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Date: Mon, 5 Oct 2020 17:57:28 -0500
From: Daniel Sprouse <>
Subject: Re: major changes if gnu/linux dominates the desktop
 and/or mobile market?

I have to admit that as a unix/linux admin I have wondered how browsers are
able to skate by without their own unique no-login user, for security
purposes. It would make everything about them easier to control and secure.

On Mon, Oct 5, 2020 at 3:50 PM Solar Designer <> wrote:

> Hi all,
> As a moderator I approved all messages in this thread so far, but I am
> unhappy about the quality of both Georgi's message and the replies.
> This is a valid topic, but there's no room in it for trolling (that's
> how Georgi's message came across, even if maybe unintentionally) nor for
> responding only about the presumed trolling.  Just assume good faith and
> post a response that's actually useful to others in here.  I'll try:
> On Mon, Oct 05, 2020 at 03:02:33PM +0300, Georgi Guninski wrote:
> > Are there major security changes needed if
> > gnu/linux dominates the desktop and/or mobile phone
> > markets?
> I'd say yes, major security changes are needed.
> On the desktop, major Linux distributions (and by the way *BSDs and
> Solaris are not very different in this respect, I think) when used as
> single-user desktop systems lack security isolation between applications
> of the user.  (And also between the user and root, due to the typical
> recommended use of sudo from the user account.)
> This kind of security isolation is something we have on Android, but at
> the price of the user not having full access to (not entirely) their
> device.  The user cannot even have e.g. a file manager app with which
> they'd access all files of other apps.
> Then there's the trend towards having a desktop-like Linux system on
> mobile devices again.  Before Android, we had e.g. Maemo and MeeGo.  Now
> we have e.g. Ubuntu Touch, postmarketOS, and Sailfish OS.  As far as I'm
> aware, so far this means lack of isolation between the apps just like we
> have on the desktop.
> We need the best of both worlds - isolation, yet full control.  I guess
> this could be achieved by devices gaining a physical button that would
> need to be pressed at the time a newly installed app is to be granted
> privileges by a component in the system's TCB.  Said component would
> also need to assure the user that it's the only one in control at the
> moment (kind of after a SAK) and that the displayed privileges request
> is truthful and complete, e.g. by lighting a dedicated LED.  You want to
> install an all-powerful file manager?  Just wait for that LED to light
> up, review what privileges would be granted to where, and press that
> button to accept.  Perhaps too cumbersome for typical users.  Maybe an
> alternative approach could be developed where a portion of the
> touchscreen (or a secondary one) would be reserved for interacting with
> the OS TCB.  Perhaps something like MacBook Pro's Touch Bar could be
> used for that purpose - and having that is already a precedent, it's
> just not used for a security purpose yet (or I haven't heard of that).
> Then there's the issue of attack surface and of few layers of security.
> Linux kernel is quite poor in this respect when it comes to attacks by a
> locally running program.  Even Android doesn't change that.  One way to
> address this is to introduce a security layer between the (host) Linux
> kernel and the program, running programs in VMs.  This replaces the
> attack surface with that of the hypervisor (and of the UI and components
> needed to integrate the VMs back).  Another (poor man's) way to
> partially mitigate this is to have something watch and protect the Linux
> kernel (Samsung KNOX, LKRG).
> A desktop Linux distro that theoretically gets close to what's needed is
> Qubes OS.  It runs programs in VMs yet integrates them on a single
> desktop.  It effectively reserves a portion of the screen for control by
> not letting VMs access full screen mode by default.
> In practice though, there are severe security risks even with Qubes OS.
> The in-VM systems need to be updated, and each update is a risk of
> bringing in malicious code.  When most VMs are based off the same Fedora
> template, updating that means trusting all installed packages' Fedora
> maintainers.  Any package can gain full control through a malicious pre-
> or post-install script, even if the software it installs is never
> explicitly used in a given VM.  This means instant access to all VMs on
> next system restart.
> For typical desktop Linux users, realistically most security is provided
> by the web browser, which these days at least uses a sandbox, protecting
> the user's files and other apps from itself.  That's something the
> underlying systems tend to lack.
> > Remarks:
> > 1. there was android malware on google play
> Yet Android at least tries to limit apps to the permissions you approve
> them to have, and isolates them from other apps (except for shared
> storage of pictures and "SD card" if you agree to those permissions).
> Desktop distros and desktop-like mobile distros don't even have that in
> their typical usage.
> > 2. ad-free and free as in beer android games are hard to find for us
> I guess weird out-of-line things like that is part of why people think
> Georgi was trolling.
> > 3. we are pissed off by browsers accessing the microphone
> > or camera (seen in the wild)
> I don't know what this refers to, but I guess if unauthorized by the
> user that would be a browser vulnerability or a modified malicious copy
> of the browser (malware) or maybe active modification of a browser on
> the system (also by malware).
> Sure malware and social engineering are valid threats to keep in mind.
> It's also a good idea not to rely solely on the browser's built-in
> authorization checks, but to limit its access to system resources such
> as the microphone and camera.  Qubes OS does that.
> > 4. reading $HOME might reveal more interesting stuff than
> > root reading /etc/ (on debian 10 /home/loser is 755 and the
> > default umask is 0022)
> Now this is about the lack of security isolation between the users, if
> there's more than one actual user on a system.  I also do think this is
> very wrong and needs to change (and is an easy change, unlike others I
> pointed out above).
> Relaxed file permissions like that may also further weaken some partial
> sandboxes (when a service is running with its dedicated credentials, but
> with retained filesystem access - such as because it needs that).
> Then there are also plenty of other local security risks on typical
> Linux distros, starting with risky data processing by apport and abrt.
> Those would matter more if other issues I mentioned are addressed.
> I might be right or wrong or (most likely) both, but I hope this sets
> the tone for constructive further discussion.
> Alexander

-- -- Sincerely Yours,
.                Daniel Sprouse

Daniel Allen Sprouse
Unix/Linux Administrator
google voice: 512-815-2048

ne tectis a demergu, pater, formabis foramine in landa.

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