Tag Archives: crypto

The Benefits of Side Projects

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/the-benefits-of-side-projects/

Side projects are the things you do at home, after work, for your own “entertainment”, or to satisfy your desire to learn new stuff, in case your workplace doesn’t give you that opportunity (or at least not enough of it). Side projects are also a way to build stuff that you think is valuable but not necessarily “commercialisable”. Many side projects are open-sourced sooner or later and some of them contribute to the pool of tools at other people’s disposal.

I’ve outlined one recommendation about side projects before – do them with technologies that are new to you, so that you learn important things that will keep you better positioned in the software world.

But there are more benefits than that – serendipitous benefits, for example. And I’d like to tell some personal stories about that. I’ll focus on a few examples from my list of side projects to show how, through a sort-of butterfly effect, they helped shape my career.

The computoser project, no matter how cool algorithmic music composition, didn’t manage to have much of a long term impact. But it did teach me something apart from niche musical theory – how to read a bulk of scientific papers (mostly computer science) and understand them without being formally trained in the particular field. We’ll see how that was useful later.

Then there was the “State alerts” project – a website that scraped content from public institutions in my country (legislation, legislation proposals, decisions by regulators, new tenders, etc.), made them searchable, and “subscribable” – so that you get notified when a keyword of interest is mentioned in newly proposed legislation, for example. (I obviously subscribed for “information technologies” and “electronic”).

And that project turned out to have a significant impact on the following years. First, I chose a new technology to write it with – Scala. Which turned out to be of great use when I started working at TomTom, and on the 3rd day I was transferred to a Scala project, which was way cooler and much more complex than the original one I was hired for. It was a bit ironic, as my colleagues had just read that “I don’t like Scala” a few weeks earlier, but nevertheless, that was one of the most interesting projects I’ve worked on, and it went on for two years. Had I not known Scala, I’d probably be gone from TomTom much earlier (as the other project was restructured a few times), and I would not have learned many of the scalability, architecture and AWS lessons that I did learn there.

But the very same project had an even more important follow-up. Because if its “civic hacking” flavour, I was invited to join an informal group of developers (later officiated as an NGO) who create tools that are useful for society (something like MySociety.org). That group gathered regularly, discussed both tools and policies, and at some point we put up a list of policy priorities that we wanted to lobby policy makers. One of them was open source for the government, the other one was open data. As a result of our interaction with an interim government, we donated the official open data portal of my country, functioning to this day.

As a result of that, a few months later we got a proposal from the deputy prime minister’s office to “elect” one of the group for an advisor to the cabinet. And we decided that could be me. So I went for it and became advisor to the deputy prime minister. The job has nothing to do with anything one could imagine, and it was challenging and fascinating. We managed to pass legislation, including one that requires open source for custom projects, eID and open data. And all of that would not have been possible without my little side project.

As for my latest side project, LogSentinel – it became my current startup company. And not without help from the previous two mentioned above – the computer science paper reading was of great use when I was navigating the crypto papers landscape, and from the government job I not only gained invaluable legal knowledge, but I also “got” a co-founder.

Some other side projects died without much fanfare, and that’s fine. But the ones above shaped my “story” in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.

And I agree that such serendipitous chain of events could have happened without side projects – I could’ve gotten these opportunities by meeting someone at a bar (unlikely, but who knows). But we, as software engineers, are capable of tilting chance towards us by utilizing our skills. Side projects are our “extracurricular activities”, and they often lead to unpredictable, but rather positive chains of events. They would rarely be the only factor, but they are certainly great at unlocking potential.

The post The Benefits of Side Projects appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Canonical on trust and security in the Snap Store

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/754502/rss

Here’s a
posting from Canonical
concerning the cryptocurrency-mining app that
was discovered in its Snap Store. “Several years ago when we started
the work on snap packages, we understood that we could not instantly
implement an alternative that was completely safe from all perspectives. In
addition to being safe, it had to be useful. So the challenge we gave
ourselves was to significantly improve the situation immediately, and then
pave the road for incremental improvements that could be rolled out

Securing Your Cryptocurrency

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/backing-up-your-cryptocurrency/

Securing Your Cryptocurrency

In our blog post on Tuesday, Cryptocurrency Security Challenges, we wrote about the two primary challenges faced by anyone interested in safely and profitably participating in the cryptocurrency economy: 1) make sure you’re dealing with reputable and ethical companies and services, and, 2) keep your cryptocurrency holdings safe and secure.

In this post, we’re going to focus on how to make sure you don’t lose any of your cryptocurrency holdings through accident, theft, or carelessness. You do that by backing up the keys needed to sell or trade your currencies.

$34 Billion in Lost Value

Of the 16.4 million bitcoins said to be in circulation in the middle of 2017, close to 3.8 million may have been lost because their owners no longer are able to claim their holdings. Based on today’s valuation, that could total as much as $34 billion dollars in lost value. And that’s just bitcoins. There are now over 1,500 different cryptocurrencies, and we don’t know how many of those have been misplaced or lost.

Now that some cryptocurrencies have reached (at least for now) staggering heights in value, it’s likely that owners will be more careful in keeping track of the keys needed to use their cryptocurrencies. For the ones already lost, however, the owners have been separated from their currencies just as surely as if they had thrown Benjamin Franklins and Grover Clevelands over the railing of a ship.

The Basics of Securing Your Cryptocurrencies

In our previous post, we reviewed how cryptocurrency keys work, and the common ways owners can keep track of them. A cryptocurrency owner needs two keys to use their currencies: a public key that can be shared with others is used to receive currency, and a private key that must be kept secure is used to spend or trade currency.

Many wallets and applications allow the user to require extra security to access them, such as a password, or iris, face, or thumb print scan. If one of these options is available in your wallets, take advantage of it. Beyond that, it’s essential to back up your wallet, either using the backup feature built into some applications and wallets, or manually backing up the data used by the wallet. When backing up, it’s a good idea to back up the entire wallet, as some wallets require additional private data to operate that might not be apparent.

