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Big Slapper Hits Town

Security, or should I say insecurity, once again rears its head. Slapper has been doing the rounds and then of course, there was the much-publicised launch of Nectar or more accurately, there wasn’t, as the Nectar.Com loyalty card site collapsed under the strain of registrations.

Unless you happen to be using Linux, then you have nothing to fear from a Slapper attack. But hold on a second, I hear you say, I thought Linux offered a more secure environment than Windows, so what’s this about is being handbagged?

In theory of course, Linux is more secure than Windows and as Eddie Bleasdale of Net Project points out, Slapper is a worm and not a virus and there’s a big difference, in that Linux is vulnerable, like any other OS, to implementation defects; in this case, not patching a known OpenSSL vulnerability, which left the door wide open to a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack which gobbled-up bandwidth rather than destroying data, as a virus might do.

Design flaws in the Operating System are a another story altogether and this, says Bleasdale, is where Windows suffers most because it was never engineered with a strong security model in mind, “the major difference being that the file structure doesn’t differentiate between executables and data”.

But if you happen to be responsible for Linux or even Windows Server implementations, you know you’re going to be shot at by someone and life today as an IT Manager, in some part mirrors the desperate defensive action of the soldiers defending a crashed helicopter in the film, “Black Hawk Down”. Microsoft, the Linux faction and indeed, even The White House, might stress that you have to stay constantly on top of the security updates and if you have a mixed-environment, Apache and Windows 2000 Servers, then you probably see perimeter defence as a full-time responsibility, as the problems, like the t0rn rootkit for attacking Linux implementations, keep on coming.

“No organisation”, say Eddie Bleasdale, can keep pace with the rate of change that Microsoft is imposing upon the desktop”, so while moving over to Linux might not offer perfect peace of mind, the future risks are considerably less than those associated with remaining in the same foxhole with Windows.

As you might expect, Microsoft’s Chief Security Officer (UK) Stuart Okin doesn’t share Eddie Bleasdale’s harsh view of the Microsoft world. He challenges Bleasdale’s statement on file structure as irrelevant, because Microsoft’s environment is controlled by the access control list. “It’s not about the vulnerabilities alone”, says Okin, “Its about how you manage them, how you deal with them and who is accountable to the customer”.

Okin insists that as a properly managed environment, following “best practise for people process and technology”, - nice soundbite Stuart - that Microsoft’s products are as secure as anyone else’s. “Look at the CERT.Org for evidence”, he says, “There are as many security advisories published for Linux as there are for Windows”.

If after reading this, you decide swapping one trench under fire for another isn’t a great idea, then who could blame you?


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