Tag Archives: CDN

Cloudflare Flags Copyright Lawsuits as Potential Liabilities Ahead of IPO

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/cloudflare-flags-copyright-lawsuits-as-potential-liabilities-ahead-of-ipo-190816/

As a CDN and security company, Cloudflare currently serves around 20 million “Internet properties”, ranging from domains and websites through to application programming interfaces (APIs) and mobile applications.

At least hundreds of those properties, potentially more, are considered ‘pirate’ platforms by copyright groups, which has resulted in Cloudflare being sucked into copyright infringement lawsuits due to the activities of its customers.

On Thursday, Cloudflare filed to go public by submitting the required S-1 registration statement. It contains numerous warnings that copyright infringement lawsuits, both current and those that may appear in the future, could present significant issues of liability for the company.

Noting that some of Cloudflare’s customers may use its services in violation of the law, the company states that existing laws relating to the liability of service providers are “highly unsettled and in flux”, both in the United States and further afield.

“For example, we have been named as a defendant in a number of lawsuits, both in the United States and abroad, alleging copyright infringement based on content that is made available through our customers’ websites,” the filing reads.

“There can be no assurance that we will not face similar litigation in the future or that we will prevail in any litigation we may face. An adverse decision in one or more of these lawsuits could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations, and financial condition.”

Cloudflare goes on to reference the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, noting that they may not offer “complete protection” for the company or could even be amended in the future to its detriment.

“If we are found not to be protected by the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, CDA [Communications Decency Act] or other similar laws, or if we are deemed subject to laws in other countries that may not have the same protections or that may impose more onerous obligations on us, we may face claims for substantial damages and our brand, reputation, and financial results may be harmed. Such claims may result in liability that exceeds our ability to pay or our insurance coverage,” Cloudflare warns.

As a global company, it’s not only US law the company has to consider. Cloudflare references the recently-approved Copyright Directive in the EU, noting that also has the potential to expose Cloudflare and other online platforms to liability.

As recently as last month and in advance of any claims under that particular legislation, Cloudflare experienced an adverse ruling in an Italian court. Local broadcaster RTI successfully argued that Cloudflare can be held liable if it willingly fails to act in response to copyright infringement notices. In addition, Cloudflare was ordered to terminate the accounts of several pirate sites.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for S-1 filings to contain statements that can be interpreted as impending doom, since companies are required to be frank about their business’s prospects. However, with single copyright cases often dealing with millions of dollars worth of alleged infringement, Cloudflare’s appraisal of the risks seems entirely warranted.

Cloudflare’s S-1 filing can be viewed here

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

CloudFrunt – Identify Misconfigured CloudFront Domains

Post Syndicated from Darknet original https://www.darknet.org.uk/2018/05/cloudfrunt-identify-misconfigured-cloudfront-domains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=darknetfeed

CloudFrunt – Identify Misconfigured CloudFront Domains

CloudFrunt is a Python-based tool for identifying misconfigured CloudFront domains, it uses DNS and looks for CNAMEs which may be allowed to be associated with CloudFront distributions. This effectively allows for domain hijacking.

How CloudFrunt Works For Misconfigured CloudFront

CloudFront is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS). CloudFront users create “distributions” that serve content from specific sources (an S3 bucket, for example).

Each CloudFront distribution has a unique endpoint for users to point their DNS records to (ex.

Read the rest of CloudFrunt – Identify Misconfigured CloudFront Domains now! Only available at Darknet.

SUPER game night 3: GAMES MADE QUICK??? 2.0

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/01/23/super-game-night-3-games-made-quick-2-0/

Game night continues with a smorgasbord of games from my recent game jam, GAMES MADE QUICK??? 2.0!

The idea was to make a game in only a week while watching AGDQ, as an alternative to doing absolutely nothing for a week while watching AGDQ. (I didn’t submit a game myself; I was chugging along on my Anise game, which isn’t finished yet.)

I can’t very well run a game jam and not play any of the games, so here’s some of them in no particular order! Enjoy!

These are impressions, not reviews. I try to avoid major/ending spoilers, but big plot points do tend to leave impressions.

Weather Quest, by timlmul

short · rpg · jan 2017 · (lin)/mac/win · free on itch · jam entry

Weather Quest is its author’s first shipped game, written completely from scratch (the only vendored code is a micro OO base). It’s very short, but as someone who has also written LÖVE games completely from scratch, I can attest that producing something this game-like in a week is a fucking miracle. Bravo!

For reference, a week into my first foray, I think I was probably still writing my own Tiled importer like an idiot.

Only Mac and Windows builds are on itch, but it’s a LÖVE game, so Linux folks can just grab a zip from GitHub and throw that at love.

FINAL SCORE: ⛅☔☀

Pancake Numbers Simulator, by AnorakThePrimordial

short · sim · jan 2017 · lin/mac/win · free on itch · jam entry

Given a stack of N pancakes (of all different sizes and in no particular order), the Nth pancake number is the most flips you could possibly need to sort the pancakes in order with the smallest on top. A “flip” is sticking a spatula under one of the pancakes and flipping the whole sub-stack over. There’s, ah, a video embedded on the game page with some visuals.

Anyway, this game lets you simulate sorting a stack via pancake flipping, which is surprisingly satisfying! I enjoy cleaning up little simulated messes, such as… incorrectly-sorted pancakes, I guess?

This probably doesn’t work too well as a simulator for solving the general problem — you’d have to find an optimal solution for every permutation of N pancakes to be sure you were right. But it’s a nice interactive illustration of the problem, and if you know the pancake number for your stack size of choice (which I wish the game told you — for seven pancakes, it’s 8), then trying to restore a stack in that many moves makes for a nice quick puzzle.

FINAL SCORE: \(\frac{18}{11}\)

Framed Animals, by chridd

short · metroidvania · jan 2017 · web/win · free on itch · jam entry

The concept here was to kill the frames, save the animals, which is a delightfully literal riff on a long-running AGDQ/SGDQ donation incentive — people vote with their dollars to decide whether Super Metroid speedrunners go out of their way to free the critters who show you how to walljump and shinespark. Super Metroid didn’t have a showing at this year’s AGDQ, and so we have this game instead.

It’s rough, but clever, and I got really into it pretty quickly — each animal you save gives you a new ability (in true Metroid style), and you get to test that ability out by playing as the animal, with only that ability and no others, to get yourself back to the most recent save point.

I did, tragically, manage to get myself stuck near what I think was about to be the end of the game, so some of the animals will remain framed forever. What an unsatisfying conclusion.

Gravity feels a little high given the size of the screen, and like most tile-less platformers, there’s not really any way to gauge how high or long your jump is before you leap. But I’m only even nitpicking because I think this is a great idea and I hope the author really does keep working on it.

FINAL SCORE: $136,596.69

Battle 4 Glory, by Storyteller Games

short · fighter · jan 2017 · win · free on itch · jam entry

This is a Smash Bros-style brawler, complete with the four players, the 2D play area in a 3D world, and the random stage obstacles showing up. I do like the Smash style, despite not otherwise being a fan of fighting games, so it’s nice to see another game chase that aesthetic.

Alas, that’s about as far as it got — which is pretty far for a week of work! I don’t know what more to say, though. The environments are neat, but unless I’m missing something, the only actions at your disposal are jumping and very weak melee attacks. I did have a good few minutes of fun fruitlessly mashing myself against the bumbling bots, as you can see.

FINAL SCORE: 300%

Icnaluferu Guild, Year Sixteen, by CHz

short · adventure · jan 2017 · web · free on itch · jam entry

Here we have the first of several games made with bitsy, a micro game making tool that basically only supports walking around, talking to people, and picking up items.

I tell you this because I think half of my appreciation for this game is in the ways it wriggled against those limits to emulate a Zelda-like dungeon crawler. Everything in here is totally fake, and you can’t really understand just how fake unless you’ve tried to make something complicated with bitsy.

It’s pretty good. The dialogue is entertaining (the rest of your party develops distinct personalities solely through oneliners, somehow), the riffs on standard dungeon fare are charming, and the Link’s Awakening-esque perspective walls around the edges of each room are fucking glorious.

FINAL SCORE: 2 bits

The Lonely Tapes, by JTHomeslice

short · rpg · jan 2017 · web · free on itch · jam entry

Another bitsy entry, this one sees you play as a Wal— sorry, a JogDawg, which has lost its cassette tapes and needs to go recover them!

(A cassette tape is like a VHS, but for music.)

(A VHS is—)

I have the sneaking suspicion that I missed out on some musical in-jokes, due to being uncultured swine. I still enjoyed the game — it’s always clear when someone is passionate about the thing they’re writing about, and I could tell I was awash in that aura even if some of it went over my head. You know you’ve done good if someone from way outside your sphere shows up and still has a good time.

FINAL SCORE: Nine… Inch Nails? They’re a band, right? God I don’t know write your own damn joke

Pirate Kitty-Quest, by TheKoolestKid

short · adventure · jan 2017 · win · free on itch · jam entry

I completely forgot I’d even given “my birthday” and “my cat” as mostly-joking jam themes until I stumbled upon this incredible gem. I don’t think — let me just check here and — yeah no this person doesn’t even follow me on Twitter. I have no idea who they are?

BUT THEY MADE A GAME ABOUT ANISE AS A PIRATE, LOOKING FOR TREASURE

PIRATE. ANISE

PIRATE ANISE!!!

This game wins the jam, hands down. 🏆

FINAL SCORE: Yarr, eight pieces o’ eight

CHIPS Mario, by NovaSquirrel

short · platformer · jan 2017 · (lin/mac)/win · free on itch · jam entry

You see this? This is fucking witchcraft.

This game is made with MegaZeux. MegaZeux games look like THIS. Text-mode, bound to a grid, with two colors per cell. That’s all you get.

Until now, apparently?? The game is a tech demo of “unbound” sprites, which can be drawn on top of the character grid without being aligned to it. And apparently have looser color restrictions.

The collision is a little glitchy, which isn’t surprising for a MegaZeux platformer; I had some fun interactions with platforms a couple times. But hey, goddamn, it’s free-moving Mario, in MegaZeux, what the hell.

(I’m looking at the most recently added games on DigitalMZX now, and I notice that not only is this game in the first slot, but NovaSquirrel’s MegaZeux entry for Strawberry Jam last February is still in the seventh slot. RIP, MegaZeux. I’m surprised a major feature like this was even added if the community has largely evaporated?)

FINAL SCORE: n/a, disqualified for being probably summoned from the depths of Hell

d!¢< pic, by 573 Games

short · story · jan 2017 · web · free on itch · jam entry

This is a short story about not sending dick pics. It’s very short, so I can’t say much without spoiling it, but: you are generally prompted to either text something reasonable, or send a dick pic. You should not send a dick pic.

It’s a fascinating artifact, not because of the work itself, but because it’s so terse that I genuinely can’t tell what the author was even going for. And this is the kind of subject where the author was, surely, going for something. Right? But was it genuinely intended to be educational, or was it tongue-in-cheek about how some dudes still don’t get it? Or is it side-eying the player who clicks the obviously wrong option just for kicks, which is the same reason people do it for real? Or is it commentary on how “send a dick pic” is a literal option for every response in a real conversation, too, and it’s not that hard to just not do it — unless you are one of the kinds of people who just feels a compulsion to try everything, anything, just because you can? Or is it just a quick Twine and I am way too deep in this? God, just play the thing, it’s shorter than this paragraph.

I’m also left wondering when it is appropriate to send a dick pic. Presumably there is a correct time? Hopefully the author will enter Strawberry Jam 2 to expound upon this.

FINAL SCORE: 3½” 😉

Marble maze, by Shtille

short · arcade · jan 2017 · win · free on itch · jam entry

Ah, hm. So this is a maze navigated by rolling a marble around. You use WASD to move the marble, and you can also turn the camera with the arrow keys.

The trouble is… the marble’s movement is always relative to the world, not the camera. That means if you turn the camera 30° and then try to move the marble, it’ll move at a 30° angle from your point of view.

That makes navigating a maze, er, difficult.

Camera-relative movement is the kind of thing I take so much for granted that I wouldn’t even think to do otherwise, and I think it’s valuable to look at surprising choices that violate fundamental conventions, so I’m trying to take this as a nudge out of my comfort zone. What could you design in an interesting way that used world-relative movement? Probably not the player, but maybe something else in the world, as long as you had strong landmarks? Hmm.

FINAL SCORE: ᘔ

Refactor: flight, by fluffy

short · arcade · jan 2017 · lin/mac/win · free on itch · jam entry

Refactor is a game album, which is rather a lot what it sounds like, and Flight is one of the tracks. Which makes this a single, I suppose.

It’s one of those games where you move down an oddly-shaped tunnel trying not to hit the walls, but with some cute twists. Coins and gems hop up from the bottom of the screen in time with the music, and collecting them gives you points. Hitting a wall costs you some points and kills your momentum, but I don’t think outright losing is possible, which is great for me!

Also, the monk cycles through several animal faces. I don’t know why, and it’s very good. One of those odd but memorable details that sits squarely on the intersection of abstract, mysterious, and a bit weird, and refuses to budge from that spot.

The music is great too? Really chill all around.

FINAL SCORE: 🎵🎵🎵🎵

The Adventures of Klyde

short · adventure · jan 2017 · web · free on itch · jam entry

Another bitsy game, this one starring a pig (humorously symbolized by a giant pig nose with ears) who must collect fruit and solve some puzzles.

This is charmingly nostalgic for me — it reminds me of some standard fare in engines like MegaZeux, where the obvious things to do when presented with tiles and pickups were to make mazes. I don’t mean that in a bad way; the maze is the fundamental environmental obstacle.

A couple places in here felt like invisible teleport mazes I had to brute-force, but I might have been missing a hint somewhere. I did make it through with only a little trouble, but alas — I stepped in a bad warp somewhere and got sent to the upper left corner of the starting screen, which is surrounded by walls. So Klyde’s new life is being trapped eternally in a nowhere space.

FINAL SCORE: 19/20 apples

And more

That was only a third of the games, and I don’t think even half of the ones I’ve played. I’ll have to do a second post covering the rest of them? Maybe a third?

Or maybe this is a ludicrous format for commenting on several dozen games and I should try to narrow it down to the ones that resonated the most for Strawberry Jam 2? Maybe??

Scale Your Web Application — One Step at a Time

Post Syndicated from Saurabh Shrivastava original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/architecture/scale-your-web-application-one-step-at-a-time/

I often encounter people experiencing frustration as they attempt to scale their e-commerce or WordPress site—particularly around the cost and complexity related to scaling. When I talk to customers about their scaling plans, they often mention phrases such as horizontal scaling and microservices, but usually people aren’t sure about how to dive in and effectively scale their sites.

Now let’s talk about different scaling options. For instance if your current workload is in a traditional data center, you can leverage the cloud for your on-premises solution. This way you can scale to achieve greater efficiency with less cost. It’s not necessary to set up a whole powerhouse to light a few bulbs. If your workload is already in the cloud, you can use one of the available out-of-the-box options.

Designing your API in microservices and adding horizontal scaling might seem like the best choice, unless your web application is already running in an on-premises environment and you’ll need to quickly scale it because of unexpected large spikes in web traffic.

So how to handle this situation? Take things one step at a time when scaling and you may find horizontal scaling isn’t the right choice, after all.

For example, assume you have a tech news website where you did an early-look review of an upcoming—and highly-anticipated—smartphone launch, which went viral. The review, a blog post on your website, includes both video and pictures. Comments are enabled for the post and readers can also rate it. For example, if your website is hosted on a traditional Linux with a LAMP stack, you may find yourself with immediate scaling problems.

Let’s get more details on the current scenario and dig out more:

  • Where are images and videos stored?
  • How many read/write requests are received per second? Per minute?
  • What is the level of security required?
  • Are these synchronous or asynchronous requests?

We’ll also want to consider the following if your website has a transactional load like e-commerce or banking:

How is the website handling sessions?

  • Do you have any compliance requests—like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS compliance) —if your website is using its own payment gateway?
  • How are you recording customer behavior data and fulfilling your analytics needs?
  • What are your loading balancing considerations (scaling, caching, session maintenance, etc.)?

So, if we take this one step at a time:

Step 1: Ease server load. We need to quickly handle spikes in traffic, generated by activity on the blog post, so let’s reduce server load by moving image and video to some third -party content delivery network (CDN). AWS provides Amazon CloudFront as a CDN solution, which is highly scalable with built-in security to verify origin access identity and handle any DDoS attacks. CloudFront can direct traffic to your on-premises or cloud-hosted server with its 113 Points of Presence (102 Edge Locations and 11 Regional Edge Caches) in 56 cities across 24 countries, which provides efficient caching.
Step 2: Reduce read load by adding more read replicas. MySQL provides a nice mirror replication for databases. Oracle has its own Oracle plug for replication and AWS RDS provide up to five read replicas, which can span across the region and even the Amazon database Amazon Aurora can have 15 read replicas with Amazon Aurora autoscaling support. If a workload is highly variable, you should consider Amazon Aurora Serverless database  to achieve high efficiency and reduced cost. While most mirror technologies do asynchronous replication, AWS RDS can provide synchronous multi-AZ replication, which is good for disaster recovery but not for scalability. Asynchronous replication to mirror instance means replication data can sometimes be stale if network bandwidth is low, so you need to plan and design your application accordingly.

I recommend that you always use a read replica for any reporting needs and try to move non-critical GET services to read replica and reduce the load on the master database. In this case, loading comments associated with a blog can be fetched from a read replica—as it can handle some delay—in case there is any issue with asynchronous reflection.

Step 3: Reduce write requests. This can be achieved by introducing queue to process the asynchronous message. Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) is a highly-scalable queue, which can handle any kind of work-message load. You can process data, like rating and review; or calculate Deal Quality Score (DQS) using batch processing via an SQS queue. If your workload is in AWS, I recommend using a job-observer pattern by setting up Auto Scaling to automatically increase or decrease the number of batch servers, using the number of SQS messages, with Amazon CloudWatch, as the trigger.  For on-premises workloads, you can use SQS SDK to create an Amazon SQS queue that holds messages until they’re processed by your stack. Or you can use Amazon SNS  to fan out your message processing in parallel for different purposes like adding a watermark in an image, generating a thumbnail, etc.

Step 4: Introduce a more robust caching engine. You can use Amazon Elastic Cache for Memcached or Redis to reduce write requests. Memcached and Redis have different use cases so if you can afford to lose and recover your cache from your database, use Memcached. If you are looking for more robust data persistence and complex data structure, use Redis. In AWS, these are managed services, which means AWS takes care of the workload for you and you can also deploy them in your on-premises instances or use a hybrid approach.

