We’re pleased to announce that five additional AWS services have achieved provisional authorization (P-ATO) by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) Joint Authorization Board (JAB). These services provide the following capabilities for the federal government and customers with regulated workloads:
Enable your organization’s developers, scientists, and engineers to easily and efficiently run hundreds of thousands of batch computing jobs with AWS Batch.
Aggregate, organize, and prioritize your security alerts or findings from multiple AWS services using AWS Security Hub.
Provision, manage, and deploy public and private Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) certificates using AWS Certificate Manager.
Enable customers to set up and govern a new, secure, multi-account AWS environment using AWS Control Tower.
AWS is continually expanding the scope of our compliance programs to help enable your organization to use our services for sensitive and regulated workloads. Today, AWS offers 90 AWS services authorized in the AWS US East/West Regions under FedRAMP Moderate Authorization, and 76 services authorized in the AWS GovCloud (US) Regions under FedRAMP High Authorization.
Tom Standage has a great story of the first cyberattack against a telegraph network.
The Blanc brothers traded government bonds at the exchange in the city of Bordeaux, where information about market movements took several days to arrive from Paris by mail coach. Accordingly, traders who could get the information more quickly could make money by anticipating these movements. Some tried using messengers and carrier pigeons, but the Blanc brothers found a way to use the telegraph line instead. They bribed the telegraph operator in the city of Tours to introduce deliberate errors into routine government messages being sent over the network.
The telegraph’s encoding system included a “backspace” symbol that instructed the transcriber to ignore the previous character. The addition of a spurious character indicating the direction of the previous day’s market movement, followed by a backspace, meant the text of the message being sent was unaffected when it was written out for delivery at the end of the line. But this extra character could be seen by another accomplice: a former telegraph operator who observed the telegraph tower outside Bordeaux with a telescope, and then passed on the news to the Blancs. The scam was only uncovered in 1836, when the crooked operator in Tours fell ill and revealed all to a friend, who he hoped would take his place. The Blanc brothers were put on trial, though they could not be convicted because there was no law against misuse of data networks. But the Blancs’ pioneering misuse of the French network qualifies as the world’s first cyber-attack.
Ново развитие в ревизията на авторското право в ЕС – става ясно от съобщенията на българското председателство, участници в ревизията и Юлия Реда – защото тя имаше много ясен възглед какво иска да се промени в правната рамка (общ режим на изключенията, актуализиране – за да имаме правна рамка, адекватна на технологичното развитие) – и сега следи ангажирано законодателния процес.
Правителствата на държавите от ЕС са приели позиция относно реформата на авторските права без съществени промени по чл.11 (новото право за издателите) и чл.13 (филтрите на входа), проектът е на сайта на Реда, Politico дава измененията, засягащи правото на издателите, в цвят.
Сега имате шанса да окажете влияние – шанс, който ще изчезне след две години, когато всички “изведнъж” ще се сблъскат с предизвикателството да се внедряват филтри и link tax. Експертите почти единодушно се съгласяват, че проектът за реформата на авторското право е наистина лош.
Classic Bond villain, Elon Musk, has a new plan to create a website dedicated to measuring the credibility and adherence to “core truth” of journalists. He is, without any sense of irony, going to call this “Pravda”. This is not simply wrong but evil.
Musk has a point. Journalists do suck, and many suck consistently. I see this in my own industry, cybersecurity, and I frequently criticize them for their suckage.
But what he’s doing here is not correcting them when they make mistakes (or what Musk sees as mistakes), but questioning their legitimacy. This legitimacy isn’t measured by whether they follow established journalism ethics, but whether their “core truths” agree with Musk’s “core truths”.
An example of the problem is how the press fixates on Tesla car crashes due to its “autopilot” feature. Pretty much every autopilot crash makes national headlines, while the press ignores the other 40,000 car crashes that happen in the United States each year. Musk spies on Tesla drivers (hello, classic Bond villain everyone) so he can see the dip in autopilot usage every time such a news story breaks. He’s got good reason to be concerned about this.
He argues that autopilot is safer than humans driving, and he’s got the statistics and government studies to back this up. Therefore, the press’s fixation on Tesla crashes is illegitimate “fake news”, titillating the audience with distorted truth.
But here’s the thing: that’s still only Musk’s version of the truth. Yes, on a mile-per-mile basis, autopilot is safer, but there’s nuance here. Autopilot is used primarily on freeways, which already have a low mile-per-mile accident rate. People choose autopilot only when conditions are incredibly safe and drivers are unlikely to have an accident anyway. Musk is therefore being intentionally deceptive comparing apples to oranges. Autopilot may still be safer, it’s just that the numbers Musk uses don’t demonstrate this.
And then there is the truth calling it “autopilot” to begin with, because it isn’t. The public is overrating the capabilities of the feature. It’s little different than “lane keeping” and “adaptive cruise control” you can now find in other cars. In many ways, the technology is behind — my Tesla doesn’t beep at me when a pedestrian walks behind my car while backing up, but virtually every new car on the market does.
Yes, the press unduly covers Tesla autopilot crashes, but Musk has only himself to blame by unduly exaggerating his car’s capabilities by calling it “autopilot”.
What’s “core truth” is thus rather difficult to obtain. What the press satisfies itself with instead is smaller truths, what they can document. The facts are in such cases that the accident happened, and they try to get Tesla or Musk to comment on it.
What you can criticize a journalist for is therefore not “core truth” but whether they did journalism correctly. When such stories criticize “autopilot”, but don’t do their diligence in getting Tesla’s side of the story, then that’s a violation of journalistic practice. When I criticize journalists for their poor handling of stories in my industry, I try to focus on which journalistic principles they get wrong. For example, the NYTimes reporters do a lot of stories quoting anonymous government sources in clear violation of journalistic principles.
If “credibility” is the concern, then it’s the classic Bond villain here that’s the problem: Musk himself. His track record on business statements is abysmal. For example, when he announced the Model 3 he claimed production targets that every Wall Street analyst claimed were absurd. He didn’t make those targets, he didn’t come close. Model 3 production is still lagging behind Musk’s twice adjusted targets.
So who has a credibility gap here, the press, or Musk himself?
Not only is Musk’s credibility problem ironic, so is the name he chose, “Pravada”, the Russian word for truth that was the name of the Soviet Union Communist Party’s official newspaper. This is so absurd this has to be a joke, yet Musk claims to be serious about all this.
Yes, the press has a lot of problems, and if Musk were some journalism professor concerned about journalists meeting the objective standards of their industry (e.g. abusing anonymous sources), then this would be a fine thing. But it’s not. It’s Musk who is upset the press’s version of “core truth” does not agree with his version — a version that he’s proven time and time again differs from “real truth”.
Just in case Musk is serious, I’ve already registered “www.antipravda.com” to start measuring the credibility of statements by billionaire playboy CEOs. Let’s see who blinks first.
I stole the title, with permission, from this tweet:
Side projects are the things you do at home, after work, for your own “entertainment”, or to satisfy your desire to learn new stuff, in case your workplace doesn’t give you that opportunity (or at least not enough of it). Side projects are also a way to build stuff that you think is valuable but not necessarily “commercialisable”. Many side projects are open-sourced sooner or later and some of them contribute to the pool of tools at other people’s disposal.
But there are more benefits than that – serendipitous benefits, for example. And I’d like to tell some personal stories about that. I’ll focus on a few examples from my list of side projects to show how, through a sort-of butterfly effect, they helped shape my career.
The computoser project, no matter how cool algorithmic music composition, didn’t manage to have much of a long term impact. But it did teach me something apart from niche musical theory – how to read a bulk of scientific papers (mostly computer science) and understand them without being formally trained in the particular field. We’ll see how that was useful later.
