March 21, 2004

Proven: Windows is more secure than Linux out of the box

Author: David 'cdlu' Graham

After years of petty squabbling between the most innovative company in the software industry and a few pesky upstart hippie developers over which of their operating systems is more secure, the verdict is finally in. Microsoft's flagship Windows software is more secure than Linux. You can demonstrate this for yourself just as we did.

Most consumer Linux distributions come in both downloadable and boxed versions. Similarly, Windows may come either pre-installed or in a box. For purposes of comparison, we will consider only the boxed sets.

Operating system boxes, whether Linux or Windows, typically contain one or more CDs, a manual, and licensing information. Linux CDs often come in a paper envelope and can be removed and directly inserted into a computer. Windows boxes, however, come with a certificate of authenticity that Linux distributions lack. You are meant to remove the certificate of authenticity from the box and carefully scrutinise it to ensure that it is legitimate. In other words, if the features of the certificate match the description of the features of the certificate, then the software in the box is most likely genuine.

This extra security is invaluable in protecting Windows software from many of the evils that can plague a computer once it is set up.

In contrast to the flimsy paper envelope holding the Linux CD, the Windows CD is typically in a plastic case that is secured shut with a label that warns you to be sure you are in compliance with the licensing terms found elsewhere in the box before opening it. This security seal is designed to prevent worms from getting into the CD case and infecting your Windows installation before it is installed, and is an invaluable security asset.

Clearly Windows has the edge in physical security, but what happens after you slide each CD into the computer?

Once the Linux distribution CD has finished installing, the computer requests that a superuser and regular user account be created by the person. This obvious lack of security involved in having more than one user on a computer that can be logged in simultaneously has driven Linux into relative obscurity.

The Windows CD, at a similar point, demonstrates its superior security again. As the Windows installation process begins, it insists that a serial number be entered before continuing. Without this vital secret information, you can not continue installing. Most new Windows users are not aware that a Web search using the now-functional Linux box will turn up valid serial numbers, so this bit of security is the most powerful defence of all against unwanted back-doors in a Windows computer.

Once installed, Windows can easily be set up to connect to the Internet and be used to browse the Web, check email, and run productivity software without any flaws, and unlike the insecure hacker operating system Linux, will quickly and without complaint run any software offered it from any Web site or email attachment as requested.

We are forced to admit that, with the use of certificates, stickers, and serial numbers, Windows vastly outpaces Linux security out of the box.


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