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It's been an interesting month so far with several reports of people comparing the number of vulnerabilities in Microsoft software to those in Linux distributions. I've previously talked at length about these types of studies after last years Forrester report, but it seems that these comparisons don't get any better.

Microsoft are quoted and say that in 2005 to Feb 9th that Windows Server 2003 had 15 vulnerabilities, but in the same period Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 had 34, more than double!

What they failed to mention was that of those vulnerabilities, 3 of the flaws affecting Windows Server 2003 were classed by Microsoft as "Critical", flaws that can be remotely exploited without user interaction to take control of a machine, for example by a worm. Of the Enterprise Linux 3 vulnerabilities quoted, using the Microsoft scale, none were Critical. Metrics like those they quoted are completely worthless if you do not take into account the risk that the vulnerabilities actually pose to users. One Critical vulnerability and a worm or remote attacker owns your machine.

So of those 15 Microsoft issues:

        3 Critical
        3 Important
        8 Moderate
        1 Low

For Enterprise Linux 3 they counted 34 issues up until Feb 9th:

         0 Critical
        12 Important
        14 Moderate
         8 Low

I'm not saying that Red Hat is immune to Critical vulnerabilities, in fact in the lifetime of Enterprise Linux 3 (Nov 2003 to date) we've had 12. I'm also not saying that I think these stats show that Linux is more secure (or safer) than Windows, just they just show how useless stats like these are.

One of the things we at Red Hat can do to help our users determine the risk of security issues is to provide some guidance on which issues Red Hat is the most worried about. Since the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 last week, the Red Hat Security Response Team has been including severity impact statements on all security advisories. find out more. We've also gone back and applied the classification to every Enterprise Linux advisory we've produced, and will publish that list shortly.

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Hi! I'm Mark Cox. This blog gives my thoughts and opinions on my security work, open source, fedora, home automation, and other topics.