Google is spearheading a volunteer workforce it hopes will become the centralized authority for responding to security issues in open source software.
oCERT, short for the open source computer emergency response team, will aim to remediate security vulnerabilities and exploits in a wide range of open source programs by coordinating communication among publishers. According to Google's security blog, the group "will strive to contact software authors with all security reports and aid in debugging and patching, especially in cases where the author, or the reporter, doesn't have a background in security."
Of course, the world is already awash in computer emergency response teams, begging the question: do we really need another one? Johannes Ullrich, CTO for SANS Internet Storm Center, says there could be some overlap with the current US CERT, but he also believes there's room for a group that has a more extensive rolodex of players in the deeply splintered world of open source.
Imagine, if you will, a crucial update being made available in an open source program such as PHP or the GCC Compiler, which are sandwiched into countless other larger programs. Right now, it's sometimes difficult to reach trusted contacts at each of the myriad organizations that use these components. "Putting some manpower behind that, I think, is helpful," Ullrich says.
oCERT is also a good way for Google to give back to an open source community that sometimes feels it doesn't get enough Google love. The Googleplex thrives on customized versions of Linux and MySQL, many of the company's desktops and laptops run a modified version of Ubuntu called Goobuntu and, of course, engineers are busy developing the open source Android for mobile devices. Despite all the benefits, Google submits relatively few changes back into the ecosystem that spawned all these packages, since most licensing agreements generally don't require derivatives to be published if they're not being distributed.
Google's blog post was sparse on details about when the oCERT would go live, who was running it and a contact for people interested in volunteering. We're hoping this isn't the open source equivalent of vaporware.
OK, after that last paragraph, it's fair to say we have egg on our face. We failed to spy this link in the Google post that seems to establish that oCERT is already up and running and, indeed has already issued four advisories. Our thanks to Andrea Barisani, for setting us straight. ®