A note from Carl Landwehr

December 20, 2000



I had the opportunity to participate in a DARPA-sponsored invitational workshop on open source operating systems and security last month that I thought might be of interest to CIPHER readers.

The workshop was convened by Dr. Doug Maughan of DARPA ITO, as the first step in a new program called Composable High Assurance Trusted Systems (CHATS), aimed at developing technologies for high assurance open-source operating systems. This workshop followed one held about a year earlier on a similar topic.

Goals of the workshop were to:

1) Identify and describe key technical research areas to improve the assurance and security of existing open-source operating systems.

2) Begin discussions toward the development of a long-term architectural framework for composable, high-assurance open-source operating systems.

3) Provide a forum for interchange and community building among participants from the open source and operating system security communities.

Participants were an interesting mix of prominent contributors to open source systems, including FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Linux, and Apache, vendors, including Apple, Silicon Graphics, IBM, and Microsoft, and members of the security research community from Penn, Berkeley, Maryland, Utah, NSA, NRL, SRI, NAI Labs, Wirex, Argus (apologies to any group I have omitted!).

I was personally pleased to see a great deal of interest on the part of the open source community members on improving the security of their systems in practical ways. While I don't buy the "millions of eyes" argument that simply opening the source to a system will assure that it gets reviewed thoroughly for security flaws, it seems to me that having the source available at least makes it possible for anyone who wishes to invest in reviewing the source to do so.

Cipher readers interested in this topic should be alert for announcements from DARPA expected to issue early in 2001.  Program information and workshop results (both from the 1999 workshop and the 2000 workshop will be placed at http://schafercorp-ballston.com/CHATS/ as they are released; some information is there already.

--Carl Landwehr

--Mitretek Systems