|By Jan Hichert, Jon Friedman||
|July 27, 2004 12:00 AM EDT||
Does the open source community provide world-class security technology? Can organizations stop dealing with commercial vendors for security software?
To avoid any undue suspense, the answers are: "Emphatically yes" and "Maybe, but you probably need to make an investment of some kind." But let's take a look at the evidence - this article references two open source projects: netfilter and Snort.
Escalating ChallengesFirst, it's clear that the challenges related to security are escalating. Outbreaks of viruses and worms are becoming more virulent and spreading faster. Blended threats and application-specific attacks are becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect. Wireless communications, instant messaging, and peer-to-peer networks are opening new holes in corporate defenses. Top management is taking a sudden and unaccustomed interest in IT security. Yet IT departments are not getting additional resources to meet these growing pressures.
Innovation in Open SourceHow can the open source community help? Clearly there is a terrific surge of innovation in the field of IT security coming from open source developers and the supporting infrastructure of Linux- and open source-related organizations, Web sites, and publications.
A search on the word "security" on the freshmeat Web site (http://freshmeat.net) turns up more than 1,200 entries (see Table 1).
Security Advantages of Open SourceThere is a lively discussion about the virtues of security applications on Linux versus Windows, and of open source projects versus proprietary software.
There is no doubt that today there are far more worms and exploits on Windows-based systems than on Linux-based products. It is not certain if this is simply because the larger number of Windows systems makes a more inviting target for hackers, or if the architecture of Linux is inherently more resistant to attack.
There is a strong case that Linux does have structural advantages for security. For example, at Astaro we have stripped out elements of Linux that are not needed for our security package. This removes many vulnerabilities that a hacker could use to attack a more complex version of the operating system. Performing this kind of pruning would be far more difficult with Windows.
A more important factor, however, is the fundamental development process used for open source projects.
For major projects, code is rigorously examined and exhaustively tested by hundreds of individuals - far more than even the largest commercial vendor can bring to bear on a single product.
The pace of learning and improvement is also much faster than would be possible in a typical commercial setting. Vulnerabilities are exposed more quickly, and solutions developed and tested more readily.
Perhaps most important, in the open source world it is impossible to hide or downplay security vulnerabilities. The open source development process harnesses human nature to ruthlessly expose and eliminate weaknesses, rather than to deny mistakes or delay remediation.
Myths About Open Source DevelopmentThere is a widespread and wholly inaccurate impression that open source development is somehow haphazard and undisciplined, a free-for-all among brilliant but uncoordinated individuals. In fact, most major open source projects are very tightly managed by a small, highly disciplined core team. This team determines the architecture of the software, selects the code to be included, and manages all phases of the development process. It enforces strict source control processes, and establishes detailed coding styles and security guidelines.
Critical mass in the open source world comes from the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of developers who examine and test existing software and submit new code. These developers provide the quantity of inspiration, innovation, and plain hard work that is impossible to duplicate in a commercial setting. However, the core team is always there to coordinate the work of the masses and select the best work to include in the primary branch of the software.
An Example: The netfilter ProjectAn excellent example of a cutting-edge open source effort is the netfilter project (www.netfilter.org). This is a Linux-based packet filter that features stateful firewalling, Network Address Translation (NAT), load balancing, and other kinds of packet mangling.
The project was founded in 1999 in Australia and has now grown to more than 100,000 lines of code contributed by over 700 developers. There are currently about 300 active developers submitting about 1,400 postings a month to the development mailing lists.
The netfilter project is managed by a core team of 4 members who winnow down the submissions to an average of 65 code improvements and fixes per month.
This is an excellent illustration of the principles we've been discussing - an effort that utilizes the contributions of hundreds of developers, working on a project they love, managed by a small and disciplined core team.
Limitations of Open SourceOpen source projects are an outstanding source of world-class security technology, but they are not a panacea for developers or IT managers who need to deploy reliable, manageable software in a real-world production environment.
The open source community is driven by technical enthusiasm, not commercial needs. While most open source developers understand the requirements of IT departments very well, they cannot reasonably be expected to donate their free time to working on mundane management issues.
As a result, open source projects provide brilliant, innovative solutions to fundamental problems, but ease of use and ease of management are typically afterthoughts.
This tendency can manifest itself in several ways: command-line interfaces or less-than-intuitive GUIs, lack of documentation and help facilities, highly manual methods to update software and threat signatures, and limited reporting capabilities. These shortcomings are minor for the highly skilled developer who enjoys digging into a new piece of technology, but they are fatal for the systems administrator or IT manager who needs to complete a lot of tasks in a short time.
