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OLPC Developers Boost Security 73

eldavojohn writes "The developers of software for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative are redefining security for the personal PC. Since the laptops have the potential of communicating with any other laptop, the developers have a unique opportunity to implement both virus protection on the kernel, master boot record and also the way in which the laptops deal with security and 'code-sharing.' The developers are currently seeking outside counsel from security experts and if you're worried about these security schemes posing only problems to the children, 'these security measures can be turned off by the PCs' owners. To protect against that leading to disaster, the laptops will automatically back up their data up on a server whenever the machines get in wireless range of the children's school. If a child loses data, the files can be restored by bringing the laptop within wireless range of the server.'"
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OLPC Developers Boost Security

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  • Technology (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The concept that computer technology will improve the lives of children if they only could get access to it strikes me as inane. How does access to a computer help anything if poverty and social instability are rampant? The idea that you can shove a computer in their face and make it all better astounds me. I think there are much better initiatives out there.

    And I am a software guy who loves technology and computers in general!
    • by kfg ( 145172 ) *
      How does access to a computer help anything if poverty and social instability are rampant?

      By teaching them Entreprenuership?

      "Easy as taking a laptop from a baby."

      KFG
    • Re:Technology (Score:4, Insightful)

      by symes ( 835608 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @10:40AM (#16348415) Journal
      I agree with your sentiments. But one thig that can help is communication, access to the net. Giving kids these computer skills early on will mean that when it comes to later life choices they won't just look around at the local area and think, "well that's that then"... they might well look further afield and explore opportunities for education and employment which they may never have been exposed to otherwise. It's not a cure-all, but it might help make a difference.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by holistah ( 1002858 )
        Also they won't feel intimidated by all the technology in the rest of the world and start feeling that it is beyond them, feeling like there is too much to learn to be a part of that society and give up.
    • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

      by singularity ( 2031 ) <nowalmart@@@gmail...com> on Saturday October 07, 2006 @10:47AM (#16348457) Homepage Journal
      Definitely! These computer scientists, electrical engineers, and information technologies guys should be designing better crops so that the third world can produce more and better crops. Or coming up with economic packages that help develop their infrastructures to better distribute the crops and foodstuffs to the people that need it. Or do medical research to help design cheaper medicines to help with common diseases in developing countries.

      Oh...

      Wait...

      They are not specialists in genetic engineering.
      Oh, and they are not economists, and do not have a lot of political affairs experience.
      Come to think of it, they also do not have the skills needed to do pharmaceutical research either.

      Well, then, what are they good for? I suppose they should just sign over a portion of their paycheck to a non-profit group that might one day help. That is the American way, right? Donating money to resolve guilt about all of the world's problems?

      Or maybe... Just maybe... They could volunteer their own time and expertise to do something in their own field to help, and then ignore anonymous people who criticize them for no other reason than the fact that the genetic engineers, the economists, the pharmaceutical companies and, most of all, the politicians are not doing anything in the meantime in their own respective fields.

      Ehh, that would never work...
      • by kfg ( 145172 ) *
        . . .they are not economists, and do not have a lot of political affairs experience . . .

        Talk about pointing out the bleedin' obvious.

        KFG
      • Or maybe... Just maybe... They could volunteer their own time and expertise to do something in their own field to help, ...

        "...to help..." with what? Specifically?

        The problem is not that these kids don't have laptops.
        The problem is not that these kids are losing data files.

        The problem is that these kids live in an unstable (politically/economically) environment. And no amount of laptops will change that. The laptops will not protect them. The laptops will not end a drought. The laptops will not bring in mor

        • by rbarreira ( 836272 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @11:42AM (#16348819) Homepage
          As many people will surely say, many of the countries targeted by this initiative don't have as many problems as you think they do. Of course the people aren't going to eat the laptops, but access to them and faster ways of spreading and accessing information helps with virtually everything... At the very least, it will make them more educated and capable of solving their country's problems...

          Not all the poor countries are a mass of hungering people...
          • As many people will surely say, many of the countries targeted by this initiative don't have as many problems as you think they do.

            If that was so, they would not need us to supply the laptops.

            Of course the people aren't going to eat the laptops, but access to them and faster ways of spreading and accessing information helps with virtually everything... At the very least, it will make them more educated and capable of solving their country's problems...

