How to Use Non-Portable Software Securely

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When home computing became really trendy, about 20 years ago, in the mid-1990s, software usually came on floppy disks and needed to be installed. Today this trend is almost completely reversed. And I think it is for the better — both for software creators and users.

Twenty years ago most software was proprietary. Today, more and more software companies are coming to the realization, that open source software also means higher quality and more secure software.

Proprietary Software

Proprietary software code utilizes security by obscurity, which is the lowest level of security.

Even if the authors of the proprietary software code claim that it is secure, experience has taught us that it is never the case. Virtually all big software brands got hacked already.

It is a simple numbers game — no one software company can have as many high quality coders as there are such coders outside of the company. Hence, making software code open source can only make it better and more resilient to security attacks.

Portable and Open Source Software

In a previous post I wrote about the concept of portable software and its advantages.

Portable software is often also open source software. The two concepts nicely fit into each other. Portability is useful because portable software cannot mess up the user’s computer. It sticks to a predetermined folder and makes no changes to anything outside of it.

If the software is also open source, it has the additional benefit of security. Open source software is by definition more secure than software that hides its code (proprietary software), simply because it is easier for more people to check for security holes in the software code.

Portability and the Internet

When computers were simple standalone units, portability was not a big issue. As boys, we used to connect our desktop computers with LAN (Local Area Network) cables, calling it a LAN party, and played games in multiplayer mode.

As internet connections became ubiquitous and connection bandwidth became very large, the need to install software on local computers took the backseat to cloud computing.

Using the servers of large companies to host and launch your software is very efficient, indeed. However, there is still the issue of security. Users of cloud services are putting a lot of their faith into the security management of their cloud service providers.

The Golden Mean

There is a middle path between cloud computing and installing software locally, though.

The simple middle path is called portable software — use software that is created to be portable. However, in some cases proprietary software cannot be replaced by portable (and optimally) open source software.

For these special cases, I advise you to create a virtual environment on your local desktop or laptop computer. Then install and launch all your non-portable software within this virtual environment.

This way you eliminate the security risks that might be associated with the low-security proprietary software code.

I wrote about two virtual environment solutions in the past — DOSBox and VirtualBox.

DOSBox is a DOS emulator while VirtualBox lets you install guest operating systems in its own virtual environment. DOSBox is open source and VirtualBox also has a portable version that is open source.

There is a long list of virtualization software you can use to emulate various operating systems or instruction sets.

Sandboxie

If you would like to install and launch Windows software in a secure virtual environment consider using Sandboxie. As its name suggests, it is a sandbox for trying out software. Sandboxie is free to use at home but after 30 days it starts with a nag screen.

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