IBM announced today that it would throw another billion at Linux, the open-source operating system, to run its Power System servers.
The first time it had thrown a billion at Linux was in 2001, when Linux was a crazy, untested, even ludicrous proposition for the corporate world. So the moolah back then didn’t go to Linux itself, which was free, but to related technologies across hardware, software, and service, including things like sales and advertising – and into IBM’s partnership with Red Hat which was developing its enterprise operating system, Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
“It helped start a flurry of innovation that has never slowed,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. IBM claims that the investment would “help clients capitalize on big data and cloud computing with modern systems built to handle the new wave of applications coming to the data center in the post-PC era.” Some of the moolah will be plowed into the Power Systems Linux Center in Montpellier, France, which opened today. IBM’s first Power Systems Linux Center opened in Beijing in May.
IBM may be trying to make hay of the ongoing revelations that have shown that the NSA and other intelligence organizations in the US and elsewhere have roped in American tech companies of all stripes with huge contracts to perfect a seamless spy network. They even include physical aspects of surveillance, such as license plate scanners and cameras, which are everywhere [read…. Surveillance Society: If You Drive, You Get Tracked].
Then another boon for IBM. Experts at the German Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BIS) determined that Windows 8 is dangerous for data security. It allows Microsoft to control the computer remotely through a “special surveillance chip,” the wonderfully named Trusted Platform Module (TPM), and a backdoor in the software – with keys likely accessible to the NSA and possibly other third parties, such as the Chinese. Risks: “Loss of control over the operating system and the hardware” [read…. LEAKED: German Government Warns Key Entities Not To Use Windows 8 – Links The NSA.
Governments and companies overseas paid rapt attention. They’re big customers of our American tech heroes – and they’re having second thoughts, and some are cancelling orders. Tech companies are feeling the heat. A debacle IBM apparently decided not to let go to waste.
IBM, which has long known about the purposeful security issues of Windows 8 machines, has banished them from desks where certain sensitive work is done. These employees, classed as “Privileged,” are required to run Red Hat Linux as operating system on their laptops or desktops. And if they must use applications that run only on Windows, they have to get special permission. Then they have to run Windows 7 – not Windows 8 – as a virtual guest on top of the Linux operating system. IBM’s stated reasons: stability, security, protection from viruses, and reduced risk of remote takeover of the computer.
It would be an enormous competitive advantage for an IBM salesperson to walk into a government or corporate IT department and sell Big Data servers that don’t run on Windows, but on Linux. With the Windows 8 debacle now in public view, IBM salespeople don’t even have to mention it. In the hope of stemming the pernicious revenue decline their employer has been suffering from, they can politely and professionally hype the security benefits of IBM’s systems and mention in passing the comforting fact that some of it would be developed in the Power Systems Linux Centers in Montpellier and Beijing.
Alas, Linux too is tarnished. The backdoors are there, though the code can be inspected, unlike Windows code. And then there is Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux), which was integrated into the Linux kernel in 2003. It provides a mechanism for supporting “access control” (a backdoor) and “security policies.” Who developed SELinux? Um, the NSA – which helpfully discloses some details on its own website (emphasis mine):
The results of several previous research projects in this area have yielded a strong, flexible mandatory access control architecture called Flask. A reference implementation of this architecture was first integrated into a security-enhanced Linux® prototype system in order to demonstrate the value of flexible mandatory access controls and how such controls could be added to an operating system. The architecture has been subsequently mainstreamed into Linux and ported to several other systems, including the Solaris™ operating system, the FreeBSD® operating system, and the Darwin kernel, spawning a wide range of related work.
Among a slew of American companies who contributed to the NSA’s “mainstreaming” efforts: Red Hat.
And IBM? Like just about all of our American tech heroes, it looks at the NSA and other agencies in the Intelligence Community as “the Customer” with deep pockets, ever increasing budgets, and a thirst for technology and data. Which brings us back to Windows 8 and TPM. A decade ago, a group was established to develop and promote Trusted Computing that governs how operating systems and the “special surveillance chip” TPM work together. And it too has been cooperating with the NSA. The founding members of this Trusted Computing Group, as it’s called facetiously: AMD, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, and Wave Systems. Oh, I almost forgot … and IBM.
And so IBM might not escape, despite its protestations and slick sales presentations, the suspicion by foreign companies and governments alike that its Linux servers too have been compromised – like the cloud products of other American tech companies.