February 19, 2018

The Linux Backdoor Attempt of 2003

Josh wrote recently about a serious security bug that appeared in Debian Linux back in 2006, and whether it was really a backdoor inserted by the NSA. (He concluded that it probably was not.)

Today I want to write about another incident, in 2003, in which someone tried to backdoor the Linux kernel. This one was definitely an attempt to insert a backdoor. But we don’t know who it was that made the attempt—and we probably never will.
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The Debian OpenSSL Bug: Backdoor or Security Accident?

On Monday, Ed wrote about Software Transparency, the idea that software is more resistant to intentional backdoors (and unintentional security vulnerabilities) if the process used to create it is transparent. Elements of software transparency include the availability of source code and the ability to read or contribute to a project’s issue tracker or internal developer discussion. He mentioned a case that I want to discuss in detail: in 2008, the Debian Project (a popular Linux distribution used for many web servers) announced that the pseudorandom number generator in Debian’s version of OpenSSL was broken and insecure.
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Software Transparency

Thanks to the recent NSA leaks, people are more worried than ever that their software might have backdoors. If you don’t believe that the software vendor can resist a backdoor request, the onus is on you to look for a backdoor. What you want is software transparency.

Transparency of this type is a much-touted advantage of open source software, so it’s natural to expect that the rise of backdoor fears will boost the popularity of open source code. [Read more…]