August 15, 2018

Why Locking Down the Kernel Won’t Stall Linux Improvements

The Linux Kernel Hardening Project is making significant strides in reducing vulnerabilities and increasing the effort required to exploit vulnerabilities that remain. Much of what has been implemented is obviously valuable, but sometimes the benefit is more subtle. In some cases, changes with clear merit face opposition because of performance issues. In other instances, the amount of code change required can be prohibitive. Sometimes the cost of additional security development overwhelms the value expected from it.

The Linux Kernel Hardening Project is not about adding new access controls or scouring the system for backdoors. It’s about making the kernel harder to abuse and less likely for any abuse to result in actual harm. The former is important because the kernel is the ultimate protector of system resources. The latter is important because with 5,000 developers working on 25 million lines of code, there are going to be mistakes in both how code is written and in judgment about how vulnerable a mechanism might be. Also, the raw amount of ingenuity being applied to the process of getting the kernel to do things it oughtn’t continues to grow in lockstep with the financial possibilities of doing so.

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