November 4, 2015

Security in an Error-Prone World

The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air was a beautiful car, administrator Konstantin Ryabitsev said at the beginning of his Korea Linux Forum talk. It had roomy seats, lots of features, and a smooth ride; it was all about power and comfort. But if you got into an accident with this car, it would kill you; it was not designed around the idea that things might go wrong. Our computer systems in 2015 mirror the Bel Air of 1957; they are not designed around humans and the mistakes they make. Konstantin had a simple message for the audience: take a cue from the automotive industry and design and build systems that do not fail catastrophically when errors are made.

In 1955, the Journal of the American Medical Association said that the interiors of contemporary cars were so poorly designed that it was amazing when anybody escaped an accident without serious injury. Ten years later, Ralph Nader's seminal Unsafe at Any Speed was published. In response, automotive engineers said that they designed their cars to operate safely — they were designed to drive, not to crash. Crashes were the result of bad driving, so the proper response was better driver education. The addition of safety features would come at a cost in style and comfort; it would also cost more. Customers, they said, did not want those safety features.

Computers and their software are still designed like 1960s cars...

Read more at LWN.

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