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back to article NSA constructs hardened Android, unleashes it on world

The US Defense Department's The National Security Agency (NSA) has released a security-hardened version of Google's mobile OS, Android. The spook-enhanced build of the operating system was released last week and is based on SELinux, also created by the National Security Agency. The inaugural release of the SE Android project …

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Sorry I will pass on that, just like I pass on all US government approved encryption as well.

Instead of having the NSA design your communications hardware just CC all of your emails, texts and web browsing habits to fbi.gov. The end result is the same.

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Whilst I have to admire the kneejerk tinfoil-hattery in that, the fact that this is distributed as source code makes it entirely possible to prove the existance of any nefarious goings on and remove them.

So if they had done this it would be utterly pointless and regardless of their other failings, as I doubt they're as thick as pigshit they almost certainly haven't.

What's most useful is that some or many of the security enhancements here could end up being merged back into the core product, providing a better product for all. Well done those spooks!

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Anonymous Coward

nonesuch - you have absolutely no idea what selinux is - please know what you're talking about before broadcasting your ignorance!

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Black Helicopters

Excessive confidence.

Properly constructed and well-engineered back door will not necessarily be visible from reading source code. What do you expect to find, after all? "if(strcmp(username,"NSA")==0)" ?

A well-engineered back door will hide somewhere among bugs and invalid pointers, launched by carefully constructed buffer overflows, somewhere in totally unrelated piece of code, potentially even an app, and not part of the kernel. Google Maps anyone? Or even deeper, in carefully chosen encryption algorithms, or even in a graphics file, like skin of the button in your phone dialer.

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mate

The source code is released, so if your so paranoid just go through it yourself and roll your own.

Its not like they only provide compiled binaries without the sauce.

SElinux is a good thing. I use it on every laptop I own. AFAIR it was developed by the NSA in the first place, but every distribution provides it as an option or enabled by default in redhat distros.

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WTF?

wow! rent-a-trolls out in force today

NoneSuch - your point is valid.

Detractors - you're either incredibly naive or 'otherwise motivated'. The source code release is worthless, because it could well contain a well-concealed backdoor accessible only to the originators, which comes complete with convenient plausible deniability. Also, any external dependency referenced in the code that does not also have sources supplied could also represent data gathering functions.

Furthermore, determining that US government agencies doing bad things is *impossible* and that anyone suggesting otherwise is an insane tinfoil-hat wearer, is stupidity taken to dangerous and saddening levels. Good luck explaining that little contemporary embarrassment to your grandkids. I personally wouldn't schedule it anywhere near a telling of 'the emperor's new clothes'. Pro tip there.

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oops!

Replace the word 'backdoor' with 'vulnerability' and it makes sense. ;)

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Happy

re: Excessive Confidence

if (!strcmp(username, "NSA")) {

}

FTFY!

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Anonymous Coward

Perspective

People, please. For the record SELinux has been part of the main linux kernel tree for _years_ and has been gone through with the proverbial fine toothed comb. If you think SELinux has a backdoor then you're saying all linux kernel versions since 2.6 that it was integrated have a backdoor.

Nevermind that the NSA are not even involved in maintaining it anymore, since it was added to mainline.

And anyway, SELinux is an implentation of a mandatory access control architecture, it doesnt even touch any parts of linux that _could_ be used to make a backdoor.

Be paranoid but at least base the paranoia on some element of truth.

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Email the FBI?

You mean like this guy?

http://www.ted.com/talks/hasan_elahi.html

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Boffin

SELinux -- inventors and history

I've not been entirely sure who invented it. The first time I encountered something like it was back in 1996 when I was working for Tivoli Systems -- and we were wrapping what had been a low level Unix sysadmin tool into a more consumable product. This doc (http://publib.boulder.ibm.com/tividd/td/SEO/seos/en_US/PDF/seos.pdf) covers the initial attempt to do so, which was then replaced with a second incarnation where an attempt to wrap a proper GUI and full-scale deployment architecture was added.

The simplest description of SEOS is that all kernel level systems calls were intercepted, and the effects of the system call analysed against a set of security criteria, before being allowed to proceed. Very much like the security contexts presently in SELinux.

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I however do have some idea what SELinux is!