Step 5: Scale your server. If there are still issues, it’s time to scale your server.  For the greatest cost-effectiveness and unlimited scalability, I suggest always using horizontal scaling. However, use cases like database vertical scaling may be a better choice until you are good with sharding; or use Amazon Aurora Serverless for variable workloads. It will be wise to use Auto Scaling to manage your workload effectively for horizontal scaling. Also, to achieve that, you need to persist the session. Amazon DynamoDB can handle session persistence across instances.

If your server is on premises, consider creating a multisite architecture, which will help you achieve quick scalability as required and provide a good disaster recovery solution.  You can pick and choose individual services like Amazon Route 53, AWS CloudFormation, Amazon SQS, Amazon SNS, Amazon RDS, etc. depending on your needs.

Your multisite architecture will look like the following diagram:

In this architecture, you can run your regular workload on premises, and use your AWS workload as required for scalability and disaster recovery. Using Route 53, you can direct a precise percentage of users to an AWS workload.

If you decide to move all of your workloads to AWS, the recommended multi-AZ architecture would look like the following:

In this architecture, you are using a multi-AZ distributed workload for high availability. You can have a multi-region setup and use Route53 to distribute your workload between AWS Regions. CloudFront helps you to scale and distribute static content via an S3 bucket and DynamoDB, maintaining your application state so that Auto Scaling can apply horizontal scaling without loss of session data. At the database layer, RDS with multi-AZ standby provides high availability and read replica helps achieve scalability.

This is a high-level strategy to help you think through the scalability of your workload by using AWS even if your workload in on premises and not in the cloud…yet.

I highly recommend creating a hybrid, multisite model by placing your on-premises environment replica in the public cloud like AWS Cloud, and using Amazon Route53 DNS Service and Elastic Load Balancing to route traffic between on-premises and cloud environments. AWS now supports load balancing between AWS and on-premises environments to help you scale your cloud environment quickly, whenever required, and reduce it further by applying Amazon auto-scaling and placing a threshold on your on-premises traffic using Route 53.

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.

Random with care

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/01/02/random-with-care/

Hi! Here are a few loose thoughts about picking random numbers.

A word about crypto

DON’T ROLL YOUR OWN CRYPTO

This is all aimed at frivolous pursuits like video games. Hell, even video games where money is at stake should be deferring to someone who knows way more than I do. Otherwise you might find out that your deck shuffles in your poker game are woefully inadequate and some smartass is cheating you out of millions. (If your random number generator has fewer than 226 bits of state, it can’t even generate every possible shuffling of a deck of cards!)

Use the right distribution

Most languages have a random number primitive that spits out a number uniformly in the range [0, 1), and you can go pretty far with just that. But beware a few traps!

Random pitches

Say you want to pitch up a sound by a random amount, perhaps up to an octave. Your audio API probably has a way to do this that takes a pitch multiplier, where I say “probably” because that’s how the only audio API I’ve used works.

Easy peasy. If 1 is unchanged and 2 is pitched up by an octave, then all you need is rand() + 1. Right?

No! Pitch is exponential — within the same octave, the “gap” between C and C♯ is about half as big as the gap between B and the following C. If you pick a pitch multiplier uniformly, you’ll have a noticeable bias towards the higher pitches.

One octave corresponds to a doubling of pitch, so if you want to pick a random note, you want 2 ** rand().

Random directions

For two dimensions, you can just pick a random angle with rand() * TAU.

If you want a vector rather than an angle, or if you want a random direction in three dimensions, it’s a little trickier. You might be tempted to just pick a random point where each component is rand() * 2 - 1 (ranging from −1 to 1), but that’s not quite right. A direction is a point on the surface (or, equivalently, within the volume) of a sphere, and picking each component independently produces a point within the volume of a cube; the result will be a bias towards the corners of the cube, where there’s much more extra volume beyond the sphere.

No? Well, just trust me. I don’t know how to make a diagram for this.

Anyway, you could use the Pythagorean theorem a few times and make a huge mess of things, or it turns out there’s a really easy way that even works for two or four or any number of dimensions. You pick each coordinate from a Gaussian (normal) distribution, then normalize the resulting vector. In other words, using Python’s random module:

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def random_direction():
    x = random.gauss(0, 1)
    y = random.gauss(0, 1)
    z = random.gauss(0, 1)
    r = math.sqrt(x*x + y*y + z*z)
    return x/r, y/r, z/r

Why does this work? I have no idea!

Note that it is possible to get zero (or close to it) for every component, in which case the result is nonsense. You can re-roll all the components if necessary; just check that the magnitude (or its square) is less than some epsilon, which is equivalent to throwing away a tiny sphere at the center and shouldn’t affect the distribution.

Beware Gauss

Since I brought it up: the Gaussian distribution is a pretty nice one for choosing things in some range, where the middle is the common case and should appear more frequently.

That said, I never use it, because it has one annoying drawback: the Gaussian distribution has no minimum or maximum value, so you can’t really scale it down to the range you want. In theory, you might get any value out of it, with no limit on scale.

In practice, it’s astronomically rare to actually get such a value out. I did a hundred million trials just to see what would happen, and the largest value produced was 5.8.

But, still, I’d rather not knowingly put extremely rare corner cases in my code if I can at all avoid it. I could clamp the ends, but that would cause unnatural bunching at the endpoints. I could reroll if I got a value outside some desired range, but I prefer to avoid rerolling when I can, too; after all, it’s still (astronomically) possible to have to reroll for an indefinite amount of time. (Okay, it’s really not, since you’ll eventually hit the period of your PRNG. Still, though.) I don’t bend over backwards here — I did just say to reroll when picking a random direction, after all — but when there’s a nicer alternative I’ll gladly use it.

And lo, there is a nicer alternative! Enter the beta distribution. It always spits out a number in [0, 1], so you can easily swap it in for the standard normal function, but it takes two “shape” parameters α and β that alter its behavior fairly dramatically.

With α = β = 1, the beta distribution is uniform, i.e. no different from rand(). As α increases, the distribution skews towards the right, and as β increases, the distribution skews towards the left. If α = β, the whole thing is symmetric with a hump in the middle. The higher either one gets, the more extreme the hump (meaning that value is far more common than any other). With a little fiddling, you can get a number of interesting curves.

Screenshots don’t really do it justice, so here’s a little Wolfram widget that lets you play with α and β live:

Note that if α = 1, then 1 is a possible value; if β = 1, then 0 is a possible value. You probably want them both greater than 1, which clamps the endpoints to zero.

Also, it’s possible to have either α or β or both be less than 1, but this creates very different behavior: the corresponding endpoints become poles.

Anyway, something like α = β = 3 is probably close enough to normal for most purposes but already clamped for you. And you could easily replicate something like, say, NetHack’s incredibly bizarre rnz function.

Random frequency

Say you want some event to have an 80% chance to happen every second. You (who am I kidding, I) might be tempted to do something like this:

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if random() < 0.8 * dt:
    do_thing()

In an ideal world, dt is always the same and is equal to 1 / f, where f is the framerate. Replace that 80% with a variable, say P, and every tic you have a P / f chance to do the… whatever it is.

Each second, f tics pass, so you’ll make this check f times. The chance that any check succeeds is the inverse of the chance that every check fails, which is \(1 – \left(1 – \frac{P}{f}\right)^f\).

For P of 80% and a framerate of 60, that’s a total probability of 55.3%. Wait, what?

Consider what happens if the framerate is 2. On the first tic, you roll 0.4 twice — but probabilities are combined by multiplying, and splitting work up by dt only works for additive quantities. You lose some accuracy along the way. If you’re dealing with something that multiplies, you need an exponent somewhere.

But in this case, maybe you don’t want that at all. Each separate roll you make might independently succeed, so it’s possible (but very unlikely) that the event will happen 60 times within a single second! Or 200 times, if that’s someone’s framerate.

If you explicitly want something to have a chance to happen on a specific interval, you have to check on that interval. If you don’t have a gizmo handy to run code on an interval, it’s easy to do yourself with a time buffer:

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timer += dt
# here, 1 is the "every 1 seconds"
while timer > 1:
    timer -= 1
    if random() < 0.8:
        do_thing()

Using while means rolls still happen even if you somehow skipped over an entire second.

(For the curious, and the nerds who already noticed: the expression \(1 – \left(1 – \frac{P}{f}\right)^f\) converges to a specific value! As the framerate increases, it becomes a better and better approximation for \(1 – e^{-P}\), which for the example above is 0.551. Hey, 60 fps is pretty accurate — it’s just accurately representing something nowhere near what I wanted. Er, you wanted.)

Rolling your own

Of course, you can fuss with the classic [0, 1] uniform value however you want. If I want a bias towards zero, I’ll often just square it, or multiply two of them together. If I want a bias towards one, I’ll take a square root. If I want something like a Gaussian/normal distribution, but with clearly-defined endpoints, I might add together n rolls and divide by n. (The normal distribution is just what you get if you roll infinite dice and divide by infinity!)

It’d be nice to be able to understand exactly what this will do to the distribution. Unfortunately, that requires some calculus, which this post is too small to contain, and which I didn’t even know much about myself until I went down a deep rabbit hole while writing, and which in many cases is straight up impossible to express directly.

Here’s the non-calculus bit. A source of randomness is often graphed as a PDF — a probability density function. You’ve almost certainly seen a bell curve graphed, and that’s a PDF. They’re pretty nice, since they do exactly what they look like: they show the relative chance that any given value will pop out. On a bog standard bell curve, there’s a peak at zero, and of course zero is the most common result from a normal distribution.

(Okay, actually, since the results are continuous, it’s vanishingly unlikely that you’ll get exactly zero — but you’re much more likely to get a value near zero than near any other number.)

For the uniform distribution, which is what a classic rand() gives you, the PDF is just a straight horizontal line — every result is equally likely.


If there were a calculus bit, it would go here! Instead, we can cheat. Sometimes. Mathematica knows how to work with probability distributions in the abstract, and there’s a free web version you can use. For the example of squaring a uniform variable, try this out:

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PDF[TransformedDistribution[u^2, u \[Distributed] UniformDistribution[{0, 1}]], u]

(The \[Distributed] is a funny tilde that doesn’t exist in Unicode, but which Mathematica uses as a first-class operator. Also, press shiftEnter to evaluate the line.)

This will tell you that the distribution is… \(\frac{1}{2\sqrt{u}}\). Weird! You can plot it:

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Plot[%, {u, 0, 1}]

(The % refers to the result of the last thing you did, so if you want to try several of these, you can just do Plot[PDF[…], u] directly.)

The resulting graph shows that numbers around zero are, in fact, vastly — infinitely — more likely than anything else.

What about multiplying two together? I can’t figure out how to get Mathematica to understand this, but a great amount of digging revealed that the answer is -ln x, and from there you can plot them both on Wolfram Alpha. They’re similar, though squaring has a much better chance of giving you high numbers than multiplying two separate rolls — which makes some sense, since if either of two rolls is a low number, the product will be even lower.

What if you know the graph you want, and you want to figure out how to play with a uniform roll to get it? Good news! That’s a whole thing called inverse transform sampling. All you have to do is take an integral. Good luck!


This is all extremely ridiculous. New tactic: Just Simulate The Damn Thing. You already have the code; run it a million times, make a histogram, and tada, there’s your PDF. That’s one of the great things about computers! Brute-force numerical answers are easy to come by, so there’s no excuse for producing something like rnz. (Though, be sure your histogram has sufficiently narrow buckets — I tried plotting one for rnz once and the weird stuff on the left side didn’t show up at all!)

By the way, I learned something from futzing with Mathematica here! Taking the square root (to bias towards 1) gives a PDF that’s a straight diagonal line, nothing like the hyperbola you get from squaring (to bias towards 0). How do you get a straight line the other way? Surprise: \(1 – \sqrt{1 – u}\).

Okay, okay, here’s the actual math

I don’t claim to have a very firm grasp on this, but I had a hell of a time finding it written out clearly, so I might as well write it down as best I can. This was a great excuse to finally set up MathJax, too.

Say \(u(x)\) is the PDF of the original distribution and \(u\) is a representative number you plucked from that distribution. For the uniform distribution, \(u(x) = 1\). Or, more accurately,

$$
u(x) = \begin{cases}
1 & \text{ if } 0 \le x \lt 1 \\
0 & \text{ otherwise }
\end{cases}
$$

Remember that \(x\) here is a possible outcome you want to know about, and the PDF tells you the relative probability that a roll will be near it. This PDF spits out 1 for every \(x\), meaning every number between 0 and 1 is equally likely to appear.

We want to do something to that PDF, which creates a new distribution, whose PDF we want to know. I’ll use my original example of \(f(u) = u^2\), which creates a new PDF \(v(x)\).

The trick is that we need to work in terms of the cumulative distribution function for \(u\). Where the PDF gives the relative chance that a roll will be (“near”) a specific value, the CDF gives the relative chance that a roll will be less than a specific value.

The conventions for this seem to be a bit fuzzy, and nobody bothers to explain which ones they’re using, which makes this all the more confusing to read about… but let’s write the CDF with a capital letter, so we have \(U(x)\). In this case, \(U(x) = x\), a straight 45° line (at least between 0 and 1). With the definition I gave, this should make sense. At some arbitrary point like 0.4, the value of the PDF is 1 (0.4 is just as likely as anything else), and the value of the CDF is 0.4 (you have a 40% chance of getting a number from 0 to 0.4).

Calculus ahoy: the PDF is the derivative of the CDF, which means it measures the slope of the CDF at any point. For \(U(x) = x\), the slope is always 1, and indeed \(u(x) = 1\). See, calculus is easy.

Okay, so, now we’re getting somewhere. What we want is the CDF of our new distribution, \(V(x)\). The CDF is defined as the probability that a roll \(v\) will be less than \(x\), so we can literally write:

$$V(x) = P(v \le x)$$

(This is why we have to work with CDFs, rather than PDFs — a PDF gives the chance that a roll will be “nearby,” whatever that means. A CDF is much more concrete.)

What is \(v\), exactly? We defined it ourselves; it’s the do something applied to a roll from the original distribution, or \(f(u)\).

$$V(x) = P\!\left(f(u) \le x\right)$$

Now the first tricky part: we have to solve that inequality for \(u\), which means we have to do something, backwards to \(x\).

$$V(x) = P\!\left(u \le f^{-1}(x)\right)$$

Almost there! We now have a probability that \(u\) is less than some value, and that’s the definition of a CDF!

$$V(x) = U\!\left(f^{-1}(x)\right)$$

Hooray! Now to turn these CDFs back into PDFs, all we need to do is differentiate both sides and use the chain rule. If you never took calculus, don’t worry too much about what that means!

$$v(x) = u\!\left(f^{-1}(x)\right)\left|\frac{d}{dx}f^{-1}(x)\right|$$

Wait! Where did that absolute value come from? It takes care of whether \(f(x)\) increases or decreases. It’s the least interesting part here by far, so, whatever.

There’s one more magical part here when using the uniform distribution — \(u(\dots)\) is always equal to 1, so that entire term disappears! (Note that this only works for a uniform distribution with a width of 1; PDFs are scaled so the entire area under them sums to 1, so if you had a rand() that could spit out a number between 0 and 2, the PDF would be \(u(x) = \frac{1}{2}\).)

$$v(x) = \left|\frac{d}{dx}f^{-1}(x)\right|$$

So for the specific case of modifying the output of rand(), all we have to do is invert, then differentiate. The inverse of \(f(u) = u^2\) is \(f^{-1}(x) = \sqrt{x}\) (no need for a ± since we’re only dealing with positive numbers), and differentiating that gives \(v(x) = \frac{1}{2\sqrt{x}}\). Done! This is also why square root comes out nicer; inverting it gives \(x^2\), and differentiating that gives \(2x\), a straight line.

Incidentally, that method for turning a uniform distribution into any distribution — inverse transform sampling — is pretty much the same thing in reverse: integrate, then invert. For example, when I saw that taking the square root gave \(v(x) = 2x\), I naturally wondered how to get a straight line going the other way, \(v(x) = 2 – 2x\). Integrating that gives \(2x – x^2\), and then you can use the quadratic formula (or just ask Wolfram Alpha) to solve \(2x – x^2 = u\) for \(x\) and get \(f(u) = 1 – \sqrt{1 – u}\).

Multiply two rolls is a bit more complicated; you have to write out the CDF as an integral and you end up doing a double integral and wow it’s a mess. The only thing I’ve retained is that you do a division somewhere, which then gets integrated, and that’s why it ends up as \(-\ln x\).

And that’s quite enough of that! (Okay but having math in my blog is pretty cool and I will definitely be doing more of this, sorry, not sorry.)

Random vs varied

Sometimes, random isn’t actually what you want. We tend to use the word “random” casually to mean something more like chaotic, i.e., with no discernible pattern. But that’s not really random. In fact, given how good humans can be at finding incidental patterns, they aren’t all that unlikely! Consider that when you roll two dice, they’ll come up either the same or only one apart almost half the time. Coincidence? Well, yes.

If you ask for randomness, you’re saying that any outcome — or series of outcomes — is acceptable, including five heads in a row or five tails in a row. Most of the time, that’s fine. Some of the time, it’s less fine, and what you really want is variety. Here are a couple examples and some fairly easy workarounds.

NPC quips

The nature of games is such that NPCs will eventually run out of things to say, at which point further conversation will give the player a short brush-off quip — a slight nod from the designer to the player that, hey, you hit the end of the script.

Some NPCs have multiple possible quips and will give one at random. The trouble with this is that it’s very possible for an NPC to repeat the same quip several times in a row before abruptly switching to another one. With only a few options to choose from, getting the same option twice or thrice (especially across an entire game, which may have numerous NPCs) isn’t all that unlikely. The notion of an NPC quip isn’t very realistic to start with, but having someone repeat themselves and then abruptly switch to something else is especially jarring.

The easy fix is to show the quips in order! Paradoxically, this is more consistently varied than choosing at random — the original “order” is likely to be meaningless anyway, and it already has the property that the same quip can never appear twice in a row.

If you like, you can shuffle the list of quips every time you reach the end, but take care here — it’s possible that the last quip in the old order will be the same as the first quip in the new order, so you may still get a repeat. (Of course, you can just check for this case and swap the first quip somewhere else if it bothers you.)

