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Attacks on Linux and open source Web applications appear to have risen sharply this year, while attacks on Windows systems are markedly down.

That's the conclusions of a study by security consultancy mi2g after it compiled a database on attacks culled from data from defacement archives (such as alldas.org), hacker bulletin boards and "information from automatic robots".

Sites such as Alldas.org make no attempt to suggest that their data is comprehensive, and it's questionable if mi2g's figures can be used as a metric to compare the vulnerability of different operating systems. But then it's very hard to get solid figures on this kind of data so mi2g's figures may be indicative.

On the other hand, Windows may come out of the survey well simply because we haven't had a Code Red or Nimda this year - yet. The study also makes no mention of of Unix system vulnerabilities.

Here are the headline findings.

According to mi2g the first six months of 2002 saw 7,630 overt digital attacks on Linux systems, significantly higher than the whole of 2001 (5,736). Overt attacks on Microsoft Windows/IIS based online systems taking place in the first half of 2002 fell
20 per cent to 9,404, from the 11,828 in the first half of 2001.

The total number of overt digital attacks taking place in the first six months of 2002 rose 27 per cent to 20,371, from 16,007 in 2001, according to mi2g. Attacks on government systems are down though, a factor mi2g controversially attributes to tougher government legislation, such as the Cyber Security Enhancement Act (CSEA), acting as a deterrent to crackers.

DK Matai, mi2g chairman and chief executive, told us the playing field in security between Linux and Windows is levelling out. Many attacks on open source systems are successful because of vulnerabilities in third party apps on Linux (such as portal software and PHP scripting) enable attacks into the heart of corporate environments, he said.

mi2g reckons weak configuration management is the reason many systems are penetrated. Well-known vulnerabilities are not being patched fast enough and continue to be exploited by hackers to gain control of the systems hosting the insecure application. ®

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