CRob on Software Security Education and SIRTs
Dan Whiting | 27 July 2022
In the Open Source Software Security Mobilization Plan released this past May, the very first stream – of the 10 recommended – is to “Deliver baseline secure software development education and certification to all.”
As the plan states, it is rare to find a software developer who receives formal training in writing software securely. The plan advocates that a modest amount of training – from 10 to ideally 40-50 hours – could make a significant difference in developer contributions to more secure software from the beginning of the software development life cycle. The Linux Foundation now offers a free course, Developing Secure Software, which is 15 hours of training across 3 modules (security principles, implementation considerations & software verification).
The plan proposes, “bringing together a small team to iterate and improve such training materials so they can be considered industry standard, and then driving demand for those courses and certifications through partnerships with educational institutions of all kinds, coding academies and accelerators, and major employers to both train their own employees and require certification for job applicants.”
Also in the plan is Stream 5 to, “Establish the OpenSSF Open Source Security Incident Response Team, security experts who can step in to assist open source projects during critical times when responding to a vulnerability.” They are a small team of professional software developers, vetted for security and trained on the specifics of language and frameworks being used by that OSS project. 30-40 experts would be available to go out in teams of 2-3 for any given crisis.
Christopher “CRob” Robinson is instrumental to the concepts behind, and the implementation of, both of these recommendations. He is the Director of Security Communications at Intel Product Assurance and also serves on the OpenSSF Technical Advisory Committee. At Open Source Summit North America, he sat down with TechStrong TV host Alan Shimel to talk about the origin of his nickname and, more importantly, software security education and the Open Source Product Security Incident Response Team (PSIRT) – streams 1 and 5 in the Plan. Here are some key takeaways:
- I’ve been with the OpenSSF for over two years, almost from the beginning. And currently I am the working group lead for the Developer Best Practices Working Group and the Vulnerability Disclosures Working Group. I sit on the Technical Advisory Committee. We help kind of shape, steer the strategy for the Foundation. I’m on the Public Policy and Government Affairs Committee. And I’m just now the owner of two brand new SIGs, special interest groups, underneath the working group. So I’m in charge of the Education SIG and the Open Source Cert SIG. We’re going to create a PSIRT for open source.
- The idea is to try to find a collection of experts from around the industry that understand how to do incident response and also understand how to get things fixed within open source communities. . . I think, ultimately, it’s going to be kind of a mentorship program for upstream communities to teach them how to do incident response. We know and help them work with security researchers and reporters and also help make sure that they’ve got tools and processes in place so they can be successful.
- A lot of the conference this week is talking about how we need to get more training and certification and education into the hands of developers. We’ve created another kind of Tiger team, and we’re gonna be focusing on this. And my friend, Dr. David Wheeler, he had a big announcement where we have existing body of material, the secure coding fundamentals class, and he was able to transform that into SCORM. So now anybody who has a SCORM learning management system has the ability to leverage this free developer secure software training on their internal learning management systems.
- We have a lot of different learners. We have brand new students, we have people in the middle of their careers, people are making career changes. We have to kind of serve all these different constituents.
Of course, he had a lot more to say. You can watch the full interview, including how CRob got his nickname, and read the transcript below.
Alan Shimel 00:06
Hey, everyone back here live in Austin at the Linux Foundation Open Source Summit. You know, we’ve had a very security-heavy lineup this past week. And for good reason, security is top of mind to everyone. The OpenSSF. Of course, Monday was OpenSSF day, but it’s more than that. More than Monday, we really talked a lot about software supply chains and SBOMs and just securing open source software. My next guest is CGrove or CRbn? No, no, you know, I had CRob in my mind, and that’s what messed me up. Let’s go back to Crob. Excuse me. Now check this out a little thing myself. So Crob was actually the emcee of OpenSSF day on Monday.
I had an amazing hat. You did. And you didn’t wear it here. I came from outside with tacos, and it was all sweaty.
Alan Shimel 01:08
We just have two bald guys here. Anyway,
safety in numbers.
Alan Shimel 01:15
Well, yeah, that’s true. It’s true. Wear the hat next time. But anyway, first of all, welcome, man. Thank you.
