Tag Archives: anonymous

The devil wears Pravda

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original https://blog.erratasec.com/2018/05/the-devil-wears-pravda.html

Classic Bond villain, Elon Musk, has a new plan to create a website dedicated to measuring the credibility and adherence to “core truth” of journalists. He is, without any sense of irony, going to call this “Pravda”. This is not simply wrong but evil.

Musk has a point. Journalists do suck, and many suck consistently. I see this in my own industry, cybersecurity, and I frequently criticize them for their suckage.

But what he’s doing here is not correcting them when they make mistakes (or what Musk sees as mistakes), but questioning their legitimacy. This legitimacy isn’t measured by whether they follow established journalism ethics, but whether their “core truths” agree with Musk’s “core truths”.

An example of the problem is how the press fixates on Tesla car crashes due to its “autopilot” feature. Pretty much every autopilot crash makes national headlines, while the press ignores the other 40,000 car crashes that happen in the United States each year. Musk spies on Tesla drivers (hello, classic Bond villain everyone) so he can see the dip in autopilot usage every time such a news story breaks. He’s got good reason to be concerned about this.

He argues that autopilot is safer than humans driving, and he’s got the statistics and government studies to back this up. Therefore, the press’s fixation on Tesla crashes is illegitimate “fake news”, titillating the audience with distorted truth.

But here’s the thing: that’s still only Musk’s version of the truth. Yes, on a mile-per-mile basis, autopilot is safer, but there’s nuance here. Autopilot is used primarily on freeways, which already have a low mile-per-mile accident rate. People choose autopilot only when conditions are incredibly safe and drivers are unlikely to have an accident anyway. Musk is therefore being intentionally deceptive comparing apples to oranges. Autopilot may still be safer, it’s just that the numbers Musk uses don’t demonstrate this.

And then there is the truth calling it “autopilot” to begin with, because it isn’t. The public is overrating the capabilities of the feature. It’s little different than “lane keeping” and “adaptive cruise control” you can now find in other cars. In many ways, the technology is behind — my Tesla doesn’t beep at me when a pedestrian walks behind my car while backing up, but virtually every new car on the market does.

Yes, the press unduly covers Tesla autopilot crashes, but Musk has only himself to blame by unduly exaggerating his car’s capabilities by calling it “autopilot”.

What’s “core truth” is thus rather difficult to obtain. What the press satisfies itself with instead is smaller truths, what they can document. The facts are in such cases that the accident happened, and they try to get Tesla or Musk to comment on it.

What you can criticize a journalist for is therefore not “core truth” but whether they did journalism correctly. When such stories criticize “autopilot”, but don’t do their diligence in getting Tesla’s side of the story, then that’s a violation of journalistic practice. When I criticize journalists for their poor handling of stories in my industry, I try to focus on which journalistic principles they get wrong. For example, the NYTimes reporters do a lot of stories quoting anonymous government sources in clear violation of journalistic principles.

If “credibility” is the concern, then it’s the classic Bond villain here that’s the problem: Musk himself. His track record on business statements is abysmal. For example, when he announced the Model 3 he claimed production targets that every Wall Street analyst claimed were absurd. He didn’t make those targets, he didn’t come close. Model 3 production is still lagging behind Musk’s twice adjusted targets.

https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-tesla-tracker/

So who has a credibility gap here, the press, or Musk himself?

Not only is Musk’s credibility problem ironic, so is the name he chose, “Pravada”, the Russian word for truth that was the name of the Soviet Union Communist Party’s official newspaper. This is so absurd this has to be a joke, yet Musk claims to be serious about all this.

Yes, the press has a lot of problems, and if Musk were some journalism professor concerned about journalists meeting the objective standards of their industry (e.g. abusing anonymous sources), then this would be a fine thing. But it’s not. It’s Musk who is upset the press’s version of “core truth” does not agree with his version — a version that he’s proven time and time again differs from “real truth”.

Just in case Musk is serious, I’ve already registered “www.antipravda.com” to start measuring the credibility of statements by billionaire playboy CEOs. Let’s see who blinks first.


I stole the title, with permission, from this tweet:

Some notes on eFail

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original https://blog.erratasec.com/2018/05/some-notes-on-efail.html

I’ve been busy trying to replicate the “eFail” PGP/SMIME bug. I thought I’d write up some notes.

PGP and S/MIME encrypt emails, so that eavesdroppers can’t read them. The bugs potentially allow eavesdroppers to take the encrypted emails they’ve captured and resend them to you, reformatted in a way that allows them to decrypt the messages.

Disable remote/external content in email

The most important defense is to disable “external” or “remote” content from being automatically loaded. This is when HTML-formatted emails attempt to load images from remote websites. This happens legitimately when they want to display images, but not fill up the email with them. But most of the time this is illegitimate, they hide images on the webpage in order to track you with unique IDs and cookies. For example, this is the code at the end of an email from politician Bernie Sanders to his supporters. Notice the long random number assigned to track me, and the width/height of this image is set to one pixel, so you don’t even see it:

Such trackers are so pernicious they are disabled by default in most email clients. This is an example of the settings in Thunderbird:

The problem is that as you read email messages, you often get frustrated by the fact the error messages and missing content, so you keep adding exceptions:

The correct defense against this eFail bug is to make sure such remote content is disabled and that you have no exceptions, or at least, no HTTP exceptions. HTTPS exceptions (those using SSL) are okay as long as they aren’t to a website the attacker controls. Unencrypted exceptions, though, the hacker can eavesdrop on, so it doesn’t matter if they control the website the requests go to. If the attacker can eavesdrop on your emails, they can probably eavesdrop on your HTTP sessions as well.

Some have recommended disabling PGP and S/MIME completely. That’s probably overkill. As long as the attacker can’t use the “remote content” in emails, you are fine. Likewise, some have recommend disabling HTML completely. That’s not even an option in any email client I’ve used — you can disable sending HTML emails, but not receiving them. It’s sufficient to just disable grabbing remote content, not the rest of HTML email rendering.

I couldn’t replicate the direct exfiltration

There rare two related bugs. One allows direct exfiltration, which appends the decrypted PGP email onto the end of an IMG tag (like one of those tracking tags), allowing the entire message to be decrypted.

An example of this is the following email. This is a standard HTML email message consisting of multiple parts. The trick is that the IMG tag in the first part starts the URL (blog.robertgraham.com/…) but doesn’t end it. It has the starting quotes in front of the URL but no ending quotes. The ending will in the next chunk.

The next chunk isn’t HTML, though, it’s PGP. The PGP extension (in my case, Enignmail) will detect this and automatically decrypt it. In this case, it’s some previous email message I’ve received the attacker captured by eavesdropping, who then pastes the contents into this email message in order to get it decrypted.

What should happen at this point is that Thunderbird will generate a request (if “remote content” is enabled) to the blog.robertgraham.com server with the decrypted contents of the PGP email appended to it. But that’s not what happens. Instead, I get this:

I am indeed getting weird stuff in the URL (the bit after the GET /), but it’s not the PGP decrypted message. Instead what’s going on is that when Thunderbird puts together a “multipart/mixed” message, it adds it’s own HTML tags consisting of lines between each part. In the email client it looks like this:

The HTML code it adds looks like:

That’s what you see in the above URL, all this code up to the first quotes. Those quotes terminate the quotes in the URL from the first multipart section, causing the rest of the content to be ignored (as far as being sent as part of the URL).

So at least for the latest version of Thunderbird, you are accidentally safe, even if you have “remote content” enabled. Though, this is only according to my tests, there may be a work around to this that hackers could exploit.

STARTTLS

In the old days, email was sent plaintext over the wire so that it could be passively eavesdropped on. Nowadays, most providers send it via “STARTTLS”, which sorta encrypts it. Attackers can still intercept such email, but they have to do so actively, using man-in-the-middle. Such active techniques can be detected if you are careful and look for them.
Some organizations don’t care. Apparently, some nation states are just blocking all STARTTLS and forcing email to be sent unencrypted. Others do care. The NSA will passively sniff all the email they can in nations like Iraq, but they won’t actively intercept STARTTLS messages, for fear of getting caught.
The consequence is that it’s much less likely that somebody has been eavesdropping on you, passively grabbing all your PGP/SMIME emails. If you fear they have been, you should look (e.g. send emails from GMail and see if they are intercepted by sniffing the wire).

You’ll know if you are getting hacked

If somebody attacks you using eFail, you’ll know. You’ll get an email message formatted this way, with multipart/mixed components, some with corrupt HTML, some encrypted via PGP. This means that for the most part, your risk is that you’ll be attacked only once — the hacker will only be able to get one message through and decrypt it before you notice that something is amiss. Though to be fair, they can probably include all the emails they want decrypted as attachments to the single email they sent you, so the risk isn’t necessarily that you’ll only get one decrypted.
As mentioned above, a lot of attackers (e.g. the NSA) won’t attack you if its so easy to get caught. Other attackers, though, like anonymous hackers, don’t care.
Somebody ought to write a plugin to Thunderbird to detect this.

Summary

It only works if attackers have already captured your emails (though, that’s why you use PGP/SMIME in the first place, to guard against that).
It only works if you’ve enabled your email client to automatically grab external/remote content.
It seems to not be easily reproducible in all cases.
Instead of disabling PGP/SMIME, you should make sure your email client hast remote/external content disabled — that’s a huge privacy violation even without this bug.

Notes: The default email client on the Mac enables remote content by default, which is bad:

‘Anonymous’ Hackers Deface Russian Govt. Site to Protest Web-Blocking (NSFW)

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/anonymous-hackers-deface-russian-govt-site-to-protest-web-blocking-nsfw-180512/

Last month, Russian authorities demonstrated that when an entity breaks local Internet rules, no stone will be left unturned to make them pay, whatever the cost.

The disaster waiting to happen began when encrypted messaging service Telegram refused to hand over its encryption keys to the state. In response, the Federal Security Service filed a lawsuit, which it won, compelling it Telegram do so. With no response, Roscomnadzor obtained a court order to have Telegram blocked.

In a massive response, Russian ISPs – at Roscomnadzor’s behest – began mass-blocking IP addresses on a massive scale. Millions of IP addresses belong to Amazon, Google and other innocent parties were rendered inaccessible in Russia, causing chaos online.

Even VPN providers were targeted for facilitating access to Telegram but while the service strained under the pressure, it never went down and continues to function today.

In the wake of the operation there has been some attempt at a cleanup job, with Roscomnadzor announcing this week that it had unblocked millions of IP addresses belonging to Google.

“As part of a package of the measures to enforce the court’s decision on Telegram, Roskomnadzor has removed six Google subnets (more than 3.7 million IP-addresses) from the blocklist,” the telecoms watchdog said in a statement.

“In this case, the IP addresses of Telegram, which are part of these subnets, are fully installed and blocked. Subnets are unblocked in order to ensure the correct operation of third-party Internet resources.”

But while Roscomnadzor attempts to calm the seas, those angered by Russia’s carpet-bombing of the Internet were determined to make their voices heard. Hackers attacked the website of the Federal Agency for International Cooperation this week, defacing it with scathing criticism combined with NSFW suggestions and imagery.

“Greetings, Roskomnadzor,” the message began.

“Your recent destructive actions towards the Russian internet sector have led us to believe that you are nothing but a bunch of incompetent mindless worms. You shall not be able to continue this pointless vandalism any further.”

Signing off with advice to consider the defacement as a “final warning”, the hackers disappeared into the night after leaving a simple signature.

“Yours, Anonymous,” they wrote.

But the hackers weren’t done yet. In a NSFW cartoon strip that probably explains itself, ‘Anonymous’ suggested that Roscomnadzor should perhaps consider blocking itself, with the implement depicted in the final frame.

“Anus, block yourself Roscomnadzor”

But while Russia’s attack on Telegram raises eyebrows worldwide, the actions of those in authority continue to baffle.

Last week, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s press secretary, Natalia Timakova, publicly advised a colleague to circumvent the Telegram blockade using a VPN, effectively undermining the massive efforts of the authorities. This week the head of Roscomnadzor only added to the confusion.

Effectively quashing rumors that he’d resigned due to the Telegram fiasco, Alexander Zharov had a conversation with the editor-in-chief of radio station ‘Says Moscow’.

During the liason, which took place during the Victory Parade in Red Square, Zharov was asked how he could be contacted. When Telegram was presented as a potential method, Zharov confirmed that he could be reached via the platform.

Finally, in a move that’s hoped could bring an end to the attack on the platform and others like it, Telegram filed an appeal this week challenging a decision by the Supreme Court of Russia which allows the Federal Security Service to demand access to encryption keys.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

Cryptocurrency Security Challenges

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/cryptocurrency-security-challenges/

Physical coins representing cyrptocurrencies

Most likely you’ve read the tantalizing stories of big gains from investing in cryptocurrencies. Someone who invested $1,000 into bitcoins five years ago would have over $85,000 in value now. Alternatively, someone who invested in bitcoins three months ago would have seen their investment lose 20% in value. Beyond the big price fluctuations, currency holders are possibly exposed to fraud, bad business practices, and even risk losing their holdings altogether if they are careless in keeping track of the all-important currency keys.

It’s certain that beyond the rewards and risks, cryptocurrencies are here to stay. We can’t ignore how they are changing the game for how money is handled between people and businesses.

Some Advantages of Cryptocurrency

  • Cryptocurrency is accessible to anyone.
  • Decentralization means the network operates on a user-to-user (or peer-to-peer) basis.
  • Transactions can completed for a fraction of the expense and time required to complete traditional asset transfers.
  • Transactions are digital and cannot be counterfeited or reversed arbitrarily by the sender, as with credit card charge-backs.
  • There aren’t usually transaction fees for cryptocurrency exchanges.
  • Cryptocurrency allows the cryptocurrency holder to send exactly what information is needed and no more to the merchant or recipient, even permitting anonymous transactions (for good or bad).
  • Cryptocurrency operates at the universal level and hence makes transactions easier internationally.
  • There is no other electronic cash system in which your account isn’t owned by someone else.

On top of all that, blockchain, the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies, is already being applied to a variety of business needs and itself becoming a hot sector of the tech economy. Blockchain is bringing traceability and cost-effectiveness to supply-chain management — which also improves quality assurance in areas such as food, reducing errors and improving accounting accuracy, smart contracts that can be automatically validated, signed and enforced through a blockchain construct, the possibility of secure, online voting, and many others.

Like any new, booming marketing there are risks involved in these new currencies. Anyone venturing into this domain needs to have their eyes wide open. While the opportunities for making money are real, there are even more ways to lose money.

We’re going to cover two primary approaches to staying safe and avoiding fraud and loss when dealing with cryptocurrencies. The first is to thoroughly vet any person or company you’re dealing with to judge whether they are ethical and likely to succeed in their business segment. The second is keeping your critical cryptocurrency keys safe, which we’ll deal with in this and a subsequent post.

Caveat Emptor — Buyer Beware

The short history of cryptocurrency has already seen the demise of a number of companies that claimed to manage, mine, trade, or otherwise help their customers profit from cryptocurrency. Mt. Gox, GAW Miners, and OneCoin are just three of the many companies that disappeared with their users’ money. This is the traditional equivalent of your bank going out of business and zeroing out your checking account in the process.

That doesn’t happen with banks because of regulatory oversight. But with cryptocurrency, you need to take the time to investigate any company you use to manage or trade your currencies. How long have they been around? Who are their investors? Are they affiliated with any reputable financial institutions? What is the record of their founders and executive management? These are all important questions to consider when evaluating a company in this new space.

Would you give the keys to your house to a service or person you didn’t thoroughly know and trust? Some companies that enable you to buy and sell currencies online will routinely hold your currency keys, which gives them the ability to do anything they want with your holdings, including selling them and pocketing the proceeds if they wish.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever allow a company to keep your currency keys in escrow. It simply means that you better know with whom you’re doing business and if they’re trustworthy enough to be given that responsibility.

Keys To the Cryptocurrency Kingdom — Public and Private

If you’re an owner of cryptocurrency, you know how this all works. If you’re not, bear with me for a minute while I bring everyone up to speed.

Cryptocurrency has no physical manifestation, such as bills or coins. It exists purely as a computer record. And unlike currencies maintained by governments, such as the U.S. dollar, there is no central authority regulating its distribution and value. Cryptocurrencies use a technology called blockchain, which is a decentralized way of keeping track of transactions. There are many copies of a given blockchain, so no single central authority is needed to validate its authenticity or accuracy.

The validity of each cryptocurrency is determined by a blockchain. A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called “blocks”, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Blockchains by design are inherently resistant to modification of the data. They perform as an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable, permanent way. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority. On a scaled network, this level of collusion is impossible — making blockchain networks effectively immutable and trustworthy.

Blockchain process

The other element common to all cryptocurrencies is their use of public and private keys, which are stored in the currency’s wallet. A cryptocurrency wallet stores the public and private “keys” or “addresses” that can be used to receive or spend the cryptocurrency. With the private key, it is possible to write in the public ledger (blockchain), effectively spending the associated cryptocurrency. With the public key, it is possible for others to send currency to the wallet.

What is a cryptocurrency address?

Cryptocurrency “coins” can be lost if the owner loses the private keys needed to spend the currency they own. It’s as if the owner had lost a bank account number and had no way to verify their identity to the bank, or if they lost the U.S. dollars they had in their wallet. The assets are gone and unusable.

The Cryptocurrency Wallet

Given the importance of these keys, and lack of recourse if they are lost, it’s obviously very important to keep track of your keys.

If you’re being careful in choosing reputable exchanges, app developers, and other services with whom to trust your cryptocurrency, you’ve made a good start in keeping your investment secure. But if you’re careless in managing the keys to your bitcoins, ether, Litecoin, or other cryptocurrency, you might as well leave your money on a cafe tabletop and walk away.

What Are the Differences Between Hot and Cold Wallets?

