Linux Technical Advisory Board Issues Findings On UMN's Shady Kernel Conundrum

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In April, we first reported on Linux Kernel dev and maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartman banned submissions from the University of Minnesota due to new concerning patches. It has also come to light that UMN has done questionable research on the Linux kernel team, and people were already wary. Now, the Linux Technical Advisory Board (TAB) has published its findings of the events and recommendations for the future.

Over the rather lengthy audit of the situation, the TAB lays out a timeline of events from 2018 up through today detailing what has led to what we now face. Since that original date, UMN had submitted nearly 400 bug-fix patches centering around research papers. Two years later in August, UMN researchers submitted “hypocrite commits” under false identities, which was already concerning. Then in April of this year, new seemingly sketchy patches were being submitted again, and people were concerned, including Greg Kroah-Hartman, who called out UMN.

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After this happened, the TAB kicked off a review and investigation with some interesting findings and recommendations. Interestingly, of the UMN patches submitted, 349 were correct, 39 needed to be fixed, and 47 others either did not matter anymore or fell into other categories, which you can see here. The 39 problematic commits are to be reverted and replaced in due time before the 5.13 kernel release.

To move forward from both this and the other issues that cropped up recently, the TAB has two specific recommendations for UMN so they can “continue to work together successfully in the future.” These recommendations include improving “the quality of the changes that are proposed for inclusion into the kernel,” as well as having the TAB work with researchers to create a document “explaining best practices for all research groups to follow when working with the kernel (and open-source projects in general).”

The TAB hopes that this will be enough to bring the kernel and research communities together once again as well as prevent future incidents like this. However, the TAB also believes that UMN should bring in a review process for development as it would otherwise be “difficult to re-establish the trust between UMN and the kernel community.”

In the meantime, “patches from UMN will continue to find a chilly reception,” and that makes sense considering what developers went through. Whatever ends up happening with UMN, though, let us know what you think of this investigation and recommendations from the TAB in the comments below.