Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Security

Security — Open Vs. Closed 101

Posted by kdawson
from the depends-what-the-meaning-of-is-is dept.
AlexGr points out an article in ACM Queue, "Open vs. Closed," in which Richard Ford prods at all the unknowns and grey areas in the question: is the open source or the closed source model more secure? While Ford notes that "there is no better way to start an argument among a group of developers than proclaiming Operating System A to be 'more secure' than Operating System B," he goes on to provide a nuanced and intelligent discussion on the subject, which includes guidelines as to where the use of "security through obscurity" may be appropriate.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Security — Open Vs. Closed

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:07PM (#17909748)
    I wonder which side slashdot will take in this argument...
  • endless debate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cpearson (809811) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:09PM (#17909774) Homepage
    Applications and systems developed that are developed rapidly by a small set of programmers would benifit from closed source security especially when producing software for small niches. Systems that are developed on a large scale and mission critial applications benefit from open source models because that can utilize a large tester base.

    Vista Forum [vistahelpforum.com]
    • Printable view link (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      http://www.acmqueue.com/modules.php?name=Content&p a=printer_friendly&pid=453&page=2 [acmqueue.com]

      Cleverly hidden on page 2 of 4 advertisement-riddled pages. You would think ACM could focus on the content with less distractions than other sites...guess not.
    • Re:endless debate (Score:4, Insightful)

      by HomelessInLaJolla (1026842) * <lajollahomeless@hotmail.com> on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:32PM (#17910152) Homepage Journal

      Systems that are developed on a large scale and mission critial applications benefit from open source m0dels because that can utilize a large tester base
      I see it in terms of receiving what was paid for.

      A program which costs $200 (typified as the industry and closed source) should not be relying on the consumer to be the (security) beta testers.

      A program which costs nothing, or only a nominal amount (typified as FOSS), is able to ethically rely on the consumer base to be (security) beta testers.

      If I paid for it then it should work (shouldn't break/shouldn't be so easily exploitable). If I didn't pay for it then I should expect to make a contribution.

      Right now the industry is addicted to charging production quality prices for beta (even alpha) quality software.
    • by Kadin2048 (468275) <[slashdot.kadin] [at] [xoxy.net]> on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:42PM (#17910320) Homepage Journal
      Actually, his conclusion contains a far more useful test, although it does boil down to common sense:

      The difference between these cases is simple: determinism. In the case of the encryption software, the outcome is deterministic. Knowing everything about the mechanism doesn't compromise the security of the outcome. In contrast, for antivirus software the system is heuristic. As such, some things benefit from disclosure, and some things don't. In these two cases, it's obvious. Unfortunately, that's the exception, not the rule. The problem is that many systems contain aspects that are heuristic and aspects that are deterministic.
      In essence, the question is to ask whether closing the source really results in any increased security; in the case of DRM systems (his example), it does, because they are broken by default and thus knowledge of the 'algorithm' allows the system to be cracked.

      Personally, I would argue that such 'heuristically secured' systems are broken by default, and that there are good reasons why generations of computer scientists have insisted that security through obscurity is meaningless. The "security" provided by such heuristics are of value only to marketing and legal departments, they are not and should not be confused with the security offered by 'deterministically secured' systems (e.g. cryptography is his example). Saying that an application is "secure," when it depends on an attacker not knowing how it works, borders on unethical false advertising.
    • What does the openness of the code have to do with the size of the tester base? Closed source applications can be downloaded just as easily as open source apps. Windows has had hundreds of thousands of beta testers.
      • by newt0311 (973957)
        try testing something when you have the source and when you don't. HINT: Its much easier with the source, at least for those who care. It makes it possible to spot fishy code paths, invalid typecasts, etc. and insert code to try test those things specifically.
  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:09PM (#17909784) Homepage
    Businesses that choose to develop closed-source software seem to also choose to ship code prematurely, to over-provision with extra features, to decide on features for marketing rather than security or quality reasons, and generally compromise the product in multiple ways. In that light, closed source isn't itself the security problem, it's just an indicator that there probably are other problems lurking.
    • by ThinkFr33ly (902481) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:21PM (#17909982)
      But those same companies are at the mercy of consumers, just like anybody else. If there is enough bad press due to the poor security of the product, the company will be forced to fix things. This is especially true for companies that sell software to large corporations.