Just like other numbers you might wish to keep track of — credit cards, account numbers, phone numbers, passphrases — cryptocurrency keys can be stored in a variety of ways. Those who use their currencies for day-to-day purchases most likely will want them handy in a smartphone app, hardware key, or debit card that can be used for purchases. These are called “hot” wallets. Some experts advise keeping the balances in these devices and apps to a minimal amount to avoid hacking or data loss. We typically don’t walk around with thousands of dollars in U.S. currency in our old-style wallets, so this is really a continuation of the same approach to managing spending money.

Bread mobile app screenshot

A “hot” wallet, the Bread mobile app

Some investors with large balances keep their keys in “cold” wallets, or “cold storage,” i.e. a device or location that is not connected online. If funds are needed for purchases, they can be transferred to a more easily used payment medium. Cold wallets can be hardware devices, USB drives, or even paper copies of your keys.

Trezor hardware wallet

A “cold” wallet, the Trezor hardware wallet

Ledger Nano S hardware wallet

A “cold” wallet, the Ledger Nano S

Bitcoin paper wallet

A “cold” Bitcoin paper wallet

Wallets are suited to holding one or more specific cryptocurrencies, and some people have multiple wallets for different currencies and different purposes.

A paper wallet is nothing other than a printed record of your public and private keys. Some prefer their records to be completely disconnected from the internet, and a piece of paper serves that need. Just like writing down an account password on paper, however, it’s essential to keep the paper secure to avoid giving someone the ability to freely access your funds.

How to Keep your Keys, and Cryptocurrency Secure

In a post this coming Thursday, Securing Your Cryptocurrency, we’ll discuss the best strategies for backing up your cryptocurrency so that your currencies don’t become part of the millions that have been lost. We’ll cover the common (and uncommon) approaches to backing up hot wallets, cold wallets, and using paper and metal solutions to keeping your keys safe.

In the meantime, please tell us of your experiences with cryptocurrencies — good and bad — and how you’ve dealt with the issue of cryptocurrency security.

The post Cryptocurrency Security Challenges appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

How Many Piracy Warnings Would Get You to Stop?

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/how-many-piracy-warnings-would-get-you-to-stop-180422/

For the past several years, copyright holders in the US and Europe have been trying to reach out to file-sharers in an effort to change their habits.

Whether via high-profile publicity lawsuits or a simple email, it’s hoped that by letting people know they aren’t anonymous, they’ll stop pirating and buy more content instead.

Traditionally, most ISPs haven’t been that keen on passing infringement notices on. However, the BMG v Cox lawsuit seems to have made a big difference, with a growing number of ISPs now visibly warning their users that they operate a repeat infringer policy.

But perhaps the big question is how seriously users take these warnings because – let’s face it – that’s the entire point of their existence.

There can be little doubt that a few recipients will be scurrying away at the slightest hint of trouble, intimidated by the mere suggestion that they’re being watched.

Indeed, a father in the UK – who received a warning last year as part of the Get it Right From a Genuine Site campaign – confidently and forcefully assured TF that there would be no more illegal file-sharing taking place on his ten-year-old son’s computer again – ever.

In France, where the HADOPI anti-piracy scheme received much publicity, people receiving an initial notice are most unlikely to receive additional ones in future. A December 2017 report indicated that of nine million first warning notices sent to alleged pirates since 2012, ‘just’ 800,000 received a follow-up warning on top.

The suggestion is that people either stop their piracy after getting a notice or two, or choose to “go dark” instead, using streaming sites for example or perhaps torrenting behind a decent VPN.

But for some people, the message simply doesn’t sink in early on.

A post on Reddit this week by a TWC Spectrum customer revealed that despite a wealth of readily available information (including masses in the specialist subreddit where the post was made), even several warnings fail to have an effect.

“Was just hit with my 5th copyright violation. They halted my internet and all,” the self-confessed pirate wrote.

There are at least three important things to note from this opening sentence.

Firstly, the first four warnings did nothing to change the user’s piracy habits. Secondly, Spectrum presumably had enough at five warnings and kicked in a repeat-infringer suspension, presumably to avoid the same fate as Cox in the BMG case. Third, the account suspension seems to have changed the game.

Notably, rather than some huge blockbuster movie, that fifth warning came due to something rather less prominent.

“Thought I could sneak in a random episode of Rosanne. The new one that aired LOL. That fast. Under 24 hours I got shut off. Which makes me feel like [ISPs] do monitor your traffic and its not just the people sending them notices,” the post read.

Again, some interesting points here.

Any content can be monitored by rightsholders but if it’s popular in the US then a warning delivered via an ISP seems to be more likely than elsewhere. However, the misconception that the monitoring is done by ISPs persists, despite that not being the case.

ISPs do not monitor users’ file-sharing activity, anti-piracy companies do. They can grab an IP address the second someone enters a torrent swarm, or even connects to a tracker. It happens in an instant, at a time of their choosing. Quickly jumping in and out of a torrent is no guarantee and the fallacy of not getting caught due to a failure to seed is just that – a fallacy.

But perhaps the most important thing is that after five warnings and a disconnection, the Reddit user decided to take action. Sadly for the people behind Rosanne, it’s not exactly the reaction they’d have hoped for.

“I do not want to push it but I am curious to what happens 6th time, and if I would even be safe behind a VPN,” he wrote.

“Just want to learn how to use a VPN and Sonarr and have a guilt free stress free torrent watching.”

Of course, there was no shortage of advice.

“If you have gotten 5 notices, you really should of learnt [sic] how to use a VPN before now,” one poster noted, perhaps inevitably.

But curiously, or perhaps obviously given the number of previous warnings, the fifth warning didn’t come as a surprise to the user.

“I knew they were going to hit me for it. I just didn’t think a 195mb file would do it. They were getting me for Disney movies in the past,” he added.

So how do you grab the attention of a persistent infringer like this? Five warnings and a suspension apparently. But clearly, not even that is a guarantee of success. Perhaps this is why most ‘strike’ schemes tend to give up on people who can’t be rehabilitated.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

Engineering deep dive: Encoding of SCTs in certificates

Post Syndicated from Let's Encrypt - Free SSL/TLS Certificates original https://letsencrypt.org/2018/04/04/sct-encoding.html

<p>Let&rsquo;s Encrypt recently <a href="https://community.letsencrypt.org/t/signed-certificate-timestamps-embedded-in-certificates/57187">launched SCT embedding in
certificates</a>.
This feature allows browsers to check that a certificate was submitted to a
<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Certificate_Transparency">Certificate Transparency</a>
log. As part of the launch, we did a thorough review
that the encoding of Signed Certificate Timestamps (SCTs) in our certificates
matches the relevant specifications. In this post, I&rsquo;ll dive into the details.
You&rsquo;ll learn more about X.509, ASN.1, DER, and TLS encoding, with references to
the relevant RFCs.</p>

<p>Certificate Transparency offers three ways to deliver SCTs to a browser: In a
TLS extension, in stapled OCSP, or embedded in a certificate. We chose to
implement the embedding method because it would just work for Let&rsquo;s Encrypt
subscribers without additional work. In the SCT embedding method, we submit
a &ldquo;precertificate&rdquo; with a <a href="#poison">poison extension</a> to a set of
CT logs, and get back SCTs. We then issue a real certificate based on the
precertificate, with two changes: The poison extension is removed, and the SCTs
obtained earlier are added in another extension.</p>

<p>Given a certificate, let&rsquo;s first look for the SCT list extension. According to CT (<a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.3">RFC 6962
section 3.3</a>),
the extension OID for a list of SCTs is <code>1.3.6.1.4.1.11129.2.4.2</code>. An <a href="http://www.hl7.org/Oid/information.cfm">OID (object
ID)</a> is a series of integers, hierarchically
assigned and globally unique. They are used extensively in X.509, for instance
to uniquely identify extensions.</p>

<p>We can <a href="https://acme-v01.api.letsencrypt.org/acme/cert/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451">download an example certificate</a>,
and view it using OpenSSL (if your OpenSSL is old, it may not display the
detailed information):</p>

<pre><code>$ openssl x509 -noout -text -inform der -in Downloads/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451

CT Precertificate SCTs:
Signed Certificate Timestamp:
Version : v1(0)
Log ID : DB:74:AF:EE:CB:29:EC:B1:FE:CA:3E:71:6D:2C:E5:B9:
AA:BB:36:F7:84:71:83:C7:5D:9D:4F:37:B6:1F:BF:64
Timestamp : Mar 29 18:45:07.993 2018 GMT
Extensions: none
Signature : ecdsa-with-SHA256
30:44:02:20:7E:1F:CD:1E:9A:2B:D2:A5:0A:0C:81:E7:
13:03:3A:07:62:34:0D:A8:F9:1E:F2:7A:48:B3:81:76:
40:15:9C:D3:02:20:65:9F:E9:F1:D8:80:E2:E8:F6:B3:
25:BE:9F:18:95:6D:17:C6:CA:8A:6F:2B:12:CB:0F:55:
FB:70:F7:59:A4:19
Signed Certificate Timestamp:
Version : v1(0)
Log ID : 29:3C:51:96:54:C8:39:65:BA:AA:50:FC:58:07:D4:B7:
6F:BF:58:7A:29:72:DC:A4:C3:0C:F4:E5:45:47:F4:78
Timestamp : Mar 29 18:45:08.010 2018 GMT
Extensions: none
Signature : ecdsa-with-SHA256
30:46:02:21:00:AB:72:F1:E4:D6:22:3E:F8:7F:C6:84:
91:C2:08:D2:9D:4D:57:EB:F4:75:88:BB:75:44:D3:2F:
95:37:E2:CE:C1:02:21:00:8A:FF:C4:0C:C6:C4:E3:B2:
45:78:DA:DE:4F:81:5E:CB:CE:2D:57:A5:79:34:21:19:
A1:E6:5B:C7:E5:E6:9C:E2
</code></pre>

<p>Now let&rsquo;s go a little deeper. How is that extension represented in
the certificate? Certificates are expressed in
<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_Syntax_Notation_One">ASN.1</a>,
which generally refers to both a language for expressing data structures
and a set of formats for encoding them. The most common format,
<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X.690#DER_encoding">DER</a>,
is a tag-length-value format. That is, to encode an object, first you write
down a tag representing its type (usually one byte), then you write
down a number expressing how long the object is, then you write down
the object contents. This is recursive: An object can contain multiple
objects within it, each of which has its own tag, length, and value.</p>

<p>One of the cool things about DER and other tag-length-value formats is that you
can decode them to some degree without knowing what they mean. For instance, I
can tell you that 0x30 means the data type &ldquo;SEQUENCE&rdquo; (a struct, in ASN.1
terms), and 0x02 means &ldquo;INTEGER&rdquo;, then give you this hex byte sequence to
decode:</p>

<pre><code>30 06 02 01 03 02 01 0A
</code></pre>

<p>You could tell me right away that decodes to:</p>

<pre><code>SEQUENCE
INTEGER 3
INTEGER 10
</code></pre>

<p>Try it yourself with this great <a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js/#300602010302010A">JavaScript ASN.1
decoder</a>. However, you wouldn&rsquo;t know
what those integers represent without the corresponding ASN.1 schema (or
&ldquo;module&rdquo;). For instance, if you knew that this was a piece of DogData, and the
schema was:</p>

<pre><code>DogData ::= SEQUENCE {
legs INTEGER,
cutenessLevel INTEGER
}
</code></pre>

<p>You&rsquo;d know this referred to a three-legged dog with a cuteness level of 10.</p>

<p>We can take some of this knowledge and apply it to our certificates. As a first
step, convert the above certificate to hex with
<code>xxd -ps &lt; Downloads/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451</code>. You can then copy
and paste the result into
<a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js">lapo.it/asn1js</a> (or use <a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js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this handy link</a>). You can also run <code>openssl asn1parse -i -inform der -in Downloads/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451</code> to use OpenSSL&rsquo;s parser, which is less easy to use in some ways, but easier to copy and paste.</p>

<p>In the decoded data, we can find the OID <code>1.3.6.1.4.1.11129.2.4.2</code>, indicating
the SCT list extension. Per <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5280#page-17">RFC 5280, section
4.1</a>, an extension is defined:</p>

<pre><code>Extension ::= SEQUENCE {
extnID OBJECT IDENTIFIER,
critical BOOLEAN DEFAULT FALSE,
extnValue OCTET STRING
— contains the DER encoding of an ASN.1 value
— corresponding to the extension type identified
— by extnID
}
</code></pre>

<p>We&rsquo;ve found the <code>extnID</code>. The &ldquo;critical&rdquo; field is omitted because it has the
default value (false). Next up is the <code>extnValue</code>. This has the type
<code>OCTET STRING</code>, which has the tag &ldquo;0x04&rdquo;. <code>OCTET STRING</code> means &ldquo;here&rsquo;s
a bunch of bytes!&rdquo; In this case, as described by the spec, those bytes
happen to contain more DER. This is a fairly common pattern in X.509
to deal with parameterized data. For instance, this allows defining a
structure for extensions without knowing ahead of time all the structures
that a future extension might want to carry in its value. If you&rsquo;re a C
programmer, think of it as a <code>void*</code> for data structures. If you prefer Go,
think of it as an <code>interface{}</code>.</p>

<p>Here&rsquo;s that <code>extnValue</code>:</p>

<pre><code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
</code></pre>

<p>That&rsquo;s tag &ldquo;0x04&rdquo;, meaning <code>OCTET STRING</code>, followed by &ldquo;0x81 0xF5&rdquo;, meaning
&ldquo;this string is 245 bytes long&rdquo; (the 0x81 prefix is part of <a href="#variable-length">variable length
number encoding</a>).</p>

<p>According to <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.3">RFC 6962, section
3.3</a>, &ldquo;obtained SCTs
can be directly embedded in the final certificate, by encoding the
SignedCertificateTimestampList structure as an ASN.1 <code>OCTET STRING</code>
and inserting the resulting data in the TBSCertificate as an X.509v3
certificate extension&rdquo;</p>

<p>So, we have an <code>OCTET STRING</code>, all&rsquo;s good, right? Except if you remove the
tag and length from extnValue to get its value, you&rsquo;re left with:</p>

<pre><code>04 81 F2 00F0007500DB74AFEEC…
</code></pre>

<p>There&rsquo;s that &ldquo;0x04&rdquo; tag again, but with a shorter length. Why
do we nest one <code>OCTET STRING</code> inside another? It&rsquo;s because the
contents of extnValue are required by RFC 5280 to be valid DER, but a
SignedCertificateTimestampList is not encoded using DER (more on that
in a minute). So, by RFC 6962, a SignedCertificateTimestampList is wrapped in an
<code>OCTET STRING</code>, which is wrapped in another <code>OCTET STRING</code> (the extnValue).</p>

<p>Once we decode that second <code>OCTET STRING</code>, we&rsquo;re left with the contents:</p>

<pre><code>00F0007500DB74AFEEC…
</code></pre>

<p>&ldquo;0x00&rdquo; isn&rsquo;t a valid tag in DER. What is this? It&rsquo;s TLS encoding. This is
defined in <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5246#section-4">RFC 5246, section 4</a>
(the TLS 1.2 RFC). TLS encoding, like ASN.1, has both a way to define data
structures and a way to encode those structures. TLS encoding differs
from DER in that there are no tags, and lengths are only encoded when necessary for
variable-length arrays. Within an encoded structure, the type of a field is determined by
its position, rather than by a tag. This means that TLS-encoded structures are
more compact than DER structures, but also that they can&rsquo;t be processed without
knowing the corresponding schema. For instance, here&rsquo;s the top-level schema from
<a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.3">RFC 6962, section 3.3</a>:</p>

<pre><code> The contents of the ASN.1 OCTET STRING embedded in an OCSP extension
or X509v3 certificate extension are as follows:

opaque SerializedSCT&lt;1..2^16-1&gt;;

struct {
SerializedSCT sct_list &lt;1..2^16-1&gt;;
} SignedCertificateTimestampList;

Here, &quot;SerializedSCT&quot; is an opaque byte string that contains the
serialized TLS structure.
</code></pre>

<p>Right away, we&rsquo;ve found one of those variable-length arrays. The length of such
an array (in bytes) is always represented by a length field just big enough to
hold the max array size. The max size of an <code>sct_list</code> is 65535 bytes, so the
length field is two bytes wide. Sure enough, those first two bytes are &ldquo;0x00
0xF0&rdquo;, or 240 in decimal. In other words, this <code>sct_list</code> will have 240 bytes. We
don&rsquo;t yet know how many SCTs will be in it. That will become clear only by
continuing to parse the encoded data and seeing where each struct ends (spoiler
alert: there are two SCTs!).</p>

<p>Now we know the first SerializedSCT starts with <code>0075…</code>. SerializedSCT
is itself a variable-length field, this time containing <code>opaque</code> bytes (much like <code>OCTET STRING</code>
back in the ASN.1 world). Like SignedCertificateTimestampList, it has a max size
of 65535 bytes, so we pull off the first two bytes and discover that the first
SerializedSCT is 0x0075 (117 decimal) bytes long. Here&rsquo;s the whole thing, in
hex:</p>

<pre><code>00DB74AFEECB29ECB1FECA3E716D2CE5B9AABB36F7847183C75D9D4F37B61FBF64000001627313EB19000004030046304402207E1FCD1E9A2BD2A50A0C81E713033A0762340DA8F91EF27A48B3817640159CD30220659FE9F1D880E2E8F6B325BE9F18956D17C6CA8A6F2B12CB0F55FB70F759A419
</code></pre>

<p>This can be decoded using the TLS encoding struct defined in <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#page-13">RFC 6962, section
3.2</a>:</p>

<pre><code>enum { v1(0), (255) }
Version;

struct {
opaque key_id[32];
} LogID;

opaque CtExtensions&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;

struct {
Version sct_version;
LogID id;
uint64 timestamp;
CtExtensions extensions;
digitally-signed struct {
Version sct_version;
SignatureType signature_type = certificate_timestamp;
uint64 timestamp;
LogEntryType entry_type;
select(entry_type) {
case x509_entry: ASN.1Cert;
case precert_entry: PreCert;
} signed_entry;
CtExtensions extensions;
};
} SignedCertificateTimestamp;
</code></pre>

<p>Breaking that down:</p>

<pre><code># Version sct_version v1(0)
00
# LogID id (aka opaque key_id[32])
DB74AFEECB29ECB1FECA3E716D2CE5B9AABB36F7847183C75D9D4F37B61FBF64
# uint64 timestamp (milliseconds since the epoch)
000001627313EB19
# CtExtensions extensions (zero-length array)
0000
# digitally-signed struct
04030046304402207E1FCD1E9A2BD2A50A0C81E713033A0762340DA8F91EF27A48B3817640159CD30220659FE9F1D880E2E8F6B325BE9F18956D17C6CA8A6F2B12CB0F55FB70F759A419
</code></pre>

<p>To understand the &ldquo;digitally-signed struct,&rdquo; we need to turn back to <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5246#section-4.7">RFC 5246,
section 4.7</a>. It says:</p>

<pre><code>A digitally-signed element is encoded as a struct DigitallySigned:

struct {
SignatureAndHashAlgorithm algorithm;
opaque signature&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;
} DigitallySigned;
</code></pre>

<p>And in <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5246#section-7.4.1.4.1">section
7.4.1.4.1</a>:</p>

<pre><code>enum {
none(0), md5(1), sha1(2), sha224(3), sha256(4), sha384(5),
sha512(6), (255)
} HashAlgorithm;

enum { anonymous(0), rsa(1), dsa(2), ecdsa(3), (255) }
SignatureAlgorithm;

struct {
HashAlgorithm hash;
SignatureAlgorithm signature;
} SignatureAndHashAlgorithm;
</code></pre>

<p>We have &ldquo;0x0403&rdquo;, which corresponds to sha256(4) and ecdsa(3). The next two
bytes, &ldquo;0x0046&rdquo;, tell us the length of the &ldquo;opaque signature&rdquo; field, 70 bytes in
decimal. To decode the signature, we reference <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc4492#page-20">RFC 4492 section
5.4</a>, which says:</p>

<pre><code>The digitally-signed element is encoded as an opaque vector &lt;0..2^16-1&gt;, the
contents of which are the DER encoding corresponding to the
following ASN.1 notation.

