Linux, politics, and other interesting things
My previous post titled AppArmor is Dead  has inspired a number of reactions. Some of them have been unsubstantiated opinions, well everyone has an opinion so this doesn’t mean much. I believe that opinions of experts matter more, Crispin responded to my post and made some reasonable points  (although I believe that he is overstating the ease of use case). I take Crispin’s response a lot more seriously than most of the responses because of his significant experience in commercial computer security work. The opinion of someone who has relevant experience in the field in question matters a lot more than the opinion of random computer users!
Finally there is the issue of facts. Of the people who don’t agree with me, Crispin seems to be the first to acknowledge that Novell laying off AppArmor developers and adding SE Linux support are both bad signs for AppArmor. The fact that Red Hat and Tresys have been assigning more people to SE Linux development in the same time period that SUSE has been laying people off AppArmor development seems to be a clear indication of the way that things are going.
One thing that Crispin and I understand is the amount of work involved in maintaining a security system. You can’t just develop something and throw it to the distributions. There is ongoing work required in tracking kernel code changes, and when there is application support there is also a need to track changes to application code (and replacements of system programs). Also there is a need to add new features. Currently the most significant new feature development in SE Linux is related to X access controls – this is something that every security system for Linux needs to do (currently none of them do it). It’s a huge amount of work, but the end result will be that compromising one X client that is running on your desktop will not automatically grant access to all the other windows.
The CNET article about Novell laying off the AppArmor developers  says ‘“An open-source AppArmor community has developed. We’ll continue to partner with this community,” though the company will continue to develop aspects of AppArmor‘ and attributes that to Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry.
Currently there doesn’t seem to be an AppArmor community, the Freshmeat page for AppArmor still lists Crispin as the owner and has not been updated since 2006 , it also links to hosting on Novell’s site. The Wikipedia page for AppArmor also lists no upstream site other than Novell .
The AppArmor development list hosted by SUSE is getting less than 10 posts per month recently . The AppArmor general list had a good month in January with a total of 23 messages (including SPAM) , but generally gets only a few messages a month.
The fact that Crispin is still listed as the project leader  says a lot about how the project is managed at Novell!
So the question is, how can AppArmor’s prospects be improved? A post on linsec.ca notes that Mandriva is using AppArmor, getting more distribution support would be good , but the most important thing in that regard will be contributing patches back and dedicating people to do upstream work (Red Hat does a huge amount of upstream development for SE Linux and a significant portion of my Debian work goes upstream).
It seems to me that the most important thing is to have an active community. Have a primary web site (maybe hosted by Novell, maybe SourceForge or something else) that is accurate and current. Have people giving talks about AppArmor at conferences to promote it to developers. Then try to do something to get some buzz about the technology, my SE Linux Play Machines inspired a lot of interest in the SE Linux technology . If something similar was done with AppArmor then it would get some interest.
I’m not interested in killing AppArmor (I suspect that Crispin’s insinuations were aimed at others). If my posts on this topic inspire more work on AppArmor and Linux security in general then I’m happy. As Crispin notes the real enemy is his employer (he doesn’t quite say that – but it’s my interpretation of his post).