The issue of security, always significant for the military computer unit, has become central over the last two-and-a-half years. Before September 2000 the IDF network had to deal with two or three computer attacks a month, says Kochba. Now such attempts are a daily occurrence.
The Israeli Defense Forces are considering making the switch to Linux from Microsoft Windows, citing both security and increasing costs of software maintenance as their primary concerns.
The real benefit of Linux over Windows, however, is its open source architecture. Windows has a closed architecture: Microsoft retains the source code and does not permit others to see it—it is proprietary. Linux’s source code is freely available to the public. Modifications to the code are made under a public license agreement that says anything you create using their code belongs to the public. It’s sort of like an experiment in e-communism, rather than e-commerce. What happens in this case is that rather than one company attempting to find security holes in its own system (and covering up howmanyever to protect their product’s image), you have an entire community of thousands of developers seeking out bugs and security holes. Furthermore, because the code is public, you can modify the software anyway you’d like, custom tailored to suit your needs. This is beneficial because you need not be confined to the limitations of a single product.
But while the IDF confirms that “there is a logic to working with an open source code,” some organizations differ. For example, a conservative US thinktank, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, released a report earlier this year suggesting that open source operating systems such as Linux are wide open to attacks simply because the code is freely available. It was later discovered, however, that this report was in fact funded by Microsoft, who have since come to be known as outspoken opponents of the open source movement. Ironically, though, just yesterday Wired News reported on thousands of vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows operating systems. Apparently they spend more trashing other people’s efforts than perfecting their own. And you wonder why the IDF would rather save their money…
Perhaps then Microsoft’s controversial ad campaign launched earlier this year, involving billboards reading, “From the depth of our heart—thanks to The Israeli Defence Forces,” was actually just a ploy to butter up their slipping clients. The world may never know.
But regardless, Linux itself isn’t without its own following in Israel. IGLU, the Israeli Group of Linux Users, holds monthly meetings and occasional install-fests to help newbies configure Linux on their computers and get a heads up on using the software. They also offer invaluable resources for getting Hebrew language support up and running on your box. Cool for the casual consumer, sure. But say you have 1,000 computers to deal with… the difference between free and $500 every couple years—per computer—is a big one.