Then there was the “State alerts” project – a website that scraped content from public institutions in my country (legislation, legislation proposals, decisions by regulators, new tenders, etc.), made them searchable, and “subscribable” – so that you get notified when a keyword of interest is mentioned in newly proposed legislation, for example. (I obviously subscribed for “information technologies” and “electronic”).
And that project turned out to have a significant impact on the following years. First, I chose a new technology to write it with – Scala. Which turned out to be of great use when I started working at TomTom, and on the 3rd day I was transferred to a Scala project, which was way cooler and much more complex than the original one I was hired for. It was a bit ironic, as my colleagues had just read that “I don’t like Scala” a few weeks earlier, but nevertheless, that was one of the most interesting projects I’ve worked on, and it went on for two years. Had I not known Scala, I’d probably be gone from TomTom much earlier (as the other project was restructured a few times), and I would not have learned many of the scalability, architecture and AWS lessons that I did learn there.
But the very same project had an even more important follow-up. Because if its “civic hacking” flavour, I was invited to join an informal group of developers (later officiated as an NGO) who create tools that are useful for society (something like MySociety.org). That group gathered regularly, discussed both tools and policies, and at some point we put up a list of policy priorities that we wanted to lobby policy makers. One of them was open source for the government, the other one was open data. As a result of our interaction with an interim government, we donated the official open data portal of my country, functioning to this day.
As a result of that, a few months later we got a proposal from the deputy prime minister’s office to “elect” one of the group for an advisor to the cabinet. And we decided that could be me. So I went for it and became advisor to the deputy prime minister. The job has nothing to do with anything one could imagine, and it was challenging and fascinating. We managed to pass legislation, including one that requires open source for custom projects, eID and open data. And all of that would not have been possible without my little side project.
As for my latest side project, LogSentinel – it became my current startup company. And not without help from the previous two mentioned above – the computer science paper reading was of great use when I was navigating the crypto papers landscape, and from the government job I not only gained invaluable legal knowledge, but I also “got” a co-founder.
Some other side projects died without much fanfare, and that’s fine. But the ones above shaped my “story” in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.
And I agree that such serendipitous chain of events could have happened without side projects – I could’ve gotten these opportunities by meeting someone at a bar (unlikely, but who knows). But we, as software engineers, are capable of tilting chance towards us by utilizing our skills. Side projects are our “extracurricular activities”, and they often lead to unpredictable, but rather positive chains of events. They would rarely be the only factor, but they are certainly great at unlocking potential.
The Intercept has a long article on Japan’s equivalent of the NSA: the Directorate for Signals Intelligence. Interesting, but nothing really surprising.
The directorate has a history that dates back to the 1950s; its role is to eavesdrop on communications. But its operations remain so highly classified that the Japanese government has disclosed little about its work even the location of its headquarters. Most Japanese officials, except for a select few of the prime minister’s inner circle, are kept in the dark about the directorate’s activities, which are regulated by a limited legal framework and not subject to any independent oversight.
Now, a new investigation by the Japanese broadcaster NHK — produced in collaboration with The Intercept — reveals for the first time details about the inner workings of Japan’s opaque spy community. Based on classified documents and interviews with current and former officials familiar with the agency’s intelligence work, the investigation shines light on a previously undisclosed internet surveillance program and a spy hub in the south of Japan that is used to monitor phone calls and emails passing across communications satellites.
The article includes some new documents from the Snowden archive.
Earlier this spring, an excited group of STEM educators came together to participate in the first ever Raspberry Pi and Arduino workshop in Puerto Rico.
Their three-day digital making adventure was led by MakerTechPR’s José Rullán and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Alex Martínez. They ran the event as part of the Robot Makers challenge organized by Yees! and sponsored by Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Trade to promote entrepreneurial skills within Puerto Rico’s education system.
Over 30 educators attended the workshop, which covered the use of the Raspberry Pi 3 as a computer and digital making resource. The educators received a kit consisting of a Raspberry Pi 3 with an Explorer HAT Pro and an Arduino Uno. At the end of the workshop, the educators were able to keep the kit as a demonstration unit for their classrooms. They were enthusiastic to learn new concepts and immerse themselves in the world of physical computing.
In their first session, the educators were introduced to the Raspberry Pi as an affordable technology for robotic clubs. In their second session, they explored physical computing and the coding languages needed to control the Explorer HAT Pro. They started off coding with Scratch, with which some educators had experience, and ended with controlling the GPIO pins with Python. In the final session, they learned how to develop applications using the powerful combination of Arduino and Raspberry Pi for robotics projects. This gave them a better understanding of how they could engage their students in physical computing.
“The Raspberry Pi ecosystem is the perfect solution in the classroom because to us it is very resourceful and accessible.” – Alex Martínez
Computer science and robotics courses are important for many schools and teachers in Puerto Rico. The simple idea of programming a microcontroller from a $35 computer increases the chances of more students having access to more technology to create things.
Puerto Rico’s education system has faced enormous challenges after Hurricane Maria, including economic collapse and the government’s closure of many schools due to the exodus of families from the island. By attending training like this workshop, educators in Puerto Rico are becoming more experienced in fields like robotics in particular, which are key for 21st-century skills and learning. This, in turn, can lead to more educational opportunities, and hopefully the reopening of more schools on the island.
“We find it imperative that our children be taught STEM disciplines and skills. Our goal is to continue this work of spreading digital making and computer science using the Raspberry Pi around Puerto Rico. We want our children to have the best education possible.” – Alex Martínez
After attending Picademy in 2016, Alex has integrated the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s online resources into his classroom. He has also taught small workshops around the island and in the local Puerto Rican makerspace community. José is an electrical engineer, entrepreneur, educator and hobbyist who enjoys learning to use technology and sharing his knowledge through projects and challenges.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon stopped selling phones made by the Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei on military bases because they might be used to spy on their users.
It’s a legitimate fear, and perhaps a prudent action. But it’s just one instance of the much larger issue of securing our supply chains.
All of our computerized systems are deeply international, and we have no choice but to trust the companies and governments that touch those systems. And while we can ban a few specific products, services or companies, no country can isolate itself from potential foreign interference.
In this specific case, the Pentagon is concerned that the Chinese government demanded that ZTE and Huawei add “backdoors” to their phones that could be surreptitiously turned on by government spies or cause them to fail during some future political conflict. This tampering is possible because the software in these phones is incredibly complex. It’s relatively easy for programmers to hide these capabilities, and correspondingly difficult to detect them.
This isn’t the first time the United States has taken action against foreign software suspected to contain hidden features that can be used against us. Last December, President Trump signed into law a bill banning software from the Russian company Kaspersky from being used within the US government. In 2012, the focus was on Chinese-made Internet routers. Then, the House Intelligence Committee concluded: “Based on available classified and unclassified information, Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems.”
Nor is the United States the only country worried about these threats. In 2014, China reportedly banned antivirus products from both Kaspersky and the US company Symantec, based on similar fears. In 2017, the Indian government identified 42 smartphone apps that China subverted. Back in 1997, the Israeli company Check Point was dogged by rumors that its government added backdoors into its products; other of that country’s tech companies have been suspected of the same thing. Even al-Qaeda was concerned; ten years ago, a sympathizer released the encryption software Mujahedeen Secrets, claimed to be free of Western influence and backdoors. If a country doesn’t trust another country, then it can’t trust that country’s computer products.
But this trust isn’t limited to the country where the company is based. We have to trust the country where the software is written — and the countries where all the components are manufactured. In 2016, researchers discovered that many different models of cheap Android phones were sending information back to China. The phones might be American-made, but the software was from China. In 2016, researchers demonstrated an even more devious technique, where a backdoor could be added at the computer chip level in the factory that made the chips without the knowledge of, and undetectable by, the engineers who designed the chips in the first place. Pretty much every US technology company manufactures its hardware in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Taiwan.
