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3/24/2005
07:32 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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A Rant Is A Terrrible Thing To Waste

Should researchers have been quicker to disclose the source of funding of a study that found Windows more secure than Linux?

This article appeared in the Security Pipeline Newsletter

The Internet has produced two art forms so far: the goofy Flash animation and the rant.

Sure, there were great rants before the Internet, and there are great rants not on the Internet. The comedian Bill Hicks, who died just when the Internet was taking off in 1994, is considered by connoisseurs to be a past master of the form. John Belushi used to do these great rants on the Weekend Update segment of "Saturday Night Live" back 30 years ago. And we always like to watch "The Daily Show" on TV to see if this is the week Lewis Black is going to have an aneurysm and fall over on Jon Stewart's lap.

But, still, the Internet raised the rant to an art form. To look for the best rants, you have to go to the bowels of Usenet, and find raging flamewars on Windows vs. Linux vs. OS/2 vs. the Mac, abortion (either side), gun control (either side), and who was the best captain on Star Trek. (The right answers, in no particular order: Windows, Sisko, and, what, are you crazy, do you think I'm going to answer that here and lose my job?)

I was all geared up this week with not one but two great rants, but I find that the facts support neither of them. Alas.

Rant #1: The anticipated report finding Linux less secure than Windows has been released. And it turns out to have been funded by Microsoft. Can you imagine? I haven't been so surprised since Darth Vader said he was Luke's father.

Our recent article by Michael Cohn has some juicy details about the study, which was by Security Innovation and the Florida Institute of Technology's College of Engineering. Although our earlier article covered the study in depth, Mike reports some new information and detail.

I was all wound up to scold the researchers for failing to disclose the Microsoft funding sooner, when I had the following imaginary dialogue:

MY IMAGINARY FRIEND: "So, is the report worthless because Microsoft funded it?"

ME: "No, of course not. Microsoft has a right to speak out on this issue. And the study raises some interesting points. Prior to our earlier article on this subject, I would have said that Linux is more secure than Windows, hands down. Now, I'd say it may be impossible to tell which operating system is more secure. The question is meaningless, like deciding whether classical music is better than rock 'n roll."

M.I.F.: "If you'd known from the beginning that Microsoft had funded the study, would you have published an article about it?"

ME: "Almost certainly not. Maybe a couple of paragraphs, no more."

M.I.F.: "So maybe the researchers were wise to withhold the source of the funding until after the report was released? Maybe this allowed debate to focus on the SUBSTANCE of the report, rather than the funding?"

ME: "Oh, fine, yes, I suppose so. Say, could you pick me up some Starbucks?"

M.I.F.: "Sorry, I'm imaginary."

What do you think? Which is more secure, Linux or Windows? Does the source of the funding matter? Write and let us know; we'll publish the best of your letters.

RANT #2: Several respected technology news media reported that IBM was going into the business of mailbombing companies that send spam. I won't say who they are, except to say that their names rhyme with Wall Street Hournal, Mashhot, and CMM. I was all geared up to deliver a scathing rebuke to IBM, a multinational corporation with multibillion-dollar sales that's nonetheless too cheap to buy a clue. But it turns out that the stories got the facts wrong; rather, what IBM has developed is promising technology combining a limited form of challenge/response with a variety of other spam-screening measures.

More Noteworthy Articles This Week

Microsoft Begins Beta Of Unified Update: Microsoft Update is a substitute for Windows Update that will keep users current with security patches and other updates for not only the OS, but also Office and other products.

Spam Is All Your Fault, Says Study: Users are still clicking links and even buying products advertised in spam, according to the Radicati Group.

Struggling Against The Spyware Plague: Learn how IT managers, merchants, vendors and regulators are working to eliminate, or at least contain, the year's biggest security problem.

Microsoft Details Inner Workings Of New AntiSpyware: Windows AntiSpyware security software looks at criteria such as whether software is deceptive and how much damage it does to a PC to identify potential problems and make recommendations to as to whether the questionable software should be ignored, quarantined, or removed.

For more opinions, links, and humor about security, technology, and the Internet, see Wagner's Weblog. This week: Firefox add-on Greasemonkey customizes the Web, IT organizations don't innovate, IM pluses and minuses, Yahoo buys Flickr, flexible displays, and signs that the world is coming to an end.

And sorry about the whole Darth Vader/Luke spoiler thing if you haven't seen the movie.

Voting Booth: How You Read About IT

Cast your vote now: What's your favorite way to stay informed on IT topics?

RESULTS UNTIL NOW

Using a Web browser to surf to tech sites and blogs: 45%, 52 votes out of 115

Reading e-mail newsletters I subscribe to: 25%, 29 votes

Reading a printed magazine I can hold in my hands: 10%, 12 votes

Using an RSS reader or service to gather Web articles: 9%, 10 votes

Calling the Psychic Friends Network: 9%, 10 votes

I'd rather not read about IT topics: 2%, 2 votes

I was kind of surprised to see the Web emerge as the most popular channel; I figured among newsletter subscribers, newsletters would rank as #1.

Then again, the popularity of wise-guy responses indicates that this poll is even less reliable than other polls of this type, which are pretty darn unreliable to begin with. I mean, a combined 11 percent of respondents said they either get their IT news from the Psychic Friends Network or they don't want to get IT news. That's more respondents than get their news from RSS (9 percent) and equal to the number who prefer print publications.

This poll is being conducted through all of the TechWeb Pipelines.

We'll let the poll go another week. Respond or we'll have the Psychic Friends Network put a curse on you so that you'll always have squirrel poop in your socks.

As always, if you want to write to us about IT news or any other subject, send your e-mail to mwagner@cmp.com. We'll publish the best responses.

Mitch Wagner is editor of Security Pipeline

(Permanent link to this article.)

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