Why do hackers use Linux so extensively? This open-source operating system (OS), which some see as more stable and reliable than any other operating system in existence, has become a favored playground for cyber criminals.

Although Linux claims only a small percentage of the OS market share, major telecommunications networks, science-based organizations (particularly those running supercomputers), national e-voting systems and global stock exchanges run on Linux. National Departments of Defense are also known for their reliance on Linux.

In this article, we unpack why Linux has become an irresistible target for motivated cyber criminals. You’ll gain new insights designed to help inform (and transform) your security processes and system development. Keep reading to learn more:

Why do hackers love Linux? 7 unsettling realities

1. The open-source advantage. Linux is open-source software. The source code of the Linux project is available to the general public. Anyone can download the source code for free, modify it for their own use and even create their own version of Linux. This can be good, but it also comes with challenges…

While the open-source model allows for collaboration and rapid innovation, it also exposes the source code to malicious actors, who may scrutinize it for vulnerabilities. Malicious persons can then exploit weaknesses with relative ease.

2. Ubiquity and versatility. Linux powers a diverse array of systems and applications, from IoT devices, to desktops, to smartphones. This makes Linux an attractive target for hackers who want to maximize their impact. When compromising a Linux system, cyber criminals can potentially gain access to a wide network of interconnected devices and services, thereby enabling them to amplify the effects of their activities.

3. Kernel vulnerabilities. Why do hackers use Linux to gain elevated privileges? It’s simple. Despite a strong reputation for security, the Linux kernel, the core element responsible for managing system resources, has been dogged by vulnerabilities over the years. High profile bugs have effectively provided cyber criminals with opportunities to unduly gain elevated privileges.

4. Supply chain attacks. Why do hackers use Linux ecosystems for widespread disruption? In the era of containerization and DevOps practices, supply chain attacks targeting Linux ecosystems have become a serious concern. By compromising a widely used package or container image, cyber criminals can inject malicious code that propagates across numerous systems, resulting in widespread disruption and data breaches.

5. Cryptocurrency mining. Linux’s efficiency and scalability render it a preferred platform for cryptocurrency mining operations; both those that are legitimate and those that are illicit. Cyber criminals adeptly leverage Linux’s systems to harness the extensive computing power for mining, evading detection all the while.

6. Internet of things. The proliferation of Linux-based IoT devices has created an expansive attack surface for cyber criminals. Many IoT devices are bereft of proper security, making them easy targets for hackers seeking entry points into networks. Hackers use Linux to establish a foothold, via IoT, within corporate networks, enabling them to eventually deploy more sophisticated network-based attacks.

7. Technical capabilities. Why do hackers use Linux tools for advanced exploits? Linux’s command-line interface and powerful tools (like Bash and Python) are a force-multiplier. Understanding the intricacies of Linux enables elite cyber criminals to craft sophisticated exploits that sow more chaos, lead to more damage and turn up higher yields than attacks leveraging other operating systems.

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