Tag Archives: Linux

Open Source is NOT Bug Free

Linux

There are those in the open source software fan world that suggest that open source (and typically free) software is best because since the source code is available, people can look for bugs and fix them, resulting is bug free software.

The reality is not quite so simple.

While this statement is technically true, it is not true in practice.  Time and time again we run into very popular open source software with bugs – software like Open SSL which is installed on millions of computers.

That also does not mean that open source software is bad or overly buggy. It just means that it is software and all software needs to be validated.

AND, it also means that even if software is tested, it is not bug free.

OK, with that preamble, what are we dealing with today?

Google has an internal hacking team called Project Zero and they try to hack all kinds of software – including but not limited to Google’s own software.  This week team member Andrey Konovalov was playing with the USB drivers in the Linux kernel.

When someone mentions the words BUG and KERNEL in the same sentence, it should get your attention.  The kernel is the most privileged and most sensitive part of any operating system.

Andrey identified 14 bugs in the USB drivers that have been assigned bug ID numbers so far.  He has also requested another 7 numbers for additional vulnerabilities that he has identified.  On top of this, he says there are probably another 20 that have not been fully researched yet.  That puts the number of likely bugs in a very sensitive part of the Linux OS at around 40.

And remember, this is just in one part of the operating system.

So the next time someone tells you that open source means bug free, you can pull out a copy of this post.

Also, it is important to remember that Linux is an INCREDIBLY popular piece of open source software, used by hundreds of millions of people (It is the core of all Android phones).  If it is not bug free, is it reasonable to think that some other piece of open source software used by 10s of people IS bug free?  I don’t think so.

So, like with everything else, Caveat Emptor is appropriate response.

Information for this post came from Bleeping Computer and The Register.

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Open Source Software Does Not Solve All Of The World’s Problems

While I am not a Linux user personally, I am a big fan of it.  However, I am not delusional enough to think that just because a piece of software is open source, it is secure and bug free.

Anyone who thought that should have had those delusions ripped away when the Heartbleed bug was publicized.  For those readers not familiar with Heartbleed,  Heartbleed is the name given to the bug that affected the wildly popular open source software that implements SSL or HTTPS, the protocol used to protect secure many web sites.

It was thought that the bug affected around a half million to one million ecommerce web sites, many of which still have not been fixed 18 months later.

As popular as this software is, many, many people looked at it and even made contributions to it.  Still, this bug lived in the software from December 31, 2011 until a fix was released (but of course released does not mean that people have integrated into software that used the flawed version) on April 7, 2014.

To me, this proves that open source software, no matter the goals and desires of developers, may have security holes in it.

Fast forward to this week.

All versions of Linux released since Kernel version 3.8 (released in early 2013 -about 3 years ago) have a bug in the OS keyring, where encryption keys, security tokens and other sensitive security data is stored.

Whether hackers and foreign intelligence agents knew about this over the last few years or not is unknown, but we expect many Linux variants will release a patch this week.

More importantly, at least some versions of Android, which is based on Linux, also have this bug.  The researchers who found the bug said it affected tens of millions of Linux PCs and servers and 66% of all Android phones and tablets.

Google says that it does not think that Android devices are vulnerable to this bug being exploited by third parties and the total number of devices impacted is significantly smaller than the researchers though.  In this case, I trust Google researchers.  Google will have a patch available within 60 days, but getting that patch through the phone carrier release process could take a while.  I call this patch process TOTALLY BROKEN.  The only phones that we know will be patched quickly will be Google Nexus phones because Google releases those patches directly.

So, one more time, a major and highly visible piece of open source software is found to have a significant security hole for years.  This post talks about two examples, but there are many, many others.

If open source software as popular as Linux and OpenSSL has security holes, imagine the holes that MIGHT live in other, less popular open source software.  Some open source software might only be used by tens of people and only be looked at by one person.

The moral of this story is NOT that you should not use open source software;  it is no less or more risky than closed source software.  The moral is that you should ALWAYS consider the potential risks in using software and to the maximum degree possible, test for and mitigate potential security bugs.  And be ready to deal with the new ones when they are found.

Information on the OS Keyring bug can be found here.

Information on Heartbleed can be found here.

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