            No, because the laptops only solve the "problem" of not

            • What part of your thick skull is preventing you from understand the statement "hunger isn't necessarily such a big problem in at least some of those countries".

              If that was so, they would not need us to supply the laptops.

              Have you even read anything about the initiative? The laptops are sold to the countries. Are you suggesting that those countries could design and manufacture the laptops?
          • You'd get a mod point if I had one.

            Judging from some of the comments, you'd think everywhere they were planning to disribute these laptops was like Darfur. Sure, there are many spots on the globe too unstable to benefit from this plan, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of places where they could do some real good.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Giving someone a laptop so they have an incentive to educate themselves and a bit of an outlet is probably a better long term solution to a problem of social instability than feeding everyone in the area whatever government surplus food is cheapest.

          Short term, yes, people need to be fed. Long term, they need to understand how to build effective social systems. Computers are the basis of most of our effective modern social systems. Ergo, computers are as important as food in the long run.

          Finally, I h
          • by nuzak ( 959558 )
            Giving someone a laptop so they have an incentive to educate themselves and a bit of an outlet is probably a better long term solution to a problem of social instability than feeding everyone in the area whatever government surplus food is cheapest.

            That's very nice, but where has the necessary connection been shown that giving someone a laptop will produce such incentive?

            Give the third world access to the medicine and food that modern societies use, and everyone doesn't stop having four or five kids

            Actually
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dapsychous ( 1009353 )

      John Fitzgerald published an interesting article [actualanalysis.com] a few years ago about some people's belief that because others are using computers successfully, that merely introducing a computer into a given situation will make the participants more productive, comparing it to the cargo cults in Melanesia many years ago.

      Merely shoving a laptop in a child's face will not make them better, brighter, etc. If anything the laptop will server to function as a distraction, much as my TI-83 was in calculus class (all I ever di

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by grcumb ( 781340 )

        John Fitzgerald published an interesting article a few years ago about some people's belief that because others are using computers successfully, that merely introducing a computer into a given situation will make the participants more productive, comparing it to the cargo cults in Melanesia many years ago.

        I live and work in Melanesia, I can say for a fact that the cargo cults (and their mentality) are alive and well here. The impact of this mentality on development is significant. It's quite common for p

    • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gdek ( 202709 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @11:22AM (#16348689)
      There are much better initiatives out there. Like the Millenium Project [unmillenniumproject.org] to end global poverty, or the Global Fund [theglobalfund.org] to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Are you contributing to them? I am.

      But I'm a supporter of the OLPC project too -- because saving people from extreme poverty and disease is only part of the battle. The other part of the battle is giving them the tools to be competitive in a global marketplace. In a globalized capitalist world, every economy needs to figure out what their comparative advantage is. Many of the poorest nations in the world have limited natural resources, and little critical infrastructure (roads, power grid, etc.) to leverage the natural resources they do have. OLPC stands an outside chance of making *people* the comparative advantage.

      It's not an either/or proposition. It's *and*. It has to be.

      And I'm a software guy who loves technology and computers in general. :)
      • by symes ( 835608 )
        Technology can help enourmously - giving mobile phones to African fisherman allow them to find the best market for their catch before making land means food does not go to waste and fishermen get the best price. A little bit of technology can go a long way. But sometimes overly enthusiastic philanthropists can impose what they regard as the best solution without proper research. There's great stories about African villigers being bought tractors without any thought on where they were going to get fuel fr
    • by Anonymous Coward
      In India, they have the Computer-in-a-Wall project. The project is basically kiosks with computers in them. The kids' access is pretty much unmediated. ie. dump an internet connected computer in front of them and see what happens. They have four years of data and the results are uniformly positive. These things are a great educational tool. Remember that these kids are impoverished. They don't have tv, phones or newspapers. The computer makes a huge difference in their lives and, unlike tv, the effe
    • Re:Technology (Score:4, Insightful)

      by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @12:06PM (#16349013) Journal
      How does access to a computer help anything if poverty and social instability are rampant?

      The same way books, education, and printing-presses do.
    • They can sell it on ebay and buy food. Think about all the slashdotters with hardons for this thing that can't normally get access to it.
    • by Burz ( 138833 )
      I know disadvantaged kids who grew into IT careers because they had an inexpensive Commodore or Atari at home. Including myself.

      Bouts of social instability can sometimes become opportunities to become engrossed in your computer or books. Obviously, not Darfur or post-invasion-Iraq levels of instability, but still...

