Warning message

Log in to add comments.

From There to Here (But Not Back Again)

Vincent Danen published on 2016-10-24T13:30:00+00:00, last updated 2016-10-24T13:48:02+00:00

Red Hat Product Security recently celebrated our 15th anniversary this summer and while I cannot claim to have been with Red Hat for that long (although I’m coming up on 8 years myself), I’ve watched the changes from the “0day” of the Red Hat Security Response Team to today. In fact, our SRT was the basis for the security team that Mandrakesoft started back in the day.

In 1999, I started working for Mandrakesoft, primarily as a packager/maintainer. The offer came, I suspect, because of the amount of time I spent volunteering to maintain packages in the distribution. I also was writing articles for TechRepublic at the time, so I also ended up being responsible for some areas of documentation, contributing to the manual we shipped with every boxed set we sold (remember when you bought these things off the shelf?).

Way back then, when security flaws were few and far between (well, the discovery of these flaws, not the existence of them, as we’ve found much to our chagrin over the years), there was one individual at Mandrakesoft who would apply fixes and release them. The advisory process was ad-hoc at best, and as we started to get more volume it was taking his time away from kernel hacking and so they turned to me to help. Having no idea that this was a pivotal turning point and would set the tone and direction of the next 16 years of my life, I accepted. The first security advisory I released for Linux-Mandrake was an update to BitchX in July of 2000. So in effect, while Red Hat Product Security celebrated 15 years of existence this summer, I celebrated my 16th anniversary of “product security” in open source.

When I look back over those 16 years, things have changed tremendously. When I started the security “team” at Mandrakesoft (which, for the majority of the 8 years I spent there, was a one-man operation!) I really had no idea what the future would hold. It blows my mind how far we as an industry have come and how far I as an individual have come as well. Today it amazes me how I handled all of the security updates for all of our supported products (multiple versions of Mandriva Linux, the Single Network Firewall, Multi-Network Firewall, the Corporate Server, and so on). While there was infrastructure to build the distributions, there was none for building or testing security updates. As a result, I had a multi-machine setup (pre-VM days!) with a number of chroots for building and others for testing. I had to do all of the discovery, the patching, backporting, building, testing, and the release. In fact, I wrote the tooling to push advisories, send mail announcements, build packages across multiple chroots, and more. The entire security update “stack” was written by me and ran in my basement.

During this whole time I looked to Red Hat for leadership and guidance. As you might imagine, we had to play a little bit of catchup many times and when it came to patches and information, it was Red Hat that we looked at primarily (I’m not at all ashamed to state that quite often we would pull patches from a Red Hat update to tweak and apply to our own packages!). In fact, I remember the first time I talked with Mark Cox back in 2004 when we, along with representatives of SUSE and Debian, responded to the claims that Linux was less secure than Windows. While we had often worked well together through cross-vendor lists like vendor-sec and coordinated on embargoed issues and so on, this was the first real public stand by open source security teams against some mud that was being hurled against not just our products, but open source security as a whole. This was one of those defining moments that made me scary-proud to be involved in the open source ecosystem. We set aside competition to stand united against something that deeply impacted us all.

In 2009 I left Mandriva to work for Red Hat as part of the Security Response Team (what we were called back then). Moving from a struggling small company to a much larger company was a very interesting change for me. Probably the biggest change and surprise was that Red Hat had the developers do the actual patching and building of packages they normally maintained and were experienced with. We had a dedicated QA team to test this stuff! We had a rigorous errata process that automated as much as possible and enforced certain expectations and conditions of both errata and associated packages. I was actually able to focus on the security side of things and not the “release chain” and all parts associated with it, plus there was a team of people to work with when investigating security issues.

Back at Mandriva, the only standard we focused on was the usage of CVE. Coming to Red Hat introduced me to the many standards that we not only used and promoted, but also helped shape. You can see this in CVE, and now DWF, OpenSCAP and OVAL, CVRF, the list goes on. Not only are we working to make, and keep, our products secure for our customers, but we apply our expertise to projects and standards that benefit others as these standards help to shape other product security or incident response teams, whether they work on open source or not.

Finally (as an aside and a “fun fact”) when I first started working at Mandrakesoft with open source and Linux, I got a tattoo of Tux on my calf. A decade later, I got a tattoo of Shadowman on the other calf. I’m really lucky to work on things with cool logos, however I’ve so far resisted getting a tattoo of the heartbleed logo!

I sit and think about that initial question that I was asked 16 years ago: “Would you want to handle the security updates?”. I had no idea it would send me to work with the people, places, and companies that I have. No question that there were challenges and more than a few times I’m sure that the internet was literally on fire but it has been rewarding and satisfying. And I consider myself fortunate that I get to work every day with some of the smartest, most creative, and passionate people in open source!

About The Author

rhn-engineering-vdanen's picture

Vincent Danen

Vincent Danen lives in Canada and is a manager within Product Security at Red Hat. He joined Red Hat in February 2009 and has been working within the open source security world since 2002.