That last behavior is, in fact, the canonical way that Tetris chooses pieces — the game simply shuffles a list of all 7 pieces, gives those to you in shuffled order, then shuffles them again to make a new list once it’s exhausted. There’s no avoidance of duplicates, though, so you can still get two S blocks in a row, or even two S and two Z all clumped together, but no more than that. Some Tetris variants take other approaches, such as actively avoiding repeats even several pieces apart or deliberately giving you the worst piece possible.

Random drops

Random drops are often implemented as a flat chance each time. Maybe enemies have a 5% chance to drop health when they die. Legally speaking, over the long term, a player will see health drops for about 5% of enemy kills.

Over the short term, they may be desperate for health and not survive to see the long term. So you may want to put a thumb on the scale sometimes. Games in the Metroid series, for example, have a somewhat infamous bias towards whatever kind of drop they think you need — health if your health is low, missiles if your missiles are low.

I can’t give you an exact approach to use, since it depends on the game and the feeling you’re going for and the variables at your disposal. In extreme cases, you might want to guarantee a health drop from a tough enemy when the player is critically low on health. (Or if you’re feeling particularly evil, you could go the other way and deny the player health when they most need it…)

The problem becomes a little different, and worse, when the event that triggers the drop is relatively rare. The pathological case here would be something like a raid boss in World of Warcraft, which requires hours of effort from a coordinated group of people to defeat, and which has some tiny chance of dropping a good item that will go to only one of those people. This is why I stopped playing World of Warcraft at 60.

Dialing it back a little bit gives us Enter the Gungeon, a roguelike where each room is a set of encounters and each floor only has a dozen or so rooms. Initially, you have a 1% chance of getting a reward after completing a room — but every time you complete a room and don’t get a reward, the chance increases by 9%, up to a cap of 80%. Once you get a reward, the chance resets to 1%.

The natural question is: how frequently, exactly, can a player expect to get a reward? We could do math, or we could Just Simulate The Damn Thing.

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from collections import Counter
import random

histogram = Counter()

TRIALS = 1000000
chance = 1
rooms_cleared = 0
rewards_found = 0
while rewards_found < TRIALS:
    rooms_cleared += 1
    if random.random() * 100 < chance:
        # Reward!
        rewards_found += 1
        histogram[rooms_cleared] += 1
        rooms_cleared = 0
        chance = 1
    else:
        chance = min(80, chance + 9)

for gaps, count in sorted(histogram.items()):
    print(f"{gaps:3d} | {count / TRIALS * 100:6.2f}%", '#' * (count // (TRIALS // 100)))
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  1 |   0.98%
  2 |   9.91% #########
  3 |  17.00% ################
  4 |  20.23% ####################
  5 |  19.21% ###################
  6 |  15.05% ###############
  7 |   9.69% #########
  8 |   5.07% #####
  9 |   2.09% ##
 10 |   0.63%
 11 |   0.12%
 12 |   0.03%
 13 |   0.00%
 14 |   0.00%
 15 |   0.00%

We’ve got kind of a hilly distribution, skewed to the left, which is up in this histogram. Most of the time, a player should see a reward every three to six rooms, which is maybe twice per floor. It’s vanishingly unlikely to go through a dozen rooms without ever seeing a reward, so a player should see at least one per floor.

Of course, this simulated a single continuous playthrough; when starting the game from scratch, your chance at a reward always starts fresh at 1%, the worst it can be. If you want to know about how many rewards a player will get on the first floor, hey, Just Simulate The Damn Thing.

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  0 |   0.01%
  1 |  13.01% #############
  2 |  56.28% ########################################################
  3 |  27.49% ###########################
  4 |   3.10% ###
  5 |   0.11%
  6 |   0.00%

Cool. Though, that’s assuming exactly 12 rooms; it might be worth changing that to pick at random in a way that matches the level generator.

(Enter the Gungeon does some other things to skew probability, which is very nice in a roguelike where blind luck can make or break you. For example, if you kill a boss without having gotten a new gun anywhere else on the floor, the boss is guaranteed to drop a gun.)

Critical hits

I suppose this is the same problem as random drops, but backwards.

Say you have a battle sim where every attack has a 6% chance to land a devastating critical hit. Presumably the same rules apply to both the player and the AI opponents.

Consider, then, that the AI opponents have exactly the same 6% chance to ruin the player’s day. Consider also that this gives them an 0.4% chance to critical hit twice in a row. 0.4% doesn’t sound like much, but across an entire playthrough, it’s not unlikely that a player might see it happen and find it incredibly annoying.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to explicitly forbid AI opponents from getting consecutive critical hits.

In conclusion

An emerging theme here has been to Just Simulate The Damn Thing. So consider Just Simulating The Damn Thing. Even a simple change to a random value can do surprising things to the resulting distribution, so unless you feel like differentiating the inverse function of your code, maybe test out any non-trivial behavior and make sure it’s what you wanted. Probability is hard to reason about.

Looking Forward to 2018

Post Syndicated from Let's Encrypt - Free SSL/TLS Certificates original https://letsencrypt.org//2017/12/07/looking-forward-to-2018.html

Let’s Encrypt had a great year in 2017. We more than doubled the number of active (unexpired) certificates we service to 46 million, we just about tripled the number of unique domains we service to 61 million, and we did it all while maintaining a stellar security and compliance track record. Most importantly though, the Web went from 46% encrypted page loads to 67% according to statistics from Mozilla – a gain of 21% in a single year – incredible. We’re proud to have contributed to that, and we’d like to thank all of the other people and organizations who also worked hard to create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web.

While we’re proud of what we accomplished in 2017, we are spending most of the final quarter of the year looking forward rather than back. As we wrap up our own planning process for 2018, I’d like to share some of our plans with you, including both the things we’re excited about and the challenges we’ll face. We’ll cover service growth, new features, infrastructure, and finances.

Service Growth

We are planning to double the number of active certificates and unique domains we service in 2018, to 90 million and 120 million, respectively. This anticipated growth is due to continuing high expectations for HTTPS growth in general in 2018.

Let’s Encrypt helps to drive HTTPS adoption by offering a free, easy to use, and globally available option for obtaining the certificates required to enable HTTPS. HTTPS adoption on the Web took off at an unprecedented rate from the day Let’s Encrypt launched to the public.

One of the reasons Let’s Encrypt is so easy to use is that our community has done great work making client software that works well for a wide variety of platforms. We’d like to thank everyone involved in the development of over 60 client software options for Let’s Encrypt. We’re particularly excited that support for the ACME protocol and Let’s Encrypt is being added to the Apache httpd server.

Other organizations and communities are also doing great work to promote HTTPS adoption, and thus stimulate demand for our services. For example, browsers are starting to make their users more aware of the risks associated with unencrypted HTTP (e.g. Firefox, Chrome). Many hosting providers and CDNs are making it easier than ever for all of their customers to use HTTPS. Government agencies are waking up to the need for stronger security to protect constituents. The media community is working to Secure the News.

New Features

We’ve got some exciting features planned for 2018.

First, we’re planning to introduce an ACME v2 protocol API endpoint and support for wildcard certificates along with it. Wildcard certificates will be free and available globally just like our other certificates. We are planning to have a public test API endpoint up by January 4, and we’ve set a date for the full launch: Tuesday, February 27.

Later in 2018 we plan to introduce ECDSA root and intermediate certificates. ECDSA is generally considered to be the future of digital signature algorithms on the Web due to the fact that it is more efficient than RSA. Let’s Encrypt will currently sign ECDSA keys from subscribers, but we sign with the RSA key from one of our intermediate certificates. Once we have an ECDSA root and intermediates, our subscribers will be able to deploy certificate chains which are entirely ECDSA.

Infrastructure

Our CA infrastructure is capable of issuing millions of certificates per day with multiple redundancy for stability and a wide variety of security safeguards, both physical and logical. Our infrastructure also generates and signs nearly 20 million OCSP responses daily, and serves those responses nearly 2 billion times per day. We expect issuance and OCSP numbers to double in 2018.

Our physical CA infrastructure currently occupies approximately 70 units of rack space, split between two datacenters, consisting primarily of compute servers, storage, HSMs, switches, and firewalls.

When we issue more certificates it puts the most stress on storage for our databases. We regularly invest in more and faster storage for our database servers, and that will continue in 2018.

We’ll need to add a few additional compute servers in 2018, and we’ll also start aging out hardware in 2018 for the first time since we launched. We’ll age out about ten 2u compute servers and replace them with new 1u servers, which will save space and be more energy efficient while providing better reliability and performance.

We’ll also add another infrastructure operations staff member, bringing that team to a total of six people. This is necessary in order to make sure we can keep up with demand while maintaining a high standard for security and compliance. Infrastructure operations staff are systems administrators responsible for building and maintaining all physical and logical CA infrastructure. The team also manages a 24/7/365 on-call schedule and they are primary participants in both security and compliance audits.

Finances

We pride ourselves on being an efficient organization. In 2018 Let’s Encrypt will secure a large portion of the Web with a budget of only $3.0M. For an overall increase in our budget of only 13%, we will be able to issue and service twice as many certificates as we did in 2017. We believe this represents an incredible value and that contributing to Let’s Encrypt is one of the most effective ways to help create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web.

Our 2018 fundraising efforts are off to a strong start with Platinum sponsorships from Mozilla, Akamai, OVH, Cisco, Google Chrome and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Ford Foundation has renewed their grant to Let’s Encrypt as well. We are seeking additional sponsorship and grant assistance to meet our full needs for 2018.

We had originally budgeted $2.91M for 2017 but we’ll likely come in under budget for the year at around $2.65M. The difference between our 2017 expenses of $2.65M and the 2018 budget of $3.0M consists primarily of the additional infrastructure operations costs previously mentioned.

Support Let’s Encrypt

We depend on contributions from our community of users and supporters in order to provide our services. If your company or organization would like to sponsor Let’s Encrypt please email us at [email protected]. We ask that you make an individual contribution if it is within your means.

We’re grateful for the industry and community support that we receive, and we look forward to continuing to create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web!

Looking Forward to 2018

Post Syndicated from Let's Encrypt - Free SSL/TLS Certificates original https://letsencrypt.org/2017/12/07/looking-forward-to-2018.html

<p>Let’s Encrypt had a great year in 2017. We more than doubled the number of active (unexpired) certificates we service to 46 million, we just about tripled the number of unique domains we service to 61 million, and we did it all while maintaining a stellar security and compliance track record. Most importantly though, <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/stats/">the Web went from 46% encrypted page loads to 67%</a> according to statistics from Mozilla – a gain of 21 percentage points in a single year – incredible. We’re proud to have contributed to that, and we’d like to thank all of the other people and organizations who also worked hard to create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web.</p>

<p>While we’re proud of what we accomplished in 2017, we are spending most of the final quarter of the year looking forward rather than back. As we wrap up our own planning process for 2018, I’d like to share some of our plans with you, including both the things we’re excited about and the challenges we’ll face. We’ll cover service growth, new features, infrastructure, and finances.</p>

<h1 id="service-growth">Service Growth</h1>

<p>We are planning to double the number of active certificates and unique domains we service in 2018, to 90 million and 120 million, respectively. This anticipated growth is due to continuing high expectations for HTTPS growth in general in 2018.</p>

<p>Let’s Encrypt helps to drive HTTPS adoption by offering a free, easy to use, and globally available option for obtaining the certificates required to enable HTTPS. HTTPS adoption on the Web took off at an unprecedented rate from the day Let’s Encrypt launched to the public.</p>

<p>One of the reasons Let’s Encrypt is so easy to use is that our community has done great work making client software that works well for a wide variety of platforms. We’d like to thank everyone involved in the development of over 60 <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/docs/client-options/">client software options for Let’s Encrypt</a>. We’re particularly excited that support for the ACME protocol and Let’s Encrypt is <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/2017/10/17/acme-support-in-apache-httpd.html">being added to the Apache httpd server</a>.</p>

<p>Other organizations and communities are also doing great work to promote HTTPS adoption, and thus stimulate demand for our services. For example, browsers are starting to make their users more aware of the risks associated with unencrypted HTTP (e.g. <a href="https://blog.mozilla.org/security/2017/01/20/communicating-the-dangers-of-non-secure-http/">Firefox</a>, <a href="https://security.googleblog.com/2017/04/next-steps-toward-more-connection.html">Chrome</a>). Many hosting providers and CDNs are making it easier than ever for all of their customers to use HTTPS. <a href="https://https.cio.gov/">Government</a> <a href="https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/services/information-technology/strategic-plan-2017-2021.html#toc8-3-2">agencies</a> are waking up to the need for stronger security to protect constituents. The media community is working to <a href="https://securethe.news/">Secure the News</a>.</p>

<h1 id="new-features">New Features</h1>

<p>We’ve got some exciting features planned for 2018.</p>

<p>First, we’re planning to introduce an ACME v2 protocol API endpoint and <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/2017/07/06/wildcard-certificates-coming-jan-2018.html">support for wildcard certificates</a> along with it. Wildcard certificates will be free and available globally just like our other certificates. We are planning to have a public test API endpoint up by January 4, and we’ve set a date for the full launch: Tuesday, February 27.</p>

<p>Later in 2018 we plan to introduce ECDSA root and intermediate certificates. ECDSA is generally considered to be the future of digital signature algorithms on the Web due to the fact that it is more efficient than RSA. Let’s Encrypt will currently sign ECDSA keys from subscribers, but we sign with the RSA key from one of our intermediate certificates. Once we have an ECDSA root and intermediates, our subscribers will be able to deploy certificate chains which are entirely ECDSA.</p>

<h1 id="infrastructure">Infrastructure</h1>

<p>Our CA infrastructure is capable of issuing millions of certificates per day with multiple redundancy for stability and a wide variety of security safeguards, both physical and logical. Our infrastructure also generates and signs nearly 20 million OCSP responses daily, and serves those responses nearly 2 billion times per day. We expect issuance and OCSP numbers to double in 2018.</p>

<p>Our physical CA infrastructure currently occupies approximately 70 units of rack space, split between two datacenters, consisting primarily of compute servers, storage, HSMs, switches, and firewalls.</p>

<p>When we issue more certificates it puts the most stress on storage for our databases. We regularly invest in more and faster storage for our database servers, and that will continue in 2018.</p>

<p>We’ll need to add a few additional compute servers in 2018, and we’ll also start aging out hardware in 2018 for the first time since we launched. We’ll age out about ten 2u compute servers and replace them with new 1u servers, which will save space and be more energy efficient while providing better reliability and performance.</p>

<p>We’ll also add another infrastructure operations staff member, bringing that team to a total of six people. This is necessary in order to make sure we can keep up with demand while maintaining a high standard for security and compliance. Infrastructure operations staff are systems administrators responsible for building and maintaining all physical and logical CA infrastructure. The team also manages a 24/7/365 on-call schedule and they are primary participants in both security and compliance audits.</p>

<h1 id="finances">Finances</h1>

<p>We pride ourselves on being an efficient organization. In 2018 Let’s Encrypt will secure a large portion of the Web with a budget of only $3.0M. For an overall increase in our budget of only 13%, we will be able to issue and service twice as many certificates as we did in 2017. We believe this represents an incredible value and that contributing to Let’s Encrypt is one of the most effective ways to help create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web.</p>

<p>Our 2018 fundraising efforts are off to a strong start with Platinum sponsorships from Mozilla, Akamai, OVH, Cisco, Google Chrome and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Ford Foundation has renewed their grant to Let’s Encrypt as well. We are seeking additional sponsorship and grant assistance to meet our full needs for 2018.</p>

<p>We had originally budgeted $2.91M for 2017 but we’ll likely come in under budget for the year at around $2.65M. The difference between our 2017 expenses of $2.65M and the 2018 budget of $3.0M consists primarily of the additional infrastructure operations costs previously mentioned.</p>

<h1 id="support-let-s-encrypt">Support Let’s Encrypt</h1>

<p>We depend on contributions from our community of users and supporters in order to provide our services. If your company or organization would like to <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/become-a-sponsor/">sponsor</a> Let’s Encrypt please email us at <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a>. We ask that you make an <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/donate/">individual contribution</a> if it is within your means.</p>

<p>We’re grateful for the industry and community support that we receive, and we look forward to continuing to create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web!</p>

The FCC has never defended Net Neutrality

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/11/the-fcc-has-never-defended-net.html

This op-ed by a “net neutrality expert” claims the FCC has always defended “net neutrality”. It’s garbage.

This wrong on its face. It imagines decades ago that the FCC inshrined some plaque on the wall stating principles that subsequent FCC commissioners have diligently followed. The opposite is true. FCC commissioners are a chaotic bunch, with different interests, influenced (i.e. “lobbied” or “bribed”) by different telecommunications/Internet companies. Rather than following a principle, their Internet regulatory actions have been ad hoc and arbitrary — for decades.

Sure, you can cherry pick some of those regulatory actions as fitting a “net neutrality” narrative, but most actions don’t fit that narrative, and there have been gross net neutrality violations that the FCC has ignored.

There are gross violations going on right now that the FCC is allowing. Most egregiously is the “zero-rating” of video traffic on T-Mobile. This is a clear violation of the principles of net neutrality, yet the FCC is allowing it — despite official “net neutrality” rules in place.

The op-ed above claims that “this [net neutrality] principle was built into the architecture of the Internet”. The opposite is true. Traffic discrimination was built into the architecture since the beginning. If you don’t believe me, read RFC 791 and the “precedence” field.

More concretely, from the beginning of the Internet as we know it (the 1990s), CDNs (content delivery networks) have provided a fast-lane for customers willing to pay for it. These CDNs are so important that the Internet wouldn’t work without them.

I just traced the route of my CNN live stream. It comes from a server 5 miles away, instead of CNN’s headquarters 2500 miles away. That server is located inside Comcast’s network, because CNN pays Comcast a lot of money to get a fast-lane to Comcast’s customers.

The reason these egregious net net violations exist is because it’s in the interests of customers. Moving content closer to customers helps. Re-prioritizing (and charging less for) high-bandwidth video over cell networks helps customers.

You might say it’s okay that the FCC bends net neutrality rules when it benefits consumers, but that’s garbage. Net neutrality claims these principles are sacred and should never be violated. Obviously, that’s not true — they should be violated when it benefits consumers. This means what net neutrality is really saying is that ISPs can’t be trusted to allows act to benefit consumers, and therefore need government oversight. Well, if that’s your principle, then what you are really saying is that you are a left-winger, not that you believe in net neutrality.

Anyway, my point is that the above op-ed cherry picks a few data points in order to build a narrative that the FCC has always regulated net neutrality. A larger view is that the FCC has never defended this on principle, and is indeed, not defending it right now, even with “net neutrality” rules officially in place.

