Re: Wiretapping Linux?

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On Tue, 16 May 2006, linux-os \(Dick Johnson\) wrote:

On Tue, 16 May 2006, Marc Perkel wrote:

As most of you know the United States is tapping you telephone calls and
tracking every call you make. The next logical step is to start tapping
your computer implanting spyware into operating systems. Since Windows
and OS-X are proprietary this can be done more easilly with the
cooperation of Microsoft and Apple.

So what about Linux? With thousands of people working on the Kernel if
someone from the NSA wanted to slip a back door into the Kernel, could
the do that? I know it's open source and it could be found if anyone
looks but is anyone looking? Is this something that would get noticed if
someone tried to do it? I'd like to think it would, but I'm going to ask
anyway just to make sure.

Conversely, if Microsoft or Apple cooperated with the US government
could they implant sptware without packets or hidden files being noticed?

I'm in the process of writing some articles about it and want to raise
the issue of US government implanted spyware everywhere. I know some
people might think this a little off topic but I'd rather be safe than
sorry. Who better to ask this question of than those who develop the kernel?

Thanks in advance.

The United States Government already implants
spy-ware into the Windows Operating System.
It's called "Magic Lantern" and it was part
of the settlement that the government made
with Microsoft when it had been charged with
restraint of trade and other federal law
violations. The settlement was made when
most persons' attention was diverted after

Since most firewalls are open for the mail
port and the http port, rumor has it that
Microsoft networking looks at spare bits in
the header (where the ECN bits are), and
if it sees a certain combination, the packet
is not a real mail or http packet, but an
instruction for Magic Lantern. Presumably,
the OS answers any request using the same

Putting such a method into Linux would not
be difficult now that networking is done
as a separate issue. An evil network-code
maintainer could duplicate the protocol.
However, there are certain implementation
details that would certainly attract the
attention of other kernel developers.

The most likely scenario would be for an
application to answer queries from the
outside world and send along private
information. Any distributor could do
this, even Red Hat!

FI, do you truly __know__ what all this stuff does?

    1 ?        S      0:00 init [5]
    2 ?        SW     0:00 [migration/0]
    3 ?        SWN    0:01 [ksoftirqd/0]
    4 ?        SW<    0:02 [events/0]
[SNIPPED 85 lines...]
24006 tty1     S      0:00 /sbin/mingetty tty1
26778 ?        SW     0:00 [pdflush]
27253 tty2     S      0:00 -bash
27656 tty2     R      0:00 ps ax

That's the stuff that's running on my "typical" system.
How many Trojans are running? Maybe none, but don't
bet your job on it. Just don't ever use any computer
for anything you wouldn't want to be caught doing.
It's just that simple!

Many Windows "drivers" periodically "call home." Hewlett
Packard printer drivers report how much ink is being used,
etc. They use a something called "backweb".

Backweb is spyware, deliberately introduced into products
so that manufacturers can keep track of product usage.
They don't tell you that they are spying on you. They
just do it.

It's hard to find Windows products that don't contain
such spyware. As Linux becomes more prevalent on the
desktop, you can expect to find such spyware there

I really don't think there's much of a place for spyware in Linux. I'm sure that some company (should that be plural?) will manufacture such crap -- the issue is getting users to install it. (The +x bit goes a long, long way here to preventing users from doing this unknowingly.)

I feel about a billion times safer bringing everything in from Portage and than I do running *anything* I got for money. (specifically, anything I can't tear open...) I think the possibility of deliberate malware being sent out through official channels isn't too terribly likely.

Free software isn't totally safe from malicious tinkering... this bit from Ken Thompson says a lot:

The thing is that there is enough peer review in the open source world that not only would it be *difficult* to slip in some intentionally malicious code (and I don't think any malicious code of much potential would be likely to make it past LKML, especially if it doesn't closely adhere to CodingStyle :P) but it would not be long before someone noticed it.

Think about it - let's suppose we all fell asleep at the wheel, and someone did manage to get something nasty into Linus's tree. Not having a stable kernel API wins *yet again* because sooner or later the malicious code is going to break, and someone is going to end up asking questions. :)

What's the saying - "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow?" How about "Given enough eyeballs, all malware is in plain sight."

Dick Johnson
Penguin : Linux version on an i686 machine (5592.89 BogoMips).
New book:

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