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03.07.14

Secret Deals — Not GnuTLS — a Threat to GNU/Linux Security

Posted in GNU/Linux, Security at 10:53 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Shifted focus (diversion towards non-issues like the GnuTLS flaw) and what we really need to watch out for when it comes to surveillance on GNU/Linux users

Cryptology is a funny thing. It’s an instrument of control (through predictive information. espionage, blackmail and so on). That’s more or less the thesis of a popular book from Wikileaks folks, titled “Cypherpunks”. Held in the hands of ordinary citizens, cryptology gives citizens power. Abused in the hands of freelance thugs [1] or state-sanctioned thugs like the NSA, cryptology helps guard the thugs (secrecy) and expose citizens who are only ever ‘enjoying’ fake cryptology, such as Microsoft’s and RSA’s. Now that Apple is receiving horrible publicity for breaking cryptology around the same time Apple joined PRISM there is some dodgy attempt to divert attention towards GNU/Linux, even if GnuTLS flaws are already patched and GnuTLS is not so widely adopted, not to mention the fact that is not used for very sensitive transactions such as banking [2]. The Linux Foundation was also quick to rebut the FUD [3], stating that “some were quick to point out that Linux distributions were not vulnerable to this particular issue” (contrary to corporate media reports).

What remains much bigger an issue, other than weak passwords (human error), is closed-sourced and proprietary hardware that may or may not incorporate Linux [4], such as my Home Hub from BT (which is rumoured to have back doors, based on some British press). A lot of what we’ve learned from the NSA leaks is that secret deals and collusion with companies is what’s responsible for back doors, not something which is visible at source code level. It is also what makes Red Hat, an NSA partner, difficult to trust these days [1, 2, 3]. The NSA reportedly asked Torvalds for back doors in Linux [1, 2, 3, 4]. Social engineering, bribes from the CIA in exchange for access (as reported in mainstream media) and even cracking is how spies get their way. They need not rely on programmers’ errors.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Two in five Brits cough up for CryptoLocker ransomware’s demands

    Researchers from the University of Kent quizzed a total of 48 people who had been affected by CryptoLocker. Of the sample, 17 said they paid the ransom and 31 said they did not.

  2. GnuTLS: Big internal bugs, few real-world problems
  3. What is the GnuTLS Bug and How to Protect Your Linux System From It

    It seems that it’s only been a few weeks since we all heard of a nasty certificate validation error in Apple’s software, a.k.a. the infamous “double goto fail” bug. While some were quick to point out that Linux distributions were not vulnerable to this particular issue, wiser heads cautioned that a similar bug could be potentially lurking in software used on Linux.

  4. More than 300,000 routers in homes and small businesses hacked

    Team Cymru, the US-based security outfit which published the report, said that the network of hacked routers is one of the biggest of its kind that has been discovered, with most of the hacked routers in Columbia, India, Italy, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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