Open Source Utilization in Email Security Demystified
- by Brittany Day
Open Source is currently being recognized by more organizations than ever before for its ability to give rise to flexible, cost-effective and exceptionally secure software and technologies. Currently, over 75 percent of organizations worldwide are contributing to and consuming open-source software and products. The open-source community is expected to continue to grow and thrive in the coming years, which will further increase the overall credibility of Open Source and enhance the various benefits that open-source options are able to offer businesses and individuals alike.
This article will explore why choosing an open-source email security solution can offer key advantages over proprietary alternatives including superior security, reliability, resiliency, flexibility and cost-efficiency.
The Open Source Philosophy
The term “Open Source” refers to software, products, projects or initiatives that are developed and designed to be highly transparent and publicly accessible. That being said, the true meaning of the term “open source” extends far beyond its basic definition. Open source is a philosophy that emphasizes innovation through collaboration. Ideas and initiatives are freely accessible to everyone, encouraging community involvement and tapping into worldwide talent. Products created using the open-source development model are able to be reviewed, modified and shared by experts worldwide.
The driving force behind open-source development is the motivation to create software and solutions that are as effective as possible at serving a specific purpose, often benefiting the global community in the process. Open-source software and products are held to a higher standard than proprietary alternatives due to the fact that customers can view open-source code and access information about development methodology. This community-powered, transparent approach fosters honesty and genuinely high product quality as a competitive advantage.
A Brief History of Open Source
Although Open Source is now recognized as superior to proprietary development in many regards, it was not until the late 1990s that open-source software became fairly mainstream. In prior years, individuals had no choice but to utilize proprietary software sold by companies that provided no insight into their software development and the source code of their products. The concept of free software was introduced with the creation of the GNU project in 1983, and flourished with the release of the General Public Licence (GPL) in 1989. At this point, free software and the idea of open-source development lacked credibility and were quickly dismissed by proprietary vendors who felt threatened by the emerging movement. This further propagated the idea that Open Source was risky and unprofessional. In the decade following the creation of the GPL, a series of high-profile events led to a significant increase in the professionalization and the public acceptance of free and open-source software. In 1999, the IPOs of Red Hat and VA Linux had massive gains in share price on their opening days as publicly traded companies, a testament to the fact that Open Source was going commercial and that open-source technology had the potential to offer businesses various benefits in terms of product quality, security, flexibility and cost-effectiveness that proprietary technology could not match. In 1999, IBM announced that it was investing $1 billion in the development of Linux, convincing traditional enterprise users that switching to the open-source operating system was far less risky than they had previously assumed. The following year, Sun Microsystems created the OpenOffice project, releasing the source code to its cross-platform office suite, StarOffice. The combination of the market credibility that tech giants like IBM and Sun Microsystems gave Open Source, the massive Silicon Valley funding of open-source projects and the attention that Wall Street brought to relatively new open-source companies resulted in the widespread embrace of the open-source development model and the prevalence of Open Source and Linux in the tech industry today.
Advantages of Choosing Open Source over Proprietary
Because of the availability and transparency of open-source code, open-source products can be engineered to achieve superior levels of quality, reliability and security over a longer duration of time than projects that do not utilize the open-source development model. Here is a brief summary of some of the key advantages associated with choosing Open Source.
The visibility of open-source code allows developers and engineers to freely access open-source projects. As a result, IT and security experts worldwide are able to review and improve upon open-source programs. Because open-source products are thoroughly reviewed by the community both as they are being developed and while they are in use, vulnerabilities are identified and corrected very rapidly. As the open-source community continues to grow, open-source development is becoming increasingly secure. Of the 750 million lines of open-source code that are currently part of the Coverity Scan database, only 1.1 million defects have been identified and 650,000 have already been addressed. Furthermore, because the source code of open-source software is easily accessible, customers have the ability to apply their own patches. This often results in exceptionally secure products, with much fewer flaws and bugs than proprietary alternatives on average.
Superior Product Quality Validated by the Community
Open Source is highly dependent on the principles of communication and collaboration. This encourages active discussion surrounding the development of new features and the resolution of problems. Open Source fosters rapid innovation as a competitive advantage, and the high standards of the community result in extremely high quality products. In a recent survey conducted by the Linux Foundation, 49% of companies utilizing open-source programs felt that Open Source ensures a high level of quality and frequent releases of code to the community. Open-source projects and programs are under constant scrutiny from experts worldwide, which serves as continuous validation that measures such as performance and security are optimal.
Community Values Foster Innovation & Problem Solving
The community that surrounds open source development has much more to offer in regard to innovation and problem solving than small, private groups working on proprietary projects do. Open-source developers aim to create products that are as effective and useful to the community as possible, while proprietary products are often developed with the main goal of benefiting the vendor. Fifty-seven percent of businesses currently running open-source programs identify open-source culture within the company as the most significant measure of a program’s success. In general, the open-source community is an inclusive environment that values diverse perspectives and ideas. This community-powered approach to development fosters high levels of innovation and results in exceptional software and technology.
Freedom & Flexibility
Both the open-source community and its programs and projects are diverse and distributed, so by choosing open-source options individuals and enterprises avoid the risk of vendor lock-in or holding orphaned software that a proprietary vendor has abandoned. Open-source products and solutions are also highly scalable and customizable, so they can often be adjusted relatively easily and cost-effectively to meet businesses’ specific and evolving needs.
