Operating system security is always a hotly contended subject, and last week Microsoft amped up the hype by claiming that Windows Vista and the soon-to-be-released 7 is the world's most secure OS, beating both Linux and Mac OS X.
Here's what Microsoft's chief operating officer Kevin Turner had to say at the MidMarket CIO Summit last week:
Vista today, post-Service Pack 2, which is now in the marketplace, is the safest, most reliable OS we've ever built. It's also the most secure OS on the planet, including Linux and open source and Apple Leopard. It's the safest and most secure OS on the planet today. Everything that we've learned in Vista will be leveraged in Windows 7, but certainly when we broke a lot of the compatibility issues to lock down user account controls, to lock down the ability to manipulate states and all the things, that was a very painful process for us to grow through, but we had to do it. And the reason that Windows 7 will be successful is because of the pain we took on Vista. Because from a compatibility standpoint, if it works on Vista, it will work on Windows 7. If it doesn't work on Vista, it won't work on Windows 7. [emphasis added]
The "my OS is better than your OS" debate is usually a pointless exercise because the conclusions are ultimately unsatisfactory. It's a bit like asking whose Mom makes the best apple pie or who is the best driver. Our prejudices get in the way of a logical debate.
However, despite being primarily a Windows user, I can't help but feel that Microsoft's "most secure OS on the planet" statement is rooted more in hyperbole than fact. If Turner had said "most secure Windows OS on the planet" I might have been happy to buy that. But to say that it's more secure than Mac OS X or Linux, gimme a break. All my Windows machines are beefed up with additional body armor in the form of firewalls and antivirus applications, additions that are unnecessary on my Linux or Mac systems.
While I know how to keep my Windows boxes safe from the bad guys, I'm not sure if I could hand my Mac or Linux systems over to bad guys if I wanted to. The critical difference here isn't the OS but the volume of threats facing each one. I'm happy to leave my Mac or Linux boxes unpatched for months, but feel quite vulnerable if my Windows boxes aren't patched by the end of Patch Tuesday, and with good reason. That to me is a critical test in determining whether an OS is secure.
Can the dominant OS ever be the safest OS? I'm not sure it can ever be the safest choice.