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Making Recommendations

Exclusive Interview: Going Three Levels Beyond Kernel Rootkits
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Alan: Well, suppose some Internet worm is spreading on the Windows PCs on my network because of some unforeseen bug in the OS, hypervisor, etc. If I’m actively being attacked on one platform, but can’t afford to have a major disruption in services, it seems like having the infrastructure to roll over to a different platform quickly is helpful. Is there a better way to do this?

Joanna: Again, we talk here about DoS mitigation (reliability of the system), not information leak mitigation (information security).

Alan: If you had to make a recommendation: Mac, PC, or Linux? Or do you find them to be equally (in)secure?

Joanna: That would depend on the actual purpose for what this system is to be used. If a really paranoid person or organization asked me for advise on how to prepare a system used for some special security-critical role, then I might go into such extremes as recommending custom-configured Xen that would be making use of things like VT-d for Dom0 disaggregation, TPM and TXT for secured boot, and high isolation through customized DomU partitioning. Each DomU would be running a hardened version of Linux.

For a generic-purpose machine used by mere mortals, though, I would recommend either Windows or Mac. Linux really is behind those two systems when it comes to device support. How would you sync your iPhone on Linux? How about setting up your new 3G network card on a Linux laptop?

All the people who are aesthetically-impaired should probably go for Windows and PC hardware. Others will not want to hear about anything else than a sexy Mac--at the end of the day, it really comes down to aesthetics and nicer GUI experience in my opinion.

No matter whether you chose PC or Mac, I think the only viable solution today is to use some virtualization product in order to implement isolation between various applications (at least between various browsers), as I discussed earlier. An A/V product, at least in the form as we have them today, is a waste of money and resources in my opinion. It has also happened quite a few times in recent years that the kernel components of many A/V programs were buggy and were introducing vulnerabilities to the system they were supposed to protect! I don't use any A/V product on any of my machines (including all the virtual machines). I don't see how an A/V program could offer any increased security over the quite-reasonable-setup I already deployed with the help of virtualization.

Alan: Final question. Even in a study published by the ACM in 2009, there continues to be a gender gap in computer science. What advice do you have for young girls out there who are interested in computer science?

Joanna: I wish I knew the answer. Many research studies suggest that girls (and then women) are worse in science and technology than men because everybody (including women) believe that they should be worse. So, ultimately it comes down to the patriarchal society. Luckily, in so many parts of the world this patriarchal system ("smart and powerful men, and their beautiful and sensitive women") is becoming obsolete, so there is some hope for the future.

Alan: Well, hopefully there will be someone out there reading this interview that will be inspired to pursue her dream. Joanna, thanks a lot for spending the time to chat.

Joanna: My pleasure. And congrats to all those readers who actually managed to read through the whole interview. :)

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