Ecdsa-Sig-Value ::= SEQUENCE {
r INTEGER,
s INTEGER
}
</code></pre>

<p>Having dived through two layers of TLS encoding, we are now back in ASN.1 land!
We
<a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js/#304402207E1FCD1E9A2BD2A50A0C81E713033A0762340DA8F91EF27A48B3817640159CD30220659FE9F1D880E2E8F6B325BE9F18956D17C6CA8A6F2B12CB0F55FB70F759A419">decode</a>
the remaining bytes into a SEQUENCE containing two INTEGERS. And we&rsquo;re done! Here&rsquo;s the whole
extension decoded:</p>

<pre><code># Extension SEQUENCE – RFC 5280
30
# length 0x0104 bytes (260 decimal)
820104
# OBJECT IDENTIFIER
06
# length 0x0A bytes (10 decimal)
0A
# value (1.3.6.1.4.1.11129.2.4.2)
2B06010401D679020402
# OCTET STRING
04
# length 0xF5 bytes (245 decimal)
81F5
# OCTET STRING (embedded) – RFC 6962
04
# length 0xF2 bytes (242 decimal)
81F2
# Beginning of TLS encoded SignedCertificateTimestampList – RFC 5246 / 6962
# length 0xF0 bytes
00F0
# opaque SerializedSCT&lt;1..2^16-1&gt;
# length 0x75 bytes
0075
# Version sct_version v1(0)
00
# LogID id (aka opaque key_id[32])
DB74AFEECB29ECB1FECA3E716D2CE5B9AABB36F7847183C75D9D4F37B61FBF64
# uint64 timestamp (milliseconds since the epoch)
000001627313EB19
# CtExtensions extensions (zero-length array)
0000
# digitally-signed struct – RFC 5426
# SignatureAndHashAlgorithm (ecdsa-sha256)
0403
# opaque signature&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;
# length 0x0046
0046
# DER-encoded Ecdsa-Sig-Value – RFC 4492
30 # SEQUENCE
44 # length 0x44 bytes
02 # r INTEGER
20 # length 0x20 bytes
# value
7E1FCD1E9A2BD2A50A0C81E713033A0762340DA8F91EF27A48B3817640159CD3
02 # s INTEGER
20 # length 0x20 bytes
# value
659FE9F1D880E2E8F6B325BE9F18956D17C6CA8A6F2B12CB0F55FB70F759A419
# opaque SerializedSCT&lt;1..2^16-1&gt;
# length 0x77 bytes
0077
# Version sct_version v1(0)
00
# LogID id (aka opaque key_id[32])
293C519654C83965BAAA50FC5807D4B76FBF587A2972DCA4C30CF4E54547F478
# uint64 timestamp (milliseconds since the epoch)
000001627313EB2A
# CtExtensions extensions (zero-length array)
0000
# digitally-signed struct – RFC 5426
# SignatureAndHashAlgorithm (ecdsa-sha256)
0403
# opaque signature&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;
# length 0x0048
0048
# DER-encoded Ecdsa-Sig-Value – RFC 4492
30 # SEQUENCE
46 # length 0x46 bytes
02 # r INTEGER
21 # length 0x21 bytes
# value
00AB72F1E4D6223EF87FC68491C208D29D4D57EBF47588BB7544D32F9537E2CEC1
02 # s INTEGER
21 # length 0x21 bytes
# value
008AFFC40CC6C4E3B24578DADE4F815ECBCE2D57A579342119A1E65BC7E5E69CE2
</code></pre>

<p>One surprising thing you might notice: In the first SCT, <code>r</code> and <code>s</code> are twenty
bytes long. In the second SCT, they are both twenty-one bytes long, and have a
leading zero. Integers in DER are two&rsquo;s complement, so if the leftmost bit is
set, they are interpreted as negative. Since <code>r</code> and <code>s</code> are positive, if the
leftmost bit would be a 1, an extra byte has to be added so that the leftmost
bit can be 0.</p>

<p>This is a little taste of what goes into encoding a certificate. I hope it was
informative! If you&rsquo;d like to learn more, I recommend &ldquo;<a href="http://luca.ntop.org/Teaching/Appunti/asn1.html">A Layman&rsquo;s Guide to a
Subset of ASN.1, BER, and DER</a>.&rdquo;</p>

<p><a name="poison"></a>Footnote 1: A &ldquo;poison extension&rdquo; is defined by <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.1">RFC 6962
section 3.1</a>:</p>

<pre><code>The Precertificate is constructed from the certificate to be issued by adding a special
critical poison extension (OID `1.3.6.1.4.1.11129.2.4.3`, whose
extnValue OCTET STRING contains ASN.1 NULL data (0x05 0x00))
</code></pre>

<p>In other words, it&rsquo;s an empty extension whose only purpose is to ensure that
certificate processors will not accept precertificates as valid certificates. The
specification ensures this by setting the &ldquo;critical&rdquo; bit on the extension, which
ensures that code that doesn&rsquo;t recognize the extension will reject the whole
certificate. Code that does recognize the extension specifically as poison
will also reject the certificate.</p>

<p><a name="variable-length"></a>Footnote 2: Lengths from 0-127 are represented by
a single byte (short form). To express longer lengths, more bytes are used (long form).
The high bit (0x80) on the first byte is set to distinguish long form from short
form. The remaining bits are used to express how many more bytes to read for the
length. For instance, 0x81F5 means &ldquo;this is long form because the length is
greater than 127, but there&rsquo;s still only one byte of length (0xF5) to decode.&rdquo;</p>

Subverting Backdoored Encryption

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/subverting_back.html

This is a really interesting research result. This paper proves that two parties can create a secure communications channel using a communications system with a backdoor. It’s a theoretical result, so it doesn’t talk about how easy that channel is to create. And the assumptions on the adversary are pretty reasonable: that each party can create his own randomness, and that the government isn’t literally eavesdropping on every single part of the network at all times.

This result reminds me a lot of the work about subliminal channels from the 1980s and 1990s, and the notions of how to build an anonymous communications system on top of an identified system. Basically, it’s always possible to overlay a system around and outside any closed system.

How to Subvert Backdoored Encryption: Security Against Adversaries that Decrypt All Ciphertexts,” by Thibaut Horel and Sunoo Park and Silas Richelson and Vinod Vaikuntanathan.

Abstract: In this work, we examine the feasibility of secure and undetectable point-to-point communication in a world where governments can read all the encrypted communications of their citizens. We consider a world where the only permitted method of communication is via a government-mandated encryption scheme, instantiated with government-mandated keys. Parties cannot simply encrypt ciphertexts of some other encryption scheme, because citizens caught trying to communicate outside the government’s knowledge (e.g., by encrypting strings which do not appear to be natural language plaintexts) will be arrested. The one guarantee we suppose is that the government mandates an encryption scheme which is semantically secure against outsiders: a perhaps reasonable supposition when a government might consider it advantageous to secure its people’s communication against foreign entities. But then, what good is semantic security against an adversary that holds all the keys and has the power to decrypt?

We show that even in the pessimistic scenario described, citizens can communicate securely and undetectably. In our terminology, this translates to a positive statement: all semantically secure encryption schemes support subliminal communication. Informally, this means that there is a two-party protocol between Alice and Bob where the parties exchange ciphertexts of what appears to be a normal conversation even to someone who knows the secret keys and thus can read the corresponding plaintexts. And yet, at the end of the protocol, Alice will have transmitted her secret message to Bob. Our security definition requires that the adversary not be able to tell whether Alice and Bob are just having a normal conversation using the mandated encryption scheme, or they are using the mandated encryption scheme for subliminal communication.

Our topics may be thought to fall broadly within the realm of steganography: the science of hiding secret communication within innocent-looking messages, or cover objects. However, we deal with the non-standard setting of an adversarially chosen distribution of cover objects (i.e., a stronger-than-usual adversary), and we take advantage of the fact that our cover objects are ciphertexts of a semantically secure encryption scheme to bypass impossibility results which we show for broader classes of steganographic schemes. We give several constructions of subliminal communication schemes under the assumption that key exchange protocols with pseudorandom messages exist (such as Diffie-Hellman, which in fact has truly random messages). Each construction leverages the assumed semantic security of the adversarially chosen encryption scheme, in order to achieve subliminal communication.

Tracking Cookies and GDPR

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/tracking-cookies-gdpr/

GDPR is the new data protection regulation, as you probably already know. I’ve given a detailed practical advice for what it means for developers (and product owners). However, there’s one thing missing there – cookies. The elephant in the room.

Previously I’ve stated that cookies are subject to another piece of legislation – the ePrivacy directive, which is getting updated and its new version will be in force a few years from now. And while that’s technically correct, cookies seem to be affected by GDPR as well. In a way I’ve underestimated that effect.

When you do a Google search on “GDPR cookies”, you’ll pretty quickly realize that a) there’s not too much information and b) there’s not much technical understanding of the issue.

What appears to be the consensus is that GDPR does change the way cookies are handled. More specifically – tracking cookies. Here’s recital 30:

(30) Natural persons may be associated with online identifiers provided by their devices, applications, tools and protocols, such as internet protocol addresses, cookie identifiers or other identifiers such as radio frequency identification tags. This may leave traces which, in particular when combined with unique identifiers and other information received by the servers, may be used to create profiles of the natural persons and identify them.

How tracking cookies work – a 3rd party (usually an ad network) gives you a code snippet that you place on your website, for example to display ads. That code snippet, however, calls “home” (makes a request to the 3rd party domain). If the 3rd party has previously been used on your computer, it has created a cookie. In the example of Facebook, they have the cookie with your Facebook identifier because you’ve logged in to Facebook. So this cookie (with your identifier) is sent with the request. The request also contains all the details from the page. In effect, you are uniquely identified by an identifier (in the case of Facebook and Google – fully identified, rather than some random anonymous identifier as with other ad networks).

Your behaviour on the website is personal data. It gets associated with your identifier, which in turn is associated with your profile. And all of that is personal data. Who is responsible for collecting the website behaviour data, i.e. who is the “controller”? Is it Facebook (or any other 3rd party) that technically does the collection? No, it’s the website owner, as the behaviour data is obtained on their website, and they have put the tracking piece of code there. So they bear responsibility.

What’s the responsibility? So far it boiled down to displaying the useless “we use cookies” warning that nobody cares about. And the current (old) ePrivacy directive and its interpretations says that this is enough – if the users actions can unambiguously mean that they are fine with cookies – i.e. if they continue to use the website after seeing the warning – then you’re fine. This is no longer true from a GDPR perspective – you are collecting user data and you have to have a lawful ground for processing.

For the data collected by tracking cookies you have two options – “consent” and “legitimate interest”. Legitimate interest will be hard to prove – it is not something that a user reasonably expects, it is not necessary for you to provide the service. If your lawyers can get that option to fly, good for them, but I’m not convinced regulators will be happy with that.

The other option is “consent”. You have to ask your users explicitly – that means “with a checkbox” – to let you use tracking cookies. That has two serious implications – from technical and usability point of view.

  • The technical issue is that the data is sent via 3rd party code as soon as the page loads and before the user can give their consent. And that’s already a violation. You can, of course, have the 3rd party code be dynamically inserted only after the user gives consent, but that will require some fiddling with javascript and might not always work depending on the provider. And you’d have to support opt-out at any time (which would in turn disable the 3rd party snippet). It would require actual coding, rather than just copy-pasting a snippet.
  • The usability aspect is the bigger issue – while you could neatly tuck a cookie warning at the bottom, you’d now have to have a serious, “stop the world” popup that asks for consent if you want anyone to click it. You can, of course, just add a checkbox to the existing cookie warning, but don’t expect anyone to click it.

These aspects pose a significant questions: is it worth it to have tracking cookies? Is developing new functionality worth it, is interrupting the user worth it, and is implementing new functionality just so that users never clicks a hidden checkbox worth it? Especially given that Firefox now blocks all tracking cookies and possibly other browsers will follow?

That by itself is an interesting topic – Firefox has basically implemented the most strict form of requirements of the upcoming ePrivacy directive update (that would turn it into an ePrivacy regulation). Other browsers will have to follow, even though Google may not be happy to block their own tracking cookies. I hope other browsers follow Firefox in tracking protection and the issue will be gone automatically.

To me it seems that it will be increasingly not worthy to have tracking cookies on your website. They add regulatory obligations for you and give you very little benefit (yes, you could track engagement from ads, but you can do that in other ways, arguably by less additional code than supporting the cookie consents). And yes, the cookie consent will be “outsourced” to browsers after the ePrivacy regulation is passed, but we can’t be sure at the moment whether there won’t be technical whack-a-mole between browsers and advertisers and whether you wouldn’t still need additional effort to have dynamic consent for tracking cookies. (For example there are reported issues that Firefox used to make Facebook login fail if tracking protection is enabled. Which could be a simple bug, or could become a strategy by big vendors in the future to force browsers into a less strict tracking protection).

Okay, we’ve decided it’s not worth it managing tracking cookies. But do you have a choice as a website owner? Can you stop your ad network from using them? (Remember – you are liable if users’ data is collected by visiting your website). And currently the answer is no – you can’t disable that. You can’t have “just the ads”. This is part of the “deal” – you get money for the ads you place, but you participate in a big “surveillance” network. Users have a way to opt out (e.g. Google AdWords gives them that option). You, as a website owner, don’t.

Facebook has a recommendations page that says “you take care of getting the consent”. But for example the “like button” plugin doesn’t have an option to not send any data to Facebook.

And sometimes you don’t want to serve ads, just track user behaviour and measure conversion. But even if you ask for consent for that and conditionally insert the plugin/snippet, do you actually know what data it sends? And what it’s used for? Because you have to know in order to inform your users. “Do you agree to use tracking cookies that Facebook has inserted in order to collect data about your behaviour on our website” doesn’t sound compelling.

So, what to do? The easiest thing is just not to use any 3rd party ad-related plugins. But that’s obviously not an option, as ad revenue is important, especially in the publishing industry. I don’t have a good answer, apart from “Regulators should pressure ad networks to provide opt-outs and clearly document their data usage”. They have to do that under GDPR, and while website owners are responsible for their users’ data, the ad networks that are in the role of processors in this case (as you delegate the data collection for your visitors to them) also have obligation to assist you in fulfilling your obligations. So ask Facebook – what should I do with your tracking cookies? And when the regulator comes after a privacy-aware customer files a complaint, you could prove that you’ve tried.

The ethical debate whether it’s wrong to collect data about peoples’ behaviour without their informed consent is an easy one. And that’s why I don’t put blame on the regulators – they are putting the ethical consensus in law. It gets more complicated if not allowing tracking means some internet services are no longer profitable and therefore can’t exist. Can we have the cake and eat it too?

The post Tracking Cookies and GDPR appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

[$] The Sound Open Firmware project launches

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/749888/rss

It is an increasingly poorly kept secret that, underneath the hood of
the components that most of us view as “hardware”, there is a great deal of
proprietary software. This code, written by anonymous developers, rarely
sees the light of day; as a result, it tends to have all of the pathologies
associated with software that nobody can either review or fix. The 2018
Embedded Linux Conference
saw an announcement for a new project that, with luck, will change that
situation, at least for one variety of hardware: audio devices.

Harassment By Package Delivery

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/02/harassment_by_p.html

People harassing women by delivering anonymous packages purchased from Amazon.

On the one hand, there is nothing new here. This could have happened decades ago, pre-Internet. But the Internet makes this easier, and the article points out that using prepaid gift cards makes this anonymous. I am curious how much these differences make a difference in kind, and what can be done about it.

