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Never Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste

(This post is something of a follow-up to a previous post on browser security, but that went long enough that I decided to split the posts.)

I’ll leave most of what’s been said about Heartbleed to others.  In particular, I enjoyed Adam Cecchetti’s Heartbleed: A Beat In Time presentation.  But, a few people have been poking me for comments in response to recent events.  A little while ago, I called for a couple responses to Heartbleed:

  1. Accepting that some software has become Critical Infrastructure
  2. Supporting that software, with both money and talent
  3. Identifying that software — lets find the most important million lines of code that would be the most dangerous to have a bug, and actively monitor them

Thanks to the Linux Foundation and a host of well respected companies…this is actually happening.  Whoa.  That was fast.  I’m not even remotely taking credit — this has been a consensus, a long time brewing.  As Kennedy opined, “Victory has a thousand fathers.”  Right after the announcement, I was asked what I thought about this.  Here’s my take:

The Linux Foundation has announced their Core Infrastructure project, with early supporters including Amazon, Cisco, Dell, Facebook, Fujitsu, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NetApp, Qualcomm, Rackspace, and VMWare.  $100K from each, for three years, to identify and support the Open Source projects we depend on.

This is fantastic.

The Internet was not our first attempt at building the Internet.  Many other systems, from Minicom to AOL, came first.  What we call the Internet today was just the first time a global computer telecom infrastructure really took hold, pushing data and global communications onto every desk, into every home, onto mobile phones the world over.  Open Source software played, and continues to play, a tremendous role in the continuing success of the Internet, as the reason this platform worked was people could connect without hindrance from a gatekeeper.

It’s hard for some people to believe, but the phone company used to own your telephone.  Also, long distance calls used to be an event, because they were so very expensive.

We do live in a different world, than when the fundamental technologies of the Internet were created, and even when they were deployed.  Bad actors abound, and the question is:  How do we respond?  What do we do, to make the Internet safe, without threatening its character?  It’s a baby and the bathwater scenario.

I am profoundly grateful to see the Core Infrastructure project pledging real money and real resources to Open Source projects.  There are important things to note here.  First, yes, Core Infrastructure is a great name that avoids the baggage of Critical Infrastructure while expressing the importance of attention.  Second, we are seeing consensus that we must have the conversation about exactly what it is we depend on, if only to direct funds to appropriate projects.  Third, there’s an actual stable commitment of money, critical if there’s to be full time engineers hired to protect this infrastructure.

The Core Infrastructure project is not the only effort going on to repair or support Open Source.  The OpenBSD team has started a major fork of OpenSSL, called LibreSSL.  It will take some time to see what that effort will yield, but everyone’s hopeful.  What’s key here is that we are seeing consensus that we can and should do more, one that really does stay within the patterns that helped all these companies be the multi-billion dollar concerns they are now.  The Internet grew their markets, and in many cases, created them.  This isn’t charity.  It’s just verywise business.

In summary, I’m happy.  This is what I had hoped to see when I wrote about Heartbleed, and I am impressed to see industry stepping up so quickly to fill the need to identify and secure Core Infrastructure.

Making the Internet a safer place is not going to be easy.  But I’m seeing a world with a Core Infrastructure Project, the Internet Bug Bounty, the Bluehat Prize (which never gets enough attention), and even real discussion around when the US Government should disclose vulnerabilities.

That’s,..not the world I’m used to.  If this world also has Steven Colbert cracking wise about IE vulns…OK.

(Quick,vaguely subversive thought:  We always talk about transparency in things like National Security Letters and wiretaps.  What about vulnerability reports that lead to fixes?  Government is not monolithic.  Maybe transparency can highlight groups that defend the foundations our new economies are built upon, wherever they happen to be.  Doing this without creating some really perverse incentives would be…interesting.)

Categories: Security
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