      Microsoft really is a case in point. They did a lot of what you described, got nailed for it by the press, by consumers, and by corporations, and they really did change their ways. Their Secure Development Lifecycle [microsoft.com] has turned out some pretty high quality releases. For instance, IIS 6 has far fewer vulnerabilities than Apache. One certainly couldn't say that for IIS 5.
      • But those same companies are at the mercy of consumers, just like anybody else. If there is enough bad press due to the poor security of the product, the company will be forced to fix things. This is especially true for companies that sell software to large corporations.

        You really think that. It's cute. Now let me tell you how it works in the real world; Software has such a percieved cost for development ( factual or not ) that once a company comes out with something that sorta works, no one else is will
        • by sheldon (2322)

          If MS really is a changed corporation ( which remains to be seen ), they'd be the exception to the rule. And how, exactly, did they get nailed for their behavior by consumers? Did consumers stop buying their crap? Obviously not. So how?

          By bad press.

          This is an aspect of the Free Market that I don't think some people fully acknowledge. The invisible hand is not just the consumers buying the product, but those who don't buy the product and complain openly about it. Those open complaints do build up, and you

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by VolciMaster (821873)

        For instance, IIS 6 has far fewer vulnerabilities than Apache. One certainly couldn't say that for IIS 5.

        I've never heard anyone quote such a stat. Where does said statistic come from

  • Simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:10PM (#17909804)
    The Operating System most secure is the Operating System less used.
    • > The Operating System most secure is the Operating System less used.

      So, OpenVMS, then?
      • This is slightly off-topic, but a while back I got interested in OpenVMS, and VAX stuff in general. (I started doing some research because I thought I was going to get stuck doing some turd polishing of old mainframe software, but it never materialized. But by then I was just interested.) Even in hindsight (given that I think we can agree that UNIX-derivatives seem to have gained traction over VMS), it's extremely difficult to find any sort of rational comparisons of VAX/VMS and its architecture and design
        • If you ever did any assembly language programming in the MS-DOS 3.2 days, you've got a slight, tiny flavor of what writing on VMS was like. All the system calls had assembly interfaces, with lots and lots of bit fields and variant records; so it was like "if the third bit in the second word of a syscall parameter block was set, then the fourth and fifth words would be string descriptors, but if the fourth bit was set, then those words were integers that meant something else entirely". The documentation wou
        • by SL Baur (19540)
          VMS was a great system for its time, but it was always like a beautiful rose that smelled bad. It supported things that are now only now getting into Linux, particularly, all system calls could be called asynchronously. It had real-time scheduling that could be made hard real-time and fine-grained permissions, both on files with RMS and on process priveleges. It had a rich set of primitives for doing parallel user-land programming like AST callbacks and the lock management system. Fun stuff once you wad
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Marillion (33728)

      I don't agree.

      The central server for a system of airport flight information display screens (FIDS) where I once worked ran an operating system called iRMX. It had pathetic security. The only thing that kept that system secure was the lock on the door to the room.

      • Re:Simple (Score:4, Informative)

        by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:42PM (#17910312)
        That was Intel's Realtime Multitasking eXecutive - a REAL TIME operating system. Security wasn't its job. You may as well ask how the security on QNX or a PLC is. Answer: nobody cares, as long as the I/O completes on time.
      • Your sig can be simplified to:
        ruby -e "[1383424633,543781664,1718971914].each{|x| print([x].pack('N'))}"

        I agree with the output though :)
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Tony Hoyle (11698)
          Your sig can be simplified to:
          ruby -e "[1383424633,543781664,1718971914].each{|x| print([x].pack('N'))}"


          You must be using some definition of 'simplified' I wasn't previously aware of.
          • by ampathee (682788)
            Simplify: to make simpler or reduce in complexity.
            It's simpler than the original, mr. smarty-pants.
            Anyway, ruby -e "puts 'Ruby is fun'" wouldn't be very interesting now, would it?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by bssteph (967858) *
      The Operating System most secure is the Operating System less used.

