This has been indeed an interesting year for Linux security. The point of this article is to offer a view on what I believe to be some of the most interesting happenings in 2003. The Linux experts that offer their view on 2003 are Bob Toxen (one of the 162 recognized developers of Berkeley UNIX and author of "Real World Linux Security") and Marcel Gagne (President of Salmar Consulting, Inc. and author of "Linux System Administration - A User's Guide" and "Moving to Linux").
Privacy, Security Archive
A handful of recent online attacks on free and open-source software servers has open-source developers looking over their shoulders.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on Tuesday defended his company's efforts to secure its software and fend off open-source rivals.
Microsoft Corp. warned consumers Wednesday about four critical new flaws in its popular Windows software as the company shifted to monthly alerts for serious problems that could let hackers break into computers. In the meantime, Windows XP SP2 is to be getting backported security enhancements from the Longhorn codeline.
A high-profile digital civil liberties group is criticizing a component of the "trusted computing" technology promoted by Microsoft, IBM and other tech companies, calling the feature a threat to computer users.
A company is maketing a product called Lover Spy, which allows the customer to send a "greeting" to an acquaintance. That greeting contains a hidden application that installs itself on the victim's computer and reports back information on that person's online activities. It's intended to be a way for jealous lovers to keep tabs on their partner. It's a remote version of the old "install a keystroke logger on your boyfriend" trick. It's also probably illegal in the United States.
The recent paper that claimed that Microsoft's dominance poses a risk to US national security has come under fire by the groups Americans for Technology Leadership as being a shameless attempt by Microsoft's business rivals to promote their own products. Interestingly enough, Microsoft is one of the founding members of Americans for Technology Leadership, so this looks like this may be a bit of a "Battle of the Trade Groups."
A ZDNet article has figured out what to do with all that extra processing power that Moore's Law keeps giving us: use brute force to make our computers secure. Encrypting everything, between machines, and also between processes might do the trick. Of course, you can't keep your keys in software, so that's where hardware tricks like "Trusted Computing" come in. So let me get this straight, because we're all afraid of viruses and hackers now, we're going to get back on the processor upgrade treadmill and give up ultimate control over what's on our PC to our motherboard and OS vendors?
The ability to enhance security in information systems and networks is limited by the operating systems that underpin them. Recognizing this, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has begun work on a standard to formulate consistent baseline security requirements for general-purpose (GP), commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) operating systems.
An identified security issue in Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications could allow an attacker to compromise a Microsoft Windows-based system and then take a variety of actions. Windows and Office users should update their system.
Just as access can be granted based on a fingerprint or retina scan, biometrical analysis of the keyboard typing style can produce a unique pattern. A project to produce an authentication scheme based on hardware that every computer has already (unlike a retina scanner) was started in 1999 for BeOS but now is available on MacOS X, in a beta release.
A trade group has urged the US Department of Homeland Security to reconsider its recent decision to use Microsoft as its preferred supplier of desktop and server software, citing recent security problems. Quote from the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) report: "Because of these recent developments, historical experience, and the inherent risks associated with lack of diversity, we ask that you reconsider your heavy reliance on a single, flawed software platform to protect our national security."
"Some think the software maker is at fault for the latest viruses. But you can't blame a target. "Let's all just beat the hell out of Microsoft. It unleashed the worms!" Well, that's what some people think, if the e-mails (uninfected) I got during the past week are any indication." says Wrastler for CNN Money. "So why doesn't Microsoft make its software more secure? They're trying, company officials say. But they also argue that like any other company, there's only so much Microsoft can do to prevent a crime if a criminal truly wants to commit it." a Statesman article says. In the meantime, the FBI has identified a teenager as the author of Blaster and plans to arrest him early Friday, a U.S. official confirmed.
In order to protect itself from DDoS attacks, Microsoft is using the Akamai service to distribute its load. Ironically, as a result, the domain www.microsoft.com is now listed in the Netcraft report as being Linux running IIS. Netcraft has received so much mail asking about that, and the irony of Linux-bashing Microsoft now depending on "enterprise-class" Linux servers has generated so much discussion, Netcraft has posted a page explaining what's happening.
Sun's EVP of Software Jonathan Schwartz uses the popular metaphor of the natural ecosystem to describe the IT world. Most corporate IT departments are what ecologists call a "monoculture." As various blights and famines have proven, when there is too much of the same plant growing in one place, it's suceptable to being wiped out by a disease. Stressing the need for "genetic diversity on the desktop" to combat security threats, Schwartz points to a non-Microsoft desktop as a viable solution. The difficulty in implementing the new OS? Says Schwartz, "you might have to train the user that a home directory named 'My Computer' on Windows has been renamed 'This Computer' . . . "
Blaster winds down, but security experts predict more Windows trouble ahead. Some believe that a new attack is imminent.
I am a "Technologist", a Technology enthusiast that is usually the one that is called should a major catastrophe strike an end user. My saga of computer rescues becomes a plot that is ever so thickening, if not only for the fact that's it's becoming incredibly easy for hackers and malicious code writers these days to invade personal property to find, seek, and destroy. Each year, virus and hacker threats increase, and in addition the damage trail left behind is something of a problem. Not to forget, a majority of "PC Panic" cases I've come across are often times the same common, "major" problem.
Scott Charney, chief security strategist at Microsoft, told developers at the TechEd 2003 conference in Brisbane, that information collected by Dr Watson, the company's reporting tool, revealed that "half of all crashes in Windows are caused not by Microsoft code, but third-party code" . . . Charney also reinforced Microsoft's message to developers and network administrators that they needed to build secure applications and networks "from the ground up"
In a world of constant security struggles, insurance companies are throwing their hat in the ring. Companies will now have the option to take out a policy on their IT. What effect will this have? It could be big. Remember, insurance price is based largely on risk. This could be bad news for companies with software known to be insecure. Read the article here.
"This week, however, Linux was also awarded with CC security certification, and as one might expect, this announcement greeted with cheers from the open source community. There's just one catch: Linux got a lower security rating than Windows 2000 did last year." Read it at WinInformant. Update: The WinInformant article is a little slanted in its reporting, since the ratings discussed have little to do with how secure either OS is in real-world use. Keep in mind that to achieve the higher rating, the computer is not allowed to be connected to any network, since network-connected computers are inherently vulnerable. A CNN article shoots a little straighter on the subject. The certification is not a contest to see which is more secure, simply a test to see if the OS matches a certain objective set of criteria. You have to severely cripple a modern OS to make it meet government high security certification.