      If the kids have at least semi-regular schooling and decent food and shelter, then the computer will be of considerable help to most of them. Anywhere a decades-old handmedown encyclopedia has ma
    • by mspohr ( 589790 )
      Every time this project comes up, I am impressed by the number of people who just don't get it... however, this is slashdot, after all, so I shouldn't be suprised that there are lots of people with no knowledge or experience in the developing world who are willing to type out the first half baked reaction that comes into their head.

      Lots of people complain that there are more pressing problems (such as poverty, political instability, famine, AIDS, etc.) that "we" should work on. These statements show a rem

      • This project is about giving people tools that they can use to learn and gather information. This is about education and information. I can't believe that people here don't see the value of information and education.

        I think the problem is most people here take education and information for granted as it is readily available and ubiquitous. Otherwise, I concur wholeheartedly.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Why is this FUD still coming up? Give a man a fish, he eats for one day... teach a man to fish, he can feed himself and his family, not to mention teach others how, etc... We need to find things to create a ripple effect, to foster a self-sufficient society...
    • I can't wait to get my first bit of spam:

      Request for Urgent Scholastic Relationship

      We are the top official of the treasury of the thrid grade student government who are interested in importation of goods into our school with funds which are presently trapped in Nigeria. In order to commence this business we solicit your assistance to enable us to transfer into your account the said trapped funds...
    • "How does access to a computer help anything if poverty and social instability are rampant?" It is the access to information that helps. Living here in India, I have some first hand experience on this matter
      I teach in a government school (voluntarily). The schools are short of teachers. Kids come to class, but there are no teachers to teach them. Most of the time, they just sit around, drawing, painting, bullying other kids. These kids have enough money for food, clothing and shelter, but not for books. T
    • Ignorance is more expensive than education. In some of these countries they believe they can cure AIDS if they have sex with a virgin. It is flawed thinking like this that leads a people to its destruction. Education via a OLPC can change the thinking of the people and lead to a better standard of living. Granted, this can take awhile, and the payoff may not come exactly as expected, but the seeds planted today will bear some kind of fruit tomorrow. The seeds planted currently are mostly of ignorance i
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcrbids ( 148650 )
      The concept that computer technology will improve the lives of children if they only could get access to it strikes me as inane.

      You think it's about the Technology??!?!?

      OLPC isn't about exposing po' folks to kernels, compilers and binary code. It's about bringing the tremendous wealth of knowledge accessable on the Internet to everybody. In my household, (Myself, Wife, 5 children and usually a couple of their friends) the computers and Internet are a great combination of entertainment, news, and informati
      • by grcumb ( 781340 )

        OLPC isn't about exposing po' folks to kernels, compilers and binary code.

        I appreciate what you're saying, and for what it's worth, I think you're right. To a degree.

        But OLPC actually will do a lot for technological learning in the developing world. People will have to support them, after all. I live and work in IT in the developing world, and even discussion about this project (which has been significant - there's a huge interest here in this) has done a lot to make people think about everything from t

    • Moderators, in every OLPC story there's someone who's posting a question such as this and it has been refuted hundreds of times. It's even in the freaking OLPC FAQ [laptop.org]. I'm beginning to suspect that people are deliberately trolling here, but still parent post is modded +3.
      • by bit01 ( 644603 )

        Follow the money. Whenever there's repetitive propaganda like this ignoring general knowledge it's likely to be an astroturfer, a lying marketer promoting their product.

        In these cases it's probably M$'ers trying to marginalize a platform that is likely to see millions of Linux installations, reducing M$ mindshare. It's worth a lot of money to M$ to stop or reduce that.

        ---

        New game: Spot the lying astroturfer [wikipedia.org] on /.!

    • The idea is not that computers will automatically make kids geniuses or rich. The idea is to remove the differences in availability to useful technology! There is no question that computers and Internet today give people access to vast amounts of information that is not otherwise easily available. The problem is, poor people generally have less access to this information than the well-to-do. Without an initiative to level this playing field, the rich-poor gap could easily widen to a tragic and devastating
  • Syncing work up? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mike89 ( 1006497 )
    This sounds like a really clever idea. I'm suprised there's not more demand for it in school/colleges now, and it has taken a project like this to actual take steps to do it.