We also have to trust the programmers. Today’s large software programs are written by teams of hundreds of programmers scattered around the globe. Backdoors, put there by we-have-no-idea-who, have been discovered in Juniper firewalls and D-Link routers, both of which are US companies. In 2003, someone almost slipped a very clever backdoor into Linux. Think of how many countries’ citizens are writing software for Apple or Microsoft or Google.
We can go even farther down the rabbit hole. We have to trust the distribution systems for our hardware and software. Documents disclosed by Edward Snowden showed the National Security Agency installing backdoors into Cisco routers being shipped to the Syrian telephone company. There are fake apps in the Google Play store that eavesdrop on you. Russian hackers subverted the update mechanism of a popular brand of Ukrainian accounting software to spread the NotPetya malware.
I could go on. Supply-chain security is an incredibly complex problem. US-only design and manufacturing isn’t an option; the tech world is far too internationally interdependent for that. We can’t trust anyone, yet we have no choice but to trust everyone. Our phones, computers, software and cloud systems are touched by citizens of dozens of different countries, any one of whom could subvert them at the demand of their government. And just as Russia is penetrating the US power grid so they have that capability in the event of hostilities, many countries are almost certainly doing the same thing at the consumer level.
We don’t know whether the risk of Huawei and ZTE equipment is great enough to warrant the ban. We don’t know what classified intelligence the United States has, and what it implies. But we do know that this is just a minor fix for a much larger problem. It’s doubtful that this ban will have any real effect. Members of the military, and everyone else, can still buy the phones. They just can’t buy them on US military bases. And while the US might block the occasional merger or acquisition, or ban the occasional hardware or software product, we’re largely ignoring that larger issue. Solving it borders on somewhere between incredibly expensive and realistically impossible.
Perhaps someday, global norms and international treaties will render this sort of device-level tampering off-limits. But until then, all we can do is hope that this particular arms race doesn’t get too far out of control.
This guide will help you understand logical separation in the cloud and demonstrates its advantages over a traditional physical separation model. Embracing this approach can help organizations confidently meet or exceed security requirements found in traditional on-premises environments, while also providing increased security control and flexibility.
Logical Separation is the second guide in the AWS Government Handbook Series, which examines cybersecurity policy initiatives and identifies best practices.
If you have questions or want to learn more, contact your account executive or AWS Support.
Most likely you’ve read the tantalizing stories of big gains from investing in cryptocurrencies. Someone who invested $1,000 into bitcoins five years ago would have over $85,000 in value now. Alternatively, someone who invested in bitcoins three months ago would have seen their investment lose 20% in value. Beyond the big price fluctuations, currency holders are possibly exposed to fraud, bad business practices, and even risk losing their holdings altogether if they are careless in keeping track of the all-important currency keys.
It’s certain that beyond the rewards and risks, cryptocurrencies are here to stay. We can’t ignore how they are changing the game for how money is handled between people and businesses.
Some Advantages of Cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrency is accessible to anyone.
Decentralization means the network operates on a user-to-user (or peer-to-peer) basis.
Transactions can completed for a fraction of the expense and time required to complete traditional asset transfers.
Transactions are digital and cannot be counterfeited or reversed arbitrarily by the sender, as with credit card charge-backs.
There aren’t usually transaction fees for cryptocurrency exchanges.
Cryptocurrency allows the cryptocurrency holder to send exactly what information is needed and no more to the merchant or recipient, even permitting anonymous transactions (for good or bad).
Cryptocurrency operates at the universal level and hence makes transactions easier internationally.
There is no other electronic cash system in which your account isn’t owned by someone else.
On top of all that, blockchain, the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies, is already being applied to a variety of business needs and itself becoming a hot sector of the tech economy. Blockchain is bringing traceability and cost-effectiveness to supply-chain management — which also improves quality assurance in areas such as food, reducing errors and improving accounting accuracy, smart contracts that can be automatically validated, signed and enforced through a blockchain construct, the possibility of secure, online voting, and many others.
Like any new, booming marketing there are risks involved in these new currencies. Anyone venturing into this domain needs to have their eyes wide open. While the opportunities for making money are real, there are even more ways to lose money.
We’re going to cover two primary approaches to staying safe and avoiding fraud and loss when dealing with cryptocurrencies. The first is to thoroughly vet any person or company you’re dealing with to judge whether they are ethical and likely to succeed in their business segment. The second is keeping your critical cryptocurrency keys safe, which we’ll deal with in this and a subsequent post.
Caveat Emptor — Buyer Beware
The short history of cryptocurrency has already seen the demise of a number of companies that claimed to manage, mine, trade, or otherwise help their customers profit from cryptocurrency. Mt. Gox, GAW Miners, and OneCoin are just three of the many companies that disappeared with their users’ money. This is the traditional equivalent of your bank going out of business and zeroing out your checking account in the process.
That doesn’t happen with banks because of regulatory oversight. But with cryptocurrency, you need to take the time to investigate any company you use to manage or trade your currencies. How long have they been around? Who are their investors? Are they affiliated with any reputable financial institutions? What is the record of their founders and executive management? These are all important questions to consider when evaluating a company in this new space.
Would you give the keys to your house to a service or person you didn’t thoroughly know and trust? Some companies that enable you to buy and sell currencies online will routinely hold your currency keys, which gives them the ability to do anything they want with your holdings, including selling them and pocketing the proceeds if they wish.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever allow a company to keep your currency keys in escrow. It simply means that you better know with whom you’re doing business and if they’re trustworthy enough to be given that responsibility.
Keys To the Cryptocurrency Kingdom — Public and Private
If you’re an owner of cryptocurrency, you know how this all works. If you’re not, bear with me for a minute while I bring everyone up to speed.
Cryptocurrency has no physical manifestation, such as bills or coins. It exists purely as a computer record. And unlike currencies maintained by governments, such as the U.S. dollar, there is no central authority regulating its distribution and value. Cryptocurrencies use a technology called blockchain, which is a decentralized way of keeping track of transactions. There are many copies of a given blockchain, so no single central authority is needed to validate its authenticity or accuracy.
The validity of each cryptocurrency is determined by a blockchain. A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called “blocks”, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Blockchains by design are inherently resistant to modification of the data. They perform as an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable, permanent way. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority. On a scaled network, this level of collusion is impossible — making blockchain networks effectively immutable and trustworthy.
The other element common to all cryptocurrencies is their use of public and private keys, which are stored in the currency’s wallet. A cryptocurrency wallet stores the public and private “keys” or “addresses” that can be used to receive or spend the cryptocurrency. With the private key, it is possible to write in the public ledger (blockchain), effectively spending the associated cryptocurrency. With the public key, it is possible for others to send currency to the wallet.
Cryptocurrency “coins” can be lost if the owner loses the private keys needed to spend the currency they own. It’s as if the owner had lost a bank account number and had no way to verify their identity to the bank, or if they lost the U.S. dollars they had in their wallet. The assets are gone and unusable.
The Cryptocurrency Wallet
Given the importance of these keys, and lack of recourse if they are lost, it’s obviously very important to keep track of your keys.
If you’re being careful in choosing reputable exchanges, app developers, and other services with whom to trust your cryptocurrency, you’ve made a good start in keeping your investment secure. But if you’re careless in managing the keys to your bitcoins, ether, Litecoin, or other cryptocurrency, you might as well leave your money on a cafe tabletop and walk away.
What Are the Differences Between Hot and Cold Wallets?
Just like other numbers you might wish to keep track of — credit cards, account numbers, phone numbers, passphrases — cryptocurrency keys can be stored in a variety of ways. Those who use their currencies for day-to-day purchases most likely will want them handy in a smartphone app, hardware key, or debit card that can be used for purchases. These are called “hot” wallets. Some experts advise keeping the balances in these devices and apps to a minimal amount to avoid hacking or data loss. We typically don’t walk around with thousands of dollars in U.S. currency in our old-style wallets, so this is really a continuation of the same approach to managing spending money.
