July 19, 2006

Open Source and Malware

The first edition of McAfee's Global Threat Report is out and discusses malware and open source amongst several other security focused issues. One of the findings of the report is that malware authors are adopting open source development models to aid in the development of more potent threats as these IT social malcontents seek to inflict their Trojan Horses, spyware, and other wasted use of application development talent on the public.

OK, we are not surprised to see McAfee trumpeting its latest of assessment of the darker side of Internet live, after all, its business premise is one based upon being an immunizer and triage specialist for the IT community afflicted by the delinquent behavior of some. However, the revelation that social reprobates of the software-coding ilk would copy the best practices of legitimate developers should hardly be surprising. This is akin to being surprised that organized crime would use the same tools as legitimate business as they seek to ply their illicit trade and engage in other nefarious activities.

Some with disingenuous goals might take this opportunity to imply that closed or vendor sourced code is somehow inherently superior to that of the open source community. Of course when contemplating this thought, it is imperative the thinker remember that the earliest and ever since bulk of viruses, spyware, malware. Trojans, have all targeted vendor sourced solutions. The fact, unfortunate as it may be, is that all software is developed by flawed coding machines (human beings) that are prone to make mistakes of omission by not knowing every conceivable malevolent possibly in the misuse of the code which they are so diligently creating. Just as in biology, a life support system and food supply and encourage beneficial life forms as well as less than beneficial.

There is no magical balm in either open source or vendor source that will prevent malicious code creation. The only way the dark code stream will stop is if the individuals responsible have a change of heart and become productive net citizens. However, absent divine intervention, this is unlikely to happen. Sure, improved software will help slow down the threat, and security precautions are great tools, but we are naïve if we believe that the scourge of malware will be extinguished any time soon short of simply turning off all computers. It behooves us all to accept the reality of where we live, be vigilant, take reasonable preventative measures, and not fell prey to reactionary thought in the process.