Tech wishes for 2018

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/02/18/tech-wishes-for-2018/

Anonymous asks, via money:

What would you like to see happen in tech in 2018?

(answer can be technical, social, political, combination, whatever)

Hmm.

Less of this

I’m not really qualified to speak in depth about either of these things, but let me put my foot in my mouth anyway:

The Blockchain™

Bitcoin was a neat idea. No, really! Decentralization is cool. Overhauling our terrible financial infrastructure is cool. Hash functions are cool.

Unfortunately, it seems to have devolved into mostly a get-rich-quick scheme for nerds, and by nearly any measure it’s turning into a spectacular catastrophe. Its “success” is measured in how much a bitcoin is worth in US dollars, which is pretty close to an admission from its own investors that its only value is in converting back to “real” money — all while that same “success” is making it less useful as a distinct currency.

Blah, blah, everyone already knows this.

What concerns me slightly more is the gold rush hype cycle, which is putting cryptocurrency and “blockchain” in the news and lending it all legitimacy. People have raked in millions of dollars on ICOs of novel coins I’ve never heard mentioned again. (Note: again, that value is measured in dollars.) Most likely, none of the investors will see any return whatsoever on that money. They can’t, really, unless a coin actually takes off as a currency, and that seems at odds with speculative investing since everyone either wants to hoard or ditch their coins. When the coins have no value themselves, the money can only come from other investors, and eventually the hype winds down and you run out of other investors.

I fear this will hurt a lot of people before it’s over, so I’d like for it to be over as soon as possible.


That said, the hype itself has gotten way out of hand too. First it was the obsession with “blockchain” like it’s a revolutionary technology, but hey, Git is a fucking blockchain. The novel part is the way it handles distributed consensus (which in Git is basically left for you to figure out), and that’s uniquely important to currency because you want to be pretty sure that money doesn’t get duplicated or lost when moved around.

But now we have startups trying to use blockchains for website backends and file storage and who knows what else? Why? What advantage does this have? When you say “blockchain”, I hear “single Git repository” — so when you say “email on the blockchain”, I have an aneurysm.

Bitcoin seems to have sparked imagination in large part because it’s decentralized, but I’d argue it’s actually a pretty bad example of a decentralized network, since people keep forking it. The ability to fork is a feature, sure, but the trouble here is that the Bitcoin family has no notion of federation — there is one canonical Bitcoin ledger and it has no notion of communication with any other. That’s what you want for currency, not necessarily other applications. (Bitcoin also incentivizes frivolous forking by giving the creator an initial pile of coins to keep and sell.)

And federation is much more interesting than decentralization! Federation gives us email and the web. Federation means I can set up my own instance with my own rules and still be able to meaningfully communicate with the rest of the network. Federation has some amount of tolerance for changes to the protocol, so such changes are more flexible and rely more heavily on consensus.

Federation is fantastic, and it feels like a massive tragedy that this rekindled interest in decentralization is mostly focused on peer-to-peer networks, which do little to address our current problems with centralized platforms.

And hey, you know what else is federated? Banks.

AI

Again, the tech is cool and all, but the marketing hype is getting way out of hand.

Maybe what I really want from 2018 is less marketing?

For one, I’ve seen a huge uptick in uncritically referring to any software that creates or classifies creative work as “AI”. Can we… can we not. It’s not AI. Yes, yes, nerds, I don’t care about the hair-splitting about the nature of intelligence — you know that when we hear “AI” we think of a human-like self-aware intelligence. But we’re applying it to stuff like a weird dog generator. Or to whatever neural network a website threw into production this week.

And this is dangerously misleading — we already had massive tech companies scapegoating The Algorithm™ for the poor behavior of their software, and now we’re talking about those algorithms as though they were self-aware, untouchable, untameable, unknowable entities of pure chaos whose decisions we are arbitrarily bound to. Ancient, powerful gods who exist just outside human comprehension or law.

It’s weird to see this stuff appear in consumer products so quickly, too. It feels quick, anyway. The latest iPhone can unlock via facial recognition, right? I’m sure a lot of effort was put into ensuring that the same person’s face would always be recognized… but how confident are we that other faces won’t be recognized? I admit I don’t follow all this super closely, so I may be imagining a non-problem, but I do know that humans are remarkably bad at checking for negative cases.

Hell, take the recurring problem of major platforms like Twitter and YouTube classifying anything mentioning “bisexual” as pornographic — because the word is also used as a porn genre, and someone threw a list of porn terms into a filter without thinking too hard about it. That’s just a word list, a fairly simple thing that any human can review; but suddenly we’re confident in opaque networks of inferred details?

I don’t know. “Traditional” classification and generation are much more comforting, since they’re a set of fairly abstract rules that can be examined and followed. Machine learning, as I understand it, is less about rules and much more about pattern-matching; it’s built out of the fingerprints of the stuff it’s trained on. Surely that’s just begging for tons of edge cases. They’re practically made of edge cases.


I’m reminded of a point I saw made a few days ago on Twitter, something I’d never thought about but should have. TurnItIn is a service for universities that checks whether students’ papers match any others, in order to detect cheating. But this is a paid service, one that fundamentally hinges on its corpus: a large collection of existing student papers. So students pay money to attend school, where they’re required to let their work be given to a third-party company, which then profits off of it? What kind of a goofy business model is this?

And my thoughts turn to machine learning, which is fundamentally different from an algorithm you can simply copy from a paper, because it’s all about the training data. And to get good results, you need a lot of training data. Where is that all coming from? How many for-profit companies are setting a neural network loose on the web — on millions of people’s work — and then turning around and selling the result as a product?

This is really a question of how intellectual property works in the internet era, and it continues our proud decades-long tradition of just kinda doing whatever we want without thinking about it too much. Nothing if not consistent.

More of this

A bit tougher, since computers are pretty alright now and everything continues to chug along. Maybe we should just quit while we’re ahead. There’s some real pie-in-the-sky stuff that would be nice, but it certainly won’t happen within a year, and may never happen except in some horrific Algorithmic™ form designed by people that don’t know anything about the problem space and only works 60% of the time but is treated as though it were bulletproof.

Federation

The giants are getting more giant. Maybe too giant? Granted, it could be much worse than Google and Amazon — it could be Apple!

Amazon has its own delivery service and brick-and-mortar stores now, as well as providing the plumbing for vast amounts of the web. They’re not doing anything particularly outrageous, but they kind of loom.

Ad company Google just put ad blocking in its majority-share browser — albeit for the ambiguously-noble goal of only blocking obnoxious ads so that people will be less inclined to install a blanket ad blocker.

Twitter is kind of a nightmare but no one wants to leave. I keep trying to use Mastodon as well, but I always forget about it after a day, whoops.

Facebook sounds like a total nightmare but no one wants to leave that either, because normies don’t use anything else, which is itself direly concerning.

IRC is rapidly bleeding mindshare to Slack and Discord, both of which are far better at the things IRC sadly never tried to do and absolutely terrible at the exact things IRC excels at.

The problem is the same as ever: there’s no incentive to interoperate. There’s no fundamental technical reason why Twitter and Tumblr and MySpace and Facebook can’t intermingle their posts; they just don’t, because why would they bother? It’s extra work that makes it easier for people to not use your ecosystem.

I don’t know what can be done about that, except that hope for a really big player to decide to play nice out of the kindness of their heart. The really big federated success stories — say, the web — mostly won out because they came along first. At this point, how does a federated social network take over? I don’t know.

Social progress

I… don’t really have a solid grasp on what’s happening in tech socially at the moment. I’ve drifted a bit away from the industry part, which is where that all tends to come up. I have the vague sense that things are improving, but that might just be because the Rust community is the one I hear the most about, and it puts a lot of effort into being inclusive and welcoming.

So… more projects should be like Rust? Do whatever Rust is doing? And not so much what Linus is doing.

Open source funding

I haven’t heard this brought up much lately, but it would still be nice to see. The Bay Area runs on open source and is raking in zillions of dollars on its back; pump some of that cash back into the ecosystem, somehow.

I’ve seen a couple open source projects on Patreon, which is fantastic, but feels like a very small solution given how much money is flowing through the commercial tech industry.

Ad blocking

Nice. Fuck ads.

One might wonder where the money to host a website comes from, then? I don’t know. Maybe we should loop this in with the above thing and find a more informal way to pay people for the stuff they make when we find it useful, without the financial and cognitive overhead of A Transaction or Giving Someone My Damn Credit Card Number. You know, something like Bitco— ah, fuck.

Year of the Linux Desktop

I don’t know. What are we working on at the moment? Wayland? Do Wayland, I guess. Oh, and hi-DPI, which I hear sucks. And please fix my sound drivers so PulseAudio stops blaming them when it fucks up.

Locating Secret Military Bases via Fitness Data

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/01/locating_secret.html

In November, the company Strava released an anonymous data-visualization map showing all the fitness activity by everyone using the app.

Over this weekend, someone realized that it could be used to locate secret military bases: just look for repeated fitness activity in the middle of nowhere.

News article.

The problematic Wannacry North Korea attribution

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2018/01/the-problematic-wannacry-north-korea.html

Last month, the US government officially “attributed” the Wannacry ransomware worm to North Korea. This attribution has three flaws, which are a good lesson for attribution in general.

It was an accident

The most important fact about Wannacry is that it was an accident. We’ve had 30 years of experience with Internet worms teaching us that worms are always accidents. While launching worms may be intentional, their effects cannot be predicted. While they appear to have targets, like Slammer against South Korea, or Witty against the Pentagon, further analysis shows this was just a random effect that was impossible to predict ahead of time. Only in hindsight are these effects explainable.
We should hold those causing accidents accountable, too, but it’s a different accountability. The U.S. has caused more civilian deaths in its War on Terror than the terrorists caused triggering that war. But we hold these to be morally different: the terrorists targeted the innocent, whereas the U.S. takes great pains to avoid civilian casualties. 
Since we are talking about blaming those responsible for accidents, we also must include the NSA in that mix. The NSA created, then allowed the release of, weaponized exploits. That’s like accidentally dropping a load of unexploded bombs near a village. When those bombs are then used, those having lost the weapons are held guilty along with those using them. Yes, while we should blame the hacker who added ETERNAL BLUE to their ransomware, we should also blame the NSA for losing control of ETERNAL BLUE.

A country and its assets are different

Was it North Korea, or hackers affilliated with North Korea? These aren’t the same.

It’s hard for North Korea to have hackers of its own. It doesn’t have citizens who grow up with computers to pick from. Moreover, an internal hacking corps would create tainted citizens exposed to dangerous outside ideas. Update: Some people have pointed out that Kim Il-sung University in the capital does have some contact with the outside world, with academics granted limited Internet access, so I guess some tainting is allowed. Still, what we know of North Korea hacking efforts largley comes from hackers they employ outside North Korea. It was the Lazurus Group, outside North Korea, that did Wannacry.
Instead, North Korea develops external hacking “assets”, supporting several external hacking groups in China, Japan, and South Korea. This is similar to how intelligence agencies develop human “assets” in foreign countries. While these assets do things for their handlers, they also have normal day jobs, and do many things that are wholly independent and even sometimes against their handler’s interests.
For example, this Muckrock FOIA dump shows how “CIA assets” independently worked for Castro and assassinated a Panamanian president. That they also worked for the CIA does not make the CIA responsible for the Panamanian assassination.
That CIA/intelligence assets work this way is well-known and uncontroversial. The fact that countries use hacker assets like this is the controversial part. These hackers do act independently, yet we refuse to consider this when we want to “attribute” attacks.

Attribution is political

We have far better attribution for the nPetya attacks. It was less accidental (they clearly desired to disrupt Ukraine), and the hackers were much closer to the Russian government (Russian citizens). Yet, the Trump administration isn’t fighting Russia, they are fighting North Korea, so they don’t officially attribute nPetya to Russia, but do attribute Wannacry to North Korea.
Trump is in conflict with North Korea. He is looking for ways to escalate the conflict. Attributing Wannacry helps achieve his political objectives.
That it was blatantly politics is demonstrated by the way it was released to the press. It wasn’t released in the normal way, where the administration can stand behind it, and get challenged on the particulars. Instead, it was pre-released through the normal system of “anonymous government officials” to the NYTimes, and then backed up with op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The government leaks information like this when it’s weak, not when its strong.

The proper way is to release the evidence upon which the decision was made, so that the public can challenge it. Among the questions the public would ask is whether it they believe it was North Korea’s intention to cause precisely this effect, such as disabling the British NHS. Or, whether it was merely hackers “affiliated” with North Korea, or hackers carrying out North Korea’s orders. We cannot challenge the government this way because the government intentionally holds itself above such accountability.

Conclusion

We believe hacking groups tied to North Korea are responsible for Wannacry. Yet, even if that’s true, we still have three attribution problems. We still don’t know if that was intentional, in pursuit of some political goal, or an accident. We still don’t know if it was at the direction of North Korea, or whether their hacker assets acted independently. We still don’t know if the government has answers to these questions, or whether it’s exploiting this doubt to achieve political support for actions against North Korea.

Physics cheats

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/01/06/physics-cheats/

Anonymous asks:

something about how we tweak physics to “work” better in games?

Ho ho! Work. Get it? Like in physics…?

Hitboxes

Hitbox” is perhaps not the most accurate term, since the shape used for colliding with the environment and the shape used for detecting damage might be totally different. They’re usually the same in simple platformers, though, and that’s what most of my games have been.

The hitbox is the biggest physics fudge by far, and it exists because of a single massive approximation that (most) games make: you’re controlling a single entity in the abstract, not a physical body in great detail.

That is: when you walk with your real-world meat shell, you perform a complex dance of putting one foot in front of the other, a motion you spent years perfecting. When you walk in a video game, you press a single “walk” button. Your avatar may play an animation that moves its legs back and forth, but since you’re not actually controlling the legs independently (and since simulating them is way harder), the game just treats you like a simple shape. Fairly often, this is a box, or something very box-like.

An Eevee sprite standing on faux ground; the size of the underlying image and the hitbox are outlined

Since the player has no direct control over the exact placement of their limbs, it would be slightly frustrating to have them collide with the world. This is especially true in cases like the above, where the tail and left ear protrude significantly out from the main body. If that Eevee wanted to stand against a real-world wall, she would simply tilt her ear or tail out of the way, so there’s no reason for the ear to block her from standing against a game wall. To compensate for this, the ear and tail are left out of the collision box entirely and will simply jut into a wall if necessary — a goofy affordance that’s so common it doesn’t even register as unusual. As a bonus (assuming this same box is used for combat), she won’t take damage from projectiles that merely graze past an ear.

(One extra consideration for sprite games in particular: the hitbox ought to be horizontally symmetric around the sprite’s pivot — i.e. the point where the entity is truly considered to be standing — so that the hitbox doesn’t abruptly move when the entity turns around!)

Corners

Treating the player (and indeed most objects) as a box has one annoying side effect: boxes have corners. Corners can catch on other corners, even by a single pixel. Real-world bodies tend to be a bit rounder and squishier and this can tolerate grazing a corner; even real-world boxes will simply rotate a bit.

Ah, but in our faux physics world, we generally don’t want conscious actors (such as the player) to rotate, even with a realistic physics simulator! Real-world bodies are made of parts that will generally try to keep you upright, after all; you don’t tilt back and forth much.

One way to handle corners is to simply remove them from conscious actors. A hitbox doesn’t have to be a literal box, after all. A popular alternative — especially in Unity where it’s a standard asset — is the pill-shaped capsule, which has semicircles/hemispheres on the top and bottom and a cylindrical body in 3D. No corners, no problem.

Of course, that introduces a new problem: now the player can’t balance precariously on edges without their rounded bottom sliding them off. Alas.

If you’re stuck with corners, then, you may want to use a corner bump, a term I just made up. If the player would collide with a corner, but the collision is only by a few pixels, just nudge them to the side a bit and carry on.

An Eevee sprite trying to move sideways into a shallow ledge; the game bumps her upwards slightly, so she steps onto it instead

When the corner is horizontal, this creates stairs! This is, more or less kinda, how steps work in Doom: when the player tries to cross from one sector into another, if the height difference is 24 units or less, the game simply bumps them upwards to the height of the new floor and lets them continue on.

Implementing this in a game without Doom’s notion of sectors is a little trickier. In fact, I still haven’t done it. Collision detection based on rejection gets it for free, kinda, but it’s not very deterministic and it breaks other things. But that’s a whole other post.

Gravity

Gravity is pretty easy. Everything accelerates downwards all the time. What’s interesting are the exceptions.

Jumping

Jumping is a giant hack.

Think about how actual jumping works: you tense your legs, which generally involves bending your knees first, and then spring upwards. In a platformer, you can just leap whenever you feel like it, which is nonsense. Also you go like twenty feet into the air?

Worse, most platformers allow variable-height jumping, where your jump is lower if you let go of the jump button while you’re in the air. Normally, one would expect to have to decide how much force to put into the jump beforehand.

But of course this is about convenience of controls: when jumping is your primary action, you want to be able to do it immediately, without any windup for how high you want to jump.

(And then there’s double jumping? Come on.)

Air control is a similar phenomenon: usually you’d jump in a particular direction by controlling how you push off the ground with your feet, but in a video game, you don’t have feet! You only have the box. The compromise is to let you control your horizontal movement to a limit degree in midair, even though that doesn’t make any sense. (It’s way more fun, though, and overall gives you more movement options, which are good to have in an interactive medium.)

Air control also exposes an obvious place that game physics collide with the realistic model of serious physics engines. I’ve mentioned this before, but: if you use Real Physics™ and air control yourself into a wall, you might find that you’ll simply stick to the wall until you let go of the movement buttons. Why? Remember, player movement acts as though an external force were pushing you around (and from the perspective of a Real™ physics engine, this is exactly how you’d implement it) — so air-controlling into a wall is equivalent to pushing a book against a wall with your hand, and the friction with the wall holds you in place. Oops.