It’s wonderful to be here. I’m excited to have this little chat.
Alan Shimel 01:24
We are excited to have you on here. So before we jump into Monday, and OpenSSF day, in that whole thing, you’re with Intel, full disclosure, what do you do in your day job.
So my day job, I am the Director of Security Communications. So primarily our function is as incidents happen, so there’s a new vulnerability discovered, or researchers find some report on our portfolio, I help kind of evaluate that and kind of determine how we’re going to communicate it.
Alan Shimel 01:56
Love it, and your role within OpenSSF?
So I’ve been with the OpenSSF for over two years, almost from the beginning. And currently I am the working group lead for the developer best practices working group and the vulnerability disclosures working group. I sit on the technical advisory committee, so we help kind of shape, steer the strategy for the foundation. I’m on the Public Policy and Government Affairs Committee. And I’m just now the owner of two brand new SIGs, special interest groups underneath the working group. So I’m in charge of the education SIG, and the open source cert SIG. So we’re going to create a PSIRT for open source.
Alan Shimel 02:38
That’s beautiful man. That is really and let’s talk about that SIRT. Yeah, it’ll be through Linux Foundation.
Unknown Speaker 02:47
Yeah, we are still. So back in May the foundation and some contributors created the mobilization plan. I’m sure people have talked about it this week. 10 point plan addressing trying to help respond to things like the White House executive order. And it’s a plan that says these 10 different work streams we feel we can improve the security posture of open source software. And the open source SIRT was stream five. And the idea is to try to find a collection of experts from around the industry that understand how to do incident response, and also understand how to get things fixed within open source communities.
So we’re we have our first meeting for the SIG the first week of July. And we’re going to try to refine the initial plan and kind of spec it out and see how we want to react. But I think ultimately, it’s going to be kind of a mentorship program for upstream communities to teach them how to do incident response. We know and help them work with security researchers and reporters, and also help make sure that they’ve got tools and processes in place so they can be successful.
Alan Shimel 03:56
I love it. Yeah. Let’s be honest, this is a piece of work you cut out for yourself.
Unknown Speaker 04:04
Yes, one of my other groups I work with is a group called First, the Form of Incident Response and Security Teams. And I’m one of the authors of the PSIRT services framework. So I have a little help. So I understand that you got a vendor back on that, right? Yeah, we’re gonna lean into that as kind of a model to start with, and kind of see what we need to change to make it work for open source communities.
Alan Shimel 04:27
I actually love that good thing. When do you think we might see something on this? No pressure.
Unknown Speaker 04:32
No pressure? Oh, definitely. The meetings will be public. So all of that will go up into YouTube. So you’ll be able to observe kind of the progress of the group. I expect we’re going to take probably at least a month to refine the current plan and submit a proposal back to the governing board. We think this is actionable. So hopefully before the end of the year, maybe late fall, we’ll actually be able to start taking action.
Alan Shimel 04:57
All right. Love it. Love it. Gotta ask you, Where does the name come from?
Unknown Speaker 05:03
So the name comes from Novell GroupWise. So back in the day, our network was run by an HP VAX. But our email system plugged into the VAX and you were limited by the characters of your name. So my name Chris Robinson. So his first little first letter, first name, next seven of your last, so I ended up being Crobinsoe. And we hired a developer that walked in, he looked at it, and he’s like, ah, Crobinso the chromosome, right? Got shortened to Crob.
Alan Shimel 05:36
Okay, not very cool. So thank you. Not Crob. That’s right. Thank you Novell is right. That was very interesting days. Remember.
Unknown Speaker 05:45
I love that stuff. I was Novell engineer for many years.
Alan Shimel 05:49
That’s when certs really meant something certified Novell. You are? Yeah. Where are they now? See, I think the last time I was out in Utah. Now I was I think it was 2005. I was out in Utah, they would do if there was something they were working on.
Unknown Speaker 06:14
They bought SUSE. And we thought that that would be pretty amazing to kind of incorporate this Novell had some amazing tools. Absolutely. So we thought that would be really awesome than the NDS was the best. But we were hoping that through SUSE they be able to channel these tools and get broader adoption.
