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US military shuns BSD for hopping landmines

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The research wing of the United States military, DARPA, has abruptly terminated funding for an OpenBSD project, leaving dozens of open source programmers in the lurch.

DARPA funds hundreds of loopy research projects, some of which are sinister pork-barrel boondoggles, such as the Total Information Awareness panopticon project, but some of them become socially useful technologies, such as the Internet. So in the process, the tax dollars thrown downstream can provide a net gain.

One of these grants was the funding for POSSE, a $2m sponsorship for the University of Pennsylvania to produce a hacker-hardened operating system for standard PCs.

According to OpenBSD project leader Theo de Raadt, funding has been cancelled.

"We have a hackathon planned for Calgary, Canada for two weeks from now," one participant mailed us.

"60 hackers are coming. plane tickets are bought, and conference facilities are reserved, People are buying their own plane tickets. DARPA funding was providing hotel and conference facilites so people could work. At the last minute, DARPA has pulled out.

"Perhaps We'll be housing people in tents and feeding them moosemeat so they can hack."

Another observed:

"OpenBSD has made some serious gains in security recently--and it was already starting from a high level. For example, they have made the stack non-executable and made the default compiler provide propolice/SSP code, the W ^ X memory permissions system, and substantial improvements to the pf host firewall system, which now gives most commercial firewalls a run for their money.

"It's likely that the POSSE program contributed to this project, and the accomplishments of its audits of OpenSSL are well-known (especially to those of us who have been upgrading and patching OpenSSL in light of those accomplishments).

Now Theo has been known to get very dramatic at what ICBM-experts call the "ascent phase" of a missile's trajectory. Defense Shield experts surmise that there are two stages at which an incoming ICBM can be intercepted: when it's lifting off, and when it's about to drop on your city. Many experts argue that the optimal interception is at the ascent phase. Which is often, in our experience, where Theo throws a wobbler. However, in this case his dramatics appear to be fully justified.

"I wonder if DARPA will fund something else in POSSE's place..." asks mailing list contributor Michael Sinatra.

But Michael - we already know what DARPA is funding in its place. It gives $30,000 more dollars to the amazing idea of "self-healing, self-hopping landmines", which we covered here.

It may not, we admit, be a hacker-hardened mainstream OS, but check the Flash animation - replete with polyphonic sound effects, Mission Impossible-style typewriter and winking Chess knight (you must watch to the end to see the winking knight) - and tell us if that isn't $30,000 well spent. ®

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