[Freedombox-discuss] Policy questions

Sandy Harris sandyinchina at gmail.com
Wed May 4 03:44:24 UTC 2011

We have a bit of a design problem in that we want the FB to
be very secure, but also to require a minimum of system

Our security requirements are very high.

People might be jailed or even killed if security on these
machines is broken. For example, Zimbabwe recently
jailed a bunch of people for downloading Internet reports
on the Tunisian revolution and discussing them.

There have recently been attacks on various systems that
were attributed to state-level actors, The Stuxnet worm,
the "Aurora" attack an Google and others. If FB gets
anywhere near its design goals, such attacks on it are
not just likely, but virtually certain. This means attacks
by professionals with large resources.

On the other hand, we really want the machines to require
almost no system administration. John Gilmore gave the
reasons in another thread, and he is quite correct.

That creates a problem because in general, security
requires alertness. No safe is uncrackable if the
attacker can take hours and use explosives and a
welding torch without being noticed. Computers tend
to become insecure if the admin is "too busy" to
check the logs or to download and apply security

To some extent, we can automate around that,
for example by making updates automatic. The
current system of PGP-signed upgrades looks
like it gives all the security needed.

Should we do something like one or more "oil lights"
for the end user?  An expert mechanic has many
ways of understanding automotive problems, most
of which are beyond me. However a little red light
on the dashboard that comes on when oil pressure
is low can alert me to one group of problems. All
I have to know is to check the dipstick if I see that
light, and if it comes on when the oil level is OK,
find a mechanic pronto.

This becomes a documentation problem. To use
a car I need neither engineering training nor the
skills of a mechanic, but I do need to know some
things. It is a good idea to change the oil every
so often and a bad idea to rev the engine past
the red line, and so on.

What are the basic things an FB user needs to
know? Can we get those documented and then

Could an intrusion detection system provide the
right "lights" here? If not, what?

One standard tactic for achieving security is to
restrict the applications that run on the box.
Only things approved by corporate IT, or whatever.
The FB is Debian-based which gives a huge
range of choices, and that is basically a fine
thing. However, it might also be useful to have
a list of default or recommended choices. It
might even be good to have FB-only repositories
which do not offer the whole Debian range, of
course with an escape for experts to add the
Debian repositories and get what they please.

Another standard method is to not allow
user logins. In a corporate situation, only
the admins have user IDs on the mail
server or the firewall, not the end users.
In my house, visitors can use my router
but they cannot log onto it.

Applying that to FB automatically gives
some restriction on applications. The FB
might run a web server or cache, but not
a browser, a mail server but not a user
email agent, and so on.

It seems to me that is the way to go, but
I would like to know others' opinions. In
particular, does taking that approach restrict
what the box can do in any way that leads
to problems in achieving its goals?

Enough for now. Second post to follow.

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