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From the Editor

Security: Yes, It's Part of Your Job

Don Marti

Issue #112, August 2003

If evil doesn't get you, ignorance will. Learn what everyone needs to know about SE Linux and TCPA.

Welcome to our annual issue about necessary information technology security tools for the enterprise, I mean sinister tools of massive repression.

What's the difference? In most cases, only the use to which you put the tool. Security is a fascinating subject because it exercises both your logical, problem-solving side—what would an attacker have to compromise to get from point A to point B—and your conscience.

You've often heard that security has to be designed in, not bolted on. That makes everyone in information technology a security professional, whether it says “security” on your business card or not. And as a security professional, you have to consider security threats at two levels: the many small attacks from people who want to copy credit-card numbers, send spam and deface web sites, and the larger, slower attack from those who want to destroy our civilized way of life on the Net, with all its messy free speech, and institute a tidy regime of surveillance and “digital rights management”.

Professor Lawrence Lessig, in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, makes the most powerful case for considering your beliefs and your politics when you go to work on technology. Code is law. How you build a system affects how some users of the system can regulate others. So the security you put into place to protect you from small attacks should not facilitate the one large attack on freedom itself.

It's important to let your conscience guide your technical decisions, but it's just as important to back up your political positions with the facts about the technologies to which they apply. Proposals for “trusted computing” are the subject of justifiable concern among freedom lovers. Nobody wants to give up the PC for a sealed box with a so-called Fritz chip, named after authoritarian US Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, that would prevent you from running a free operating system or recording your own music.

But Fritz chip hysteria is sometimes misdirected at new technologies or proposed specifications that wouldn't take away your freedom to run the software of your choice and might even have some beneficial applications. Is the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance unfairly maligned? Read the article on TCPA by David Safford, Jeff Kravitz and Leendert van Doorn on page 50, then get their free TCPA code and decide for yourself.

You can give a big boost to your personal information security by encrypting your home directory. Making it work seamlessly is tricky, though, and Mike Petullo addresses the hard parts head-on on page 62.

The US National Security Agency's SE Linux is one of the hottest topics in security today, and Faye Coker gives us an introduction in Kernel Korner on page 20. Russell Coker follows up on page 56 with a report on what happens if you give out the root password—can the SE Linux rules alone protect the system?

Daniel R. Allen has written a helpful article on one of the most common Linux security tools, OpenSSH, and Mick Bauer continues his series on OpenLDAP, a multifunctional directory service. There's plenty of thought-provoking information this issue, so stay informed and, in the immortal words of the Google employee handbook, “Don't be evil.”

Don Marti is editor in chief of Linux Journal.

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