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Secure Linux

by xenbo (Beadle)
on Sep 15, 2001 at 22:36 UTC ( #112646=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

This might be a little(!) off topic, but I thought some fellow monks might get a kick out of it. Reap me if you see fit.

Let's play a game of guess the quote:
"The results of several previous research projects in this area have been incorporated in a security-enhanced Linux system. This version of Linux has a strong, flexible mandatory access control architecture incorporated into the major subsystems of the kernel. The system provides a mechanism to enforce the separation of information based on confidentiality and integrity requirements. This allows threats of tampering and bypassing of application security mechanisms to be addressed and enables the confinement of damage that can be caused by malicious or flawed applications."

If you said the NSA (National Security Agency), then you're right.
NSA's Security Enhanced Linux

I don't know how anyone else feels, but this blew me away - the NS-freakin'-A with their own distro...I haven't had time to look much at it, but I'm pretty sure that source is included...and it's GNU GPL...

Again, sorry about the off-topicness, but I just thought some of you might find this interesting.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Secure Linux
by shotgunefx (Parson) on Sep 16, 2001 at 02:10 UTC
    I've read abit about this. The fact that the N S A id this makes you wonder about the possiblities of backdoors and such. It would be a lot of source to audit.


    "To be civilized is to deny one's nature."
      Actually, if I remember correctly -- they provide a patch that one can install on an existing kernel. While in the case of any third-party code, it should definitely be inspected -- it seems less likely that any "funny" business is going on here.

      I had downloaded it last time they made a release, and the security that would be provided by their code seemed incredible. I think it would be very advantagous to the Linux community when it gets to the point that they are sending those patches to Linus.

      Do you remember some time ago when the rumour's were spreading around about a NSA Backdoor in Windows? While it might be funny to start a rumour about Linus and the NSA hitting it off, the truth is, it's very cool that we can prove it's not the case here by simply looking at the code. Long live open source software :-)

      Update: Just to be sure -- I am not accusing anyone of creating such a rumour. Think of it this way -- that rumour already exists regarding MS Windows. Some major news sources in the US have said that there may be an NSA backdoor in Windows. I also saw an article where the French government is saying the same thing. The problem is, we'll never know. Windows is closed source. My joke was that we could make a new post right now creating such a rumour about Linux. The thing is -- by following shotgunefx's suggestion of a code review, we could easily stop such a rumour within a few days, or perhaps even hours.

      Update2: Thanks to cLive ;-), I updated the link regarding the NSA backdoor. Makes you wonder..... :-)
        While I personally consider the NSA to be a very suspect agency, considering the extensive invasion of communication they have been invested in, I (just in my gut), trust them. Although they have been and are invasive, I think that they have a job to do and that it is a worthwhile one. In lieu of tuesday's incident (not just because of it), I think that there must some reconsideration of opposition to domestic and abroad intelligence gathering techniques. I don't nescessarily feel that reading my email is right, but I think that there is something to think about here.

        Also, I think a NSA secure linux is an awesome thing to have - something for the public that can be immediately recognized as coming from the NSA...They are working for us, as citizens...(I'm not waving the flag, I'm pretty anti-blind-patriotism). Also, if they were trying to somehow spy on us, I don't think that they'd do it through a piece of software you could download from their website. :)
        It might be funny to start a rumor, but I don't see how that's what I'm doing. Given the track record, Eschelon, Carnivore etc. Do you really think a thorough code audit isn't in order? I certainly think there is merit in the project. I just think the potential certainly could be there and it needs to be looked at.


        "To be civilized is to deny one's nature."
        Not that we should get paranoid or anything - ;-) - but your cnn link is a 404, so use google's cache instead.

        cLive ;-)

Re: Secure Linux
by astaines (Curate) on Sep 16, 2001 at 21:11 UTC

    I think this is a great idea, and I look forward enthusiastically to this code appearing in mainstream distro's. Having said that a secure OS is a beginning - not an end in itself. While it's nice to know that some deranged 10 year old will now find it harder to demolish my machines, the real source of security risk in our outfit is the legitimate users, not outsiders. I suspect that this is true for many others too.

    Schneier in his newish book 'Secrets and lies' discusses the real issues involved with exceptional clarity

    Incidentally if you don't want to patch your kernel (or, like me, don't know how!) may I recommend Bastille a nice Perl based hardening script for Linux.