Ground sticking

Another place game physics conflict with physics engines is with running to the top of a slope. On a real hill, of course, you land on top of the slope and are probably glad of it; slopes are hard to climb!

An Eevee moves to the top of a slope, and rather than step onto the flat top, she goes flying off into the air

In a video game, you go flying. Because you’re a box. With momentum. So you hit the peak and keep going in the same direction. Which is diagonally upwards.

Projectiles

To make them more predictable, projectiles generally aren’t subject to gravity, at least as far as I’ve seen. The real world does not have such an exemption. The real world imposes gravity even on sniper rifles, which in a video game are often implemented as an instant trace unaffected by anything in the world because the bullet never actually exists in the world.

Resistance

Ah. Welcome to hell.

Water

Water is an interesting case, and offhand I don’t know the gritty details of how games implement it. In the real world, water applies a resistant drag force to movement — and that force is proportional to the square of velocity, which I’d completely forgotten until right now. I am almost positive that no game handles that correctly. But then, in real-world water, you can push against the water itself for movement, and games don’t simulate that either. What’s the rough equivalent?

The Sonic Physics Guide suggests that Sonic handles it by basically halving everything: acceleration, max speed, friction, etc. When Sonic enters water, his speed is cut; when Sonic exits water, his speed is increased.

That last bit feels validating — I could swear Metroid Prime did the same thing, and built my own solution around it, but couldn’t remember for sure. It makes no sense, of course, for a jump to become faster just because you happened to break the surface of the water, but it feels fantastic.

The thing I did was similar, except that I didn’t want to add a multiplier in a dozen places when you happen to be underwater (and remember which ones need it to be squared, etc.). So instead, I calculate everything completely as normal, so velocity is exactly the same as it would be on dry land — but the distance you would move gets halved. The effect seems to be pretty similar to most platformers with water, at least as far as I can tell. It hasn’t shown up in a published game and I only added this fairly recently, so I might be overlooking some reason this is a bad idea.

(One reason that comes to mind is that velocity is now a little white lie while underwater, so anything relying on velocity for interesting effects might be thrown off. Or maybe that’s correct, because velocity thresholds should be halved underwater too? Hm!)

Notably, air is also a fluid, so it should behave the same way (just with different constants). I definitely don’t think any games apply air drag that’s proportional to the square of velocity.

Friction

Friction is, in my experience, a little handwaved. Probably because real-world friction is so darn complicated.

Consider that in the real world, we want very high friction on the surfaces we walk on — shoes and tires are explicitly designed to increase it, even. We move by bracing a back foot against the ground and using that to push ourselves forward, so we want the ground to resist our push as much as possible.

In a game world, we are a box. We move by being pushed by some invisible outside force, so if the friction between ourselves and the ground is too high, we won’t be able to move at all! That’s complete nonsense physically, but it turns out to be handy in some cases — for example, highish friction can simulate walking through deep mud, which should be difficult due to fluid drag and low friction.

But the best-known example of the fakeness of game friction is video game ice. Walking on real-world ice is difficult because the low friction means low grip; your feet are likely to slip out from under you, and you’ll simply fall down and have trouble moving at all. In a video game, you can’t fall down, so you have the opposite experience: you spend most of your time sliding around uncontrollably. Yet ice is so common in video games (and perhaps so uncommon in places I’ve lived) that I, at least, had never really thought about this disparity until an hour or so ago.

Game friction vs real-world friction

Real-world friction is a force. It’s the normal force (which is the force exerted by the object on the surface) times some constant that depends on how the two materials interact.

Force is mass times acceleration, and platformers often ignore mass, so friction ought to be an acceleration — applied against the object’s movement, but never enough to push it backwards.

I haven’t made any games where variable friction plays a significant role, but my gut instinct is that low friction should mean the player accelerates more slowly but has a higher max speed, and high friction should mean the opposite. I see from my own source code that I didn’t even do what I just said, so let’s defer to some better-made and well-documented games: Sonic and Doom.

In Sonic, friction is a fixed value subtracted from the player’s velocity (regardless of direction) each tic. Sonic has a fixed framerate, so the units are really pixels per tic squared (i.e. acceleration), multiplied by an implicit 1 tic per tic. So far, so good.

But Sonic’s friction only applies if the player isn’t pressing or . Hang on, that isn’t friction at all; that’s just deceleration! That’s equivalent to jogging to a stop. If friction were lower, Sonic would take longer to stop, but otherwise this is only tangentially related to friction.

(In fairness, this approach would decently emulate friction for non-conscious sliding objects, which are never going to be pressing movement buttons. Also, we don’t have the Sonic source code, and the name “friction” is a fan invention; the Sonic Physics Guide already uses “deceleration” to describe the player’s acceleration when turning around.)

Okay, let’s try Doom. In Doom, the default friction is 90.625%.

Hang on, what?

Yes, in Doom, friction is a multiplier applied every tic. Doom runs at 35 tics per second, so this is a multiplier of 0.032 per second. Yikes!

This isn’t anything remotely like real friction, but it’s much easier to implement. With friction as acceleration, the game has to know both the direction of movement (so it can apply friction in the opposite direction) and the magnitude (so it doesn’t overshoot and launch the object in the other direction). That means taking a semi-costly square root and also writing extra code to cap the amount of friction. With a multiplier, neither is necessary; just multiply the whole velocity vector and you’re done.

There are some downsides. One is that objects will never actually stop, since multiplying by 3% repeatedly will never produce a result of zero — though eventually the speed will become small enough to either slip below a “minimum speed” threshold or simply no longer fit in a float representation. Another is that the units are fairly meaningless: with Doom’s default friction of 90.625%, about how long does it take for the player to stop? I have no idea, partly because “stop” is ambiguous here! If friction were an acceleration, I could divide it into the player’s max speed to get a time.

All that aside, what are the actual effects of changing Doom’s friction? What an excellent question that’s surprisingly tricky to answer. (Note that friction can’t be changed in original Doom, only in the Boom port and its derivatives.) Here’s what I’ve pieced together.

Doom’s “friction” is really two values. “Friction” itself is a multiplier applied to moving objects on every tic, but there’s also a move factor which defaults to \(\frac{1}{32} = 0.03125\) and is derived from friction for custom values.

Every tic, the player’s velocity is multiplied by friction, and then increased by their speed times the move factor.

$$
v(n) = v(n – 1) \times friction + speed \times move factor
$$

Eventually, the reduction from friction will balance out the speed boost. That happens when \(v(n) = v(n – 1)\), so we can rearrange it to find the player’s effective max speed:

$$
v = v \times friction + speed \times move factor \\
v – v \times friction = speed \times move factor \\
v = speed \times \frac{move factor}{1 – friction}
$$

For vanilla Doom’s move factor of 0.03125 and friction of 0.90625, that becomes:

$$
v = speed \times \frac{\frac{1}{32}}{1 – \frac{29}{32}} = speed \times \frac{\frac{1}{32}}{\frac{3}{32}} = \frac{1}{3} \times speed
$$

Curiously, “speed” is three times the maximum speed an actor can actually move. Doomguy’s run speed is 50, so in practice he moves a third of that, or 16⅔ units per tic. (Of course, this isn’t counting SR40, a bug that lets Doomguy run ~40% faster than intended diagonally.)

So now, what if you change friction? Even more curiously, the move factor is calculated completely differently depending on whether friction is higher or lower than the default Doom amount:

$$
move factor = \begin{cases}
\frac{133 – 128 \times friction}{544} &≈ 0.244 – 0.235 \times friction & \text{ if } friction \ge \frac{29}{32} \\
\frac{81920 \times friction – 70145}{1048576} &≈ 0.078 \times friction – 0.067 & \text{ otherwise }
\end{cases}
$$

That’s pretty weird? Complicating things further is that low friction (which means muddy terrain, remember) has an extra multiplier on its move factor, depending on how fast you’re already going — the idea is apparently that you have a hard time getting going, but it gets easier as you find your footing. The extra multiplier maxes out at 8, which makes the two halves of that function meet at the vanilla Doom value.

A graph of the relationship between friction and move factor

That very top point corresponds to the move factor from the original game. So no matter what you do to friction, the move factor becomes lower. At 0.85 and change, you can no longer move at all; below that, you move backwards.

From the formula above, it’s easy to see what changes to friction and move factor will do to Doomguy’s stable velocity. Move factor is in the numerator, so increasing it will increase stable velocity — but it can’t increase, so stable velocity can only ever decrease. Friction is in the denominator, but it’s subtracted from 1, so increasing friction will make the denominator a smaller value less than 1, i.e. increase stable velocity. Combined, we get this relationship between friction and stable velocity.

A graph showing stable velocity shooting up dramatically as friction increases

As friction approaches 1, stable velocity grows without bound. This makes sense, given the definition of \(v(n)\) — if friction is 1, the velocity from the previous tic isn’t reduced at all, so we just keep accelerating freely.

All of this is why I’m wary of using multipliers.

Anyway, this leaves me with one last question about the effects of Doom’s friction: how long does it take to reach stable velocity? Barring precision errors, we’ll never truly reach stable velocity, but let’s say within 5%. First we need a closed formula for the velocity after some number of tics. This is a simple recurrence relation, and you can write a few terms out yourself if you want to be sure this is right.

$$
v(n) = v_0 \times friction^n + speed \times move factor \times \frac{friction^n – 1}{friction – 1}
$$

Our initial velocity is zero, so the first term disappears. Set this equal to the stable formula and solve for n:

$$
speed \times move factor \times \frac{friction^n – 1}{friction – 1} = (1 – 5\%) \times speed \times \frac{move factor}{1 – friction} \\
friction^n – 1 = -(1 – 5\%) \\
n = \frac{\ln 5\%}{\ln friction}
$$

Speed” and move factor disappear entirely, which makes sense, and this is purely a function of friction (and how close we want to get). For vanilla Doom, that comes out to 30.4, which is a little less than a second. For other values of friction:

A graph of time to stability which leaps upwards dramatically towards the right

As friction increases (which in Doom terms means the surface is more slippery), it takes longer and longer to reach stable speed, which is in turn greater and greater. For lesser friction (i.e. mud), stable speed is lower, but reached fairly quickly. (Of course, the extra “getting going” multiplier while in mud adds some extra time here, but including that in the graph is a bit more complicated.)

I think this matches with my instincts above. How fascinating!

What’s that? This is way too much math and you hate it? Then don’t use multipliers in game physics.

Uh

That was a hell of a diversion!

I guess the goofiest stuff in basic game physics is really just about mapping player controls to in-game actions like jumping and deceleration; the rest consists of hacks to compensate for representing everything as a box.

GDPR – A Practical Guide For Developers

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/gdpr-practical-guide-developers/

You’ve probably heard about GDPR. The new European data protection regulation that applies practically to everyone. Especially if you are working in a big company, it’s most likely that there’s already a process for gettign your systems in compliance with the regulation.

The regulation is basically a law that must be followed in all European countries (but also applies to non-EU companies that have users in the EU). In this particular case, it applies to companies that are not registered in Europe, but are having European customers. So that’s most companies. I will not go into yet another “12 facts about GDPR” or “7 myths about GDPR” posts/whitepapers, as they are often aimed at managers or legal people. Instead, I’ll focus on what GDPR means for developers.

Why am I qualified to do that? A few reasons – I was advisor to the deputy prime minister of a EU country, and because of that I’ve been both exposed and myself wrote some legislation. I’m familiar with the “legalese” and how the regulatory framework operates in general. I’m also a privacy advocate and I’ve been writing about GDPR-related stuff in the past, i.e. “before it was cool” (protecting sensitive data, the right to be forgotten). And finally, I’m currently working on a project that (among other things) aims to help with covering some GDPR aspects.

I’ll try to be a bit more comprehensive this time and cover as many aspects of the regulation that concern developers as I can. And while developers will mostly be concerned about how the systems they are working on have to change, it’s not unlikely that a less informed manager storms in in late spring, realizing GDPR is going to be in force tomorrow, asking “what should we do to get our system/website compliant”.

The rights of the user/client (referred to as “data subject” in the regulation) that I think are relevant for developers are: the right to erasure (the right to be forgotten/deleted from the system), right to restriction of processing (you still keep the data, but mark it as “restricted” and don’t touch it without further consent by the user), the right to data portability (the ability to export one’s data), the right to rectification (the ability to get personal data fixed), the right to be informed (getting human-readable information, rather than long terms and conditions), the right of access (the user should be able to see all the data you have about them), the right to data portability (the user should be able to get a machine-readable dump of their data).

Additionally, the relevant basic principles are: data minimization (one should not collect more data than necessary), integrity and confidentiality (all security measures to protect data that you can think of + measures to guarantee that the data has not been inappropriately modified).

Even further, the regulation requires certain processes to be in place within an organization (of more than 250 employees or if a significant amount of data is processed), and those include keeping a record of all types of processing activities carried out, including transfers to processors (3rd parties), which includes cloud service providers. None of the other requirements of the regulation have an exception depending on the organization size, so “I’m small, GDPR does not concern me” is a myth.

It is important to know what “personal data” is. Basically, it’s every piece of data that can be used to uniquely identify a person or data that is about an already identified person. It’s data that the user has explicitly provided, but also data that you have collected about them from either 3rd parties or based on their activities on the site (what they’ve been looking at, what they’ve purchased, etc.)

Having said that, I’ll list a number of features that will have to be implemented and some hints on how to do that, followed by some do’s and don’t’s.

  • “Forget me” – you should have a method that takes a userId and deletes all personal data about that user (in case they have been collected on the basis of consent, and not due to contract enforcement or legal obligation). It is actually useful for integration tests to have that feature (to cleanup after the test), but it may be hard to implement depending on the data model. In a regular data model, deleting a record may be easy, but some foreign keys may be violated. That means you have two options – either make sure you allow nullable foreign keys (for example an order usually has a reference to the user that made it, but when the user requests his data be deleted, you can set the userId to null), or make sure you delete all related data (e.g. via cascades). This may not be desirable, e.g. if the order is used to track available quantities or for accounting purposes. It’s a bit trickier for event-sourcing data models, or in extreme cases, ones that include some sort of blcokchain/hash chain/tamper-evident data structure. With event sourcing you should be able to remove a past event and re-generate intermediate snapshots. For blockchain-like structures – be careful what you put in there and avoid putting personal data of users. There is an option to use a chameleon hash function, but that’s suboptimal. Overall, you must constantly think of how you can delete the personal data. And “our data model doesn’t allow it” isn’t an excuse.
  • Notify 3rd parties for erasure – deleting things from your system may be one thing, but you are also obligated to inform all third parties that you have pushed that data to. So if you have sent personal data to, say, Salesforce, Hubspot, twitter, or any cloud service provider, you should call an API of theirs that allows for the deletion of personal data. If you are such a provider, obviously, your “forget me” endpoint should be exposed. Calling the 3rd party APIs to remove data is not the full story, though. You also have to make sure the information does not appear in search results. Now, that’s tricky, as Google doesn’t have an API for removal, only a manual process. Fortunately, it’s only about public profile pages that are crawlable by Google (and other search engines, okay…), but you still have to take measures. Ideally, you should make the personal data page return a 404 HTTP status, so that it can be removed.
  • Restrict processing – in your admin panel where there’s a list of users, there should be a button “restrict processing”. The user settings page should also have that button. When clicked (after reading the appropriate information), it should mark the profile as restricted. That means it should no longer be visible to the backoffice staff, or publicly. You can implement that with a simple “restricted” flag in the users table and a few if-clasues here and there.
  • Export data – there should be another button – “export data”. When clicked, the user should receive all the data that you hold about them. What exactly is that data – depends on the particular usecase. Usually it’s at least the data that you delete with the “forget me” functionality, but may include additional data (e.g. the orders the user has made may not be delete, but should be included in the dump). The structure of the dump is not strictly defined, but my recommendation would be to reuse schema.org definitions as much as possible, for either JSON or XML. If the data is simple enough, a CSV/XLS export would also be fine. Sometimes data export can take a long time, so the button can trigger a background process, which would then notify the user via email when his data is ready (twitter, for example, does that already – you can request all your tweets and you get them after a while).
  • Allow users to edit their profile – this seems an obvious rule, but it isn’t always followed. Users must be able to fix all data about them, including data that you have collected from other sources (e.g. using a “login with facebook” you may have fetched their name and address). Rule of thumb – all the fields in your “users” table should be editable via the UI. Technically, rectification can be done via a manual support process, but that’s normally more expensive for a business than just having the form to do it. There is one other scenario, however, when you’ve obtained the data from other sources (i.e. the user hasn’t provided their details to you directly). In that case there should still be a page where they can identify somehow (via email and/or sms confirmation) and get access to the data about them.
  • Consent checkboxes – this is in my opinion the biggest change that the regulation brings. “I accept the terms and conditions” would no longer be sufficient to claim that the user has given their consent for processing their data. So, for each particular processing activity there should be a separate checkbox on the registration (or user profile) screen. You should keep these consent checkboxes in separate columns in the database, and let the users withdraw their consent (by unchecking these checkboxes from their profile page – see the previous point). Ideally, these checkboxes should come directly from the register of processing activities (if you keep one). Note that the checkboxes should not be preselected, as this does not count as “consent”.
  • Re-request consent – if the consent users have given was not clear (e.g. if they simply agreed to terms & conditions), you’d have to re-obtain that consent. So prepare a functionality for mass-emailing your users to ask them to go to their profile page and check all the checkboxes for the personal data processing activities that you have.
  • “See all my data” – this is very similar to the “Export” button, except data should be displayed in the regular UI of the application rather than an XML/JSON format. For example, Google Maps shows you your location history – all the places that you’ve been to. It is a good implementation of the right to access. (Though Google is very far from perfect when privacy is concerned)
  • Age checks – you should ask for the user’s age, and if the user is a child (below 16), you should ask for parent permission. There’s no clear way how to do that, but my suggestion is to introduce a flow, where the child should specify the email of a parent, who can then confirm. Obviosuly, children will just cheat with their birthdate, or provide a fake parent email, but you will most likely have done your job according to the regulation (this is one of the “wishful thinking” aspects of the regulation).

