October 25, 2001

Battening down the hatches with Guardian Digital's Dave Wreski

Author: JT Smith

- By Dan Berkes -
Sometimes, you get more than what you asked for. That's certainly the case with Guardian Digital founder Dave Wreski, who agreed to answer a couple of questions via email and responded with a volume of information. Not that I'm complaining. I can't think of any writer who would actually gripe about an interview subject being too verbose.
You can find Wreski living, working, and playing in a New Jersey suburb about 30 minutes outside of New York. My memory of East Coast suburbia was revived by Wreski's description of his part of the world.

"It's a pretty busy area with a lot of technology, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing companies," he says. It's a little different from the world of cookie cutter homes and strip malls that defined my vision of suburbia growing up in Phoenix.

Then again, things are bound to be a little different, a little more interesting when you're living in the shadow of one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities on the planet.

Indeed, the Big Apple is number one on his list of things to like about living in northern New Jersey: "Easy access to New York, plenty of shopping, places to live and work, and great people."

Wreski and computing seem like a natural fit. No surprise to learn that some of his favorite childhood memories involve late '70s computers, especially since computing seemed to be a family affair. I asked him about the first time he became interested in computers and programming.

"Probably about 1978 or so, leaning over my father's shoulder as he built our first CP/M computer, complete with audio cassette for data storage. I enjoyed learning by programming in BASIC."

So what's a young boy to do with all that computer knowledge? Head off to college of course, where he can major in computer science and pick up a minor in mathematics for good measure. No slacker in either discipline, Wreski was also president of the campus computer science and mathematics clubs.

It's also where Wreski laid the groundwork for his specific focus on computers: "The convener of my major was instrumental in guiding my knowledge and understanding of computers, Unix, and foundations of security."

From home to school and then off to work, Wreski's background contains more mentions of computing power.

"My first real job was as technical coordinator for Ascom Timeplex, a competitor to Bay Networks. I was responsible for maintaining their larger Sun systems as well as a couple dozen Sparc 20's."

After making a few stops in the marketing department at companies here and there, Wreski settled in as the Internet security architect for United Parcel Service. He described his duties there in that understated way characteristic of so many computer science pros.

"[Working at UPS] was quite rewarding, offering me numerous opportunities to work with large environments, implement large-scale security solutions, and improve my engineering skills."

Sounds like a lot of fun, actually, but I'll bet it pales in comparison to running your own business. That's what Wreski is doing now, as he reminded me when I asked him what he likes to do in his free time.

"Nearly two years ago I founded Guardian Digital, Inc., the Open Source security company. Since then I haven't had much in the way of free time. We produce software to securely manage Internet functions such as email, Web services, DNS, intrusion detection and firewalls, conduct eBusiness, and more.

"Our flagship product, EnGarde Secure Linux, is a highly secure Linux
distribution that features Mandatory Access Control, built-in intrusion
detection and firewalling, and an easy-to-use Web-based administration
tool."

Of course he does manage to get away from the office now and then for a little rest and relaxation, usually hitting the slopes during ski season.

Getting into the overlapping realms of Linux and security, most of Wreski's responses to my questions work best when presented in an interview form:

When did you become interested in Linux and Open Source projects?

While in college, I was the sysadmin for our DEC Alpha box running Ultrix,
where I was responsible for all open source tools including gcc, emacs,
pine for all campus users to read mail, etc. I first started using Linux
before version 1.0 on my 386DX40 at home, shortly after dumped Windows and
never looked back.

And what about the security aspects of computers and Open Source? Was there one event, or a series of events that led you to focus on making computing more secure?

Actually, it really came down to lack of existing information that led me
to write the [Linux] Security HOWTO and other security documents. I also thought
of the act of securing a system was a lot more difficult than breaking
into one. It only takes one exploit for a system to be vulnerable to
attack. While experimenting in college, I succeeded numerous times in
bringing down our main server as part of the projects we were given in our
unix classes, even as a normal user with an authorized account. It made me
very curious why this didn't seem to bother the school staff, that also
had billing and student records on the same server. The Internet was all
very new in the early 1990s, and it became apparent to me that the
security of the information contained within the server would be critical.

What are your personal reasons for preferring to work within Open
Source? What would you consider to be the best aspects of Open Source?

Collaboration. Also, it has long been acknowledged that open source is
necessary to build the most secure systems. Without the peer review aspect
of open source, encryption algorithms and network protocols are limited to
the knowledge of only the organization that develops it. In the general
case, it levels the playing field, and those organizations which provide
additional value to the customer survive.

And how about the most frustrating aspects?

Perhaps that companies may believe the rhetoric about companies losing
their intellectual property rights as a result of using open source
software. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's also sometimes
frustrating that organizations feel it is not ready for enterprise
applications.

How did you become involved with Guardian Digital, EnGarde Linux, and
LinuxSecurity?

I registered LinuxSecurity.com outright in 1997 as the beginnings of what
would soon become a full-fledged effort to provide authoritative news and
resources for those using open source and interested in security. We were
a Linux consultancy at the time, focusing on enterprise solutions where
security was a concern. Offering pre-configured firewalls, proxy servers,
and other similar solutions was our core competency. We used the
information gathered from feedback from our customers to develop the
enterprise-ready EnGarde Secure Linux distribution, built to address
Internet connectivity and security issues in an enterprise.