Beyond the level of the individual open source project, there is no incentive to integrate separate packages into what an IT manager would view as a complete solution.
While all open source code is available for inspection, that does not mean that all of it is inspected with equal thoroughness. Many eyes will view the technically exciting parts, but the environment does not lend itself to saying: Will you please review and test the boring parts?
Finally, support options are limited for most open source software.
Harnessing Open Source Software for SecurityHow can organizations harness the explosive growth and innovation of the open source community (and its low costs) without suffering from limitations?
There are basically two choices:
- Allocate sufficient resources to fill the gaps themselves.
- Let a commercial vendor integrate and support a complete solution based on open source components.
- Somebody needs to create the interfaces and the documentation to make the tech-nology readily accessible to the typical overworked user or administrator (who is being distracted by a constant barrage of competing demands).
- Somebody needs to set up automated processes to validate settings, patch software, update threat signatures, and back up configurations.
- Somebody needs to create the reports so that the average administrator (who is still distracted and harried) can troubleshoot problems and track trends.
- And if the solution involves multiple components (which is typical in security), someone needs to integrate the components and do thorough testing to make sure that the pieces work together under all types of hostile conditions.
An Illustration: Preparing Snort for the Typical AdministratorOne of the most successful open source projects is Snort (www.snort.org), a network intrusion detection system. Snort's intrusion detection engine is widely considered to be equal to or better than any vendor-developed alternative, and the project supports a database of more than 2,000 intrusion detection rules.
However, the Snort technology in its raw form is much better suited to a highly trained security specialist than to the average systems administrator. Configuring the system and the large number of rules requires a fairly high level of expertise, not to mention a lot of time. Updating the rule set on a regular basis is also a time-consuming manual process.
About a year ago Astaro decided to utilize the Snort project as the core of a new "Intrusion Protection" module of our Linux perimeter security solution (see Figure 1). However, to fit the software to the needs of a typical administrator, we had to add quite a bit of functionality. For example, we:
- Created a user interface that made it simple to turn intrusion detection rules on and off either individually or in categories relating to different applications and protocols (so, for example, if a particular application or protocol is not in use at a site all of the related rules could be turned off for better performance)
- Modified the automated update service so that new intrusion threat patterns could be added with the same process that updates the firewall software and virus signatures
- Integrated the intrusion detection engine with our firewall so that the firewall could immediately block intrusions (and modified the user interface mentioned above so that the administrator could toggle back and forth between "intrusion detection" and "intrusion prevention" for each rule)
- Removed some of the functionality from the open source project by eliminating some of the intrusion detection rules that we felt would cause too many false positives or slow down per-formance without providing a measurable benefit to security
A Two-Way StreetCommercial companies who utilize open source projects must make significant contributions back to the community, such as funding projects and developers and making versions of proprietary software available at no cost. It's also important to adhere to the various open source licensing rules, for example, by publishing any changes made to the project code. These activities make commercial companies active contributors to the growth and success of the open source movement.
Open Source: Leverage the Pros, Ditch the ConsLet's come back to the questions we posed at the beginning of this article:
- Does the open source community provide world-class security technology?
- Can organizations stop dealing with commercial vendors for security software?
The answer to the second question is: maybe, but you probably you need to make an investment of some kind:
- You can use open source security projects "out of the box" if you have a high skill level, a tolerance for rough edges, and no need to rely on less dedicated coworkers.
- Your organization can commit resources to adding management features, integrating components, and providing support so that the technology can be utilized by your average administrator.
- You can work with a vendor who integrates and packages open source projects for a commercial audience.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Technologic Systems Inc., an embedded systems solutions company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Technologic Systems is an embedded systems company with headquarters in Fountain Hills, Arizona. They have been in business for 32 years, helping more than 8,000 OEM customers and building over a hundred COTS products that have never been discontinued. Technologic Systems’ pr...
Mar. 25, 2017 01:45 PM EDT Reads: 3,260
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business – from apparel to energy – is being rewritten by software. From ...
Mar. 25, 2017 01:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,655
The taxi industry never saw Uber coming. Startups are a threat to incumbents like never before, and a major enabler for startups is that they are instantly “cloud ready.” If innovation moves at the pace of IT, then your company is in trouble. Why? Because your data center will not keep up with frenetic pace AWS, Microsoft and Google are rolling out new capabilities In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Don Browning, VP of Cloud Architecture at Turner, will posit that disruption is inevitable for c...