Now some “do’s”, which are mostly about the technical measures needed to protect personal data. They may be more “ops” than “dev”, but often the application also has to be extended to support them. I’ve listed most of what I could think of in a previous post.

  • Encrypt the data in transit. That means that communication between your application layer and your database (or your message queue, or whatever component you have) should be over TLS. The certificates could be self-signed (and possibly pinned), or you could have an internal CA. Different databases have different configurations, just google “X encrypted connections. Some databases need gossiping among the nodes – that should also be configured to use encryption
  • Encrypt the data at rest – this again depends on the database (some offer table-level encryption), but can also be done on machine-level. E.g. using LUKS. The private key can be stored in your infrastructure, or in some cloud service like AWS KMS.
  • Encrypt your backups – kind of obvious
  • Implement pseudonymisation – the most obvious use-case is when you want to use production data for the test/staging servers. You should change the personal data to some “pseudonym”, so that the people cannot be identified. When you push data for machine learning purposes (to third parties or not), you can also do that. Technically, that could mean that your User object can have a “pseudonymize” method which applies hash+salt/bcrypt/PBKDF2 for some of the data that can be used to identify a person
  • Protect data integrity – this is a very broad thing, and could simply mean “have authentication mechanisms for modifying data”. But you can do something more, even as simple as a checksum, or a more complicated solution (like the one I’m working on). It depends on the stakes, on the way data is accessed, on the particular system, etc. The checksum can be in the form of a hash of all the data in a given database record, which should be updated each time the record is updated through the application. It isn’t a strong guarantee, but it is at least something.
  • Have your GDPR register of processing activities in something other than Excel – Article 30 says that you should keep a record of all the types of activities that you use personal data for. That sounds like bureaucracy, but it may be useful – you will be able to link certain aspects of your application with that register (e.g. the consent checkboxes, or your audit trail records). It wouldn’t take much time to implement a simple register, but the business requirements for that should come from whoever is responsible for the GDPR compliance. But you can advise them that having it in Excel won’t make it easy for you as a developer (imagine having to fetch the excel file internally, so that you can parse it and implement a feature). Such a register could be a microservice/small application deployed separately in your infrastructure.
  • Log access to personal data – every read operation on a personal data record should be logged, so that you know who accessed what and for what purpose
  • Register all API consumers – you shouldn’t allow anonymous API access to personal data. I’d say you should request the organization name and contact person for each API user upon registration, and add those to the data processing register. Note: some have treated article 30 as a requirement to keep an audit log. I don’t think it is saying that – instead it requires 250+ companies to keep a register of the types of processing activities (i.e. what you use the data for). There are other articles in the regulation that imply that keeping an audit log is a best practice (for protecting the integrity of the data as well as to make sure it hasn’t been processed without a valid reason)

Finally, some “don’t’s”.

  • Don’t use data for purposes that the user hasn’t agreed with – that’s supposed to be the spirit of the regulation. If you want to expose a new API to a new type of clients, or you want to use the data for some machine learning, or you decide to add ads to your site based on users’ behaviour, or sell your database to a 3rd party – think twice. I would imagine your register of processing activities could have a button to send notification emails to users to ask them for permission when a new processing activity is added (or if you use a 3rd party register, it should probably give you an API). So upon adding a new processing activity (and adding that to your register), mass email all users from whom you’d like consent.
  • Don’t log personal data – getting rid of the personal data from log files (especially if they are shipped to a 3rd party service) can be tedious or even impossible. So log just identifiers if needed. And make sure old logs files are cleaned up, just in case
  • Don’t put fields on the registration/profile form that you don’t need – it’s always tempting to just throw as many fields as the usability person/designer agrees on, but unless you absolutely need the data for delivering your service, you shouldn’t collect it. Names you should probably always collect, but unless you are delivering something, a home address or phone is unnecessary.
  • Don’t assume 3rd parties are compliant – you are responsible if there’s a data breach in one of the 3rd parties (e.g. “processors”) to which you send personal data. So before you send data via an API to another service, make sure they have at least a basic level of data protection. If they don’t, raise a flag with management.
  • Don’t assume having ISO XXX makes you compliant – information security standards and even personal data standards are a good start and they will probably 70% of what the regulation requires, but they are not sufficient – most of the things listed above are not covered in any of those standards

Overall, the purpose of the regulation is to make you take conscious decisions when processing personal data. It imposes best practices in a legal way. If you follow the above advice and design your data model, storage, data flow , API calls with data protection in mind, then you shouldn’t worry about the huge fines that the regulation prescribes – they are for extreme cases, like Equifax for example. Regulators (data protection authorities) will most likely have some checklists into which you’d have to somehow fit, but if you follow best practices, that shouldn’t be an issue.

I think all of the above features can be implemented in a few weeks by a small team. Be suspicious when a big vendor offers you a generic plug-and-play “GDPR compliance” solution. GDPR is not just about the technical aspects listed above – it does have organizational/process implications. But also be suspicious if a consultant claims GDPR is complicated. It’s not – it relies on a few basic principles that are in fact best practices anyway. Just don’t ignore them.

The post GDPR – A Practical Guide For Developers appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Object models

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/11/28/object-models/

Anonymous asks, with dollars:

More about programming languages!

Well then!

I’ve written before about what I think objects are: state and behavior, which in practice mostly means method calls.

I suspect that the popular impression of what objects are, and also how they should work, comes from whatever C++ and Java happen to do. From that point of view, the whole post above is probably nonsense. If the baseline notion of “object” is a rigid definition woven tightly into the design of two massively popular languages, then it doesn’t even make sense to talk about what “object” should mean — it does mean the features of those languages, and cannot possibly mean anything else.

I think that’s a shame! It piles a lot of baggage onto a fairly simple idea. Polymorphism, for example, has nothing to do with objects — it’s an escape hatch for static type systems. Inheritance isn’t the only way to reuse code between objects, but it’s the easiest and fastest one, so it’s what we get. Frankly, it’s much closer to a speed tradeoff than a fundamental part of the concept.

We could do with more experimentation around how objects work, but that’s impossible in the languages most commonly thought of as object-oriented.

Here, then, is a (very) brief run through the inner workings of objects in four very dynamic languages. I don’t think I really appreciated objects until I’d spent some time with Python, and I hope this can help someone else whet their own appetite.

Python 3

Of the four languages I’m going to touch on, Python will look the most familiar to the Java and C++ crowd. For starters, it actually has a class construct.

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class Vector:
    def __init__(self, x, y):
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

    def __neg__(self):
        return Vector(-self.x, -self.y)

    def __div__(self, denom):
        return Vector(self.x / denom, self.y / denom)

    @property
    def magnitude(self):
        return (self.x ** 2 + self.y ** 2) ** 0.5

    def normalized(self):
        return self / self.magnitude

The __init__ method is an initializer, which is like a constructor but named differently (because the object already exists in a usable form by the time the initializer is called). Operator overloading is done by implementing methods with other special __dunder__ names. Properties can be created with @property, where the @ is syntax for applying a wrapper function to a function as it’s defined. You can do inheritance, even multiply:

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class Foo(A, B, C):
    def bar(self, x, y, z):
        # do some stuff
        super().bar(x, y, z)

Cool, a very traditional object model.

Except… for some details.

Some details

For one, Python objects don’t have a fixed layout. Code both inside and outside the class can add or remove whatever attributes they want from whatever object they want. The underlying storage is just a dict, Python’s mapping type. (Or, rather, something like one. Also, it’s possible to change, which will probably be the case for everything I say here.)

If you create some attributes at the class level, you’ll start to get a peek behind the curtains:

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class Foo:
    values = []

    def add_value(self, value):
        self.values.append(value)

a = Foo()
b = Foo()
a.add_value('a')
print(a.values)  # ['a']
b.add_value('b')
print(b.values)  # ['a', 'b']

The [] assigned to values isn’t a default assigned to each object. In fact, the individual objects don’t know about it at all! You can use vars(a) to get at the underlying storage dict, and you won’t see a values entry in there anywhere.

Instead, values lives on the class, which is a value (and thus an object) in its own right. When Python is asked for self.values, it checks to see if self has a values attribute; in this case, it doesn’t, so Python keeps going and asks the class for one.

Python’s object model is secretly prototypical — a class acts as a prototype, as a shared set of fallback values, for its objects.

In fact, this is also how method calls work! They aren’t syntactically special at all, which you can see by separating the attribute lookup from the call.

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print("abc".startswith("a"))  # True
meth = "abc".startswith
print(meth("a"))  # True

Reading obj.method looks for a method attribute; if there isn’t one on obj, Python checks the class. Here, it finds one: it’s a function from the class body.

Ah, but wait! In the code I just showed, meth seems to “know” the object it came from, so it can’t just be a plain function. If you inspect the resulting value, it claims to be a “bound method” or “built-in method” rather than a function, too. Something funny is going on here, and that funny something is the descriptor protocol.

Descriptors

Python allows attributes to implement their own custom behavior when read from or written to. Such an attribute is called a descriptor. I’ve written about them before, but here’s a quick overview.

If Python looks up an attribute, finds it in a class, and the value it gets has a __get__ method… then instead of using that value, Python will use the return value of its __get__ method.

The @property decorator works this way. The magnitude property in my original example was shorthand for doing this:

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class MagnitudeDescriptor:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        if instance is None:
            return self
        return (instance.x ** 2 + instance.y ** 2) ** 0.5

class Vector:
    def __init__(self, x, y):
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

    magnitude = MagnitudeDescriptor()

When you ask for somevec.magnitude, Python checks somevec but doesn’t find magnitude, so it consults the class instead. The class does have a magnitude, and it’s a value with a __get__ method, so Python calls that method and somevec.magnitude evaluates to its return value. (The instance is None check is because __get__ is called even if you get the descriptor directly from the class via Vector.magnitude. A descriptor intended to work on instances can’t do anything useful in that case, so the convention is to return the descriptor itself.)

You can also intercept attempts to write to or delete an attribute, and do absolutely whatever you want instead. But note that, similar to operating overloading in Python, the descriptor must be on a class; you can’t just slap one on an arbitrary object and have it work.

This brings me right around to how “bound methods” actually work. Functions are descriptors! The function type implements __get__, and when a function is retrieved from a class via an instance, that __get__ bundles the function and the instance together into a tiny bound method object. It’s essentially:

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class FunctionType:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        if instance is None:
            return self
        return functools.partial(self, instance)

The self passed as the first argument to methods is not special or magical in any way. It’s built out of a few simple pieces that are also readily accessible to Python code.

Note also that because obj.method() is just an attribute lookup and a call, Python doesn’t actually care whether method is a method on the class or just some callable thing on the object. You won’t get the auto-self behavior if it’s on the object, but otherwise there’s no difference.

More attribute access, and the interesting part

Descriptors are one of several ways to customize attribute access. Classes can implement __getattr__ to intervene when an attribute isn’t found on an object; __setattr__ and __delattr__ to intervene when any attribute is set or deleted; and __getattribute__ to implement unconditional attribute access. (That last one is a fantastic way to create accidental recursion, since any attribute access you do within __getattribute__ will of course call __getattribute__ again.)

Here’s what I really love about Python. It might seem like a magical special case that descriptors only work on classes, but it really isn’t. You could implement exactly the same behavior yourself, in pure Python, using only the things I’ve just told you about. Classes are themselves objects, remember, and they are instances of type, so the reason descriptors only work on classes is that type effectively does this:

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class type:
    def __getattribute__(self, name):
        value = super().__getattribute__(name)
        # like all op overloads, __get__ must be on the type, not the instance
        ty = type(value)
        if hasattr(ty, '__get__'):
            # it's a descriptor!  this is a class access so there is no instance
            return ty.__get__(value, None, self)
        else:
            return value

You can even trivially prove to yourself that this is what’s going on by skipping over types behavior:

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class Descriptor:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        print('called!')

class Foo:
    bar = Descriptor()

Foo.bar  # called!
type.__getattribute__(Foo, 'bar')  # called!
object.__getattribute__(Foo, 'bar')  # ...

And that’s not all! The mysterious super function, used to exhaustively traverse superclass method calls even in the face of diamond inheritance, can also be expressed in pure Python using these primitives. You could write your own superclass calling convention and use it exactly the same way as super.

This is one of the things I really like about Python. Very little of it is truly magical; virtually everything about the object model exists in the types rather than the language, which means virtually everything can be customized in pure Python.

Class creation and metaclasses

A very brief word on all of this stuff, since I could talk forever about Python and I have three other languages to get to.

The class block itself is fairly interesting. It looks like this:

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class Name(*bases, **kwargs):
    # code

I’ve said several times that classes are objects, and in fact the class block is one big pile of syntactic sugar for calling type(...) with some arguments to create a new type object.

The Python documentation has a remarkably detailed description of this process, but the gist is:

  • Python determines the type of the new class — the metaclass — by looking for a metaclass keyword argument. If there isn’t one, Python uses the “lowest” type among the provided base classes. (If you’re not doing anything special, that’ll just be type, since every class inherits from object and object is an instance of type.)

  • Python executes the class body. It gets its own local scope, and any assignments or method definitions go into that scope.

  • Python now calls type(name, bases, attrs, **kwargs). The name is whatever was right after class; the bases are position arguments; and attrs is the class body’s local scope. (This is how methods and other class attributes end up on the class.) The brand new type is then assigned to Name.

Of course, you can mess with most of this. You can implement __prepare__ on a metaclass, for example, to use a custom mapping as storage for the local scope — including any reads, which allows for some interesting shenanigans. The only part you can’t really implement in pure Python is the scoping bit, which has a couple extra rules that make sense for classes. (In particular, functions defined within a class block don’t close over the class body; that would be nonsense.)

Object creation

Finally, there’s what actually happens when you create an object — including a class, which remember is just an invocation of type(...).

Calling Foo(...) is implemented as, well, a call. Any type can implement calls with the __call__ special method, and you’ll find that type itself does so. It looks something like this:

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# oh, a fun wrinkle that's hard to express in pure python: type is a class, so
# it's an instance of itself
class type:
    def __call__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        # remember, here 'self' is a CLASS, an instance of type.
        # __new__ is a true constructor: object.__new__ allocates storage
        # for a new blank object
        instance = self.__new__(self, *args, **kwargs)
        # you can return whatever you want from __new__ (!), and __init__
        # is only called on it if it's of the right type
        if isinstance(instance, self):
            instance.__init__(*args, **kwargs)
        return instance

Again, you can trivially confirm this by asking any type for its __call__ method. Assuming that type doesn’t implement __call__ itself, you’ll get back a bound version of types implementation.

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>>> list.__call__
<method-wrapper '__call__' of type object at 0x7fafb831a400>

You can thus implement __call__ in your own metaclass to completely change how subclasses are created — including skipping the creation altogether, if you like.

And… there’s a bunch of stuff I haven’t even touched on.

The Python philosophy

Python offers something that, on the surface, looks like a “traditional” class/object model. Under the hood, it acts more like a prototypical system, where failed attribute lookups simply defer to a superclass or metaclass.

The language also goes to almost superhuman lengths to expose all of its moving parts. Even the prototypical behavior is an implementation of __getattribute__ somewhere, which you are free to completely replace in your own types. Proxying and delegation are easy.

Also very nice is that these features “bundle” well, by which I mean a library author can do all manner of convoluted hijinks, and a consumer of that library doesn’t have to see any of it or understand how it works. You only need to inherit from a particular class (which has a metaclass), or use some descriptor as a decorator, or even learn any new syntax.

This meshes well with Python culture, which is pretty big on the principle of least surprise. These super-advanced features tend to be tightly confined to single simple features (like “makes a weak attribute“) or cordoned with DSLs (e.g., defining a form/struct/database table with a class body). In particular, I’ve never seen a metaclass in the wild implement its own __call__.

I have mixed feelings about that. It’s probably a good thing overall that the Python world shows such restraint, but I wonder if there are some very interesting possibilities we’re missing out on. I implemented a metaclass __call__ myself, just once, in an entity/component system that strove to minimize fuss when communicating between components. It never saw the light of day, but I enjoyed seeing some new things Python could do with the same relatively simple syntax. I wouldn’t mind seeing, say, an object model based on composition (with no inheritance) built atop Python’s primitives.

Lua

Lua doesn’t have an object model. Instead, it gives you a handful of very small primitives for building your own object model. This is pretty typical of Lua — it’s a very powerful language, but has been carefully constructed to be very small at the same time. I’ve never encountered anything else quite like it, and “but it starts indexing at 1!” really doesn’t do it justice.

The best way to demonstrate how objects work in Lua is to build some from scratch. We need two key features. The first is metatables, which bear a passing resemblance to Python’s metaclasses.

Tables and metatables

The table is Lua’s mapping type and its primary data structure. Keys can be any value other than nil. Lists are implemented as tables whose keys are consecutive integers starting from 1. Nothing terribly surprising. The dot operator is sugar for indexing with a string key.

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local t = { a = 1, b = 2 }
print(t['a'])  -- 1
print(t.b)  -- 2
t.c = 3
print(t['c'])  -- 3

A metatable is a table that can be associated with another value (usually another table) to change its behavior. For example, operator overloading is implemented by assigning a function to a special key in a metatable.

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local t = { a = 1, b = 2 }
--print(t + 0)  -- error: attempt to perform arithmetic on a table value

local mt = {
    __add = function(left, right)
        return 12
    end,
}
setmetatable(t, mt)
print(t + 0)  -- 12

Now, the interesting part: one of the special keys is __index, which is consulted when the base table is indexed by a key it doesn’t contain. Here’s a table that claims every key maps to itself.