What is a typical day at the office like for you? When do you usually
start your day, end your day, and what happens in between?

Typical? Our support and sales staff are usually in the office very early.
The engineers quite frequently eat and sleep here, especially during the
period before release. As the project leader, I'm usually here all day,
every day. I try to get away for a while on weekends, but generally the
work-week carries into Sunday too.

If you had to pick just one event, what would you consider to be the
most important and/or satisfying event during your affiliation with
Guardian Digital, or your encounters with the Open Source community?

It would certainly be the overwhelming response we received as a result of
our EnGarde Secure Linux Community release back in March. We've logged
tens of thousands of downloads, and have a sizable userbase recognizing
our secure Linux distribution, contributing back their suggestions for
improvement.

What's in store for Guardian Digital? What products and services will we see in the next six to 12 months?

We're continuing to focus on products and services that are crucial to
conducting business on the Web today. We'll shortly be announcing open
source products that improve security on corporate borders, ease the
process of building an Internet presence, and manage multiple systems
securely.

With the recent arrest of Dmitri Sklyarov, and controversy
surrounding Ed Felten's presentation of security flaws in RIAA's SDMI
code, it seems that the DMCA is breathing a very frosty chill on the
dissemination and discussion of security issues with computer software.
What are your views on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act? How does
the DMCA affect what you do, and how is it affecting Guardian Digital?

I think all the digital copyright laws could have far-reaching consequences
on open source. While the DMCA is the basis for record companies and the
like protecting themselves from people copying copyrighted material, it is
really a means for these companies to hold on to their antiquated business
model instead of reinventing themselves for the Internet generation.

Other aspects of the law, including the part that prevents eager
programmers from code-cracking copyright software such as DeCSS is quite
disturbing. The US government is horribly misguided. It may take a few
unfortunate victims, such as Mr. Sklyarov, but eventually (soon, I
believe) our beloved government will gain some common sense and find this
violates our personal freedoms. I believe they equate it more to someone
who figures out that if they position the gasoline nozzle at the local
Exxon the right way, they can get free gas. Instead, it's really a case of
someone who's figured out that if they tweak their carburetor the right
way, they can get an extra ten miles per gallon from the gas they've
already purchased.

I do think companies such as Napster should be required to enforce some
type of control over how the material is transferred to their visitors.
The responsibility is on them to figure out a way for users to want to pay
for the added value they are providing.

Reading the DMCA really makes you think Congress was forced into getting
at least _something_ on paper. A nice explanation of the DMCA is available
here:

http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/iclp/dmca1.htm

You might also be interested in an article I wrote for LinuxSecurity.com
on September 11th, following the events in NYC and the impact on security:

http://www.linuxsecurity.com/feature_stories/feature_story-92.html

The SSSCA, I believe, is far more serious. The expectation of requiring
proprietary anti-copying controls on all kinds of hardware and software is
very worrisome. It could very well outlaw Free Software and Open Source
development. It would make it a crime to reverse-engineer software to
develop compatible open source products.

What's your vision of computing -- how do you think we'll be using computing technology and the Internet five or 10 years from now?

That's a long time from now! I do believe in open source enough to believe
that it will be the reigning technology within the enterprise by then.
Legacy Unix vendors such as HP, IBM, and SCO, will be long gone in ten
years. These versions of Unix exist solely to support very specific
applications, such as those used in proprietary hospital systems and the
like. I believe we'll have switched to a more secure Internet on the whole
by then. I believe we are only now seeing the beginnings of distributed
computing. The future will mean all systems are directly interconnected,
requiring a high degree of security. Distributed computing will mean our
entertainment, schooling perhaps, and many other aspects of our daily
lives will be performed over what will be the Internet.

Dave Wreski's favorites:

Mail reader: Actually, I'm still looking for one. Ask me again next year, and I'll probably respond with something from the GNOME or KDE teams.

Text editor: vi, but only within the last few years. I'm an emacs fan at heart.

Linux distribution: I like what the mainstream vendors are doing for the desktop as well as early adoption of 64-bit Intel computing. We of course feel EnGarde Secure Linux makes a great general purpose server operating platform where security is a primary concern.

Snack food: Snickers and Mountain Dew

Band/Album/Song: Favorite band is Pink Floyd. I also like the Stones, Metallica, other classic rock bands, and newer bands like Smashing Pumpkins. Anything newer
than that is pretty much garbage.

Book: I don't really have one. I like Steinbeck as an author.

Movie: Probably Stripes or Happy Gilmore on the comedy side. I also liked The
Money Pit. I liked Schindler's List and The Green Mile.

Television show: I think that new show Alias is pretty good. I also like The Practice. Three's Company is certainly among my favorite sitcoms.

Vacation spot: Probably Jackson Hole, WY, or the west coast near Monterey, CA.

Person: That's a tough one. I've always though of Edison and FDR as inspiring. I
certainly acknowledge my parents as my largest contributors to my well-being and successes to date.

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