The Decision on Transparency

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/transparency-in-business/

Backblaze transparency

This post by Backblaze’s CEO and co-founder Gleb Budman is the seventh in a series about entrepreneurship. You can choose posts in the series from the list below:

  1. How Backblaze got Started: The Problem, The Solution, and the Stuff In-Between
  2. Building a Competitive Moat: Turning Challenges Into Advantages
  3. From Idea to Launch: Getting Your First Customers
  4. How to Get Your First 1,000 Customers
  5. Surviving Your First Year
  6. How to Compete with Giants
  7. The Decision on Transparency

Use the Join button above to receive notification of new posts in this series.

“Are you crazy?” “Why would you do that?!” “You shouldn’t share that!”

These are just a few of the common questions and comments we heard after posting some of the information we have shared over the years. So was it crazy? Misguided? Should you do it?

With that background I’d like to dig into the decision to become so transparent, from releasing stats on hard drive failures, to storage pod specs, to publishing our cloud storage costs, and open sourcing the Reed-Solomon code. What was the thought process behind becoming so transparent when most companies work so hard to hide their inner workings, especially information such as the Storage Pod specs that would normally be considered a proprietary advantage? Most importantly I’d like to explore the positives and negatives of being so transparent.

Sharing Intellectual Property

The first “transparency” that garnered a flurry of “why would you share that?!” came as a result of us deciding to open source our Storage Pod design: publishing the specs, parts, prices, and how to build it yourself. The Storage Pod was a key component of our infrastructure, gave us a cost (and thus competitive) advantage, took significant effort to develop, and had a fair bit of intellectual property: the “IP.”

The negatives of sharing this are obvious: it allows our competitors to use the design to reduce our cost advantage, and it gives away the IP, which could be patentable or have value as a trade secret.

The positives were certainly less obvious, and at the time we couldn’t have guessed how massive they would be.

We wrestled with the decision: prospective users and others online didn’t believe we could offer our service for such a low price, thinking that we would burn through some cash hoard and then go out of business. We wanted to reassure them, but how?

This is how our response evolved:

We’ve built a lower cost storage platform.
But why would anyone believe us?
Because, we’ve designed our own servers and they’re less expensive.
But why would anyone believe they were so low cost and efficient?
Because here’s how much they cost versus others.
But why would anyone believe they cost that little and still enabled us to efficiently store data?
Because here are all the components they’re made of, this is how to build them, and this is how they work.
Ok, you can’t argue with that.

Great — so that would reassure people. But should we do this? Is it worth it?

This was 2009, we were a tiny company of seven people working from our co-founder’s one-bedroom apartment. We decided that the risk of not having potential customers trust us was more impactful than the risk of our competitors possibly deciding to use our server architecture. The former might kill the company in short order; the latter might make it harder for us to compete in the future. Moreover, we figured that most competitors were established on their own platforms and were unlikely to switch to ours, even if it were better.

Takeaway: Build your brand today. There are no assurances you will make it to tomorrow if you can’t make people believe in you today.

A Sharing Success Story — The Backblaze Storage Pod

So with that, we decided to publish everything about the Storage Pod. As for deciding to actually open source it? That was a ‘thank you’ to the open source community upon whose shoulders we stood as we used software such as Linux, Tomcat, etc.

With eight years of hindsight, here’s what happened:

As best as I can tell, none of our direct competitors ever used our Storage Pod design, opting instead to continue paying more for commercial solutions.

  • Hundreds of press articles have been written about Backblaze as a direct result of sharing the Storage Pod design.
  • Millions of people have read press articles or our blog posts about the Storage Pods.
  • Backblaze was established as a storage tech thought leader, and a resource for those looking for information in the space.
  • Our blog became viewed as a resource, not a corporate mouthpiece.
  • Recruiting has been made easier through the awareness of Backblaze, the appreciation for us taking on challenging tech problems in interesting ways, and for our openness.
  • Sourcing for our Storage Pods has become easier because we can point potential vendors to our blog posts and say, “here’s what we need.”

And those are just the direct benefits for us. One of the things that warms my heart is that doing this has helped others:

  • Several companies have started selling servers based on our Storage Pod designs.
  • Netflix credits Backblaze with being the inspiration behind their CDN servers.
  • Many schools, labs, and others have shared that they’ve been able to do what they didn’t think was possible because using our Storage Pod designs provided lower-cost storage.
  • And I want to believe that in general we pushed forward the development of low-cost storage servers in the industry.

So overall, the decision on being transparent and sharing our Storage Pod designs was a clear win.

Takeaway: Never underestimate the value of goodwill. It can help build new markets that fuel your future growth and create new ecosystems.

Sharing An “Almost Acquisition”

Acquisition announcements are par for the course. No company, however, talks about the acquisition that fell through. If rumors appear in the press, the company’s response is always, “no comment.” But in 2010, when Backblaze was almost, but not acquired, we wrote about it in detail. Crazy?

The negatives of sharing this are slightly less obvious, but the two issues most people worried about were, 1) the fact that the company could be acquired would spook customers, and 2) the fact that it wasn’t would signal to potential acquirers that something was wrong.

So, why share this at all? No one was asking “did you almost get acquired?”

First, we had established a culture of transparency and this was a significant event that occurred for us, thus we defaulted to assuming we would share. Second, we learned that acquisitions fall through all the time, not just during the early fishing stage, but even after term sheets are signed, diligence is done, and all the paperwork is complete. I felt we had learned some things about the process that would be valuable to others that were going through it.

As it turned out, we received emails from startup founders saying they saved the post for the future, and from lawyers, VCs, and advisors saying they shared them with their portfolio companies. Among the most touching emails I received was from a founder who said that after an acquisition fell through she felt so alone that she became incredibly depressed, and that reading our post helped her see that this happens and that things could be OK after. Being transparent about almost getting acquired was worth it just to help that one founder.

And what about the concerns? As for spooking customers, maybe some were — but our sign-ups went up, not down, afterward. Any company can be acquired, and many of the world’s largest have been. That we were being both thoughtful about where to go with it, and open about it, I believe gave customers a sense that we would do the right thing if it happened. And as for signaling to potential acquirers? The ones I’ve spoken with all knew this happens regularly enough that it’s not a factor.

Takeaway: Being open and transparent is also a form of giving back to others.

Sharing Strategic Data

For years people have been desperate to know how reliable are hard drives. They could go to Amazon for individual reviews, but someone saying “this drive died for me” doesn’t provide statistical insight. Google published a study that showed annualized drive failure rates, but didn’t break down the results by manufacturer or model. Since Backblaze has deployed about 100,000 hard drives to store customer data, we have been able to collect a wealth of data on the reliability of the drives by make, model, and size. Was Backblaze the only one with this data? Of course not — Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and any other cloud-scale storage provider tracked it. Yet none would publish. Should Backblaze?

Again, starting with the main negatives: 1) sharing which drives we liked could increase demand for them, thus reducing availability or increasing prices, and 2) publishing the data might make the drive vendors unhappy with us, thereby making it difficult for us to buy drives.

But we felt that the largest drive purchasers (Amazon, Google, etc.) already had their own stats and would buy the drives they chose, and if individuals or smaller companies used our stats, they wouldn’t sufficiently move the overall market demand. Also, we hoped that the drive companies would see that we were being fair in our analysis and, if anything, would leverage our data to make drives even better.

Again, publishing the data resulted in tremendous value for Backblaze, with millions of people having read the analysis that we put out quarterly. Also, becoming known as the place to go for drive reliability information is a natural fit with being a backup and storage provider. In addition, in a twist from many people’s expectations, some of the drive companies actually started working closer with us, seeing that we could be a good source of data for them as feedback. We’ve also seen many individuals and companies make more data-based decisions on which drives to buy, and researchers have used the data for a variety of analyses.

traffic spike from hard drive reliability post

Backblaze blog analytics showing spike in readership after a hard drive stats post

Takeaway: Being open and transparent is rarely as risky as it seems.

Sharing Revenue (And Other Metrics)

Journalists always want to publish company revenue and other metrics, and private companies always shy away from sharing. For a long time we did, too. Then, we opened up about that, as well.

The negatives of sharing these numbers are: 1) external parties may otherwise perceive you’re doing better than you are, 2) if you share numbers often, you may show that growth has slowed or worse, 3) it gives your competitors info to compare their own business too.

We decided that, while some may have perceived we were bigger, our scale was plenty significant. Since we choose what we share and when, it’s up to us whether to disclose at any point. And if our competitors compare, what will they actually change that would affect us?

I did wait to share revenue until I felt I had the right person to write about it. At one point a journalist said she wouldn’t write about us unless I disclosed revenue. I suggested we had a lot to offer for the story, but didn’t want to share revenue yet. She refused to budge and I walked away from the article. Several year later, I reached out to a journalist who had covered Backblaze before and I felt understood our business and offered to share revenue with him. He wrote a deep-dive about the company, with revenue being one of the components of the story.

Sharing these metrics showed that we were at scale and running a real business, one with positive unit economics and margins, but not one where we were gouging customers.

Takeaway: Being open with the press about items typically not shared can be uncomfortable, but the press can amplify your story.

Should You Share?

For Backblaze, I believe the results of transparency have been staggering. However, it’s not for everyone. Apple has, clearly, been wildly successful taking secrecy to the extreme. In their case, early disclosure combined with the long cycle of hardware releases could significantly impact sales of current products.

“For Backblaze, I believe the results of transparency have been staggering.” — Gleb Budman

I will argue, however, that for most startups transparency wins. Most startups need to establish credibility and trust, build awareness and a fan base, show that they understand what their customers need and be useful to them, and show the soul and passion behind the company. Some startup companies try to buy these virtues with investor money, and sometimes amplifying your brand via paid marketing helps. But, authentic transparency can build awareness and trust not only less expensively, but more deeply than money can buy.

Backblaze was open from the beginning. With no outside investors, as founders we were able to express ourselves and make our decisions. And it’s easier to be a company that shares if you do it from the start, but for any company, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask about sharing: If something significant happens — good or bad — ask “should we share this?” If you made a tough decision, ask “should we share the thinking behind the decision and why it was tough?”
  2. Default to yes: It’s often scary to share, but look for the reasons to say ‘yes,’ not the reasons to say ‘no.’ That doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes decide not to, but make that the high bar.
  3. Minimize reviews: Press releases tend to be sanitized and boring because they’ve been endlessly wordsmithed by committee. Establish the few things you don’t want shared, but minimize the number of people that have to see anything else before it can go out. Teach, then trust.
  4. Engage: Sharing will result in comments on your blog, social, articles, etc. Reply to people’s questions and engage. It’ll make the readers more engaged and give you a better understanding of what they’re looking for.
  5. Accept mistakes: Things will become public that aren’t perfectly sanitized. Accept that and don’t punish people for oversharing.

Building a culture of a company that is open to sharing takes time, but continuous practice will build that, and over time the company will navigate its voice and approach to sharing.

The post The Decision on Transparency appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Implementing Default Directory Indexes in Amazon S3-backed Amazon CloudFront Origins Using [email protected]

Post Syndicated from Ronnie Eichler original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/implementing-default-directory-indexes-in-amazon-s3-backed-amazon-cloudfront-origins-using-lambdaedge/

With the recent launch of [email protected], it’s now possible for you to provide even more robust functionality to your static websites. Amazon CloudFront is a content distribution network service. In this post, I show how you can use [email protected] along with the CloudFront origin access identity (OAI) for Amazon S3 and still provide simple URLs (such as www.example.com/about/ instead of www.example.com/about/index.html).

Background

Amazon S3 is a great platform for hosting a static website. You don’t need to worry about managing servers or underlying infrastructure—you just publish your static to content to an S3 bucket. S3 provides a DNS name such as <bucket-name>.s3-website-<AWS-region>.amazonaws.com. Use this name for your website by creating a CNAME record in your domain’s DNS environment (or Amazon Route 53) as follows:

www.example.com -> <bucket-name>.s3-website-<AWS-region>.amazonaws.com

You can also put CloudFront in front of S3 to further scale the performance of your site and cache the content closer to your users. CloudFront can enable HTTPS-hosted sites, by either using a custom Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate or a managed certificate from AWS Certificate Manager. In addition, CloudFront also offers integration with AWS WAF, a web application firewall. As you can see, it’s possible to achieve some robust functionality by using S3, CloudFront, and other managed services and not have to worry about maintaining underlying infrastructure.

One of the key concerns that you might have when implementing any type of WAF or CDN is that you want to force your users to go through the CDN. If you implement CloudFront in front of S3, you can achieve this by using an OAI. However, in order to do this, you cannot use the HTTP endpoint that is exposed by S3’s static website hosting feature. Instead, CloudFront must use the S3 REST endpoint to fetch content from your origin so that the request can be authenticated using the OAI. This presents some challenges in that the REST endpoint does not support redirection to a default index page.

CloudFront does allow you to specify a default root object (index.html), but it only works on the root of the website (such as http://www.example.com > http://www.example.com/index.html). It does not work on any subdirectory (such as http://www.example.com/about/). If you were to attempt to request this URL through CloudFront, CloudFront would do a S3 GetObject API call against a key that does not exist.

Of course, it is a bad user experience to expect users to always type index.html at the end of every URL (or even know that it should be there). Until now, there has not been an easy way to provide these simpler URLs (equivalent to the DirectoryIndex Directive in an Apache Web Server configuration) to users through CloudFront. Not if you still want to be able to restrict access to the S3 origin using an OAI. However, with the release of [email protected], you can use a JavaScript function running on the CloudFront edge nodes to look for these patterns and request the appropriate object key from the S3 origin.

Solution

In this example, you use the compute power at the CloudFront edge to inspect the request as it’s coming in from the client. Then re-write the request so that CloudFront requests a default index object (index.html in this case) for any request URI that ends in ‘/’.

When a request is made against a web server, the client specifies the object to obtain in the request. You can use this URI and apply a regular expression to it so that these URIs get resolved to a default index object before CloudFront requests the object from the origin. Use the following code:

'use strict';
exports.handler = (event, context, callback) => {
    
    // Extract the request from the CloudFront event that is sent to [email protected] 
    var request = event.Records[0].cf.request;

    // Extract the URI from the request
    var olduri = request.uri;

    // Match any '/' that occurs at the end of a URI. Replace it with a default index
    var newuri = olduri.replace(/\/$/, '\/index.html');
    
    // Log the URI as received by CloudFront and the new URI to be used to fetch from origin
    console.log("Old URI: " + olduri);
    console.log("New URI: " + newuri);
    
    // Replace the received URI with the URI that includes the index page
    request.uri = newuri;
    
    // Return to CloudFront
    return callback(null, request);

};

To get started, create an S3 bucket to be the origin for CloudFront:

Create bucket

On the other screens, you can just accept the defaults for the purposes of this walkthrough. If this were a production implementation, I would recommend enabling bucket logging and specifying an existing S3 bucket as the destination for access logs. These logs can be useful if you need to troubleshoot issues with your S3 access.

Now, put some content into your S3 bucket. For this walkthrough, create two simple webpages to demonstrate the functionality:  A page that resides at the website root, and another that is in a subdirectory.

<s3bucketname>/index.html

<!doctype html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Root home page</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the root directory.</p>
    </body>
</html>

<s3bucketname>/subdirectory/index.html

<!doctype html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Subdirectory home page</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the /subdirectory/ directory.</p>
    </body>
</html>

When uploading the files into S3, you can accept the defaults. You add a bucket policy as part of the CloudFront distribution creation that allows CloudFront to access the S3 origin. You should now have an S3 bucket that looks like the following:

Root of bucket

Subdirectory in bucket

Next, create a CloudFront distribution that your users will use to access the content. Open the CloudFront console, and choose Create Distribution. For Select a delivery method for your content, under Web, choose Get Started.

On the next screen, you set up the distribution. Below are the options to configure:

  • Origin Domain Name:  Select the S3 bucket that you created earlier.
  • Restrict Bucket Access: Choose Yes.
  • Origin Access Identity: Create a new identity.
  • Grant Read Permissions on Bucket: Choose Yes, Update Bucket Policy.
  • Object Caching: Choose Customize (I am changing the behavior to avoid having CloudFront cache objects, as this could affect your ability to troubleshoot while implementing the Lambda code).
    • Minimum TTL: 0
    • Maximum TTL: 0
    • Default TTL: 0

You can accept all of the other defaults. Again, this is a proof-of-concept exercise. After you are comfortable that the CloudFront distribution is working properly with the origin and Lambda code, you can re-visit the preceding values and make changes before implementing it in production.

CloudFront distributions can take several minutes to deploy (because the changes have to propagate out to all of the edge locations). After that’s done, test the functionality of the S3-backed static website. Looking at the distribution, you can see that CloudFront assigns a domain name:

CloudFront Distribution Settings

Try to access the website using a combination of various URLs:

http://<domainname>/:  Works

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/
*   Trying 54.192.192.214...
* TCP_NODELAY set
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net (54.192.192.214) port 80 (#0)
> GET / HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
>
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< ETag: "cb7e2634fe66c1fd395cf868087dd3b9"
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: Miss from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: -D2FSRwzfcwyKZKFZr6DqYFkIf4t7HdGw2MkUF5sE6YFDxRJgi0R1g==
< Content-Length: 209
< Content-Type: text/html
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:16 GMT
< Via: 1.1 6419ba8f3bd94b651d416054d9416f1e.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<
<!doctype html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Root home page</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the root directory.</p>
    </body>
</html>
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

This is because CloudFront is configured to request a default root object (index.html) from the origin.

http://<domainname>/subdirectory/:  Doesn’t work

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/subdirectory/
*   Trying 54.192.192.214...
* TCP_NODELAY set
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net (54.192.192.214) port 80 (#0)
> GET /subdirectory/ HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
>
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< ETag: "d41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e"
< x-amz-server-side-encryption: AES256
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: Miss from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: Iqf0Gy8hJLiW-9tOAdSFPkL7vCWBrgm3-1ly5tBeY_izU82ftipodA==
< Content-Length: 0
< Content-Type: application/x-directory
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:24 GMT
< Via: 1.1 6419ba8f3bd94b651d416054d9416f1e.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

If you use a tool such like cURL to test this, you notice that CloudFront and S3 are returning a blank response. The reason for this is that the subdirectory does exist, but it does not resolve to an S3 object. Keep in mind that S3 is an object store, so there are no real directories. User interfaces such as the S3 console present a hierarchical view of a bucket with folders based on the presence of forward slashes, but behind the scenes the bucket is just a collection of keys that represent stored objects.

http://<domainname>/subdirectory/index.html:  Works

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/subdirectory/index.html
*   Trying 54.192.192.130...
* TCP_NODELAY set
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net (54.192.192.130) port 80 (#0)
> GET /subdirectory/index.html HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
>
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2017 20:35:15 GMT
< ETag: "ddf87c487acf7cef9d50418f0f8f8dae"
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: RefreshHit from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: bkh6opXdpw8pUomqG3Qr3UcjnZL8axxOH82Lh0OOcx48uJKc_Dc3Cg==
< Content-Length: 227
< Content-Type: text/html
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:45 GMT
< Via: 1.1 3f2788d309d30f41de96da6f931d4ede.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<
<!doctype html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Subdirectory home page</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the /subdirectory/ directory.</p>
    </body>
</html>
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

This request works as expected because you are referencing the object directly. Now, you implement the [email protected] function to return the default index.html page for any subdirectory. Looking at the example JavaScript code, here’s where the magic happens:

var newuri = olduri.replace(/\/$/, '\/index.html');

You are going to use a JavaScript regular expression to match any ‘/’ that occurs at the end of the URI and replace it with ‘/index.html’. This is the equivalent to what S3 does on its own with static website hosting. However, as I mentioned earlier, you can’t rely on this if you want to use a policy on the bucket to restrict it so that users must access the bucket through CloudFront. That way, all requests to the S3 bucket must be authenticated using the S3 REST API. Because of this, you implement a [email protected] function that takes any client request ending in ‘/’ and append a default ‘index.html’ to the request before requesting the object from the origin.

