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LinuxPlanet: .comment: A Golden Opportunity

Jan 03, 2001, 15:55 (26 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dennis E. Powell)

"And they've undertaken something called "Secure Linux." It is technically elegant, which is no surprise. It provides process-level security, which is both sensible and sufficiently complex that if it were available for use today, it would be a long time before many of us would figure it out well enough to make use of it. But when implemented, it may well be damn near bulletproof."

"This is nice. It is remarkable. But the astounding part is that the NSA is bringing it to the community. The code that is being developed is being offered to the Linux kernel developers, and in turn the developers are very likely to contribute to the project with the idea that it could well become part of mainstream Linux. Not now, but there might well be some aspects of it in the 2.6 series of kernels, with perhaps more to come."

"Why? Why would one of the most secret agencies of the U.S. government suddenly offer code to the extremely public and thoroughly international Linux community, and suggest a willingness to accept code from that community?"

"There are two reasons. The first is that there are some geniuses in the kernel crowd. But the second is more important, and strategic, and made clear in the CSIS report: our computer infrastructure, based on Microsoft software, is a security joke. If drugged up juvenile delinquents can screw up big corporations, competent people who wish to do real harm could have, and probably are having, a fine old time for themselves. If defending the national security is the goal of the NSA, there's much to be said for a rock-solid and freely available operating system. It's the smart thing to do."

"When the announcement of the NSA project was posted on the kernel mailing list, the initial responses were predictably skeptical. Look out for backdoors, said some. Well, yes, of course -- you mean you hadn't been doing that already? It was a quick, cheap, shot, and I suppose that those who posted it knew as much. It's not as if the NSA is going to send binaries to Linus and ask that they be placed in some weird way into the otherwise source-only Linux distribution. If there were back doors, they would be visible in the source, available to one and all. They wouldn't go undetected for long enough to make it into a development kernel. The NSA folks know this, and this isn't what they're up to, anyway. They want to secure the nation's -- no, really, the world's -- computer infrastructure with a system that anyone can afford and anybody who is very good can button up."

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