No matter which backup method you use, it is important to back up often and have multiple backups, preferable in different locations. As with any valuable data, a 3-2-1 backup strategy is good to follow, which ensures that you’ll have a good backup copy if anything goes wrong with one or more copies of your data.

One more caveat, don’t reuse passwords. This applies to all of your accounts, but is especially important for something as critical as your finances. Don’t ever use the same password for more than one account. If security is breached on one of your accounts, someone could connect your name or ID with other accounts, and will attempt to use the password there, as well. Consider using a password manager such as LastPass or 1Password, which make creating and using complex and unique passwords easy no matter where you’re trying to sign in.

Approaches to Backing Up Your Cryptocurrency Keys

There are numerous ways to be sure your keys are backed up. Let’s take them one by one.

1. Automatic backups using a backup program

If you’re using a wallet program on your computer, for example, Bitcoin Core, it will store your keys, along with other information, in a file. For Bitcoin Core, that file is wallet.dat. Other currencies will use the same or a different file name and some give you the option to select a name for the wallet file.

To back up the wallet.dat or other wallet file, you might need to tell your backup program to explicitly back up that file. Users of Backblaze Backup don’t have to worry about configuring this, since by default, Backblaze Backup will back up all data files. You should determine where your particular cryptocurrency, wallet, or application stores your keys, and make sure the necessary file(s) are backed up if your backup program requires you to select which files are included in the backup.

Backblaze B2 is an option for those interested in low-cost and high security cloud storage of their cryptocurrency keys. Backblaze B2 supports 2-factor verification for account access, works with a number of apps that support automatic backups with encryption, error-recovery, and versioning, and offers an API and command-line interface (CLI), as well. The first 10GB of storage is free, which could be all one needs to store encrypted cryptocurrency keys.

2. Backing up by exporting keys to a file

Apps and wallets will let you export your keys from your app or wallet to a file. Once exported, your keys can be stored on a local drive, USB thumb drive, DAS, NAS, or in the cloud with any cloud storage or sync service you wish. Encrypting the file is strongly encouraged — more on that later. If you use 1Password or LastPass, or other secure notes program, you also could store your keys there.

3. Backing up by saving a mnemonic recovery seed

A mnemonic phrase, mnemonic recovery phrase, or mnemonic seed is a list of words that stores all the information needed to recover a cryptocurrency wallet. Many wallets will have the option to generate a mnemonic backup phrase, which can be written down on paper. If the user’s computer no longer works or their hard drive becomes corrupted, they can download the same wallet software again and use the mnemonic recovery phrase to restore their keys.

The phrase can be used by anyone to recover the keys, so it must be kept safe. Mnemonic phrases are an excellent way of backing up and storing cryptocurrency and so they are used by almost all wallets.

A mnemonic recovery seed is represented by a group of easy to remember words. For example:

eye female unfair moon genius pipe nuclear width dizzy forum cricket know expire purse laptop scale identify cube pause crucial day cigar noise receive

The above words represent the following seed:

0a5b25e1dab6039d22cd57469744499863962daba9d2844243fec 9c0313c1448d1a0b2cd9e230a78775556f9b514a8be45802c2808e fd449a20234e9262dfa69

These words have certain properties:

  • The first four letters are enough to unambiguously identify the word.
  • Similar words are avoided (such as: build and built).

Bitcoin and most other cryptocurrencies such as Litecoin, Ethereum, and others use mnemonic seeds that are 12 to 24 words long. Other currencies might use different length seeds.

4. Physical backups — Paper, Metal

Some cryptocurrency holders believe that their backup, or even all their cryptocurrency account information, should be stored entirely separately from the internet to avoid any risk of their information being compromised through hacks, exploits, or leaks. This type of storage is called “cold storage.” One method of cold storage involves printing out the keys to a piece of paper and then erasing any record of the keys from all computer systems. The keys can be entered into a program from the paper when needed, or scanned from a QR code printed on the paper.

Printed public and private keys

Printed public and private keys

Some who go to extremes suggest separating the mnemonic needed to access an account into individual pieces of paper and storing those pieces in different locations in the home or office, or even different geographical locations. Some say this is a bad idea since it could be possible to reconstruct the mnemonic from one or more pieces. How diligent you wish to be in protecting these codes is up to you.

Mnemonic recovery phrase booklet

Mnemonic recovery phrase booklet

There’s another option that could make you the envy of your friends. That’s the CryptoSteel wallet, which is a stainless steel metal case that comes with more than 250 stainless steel letter tiles engraved on each side. Codes and passwords are assembled manually from the supplied part-randomized set of tiles. Users are able to store up to 96 characters worth of confidential information. Cryptosteel claims to be fireproof, waterproof, and shock-proof.

image of a Cryptosteel cold storage device

Cryptosteel cold wallet

Of course, if you leave your Cryptosteel wallet in the pocket of a pair of ripped jeans that gets thrown out by the housekeeper, as happened to the character Russ Hanneman on the TV show Silicon Valley in last Sunday’s episode, then you’re out of luck. That fictional billionaire investor lost a USB drive with $300 million in cryptocoins. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to you.

Encryption & Security

Whether you store your keys on your computer, an external disk, a USB drive, DAS, NAS, or in the cloud, you want to make sure that no one else can use those keys. The best way to handle that is to encrypt the backup.

With Backblaze Backup for Windows and Macintosh, your backups are encrypted in transmission to the cloud and on the backup server. Users have the option to add an additional level of security by adding a Personal Encryption Key (PEK), which secures their private key. Your cryptocurrency backup files are secure in the cloud. Using our web or mobile interface, previous versions of files can be accessed, as well.

Our object storage cloud offering, Backblaze B2, can be used with a variety of applications for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. With B2, cryptocurrency users can choose whichever method of encryption they wish to use on their local computers and then upload their encrypted currency keys to the cloud. Depending on the client used, versioning and life-cycle rules can be applied to the stored files.

Other backup programs and systems provide some or all of these capabilities, as well. If you are backing up to a local drive, it is a good idea to encrypt the local backup, which is an option in some backup programs.

