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Date: Sat, 27 Apr 2013 03:01:58 +0200
From: Alistair Crooks <>
To: Kurt Seifried <>
Cc:, Josh Bressers <>
Subject: Re: upstream source code authenticity checking

On Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 12:55:22AM -0600, Kurt Seifried wrote:
> Hash: SHA1
> On 04/25/2013 11:57 PM, Alistair Crooks wrote:
> > On Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 01:30:23AM -0600, Kurt Seifried wrote:
> >> -----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE----- Hash: SHA1
> >> 
> >> On 04/24/2013 11:55 PM, Alistair Crooks wrote:
> >>> I'm not sure what using PGP gains us?
> >>> 
> >>> Regards, Alistair
> >> 
> >> So some possible outcomes are:
> >> 
> >> 1) They do PGP/GPG and don't get compromised. Long term outcome:
> >> we come out way ahead.
> >> 
> >> 2) They do PGP/GPG and do get compromised. Long term outcome: we
> >> trust bad things and lose, hopefully this gets spotted quickly
> >> and dealt with.
> > 
> > Sure.  I actually agree with you.  But I'd also like it if we
> > could bear in mind that, with PGP, trust is earned, trust
> > signatures are snapshots in time, and trust levels are private,
> > best guessses by people.  All people can see from a key listing is
> > who trusted them and when, not how much, or whether the trust was
> > warranted.
> This makes no sense. So you don't trust their signature because they
> have to "earn trust", but you do trust their software and you compile
> and run it? That's literally insane.

No, not really.  (Well, not at all, but I'm feeling charitable today). 
I know lots of people who write software.  Some of their personal
lives are train wrecks.  Some I wouldn't trust to sit the right way on
a toilet seat.  But, for various reasons, such as mentoring,
peer-programming, peer review, stringent regression tests, personal
audits of their work, or because of random audits, etc, I would trust
the software they write.

I don't think that's "literally insane".

I don't know if you've ever done one of the key signing parties, where
you get handed government id, and that is supposed to define someone's
identity.  It tells age, name, and ability to keep a dead pan face in
front of a camera.  It says nothing about how trust-worthy someone is,
in the sense that I would compile/run software written by them. On top of
all this is the problem of mutt updating your pubring with various
people's public keys when you read an email from them (yes, it can be
turned off).  However, given that I'm on some "unusual" (read
"precious") mailing lists, that behavior can mean that someone can
send out email to a list, and now their key appears on my pubring.  An
attempt to verify a signature on something unrelated could mean that
their pub key is used to verify something. 

> I a seriously confused that a lot of people seem to think unsigned
> code is somehow ok, but if we sign the code we have to do it perfectly
> to have any value. This simply isn't true. Right now unsigned code is
> wide open, and detecting changes is expensive (you need a full copy to
> compare against, and if you have a copy why would you care? =).
> SIgning releases with PGP/GPG makes this problem a lot easier to
> handle and even if it fails, by definition the attacker would have
> been able to pull the attack off any ways.

No, not really.  My point was that people seem to think that, just
because something is signed, it must be 100% good from the right
person.  I will agree that most of the time this is the case -
however, relying on this to be the case would be imprudent. There's
also the unusual case where we get pub keys from a "third-party" HKP
server, thereby rendering it more difficult for keys to be misused,
and yet I've seen people saying that just distributing the pub key
with the distribution is fine.  This is in a world where DNSsec is not
yet fully deployed, and there are ways of working around certs. No, it's
not likely, but it is possible.

As to unsigned code being wide open, we have previous versions to
compare against (and, in the sense that we're discussing it here, the
people who will be comparing are the packagers for the Linux
distributions, or the BSD packagers).  They are perfectly capable of
doing that, and should be.  As part of updating packages, they should
be taking steps to ensure that some things have not changed.  We
should learn from our previous mistakes, and get this right.  As I
said originally, we saw some attempts at trojans during the
"configure" stages of building packages; admittedly this was 13 years
ago (at least). That kind of thing was caught, and our defences against
that kind of thing are much better these days (only running certain steps
as root - like package installation - building in chroots, building on
VMs, signing results, even CI and things like hudson and jenkins).
> Can we please get over this "security must be done perfect or not at
> all" and maybe actually get on with making things better? We have to
> start somewhere. Sitting here going "well we won't do it unless we can
> do it completely correctly" is just stupid and pointless. Seriously.
> We need to start raising the bar and teaching people, this is far
> better than refusing to do anything since it won't be perfect.

That wasn't my intention, so I'm sorry if it came across that way. But
can we also get away from the "we have signed distfiles now, so everything
is guaranteed to be safe for evermore"? Thanks.
> A perfect example of this is CVE assignments. Most projects do not do
> them well or at all. Should I give up? Or should I try to educate them
> and hand hold as needed so that they learn how to do it and start
> doing it properly? This is what I have been doing and you may notice
> that XEN, OwnCloud, OpenStack and a few others are now shipping
> advisories with CVE's already assigned. And most of them are doing CVE
> requests in a way that is efficient and scalable.
> And next month (hopefully) you'll be getting even more CVEs (due to
> more vendors doing CVE requests properly and easily for me), and then
> at some point we'll bring OSVDB into the fold (once Steven figures out
> how =) and it'll get even better.
> Got to start somewhere. And if you want to go build some perfect
> system I wish you luck, but I suspect like most attempts at perfection
> it won't get very far.

I think this misrepresents my position just a tad.  I don't want
everything to be perfect, and I realise that won't ever happen.  But
I'm also against a feeling of false security, and concerned lest we
all fall into that trap.

I'm also enthusiastic about whatever OSVDB (vulnerability DB?) is, and
thank you for your work with CVE assignment, management, and
evangelisation.  It is not an easy job, and you deserve all of our

As for me, I'm continuing to develop using PGP - I believe in it. I
still want better processes and procedures around key usage, though.

(If anyone has made it through to this point, I thank you, and
congratulate you.  The horse is dead, and I am fed up beating it - it
can go for hamburgers in the UK now).


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