27 June 2012

Operating Systems and Security

- It is often thought that a certain OS that is popular is more vulnerable to security breaches. While it can be accepted that corporate espionage strategies sometimes use this modus to give competitors a bit of a hard time, it is not an everyday occurrence. Since the 90s, breaches have increased in proliferation. This can be done by folks who just want to prove a point (political or otherwise), or, who just want to try their “skills.” We know of “patriotic hackers” who engage in cyber wars against enemy states. Just go to the right Security website and you’ll get stats on which countries  are resilient to attacks, while others are unprepared and therefore suffer the consequences. What does this mean for the end user, just switch to a “safer” OS (no OS is ironclad!) or, to employ ways and means to be constantly aware of the more common break-in methods and just keep on changing anti-virus programs? Each of these factors play an important role in preparedness. One cannot be changing furniture every few days! Much less an anti-virus program that embeds itself in the particular OS in use. It was presumed that only the Redmond OS was more susceptible than the OS from Cupertino, CA. Not true now; and how about the UNIX “progeny” that are used by more industries than either of the two? The big names running the global scenarios use the latter . It appears that this is the OS with substantially less cyber threats. Linux may be a tad more difficult to learn by the average user, but the different distros each have their own learning curves. Being in the scientific community, I may say that there are more applications well-suited for a particular task at hand  (be it aerospace engineering, or epidemiology) available in the Linux arena. 

- Over the last couple of days, I’ve been configuring Ubuntu on my system, and using desktop virtualization (VirtualBox). It wasn’t easy as pie, but it’s up now. This distro is supposed to be the easiest to setup, but it took me a few tries to get it running. Why install Linux at all? It’s always easier to work within a familiar environment. After all, why get to know a foreign language?. Well, I need it for my R&D purposes, and so, it’s a worthwhile pursuit. I started out in the early 80s with DOS, FORTRAN, BASIC and Pascal  in my research activities (whether on desktops or mainframes). When Windows came along, I had to learn that too. So, I’m into challenges and innovations. And aside from that, I work on algorithms and specialty code. There are a lot of coding sources available in the public access for my line of work .It really finally depends on one’s needs, whether personal or professional. All the tools are available out there: some free and others commercial. If you have loads of cash, then you can aim for the trusted brands. But if one were in a financial strait, opt for the public offerings. In the end it’s about usability for the tasks. Open-Source Software is evolving to the point of threatening the sales of the big guys. So there’s clearly a shift in paradigm. And with the recession, it may be practical to invest time and energy in learning new free stuff. This is an invitation to my readers. Challenge your neurons!

- One last thing: password strength, again. It is worth repeating here, and that is, learn how you can defend yourself better by understanding what it’s all about. Check out this recent good read on lifehacker.
-Well, this wraps it up for now. Enjoy your work, and have a nice day!

-Fernando Yaakov Lalana, M.D.

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