In the Lambda console, choose Create function. On the next screen, skip the blueprint selection and choose Author from scratch, as you’ll use the sample code provided.

Next, configure the trigger. Choosing the empty box shows a list of available triggers. Choose CloudFront and select your CloudFront distribution ID (created earlier). For this example, leave Cache Behavior as * and CloudFront Event as Origin Request. Select the Enable trigger and replicate box and choose Next.

Lambda Trigger

Next, give the function a name and a description. Then, copy and paste the following code:

'use strict';
exports.handler = (event, context, callback) => {
    
    // Extract the request from the CloudFront event that is sent to [email protected] 
    var request = event.Records[0].cf.request;

    // Extract the URI from the request
    var olduri = request.uri;

    // Match any '/' that occurs at the end of a URI. Replace it with a default index
    var newuri = olduri.replace(/\/$/, '\/index.html');
    
    // Log the URI as received by CloudFront and the new URI to be used to fetch from origin
    console.log("Old URI: " + olduri);
    console.log("New URI: " + newuri);
    
    // Replace the received URI with the URI that includes the index page
    request.uri = newuri;
    
    // Return to CloudFront
    return callback(null, request);

};

Next, define a role that grants permissions to the Lambda function. For this example, choose Create new role from template, Basic Edge Lambda permissions. This creates a new IAM role for the Lambda function and grants the following permissions:

{
    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
        {
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
                "logs:CreateLogGroup",
                "logs:CreateLogStream",
                "logs:PutLogEvents"
            ],
            "Resource": [
                "arn:aws:logs:*:*:*"
            ]
        }
    ]
}

In a nutshell, these are the permissions that the function needs to create the necessary CloudWatch log group and log stream, and to put the log events so that the function is able to write logs when it executes.

After the function has been created, you can go back to the browser (or cURL) and re-run the test for the subdirectory request that failed previously:

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/subdirectory/
*   Trying 54.192.192.202...
* TCP_NODELAY set
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net (54.192.192.202) port 80 (#0)
> GET /subdirectory/ HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
>
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2017 21:18:44 GMT
< ETag: "ddf87c487acf7cef9d50418f0f8f8dae"
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: Miss from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: rwFN7yHE70bT9xckBpceTsAPcmaadqWB9omPBv2P6WkIfQqdjTk_4w==
< Content-Length: 227
< Content-Type: text/html
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:45 GMT
< Via: 1.1 3572de112011f1b625bb77410b0c5cca.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<
<!doctype html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Subdirectory home page</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the /subdirectory/ directory.</p>
    </body>
</html>
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

You have now configured a way for CloudFront to return a default index page for subdirectories in S3!

Summary

In this post, you used [email protected] to be able to use CloudFront with an S3 origin access identity and serve a default root object on subdirectory URLs. To find out some more about this use-case, see [email protected] integration with CloudFront in our documentation.

If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to comment below. For troubleshooting or implementation help, check out the Lambda forum.

casync — A tool for distributing file system images

Post Syndicated from Lennart Poettering original http://0pointer.net/blog/casync-a-tool-for-distributing-file-system-images.html

Introducing casync

In the past months I have been working on a new project:
casync. casync takes
inspiration from the popular rsync file
synchronization tool as well as the probably even more popular
git revision control system. It combines the
idea of the rsync algorithm with the idea of git-style
content-addressable file systems, and creates a new system for
efficiently storing and delivering file system images, optimized for
high-frequency update cycles over the Internet. Its current focus is
on delivering IoT, container, VM, application, portable service or OS
images, but I hope to extend it later in a generic fashion to become
useful for backups and home directory synchronization as well (but
more about that later).

The basic technological building blocks casync is built from are
neither new nor particularly innovative (at least not anymore),
however the way casync combines them is different from existing tools,
and that’s what makes it useful for a variety of use-cases that other
tools can’t cover that well.

Why?

I created casync after studying how today’s popular tools store and
deliver file system images. To briefly name a few: Docker has a
layered tarball approach,
OSTree serves the
individual files directly via HTTP and maintains packed deltas to
speed up updates, while other systems operate on the block layer and
place raw squashfs images (or other archival file systems, such as
IS09660) for download on HTTP shares (in the better cases combined
with zsync data).

Neither of these approaches appeared fully convincing to me when used
in high-frequency update cycle systems. In such systems, it is
important to optimize towards a couple of goals:

  1. Most importantly, make updates cheap traffic-wise (for this most tools use image deltas of some form)
  2. Put boundaries on disk space usage on servers (keeping deltas between all version combinations clients might want to run updates between, would suggest keeping an exponentially growing amount of deltas on servers)
  3. Put boundaries on disk space usage on clients
  4. Be friendly to Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), i.e. serve neither too many small nor too many overly large files, and only require the most basic form of HTTP. Provide the repository administrator with high-level knobs to tune the average file size delivered.
  5. Simplicity to use for users, repository administrators and developers

I don’t think any of the tools mentioned above are really good on more
than a small subset of these points.

Specifically: Docker’s layered tarball approach dumps the “delta”
question onto the feet of the image creators: the best way to make
your image downloads minimal is basing your work on an existing image
clients might already have, and inherit its resources, maintaining full
history. Here, revision control (a tool for the developer) is
intermingled with update management (a concept for optimizing
production delivery). As container histories grow individual deltas
are likely to stay small, but on the other hand a brand-new deployment
usually requires downloading the full history onto the deployment
system, even though there’s no use for it there, and likely requires
substantially more disk space and download sizes.

OSTree’s serving of individual files is unfriendly to CDNs (as many
small files in file trees cause an explosion of HTTP GET
requests). To counter that OSTree supports placing pre-calculated
delta images between selected revisions on the delivery servers, which
means a certain amount of revision management, that leaks into the
clients.

Delivering direct squashfs (or other file system) images is almost
beautifully simple, but of course means every update requires a full
download of the newest image, which is both bad for disk usage and
generated traffic. Enhancing it with zsync makes this a much better
option, as it can reduce generated traffic substantially at very
little cost of history/meta-data (no explicit deltas between a large
number of versions need to be prepared server side). On the other hand
server requirements in disk space and functionality (HTTP Range
requests) are minus points for the use-case I am interested in.

(Note: all the mentioned systems have great properties, and it’s not
my intention to badmouth them. They only point I am trying to make is
that for the use case I care about — file system image delivery with
high high frequency update-cycles — each system comes with certain
drawbacks.)

Security & Reproducibility

Besides the issues pointed out above I wasn’t happy with the security
and reproducibility properties of these systems. In today’s world
where security breaches involving hacking and breaking into connected
systems happen every day, an image delivery system that cannot make
strong guarantees regarding data integrity is out of
date. Specifically, the tarball format is famously nondeterministic:
the very same file tree can result in any number of different
valid serializations depending on the tool used, its version and the
underlying OS and file system. Some tar implementations attempt to
correct that by guaranteeing that each file tree maps to exactly
one valid serialization, but such a property is always only specific
to the tool used. I strongly believe that any good update system must
guarantee on every single link of the chain that there’s only one
valid representation of the data to deliver, that can easily be
verified.

What casync Is

So much about the background why I created casync. Now, let’s have a
look what casync actually is like, and what it does. Here’s the brief
technical overview:

Encoding: Let’s take a large linear data stream, split it into
variable-sized chunks (the size of each being a function of the
chunk’s contents), and store these chunks in individual, compressed
files in some directory, each file named after a strong hash value of
its contents, so that the hash value may be used to as key for
retrieving the full chunk data. Let’s call this directory a “chunk
store”. At the same time, generate a “chunk index” file that lists
these chunk hash values plus their respective chunk sizes in a simple
linear array. The chunking algorithm is supposed to create variable,
but similarly sized chunks from the data stream, and do so in a way
that the same data results in the same chunks even if placed at
varying offsets. For more information see this blog
story
.

Decoding: Let’s take the chunk index file, and reassemble the large
linear data stream by concatenating the uncompressed chunks retrieved
from the chunk store, keyed by the listed chunk hash values.

As an extra twist, we introduce a well-defined, reproducible,
random-access serialization format for file trees (think: a more
modern tar), to permit efficient, stable storage of complete file
trees in the system, simply by serializing them and then passing them
into the encoding step explained above.

Finally, let’s put all this on the network: for each image you want to
deliver, generate a chunk index file and place it on an HTTP
server. Do the same with the chunk store, and share it between the
various index files you intend to deliver.

Why bother with all of this? Streams with similar contents will result
in mostly the same chunk files in the chunk store. This means it is
very efficient to store many related versions of a data stream in the
same chunk store, thus minimizing disk usage. Moreover, when
transferring linear data streams chunks already known on the receiving
side can be made use of, thus minimizing network traffic.

Why is this different from rsync or OSTree, or similar tools? Well,
one major difference between casync and those tools is that we
remove file boundaries before chunking things up. This means that
small files are lumped together with their siblings and large files
are chopped into pieces, which permits us to recognize similarities in
files and directories beyond file boundaries, and makes sure our chunk
sizes are pretty evenly distributed, without the file boundaries
affecting them.

The “chunking” algorithm is based on a the buzhash rolling hash
function. SHA256 is used as strong hash function to generate digests
of the chunks. xz is used to compress the individual chunks.

Here’s a diagram, hopefully explaining a bit how the encoding process
works, wasn’t it for my crappy drawing skills:

Diagram

The diagram shows the encoding process from top to bottom. It starts
with a block device or a file tree, which is then serialized and
chunked up into variable sized blocks. The compressed chunks are then
placed in the chunk store, while a chunk index file is written listing
the chunk hashes in order. (The original SVG of this graphic may be
found here.)

Details

Note that casync operates on two different layers, depending on the
use-case of the user:

  1. You may use it on the block layer. In this case the raw block data
    on disk is taken as-is, read directly from the block device, split
    into chunks as described above, compressed, stored and delivered.

  2. You may use it on the file system layer. In this case, the
    file tree serialization format mentioned above comes into play:
    the file tree is serialized depth-first (much like tar would do
    it) and then split into chunks, compressed, stored and delivered.

The fact that it may be used on both the block and file system layer
opens it up for a variety of different use-cases. In the VM and IoT
ecosystems shipping images as block-level serializations is more
common, while in the container and application world file-system-level
serializations are more typically used.

Chunk index files referring to block-layer serializations carry the
.caibx suffix, while chunk index files referring to file system
serializations carry the .caidx suffix. Note that you may also use
casync as direct tar replacement, i.e. without the chunking, just
generating the plain linear file tree serialization. Such files
carry the .catar suffix. Internally .caibx are identical to
.caidx files, the only difference is semantical: .caidx files
describe a .catar file, while .caibx files may describe any other
blob. Finally, chunk stores are directories carrying the .castr
suffix.

Features

Here are a couple of other features casync has:

  1. When downloading a new image you may use casync‘s --seed=
    feature: each block device, file, or directory specified is processed
    using the same chunking logic described above, and is used as
    preferred source when putting together the downloaded image locally,
    avoiding network transfer of it. This of course is useful whenever
    updating an image: simply specify one or more old versions as seed and
    only download the chunks that truly changed since then. Note that
    using seeds requires no history relationship between seed and the new
    image to download. This has major benefits: you can even use it to
    speed up downloads of relatively foreign and unrelated data. For
    example, when downloading a container image built using Ubuntu you can
    use your Fedora host OS tree in /usr as seed, and casync will
    automatically use whatever it can from that tree, for example timezone
    and locale data that tends to be identical between
    distributions. Example: casync extract
    http://example.com/myimage.caibx --seed=/dev/sda1 /dev/sda2
    . This
    will place the block-layer image described by the indicated URL in the
    /dev/sda2 partition, using the existing /dev/sda1 data as seeding
    source. An invocation like this could be typically used by IoT systems
    with an A/B partition setup. Example 2: casync extract
    http://example.com/mycontainer-v3.caidx --seed=/srv/container-v1
    --seed=/srv/container-v2 /src/container-v3
    , is very similar but
    operates on the file system layer, and uses two old container versions
    to seed the new version.

  2. When operating on the file system level, the user has fine-grained
    control on the meta-data included in the serialization. This is
    relevant since different use-cases tend to require a different set of
    saved/restored meta-data. For example, when shipping OS images, file
    access bits/ACLs and ownership matter, while file modification times
    hurt. When doing personal backups OTOH file ownership matters little
    but file modification times are important. Moreover different backing
    file systems support different feature sets, and storing more
    information than necessary might make it impossible to validate a tree
    against an image if the meta-data cannot be replayed in full. Due to
    this, casync provides a set of --with= and --without= parameters
    that allow fine-grained control of the data stored in the file tree
    serialization, including the granularity of modification times and
    more. The precise set of selected meta-data features is also always
    part of the serialization, so that seeding can work correctly and
    automatically.

  3. casync tries to be as accurate as possible when storing file
    system meta-data. This means that besides the usual baseline of file
    meta-data (file ownership and access bits), and more advanced features
    (extended attributes, ACLs, file capabilities) a number of more exotic
    data is stored as well, including Linux
    chattr(1) file attributes, as
    well as FAT file
    attributes

    (you may wonder why the latter? — EFI is FAT, and /efi is part of
    the comprehensive serialization of any host). In the future I intend
    to extend this further, for example storing btrfs sub-volume
    information where available. Note that as described above every single
    type of meta-data may be turned off and on individually, hence if you
    don’t need FAT file bits (and I figure it’s pretty likely you don’t),
    then they won’t be stored.

  4. The user creating .caidx or .caibx files may control the desired
    average chunk length (before compression) freely, using the
    --chunk-size= parameter. Smaller chunks increase the number of
    generated files in the chunk store and increase HTTP GET load on the
    server, but also ensure that sharing between similar images is
    improved, as identical patterns in the images stored are more likely
    to be recognized. By default casync will use a 64K average chunk
    size. Tweaking this can be particularly useful when adapting the
    system to specific CDNs, or when delivering compressed disk images
    such as squashfs (see below).

  5. Emphasis is placed on making all invocations reproducible,
    well-defined and strictly deterministic. As mentioned above this is a
    requirement to reach the intended security guarantees, but is also
    useful for many other use-cases. For example, the casync digest
    command may be used to calculate a hash value identifying a specific
    directory in all desired detail (use --with= and --without to pick
    the desired detail). Moreover the casync mtree command may be used
    to generate a BSD mtree(5) compatible manifest of a directory tree,
    .caidx or .catar file.

  6. The file system serialization format is nicely composable. By this
    I mean that the serialization of a file tree is the concatenation of
    the serializations of all files and file sub-trees located at the
    top of the tree, with zero meta-data references from any of these
    serializations into the others. This property is essential to ensure
    maximum reuse of chunks when similar trees are serialized.

  7. When extracting file trees or disk image files, casync
    will automatically create
    reflinks
    from any specified seeds if the underlying file system supports it
    (such as btrfs, ocfs, and future xfs). After all, instead of
    copying the desired data from the seed, we can just tell the file
    system to link up the relevant blocks. This works both when extracting
    .caidx and .caibx files — the latter of course only when the
    extracted disk image is placed in a regular raw image file on disk,
    rather than directly on a plain block device, as plain block devices
    do not know the concept of reflinks.

  8. Optionally, when extracting file trees, casync can
    create traditional UNIX hard-links for identical files in specified
    seeds (--hardlink=yes). This works on all UNIX file systems, and can
    save substantial amounts of disk space. However, this only works for
    very specific use-cases where disk images are considered read-only
    after extraction, as any changes made to one tree will propagate to
    all other trees sharing the same hard-linked files, as that’s the
    nature of hard-links. In this mode, casync exposes OSTree-like
    behavior, which is built heavily around read-only hard-link trees.

  9. casync tries to be smart when choosing what to include in file
    system images. Implicitly, file systems such as procfs and sysfs are
    excluded from serialization, as they expose API objects, not real
    files. Moreover, the “nodump” (+d)
    chattr(1) flag is honored by
    default, permitting users to mark files to exclude from serialization.

  10. When creating and extracting file trees casync may apply an
    automatic or explicit UID/GID shift. This is particularly useful when
    transferring container image for use with Linux user name-spacing.

  11. In addition to local operation, casync currently supports HTTP,
    HTTPS, FTP and ssh natively for downloading chunk index files and
    chunks (the ssh mode requires installing casync on the remote host,
    though, but an sftp mode not requiring that should be easy to
    add). When creating index files or chunks, only ssh is supported as
    remote back-end.

  12. When operating on block-layer images, you may expose locally or
    remotely stored images as local block devices. Example: casync mkdev
    http://example.com/myimage.caibx
    exposes the disk image described by
    the indicated URL as local block device in /dev, which you then may
    use the usual block device tools on, such as mount or fdisk (only
    read-only though). Chunks are downloaded on access with high priority,
    and at low priority when idle in the background. Note that in this
    mode, casync also plays a role similar to “dm-verity”, as all blocks
    are validated against the strong digests in the chunk index file
    before passing them on to the kernel’s block layer. This feature is
    implemented though Linux’ NBD kernel facility.

