Open Source's Expanding Reach

Interestingly, these projects are encouraging people to get into security. Take for example, snort. Since its release in 1999, it has been downloaded over 10 million times. Whether people are deploying it at home, in a SOHO or in the LAN of a Fortune 500, it is nonetheless becoming a fixture on a growing number of networks. This project has encouraged users to become comfortable with security without having to deal with two major hurdles: extremely high cost and creation of a monoculture computer/network system.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is that many of the projects are licensed under the GPL. Anyone can download the source, compile it and install. They can then configure it to their heart's content.

Need support? Visit mailing list or forums. Users are very adept at helping each other with problems and for the majority this works. There is, nonetheless, a small percentage that continues to encounter difficulties. By and large, this is no different than paid technical support except for one thing. You don't have to pay $50 an hour to be told, "Reboot your machine. That should solve it," as any administrator can attest.

The second biggest advantage is that open source products reduce the likelihood of a monoculture OS/Network. Certain closed-environments encourage that specific vendor tools be used to allow for ease of function and administration, certainly a logical idea.

Unfortunately, if that specific vendor is the same for your OS, firewall, IDS, Web server, DNS server, etc. and is found to have a dangerous vulnerability, the chances are high that this bug will carry through all servers rather than stopping at just one server/service. With Open Source, we lessen the likelihood of this kind of problem and mitigate some of the inherent risks in a monoculture environment.

Open Source is now in a position to direct where security will go. It's not the be-all-end-all solution, but it certainly opens up the door to better products. We are not dependent on single vendors for boxed solutions and can create avenues to secure networks on our terms. Education centers like Seneca College can help drive Open Source into the business marketplace, where the advantages can be enjoyed by all.

About the Author:
Lyne Bourque is a professor at Toronto's Seneca College where she educates tomorrow's leaders in IT with an eye on today's network security issues and tomorrow's developing threats.