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

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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.

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