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Michal Zalewski On Security's Broken Promises 125

Posted by Soulskill
from the always-get-it-in-writing dept.
Lipton-Arena writes "In a thought-provoking guest editorial on ZDNet, Google security guru Michal Zalewski laments the IT security industry's broken promises and argues that little has been done over the years to improve the situation. From the article: 'We have in essence completely failed to come up with even the most rudimentary, usable frameworks for understanding and assessing the security of modern software; and spare for several brilliant treatises and limited-scale experiments, we do not even have any real-world success stories to share. The focus is almost exclusively on reactive, secondary security measures: vulnerability management, malware and attack detection, sandboxing, and so forth; and perhaps on selectively pointing out flaws in somebody else's code. The frustrating, jealously guarded secret is that when it comes to actually enabling others to develop secure systems, we deliver far less value than could be expected.'"
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Michal Zalewski On Security's Broken Promises

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  • Motivation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Friday May 21, 2010 @03:37PM (#32297554)

    Security can be widely deployed by enterprise IT, OS vendors, and possibly some hardware OEMs. The larger the footprint, the easier it is for such real security to be rolled out. The thing is, while some IT departments have very good security, just as many have terrible. Hardware vendors are unlikely to have the expertise and are unlikely to be able to profit using an integrated security platform as a differentiator. This pretty much leaves OS vendors. MS has a monopoly so they don't have much financial motivation to dump money into it. Apple doesn't really have a malware problem, with most users never seeing any malware let alone making a purchasing decision based upon the fear of OS insecurity. Linux is fragmented, has little in the way of malware problems, and has niche versions for those worried about it.

    I'm convinced malware is largely solvable. It will never be completely eliminated by the vast majority could be filtered out if we implemented some of the cool new security schemes used in high security environments. But who's going to do it? Maybe Apple or a Linux vendor if somehow they grow large enough or their platform is targeted enough. Maybe if MS were broken up into multiple companies with the IP rights to Windows, they're start competing to make a more secure product than their new rival. Other than that, we just have to sit in the mess we've made.

  • Too Expensive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Friday May 21, 2010 @03:42PM (#32297626) Homepage Journal

    It may be that a secure and convenient system is possible, but it's too expensive for anybody to sit down and write.

    Rather, we're slowly and incrementally making improvements. There's quite a bit of momentum to overcome (witness the uproar when somebody suggests replacing Unix DAC with SELinux MAC) in any installed base, but that's where the change needs to come from, since it's too expensive to do otherwise.

    If time and money were no object, everything would be different. More efficient allocation of the available time and money is happening as a result of Internet collaboration.

    So, 'we're getting there' seems to be as good an answer as any.

  • by lgw (121541) on Friday May 21, 2010 @04:53PM (#32298768) Journal

    Modern Microsoft OSs aren't really any more "inherently vulnerable" than anyone else that might be viable in the consumer space. At this point it's more about getting the apps onboard with the security model. In the server space, Win2008 r2 gets most things right - just about everything is off by default, the kernel itself is quite secure, there's a good model for running as a non-admin and escalating when needed.

    The biggest problems with Windows right now are apps that pointlessly need to run as admin, and apps that don't sandbox even narrower than "all the current user's data". All OSs are equally vulnerable to social engineering trojans - if you can trick the user into giving you the root password, you win - but outside of that Windows itself is only particularly weak in that a lot of the code is still new.

    The real trick for security - for Windows and everyone else - is to adopt a model more like SE Linux where you just agressively limit what each app has access to. SE Linux is too hard to configure for the broad market, but a simpler approach where each app is sandboxed in a VM with just the resources it needs will shut down the "drive by" attacks involving flash, PDF, and similar apps. You can't do much about social engineering trojans, but you can fix the rest with sandboxing/jailing that doesn't require the end user to configure stuff.

    The Web browser shouldn't be special in this regard - every app should be jailed automatically, requiring effort from app developers to broaden an app's scope, instead of the current model where app developers are asked to do extra work to narrow an app's scope.

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