      I've written the most secure operating system in the world. No, you can't have it. I forgot where I put it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CastrTroy (595695)
      Why wouldn't people want to use a secure operating system? I know you're trying to say that the vulnerabilities only show up once the people try to break the system, and crackers only try to break popular systems. However, I don't believe that it's a tautology that a system has to have vulnerabilities. If they developed a system that actually didn't have vulnerabilities, and actually ran all the necessary software, then wouldn't everybody start using that? I think the only thing holding back Linux is goo
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      That depends on your definition of "secure". To me, how much something is used has nothing to do with that. What you're saying to me is like saying "the boat that floats best is the one least used". By that definition, a model of which 100000 have been built, out of which 3 have sunk, floats worse than a model which would always sink, but which nobody has let into the water yet. That's not how I want my security to be.
    • by DittoBox (978894)
      Security by obscurity...isn't.
    • by daigu (111684)

      Oh, so THAT's why OpenBSD [openbsd.org] is relatively secure. If more people started using it, I guess it would suddenly get less secure. Thanks for clearing that up.

      Your comment gets at the issue that there are more exploits for more commonly used systems. Still, it may be that more secure systems may be used less because they are more difficult (or expensive or whatever) to use - same is probably true of security's component parts such as passwords, physical security, etc.

  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:11PM (#17909808) Homepage Journal
    With regards to the question which product is more secure, the only right answer is that you will never know. The problem is that you can't eliminate bias from a test that is supposed to assess this. Since a single product can't be both open source and closed source, you will always be comparing multiple products. As stated earlier, you can't reliably establish the relative security of these products, let alone attribute the result to open vs. closed source.
    • As stated earlier, you can't reliably establish the relative security of these products, let alone attribute the result to open vs. closed source.

      Well, the point of the article was that you can;t even get to that point, since there is no widely accepted measurable definition of 'security', no inclusive metric of security. This means there is no way to define a 'more secure' approach, and therefore all we can do is discuss individual products in comparison with one another.

      • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:45PM (#17910376) Homepage Journal
        ``This means there is no way to define a 'more secure' approach, and therefore all we can do is discuss individual products in comparison with one another.''

        And I'm saying that even that is pretty meaningless. Five vulnerabilities were fixed in Mozilla last week, and two in Opera. Which is more secure? Twelve new vulnerabilities have been discovered in Firefox, and one in Opera. Which is more secure? The Apache servers in our sample have been broken into 50 times during the course of our study, compared to 3 break ins for lighttpd. Which is more secure? A team of five experts found three vulnerabilities in the NT kernel and two in Linux. Which is more secure? Static analysis found 10000 possible vulnerabilities in Konqueror and Microsoft reports static analysis found 1000 possible vulnerabilities in MSIE. Which is more secure? Which of the mentioned products should you select, based on the given facts, if your goal is to minimize future break ins?

        I honestly don't know the answer to any of the questions I asked. I really think none of the (fictional) data I gave says anything about the relative security about the products it ostensibly pertains to. I _feel_ more secure running OpenBSD than Windows 2000, and, given the absense of reports of OpenBSD machines being broken into on a large scale, that feeling seems justified. But this is entirely based on something that I _don't_ know. I _don't_ know that OpenBSD machines are massively broken into, and thus, I feel safe. However, I also don't know that they are _not_ massively broken into, so my feeling could be entirely misplaced. I certainly don't know that there are no holes in OpenBSD, so even if it hasn't been massively exploited up to now, it could start tomorrow. All I have is the assurance of the developers that they make great efforts to improve security. I believe them, hope they are indeed doing so, and hope they are actually _achieving_ better security that way. But I don't _know_ that.
        • by headkase (533448)
          You are doing a really good job at summarizing the first page in both your original and this post. But. Did you read the other three pages? They discuss the advantages and disadvantages based on specific scenarios for both methodololigies contrasting how each approach (and mixed approaches) fares.
          You've anchored yourself to a position that can't be assailed but that's not the interesting part. Go read the other three pages.
        • by grcumb (781340)

          And I'm saying that even that is pretty meaningless. Five vulnerabilities were fixed in Mozilla last week, and two in Opera. Which is more secure? Twelve new vulnerabilities have been discovered in Firefox, and one in Opera. Which is more secure?

          Your point's well taken, but your conclusion (here and in your first post above) are hopelessly fatalistic.

          You don't give nearly enough credit to the analytical process. Instead you focus on points that might philosophically be true (e.g. "no app is open and clo

  • by ThinkFr33ly (902481) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:14PM (#17909854)
    One supposed advantage of open source software is that, well, it's open. Everybody can take a look and see if the code has holes. The idea being that the more eyes that look at something, the greater a chance of somebody seeing bugs.

    But the quantity of eyes isn't always the issue. I could put the Linux kernel source code in front of 1 million six year olds, and there is very little chance any of them would find a single bug.