  13. Similar, when operating on file-system-layer images, you may mount
    locally or remotely stored images as regular file systems. Example:
    casync mount http://example.com/mytree.caidx /srv/mytree mounts the
    file tree image described by the indicated URL as a local directory
    /srv/mytree. This feature is implemented though Linux’ FUSE kernel
    facility. Note that special care is taken that the images exposed this
    way can be packed up again with casync make and are guaranteed to
    return the bit-by-bit exact same serialization again that it was
    mounted from. No data is lost or changed while passing things through
    FUSE (OK, strictly speaking this is a lie, we do lose ACLs, but that’s
    hopefully just a temporary gap to be fixed soon).

  14. In IoT A/B fixed size partition setups the file systems placed in
    the two partitions are usually much shorter than the partition size,
    in order to keep some room for later, larger updates. casync is able
    to analyze the super-block of a number of common file systems in order
    to determine the actual size of a file system stored on a block
    device, so that writing a file system to such a partition and reading
    it back again will result in reproducible data. Moreover this speeds
    up the seeding process, as there’s little point in seeding the
    white-space after the file system within the partition.

Example Command Lines

Here’s how to use casync, explained with a few examples:

$ casync make foobar.caidx /some/directory

This will create a chunk index file foobar.caidx in the local
directory, and populate the chunk store directory default.castr
located next to it with the chunks of the serialization (you can
change the name for the store directory with --store= if you
like). This command operates on the file-system level. A similar
command operating on the block level:

$ casync make foobar.caibx /dev/sda1

This command creates a chunk index file foobar.caibx in the local
directory describing the current contents of the /dev/sda1 block
device, and populates default.castr in the same way as above. Note
that you may as well read a raw disk image from a file instead of a
block device:

$ casync make foobar.caibx myimage.raw

To reconstruct the original file tree from the .caidx file and
the chunk store of the first command, use:

$ casync extract foobar.caidx /some/other/directory

And similar for the block-layer version:

$ casync extract foobar.caibx /dev/sdb1

or, to extract the block-layer version into a raw disk image:

$ casync extract foobar.caibx myotherimage.raw

The above are the most basic commands, operating on local data
only. Now let’s make this more interesting, and reference remote
resources:

$ casync extract http://example.com/images/foobar.caidx /some/other/directory

This extracts the specified .caidx onto a local directory. This of
course assumes that foobar.caidx was uploaded to the HTTP server in
the first place, along with the chunk store. You can use any command
you like to accomplish that, for example scp or
rsync. Alternatively, you can let casync do this directly when
generating the chunk index:

$ casync make ssh.example.com:images/foobar.caidx /some/directory

This will use ssh to connect to the ssh.example.com server, and then
places the .caidx file and the chunks on it. Note that this mode of
operation is “smart”: this scheme will only upload chunks currently
missing on the server side, and not re-transmit what already is
available.

Note that you can always configure the precise path or URL of the
chunk store via the --store= option. If you do not do that, then the
store path is automatically derived from the path or URL: the last
component of the path or URL is replaced by default.castr.

Of course, when extracting .caidx or .caibx files from remote sources,
using a local seed is advisable:

$ casync extract http://example.com/images/foobar.caidx --seed=/some/exising/directory /some/other/directory

Or on the block layer:

$ casync extract http://example.com/images/foobar.caibx --seed=/dev/sda1 /dev/sdb2

When creating chunk indexes on the file system layer casync will by
default store meta-data as accurately as possible. Let’s create a chunk
index with reduced meta-data:

$ casync make foobar.caidx --with=sec-time --with=symlinks --with=read-only /some/dir

This command will create a chunk index for a file tree serialization
that has three features above the absolute baseline supported: 1s
granularity time-stamps, symbolic links and a single read-only bit. In
this mode, all the other meta-data bits are not stored, including
nanosecond time-stamps, full UNIX permission bits, file ownership or
even ACLs or extended attributes.

Now let’s make a .caidx file available locally as a mounted file
system, without extracting it:

$ casync mount http://example.comf/images/foobar.caidx /mnt/foobar

And similar, let’s make a .caibx file available locally as a block device:

$ casync mkdev http://example.comf/images/foobar.caibx

This will create a block device in /dev and print the used device
node path to STDOUT.

As mentioned, casync is big about reproducibility. Let’s make use of
that to calculate the a digest identifying a very specific version of
a file tree:

$ casync digest .

This digest will include all meta-data bits casync and the underlying
file system know about. Usually, to make this useful you want to
configure exactly what meta-data to include:

$ casync digest --with=unix .

This makes use of the --with=unix shortcut for selecting meta-data
fields. Specifying --with-unix= selects all meta-data that
traditional UNIX file systems support. It is a shortcut for writing out:
--with=16bit-uids --with=permissions --with=sec-time --with=symlinks
--with=device-nodes --with=fifos --with=sockets
.

Note that when calculating digests or creating chunk indexes you may
also use the negative --without= option to remove specific features
but start from the most precise:

$ casync digest --without=flag-immutable

This generates a digest with the most accurate meta-data, but leaves
one feature out: chattr(1)‘s
immutable (+i) file flag.

To list the contents of a .caidx file use a command like the following:

$ casync list http://example.com/images/foobar.caidx

or

$ casync mtree http://example.com/images/foobar.caidx

The former command will generate a brief list of files and
directories, not too different from tar t or ls -al in its
output. The latter command will generate a BSD
mtree(5) compatible
manifest. Note that casync actually stores substantially more file
meta-data than mtree files can express, though.

What casync isn’t

  1. casync is not an attempt to minimize serialization and downloaded
    deltas to the extreme. Instead, the tool is supposed to find a good
    middle ground, that is good on traffic and disk space, but not at the
    price of convenience or requiring explicit revision control. If you
    care about updates that are absolutely minimal, there are binary delta
    systems around that might be an option for you, such as Google’s
    Courgette
    .

  2. casync is not a replacement for rsync, or git or zsync or
    anything like that. They have very different use-cases and
    semantics. For example, rsync permits you to directly synchronize two
    file trees remotely. casync just cannot do that, and it is unlikely
    it every will.

Where next?

casync is supposed to be a generic synchronization tool. Its primary
focus for now is delivery of OS images, but I’d like to make it useful
for a couple other use-cases, too. Specifically:

  1. To make the tool useful for backups, encryption is missing. I have
    pretty concrete plans how to add that. When implemented, the tool
    might become an alternative to restic,
    BorgBackup or
    tarsnap.

  2. Right now, if you want to deploy casync in real-life, you still
    need to validate the downloaded .caidx or .caibx file yourself, for
    example with some gpg signature. It is my intention to integrate with
    gpg in a minimal way so that signing and verifying chunk index files
    is done automatically.

  3. In the longer run, I’d like to build an automatic synchronizer for
    $HOME between systems from this. Each $HOME instance would be
    stored automatically in regular intervals in the cloud using casync,
    and conflicts would be resolved locally.

  4. casync is written in a shared library style, but it is not yet
    built as one. Specifically this means that almost all of casync‘s
    functionality is supposed to be available as C API soon, and
    applications can process casync files on every level. It is my
    intention to make this library useful enough so that it will be easy
    to write a module for GNOME’s gvfs subsystem in order to make remote
    or local .caidx files directly available to applications (as an
    alternative to casync mount). In fact the idea is to make this all
    flexible enough that even the remoting back-ends can be replaced
    easily, for example to replace casync‘s default HTTP/HTTPS back-ends
    built on CURL with GNOME’s own HTTP implementation, in order to share
    cookies, certificates, … There’s also an alternative method to
    integrate with casync in place already: simply invoke casync as a
    sub-process. casync will inform you about a certain set of state
    changes using a mechanism compatible with
    sd_notify(3). In
    future it will also propagate progress data this way and more.

  5. I intend to a add a new seeding back-end that sources chunks from
    the local network. After downloading the new .caidx file off the
    Internet casync would then search for the listed chunks on the local
    network first before retrieving them from the Internet. This should
    speed things up on all installations that have multiple similar
    systems deployed in the same network.

Further plans are listed tersely in the
TODO file.

FAQ:

  1. Is this a systemd project?casync is hosted under the
    github systemd umbrella, and the
    projects share the same coding style. However, the code-bases are
    distinct and without interdependencies, and casync works fine both
    on systemd systems and systems without it.

  2. Is casync portable? — At the moment: no. I only run Linux and
    that’s what I code for. That said, I am open to accepting portability
    patches (unlike for systemd, which doesn’t really make sense on
    non-Linux systems), as long as they don’t interfere too much with the
    way casync works. Specifically this means that I am not too
    enthusiastic about merging portability patches for OSes lacking the
    openat(2) family
    of APIs.

  3. Does casync require reflink-capable file systems to work, such
    as btrfs?
    — No it doesn’t. The reflink magic in casync is
    employed when the file system permits it, and it’s good to have it,
    but it’s not a requirement, and casync will implicitly fall back to
    copying when it isn’t available. Note that casync supports a number
    of file system features on a variety of file systems that aren’t
    available everywhere, for example FAT’s system/hidden file flags or
    xfs‘s projinherit file flag.

  4. Is casync stable? — I just tagged the first, initial
    release. While I have been working on it since quite some time and it
    is quite featureful, this is the first time I advertise it publicly,
    and it hence received very little testing outside of its own test
    suite. I am also not fully ready to commit to the stability of the
    current serialization or chunk index format. I don’t see any breakages
    coming for it though. casync is pretty light on documentation right
    now, and does not even have a man page. I also intend to correct that
    soon.

  5. Are the .caidx/.caibx and .catar file formats open and
    documented?
    casync is Open Source, so if you want to know the
    precise format, have a look at the sources for now. It’s definitely my
    intention to add comprehensive docs for both formats however. Don’t
    forget this is just the initial version right now.

  6. casync is just like $SOMEOTHERTOOL! Why are you reinventing
    the wheel (again)?
    — Well, because casync isn’t “just like” some
    other tool. I am pretty sure I did my homework, and that there is no
    tool just like casync right now. The tools coming closest are probably
    rsync, zsync, tarsnap, restic, but they are quite different beasts
    each.

  7. Why did you invent your own serialization format for file trees?
    Why don’t you just use tar?
    — That’s a good question, and other
    systems — most prominently tarsnap — do that. However, as mentioned
    above tar doesn’t enforce reproducibility. It also doesn’t really do
    random access: if you want to access some specific file you need to
    read every single byte stored before it in the tar archive to find
    it, which is of course very expensive. The serialization casync
    implements places a focus on reproducibility, random access, and
    meta-data control. Much like traditional tar it can still be
    generated and extracted in a stream fashion though.

  8. Does casync save/restore SELinux/SMACK file labels? — At the
    moment not. That’s not because I wouldn’t want it to, but simply
    because I am not a guru of either of these systems, and didn’t want to
    implement something I do not fully grok nor can test. If you look at
    the sources you’ll find that there’s already some definitions in place
    that keep room for them though. I’d be delighted to accept a patch
    implementing this fully.

  9. What about delivering squashfs images? How well does chunking
    work on compressed serializations?
    – That’s a very good point!
    Usually, if you apply the a chunking algorithm to a compressed data
    stream (let’s say a tar.gz file), then changing a single bit at the
    front will propagate into the entire remainder of the file, so that
    minimal changes will explode into major changes. Thankfully this
    doesn’t apply that strictly to squashfs images, as it provides
    random access to files and directories and thus breaks up the
    compression streams in regular intervals to make seeking easy. This
    fact is beneficial for systems employing chunking, such as casync as
    this means single bit changes might affect their vicinity but will not
    explode in an unbounded fashion. In order achieve best results when
    delivering squashfs images through casync the block sizes of
    squashfs and the chunks sizes of casync should be matched up
    (using casync‘s --chunk-size= option). How precisely to choose
    both values is left a research subject for the user, for now.

  10. What does the name casync mean? – It’s a synchronizing
    tool, hence the -sync suffix, following rsync‘s naming. It makes
    use of the content-addressable concept of git hence the ca-
    prefix.

  11. Where can I get this stuff? Is it already packaged? – Check
    out the sources on GitHub. I
    just tagged the first
    version
    . Martin
    Pitt has packaged casync for
    Ubuntu
    . There
    is also an ArchLinux
    package
    . Zbigniew
    Jędrzejewski-Szmek has prepared a Fedora
    RPM
    that hopefully
    will soon be included in the distribution.

Should you care? Is this a tool for you?

Well, that’s up to you really. If you are involved with projects that
need to deliver IoT, VM, container, application or OS images, then
maybe this is a great tool for you — but other options exist, some of
which are linked above.

Note that casync is an Open Source project: if it doesn’t do exactly
what you need, prepare a patch that adds what you need, and we’ll
consider it.

If you are interested in the project and would like to talk about this
in person, I’ll be presenting casync soon at Kinvolk’s Linux
Technologies
Meetup

in Berlin, Germany. You are invited. I also intend to talk about it at
All Systems Go!, also in Berlin.

The Importance of a CDN: Speed and Security

Post Syndicated from Sarah Wilson original https://www.anchor.com.au/blog/2017/03/importance-cdn-website-speed-security/

As a hosting provider, we speak with many businesses who need a fix for their slow site speeds. There are many contributing factors why hosting infrastructure may be constraining your site performance but typically; old infrastructure used by some hosting providers, contention issues and even the physical location of the servers.  Having your site hosted in a high-speed environment with world class managed services (such as Anchor) provides the right foundations and utilising a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that can give you that extra boost in speed and performance you desire – and deserve. One of the more popular site performance applications is Cloudflare; global network designed to optimize security, performance and reliability, without the bloat of legacy technologies. Cloudflare  has some robust CDN capabilities in addition to other security services like DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) protection and reverse proxies.

A traditional CDN is a group of web servers distributed across multiple locations around the world, which delivers content more efficiently to users. The server selected for delivering content to a specific user is typically based on a measure of network proximity. For example, the server with the fewest network hops or the server with the quickest response time is chosen.

If you are looking to take advantage of a CDN,  a great place to to start is Cloudflare’s free plan. This basic plan can be set up in less than 5 minutes and only requires a simple change to your domain’s DNS settings to get you up and running. There is no hardware or software to install or maintain and you do not need to change any of your site’s existing code. As a partner of Cloudflare, we can offer discounted pricing to our customers if you are looking to take advantage of some of Cloudflare’s advanced performance and security features such as image optimisations, firewalls and PCI compliance to name just a few.

CloudFlare utilises more than 40 data centres in almost as many countries, and use the size of their ‘quietly built cloud’ to process more than 5% of all web requests. It includes:

  • A Global CDN
  • DDoS Protection
  • Page Rules

DDoS Protection- Why do I need it and how to protect against attack?

In 2015 the internet saw the highest rate of DDoS attacks ever. Generally, the attackers will flood a network or service (usually with thousands of IP addresses) in order to overwhelm the server and make a network or website unavailable for its users. It is extremely important to make sure your site is protected from such an attack, especially if your site is eCommerce and down time will prevent customers completing their purchases.

What are Global CDN’s?

As mentioned above, Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are important for a number of reasons. The primary feature that a CDN does, is provides alternative server nodes, or locations for the user to download resources (usually JavaScript or static content). This means that although the server may be located in the US, someone in Sydney can still experience fast load speed and response times due to this reduced latency.  This is extremely important for sites that have users in other countries, especially those who are shopping online, as these sites generally have a large volumes of images, which can be timely to load. Overall, it improves your user’s experience in terms of speed.

Page Rules

Page Rules give you the ability to control how Cloudflare actually works on a URL or subdomain basis, which means it allows you to customise it’s functionality to match your domain’s unique needs. They give you the ability to take various actions based on the page’s URL, such as creating redirects, fine tuning caching behavior, or enabling and disabling our various services. This helps you to optimize speed, harden security, increase reliability, maximize bandwidth savings, and much more.

Other benefits include, the added scalability or capacity effects that a CDN like Cloudflare has, not only does it have higher availability but also lower packet loss. Further, Cloudflare provides website traffic insight and other analytics such as threat monitoring, so that you can improve your site even further.

As a partner of Cloudflare, Anchor receives discounted rates for the Pro and Business plans, as well as can help you install the free plan if you are a customer.  The easiest part about Cloudflare however, is that it only requires a simple change to your domain’s DNS settings. There is no hardware or software to install or maintain and you do not need to change any of your site’s existing code.

If your site is running slow and want know how you can boost your site performance, contact us for a free, no obligation site hosting check up.

The post The Importance of a CDN: Speed and Security appeared first on AWS Managed Services by Anchor.

In Case You Missed These: AWS Security Blog Posts from January, February, and March

Post Syndicated from Craig Liebendorfer original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/in-case-you-missed-these-aws-security-blog-posts-from-january-february-and-march/

Image of lock and key

In case you missed any AWS Security Blog posts published so far in 2017, they are summarized and linked to below. The posts are shown in reverse chronological order (most recent first), and the subject matter ranges from protecting dynamic web applications against DDoS attacks to monitoring AWS account configuration changes and API calls to Amazon EC2 security groups.

March

March 22: How to Help Protect Dynamic Web Applications Against DDoS Attacks by Using Amazon CloudFront and Amazon Route 53
Using a content delivery network (CDN) such as Amazon CloudFront to cache and serve static text and images or downloadable objects such as media files and documents is a common strategy to improve webpage load times, reduce network bandwidth costs, lessen the load on web servers, and mitigate distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. AWS WAF is a web application firewall that can be deployed on CloudFront to help protect your application against DDoS attacks by giving you control over which traffic to allow or block by defining security rules. When users access your application, the Domain Name System (DNS) translates human-readable domain names (for example, www.example.com) to machine-readable IP addresses (for example, 192.0.2.44). A DNS service, such as Amazon Route 53, can effectively connect users’ requests to a CloudFront distribution that proxies requests for dynamic content to the infrastructure hosting your application’s endpoints. In this blog post, I show you how to deploy CloudFront with AWS WAF and Route 53 to help protect dynamic web applications (with dynamic content such as a response to user input) against DDoS attacks. The steps shown in this post are key to implementing the overall approach described in AWS Best Practices for DDoS Resiliency and enable the built-in, managed DDoS protection service, AWS Shield.

March 21: New AWS Encryption SDK for Python Simplifies Multiple Master Key Encryption
The AWS Cryptography team is happy to announce a Python implementation of the AWS Encryption SDK. This new SDK helps manage data keys for you, and it simplifies the process of encrypting data under multiple master keys. As a result, this new SDK allows you to focus on the code that drives your business forward. It also provides a framework you can easily extend to ensure that you have a cryptographic library that is configured to match and enforce your standards. The SDK also includes ready-to-use examples. If you are a Java developer, you can refer to this blog post to see specific Java examples for the SDK. In this blog post, I show you how you can use the AWS Encryption SDK to simplify the process of encrypting data and how to protect your encryption keys in ways that help improve application availability by not tying you to a single region or key management solution.

