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War of words over operating systems' safety

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Doubts were cast this week over the security of three major software systems formerly regarded as safe havens from hacker attacks and viruses.

But experts argue that despite the new findings, these systems are still more secure than their Microsoft counterparts because hackers overwhelmingly target the Windows software.

"The Windows problem still dwarfs these other problems because internet criminals know that there are an awful lot of clueless Windows users," says Graham Cluley, security consultant at UK anti-virus firm Sophos.

Until now, the open-source Firefox web browser, Linux-based web servers and the Apple Mac operating system OSX were heralded as more robust to hacker intrusions and viruses than Microsoft's Internet Explorer and the Windows operating systems.

So it came as a surprise to the security community when all three came under attack in two security reports, funded by Symantec - the California-based anti-virus software vendor - and Microsoft.

The debate was sparked Monday when Symantec, released its biannual Internet Security Threat report. The company found that between July and December 2004, 21 new vulnerabilities were discovered in Firefox while only 13 were found in Internet Explorer.

"This runs contrary to a trend seen in previous periods where nearly all browser vulnerabilities affected Microsoft Internet Explorer exclusively," says Symantec in its report.

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