A “hot” wallet, the Bread mobile app
Some investors with large balances keep their keys in “cold” wallets, or “cold storage,” i.e. a device or location that is not connected online. If funds are needed for purchases, they can be transferred to a more easily used payment medium. Cold wallets can be hardware devices, USB drives, or even paper copies of your keys.
A “cold” wallet, the Trezor hardware wallet
A “cold” wallet, the Ledger Nano S
A “cold” Bitcoin paper wallet
Wallets are suited to holding one or more specific cryptocurrencies, and some people have multiple wallets for different currencies and different purposes.
A paper wallet is nothing other than a printed record of your public and private keys. Some prefer their records to be completely disconnected from the internet, and a piece of paper serves that need. Just like writing down an account password on paper, however, it’s essential to keep the paper secure to avoid giving someone the ability to freely access your funds.
How to Keep your Keys, and Cryptocurrency Secure
In a post this coming Thursday, Securing Your Cryptocurrency, we’ll discuss the best strategies for backing up your cryptocurrency so that your currencies don’t become part of the millions that have been lost. We’ll cover the common (and uncommon) approaches to backing up hot wallets, cold wallets, and using paper and metal solutions to keeping your keys safe.
In the meantime, please tell us of your experiences with cryptocurrencies — good and bad — and how you’ve dealt with the issue of cryptocurrency security.
According to this Wired article, Ray Ozzie may have a solution to the crypto backdoor problem. No, he hasn’t. He’s only solving the part we already know how to solve. He’s deliberately ignoring the stuff we don’t know how to solve. We know how to make backdoors, we just don’t know how to secure them.
The vault doesn’t scale
Yes, Apple has a vault where they’ve successfully protected important keys. No, it doesn’t mean this vault scales. The more people and the more often you have to touch the vault, the less secure it becomes. We are talking thousands of requests per day from 100,000 different law enforcement agencies around the world. We are unlikely to protect this against incompetence and mistakes. We are definitely unable to secure this against deliberate attack.
A good analogy to Ozzie’s solution is LetsEncrypt for getting SSL certificates for your website, which is fairly scalable, using a private key locked in a vault for signing hundreds of thousands of certificates. That this scales seems to validate Ozzie’s proposal.
But at the same time, LetsEncrypt is easily subverted. LetsEncrypt uses DNS to verify your identity. But spoofing DNS is easy, as was recently shown in the recent BGP attack against a cryptocurrency. Attackers can create fraudulent SSL certificates with enough effort. We’ve got other protections against this, such as discovering and revoking the SSL bad certificate, so while damaging, it’s not catastrophic.
But with Ozzie’s scheme, equivalent attacks would be catastrophic, as it would lead to unlocking the phone and stealing all of somebody’s secrets.
In particular, consider what would happen if LetsEncrypt’s certificate was stolen (as Matthew Green points out). The consequence is that this would be detected and mass revocations would occur. If Ozzie’s master key were stolen, nothing would happen. Nobody would know, and evildoers would be able to freely decrypt phones. Ozzie claims his scheme can work because SSL works — but then his scheme includes none of the many protections necessary to make SSL work.
What I’m trying to show here is that in a lab, it all looks nice and pretty, but when attacked at scale, things break down — quickly. We have so much experience with failure at scale that we can judge Ozzie’s scheme as woefully incomplete. It’s not even up to the standard of SSL, and we have a long list of SSL problems.
Cryptography is about people more than math We have a mathematically pure encryption algorithm called the “One Time Pad”. It can’t ever be broken, provably so with mathematics.
It’s also perfectly useless, as it’s not something humans can use. That’s why we use AES, which is vastly less secure (anything you encrypt today can probably be decrypted in 100 years). AES can be used by humans whereas One Time Pads cannot be. (I learned the fallacy of One Time Pad’s on my grandfather’s knee — he was a WW II codebreaker who broke German messages trying to futz with One Time Pads).
The same is true with Ozzie’s scheme. It focuses on the mathematical model but ignores the human element. We already know how to solve the mathematical problem in a hundred different ways. The part we don’t know how to secure is the human element.
How do we know the law enforcement person is who they say they are? How do we know the “trusted Apple employee” can’t be bribed? How can the law enforcement agent communicate securely with the Apple employee?
You think these things are theoretical, but they aren’t. Consider financial transactions. It used to be common that you could just email your bank/broker to wire funds into an account for such things as buying a house. Hackers have subverted that, intercepting messages, changing account numbers, and stealing millions. Most banks/brokers require additional verification before doing such transfers.
Let me repeat: Ozzie has only solved the part we already know how to solve. He hasn’t addressed these issues that confound us.
We still can’t secure security, much less secure backdoors
We already know how to decrypt iPhones: just wait a year or two for somebody to discover a vulnerability. FBI claims it’s “going dark”, but that’s only for timely decryption of phones. If they are willing to wait a year or two a vulnerability will eventually be found that allows decryption.
That’s what’s happened with the “GrayKey” device that’s been all over the news lately. Apple is fixing it so that it won’t work on new phones, but it works on old phones.
Ozzie’s solution is based on the assumption that iPhones are already secure against things like GrayKey. Like his assumption “if Apple already has a vault for private keys, then we have such vaults for backdoor keys”, Ozzie is saying “if Apple already had secure hardware/software to secure the phone, then we can use the same stuff to secure the backdoors”. But we don’t really have secure vaults and we don’t really have secure hardware/software to secure the phone.
Again, to stress this point, Ozzie is solving the part we already know how to solve, but ignoring the stuff we don’t know how to solve. His solution is insecure for the same reason phones are already insecure.
Locked phones aren’t the problem Phones are general purpose computers. That means anybody can install an encryption app on the phone regardless of whatever other security the phone might provide. The police are powerless to stop this. Even if they make such encryption crime, then criminals will still use encryption.
That leads to a strange situation that the only data the FBI will be able to decrypt is that of people who believe they are innocent. Those who know they are guilty will install encryption apps like Signal that have no backdoors.
In the past this was rare, as people found learning new apps a barrier. These days, apps like Signal are so easy even drug dealers can figure out how to use them.
We know how to get Apple to give us a backdoor, just pass a law forcing them to. It may look like Ozzie’s scheme, it may be something more secure designed by Apple’s engineers. Sure, it will weaken security on the phone for everyone, but those who truly care will just install Signal. But again we are back to the problem that Ozzie’s solving the problem we know how to solve while ignoring the much larger problem, that of preventing people from installing their own encryption.
The FBI isn’t necessarily the problem Ozzie phrases his solution in terms of U.S. law enforcement. Well, what about Europe? What about Russia? What about China? What about North Korea?
Technology is borderless. A solution in the United States that allows “legitimate” law enforcement requests will inevitably be used by repressive states for what we believe would be “illegitimate” law enforcement requests.
Ozzie sees himself as the hero helping law enforcement protect 300 million American citizens. He doesn’t see himself what he really is, the villain helping oppress 1.4 billion Chinese, 144 million Russians, and another couple billion living in oppressive governments around the world.
Conclusion Ozzie pretends the problem is political, that he’s created a solution that appeases both sides. He hasn’t. He’s solved the problem we already know how to solve. He’s ignored all the problems we struggle with, the problems we claim make secure backdoors essentially impossible. I’ve listed some in this post, but there are many more. Any famous person can create a solution that convinces fawning editors at Wired Magazine, but if Ozzie wants to move forward he’s going to have to work harder to appease doubting cryptographers.
As ransomware attacks have grown in number in recent months, the tactics and attack vectors also have evolved. While the primary method of attack used to be to target individual computer users within organizations with phishing emails and infected attachments, we’re increasingly seeing attacks that target weaknesses in businesses’ IT infrastructure.
How Ransomware Attacks Typically Work
In our previous posts on ransomware, we described the common vehicles used by hackers to infect organizations with ransomware viruses. Most often, downloaders distribute trojan horses through malicious downloads and spam emails. The emails contain a variety of file attachments, which if opened, will download and run one of the many ransomware variants. Once a user’s computer is infected with a malicious downloader, it will retrieve additional malware, which frequently includes crypto-ransomware. After the files have been encrypted, a ransom payment is demanded of the victim in order to decrypt the files.
What’s Changed With the Latest Ransomware Attacks?
In 2016, a customized ransomware strain called SamSam began attacking the servers in primarily health care institutions. SamSam, unlike more conventional ransomware, is not delivered through downloads or phishing emails. Instead, the attackers behind SamSam use tools to identify unpatched servers running Red Hat’s JBoss enterprise products. Once the attackers have successfully gained entry into one of these servers by exploiting vulnerabilities in JBoss, they use other freely available tools and scripts to collect credentials and gather information on networked computers. Then they deploy their ransomware to encrypt files on these systems before demanding a ransom. Gaining entry to an organization through its IT center rather than its endpoints makes this approach scalable and especially unsettling.
SamSam’s methodology is to scour the Internet searching for accessible and vulnerable JBoss application servers, especially ones used by hospitals. It’s not unlike a burglar rattling doorknobs in a neighborhood to find unlocked homes. When SamSam finds an unlocked home (unpatched server), the software infiltrates the system. It is then free to spread across the company’s network by stealing passwords. As it transverses the network and systems, it encrypts files, preventing access until the victims pay the hackers a ransom, typically between $10,000 and $15,000. The low ransom amount has encouraged some victimized organizations to pay the ransom rather than incur the downtime required to wipe and reinitialize their IT systems.
The success of SamSam is due to its effectiveness rather than its sophistication. SamSam can enter and transverse a network without human intervention. Some organizations are learning too late that securing internet-facing services in their data center from attack is just as important as securing endpoints.
The typical steps in a SamSam ransomware attack are:
1 Attackers gain access to vulnerable server
Attackers exploit vulnerable software or weak/stolen credentials.
2 Attack spreads via remote access tools
Attackers harvest credentials, create SOCKS proxies to tunnel traffic, and abuse RDP to install SamSam on more computers in the network.
3 Ransomware payload deployed
Attackers run batch scripts to execute ransomware on compromised machines.
4 Ransomware demand delivered requiring payment to decrypt files
Demand amounts vary from victim to victim. Relatively low ransom amounts appear to be designed to encourage quick payment decisions.
What all the organizations successfully exploited by SamSam have in common is that they were running unpatched servers that made them vulnerable to SamSam. Some organizations had their endpoints and servers backed up, while others did not. Some of those without backups they could use to recover their systems chose to pay the ransom money.
Timeline of SamSam History and Exploits
Since its appearance in 2016, SamSam has been in the news with many successful incursions into healthcare, business, and government institutions.
March 2016 SamSam appears
SamSam campaign targets vulnerable JBoss servers Attackers hone in on healthcare organizations specifically, as they’re more likely to have unpatched JBoss machines.
April 2016 SamSam finds new targets
SamSam begins targeting schools and government. After initial success targeting healthcare, attackers branch out to other sectors.
April 2017 New tactics include RDP
Attackers shift to targeting organizations with exposed RDP connections, and maintain focus on healthcare. An attack on Erie County Medical Center costs the hospital $10 million over three months of recovery.
January 2018 Municipalities attacked
• Attack on Municipality of Farmington, NM. • Attack on Hancock Health. • Attack on Adams Memorial Hospital • Attack on Allscripts (Electronic Health Records), which includes 180,000 physicians, 2,500 hospitals, and 7.2 million patients’ health records.
February 2018 Attack volume increases
• Attack on Davidson County, NC. • Attack on Colorado Department of Transportation.
March 2018 SamSam shuts down Atlanta
• Second attack on Colorado Department of Transportation. • City of Atlanta suffers a devastating attack by SamSam. The attack has far-reaching impacts — crippling the court system, keeping residents from paying their water bills, limiting vital communications like sewer infrastructure requests, and pushing the Atlanta Police Department to file paper reports. • SamSam campaign nets $325,000 in 4 weeks. Infections spike as attackers launch new campaigns. Healthcare and government organizations are once again the primary targets.
How to Defend Against SamSam and Other Ransomware Attacks
The best way to respond to a ransomware attack is to avoid having one in the first place. If you are attacked, making sure your valuable data is backed up and unreachable by ransomware infection will ensure that your downtime and data loss will be minimal or none if you ever suffer an attack.
Use anti-virus and anti-malware software or other security policies to block known payloads from launching.
Make frequent, comprehensive backups of all important files and isolate them from local and open networks. Cybersecurity professionals view data backup and recovery (74% in a recent survey) by far as the most effective solution to respond to a successful ransomware attack.
Keep offline backups of data stored in locations inaccessible from any potentially infected computer, such as disconnected external storage drives or the cloud, which prevents them from being accessed by the ransomware.
Install the latest security updates issued by software vendors of your OS and applications. Remember to patch early and patch often to close known vulnerabilities in operating systems, server software, browsers, and web plugins.
Consider deploying security software to protect endpoints, email servers, and network systems from infection.
Exercise cyber hygiene, such as using caution when opening email attachments and links.
Segment your networks to keep critical computers isolated and to prevent the spread of malware in case of attack. Turn off unneeded network shares.
Turn off admin rights for users who don’t require them. Give users the lowest system permissions they need to do their work.
Restrict write permissions on file servers as much as possible.
Educate yourself, your employees, and your family in best practices to keep malware out of your systems. Update everyone on the latest email phishing scams and human engineering aimed at turning victims into abettors.
Please Tell Us About Your Experiences with Ransomware
Have you endured a ransomware attack or have a strategy to avoid becoming a victim? Please tell us of your experiences in the comments.
This article, pointed out by @TheGrugq, is stupid enough that it’s worth rebutting.
“The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the positions of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.” <- I sincerely hope so… “the cyber guns of August” https://t.co/xdybbr5B0E
The article starts with the question “Why did the lessons of Stuxnet, Wannacry, Heartbleed and Shamoon go unheeded?“. It then proceeds to ignore the lessons of those things.
Some of the actual lessons should be things like how Stuxnet crossed air gaps, how Wannacry spread through flat Windows networking, how Heartbleed comes from technical debt, and how Shamoon furthers state aims by causing damage.
But this article doesn’t cover the technical lessons. Instead, it thinks the lesson should be the moral lesson, that we should take these things more seriously. But that’s stupid. It’s the sort of lesson people teach you that know nothing about the topic. When you have nothing of value to contribute to a topic you can always take the moral high road and criticize everyone for being morally weak for not taking it more seriously. Obviously, since doctors haven’t cured cancer yet, it’s because they don’t take the problem seriously.
The article continues to ignore the lesson of these cyber attacks and instead regales us with a list of military lessons from WW I and WW II. This makes the same flaw that many in the military make, trying to understand cyber through analogies with the real world. It’s not that such lessons could have no value, it’s that this article contains a poor list of them. It seems to consist of a random list of events that appeal to the author rather than events that have bearing on cybersecurity.
Then, in case we don’t get the point, the article bullies us with hyperbole, cliches, buzzwords, bombastic language, famous quotes, and citations. It’s hard to see how most of them actually apply to the text. Rather, it seems like they are included simply because he really really likes them.
The article invests much effort in discussing the buzzword “OODA loop”. Most attacks in cyberspace don’t have one. Instead, attackers flail around, trying lots of random things, overcoming defense with brute-force rather than an understanding of what’s going on. That’s obviously the case with Wannacry: it was an accident, with the perpetrator experimenting with what would happen if they added the ETERNALBLUE exploit to their existing ransomware code. The consequence was beyond anybody’s ability to predict.