Mar. 25, 2017 01:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,021
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloudistics delivers a complete public cloud experience with composable on-premises infrastructures to medium and large enterprises. Its software-defined technology natively converges network, storage, compute, virtualization, and management into a ...
Mar. 25, 2017 12:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,848
Keeping pace with advancements in software delivery processes and tooling is taxing even for the most proficient organizations. Point tools, platforms, open source and the increasing adoption of private and public cloud services requires strong engineering rigor - all in the face of developer demands to use the tools of choice. As Agile has settled in as a mainstream practice, now DevOps has emerged as the next wave to improve software delivery speed and output. To make DevOps work, organization...
Mar. 25, 2017 12:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,640
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
Mar. 25, 2017 12:30 PM EDT Reads: 5,047
SYS-CON Events announced today that Loom Systems will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Founded in 2015, Loom Systems delivers an advanced AI solution to predict and prevent problems in the digital business. Loom stands alone in the industry as an AI analysis platform requiring no prior math knowledge from operators, leveraging the existing staff to succeed in the digital era. With offices in S...
Mar. 25, 2017 12:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,146
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interoute, owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Interoute is the owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform which encompasses 12 data centers, 14 virtual data centers and 31 colocation centers, with connections to 195 add...
Mar. 25, 2017 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 892
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
Mar. 25, 2017 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 1,511
SYS-CON Events announced today that CrowdReviews.com has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. CrowdReviews.com is a transparent online platform for determining which products and services are the best based on the opinion of the crowd. The crowd consists of Internet users that have experienced products and services first-hand and have an interest in letting other potential buyers...
Mar. 25, 2017 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 3,531
SYS-CON Events announced today that T-Mobile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As America's Un-carrier, T-Mobile US, Inc., is redefining the way consumers and businesses buy wireless services through leading product and service innovation. The Company's advanced nationwide 4G LTE network delivers outstanding wireless experiences to 67.4 million customers who are unwilling to compromise on ...
Mar. 25, 2017 10:45 AM EDT Reads: 2,063
SYS-CON Events announced today that Infranics will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Since 2000, Infranics has developed SysMaster Suite, which is required for the stable and efficient management of ICT infrastructure. The ICT management solution developed and provided by Infranics continues to add intelligence to the ICT infrastructure through the IMC (Infra Management Cycle) based on mathemat...
Mar. 25, 2017 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,906
SYS-CON Events announced today that SD Times | BZ Media has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. BZ Media LLC is a high-tech media company that produces technical conferences and expositions, and publishes a magazine, newsletters and websites in the software development, SharePoint, mobile development and commercial UAV markets.
Mar. 25, 2017 09:15 AM EDT Reads: 4,206
SYS-CON Events announced today that Telecom Reseller has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Telecom Reseller reports on Unified Communications, UCaaS, BPaaS for enterprise and SMBs. They report extensively on both customer premises based solutions such as IP-PBX as well as cloud based and hosted platforms.
Mar. 25, 2017 08:30 AM EDT Reads: 2,026
"I think that everyone recognizes that for IoT to really realize its full potential and value that it is about creating ecosystems and marketplaces and that no single vendor is able to support what is required," explained Esmeralda Swartz, VP, Marketing Enterprise and Cloud at Ericsson, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Mar. 25, 2017 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 4,072
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
Mar. 25, 2017 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 14,009
SYS-CON Events announced today that HTBase will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. HTBase (Gartner 2016 Cool Vendor) delivers a Composable IT infrastructure solution architected for agility and increased efficiency. It turns compute, storage, and fabric into fluid pools of resources that are easily composed and re-composed to meet each application’s needs. With HTBase, companies can quickly prov...
Mar. 25, 2017 06:45 AM EDT Reads: 2,788
Web Real-Time Communication APIs have quickly revolutionized what browsers are capable of. In addition to video and audio streams, we can now bi-directionally send arbitrary data over WebRTC's PeerConnection Data Channels. With the advent of Progressive Web Apps and new hardware APIs such as WebBluetooh and WebUSB, we can finally enable users to stitch together the Internet of Things directly from their browsers while communicating privately and securely in a decentralized way.
Mar. 25, 2017 03:00 AM EDT Reads: 5,774
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm.
Mar. 25, 2017 12:15 AM EDT Reads: 1,757
What sort of WebRTC based applications can we expect to see over the next year and beyond? One way to predict development trends is to see what sorts of applications startups are building. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Arin Sime, founder of WebRTC.ventures, will discuss the current and likely future trends in WebRTC application development based on real requests for custom applications from real customers, as well as other public sources of information,
Mar. 25, 2017 12:00 AM EDT Reads: 669