One famous programmer thinks they're crowding out a lot of other good development that needs to be done. Are they just regular bugs like all the others?
I spend a lot of my time writing about security bugs found in products and
what is done about them. In fact, there are hundreds of blogs and news outlets
that spend a considerable amount of time on such bugs. The news "markets" seem
to think they're worthy of the attention. An industry has built up in the
harvesting of these bugs and their sale to clients, both for good and bad
Not everyone thinks this is a good situation. Take one Linus Torvalds who, in
a recent e-mail discussion, called
the whole security bug management process corrupt
. [Warning: Linus uses some
very coarse language in this discussion.] His basic argument is that security
bugs are just bugs like non-security bugs. The focus on them is taking away
attention from non-security bugs that also need to be addressed.
Obviously there's a lot of truth in Linus's argument. First, there's
something just plain wrong about companies paying people to find exploitable
security flaws in other people's software, and then selling that
. But Linus seems to be talking more about the impact of embargos
on development. There is a private mailing list among operating system
distributors and vendors called vendor-sec used (citing Wikipedia here
discuss security issues in distributions and coordinate release of fixes.
Such "coordination" often involves an embargo on the release of information
about these bugs, and it's not hard to see how keeping such things secret would
rub the wrong way someone who has done so much, more than anyone perhaps, to
keep the development of software open. The secrecy culture around security fixes
seems, to Linus, antithetical to the philosophy that made Linux not just
possible, but successful. He has
some really nasty things to say about vendor-sec in particular (this is the part
with the worst foul language)
Linus isn't the only one p-o'd at vendor-sec. About halfway down this very long message
(watch out for more sailor talk)
the author (Al Viro, another Linux kernel
developer) goes on about what a mistake working with vendor-sec was for him, and
for much the same reason as with Linus. Anyway, the "coordination" doesn't seem
to have accomplished much. The list is populated with Linux and BSD distributors
who are notorious for being out of synch with each other, although perhaps less
so for security bugs.
I have to think that this is another case of an ideological viewpoint running
smack into the brick wall of market realities. Yes, there's a defensible
philosophical argument that all bugs deserve attention and that security isn't
everything. I can understand Linus's distaste for the culture of secrecy around
security bugs, but I do think they are more important that most other bugs. A
really serious security bug, like the
recent DNS bug
, really does merit telling everyone to drop everything else
and fix this right now.
But it's a free country, for the most part, and I hope nobody thinks they can
tell anyone, least of all Linus Torvalds, what he must and must not write.
Security's important, but it's not the only thing, and someone's got to keep the
other functions working well too.
Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked
in and written about the computer industry since 1983.
For insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com
Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer's blog Cheap Hack