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Microsoft: Closed source is more secure
Kevin Poulsen, SecurityFocus 2001-04-12

Redmond's security response chief warns the RSA Conference of the perils of open source.

SAN FRANCISCO--The head of Microsoft's security response team argued here Thursday that closed source software is more secure than open source projects, in part because nobody's reviewing open source code for security flaws.

"Review is boring and time consuming, and it's hard," said Steve Lipner, manager of Microsoft's security response center. "Simply putting the source code out there and telling folks 'here it is' doesn't provide any assurance or degree of likelihood that the review will occur."

The comments, delivered at the 2001 RSA Conference, were a challenge to one of the tenets of open source, that 'with many eyes, all bugs are shallow.'

"The vendor eyes in a security review tend to be dedicated, trained, full time and paid," Lipner said.

Lipner argued that network administrators are better off spending their time reading log files and installing patches than poring over source code looking for security holes, and the system of 'peer review' that works well for vetting encryption algorithms, doesn't work to evaluate large pieces of software for flaws.

"An encryption algorithm is relatively simple, compared to a 40 million line operating system," Lipner argued. "And the discovery of an individual software flaw doesn't pay off much... It doesn't win anyone fame and fortune... People fix the flaw and move on."

Lipner, who oversees Microsoft's response to newly-reported security holes in its products, took the opportunity to point out "the repeated and recurring vulnerabilities in the Unix utilities BIND, WU-FTP, and so on. The repeated theme is people use this stuff, but they don't spend time security reviewing."

Trapdoor risk?
Making source code public also increases the risk that attackers will find a crucial security hole that reviewers missed, said Lipner. "That argument sounds like an argument for 'security through obscurity,' and I apologize. The facts are there."

Lipner slammed the open source development process, suggesting that the often-voluntary nature of creating works like the Linux operating system make it less disciplined, and less secure. "The open source model tends to emphasize design and development. Testing is boring and expensive."

By contrast, Microsoft does extensive testing on every product, and on every patch, said Lipner. "People ask us why our security patches take so long. One of the reasons they take so long is because we test them."

Lipner closed by warning that the nature of open source development may lend itself to abuse by malicious coders, who could devilishly clever 'trapdoors' in the code that escapes detection, hidden in plain sight.

Under polite questioning from the audience, Lipner acknowledged that some closed-source commercial products have been found to have trapdoors themselves.

Other conferees expressed skepticism that closed source software receives more thorough security reviews than open source code.

"Looking at products that come from commercial vendors, it seems the customer has very little guarantee that the software has been reviewed," said one conferee. "Industry has not acquitted itself well."

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Comments Mode:
Security under MS products VS. Linux, *BSD 2001-04-12
giard.pascal (at) teccart.qc (dot) ca [email concealed]
Now I know 2001-04-12
Crock of sh*t... 2001-04-12
Jim Powers
wow, that's a lot of spin 2001-04-13
OpenBSD 2001-04-13
Carl Thomas
MS - Lipner Comments 2001-04-13
Nilanjan Chaks
opensource less secure? 2001-04-13
Microsoft should get a clue. 2001-04-13
He's low on credibility 2001-04-13
Ajay Shah
Wha?? 2001-04-13
bleezer (at) plz (dot) com [email concealed]
FUD 2001-04-13
Closed source more secure? Really? 2001-04-13
counter_counterinsurgency (at) nospam.hotmail (dot) com [email concealed]
Is Microsoft code more secure than open alternatives? 2001-04-13
Larry Fahnoe <fahnoe (at) FahnoeTech (dot) com [email concealed]>
Open Souce security 2001-04-13
Charles E. Hill
Microsoft: Closed source is more secure FSVO secure 2001-04-13
Shmuel (Seymour J.) Metz <shmuel (at) acm (dot) org [email concealed]> (2 replies)
Closed source burdened by "boring, expensive" QA 2001-04-16
counter_counterinsurgency (at) nospam.hotmail (dot) com [email concealed]
Microsoft: Closed source is more secure FSVO secure 2001-04-17
bassethound2 (at) yahoo (dot) com [email concealed]
Going through the motions != Security 2001-04-13
topeka (at) catchen (dot) org [email concealed]
Closed source software is secure 2001-04-13
soumyac (at) bigfoot (dot) com [email concealed]
An observation 2001-04-13
Harry G
Which explains why... 2001-04-13
Con Zymaris, CEO Cybersource Pty. Ltd. Australia
nobody buys ms argument 2001-04-16
j lock <jlock (at) compooter (dot) net [email concealed]>
Open vs. closed not necessarily it.... 2001-04-16
abostaph (at) usa (dot) net [email concealed] (1 replies)
Open vs. closed not necessarily it.... 2001-04-16
Microsoft Defender (2 replies)
Open vs. closed not necessarily it.... 2001-04-18
abostaph (at) usa (dot) net [email concealed] (1 replies)
I hope Mr Lipner reads this 2001-04-17
Security Vulnerability Open Source vs Closed Source 2001-04-17
Rod <snaketails (at) optushome.com (dot) au [email concealed]>
who gets cracked more? 2001-04-18
TauRine (1 replies)
who gets cracked more? 2001-04-18
M$ Defender (3 replies)
who gets cracked more? 2001-04-18
brian (1 replies)
who gets cracked more? 2001-04-18
M$ Defender
who gets cracked more? 2001-04-18
who gets cracked more? 2001-04-19
Bruce Garlock
His arguments contradict each other! 2001-04-19
nobody important


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