The ubiquity of Microsoft Windows makes it a prime target for hackers wanting the biggest bang for the buck in exploiting the operating system's weaknesses, according to computer science professor Steven Bellovin.
"If I'm going to write a virus, or a piece of spyware, I'm going to target the platform with the most users, not the platform with 10 percent of the market or less," Bellovin said in a recent interview before Bill Gates' Oct. 13 visit.
Bellovin joined the Department of Computer Science this year with expertise in networks and security, and specializes in why -- in his words -- "the two don't get along." Highly regarded in computer science circles, Bellovin is a member of the Science & Technology Advisory Committee of the Department of Homeland Security. Together with Bill Cheswick, chief scientist for the Lumeta Corporation, he produced the latest edition of the classic work, Firewalls and Internet Security: Repelling the Wily Hacker, published in 2003.
Microsoft is one of the few companies that licenses its operating systems directly to hardware manufacturers. Apple does not. Because Windows is also proprietary software designed for PCs, Microsoft has controlled its distribution. Due to Windows' widespread usage -- some 90 percent of desktop computers worldwide run the operating system -- most hackers target Windows rather than operating systems such as Linux, Unix, Mac OS X or FreeBSD.
Microsoft, however, is making remarkable strides in improving the security of its Windows operating system, Bellovin said.