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Re: Limiting the power of packages

On 03.10.2018 19:19, Lars Wirzenius wrote:

> Sometimes what they do is an unwelcome surprise to the user. For
> example, the Microsoft Skype .deb and the Google Chrome .deb add to
> the APT sources lists and APT accepted signing keys. Some users do not
> realise this, and are unpleasantly surprise.


> (Note that I'm not saying Microsoft or Google are doing something
> nefarious here: 

But I do think that. If they really wanted to do that in a reasonably
secure and safe way (assuming they're not completely incompetent),
they'd split off the sources.list part from the actual package (there're
many good ways to do that), and added proper pinning to reduce the
attack surface.

And they would have talked to the Distros about a proper process of
bringing Skype into Distro repos.

OTOH, considering the tons of other bugs and design flaws, I'm not
really sure whether they're nefarious or incompetent, maybe a mix of
both ...

> they're trying to make sure security updates for their
> packages will be deployed to user's system; this seems like a worthy
> goal. But it's a surprise to some users.)

The goal is nice, but that's what Distros are for. But it's always
the same since aeons: commercial vendors tend to work against the

> I don't think it's good enough to say the user shouldn't install
> third-party packages. 

Actually, I do think so (unless the user knows exactly what he does).
It's not about proprietary software in general - this can (and is)
also handled by Distros. But the Distro (or some other neutral
project, that provides an extra repo) is needed as quality gate.

> It's not even good enough to say the user should
> use flatpaks or snaps instead: not everything can be packaged that
> way. Debian's own packages can have equally unwelcome surprises.

Haven't really looked deeper into flatpak, but I'm doing a lot with
docker and lxc containers.

As those proprietary vendors tend to be completely overstrained with
the whole concept of package management (no idea why, but I've seen
this a thousand times w/ my clients), it seems to be the most pragmatic
solution to put everything into strictly isolated containers.

Those packages are only few special cases anyways. (for the average
end-user I don't see much more candidates besides Skype, but there's
still a lot very special business applications each having a petty tiny
user base).

That way, the vendors could just pick some minimal base system (maybe
apline or devuan based) and step by step learn how to use package
management, in their own confined microcosmos. At least they wouldn't
have to cope w/ many different distros, as long as they haven't
understood the whole concept behind (if they did, it would be pretty
trivial for them, and we wouldn't need this this discussion).

> Imagine a package that accidentally removes /var, but only under
> specific conditions. You'd hope that Debian's testing during a release
> cycle would catch that, but there's not guarantee it will. (That's a
> safety issue more than a security issue.)

Did this ever happen ? Why should anybody write such things into a
maintainer script in the first place ?

> A suggestion: we restrict where packages can install files and what
> maintainer scripts can do. The default should be as safe as we can
> make it, and packages that need to do things not allowed by the
> default should declare they that they intend to do that.

Rebuild flatpak+friends ?

Point is: maintainer scripts can do anything they want.

What we can (and should) do is doing most things in a purely declarative
way - at deployment time, instead of autogenerating mnt scripts or
calling predefined functions - so we can concentrate on more careful
reviews of the remaining special cases.

By the way: at lot of the demand for mnt scripts, IMHO, comes from
upstream's bad sw architecture (interestingly, GUI stuff again tends
to be the ugliest area). Usually, good packages should be fine with just
unpacking some files into proper places.

> This could be done, for example, by having each package labelled with
> an installation profile, which declares what the package intends to do
> upon installation, upgrade, or removal.

Who defines these labels ? The packager ? Is there any extra quality
gate (before the user) ?

> * default: install files in /usr only

That's bad enough, if the package is of bad quality or even malicious.

Finally, I'd really like to reduce complexity, not introduce even more.


Enrico Weigelt, metux IT consult
Free software and Linux embedded engineering
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