March 21: Updated CJIS Workbook Now Available by Request
The need for guidance when implementing Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS)–compliant solutions has become of paramount importance as more law enforcement customers and technology partners move to store and process criminal justice data in the cloud. AWS services allow these customers to easily and securely architect a CJIS-compliant solution when handling criminal justice data, creating a durable, cost-effective, and secure IT infrastructure that better supports local, state, and federal law enforcement in carrying out their public safety missions. AWS has created several documents (collectively referred to as the CJIS Workbook) to assist you in aligning with the FBI’s CJIS Security Policy. You can use the workbook as a framework for developing CJIS-compliant architecture in the AWS Cloud. The workbook helps you define and test the controls you operate, and document the dependence on the controls that AWS operates (compute, storage, database, networking, regions, Availability Zones, and edge locations).

March 9: New Cloud Directory API Makes It Easier to Query Data Along Multiple Dimensions
Today, we made available a new Cloud Directory API, ListObjectParentPaths, that enables you to retrieve all available parent paths for any directory object across multiple hierarchies. Use this API when you want to fetch all parent objects for a specific child object. The order of the paths and objects returned is consistent across iterative calls to the API, unless objects are moved or deleted. In case an object has multiple parents, the API allows you to control the number of paths returned by using a paginated call pattern. In this blog post, I use an example directory to demonstrate how this new API enables you to retrieve data across multiple dimensions to implement powerful applications quickly.

March 8: How to Access the AWS Management Console Using AWS Microsoft AD and Your On-Premises Credentials
AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory, also known as AWS Microsoft AD, is a managed Microsoft Active Directory (AD) hosted in the AWS Cloud. Now, AWS Microsoft AD makes it easy for you to give your users permission to manage AWS resources by using on-premises AD administrative tools. With AWS Microsoft AD, you can grant your on-premises users permissions to resources such as the AWS Management Console instead of adding AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) user accounts or configuring AD Federation Services (AD FS) with Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML). In this blog post, I show how to use AWS Microsoft AD to enable your on-premises AD users to sign in to the AWS Management Console with their on-premises AD user credentials to access and manage AWS resources through IAM roles.

March 7: How to Protect Your Web Application Against DDoS Attacks by Using Amazon Route 53 and an External Content Delivery Network
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are attempts by a malicious actor to flood a network, system, or application with more traffic, connections, or requests than it is able to handle. To protect your web application against DDoS attacks, you can use AWS Shield, a DDoS protection service that AWS provides automatically to all AWS customers at no additional charge. You can use AWS Shield in conjunction with DDoS-resilient web services such as Amazon CloudFront and Amazon Route 53 to improve your ability to defend against DDoS attacks. Learn more about architecting for DDoS resiliency by reading the AWS Best Practices for DDoS Resiliency whitepaper. You also have the option of using Route 53 with an externally hosted content delivery network (CDN). In this blog post, I show how you can help protect the zone apex (also known as the root domain) of your web application by using Route 53 to perform a secure redirect to prevent discovery of your application origin.

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February

February 27: Now Generally Available – AWS Organizations: Policy-Based Management for Multiple AWS Accounts
Today, AWS Organizations moves from Preview to General Availability. You can use Organizations to centrally manage multiple AWS accounts, with the ability to create a hierarchy of organizational units (OUs). You can assign each account to an OU, define policies, and then apply those policies to an entire hierarchy, specific OUs, or specific accounts. You can invite existing AWS accounts to join your organization, and you can also create new accounts. All of these functions are available from the AWS Management Console, the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI), and through the AWS Organizations API.To read the full AWS Blog post about today’s launch, see AWS Organizations – Policy-Based Management for Multiple AWS Accounts.

February 23: s2n Is Now Handling 100 Percent of SSL Traffic for Amazon S3
Today, we’ve achieved another important milestone for securing customer data: we have replaced OpenSSL with s2n for all internal and external SSL traffic in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) commercial regions. This was implemented with minimal impact to customers, and multiple means of error checking were used to ensure a smooth transition, including client integration tests, catching potential interoperability conflicts, and identifying memory leaks through fuzz testing.

February 22: Easily Replace or Attach an IAM Role to an Existing EC2 Instance by Using the EC2 Console
AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) roles enable your applications running on Amazon EC2 to use temporary security credentials. IAM roles for EC2 make it easier for your applications to make API requests securely from an instance because they do not require you to manage AWS security credentials that the applications use. Recently, we enabled you to use temporary security credentials for your applications by attaching an IAM role to an existing EC2 instance by using the AWS CLI and SDK. To learn more, see New! Attach an AWS IAM Role to an Existing Amazon EC2 Instance by Using the AWS CLI. Starting today, you can attach an IAM role to an existing EC2 instance from the EC2 console. You can also use the EC2 console to replace an IAM role attached to an existing instance. In this blog post, I will show how to attach an IAM role to an existing EC2 instance from the EC2 console.

February 22: How to Audit Your AWS Resources for Security Compliance by Using Custom AWS Config Rules
AWS Config Rules enables you to implement security policies as code for your organization and evaluate configuration changes to AWS resources against these policies. You can use Config rules to audit your use of AWS resources for compliance with external compliance frameworks such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark and with your internal security policies related to the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), and other regimes. AWS provides some predefined, managed Config rules. You also can create custom Config rules based on criteria you define within an AWS Lambda function. In this post, I show how to create a custom rule that audits AWS resources for security compliance by enabling VPC Flow Logs for an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). The custom rule meets requirement 4.3 of the CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark: “Ensure VPC flow logging is enabled in all VPCs.”

February 13: AWS Announces CISPE Membership and Compliance with First-Ever Code of Conduct for Data Protection in the Cloud
I have two exciting announcements today, both showing AWS’s continued commitment to ensuring that customers can comply with EU Data Protection requirements when using our services.

February 13: How to Enable Multi-Factor Authentication for AWS Services by Using AWS Microsoft AD and On-Premises Credentials
You can now enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) for users of AWS services such as Amazon WorkSpaces and Amazon QuickSight and their on-premises credentials by using your AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory (Enterprise Edition) directory, also known as AWS Microsoft AD. MFA adds an extra layer of protection to a user name and password (the first “factor”) by requiring users to enter an authentication code (the second factor), which has been provided by your virtual or hardware MFA solution. These factors together provide additional security by preventing access to AWS services, unless users supply a valid MFA code.

February 13: How to Create an Organizational Chart with Separate Hierarchies by Using Amazon Cloud Directory
Amazon Cloud Directory enables you to create directories for a variety of use cases, such as organizational charts, course catalogs, and device registries. Cloud Directory offers you the flexibility to create directories with hierarchies that span multiple dimensions. For example, you can create an organizational chart that you can navigate through separate hierarchies for reporting structure, location, and cost center. In this blog post, I show how to use Cloud Directory APIs to create an organizational chart with two separate hierarchies in a single directory. I also show how to navigate the hierarchies and retrieve data. I use the Java SDK for all the sample code in this post, but you can use other language SDKs or the AWS CLI.

February 10: How to Easily Log On to AWS Services by Using Your On-Premises Active Directory
AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory (Enterprise Edition), also known as Microsoft AD, now enables your users to log on with just their on-premises Active Directory (AD) user name—no domain name is required. This new domainless logon feature makes it easier to set up connections to your on-premises AD for use with applications such as Amazon WorkSpaces and Amazon QuickSight, and it keeps the user logon experience free from network naming. This new interforest trusts capability is now available when using Microsoft AD with Amazon WorkSpaces and Amazon QuickSight Enterprise Edition. In this blog post, I explain how Microsoft AD domainless logon works with AD interforest trusts, and I show an example of setting up Amazon WorkSpaces to use this capability.

February 9: New! Attach an AWS IAM Role to an Existing Amazon EC2 Instance by Using the AWS CLI
AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) roles enable your applications running on Amazon EC2 to use temporary security credentials that AWS creates, distributes, and rotates automatically. Using temporary credentials is an IAM best practice because you do not need to maintain long-term keys on your instance. Using IAM roles for EC2 also eliminates the need to use long-term AWS access keys that you have to manage manually or programmatically. Starting today, you can enable your applications to use temporary security credentials provided by AWS by attaching an IAM role to an existing EC2 instance. You can also replace the IAM role attached to an existing EC2 instance. In this blog post, I show how you can attach an IAM role to an existing EC2 instance by using the AWS CLI.

February 8: How to Remediate Amazon Inspector Security Findings Automatically
The Amazon Inspector security assessment service can evaluate the operating environments and applications you have deployed on AWS for common and emerging security vulnerabilities automatically. As an AWS-built service, Amazon Inspector is designed to exchange data and interact with other core AWS services not only to identify potential security findings but also to automate addressing those findings. Previous related blog posts showed how you can deliver Amazon Inspector security findings automatically to third-party ticketing systems and automate the installation of the Amazon Inspector agent on new Amazon EC2 instances. In this post, I show how you can automatically remediate findings generated by Amazon Inspector. To get started, you must first run an assessment and publish any security findings to an Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) topic. Then, you create an AWS Lambda function that is triggered by those notifications. Finally, the Lambda function examines the findings and then implements the appropriate remediation based on the type of issue.

February 6: How to Simplify Security Assessment Setup Using Amazon EC2 Systems Manager and Amazon Inspector
In a July 2016 AWS Blog post, I discussed how to integrate Amazon Inspector with third-party ticketing systems by using Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) and AWS Lambda. This AWS Security Blog post continues in the same vein, describing how to use Amazon Inspector to automate various aspects of security management. In this post, I show you how to install the Amazon Inspector agent automatically through the Amazon EC2 Systems Manager when a new Amazon EC2 instance is launched. In a subsequent post, I will show you how to update EC2 instances automatically that run Linux when Amazon Inspector discovers a missing security patch.

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January

January 30: How to Protect Data at Rest with Amazon EC2 Instance Store Encryption
Encrypting data at rest is vital for regulatory compliance to ensure that sensitive data saved on disks is not readable by any user or application without a valid key. Some compliance regulations such as PCI DSS and HIPAA require that data at rest be encrypted throughout the data lifecycle. To this end, AWS provides data-at-rest options and key management to support the encryption process. For example, you can encrypt Amazon EBS volumes and configure Amazon S3 buckets for server-side encryption (SSE) using AES-256 encryption. Additionally, Amazon RDS supports Transparent Data Encryption (TDE). Instance storage provides temporary block-level storage for Amazon EC2 instances. This storage is located on disks attached physically to a host computer. Instance storage is ideal for temporary storage of information that frequently changes, such as buffers, caches, and scratch data. By default, files stored on these disks are not encrypted. In this blog post, I show a method for encrypting data on Linux EC2 instance stores by using Linux built-in libraries. This method encrypts files transparently, which protects confidential data. As a result, applications that process the data are unaware of the disk-level encryption.

January 27: How to Detect and Automatically Remediate Unintended Permissions in Amazon S3 Object ACLs with CloudWatch Events
Amazon S3 Access Control Lists (ACLs) enable you to specify permissions that grant access to S3 buckets and objects. When S3 receives a request for an object, it verifies whether the requester has the necessary access permissions in the associated ACL. For example, you could set up an ACL for an object so that only the users in your account can access it, or you could make an object public so that it can be accessed by anyone. If the number of objects and users in your AWS account is large, ensuring that you have attached correctly configured ACLs to your objects can be a challenge. For example, what if a user were to call the PutObjectAcl API call on an object that is supposed to be private and make it public? Or, what if a user were to call the PutObject with the optional Acl parameter set to public-read, therefore uploading a confidential file as publicly readable? In this blog post, I show a solution that uses Amazon CloudWatch Events to detect PutObject and PutObjectAcl API calls in near-real time and helps ensure that the objects remain private by making automatic PutObjectAcl calls, when necessary.

January 26: Now Available: Amazon Cloud Directory—A Cloud-Native Directory for Hierarchical Data
Today we are launching Amazon Cloud Directory. This service is purpose-built for storing large amounts of strongly typed hierarchical data. With the ability to scale to hundreds of millions of objects while remaining cost-effective, Cloud Directory is a great fit for all sorts of cloud and mobile applications.

January 24: New SOC 2 Report Available: Confidentiality
As with everything at Amazon, the success of our security and compliance program is primarily measured by one thing: our customers’ success. Our customers drive our portfolio of compliance reports, attestations, and certifications that support their efforts in running a secure and compliant cloud environment. As a result of our engagement with key customers across the globe, we are happy to announce the publication of our new SOC 2 Confidentiality report. This report is available now through AWS Artifact in the AWS Management Console.

January 18: Compliance in the Cloud for New Financial Services Cybersecurity Regulations
Financial regulatory agencies are focused more than ever on ensuring responsible innovation. Consequently, if you want to achieve compliance with financial services regulations, you must be increasingly agile and employ dynamic security capabilities. AWS enables you to achieve this by providing you with the tools you need to scale your security and compliance capabilities on AWS. The following breakdown of the most recent cybersecurity regulations, NY DFS Rule 23 NYCRR 500, demonstrates how AWS continues to focus on your regulatory needs in the financial services sector.

January 9: New Amazon GameDev Blog Post: Protect Multiplayer Game Servers from DDoS Attacks by Using Amazon GameLift
In online gaming, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks target a game’s network layer, flooding servers with requests until performance degrades considerably. These attacks can limit a game’s availability to players and limit the player experience for those who can connect. Today’s new Amazon GameDev Blog post uses a typical game server architecture to highlight DDoS attack vulnerabilities and discusses how to stay protected by using built-in AWS Cloud security, AWS security best practices, and the security features of Amazon GameLift. Read the post to learn more.

January 6: The Top 10 Most Downloaded AWS Security and Compliance Documents in 2016
The following list includes the 10 most downloaded AWS security and compliance documents in 2016. Using this list, you can learn about what other people found most interesting about security and compliance last year.

January 6: FedRAMP Compliance Update: AWS GovCloud (US) Region Receives a JAB-Issued FedRAMP High Baseline P-ATO for Three New Services
Three new services in the AWS GovCloud (US) region have received a Provisional Authority to Operate (P-ATO) from the Joint Authorization Board (JAB) under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). JAB issued the authorization at the High baseline, which enables US government agencies and their service providers the capability to use these services to process the government’s most sensitive unclassified data, including Personal Identifiable Information (PII), Protected Health Information (PHI), Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), criminal justice information (CJI), and financial data.

January 4: The Top 20 Most Viewed AWS IAM Documentation Pages in 2016
The following 20 pages were the most viewed AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) documentation pages in 2016. I have included a brief description with each link to give you a clearer idea of what each page covers. Use this list to see what other people have been viewing and perhaps to pique your own interest about a topic you’ve been meaning to research.

January 3: The Most Viewed AWS Security Blog Posts in 2016
The following 10 posts were the most viewed AWS Security Blog posts that we published during 2016. You can use this list as a guide to catch up on your blog reading or even read a post again that you found particularly useful.

January 3: How to Monitor AWS Account Configuration Changes and API Calls to Amazon EC2 Security Groups
You can use AWS security controls to detect and mitigate risks to your AWS resources. The purpose of each security control is defined by its control objective. For example, the control objective of an Amazon VPC security group is to permit only designated traffic to enter or leave a network interface. Let’s say you have an Internet-facing e-commerce website, and your security administrator has determined that only HTTP (TCP port 80) and HTTPS (TCP 443) traffic should be allowed access to the public subnet. As a result, your administrator configures a security group to meet this control objective. What if, though, someone were to inadvertently change this security group’s rules and enable FTP or other protocols to access the public subnet from any location on the Internet? That expanded access could weaken the security posture of your assets. Consequently, your administrator might need to monitor the integrity of your company’s security controls so that the controls maintain their desired effectiveness. In this blog post, I explore two methods for detecting unintended changes to VPC security groups. The two methods address not only control objectives but also control failures.

If you have questions about or issues with implementing the solutions in any of these posts, please start a new thread on the forum identified near the end of each post.

– Craig

How to Help Protect Dynamic Web Applications Against DDoS Attacks by Using Amazon CloudFront and Amazon Route 53

Post Syndicated from Holly Willey original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/how-to-protect-dynamic-web-applications-against-ddos-attacks-by-using-amazon-cloudfront-and-amazon-route-53/

Using a content delivery network (CDN) such as Amazon CloudFront to cache and serve static text and images or downloadable objects such as media files and documents is a common strategy to improve webpage load times, reduce network bandwidth costs, lessen the load on web servers, and mitigate distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. AWS WAF is a web application firewall that can be deployed on CloudFront to help protect your application against DDoS attacks by giving you control over which traffic to allow or block by defining security rules. When users access your application, the Domain Name System (DNS) translates human-readable domain names (for example, www.example.com) to machine-readable IP addresses (for example, 192.0.2.44). A DNS service, such as Amazon Route 53, can effectively connect users’ requests to a CloudFront distribution that proxies requests for dynamic content to the infrastructure hosting your application’s endpoints.

In this blog post, I show you how to deploy CloudFront with AWS WAF and Route 53 to help protect dynamic web applications (with dynamic content such as a response to user input) against DDoS attacks. The steps shown in this post are key to implementing the overall approach described in AWS Best Practices for DDoS Resiliency and enable the built-in, managed DDoS protection service, AWS Shield.

Background

AWS hosts CloudFront and Route 53 services on a distributed network of proxy servers in data centers throughout the world called edge locations. Using the global Amazon network of edge locations for application delivery and DNS service plays an important part in building a comprehensive defense against DDoS attacks for your dynamic web applications. These web applications can benefit from the increased security and availability provided by CloudFront and Route 53 as well as improving end users’ experience by reducing latency.

The following screenshot of an Amazon.com webpage shows how static and dynamic content can compose a dynamic web application that is delivered via HTTPS protocol for the encryption of user page requests as well as the pages that are returned by a web server.

Screenshot of an Amazon.com webpage with static and dynamic content

The following map shows the global Amazon network of edge locations available to serve static content and proxy requests for dynamic content back to the origin as of the writing of this blog post. For the latest list of edge locations, see AWS Global Infrastructure.

Map showing Amazon edge locations

How AWS Shield, CloudFront, and Route 53 work to help protect against DDoS attacks

To help keep your dynamic web applications available when they are under DDoS attack, the steps in this post enable AWS Shield Standard by configuring your applications behind CloudFront and Route 53. AWS Shield Standard protects your resources from common, frequently occurring network and transport layer DDoS attacks. Attack traffic can be geographically isolated and absorbed using the capacity in edge locations close to the source. Additionally, you can configure geographical restrictions to help block attacks originating from specific countries.

