Linus rants at the security community again – bravo

https://lkml.org/lkml/2017/11/17/767

Linus goes off on the security community who keep trying to make sweeping, under-tested, destabilizing changes to the kernel, and while his delivery leaves something to be desired, the message is welcome and apparently remains necessary.  Making radical changes that do nothing to help the system operators and users know what’s going on, or be able to control or even just report the issues, is shall we say frustrating.

keep-calm-and-burn-it-down-5

It’s this kind of flagrant power play by security mavens that irks the rest of us to homicidal degree. It punishes the user in the hopes that that user will push the pain uphill to the originator of the buggy code.

Except that no typical user (i.e. 99% of the computing end user population) even *recognises* that the problem is with the calling code (app, driver) rather than the OS (“computer”, “CPU”, “crap phone”) that is merely trained to enforce these extreme behaviours.

I find after a couple of decades in infosec land that this is motivated by the disregard security folks have for the end user victims of this whole tug-of-war, which seems so often to break down to “I’m sick of chasing software developers to convince them to fix their bugs, so instead let’s make the bug ‘obvious’ to the end users and then the users will chase down the software developers for me”.

Immediate kernel panic may have been an appropriate response decades ago when operators, programmers and users were closely tied in space and culture. It may even still be an appropriate posture for some mission-critical and highly-sensitive systems, if you favour “protection” over stability.

It is increasingly ridiculous for the user of most other systems to have any idea how to communicate with the powers that be what happened and have that turned into a fix in a viable timeframe – let alone rely on instrumented, aggregated, anonymized crash reports be fed en masse to the few vendors who know let alone have the time to request, retrieve and paw through millions of such reports looking for the few needles in haystacks.

Punish the victim and offload the *real* work of security (i.e. getting bugs fixed) to people least interested and least expert at it? Yeah, good luck.

It is entirely appropriate in an increasing number of circumstances to soften the approach and try warning the user and trusting them with a little power to make some decisions themselves (rather than arbitrarily punish them for mistakes not their own).

I love many of my colleagues in the security community dearly, and wouldn’t tell them to quit their jobs, but goddamn do we quickly forget that the options are not just “PREVENT” but also “DETECT” and “CORRECT”. I’m glad to see that Kees Cook’s followup clarifies that he’s already looking into this, and learning that such violent change to a kernel can’t be swallowed whole.

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