    Obviously, we're not talking about six year old eyes here, but continue the scenario. There are some types of bugs that even very experienced coders wouldn't necessarily spot. Not every kind of security hole is a simple buffer overflow. Some kinds of issues will really only be spotted by a highly trained and specialized set of eyes.

    Now, those highly trained eyes may be looking at the open source code, or they may not. All I'm saying is that the quote "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" is not particularly accurate.
    • by iaculus (1032214)
      (Open) source code is more easily human readable than binary. The humans that are looking at the (compiled binary) code of closed source software are probably doing so illegally, and the minimum knowledge required to read and understand it is greater than the minimum knowledge required to read and understand source code. So the people who just poke around to have a look are less likely to report bugs, because that code was supposed to be closed source. And the people looking for ways to break it are probabl
    • It's not so much the number of eyes on open source software, as the lack of eyes on closed source software. Given few enough eyeballs, all bugs are left unfixed, as the developers are off working on their other 30 feature requests and don't have time to fix security on something that works well enough.
    • by danpsmith (922127) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @04:04PM (#17910802)

      Now, those highly trained eyes may be looking at the open source code, or they may not. All I'm saying is that the quote "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" is not particularly accurate.

      I think, however, the "open source is more secure" argument tends to follow the idea that behind the scenes, the code under closed source applications tends to be generally faulty, or, at least, Windows code in particular. There could very well be many exploits that, given the code for MS Vista, amateur programmers could easily pick out, simply because the code base is so vast and the amount of people who have full access to it so few.

      It's just like if I write my own little closed source app, at first it may appear to be flawless to me because I am the only one seeing the code. But I might code in an inherently buggy way that would be easily picked up by another set of eyes. Then, as little problems flood in from end users, instead of fixing my coding methodology, I make little fixes to the code that are basically workarounds around perhaps solving a bigger problem that would require more time (something more fundamental to the way the program is structured). As an effect, the "patches" become more and more around fixing faults than providing the functionality intended in the first place. Whereas with open source, someone might've already just forked my project and coded the idea using different data structures or in a largely more efficient way.

      It's not to say that I couldn't be flawless, but, the odds decrease when nobody can see the results. Using closed source software is like running a car without access to the engine. You see things going wrong, but as far as why and how they are happening, if they are huge problems or only small ones, you can't determine without diving into the actual car's components directly. Closed source doesn't allow this. It's not just the fact that there are multiple eyes, then, it's the fact that those eyes are outside the original coder, potentially, sometimes even being the people having the problems themselves. It takes the "how do we recreate the bug?" discussion out, and oftentimes a sufficient end user can not only support his/herself, but improve the codebase.

      Honestly, seems like a better approach. The hard thing is you can't know which is more secure really. But in practice, let's be honest, Linux and OSS get fixed more quickly if they are a widely used project in the OSS community than MS products and "patch tuesday" where they schedule patch releases and recommend strange workarounds for existing security breaches.

      • by Tony Hoyle (11698)
        I think, however, the "open source is more secure" argument tends to follow the idea that behind the scenes, the code under closed source applications tends to be generally faulty,

        Having worked for many closed source companies I believe this to be generally true (scarily, with no exceptions I've seen.. although I believe they must exist). Deadlines are king and they really don't care whether the code is crap and will fall apart in a couple of years time... they want to get something out of the door *now*.

        I
    • With closed source and "security through obscurity", you do not know - nor have any means of knowing - who is examining the code, their qualifications, their abilities or their resources. The same is equally true of open source. The difference is that, for closed source, you eliminate your ability to either compensate for, or exploit, this unofficial work. It will happen - code is stolen all the time, even from companies as closed-up as Cisco - but even to acknowledge it could cause irreparable harm. The nu
    • The flaw is that you'd be putting it in front of 1 million 6-year olds who'd have roughly the same experience and education level. The idea is that given enough eyeballs, chances are one of them will be trained in a particular way that it will be shallow. It isn't about skill level as much as diversity in experiences, backgrounds, and perception. Because I'm an underwater basket weaver, I may see a particular problem in a certain light that makes it obvious to me, even though Bob, the Ph.D. in everything ex
    • Now, those highly trained eyes may be looking at the open source code, or they may not. All I'm saying is that the quote "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" is not particularly accurate.

      Yes. There are experienced eyes on it, though, and that's security researchers. One of the most common types of papers in systems security research is automated bug finders, and one of the standard metrics of bug-finding is "how many bugs can you find in the Linux kernel?"

