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Android Cellphones Government Handhelds Security Linux

NSA Releases Security-Enhanced Android 81

Posted by timothy
from the but-don't-worry dept.
An anonymous reader writes with the recent news that, in line with its goal to provide secure phones to government employees in various domains, "The NSA has released a set of security enhancements to Android. These appear to be based on SELinux, which was also originally created by the NSA."
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NSA Releases Security-Enhanced Android

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  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:32PM (#38694520)

    SELinux Android is OSS, same as SELinux. Look at the code yourself if you are convinced there are backdoors. That is part of the point of OSS after all.

  • by chill (34294) on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:32PM (#38694522) Journal

    Considering Android was pretty much swiss cheese to begin with, you'd have to wonder why they'd bother.

    And the risk involved in doing something like that and releasing it all as source code makes even less sense.

    No, I think the simple truth is the NSA realizes that being secure is hard work. Even people whos lives depend on it get it wrong. The average schmoe hardening up their smartphone is still going to fall prey to an easily shoulder-surfed password. Or the XKCD $5 wrench. Or all of the data that goes thru the boot-licking telecom companies. Or... or...

    No, this is probably the real deal. The NSA guys hate Blackberries as much as the rest of us and are looking for approved replacements.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:40PM (#38694582)

    Don't you believe that the NSA could obfuscate a backdoor good enough that the average person couldn't detect it when looking at the code?
    Wait - the average person couldn't detect anything when looking at the code, obfuscated or not.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 14, 2012 @12:56AM (#38695216)

    Capable? Yes. The NSA hires geniuses. But so do foreign nations, various companies, and universities. If we're going to indulge in an encomium of the extraordinary competence of the NSA, though, the most honest praise would be for an NSA imagined as most likely trying to provide genuine security with this effort, not backdoors, which open up the possibility of breaches or discovery.

    Consider the NSA's purpose in making a secure version of Android: it's a system built by geniuses to be operated, in the end, by idiots, who are targeted for attack by other geniuses. From the NSA's perspective, there are two opponents: the brilliant Enemy and the Friendly moron. Leaving a backdoor, however well-obfuscated, provides the brilliant Enemy with an avenue for taking advantage of the Friendly moron who violates security procedures for his ill-conceived convenience. Backdoors allow breaches, and the NSA has to be smart enough to know that there are enough geniuses out there working for the other side(s) to find one and exploit it.

    Consider also the fallout if a backdoor were to be discovered in the NSA's source code. Geniuses will be reading this code, if for no other reason than because it demonstrates the NSA's thinking. If someone found a backdoor and, instead of exploiting it or selling it to exploiters, decided to publicize it as an example of a purposeful NSA backdoor, the NSA would lose immense credibility. What kind of turf and funding wars would they face then, if the rest of the government agencies lost trust in them? Would the much-vaunted geniuses of the NSA consider that risk acceptable?

    It's in the NSA's interest not to introduce even well-obfuscated backdoors in this product. It is in their interest to have such facilities available in consumer-grade products and exports, and God only knows what's baked into the phone companies' customized builds that they've compiled and installed onto a consumer-grade phone. It is not, however, useful to them to have such access in source code that is publicly available to be read by people looking for problems or compiled by people smart enough to know what they're doing.

    If the NSA really is as smart as we'd all like to believe, they'll make this an honest, open, secure product without backdoors or traps. They'll make a product that will solidify their place in the government funding arena as the authority in hardened security.

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Saturday January 14, 2012 @03:09AM (#38695660) Journal

    But the NSA can't beat the internet.

    You're joking, right? Do you honestly think that, if someone were injecting a flaw, they would inject a flaw that was readily discoverable? No. Of course not. They'd introduce some miniscule mistake in some random number generator that makes the result no longer be quite uniformly distributed in such a way that the error is only detectable by performing thousands of calls and doing heavy math on them, thus enabling a side channel attack on the randomly generated symmetric keys used for SSL or some such.

  • Its funny (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 14, 2012 @07:54AM (#38696426)
    Having gone through the comments here, to read the distrust of the NSA. To be honest, that is good.
    Yet, for a number of you, you will trust the physical hardware is OK coming in from China. Why on god's green earth, would you trust china, a nation that has more spies running around the world, esp. in the west, then does America, while screaming that America has planted a backdoor in open code?

No amount of careful planning will ever replace dumb luck.

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