About security updates and repository "lockdown"

I have received a lot of questions since the announcement that we are temporarily shutting down the anonymous git mirror and commit messages. And we're also seeing quite a lot of media coverage.

Let me start by clarifying exactly what we're doing:

  • We are shutting down the mirror from our upstream git to our anonymous mirror
  • This also, indirectly, shuts down the mirror to github
  • We're temporarily placing a hold on all commit messages

There has been some speculation in that we are going to shut down all list traffic for a few days - that is completely wrong. All other channels in the project will operate just as usual. This of course also includes all developers working on separate git repositories (such as a personal fork on github).

We are also not shutting down the repositories themselves. They will remain open, with the same content as today (including patches applied between now and Monday), they will just be frozen in time for a few days.


So why are we doing this? It's pretty simple - it takes a few days to prepare packages for all our supported platforms, to do testing on these, and get them ready for release. If we just committed the security fixes and then proceeded with the packaging, that would mean that anybody who was following our repository would be able to see those fixes a few days before the fixes were available to the majority of the users. That also means that anybody looking for the flaw would get a few days of time when the full details of the bug was in the open (since the fix was applied in public), but yet all the installations around the world would be unpatched and left wide open for exploit.

By restricting access to view the patches until release time, we close this window. Yes, the vulnerability is still in the code that is out there today. But it has been in there for a few years, and nobody (that we know of) found it in that time. Hopefully, nobody will between now and release time. But by not explicitly showing the bug, we're at least keeping that risk as low as possible while still being able to warn our users that they will need to apply the patch as soon as it's out.

We do realize that this will make some people look harder at the PostgreSQL code over the next couple of days trying to find this bug, and write an exploit for it.

But you're using git?

I've seen a couple of comments along the line of "isn't this where you should be using a DVCS like git you're using, letting the people building the security fixes do that in a separate repository and merge it once ready, not needing to shut down the central one".

Turns out that is actually exactly what we are doing. The security fixes are mostly already developed, and as such are sitting somewhere else from the main repository. But we need at some point to merge these into the main repository, in order to let people build the packages. We only close down the repository mirroring right before this merge is done, and until the packages are ready to be released. It's not the work to develop the patch that requires the shutdown of the mirroring, it's the work to build and release packages.

The other advantage of the fact that we are using a DVCS, is that development does not stop during this time. Anybody working on a patch can keep working on it in their local copy of the repository. It's only the merge ("apply") of the patch to the upstream master branch that's going to be delayed. And that affects a much smaller group of people. Of course, it is a bit of an extra annoyance since we are currently trying to close out the open patches for the next release, but it's not a huge difference for most developers.

Are you going to publish the fixes eventually?

Yes, absolutely! We are not going to permanently hide any information, or try to obfuscate the contents of security patches (coughunlike some other players in the field).

Once the new versions are released, the git mirroring will resume. This will immediately mirror all the individual commits, including detailed commit messages showing what the bugs were (and of course including the fix itself). And we are assigning public CVE numbers to all security related bugs. At this point, the commit messages held in the queue will also be released, and appear on the pgsql-committers list for anybody who wants to read up on them. And of course, complete tarballs with the full release will be made available alongside the binary packages.

Bottom line

It's a difficult balance between keeping things open so that everybody can verify what's going on, and keep exploit information out of the hands of the bad guys. Our goal with what we did this time is to minimize exposure to our users for a potentially very bad exploit (depends on the scenario for each individual install, of course), while we work with downstream distributions to make sure our fixes can reach the users as quickly as possible.

Is it the right way? We don't know. It's the first time we do this, and it's not something we plan to do as a general process. We'll of course have to evaluate whether it was successful once it's all done.

Finally, for those of you who are our users, a short repeat. A new release is planned next week, current schedule is release on April 4th. We advise all users to review the security announcement and apply the fix as quickly as possible if the vulnerability is targetable in your environment. The patch will require installation of new binaries and a restart of the database, but no further migration work than that.

We take the security of our users seriously, and try our best to protect them as much as possible. It's out belief that the tradoffs we've done here are in their best interest. The future will tell, of course, if that belief is correct.


I speak at and organize conferences around Open Source in general and PostgreSQL in particular.


PGConf.EU 2016
Nov 1-4, 2016
Tallinn, Estonia
Berlin PUG
Nov 17, 2016
Berlin, Germany
PGConf.Asia 2016
Dec 2-3, 2016
Tokyo, Japan
FOSDEM + PGDay 2017
Feb 2-4, 2017
Brussels, Belgium


Stockholm PUG 2016/5
Oct 25, 2016
Stockholm, Sweden
Postgres Vision 2016
Oct 11-13, 2016
San Francisco, USA
Postgres Open
Sep 13-16, 2016
Dallas, USA
Stockholm PUG 2016/4
Aug 31, 2016
Stockholm, Sweden
PG Day'16 Russia
Jul 6-8, 2016
St Petersburg, Russia
More past conferences