Feeds

Mozilla CTO Eich: If your browser isn't open source (ahem, ahem, IE, Chrome, Safari), DON'T TRUST IT

Government spy code could be anywhere, claims Firefox chief

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich has cautioned netizens not to blindly trust software vendors, arguing that only open-source software can be assured to be free from government-mandated surveillance code.

"Every major browser today is distributed by an organization within reach of surveillance laws," Eich wrote in a joint blog post with Mozilla research and development VP Andreas Gal on Saturday.

Under those laws, Eich argued, governments could compel software companies to include surveillance code in their products. Worse, the vendors may not be able to admit to the public that such code exists when asked, because of gag orders.

The Mozilla man argued that open-source software can help alleviate this risk because customers have the opportunity to review its source code and spot any potential backdoors.

Equally important, Eich said, security researchers can compile open-source projects from source and compare the output to the executable binaries distributed by software vendors to make sure that the downloadable binaries don't include any undisclosed extras.

That's not possible for a product like Internet Explorer, Eich said, because Microsoft doesn't share any of its proprietary code with customers.

Even browsers that use open-source HTML rendering engines such as WebKit and Blink are not safe, he added, pointing out that both Safari and Chrome contain "significant fractions" of proprietary code, into which governments could potentially sink their hooks.

"Mozilla Firefox in contrast is 100 per cent open source," Eich wrote, by way of tooting the nonprofit's own horn.

Not that this fact has necessarily shielded Firefox users from surveillance so far. In August, a version of Firefox that was distributed for use with the anonymizing Tor network was found to be vulnerable to an exploit that could leak users' MAC addresses to attackers. Scammers have also occasionally tricked Firefox users into downloading fake, malware-laden updates.

To combat this, Eich has called upon security researchers to "regularly audit Mozilla source and verified builds by all effective means" – including establishing automated procedures – and to raise a public alarm if they discover any irregularities.

In turn, he proposed, such fully audited browsers could potentially be used as "trust anchors" to verify the authenticity of internet services, which could also contain secret surveillance code.

"Security is never 'done' – it is a process, not a final rest-state," Eich wrote. "No silver bullets. All methods have limits. However, open-source audibility cleanly beats the lack of ability to audit source vs. binary." ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Tor attack nodes RIPPED MASKS off users for 6 MONTHS
Traffic confirmation attack bared users' privates - but to whom?
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.