Maintained software is more secure than software which is not. Maintenance effort being, of course, relative to the complexity of said software and the number (and skill) of people who are looking at it. The theory behind opensource systems being more secure is that there are “many eyes” which look at the source code. But this depends quite a lot on the popularity of the system.

For instance, in 2008 were discovered in OpenSSL several buffer overflows, some of which leading to remote code execution. These bugs had been lying in the code for several years. So although OpenSSL was opensource and had a substantial user base (this is, after all, the main SSL library used for HTTPS websites), the number and skillfulness of source code auditors was not sufficient to overcome the inherent complexity of ASN.1 decoding (the part of OpenSSL where the bugs lurked) and of the OpenSSL source code (quite frankly, this is not the most readable C source code ever).

Closed source systems have, on average, much less people to do Q&A. However, many closed source systems have paid developers and testers, who can commit to the job full time. This is not really inherent to the open/close question; some companies employ people to develop opensource systems, and, conceivably, one could produce a closed source software for free (this is relatively common in the case of “freewares” for Windows). However, there is still a strong correlation between having paid testers, and being closed source (correlation does not imply causality, but this does not mean that correlations should be ignored either).

On the other hand, being closed source makes it easier to conceal security issues, which is bad, of course.

There are example of both open and closed source systems, with many or very few security issues. The opensource *BSD operating systems (FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD, and a few others) have a very good track record with regards to security. So does Solaris, even when it was a closed source operating system. On the other hand, Windows has (had) a terrible reputation in that matter.

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