Address Security

Some experts recommend using a different address for each cryptocurrency transaction. Since the address is not the same as your wallet, this means that you are not creating a new wallet, but simply using a new identifier for people sending you cryptocurrency. Creating a new address is usually as easy as clicking a button in the wallet.

One of the chief advantages of using a different address for each transaction is anonymity. Each time you use an address, you put more information into the public ledger (blockchain) about where the currency came from or where it went. That means that over time, using the same address repeatedly could mean that someone could map your relationships, transactions, and incoming funds. The more you use that address, the more information someone can learn about you. For more on this topic, refer to Address reuse.

Note that a downside of using a paper wallet with a single key pair (type-0 non-deterministic wallet) is that it has the vulnerabilities listed above. Each transaction using that paper wallet will add to the public record of transactions associated with that address. Newer wallets, i.e. “deterministic” or those using mnemonic code words support multiple addresses and are now recommended.

There are other approaches to keeping your cryptocurrency transaction secure. Here are a couple of them.


Multi-signature refers to requiring more than one key to authorize a transaction, much like requiring more than one key to open a safe. It is generally used to divide up responsibility for possession of cryptocurrency. Standard transactions could be called “single-signature transactions” because transfers require only one signature — from the owner of the private key associated with the currency address (public key). Some wallets and apps can be configured to require more than one signature, which means that a group of people, businesses, or other entities all must agree to trade in the cryptocurrencies.

Deep Cold Storage

Deep cold storage ensures the entire transaction process happens in an offline environment. There are typically three elements to deep cold storage.

First, the wallet and private key are generated offline, and the signing of transactions happens on a system not connected to the internet in any manner. This ensures it’s never exposed to a potentially compromised system or connection.

Second, details are secured with encryption to ensure that even if the wallet file ends up in the wrong hands, the information is protected.

Third, storage of the encrypted wallet file or paper wallet is generally at a location or facility that has restricted access, such as a safety deposit box at a bank.

Deep cold storage is used to safeguard a large individual cryptocurrency portfolio held for the long term, or for trustees holding cryptocurrency on behalf of others, and is possibly the safest method to ensure a crypto investment remains secure.

Keep Your Software Up to Date

You should always make sure that you are using the latest version of your app or wallet software, which includes important stability and security fixes. Installing updates for all other software on your computer or mobile device is also important to keep your wallet environment safer.

One Last Thing: Think About Your Testament

Your cryptocurrency funds can be lost forever if you don’t have a backup plan for your peers and family. If the location of your wallets or your passwords is not known by anyone when you are gone, there is no hope that your funds will ever be recovered. Taking a bit of time on these matters can make a huge difference.

To the Moon*

Are you comfortable with how you’re managing and backing up your cryptocurrency wallets and keys? Do you have a suggestion for keeping your cryptocurrencies safe that we missed above? Please let us know in the comments.

*To the Moon — Crypto slang for a currency that reaches an optimistic price projection.

The post Securing Your Cryptocurrency appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Cryptocurrency Security Challenges

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

Physical coins representing cyrptocurrencies

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

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

Some Advantages of Cryptocurrency

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor — Buyer Beware

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

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

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

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

Keys To the Cryptocurrency Kingdom — Public and Private

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

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

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

Blockchain process

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

What is a cryptocurrency address?

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

The Cryptocurrency Wallet

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

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

What Are the Differences Between Hot and Cold Wallets?

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

Bread mobile app screenshot

A “hot” wallet, the Bread mobile app

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

Trezor hardware wallet

A “cold” wallet, the Trezor hardware wallet

Ledger Nano S hardware wallet

A “cold” wallet, the Ledger Nano S

Bitcoin paper wallet

A “cold” Bitcoin paper wallet

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

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

How to Keep your Keys, and Cryptocurrency Secure

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

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

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

Ray Ozzie’s Encryption Backdoor

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/05/ray_ozzies_encr.html

Last month, Wired published a long article about Ray Ozzie and his supposed new scheme for adding a backdoor in encrypted devices. It’s a weird article. It paints Ozzie’s proposal as something that “attains the impossible” and “satisfies both law enforcement and privacy purists,” when (1) it’s barely a proposal, and (2) it’s essentially the same key escrow scheme we’ve been hearing about for decades.

Basically, each device has a unique public/private key pair and a secure processor. The public key goes into the processor and the device, and is used to encrypt whatever user key encrypts the data. The private key is stored in a secure database, available to law enforcement on demand. The only other trick is that for law enforcement to use that key, they have to put the device in some sort of irreversible recovery mode, which means it can never be used again. That’s basically it.

I have no idea why anyone is talking as if this were anything new. Several cryptographers have already explained why this key escrow scheme is no better than any other key escrow scheme. The short answer is (1) we won’t be able to secure that database of backdoor keys, (2) we don’t know how to build the secure coprocessor the scheme requires, and (3) it solves none of the policy problems around the whole system. This is the typical mistake non-cryptographers make when they approach this problem: they think that the hard part is the cryptography to create the backdoor. That’s actually the easy part. The hard part is ensuring that it’s only used by the good guys, and there’s nothing in Ozzie’s proposal that addresses any of that.

I worry that this kind of thing is damaging in the long run. There should be some rule that any backdoor or key escrow proposal be a fully specified proposal, not just some cryptography and hand-waving notions about how it will be used in practice. And before it is analyzed and debated, it should have to satisfy some sort of basic security analysis. Otherwise, we’ll be swatting pseudo-proposals like this one, while those on the other side of this debate become increasingly convinced that it’s possible to design one of these things securely.

Already people are using the National Academies report on backdoors for law enforcement as evidence that engineers are developing workable and secure backdoors. Writing in Lawfare, Alan Z. Rozenshtein claims that the report — and a related New York Times story — “undermine the argument that secure third-party access systems are so implausible that it’s not even worth trying to develop them.” Susan Landau effectively corrects this misconception, but the damage is done.

