'Cisco heads back to Black Hat with its tail between its legs,' says commentator

* Closed-source software, security and Black Hat - one year later

A year ago at the Black Hat security conference, the issue of security in open-source vs. closed-source software came to a head when a security researcher attempted to present a session on how to hack and take control of Cisco's proprietary IOS software. Cisco's reaction was swift and dramatic, as it sought a court order to stop the session and physically removed all mention of the session from the conference materials. (Cisco and the researcher reached a settlement after the conference.)

Cisco said the discussion violated the company's software copyrights and intellectual property - and the company was well within its rights to defend its valuable software asset.

"That whole incident was kind of symptomatic of the closed-source mentality," says Dave Roberts, vice president of strategy and marketing for Vyatta, which makes an open-source software-based router. This year, Cisco is making amends in buying a platinum sponsorship at the show, coming into the show with a more open attitude.

"Cisco his heading into Black Hat this year kind of with its tail between its legs, and being kind of apologetic about what happened last year," Roberts says.

He does not claim that open-source code is inherently more secure or better written than proprietary software. He says the core difference is that open source pulls back the curtain on software and reveals what's good and bad. This allows a community who cares about the product to have access to it and make it better.

"If anyone wants to study our source code and do a security analysis of it, we'll be more than happy to help and to [apply the results]," Roberts says. "We're not into suing people that are trying to better our systems."

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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