To avert another Heartbleed, open source group narrows list of projects in need of support

The Core Infrastructure Initiative will have its list of open-source projects ready within a few months

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A group dedicated to averting another Heartbleed-style vulnerability is narrowing down a list of critical open source projects that will receive its funding and support.

The Core Infrastructure Initiative (CII), which was formed last year to identify open-source projects in need of extra support, expects to name the projects that will receive its backing within a few months, said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, which oversees the CII.

The CII was formed after serious vulnerabilities were found last in the widely used OpenSSL security software. The disclosure caused alarm among companies whose applications make use of OpenSSL and might have been put at risk.

Companies are "deeply concerned" about where the next Heartbleed-type vulnerability might appear, Zemlin said. "CEOs are losing their jobs over this," he said.

The group, which is funded by major software vendors, will spend $2 million a year over the next three years, Zemlin said. The money will be used to support open source projects that might otherwise lack the resources to ensure their code is secure and well supported.

When CII launched, it was relatively easy to pick the applications in need of immediate attention, such as OpenSSL, which is widely used software for encrypting data exchanged between computers.

The Heartbleed flaw in OpenSSL, which could allow eavesdroppers to spy on data, triggered an awareness that some of the most widely used software on the web is in need of more support for better security. CII has also looked at SSH (Secure Shell), NTP (Network Time Protocol) and GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG).

GnuPG, used for encrypting email and signing software packages, was highlighted by a ProPublica story last week as an example of a struggling yet critical open-source project.

After the story appeared, its German developer Werner Koch received at least $137,000 in donations to continue his work, along with $50,000-a-year commitments from Facebook and online payment processor Stripes. CII also provided a $60,000 grant.

The challenge now is to figure out the next batch of projects to examine, Zemlin said. It's a complex process that takes into account factors such as the dependencies between programs and how a flaw in one component might affect another, Zemlin said.

CII must also carefully partition its financial resources, he said. But fixing critical flaws now can lead to big savings later.

"Relative to spending hundreds of millions of dollars remediating a zero-day, we feel like this is a pretty good bargain," Zemlin said.

OpenSSL's 500,000 lines of code are undergoing a third-party audit, Zemlin said. CII held off doing an audit until now because changes were being made quickly to the code following Heartbleed, he said.

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