Kenneth van Wyk: Lingering faults with security by default

The out-of-the-box security settings for Apple's new iPhone 5S are just the latest example

Become An Insider

Sign up now and get FREE access to hundreds of Insider articles, guides, reviews, interviews, blogs, and other premium content. Learn more.

It seems that every time we take a step toward better security by default, we end up taking one or two back just a short while later. Take the iPhone 5S. It's got that fingerprint scanner, betokening renewed attention being paid to security. But it also has what I'd have to call reckless out-of-the-box security configurations.

Let me give you a bit of context. My first encounter with the security-by-default wars was way back in the early 1990s, when Sun Microsystems famously and consistently delivered its systems with a "+" in their /etc/hosts.equiv files.

What's the big deal? Well, that little "+" resulted in every default-configured Sun machine trusting (for remote logins and file system mounts) the entire network to which it was connected. To exacerbate the problem, in those largely firewall-free days of the Internet, it meant that a default-configured Sun ended up "trusting" the entire Internet.

Many a novice systems administrator learned that lesson the hard way. Virtually every checklist or guide to securing a Sun started with a step 1: Delete the "+" in the /etc/hosts.equiv file.

Yet Sun continued to deliver version after version with this problem. It took thousands of break-ins before Sun eventually relented and fixed the default configuration.

What was Sun thinking? It turned out that trusting the entire "local" network made configuring a system a lot easier for systems administrators, which in turn resulted in fewer calls to Sun's tech support hotline.

To continue reading this article register now

5 collaboration tools that enhance Microsoft Office
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon