The Most Dangerous Windows Infection of All

Readers of this blog don't need to be told about Windows' awful security record, or how, when news outlets talk glibly of "viruses", they actually nearly always mean Windows malware. But sometimes there are stories from this weird world that...

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Readers of this blog don't need to be told about Windows' awful security record, or how, when news outlets talk glibly of "viruses", they actually nearly always mean Windows malware. But sometimes there are stories from this weird world that make even seasoned Windows-watchers like me shake my head in disbelief.

This one from Germany, for example, where 170 PCs became infected with the Conficker worm. From the details of the story it seems that the Schwerin Ministry of Education are partly to blame for allowing their systems to become so badly infected, but what's really interesting is the solution it came up with: simply to throw all the computers away because the Ministry apparently estimated it would have cost as much to clean them as to replace them. This might not have been a sensible decision for a rational IT department to take but the fact that it could even be contemplated shows why open source solutions based around GNU/Linux are so much better.

For a start, of course, is the fact that there is practically no malware for the GNU/Linux desktop (Android is another matter, though....). That means it is highly unlikely that even the most incompetent IT department could have reduced open source PCs to the state of uselessness that seems to have been achieved in Germany.

But even if through some totally freak occurrence GNU/Linux systems had become infected, or just corrupted by power surges, say, there would be no question of throwing them away: you would simply re-install all the software. You can do that, because you don't need to consider any issues of licensing as you do with Windows. You don't need to worry what the contract says, or whether you have enough licences to re-install everything – you just do it.

And that underlines a hugely important aspect of free software: you never need to worry about the tiresome legal details of what can be copied, and how, or how you can use what program. I'd wager that had the Schwerin Ministry of Education been using free software as a matter of course, it would never have entered anyone's head to throw out perfectly usable PCs instead of simply reformatting them and re-installing the software.

This makes clear that the most dangerous Windows infection of all is not the kind that people routinely find on their PCs running that operating system, but the one they get when they choose to install Microsoft's products in the first place, and that causes them to make bizarre decisions like that of the Schwerin Ministry of Education.

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