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local t = {}
local mt = {
    __index = function(table, key)
        return key
    end,
}
setmetatable(t, mt)
print(t.foo)  -- foo
print(t.bar)  -- bar
print(t[3])  -- 3

__index doesn’t have to be a function, either. It can be yet another table, in which case that table is simply indexed with the key. If the key still doesn’t exist and that table has a metatable with an __index, the process repeats.

With this, it’s easy to have several unrelated tables that act as a single table. Call the base table an object, fill the __index table with functions and call it a class, and you have half of an object system. You can even get prototypical inheritance by chaining __indexes together.

At this point things are a little confusing, since we have at least three tables going on, so here’s a diagram. Keep in mind that Lua doesn’t actually have anything called an “object”, “class”, or “method” — those are just convenient nicknames for a particular structure we might build with Lua’s primitives.

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                    ╔═══════════╗        ...
                    ║ metatable ║         ║
                    ╟───────────╢   ┌─────╨───────────────────────┐
                    ║ __index   ╫───┤ lookup table ("superclass") │
                    ╚═══╦═══════╝   ├─────────────────────────────┤
  ╔═══════════╗         ║           │ some other method           ┼─── function() ... end
  ║ metatable ║         ║           └─────────────────────────────┘
  ╟───────────╢   ┌─────╨──────────────────┐
  ║ __index   ╫───┤ lookup table ("class") │
  ╚═══╦═══════╝   ├────────────────────────┤
      ║           │ some method            ┼─── function() ... end
      ║           └────────────────────────┘
┌─────╨─────────────────┐
│ base table ("object") │
└───────────────────────┘

Note that a metatable is not the same as a class; it defines behavior, not methods. Conversely, if you try to use a class directly as a metatable, it will probably not do much. (This is pretty different from e.g. Python, where operator overloads are just methods with funny names. One nice thing about the Lua approach is that you can keep interface-like functionality separate from methods, and avoid clogging up arbitrary objects’ namespaces. You could even use a dummy table as a key and completely avoid name collisions.)

Anyway, code!

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local class = {
    foo = function(a)
        print("foo got", a)
    end,
}
local mt = { __index = class }
-- setmetatable returns its first argument, so this is nice shorthand
local obj1 = setmetatable({}, mt)
local obj2 = setmetatable({}, mt)
obj1.foo(7)  -- foo got 7
obj2.foo(9)  -- foo got 9

Wait, wait, hang on. Didn’t I call these methods? How do they get at the object? Maybe Lua has a magical this variable?

Methods, sort of

Not quite, but this is where the other key feature comes in: method-call syntax. It’s the lightest touch of sugar, just enough to have method invocation.

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-- note the colon!
a:b(c, d, ...)

-- exactly equivalent to this
-- (except that `a` is only evaluated once)
a.b(a, c, d, ...)

-- which of course is really this
a["b"](a, c, d, ...)

Now we can write methods that actually do something.

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local class = {
    bar = function(self)
        print("our score is", self.score)
    end,
}
local mt = { __index = class }
local obj1 = setmetatable({ score = 13 }, mt)
local obj2 = setmetatable({ score = 25 }, mt)
obj1:bar()  -- our score is 13
obj2:bar()  -- our score is 25

And that’s all you need. Much like Python, methods and data live in the same namespace, and Lua doesn’t care whether obj:method() finds a function on obj or gets one from the metatable’s __index. Unlike Python, the function will be passed self either way, because self comes from the use of : rather than from the lookup behavior.

(Aside: strictly speaking, any Lua value can have a metatable — and if you try to index a non-table, Lua will always consult the metatable’s __index. Strings all have the string library as a metatable, so you can call methods on them: try ("%s %s"):format(1, 2). I don’t think Lua lets user code set the metatable for non-tables, so this isn’t that interesting, but if you’re writing Lua bindings from C then you can wrap your pointers in metatables to give them methods implemented in C.)

Bringing it all together

Of course, writing all this stuff every time is a little tedious and error-prone, so instead you might want to wrap it all up inside a little function. No problem.

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local function make_object(body)
    -- create a metatable
    local mt = { __index = body }
    -- create a base table to serve as the object itself
    local obj = setmetatable({}, mt)
    -- and, done
    return obj
end

-- you can leave off parens if you're only passing in 
local Dog = {
    -- this acts as a "default" value; if obj.barks is missing, __index will
    -- kick in and find this value on the class.  but if obj.barks is assigned
    -- to, it'll go in the object and shadow the value here.
    barks = 0,

    bark = function(self)
        self.barks = self.barks + 1
        print("woof!")
    end,
}

local mydog = make_object(Dog)
mydog:bark()  -- woof!
mydog:bark()  -- woof!
mydog:bark()  -- woof!
print(mydog.barks)  -- 3
print(Dog.barks)  -- 0

It works, but it’s fairly barebones. The nice thing is that you can extend it pretty much however you want. I won’t reproduce an entire serious object system here — lord knows there are enough of them floating around — but the implementation I have for my LÖVE games lets me do this:

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local Animal = Object:extend{
    cries = 0,
}

-- called automatically by Object
function Animal:init()
    print("whoops i couldn't think of anything interesting to put here")
end

-- this is just nice syntax for adding a first argument called 'self', then
-- assigning this function to Animal.cry
function Animal:cry()
    self.cries = self.cries + 1
end

local Cat = Animal:extend{}

function Cat:cry()
    print("meow!")
    Cat.__super.cry(self)
end

local cat = Cat()
cat:cry()  -- meow!
cat:cry()  -- meow!
print(cat.cries)  -- 2

When I say you can extend it however you want, I mean that. I could’ve implemented Python (2)-style super(Cat, self):cry() syntax; I just never got around to it. I could even make it work with multiple inheritance if I really wanted to — or I could go the complete opposite direction and only implement composition. I could implement descriptors, customizing the behavior of individual table keys. I could add pretty decent syntax for composition/proxying. I am trying very hard to end this section now.

The Lua philosophy

Lua’s philosophy is to… not have a philosophy? It gives you the bare minimum to make objects work, and you can do absolutely whatever you want from there. Lua does have something resembling prototypical inheritance, but it’s not so much a first-class feature as an emergent property of some very simple tools. And since you can make __index be a function, you could avoid the prototypical behavior and do something different entirely.

The very severe downside, of course, is that you have to find or build your own object system — which can get pretty confusing very quickly, what with the multiple small moving parts. Third-party code may also have its own object system with subtly different behavior. (Though, in my experience, third-party code tries very hard to avoid needing an object system at all.)

It’s hard to say what the Lua “culture” is like, since Lua is an embedded language that’s often a little different in each environment. I imagine it has a thousand millicultures, instead. I can say that the tedium of building my own object model has led me into something very “traditional”, with prototypical inheritance and whatnot. It’s partly what I’m used to, but it’s also just really dang easy to get working.

Likewise, while I love properties in Python and use them all the dang time, I’ve yet to use a single one in Lua. They wouldn’t be particularly hard to add to my object model, but having to add them myself (or shop around for an object model with them and also port all my code to use it) adds a huge amount of friction. I’ve thought about designing an interesting ECS with custom object behavior, too, but… is it really worth the effort? For all the power and flexibility Lua offers, the cost is that by the time I have something working at all, I’m too exhausted to actually use any of it.

JavaScript

JavaScript is notable for being preposterously heavily used, yet not having a class block.

Well. Okay. Yes. It has one now. It didn’t for a very long time, and even the one it has now is sugar.

Here’s a vector class again:

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class Vector {
    constructor(x, y) {
        this.x = x;
        this.y = y;
    }

    get magnitude() {
        return Math.sqrt(this.x * this.x + this.y * this.y);
    }

    dot(other) {
        return this.x * other.x + this.y * other.y;
    }
}

In “classic” JavaScript, this would be written as:

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function Vector(x, y) {
    this.x = x;
    this.y = y;
}

Object.defineProperty(Vector.prototype, 'magnitude', {
    configurable: true,
    enumerable: true,
    get: function() {
        return Math.sqrt(this.x * this.x + this.y * this.y);
    },
});


Vector.prototype.dot = function(other) {
    return this.x * other.x + this.y * other.y;
};

Hm, yes. I can see why they added class.

The JavaScript model

In JavaScript, a new type is defined in terms of a function, which is its constructor.

Right away we get into trouble here. There is a very big difference between these two invocations, which I actually completely forgot about just now after spending four hours writing about Python and Lua:

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let vec = Vector(3, 4);
let vec = new Vector(3, 4);

The first calls the function Vector. It assigns some properties to this, which here is going to be window, so now you have a global x and y. It then returns nothing, so vec is undefined.

The second calls Vector with this set to a new empty object, then evaluates to that object. The result is what you’d actually expect.

(You can detect this situation with the strange new.target expression, but I have never once remembered to do so.)

From here, we have true, honest-to-god, first-class prototypical inheritance. The word “prototype” is even right there. When you write this:

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vec.dot(vec2)

JavaScript will look for dot on vec and (presumably) not find it. It then consults vecs prototype, an object you can see for yourself by using Object.getPrototypeOf(). Since vec is a Vector, its prototype is Vector.prototype.

I stress that Vector.prototype is not the prototype for Vector. It’s the prototype for instances of Vector.

(I say “instance”, but the true type of vec here is still just object. If you want to find Vector, it’s automatically assigned to the constructor property of its own prototype, so it’s available as vec.constructor.)

Of course, Vector.prototype can itself have a prototype, in which case the process would continue if dot were not found. A common (and, arguably, very bad) way to simulate single inheritance is to set Class.prototype to an instance of a superclass to get the prototype right, then tack on the methods for Class. Nowadays we can do Object.create(Superclass.prototype).

Now that I’ve been through Python and Lua, though, this isn’t particularly surprising. I kinda spoiled it.

I suppose one difference in JavaScript is that you can tack arbitrary attributes directly onto Vector all you like, and they will remain invisible to instances since they aren’t in the prototype chain. This is kind of backwards from Lua, where you can squirrel stuff away in the metatable.

Another difference is that every single object in JavaScript has a bunch of properties already tacked on — the ones in Object.prototype. Every object (and by “object” I mean any mapping) has a prototype, and that prototype defaults to Object.prototype, and it has a bunch of ancient junk like isPrototypeOf.

(Nit: it’s possible to explicitly create an object with no prototype via Object.create(null).)

Like Lua, and unlike Python, JavaScript doesn’t distinguish between keys found on an object and keys found via a prototype. Properties can be defined on prototypes with Object.defineProperty(), but that works just as well directly on an object, too. JavaScript doesn’t have a lot of operator overloading, but some things like Symbol.iterator also work on both objects and prototypes.

About this

You may, at this point, be wondering what this is. Unlike Lua and Python (and the last language below), this is a special built-in value — a context value, invisibly passed for every function call.

It’s determined by where the function came from. If the function was the result of an attribute lookup, then this is set to the object containing that attribute. Otherwise, this is set to the global object, window. (You can also set this to whatever you want via the call method on functions.)

This decision is made lexically, i.e. from the literal source code as written. There are no Python-style bound methods. In other words:

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// this = obj
obj.method()
// this = window
let meth = obj.method
meth()

Also, because this is reassigned on every function call, it cannot be meaningfully closed over, which makes using closures within methods incredibly annoying. The old approach was to assign this to some other regular name like self (which got syntax highlighting since it’s also a built-in name in browsers); then we got Function.bind, which produced a callable thing with a fixed context value, which was kind of nice; and now finally we have arrow functions, which explicitly close over the current this when they’re defined and don’t change it when called. Phew.

Class syntax

I already showed class syntax, and it’s really just one big macro for doing all the prototype stuff The Right Way. It even prevents you from calling the type without new. The underlying model is exactly the same, and you can inspect all the parts.

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class Vector { ... }

console.log(Vector.prototype);  // { dot: ..., magnitude: ..., ... }
let vec = new Vector(3, 4);
console.log(Object.getPrototypeOf(vec));  // same as Vector.prototype

// i don't know why you would subclass vector but let's roll with it
class Vectest extends Vector { ... }

console.log(Vectest.prototype);  // { ... }
console.log(Object.getPrototypeOf(Vectest.prototype))  // same as Vector.prototype

Alas, class syntax has a couple shortcomings. You can’t use the class block to assign arbitrary data to either the type object or the prototype — apparently it was deemed too confusing that mutations would be shared among instances. Which… is… how prototypes work. How Python works. How JavaScript itself, one of the most popular languages of all time, has worked for twenty-two years. Argh.

You can still do whatever assignment you want outside of the class block, of course. It’s just a little ugly, and not something I’d think to look for with a sugary class.

A more subtle result of this behavior is that a class block isn’t quite the same syntax as an object literal. The check for data isn’t a runtime thing; class Foo { x: 3 } fails to parse. So JavaScript now has two largely but not entirely identical styles of key/value block.

Attribute access

Here’s where things start to come apart at the seams, just a little bit.

JavaScript doesn’t really have an attribute protocol. Instead, it has two… extension points, I suppose.

One is Object.defineProperty, seen above. For common cases, there’s also the get syntax inside a property literal, which does the same thing. But unlike Python’s @property, these aren’t wrappers around some simple primitives; they are the primitives. JavaScript is the only language of these four to have “property that runs code on access” as a completely separate first-class concept.

If you want to intercept arbitrary attribute access (and some kinds of operators), there’s a completely different primitive: the Proxy type. It doesn’t let you intercept attribute access or operators; instead, it produces a wrapper object that supports interception and defers to the wrapped object by default.

It’s cool to see composition used in this way, but also, extremely weird. If you want to make your own type that overloads in or calling, you have to return a Proxy that wraps your own type, rather than actually returning your own type. And (unlike the other three languages in this post) you can’t return a different type from a constructor, so you have to throw that away and produce objects only from a factory. And instanceof would be broken, but you can at least fix that with Symbol.hasInstance — which is really operator overloading, implement yet another completely different way.

I know the design here is a result of legacy and speed — if any object could intercept all attribute access, then all attribute access would be slowed down everywhere. Fair enough. It still leaves the surface area of the language a bit… bumpy?

The JavaScript philosophy

It’s a little hard to tell. The original idea of prototypes was interesting, but it was hidden behind some very awkward syntax. Since then, we’ve gotten a bunch of extra features awkwardly bolted on to reflect the wildly varied things the built-in types and DOM API were already doing. We have class syntax, but it’s been explicitly designed to avoid exposing the prototype parts of the model.

I admit I don’t do a lot of heavy JavaScript, so I might just be overlooking it, but I’ve seen virtually no code that makes use of any of the recent advances in object capabilities. Forget about custom iterators or overloading call; I can’t remember seeing any JavaScript in the wild that even uses properties yet. I don’t know if everyone’s waiting for sufficient browser support, nobody knows about them, or nobody cares.

The model has advanced recently, but I suspect JavaScript is still shackled to its legacy of “something about prototypes, I don’t really get it, just copy the other code that’s there” as an object model. Alas! Prototypes are so good. Hopefully class syntax will make it a bit more accessible, as it has in Python.

Perl 5

Perl 5 also doesn’t have an object system and expects you to build your own. But where Lua gives you two simple, powerful tools for building one, Perl 5 feels more like a puzzle with half the pieces missing. Clearly they were going for something, but they only gave you half of it.

In brief, a Perl object is a reference that has been blessed with a package.

I need to explain a few things. Honestly, one of the biggest problems with the original Perl object setup was how many strange corners and unique jargon you had to understand just to get off the ground.

(If you want to try running any of this code, you should stick a use v5.26; as the first line. Perl is very big on backwards compatibility, so you need to opt into breaking changes, and even the mundane say builtin is behind a feature gate.)

References

A reference in Perl is sort of like a pointer, but its main use is very different. See, Perl has the strange property that its data structures try very hard to spill their contents all over the place. Despite having dedicated syntax for arrays — @foo is an array variable, distinct from the single scalar variable $foo — it’s actually impossible to nest arrays.

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my @foo = (1, 2, 3, 4);
my @bar = (@foo, @foo);
# @bar is now a flat list of eight items: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4

The idea, I guess, is that an array is not one thing. It’s not a container, which happens to hold multiple things; it is multiple things. Anywhere that expects a single value, such as an array element, cannot contain an array, because an array fundamentally is not a single value.

And so we have “references”, which are a form of indirection, but also have the nice property that they’re single values. They add containment around arrays, and in general they make working with most of Perl’s primitive types much more sensible. A reference to a variable can be taken with the \ operator, or you can use [ ... ] and { ... } to directly create references to anonymous arrays or hashes.

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my @foo = (1, 2, 3, 4);
my @bar = (\@foo, \@foo);
# @bar is now a nested list of two items: [1, 2, 3, 4], [1, 2, 3, 4]

(Incidentally, this is the sole reason I initially abandoned Perl for Python. Non-trivial software kinda requires nesting a lot of data structures, so you end up with references everywhere, and the syntax for going back and forth between a reference and its contents is tedious and ugly.)

A Perl object must be a reference. Perl doesn’t care what kind of reference — it’s usually a hash reference, since hashes are a convenient place to store arbitrary properties, but it could just as well be a reference to an array, a scalar, or even a sub (i.e. function) or filehandle.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. First, the other half: blessing and packages.

Packages and blessing

Perl packages are just namespaces. A package looks like this:

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package Foo::Bar;

sub quux {
    say "hi from quux!";
}

# now Foo::Bar::quux() can be called from anywhere

Nothing shocking, right? It’s just a named container. A lot of the details are kind of weird, like how a package exists in some liminal quasi-value space, but the basic idea is a Bag Of Stuff.

