Linux vs Windows: Malware

Dennis Faas's picture

I was chatting with a handful of my friends the other day when my favorite subject was raised -- Linux! Over the next few weeks, I'll try to write down the various things we discussed; it may open your eyes and get you to thinking more about Linux. ;-)

The topic that got the ball rolling was the question, "Can you give me just one good reason why Linux is better than Windows?" In fact, the question came from a Microsoft Certified Engineer (MCSE). He is one of those guys that has to have solid, factual, and absolute proof, and not just so-so reasons.

The FIRST item off the top of my head was, of course, Malware! We all have been fighting the war on Spyware, Adware, and viruses of all sorts. What you may not know, however, is that such things are all but nonexistent in the Linux world.

Linux hardly has any viruses. And that's not like "Oh well, not very often, you know." It is more along the lines of, "I think I may have heard of one a year or so ago but I may be mistaken." Of course, a Linux virus is not impossible to find. However, the Linux operating system makes it very difficult for a virus to materialize in the first place -- and for several reasons.

First of all, most people use Microsoft Windows, and pirates want to do as much damage (or control) as possible: therefore, they target Windows. But that's not the only reason; Linux uses smart authorization management. In Windows you (and any program you install) usually have the right to do pretty much anything to the system. If you feel like punishing your PC because it just let your precious work disappear, you can go inside the system folder and delete whatever you want: Windows rarely complains.

Of course, the next time you reboot, you pay the price. My point is: if a user can delete system files arbitrarily, other programs can, too. On the other hand, Linux doesn't allow that. Every time you request to do something that has to do with maintaining the system, an administrator (or 'root') password is required. If you're not an administrator on the system, you can't change or erase a thing.

In a similar respect, viruses, Spyware, and Malware can't travel haphazardly around the system and delete or modify files happenstance -- and that's simply because these programs don't have the authorization. In fact, most (around 90%) of all system configuration files can only be changed by the administrator -- and only if he has the root password.

Next question: "What about security flaws in a program?"

Unlike Windows, Linux Distros (Linux speak for distributions) are Open Source. That means the source code is freely available to anyone. With the hundreds of programs in a distro, there are thousands highly skilled and experienced developers along with a very large group of testers that spend hundreds of hours trying to find the errors and eradicating them. There is that old Chinese proverb, "Many hands make light work!" and it is very true in the Linux world.

Another thing, if the user community (folks like you) find something they missed, it will usually take just a day or two, when reported, to get a fix written and made available to the entire community.

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