Jerrold Leichter wrote:
>|> *Any* secure computing kernel that can do
>|> the kinds of things we want out of secure computing kernels, can also
>|> do the kinds of things we *don't* want out of secure computing kernels.

David Wagner wrote:
>| It's not hard to build a secure kernel that doesn't provide any form of
>| remote attestation, and almost all of the alleged harms would go away if
>| you remove remote attestation.  In short, you *can* have a secure kernel
>| without having all the kinds of things we don't want.

Jerrold Leichter wrote:
>The question is not whether you *could* build such a thing - I agree, it's
>quite possible.  The question is whether it would make enough sense that it
>would gain wide usage.  I claim not.

Good.  I'm glad we agree that one can build a remote kernel without
remote attestation; that's progress.  But I dispute your claim that remote
attestation is critical to securing our machines.  As far as I can see,
remote attestation seems (with some narrow exceptions) pretty close to
worthless for the most common security problems that we face today.

Your argument is premised on the assumption that it is critical to defend
against attacks where an adversary physically tampers with your machine.
But that premise is wrong.

Quick quiz: What's the dominant threat to the security of our computers?
It's not attacks on the hardware, that's for sure!  Hardware attacks
aren't even in the top ten.  Rather, our main problems are with insecure
software: buffer overruns, configuration errors, you name it.

When's the last time someone mounted a black bag operation against
your computer?  Now, when's the last time a worm attacked your computer?
You got it-- physical attacks are a pretty minimal threat for most users.

So, if software insecurity is the primary problem facing us, how does
remote attestation help with software insecurity?  Answer: It doesn't, not
that I can see, not one bit.  Sure, maybe you can check what software is
running on your computer, but that doesn't tell you whether the software
is any good.  You can check whether you're getting what you asked for,
but you have no way to tell whether what you asked for is any good.

Let me put it another way.  Take a buggy, insecure application, riddled
with buffer overrun vulnerabilities, and add remote attestation.  What do
you get?  Answer: A buggy, insecure application, riddled with buffer
overrun vulnerabilities.  In other words, remote attestation doesn't
help if your trusted software is untrustworthy -- and that's precisely
the situation we're in today.  Remote attestation just doesn't help with
the dominant threat facing us right now.

For the typical computer user, the problems that remote attestation solves
are in the noise compared to the real problems of computer security
(e.g., remotely exploitable buffer overruns in applications).  Now,
sure, remote attestation is extremely valuable for a few applications,
such as digital rights management.  But for typical users?  For most
computer users, rather than providing an order of magnitude improvement
in security, it seems to me that remote attestation will be an epsilon
improvement, at best.

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