Here’s the thing: it’s not hard to design and build a backdoor. What’s hard is building the systems — both technical and procedural — around them. Here’s Rob Graham:

He’s only solving the part we already know how to solve. He’s deliberately ignoring the stuff we don’t know how to solve. We know how to make backdoors, we just don’t know how to secure them.

A bunch of us cryptographers have already explained why we don’t think this sort of thing will work in the foreseeable future. We write:

Exceptional access would force Internet system developers to reverse “forward secrecy” design practices that seek to minimize the impact on user privacy when systems are breached. The complexity of today’s Internet environment, with millions of apps and globally connected services, means that new law enforcement requirements are likely to introduce unanticipated, hard to detect security flaws. Beyond these and other technical vulnerabilities, the prospect of globally deployed exceptional access systems raises difficult problems about how such an environment would be governed and how to ensure that such systems would respect human rights and the rule of law.

Finally, Matthew Green:

The reason so few of us are willing to bet on massive-scale key escrow systems is that we’ve thought about it and we don’t think it will work. We’ve looked at the threat model, the usage model, and the quality of hardware and software that exists today. Our informed opinion is that there’s no detection system for key theft, there’s no renewability system, HSMs are terrifically vulnerable (and the companies largely staffed with ex-intelligence employees), and insiders can be suborned. We’re not going to put the data of a few billion people on the line an environment where we believe with high probability that the system will fail.

EDITED TO ADD (5/14): An analysis of the proposal.

Bad Software Is Our Fault

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/bad-software-is-our-fault/

Bad software is everywhere. One can even claim that every software is bad. Cool companies, tech giants, established companies, all produce bad software. And no, yours is not an exception.

Who’s to blame for bad software? It’s all complicated and many factors are intertwined – there’s business requirements, there’s organizational context, there’s lack of sufficient skilled developers, there’s the inherent complexity of software development, there’s leaky abstractions, reliance on 3rd party software, consequences of wrong business and purchase decisions, time limitations, flawed business analysis, etc. So yes, despite the catchy title, I’m aware it’s actually complicated.

But in every “it’s complicated” scenario, there’s always one or two factors that are decisive. All of them contribute somehow, but the major drivers are usually a handful of things. And in the case of base software, I think it’s the fault of technical people. Developers, architects, ops.

We don’t seem to care about best practices. And I’ll do some nasty generalizations here, but bear with me. We can spend hours arguing about tabs vs spaces, curly bracket on new line, git merge vs rebase, which IDE is better, which framework is better and other largely irrelevant stuff. But we tend to ignore the important aspects that span beyond the code itself. The context in which the code lives, the non-functional requirements – robustness, security, resilience, etc.

We don’t seem to get security. Even trivial stuff such as user authentication is almost always implemented wrong. These days Twitter and GitHub realized they have been logging plain-text passwords, for example, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Too often we ignore the security implications.

“But the business didn’t request the security features”, one may say. The business never requested 2-factor authentication, encryption at rest, PKI, secure (or any) audit trail, log masking, crypto shredding, etc., etc. Because the business doesn’t know these things – we do and we have to put them on the backlog and fight for them to be implemented. Each organization has its specifics and tech people can influence the backlog in different ways, but almost everywhere we can put things there and prioritize them.

The other aspect is testing. We should all be well aware by now that automated testing is mandatory. We have all the tools in the world for unit, functional, integration, performance and whatnot testing, and yet many software projects lack the necessary test coverage to be able to change stuff without accidentally breaking things. “But testing takes time, we don’t have it”. We are perfectly aware that testing saves time, as we’ve all had those “not again!” recurring bugs. And yet we think of all sorts of excuses – “let the QAs test it”, we have to ship that now, we’ll test it later”, “this is too trivial to be tested”, etc.

And you may say it’s not our job. We don’t define what has do be done, we just do it. We don’t define the budget, the scope, the features. We just write whatever has been decided. And that’s plain wrong. It’s not our job to make money out of our code, and it’s not our job to define what customers need, but apart from that everything is our job. The way the software is structured, the security aspects and security features, the stability of the code base, the way the software behaves in different environments. The non-functional requirements are our job, and putting them on the backlog is our job.

You’ve probably heard that every software becomes “legacy” after 6 months. And that’s because of us, our sloppiness, our inability to mitigate external factors and constraints. Too often we create a mess through “just doing our job”.

And of course that’s a generalization. I happen to know a lot of great professionals who don’t make these mistakes, who strive for excellence and implement things the right way. But our industry as a whole doesn’t. Our industry as a whole produces bad software. And it’s our fault, as developers – as the only people who know why a certain piece of software is bad.

In a talk of his, Bob Martin warns us of the risks of our sloppiness. We have been building websites so far, but we are more and more building stuff that interacts with the real world, directly and indirectly. Ultimately, lives may depend on our software (like the recent unfortunate death caused by a self-driving car). And I’ll agree with Uncle Bob that it’s high time we self-regulate as an industry, before some technically incompetent politician decides to do that.

How, I don’t know. We’ll have to think more about it. But I’m pretty sure it’s our fault that software is bad, and no amount of blaming the management, the budget, the timing, the tools or the process can eliminate our responsibility.

Why do I insist on bashing my fellow software engineers? Because if we start looking at software development with more responsibility; with the fact that if it fails, it’s our fault, then we’re more likely to get out of our current bug-ridden, security-flawed, fragile software hole and really become the experts of the future.

The post Bad Software Is Our Fault appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

NIST Issues Call for "Lightweight Cryptography" Algorithms

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/05/nist_issues_cal.html

This is interesting:

Creating these defenses is the goal of NIST’s lightweight cryptography initiative, which aims to develop cryptographic algorithm standards that can work within the confines of a simple electronic device. Many of the sensors, actuators and other micromachines that will function as eyes, ears and hands in IoT networks will work on scant electrical power and use circuitry far more limited than the chips found in even the simplest cell phone. Similar small electronics exist in the keyless entry fobs to newer-model cars and the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags used to locate boxes in vast warehouses.

All of these gadgets are inexpensive to make and will fit nearly anywhere, but common encryption methods may demand more electronic resources than they possess.

