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Date: Wed, 20 Nov 2019 18:49:15 +0100
From: Solar Designer <>
Subject: Re: Mitigating malicious packages in gnu/linux

On Wed, Nov 20, 2019 at 09:06:57AM -0800, Russ Allbery wrote:
> Solar Designer <> writes:
> > Contrary to traditional best practices, update only what and when needs
> > to be updated.  (Of course, you take responsibility to watch for any
> > relevant security updates, or accept the risk if you neglect to do that.
> > You also miss silent security fixes, but on the other hand you similarly
> > miss newly introduced vulnerabilities.)
> I'm very reluctant to give this advice, not because it's wrong, but
> because the failure mode is misaligned for most people.
> The average user of a distribution (personal or professional) is at much
> greater risk of a compromise due to an unpatched security vulnerability
> than due to malicious code introduced in the distribution package update
> stream.  Both are *possible*, but one of them is far more common (I would
> even say by orders of magnitude).  Determining which updates are security
> updates is tedious and requires a lot of discipline; it's something that
> humans are generally bad at, and the failure mode is usually to not apply
> the update.  Many security updates are not explicitly flagged as such (see
> all the recent discussions on this list about CVEs).
> The average user is therefore best served by applying all distribution
> updates.  Choosing not to update to reduce your risk of a supply chain
> attack is a very advanced technique, and I would tell people to think very
> hard about whether they want to sign up for the necessary cognitive load
> and disciplined decision-making required to identify relevant security
> updates that they need to apply.

I fully agree.

Yet I think it's an option that people with a background and concerns
like Georgi's would want to at least consider.  Not typical end-users.


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