Decrypting the secret to strong security

Friday, 17 January 2003, 12:55 PM EST

The open-source movement argues that it's better because "lots of eyes can look at it and find the bugs." Those who favor proprietary software offer two counterarguments: The first is that a lot of hostile eyes can also look at open-source code--which, they say, is likely to benefit attackers more than anyone else. The second point is that a few expert eyes are better than several random ones; a dedicated organization with responsibility for the software is a better custodian than the many eyes of the open-source community.

There is probably some truth to the notion that giving programmers access to a piece of software doesn't guarantee they will study it carefully. But there is a group of programmers who can be expected to care deeply: Those who either use the software personally or work for an enterprise that depends on it.

If anyone has both the right and the need to study the code and be assured of its correct functioning, it is users. In fact, auditing the programs on which an enterprise depends for its own security is a natural function of the enterprise's own information-security organization.

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