You might claim that this is just the first stage, that they’ll loop around, observe Wannacry’s effects, orient themselves, decide, then act upon what they learned. Nope. Wannacry burned the exploit. It’s essentially removed any vulnerable systems from the public Internet, thereby making it impossible to use what they learned. It’s still active a year later, with infected systems behind firewalls busily scanning the Internet so that if you put a new system online that’s vulnerable, it’ll be taken offline within a few hours, before any other evildoer can take advantage of it.
See what I’m doing here? Learning the actual lessons of things like Wannacry? The thing the above article fails to do??
The article has a humorous paragraph on “defense in depth”, misunderstanding the term. To be fair, it’s the cybersecurity industry’s fault: they adopted then redefined the term. That’s why there’s two separate articles on Wikipedia: one for the old military term (as used in this article) and one for the new cybersecurity term.
As used in the cybersecurity industry, “defense in depth” means having multiple layers of security. Many organizations put all their defensive efforts on the perimeter, and none inside a network. The idea of “defense in depth” is to put more defenses inside the network. For example, instead of just one firewall at the edge of the network, put firewalls inside the network to segment different subnetworks from each other, so that a ransomware infection in the customer support computers doesn’t spread to sales and marketing computers.
The article talks about exploiting WiFi chips to bypass the defense in depth measures like browser sandboxes. This is conflating different types of attacks. A WiFi attack is usually considered a local attack, from somebody next to you in bar, rather than a remote attack from a server in Russia. Moreover, far from disproving “defense in depth” such WiFi attacks highlight the need for it. Namely, phones need to be designed so that successful exploitation of other microprocessors (namely, the WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular baseband chips) can’t directly compromise the host system. In other words, once exploited with “Broadpwn”, a hacker would need to extend the exploit chain with another vulnerability in the hosts Broadcom WiFi driver rather than immediately exploiting a DMA attack across PCIe. This suggests that if PCIe is used to interface to peripherals in the phone that an IOMMU be used, for “defense in depth”.
Cybersecurity is a young field. There are lots of useful things that outsider non-techies can teach us. Lessons from military history would be well-received.
But that’s not this story. Instead, this story is by an outsider telling us we don’t know what we are doing, that they do, and then proceeds to prove they don’t know what they are doing. Their argument is based on a moral suasion and bullying us with what appears on the surface to be intellectual rigor, but which is in fact devoid of anything smart.
My fear, here, is that I’m going to be in a meeting where somebody has read this pretentious garbage, explaining to me why “defense in depth” is wrong and how we need to OODA faster. I’d rather nip this in the bud, pointing out if you found anything interesting from that article, you are wrong.
Jim Gettys refutes the claim that the early designers of Internet software were not concerned about security. “Government export controls crippled Internet security and the design of Internet protocols from the very beginning: we continue to pay the price to this day“.
This is a really interesting research result. This paper proves that two parties can create a secure communications channel using a communications system with a backdoor. It’s a theoretical result, so it doesn’t talk about how easy that channel is to create. And the assumptions on the adversary are pretty reasonable: that each party can create his own randomness, and that the government isn’t literally eavesdropping on every single part of the network at all times.
This result reminds me a lot of the work about subliminal channels from the 1980s and 1990s, and the notions of how to build an anonymous communications system on top of an identified system. Basically, it’s always possible to overlay a system around and outside any closed system.
Abstract: In this work, we examine the feasibility of secure and undetectable point-to-point communication in a world where governments can read all the encrypted communications of their citizens. We consider a world where the only permitted method of communication is via a government-mandated encryption scheme, instantiated with government-mandated keys. Parties cannot simply encrypt ciphertexts of some other encryption scheme, because citizens caught trying to communicate outside the government’s knowledge (e.g., by encrypting strings which do not appear to be natural language plaintexts) will be arrested. The one guarantee we suppose is that the government mandates an encryption scheme which is semantically secure against outsiders: a perhaps reasonable supposition when a government might consider it advantageous to secure its people’s communication against foreign entities. But then, what good is semantic security against an adversary that holds all the keys and has the power to decrypt?
We show that even in the pessimistic scenario described, citizens can communicate securely and undetectably. In our terminology, this translates to a positive statement: all semantically secure encryption schemes support subliminal communication. Informally, this means that there is a two-party protocol between Alice and Bob where the parties exchange ciphertexts of what appears to be a normal conversation even to someone who knows the secret keys and thus can read the corresponding plaintexts. And yet, at the end of the protocol, Alice will have transmitted her secret message to Bob. Our security definition requires that the adversary not be able to tell whether Alice and Bob are just having a normal conversation using the mandated encryption scheme, or they are using the mandated encryption scheme for subliminal communication.
Our topics may be thought to fall broadly within the realm of steganography: the science of hiding secret communication within innocent-looking messages, or cover objects. However, we deal with the non-standard setting of an adversarially chosen distribution of cover objects (i.e., a stronger-than-usual adversary), and we take advantage of the fact that our cover objects are ciphertexts of a semantically secure encryption scheme to bypass impossibility results which we show for broader classes of steganographic schemes. We give several constructions of subliminal communication schemes under the assumption that key exchange protocols with pseudorandom messages exist (such as Diffie-Hellman, which in fact has truly random messages). Each construction leverages the assumed semantic security of the adversarially chosen encryption scheme, in order to achieve subliminal communication.
Many large institutions, especially government agencies, would like to distribute their software—including the software of the vendors with whom they contract—as free software. They have a variety of reasons, ranging from the hope that opening the code will boost its use, all the way to a mature understanding of the importance of community, transparency, and freedom. There are special steps institutions can take to help ensure success, some stemming from best practices performed by many free-software projects and others specific to large organizations. At the 2018 LibrePlanet conference, Cecilia Donnelly laid out nine principles for the successful creation and maintenance of a software project under these circumstances.
Crypto-backdoors for law enforcement is a reasonable position, but the side that argues for it adds things that are either outright lies or morally corrupt. Every year, the amount of digital evidence law enforcement has to solve crimes increases, yet they outrageously lie, claiming they are “going dark”, losing access to evidence. A weirder claim is that those who oppose crypto-backdoors are nonetheless ethically required to make them work. This is morally corrupt.
What I am saying is that those arguing that we should reject third-party access out of hand haven’t carried their research burden. … There are two reasons why I think there hasn’t been enough research to establish the no-third-party access position. First, research in this area is “taboo” among security researchers. … the second reason why I believe more research needs to be done: the fact that prominent non-government experts are publicly willing to try to build secure third-party-access solutions should make the information-security community question the consensus view.
This is nonsense. It’s like claiming we haven’t cured the common cold because researchers haven’t spent enough effort at it. When researchers claim they’ve tried 10,000 ways to make something work, it’s like insisting they haven’t done enough because they haven’t tried 10,001 times.
Certainly, half the community doesn’t want to make such things work. Any solution for the “legitimate” law enforcement of the United States means a solution for illegitimate states like China and Russia which would use the feature to oppress their own people. Even if I believe it’s a net benefit to the United States, I would never attempt such research because of China and Russia.
But computer scientists notoriously ignore ethics in pursuit of developing technology. That describes the other half of the crypto community who would gladly work on the problem. The reason they haven’t come up with solutions is because the problem is hard, really hard.
The second reason the above argument is wrong: it says we should believe a solution is possible because some outsiders are willing to try. But as Yoda says, do or do not, there is no try. Our opinions on the difficulty of the problem don’t change simply because people are trying. Our opinions change when people are succeeding. People are always trying the impossible, that’s not evidence it’s possible.
The paper cherry picks things, like Intel CPU features, to make it seem like they are making forward progress. No. Intel’s SGX extensions are there for other reasons. Sure, it’s a new development, and new developments may change our opinion on the feasibility of law enforcement backdoors. But nowhere in talking about this new development have they actually proposes a solution to the backdoor problem. New developments happen all the time, and the pro-backdoor side is going to seize upon each and every one to claim that this, finally, solves the backdoor problem, without showing exactly how it solves the problem.