    -- Anthony Staines
      Thanks for the recommendation - looks like a great tool...I'm installing later today.
(redmist) Re: Secure Linux
by redmist (Deacon) on Sep 17, 2001 at 05:39 UTC

    I can't imagine why an agency of the US government whose sole purpose is breaking other parties' security (cryptographically or otherwise) would release to the public a mechanism with which to increase the level of security on an individuals computer to a non-trivial level.

    Why would an organization that spies (see Echelon Project) on the citizens who fund it, give away a product to make even one aspect of security easier for the common man and woman?

    It just doesn't follow...

    If it was not a "patch," and was instead it's own distibution, I would be highly suspect of the particular binary of GCC that came with said distribution. (Read Ken Thompson's thoughts on Trust and compilers. I will bet dollars to donuts that something sneaky is going on here.

    Purple Monkey Dishwasher

      I can't imagine why an agency of the US government whose sole purpose is breaking other parties' security (cryptographically or otherwise) would release to the public a mechanism with which to increase the level of security on an individuals computer to a non-trivial level.
      Well, I can't either, but since the agency you describe is not the NSA, I'm willing to assume (subject to verification by those who are better kernel hackers than I) that it is in fact what it claims to be.

      While I can't comment on the way their budget is divided internally between departments (and neither can anyone else who's not on one of the Select Committees on Intelligence*), NSA's ostensible principal task is assuring the security of U.S. Government communications. As such, they do, in fact, have a vested interest in producing computer products that are hard to compromise. And since government computers do communicate with other computers, NSA also has a vested interest in improving overall computer security (public-interest issues like internet worms aside).

      Note that this would not be inconsistent with the allegations related to their using overseas portions of Echelon system to monitor U.S. communications: other than at a broad public-interest level (countering corporate espionage, for instance), they don't have a vested interest in improving the security of civilian communications, and you are unlikely to see them release a communications encryption scheme any time soon (see also "Clipper Chip").

      Oh, and frankly, dollars don't compare nearly as well to Donuts as they used to ;-)

      *This is a separate, and serious, concern, which I don't intend to go into at the moment.

      If God had meant us to fly, he would *never* have given us the railroads.
          --Michael Flanders

        Well, I can't either, but since the agency you describe is not the NSA, I'm willing to assume (subject to verification by those who are better kernel hackers than I) that it is in fact what it claims to be.

        Well, at the danger of falling into a political (as opposed to security-related) discussion, I do believe that the NSA is only one of the US government agencies that keeps tabs on United States citizens. Before you write me off as a crackpot (which I very well might be), extrapolate into the present the past behavior of the NSA, FBI, etc. Remember the 80's 60's? Well J. Edgar Hoover had a program called COINTELPRO which disrupted social/political action groups through social engineering and insurrection. Remember the Crypto Wars (some informative links) and CLIPPER? One of the main reasons the NSA didn't/doesn't want US citizens (and obviously foreign nationals) to have crypto is because the the NSA/FBI/CIA knows that a threat against government computer and information security can, and does, come from anywhere.

        An attack against US government cryptographic methods, practices and algorithms may very well come from a United States citizen or entity, and the NSA knows that! And I'll bet you dollars to very cheap, stale, moldy donuts that the NSA will be damned if a silly charter will stop them. It certainly hasn't in the past.

        Purple Monkey Dishwasher
        NOTE: This post brought to you by the <i> tag...
Re: Secure Linux
by Sinister (Friar) on Sep 17, 2001 at 15:07 UTC
    I think that it might be better if some sort of LSA (Linux Security Agency) was founded - Governements (The American in particular (No offense there)) should but out of systems, which aren't theirs to interfere with...

    The OpenSource community should well be able (if not better), to solve such security issues.

    Sinister greetings.
    "With tying hashes you can do everything God and Larry have forbidden" -- Johan Vromans - YAPC::Europe 2001
    perldoc -q $_
      I don't think we should 'cut out' anyone from the open source process. If the NSA wants to make this available and follows the licence, I dont see the problem. The availabilty of the source code does make it easier to trust, and there is noone forceing anyone to use this. If goverments want to help thats fine, good code is good code regardless of who writes it.

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