Firewall pioneer wanted a 'super-secure' blogging service ... so he's built his own

Bill Cheswick doesn't want to let commercial blogging software within hacking distance of his hardened Web server

Bill Cheswick -- best known for writing "Firewalls and Internet Security" in 1994 and his earlier work at Bell Labs -- doesn't want to let commercial blogging software within hacking distance of his hardened Web server. A self-described Apple fanboy, Cheswick does want to host his own blogs, however, one about his job as lead member of the technical staff at AT&T Research and another about personal stuff, "if I can tell the difference."

We became acquainted last year when I needled him in a post headlined, "Hello, you have reached my iPhone." (More about the iPhone below.) Yesterday Cheswick sent me an e-mail drawing my attention to his new project, which carries this greeting: "Welcome to ... a test blog publication from iWeb. This could be very handy, if I can get it working securely."

Seems he has done so, according to this new post of his and our correspondence:

The issue is this: Most blog software is based on PHP, and most compromised BSD machines are compromised by PHP. It has a dangerous design, and is dangerous to use. I wish to sponsor this software on machines I care about, running Web servers I want to continue to trust. ... My (our) needs are simple: off-line text creation, copy to the Web page, RSS feeds available, no comments or other external write capabilities needed.

You can read more about how he got what he wanted in the July 4 entry of his online diary.

I asked Cheswick to elaborate on why he felt the need to go this route and what he hoped would be the fruits of his labor. Here's his reply:

For any given network service I have two choices these days: I can use a commercial or public service, or I can build it myself.

Twenty years ago there was only one choice, of course, and I tend to like to roll my own in general. It helps me understand the protocols and the issues, and try to build something with a demonstrably high resistance to hacking attack.

Sometimes I do get hung up on this. For example, I had surgery for a rare ankle tendon problem, and wrote it up and ran a mailing list by hand for many years. The list did not work well, but I don't trust the security of the various mailing list software packages on my servers. Finally, I just set up a Yahoo group, and that has been a terrific success. Security and maintenance are their problem, and I can move on, even if I haven't solved the mailing list security configuration question to my satisfaction. As my father used to say, "You can't kiss all the girls."

How about hosting my own Web service vs. using a commercial service? Here there is a problem: I have over 150GB of family photos on our Web server (more than even grandma wants to look through). Hosting gets steep vs. buying another disk at Costco.

More importantly, I really do want to jail my own servers. Belt-and-suspenders is an important security tool, and I have employed it over the years to build highly resistant read-only Web pages. I described the details in the "Firewalls" book.

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Paul McNamara

Network World
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