[ISN] Closed source is more secure -- MS

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Sat Apr 14 2001 - 13:26:53 PDT

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    By: Kevin Poulsen
    Posted: 13/04/2001 at 08:27 GMT
    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
    "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
    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
    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
    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
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