The NSA’s SIMON and SPECK would certainly qualify.

Security Vulnerabilities in VingCard Electronic Locks

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/security_vulner_14.html

Researchers have disclosed a massive vulnerability in the VingCard eletronic lock system, used in hotel rooms around the world:

With a $300 Proxmark RFID card reading and writing tool, any expired keycard pulled from the trash of a target hotel, and a set of cryptographic tricks developed over close to 15 years of on-and-off analysis of the codes Vingcard electronically writes to its keycards, they found a method to vastly narrow down a hotel’s possible master key code. They can use that handheld Proxmark device to cycle through all the remaining possible codes on any lock at the hotel, identify the correct one in about 20 tries, and then write that master code to a card that gives the hacker free reign to roam any room in the building. The whole process takes about a minute.


The two researchers say that their attack works only on Vingcard’s previous-generation Vision locks, not the company’s newer Visionline product. But they estimate that it nonetheless affects 140,000 hotels in more than 160 countries around the world; the researchers say that Vingcard’s Swedish parent company, Assa Abloy, admitted to them that the problem affects millions of locks in total. When WIRED reached out to Assa Abloy, however, the company put the total number of vulnerable locks somewhat lower, between 500,000 and a million.

Patching is a nightmare. It requires updating the firmware on every lock individually.

And the researchers speculate whether or not others knew of this hack:

The F-Secure researchers admit they don’t know if their Vinguard attack has occurred in the real world. But the American firm LSI, which trains law enforcement agencies in bypassing locks, advertises Vingcard’s products among those it promises to teach students to unlock. And the F-Secure researchers point to a 2010 assassination of a Palestinian Hamas official in a Dubai hotel, widely believed to have been carried out by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. The assassins in that case seemingly used a vulnerability in Vingcard locks to enter their target’s room, albeit one that required re-programming the lock. “Most probably Mossad has a capability to do something like this,” Tuominen says.

Slashdot post.

MyEtherWallet DNS Hack Causes 17 Million USD User Loss

Post Syndicated from Darknet original https://www.darknet.org.uk/2018/04/myetherwallet-dns-hack-causes-17-million-usd-user-loss/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=darknetfeed

MyEtherWallet DNS Hack Causes 17 Million USD User Loss

Big news in the crypto scene this week was that the MyEtherWallet DNS Hack that occured managed to collect about $17 Million USD worth of Ethereum in just a few hours.

The hack itself could have been MUCH bigger as it actually involved compromising 1300 Amazon AWS Route 53 DNS IP addresses, fortunately though only MEW was targetted resulting in the damage being contained in the cryptosphere (as far as we know anyway).

Read the rest of MyEtherWallet DNS Hack Causes 17 Million USD User Loss now! Only available at Darknet.

No, Ray Ozzie hasn’t solved crypto backdoors

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original https://blog.erratasec.com/2018/04/no-ray-ozzie-hasnt-solved-crypto.html

According to this Wired article, Ray Ozzie may have a solution to the crypto backdoor problem. No, he hasn’t. He’s only solving the part we already know how to solve. He’s deliberately ignoring the stuff we don’t know how to solve. We know how to make backdoors, we just don’t know how to secure them.

The vault doesn’t scale

Yes, Apple has a vault where they’ve successfully protected important keys. No, it doesn’t mean this vault scales. The more people and the more often you have to touch the vault, the less secure it becomes. We are talking thousands of requests per day from 100,000 different law enforcement agencies around the world. We are unlikely to protect this against incompetence and mistakes. We are definitely unable to secure this against deliberate attack.

A good analogy to Ozzie’s solution is LetsEncrypt for getting SSL certificates for your website, which is fairly scalable, using a private key locked in a vault for signing hundreds of thousands of certificates. That this scales seems to validate Ozzie’s proposal.

But at the same time, LetsEncrypt is easily subverted. LetsEncrypt uses DNS to verify your identity. But spoofing DNS is easy, as was recently shown in the recent BGP attack against a cryptocurrency. Attackers can create fraudulent SSL certificates with enough effort. We’ve got other protections against this, such as discovering and revoking the SSL bad certificate, so while damaging, it’s not catastrophic.

But with Ozzie’s scheme, equivalent attacks would be catastrophic, as it would lead to unlocking the phone and stealing all of somebody’s secrets.

In particular, consider what would happen if LetsEncrypt’s certificate was stolen (as Matthew Green points out). The consequence is that this would be detected and mass revocations would occur. If Ozzie’s master key were stolen, nothing would happen. Nobody would know, and evildoers would be able to freely decrypt phones. Ozzie claims his scheme can work because SSL works — but then his scheme includes none of the many protections necessary to make SSL work.

What I’m trying to show here is that in a lab, it all looks nice and pretty, but when attacked at scale, things break down — quickly. We have so much experience with failure at scale that we can judge Ozzie’s scheme as woefully incomplete. It’s not even up to the standard of SSL, and we have a long list of SSL problems.

Cryptography is about people more than math

We have a mathematically pure encryption algorithm called the “One Time Pad”. It can’t ever be broken, provably so with mathematics.

It’s also perfectly useless, as it’s not something humans can use. That’s why we use AES, which is vastly less secure (anything you encrypt today can probably be decrypted in 100 years). AES can be used by humans whereas One Time Pads cannot be. (I learned the fallacy of One Time Pad’s on my grandfather’s knee — he was a WW II codebreaker who broke German messages trying to futz with One Time Pads).

The same is true with Ozzie’s scheme. It focuses on the mathematical model but ignores the human element. We already know how to solve the mathematical problem in a hundred different ways. The part we don’t know how to secure is the human element.

How do we know the law enforcement person is who they say they are? How do we know the “trusted Apple employee” can’t be bribed? How can the law enforcement agent communicate securely with the Apple employee?

You think these things are theoretical, but they aren’t. Consider financial transactions. It used to be common that you could just email your bank/broker to wire funds into an account for such things as buying a house. Hackers have subverted that, intercepting messages, changing account numbers, and stealing millions. Most banks/brokers require additional verification before doing such transfers.

