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The US Department of Homeland Security "Cleans Up" Open Source

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The US Department of Homeland Security "Cleans Up" Open Source

A huge number of US Government departments use many millions of lines of Open Source software as an integral part of their applications. How deeply embarrassing would it be if Open Source were a "spy in the office"? It's not just government applications that depend on Open Source. Businesses large and small worldwide depend on it for applications ranging from mundane to complex and esoteric.

To be fair, an Open Source system is very unlikely to be a source of spyware. The whole régime of open source development, while it appears to allow every Tom Dick and Harry to develop the systems and is thus "inherently insecure" is very rigidly controlled by project owners with version control systems, quality assurance and testing often beyond the resources of a commercial corporation.

So how is Homeland Security getting involved?

On Wednesday 18th January 2006 we expect an announcement, probably from Coverity, that it, Stanford University and Symantec have picked up shares of a $1.24m grant allocated for the "Vulnerability Discovery and Remediation, Open Source Hardening Project".

The project will scan the following open source projects for security vulnerabilities:

  • Abiword
  • Apache
  • BerkeleyDB
  • Bind
  • Ethereal
  • Firebird
  • Firefox
  • FreeBSD
  • Gaim
  • Gimp
  • Gtk+

Source - Coverity

  • Icecast
  • Inetutils
  • KDE
  • Linux
  • Mplayer
  • MySQL
  • OpenBSD
  • OpenLDAP
  • OpenSSH
  • OpenSSL
  • OpenVPN
  • OpenVPN
  • Proftpd
  • QT
  • Samba
  • Squid
  • TCL
  • TK
  • wxGtk
  • Xine
  • Xmms
  • Xpdf

"We're going to make automatic checking deeper and more thorough using the latest research and apply this to the open-source infrastructure to make it more robust," said Dawson Engler , an associate professor at Stanford who is working on the project. "A lot of the nation's critical computing infrastructure is open source, and it isn't really checked in an automatic way."

Coverity already provides Linux developers with bug data, and this project is announced as a major piece of aide for Open Source developers, with bug data being made available\on bug lists for them to use.

And the Open Source Community?

The project has come in for criticism from the open-source community. "The bug database should help make open-source software more secure, but in a roundabout way," said Ben Laurie, a director of the Apache Foundation who is also involved with OpenSSL. "A more direct way would be to provide the code analysis tools to the open-source developers themselves," he said. "It is regrettable that DHS has decided once more to ensure that private enterprise profits from the funding, while the open-source developers are left to beg for the scraps from the table," he said. "Why does the DHS think it is worthwhile to pay for bugs to be found, but has made no provision to pay for them to be fixed?"

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