SELinux is the most irritating ill-conceived implementation of ACL & Role based security ever foisted on the world.

It can be done better, it can have a better UI, it could have reasonable defaults in the standard Linux distros that enable it by defaults.

If I want nag boxes popping up everytime I touch the file system then I will use Windows 7, FFS!

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Anonymous Coward

@ TeeCee

Then again, what toolchain are they using to compile the released binaries?

This discussion has been round before. Source code is all well and good, but the compiler can be made to put anything they want in the compiled binaries.

I'm just sayin', I won't be downloading any of their binaries. Also the source for the toolchain needs to be looked over very carefully. I just don't trust spooks, after all think about the kind of stuff they must do day in and day out.

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Anonymous Coward

For those stating that the NSA don't work on the SELinux code any more, how do you know? They wouldn't exactly be writing labelled comments would they. I believe it is standard practice for such agencies to use small companies and "independent consultants" to perform such deniable actions. As others have stated, how do you know that a discovered "vulnerability" wasn't put there deliberately?

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Anonymous Coward

It's not rocket science for real world use in more recent distros. If you want to put your files outside of the approved file structure you just add your files to the selinux acl list. The man pages help you basically cut and paste the fixes anyway...

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Anonymous Coward

Can't the NSA use special invisible ink code for the dodgy bits? Probably some kind of special character set embedded in the upper planes of Unicode with no visible glyphs. I expect. Posting anonymously as I've rumbled them.

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Anonymous Coward

"Can't the NSA use special invisible ink code for the dodgy bits"

Surely you sanitize all your source code by boiling for an hour before use ?

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WTF?

Source code

While having the sourcecode doesn't make it impossible for a backdoor to be hidden, most likely in the form of a deeply buried security vulnerability making it more deniable...

Having the sourcecode is nonetheless an improvement over not having it, and therefore relying on binaries instead.

The world is full of compromises...

A car with airbags, abs, roll bars etc may be safer than one without, but its still possible to crash and die...

Having the sourcecode is better than not having it, obviously its not as safe as writing your own code from scratch on hardware you also designed and built yourself, but it's the best option that's practical and affordable.

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Black Helicopters

Actually, if you write your own code from scratch

on hardware you've personally designed and built, you are more likely to have a bug than if you use binaries downloaded from a warez site. You've spread yourself too thin and have no one to look for bugs in your stuff. Open source has lots of eyes.

And keep in mind that since the NSA are releasing the source code, the KGB, Mossad, MIx and all the rest of the spook agencies out there get to look at it too. Assuming NSA introduced a bug, one of those agencies can find it. That agency might decide it's more worthwhile to just use the bug themselves, or they might decide to release a fix, but either way the NSA is itself now at risk as well. Granted the NSA might be using devices that have a fixed applied, but their targets still don't, and if you know where the bug is you can monitor for the targets, and knowing who/where the targets are in and of itself provides a spook with useful information.

I need to get back to my day job now. Thinking even a little like a spook makes me dizzy.

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Anonymous Coward

Secure

but with added Back Orifice

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Beware of spook outfits bearing gifts

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Big Brother

Totally Secure

> if you don't know what you are doing you might even end up with a bricked smartphone

So, then it's even secure against Mitnick-style social engineering attacks. Impressive.

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Bravo

'nuff said

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Better the devil you know lol

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Anonymous Coward

Free

Now with free backdoors!

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Anonymous Coward

Android

I am still looking for an Android with remote wipe, local encryption, openvpn client

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Looking where?

Lookout has a remote wipe app, and there are others, such as HTC's built-in offering. You can install Lookout's after your phone gets lost or stolen.

Honeycomb has local encryption so presumably the Galaxy Nexus has it too.

OpenVPN is available for Android but you might need root.

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Autowipe

Free remote wipe for Android 2.2 onwards. Also provides for wipe on SIM change, wipe on excessive "password" attempts.

As the other poster says, OpenVPN is at least in progress so AFAIK the only missing ingredient is local encryption.

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Samsung Galaxy S2 has remote tracking/wipe/lock/etc. built in.

Doesn't have local encryption, but there is probably an app for that™

Perhaps TrueCrypt does what you want

There are quite a few apps for openvpn, but you need to root it first (not difficult, there is a one-click option available)

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Any reason

The NSA should be pissing your hard earned tax dollars up the wall on this project?