Alan Shimel 06:30
No, I think for whatever reason. There’s a lot of companies from back in those days, right, that we think about, indeed, Yeah. Anyway,
Unknown Speaker 06:45
My other working group. So we have more, but wait, there’s more, we have more. So the developer best practices working group is spinning off and education sake. So a lot of the conference this week is talking about how we need to get more training and certification and education into the hands of developers. So again, we’ve created another kind of Tiger team, are we’re gonna be focusing on this. And my friend, Dr. David Wheeler, David A. Wheeler, he had a big announcement where we have existing body of material, the secure coding fundamentals class, and he was able to transform that into SCORM. So now that anybody who has a SCORM learning management system has the ability to leverage this free developer secure software training, really, yes.
Alan Shimel 07:35
And that’s the SCORM. system. If you have SCORM, you can leverage this.
Unknown Speaker 07:39
free, there’s some rules behind it. But yeah, absolutely. It’s plugged in, we’re looking to get that donated to higher education, historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), trade schools like DeVry, wherever
Alan Shimel 07:52
Get it into people’s hands. That’s the thing to do. So that get that kind of stuff gets me really excited. I’ll be honest with you, you know, all too often, we’re good in the tech industry for forming a foundation and, and a SIG and an advisory board. But rubber meets the road, when you can teach people coming up. Right, so they come in with the right habits, because you know, it’s harder to teach the old dogs, the new tricks, right.
I can’t take the class. I know the brains full.
Alan Shimel 08:26
Yeah, no, I hear you. But no, but not only that, look, if you’ve been developing software for 25 years, and I’m gonna come and tell you, Well, what you doing is wrong. And I need you to start doing it this way. Now, I’m gonna make some progress. Because no one wants to say I know everything. And I’m not changing. People don’t just say that. But it’s just almost subconsciously, it’s a lot harder.
Unknown Speaker 08:51
It definitely is. And that’s kind of informing our approach. So we have a traditional, about 20 hours worth of traditional class material. So we’re looking at how we can transform that material into things like webinars and podcasts, and maybe a boot camp. So maybe next year, at the Open Source Summit, we might be able to offer a training class where you walk in, take the class, and walk out with a certification.
And then thinking about, you know, we have a lot of different learners. We have, you know, brand new students, we have people in the middle of their careers, people are making career changes. So we have to kind of serve all these different constituents. And that’s absolutely true. And that is one of the problems. Kind of the user journeys we’re trying to fulfill is this. I’m an existing developer, how do I gain new skills or refine what I have?
Alan Shimel 09:40
Let me ask you a question. So, I come from the security side of that. Nothing the matter with putting the emphasis on developers developing more secure software. But shouldn’t we also be developing for security people to better secure open source software.
And the foundation itself does have many, it’s multipronged. And so to help like a practitioner, we have things like our scorecard and all stars. And then we have a project criticality score. And actually, we just I, there was a great session just a couple hours ago, by one of my peers, Jacque Chester, and it was kind of a, if you’re a risk guy, it was kind of based off of Open Fair, which is a risk management methodology, kind of explaining how we can evaluate open source projects, share that information with downstream consumers and risk management teams or procurement teams, and kind of give them a quantitative assessment of this is what risks you could incur by these projects.
So if you have two projects that do the same thing, one might have a higher or lower score will provide you the data that you could make your own assessment off of that and make your own judgment. So that the foundation is also looking at just many different avenues to get this out there, focused on practitioners and developers, and hopefully by this kind of hydraulic approach, it will be successful. It’ll stick.
Alan Shimel 11:07
you know what you just put as much stuff on the wall and whatever sticks sticks man up. So anyway, hey Crob. Right. I got it right. Yep. All right. Thank you for stopping by. So thank you for all you do, right. I mean, it’s a community thing. These are not paid type of gigs, right. Sure. Yeah. No, and I thank you for your for your time and efforts on that.
Thank you very much. All right.
Alan Shimel 11:31
Hey, keep up the great work. We’re gonna take a break. I think we’ve got another interview coming up in a moment. And we’re here live in Austin.
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