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Re: Secure host newbie - fun - humm
From: Ranjeet Shetye <ranjeet.shetye2 () zultys com>
Date: Tue, 06 Apr 2004 16:00:29 -0700

ok, lets talk facts.

I consider kernel.org to be a well-secured site, because it is secured
(in various ways - best practices, technological locks, user awareness,
IDS etc.) against all known attacks as of today.

However, based on the intangible "some form of knowledge" that you've
laid claim to, you say that kernel.org is insecure even today.

Prove it. Show us that kernel.org is insecure.

I'll let the facts speak for themselves.

On Tue, 2004-04-06 at 14:11, Barry Fitzgerald wrote:
Ranjeet Shetye wrote:

Please dont tell me how much I have or have not worked with security.


Please don't make statements that leave only the conclusion that you 
haven't worked in security for long, if at all.

For security to work correctly, the user should have black and white
choices. For the user to make a concious choice between secure and
insecure mode, the person deploying it should offer black and white
choices (e.g. hotmail login). In order that the people deploying the
solution can make concious black and white choices, people who design
the solutions have to MAKE and OFFER black and white choices. 

I agree with your point here.  It's too bad you didn't say that in the 
first place.

This is
where I come in. I do network protocols design, security solutions, and
kernel work for a living.


Now if people in my position were to not view security as a black or
white issue, the deployers would end up with a greyish "solution", and
the users would end up with a smudgy hazy grey that would be wrongly
passed around as a secure solution.


I never once advocated that you give people a "hazy grey"  solution.  
Not once did I ever say that. 

However, as an implementer, it is your obligation to understand the 
nature of insecurity.  The nature of insecurity *IS NOT* black and 
white.  If you don't understand why that is, then you are doing a 
disservice to your customers.  What you know to be true and what you 
show your customers are not the same thing.  You engineer your solutions 
for your customers with the knowledge that you have. 

Looking at security as black or white, you invariably have to box 
yourself into the belief that all you know about security procedures is 
all there will ever be, not looking for the unorthodox things along the 
way.  If you are looking for unorthodox methods of compromise, then 
you're admitting that security is not black and white.

Which is it? 

You are focussed on the fact that the "real world" is not black and

I'm focused on the fact that security is not black and white. 

In my job, I HAVE to view security as black and white, and design
stuff accordingly, and offer choices accordingly, because the farther up
this design chain that someone compromises the concept of "either
completely secure or else its insecure", the more compromised the final
deployed solution that the users actually use. 

Yes, in your position.  But, again, saying that and turning around and 
saying "security is black and white" are two entirely different things.  
If you can't speak outside of your experience, then you simply 
shouldn't.  You had a good point initially, it's too bad you had to take 
my disagreement and turn it into a "yes/no/yes/no" argument about the 
nature of security.

e.g. I can design the
most secure system in the world, but that's meaningless if the users put
their password on a sticky on their monitor. On the other hand, if I
allow the use of telnet to backup sensitive data like passwords, then
the I've just compromised even the most savvy user, and I force them to
work outside the system to achieve their security goals. Therefore,
should telnet be allowed ? NO - its a simple, black and white decision.
You have a vendor who forces telnet onto you ? then you have a vendor
who doesn't care about the security of your digital assets and I suggest
that you vote with your money.


Again, you're boxing yourself into your own experience again.  When I 
said there were valid uses for telnet, I didn't mean for people to get 
boxed into using telnet.  I agree completely and that's why I labelled 
telnet as insecure.  However, if you have assets that are on an enclosed 
LAN with no internet access or that aren't that valuable to you, then a 
lightweight protocol like telnet might be a better engineering choice 
than a heavier protocol like SSH.

That's no black and white there - it's gray... again.  Encryption 
doesn't inherently mean security and likewise, not being encrypted 
doesn't mean inherently insecure.  It depends on your context and your 

As I said before, if you have run systems where there is no known
weakness - that's secure. If you run systems where there is a known
exploit - that's insecure. 

No - it's "believed to be secure"... there's a major difference. 

If you advertise and guarantee security in the fashion you have above, 
prepare to be sued by your customers.

That fact that you "know" that all boxes in
the world are insecure is not the "know" that I am talking about. 

But, it is a form of knowledge that matters.  Like I said, you can stick 
your head in the sand all you want -- that's just being ignorant.

You advocated people shutting off production boxes because of the 
*possibility* of them being attacked.  You should be prepared to back 
that statement up in all cases... or concede that it's not the correct 

I think we should just agree to disagree.


But, then I'd be doing you a disservice.  :)


Ranjeet Shetye
Senior Software Engineer
Zultys Technologies
Ranjeet dot Shetye2 at Zultys dot com
The views, opinions, and judgements expressed in this message are solely
those of the author. The message contents have not been reviewed or
approved by Zultys.

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