Did NSA contact Linus for a backdoor in Linux? [updated]

It looks like the National Security Agency (NSA) may have asked Linus Torvalds about inserting a back-door into his open-source operating system.

Back in September, when the creator of Linux was asked at the LinuxCon conference whether he was approached by a government agency to add backdoors into GNU/Linux, Torvalds said ‘no’ responding to the question while shaking his head ‘yes’. Interestingly, he took no time in repeating “no” while shaking his head in the negative.

Nils Torvalds, Linus’ father, recently talked about the incident at a committee inquiry held on the ‘Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens’. He is a Member of the European Parliament for Finland.

A question was put to a Microsoft representative by Pirate Party MEP Christian Engström on whether the company offers deliberate “backdoors” for the NSA in their system. But the spokeswoman never responded to that question for obvious reasons.

And this is what Nils had to say:

When my oldest son [Linus Torvalds] was asked the same question: “Has he been approached by the NSA about backdoors?” he said “No”, but at the same time he nodded. Then he was sort of in the legal free. He had given the right answer …everybody understood that the NSA had approached him.

Following on from allegations that big names like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and Microsoft too willfully cooperate with the agency to compromise the security of their systems, it’s very interesting to hear that US spooks did make an attempt to attack Linux at its lead developer, too.

Whether NSA contacted Linus or not still remains a mystery.

  • Ben Francom

    Great job Linus and Nils! Now we just need everyone else to do the same.

  • Robert

    Google doesn’t build in back doors they respond to requests for information because they have to. Big difference. If this was NOT the case then why when Snowden released information about NSA taping into the backbone of Google and Yahoo did they respond with anger and encrypting of those channels? Building a backdoor into Linux and responding to requests for information is not the same thing AT ALL.

  • Mark H. Harris

    The interesting comment (from the video) is the respondent’s confession that she believes open source software (versus what she called controlled software) is MORE vulnerable to attack because crackers can “see” the vulnerabilities in the source. Micro$oft is STILL giving this FUD top billing, with all evidence to the contrary !

    Of course free “libre” software is open for the very purpose of cooperation, collaboration, and free communication of ideas that actually reduces vulnerabilities in the first place, and speeds the closure of such vulnerabilities faster when they are found.

    The NSA debacle is one of the primary reasons for the public to insist on free (libre) software with full disclosure in terms of source and license. We cannot afford to allow “controlled” software in the 21st century. This is a given.


    • BernardoVerda

      If open source software in general, or Linux in particular, really were in any meaningful way “less secure” than “controlled” (ie. closed or proprietary) software, the NSA wouldn’t need to bother asking for backdoors to be built in to it.

      • Mark H. Harris

        That is a logical and straight-forward viewpoint.

        But here is the rub… even with linux (and you’ll notice I’ve intentionally dropped my standard gnu/linux mantra) there can be backdoors and NO ONE can verify it because of kernel blobs. Kernel blobs are the “proprietary binaries” that Linus allows into the kernel to allow some hardwares to function, who insist on being proprietary pains-in-the-neck… Broadcom, NVidia, others. The itch is that only Linus and team know what the blobs are doing… they are just as “closed” as Micro$oft controlled software. This is huge, and libre folks need to get this!

        Only free “libre” kernel images will work… the blobs must be removed, because we do not know which ones are for hardwares (good thing) and which ones are for the NSA (bad thing). There are several gnu/linux distros which do this (remove the kernel blobs)… you may find the full list on the FSF site; blag, gNewSense, Trisquel, and others.

        In order to have freedom in the 21st century, we must have free “libre” software, and that starts with the kernel !