The final piece is “blessing,” which is Perl’s funny name for binding a package to a reference. A very basic class might look like this:

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package Vector;

# the name 'new' is convention, not special
sub new {
    # perl argument passing is weird, don't ask
    my ($class, $x, $y) = @_;

    # create the object itself -- here, unusually, an array reference makes sense
    my $self = [ $x, $y ];

    # associate the package with that reference
    # note that $class here is just the regular string, 'Vector'
    bless $self, $class;

    return $self;
}

sub x {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return $self->[0];
}

sub y {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return $self->[1];
}

sub magnitude {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return sqrt($self->x ** 2 + $self->y ** 2);
}

# switch back to the "default" package
package main;

# -> is method call syntax, which passes the invocant as the first argument;
# for a package, that's just the package name
my $vec = Vector->new(3, 4);
say $vec->magnitude;  # 5

A few things of note here. First, $self->[0] has nothing to do with objects; it’s normal syntax for getting the value of a index 0 out of an array reference called $self. (Most classes are based on hashrefs and would use $self->{value} instead.) A blessed reference is still a reference and can be treated like one.

In general, -> is Perl’s dereferencey operator, but its exact behavior depends on what follows. If it’s followed by brackets, then it’ll apply the brackets to the thing in the reference: ->{} to index a hash reference, ->[] to index an array reference, and ->() to call a function reference.

But if -> is followed by an identifier, then it’s a method call. For packages, that means calling a function in the package and passing the package name as the first argument. For objects — blessed references — that means calling a function in the associated package and passing the object as the first argument.

This is a little weird! A blessed reference is a superposition of two things: its normal reference behavior, and some completely orthogonal object behavior. Also, object behavior has no notion of methods vs data; it only knows about methods. Perl lets you omit parentheses in a lot of places, including when calling a method with no arguments, so $vec->magnitude is really $vec->magnitude().

Perl’s blessing bears some similarities to Lua’s metatables, but ultimately Perl is much closer to Ruby’s “message passing” approach than the above three languages’ approaches of “get me something and maybe it’ll be callable”. (But this is no surprise — Ruby is a spiritual successor to Perl 5.)

All of this leads to one little wrinkle: how do you actually expose data? Above, I had to write x and y methods. Am I supposed to do that for every single attribute on my type?

Yes! But don’t worry, there are third-party modules to help with this incredibly fundamental task. Take Class::Accessor::Fast, so named because it’s faster than Class::Accessor:

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package Foo;
use base qw(Class::Accessor::Fast);
__PACKAGE__->mk_accessors(qw(fred wilma barney));

(__PACKAGE__ is the lexical name of the current package; qw(...) is a list literal that splits its contents on whitespace.)

This assumes you’re using a hashref with keys of the same names as the attributes. $obj->fred will return the fred key from your hashref, and $obj->fred(4) will change it to 4.

You also, somewhat bizarrely, have to inherit from Class::Accessor::Fast. Speaking of which,

Inheritance

Inheritance is done by populating the package-global @ISA array with some number of (string) names of parent packages. Most code instead opts to write use base ...;, which does the same thing. Or, more commonly, use parent ...;, which… also… does the same thing.

Every package implicitly inherits from UNIVERSAL, which can be freely modified by Perl code.

A method can call its superclass method with the SUPER:: pseudo-package:

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sub foo {
    my ($self) = @_;
    $self->SUPER::foo;
}

However, this does a depth-first search, which means it almost certainly does the wrong thing when faced with multiple inheritance. For a while the accepted solution involved a third-party module, but Perl eventually grew an alternative you have to opt into: C3, which may be more familiar to you as the order Python uses.

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use mro 'c3';

sub foo {
    my ($self) = @_;
    $self->next::method;
}

Offhand, I’m not actually sure how next::method works, seeing as it was originally implemented in pure Perl code. I suspect it involves peeking at the caller’s stack frame. If so, then this is a very different style of customizability from e.g. Python — the MRO was never intended to be pluggable, and the use of a special pseudo-package means it isn’t really, but someone was determined enough to make it happen anyway.

Operator overloading and whatnot

Operator overloading looks a little weird, though really it’s pretty standard Perl.

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package MyClass;

use overload '+' => \&_add;

sub _add {
    my ($self, $other, $swap) = @_;
    ...
}

use overload here is a pragma, where “pragma” means “regular-ass module that does some wizardry when imported”.

\&_add is how you get a reference to the _add sub so you can pass it to the overload module. If you just said &_add or _add, that would call it.

And that’s it; you just pass a map of operators to functions to this built-in module. No worry about name clashes or pollution, which is pretty nice. You don’t even have to give references to functions that live in the package, if you don’t want them to clog your namespace; you could put them in another package, or even inline them anonymously.

One especially interesting thing is that Perl lets you overload every operator. Perl has a lot of operators. It considers some math builtins like sqrt and trig functions to be operators, or at least operator-y enough that you can overload them. You can also overload the “file text” operators, such as -e $path to test whether a file exists. You can overload conversions, including implicit conversion to a regex. And most fascinating to me, you can overload dereferencing — that is, the thing Perl does when you say $hashref->{key} to get at the underlying hash. So a single object could pretend to be references of multiple different types, including a subref to implement callability. Neat.

Somewhat related: you can overload basic operators (indexing, etc.) on basic types (not references!) with the tie function, which is designed completely differently and looks for methods with fixed names. Go figure.

You can intercept calls to nonexistent methods by implementing a function called AUTOLOAD, within which the $AUTOLOAD global will contain the name of the method being called. Originally this feature was, I think, intended for loading binary components or large libraries on-the-fly only when needed, hence the name. Offhand I’m not sure I ever saw it used the way __getattr__ is used in Python.

Is there a way to intercept all method calls? I don’t think so, but it is Perl, so I must be forgetting something.

Actually no one does this any more

Like a decade ago, a council of elder sages sat down and put together a whole whizbang system that covers all of it: Moose.

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package Vector;
use Moose;

has x => (is => 'rw', isa => 'Int');
has y => (is => 'rw', isa => 'Int');

sub magnitude {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return sqrt($self->x ** 2 + $self->y ** 2);
}

Moose has its own way to do pretty much everything, and it’s all built on the same primitives. Moose also adds metaclasses, somehow, despite that the underlying model doesn’t actually support them? I’m not entirely sure how they managed that, but I do remember doing some class introspection with Moose and it was much nicer than the built-in way.

(If you’re wondering, the built-in way begins with looking at the hash called %Vector::. No, that’s not a typo.)

I really cannot stress enough just how much stuff Moose does, but I don’t want to delve into it here since Moose itself is not actually the language model.

The Perl philosophy

I hope you can see what I meant with what I first said about Perl, now. It has multiple inheritance with an MRO, but uses the wrong one by default. It has extensive operator overloading, which looks nothing like how inheritance works, and also some of it uses a totally different mechanism with special method names instead. It only understands methods, not data, leaving you to figure out accessors by hand.

There’s 70% of an object system here with a clear general design it was gunning for, but none of the pieces really look anything like each other. It’s weird, in a distinctly Perl way.

The result is certainly flexible, at least! It’s especially cool that you can use whatever kind of reference you want for storage, though even as I say that, I acknowledge it’s no different from simply subclassing list or something in Python. It feels different in Perl, but maybe only because it looks so different.

I haven’t written much Perl in a long time, so I don’t know what the community is like any more. Moose was already ubiquitous when I left, which you’d think would let me say “the community mostly focuses on the stuff Moose can do” — but even a decade ago, Moose could already do far more than I had ever seen done by hand in Perl. It’s always made a big deal out of roles (read: interfaces), for instance, despite that I’d never seen anyone care about them in Perl before Moose came along. Maybe their presence in Moose has made them more popular? Who knows.

Also, I wrote Perl seriously, but in the intervening years I’ve only encountered people who only ever used Perl for one-offs. Maybe it’ll come as a surprise to a lot of readers that Perl has an object model at all.

End

Well, that was fun! I hope any of that made sense.

Special mention goes to Rust, which doesn’t have an object model you can fiddle with at runtime, but does do things a little differently.

It’s been really interesting thinking about how tiny differences make a huge impact on what people do in practice. Take the choice of storage in Perl versus Python. Perl’s massively common URI class uses a string as the storage, nothing else; I haven’t seen anything like that in Python aside from markupsafe, which is specifically designed as a string type. I would guess this is partly because Perl makes you choose — using a hashref is an obvious default, but you have to make that choice one way or the other. In Python (especially 3), inheriting from object and getting dict-based storage is the obvious thing to do; the ability to use another type isn’t quite so obvious, and doing it “right” involves a tiny bit of extra work.

Or, consider that Lua could have descriptors, but the extra bit of work (especially design work) has been enough of an impediment that I’ve never implemented them. I don’t think the object implementations I’ve looked at have included them, either. Super weird!

In that light, it’s only natural that objects would be so strongly associated with the features Java and C++ attach to them. I think that makes it all the more important to play around! Look at what Moose has done. No, really, you should bear in mind my description of how Perl does stuff and flip through the Moose documentation. It’s amazing what they’ve built.

Some notes about the Kaspersky affair

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/10/some-notes-about-kaspersky-affair.html

I thought I’d write up some notes about Kaspersky, the Russian anti-virus vendor that many believe has ties to Russian intelligence.

There’s two angles to this story. One is whether the accusations are true. The second is the poor way the press has handled the story, with mainstream outlets like the New York Times more intent on pushing government propaganda than informing us what’s going on.

The press

Before we address Kaspersky, we need to talk about how the press covers this.
The mainstream media’s stories have been pure government propaganda, like this one from the New York Times. It garbles the facts of what happened, and relies primarily on anonymous government sources that cannot be held accountable. It’s so messed up that we can’t easily challenge it because we aren’t even sure exactly what it’s claiming.
The Society of Professional Journalists have a name for this abuse of anonymous sources, the “Washington Game“. Journalists can identify this as bad journalism, but the big newspapers like The New York Times continues to do it anyway, because how dare anybody criticize them?
For all that I hate the anti-American bias of The Intercept, at least they’ve had stories that de-garble what’s going on, that explain things so that we can challenge them.

Our Government

Our government can’t tell us everything, of course. But at the same time, they need to tell us something, to at least being clear what their accusations are. These vague insinuations through the media hurt their credibility, not help it. The obvious craptitude is making us in the cybersecurity community come to Kaspersky’s defense, which is not the government’s aim at all.
There are lots of issues involved here, but let’s consider the major one insinuated by the NYTimes story, that Kaspersky was getting “data” files along with copies of suspected malware. This is troublesome if true.
But, as Kaspersky claims today, it’s because they had detected malware within a zip file, and uploaded the entire zip — including the data files within the zip.
This is reasonable. This is indeed how anti-virus generally works. It completely defeats the NYTimes insinuations.
This isn’t to say Kaspersky is telling the truth, of course, but that’s not the point. The point is that we are getting vague propaganda from the government further garbled by the press, making Kaspersky’s clear defense the credible party in the affair.
It’s certainly possible for Kaspersky to write signatures to look for strings like “TS//SI/OC/REL TO USA” that appear in secret US documents, then upload them to Russia. If that’s what our government believes is happening, they need to come out and be explicit about it. They can easily setup honeypots, in the way described in today’s story, to confirm it. However, it seems the government’s description of honeypots is that Kaspersky only upload files that were clearly viruses, not data.

Kaspersky

I believe Kaspersky is guilty, that the company and Eugene himself, works directly with Russian intelligence.
That’s because on a personal basis, people in government have given me specific, credible stories — the sort of thing they should be making public. And these stories are wholly unrelated to stories that have been made public so far.
You shouldn’t believe me, of course, because I won’t go into details you can challenge. I’m not trying to convince you, I’m just disclosing my point of view.
But there are some public reasons to doubt Kaspersky. For example, when trying to sell to our government, they’ve claimed they can help us against terrorists. The translation of this is that they could help our intelligence services. Well, if they are willing to help our intelligence services against customers who are terrorists, then why wouldn’t they likewise help Russian intelligence services against their adversaries?
Then there is how Russia works. It’s a violent country. Most of the people mentioned in that “Steele Dossier” have died. In the hacker community, hackers are often coerced to help the government. Many have simply gone missing.
Being rich doesn’t make Kaspersky immune from this — it makes him more of a target. Russian intelligence knows he’s getting all sorts of good intelligence, such as malware written by foreign intelligence services. It’s unbelievable they wouldn’t put the screws on him to get this sort of thing.
Russia is our adversary. It’d be foolish of our government to buy anti-virus from Russian companies. Likewise, the Russian government won’t buy such products from American companies.

Conclusion

I have enormous disrespect for mainstream outlets like The New York Times and the way they’ve handled the story. It makes me want to come to Kaspersky’s defense.

I have enormous respect for Kaspersky technology. They do good work.

But I hear stories. I don’t think our government should be trusting Kaspersky at all. For that matter, our government shouldn’t trust any cybersecurity products from Russia, China, Iran, etc.

Improved Search for Backblaze’s Blog

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/using-relevannssi-wordpress-search/

Improved Search for Backblaze's Blog
Search has become the most powerful method to find content on the Web, both for finding websites themselves and for discovering information within websites. Our blog readers find content in both ways — using Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask, DuckDuckGo, and other search engines to follow search results directly to our blog, and using the site search function once on our blog to find content in the blog posts themselves.

There’s a Lot of Great Content on the Backblaze Blog

Backblaze’s CEO Gleb Budman wrote the first post for this blog in March of 2008. Since that post there have been 612 more. There’s a lot of great content on this blog, as evidenced by the more than two million page views we’ve had since the beginning of this year. We typically publish two blog posts per week on a variety of topics, but we focus primarily on cloud storage technology and data backup, company news, and how-to articles on how to use cloud storage and various hardware and software solutions.

Earlier this year we initiated a series of posts on entrepreneurship by our CEO and co-founder, Gleb Budman, which has proven tremendously popular. We also occasionally publish something a little lighter, such as our current Halloween video contest — there’s still time to enter!

Blog search box

The Site Search Box — Your gateway to Backblaze blog content

We Could do a Better Job of Helping You Find It

I joined Backblaze as Content Director in July of this year. During the application process, I spent quite a bit of time reading through the blog to understand the company, the market, and its customers. That’s a lot of reading. I used the site search many times to uncover topics and posts, and discovered that site search had a number of weaknesses that made it less-than-easy to find what I was looking for.

These site search weaknesses included:

Searches were case sensitive
Visitor could easily miss content capitalized differently than the search terms
Results showed no date or author information
Visitor couldn’t tell how recent the post was or who wrote it
Search terms were not highlighted in context
Visitor had to scrutinize the results to find the terms in the post
No indication of the number of results or number of pages of results
Visitor didn’t know how fruitful the search was
No record of search terms used by visitors
We couldn’t tell what our visitors were searching for!

I wanted to make it easier for blog visitors to find all the great content on the Backblaze blog and help me understand what our visitors are searching for. To do that, we needed to upgrade our site search.

I started with a list of goals I wanted for site search.

  1. Make it easier to find content on the blog
  2. Provide a summary of what was found
  3. Search the comments as well as the posts
  4. Highlight the search terms in the results to help find them in context
  5. Provide a record of searches to help me understand what interests our readers

I had the goals, now how could I find a solution to achieve them?

Our blog is built on WordPress, which has a built-in site search function that could be described as simply adequate. The most obvious of its limitations is that search results are listed chronologically, not based on “most popular,” most occurring,” or any other metric that might make the result more relevant to your interests.

The Search for Improved (Site) Search

An obvious choice to improve site search would be to adopt Google Site Search, as many websites and blogs have done. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that Google is sunsetting Site Search by April of 2018. That left the choice among a number of third-party services or WordPress-specific solutions. My immediate inclination was to see what is available specifically for WordPress.

There are a handful of search plugins for WordPress. One stood out to me for the number of installations (100,000+) and overwhelmingly high reviews: Relevanssi. Still, I had a number of questions. The first question was whether the plugin retained any search data from our site — I wanted to make sure that the privacy of our visitors is maintained, and even harvesting anonymous search data would not be acceptable to Backblaze. I wrote to the developer and was pleased by the responsiveness from Relevanssi’s creator, Mikko Saari. He explained to me that Relevanssi doesn’t have access to any of the search data from the sites using his plugin. Receiving a quick response from a developer is always a good sign. Other signs of a good WordPress plugin are recent updates and an active support forum.

Our solution: Relevanssi for Site Search

The WordPress plugin Relevanssi met all of our criteria, so we installed the plugin and switched to using it for site search in September.

In addition to solving the problems listed above, our search results are now displayed based on relevance instead of date, which is the default behavior of WordPress search. That capability is very useful on our blog where a lot of the content from years ago is still valuable — often called evergreen content. The new site search also enables visitors to search using the boolean expressions AND and OR. For example, a visitor can search for “seagate AND drive,” and see results that only include both words. Alternatively, a visitor can search for “seagate OR drive” and see results that include either word.

screenshot of relevannssi wordpress search results

Search results showing total number of results, hits and their location, and highlighted search terms in context

Visitors can put search terms in quotation marks to search for an entire phrase. For example, a visitor can search for “2016 drive stats” and see results that include only that exact phrase. In addition, the site search results come with a summary, showing where the results were found (title, post, or comments). Search terms are highlighted in yellow in the content, showing exactly where the search result was found.

Here’s an example of a popular post that shows up in searches. Hard Drive Stats for Q1 2017 was published on May 9, 2017. Since September 4, it has shown up over 150 times in site searches and in the last 90 days in has been viewed over 53,000 times on our blog.

Hard Drive Stats for Q1 2017

The Results Tell the Story

Since initiating the new search on our blog on September 4, there have been almost 23,000 site searches conducted, so we know you are using it. We’ve implemented pagination for the blog feed and search results so you know how many pages of results there are and made it easier to navigate to them.

Now that we have this site search data, you likely are wondering which are the most popular search terms on our blog. Here are some of the top searches:

What Do You Search For?

Please tell us how you use site search and whether there are any other capabilities you’d like to see that would make it easier to find content on our blog.

The post Improved Search for Backblaze’s Blog appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.