The request-routing technology in CloudFront connects each client to the nearest edge location, as determined by continuously updated latency measurements. HTTP and HTTPS requests sent to CloudFront can be monitored, and access to your application resources can be controlled at edge locations using AWS WAF. Based on conditions that you specify in AWS WAF, such as the IP addresses that requests originate from or the values of query strings, traffic can be allowed, blocked, or allowed and counted for further investigation or remediation. The following diagram shows how static and dynamic web application content can originate from endpoint resources within AWS or your corporate data center. For more details, see How CloudFront Delivers Content and How CloudFront Works with Regional Edge Caches.

Route 53 DNS requests and subsequent application traffic routed through CloudFront are inspected inline. Always-on monitoring, anomaly detection, and mitigation against common infrastructure DDoS attacks such as SYN/ACK floods, UDP floods, and reflection attacks are built into both Route 53 and CloudFront. For a review of common DDoS attack vectors, see How to Help Prepare for DDoS Attacks by Reducing Your Attack Surface. When the SYN flood attack threshold is exceeded, SYN cookies are activated to avoid dropping connections from legitimate clients. Deterministic packet filtering drops malformed TCP packets and invalid DNS requests, only allowing traffic to pass that is valid for the service. Heuristics-based anomaly detection evaluates attributes such as type, source, and composition of traffic. Traffic is scored across many dimensions, and only the most suspicious traffic is dropped. This method allows you to avoid false positives while protecting application availability.

Route 53 is also designed to withstand DNS query floods, which are real DNS requests that can continue for hours and attempt to exhaust DNS server resources. Route 53 uses shuffle sharding and anycast striping to spread DNS traffic across edge locations and help protect the availability of the service.

The next four sections provide guidance about how to deploy CloudFront, Route 53, AWS WAF, and, optionally, AWS Shield Advanced.

Deploy CloudFront

To take advantage of application delivery with DDoS mitigations at the edge, start by creating a CloudFront distribution and configuring origins:

  1. Sign in to the AWS Management Console and open the CloudFront console
  2. Choose Create Distribution.
  3. On the first page of the Create Distribution Wizard, in the Web section, choose Get Started.
  4. Specify origin settings for the distribution. The following screenshot of the CloudFront console shows an example CloudFront distribution configured with an Elastic Load Balancing load balancer origin, as shown in the previous diagram. I have configured this example to set the Origin SSL Protocols to use TLSv1.2 and the Origin Protocol Policy to HTTP Only. For more information about creating an HTTPS listener for your ELB load balancer and requesting a certificate from AWS Certificate Manager (ACM), see Getting Started with Elastic Load BalancingSupported Regions, and Requiring HTTPS for Communication Between CloudFront and Your Custom Origin.
  1. Specify cache behavior settings for the distribution, as shown in the following screenshot. You can configure each URL path pattern with a set of associated cache behaviors. For dynamic web applications, set the Minimum TTL to 0 so that CloudFront will make a GET request with an If-Modified-Since header back to the origin. When CloudFront proxies traffic to the origin from edge locations and back, multiple concurrent requests for the same object are collapsed into a single request. The request is sent over a persistent connection from the edge location to the region over networks monitored by AWS. The use of a large initial TCP window size in CloudFront maximizes the available bandwidth, and TCP Fast Open (TFO) reduces latency.
  2. To ensure that all traffic to CloudFront is encrypted and to enable SSL termination from clients at global edge locations, specify Redirect HTTP to HTTPS for Viewer Protocol Policy. Moving SSL termination to CloudFront offloads computationally expensive SSL negotiation, helps mitigate SSL abuse, and reduces latency with the use of OCSP stapling and session tickets. For more information about options for serving HTTPS requests, see Choosing How CloudFront Serves HTTPS Requests. For dynamic web applications, set Allowed HTTP Methods to include all methods, set Forward Headers to All, and for Query String Forwarding and Caching, choose Forward all, cache based on all.
  1. Specify distribution settings for the distribution, as shown in the following screenshot. Enter your domain names in the Alternate Domain Names box and choose Custom SSL Certificate.
  2. Choose Create Distribution. Note the x.cloudfront.net Domain Name of the distribution. In the next section, you will configure Route 53 to route traffic to this CloudFront distribution domain name.

Configure Route 53

When you created a web distribution in the previous section, CloudFront assigned a domain name to the distribution, such as d111111abcdef8.cloudfront.net. You can use this domain name in the URLs for your content, such as: http://d111111abcdef8.cloudfront.net/logo.jpg.

Alternatively, you might prefer to use your own domain name in URLs, such as: http://example.com/logo.jpg. You can accomplish this by creating a Route 53 alias resource record set that routes dynamic web application traffic to your CloudFront distribution by using your domain name. Alias resource record sets are virtual records specific to Route 53 that are used to map alias resource record sets for your domain to your CloudFront distribution. Alias resource record sets are similar to CNAME records except there is no charge for DNS queries to Route 53 alias resource record sets mapped to AWS services. Alias resource record sets are also not visible to resolvers, and they can be created for the root domain (zone apex) as well as subdomains.

A hosted zone, similar to a DNS zone file, is a collection of records that belongs to a single parent domain name. Each hosted zone has four nonoverlapping name servers in a delegation set. If a DNS query is dropped, the client automatically retries the next name server. If you have not already registered a domain name and have not configured a hosted zone for your domain, complete these two prerequisite steps before proceeding:

After you have registered your domain name and configured your public hosted zone, follow these steps to create an alias resource record set:

  1. Sign in to the AWS Management Console and open the Route 53 console.
  2. In the navigation pane, choose Hosted Zones.
  3. Choose the name of the hosted zone for the domain that you want to use to route traffic to your CloudFront distribution.
  4. Choose Create Record Set.
  5. Specify the following values:
    • Name – Type the domain name that you want to use to route traffic to your CloudFront distribution. The default value is the name of the hosted zone. For example, if the name of the hosted zone is example.com and you want to use acme.example.com to route traffic to your distribution, type acme.
    • Type – Choose A – IPv4 address. If IPv6 is enabled for the distribution and you are creating a second resource record set, choose AAAA – IPv6 address.
    • Alias – Choose Yes.
    • Alias Target – In the CloudFront distributions section, choose the name that CloudFront assigned to the distribution when you created it.
    • Routing Policy – Accept the default value of Simple.
    • Evaluate Target Health – Accept the default value of No.
  6. Choose Create.
  7. If IPv6 is enabled for the distribution, repeat Steps 4 through 6. Specify the same settings except for the Type field, as explained in Step 5.

The following screenshot of the Route 53 console shows a Route 53 alias resource record set that is configured to map a domain name to a CloudFront distribution.

If your dynamic web application requires geo redundancy, you can use latency-based routing in Route 53 to run origin servers in different AWS regions. Route 53 is integrated with CloudFront to collect latency measurements from each edge location. With Route 53 latency-based routing, each CloudFront edge location goes to the region with the lowest latency for the origin fetch.

Enable AWS WAF

AWS WAF is a web application firewall that helps detect and mitigate web application layer DDoS attacks by inspecting traffic inline. Application layer DDoS attacks use well-formed but malicious requests to evade mitigation and consume application resources. You can define custom security rules (also called web ACLs) that contain a set of conditions, rules, and actions to block attacking traffic. After you define web ACLs, you can apply them to CloudFront distributions, and web ACLs are evaluated in the priority order you specified when you configured them. Real-time metrics and sampled web requests are provided for each web ACL.

You can configure AWS WAF whitelisting or blacklisting in conjunction with CloudFront geo restriction to prevent users in specific geographic locations from accessing your application. The AWS WAF API supports security automation such as blacklisting IP addresses that exceed request limits, which can be useful for mitigating HTTP flood attacks. Use the AWS WAF Security Automations Implementation Guide to implement rate-based blacklisting.

The following diagram shows how the (a) flow of CloudFront access logs files to an Amazon S3 bucket (b) provides the source data for the Lambda log parser function (c) to identify HTTP flood traffic and update AWS WAF web ACLs. As CloudFront receives requests on behalf of your dynamic web application, it sends access logs to an S3 bucket, triggering the Lambda log parser. The Lambda function parses CloudFront access logs to identify suspicious behavior, such as an unusual number of requests or errors, and it automatically updates your AWS WAF rules to block subsequent requests from the IP addresses in question for a predefined amount of time that you specify.

Diagram of the process

In addition to automated rate-based blacklisting to help protect against HTTP flood attacks, prebuilt AWS CloudFormation templates are available to simplify the configuration of AWS WAF for a proactive application-layer security defense. The following diagram provides an overview of CloudFormation template input into the creation of the CommonAttackProtection stack that includes AWS WAF web ACLs used to block, allow, or count requests that meet the criteria defined in each rule.

Diagram of CloudFormation template input into the creation of the CommonAttackProtection stack

To implement these application layer protections, follow the steps in Tutorial: Quickly Setting Up AWS WAF Protection Against Common Attacks. After you have created your AWS WAF web ACLs, you can assign them to your CloudFront distribution by updating the settings.

  1. Sign in to the AWS Management Console and open the CloudFront console.
  2. Choose the link under the ID column for your CloudFront distribution.
  3. Choose Edit under the General
  4. Choose your AWS WAF Web ACL from the drop-down
  5. Choose Yes, Edit.

Activate AWS Shield Advanced (optional)

Deploying CloudFront, Route 53, and AWS WAF as described in this post enables the built-in DDoS protections for your dynamic web applications that are included with AWS Shield Standard. (There is no upfront cost or charge for AWS Shield Standard beyond the normal pricing for CloudFront, Route 53, and AWS WAF.) AWS Shield Standard is designed to meet the needs of many dynamic web applications.

For dynamic web applications that have a high risk or history of frequent, complex, or high volume DDoS attacks, AWS Shield Advanced provides additional DDoS mitigation capacity, attack visibility, cost protection, and access to the AWS DDoS Response Team (DRT). For more information about AWS Shield Advanced pricing, see AWS Shield Advanced pricing. To activate advanced protection services, follow these steps:

  1. Sign in to the AWS Management Console and open the AWS WAF console.
  2. If this is your first time signing in to the AWS WAF console, choose Get started with AWS Shield Advanced. Otherwise, choose Protected resources.
  3. Choose Activate AWS Shield Advanced.
  4. Choose the resource type and resource to protect.
  5. For Name, enter a friendly name that will help you identify the AWS resources that are protected. For example, My CloudFront AWS Shield Advanced distributions.
  6. (Optional) For Web DDoS attack, select Enable. You will be prompted to associate an existing web ACL with these resources, or create a new ACL if you don’t have any yet.
  7. Choose Add DDoS protection.

Summary

In this blog post, I outline the steps to deploy CloudFront and configure Route 53 in front of your dynamic web application to leverage the global Amazon network of edge locations for DDoS resiliency. The post also provides guidance about enabling AWS WAF for application layer traffic monitoring and automated rules creation to block malicious traffic. I also cover the optional steps to activate AWS Shield Advanced, which helps build a more comprehensive defense against DDoS attacks for your dynamic web applications.

If you have comments about this post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about or issues implementing this solution, please open a new thread on the AWS WAF forum.

– Holly

How to Protect Your Web Application Against DDoS Attacks by Using Amazon Route 53 and an External Content Delivery Network

Post Syndicated from Shawn Marck original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/how-to-protect-your-web-application-against-ddos-attacks-by-using-amazon-route-53-and-a-content-delivery-network/

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are attempts by a malicious actor to flood a network, system, or application with more traffic, connections, or requests than it is able to handle. To protect your web application against DDoS attacks, you can use AWS Shield, a DDoS protection service that AWS provides automatically to all AWS customers at no additional charge. You can use AWS Shield in conjunction with DDoS-resilient web services such as Amazon CloudFront and Amazon Route 53 to improve your ability to defend against DDoS attacks. Learn more about architecting for DDoS resiliency by reading the AWS Best Practices for DDoS Resiliency whitepaper.

In this blog post, I show how you can help protect the zone apex (also known as the root domain) of your web application by using Route 53 to perform a secure redirect to your externally hosted content delivery network (CDN) distribution.

Background

When browsing the Internet, a user might type example.com instead of www.example.com. To make sure these requests are routed properly, it is necessary to create a Route 53 alias resource record set for the zone apex. For example.com, this would be an alias resource record set without any subdomain (www) defined. With Route 53, you can use an alias resource record set to point www or your zone apex directly at a CloudFront distribution. As a result, anyone resolving example.com or www.example.com will see only the CloudFront distribution. This makes it difficult for a malicious actor to find and attack your application origin.

You can also use Route 53 to route end users to a CDN outside AWS. The CDN provider will ask you to create a CNAME alias resource record set to point www.example.com to your CDN distribution’s hostname. Unfortunately, it is not possible to point your zone apex with a CNAME alias resource record set because a zone apex cannot be a CNAME. As a result, users who type example.com without www will not be routed to your web application unless you point the zone apex directly to your application origin.

The benefit of a secure redirect from the zone apex to www is that it helps protect your origin from being exposed to direct attacks.

Solution overview

The following solution diagram shows the AWS services this solution uses and how the solution uses them.

Diagram showing how AWS services are used in this post's solution

Here is how the process works:

  1. A user’s browser makes a DNS request to Route 53.
  2. Route 53 has a hosted zone for the example.com domain.
  3. The hosted zone serves the record:
    1. If the request is for the apex zone, the alias resource record set for the CloudFront distribution is served.
    2. If the request is for the www subdomain, the CNAME for the externally hosted CDN is served.
  4. CloudFront forwards the request to Amazon S3.
  5. S3 performs a secure redirect from example.com to www.example.com.

Note: All of the steps in this blog post’s solution use example.com as a domain name. You must replace this domain name with your own domain name.

AWS services used in this solution

You will use three AWS services in this walkthrough to build your zone apex–to–external CDN distribution redirect:

  • Route 53 – This post assumes that you are already using Route 53 to route users to your web application, which provides you with protection against common DDoS attacks, including DNS query floods. To learn more about migrating to Route 53, see Getting Started with Amazon Route 53.
  • S3 – S3 is object storage with a simple web service interface to store and retrieve any amount of data from anywhere on the web. S3 also allows you to configure a bucket for website hosting. In this walkthrough, you will use the S3 website hosting feature to redirect users from example.com to www.example.com, which points to your externally hosted CDN.
  • CloudFront – When architecting your application for DDoS resiliency, it is important to protect origin resources, such as S3 buckets, from discovery by a malicious actor. This is known as obfuscation. In this walkthrough, you will use a CloudFront distribution to obfuscate your S3 bucket.

Prerequisites

The solution in this blog post assumes that you already have the following components as part of your architecture:

  1. A Route 53 hosted zone for your domain.
  2. A CNAME alias resource record set pointing to your CDN.

Deploy the solution

In this solution, you:

  1. Create an S3 bucket with HTTP redirection. This allows requests made to your zone apex to be redirected to your www subdomain.
  2. Create and configure a CloudFront web distribution. I use a CloudFront distribution in front of my S3 web redirect so that I can leverage the advanced DDoS protection and scale that is native to CloudFront.
  3. Configure an alias resource record set in your hosted zone. Alias resource record sets are similar to CNAME records, but you can set them at the zone apex.
  4. Validate that the redirect is working.

Step 1: Create an S3 bucket with HTTP redirection

The following steps show how to configure your S3 bucket as a static website that will perform HTTP redirects to your www URL:

  1. Open the AWS Management Console. Navigate to the S3 console and create an S3 bucket in the region of your choice.
  2. Configure static website hosting to redirect all requests to another host name:
    1. Choose the S3 bucket you just created and then choose Properties.
      Screenshot showing choosing the S3 bucket and the Properties button
    2. Choose Static Website Hosting.
      Screenshot of choosing Static Website Hosting
    3. Choose Redirect all requests to another host name, and type your zone apex (root domain) in the Redirect all requests to box, as shown in the following screenshot.
      Screenshot of Static Website Hosting settings to choose

Note: At the top of this tab, you will see an endpoint. Copy the endpoint because you will need it in Step 2 when you configure the CloudFront distribution. In this example, the endpoint is example-com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com.

Step 2: Create and configure a CloudFront web distribution

The following steps show how to create a CloudFront web distribution that protects the S3 bucket:

  1. From the AWS Management Console, choose CloudFront.
  2. On the first page of the Create Distribution Wizard, in the Web section, choose Get Started.
  3. The Create Distribution page has many values you can specify. For this walkthrough, you need to specify only two settings:
    1. Origin Settings:
      • Origin Domain Name –When you click in this box, a menu appears with AWS resources you can choose. Choose the S3 bucket you created in Step 1, or paste the endpoint URL you copied in Step 1. In this example, the endpoint is example-com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com.
        Screenshot of Origin Domain Name
    1. Distribution Settings:
      • Alternate Domain Names (CNAMEs) – Type the root domain (for this walkthrough, it is www.example.com).
        Screenshot of Alternate Domain Names
  4. Click Create Distribution.
  5. Wait for the CloudFront distribution to deploy completely before proceeding to Step 3. After CloudFront creates your distribution, the value of the Status column for your distribution will change from InProgress to Deployed. The distribution is then ready to process requests.

Step 3: Configure an alias resource record set in your hosted zone

In this step, you use Route 53 to configure an alias resource record set for your zone apex that resolves to the CloudFront distribution you made in Step 2:

  1. From the AWS Management Console, choose Route 53 and choose Hosted zones.
  2. On the Hosted zones page, choose your domain. This takes you to the Record sets page.
    Screenshot of choosing the domain on the Hosted zones page
  3. Click Create Record Set.
  4. Leave the Name box blank and choose Alias: Yes.
  5. Click the Alias Target box, and choose the CloudFront distribution you created in Step 2. If the distribution does not appear in the list automatically, you can copy and paste the name exactly as it appears in the CloudFront console.
  6. Click Create.
    Screenshot of creating the record set

Step 4: Validate that the redirect is working

To confirm that you have correctly configured all components of this solution and your zone apex is redirecting to the www domain as expected, open a browser and navigate to your zone apex. In this walkthrough, the zone apex is http://example.com and it should redirect automatically to http://www.example.com.

Summary

In this post, I showed how you can help protect your web application against DDoS attacks by using Route 53 to perform a secure redirect to your externally hosted CDN distribution. This helps protect your origin from being exposed to direct DDoS attacks.

If you have comments about this blog post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about implementing the solution in this blog post, start a new thread in the Route 53 forum.

– Shawn