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Are some operating systems more secure to use as platforms for Web servers than others?


The answer is yes, although the Unix and NT communities may not like to hear it. In general, the more powerful and flexible the operating system, the more open it is for attack through its Web (and other) servers.

Unix systems, with their large number of built-in servers, services, scripting languages, and interpreters, are particularly vulnerable to attack because there are simply so many portals of entry for hackers to exploit. Less capable systems, such as Macintoshes and special-purpose Web server boxes, are less easy to exploit. The safest Web site is a bare-bones Macintosh running a bare-bones Web server.

In the real world, of course, many sites will want to run a Windows NT or Unix server in order to gain the performance advantage of a multitasking operating system and the benefits of database and middleware connectivity . Security holes have been found in both Unix and Windows NT server systems, and new security holes are being found on a regular basis. On the whole Windows NT systems seem to be more vulnerable at the current time, partly the OS is relatively new and the big bugs haven't been shaken out, and partly because the NT file system and user account system are highly complex and difficult to configure correctly.

If you have configured your system correctly and are compulsive about applying your vendor's security patches promptly, a typical Unix system will be more secure than a typical NT system. However, you also have to factor in the experience of the people running the server host and software. A Unix system administered by a novice system administrator will be far less secure than an NT system set up by a seasoned Windows NT system administrator.

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