Linux might be your best bet for heightening your desktop computer security

With the threat of security breaches continually on the rise, it's time to take your operating system seriously -- and Linux is your best friend in this never-ending battle.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Person working on desktop computer
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Cybersecurity matters -- I've been espousing this hot take on Linux for a very long time. It seems, however, that the phrase "there's no time like the present" is more apropos today than it has ever been. And given it's Cybersecurity Awareness Month, it's a great time to talk about desktop computer security. 

Threats to security and privacy never abate. They are constant and they grow more widespread and effective with every passing attack. Bad actors are savvy and know the best ways to hit you with malware, ransomware, and other attacks that could steal your information and your identity. Once your identity is stolen, the sky's the limit on what a threat actor could do. 

One of the reasons for the scale of this threat is because, most likely, you use Windows as your primary desktop and laptop operating system. Unfortunately, the number of cybersecurity threats targeting Windows continues to increase, year after year.

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Before you start to get upset, this isn't another one of those articles that trashes Windows as a launching point. I'm not going to tell you how awful Microsoft Windows is. I'm not even going to mention how easy it is for ne'er-do-wells to use your operating system against you for the purpose of either stealing or ransoming your data. I also won't mention how vulnerable Windows is to numerous types of cybersecurity attacks.

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Instead, my goal is to explain the problems with Windows in a way that makes sense to anyone, regardless of how much knowledge they have of computers, IT, and technology as a whole.

A target on Windows' back

Imagine that you play on a sports team. It doesn't matter what team or what sport. For a very long time, your team has been absolutely dominant. Eventually, however, other teams start beating you. Next thing you know, every team has your number. How did this happen? 

Because your team was so dominant for so long, other teams got wise and started intensely studying the film of your wins to finally understand every play in your playbook. And because there was no need for you to fix something that wasn't broken, you continued playing those plays until, one fateful night, some bad actor (from another team) got their hands on your playbook to confirm what everyone else was starting to learn -- your team had weaknesses that could be exploited.

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Essentially, your team was hacked. Now, you're always on the defensive, having to scramble to come up with other plays to get back in the game.

And that's kind of what's happened to Windows over the years -- hackers know it so well because everyone has used it for so long. The proprietary operating system became so dominant that it developed a massive target on its back that is still "in play".

Linux and security

Linux, on the other hand, has not had a target on its back for decades and that different position has helped to lend it a level of security Microsoft cannot compete with.

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What's more, I can think of at least four other primary reasons why Linux has been more secure than Windows, which are:

  • User permissions: Linux has a much more structured and sane permissions system
  • Software installation: With Windows, you can find .exe and .msi files all over the net, many of them carrying a malicious payload. With Linux, you generally are installing from your distributions package manager, which is more secure
  • Open source: By design, the Linux code has been -- and can be -- vetted by thousands of software engineers
  • Frequency of updates: Linux updates not only happen regularly, but when a vulnerability is discovered, it's fixed immediately

I've been using Linux for almost three decades and I've only had one instance where a machine was hacked -- and that was a small business server that was also being used as a desktop (it was the only option for that business at the time). 

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That incident was also almost 20 years ago and I was doing some things with Linux that weren't exactly in the best interest of security, such as using the same machine as a mail server and an HTTP server while not using the firewall properly. That issue was totally on me, and I did finally fix the problem before any data was stolen. 

Had I been using Windows for that same purpose, the chances are pretty good that the second I discovered the problem, it would have been too late.

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As far as the desktop is concerned, I've not once had a security issue: no viruses, malware, ransomware, trojans…nothing. For the most part, my life with Linux on the desktop has been trouble- and worry-free since 1997. That doesn't mean issues don't exist, because they do. In fact, over the past five years, the amount of Linux-based malware has increased, but it's nowhere near the level found within the Windows OS.

The big question for me is why are so many people continuing to use the Windows operating system when a much more secure, user-friendly, and future-proof operating system exists? Even better, that alternative OS can be used for free, can be installed on older hardware, performs like a champ, and has thousands upon thousands of free applications available to install.

If the thought of using a much more secure, reliable desktop sounds like the smart move to you, I would suggest you start by reading through this post about the various Ubuntu flavors to see if one appeals to you. Otherwise, your search for user-friendly Linux distributions should start with one of the following:

Any one of the above distributions will not only keep you more secure, but will keep you productive and entertained for years to come (without having to upgrade your hardware). Enjoy!

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