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Linux bans University of Minnesota for sending buggy patches in the name of research [Update]

Greg Kroah-Hartman, who is one of the head honchos of the Linux kernel development and maintenance team, has banned the University of Minnesota (UMN) from further contributing to the Linux Kernel. The University had apparently introduced questionable patches into the kernel of Linux.

The UMN had worked on a research paper dubbed "On the Feasibility of Stealthily Introducing Vulnerabilities in Open-Source Software via Hypocrite Commits". Obviously, the "Open-Source Software" (OSS) here is indicating the Linux kernel and the University had stealthily introduced Use-After-Free (UAF) vulnerability to test the susceptibility of Linux. So far so good perhaps as one can view it as ethical experimenting.

However, the UMN apparently sent another round of "obviously-incorrect patches" into the kernel in the form of "a new static analyzer" causing distaste to Greg Kroah-Hartman who has now decided to ban the University from making any further contributions.

Here's the exchange between Aditya Pakki, who is a Ph.D. student of Computer Science and Engineering at UMN, and Greg Kroah-Hartman. Pakki had written:


I respectfully ask you to cease and desist from making wild accusations that are bordering on slander.

These patches were sent as part of a new static analyzer that I wrote and it's sensitivity is obviously not great. I sent patches on the hopes to get feedback. We are not experts in the linux kernel and repeatedly making these statements is disgusting to hear.

Obviously, it is a wrong step but your preconceived biases are so strong that you make allegations without merit nor give us any benefit of doubt. I will not be sending any more patches due to the attitude that is not only unwelcome but also intimidating to newbies and non experts.

To which Greg Kroah-Hartman has responded:

You, and your group, have publicly admitted to sending known-buggy patches to see how the kernel community would react to them, and published a paper based on that work.

Now you submit a new series of obviously-incorrect patches again, so what am I supposed to think of such a thing?

They obviously were _NOT_ created by a static analysis tool that is of any intelligence, as they all are the result of totally different patterns, and all of which are obviously not even fixing anything at all. So what am I supposed to think here, other than that you and your group are continuing to experiment on the kernel community developers by sending such nonsense patches?

When submitting patches created by a tool, everyone who does so submits them with wording like "found by tool XXX, we are not sure if this is correct or not, please advise." which is NOT what you did here at all. You were not asking for help, you were claiming that these were legitimate fixes, which you KNEW to be incorrect.

A few minutes with anyone with the semblance of knowledge of C can see that your submissions do NOT do anything at all, so to think that a tool created them, and then that you thought they were a valid "fix" is totally negligent on your part, not ours. You are the one at fault, it is not our job to be the test subjects of a tool you create.

Our community welcomes developers who wish to help and enhance Linux. That is NOT what you are attempting to do here, so please do not try to frame it that way.

Our community does not appreciate being experimented on, and being "tested" by submitting known patches that are either do nothing on purpose, or introduce bugs on purpose. If you wish to do work like this, I suggest you find a different community to run your experiments on, you are not welcome here.

Because of this, I will now have to ban all future contributions from your University and rip out your previous contributions, as they were obviously submitted in bad-faith with the intent to cause problems.


As Greg K-H had stated in his response to Aditya Pakki, the patches introduced by the UMN will indeed be removed and reverted which has been confirmed by this follow-up LKML message.

Source: Greg K-H (Twitter)

Update: Loren Terveen, Associate Department Head of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at MNU contacted Neowin and gave the following statement in a comment on this article and on Twitter:

Leadership in the University of Minnesota Department of Computer Science & Engineering learned today about the details of research being conducted by one of its faculty members and graduate students into the security of the Linux Kernel. The research method used raised serious concerns in the Linux Kernel community and, as of today, this has resulted in the University being banned from contributing to the Linux Kernel.

We take this situation extremely seriously. We have immediately suspended this line of research. We will investigate the research method and the process by which this research method was approved, determine appropriate remedial action, and safeguard against future issues, if needed. We will report our findings back to the community as soon as practical.


Mats Heimdahl, Department Head
Loren Terveen, Associate Department Head

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