Let me repeat: Ozzie has only solved the part we already know how to solve. He hasn’t addressed these issues that confound us.

We still can’t secure security, much less secure backdoors

We already know how to decrypt iPhones: just wait a year or two for somebody to discover a vulnerability. FBI claims it’s “going dark”, but that’s only for timely decryption of phones. If they are willing to wait a year or two a vulnerability will eventually be found that allows decryption.

That’s what’s happened with the “GrayKey” device that’s been all over the news lately. Apple is fixing it so that it won’t work on new phones, but it works on old phones.

Ozzie’s solution is based on the assumption that iPhones are already secure against things like GrayKey. Like his assumption “if Apple already has a vault for private keys, then we have such vaults for backdoor keys”, Ozzie is saying “if Apple already had secure hardware/software to secure the phone, then we can use the same stuff to secure the backdoors”. But we don’t really have secure vaults and we don’t really have secure hardware/software to secure the phone.

Again, to stress this point, Ozzie is solving the part we already know how to solve, but ignoring the stuff we don’t know how to solve. His solution is insecure for the same reason phones are already insecure.

Locked phones aren’t the problem

Phones are general purpose computers. That means anybody can install an encryption app on the phone regardless of whatever other security the phone might provide. The police are powerless to stop this. Even if they make such encryption crime, then criminals will still use encryption.

That leads to a strange situation that the only data the FBI will be able to decrypt is that of people who believe they are innocent. Those who know they are guilty will install encryption apps like Signal that have no backdoors.

In the past this was rare, as people found learning new apps a barrier. These days, apps like Signal are so easy even drug dealers can figure out how to use them.

We know how to get Apple to give us a backdoor, just pass a law forcing them to. It may look like Ozzie’s scheme, it may be something more secure designed by Apple’s engineers. Sure, it will weaken security on the phone for everyone, but those who truly care will just install Signal. But again we are back to the problem that Ozzie’s solving the problem we know how to solve while ignoring the much larger problem, that of preventing people from installing their own encryption.

The FBI isn’t necessarily the problem

Ozzie phrases his solution in terms of U.S. law enforcement. Well, what about Europe? What about Russia? What about China? What about North Korea?

Technology is borderless. A solution in the United States that allows “legitimate” law enforcement requests will inevitably be used by repressive states for what we believe would be “illegitimate” law enforcement requests.

Ozzie sees himself as the hero helping law enforcement protect 300 million American citizens. He doesn’t see himself what he really is, the villain helping oppress 1.4 billion Chinese, 144 million Russians, and another couple billion living in oppressive governments around the world.


Ozzie pretends the problem is political, that he’s created a solution that appeases both sides. He hasn’t. He’s solved the problem we already know how to solve. He’s ignored all the problems we struggle with, the problems we claim make secure backdoors essentially impossible. I’ve listed some in this post, but there are many more. Any famous person can create a solution that convinces fawning editors at Wired Magazine, but if Ozzie wants to move forward he’s going to have to work harder to appease doubting cryptographers.

Two NSA Algorithms Rejected by the ISO

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

The ISO has rejected two symmetric encryption algorithms: SIMON and SPECK. These algorithms were both designed by the NSA and made public in 2013. They are optimized for small and low-cost processors like IoT devices.

The risk of using NSA-designed ciphers, of course, is that they include NSA-designed backdoors. Personally, I doubt that they’re backdoored. And I always like seeing NSA-designed cryptography (particularly its key schedules). It’s like examining alien technology.

Ransomware Update: Viruses Targeting Business IT Servers

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/ransomware-update-viruses-targeting-business-it-servers/

Ransomware warning message on computer

As ransomware attacks have grown in number in recent months, the tactics and attack vectors also have evolved. While the primary method of attack used to be to target individual computer users within organizations with phishing emails and infected attachments, we’re increasingly seeing attacks that target weaknesses in businesses’ IT infrastructure.

How Ransomware Attacks Typically Work

In our previous posts on ransomware, we described the common vehicles used by hackers to infect organizations with ransomware viruses. Most often, downloaders distribute trojan horses through malicious downloads and spam emails. The emails contain a variety of file attachments, which if opened, will download and run one of the many ransomware variants. Once a user’s computer is infected with a malicious downloader, it will retrieve additional malware, which frequently includes crypto-ransomware. After the files have been encrypted, a ransom payment is demanded of the victim in order to decrypt the files.

What’s Changed With the Latest Ransomware Attacks?

In 2016, a customized ransomware strain called SamSam began attacking the servers in primarily health care institutions. SamSam, unlike more conventional ransomware, is not delivered through downloads or phishing emails. Instead, the attackers behind SamSam use tools to identify unpatched servers running Red Hat’s JBoss enterprise products. Once the attackers have successfully gained entry into one of these servers by exploiting vulnerabilities in JBoss, they use other freely available tools and scripts to collect credentials and gather information on networked computers. Then they deploy their ransomware to encrypt files on these systems before demanding a ransom. Gaining entry to an organization through its IT center rather than its endpoints makes this approach scalable and especially unsettling.

SamSam’s methodology is to scour the Internet searching for accessible and vulnerable JBoss application servers, especially ones used by hospitals. It’s not unlike a burglar rattling doorknobs in a neighborhood to find unlocked homes. When SamSam finds an unlocked home (unpatched server), the software infiltrates the system. It is then free to spread across the company’s network by stealing passwords. As it transverses the network and systems, it encrypts files, preventing access until the victims pay the hackers a ransom, typically between $10,000 and $15,000. The low ransom amount has encouraged some victimized organizations to pay the ransom rather than incur the downtime required to wipe and reinitialize their IT systems.

The success of SamSam is due to its effectiveness rather than its sophistication. SamSam can enter and transverse a network without human intervention. Some organizations are learning too late that securing internet-facing services in their data center from attack is just as important as securing endpoints.

