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OpenBSD founder wants to bin buggy OpenSSL library, launches fork

One Heartbleed vuln was too many for Theo de Raadt

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

In the wake of the Heartbleed bug fiasco, members of the OpenBSD project have forked the popular OpenSSL library with the aim of creating a new version that they say will be more trustworthy.

Even though OpenSSL is open source software, for a full two years its entire development community managed to overlook the crucial bug that eventually triggered a web-wide panic.

The library has since been patched to address the flaw, but fallout from the crisis is still being felt, and the programmer whose error caused all the ruckus says there just aren't enough people scrutinizing the OpenSSL code to spot difficult-to-find bugs.

The LibreSSL project wants to change that. A fork of OpenSSL, LibreSSL was created by members of the highly security-conscious OpenBSD operating system community – including its cantankerous founder Theo de Raadt, who has publicly criticized OpenSSL as a project "not developed by a responsible team."

The group's goal is to provide a drop-in replacement for OpenSSL that has been substantially rewritten and audited for potential security vulnerabilities. The API won't change, they say, but much of the current code will.

It's early days for the project yet. Its homepage – rendered entirely in the dreaded Comic Sans font – says its contributors are currently "too busy deleting and rewriting code to make a decent web page."

Much of the early work involves refactoring and cleaning up the OpenSSL code so that it's more readable and easier to maintain. A quick glance at the code commits so far reveals a lot of "KNF" work – meaning the individual source files are being rewritten in "kernel normal form," a standard C coding style used by BSD operating systems.

In addition, thousands of lines of "unneeded" code have already been deleted. Much of this code was OS-specific, including workarounds for such ancient platforms as VMS, OS/2, NetWare, classic Mac OS, and old versions of Windows.

The upshot of all this, however, is that LibreSSL will be an OpenBSD-only library – at least at first. The developers do plan to provide multi-OS support eventually, but only after they have rewritten enough of the code to make it stable and maintainable, and then find reliable developers to work on ports to other systems.

"We know you all want this tomorrow," the project's homepage states. "We are working as fast as we can but our primary focus is good software that we trust to run ourselves. We don't want to break your heart."

As it stands, the first version of LibreSSL is planned for inclusion in OpenBSD 5.6. If all goes according to plan, that version should arrive in November; the upcoming version of the OS, OpenBSD 5.5, is due to ship on May 1. ®

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