December 20, 2004





The operating system oriented security debate is restarted Ė Phase 2

Examples of what I was saying.

 

 

Some days ago I was saying:

 

 

"What about the configuration? The complexity of an Operating System with all their services, applications and connectivity hardware is not to forget. A program or a service can be well programmed; without any programming bugs; but only a bad configuration can lead to a security hole. Youíll tell me: Yes but the programming is perfect, without bugs then itís impossible that such a thing append; if it happened then the cause is the user, not me, so itís not mine. If you build a hell to configure system then yes itís your problem. The interaction between a program and their plug-ins or a program with other programs can lead to unexpected behaviors. Usability is probably as important as programming practices"

 

           

As you can read, it was not really a great discovery. But today, while reading my blogs entries, I was amused by some of them. Let me point them.

 

 

            First, Google Desktop. As you can read in the New-York Times:

 

 

 

             "The glitch, which could permit an attacker to secretly search the contents of a personal computer via the Internet, is what computer scientists call a composition flaw - a security weakness that emerges when separate components interact. "When you put them together, out jumps a security flaw," said Dan Wallach, an assistant professor of computer science at Rice in Houston, who, with two graduate students, Seth Fogarty and Seth Nielson, discovered the flaw last month. "These are subtle problems, and it takes a lot of experience to ferret out this kind of flaw," Professor Wallach said"

 

 

            Itís probably one of the best examples of the phenomenon I was talking about two days ago. Itís sure that these problems are really hard to find and need imagination to discover them. But the point I want to bring is that the security of a program isnít just in function of his code quality. Two programs can be without security flaws but together, security holes appear.

 

            A post from Peter Torr also worth the reading. He was writing about Firefox and its appearance of security. Sure the code is probably not too bad, but some of the features (including the download and the installation) are obscures. So, my two pennies in the conversation is just to emphasis on the plug-ins point. I already said it before but please take care of smalls and cools plug-ins. As Peter said it, you donít have any way to check their authenticity.

 

            Whatís cool with Firefox is that itís a potentially slim browser, that you can change at will, with the features you want. The principle is great but also paradoxical when you have security in mind. Probably that Firefox is or will be well studied to upgrade and patch security, but will it be the case with all available plug-ins on their website? Let me doubts. The solution? Probably the certification of them. The feasibility? Near null for the moment.

 

            Finally I donít say to stop using it and not using the cool plug-ins available; but only to be aware of the situation when you are using these types of softwares.


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