    That being said, this project has been in the news for a LONG while now (at least it'd seem), are they any closer to actually reaching their goal?
    • Cautious Progress (Score:3, Informative)

      by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) *

      That being said, this project has been in the news for a LONG while now (at least it'd seem), are they any closer to actually reaching their goal?

      I've been following this project pretty closely and I would like to say that everyone is very concerned that this is done correctly the first time. Bill Gates and India's government have already denied support to this project for reasons previously discussed on /.

      I don't think this is a project that you want to rush and I am gratefull that they have been m

    • by kfg ( 145172 ) *
      . . . this project has been in the news for a LONG while now (at least it'd seem), are they any closer to actually reaching their goal?

      Weeeeeeell, lessee. They're overtime, overbudget and the cost of the device has already risen %50 before release, so yeah, I'd say things are chugging along at the normal rate of progress.

      KFG
  • Standard computer design generally lets most any program access any file stored anywhere on the machine. That is one reason why flaws in programs can be exploited by outsiders to steal or erase private information.

    I guess they think the insecurity is hardwired. And then they go on to act as if the OLPC being secure is unrelated with the fact that it runs Linux.
    • One OS vendor (even if a monopolist) is equivalent to "standard computers", despite that fact that every other vendor (incl. Apple which is de riguer with journalists) offers rather high security.

      Thats a pretty inaccurate way to talk down to their audience.
  • virus protection? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by joe 155 ( 937621 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @10:55AM (#16348535) Journal
    These are running fedora which has very few viruses for it anyway, moreover it is a special form of fedora, which might not be vulnerable to all the viruses which linux anyway (and whose going to write viruses for these kids computers anyway, there is no money nor respect in it). So I worry about sticking virus protection in the MBR and kernel for fear that it itself might cause more issues and problems than if it was just left "open".
    • by joe 155 ( 937621 )
      I suppose reading over I should clarify, they mention it being able to be switched off, if this is easy then it will be done by most people because of the issues it could cause, so it is useless. If it is hard then it might get left on as a default and just silently introduce all the issues which I think people will rightly worry about.

      what I think might have been better is having a physical switch which needs to be moved in order to write to the kernel or MBR (although I'm not sure how you would go abo
    • the kids who will eventually have these machines might be poor, sometimes hungry and thirsty, and living in deprived conditions, but there will be the usual distribution of thinkers, creators and geniuses among them. Think about the javascript myspace virus someone wrote just in order to get people to add him as friends a year back - if the security of the systems isn't good, intendedly-harmless pranks and experiments by users, or attepts at electronic bullying could disable vast sections of the wireless
    • by MadEE ( 784327 )

      These are running fedora which has very few viruses for it anyway, moreover it is a special form of fedora, which might not be vulnerable to all the viruses which linux anyway (and whose going to write viruses for these kids computers anyway, there is no money nor respect in it). So I worry about sticking virus protection in the MBR and kernel for fear that it itself might cause more issues and problems than if it was just left "open".

      But at the same time they are distributing these things to kids; most of

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Any computational system which is fertile for infection will eventually attract viruses. It's like a law of nature.

      If this initiative is successful, Linux could become the most widely used operating system in the world, and would therefore be the biggest target for infection. Virus writers would turn their attentions from Windows to Linux. Our experience with Firefox has shown the falsehood of confident expectation that open sourced software would be immune to malware, and it's only got 10% of the market. A
      • by grcumb ( 781340 )

        Any computational system which is fertile for infection will eventually attract viruses. It's like a law of nature.

        That not a law of nature; that's a logical fallacy known as begging the question [wikipedia.org]. The fact is that this story is about making the OLPC computer infertile ground for viruses.

        But in fairness, you're on the verge of making a good point about monocultures. This is the first large-scale test of the assertion that monocultures are dangerous in their nature (true enough - any problem is shared by

        • by nuzak ( 959558 )
          > That not a law of nature; that's a logical fallacy known as begging the question.

