Strength through diversity

I came across this article on Forbes on how the army is adopting macs to diversify its platform mix to protect itself.

This is probably the most telling quote:

The Army’s push to use Macs to help protect its computing corps got its start in August 2005, when General Steve Boutelle, the Army’s chief information officer, gave a speech calling for more diversity in the Army’s computer vendors. He argued the approach would both increase competition among military contractors and strengthen its IT defenses.

Along with this one:

Wallington, a division chief in the Army’s office of enterprise information systems, says the military is quietly working to integrate Macintosh computers into its systems to make them harder to hack. That’s because fewer attacks have been designed to infiltrate Mac computers, and adding more Macs to the military’s computer mix makes it tougher to destabilize a group of military computers with a single attack, Wallington says.

Standardizing on a single platform does make sense from an administration point of view, if all your machines are running the same operating system, it makes sense that your administration costs would be less than if they were running multiple operating systems.

The flip side of this is that once a chink has been found in the operating system you are using, all your machines are vulnerable. Think of this in biological terms, if all life on earth was vulnerable to the same diseases, then it would easy for any single disease to become extremely dangerous. On the other hand with diversity, no single disease can wipe out all life on earth.

The same goes with your computers, if they running a mix of operating systems, then only part of your computers are vulnerable to any single threat.

Ok, so this is somewhat simplistic, but you get the point. I once attended a very good presentation by Danny Hillis on the subject.

Dig deeper into the biological analogy and you will run into the work of Werner Vogels who, before becoming CTO at Amazon, spent a lot of time looking at what computing could learn from biology.


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