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Date: Mon, 4 Sep 2023 22:14:26 +0200
From: Willy Tarreau <>
To: Solar Designer <>
Cc:, Vegard Nossum <>,
        Jiri Kosina <>, Donald Buczek <>,
        Greg KH <>
Subject: Re: linux-distros list policy and Linux kernel, again

Hi Alexander,

On Wed, Aug 30, 2023 at 05:26:33PM +0200, Solar Designer wrote:
> > I couldn't blame a bug reporter for
> > wanting to have their week-ends and nights again and think everything's
> > behind them and in someone else's hands now.
> Right.  This is in part a matter of resources - are we providing only
> the lists infrastructure and list members' best-effort volunteer
> contributions to issue handling, or are we providing any guaranteed
> service?  For the latter, perhaps list admin(s) (me) should always take
> over whenever the member distros don't handle that sort of
> contributing-back tasks on time.  Then we'll be able to provide a
> guarantee that all issues will be handled without the reporter having to
> stay on top of them.
> A drawback is that this may encourage lower-quality or lower-relevance
> reports, including of issues that are not worth handling in private.  So
> it could end up wasting those extra resources allocated to this effort.

Absolutely. But I'm sensing something in the way you're presenting these
possibilities, it is that there is a perceived (by some?) guarantee of
service that implies that someone (possibly you) has to do the job for
others to consume the result of this work. If that's the case it can
mean the relation is significantly skewed and the person(s) willing to
make the efforts are indeed likely to get overwhelmed. At least on s@k.o
we're sufficient to share the effort depending on skills and availability,
and we can rely on maintainers' support.

> > On Mon, Aug 28, 2023 at 08:05:18PM +0200, Solar Designer wrote:
> > > That said, can you share more detail on the specific issue you referred
> > > to above and its handling/disclosure timeline?  Was it ever brought to
> > > oss-security, and if not then why not?
> > 
> > I just checked and I'm not seeing any traces of it there. I don't even
> > know who normally notifies about such issues there.
> If you worked on the issue, then perhaps you were the most appropriate
> person to notify oss-security about it?

Honestly, no, for multiple reasons: The first one being that I'm terrible
at dealing with processes and this becomes a big effort. The second one is
that it's already not easy to have participants available with enough time
to work on reports, to if we add to them as a punishment to have to do that
extra work, that's not going to be motivating to work on reports. The third
one is more related to some of my personal convictions: I'm personally not
convinced of the interest of encouraging distros to focus on a tiny subset
of all the fixes, because for one that passes via s@k.o, maybe 50-100 are
regularly merged and might be of similar or even higher importance. And it
is my belief that all fixes are needed, not just the ones that are reported
via discrete channels because the reporter is uncertain about the impacts
a public report could have. I know that some do not share this opinion (and
I don't want to debate this here). Finally my feeling is that if the person
that sent a first report was interested in reporting their findings, it's
probably up to the same person to advertise it everywhere they want (after
understanding the consequences, of course).

> Note: this is unrelated to disclosure timelines, policy, etc. - I am
> talking about public notification for the already-public issue.

Yes that's my understanding as well ;-)

> > > I am guessing this is related to your work on random32 in 2020:
> > > 
> > >
> After I posted the above, Brad Spengler pointed me at another related
> issue that you worked on in 2022:

Ah, Brad knows well I'm not committing much and that whenever my name is
CCed on a patch, it smells as much as those that are not sent for review
first ;-)

Regarding the patch above, I had memories of having worked at least twice
on some related stuff and got confused by the first link you sent because
I mixed the two. Now I understand. That's old and confused in my mind.

> In fact, your description above sounds like it could be (in part?) for
> that newer issue.

Maybe, I don't remember well :-/  For me when a fix is merged I can flush
my mind on an issue (this makes it very hard for me to write changelogs
after series of bugfixes in other projects BTW).

> Anyway, perhaps both of these should have been brought to oss-security
> at some point, but they were not?

But one could actually ask why just these ones and none of the numerous
other ones merged in the same stable kernels.

> As to handling them in private on
> linux-distros, I see little value in that, so they're not a reason for
> us to have allowed longer embargoes.

Good point indeed.

