How do you get internet over three miles up the Himalayas? That’s what the 17000 ft Foundation and Sujata Sahu had to figure out. Rob Zwetsloot reports in the latest issue of the MagPi magazine, out now.
Living in more urban areas of the UK, it can be easy to take for granted decent internet and mobile phone signal. In more remote areas of the country, internet can be a bit spotty but it’s nothing compared with living up in a mountain.
“17000 ft Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation in India, set up to improve the lives of people settled in very remote mountainous hamlets, in areas that are inaccessible and isolated due to reasons of harsh mountainous terrain,” explains its founder, Sujata Sahu. “17000 ft has its roots in high-altitude Ladakh, a region in the desolate cold desert of the Himalayan mountain region of India. Situated in altitudes upwards of 9300 ft and with temperatures dropping to -50°C in inhabited areas, this area is home to indigenous tribal communities settled across hundreds of tiny, scattered hamlets. These villages are remote, isolated, and suffer from bare minimum infrastructure and a centuries-old civilisation unwilling but driven to migrate to faraway cities in search of a better life. Ladakh has a population of just under 300,000 people living across 60,000 km2 of harsh mountain terrain, whose sustenance and growth depends on the infrastructure, resources, and support provided by the government.”
The local governments have built schools. However, they don’t have enough resources or qualified teachers to be truly effective, resulting in a problem with students dropping out or having to be sent off to cities. 17000 ft’s mission is to transform the education in these communities.
High-altitude Raspberry Pi
“The Foundation today works in over 200 remote government schools to upgrade school infrastructure, build the capacity of teachers, provide better resources for learning, thereby improving the quality of education for its children,” says Sujata. “17000 ft Foundation has designed and implemented a unique solar-powered offline digital learning solution called the DigiLab, using Raspberry Pi, which brings the power of digital learning to areas which are truly off-grid and have neither electricity nor mobile connectivity, helping children to learn better, while also enabling the local administration to monitor performance remotely.”
Each school is provided with solar power, Raspberry Pi computers to act as a local internet for the school, and tablets to connect to it. It serves as a ‘last mile connectivity’ from a remote school in the cloud, with an app on a teacher’s phone that will download data when it can and then update the installed Raspberry Pi in their school.
“The solution has now been implemented in 120 remote schools of Ladakh and is being considered to be implemented at scale to cover the entire region,” adds Sujata. “It has now run successfully across three winters of Ladakh, withstanding even the harshest of -50°C temperatures with no failure. In the first year of its implementation alone, 5000 students were enrolled, with over 93% being active. The system has now delivered over 60,000 hours of learning to students in remote villages and improved learning outcomes.”
It’s already helping to change education in the area during the winter. Many villages (and schools) can shut down for up to six months, and families who can’t move away are usually left without a functioning school. 17000 ft has changed this.
“In the winter of 2018 and 2019, for the first time in a few decades, parents and community members from many of these hamlets decided to take advantage of their DigiLabs and opened them up for their children to learn despite the harsh winters and lack of teachers,” Sujata explains. “Parents pooled in to provide basic heating facilities (a Bukhari – a wood- or dung-based stove with a long pipe chimney) to bring in some warmth and scheduled classes for the senior children, allowing them to learn at their own pace, with student data continuing to be recorded in Raspberry Pi and available for the teachers to assess when they got back. The DigiLab Program, which has been made possible due to the presence of the Raspberry Pi Server, has solved a major problem that the Ladakhis have been facing for years!”
How can people help?
Sujata says, “17000 ft Foundation is a non-profit organisation and is dependent on donations and support from individuals and companies alike. This solution was developed by the organisation in a limited budget and was implemented successfully across over a hundred hamlets. Raspberry Pi has been a boon for this project, with its low cost and its computing capabilities which helped create this solution for such a remote area. However, the potential of Raspberry Pi is as yet untapped and the solution still needs upgrades to be able to scale to cover more schools and deliver enhanced functionality within the school. 17000 ft is very eager to help take this to other similar regions and cover more schools in Ladakh that still remain ignored. What we really need is funds and technical support to be able to reach the good of this solution to more children who are still out of the reach of Ed Tech and learning. We welcome contributions of any size to help us in this project.”
Puerto Rico is considered allowing for Internet voting. I have joined a group of security experts in a letter opposing the bill.
Cybersecurity experts agree that under current technology, no practically proven method exists to securely, verifiably, or privately return voted materials over the internet. That means that votes could be manipulated or deleted on the voter’s computer without the voter’s knowledge, local elections officials cannot verify that the voter’s ballot reflects the voter’s intent, and the voter’s selections could be traceable back to the individual voter. Such a system could violate protections guaranteeing a secret ballot, as outlined in Section 2, Article II of the Puerto Rico Constitution.
It’s every teenager’s worst nightmare… no WIFI! I built a standalone wireless Internet Kill Switch that lets me turn the Internet off whenever I want. A Raspberry Pi Zero W monitors the switch and sends an alert via SSH over WIFI to my firewall where another script watches for the alert and turns the external interface off or on.
Internet in my home wasn’t really a thing until I was in my late teens, and even then, there wasn’t that much online fun to be had. Not like there is now, with social media and online gaming and the YouTubes.
If I’d had access to the internet of today in my teens, I’m pretty sure I’d have never been off the thing. And that’s where a button like this would have been a godsend for my mother.
