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Practical UNIX and Internet Security, 3rd Edition by Alan Schwartz, Gene Spafford, Simson Garfinkel

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Security and Unix

Many years ago, Dennis Ritchie said this about the security of Unix: “It was not designed from the start to be secure. It was designed with the necessary characteristics to make security serviceable.” In other words, Unix can be secured, but any particular Unix system may not be secure when it is distributed.

Unix is a multiuser, multitasking operating system. Multiuser means that the operating system allows many different people to use the same computer at the same time. Multitasking means that each user can run many different programs simultaneously.

One of the natural functions of such operating systems is to prevent different people (or programs) using the same computer from interfering with each other. Without such protection, a wayward program (perhaps written by a student in an introductory computer science course) could affect other programs or other users, could accidentally delete files, or could even crash (halt) the entire computer system. To keep such disasters from happening, some form of computer security has always had a place in the Unix design philosophy.

But Unix security provides more than mere memory protection. Unix has a sophisticated security system that controls the ways users access files, modify system databases, and use system resources. Unfortunately, those mechanisms don’t help much when the systems are misconfigured, are used carelessly, or contain buggy software. Nearly all of the security holes that have been found in Unix over ...

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