      Of course, in many cases, proprietary de

  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Zebra_X (13249) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:15PM (#17909872)
    While Ford notes that "there is no better way to start an argument among a group of developers than proclaiming Operating System A to be 'more secure' than Operating System B,"

    Unless of course Operating System A is Open BSD ;-)
  • FTFA - For example, passwords are the perfect example of "acceptable" security through obscurity: they are useful only if the attacker doesn't know them.

    I would have thought that the password authentication method was the part that needed to be secured.

    Just look at how many times an auth method has been exploited to bypass passwords entirely.
    • I would have thought that the password authentication method was the part that needed to be secured.

      Lets see for today a given /24 has on average 57 ongoing SSH login/password dictionary attacks ongoing making it the 4th most common type of network attack. The obscurity part of this defense is essential, but I'm certainly going to restrict my boxes to allowing SSH attempts from couple of specific IPs as well. Security through obscurity is a time tested and vital part of security, but at the same time it

  • The Wrong Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ThosLives (686517) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:19PM (#17909936) Journal

    This debate is all about the incorrect question. The reason is that code can be secure or not secure, regardless of its "open" or "closed" status.

    Until the industry realizes that "secure is secure" and stops worrying about the open or proprietary nature of things, this debate will probably prevent things from being as secure as they could be by diverting resources to an analysis rather than any solutions.

    Put another way: Is a homemade door more or less secure than a professionally installed door? My answer is "it depends on the skills of those involved and the quality of materials".

    The same applies to software.

    • Put another way: Is a homemade door more or less secure than a professionally installed door? My answer is "it depends on the skills of those involved and the quality of materials".

      Although in this analogy, the homemade door would be built and installed by the homeowner him/herself who also happens to be a door professional doing the work on his/her own time.

      In this case, I would argue the homeowner has a higher stake in doing good, secure work as their "personal investment" in a quality job is higher.

      • by bberens (965711)
        This is an unusual analogy because a general rule of thumb indicates that home built projects (woodworking and such) tend to be over-built when compared to the professional job. The home builder tends to put more nails/glue/braces in place than are required to fulfill the need of the object. I doubt this holds true in software development, but it may.
    • Is a homemade door more or less secure than a professionally installed door? My answer is "it depends on the skills of those involved and the quality of materials".

      The real issue is whether the house to which that door allows access is more secure if you publish its plans or not.

      That is hard to answer, because you don't know if the homeowner is relying on the secrecy for security, or just wants to sell house plans. If the homeowner thinks his house is safer because no one can open his door without the plan
      • by Salsaman (141471)
        Your analogy is also wrong !

        A better one would be, is your house more secure if you publish the blueprints and photos of it online, and allow any architect or security specialist in the world to view them, suggest changes, and if you like the suggestions, they will come to your house and carry out the work for you (often for free).

        On the other hand, every thief in the world can also study those blueprints and photos...
    • Yes. Not only is the wrong question, it doesn't even make sense.

      Open source and closed source are methods, security is a result. Security is an attribute of a product, not of a development technique. A closed-source company can assign a hundred reviewers and get more trained eyeballs on their code than most open source projects ever see.

      If you want to measure results, there's so much scatter from other causes that any effects of open vs. closed are swamped in the noise. Which would you pick as an example of
      • by rtb61 (674572)
        Proprietary code is done for a profit, the old closed source lie of, we can assign a million coders to debug the code is just nonsense, they assign one coder to each bit of code, if the code works, it stays in whether it is secure or insecure, after it has hit the street, then all the problems surface.

        M$ had a terrible reputation for their code patches because they were as bad at their patches as their original code. In order to get past that problem they had to contract out the auditing of the patches to

  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:20PM (#17909964)
    Is always a good first line of defense. At least it keeps out the riff-raff. Until someone smarter writes the scripts for them.
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:26PM (#17910062)
    Closed security: the Titanic is unsinkable - White Star line
    Open security: the Titanic's hull is made of brittle metal and thus isn't safe - Independent safety inspector
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Open to the point of letting people know one's password?

    I don't think that works.

    Algorithm? May be.

    It comes down to this, from bad guys .. it should be as "closed" as possible. From good guys, it should be as "open as possible". Because the good guys are likely to tell you flaws in the system, whereas bad guys aren't.

