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Tooling to improve security and trust in GNU Guix
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Tooling to improve security and trust in GNU Guix

[Tooling to improve security and trust in GNU Guix]

GNU Guix is a universal functional package manager and operating system which respects the freedom of computer users. It focuses on boostrappability and reproducibility to give the users strong guarantees on the integrity of the full software stack they are running. It supports atomic upgrades and roll-backs which make for an effectively unbreakable system. This project aims to automate software vulnerability scanning of packaged software to protect users against possibly dangerous code.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

When you start up your computer, you will probably think twice before you download some random piece of software from the internet and run it. You know that doing so could allow unwelcome guests to your computer and your data. Your computer might even end up in a bot net. So when you see some nice piece of software, you will ask yourself the question: can I really trust the software? Perhaps you will check the origin it comes from. Better safe than sorry.

Did you miss checking something, though? What about the software that is already on your computer before you started? A computer is not of much use without an operating system. While most computers are sold with an operating system, actually you have the choice to remove that and install something different. Have you thought about the trustworthiness of that fundamental piece of software - your most fundamental travel companion on the wild west of the internet? Trustworthiness is essential. When an operating system has a so called 'back door' (either intentionally or not), someone could extract whatever user data - like personal pictures or home movies - from your computer. And the worse thing: without you ever finding out. The operating system guards all the other software, and warns you when you install software from the internet. But itself, it doesn't have to ask for permission. Ever. It doesn't just have "access all areas": in fact, it runs the whole show.

With commercial software like Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X that you get delivered when you buy a computer, trust in what their closed operating system does will of course always be a leap of faith: as a user you essentially are given no choice. In proprietary systems you do not have the freedom to study the source code, or to control what really happens. So you either trust the vendor, or you'd better not use it. For an increasing amount of people, after the revelations from whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, that "leap of faith" is not so obvious anymore. They prefer to use free and open source operating systems like GNU Linux, FreeBSD and OpenBSD. These are technology commons: the people that wrote the software allow you to inspect the source code. Even more so, they give you the source code to do anything with it that you like. So you don't just blindly have to take their word for it and trust them, you can take matters into your own hands.

One step beyond transparent source code is transparent running code. After all, most software is distributed pre-compiled with no method to confirm whether the binary code you have installed on your system is actually identical to the thoroughly vetted source code. GNU Guix is a package manager and operating system that can guarantee such reproducible builds, proving that no vulnerabilities or backdoors were introduced and the software you are using (for potentially vital services or for handling sensitive data) is certifiably trustworthy.

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This project was funded through the NGI0 Discovery Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825322. Applications are still open, you can apply today.