Vol. 2, Issue 32, August 24, 2004
Dr. Watson Cures All.
Brainsnap

Open Source Technology a Security Risk, Says Ashcroft

Making America safe from terrorists may require restricting and, in some cases, banning the use of open source technology, according to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"The truth is that America offers many more opportunities for terrorists because it is an open society," said Ashcroft in a press conference on Monday. "The same holds true for its technology and software development. As a nation which is highly dependent upon its high-tech infrastructure, it seems unwise for us to open the door for malicious activity in this regard."

Open source software code, which is made available free of charge to the general public, has become increasingly popular in recent years. The rationale for this is that a large community of developers who are not concerned with proprietary ownership will produce a more useful and bug-free product for everyone's benefit.

The concern, apparently, is that terrorists would have the opportunity to "infect" open source software with potentially malicious code that could lie dormant until activated. Rather than monitor the open source development community for suspicious activity, the FBI is essentially saying that it will be easier and more effective to simply ban the use of such software altogether.

"This is like saying windows and doors are a security threat, so we should wall them all up," said Ali Denab, president and CEO of VA Software Corporation, which owns the Open Source Technology Group. "Open source technology is more secure, not less. For crying out loud, look at Microsoft. I think the only reason terrorists are leaving Microsoft alone is because they can't improve on what Microsoft is doing to its customers."

Microsoft did in fact advise the FBI commission investigating the open source security issue. Since the enactment of the Patriot Act in 2001, the FBI has been covertly cooperating with Microsoft and other companies, increasing its surveillance of the gathering information on Internet users even when this was not part of an official investigation and to initiate online surveillance on the basis of a priori suspicion, often with the assistance of large corporations. However, Microsoft denies that it had any ulterior motives in providing what it describes as "purely technical" advice to the FBI.

Ashcroft also sharply condemned other nations considering or using open source software such as the Linux operating system. It is increasingly popular among many countries as a less expensive and more reliable alternative to Microsoft; even the cities of Vienna and Munich have both recently switched operating systems to Linux.

"I can see how countries such as Brazil and China might not be able to take the long term view," said Ashcroft. "But European nations? Come on. You're just making yourselves targets. Some Linux fans use the motto 'live free or die,'" added Ashcroft. "But if you haven't figured it out yet, there's no such thing as a free lunch."

"Or, apparently, a free country," Denab replied.


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