University of Minnesota banned from contributing to Linux kernel

The University of Minnesota has been banned from contributing to the Linux kernel by one of its maintainers after researchers from the school apparently knowingly submitted code with security flaws.

Earlier this year, two researchers from the university released a paper detailing how they had submitted known security vulnerabilities to the Linux kernel in order to show how potentially malicious code could get through the approval process. Now, after another student from the university submitted code that reportedly does nothing, kernel maintainer and Linux Foundation fellow Greg Kroah-Hartman has released a statement calling for all kernel maintainers to reject any code submissions from anyone using a email address.

In addition to not accepting any new code from the university, all of the code submitted in the past is being removed and re-reviewed. It seems like it will be a massive amount of work, but Kroah-Hartman has made it clear that the developer community doesn’t appreciate “being experimented on” and that all of the code from the university has been called into question due to the research.

The university has put out a statement, saying it’s been made aware of the research and its subsequent ban from contributing. It says it has suspended that line of research and will be investigating how the study was approved and carried out.

In a statement meant to clarify the study, the researchers said they intended to bring attention to issues with the submission process — mainly, the fact that bugs, including ones that were potentially maliciously crafted, could slip through. Kernel developer Laura Abbot countered this in a blog post, saying that the possibility of bugs slipping through is well-known in the open-source software community. In what appears to be a private message, the person who submitted the reportedly nonfunctional code called Kroah-Hartman’s accusations that the code was known to be invalid “wild” and “bordering on slander.”

It’s unclear if that submission — which kicked off the current controversy — was actually part of a research project. The person who submitted it did so with their email address, while the patches submitted in the study were done through random Gmail addresses, and the submitter claimed that the faulty code was created by a tool. Kroah-Hartman’s response basically said that he found it unlikely that a tool had created the code, and, given the research, he couldn’t trust that the patch was made in good faith either way.

There’s been criticism from some in the open-source community, saying that Kroah-Hartman deciding to pull any patches submitted by U of M personal is an overreaction, which could lead to bugs fixed by legitimate patches being reintroduced. It is worth noting, however, that the plan is to re-review the patches and to resubmit them if they’re found to be valid.