The typical steps in a SamSam ransomware attack are:

Attackers gain access to vulnerable server
Attackers exploit vulnerable software or weak/stolen credentials.
Attack spreads via remote access tools
Attackers harvest credentials, create SOCKS proxies to tunnel traffic, and abuse RDP to install SamSam on more computers in the network.
Ransomware payload deployed
Attackers run batch scripts to execute ransomware on compromised machines.
Ransomware demand delivered requiring payment to decrypt files
Demand amounts vary from victim to victim. Relatively low ransom amounts appear to be designed to encourage quick payment decisions.

What all the organizations successfully exploited by SamSam have in common is that they were running unpatched servers that made them vulnerable to SamSam. Some organizations had their endpoints and servers backed up, while others did not. Some of those without backups they could use to recover their systems chose to pay the ransom money.

Timeline of SamSam History and Exploits

Since its appearance in 2016, SamSam has been in the news with many successful incursions into healthcare, business, and government institutions.

March 2016
SamSam appears

SamSam campaign targets vulnerable JBoss servers
Attackers hone in on healthcare organizations specifically, as they’re more likely to have unpatched JBoss machines.

April 2016
SamSam finds new targets

SamSam begins targeting schools and government.
After initial success targeting healthcare, attackers branch out to other sectors.

April 2017
New tactics include RDP

Attackers shift to targeting organizations with exposed RDP connections, and maintain focus on healthcare.
An attack on Erie County Medical Center costs the hospital $10 million over three months of recovery.
Erie County Medical Center attacked by SamSam ransomware virus

January 2018
Municipalities attacked

• Attack on Municipality of Farmington, NM.
• Attack on Hancock Health.
Hancock Regional Hospital notice following SamSam attack
• Attack on Adams Memorial Hospital
• Attack on Allscripts (Electronic Health Records), which includes 180,000 physicians, 2,500 hospitals, and 7.2 million patients’ health records.

February 2018
Attack volume increases

• Attack on Davidson County, NC.
• Attack on Colorado Department of Transportation.
SamSam virus notification

March 2018
SamSam shuts down Atlanta

• Second attack on Colorado Department of Transportation.
• City of Atlanta suffers a devastating attack by SamSam.
The attack has far-reaching impacts — crippling the court system, keeping residents from paying their water bills, limiting vital communications like sewer infrastructure requests, and pushing the Atlanta Police Department to file paper reports.
Atlanta Ransomware outage alert
• SamSam campaign nets $325,000 in 4 weeks.
Infections spike as attackers launch new campaigns. Healthcare and government organizations are once again the primary targets.

How to Defend Against SamSam and Other Ransomware Attacks

The best way to respond to a ransomware attack is to avoid having one in the first place. If you are attacked, making sure your valuable data is backed up and unreachable by ransomware infection will ensure that your downtime and data loss will be minimal or none if you ever suffer an attack.

In our previous post, How to Recover From Ransomware, we listed the ten ways to protect your organization from ransomware.

  1. Use anti-virus and anti-malware software or other security policies to block known payloads from launching.
  2. Make frequent, comprehensive backups of all important files and isolate them from local and open networks. Cybersecurity professionals view data backup and recovery (74% in a recent survey) by far as the most effective solution to respond to a successful ransomware attack.
  3. Keep offline backups of data stored in locations inaccessible from any potentially infected computer, such as disconnected external storage drives or the cloud, which prevents them from being accessed by the ransomware.
  4. Install the latest security updates issued by software vendors of your OS and applications. Remember to patch early and patch often to close known vulnerabilities in operating systems, server software, browsers, and web plugins.
  5. Consider deploying security software to protect endpoints, email servers, and network systems from infection.
  6. Exercise cyber hygiene, such as using caution when opening email attachments and links.
  7. Segment your networks to keep critical computers isolated and to prevent the spread of malware in case of attack. Turn off unneeded network shares.
  8. Turn off admin rights for users who don’t require them. Give users the lowest system permissions they need to do their work.
  9. Restrict write permissions on file servers as much as possible.
  10. Educate yourself, your employees, and your family in best practices to keep malware out of your systems. Update everyone on the latest email phishing scams and human engineering aimed at turning victims into abettors.

Please Tell Us About Your Experiences with Ransomware

Have you endured a ransomware attack or have a strategy to avoid becoming a victim? Please tell us of your experiences in the comments.

The post Ransomware Update: Viruses Targeting Business IT Servers appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Security updates for Tuesday

Post Syndicated from ris original https://lwn.net/Articles/751454/rss

Security updates have been issued by CentOS (libvorbis and thunderbird), Debian (pjproject), Fedora (compat-openssl10, java-1.8.0-openjdk-aarch32, libid3tag, python-pip, python3, and python3-docs), Gentoo (ZendFramework), Oracle (thunderbird), Red Hat (ansible, gcc, glibc, golang, kernel, kernel-alt, kernel-rt, krb5, kubernetes, libvncserver, libvorbis, ntp, openssh, openssl, pcs, policycoreutils, qemu-kvm, and xdg-user-dirs), SUSE (openssl and openssl1), and Ubuntu (python-crypto, ubuntu-release-upgrader, and wayland).

Security updates for Monday

Post Syndicated from ris original https://lwn.net/Articles/751346/rss

Security updates have been issued by Arch Linux (openssl and zziplib), Debian (ldap-account-manager, ming, python-crypto, sam2p, sdl-image1.2, and squirrelmail), Fedora (bchunk, koji, libidn, librelp, nodejs, and php), Gentoo (curl, dhcp, libvirt, mailx, poppler, qemu, and spice-vdagent), Mageia (389-ds-base, aubio, cfitsio, libvncserver, nmap, and ntp), openSUSE (GraphicsMagick, ImageMagick, spice-gtk, and wireshark), Oracle (kubernetes), Slackware (patch), and SUSE (apache2 and openssl).