The Lawfare post does make one good argument, that there is no such thing as “absolute security”, and thus the argument is stupid that “crypto-backdoors would be less than absolute security”. Too often in the cybersecurity community we reject solutions that don’t provide “absolute security” while failing to acknowledge that “absolute security” is impossible.
But that’s not really what’s going on here. Cryptographers aren’t certain we’ve achieved even “adequate security” with current crypto regimes like SSL/TLS/HTTPS. Every few years we find horrible flaws in the old versions and have to develop new versions. If you steal somebody’s iPhone today, it’s so secure you can’t decrypt anything on it. But then if you hold it for 5 years, somebody will eventually figure out a hole and then you’ll be able to decrypt it — a hole that won’t affect Apple’s newer phones.
The reason we think we can’t get crypto-backdoors correct is simply because we can’t get crypto completely correct. It’s implausible that we can get the backdoors working securely when we still have so much trouble getting encryption working correctly in the first place.
Thus, we aren’t talking about “insignificantly less security”, we are talking about going from “barely adequate security” to “inadequate security”. Negotiating keys between you and a website is hard enough without simultaneously having to juggle keys with law enforcement organizations.
And finally, even if cryptographers do everything correctly law enforcement themselves haven’t proven themselves reliable. The NSA exposed its exploits (like the infamous ETERNALBLUE), and OPM lost all its security clearance records. If they can’t keep those secrets, it’s unreasonable to believe they can hold onto backdoor secrets. One of the problems cryptographers are expected to solve is partly this, to make it work in a such way that makes it unlikely law enforcement will lose its secrets.
This argument by the pro-backdoor side, that we in the crypto-community should do more to solve backdoors, it simply wrong. We’ve spent a lot of effort at this already. Many continue to work on this problem — the reason you haven’t heard much from them is because they haven’t had much success. It’s like blaming doctors for not doing more to work on interrogation drugs (truth serums). Sure, a lot of doctors won’t work on this because it’s distasteful, but at the same time, there are many drug companies who would love to profit by them. The reason they don’t exist is not because they aren’t spending enough money researching them, it’s because there is no plausible solution in sight.
Crypto-backdoors designed for law-enforcement will significantly harm your security. This may change in the future, but that’s the state of crypto today. You should trust the crypto experts on this, not lawyers.
Abstract: In recent years, hardware Trojans have drawn the attention of governments and industry as well as the scientific community. One of the main concerns is that integrated circuits, e.g., for military or critical-infrastructure applications, could be maliciously manipulated during the manufacturing process, which often takes place abroad. However, since there have been no reported hardware Trojans in practice yet, little is known about how such a Trojan would look like and how difficult it would be in practice to implement one. In this paper we propose an extremely stealthy approach for implementing hardware Trojans below the gate level, and we evaluate their impact on the security of the target device. Instead of adding additional circuitry to the target design, we insert our hardware Trojans by changing the dopant polarity of existing transistors. Since the modified circuit appears legitimate on all wiring layers (including all metal and polysilicon), our family of Trojans is resistant to most detection techniques, including fine-grain optical inspection and checking against “golden chips”. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach by inserting Trojans into two designs — a digital post-processing derived from Intel’s cryptographically secure RNG design used in the Ivy Bridge processors and a side-channel resistant SBox implementation — and by exploring their detectability and their effects on security.
The moral is that this kind of technique is very difficult to detect.
Data that describe processes in a spatial context are everywhere in our day-to-day lives and they dominate big data problems. Map data, for instance, whether describing networks of roads or remote sensing data from satellites, get us where we need to go. Atmospheric data from simulations and sensors underlie our weather forecasts and climate models. Devices and sensors with GPS can provide a spatial context to nearly all mobile data.
In this post, we introduce the WIND toolkit, a huge (500 TB), open weather model dataset that’s available to the world on Amazon’s cloud services. We walk through how to access this data and some of the open-source software developed to make it easily accessible. Our solution considers a subset of geospatial data that exist on a grid (raster) and explores ways to provide access to large-scale raster data from weather models. The solution uses foundational AWS services and the Hierarchical Data Format (HDF), a well adopted format for scientific data.
The approach developed here can be extended to any data that fit in an HDF5 file, which can describe sparse and dense vectors and matrices of arbitrary dimensions. This format is already popular within the physical sciences for both experimental and simulation data. We discuss solutions to gridded data storage for a massive dataset of public weather model outputs called the Wind Integration National Dataset (WIND) toolkit. We also highlight strategies that are general to other large geospatial data management problems.
Wind Integration National Dataset
As variable renewable power penetration levels increase in power systems worldwide, the importance of renewable integration studies to ensure continued economic and reliable operation of the power grid is also increasing. The WIND toolkit is the largest freely available grid integration dataset to date.
The WIND toolkit was developed by 3TIER by Vaisala. They were under a subcontract to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to support studies on integration of wind energy into the existing US grid. NREL is a part of a network of national laboratories for the US Department of Energy and has a mission to advance the science and engineering of energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and renewable power technologies.
The toolkit has been used by consultants, research groups, and universities worldwide to support grid integration studies. Less traditional uses also include resource assessments for wind plants (such as those powering Amazon data centers), and studying the effects of weather on California condor migrations in the Baja peninsula.
The diversity of applications highlights the value of accessible, open public data. Yet, there’s a catch: the dataset is huge. The WIND toolkit provides simulated atmospheric (weather) data at a two-km spatial resolution and five-minute temporal resolution at multiple heights for seven years. The entire dataset is half a petabyte (500 TB) in size and is stored in the NREL High Performance Computing data center in Golden, Colorado. Making this dataset publicly available easily and in a cost-effective manner is a major challenge.
As other laboratories and public institutions work to release their data to the world, they may face similar challenges to those that we experienced. Some prior, well-intentioned efforts to release huge datasets as-is have resulted in data resources that are technically available but fundamentally unusable. They may be stored in an unintuitive format or indexed and organized to support only a subset of potential uses. Downloading hundreds of terabytes of data is often impractical. Most users don’t have access to a big data cluster (or super computer) to slice and dice the data as they need after it’s downloaded.
We aim to provide a large amount of data (50 terabytes) to the public in a way that is efficient, scalable, and easy to use. In many cases, researchers can access these huge cloud-located datasets using the same software and algorithms they have developed for smaller datasets stored locally. Only the pieces of data they need for their individual analysis must be downloaded. To make this work in practice, we worked with the HDF Group and have built upon their forthcoming Highly Scalable Data Service.
In the rest of this post, we discuss how the HSDS software was developed to use Amazon EC2 and Amazon S3 resources to provide convenient and scalable access to these huge geospatial datasets. We describe how the HSDS service has been put to work for the WIND Toolkit dataset and demonstrate how to access it using the h5pyd Python library and the REST API. We conclude with information about our ongoing work to release more ‘open’ datasets to the public using AWS services, and ways to improve and extend the HSDS with newer Amazon services like Amazon ECS and AWS Lambda.
Developing a scalable service for big geospatial data
The HDF5 file format and API have been used for many years and is an effective means of storing large scientific datasets. For example, NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites collect more than 16 TBs of data per day using HDF5.
With the rise of the cloud, there are new challenges and opportunities to rethink how HDF5 can be enhanced to work effectively as a component in a cloud-native architecture. For the HDF Group, working with NREL has been a great opportunity to put ideas into practice with a production-size dataset.
An HDF5 file consists of a directed graph of group and dataset objects. Datasets can be thought of as a multidimensional array with support for user-defined metadata tags and compression. Typical operations on datasets would be reading or writing data to a regular subregion (a hyperslab) or reading and writing individual elements (a point selection). Also, group and dataset objects may each contain an arbitrary number of the user-defined metadata elements known as attributes.
