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Linus Torvalds: Security is never going to be perfect

Swapnil Bhartiya | Aug. 21, 2015
Linus Torvalds made a surprise appearance at LinuxCon and talked about containers, security, and IoT, among other topics.

Not a huge fan of containers

Jim then moved to some serious topics, including one of the hottest subjects these days: containers and Docker. In fact, looking at the event schedule, you’d think LinuxCon was a container event.

However, Linus seemed as excited about containers as a fish would be about a bicycle. “I am so happy that the kernel tends to be fairly far removed from all these issues, all the buzzwords and all the new technologies,” he said. “We end up being in a situation where we only care about us working on and how people use the kernel. I am so focused on the kernel that I don't even care very much. We see when people need technologies from us to implement all of this, obviously there is c-groups and virtualization, if you do it that way. So we see that side of it. But at the same time, I don't get involved in politics between all the different groups and all the stuff that goes on top of the kernel. And I am really happy I don't have to."

Jim took the cue on buzzwords, saying he wanted to discuss all of them with Linus, including IoT (Internet of things), noting that people often ask, looking at these IoT devices, how small can the kernel actually get?

Honey, I couldn’t shrink the kernel

Linus said he doesn’t feel that there is much scope there. “We traditionally have been in a situation where the kernel didn't have to shrink; it was always the hardware that grew up.” He said that everybody always wished for the kernel to actually shrink. These days, the kernel, with all the modules, is tens of megabytes in size, which is shocking. If you compare it with early days, when it started, the entire kernel was below 1 megabyte and you could load it. He added, "Those times are long gone. I am trying to go back to being a lean and mean IoT machine."

Jim quipped, “Is it because of the article statements?” Linus responded, “No, it's really hard to get rid of unnecessary fat, because as every developer in this room knows, things tend to grow and there are projects doing that realistically. I don't think we will ever go back down to the kind of size where we were 20 years ago. We can certainly grow smaller, not shrink. But I do suspect that if you want us to work on really small devices, you will have to end up with other alternatives."

At odds with security

Linus is not known for being a huge fan of the security community — not that he doesn’t care about security; he does. The reason he is often at odds with the security community is because “the security community tends to be very black and white. Either it's security or it's not. And if it is security, they care deeply. And if it is not, they don't care."

 

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