With Microsoft controlling 95% of the computer operating system business, has this created a "monoculture" that is ripe for disaster? Surely this latest round of virus troubles emphasizes the vulnerability of the system:
- Dan Geer lost his job, but gained his audience. The very idea that got the computer security expert fired has sparked serious debate in information technology. The idea, borrowed from biology, is that Microsoft Corp. has nurtured a software "monoculture" that threatens global computer security.
Geer and others believe Microsoft's software is so dangerously pervasive that a virus capable of exploiting even a single flaw in its operating systems could wreak havoc.
Just this past week, Microsoft warned customers about security problems that independent experts called among the most serious yet disclosed. Network administrators could only hope users would download the latest patch. [AP]
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- In biology, species with little genetic variation — or "monocultures" — are the most vulnerable to catastrophic epidemics. Species that share a single fatal flaw could be wiped out by a virus that can exploit that flaw. Genetic diversity increases the chances that at least some of the species will survive every attack.
"When in doubt, I think of, `how does nature work?'" said Geer, a talkative man with mutton chop sideburns and a doctorate in biostatistics from Harvard University. (The interest persists in his hobby of backyard beekeeping.)
"Which leads you, when you think about shared risk, to think about monoculture, which leads you to think about epidemic. Because the idea of an epidemic is not radically different from what we're talking about with the Internet."
....Charney says monoculture theory doesn't suggest any reasonable solutions; more use of the Linux open-source operating system, a rival to Microsoft Windows, might create a "duoculture," but that would hardly deter sophisticated hackers.