Open-source development is significantly more cost-effective than proprietary development. Because opacity does not exist in Open Source, code is shared and utilized by developers and engineers around the world, thus keeping the cost of open-source development to a minimum. In addition, proprietary software requires expensive licensing fees. This automatically drives the prices of proprietary technology up, while open-source products are often able to offer far more competitive pricing. According to Red Hat’s The State of Enterprise Open Source report, 33% of businesses worldwide feel that lower total cost of ownership is a key benefit associated with choosing open-source technologies and solutions.
Potential Drawbacks of Choosing Open Source over Proprietary
There are relatively few downsides associated with choosing open-source software or products over proprietary options. However, there are a few potential drawbacks that should be considered.
Quality Support Is Not a Given
Since the scope of open-source initiatives is usually much broader than that of proprietary projects, it can sometimes be difficult to find quality customer support. Before investing in an open-source product or technology, be sure to adequately research the vendor and the support they provide. Many open-source companies do offer outstanding customer support.
Product Use Is Not Always Easy to Master
Open-source products can offer a large assortment of features and abilities and, as a result, can sometimes be a bit difficult to use and master at first. In comparison, closed-source technology is often focused on a narrower market of end users, and can be designed to be more user-friendly to a specific segment of the population. Also, consumers of proprietary technology are often more concerned with functionality and ease-of-use than how those factors are accomplished. In general, it is usually better to invest some time in familiarizing yourself with an open-source product (many of which are quite easy to use) than to settle for a closed-source alternative simply for its apparent convenience.
In certain cases, choosing Open Source can be a bit more risky than settling for commercial, proprietary options. Some open-source software vendors are small and relatively nimble companies, while others are large and financially strong. A growing number of large corporations are recognizing the many benefits of adopting Open Source and many are acquiring smaller open-source vendors. IBM recently announced its purchase of RedHat for $34 billion, a decision that serves as direct validation of the credibility associated with Open Source. Choosing a smaller open-source vendor is not always associated with increased risk; however, as with any important decision, it is critical to do adequate research before making a commitment.
Benefits of Choosing an Open-Source Operating System Like Linux
Similar to open-source products and open-source software, open-source operating systems like Linux offer inherent advantages because of the way in which they are designed and maintained. Thus, solutions and technology that run on Linux can be crafted to offer a higher level of security, stability, customization and compatibility than technology that runs on a proprietary operating system. As more people continue to become aware of the benefits of Open Source, the net market share of Open Source products and operating systems is expected to increase. Because there are so many variations of Linux across various types of technology, it is impossible to determine a figure that accurately represents the current net market share for Linux. However, Linux is consistently the most used operating system for IoT and smart devices. Here is a summary of two prominent advantages that Linux users enjoy:
Linux is Inherently Secure
Because Linux is composed of open source technology, security flaws are recognized and eliminated before they become an issue for the public. In the words of Linux creator Linus Torvalds, “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”. Because of the intense review that Linux is continuously undergoing, fewer viruses and worms are written to attack Linux programs. In comparison, opaque proprietary alternatives like Microsoft Windows are relatively easy targets for malicious coders, making these operating systems likely victims of malware and viruses. Linux also offers rock-solid stability, which the perating system inherited from its predecessor Unix.
Linux Is Highly Customizable
Linux has been customized by various distributions to create diverse programs and applications. Third parties are often able to further customize distributions’ programs to meet companies’ evolving needs more specifically. The high level of customization that is possible within all Linux distributions makes Linux compatible with a wide array of software, applications and solutions. Linux is harmonious with any network and can be supported by numerous hardware platforms through basic levels of customization.
Advantages of Choosing an Open-Source Email Security Solution
The advantages that Open Source offers in regard to both performance and security are magnified in open-source solutions that run on an open-source OS like Linux. Provided that an email security solution is well-designed and optimally engineered to combat advanced and emerging threats like spear phishing and zero-day attacks, open-source technology provides an optimal foundation on which exceptional levels of security and dependability can be achieved.
Guardian Digital EnGarde Cloud Email Security utilizes a hardened version of Linux and entirely open-source software to provide intuitive real-time protection against the most sophisticated and evasive threats. EnGarde leverages resources and intelligence from the vibrant, global open-source community, and employs the most advanced security and productivity features available including Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and the highest levels of encryption. Through a combination of an innovative open-source design, expert engineering and ongoing system monitoring, maintenance and support, EnGarde provides organizations with the proactive, multi-layered email security defenses and real-time cybersecurity business insights required to make email safe for business in this modern digital threat environment.
Want to learn more about how you can secure your users and key business assets with EnGarde Cloud Email Security? Get a Demo>
Guardian Digital’s Contributions to the Open-Source Community:
Guardian Digital recognizes that it has benefited immensely from Open Source, and desires to give back to a community that has provided incredible intelligence and unwavering support. For this reason, Guardian Digital sponsors and maintains LinuxSecurity.com. For the past 25 years, the site has been a go-to resource for the Linux community which provides the latest open-source news, advisories, updates and information. Guardian Digital has also contributed to or spearheaded a selection of other open-source projects, including EnGarde Secure Linux and Apache SpamAssassin.
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