity in our computing platforms, some computers are guaranteed to survive even the most virulent attack as these exploits commonly focus on one particular computer platform...usually MS Windows. Without the diversity of Macintosh, Linux and other Unix variants, it is not too farfetched to see how a concentrated attack on MS Windows could effect more than 95% of the personal computers and network servers in the US and across the globe.

I believe even more strongly today that we need to develop a collection of separate, yet interoperable, operating systems in order to protect our future. Individuals and companies should be free to pick the operating system of their choice without worrying about how it will integrate with other operating systems. This ease of use will build a diversity to protect us against further attacks on Microsoft products and diminish the ability to cause great havoc by attacking the dominant operating system.


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