Many people have used the HDF library in applications developed or ported to run on EC2 instances, but there are a number of constraints that often prove problematic:
The HDF5 library can’t read directly from HDF5 files stored as S3 objects. The entire file (often many GB in size) would need to be copied to local storage before the first byte can be read. Also, the instance must be configured with the appropriately sized EBS volume)
The HDF library only has access to the computational resources of the instance itself (as opposed to a cluster of instances), so many operations are bottlenecked by the library.
Any modifications to the HDF5 file would somehow have to be synchronized with changes that other instances have made to same file before writing back to S3.
Using a pattern common to many offerings from AWS, the solution to these constraints is to develop a service framework around the HDF data model. Using this model, the HDF Group has created the Highly Scalable Data Service (HSDS) that provides all the functionality that traditionally was provided by the HDF5 library. By using the service, you don’t need to manage your own file volumes, but can just read and write whatever data that you need.
Because the service manages the actual data persistence to a durable medium (S3, in this case), you don’t need to worry about disk management. Simply stream the data you need from the service as you need it. Secondly, putting the functionality behind a service allows some tricks to increase performance (described in more detail later). And lastly, HSDS allows any number of clients to access the data at the same time, enabling HDF5 to be used as a coordination mechanism for multiple readers and writers.
In designing the HSDS architecture, we gave much thought to how to achieve scalability of the HSDS service. For accessing HDF5 data, there are two different types of scaling to consider:
Multiple clients making many requests to the service
Single requests that require a significant amount of data processing
To deal with the first scaling challenge, as with most services, we considered how the service responds as the request rate increases. AWS provides some great tools that help in this regard:
Auto Scaling groups
Elastic Load Balancing load balancers
The ability of S3 to handle large aggregate throughput rates
By using a cluster of EC2 instances behind a load balancer, you can handle different client loads in a cost-effective manner.
The second scaling challenge concerns single requests that would take significant processing time with just one compute node. One example of this from the WIND toolkit would be extracting all the values in the seven-year time span for a given geographic point and dataset.
In HDF5, large datasets are typically stored as “chunks”; that is, a regular partition of the array. In HSDS, each chunk is stored as a binary object in S3. The sequential approach to retrieving the time series values would be for the service to read each chunk needed from S3, extract the needed elements, and go on to the next chunk. In this case, that would involve processing 2557 chunks, and would be quite slow.
Fortunately, with HSDS, you can speed this up quite a bit by exploiting the compute and I/O capabilities of the cluster. Upon receiving the request, the receiving node can use other nodes in the cluster to read different portions of the selection. With multiple nodes reading from S3 in parallel, performance improves as the cluster size increases.
The diagram below illustrates how this works in simplified case of four chunks and four nodes.
This architecture has worked in well in practice. In testing with the WIND toolkit and time series extraction, we observed a request latency of ~60 seconds using four nodes vs. ~5 seconds with 40 nodes. Performance roughly scales with the size of the cluster.
A planned enhancement to this is to use AWS Lambda for the worker processing. This enables 1000-way parallel reads at a reasonable cost, as you only pay for the milliseconds of CPU time used with AWS Lambda.
Public access to atmospheric data using HSDS and AWS
An early challenge in releasing the WIND toolkit data was in deciding how to subset the data for different use cases. In general, few researchers need access to the entire 0.5 PB of data and a great deal of efficiency and cost reduction can be gained by making directed constituent datasets.
NREL grid integration researchers initially extracted a 2-TB subset by selecting 120,000 points where the wind resource seemed appropriate for development. They also chose only those data important for wind applications (100-m wind speed, converted to power), the most interesting locations for those performing grid studies. To support the remaining users who needed more data resolution, we down-sampled the data to a 60-minute temporal resolution, keeping all the other variables and spatial resolution intact. This reduced dataset is 50 TB of data describing 30+ atmospheric variables of data for 7 years at a 60-minute temporal resolution.
Programmatic access is possible using the h5pyd Python library, a distributed analog to the widely used h5py library. Users interact with the datasets (variables) and slice the data from its (time x longitude x latitude) cube form as they see fit.
Examples and use cases are described in a set of Jupyter notebooks and available on GitHub:
Now you have a Jupyter notebook server running on your EC2 server.
From your laptop, create an SSH tunnel:
$ ssh –L 8888:localhost:8888 (IP address of the EC2 server)
Now, you can browse to localhost:8888 using the correct token, and interact with the notebooks as if they were local. Within the directory, there are examples for accessing the HSDS API and plotting wind and weather data using matplotlib.
Controlling access and defraying costs
A final concern is rate limiting and access control. Although the HSDS service is scalable and relatively robust, we had a few practical concerns:
How can we protect from malicious or accidental use that may lead to high egress fees (for example, someone who attempts to repeatedly download the entire dataset from S3)?
How can we keep track of who is using the data both to document the value of the data resource and to justify the costs?
If costs become too high, can we charge for some or all API use to help cover the costs?
To approach these problems, we investigated using Amazon API Gateway and its simplified integration with the AWS Marketplace for SaaS monetization as well as third-party API proxies.
In the end, we chose to use API Umbrella due to its close involvement with http://data.gov. While AWS Marketplace is a compelling option for future datasets, the decision was made to keep this dataset entirely open, at least for now. As community use and associated costs grow, we’ll likely revisit Marketplace. Meanwhile, API Umbrella provides controls for rate limiting and API key registration out of the box and was simple to implement as a front-end proxy to HSDS. Those applications that may want to charge for API use can accomplish a similar strategy using Amazon API Gateway and AWS Marketplace.
Ongoing work and other resources
As NREL and other government research labs, municipalities, and organizations try to share data with the public, we expect many of you will face similar challenges to those we have tried to approach with the architecture described in this post. Providing large datasets is one challenge. Doing so in a way that is affordable and convenient for users is an entirely more difficult goal. Using AWS cloud-native services and the existing foundation of the HDF file format has allowed us to tackle that challenge in a meaningful way.
Dr. Caleb Phillips is a senior scientist with the Data Analysis and Visualization Group within the Computational Sciences Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Caleb comes from a background in computer science systems, applied statistics, computational modeling, and optimization. His work at NREL spans the breadth of renewable energy technologies and focuses on applying modern data science techniques to data problems at scale.
Dr. Caroline Draxl is a senior scientist at NREL. She supports the research and modeling activities of the US Department of Energy from mesoscale to wind plant scale. Caroline uses mesoscale models to research wind resources in various countries, and participates in on- and offshore boundary layer research and in the coupling of the mesoscale flow features (kilometer scale) to the microscale (tens of meters). She holds a M.S. degree in Meteorology and Geophysics from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and a PhD in Meteorology from the Technical University of Denmark.
John Readey has been a Senior Architect at The HDF Group since he joined in June 2014. His interests include web services related to HDF, applications that support the use of HDF and data visualization.Before joining The HDF Group, John worked at Amazon.com from 2006–2014 where he developed service-based systems for eCommerce and AWS.
Jordan Perr-Sauer is an RPP intern with the Data Analysis and Visualization Group within the Computational Sciences Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Jordan hopes to use his professional background in software engineering and his academic training in applied mathematics to solve the challenging problems facing America and the world.
As a follow up to our initial region availability on November 20, 2017, I’m happy to announce that we have expanded the number of accredited services available in the AWS Secret Region by an additional 11 services. We continue to be the only cloud service provider with accredited regions to address the full range of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) data classifications, including Unclassified, Sensitive (CUI), Secret, and Top Secret.
When the region launched last November, we achieved a Provisional Authorization (PA) for Impact Level 6 (IL6) workloads from the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the IT combat support organization of the DoD. The PA was recently extended, allowing for continued access to the region for IL6 workloads.
The AWS Secret Region was designed and built to meet the specific security requirements of secret classified workloads for the DoD and the intelligence community. A service catalog for the region is available through your AWS Account Executive.
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