Monday, May 18, 2009

on cyber warfare, China, Kylin

Yes, the Washington Times is not exactly a premier source of security information, but with analysis and reporting like this, who needs enemies? Two fascinating tidbits from this article: China blocks U.S. from cyber warfare.

The first is an absolutely classic Freudian slip:

U.S. offensive cyberwar capabilities have been focused on getting into Chinese government and military computers outfitted with less secure operating systems like those made by Microsoft Corp. (This observation isn't attributed in the article.)

That ought to have you rolling on the floor, laughing, until you realize that these are the very same "less secure operating systems like those made by Microsoft Corp." which the bureaucrats at every level of Federal, State, and local governance in the U.S. have been "standardizing" on. Then your sphincters pucker.

The point of the article is that the Chinese have developed and deployed their own operating system and "hardened" CPU architecture to run it on, and have been deploying it on Chinese government and military systems, rendering substantial portions of the the U.S. strategy for cyber counter-attack irrelevant. Various security "experts" testified before Congress to raise some alarms.

Perhaps it's just poor reporting, but these crack security experts seem to be under the impression that this Kylin thing is mysterious, and don't seem to have noticed that Kylin appears to be a hardened version of FreeBSD (an open source operating system), and that you can apparently download versions of it with a quick google search (see: Some random blogger with links to Kylin iso images.)

Which makes the next bit from this article even more amusing. This statement is attributed to Kevin G. Coleman, but this is the Washington Times, who knows if poor Mr. Coleman actually said any such thing this silly:

U.S. operating system software, including Microsoft, used open-source and offshore code that makes it less secure and vulnerable to software "trap doors" that could allow access in wartime, he explained

Of course, no real security expert would ever mean to imply that Microsoft's security issues were primarily, or even in any meaningful way at all, based on open-source software. Microsoft has used tiny amounts of BSD code in their network stack, but Microsoft's security problems are of their own, proprietary making, and everyone who can spell CISSP or SANS knows that.

The take home lessons:
  1. do a google search before you try to panic the Congress, and
  2. if FreeBSD derivatives can be secured such that people panic when China deploys them, maybe U.S. government agencies ought to re-think their obsession and love affair with the less secure Microsoft systems, with which they have been utterly failing to protect U.S. Government assets, secrets, and infrastructure, according to other testimony reported in this and other articles, and perhaps
  3. rather than inciting panic, somebody ought to be downloading those ISO images, installing Kylin, and running some automated tools against its network services, looking for buffer overflow exploits.