    As a symptom of society in general to become more and more suspicious of each other, what is getting adopted is the worst of both the closed and open model is the one that persecutes security r
  • My Take (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:30PM (#17910134) Homepage Journal
    The same old argument for openness applies to open source. You have to assume the black hats will find and try to exploit vulnerabilities. Without that assumption, there isn't much to worry about. But given that the black hats will find vulnerabilities and use them, the best thing we can do is to make sure the white hats find the vulnerabilities, too. This way, the vulnerabilities can be fixed or worked around (e.g. through firewalls). The vulnerabilities exist whether or not you know about them, but, if you know about them, you can take adequate measures. Open source makes it easier to find vulnerabilities, and thus, to know about vulnerabilities.

    Of course, open source also makes it easier for the black hats to find the vulnerabilities. So there's an arms race here. If the black hats find the vulnerability first, they can exploit it before it gets patched or worked around. If the white hats find it first, it can be fixed or worked around before it is exploited. The same arms race exists for closed source and open source, but, in the case of closed source software, the developers are (supposedly) the only ones with the source code, which gives them a slight edge in the arms race.

    So it seems that both open source and closed source have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to security. Furthermore, I think that both arguments are theoretical, and the advantages that both models have are not always exploited. Having the source available does not help if no white hats are actually auditing it. And this is why open source wins, in my book. With open source, if you're concerned about vulnerabilities in the software and don't trust the rest of the world to have done proper audits and notified you about the results, you can do your own audit. If the developers of the software don't fix the vulnerabilities to your satisfaction, you can do so yourself. With closed source, you are at the mercy of the vendor. If they don't do proper audits, you're out of luck. If they don't fix vulnerabilities, you're out of luck.

    Proprietary software vendors do not always have your best interests in mind. It's not unusual for vendors to keep silent about vulnerabilities found and/or fixed in their software, and some vendors have even threatened or sued people who have disclosed vulnerabilities in the vendor's software. The reputation is more important than the _actual_ security of the product, because the actual security is unknowable. With open source, such tacticts don't work. The source is out there, anyone can find the vulnerabilties and assess the security for themselves. If things are fixed, anyone can make a diff between the two versions and see what was fixed. They can't keep the information from you. Your security benefits from that.
  • Which, regardless of operating system, is the interface unit located between the chair and keyboard. That interface can bring the most secure system to its knees.
  • by straponego (521991) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:50PM (#17910480)
    Okay, let's look at just one service, SSH. Without security through obscurity, you can do things like keep OpenSSH patched, use very good passwords, disallow root logins, restrict logins to certain users (which is kinda security through obscurity, but...)

    And on servers I run like that, I have yet to have a breakin, but I do get up to thousands of connection attempts from ssh worms, from the same servers, every day (well, they would if I stopped dropping them in iptables, but nevermind that). So it's possible that they could hit a user with a bad password, or one they got from another compromised machine.

    On other boxes, like my home box, I put SSH on a high-numbered port. In a couple of years I've had zero attempts hit that port. It would be quite stupid to rely only on this trick, ignoring good discipline in other areas. But as a supplementary layer, it's quite useful. If nothing else, it saves bandwidth.

    It's not sufficient, but it's not inherently bad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by init100 (915886)

      Without security through obscurity, you can do things like keep OpenSSH patched, use very good passwords, disallow root logins, restrict logins to certain users

      Not to mention disable password logins altogether, and only allow logins using a key pair (known as public key authentication in SSH terminology). This makes a password guessing attack impossible, and an attacker must either guess (or obtain in another way) your private key, or find a security vulnerability in the software itself. This approach is somewhat more cumbersome to administrate though, but very secure.

      • Absolutely, using ssh keys is a great option in many cases. But it carries its own risks, for example if steals your laptop or has root, or access to your account (don't forget to screenlock your machine whenever you step out of sight of it), on a machine which contains your keys.


        Security can really be a PITA sometimes.

        • by init100 (915886)

          But it carries its own risks, for example if steals your laptop

          The key is protected by a good passphrase

          don't forget to screenlock your machine whenever you step out of sight of it

          I already do, since I started using *nix in 1998.

      • Both options rely on security through obscurity, however. Why else would you be trying to hide your private key?

