Free Software - Security and Reliability

Security and Reliability

There is debate over the security of free software in comparison to proprietary software, with a major issue being security through obscurity. A popular quantitative test in computer security is to use relative counting of known unpatched security flaws. Generally, users of this method advise avoiding products that lack fixes for known security flaws, at least until a fix is available.

Free software advocates say that this method is biased by counting more vulnerabilities for the free software, since its source code is accessible and its community is more forthcoming about what problems exist, (This is called "Security Through Disclosure") and proprietary software can have undisclosed flaws discoverable by or known to malicious users. As users can analyse and trace the source code, many more people with no commercial constraints can inspect the code and find bugs and loopholes than a corporation would find practicable. According to Richard Stallman, user access to the source code makes deploying free software with undesirable hidden spyware functionality far more difficult than for proprietary software. As examples, he named two aspects of Windows XP that reveal information to Microsoft, which were discovered in spite of the estimated 50 million or more lines of Windows code having not been available to individual users for personal auditing.

Some quantitative studies have been done on the subject.

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