Study warns of open-source security danger

An upcoming study from a conservative US think-tank will warn that open-source software such as Linux could put e-commerce, air traffic control systems and national defence at risk

A US conservative think-tank is to suggest in an upcoming report that open-source software is inherently less secure than proprietary software, and will warn governments against relying on open-source for national security.

The white paper, Opening the Open Source Debate, from the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (ADTI) will suggest that open source opens the gates to hackers and terrorists. "Terrorists trying to hack or disrupt US computer networks might find it easier if the federal government attempts to switch to 'open source' as some groups propose," ADTI said in a statement released ahead of the report.

Open-source software is freely available for distribution and modification, as long as the modified software is itself available under open-source terms. The Linux operating system is the best-known example of open source, having become popular in the Web server market because of its stability and low cost.

Many researchers have also suggested that since a large community contributes to and scrutinises open-source code, security holes are less likely to occur than in proprietary software, and can be caught and fixed more quickly.

The ADTI white paper, to be released next week, will take the opposite line, outlining "how open source might facilitate efforts to disrupt or sabotage electronic commerce, air traffic control or even sensitive surveillance systems," the institute said.

"Computer systems are the backbone to US national security," said ADTI chairman Gregory Fossedal. "Before the Pentagon and other federal agencies make uninformed decision to alter the very foundation of computer security, they should study the potential consequences carefully."

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