        The only difference anywhere is how abstract your obscurity is.
  • It's easy to find a buffer overflow by looking for strcpy calls with a debugger in a closed source program. It's a lot harder to fix them in a closed source program though, as you have no idea what to fix. The attacker doesn't need to understand the program to attack it, he just needs to understand a small part of it. The defender needs to understand all of it to patch it. Look at the CTSS bug involving a race condition and the system editor. The attacker just waited, and then he got the password file. Find
  • Say, I make these light fixtures. You can screw in a bulb but you cant see the insides, its design, how close the leads come togather, the quality of the materials used, the quality of workmanship etc. No independant certifying agency like Underwriter's Laborataries has seen it. No consumer advocacy group has tested it. But I state solemnly that "to the best of my knowledge and belief, it is safe". All my employees in the Quality Assurance Department, (whose job depends on my ability to sell this gizmo) sta
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Closed doesn't mean nobody has seen it. MS for example gives it source code to many 3rd parties for review and analysis. If source code is subject to extensive 3rd party review, closing it to the general public adds an additional layer of security. Security through Obsurity may not be a great stand alone security model, but as part of security indepth it can be. It should be used as one of many layers.
      • True. I agree with your point. But submitting the source for independant thirdparty analysis and certification should be mandatory, like it is in child car seats and light fixtures. That is my point. May be I did not say it right.
        • by nasch (598556)

          But submitting the source for independant thirdparty analysis and certification should be mandatory, like it is in child car seats and light fixtures.

          Why? Those certifications are to make sure the product is safe - it won't burn your house down, or it will keep your child safe in an accident. They don't test anything else, such as whether the light fixture is attractive or shows dirt, or if the car seat is easy to use or comfortable. If my software needs to be safe (I could get hurt if it malfunctions)

      • In court, Microsoft claimed that exposing their source would endanger national security.

        A couple years later, after the trial was over, Microsoft gives in to Chinese government demands for the source code.

        You really think that this kind of 3rd-party review is good? Hint: it is highly unlikely that the Chinese government would report any interesting discoveries back to Microsoft.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheLink (130905)
      In my experience there is no big difference between the security of closed and open software.

      1) Even if the source code is available for people to check, if nobody else bothers checking but the author there's no difference right?
      2) It's the quality of the checking not the quantity. A billion stupid monkeys won't know the difference between good code or bad code.

      What you should do is see who made the stuff and what their track record is like.

      I can confidently say Firefox will continue to have regular securit
  • If you have a large project that only the developers and the bad guys bother to examine closely, it's LESS secure than a similar project with many white-hat eyeballs on it and LESS secure than a similar project with only the developers looking at it.

    This assumes the code has security-related bugs that are exploitable if found by the bad guys. It also assumes that the development team, despite their best efforts, doesn't find all the bugs that the bad guys could find if they had access to the source code.

    Wi
  • The article concludes that "Software Engineering is a young discipline". The term was first coined in 1961, so I'd like to suggest that only recently have many agreed on what software engineering actually is, and how it should be undertaken.
  • If you can't prove it is secure by showing me how it works, then it's not secure. How do I know that there isn't some bolt in the back of the bank vault, or some skeleton key, unless you allow me to inspect it myself?

    Security by faith or by fact, which would you prefer?
  • If I can't see the code myself, I am forced to trust that the vendor has refrained from inserting a backdoor in the code. As for third party audits, I trust them as much as I would trust Microsoft to hire an impartial third party to determine whether a new Office version actually increases productivity.

    I don't care how many pictures of keys, keyholes, locks, policemen, security guards, castles, gates or agents in glasses the website hawking the product has, how high it ranks on cnet, how many recommendation
  • All security *is* obscurity.

    Just as all humans are ultimately cellular organisms, or all substances are ultimately subatomic particles. Security is the art of keeping something hidden by requiring something else that is hidden to reveal it, and repeated applications of this principle in various distinguishable implementations.

    The lock on a door is only as secure as the secret of where it's key is. Discover this secret, and act upon it, and the secret of the door is revealed.

    Likewise, my encrypted email is o
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TheMeuge (645043)
      I think you've introduced a new concept here - security through incomprehensibility.
  • The text labels on those graphs are illegible.
  • for example, passwords are the perfect example of "acceptable" security through obscurity: they are useful only if the attacker doesn't know them.

    The password is the data. The data can and should be remain closed. When we talk about security through obscurity we refer to the procedure, which is the executable code, the algorithm, what the hell the software does and how it does it.

    I think that beeing dependent on the software vendor beats any advantage (if there are any) that closed-source may have.

The biggest mistake you can make is to believe that you are working for someone else.

Working...