Tasmania's Department of Education has gone to market for antivirus software for its 40,000 desktop PCs and 1000 servers, specifying that solutions must be able to secure not only Microsoft Windows, but also Mac OS X and Linux, in a move that has once again raised the question of to what degree the alternative platforms require dedicated security software.
In a request for tender document issued last week, the department said that it requires antivirus/anti-malware protection software for its environment — for the "Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux-based operating systems".
The department currently runs Symantec's Endpoint Protection suite (version 11) on its 40,000 desktop and laptop PCs and 1000 servers, which are spread out across 350 locations around the state. The numbers make the Department of Education one of the nation's largest purchasers of end-user IT equipment, alongside other major government departments and corporations such as the major banks.
"The primary requirement is to achieve complete coverage for enterprise-wide protection against all forms of malware," the department wrote, noting that it may use multiple suppliers for different functions if necessary. "The software system is intended to provide enterprise level protection across these platforms from the full range of anti-malware; viruses, worms, trojans, botnets, rootkits, spyware, adware, URL reputation filtering etc."
The department requires interested suppliers to demonstrate how their software interacts with popular Microsoft software packages such as Windows, Internet Explorer and Office — but also alternative browsers such as Firefox and web-based email systems. In addition, it is interested in how the proffered solutions will secure Microsoft's latest operating systems Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2, as well as the incoming generation of mobile devices.
The Department of Education's stipulation that suppliers must support both Mac OS X, which is gaining popularity amongst Australian computer users but still holds a minority market share, and Linux, which retains a very small install base on desktop and laptop PCs, but is used extensively in server environments, is unusual in the Australian market.
Many technology specialists believe that both the Apple and Linux platforms are inherently more secure due to their shared history in the Unix architecture, which has suffered less widespread security attacks than Microsoft's dominant Windows platform over the past several decades.
In 2006, controversy swept the IT industry when the first virus for the Mac was claimed to be discovered in the wild, spreading through Apple's iChat instant messaging platform. Over the past few years, the number of malware instances discovered for both Mac OS X and Linux has rapidly increased, and a number of prominent security vendors such as Symantec, AVG, Kaspersky, McAfee, Sophos and Trend Micro have developed versions of their software suites specifically for the minority platforms.