Users are protesting vehemently against the anti-virus community's view that Unix is no more secure than Windows NT.
Comments made by Symantec and Sophos last month that there was nothing about Unix that made it less vulnerable to virus attacks than NT have been vigorously contested.
One software developer said: "In over a decade of computing I have never, repeat, never seen a Unix virus."
Neil Barrett technical director of security consultancy company IRM agreed. He said: "In the last 15 years there have been around 80,000 viruses for Microsoft compared to one for Unix - the Bliss virus of 1997."
Helen Flynn senior research analyst at Gartner Group blamed the prevalence of viruses attacking Microsoft systems partly on the software giant's success. "A virus writer's goal is notoriety. If everybody used Unix on the desktop then more viruses would be written to infect Unix."
Barrett backed overwhelming user opinion that, "all things being equal, Unix should be more secure than NT because Unix has a stricter security model."
"A virus which replicates itself by infecting programs is restricted because a Unix user has his own set of files and privileges, and cannot affect files owned by other users unless given permission to do so by an administrator. In contrast a Windows has 'global permission' to overwrite any file at any time."
The software developer, who requested anonymity, added: "A virus can only attack a Unix system if it got root privileges by breaching security through administrative error."
Barrett said the 1988 Internet worm which attacked Unix was only successful because it "gave itself administrative privileges so it could propagate itself."
Users also disagreed with the assertion by Kevin Street, technical manager at Symantec that in some ways writing viruses for Unix was easier than for Windows, because the Unix kernel is freely available to anyone who wants it.
A systems administrator for a large media company said: "Having the source code available for Unix-like systems such as Linux is an advantage. Problems that are exploited can be fixed in hours because lots of people can look at the problem, find the error and fix it."
"In contrast, NT kernel level problem can take ages and then the hot fixes Microsoft place on their website are flagged with warnings which effectively say 'we haven't fully tested this, use at your own risk,'" the administrator, who asked not to be named, said.
Gartner Group's Flynn said: "Gartner's view in general is that you can't trust security through obscurity. Open source can ultimately give you a stronger level of confidence."
Barrett said another reason for Unix's superior security is that Microsoft's underlying system is known - because it is always Intel. "So it is easier to drill down, whereas Unix runs on diverse platforms, and a virus written for Solaris cannot infect an HP Unix machine because the binary would not run," he said.
However, Flynn recommends users wanting water-tight security for financial transactions don't use NT or Unix out of a box but choose "hardened Unix" which means adding extra software.
She added: "Some organisations don't have the Unix skills to make Unix secure. A small company that has Windows skills may be better off choosing NT."
"Gartner Group's perspective is that risk is not just about how vulnerable a system is. That is too simplistic. Other factors like skills, resources, and implementation also come into play."
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