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Trusting Trust and Trusting Red Hat et al.

Posted in Microsoft, Red Hat, Servers at 5:27 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Even Red Hat’s logo does not inspire confidence

Red Hat logo

Summary: Why companies which are based on the United States cannot be trusted as US law requires them to provide access to personal information (or even back doors) without ever disclosing this

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.5 has just come out [1,2,3]. Red Hat targets the so-called 'cloud' (surveillance-friendly) market with it, quite frankly as usual [4]. Cutting-edge RHEL prototypes like Fedora 20 are to be released soon, and Scientific Linux (not just CentOS) will need to catch up by rebranding RHEL (they are being compared in terms of performance in [5]). Some people are remixing [6] Red Hat’s distributions, not rebranding them. But few people actually audit RHEL code line by line. Disassembling RHEL binaries is an even greater challenge, so nobody knows for sure what RHEL does. It’s a vast body of software and it is deployed in many mission-critical operations, not just in the United States.

“Trusting Trust” is an old concept, coined by some of the earlier UNIX folks. This subject happened to have been raised during business lunch earlier this week and it speaks on the degree of trust we must place on compiler developers, chipmakers, high-level software companies, and even Free software developers whose code we never personally audited (or continue to audit every time a new release is made available). Verifying the security of a small piece of software like a CMS (as Germany currently does) is feasible, but for entire operating systems it is virtually impossible and then there’s the peril of checking chip designs, their fabrication process, and the same for software (compilers). IBM et al., those who infect computers with TPM (NSA connections) only lead to mistrust. We are talking about a “special surveillance chip” here. And yes, there is history to it. Slashdot published this bit of analysis a few months ago. Read the comments too. One says: “I work for Red Hat…. The NSA asks me to put code in the Linux kernel and I pass it to Linus.” (see the context for more interesting information of this kind).

There is currently a discussion in Diaspora about this. It is argued that Red Hat will need to appease the government — especially the Pentagon/DOD — in order to keep winning major contracts that are derived from black budgets sometimes. There are stories I am aware of (but cannot share) about the role spies play in procurement for government. They can veto and influence decisions. This is a very ugly side of procurement which many people are simply not aware of. It only makes sense for Red Hat to try to appease the NSA and perhaps attach code from the NSA, with or without sufficient scrutiny (it goes well beyond involvement in SELinux, which is not the NSA’s only role in Linux). Well, some in Twitter wanted more information about this, so I reminded them that several years ago I wrote about how RHEL goes through the NSA before release; the same is true for SUSE. Now we know for sure that Linux was the target of NSA back doors [1, 2, 3, 4]; more new reporting on this [7-10] is starting to appear (people are catching up) and a new report tells us that “NSA infected 50,000 computer networks with malicious software” [11].

“he law in the US has become somewhat incompatible with freedom-respecting software.”We already know that the NSA worked closely with Microsoft and got a widely-used platform (internationally) with back doors it has exclusive access to, which basically means that Microsoft Windows is a Trojan horse for the NSA. Just remember where Linux is being developed. It’s the same country as Microsoft and Apple. Projects like Debian inherit some code from Red Hat, which complicates things further. The chain of trust is undone.

After the new report from the New York Times [12,13] (published to make huge impact this weekend) perhaps it’s time for Torvalds to withdraw his newly-acquired US citizenship and move back Linux development to Finland. With all sorts of National Security Letters, gag orders, oppressive laws like PATRIOT Act etc. we just know that those based in the US can be forced to facilitate surveillance (without ever speaking about it publicly). This may sound like a radical solution, but when companies like Red Hat and the Linux Foundation need to comply with US laws we just simply cannot have any trust. Torvalds pretty much lied to us (in a clever way) about NSA request for back doors in Linux, but his father, who is a European politician based in Europe, told us the truth.

In the past we argued that Red Hat should move to Europe because of software patents (I asked Red Hat’s CEO about it and he dismissed the possibility). Now we have another reason to suggest relocation. The law in the US has become somewhat incompatible with freedom-respecting software.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.5 Delivers Precision Timing
  2. Red Hat Launches Latest Version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6
  3. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.5 arrives
  4. Red Hat and eNovance to accelerate adoption of Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack platform

    Red Hat Inc. and eNovance, an emerging European leader in the open source cloud computing market, are collaborating to deliver OpenStack implementation and integration services to joint customers. The companies made the announcement at the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong.

    The collaboration between Red Hat and eNovance is aimed at accelerating enterprise adoption of OpenStack globally. According to a new report from 451 Research, OpenStack-related business revenue is expected to exceed $1 billion by 2015 as the enterprise market for OpenStack evolves.

  5. Fedora 20 Beta vs. Ubuntu 13.10 vs. Scientific Linux 6.4
  6. Update on x2go

    I’ve been playing with / using x2go more lately and I sure do like it. I originally learned about it by reading the Fedora 20 ChangeSet and saw that it will be a new feature in the upcoming Fedora 20. I started using Fedora 20 shortly before the alpha release came out. Fedora 20 Beta was released on 2013-11-12… and I’ve been building my MontanaLinux remix about once a week.

  7. NSA wanted a backdoor in Linux, confirms Linus’ father
  8. Did NSA contact Linus for a backdoor in Linux? [updated]
  9. Linus’ father confirms NSA attempt at backdoor in Linux
  10. Mastering Linux, Backdoor’d, & openSUSE 13.1
  11. NSA infected 50,000 computer networks with malicious software
  12. N.S.A. Report Outlined Goals for More Power

    In a February 2012 paper laying out the four-year strategy for the N.S.A.’s signals intelligence operations, which include the agency’s eavesdropping and communications data collection around the world, agency officials set an objective to “aggressively pursue legal authorities and a policy framework mapped more fully to the information age.”

    Written as an agency mission statement with broad goals, the five-page document said that existing American laws were not adequate to meet the needs of the N.S.A. to conduct broad surveillance in what it cited as “the golden age of Sigint,” or signals intelligence. “The interpretation and guidelines for applying our authorities, and in some cases the authorities themselves, have not kept pace with the complexity of the technology and target environments, or the operational expectations levied on N.S.A.’s mission,” the document concluded.

    Using sweeping language, the paper also outlined some of the agency’s other ambitions. They included defeating the cybersecurity practices of adversaries in order to acquire the data the agency needs from “anyone, anytime, anywhere.” The agency also said it would try to decrypt or bypass codes that keep communications secret by influencing “the global commercial encryption market through commercial relationships,” human spies and intelligence partners in other countries. It also talked of the need to “revolutionize” analysis of its vast collections of data to “radically increase operational impact.”

  13. Latest Snowden leak reveals NSA’s goal to continually expand surveillance abilities

    In a mission statement last year the US National Security Agency described how it would continue to expand its power and assert itself as the global leader in clandestine surveillance, according to a new report based on the Edward Snowden leaks.

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