DHS & Your Tax Dollars

[This was originally published on the OSVDB blog.]

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Through its Science and Technology Directorate, the department has given $1.24 million in funding to Stanford University, Coverity and Symantec to hunt for security bugs in open-source software and to improve Coverity’s commercial tool for source code analysis, representatives for the three grant recipients told CNET News.com.

The Homeland Security Department grant will be paid over a three-year period, with $841,276 going to Stanford, $297,000 to Coverity and $100,000 to Symantec, according to San Francisco-based technology provider Coverity, which plans to announce the award publicly on Wednesday.

The project, while generally welcomed, has come in for some criticism from the open-source community. The bug database should help make open-source software more secure, but in a roundabout way, said Ben Laurie, a director of the Apache Foundation who is also involved with OpenSSL. A more direct way would be to provide the code analysis tools to the open-source developers themselves, he said.

So DHS uses $1.24 million dollars to fund a university and two commercial companies. The money will be used to develop source code auditing tools that will remain private. Coverity and Symantec will use the software on open-source software (which is good), but is arguably a huge PR move to help grease the wheels of the money flow. Coverity and Symantec will also be able to use these tools for their customers, which will pay them money for this service.

Why exactly do my tax dollars pay for the commercial development of tools that are not released to the public? As Ben Laurie states, why can’t he get a copy of these tax payer funded tools to run on the code his team develops? Why must they submit their code to a commercial third party for review to get any value from this software?

Given the date of this announcement, coupled with the announcement of Stanford’s PHP-CHECKER makes me wonder when the funds started rolling. There are obviously questions to be answered regarding Stanford’s project (that I already asked). This also makes me wonder what legal and ethical questions should be asked about tax dollars being spent by the DHS, for a university to fund the development of a security tool that could potentially do great good if released for all to use.

It’s too bad there is more than a year long wait for FOIA requests made to the DHS.

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