Linux kernel lockdown and UEFI Secure Boot

Post Syndicated from Matthew Garrett original https://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/50577.html

David Howells recently published the latest version of his kernel lockdown patchset. This is intended to strengthen the boundary between root and the kernel by imposing additional restrictions that prevent root from modifying the kernel at runtime. It’s not the first feature of this sort – /dev/mem no longer allows you to overwrite arbitrary kernel memory, and you can configure the kernel so only signed modules can be loaded. But the present state of things is that these security features can be easily circumvented (by using kexec to modify the kernel security policy, for instance).

Why do you want lockdown? If you’ve got a setup where you know that your system is booting a trustworthy kernel (you’re running a system that does cryptographic verification of its boot chain, or you built and installed the kernel yourself, for instance) then you can trust the kernel to keep secrets safe from even root. But if root is able to modify the running kernel, that guarantee goes away. As a result, it makes sense to extend the security policy from the boot environment up to the running kernel – it’s really just an extension of configuring the kernel to require signed modules.

The patchset itself isn’t hugely conceptually controversial, although there’s disagreement over the precise form of certain restrictions. But one patch has, because it associates whether or not lockdown is enabled with whether or not UEFI Secure Boot is enabled. There’s some backstory that’s important here.

Most kernel features get turned on or off by either build-time configuration or by passing arguments to the kernel at boot time. There’s two ways that this patchset allows a bootloader to tell the kernel to enable lockdown mode – it can either pass the lockdown argument on the kernel command line, or it can set the secure_boot flag in the bootparams structure that’s passed to the kernel. If you’re running in an environment where you’re able to verify the kernel before booting it (either through cryptographic validation of the kernel, or knowing that there’s a secret tied to the TPM that will prevent the system booting if the kernel’s been tampered with), you can turn on lockdown.

There’s a catch on UEFI systems, though – you can build the kernel so that it looks like an EFI executable, and then run it directly from the firmware. The firmware doesn’t know about Linux, so can’t populate the bootparam structure, and there’s no mechanism to enforce command lines so we can’t rely on that either. The controversial patch simply adds a kernel configuration option that automatically enables lockdown when UEFI secure boot is enabled and otherwise leaves it up to the user to choose whether or not to turn it on.

Why do we want lockdown enabled when booting via UEFI secure boot? UEFI secure boot is designed to prevent the booting of any bootloaders that the owner of the system doesn’t consider trustworthy[1]. But a bootloader is only software – the only thing that distinguishes it from, say, Firefox is that Firefox is running in user mode and has no direct access to the hardware. The kernel does have direct access to the hardware, and so there’s no meaningful distinction between what grub can do and what the kernel can do. If you can run arbitrary code in the kernel then you can use the kernel to boot anything you want, which defeats the point of UEFI Secure Boot. Linux distributions don’t want their kernels to be used to be used as part of an attack chain against other distributions or operating systems, so they enable lockdown (or equivalent functionality) for kernels booted this way.

So why not enable it everywhere? There’s a couple of reasons. The first is that some of the features may break things people need – for instance, some strange embedded apps communicate with PCI devices by mmap()ing resources directly from sysfs[2]. This is blocked by lockdown, which would break them. Distributions would then have to ship an additional kernel that had lockdown disabled (it’s not possible to just have a command line argument that disables it, because an attacker could simply pass that), and users would have to disable secure boot to boot that anyway. It’s easier to just tie the two together.

The second is that it presents a promise of security that isn’t really there if your system didn’t verify the kernel. If an attacker can replace your bootloader or kernel then the ability to modify your kernel at runtime is less interesting – they can just wait for the next reboot. Appearing to give users safety assurances that are much less strong than they seem to be isn’t good for keeping users safe.

So, what about people whose work is impacted by lockdown? Right now there’s two ways to get stuff blocked by lockdown unblocked: either disable secure boot[3] (which will disable it until you enable secure boot again) or press alt-sysrq-x (which will disable it until the next boot). Discussion has suggested that having an additional secure variable that disables lockdown without disabling secure boot validation might be helpful, and it’s not difficult to implement that so it’ll probably happen.

Overall: the patchset isn’t controversial, just the way it’s integrated with UEFI secure boot. The reason it’s integrated with UEFI secure boot is because that’s the policy most distributions want, since the alternative is to enable it everywhere even when it doesn’t provide real benefits but does provide additional support overhead. You can use it even if you’re not using UEFI secure boot. We should have just called it securelevel.

[1] Of course, if the owner of a system isn’t allowed to make that determination themselves, the same technology is restricting the freedom of the user. This is abhorrent, and sadly it’s the default situation in many devices outside the PC ecosystem – most of them not using UEFI. But almost any security solution that aims to prevent malicious software from running can also be used to prevent any software from running, and the problem here is the people unwilling to provide that policy to users rather than the security features.
[2] This is how X.org used to work until the advent of kernel modesetting
[3] If your vendor doesn’t provide a firmware option for this, run sudo mokutil –disable-validation

comment count unavailable comments

Security updates for Wednesday

Post Syndicated from ris original https://lwn.net/Articles/750902/rss

Security updates have been issued by Debian (apache2, ldap-account-manager, and openjdk-7), Fedora (libuv and nodejs), Gentoo (glibc and libxslt), Mageia (acpica-tools, openssl, and php), SUSE (clamav, coreutils, and libvirt), and Ubuntu (kernel, libraw, linux-hwe, linux-gcp, linux-oem, and python-crypto).

Free Nitrokey cryptographic cards for kernel developers

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/750879/rss

The Linux Foundation and Nitrokey have announced
a program whereby anybody who appears in the kernel’s MAINTAINERS file or
who has a
kernel.org email address can obtain a free Nitrokey Start crypto card. The
intent, of course, is that kernel developers will use these devices to
safeguard their GnuPG keys and, as a result, improve the security of the
kernel development process as a whole. “A digital smartcard token
like Nitrokey Start contains a cryptographic chip that is capable of
storing private keys and performing crypto operations directly on the token
itself. Because the key contents never leave the device, the operating
system of the computer into which the token is plugged in is not able to
retrieve the private keys themselves, therefore significantly limiting the
ways in which the keys can be leaked or stolen.

See this LWN article for a look at crypto cards.