          Actually, there's only one proposition, so it'd be merely a tautology. And his assertion wasn't even really a tautology, it's as if he said "people with compromised immune systems will get infected by viruses". I believe the technical term in formal logic for that type of statement is Duh.
  • That's right! Now the Personal Computer is even more personal! The PPC Personal Personal Comptuer!
  • by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @11:21AM (#16348683) Homepage
    And I'll defineately buy one of the $300 versions, donating 2 others to people in the third world. Let's hope they can join the rest of the world faster using these laptops, or perhaps even, the internet.
    • Last I checked, the initiative you talked about wasn't official, just a suggestion that was being made to the people who are designing those laptops... Was there any progress on that?
  • We already know that the plan was to allow the children to modify as much as possible in Python. However, now Perl will be banished:

    We have broken the Perl dependency ... freeing up much more space on the flash for user space. Source [mit.edu]

    Seems fair enough. All i can add is:
    We are the Knights who say..... "Ni"! We are the keepers of the sacred words: Ni, Ping, and Nee-womm!
  • It's a shame that the OLPC folks are hurting efforts to get documentation of wireless chipsets [undeadly.org].

    Please correct me if I am wrong but it seems that documentation for Marvell's 88W8388's is not publically available without signing an NDA?

    If this is the case why did a project that seems to pride itself of openess agree to deal with such a company? Drivers written under NDA tend to be full of magic numbers, near impossible for others to properly maintain andtotally against the spirit of open projects.

    If the

    • by Plug ( 14127 )
      Jim Gettys has written a rebuttal in his blog [gettysfamily.org]. To summarise, the low power nature (and being able to forward packages while the machine is off) is more important, and they are sponsoring development of an open source firmware.
  • I admit not knowing much about the OLPC laptop, but it strikes me that they are implementing many unique (not "proprietary", but same difference) technologies: The Sugar UI, networking, now security, and probably a bunch of things I don't know about.

    Where will they find apps for this platform? Look at sourceforge.net, download.com, microsoft.com, cdw.com, or any other source: There are endless apps for existing platforms, freeware, shareware, commercial, open and proprietary. Where will OLPC users get a
    • You can ask questions to the people behind OLPC here [laptop.org]. I've skimmed over the page and I think there is no similar question there.
      • The only relevant info I see is the following:

        The vast majority of early software developers can work on ordinary Linux laptops or desktops. The machine will run Linux, X, and Gnome. Write your applications to use minimal RAM and minimal file system space, and to not depend on having a color screen. A release of the Fedora software for the OLPC is available (See Installing Fedora Core. If you want to simulate small memory, you can boot linux with the "mem=128m" parameter.) Some developers who need them, e.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Marcion ( 876801 )
      > but it strikes me that they are implementing many unique (not "proprietary", but same difference) technologies

      This is a "good thing", this will be the first ever laptop designed around the needs of education. This is also the first ever laptop designed just for Linux, loads of legacy hardware (BIOS, Serial cable) is not needed.

      The hardware, software and bundled books and homework ('content' if you like) are all being specifically re-designed.

      >The Sugar UI, networking, now security, and probably a bu
      • You mean... ./configure
        sudo apt-get install imagemagick ./configure
        sudo apt-get openssl-0.7 ./configure ./configure --open-ssl=/usr/local/openssl
        make
        sudo aptitude install gcc
        make
        (search forums on error message)
        emacs .drivercodes
        make
        sudo make install
        • by Marcion ( 876801 )
          Year, that's the one!!

          Hopefully they will have yum or something.

          Hey, there is no reason why the kids have to stick with fedora, I'm sure Gentoo will build on it.

          If you can get a decent Internet connection then there are western servers available for distcc, or one child could make a stage 4 file archive and share it with the rest. For many years, I had a laptop with half the specs of the OLPC (1996 laptop, swapped for a macbook in 2006), Gentoo worked great as it could make the binaries really small to save
      • by guanxi ( 216397 )
        I'm not asking about (or criticizing) the quality of the platform; I'm just asking where compatible apps will come from.

        I understand it's Fedora at heart, but for example, OS X is Mach & BSD at heart, yet most Mac users can't realistically use BSD apps (I don't mean /. users, I mean typical consumers).

        Apps should provide a consistent UI -- will that be a problem with Sugar? Will networking apps work with OLPC networking (Bittorrent clients? File sharing clients? Chat clients? Flock? Antivirus? Firewa
  • I'm tired of hearing about this whole One Laptop Per Child thing. It doesn't provide any real benefit. How many third world countries have a high demand for computer skills? Give the money for the laptops to the children and they'll be better off. Better yet, sell versions of these rugged, use anywhere, cheap laptops to the people who can buy them, and then give the profits to the children.
  • I say this would have been (at current) ... a non issue had the OLPC program accepted Steve Jobs offer of free Mac OS licensing for the program.

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