12.30.14

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Binary ‘Security’ Vastly Inferior to Free Software Patching

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Security at 12:29 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: The PHP-based WordPress is reported as the cause for ISC’s woes, but it was not kept up to date (a very simple and risk-free task) and the victims are actually Microsoft Windows PCs

I could personally relate to this report about a high-profile WordPress site getting cracked as it very closely relates to my job. What’s interesting about it is that the victim (or the target) is really Windows, not GNU/Linux.

“So, it looks like the chances are that ISC’s problem is limited to Windows PC malware and it hasn’t effected BIND or ISC’s DNS site,” wrote Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols. Microsoft Windows is targeted via the browser. It’s just so easy.

“Bind is outdated anyway,” told us a reader. “Better replacements have been available for a long time.”

According to the first report, “ISC was hacked by way of a WordPress flaw, but there is now an automatic way to secure WordPress sites and (eventually) eliminate the risk of nonpatched systems.” This might not help protect from out-of-date or vulnerable extensions to WordPress. It’s not an easy task. I have worked with WordPress for over 10 years and with Drupal for close to 5 years (including involvement in the development community), so I can confess that some flaws are inevitable. When it comes to Free software, however, the patching process is vastly superior to that of proprietary software, where many of the flaws are never patched or are silently patched without even informing users.

The whole notion of protecting from bugs at a binary level is ludicrous. Someone who is a programmer from Microsoft spoke to me for hours some days ago and told me that Windows system updates can take a vast amount of time because of lack of modularity. Large blobs that have unknown changes in them are not the way to patch flaws, let alone inform those affected of what is being patched and why.

It is with that in mind that we also approach the binary-level checks for ‘security’ by UEFI ‘secure’ boot. It’s complete nonsense. It doesn’t work and it does not improve security, it just restricts the function of general-purpose computing. Bottomley from Novell continues to support this nonsense based on a Phoronix report that says:

James Bottomley has updated the open-source UEFI Secure Boot Tools for Linux distributions to build against the UEFI 2.4 specification.

UEFI 2.4 has been out for the past year and a half while finally now the UEFI Secure Boot Tools have been updated against the latest spec.

UEFI ‘secure’ boot is how Microsoft and Intel (Wintel) have complicated Free software use, as we’re reminded by a new article where Jamie is nagging about UEFI ‘secure’ boot when installing a new good flavour of GNU/Linux:

“Any computer that comes with UEFI should now be avoided.”“[I]f you are installing PCLinuxOS to a UEFI-firmware system,” he writes, “the best thing to do (and the most common and sensible by far, I’m sure) is to simply leave it in Legacy/MBR boot enabled, don’t try to switch back to UEFI boot.”

Any computer that comes with UEFI should now be avoided. It is possible to avoid such computers and voting with one’s wallet can be very effective.

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