[ISN] Explosive Cold War Trojan has lessons for Open Source exporters

From: InfoSec News (isn@private)
Date: Mon Mar 15 2004 - 23:42:42 PST

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    By Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco
    Posted: 16/03/2004
    China has irked US wireless manufacturers by insisting that they
    conform to the PRC's encryption technology, we reported last week.  
    Some commentators have castigated China for protecting its own
    fledgling tech industry. But that excludes the country's very
    understandable security concerns.
    A reminder of how important these are came last week with a revelation
    from the Cold War era, contained in a new book by a senior US national
    security official. Thomas Reed's At The Abyss [1] recounts how the
    United States exported control software that included a Trojan Horse,
    and used the software to detonate the Trans Siberian gas pipeline in
    1982.  The Trojan ran a test on the pipeline that doubled the usual
    pressure, causing the explosion. Reed was Reagan's special assistant
    for National Security Policy at the time; he had also served as
    Secretary of the Air Force from 1966 to 1977 and was a former nuclear
    physicist at the Lawrence Livermore laboratory in California. The
    software subterfuge was so secret that Reed didn't know about it until
    he began researching the book, twenty years later.
    The scheme to plant bugs in Soviet software was masterminded by Gus
    Weiss, who at the time was on the National Security Council and who
    died last year. Soviet agents had been so keen to acquire US
    technology, they didn't question its provenance.
    "[CIA Director] Bill Casey at Weiss at the NSC decided to help the
    Russians with their shopping. Every piece of sw would have an added
    ingredient," Reed to NPR's Terry Gross last week.
    The software sabotage had two effects, explains Reed. The first was
    economic. By creating an explosion with the power of a 3 kiloton
    nuclear weapon, the US disrupted supplies of gas and consequential
    foreign currency earnings. But the project also had important
    psychological advantages in the battle between the two superpowers.
    "By implication, every cell of the Soviet leviathan might be
    infected," he writes. "They had no way of knowing which equipment was
    sound, which was bogus. All was suspect, which was the intended
    endgame for the entire operation."
    Tools you can trust
    The two great trading powers, China and the USA, are not currently
    engaged in a Cold War. But does that mean that the Cold War lessons
    are invalid?
    Closed source software vendors such as Oracle and Microsoft hardly
    need to be reminded of the delicacy of the subject. A year ago the PRC
    signed up for Microsoft's Government Security Program, which gives it
    what Redmond describes as "controlled access" to Windows source code.  
    But the Windows source itself doesn't guarantee that versions of
    Windows will be free of Trojans. Governments need access to the
    toolchain - to the compilers and linkers used to generate the code -
    as that's where Trojans can be introduced. Without tools source,
    licensees are faced with the prospect of tracing billions of possible
    execution paths, a near impossible task.
    Until the closed source vendors open up the toolchain, and use that
    toolchain for verifiable builds, this is one area where software libre
    will have a lasting advantage.
    [1] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0891418210/c4iorg
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