Unless the object is to secure Android for formal government use (even then why?) then this is a waste of time and money.

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Linux

NSA and US taxes

The NSA doesn't spend mine. The reason they spend US taxpayers' money on this is because they have a responsibility to secure US government systems. That has to include the mobile communications of US government employees, especially those working in sensitive areas. When Linux started being used as a server OS within the US government the NSA realised that securing these systems both legally for the purpose of distributing more secure versions and in the most cost effective manner meant playing within the terms of the GPL license, so they did this by releasing source for SELinux to the wider Linux community. This source release appears to be more of the same. The NSA are also smart enough to know that they can't do all the software integration work in-house to the same standard as if they involve other interested parties.

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Anonymous Coward

My experiences with selinux...

... can be summed up as: Notice weird shit not working, fool around a lot to no avail, finally disable selinux, and all is well again. This was using fedora, and maybe the nsa installing the thing themselves will automagically make it all work properly, I'm sure, but anyhow.

The trouble is always that the only reward you get for making it work properly is at best an unnoticeably slight hit in performance, but the price is that things stop working properly for no good reason until you get it to work just so. This, unfortunately, is inherent in this sort of thing.

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Joke

also comes with...

a free hammer and a small pot of thermite, (data security) and a couple of cyanide capsules (in case you are captured) a couple of throwing stars, a small sheet of tinfoil, and the cool map application that lets you zoom in and say "enhance"

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Tinfoil hats pointed in the wrong direction

If the NSA is going to stick a backdoor into anything, it'll be something closed source that people DO trust, like iOS, some bit of Android that Google "haven't got around to releasing yet", or the operator versions of Android that are deployed OTA.

Sure there may be exploitable vulnerabilities in the NSA version (whether known to them or not), but that is a tractable problem since the source is open for analysis.

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Angel

Released the code?

Lawsuit coming from Oracle in 3... 2... 1...

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Alert

But does it have

mutation strings?

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Seriously?

The NSA, USA's premier signals intelligence organization, wants to install code on my phone to make it more secure?

I'd rather have a farm of satellite dishes, me!

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Facepalm

Please hack me

Boasting about how secure an OS is, is really baiting the bull. I can see every hacker, cracker and two-bit script kiddie doing their utmost to compromise this "hardened" Android simply for the challenge of putting one up the NSA. And since what man can make, man can break, I give it a matter of weeks before someone demonstrates an exploit that blows it wide open!

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Linux

That's exactly what the NSA want you to do

'I can see every hacker, cracker and two-bit script kiddie doing their utmost to compromise this "hardened" Android simply for the challenge of putting one up the NSA.'

But this isn't "putting one up to the NSA", it's helping them test their system. An untested system is insecure, and systems these days are far too complex for their developers to be able to do full testing. We don't have fully secure systems. The most secure ones we have are the very stable long term releases which have been around for long enough for maximum security investigation and testing to have been carried out and published, and bugs found subsequently fixed.

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This post has been deleted by its author

FAIL

No doubt the security has already been blown wide open and a massive loophole/flaw found in the implementation of this super secure version that makes it no more secure or even less secure than bog standard Android. C'mon, you know I'm right! ;)

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Pirate

NSA already added backdoor to FreeBSD

what stops them to add similar into Android source code ??

The peculiarity was that, time taken to notice such backdoor was long and few releases were released for public (many had installed the version with added backdoor)

Android source code is also huge, time to scrutinize each file will take time.

their version: http://seclists.org/fulldisclosure/2010/Dec/669

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Never Say Anything...

I'll tell you a funny thing. NSA have for years published advice on their website on how to secure various types of system, most importantly elements of an Enterprise Windows/AD environment. They do this to help US entities, Government or otherwise, protect themselves, but they have no problem with foreigners making use of this advice as well. It seems to me that their SELinux efforts should be looked at in that light.

And I won't even tell you how polite they were when I rang them about one of their documents at around 0900 Eastern Time on Sept 11th, 2001...

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Coffee/keyboard

STFU & RTFC

RTFC! ala FX 27C3 "Building Custom Disassemblers"

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