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Windows Vista security may still not live up to Linux

Windows Vista has new security features that will help improve functionality. But how does it compare to Linux? Our expert discusses the differences.

How does Windows' Vista seem to compare to Linux in terms of security?
Microsoft has been talking about Windows Vista security for years now and although it certainly seems like there have been substantial improvements on prior versions, I would say the jury is still out. Some of the more important security improvements from Microsoft include:

  • Adding and improving smart code and log-on authentication; a malicious software removal tool; user access controls; BitLocker data encryption; USB device controls; Windows defender; and a Windows firewall.

  • Changing the Remote Procedure Call (RPC) service in Vista, so that it is restricted from replacing system files. This same improvement prevents tampering of the registry or other service configurations.

    BitLocker is Microsoft's response to one of their top customer requests: to address the threats of data theft or exposure from lost or stolen PCs with a tightly integrated solution from within the Operating System. BitLocker prevents a thief who boots another operating system or runs a software hacking tool from a Vista box and prevents offline viewing of the files stored on the protected drive.

    Some Linux people are already complaining about issues with dual-booting as a result of this technology, but the system is certainly an improvement from what was available. Another lingering concern involves encryption being tied to an individuals user account, which make the tool inherently insecure.

    Perhaps the most important security feature is the User Account Control (UAC). This allows ordinary users to get more control and authority over installing, updating and changing their systems without having to become an administrator. In theory it looks good, but as a practical matter, the beta testers disliked that the system that was always in your face. As a result Microsoft had to throw in some fixes which made the system more bareable to users.

    Comparing this system to Linux is like comparing apples to oranges. Linux handles control of files and configuration settings through permissions and ownerships, with the usage of ACL's where necessary. That methodology, though far from perfect, is much more mature and has proven effective through the years.

    The Vista Security guide comes with two installation methods. The first uses the Enterprise client (EC), which is for the vast majority of users. The second is the Specialized Security –Limited functionality (SSLF) security configuration, which is for major financial or government intelligence agencies. Recent versions of Linux, such as RHEL, come with an option to add Security Enhanced mechanisms like SELinux. Even the biggest Microsoft booster would not compare a hardened SELinux server to anything Vista could do.

    Further, Linux doesn't need all the virus protection or malicious software removal tools because Linux systems are not virus or malware prone. It remains to be seen whether the proliferation of Vista systems will really make a dent in the amount of malware that we've seen across the years on Windows machines.

    Even though Microsoft has made strides with security in Vista, time will tell whether or not the enhancements made to it really allow it to be discussed in the same breathe with Linux or FreeBSD as a secure system.

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