Is open source safe?

The IT Department won’t let Daniel Toth use open source software, believing it’s a security risk. Is it?

The IT Department where Daniel Toth works won't let him use open source software because they believe it's a security risk. Is it?

No. If anything, open-source software has the potential to be safer. Not that it always is, of course.

An open-source program is one whose source code is open to anyone who wishes to study it--or improve upon it. Open-source software is usually free and often public domain. Popular open-source programs include Linux, OpenOffice, and a program you're quite likely using to read this blog post: Mozilla Firefox.

I might also add that two of my favorite security programs, Password Safe and TrueCrypt, are open source. I wouldn't trade them for anything.

At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive. If any hacker can read your code, why can't they use that knowledge against you? Think of what the Rebel Alliance did with the Death Star plans in the original Star Wars.

Reality and Star Wars don't always coincide. When everyone has access to the source code, a great many experts are able to examine that code thoroughly and determine if it really is secure. That's prohibitively expensive if the only people with access to the code are on the payroll.

And it's not as if closed-source programs are especially secure. People find exploits in Windows all the time.

Back in 1999, security expert Bruce Schneier wrote that "Public security is always more secure than proprietary security...For us, open source isn't just a business model; it's smart engineering practice." (I checked with Schneier while researching this piece; he still stands by those words.)

But don't be too hard on your IT department. They have to approve every program put on company computers, and checking out new programs is time-consuming. Open-source or not, they don't want programs on their PCs that they haven't vetted, and they don't have time to research or test everything. Besides, they may have to answer to executives who think that k is an effective password.

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags open sourcepublic securitysecurity

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lincoln Spector

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?