Linux developers patch security holes faster than anyone else, says Google Project Zero

Linux programmers do a better job of patching security holes than programmers at Apple, Google, and Microsoft.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

There's a lot of FUD about how Linux is being shown recently to be less secure than proprietary systems. That's nonsense. But, now there are hard facts from Google's Project Zero, Google's security research team, showing Linux's developers do a faster job of fixing security bugs than anyone else, including Google.

Project Zero looked at fixed bugs that had been reported between January 2019 and December 2021. The researchers found that open-source programmers fixed Linux issues in an average of only 25 days. In addition, Linux's developers have been improving their speed in patching security holes from 32 days in 2019 to just 15 in 2021. 

Its competition didn't do nearly as well. For instance, Apple, 69 days; Google, 44 days; and Mozilla, 46 days. Coming in at the bottom was Microsoft, 83 days, and Oracle, albeit with only a handful of security problems, with 109 days. By Project Zero's count, others, which included primarily open-source organizations and companies such as Apache, Canonical, Github, and Kubernetes, came in with a respectable 44 days. 

Generally, everyone's getting faster at fixing security bugs. In 2021, vendors took an average of 52 days to fix reported security vulnerabilities. Only three years ago the average was 80 days. In particular, the Project Zero crew noted that Microsoft, Apple, and Linux all significantly reduced their time to fix over the last two years.

As for mobile operating systems, Apple iOS with an average of 70 days is a nose better than Android with its 72 days. On the other hand, iOS had far more bugs, 72, than Android with its 10 problems.

Browsers problems are also being fixed at a faster pace. Chrome fixed its 40 problems with an average of just under 30 days. Mozilla Firefox, with a mere 8 security holes, patched them in an average of 37.8 days. Webkit, Apple's web browser engine, which is primarily used by Safari, has a much poorer track record. Webkit's programmers take an average of over 72 days to fix bugs.

Project Zero gives developers 90-days to fix security problems. Besides the average now being well below the 90-day deadline, the team has also seen a dropoff in vendors missing the deadline or the additional 14-day grace period

Last year, only a single bug, a Google Android security problem, exceeded its fix deadline, though 14% of bugs required the extra two weeks. Still, everyone's doing a much better job of fixing security bugs than they've been doing in years past. 

Why? The Project Zero crew suspects it's because "responsible disclosure policies have become the de-facto standard in the industry, and vendors are more equipped to react rapidly to reports with differing deadlines." Companies have also been learning best practices from each other with the increase in transparency. I credit much of this to the growth of open-source development methods. People are realizing that it's to everyone's advantage to fix bugs together. 

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