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iterm2, tmux and the ever-present security

Being a freelance consultant I worry a lot. I worry that I might lose or misplace my laptop or worse that it falls into the hands of someone with less than honorable intentions. Of course you might also install a trojan, be attacked by a virus through multiple vectors.

As a result my clients' secret sauce falls into the wrong hands; or maybe my family's private information is leaked like credit cards or SSN.

This and far worse is possible. Unfortunately there are no absolutes. Not even if you built your OS and applications from scratch. First of all there is not enough time to code review everything you'd need. You are probably not a programmer and if you are there is only a slim chance that you can code everything from a video device driver to a web server and a word processor. (there are only a few on the planet and I'm certainly not one of them).

So the best way to protect yourself is a layered approach.

  • Pay for your hardware from somewhere reputable; HP, Dell, Apple.

  • Pay for your operating system or at least get it from a source with a profit motive. Red Hat, Fedora, Ubuntu, CentOS, Microsoft or Apple.

  • When you are installing Free software. Look for the profit motive. If you find one then it might be safe. If not then avoid it and look for one to pay for. OpenOffice is a good choice because it was once part of Sun but before that it might have been questionable.

  • The same can be said for websites, RSS feeds, torrents and so on.

  • And have some checks and balances. For example I use little snitch and Apple's firewall software to make sure that applications running on my computer do not have random access to the internet.

The profit motive is a strong magnet. It's what drives the thieves and it's also what will protect you.

So as I sit here playing with iTerm2, which I have been using for a long while, and tmux and I'm starting to get a case of butterflies. I'm confident that these programmers are good and lawful but I don't know them personally. The fact that one of them could put in a key logger and then stream that data to their servers make me sick. (hopefully little snitch will catch it but it's not foolproof.)

Anyway, practice safe computing.


  1. Thanks for the plug on using a "layered approach". It's easy to put all our eggs in one basket sometimes.

    Let me take this moment to say, "I know you probably know OpenBSD's reputation well", because you list it in your "recent focuses" list on your resume. So, the information below is just included for anyone else who happens across my comment. Also, know that I revere you and your prestigious reputation.(I know, I was certainly never an AIX developer.)

    I feel that your trust in a profit motive may be misplaced. Consider your current fear of "tmux". "tmux is part of the OpenBSD base system".( As a part of the base system, tmux now undergoes a security audit by the OpenBSD security team.(It now gets more security attention than much of the "commercial" software that people use.) OpenBSD is an ideal example of a project that writes secure and open software because they want something to work well, and not because they want to make money or because they want to sneak in malicious code. As a result of their decision to be "number one in the industry for security", OpenBSD is unarguably more secure than popular commercial Operating Systems.

    Also, consider how Linux systems are developed. First, every distribution is made up of packages that are developed by varied organizations or individuals.(Most of which do not have a profit motive.) As an example, most Linux systems are, actually, GNU/Linux systems. Meaning, much of their userland comes from the GNU project.(Like gnucoreutils. -- ls, cd, mv, bash, etc.) GNU does not have a profit motive, but some of their software is in every Linux distribution.(Even RedHat and Ubuntu.) Then, Ubuntu itself is just a modified version of Debian GNU/Linux.(Debian is another project that does not have a profit motive.)

    Finally, we look at some commercial software. Mac OS X uses many pieces of open source software, such as: Bash, postfix, apache, GCC (if you have developer tools installed), python, ruby, perl, dovecot, openssh, sudo, etc. Infact, most of the command-line userland is made up of open source software that they pull in from other sources. (

    I agree that we should be cautious about what software we choose to install. Even with open source software we should either verify it is from an organization we trust(GNU, Apache, etc), verify that it has been distributed to us by an organization that we trust (Apple, Ubuntu, Debian, OpenBSD), or admit that we are taking a risk. But, a fear of software without a profit margin appears to be irrational.

    Long statement short, "use tmux with confidence", and "thank you for the interesting blog posts."

  2. Certainly something to think about. Thank you for your opinion.


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