> > > Alternatively, we may need to relax the policy.
> > 
> > I personally think it does have a flaw that is emphasized by the linux
> > kernel handling but can actually affect other projects. Some sole
> > developers might just not have enough resources to do everything in
> > 14 days, from diagnosing the problem at night or only during a few work
> > hours, setting up a lab on the week-end to test a fix, to contacting
> > whoever needs to be contacted and making releases. Some even make the
> > mistake of developing new stuff in maintenance branches and feel like
> > they need to finish before releasing (already seen)! I remember having
> > had to search in my boxes of hardware to re-assemble a working PC with
> > a floppy drive just to be able to validate a fix in the floppy driver.
> > You can be sure I only did that the week-end after the report, but
> > that's possibly 5 days lost already!
> This is partially addressed in our current instructions, which say:
> "Please notify upstream projects/developers of the affected software,
> other affected distro vendors, and/or affected Open Source projects
> before notifying one of these mailing lists in order to ensure that
> these other parties are OK with the maximum embargo period that would
> apply (and if not, then you may have to delay your notification to the
> mailing list)"
> Incidentally, this is consistent with the Linux kernel documentation
> edit that prompted this thread.

Looks good.

> > I understand the rationale behind your policy. I, too, was on vendor-sec
> > where we saw some vendors say "just FYI we're trying to fix this, we'll
> > keep you updated" and one year later, no news. But all those doing a
> > serious work (and there are, and the linux security team is doing that
> > serious work) can be heavily penalized by that policy when they're not
> > quick enough to obtain a fix. The linux people are known for being vocal,
> > so you hear about them. But other developers might just feel completely
> > crushed by this and it could really be harmful to them, especially when
> > they're new to this and haven't been dealing with security reports for
> > 25 years like many of us.
> > 
> > That's why I tend to think that what would better address what you want
> > to prevent, is ensuring the discussion doesn't come to a stall. This
> > could remove a lot of frustration. And if something has to be published
> > before the end because the developers or vendor stay silent, it's much
> > more powerful to say "they didn't dare responding for 14 days" than
> > "they couldn't figure a working fix for this complex issue in 14 days".
> I had similar thoughts too, but OTOH allowing arbitrarily long even if
> non-stalled discussions means not only longer embargoes and higher risk
> and impact of leaks, but also a greater number of simultaneous
> discussions on the list.  When issues take a long time to handle and
> many are tracked at once, this increases/wastes the effort per issue.

That's true. Actually I'm really wondering what the value of l-d is now,
if long embargoes are too much of a problem, short ones are too short for
developers to produce a fix, and bug reporters are progressively encouraged
to first contact projects then directly oss-sec, I feel like the value of
l-d becomes pretty low at this point in the process, but I could be
mistaken, of course. Maybe that's also why we're discussing here after all,
to find how to make it more useful to all parties.

> > > So the real problem
> > > may be that (linux-)distros is misunderstood as permanently-private
> > > rather than temporarily-private.  Unfortunately, I don't know how to
> > > address that reliably.  Even with automated delayed publication, some
> > > people would initially have the wrong idea... maybe unless they have to
> > > pass through a web page with the public archives before finding the
> > > posting address?
> > 
> > Just a stupid idea, it could possibly be addressed by a confirmation
> > e-mail on an opening thread. Something like "we need you to confirm that
> > what you posted will be made public by YY/MM/DD, if that's really what
> > you want, please visit this link within 24h otherwise all your materials
> > will be destroyed".
> We already use a somewhat obscure posting address and a required Subject
> prefix, although the latter is currently not enforced strictly (is
> mostly an anti-spam measure, so is bypassed by some other keywords
> contained in the headers and/or message).  I think part of the problem
> was that the kernel documentation gave these away directly, without
> people having to see our policy and instructions first.

I hadn't thought about this but it would be possible that some are lost
due to this. I've often wondered how people manage never to forget to
prepend "VS" there ;-)

> > I'm not sure, that's just an idea. But yes, it needs
> > to be understood as public so that confidential stuff is not shared
> > there, and it must be possible to ask for some materials to be erased
> > early if the reporter wasn't aware of this or made a mistake (e.g. send
> > a pcap just before the security team says "never ever share a pcap!").
> There's no reliable way to erase stuff from all subscribers' mailboxes.

Absolutely, but mistakes happen and that's also why participants have
to be trusted at little bit, and that's how a private list is reassuring
for first-time reporters.

> At "best", we could exclude it from delayed publication.

That must be sufficient for most reporters. One reason s@k.o is never
published precisely is to protect reporters' data. Some might for example
share a reproducer with a network capture or a dmesg output that reveals
a customer's name that is totally irrelevant to the problem, and that
would cause needless hassle for the reporter to hide if the info were
ever made public. I'm seeing this in haproxy where some reporters spend
time taking screenshots and editing them for posts on github, and finally
sending unedited traces privately because it's easier for them. So I do
think that on s@k.o we have an easier process for reporters to share their
observations while feeling they're safe enough.

Thus I do think that there's definitely something that needs to be worked
on regarding this specific point affecting what has to be published.


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