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TheStreet Open House

Open Source Is Becoming a Military Necessity

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- One of the biggest lies told about open source is that it's insecure.

In letting just anyone use your code, that has to include the bad guys. They're bound to find a way to compromise it, the thinking goes.

But that's not the way it works in real life. Having every potential victim working on your neighborhood code watch turns out to deliver more security, not less.

Having everyone who might be the victim of an online break-in organized, finding bugs, writing and testing fixes, constantly improving security tools, works.

Don't believe me? Well, maybe you'll believe the National Security Agency or the Department of Homeland Security. The open source process works for them, too.

For a decade, one of the most popular intrusion prevention and detection systems has been Snort, created by Martin Roesch. But the company he built around that software, Sourcefire, only gives away the basic package. If you need extensions, if you want a more complete system, you have to pay. That code is controlled by Sourcefire.

There is nothing unusual in that. Many open-source businesses create free community and paid "enterprise" editions of their software. This is what Red Hat (RHT) is all about -- you can download Fedora Linux free or buy Red Hat Enterprise Linux. In both cases you get to see the code, but with the paid version you get the support needed to run it professionally.

But this model didn't work with Snort. The Department of Homeland Security, the military, and the NSA could not be "held hostage" to Sourcefire for improvements to the code, or for the specialized suite needed to protect the nation.

So the Department of Homeland Security got together with major contractors and formed their own open source project, the Open Information Security Foundation. OISF has its own intrusion system, called Suricata, whose syntax is based on Snort, so if you are accustomed to one you can use the other.

But Suricata will be a complete system, not just a "sniffer," as intrusion detection products are colloquially known. The whole Suricata suite will be open source.

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