Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Thursday, December 26, 2019

  Instituting saner, professional source code management for embedded devices

http://www.taht.net/~d/fcc_saner_software_practices.pdf

We advocate: that rather than denying users the ability to make any changes to the router whatsoever, router vendors be required to open access to their code (especially code that controls RF parameters) to describe and document the safe operating bounds for the software defined radios within the Wi­Fi router. In this alternative approach, the FCC could mandate that:

1. Any vendor of SDR, wireless, or Wi­Fi radio must make public the full and maintained source code for the device driver and radio firmware in order to maintain FCC compliance. The source code should be in a buildable, change controlled source code repository on the Internet, available for review and improvement by all.

2. The vendor must assure that secure update of firmware be working at shipment, and that update streams be under ultimate control of the owner of the equipment. Problems with compliance can then be fixed going forward by the person legally responsible for the router being in compliance.

3. The vendor must supply a continuous stream of source and binary updates that must respond to regulatory transgressions and Common Vulnerability and Exposure reports (CVEs) within 45 days of disclosure, for the warranted lifetime of the product, or until five years after the last customer shipment, whichever is longer.

4. Failure to comply with these regulations should result in FCC decertification of the existing product and, in severe cases, bar new products from that vendor from being considered for certification.

5. Additionally, we ask the FCC to review and rescind any rules for anything that conflict with open source best practices, produce unmaintainable hardware, or cause vendors to believe they must only ship undocumented “binary blobs” of compiled code or use lockdown mechanisms that forbid user patching. This is an ongoing problem for the Internet community committed to best practice change control and error correction on safety ­critical systems. This path has the following advantages:

● Inspectability: ­ ​Skilled developers can verify the correctness of software drivers that are now hidden in binary “blobs”.

● Opportunity for innovation: ­ ​Many experiments can be performed to make the network “work better” without affecting compliance.

● Improved spectrum utilization: ­ ​A number of techniques to improve the use of Wi­Fi bands remain theoretical possibilities. Field trials with these proposed algorithms could prove (or disprove) their utility, and advance the science of networking.

● Fulfillment of legal (GPL) obligations: ­​ Allowing router vendors to publish their RF­controlling source code in compliance with the license under which they obtained it will free them from the legal risk of being forced to cease shipping code for which they no longer have a license.

Requiring all manufacturers of Wi­Fi & 5G devices to make their source code publicly available and regularly maintained, levels the playing field as no one can behave badly.
 
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