Does open source software enhance security?

Friday, 5 March 2004, 12:13 PM EST

Many attribute the security advantage to the very fact of openness. It's long been popular to cite the "many eyes" theory, which holds that flaws are discovered and fixed because selfless programmers spend countless hours carefully combing through the source code and alerting the development teams. In this way, we're told, the mere fact that source code is available leads to enhanced security.

Actually, the people most likely to spend hour after hour reviewing source code are blackhats looking for a novel exploit. Code review is hardly the only way to attack, but it is obviously more difficult with closed-source software. Some attacks against closed-source systems have been discovered through reverse engineering, a tedious and not entirely dependable process; but reversing is difficult, and only a minority of attackers are capable of it. Having the source code at one's disposal is a convenience.

By Drew Cullen at The Register.

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