Enterprise Linux Log

Aug 27 2008   8:21PM GMT

Red Hat tight-lipped on breach, but risk appears small

Don Rosenburg Profile: Dkr

Red Hat Inc. has declined to provide additional details on last week’s security breach on some Fedora servers that were illegally accessed. Although Red Hat said it did not believe that the package-signing key used to gain access to Fedora operating systems was compromised, the Raleigh, N.C.-based company issued a new Fedora signing key as a precaution. Fedora is Red Hat’s free operating system where innovations are introduced and tested before they are incorporated into production-ready Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

Related to the Fedora intrusion, Red Hat also announced a breach into a few Open Secure Shell (SSH) security encryption packages for some versions of RHEL 4 and RHEL 5 that are not under the umbrella of a Red Hat network management system. As a precaution, Red Hat issued an updated version of the affected RHEL Open SSH security packages.

No big deal? 
Reaction to the breach is muted at best.

Joe Clabby, a principal at Falmouth, Maine-based Clabby Analytics, said that a new signing key install “could be a real hassle” for a large install base without an automated deployment system, but he didn’t think it was a huge problem. “It’s good they found it and made it public so people can fix it and life goes on,” he said.

Charles King, a principal analyst at Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Inc., agreed.

A security breach is “always disquieting,” he noted, but this one is probably of lesser impact, because most data centers do not run Red Hat exclusively. In one sense, the breach could be viewed as an indicator of Red Hat’s growing success. Hackers generally target only commercially successful distros, King said.

Well-known tech blogger Jason Perlow said that the breach is “standard stuff” that will be remedied quickly because the entire open source community will become engaged in developing a remedy, versus a breach with a proprietary vendor, which could take months to solve the problem.

I suspect that most large Red Hat installs run RHEL rather than Fedora, thus reducing the probable risk to businesses. Nevertheless, as an admittedly impatient journalist wired to ask questions and expect answers, Red Hat’s failure to be more forthcoming about the extent of the breach and the potential impact is disappointing. Users aren’t well served by a limited statement and a wall of silence.

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