Mitigating the problem of limited security support
- Date: Sun, 21 May 2017 16:43:36 +0300
- From: Adrian Bunk <bunk@xxxxxxxxxx>
- Subject: Mitigating the problem of limited security support
Both the jessie release notes  and the draft stretch release notes 
contain the following text:
5.2.1. Security status of web browsers
Debian 9 includes several browser engines which are affected by a steady
stream of security vulnerabilities. The high rate of vulnerabilities and
partial lack of upstream support in the form of long term branches make
it very difficult to support these browsers with backported security
fixes. Additionally, library interdependencies make it impossible to
update to newer upstream releases. Therefore, browsers built upon the
webkit, qtwebkit and khtml engines are included in Stretch, but not
covered by security support. These browsers should not be used against
For general web browser use we recommend Firefox or Chromium.
Chromium - while built upon the Webkit codebase - is a leaf package,
which will be kept up-to-date by rebuilding the current Chromium
releases for stable. Firefox and Thunderbird will also be kept
up-to-date by rebuilding the current ESR releases for stable.
Note how from the headline to the sugested mitigation everything
talks about web *browsers*.
Web browsers other than Firefox or Chromium are rarely used and the
recommendation to use only one of these two is not a big issue in
Other uses of browser engines are the real problem, for example:
1. Which email client is part of the default Debian desktop?
2. Which browser engine does this email client use to render HTML emails?
3. How many CVEs are known to affect the version of this browser
engine in jessie?
As far as I know, the answers are:
3. around 100
For making the limits of security support less hidden,
I would suggest the following:
1. Handle packages without security support better in buster
It is too late for stretch, but for buster the situation should be improved.
Installing Debian should avoid installing any software without security support.
Does it make sense to ship software without security support in stable
releases or would it be better to remove such software?
2. Fix the release notes
The release notes should stop hiding the problem by not mentioning the
worst parts of the problem
I am not good at marketing-speech to make contents like
After installing Debian, it is strongly recommended to
remove all software that is not security-supported.
not sound like a complete embarrassment, someone who is better at that
should suggest a wording.
3. Use Breaks in debian-security-support
It is already recommended in the release notes to install the
debian-security-support package, but that does not make it
very visible when you are about to install packages without
If debian-security-support has Breaks on all packages without full
security support, then package managers like apt will automatically
give information like "installing debian-security-support would
remove the following packages:" or "installing this package will
"Is there not promise of rain?" Ling Tan asked suddenly out
of the darkness. There had been need of rain for many days.
"Only a promise," Lao Er said.
Pearl S. Buck - Dragon Seed