TECH: Microsoft: Closed source is more secure

From: Chris Rasch (
Date: Wed Apr 25 2001 - 11:24:13 MDT

This list doesn't have enough flames....


Microsoft: Closed source is more secure
Redmond's security response chief warns the RSA Conference of the perils
of open source.
By Kevin Poulsen
April 12, 2001 1:46 PM PT

SAN FRANCISCO--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 flaws.

"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

"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."

'The open source model tends to emphasize design and development.
Testing is boring and expensive.'
-- Steve Lipner, Microsoft

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 expensive."

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 them."

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 sight.

Under polite questioning from the audience, Lipner acknowledged that
some closed-source commercial products have been found to have trapdoors

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 well."

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