"You can make the same comment on NX bit, or W^X/PaX, or BSD jail, or SMAP/SMEP (in recent Intel CPUs), or AppArmor, or SELinux, or seccomp(), or OpenBSD's pledge(), or Control Flow Integrity, or process-based sandboxing in web browsers, or virtual machine-based isolation."
You can indeed say that about all those systems since they mix insecure, bug-ridden code with probabilistic and tactical mechanisms that they prey will stop hackers. In high-assurance security, the focus was instead to identify each root cause, prevent/detect/fail-safe on it with some method, and add automation where possible for these. Since a lot of that is isolation, I'd say the isolation based method would be separation kernels running apps in their own compartments or in deprivileged, user-mode VM's. Genode OS is following that path with stuff like seL4, Muen, and NOVA running undearneath. First two are separation kernels, NOVA just correctnes focused with high-assurance, design style.
Prior systems designed like those did excellent in NSA pentesting whereas the UNIX-based systems with extensions like MAC were shredded. All we're seeing is a failure to apply the lessons of the past in both hardware and software with predictable results.
"Better defense leads to better attacks, and it in turns leads to better defense. By playing the game, it may not be possible to win, but by not playing it, losing the game is guaranteed. "
Folks using stuff like Ada, SPARK, Frama-C w/ sound analyzers, Rust, Cryptol, and FaCT are skipping playing the game to just knock out all the attack classes. Plus, memory-safety methods for legacy code like SAFEcode in SVA-OS or Softbound+CETS. Throw in Data-Flow Integrity or Information-Flow Control (eg JIF/SIF languages). Then, you just have to increase hardware spending a bit to make up for the performance penalty that comes with your desired level of security. Trades a problem that takes geniuses decades to solve for one an average, IT person with an ordering guide can handle quickly on eBay. Assuming the performance penalty even matters given how lots of code isn't CPU-bound.
I'd rather not play the "extend and obfuscate insecure stuff for the win" game if possible since defenders have been losing it consistently for decades. Obfuscation should just be an extra measure on top of methods that eliminate root causes to further frustrate attackers. Starting with most cost-effective for incremental progress like memory-safe languages, contracts, test generation, and static/dynamic analysis. The heavyweight stuff on ultra-critical components such as compilers, crypto/TLS, microkernels, clustering protocols, and so on. We already have a lot of that, though.
"For real security, I believe memory-safe programming (e.g. Rust), and formal verification (e.g seL4) are the way forward, although they still have a long way to go. "
Well, there you go saying it yourself. :)
"Early kernels and web browsers have no memory and exploit protections whatsoever"
Yeah, we pushed for high-assurance architecture to be applied there. Chrome did a weakened version of OP. Here's another design if you're interested in how to solve... attempt to solve... that problem: