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AWS IAM Policy Summaries Now Help You Identify Errors and Correct Permissions in Your IAM Policies

Post Syndicated from Joy Chatterjee original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/iam-policy-summaries-now-help-you-identify-errors-and-correct-permissions-in-your-iam-policies/

In March, we made it easier to view and understand the permissions in your AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies by using IAM policy summaries. Today, we updated policy summaries to help you identify and correct errors in your IAM policies. When you set permissions using IAM policies, for each action you specify, you must match that action to supported resources or conditions. Now, you will see a warning if these policy elements (Actions, Resources, and Conditions) defined in your IAM policy do not match.

When working with policies, you may find that although the policy has valid JSON syntax, it does not grant or deny the desired permissions because the Action element does not have an applicable Resource element or Condition element defined in the policy. For example, you may want to create a policy that allows users to view a specific Amazon EC2 instance. To do this, you create a policy that specifies ec2:DescribeInstances for the Action element and the Amazon Resource Name (ARN) of the instance for the Resource element. When testing this policy, you find AWS denies this access because ec2:DescribeInstances does not support resource-level permissions and requires access to list all instances. Therefore, to grant access to this Action element, you need to specify a wildcard (*) in the Resource element of your policy for this Action element in order for the policy to function correctly.

To help you identify and correct permissions, you will now see a warning in a policy summary if the policy has either of the following:

  • An action that does not support the resource specified in a policy.
  • An action that does not support the condition specified in a policy.

In this blog post, I walk through two examples of how you can use policy summaries to help identify and correct these types of errors in your IAM policies.

How to use IAM policy summaries to debug your policies

Example 1: An action does not support the resource specified in a policy

Let’s say a human resources (HR) representative, Casey, needs access to the personnel files stored in HR’s Amazon S3 bucket. To do this, I create the following policy to grant all actions that begin with s3:List. In addition, I grant access to s3:GetObject in the Action element of the policy. To ensure that Casey has access only to a specific bucket and not others, I specify the bucket ARN in the Resource element of the policy.

Note: This policy does not grant the desired permissions.

This policy does not work. Do not copy.
    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Sid": "ThisPolicyDoesNotGrantAllListandGetActions",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": ["s3:List*",
            "Resource": ["arn:aws:s3:::HumanResources"]

After I create the policy, HRBucketPermissions, I select this policy from the Policies page to view the policy summary. From here, I check to see if there are any warnings or typos in the policy. I see a warning at the top of the policy detail page because the policy does not grant some permissions specified in the policy, which is caused by a mismatch among the actions, resources, or conditions.

Screenshot showing the warning at the top of the policy

To view more details about the warning, I choose Show remaining so that I can understand why the permissions do not appear in the policy summary. As shown in the following screenshot, I see no access to the services that are not granted by the IAM policy in the policy, which is expected. However, next to S3, I see a warning that one or more S3 actions do not have an applicable resource.

Screenshot showing that one or more S3 actions do not have an applicable resource

To understand why the specific actions do not have a supported resource, I choose S3 from the list of services and choose Show remaining. I type List in the filter to understand why some of the list actions are not granted by the policy. As shown in the following screenshot, I see these warnings:

  • This action does not support resource-level permissions. This means the action does not support resource-level permissions and requires a wildcard (*) in the Resource element of the policy.
  • This action does not have an applicable resource. This means the action supports resource-level permissions, but not the resource type defined in the policy. In this example, I specified an S3 bucket for an action that supports only an S3 object resource type.

From these warnings, I see that s3:ListAllMyBuckets, s3:ListBucketMultipartUploadsParts3:ListObjects , and s3:GetObject do not support an S3 bucket resource type, which results in Casey not having access to the S3 bucket. To correct the policy, I choose Edit policy and update the policy with three statements based on the resource that the S3 actions support. Because Casey needs access to view and read all of the objects in the HumanResources bucket, I add a wildcard (*) for the S3 object path in the Resource ARN.

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Sid": "TheseActionsSupportBucketResourceType",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": ["s3:ListBucket",
            "Resource": ["arn:aws:s3:::HumanResources"]
            "Sid": "TheseActionsRequireAllResources",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": ["s3:ListAllMyBuckets",
            "Resource": [ "*"]
            "Sid": "TheseActionsRequireSupportsObjectResourceType",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": ["s3:GetObject"],
            "Resource": ["arn:aws:s3:::HumanResources/*"]

After I make these changes, I see the updated policy summary and see that warnings are no longer displayed.

Screenshot of the updated policy summary that no longer shows warnings

In the previous example, I showed how to identify and correct permissions errors that include actions that do not support a specified resource. In the next example, I show how to use policy summaries to identify and correct a policy that includes actions that do not support a specified condition.

Example 2: An action does not support the condition specified in a policy

For this example, let’s assume Bob is a project manager who requires view and read access to all the code builds for his team. To grant him this access, I create the following JSON policy that specifies all list and read actions to AWS CodeBuild and defines a condition to limit access to resources in the us-west-2 Region in which Bob’s team develops.

This policy does not work. Do not copy. 
    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Sid": "ListReadAccesstoCodeServices",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": ["*"], 
             "Condition": {
                "StringEquals": {
                    "ec2:Region": "us-west-2"

After I create the policy, PMCodeBuildAccess, I select this policy from the Policies page to view the policy summary in the IAM console. From here, I check to see if the policy has any warnings or typos. I see an error at the top of the policy detail page because the policy does not grant any permissions.

Screenshot with an error showing the policy does not grant any permissions

To view more details about the error, I choose Show remaining to understand why no permissions result from the policy. I see this warning: One or more conditions do not have an applicable action. This means that the condition is not supported by any of the actions defined in the policy.

From the warning message (see preceding screenshot), I realize that ec2:Region is not a supported condition for any actions in CodeBuild. To correct the policy, I separate the list actions that do not support resource-level permissions into a separate Statement element and specify * as the resource. For the remaining CodeBuild actions that support resource-level permissions, I use the ARN to specify the us-west-2 Region in the project resource type.

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Sid": "TheseActionsSupportAllResources",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": ["*"] 
        }, {
            "Sid": "TheseActionsSupportAResource",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": ["arn:aws:codebuild:us-west-2:123456789012:project/*"] 


After I make the changes, I view the updated policy summary and see that no warnings are displayed.

Screenshot showing the updated policy summary with no warnings

When I choose CodeBuild from the list of services, I also see that for the actions that support resource-level permissions, the access is limited to the us-west-2 Region.

Screenshow showing that for the Actions that support resource-level permissions, the access is limited to the us-west-2 region.


Policy summaries make it easier to view and understand the permissions and resources in your IAM policies by displaying the permissions granted by the policies. As I’ve demonstrated in this post, you can also use policy summaries to help you identify and correct your IAM policies. To understand the types of warnings that policy summaries support, you can visit Troubleshoot IAM Policies. To view policy summaries in your AWS account, sign in to the IAM console and navigate to any policy on the Policies page of the IAM console or the Permissions tab on a user’s page.

If you have comments about this post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about or suggestions for this solution, start a new thread on the IAM forum or contact AWS Support.

– Joy

Cloud Storage Doesn’t have to be Convoluted, Complex, or Confusing

Post Syndicated from Ahin Thomas original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/cloud-storage-pricing-comparison/

business man frustrated over cloud storage pricing

So why do many vendors make it so hard to get information about how much you’re storing and how much you’re being charged?

Cloud storage is fast becoming the central repository for mission critical information, irreplaceable memories, and in some cases entire corporate and personal histories. Given this responsibility, we believe cloud storage vendors have an obligation to be transparent as possible in how they interact with their customers.

In that light we decided to challenge four cloud storage vendors and ask two simple questions:

  1. Can a customer understand how much data is stored?
  2. Can a customer understand the bill?

The detailed results are below, but if you wish to skip the details and the screen captures (TL;DR), we’ve summarized the results in the table below.

Summary of Cloud Storage Pricing Test

Our challenge was to upload 1 terabyte of data, store it for one month, and then download it.

Visibility to Data Stored Easy to Understand Bill Cost
Backblaze B2 Accurate, intuitive display of storage information. Available on demand, and the site clearly defines what has and will be charged for. $25
Microsoft Azure Storage is being measured in KiB, but is billed by the GB. With a calculator, it is unclear how much storage we are using. Available, but difficult to find. The nearly 30 day lag in billing creates business and accounting challenges. $72
Amazon S3 Incomplete. From the file browsing user interface, there is no reasonable way to understand how much data is being stored. Available on demand. While there are some line items that seem unnecessary for our test, the bill is generally straight-forward to understand. $71
Google Cloud Service Incomplete. From the file browsing user interface, there is no reasonable way to understand how much data is being stored. Available, but provides descriptions in units that are not on the pricing table nor commonly used. $100

Cloud Storage Test Details

For our tests, we choose Backblaze B2, Microsoft’s Azure, Amazon’s S3, and Google Cloud Storage. Our idea was simple: Upload 1 TB of data to the comparable service for each vendor, store it for 1 month, download that 1 TB, then document and share the results.

Let’s start with most obvious observation, the cost charged by each vendor for the test:

Backblaze B2 $25
Microsoft Azure $72
Amazon S3 $71
Google Cloud Service $100

Later in this post, we’ll see if we can determine the different cost components (storage, downloading, transactions, etc.) for each vendor, but our first step is to see if we can determine how much data we stored. In some cases, the answer is not as obvious as it would seem.

Test 1: Can a Customer Understand How Much Data Is Stored?

At the core, a provider of a service ought to be able to tell a customer how much of the service he or she is using. In this case, one might assume that providers of Cloud Storage would be able to tell customers how much data is being stored at any given moment. It turns out, it’s not that simple.

Backblaze B2
Logging into a Backblaze B2 account, one is presented with a summary screen that displays all “buckets.” Each bucket displays key summary information, including data currently stored.

B2 Cloud Storage Buckets screenshot

Clicking into a given bucket, one can browse individual files. Each file displays its size, and multiple files can be selected to create a size summary.

B2 file tree screenshot

Summary: Accurate, intuitive display of storage information.

Microsoft Azure

Moving on to Microsoft’s Azure, things get a little more “exciting.” There was no area that we could find where one can determine the total amount of data, in GB, stored with Azure.

There’s an area entitled “usage,” but that wasn’t helpful.

Microsoft Azure cloud storage screenshot

We then moved on to “Overview,” but had a couple challenges.The first issue was that we were presented with KiB (kibibyte) as a unit of measure. One GB (the unit of measure used in Azure’s pricing table) equates to roughly 976,563 KiB. It struck us as odd that things would be summarized by a unit of measure different from the billing unit of measure.

Microsoft Azure usage dashboard screenshot

Summary: Storage is being measured in KiB, but is billed by the GB. Even with a calculator, it is unclear how much storage we are using.

Amazon S3

Next we checked on the data we were storing in S3. We again ran into problems.

In the bucket overview, we were able to identify our buckets. However, we could not tell how much data was being stored.

Amazon S3 cloud storage buckets screenshot

Drilling into a bucket, the detail view does tell us file size. However, there was no method for summarizing the data stored within that bucket or for multiple files.

Amazon S3 cloud storage buckets usage screenshot

Summary: Incomplete. From the file browsing user interface, there is no reasonable way to understand how much data is being stored.

Google Cloud Storage (“GCS”)

GCS proved to have its own quirks, as well.

One can easily find the “bucket” summary, however, it does not provide information on data stored.

Google Cloud Storage Bucket screenshot

Clicking into the bucket, one can see files and the size of an individual file. However, no ability to see data total is provided.

Google Cloud Storage bucket files screenshot

Summary: Incomplete. From the file browsing user interface, there is no reasonable way to understand how much data is being stored.

Test 1 Conclusions

We knew how much storage we were uploading and, in many cases, the user will have some sense of the amount of data they are uploading. However, it strikes us as odd that many vendors won’t tell you how much data you have stored. Even stranger are the vendors that provide reporting in a unit of measure that is different from the units in their pricing table.

Test 2: Can a Customer Understand The Bill?

The cloud storage industry has done itself no favors with its tiered pricing that requires a calculator to figure out what’s going on. Setting that aside for a moment, one would presume that bills would be created in clear, auditable ways.


Inside of the Backblaze user interface, one finds a navigation link entitled “Billing.” Clicking on that, the user is presented with line items for previous bills, payments, and an estimate for the upcoming charges.

Backblaze B2 billing screenshot

One can expand any given row to see the the line item transactions composing each bill.

Backblaze B2 billing details screenshot

Summary: Available on demand, and the site clearly defines what has and will be charged for.


Trying to understand the Azure billing proved to be a bit tricky.

On August 6th, we logged into the billing console and were presented with this screen.

Microsoft Azure billing screenshot

As you can see, on Aug 6th, billing for the period of May-June was not available for download. For the period ending June 26th, we were charged nearly a month later, on July 24th. Clicking into that row item does display line item information.

Microsoft Azure cloud storage billing details screenshot

Summary: Available, but difficult to find. The nearly 30 day lag in billing creates business and accounting challenges.

Amazon S3

Amazon presents a clean billing summary and enables users to “drill down” into line items.

Going to the billing area of AWS, one can survey various monthly bills and is presented with a clean summary of billing charges.

AWS billing screenshot

Expanding into the billing detail, Amazon articulates each line item charge. Within each line item, charges are broken out into sub-line items for the different tiers of pricing.

AWS billing details screenshot

Summary: Available on demand. While there are some line items that seem unnecessary for our test, the bill is generally straight-forward to understand.

Google Cloud Storage (“GCS”)

This was an area where the GCS User Interface, which was otherwise relatively intuitive, became confusing.

Going to the Billing Overview page did not offer much in the way of an overview on charges.

Google Cloud Storage billing screenshot

However, moving down to the “Transactions” section did provide line item detail on all the charges incurred. However, similar to Azure introducing the concept of KiB, Google introduces the concept of the equally confusing Gibibyte (GiB). While all of Google’s pricing tables are listed in terms of GB, the line items reference GiB. 1 GiB is 1.07374 GBs.

Google Cloud Storage billing details screenshot

Summary: Available, but provides descriptions in units that are not on the pricing table nor commonly used.

Test 2 Conclusions

Clearly, some vendors do a better job than others in making their pricing available and understandable. From a transparency standpoint, it’s difficult to justify why a vendor would have their pricing table in units of X, but then put units of Y in the user interface.

Transparency: The Backblaze Way

Transparency isn’t easy. At Backblaze, we believe in investing time and energy into presenting the most intuitive user interfaces that we can create. We take pride in our heritage in the consumer backup space — servicing consumers has taught us how to make things understandable and usable. We do our best to apply those lessons to everything we do.

This philosophy reflects our desire to make our products usable, but it’s also part of a larger ethos of being transparent with our customers. We are being trusted with precious data. We want to repay that trust with, among other things, transparency.

It’s that spirit that was behind the decision to publish our hard drive performance stats, to open source the infrastructure that is behind us having the lowest cost of storage in the industry, and also to open source our erasure coding (the math that drives a significant portion of our redundancy for your data).

Why? We believe it’s not just about good user interface, it’s about the relationship we want to build with our customers.

The post Cloud Storage Doesn’t have to be Convoluted, Complex, or Confusing appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Piracy Fines For Dutch Pirates, Starting This Autumn

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/piracy-fines-for-dutch-pirates-starting-this-autumn-170828/

In 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that the “piracy levy”, used in the Netherlands to compensate rightsholders for illicit downloading, was unlawful. In the immediate aftermath, downloading from unauthorized sources was banned.

Three years on and illegal downloading is still considered by rightsholders to be a problem that needs to be brought under control. This means that BitTorrent users are the number one target since their activities also involve uploading, something that most courts consider to be a relatively serious offense.

With that in mind, Dutch film distributor Dutch Filmworks (DFW) is preparing a wave of anti-piracy activity that looks set to mimic the copyright-trolling activities of similar outfits all over the world.

A recent application to the Dutch Data Protection Authority (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens), revealed that DFW wishes to combat “the unlawful dissemination of copyright protected works” by monitoring the activities of BitTorrent users.

“DFW intends to collect data from people who exchange files over the Internet through BitTorrent networks. The data processing consists of capturing proof of exchange of files via IP addresses for the purpose of researching involvement of these users in the distribution or reproduction of copyrighted works,” it reads.

People who are monitored sharing DFW titles (the company says it intends to track people sharing dozens of releases) will get a letter with an offer to settle in advance of being taken to court. Speaking with NOS, DFW CEO Willem Pruijsserts now reveals that the campaign will begin in the autumn.

“[The lettter] will propose a fee,” he says. “If someone does not agree [to pay], the organization can start a lawsuit.”

Quite how much DFW will ask for is not yet clear, but Pruijsserts says the Dutch model will be more reasonable than similar schemes underway in other regions.

“In Germany, this costs between €800 and €1,000, although we find this a bit excessive. But of course it has to be a deterrent, so it will be more than a tenner or two,” he said.

In comments to RTLZ, Pruijsserts confirmed ‘fines’ of at least hundreds of euros.

According to documents filed with the Dutch data protection authority, DFW will employ an external German-based tracking company to monitor alleged pirates which will “automatically participate in swarms in which works from DFW are being shared.” The company has been named by RTL Z as German company Excipion, which could be linked to the monitoring outfit Tecxipio, which began as Excipio.

In conversation with NOS, Pruijsserts said that “hundreds of thousands” of people watched films like Mechanic: Resurrection without paying. This particular movie is notable for appearing in many piracy cases in the United States. It is one of the titles pursued relentlessly by lawyers acting in concert with notorious copyright-trolling outfit Guardaley.

Perhaps the most crucial element moving forward is whether DFW will be able to get ISPs to cooperate in handing over the personal details of allegedly infringing subscribers. Thus far, ISPs Ziggo and KPN have indicated they won’t do so without a court order, so further legal action will be required for DFW to progress.

When DFW’s application for discovery is heard by the court, it will be interesting to see how far the ISPs dig into the anti-piracy scheme. Finding out more about Guardaley, if the company is indeed involved, would be an intriguing approach, especially given the outfit’s tendency to scurry away (1,2) when coming under intense scrutiny.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Healthy Aussie Pirates Set To Face Cash ‘Fines’, Poor & Sick Should Be OK

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/healthy-aussie-pirates-set-to-face-cash-fines-poor-sick-should-be-ok-170821/

One of the oldest methods of trying to get people to stop downloading and sharing pirated material is by hitting them with ‘fines’.

The RIAA began the practice in September 2003, tracking people sharing music on early peer-to-peer networks, finding out their identities via ISPs, and sending them cease-and-desist orders with a request to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Many thousands of people were fined and the campaign raised awareness, but it did nothing to stop millions of file-sharers who continue to this day.

That’s something that Village Roadshow co-chief Graham Burke now wants to do something about. He says his company will effectively mimic the RIAA’s campaign of 14 years ago and begin suing Internet pirates Down Under. He told AFR that his company is already setting things up, ready to begin suing later in the year.

Few details have been made available at this stage but it’s almost certain that Village Roadshow’s targets will be BitTorrent users. It’s possible that users of other peer-to-peer networks could be affected but due to their inefficiency and relative obscurity, it’s very unlikely.

That leaves users of The Pirate Bay and any other torrent site vulnerable to the company, which will jump into torrent swarms masquerading as regular users, track IP addresses, and trace them back to Internet service providers. What happens next will depend on the responses of those ISPs.

If the ISPs refuse to cooperate, they will have to be taken to court to force them to hand over the personal details of their subscribers to Village Roadshow. It’s extremely unlikely they’ll hand them over voluntarily, so it could be some time before any ISP customer hears anything from the film distributor.

The bottom line is that Village Roadshow will want money to go away and Burke is already being open over the kind of sums his company will ask for.

“We will be looking for damages commensurate with what they’ve done. We’ll be saying ‘You’ve downloaded our Mad Max: Fury Road, our Red Dog, and we want $40 for the four movies plus $200 in costs’,” he says.

While no one will relish any kind of ‘bill’ dropping through a mail box, in the scheme of things a AUS$240 settlement demand isn’t huge, especially when compared to the sums demanded by companies such as Voltage Pictures, who tried and failed to start piracy litigation in Australia two years ago.

However, there’s even better news for some, who have already been given a heads-up that they won’t have to pay anything.

“We will identify people who are stealing our product, we will ask them do they have ill health or dire circumstances, and if they do and undertake to stop, we’ll drop the case,” Burke says.

While being upfront about such a policy has its pros and cons, Burke is also reducing his range of targets, particularly if likes to be seen as a man of his word, whenever those words were delivered. In March 2016, when he restated his intention to begin suing pirates, he also excluded some other groups from legal action.

“We don’t want to sue 16-year-olds or mums and dads,” Burke said. “It takes 18 months to go through the courts and all that does is make lawyers rich and clog the court system. It’s not effective.”

It will remain to be seen what criteria Village Roadshow ultimately employs but it’s likely the company will be asked to explain its intentions to the court, when it embarks on the process to discover alleged pirates’ identities. When it’s decided who is eligible, Burke says the gloves will come off, with pirates being “pursued vigorously” and “sued for damages.”

While Village Roadshow’s list of films is considerable, any with a specifically Australian slant seem the most likely to feature in any legal action. Burke tends to push the narrative that he’s looking after local industry so something like Mad Max: Fury Road would be perfect. It would also provide easy pickings for any anti-piracy company seeking to harvest Aussie IP addresses since it’s still very popular.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Australians who use pirate streaming services will be completely immune to the company’s planned lawsuit campaign. However, Burke appears to be tackling that threat using a couple of popular tactics currently being deployed elsewhere by the movie industry.

“Google are not doing enough and could do a lot more,” he told The Australian (subscription)

Burke said that he was “shocked” at how easy it was to find streaming content using Google’s search so decided to carry out some research of his own at home. He said he found Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk with no difficulty but that came with a sting in the tail.

According to the movie boss, his computer was immediately infected with malware and began asking for his credit card details. He doesn’t say whether he put them in.

As clearly the world’s most unlucky would-be movie pirate, Burke deserves much sympathy. It’s also completely coincidental that Hollywood is now pushing a “danger” narrative to keep people away from pirate sites.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Dutch Film Distributor to Target BitTorrent Users For Cash ‘Fines’

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/dutch-film-distributor-to-target-bittorrent-users-for-cash-fines-170802/

For many carefree years, Dutch Internet users were allowed to download copyrighted content, provided it was for their own personal use. In 2014, however, the European Court of Justice ruled that the country’s “piracy levy” to compensate rightsholders was unlawful. An immediate downloading ban followed.

That action took place more than three years ago but as recently reported by Dutch anti-piracy BREIN, the country still has an appetite for unauthorized content consumption. Some of that takes place with the assistance of torrent sites but for the most part, file-sharers have had little to worry about.

That could all be about to change with the news that local film distributor Dutch Filmworks (DFW) has announced its intention to monitor torrent site users and collect data on their online activities. The news comes via the Dutch Data Protection Authority (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens), which needs to be formally advised in order for the data collection to go ahead.

DFW’s plans are outlined in a detailed application (Dutch, pdf) dated July 2017. It explains that DFW wishes to combat “the unlawful dissemination of copyright protected works” in order to protect their own interests, and this involves collecting data on Dutch individuals without their knowledge or permission.

“DFW intends to collect data from people who exchange files over the Internet through BitTorrent networks. The data processing consists of capturing proof of exchange of files via IP addresses for the purpose of researching involvement of these users in the distribution or reproduction of copyrighted works,” it reads.

DFW will employ an external German-based tracking company to monitor alleged pirates which will “automatically participate in swarms in which works from DFW are being shared.” Data collected from non-Dutch users will be stripped and discarded but information about local pirates will be retained and processed for further action.

However, in order for DFW to connect an IP address with an individual, the company will have to approach Internet service providers to obtain subscriber information including names and addresses. DFW says that if ISPs won’t cooperate voluntarily, it will be forced to take its case to court. Given past experience, that will probably have to happen.

In March 2016, anti-piracy outfit BREIN obtained permission from the Dutch Data Protection Authority to collect similar data on alleged BitTorrent users, aiming to change attitudes among pirates with fines and legal action.

Several ISPs, most prominently Ziggo, announced that they would not voluntarily cooperate with BREIN and that personal information would only be handed over if BREIN took them to court. It’s logical to presume that Dutch Filmworks will receive the same treatment.

Should the company be successful, however, it has had detailed a stepped plan. First, the alleged pirate will receive a warning and DFW will aim to reach “an amicable settlement” for the breach. If one cannot be reached, further legal action could be taken, up to and including prosecution and claims for damages.

The whole scheme certainly sounds like a classic “copyright trolling” operation in the making but only time will tell which end of the spectrum this project will fall. When asked by NU.nl whether DFW would actually be seeking cash from alleged pirates, it declined to comment.

“This is the first step in this process. We’re going to see what we’re going to do after 25 August,” a spokesperson said.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Avoiding TPM PCR fragility using Secure Boot

Post Syndicated from Matthew Garrett original http://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/48897.html

In measured boot, each component of the boot process is “measured” (ie, hashed and that hash recorded) in a register in the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) build into the system. The TPM has several different registers (Platform Configuration Registers, or PCRs) which are typically used for different purposes – for instance, PCR0 contains measurements of various system firmware components, PCR2 contains any option ROMs, PCR4 contains information about the partition table and the bootloader. The allocation of these is defined by the PC Client working group of the Trusted Computing Group. However, once the boot loader takes over, we’re outside the spec[1].

One important thing to note here is that the TPM doesn’t actually have any ability to directly interfere with the boot process. If you try to boot modified code on a system, the TPM will contain different measurements but boot will still succeed. What the TPM can do is refuse to hand over secrets unless the measurements are correct. This allows for configurations where your disk encryption key can be stored in the TPM and then handed over automatically if the measurements are unaltered. If anybody interferes with your boot process then the measurements will be different, the TPM will refuse to hand over the key, your disk will remain encrypted and whoever’s trying to compromise your machine will be sad.

The problem here is that a lot of things can affect the measurements. Upgrading your bootloader or kernel will do so. At that point if you reboot your disk fails to unlock and you become unhappy. To get around this your update system needs to notice that a new component is about to be installed, generate the new expected hashes and re-seal the secret to the TPM using the new hashes. If there are several different points in the update where this can happen, this can quite easily go wrong. And if it goes wrong, you’re back to being unhappy.

Is there a way to improve this? Surprisingly, the answer is “yes” and the people to thank are Microsoft. Appendix A of a basically entirely unrelated spec defines a mechanism for storing the UEFI Secure Boot policy and used keys in PCR 7 of the TPM. The idea here is that you trust your OS vendor (since otherwise they could just backdoor your system anyway), so anything signed by your OS vendor is acceptable. If someone tries to boot something signed by a different vendor then PCR 7 will be different. If someone disables secure boot, PCR 7 will be different. If you upgrade your bootloader or kernel, PCR 7 will be the same. This simplifies things significantly.

I’ve put together a (not well-tested) patchset for Shim that adds support for including Shim’s measurements in PCR 7. In conjunction with appropriate firmware, it should then be straightforward to seal secrets to PCR 7 and not worry about things breaking over system updates. This makes tying things like disk encryption keys to the TPM much more reasonable.

However, there’s still one pretty major problem, which is that the initramfs (ie, the component responsible for setting up the disk encryption in the first place) isn’t signed and isn’t included in PCR 7[2]. An attacker can simply modify it to stash any TPM-backed secrets or mount the encrypted filesystem and then drop to a root prompt. This, uh, reduces the utility of the entire exercise.

The simplest solution to this that I’ve come up with depends on how Linux implements initramfs files. In its simplest form, an initramfs is just a cpio archive. In its slightly more complicated form, it’s a compressed cpio archive. And in its peak form of evolution, it’s a series of compressed cpio archives concatenated together. As the kernel reads each one in turn, it extracts it over the previous ones. That means that any files in the final archive will overwrite files of the same name in previous archives.

My proposal is to generate a small initramfs whose sole job is to get secrets from the TPM and stash them in the kernel keyring, and then measure an additional value into PCR 7 in order to ensure that the secrets can’t be obtained again. Later disk encryption setup will then be able to set up dm-crypt using the secret already stored within the kernel. This small initramfs will be built into the signed kernel image, and the bootloader will be responsible for appending it to the end of any user-provided initramfs. This means that the TPM will only grant access to the secrets while trustworthy code is running – once the secret is in the kernel it will only be available for in-kernel use, and once PCR 7 has been modified the TPM won’t give it to anyone else. A similar approach for some kernel command-line arguments (the kernel, module-init-tools and systemd all interpret the kernel command line left-to-right, with later arguments overriding earlier ones) would make it possible to ensure that certain kernel configuration options (such as the iommu) weren’t overridable by an attacker.

There’s obviously a few things that have to be done here (standardise how to embed such an initramfs in the kernel image, ensure that luks knows how to use the kernel keyring, teach all relevant bootloaders how to handle these images), but overall this should make it practical to use PCR 7 as a mechanism for supporting TPM-backed disk encryption secrets on Linux without introducing a hug support burden in the process.

[1] The patchset I’ve posted to add measured boot support to Grub use PCRs 8 and 9 to measure various components during the boot process, but other bootloaders may have different policies.

[2] This is because most Linux systems generate the initramfs locally rather than shipping it pre-built. It may also get rebuilt on various userspace updates, even if the kernel hasn’t changed. Including it in PCR 7 would entirely break the fragility guarantees and defeat the point of all of this.

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Just How Risky is Internet Piracy in 2017?

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/just-how-risky-is-internet-piracy-in-2017-170715/

The world’s largest entertainment companies in the spheres of music, movies, and gaming would jump for joy if the Internet piracy phenomenon came to a crashing halt tomorrow. (Spoiler: it won’t)

As a result, large sums of money are expended every day in an effort to keep unlawful distribution under control. Over the years there have been many strategies and several of these have involved targeting end users.

The world is a very big place and the tackling of piracy differs from region to region, but what most consumers of unauthorized media want to know is whether they’re putting themselves at risk.

The short answer is that no matter where people are, there is always some level of risk attached to obtaining and using pirate content. The long answer is more nuanced.

BitTorrent and other P2P protocols

By its very nature, using BitTorrent to access copyrighted content comes with a risk. Since downloaders are also distributors and their IP addresses are necessarily public, torrent users are extremely easy to track. In fact, with a minimum of equipment, any determined rightsholder is able spot and potentially uncover the identity of a file-sharer.

But while basic BitTorrent sharing gets a 0/10 for privacy, that’s a bit like saying that a speeding car gets 0/10 for stealth. Like the speeding car, anyone can see the pirating torrent user, but the big question is whether there’s anyone around who intends to do anything about it.

The big surprise in 2017 is that users are still statistically unlikely to face any consequences.

In the United States, for example, where copyright trolling can be a serious issue for those who get caught up in the net, the problem still only affects a tiny, tiny proportion of pirates. A one percent risk of getting snared would be overstating the risk but these are still odds that any gambler would be happy to take.

Surprisingly, pirates are also less likely to encounter a simple friendly warning than they were last year too. The “Six Strikes” Copyright Alerts System operated by the MPAA and RIAA, that set out to advise large volumes of pirates using notices sent via their ISPs, was discontinued in January. Those behind it gave in, for reasons unknown.

This means that millions of torrent users – despite exposing their IP addresses in public while sharing copyrighted content – are doing so without significant problems. Nevertheless, large numbers are also taking precautions, by using anonymization technologies including VPNs.

That’s not to say that their actions are legal – they’re not – but outside the few thousand people caught up in trolls’ nets each year, the vast and overwhelming majority of torrent users (which number well over 100 million) are pirating with impunity.

In the UK, not even trolling is a problem anymore. After a few flurries that seemed to drag on longer than they should, copyright trolls appear to have left the country for more lucrative shores. No cases have gone through the courts in recent times which means that UK users are torrenting pretty much whatever they like, with no legal problems whatsoever.

It’s important to note though, that their actions aren’t going unnoticed. Unlike the United States, the UK has a warning system in place. This means that a few thousand customers of a handful of ISPs are receiving notices each month informing them that their piratey behavior has been monitored by an entertainment company.

Currently, however, there are no punishments for those who are ‘caught’, even when they’re accused of pirating on a number of occasions. At least so far, it seems that the plan is to worry pirates into submission and in some cases that will probably work. Nevertheless, things can easily change when records are being kept on this scale.

Germany aside (which is overrun with copyright trolling activity), a handful of other European countries have also endured relatively small troll problems (Finland, Sweden, Denmark) but overall, file-sharers go about their business as usual across the continent. There are no big projects in any country aiming to punish large numbers of BitTorrent users and only France has an active warning notice program.

Canada and Australia have also had relatively small problems with copyright trolls (the former also has a fairly toothless ISP warning system) but neither country is considered a particularly ‘dangerous’ place to share files using BitTorrent. Like the United States, UK, and Europe, the chances of getting prosecuted for infringement are very small indeed.

Why such little enforcement?

There are a number of reasons for the apparent lack of interest in BitTorrent users but a few bubble up to the top. Firstly, there’s the question of resources required to tackle millions of users. Obviously, some scare tactics could be deployed by hitting a few people hard, but it feels like most companies have moved beyond that thinking.

That’s partly due to the more recent tendency of entertainment groups and governments to take a broader view of infringement, hitting it at its source by strangling funds to pirate sites, hitting their advertisers, blocking their websites, and attempting to forge voluntary anti-piracy schemes with search engines.

It’s also worth noting that huge numbers of people are routinely protecting themselves with VPN-like technology, which allows them to move around the Internet with much improved levels of privacy. Just recently, anti-piracy outfit Rightscorp partly blamed this for falling revenues.

Importantly, however, the nature of infringement has been changing for some time too.

A few years ago, most people were getting their movies and music from torrent sites but now they’re more likely to be obtaining their fix from a streaming source. Accessing the top blockbusters via a streaming site (perhaps via Kodi) is for the most part untraceable, as is grabbing music from one of the hundreds of MP3 portals around today.

But as recent news revealed, why bother with ‘pirate’ sites when people can simply rip music from sites like YouTube?

So-called stream-ripping is now blamed for huge swathes of piracy and as a result, torrent sites get far fewer mentions from anti-piracy groups than they did before.

While still a thorn in their side, it wouldn’t be a stretch to presume that torrent sites are no longer considered the primary problem they once were, at least in respect of music. Now, the ‘Value Gap‘ is more of a headache.

So, in a nutshell, the millions of people obtaining and sharing copyrighted content using BitTorrent are still taking some risks in every major country, and those need to be carefully weighed.

The activity is illegal almost everywhere, punishable in both civil and criminal courts, and has the potential to land people with big fines and even a jail sentence, if the scale of sharing is big enough.

In truth, however, the chances of the man in the street getting caught are so slim that many people don’t give the risks a second thought. That said, even people who drive 10mph over the limit get caught once in a while, so those that want to keep a clean sheet online often get a VPN and reduce the risks to almost 0%.

For people who stream, life is much less complicated. Streaming movies, TV shows or music from an illicit source is untraceable by any regular means, which up to now has made it almost 100% safe. Notably, there hasn’t been a single prosecution of a user who streamed infringing content anywhere in the world. In the EU it is illegal though, so something might happen in future, potentially…..possibly…..at some point….maybe.

And here’s the thing. While this is the general position today, the ‘market’ is volatile and has the ability to change quickly. A case could get filed in the US or UK next week, each targeting 50,000 BitTorrent users for downloading something that came out months ago. Nobody knows for sure so perhaps the best analogy is the one drummed into kids during high-school sex education classes.

People shouldn’t put themselves at risk at all but if they really must, they should take precautions. If they don’t, they could easily be the unlucky one and that is nearly always miserable.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Pirate Site Admin Must Pay 13 Million Euros – If Anyone Can Find Him

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/pirate-site-admin-must-pay-13-million-euros-if-anyone-can-find-him-170708/

Founded in 2006 by Dimitri Mader, Wawa-Mania grew into a million member strong ‘warez’ forum specializing in a broad range of ‘pirate’ content. But just three years later things were already starting to go bad.

In 2009, the Frenchman was detained by the authorities after the Association Against Audiovisual Piracy (ALPA) identified more than 3,600 films being made available via the platform without permission. In the meantime the site continued, generating income from advertising and accepting donations via PayPal.

The case dragged on for years but reached its goal in 2015. Mader was found guilty, sentenced to a year in prison, and hit with a 20,000 euro fine. But by this time the Frenchman was long gone and living with his family in the Philippines. He didn’t even attend the hearing – but things weren’t over yet.

With Mader’s guilt established, the court had to determine the level of damages payable to the plaintiffs, which included Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount, Tristar, Universal, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. The amount eventually arrived at by the court was around $15m.

“I won’t think about the penalty, it is just beyond any common sense,” Mader told TF at the time.

“I will surely not [pay anything] and even if a new court makes the penalty lower, it won’t change anything. Five million, 15 million or 30 million. What’s the difference after all?”

Being outside the country with a jail sentence and huge fines hanging over his head was a big problem for Mader, who told us that returning home after years outside the country would be a complicated affair. But things still weren’t over.

In a ruling handed down last month and just made public, the Paris Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the lower court, affirming that Mader owes the plaintiffs 13 million euros ($14.85m).

According to a report from Numerama, the court said that “the likely harm [to rightsholders] must be assessed in light of the extent of visitors to this site [at the time of the investigation], the number of creative works involved, and the ‘views’ duly established.”

The court determined that every visit to the site wouldn’t necessarily have resulted in an illegal download, but it still placed a value of two euros on every work believed to have been downloaded by users.

Mader did not attend the appeal and was not represented, so things were never likely to go his way. His current whereabouts are not clear, but it seems likely that he remains in the Philippines with his family.

Correspondence sent by TF to his encrypted email account bounced. Only time will tell whether Hollywood will have equal difficulty contacting him.

The full decision can be found here.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Perform Near Real-time Analytics on Streaming Data with Amazon Kinesis and Amazon Elasticsearch Service

Post Syndicated from Tristan Li original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/big-data/perform-near-real-time-analytics-on-streaming-data-with-amazon-kinesis-and-amazon-elasticsearch-service/

Nowadays, streaming data is seen and used everywhere—from social networks, to mobile and web applications, IoT devices, instrumentation in data centers, and many other sources. As the speed and volume of this type of data increases, the need to perform data analysis in real time with machine learning algorithms and extract a deeper understanding from the data becomes ever more important. For example, you might want a continuous monitoring system to detect sentiment changes in a social media feed so that you can react to the sentiment in near real time.

In this post, we use Amazon Kinesis Streams to collect and store streaming data. We then use Amazon Kinesis Analytics to process and analyze the streaming data continuously. Specifically, we use the Kinesis Analytics built-in RANDOM_CUT_FOREST function, a machine learning algorithm, to detect anomalies in the streaming data. Finally, we use Amazon Kinesis Firehose to export the anomalies data to Amazon Elasticsearch Service (Amazon ES). We then build a simple dashboard in the open source tool Kibana to visualize the result.

Solution overview

The following diagram depicts a high-level overview of this solution.

Amazon Kinesis Streams

You can use Amazon Kinesis Streams to build your own streaming application. This application can process and analyze streaming data by continuously capturing and storing terabytes of data per hour from hundreds of thousands of sources.

Amazon Kinesis Analytics

Kinesis Analytics provides an easy and familiar standard SQL language to analyze streaming data in real time. One of its most powerful features is that there are no new languages, processing frameworks, or complex machine learning algorithms that you need to learn.

Amazon Kinesis Firehose

Kinesis Firehose is the easiest way to load streaming data into AWS. It can capture, transform, and load streaming data into Amazon S3, Amazon Redshift, and Amazon Elasticsearch Service.

Amazon Elasticsearch Service

Amazon ES is a fully managed service that makes it easy to deploy, operate, and scale Elasticsearch for log analytics, full text search, application monitoring, and more.

Solution summary

The following is a quick walkthrough of the solution that’s presented in the diagram:

  1. IoT sensors send streaming data into Kinesis Streams. In this post, you use a Python script to simulate an IoT temperature sensor device that sends the streaming data.
  2. By using the built-in RANDOM_CUT_FOREST function in Kinesis Analytics, you can detect anomalies in real time with the sensor data that is stored in Kinesis Streams. RANDOM_CUT_FOREST is also an appropriate algorithm for many other kinds of anomaly-detection use cases—for example, the media sentiment example mentioned earlier in this post.
  3. The processed anomaly data is then loaded into the Kinesis Firehose delivery stream.
  4. By using the built-in integration that Kinesis Firehose has with Amazon ES, you can easily export the processed anomaly data into the service and visualize it with Kibana.

Implementation steps

The following sections walk through the implementation steps in detail.

Creating the delivery stream

  1. Open the Amazon Kinesis Streams console.
  2. Create a new Kinesis stream. Give it a name that indicates it’s for raw incoming stream data—for example, RawStreamData. For Number of shards, type 1.
  3. The Python code provided below simulates a streaming application, such as an IoT device, and generates random data and anomalies into a Kinesis stream. The code generates two temperature ranges, where the first range is the hypothetical sensor’s normal operating temperature range (10–20), and the second is the anomaly temperature range (100–120).Make sure to change the stream name on line 16 and 20 and the Region on line 6 to match your configuration. Alternatively, you can download the Amazon Kinesis Data Generator from this repository and use it to generate the data.
    import json
    import datetime
    import random
    import testdata
    from boto import kinesis
    kinesis = kinesis.connect_to_region("us-east-1")
    def getData(iotName, lowVal, highVal):
       data = {}
       data["iotName"] = iotName
       data["iotValue"] = random.randint(lowVal, highVal) 
       return data
    while 1:
       rnd = random.random()
       if (rnd < 0.01):
          data = json.dumps(getData("DemoSensor", 100, 120))  
          kinesis.put_record("RawStreamData", data, "DemoSensor")
          print '***************************** anomaly ************************* ' + data
          data = json.dumps(getData("DemoSensor", 10, 20))  
          kinesis.put_record("RawStreamData", data, "DemoSensor")
          print data

  4. Open the Amazon Elasticsearch Service console and create a new domain.
    1. Give the domain a unique name. In the Configure cluster screen, use the default settings.
    2. In the Set up access policy screen, in the Set the domain access policy list, choose Allow access to the domain from specific IP(s).
    3. Enter the public IP address of your computer.
      Note: If you’re working behind a proxy or firewall, see the “Use a proxy to simplify request signing” section in this AWS Database blog post to learn how to work with a proxy. For additional information about securing access to your Amazon ES domain, see How to Control Access to Your Amazon Elasticsearch Domain in the AWS Security Blog.
  5. After the Amazon ES domain is up and running, you can set up and configure Kinesis Firehose to export results to Amazon ES:
    1. Open the Amazon Kinesis Firehose console and choose Create Delivery Stream.
    2. In the Destination dropdown list, choose Amazon Elasticsearch Service.
    3. Type a stream name, and choose the Amazon ES domain that you created in Step 4.
    4. Provide an index name and ES type. In the S3 bucket dropdown list, choose Create New S3 bucket. Choose Next.
    5. In the configuration, change the Elasticsearch Buffer size to 1 MB and the Buffer interval to 60s. Use the default settings for all other fields. This shortens the time for the data to reach the ES cluster.
    6. Under IAM Role, choose Create/Update existing IAM role.
      The best practice is to create a new role every time. Otherwise, the console keeps adding policy documents to the same role. Eventually the size of the attached policies causes IAM to reject the role, but it does it in a non-obvious way, where the console basically quits functioning.
    7. Choose Next to move to the Review page.
  6. Review the configuration, and then choose Create Delivery Stream.
  7. Run the Python file for 1–2 minutes, and then press Ctrl+C to stop the execution. This loads some data into the stream for you to visualize in the next step.

Analyzing the data

Now it’s time to analyze the IoT streaming data using Amazon Kinesis Analytics.

  1. Open the Amazon Kinesis Analytics console and create a new application. Give the application a name, and then choose Create Application.
  2. On the next screen, choose Connect to a source. Choose the raw incoming data stream that you created earlier. (Note the stream name Source_SQL_STREAM_001 because you will need it later.)
  3. Use the default settings for everything else. When the schema discovery process is complete, it displays a success message with the formatted stream sample in a table as shown in the following screenshot. Review the data, and then choose Save and continue.
  4. Next, choose Go to SQL editor. When prompted, choose Yes, start application.
  5. Copy the following SQL code and paste it into the SQL editor window.
       "iotName"        varchar (40),
       "iotValue"   integer,
    -- Creates an output stream and defines a schema
       "iotName"       varchar(40),
       "iotValue"       integer,
       "created" TimeStamp);
    -- Compute an anomaly score for each record in the source stream
    -- using Random Cut Forest
    -- Sort records by descending anomaly score, insert into output stream


  1. Choose Save and run SQL.
    As the application is running, it displays the results as stream data arrives. If you don’t see any data coming in, run the Python script again to generate some fresh data. When there is data, it appears in a grid as shown in the following screenshot.Note that you are selecting data from the source stream name Source_SQL_STREAM_001 that you created previously. Also note the ANOMALY_SCORE column. This is the value that the Random_Cut_Forest function calculates based on the temperature ranges provided by the Python script. Higher (anomaly) temperature ranges have a higher score.Looking at the SQL code, note that the first two blocks of code create two new streams to store temporary data and the final result. The third block of code analyzes the raw source data (Stream_Pump_1) using the Random_Cut_Forest function. It calculates an anomaly score (ANOMALY_SCORE) and inserts it into the TEMP_STREAM stream. The final code block loads the result stored in the TEMP_STREAM into DESTINATION_SQL_STREAM.
  2. Choose Exit (done editing) next to the Save and run SQL button to return to the application configuration page.

Load processed data into the Kinesis Firehose delivery stream

Now, you can export the result from DESTINATION_SQL_STREAM into the Amazon Kinesis Firehose stream that you created previously.

  1. On the application configuration page, choose Connect to a destination.
  2. Choose the stream name that you created earlier, and use the default settings for everything else. Then choose Save and Continue.
  3. On the application configuration page, choose Exit to Kinesis Analytics applications to return to the Amazon Kinesis Analytics console.
  4. Run the Python script again for 4–5 minutes to generate enough data to flow through Amazon Kinesis Streams, Kinesis Analytics, Kinesis Firehose, and finally into the Amazon ES domain.
  5. Open the Kinesis Firehose console, choose the stream, and then choose the Monitoring
  6. As the processed data flows into Kinesis Firehose and Amazon ES, the metrics appear on the Delivery Stream metrics page. Keep in mind that the metrics page takes a few minutes to refresh with the latest data.
  7. Open the Amazon Elasticsearch Service dashboard in the AWS Management Console. The count in the Searchable documents column increases as shown in the following screenshot. In addition, the domain shows a cluster health of Yellow. This is because, by default, it needs two instances to deploy redundant copies of the index. To fix this, you can deploy two instances instead of one.

Visualize the data using Kibana

Now it’s time to launch Kibana and visualize the data.

  1. Use the ES domain link to go to the cluster detail page, and then choose the Kibana link as shown in the following screenshot.

    If you’re working behind a proxy or firewall, see the “Use a proxy to simplify request signing” section in this blog post to learn how to work with a proxy.
  2. In the Kibana dashboard, choose the Discover tab to perform a query.
  3. You can also visualize the data using the different types of charts offered by Kibana. For example, by going to the Visualize tab, you can quickly create a split bar chart that aggregates by ANOMALY_SCORE per minute.


In this post, you learned how to use Amazon Kinesis to collect, process, and analyze real-time streaming data, and then export the results to Amazon ES for analysis and visualization with Kibana. If you have comments about this post, add them to the “Comments” section below. If you have questions or issues with implementing this solution, please open a new thread on the Amazon Kinesis or Amazon ES discussion forums.

Next Steps

Take your skills to the next level. Learn real-time clickstream anomaly detection with Amazon Kinesis Analytics.


About the Author

Tristan Li is a Solutions Architect with Amazon Web Services. He works with enterprise customers in the US, helping them adopt cloud technology to build scalable and secure solutions on AWS.





Manage Kubernetes Clusters on AWS Using Kops

Post Syndicated from Arun Gupta original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/kubernetes-clusters-aws-kops/

Any containerized application typically consists of multiple containers. There is a container for the application itself, one for database, possibly another for web server, and so on. During development, its normal to build and test this multi-container application on a single host. This approach works fine during early dev and test cycles but becomes a single point of failure for production where the availability of the application is critical. In such cases, this multi-container application is deployed on multiple hosts. There is a need for an external tool to manage such a multi-container multi-host deployment. Container orchestration frameworks provides the capability of cluster management, scheduling containers on different hosts, service discovery and load balancing, crash recovery and other related functionalities. There are multiple options for container orchestration on Amazon Web Services: Amazon ECS, Docker for AWS, and DC/OS.

Another popular option for container orchestration on AWS is Kubernetes. There are multiple ways to run a Kubernetes cluster on AWS. This multi-part blog series provides a brief overview and explains some of these approaches in detail. This first post explains how to create a Kubernetes cluster on AWS using kops.

Kubernetes and Kops overview

Kubernetes is an open source, container orchestration platform. Applications packaged as Docker images can be easily deployed, scaled, and managed in a Kubernetes cluster. Some of the key features of Kubernetes are:

  • Self-healing
    Failed containers are restarted to ensure that the desired state of the application is maintained. If a node in the cluster dies, then the containers are rescheduled on a different node. Containers that do not respond to application-defined health check are terminated, and thus rescheduled.
  • Horizontal scaling
    Number of containers can be easily scaled up and down automatically based upon CPU utilization, or manually using a command.
  • Service discovery and load balancing
    Multiple containers can be grouped together discoverable using a DNS name. The service can be load balanced with integration to the native LB provided by the cloud provider.
  • Application upgrades and rollbacks
    Applications can be upgraded to a newer version without an impact to the existing one. If something goes wrong, Kubernetes rolls back the change.

Kops, short for Kubernetes Operations, is a set of tools for installing, operating, and deleting Kubernetes clusters in the cloud. A rolling upgrade of an older version of Kubernetes to a new version can also be performed. It also manages the cluster add-ons. After the cluster is created, the usual kubectl CLI can be used to manage resources in the cluster.

Download Kops and Kubectl

There is no need to download the Kubernetes binary distribution for creating a cluster using kops. However, you do need to download the kops CLI. It then takes care of downloading the right Kubernetes binary in the cloud, and provisions the cluster.

The different download options for kops are explained at github.com/kubernetes/kops#installing. On MacOS, the easiest way to install kops is using the brew package manager.

brew update && brew install kops

The version of kops can be verified using the kops version command, which shows:

Version 1.6.1

In addition, download kubectl. This is required to manage the Kubernetes cluster. The latest version of kubectl can be downloaded using the following command:

curl -LO https://storage.googleapis.com/kubernetes-release/release/$(curl -s https://storage.googleapis.com/kubernetes-release/release/stable.txt)/bin/darwin/amd64/kubectl

Make sure to include the directory where kubectl is downloaded in your PATH.

IAM user permission

The IAM user to create the Kubernetes cluster must have the following permissions:

  • AmazonEC2FullAccess
  • AmazonRoute53FullAccess
  • AmazonS3FullAccess
  • IAMFullAccess
  • AmazonVPCFullAccess

Alternatively, a new IAM user may be created and the policies attached as explained at github.com/kubernetes/kops/blob/master/docs/aws.md#setup-iam-user.

Create an Amazon S3 bucket for the Kubernetes state store

Kops needs a “state store” to store configuration information of the cluster.  For example, how many nodes, instance type of each node, and Kubernetes version. The state is stored during the initial cluster creation. Any subsequent changes to the cluster are also persisted to this store as well. As of publication, Amazon S3 is the only supported storage mechanism. Create a S3 bucket and pass that to the kops CLI during cluster creation.

This post uses the bucket name kubernetes-aws-io. Bucket names must be unique; you have to use a different name. Create an S3 bucket:

aws s3api create-bucket --bucket kubernetes-aws-io

I strongly recommend versioning this bucket in case you ever need to revert or recover a previous version of the cluster. This can be enabled using the AWS CLI as well:

aws s3api put-bucket-versioning --bucket kubernetes-aws-io --versioning-configuration Status=Enabled

For convenience, you can also define KOPS_STATE_STORE environment variable pointing to the S3 bucket. For example:

export KOPS_STATE_STORE=s3://kubernetes-aws-io

This environment variable is then used by the kops CLI.

DNS configuration

As of Kops 1.6.1, a top-level domain or a subdomain is required to create the cluster. This domain allows the worker nodes to discover the master and the master to discover all the etcd servers. This is also needed for kubectl to be able to talk directly with the master.

This domain may be registered with AWS, in which case a Route 53 hosted zone is created for you. Alternatively, this domain may be at a different registrar. In this case, create a Route 53 hosted zone. Specify the name server (NS) records from the created zone as NS records with the domain registrar.

This post uses a kubernetes-aws.io domain registered at a third-party registrar.

Generate a Route 53 hosted zone using the AWS CLI. Download jq to run this command:

ID=$(uuidgen) && \
aws route53 create-hosted-zone \
--name cluster.kubernetes-aws.io \
--caller-reference $ID \
| jq .DelegationSet.NameServers

This shows an output such as the following:


Create NS records for the domain with your registrar. Different options on how to configure DNS for the cluster are explained at github.com/kubernetes/kops/blob/master/docs/aws.md#configure-dns.

Experimental support to create a gossip-based cluster was added in Kops 1.6.2. This post uses a DNS-based approach, as that is more mature and well tested.

Create the Kubernetes cluster

The Kops CLI can be used to create a highly available cluster, with multiple master nodes spread across multiple Availability Zones. Workers can be spread across multiple zones as well. Some of the tasks that happen behind the scene during cluster creation are:

  • Provisioning EC2 instances
  • Setting up AWS resources such as networks, Auto Scaling groups, IAM users, and security groups
  • Installing Kubernetes.

Start the Kubernetes cluster using the following command:

kops create cluster \
--name cluster.kubernetes-aws.io \
--zones us-west-2a \
--state s3://kubernetes-aws-io \

In this command:

  • --zones
    Defines the zones in which the cluster is going to be created. Multiple comma-separated zones can be specified to span the cluster across multiple zones.
  • --name
    Defines the cluster’s name.
  • --state
    Points to the S3 bucket that is the state store.
  • --yes
    Immediately creates the cluster. Otherwise, only the cloud resources are created and the cluster needs to be started explicitly using the command kops update --yes. If the cluster needs to be edited, then the kops edit cluster command can be used.

This starts a single master and two worker node Kubernetes cluster. The master is in an Auto Scaling group and the worker nodes are in a separate group. By default, the master node is m3.medium and the worker node is t2.medium. Master and worker nodes are assigned separate IAM roles as well.

Wait for a few minutes for the cluster to be created. The cluster can be verified using the command kops validate cluster --state=s3://kubernetes-aws-io. It shows the following output:

Using cluster from kubectl context: cluster.kubernetes-aws.io

Validating cluster cluster.kubernetes-aws.io

NAME                 ROLE      MACHINETYPE    MIN    MAX    SUBNETS
master-us-west-2a    Master    m3.medium      1      1      us-west-2a
nodes                Node      t2.medium      2      2      us-west-2a

NAME                                           ROLE      READY
ip-172-20-38-133.us-west-2.compute.internal    node      True
ip-172-20-38-177.us-west-2.compute.internal    master    True
ip-172-20-46-33.us-west-2.compute.internal     node      True

Your cluster cluster.kubernetes-aws.io is ready

It shows the different instances started for the cluster, and their roles. If multiple cluster states are stored in the same bucket, then --name <NAME> can be used to specify the exact cluster name.

Check all nodes in the cluster using the command kubectl get nodes:

NAME                                          STATUS         AGE       VERSION
ip-172-20-38-133.us-west-2.compute.internal   Ready,node     14m       v1.6.2
ip-172-20-38-177.us-west-2.compute.internal   Ready,master   15m       v1.6.2
ip-172-20-46-33.us-west-2.compute.internal    Ready,node     14m       v1.6.2

Again, the internal IP address of each node, their current status (master or node), and uptime are shown. The key information here is the Kubernetes version for each node in the cluster, 1.6.2 in this case.

The kubectl value included in the PATH earlier is configured to manage this cluster. Resources such as pods, replica sets, and services can now be created in the usual way.

Some of the common options that can be used to override the default cluster creation are:

  • --kubernetes-version
    The version of Kubernetes cluster. The exact versions supported are defined at github.com/kubernetes/kops/blob/master/channels/stable.
  • --master-size and --node-size
    Define the instance of master and worker nodes.
  • --master-count and --node-count
    Define the number of master and worker nodes. By default, a master is created in each zone specified by --master-zones. Multiple master nodes can be created by a higher number using --master-count or specifying multiple Availability Zones in --master-zones.

A three-master and five-worker node cluster, with master nodes spread across different Availability Zones, can be created using the following command:

kops create cluster \
--name cluster2.kubernetes-aws.io \
--zones us-west-2a,us-west-2b,us-west-2c \
--node-count 5 \
--state s3://kubernetes-aws-io \

Both the clusters are sharing the same state store but have different names. This also requires you to create an additional Amazon Route 53 hosted zone for the name.

By default, the resources required for the cluster are directly created in the cloud. The --target option can be used to generate the AWS CloudFormation scripts instead. These scripts can then be used by the AWS CLI to create resources at your convenience.

Get a complete list of options for cluster creation with kops create cluster --help.

More details about the cluster can be seen using the command kubectl cluster-info:

Kubernetes master is running at https://api.cluster.kubernetes-aws.io
KubeDNS is running at https://api.cluster.kubernetes-aws.io/api/v1/proxy/namespaces/kube-system/services/kube-dns

To further debug and diagnose cluster problems, use 'kubectl cluster-info dump'.

Check the client and server version using the command kubectl version:

Client Version: version.Info{Major:"1", Minor:"6", GitVersion:"v1.6.4", GitCommit:"d6f433224538d4f9ca2f7ae19b252e6fcb66a3ae", GitTreeState:"clean", BuildDate:"2017-05-19T18:44:27Z", GoVersion:"go1.7.5", Compiler:"gc", Platform:"darwin/amd64"}
Server Version: version.Info{Major:"1", Minor:"6", GitVersion:"v1.6.2", GitCommit:"477efc3cbe6a7effca06bd1452fa356e2201e1ee", GitTreeState:"clean", BuildDate:"2017-04-19T20:22:08Z", GoVersion:"go1.7.5", Compiler:"gc", Platform:"linux/amd64"}

Both client and server version are 1.6 as shown by the Major and Minor attribute values.

Upgrade the Kubernetes cluster

Kops can be used to create a Kubernetes 1.4.x, 1.5.x, or an older version of the 1.6.x cluster using the --kubernetes-version option. The exact versions supported are defined at github.com/kubernetes/kops/blob/master/channels/stable.

Or, you may have used kops to create a cluster a while ago, and now want to upgrade to the latest recommended version of Kubernetes. Kops supports rolling cluster upgrades where the master and worker nodes are upgraded one by one.

As of kops 1.6.1, upgrading a cluster is a three-step process.

First, check and apply the latest recommended Kubernetes update.

kops upgrade cluster \
--name cluster2.kubernetes-aws.io \
--state s3://kubernetes-aws-io \

The --yes option immediately applies the changes. Not specifying the --yes option shows only the changes that are applied.

Second, update the state store to match the cluster state. This can be done using the following command:

kops update cluster \
--name cluster2.kubernetes-aws.io \
--state s3://kubernetes-aws-io \

Lastly, perform a rolling update for all cluster nodes using the kops rolling-update command:

kops rolling-update cluster \
--name cluster2.kubernetes-aws.io \
--state s3://kubernetes-aws-io \

Previewing the changes before updating the cluster can be done using the same command but without specifying the --yes option. This shows the following output:

NAME                 STATUS        NEEDUPDATE    READY    MIN    MAX    NODES
master-us-west-2a    NeedsUpdate   1             0        1      1      1
nodes                NeedsUpdate   2             0        2      2      2

Using --yes updates all nodes in the cluster, first master and then worker. There is a 5-minute delay between restarting master nodes, and a 2-minute delay between restarting nodes. These values can be altered using --master-interval and --node-interval options, respectively.

Only the worker nodes may be updated by using the --instance-group node option.

Delete the Kubernetes cluster

Typically, the Kubernetes cluster is a long-running cluster to serve your applications. After its purpose is served, you may delete it. It is important to delete the cluster using the kops command. This ensures that all resources created by the cluster are appropriately cleaned up.

The command to delete the Kubernetes cluster is:

kops delete cluster --state=s3://kubernetes-aws-io --yes

If multiple clusters have been created, then specify the cluster name as in the following command:

kops delete cluster cluster2.kubernetes-aws.io --state=s3://kubernetes-aws-io --yes


This post explained how to manage a Kubernetes cluster on AWS using kops. Kubernetes on AWS users provides a self-published list of companies using Kubernetes on AWS.

Try starting a cluster, create a few Kubernetes resources, and then tear it down. Kops on AWS provides a more comprehensive tutorial for setting up Kubernetes clusters. Kops docs are also helpful for understanding the details.

In addition, the Kops team hosts office hours to help you get started, from guiding you with your first pull request. You can always join the #kops channel on Kubernetes slack to ask questions. If nothing works, then file an issue at github.com/kubernetes/kops/issues.

Future posts in this series will explain other ways of creating and running a Kubernetes cluster on AWS.

— Arun

New – API & CloudFormation Support for Amazon CloudWatch Dashboards

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/new-api-cloudformation-support-for-amazon-cloudwatch-dashboards/

We launched CloudWatch Dashboards a couple of years ago. In the post that I wrote for the launch, I showed you how to interactively create a dashboard that displayed chosen CloudWatch metrics in graphical form. After the launch, we added additional features including a full screen mode, a dark theme, control over the range of the Y axis, simplified renaming, persistent storage, and new visualization options.

While console support is wonderful for interactive use, many customers have asked us to support programmatic creation and manipulation of dashboards and the widgets within. They would like to dynamically build and maintain dashboards, adding and removing widgets as the corresponding AWS resources are created and destroyed. Other customers are interested in setting up and maintaining a consistent set of dashboards across two or more AWS accounts.

I am happy to announce that API, CLI, and AWS CloudFormation support for CloudWatch Dashboards is available now and that you can start using it today!

There are four new API functions (and equivalent CLI commands):

ListDashboards / aws cloudwatch list-dashboards – Fetch a list of all dashboards within an account, or a subset that share a common prefix.

GetDashboard / aws cloudwatch get-dashboard – Fetch details for a single dashboard.

PutDashboard / aws cloudwatch put-dashboard – Create a new dashboard or update an existing one.

DeleteDashboards / aws cloudwatch delete-dashboards – Delete one or more dashboards.

Dashboard Concepts
I want to show you how to use these functions and commands. Before I dive in, I should review a couple of important dashboard concepts and attributes.

Global – Dashboards are part of an AWS account, and are not associated with a specific AWS Region. Each account can have up to 500 dashboards.

Named – Each dashboard has a name that is unique within the AWS account. Names can be up to 255 characters long.

Grid Model – Each dashboard is composed of a grid of cells. The grid is 24 cells across and as tall as necessary. Each widget on the dashboard is positioned at a particular set of grid coordinates, and has a size that spans an integral number of grid cells.

Widgets (Visualizations) – Each widget can display text or a set of CloudWatch metrics. Text is specified using Markdown; metrics can be displayed as single values, line charts, or stacked area charts. Each dashboard can have up to 100 widgets. Widgets that display metrics can also be associated with a CloudWatch Alarm.

Dashboards have a JSON representation that you can now see and edit from within the console. Simply click on the Action menu and choose View/edit source:

Here’s the source for my dashboard:

You can use this JSON as a starting point for your own applications. As you can see, there’s an entry in the widgets array for each widget on the dashboard; each entry describes one widget, starting with its type, position, and size.

Creating a Dashboard Using the API
Let’s say I want to create a dashboard that has a widget for each of my EC2 instances in a particular region. I’ll use Python and the AWS SDK for Python, and start as follows (excuse the amateur nature of my code):

import boto3
import json

cw  = boto3.client("cloudwatch")
ec2 = boto3.client("ec2")

x, y          = [0, 0]
width, height = [3, 3]
max_width     = 12
widgets       = []

Then I simply iterate over the instances, creating a widget dictionary for each one, and appending it to the widgets array:

instances = ec2.describe_instances()
for r in instances['Reservations']:
    for i in r['Instances']:

        widget = {'type'      : 'metric',
                  'x'         : x,
                  'y'         : y,
                  'height'    : height,
                  'width'     : width,
                  'properties': {'view'    : 'timeSeries',
                                 'stacked' : False,
                                 'metrics' : [['AWS/EC2', 'NetworkIn', 'InstanceId', i['InstanceId']],
                                              ['.',       'NetworkOut', '.',         '.']
                                 'period'  : 300,
                                 'stat'    : 'Average',
                                 'region'  : 'us-east-1',
                                 'title'   : i['InstanceId']


I update the position (x and y) within the loop, and form a grid (if I don’t specify positions, the widgets will be laid out left to right, top to bottom):

        x += width
        if (x + width > max_width):
            x = 0
            y += height

After I have processed all of the instances, I create a JSON version of the widget array:

body   = {'widgets' : widgets}
body_j = json.dumps(body)

And I create or update my dashboard:

cw.put_dashboard(DashboardName = "EC2_Networking",
                 DashboardBody = body_j)

I run the code, and get the following dashboard:

The CloudWatch team recommends that dashboards created programmatically include a text widget indicating that the dashboard was generated automatically, along with a link to the source code or CloudFormation template that did the work. This will discourage users from making manual, out-of-band changers to the dashboards.

As I mentioned earlier, each metric widget can also be associated with a CloudWatch Alarm. You can create the alarms programmatically or by using a CloudFormation template such as the Sample CPU Utilization Alarm. If you decide to do this, the alarm threshold will be displayed in the widget. To learn more about this, read Tara Walker’s recent post, Amazon CloudWatch Launches Alarms on Dashboards.

Going one step further, I could use CloudWatch Events and a Lamba Function to track the creation and deletion of certain resources and update a dashboard in concert with the changes. To learn how to do this, read Keeping CloudWatch Dashboards up to Date Using AWS Lambda.

Accessing a Dashboard Using the CLI
I can also access and manipulate my dashboards from the command line. For example, I can generate a simple list:

$ aws cloudwatch list-dashboards --output table
|               ListDashboards               |
||             DashboardEntries             ||
||  DashboardName  | LastModified   | Size  ||
||  Disk-Metrics   |  1496405221.0  |  316  ||
||  EC2_Networking |  1498090434.0  |  2830 ||
||  Main-Metrics   |  1498085173.0  |  234  ||

And I can get rid of the Disk-Metrics dashboard:

$ aws cloudwatch delete-dashboards --dashboard-names Disk-Metrics

I can also retrieve the JSON that defines a dashboard:

Creating a Dashboard Using CloudFormation
Dashboards can also be specified in CloudFormation templates. Here’s a simple template in YAML (the DashboardBody is still specified in JSON):

    Type: "AWS::CloudWatch::Dashboard"
      DashboardName: SampleDashboard
      DashboardBody: '{"widgets":[{"type":"text","x":0,"y":0,"width":6,"height":6,"properties":{"markdown":"Hi there from CloudFormation"}}]}'

I place the template in a file and then create a stack using the console or the CLI:

$ aws cloudformation create-stack --stack-name MyDashboard --template-body file://dash.yaml
    "StackId": "arn:aws:cloudformation:us-east-1:xxxxxxxxxxxx:stack/MyDashboard/a2a3fb20-5708-11e7-8ffd-500c21311262"

Here’s the dashboard:

Available Now
This feature is available now and you can start using it today. You can create 3 dashboards with up to 50 metrics per dashboard at no charge; additional dashboards are priced at $3 per month, as listed on the CloudWatch Pricing page. You can make up to 1 million calls to the new API functions each month at no charge; beyond that you pay $.01 for every 1,000 calls.


Some memorable levels

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/07/01/some-memorable-levels/

Another Patreon request from Nova Dasterin:

Maybe something about level design. In relation to a vertical shmup since I’m working on one of those.

I’ve been thinking about level design a lot lately, seeing as how I’ve started… designing levels. Shmups are probably the genre I’m the worst at, but perhaps some general principles will apply universally.

And speaking of general principles, that’s something I’ve been thinking about too.

I’ve been struggling to create a more expansive tileset for a platformer, due to two general problems: figuring out what I want to show, and figuring out how to show it with a limited size and palette. I’ve been browsing through a lot of pixel art from games I remember fondly in the hopes of finding some inspiration, but so far all I’ve done is very nearly copy a dirt tile someone submitted to my potluck project.

Recently I realized that I might have been going about looking for inspiration all wrong. I’ve been sifting through stuff in the hopes of finding something that would create some flash of enlightenment, but so far that aimless tourism has only found me a thing or two to copy.

I don’t want to copy a small chunk of the final product; I want to understand the underlying ideas that led the artist to create what they did in the first place. Or, no, that’s not quite right either. I don’t want someone else’s ideas; I want to identify what I like, figure out why I like it, and turn that into some kinda of general design idea. Find the underlying themes that appeal to me and figure out some principles that I could apply. You know, examine stuff critically.

I haven’t had time to take a deeper look at pixel art this way, so I’ll try it right now with level design. Here, then, are some levels from various games that stand out to me for whatever reason; the feelings they evoke when I think about them; and my best effort at unearthing some design principles from those feelings.

Doom II: MAP10, Refueling Base

Opening view of Refueling Base, showing a descent down some stairs into a room not yet visible

screenshots mine — map via doom wiki — see also textured perspective map (warning: large!) via ian albertpistol start playthrough

I’m surprising myself by picking Refueling Base. I would’ve expected myself to pick MAP08, Tricks and Traps, for its collection of uniquely bizarre puzzles and mechanisms. Or MAP13, Downtown, the map that had me convinced (erroneously) that Doom levels supported multi-story structures. Or at least MAP08, The Pit, which stands out for the unique way it feels like a plunge into enemy territory.

(Curiously, those other three maps are all Sandy Petersen’s sole work. Refueling Base was started by Tom Hall in the original Doom days, then finished by Sandy for Doom II.)

But Refueling Base is the level I have the most visceral reaction to: it terrifies me.

See, I got into Doom II through my dad, who played it on and off sometimes. My dad wasn’t an expert gamer or anything, but as a ten-year-old, I assumed he was. I watched him play Refueling Base one night. He died. Again, and again, over and over. I don’t even have very strong memories of his particular attempts, but watching my parent be swiftly and repeatedly defeated — at a time when I still somewhat revered parents — left enough of an impression that hearing the level music still makes my skin crawl.

This may seem strange to bring up as a first example in a post about level design, but I don’t think it would have impressed on me quite so much if the level weren’t designed the way it is. (It’s just a video game, of course, and since then I’ve successfully beaten it from a pistol start myself. But wow, little kid fears sure do linger.)

Map of Refueling Base, showing multiple large rooms and numerous connections between them

The one thing that most defines the map has to be its interconnected layout. Almost every major area (of which there are at least half a dozen) has at least three exits. Not only are you rarely faced with a dead end, but you’ll almost always have a choice of where to go next, and that choice will lead into more choices.

This hugely informs the early combat. Many areas near the beginning are simply adjacent with no doors between them, so it’s easy for monsters to start swarming in from all directions. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by an endless horde; no matter where you run, they just seem to keep coming. (In fact, Refueling Base has the most monsters of any map in the game by far: 279. The runner up is the preceding map at 238.) Compounding this effect is the relatively scant ammo and health in the early parts of the map; getting very far from a pistol start is an uphill battle.

The connections between rooms also yield numerous possible routes through the map, as well as several possible ways to approach any given room. Some of the connections are secrets, which usually connect the “backs” of two rooms. Clearing out one room thus rewards you with a sneaky way into another room that puts you behind all the monsters.

Outdoor area shown from the back; a large number of monsters are lying in wait

In fact, the map rewards you for exploring it in general.

Well, okay. It might be more accurate to say that that map punishes you for not exploring it. From a pistol start, the map is surprisingly difficult — the early areas offer rather little health and ammo, and your best chance of success is a very specific route that collects weapons as quickly as possible. Many of the most precious items are squirrelled away in (numerous!) secrets, and you’ll have an especially tough time if you don’t find any of them — though they tend to be telegraphed.

One particularly nasty surprise is in the area shown above, which has three small exits at the back. Entering or leaving via any of those exits will open one of the capsule-shaped pillars, revealing even more monsters. A couple of those are pain elementals, monsters which attack by spawning another monster and shooting it at you — not something you want to be facing with the starting pistol.

But nothing about the level indicates this, so you have to make the association the hard way, probably after making several mad dashes looking for cover. My successful attempt avoided this whole area entirely until I’d found some more impressive firepower. It’s fascinating to me, because it’s a fairly unique effect that doesn’t make any kind of realistic sense, yet it’s still built out of familiar level mechanics: walk through an area and something opens up. Almost like 2D sidescroller design logic applied to a 3D space. I really like it, and wish I saw more of it. So maybe that’s a more interesting design idea: don’t be afraid to do something weird only once, as long as it’s built out of familiar pieces so the player has a chance to make sense of it.

A similarly oddball effect is hidden in a “barracks” area, visible on the far right of the map. A secret door leads to a short U-shaped hallway to a marble skull door, which is themed nothing like the rest of the room. Opening it seems to lead back into the room you were just in, but walking through the doorway teleports you to a back entrance to the boss fight at the end of the level.

It sounds so bizarre, but the telegraphing makes it seem very natural; if anything, the “oh, I get it!” moment overrides the weirdness. It stops being something random and becomes something consciously designed. I believe that this might have been built by someone, even if there’s no sensible reason to have built it.

In fact, that single weird teleporter is exactly the kind of thing I’d like to be better at building. It could’ve been just a plain teleporter pad, but instead it’s a strange thing that adds a lot of texture to the level and makes it much more memorable. I don’t know how to even begin to have ideas like that. Maybe it’s as simple as looking at mundane parts of a level and wondering: what could I do with this instead?

I think a big problem I have is limiting myself to the expected and sensible, to the point that I don’t even consider more outlandish ideas. I can’t shake that habit simply by bolding some text in a blog post, but maybe it would help to keep this in mind: you can probably get away with anything, as long as you justify it somehow. Even “justify” here is too strong a word; it takes only the slightest nod to make an arbitrary behavior feel like part of a world. Why does picking up a tiny glowing knight helmet give you 1% armor in Doom? Does anyone care? Have you even thought about it before? It’s green and looks like armor; the bigger armor pickup is also green; yep, checks out.

A dark and dingy concrete room full of monsters; a couple are standing under light fixtures

On the other hand, the map as a whole ends up feeling very disorienting. There’s no shortage of landmarks, but every space is distinct in both texture and shape, so everything feels like a landmark. No one part of the map feels particularly central; there are a few candidates, but they neighbor other equally grand areas with just as many exits. It’s hard to get truly lost, but it’s also hard to feel like you have a solid grasp of where everything is. The space itself doesn’t make much sense, even though small chunks of it do. Of course, given that the Hellish parts of Doom were all just very weird overall, this is pretty fitting.

This sort of design fascinates me, because the way it feels to play is so different from the way it looks as a mapper with God Vision. Looking at the overhead map, I can identify all the familiar places easily enough, but I don’t know how to feel the way the map feels to play; it just looks like some rooms with doors between them. Yet I can see screenshots and have a sense of how “deep” in the level they are, how difficult they are to reach, whether I want to visit or avoid them. The lesson here might be that most of the interesting flavor of the map isn’t actually contained within the overhead view; it’s in the use of height and texture and interaction.

Dark room with numerous alcoves in the walls, all of them containing a hitscan monster

I realize as I describe all of this that I’m really just describing different kinds of contrast. If I know one thing about creative work (and I do, I only know one thing), it’s that effectively managing contrast is super duper important.

And it appears here in spades! A brightly-lit, outdoor, wide-open round room is only a short jog away from a dark, cramped room full of right angles and alcoves. A wide straight hallway near the beginning is directly across from a short, curvy, organic hallway. Most of the monsters in the map are small fry, but a couple stronger critters are sprinkled here and there, and then the exit is guarded by the toughest monster in the game. Some of the connections between rooms are simple doors; others are bizarre secret corridors or unnatural twisty passages.

You could even argue that the map has too much contrast, that it starts to lose cohesion. But if anything, I think this is one of the more cohesive maps in the first third of the game; many of the earlier maps aren’t so much places as they are concepts. This one feels distinctly like it could be something. The theming is all over the place, but enough of the parts seem deliberate.

I hadn’t even thought about it until I sat down to write this post, but since this is a “refueling base”, I suppose those outdoor capsules (which contain green slime, inset into the floor) could be the fuel tanks! I already referred to that dark techy area as “barracks”. Elsewhere is a rather large barren room, which might be where the vehicles in need of refueling are parked? Or is this just my imagination, and none of it was intended this way?

It doesn’t really matter either way, because even in this abstract world of ambiguity and vague hints, all of those rooms still feel like a place. I don’t have to know what the place is for it to look internally consistent.

I’m hesitant to say every game should have the loose design sense of Doom II, but it might be worth keeping in mind that anything can be a believable world as long as it looks consciously designed. And I’d say this applies even for natural spaces — we frequently treat real-world nature as though it were “designed”, just with a different aesthetic sense.

Okay, okay. I’m sure I could clumsily ramble about Doom forever, but I do that enough as it is. Other people have plenty to say if you’re interested.

I do want to stick in one final comment about MAP13, Downtown, while I’m talking about theming. I’ve seen a few people rag on it for being “just a box” with a lot of ideas sprinkled around — the map is basically a grid of skyscrapers, where each building has a different little mini encounter inside. And I think that’s really cool, because those encounters are arranged in a way that very strongly reinforces the theme of the level, of what this place is supposed to be. It doesn’t play quite like anything else in the game, simply because it was designed around a shape for flavor reasons. Weird physical constraints can do interesting things to level design.

Braid: World 4-7, Fickle Companion

Simple-looking platformer level with a few ladders, a switch, and a locked door

screenshots via StrategyWikiplaythroughplaythrough of secret area

I love Braid. If you’re not familiar (!), it’s a platformer where you have the ability to rewind time — whenever you want, for as long as you want, all the way back to when you entered the level.

The game starts in world 2, where you do fairly standard platforming and use the rewind ability to do some finnicky jumps with minimal frustration. It gets more interesting in world 3 with the addition of glowing green objects, which aren’t affected by the reversal of time.

And then there’s world 4, “Time and Place”. I love world 4, so much. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any other game, and it’s so simple yet so clever.

The premise is this: for everything except you, time moves forwards as you move right, and backwards as you move left.

This has some weird implications, which all come together in the final level of the world, Fickle Companion. It’s so named because you have to use one (single-use) key to open three doors, but that key is very easy to lose.

Say you pick up the key and walk to the right with it. Time continues forwards for the key, so it stays with you as expected. Now you climb a ladder. Time is frozen since you aren’t moving horizontally, but the key stays with you anyway. Now you walk to the left. Oops — the key follows its own path backwards in time, going down the ladder and back along the path you carried it in the first place. You can’t fix this by walking to the right again, because that will simply advance time normally for the key; since you’re no longer holding it, it will simply fall to the ground and stay there.

You can see how this might be a problem in the screenshot above (where you get the key earlier in the level, to the left). You can climb the first ladder, but to get to the door, you have to walk left to get to the second ladder, which will reverse the key back down to the ground.

The solution is in the cannon in the upper right, which spits out a Goomba-like critter. It has the timeproof green glow, so the critters it spits out have the same green glow — making them immune to both your time reversal power and to the effect your movement has on time. What you have to do is get one of the critters to pick up the key and carry it leftwards for you. Once you have the puzzle piece, you have to rewind time and do it again elsewhere. (Or, more likely, the other way around; this next section acts as a decent hint for how to do the earlier section.)

A puzzle piece trapped behind two doors, in a level containing only one key

It’s hard to convey how bizarre this is in just text. If you haven’t played Braid, it’s absolutely worth it just for this one world, this one level.

And it gets even better, slash more ridiculous: there’s a super duper secret hidden very cleverly in this level. Reaching it involves bouncing twice off of critters; solving the puzzle hidden there involves bouncing the critters off of you. It’s ludicrous and perhaps a bit too tricky, but very clever. Best of all, it’s something that an enterprising player might just think to do on a whim — hey, this is possible here, I wonder what happens if I try it. And the game rewards the player for trying something creative! (Ironically, it’s most rewarding to have a clever idea when it turns out the designer already had the same idea.)

What can I take away from this? Hm.

Well, the underlying idea of linking time with position is pretty novel, but getting to it may not be all that hard: just combine different concepts and see what happens.

A similar principle is to apply a general concept to everything and see what happens. This is the first sighting of a timeproof wandering critter; previously timeproofing had only been seen on keys, doors, puzzle pieces, and stationary monsters. Later it even applies to Tim himself in special circumstances.

The use of timeproofing on puzzle pieces is especially interesting, because the puzzle pieces — despite being collectibles that animate moving into the UI when you get them — are also affected by time. If the pieces in this level weren’t timeproof, then as soon as you collected one and moved left to leave its alcove, time would move backwards and the puzzle piece would reverse out of the UI and right back into the world.

Along similar lines, the music and animated background are also subject to the flow of time. It’s obvious enough that the music plays backwards when you rewind time, but in world 4, the music only plays at all while you’re moving. It’s a fantastic effect that makes the whole world feel as weird and jerky as it really is under these rules. It drives the concept home instantly, and it makes your weird influence over time feel all the more significant and far-reaching. I love when games weave all the elements of the game into the gameplaylike this, even (especially?) for the sake of a single oddball level.

Admittedly, this is all about gameplay or puzzle mechanics, not so much level design. What I like about the level itself is how simple and straightforward it is: it contains exactly as much as it needs to, yet still invites trying the wrong thing first, which immediately teaches the player why it won’t work. And it’s something that feels like it ought to work, except that the rules of the game get in the way just enough. This makes for my favorite kind of puzzle, the type where you feel like you’ve tried everything and it must be impossible — until you realize the creative combination of things you haven’t tried yet. I’m talking about puzzles again, oops; I guess the general level design equivalent of this is that players tend to try the first thing they see first, so if you put required parts later, players will be more likely to see optional parts.

I think that’s all I’ve got for this one puzzle room. I do want to say (again) that I love both endings of Braid. The normal ending weaves together the game mechanics and (admittedly loose) plot in a way that gave me chills when I first saw it; the secret ending completely changes both how the ending plays and how you might interpret the finale, all by making only the slightest changes to the level.

Portal: Testchamber 18 (advanced)

View into a Portal test chamber; the ceiling and most of the walls are covered in metal

screenshot mine — playthrough of normal mapplaythrough of advanced map

I love Portal. I blazed through the game in a couple hours the night it came out. I’d seen the trailer and instantly grasped the concept, so the very slow and gentle learning curve was actually a bit frustrating for me; I just wanted to portal around a big playground, and I finally got to do that in the six “serious” tests towards the end, 13 through 18.

Valve threw an interesting curveball with these six maps. As well as being more complete puzzles by themselves, Valve added “challenges” requiring that they be done with as few portals, time, or steps as possible. I only bothered with the portal challenges — time and steps seemed less about puzzle-solving and more about twitchy reflexes — and within them I found buried an extra layer of puzzles. All of the minimum portal requirements were only possible if you found an alternative solution to the map: skipping part of it, making do with only one cube instead of two, etc. But Valve offered no hints, only a target number. It was a clever way to make me think harder about familiar areas.

Alongside the challenges were “advanced” maps, and these blew me away. They were six maps identical in layout to the last six test chambers, but with a simple added twist that completely changed how you had to approach them. Test 13 has two buttons with two boxes to place on them; the advanced version removes a box and also changes the floor to lava. Test 14 is a live fire course with turrets you have to knock over; the advanced version puts them all in impenetrable cages. Test 17 is based around making extensive use of a single cube; the advanced version changes it to a ball.

But the one that sticks out the most to me is test 18, a potpourri of everything you’ve learned so far. The beginning part has you cross several large pits of toxic sludge by portaling from the ceilings; the advanced version simply changes the ceilings to unportalable metal. It seems you’re completely stuck after only the first jump, unless you happen to catch a glimpse of the portalable floor you pass over in mid-flight. Or you might remember from the regular version of the map that the floor was portalable there, since you used it to progress further. Either way, you have to fire a portal in midair in a way you’ve never had to do before, and the result feels very cool, like you’ve defeated a puzzle that was intended to be unsolvable. All in a level that was fairly easy the first time around, and has been modified only slightly.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I could say it’s good to make the player feel clever, but that feels wishy-washy. What I really appreciated about the advanced tests is that they exploited inklings of ideas I’d started to have when playing through the regular game; they encouraged me to take the spark of inspiration this game mechanic gave me and run with it.

So I suppose the better underlying principle here — the most important principle in level design, in any creative work — is to latch onto what gets you fired up and run with it. I am absolutely certain that the level designers for this game loved the portal concept as much as I do, they explored it thoroughly, and they felt compelled to fit their wilder puzzle ideas in somehow.

More of that. Find the stuff that feels like it’s going to burst out of your head, and let it burst.

Chip’s Challenge: Level 122, Totally Fair and Level 131, Totally Unfair

A small maze containing a couple monsters and ending at a brown button

screenshots mine — full maps of both levelsplaythrough of Totally Fairplaythrough of Totally Unfair

I mention this because Portal reminded me of it. The regular and advanced maps in Portal are reminiscent of parallel worlds or duality or whatever you want to call the theme. I extremely dig that theme, and it shows up in Chip’s Challenge in an unexpected way.

Totally Fair is a wide open level with a little maze walled off in one corner. The maze contains a monster called a “teeth”, which follows Chip at a slightly slower speed. (The second teeth, here shown facing upwards, starts outside the maze but followed me into it when I took this screenshot.)

The goal is to lure the teeth into standing on the brown button on the right side. If anything moves into a “trap” tile (the larger brown recesses at the bottom), it cannot move out of that tile until/unless something steps on the corresponding brown button. So there’s not much room for error in maneuvering the teeth; if it falls in the water up top, it’ll die, and if it touches the traps at the bottom, it’ll be stuck permanently.

The reason you need the brown button pressed is to acquire the chips on the far right edge of the level.

Several chips that cannot be obtained without stepping on a trap

The gray recesses turn into walls after being stepped on, so once you grab a chip, the only way out is through the force floors and ice that will send you onto the trap. If you haven’t maneuvered the teeth onto the button beforehand, you’ll be trapped there.

Doesn’t seem like a huge deal, since you can go see exactly how the maze is shaped and move the teeth into position fairly easily. But you see, here is the beginning of Totally Fair.

A wall with a single recessed gray space in it

The gray recess leads up into the maze area, so you can only enter it once. A force floor in the upper right lets you exit it.

Totally Unfair is exactly identical, except the second teeth has been removed, and the entrance to the maze looks like this.

The same wall is now completely solid, and the recess has been replaced with a hint

You can’t get into the maze area. You can’t even see the maze; it’s too far away from the wall. You have to position the teeth completely blind. In fact, if you take a single step to the left from here, you’ll have already dumped the teeth into the water and rendered the level impossible.

The hint tile will tell you to “Remember sjum”, where SJUM is the password to get back to Totally Fair. So you have to learn that level well enough to recreate the same effect without being able to see your progress.

It’s not impossible, and it’s not a “make a map” faux puzzle. A few scattered wall blocks near the chips, outside the maze area, are arranged exactly where the edges of the maze are. Once you notice that, all you have to do is walk up and down a few times, waiting a moment each time to make sure the teeth has caught up with you.

So in a sense, Totally Unfair is the advanced chamber version of Totally Fair. It makes a very minor change that force you to approach the whole level completely differently, using knowledge gleaned from your first attempt.

And crucially, it’s an actual puzzle! A lot of later Chip’s Challenge levels rely heavily on map-drawing, timing, tedium, or outright luck. (Consider, if you will, Blobdance.) The Totally Fair + Totally Unfair pairing requires a little ingenuity unlike anything else in the game, and the solution is something more than just combinations of existing game mechanics. There’s something very interesting about that hint in the walls, a hint you’d have no reason to pick up on when playing through the first level. I wish I knew how to verbalize it better.

Anyway, enough puzzle games; let’s get back to regular ol’ level design.

A 4×4 arrangement of rooms with a conspicuous void in the middle

maps via vgmaps and TCRFplaythrough with commentary

Link’s Awakening was my first Zelda (and only Zelda for a long time), which made for a slightly confusing introduction to the series — what on earth is a Zelda and why doesn’t it appear in the game?

The whole game is a blur of curiosities and interesting little special cases. It’s fabulously well put together, especially for a Game Boy game, and the dungeons in particular are fascinating microcosms of design. I never really appreciated it before, but looking at the full maps, I’m struck by how each dungeon has several large areas neatly sliced into individual screens.

Much like with Doom II, I surprise myself by picking Eagle’s Tower as the most notable part of the game. The dungeon isn’t that interesting within the overall context of the game; it gives you only the mirror shield, possibly the least interesting item in the game, second only to the power bracelet upgrade from the previous dungeon. The dungeon itself is fairly long, full of traps, and overflowing with crystal switches and toggle blocks, making it possibly the most frustrating of the set. Getting to it involves spending some excellent quality time with a flying rooster, but you don’t really do anything — mostly you just make your way through nondescript caves and mountaintops.

Having now thoroughly dunked on it, I’ll tell you what makes it stand out: the player changes the shape of the dungeon.

That’s something I like a lot about Doom, as well, but it’s much more dramatic in Eagle’s Tower. As you might expect, the dungeon is shaped like a tower, where each floor is on a 4×4 grid. The top floor, 4F, is a small 2×2 block of rooms in the middle — but one of those rooms is the boss door, and there’s no way to get to that floor.

(Well, sort of. The “down” stairs in the upper-right of 3F actually lead up to 4F, but the connection is bogus and puts you in a wall, and both of the upper middle rooms are unreachable during normal gameplay.)

The primary objective of the dungeon is to smash four support columns on 2F by throwing a huge iron ball at them, which causes 4F to crash down into the middle of 3F.

The same arrangement of rooms, but the four in the middle have changed

Even the map on the pause screen updates to reflect this. In every meaningful sense, you, the player, have fundamentally reconfigured the shape of this dungeon.

I love this. It feels like I have some impact on the world, that I came along and did something much more significant than mere game mechanics ought to allow. I saw that the tower was unsolvable as designed, so I fixed it.

It’s clear that the game engine supports rearranging screens arbitrarily — consider the Wind Fish’s Egg — but this is s wonderfully clever and subtle use of that. Let the player feel like they have an impact on the world.

The cutting room floor

This is getting excessively long so I’m gonna cut it here. Some other things I thought of but don’t know how to say more than a paragraph about:

  • Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins has a lot of levels with completely unique themes, backed by very simple tilesets but enhanced by interesting one-off obstacles and enemies. I don’t even know how to pick a most interesting one. Maybe just play the game, or at least peruse the maps.

  • This post about density of detail in Team Fortress 2 is really good so just read that I guess. It’s really about careful balance of contrast again, but through the lens of using contrasting amounts of detail to draw the player’s attention, while still carrying a simple theme through less detailed areas.

  • Metroid Prime is pretty interesting in a lot of ways, but I mostly laugh at how they spaced rooms out with long twisty hallways to improve load times — yet I never really thought about it because they all feel like they belong in the game.

One thing I really appreciate is level design that hints at a story, that shows me a world that exists persistently, that convinces me this space exists for some reason other than as a gauntlet for me as a player. But it seems what comes first to my mind is level design that’s clever or quirky, which probably says a lot about me. Maybe the original Fallouts are a good place to look for that sort of detail.

Conversely, it sticks out like a sore thumb when a game tries to railroad me into experiencing the game As The Designer Intended. Games are interactive, so the more input the player can give, the better — and this can be as simple as deciding to avoid rather than confront enemies, or deciding to run rather than walk.

I think that’s all I’ve got in me at the moment. Clearly I need to meditate on this a lot more, but I hope some of this was inspiring in some way!

How to Create an AMI Builder with AWS CodeBuild and HashiCorp Packer – Part 2

Post Syndicated from Heitor Lessa original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/how-to-create-an-ami-builder-with-aws-codebuild-and-hashicorp-packer-part-2/

Written by AWS Solutions Architects Jason Barto and Heitor Lessa

In Part 1 of this post, we described how AWS CodeBuild, AWS CodeCommit, and HashiCorp Packer can be used to build an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) from the latest version of Amazon Linux. In this post, we show how to use AWS CodePipeline, AWS CloudFormation, and Amazon CloudWatch Events to continuously ship new AMIs. We use Ansible by Red Hat to harden the OS on the AMIs through a well-known set of security controls outlined by the Center for Internet Security in its CIS Amazon Linux Benchmark.

You’ll find the source code for this post in our GitHub repo.

At the end of this post, we will have the following architecture:


To follow along, you will need Git and a text editor. Make sure Git is configured to work with AWS CodeCommit, as described in Part 1.


In addition to the services and products used in Part 1 of this post, we also use these AWS services and third-party software:

AWS CloudFormation gives developers and systems administrators an easy way to create and manage a collection of related AWS resources, provisioning and updating them in an orderly and predictable fashion.

Amazon CloudWatch Events enables you to react selectively to events in the cloud and in your applications. Specifically, you can create CloudWatch Events rules that match event patterns, and take actions in response to those patterns.

AWS CodePipeline is a continuous integration and continuous delivery service for fast and reliable application and infrastructure updates. AWS CodePipeline builds, tests, and deploys your code every time there is a code change, based on release process models you define.

Amazon SNS is a fast, flexible, fully managed push notification service that lets you send individual messages or to fan out messages to large numbers of recipients. Amazon SNS makes it simple and cost-effective to send push notifications to mobile device users or email recipients. The service can even send messages to other distributed services.

Ansible is a simple IT automation system that handles configuration management, application deployment, cloud provisioning, ad-hoc task-execution, and multinode orchestration.

Getting Started

We use CloudFormation to bootstrap the following infrastructure:

Component Purpose
AWS CodeCommit repository Git repository where the AMI builder code is stored.
S3 bucket Build artifact repository used by AWS CodePipeline and AWS CodeBuild.
AWS CodeBuild project Executes the AWS CodeBuild instructions contained in the build specification file.
AWS CodePipeline pipeline Orchestrates the AMI build process, triggered by new changes in the AWS CodeCommit repository.
SNS topic Notifies subscribed email addresses when an AMI build is complete.
CloudWatch Events rule Defines how the AMI builder should send a custom event to notify an SNS topic.
Region AMI Builder Launch Template
N. Virginia (us-east-1)
Ireland (eu-west-1)

After launching the CloudFormation template linked here, we will have a pipeline in the AWS CodePipeline console. (Failed at this stage simply means we don’t have any data in our newly created AWS CodeCommit Git repository.)

Next, we will clone the newly created AWS CodeCommit repository.

If this is your first time connecting to a AWS CodeCommit repository, please see instructions in our documentation on Setup steps for HTTPS Connections to AWS CodeCommit Repositories.

To clone the AWS CodeCommit repository (console)

  1. From the AWS Management Console, open the AWS CloudFormation console.
  2. Choose the AMI-Builder-Blogpost stack, and then choose Output.
  3. Make a note of the Git repository URL.
  4. Use git to clone the repository.

For example: git clone https://git-codecommit.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/v1/repos/AMI-Builder_repo

To clone the AWS CodeCommit repository (CLI)

# Retrieve CodeCommit repo URL
git_repo=$(aws cloudformation describe-stacks --query 'Stacks[0].Outputs[?OutputKey==`GitRepository`].OutputValue' --output text --stack-name "AMI-Builder-Blogpost")

# Clone repository locally
git clone ${git_repo}

Bootstrap the Repo with the AMI Builder Structure

Now that our infrastructure is ready, download all the files and templates required to build the AMI.

Your local Git repo should have the following structure:

├── ami_builder_event.json
├── ansible
├── buildspec.yml
├── cloudformation
├── packer_cis.json

Next, push these changes to AWS CodeCommit, and then let AWS CodePipeline orchestrate the creation of the AMI:

git add .
git commit -m "My first AMI"
git push origin master

AWS CodeBuild Implementation Details

While we wait for the AMI to be created, let’s see what’s changed in our AWS CodeBuild buildspec.yml file:

      - ./packer build -color=false packer_cis.json | tee build.log
      - egrep "${AWS_REGION}\:\sami\-" build.log | cut -d' ' -f2 > ami_id.txt
      # Packer doesn't return non-zero status; we must do that if Packer build failed
      - test -s ami_id.txt || exit 1
      - sed -i.bak "s/<<AMI-ID>>/$(cat ami_id.txt)/g" ami_builder_event.json
      - aws events put-events --entries file://ami_builder_event.json
    - ami_builder_event.json
    - build.log
  discard-paths: yes

In the build phase, we capture Packer output into a file named build.log. In the post_build phase, we take the following actions:

  1. Look up the AMI ID created by Packer and save its findings to a temporary file (ami_id.txt).
  2. Forcefully make AWS CodeBuild to fail if the AMI ID (ami_id.txt) is not found. This is required because Packer doesn’t fail if something goes wrong during the AMI creation process. We have to tell AWS CodeBuild to stop by informing it that an error occurred.
  3. If an AMI ID is found, we update the ami_builder_event.json file and then notify CloudWatch Events that the AMI creation process is complete.
  4. CloudWatch Events publishes a message to an SNS topic. Anyone subscribed to the topic will be notified in email that an AMI has been created.

Lastly, the new artifacts phase instructs AWS CodeBuild to upload files built during the build process (ami_builder_event.json and build.log) to the S3 bucket specified in the Outputs section of the CloudFormation template. These artifacts can then be used as an input artifact in any later stage in AWS CodePipeline.

For information about customizing the artifacts sequence of the buildspec.yml, see the Build Specification Reference for AWS CodeBuild.

CloudWatch Events Implementation Details

CloudWatch Events allow you to extend the AMI builder to not only send email after the AMI has been created, but to hook up any of the supported targets to react to the AMI builder event. This event publication means you can decouple from Packer actions you might take after AMI completion and plug in other actions, as you see fit.

For more information about targets in CloudWatch Events, see the CloudWatch Events API Reference.

In this case, CloudWatch Events should receive the following event, match it with a rule we created through CloudFormation, and publish a message to SNS so that you can receive an email.

Example CloudWatch custom event

            "Source": "com.ami.builder",
            "DetailType": "AmiBuilder",
            "Detail": "{ \"AmiStatus\": \"Created\"}",
            "Resources": [ "ami-12cd5guf" ]

Cloudwatch Events rule

  "detail-type": [
  "source": [
  "detail": {
    "AmiStatus": [

Example SNS message sent in email

    "version": "0",
    "id": "f8bdede0-b9d7...",
    "detail-type": "AmiBuilder",
    "source": "com.ami.builder",
    "account": "<<aws_account_number>>",
    "time": "2017-04-28T17:56:40Z",
    "region": "eu-west-1",
    "resources": ["ami-112cd5guf "],
    "detail": {
        "AmiStatus": "Created"

Packer Implementation Details

In addition to the build specification file, there are differences between the current version of the HashiCorp Packer template (packer_cis.json) and the one used in Part 1.


  "variables": {
    "vpc": "{{env `BUILD_VPC_ID`}}",
    "subnet": "{{env `BUILD_SUBNET_ID`}}",
         “ami_name”: “Prod-CIS-Latest-AMZN-{{isotime \”02-Jan-06 03_04_05\”}}”
  • ami_name: Prefixes a name used by Packer to tag resources during the Builders sequence.
  • vpc and subnet: Environment variables defined by the CloudFormation stack parameters.

We no longer assume a default VPC is present and instead use the VPC and subnet specified in the CloudFormation parameters. CloudFormation configures the AWS CodeBuild project to use these values as environment variables. They are made available throughout the build process.

That allows for more flexibility should you need to change which VPC and subnet will be used by Packer to launch temporary resources.


  "builders": [{
    "ami_name": “{{user `ami_name`| clean_ami_name}}”,
    "tags": {
      "Name": “{{user `ami_name`}}”,
    "run_tags": {
      "Name": “{{user `ami_name`}}",
    "run_volume_tags": {
      "Name": “{{user `ami_name`}}",
    "snapshot_tags": {
      "Name": “{{user `ami_name`}}",
    "vpc_id": "{{user `vpc` }}",
    "subnet_id": "{{user `subnet` }}"

We now have new properties (*_tag) and a new function (clean_ami_name) and launch temporary resources in a VPC and subnet specified in the environment variables. AMI names can only contain a certain set of ASCII characters. If the input in project deviates from the expected characters (for example, includes whitespace or slashes), Packer’s clean_ami_name function will fix it.

For more information, see functions on the HashiCorp Packer website.


  "provisioners": [
        "type": "shell",
        "inline": [
            "sudo pip install ansible"
        "type": "ansible-local",
        "playbook_file": "ansible/playbook.yaml",
        "role_paths": [
        "playbook_dir": "ansible",
        "galaxy_file": "ansible/requirements.yaml"
      "type": "shell",
      "inline": [
        "rm .ssh/authorized_keys ; sudo rm /root/.ssh/authorized_keys"

We used shell provisioner to apply OS patches in Part 1. Now, we use shell to install Ansible on the target machine and ansible-local to import, install, and execute Ansible roles to make our target machine conform to our standards.

Packer uses shell to remove temporary keys before it creates an AMI from the target and temporary EC2 instance.

Ansible Implementation Details

Ansible provides OS patching through a custom Common role that can be easily customized for other tasks.

CIS Benchmark and Cloudwatch Logs are implemented through two Ansible third-party roles that are defined in ansible/requirements.yaml as seen in the Packer template.

The Ansible provisioner uses Ansible Galaxy to download these roles onto the target machine and execute them as instructed by ansible/playbook.yaml.

For information about how these components are organized, see the Playbook Roles and Include Statements in the Ansible documentation.

The following Ansible playbook (ansible</playbook.yaml) controls the execution order and custom properties:

- hosts: localhost
  connection: local
  gather_facts: true    # gather OS info that is made available for tasks/roles
  become: yes           # majority of CIS tasks require root
    # CIS Controls whitepaper:  http://bit.ly/2mGAmUc
    # AWS CIS Whitepaper:       http://bit.ly/2m2Ovrh
    # 3.4.2 and 3.4.3 effectively blocks access to all ports to the machine
    ## This can break automation; ignoring it as there are stronger mechanisms than that
      - 3.4.2 
      - 3.4.3
    # CloudWatch Logs will be used instead of Rsyslog/Syslog-ng
    ## Same would be true if any other software doesn't support Rsyslog/Syslog-ng mechanisms
    # Autofs is not installed in newer versions, let's ignore
      - 1.1.19
    # Cloudwatch Logs role configuration
      - file: /var/log/messages
        group_name: "system_logs"
    - common
    - anthcourtney.cis-amazon-linux
    - dharrisio.aws-cloudwatch-logs-agent

Both third-party Ansible roles can be easily configured through variables (vars). We use Ansible playbook variables to exclude CIS controls that don’t apply to our case and to instruct the CloudWatch Logs agent to stream the /var/log/messages log file to CloudWatch Logs.

If you need to add more OS or application logs, you can easily duplicate the playbook and make changes. The CloudWatch Logs agent will ship configured log messages to CloudWatch Logs.

For more information about parameters you can use to further customize third-party roles, download Ansible roles for the Cloudwatch Logs Agent and CIS Amazon Linux from the Galaxy website.

Committing Changes

Now that Ansible and CloudWatch Events are configured as a part of the build process, commiting any changes to the AWS CodeComit Git Repository will triger a new AMI build process that can be followed through the AWS CodePipeline console.

When the build is complete, an email will be sent to the email address you provided as a part of the CloudFormation stack deployment. The email serves as notification that an AMI has been built and is ready for use.


We used AWS CodeCommit, AWS CodePipeline, AWS CodeBuild, Packer, and Ansible to build a pipeline that continuously builds new, hardened CIS AMIs. We used Amazon SNS so that email addresses subscribed to a SNS topic are notified upon completion of the AMI build.

By treating our AMI creation process as code, we can iterate and track changes over time. In this way, it’s no different from a software development workflow. With that in mind, software patches, OS configuration, and logs that need to be shipped to a central location are only a git commit away.

Next Steps

Here are some ideas to extend this AMI builder:

  • Hook up a Lambda function in Cloudwatch Events to update EC2 Auto Scaling configuration upon completion of the AMI build.
  • Use AWS CodePipeline parallel steps to build multiple Packer images.
  • Add a commit ID as a tag for the AMI you created.
  • Create a scheduled Lambda function through Cloudwatch Events to clean up old AMIs based on timestamp (name or additional tag).
  • Implement Windows support for the AMI builder.
  • Create a cross-account or cross-region AMI build.

Cloudwatch Events allow the AMI builder to decouple AMI configuration and creation so that you can easily add your own logic using targets (AWS Lambda, Amazon SQS, Amazon SNS) to add events or recycle EC2 instances with the new AMI.

If you have questions or other feedback, feel free to leave it in the comments or contribute to the AMI Builder repo on GitHub.

“Top ISPs” Are Discussing Fines & Browsing Hijacking For Pirates

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/top-isps-are-discussing-fines-browsing-hijacking-for-pirates-170614/

For the past several years, anti-piracy outfit Rightscorp has been moderately successful in forcing smaller fringe ISPs in the United States to collaborate in a low-tier copyright trolling operation.

The way it works is relatively simple. Rightscorp monitors BitTorrent networks, captures the IP addresses of alleged infringers, and sends DMCA notices to their ISPs. Rightscorp expects ISPs to forward these to their customers along with an attached cash settlement demand.

These demands are usually for small amounts ($20 or $30) but most of the larger ISPs don’t forward them to their customers. This deprives Rightscorp (and clients such as BMG) of the opportunity to generate revenue, a situation that the anti-piracy outfit is desperate to remedy.

One of the problems is that when people who receive Rightscorp ‘fines’ refuse to pay them, the company does nothing, leading to a lack of respect for the company. With this in mind, Rightscorp has been trying to get ISPs involved in forcing people to pay up.

In 2014, Rightscorp said that its goal was to have ISPs place a redirect page in front of ‘pirate’ subscribers until they pay a cash fine.

“[What] we really want to do is move away from termination and move to what’s called a hard redirect, like, when you go into a hotel and you have to put your room number in order to get past the browser and get on to browsing the web,” the company said.

In the three years since that statement, the company has raised the issue again but nothing concrete has come to fruition. However, there are now signs of fresh movement which could be significant, if Rightscorp is to be believed.

“An ISP Good Corporate Citizenship Program is what we feel will drive revenue associated with our primary revenue model. This program is an attempt to garner the attention and ultimately inspire a behavior shift in any ISP that elects to embrace our suggestions to be DMCA-compliant,” the company told shareholders yesterday.

“In this program, we ask for the ISPs to forward our notices referencing the infringement and the settlement offer. We ask that ISPs take action against repeat infringers through suspensions or a redirect screen. A redirect screen will guide the infringer to our payment screen while limiting all but essential internet access.”

At first view, this sounds like a straightforward replay of Rightscorp’s wishlist of three years ago, but it’s worth noting that the legal landscape has shifted fairly significantly since then.

Perhaps the most important development is the BMG v Cox Communications case, in which the ISP was sued for not doing enough to tackle repeat infringers. In that case (for which Rightscorp provided the evidence), Cox was held liable for third-party infringement and ordered to pay damages of $25 million alongside $8 million in legal fees.

All along, the suggestion has been that if Cox had taken action against infringing subscribers (primarily by passing on Rightscorp ‘fines’ and/or disconnecting repeat infringers) the ISP wouldn’t have ended up in court. Instead, it chose to sweat it out to a highly unfavorable decision.

The BMG decision is a potentially powerful ruling for Rightscorp, particularly when it comes to seeking ‘cooperation’ from other ISPs who might not want a similar legal battle on their hands. But are other ISPs interested in getting involved?

According to the Rightscorp, preliminary negotiations are already underway with some big players.

“We are now beginning to have some initial and very thorough discussions with a handful of the top ISPs to create and implement such a program that others can follow. We have every reason to believe that the litigations referred to above are directly responsible for the beginning of a change in thinking of ISPs,” the company says.

Rightscorp didn’t identify these “top ISPs” but by implication, these could include companies such as Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, Charter, Verizon, and/or even Cox Communications.

With cooperation from these companies, Rightscorp predicts that a “cultural shift” could be brought about which would significantly increase the numbers of subscribers paying cash demands. It’s also clear that while it may be seeking cooperation from ISPs, a gun is being held under the table too, in case any feel hesitant about putting up a redirect screen.

“This is the preferred approach that we advocate for any willing ISP as an alternative to becoming a defendant in a litigation and facing potential liability and significantly larger statutory damages,” Rightscorp says.

A recent development suggests the company may not be bluffing. Back in April the RIAA sued ISP Grande Communcations for failing to disconnect persistent pirates. Yet again, Rightscorp is deeply involved in the case, having provided the infringement data to the labels for a considerable sum.

Whether the “top ISPs” in the United States will cave into the pressure and implied threats remains to be seen but there’s no doubting the rising confidence at Rightscorp.

“We have demonstrated the tenacity to support two major litigation efforts initiated by two of our clients, which we feel will set a precedent for the entire anti-piracy industry led by Rightscorp. If you can predict the law, you can set the competition,” the company concludes.

Meanwhile, Rightscorp appears to continue its use of disingenuous tactics to extract money from alleged file-sharers.

In the wake of several similar reports, this week a Reddit user reported that Rightscorp asked him to pay a single $20 fine for pirating a song. After paying up, the next day the company allegedly called the user back and demanded payment for a further 200 notices.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Electronic Signature Using The WebCrypto API

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/electronic-signature-using-webcrypto-api/

Sometimes we need to let users sign something electronically. Often people understand that as placing your handwritten signature on the screen somehow. Depending on the jurisdiction, that may be fine, or it may not be sufficient to just store the image. In Europe, for example, there’s the Regulation 910/2014 which defines what electronic signature are. As it can be expected from a legal text, the definition is rather vague:

‘electronic signature’ means data in electronic form which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign;

Yes, read it a few more times, say “wat” a few more times, and let’s discuss what that means. And it can mean basically anything. It is technically acceptable to just attach an image of the drawn signature (e.g. using an html canvas) to the data and that may still count.

But when we get to the more specific types of electronic signature – the advanced and qualified electronic signatures, things get a little better:

An advanced electronic signature shall meet the following requirements:
(a) it is uniquely linked to the signatory;
(b) it is capable of identifying the signatory;
(c) it is created using electronic signature creation data that the signatory can, with a high level of confidence, use under his sole control; and
(d) it is linked to the data signed therewith in such a way that any subsequent change in the data is detectable.

That looks like a proper “digital signature” in the technical sense – e.g. using a private key to sign and a public key to verify the signature. The “qualified” signatures need to be issued by qualified provider that is basically a trusted Certificate Authority. The keys for placing qualified signatures have to be issued on secure devices (smart cards and HSMs) so that nobody but the owner can have access to the private key.

But the legal distinction between advanced and qualified signatures isn’t entirely clear – the Regulation explicitly states that non-qualified signatures also have legal value. Working with qualified signatures (with smartcards) in browsers is a horrifying user experience – in most cases it goes through a Java Applet, which works basically just on Internet Explorer and a special build of Firefox nowadays. Alternatives include desktop software and local service JWS applications that handles the signing, but smartcards are a big issue and offtopic at the moment.

So, how do we allow users to “place” an electronic signature? I had an idea that this could be done entirely using the WebCrypto API that’s more or less supported in browsers these days. The idea is as follows:

  • Let the user type in a password for the purpose of sining
  • Derive a key from the password (e.g. using PBKDF2)
  • Sign the contents of the form that the user is submitting with the derived key
  • Store the signature alongside the rest of the form data
  • Optionally, store the derived key for verification purposes

Here’s a javascript gist with implementation of that flow.

Many of the pieces are taken from the very helpful webcrypto examples repo. The hex2buf, buf2hex and str2ab functions are utilities (that sadly are not standard in js).

What the code does is straightforward, even though it’s a bit verbose. All the operations are chained using promises and “then”, which to be honest is a big tedious to write and read (but inevitable I guess):

  • The password is loaded as a raw key (after transforming to an array buffer)
  • A secret key is derived using PBKDF2 (with 100 iterations)
  • The secret key is used to do an HMAC “signature” on the content filled in by the user
  • The signature and the key are stored (in the UI in this example)
  • Then the signature can be verified using: the data, the signature and the key

You can test it here:

Having the signature stored should be enough to fulfill the definition of “electronic signature”. The fact that it’s a secret password known only to the user may even mean this is an “advanced electronic signature”. Storing the derived secret key is questionable – if you store it, it means you can “forge” signatures on behalf of the user. But not storing it means you can’t verify the signature – only the user can. Depending on the use-case, you can choose one or the other.

Now, I have to admit I tried deriving an asymmetric keypair from the password (both RSA and ECDSA). The WebCrypto API doesn’t allow that out of the box. So I tried “generating” the keys using deriveBits(), e.g. setting the “n” and “d” values for RSA, and the x, y and d values for ECDSA (which can be found here, after a bit of searching). But I failed – you can’t specify just any values as importKey parameters, and the constraints are not documented anywhere, except for the low-level algorithm details, and that was a bit out of the scope of my experiment.

The goal was that if we only derive the private key from the password, we can easily derive the public key from the private key (but not vice-versa) – then we store the public key for verification, and the private key remains really private, so that we can’t forge signatures.

I have to add a disclaimer here that I realize this isn’t very secure. To begin with, deriving a key from a password is questionable in many contexts. However, in this context (placing a signature), it’s fine.

As a side note – working with the WebCrypto API is tedious. Maybe because nobody has actually used it yet, so googling for errors basically gives you the source code of Chromium and nothing else. It feels like uncharted territory (although the documentation and examples are good enough to get you started).

Whether it will be useful to do electronic signatures in this way, I don’t know. I implemented it for a use-case that it actually made sense (party membership declaration signature). Whether it’s better than hand-drawn signature on a canvas – I think it is (unless you derive the key from the image, in which case the handwritten one is better due to a higher entropy).

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