Reality Check

Legend has it that network threats come from sophisticated code hackers who have a deep understanding of networks and operating systems. These legendary characters are motivated by espionage or a desire to force unresponsive computer corporations to improve their software. I wish it were true! If it were, these people would have no interest in attacking my Linux system.

Unfortunately, the reality is that most attacks come from unskilled people running canned attack scripts. The scripts have become so simple to use that the people who now use them are "script kiddies." The people who run these scripts are not interested in espionage, but they don't mind causing a little mayhem! Additionally, if they were truly rebels against the corporate system working to improve the security of operating system software, they would be writing new Linux code. After all, Linux is open source code; no one can claim that a corporate monolith is keeping the code hidden.

Given this, you might guess that Linux is not a target for security attacks. You would guess wrong. Unfortunately, Linux is one of the most popular targets for attack. A study conducted a few years ago by Peter Mell of NIST showed that attack scripts for Linux are as popular as scripts for Windows NT, and that these two systems were the most popular operating systems for attack scripts.

Clearly, open source code is no protection from attack. The people who run attack scripts are not motivated to "fix" the system—they are just looking for easy targets. Your job is to make sure that your system isn't an easy target.

Look at it this way. The bad news is that you don't have to be important to be a target of security attacks. The good news is that the guy at the other end of the attack isn't a network guru. If you can track the vulnerabilities exploited by the "script kiddies," and close those holes as they appear, your system will be reasonably secure.

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