Security Through Information

There are two schools of thought regarding security:

  1. security through disclosure
  2. security through obscurity

Open source software supports the former, proprietary software advocates the latter (though not all). According to security expert Bruce Schneier, security through disclosure is the way to go…

So a bunch of software companies, and some security researchers, banded together and invented “responsible disclosure” (See “The Chilling Effect”). The basic idea was that the threat of publishing the vulnerability is almost as good as actually publishing it. A responsible researcher would quietly give the software vendor a head start on patching its software, before releasing the vulnerability to the public.

This was a good idea — and these days it’s normal procedure — but one that was possible only because full disclosure was the norm. And it remains a good idea only as long as full disclosure is the threat.

The moral here doesn’t just apply to software; it’s very general. Public scrutiny is how security improves, whether we’re talking about software or airport security or government counterterrorism measures. Yes, there are trade-offs. Full disclosure means that the bad guys learn about the vulnerability at the same time as the rest of us — unless, of course, they knew about it beforehand — but most of the time the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

Secrecy prevents people from accurately assessing their own risk. Secrecy precludes public debate about security, and inhibits security education that leads to improvements. Secrecy doesn’t improve security; it stifles it.

I’d rather have as much information as I can to make an informed decision about security, whether it’s a buying decision about a software product or an election decision about two political parties. I’d rather have the information I need to pressure vendors to improve security.

I don’t want to live in a world where companies can sell me software they know is full of holes or where the government can implement security measures without accountability. I much prefer a world where I have all the information I need to assess and protect my own security.

More links on open-source and security:

http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/cybersecurity-open-source-2014/
http://www.schneier.com/essay-056.html
http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-0205.html#1
http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-9909.html#OpenSourceandSecurity

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