Shared by Nick Donaldson on his YouTube account, the Internet Kill Switch is a Raspberry Pi Zero W–powered emergency button that turns off all internet access in the house — perfect for keeping online activities to a reasonable level. Nick explains:
It’s every teenager’s worst nightmare… no WiFi! I built a standalone wireless Internet Kill Switch that lets me turn the internet off whenever I want. A Raspberry Pi Zero W monitors the switch and sends an alert via SSH over WiFi to my firewall, where another script watches for the alert and turns the external interface off or on. I have challenged the boys to hack it…
The Raspberry Pi Zero W sits snug within the button casing and is powered by a battery. And so that the battery can be continuously recharged, the device sits on a wireless charging pad. Hence, the button is juiced up and ready to go at any time.
I can pick it up, walk around at any time, threaten the teenagers, and shut down the internet whenever I want, hahaha!
While internet service providers are starting to roll out smartphone apps that offer similar functionality, we like the physicality of this button.
Great job, Nick! Please don’t turn off our internet.
On May 25, the FBI asked us all to reboot our routers. The story behind this request is one of sophisticated malware and unsophisticated home-network security, and it’s a harbinger of the sorts of pervasive threats from nation-states, criminals and hackers that we should expect in coming years.
VPNFilter is a sophisticatedpiece of malware that infects mostly older home and small-office routers made by Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear, QNAP and TP-Link. (For a list of specific models, click here.) It’s an impressive piece of work. It can eavesdrop on traffic passing through the router specifically, log-in credentials and SCADA traffic, which is a networking protocol that controls power plants, chemical plants and industrial systems attack other targets on the Internet and destructively “kill” its infected device. It is one of a very few pieces of malware that can survive a reboot, even though that’s what the FBI has requested. It has a number of other capabilities, and it can be remotely updated to provide still others. More than 500,000 routers in at least 54 countries have been infected since 2016.
Because of the malware’s sophistication, VPNFilter is believed to be the work of a government. The FBI suggested the Russian government was involved for two circumstantial reasons. One, a piece of the code is identical to one found in another piece of malware, called BlackEnergy, that was used in the December 2015 attack against Ukraine’s power grid. Russia is believed to be behind that attack. And two, the majority of those 500,000 infections are in Ukraine and controlled by a separate command-and-control server. There might also be classified evidence, as an FBI affidavit in this matter identifies the group behind VPNFilter as Sofacy, also known as APT28 and Fancy Bear. That’s the group behind a long list of attacks, including the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee.
Two companies, Cisco and Symantec, seem to have been working with the FBI during the past two years to track this malware as it infected ever more routers. The infection mechanism isn’t known, but we believe it targets known vulnerabilities in these older routers. Pretty much no one patches their routers, so the vulnerabilities have remained, even if they were fixed in new models from the same manufacturers.
On May 30, the FBI seized control of toknowall.com, a critical VPNFilter command-and-control server. This is called “sinkholing,” and serves to disrupt a critical part of this system. When infected routers contact toknowall.com, they will no longer be contacting a server owned by the malware’s creators; instead, they’ll be contacting a server owned by the FBI. This doesn’t entirely neutralize the malware, though. It will stay on the infected routers through reboot, and the underlying vulnerabilities remain, making the routers susceptible to reinfection with a variant controlled by a different server.
If you want to make sure your router is no longer infected, you need to do more than reboot it, the FBI’s warning notwithstanding. You need to reset the router to its factory settings. That means you need to reconfigure it for your network, which can be a pain if you’re not sophisticated in these matters. If you want to make sure your router cannot be reinfected, you need to update the firmware with any security patches from the manufacturer. This is harder to do and may strain your technical capabilities, though it’s ridiculous that routers don’t automatically download and install firmware updates on their own. Some of these models probably do not even have security patches available. Honestly, the best thing to do if you have one of the vulnerable models is to throw it away and get a new one. (Your ISP will probably send you a new one free if you claim that it’s not working properly. And you should have a new one, because if your current one is on the list, it’s at least 10 years old.)
So if it won’t clear out the malware, why is the FBI askingus to reboot our routers? It’s mostly just to get a sense of how bad the problem is. The FBI now controls toknowall.com. When an infected router gets rebooted, it connects to that server to get fully reinfected, and when it does, the FBI will know. Rebooting will give it a better idea of how many devices out there are infected.
Internet of Things malware isn’t new. The 2016 Mirai botnet, for example, created by a lone hacker and not a government, targeted vulnerabilities in Internet-connected digital video recorders and webcams. Other malware has targeted Internet-connected thermostats. Lots of malware targets home routers. These devices are particularly vulnerable because they are often designed by ad hoc teams without a lot of security expertise, stay around in networks far longer than our computers and phones, and have no easy way to patch them.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Russians targeted routers to build a network of infected computers for follow-on cyber operations. I’m sure many governments are doing the same. As long as we allow these insecure devices on the Internet and short of security regulations, there’s no way to stop them we’re going to be vulnerable to this kind of malware.
And next time, the command-and-control server won’t be so easy to disrupt.
We’re usually averse to buzzwords at HackSpace magazine, but not this month: in issue 7, we’re taking a deep dive into the Internet of Things.
Internet of Things (IoT)
To many people, IoT is a shady term used by companies to sell you something you already own, but this time with WiFi; to us, it’s a way to make our builds smarter, more useful, and more connected. In HackSpace magazine #7, you can join us on a tour of the boards that power IoT projects, marvel at the ways in which other makers are using IoT, and get started with your first IoT project!
DIY retro computing: this issue, we’re taking our collective hat off to Spencer Owen. He stuck his home-brew computer on Tindie thinking he might make a bit of beer money — now he’s paying the mortgage with his making skills and inviting others to build modules for his machine. And if that tickles your fancy, why not take a crack at our Z80 tutorial? Get out your breadboard, assemble your jumper wires, and prepare to build a real-life computer!
Shameless patriotism: combine Lego, Arduino, and the car of choice for 1960 gold bullion thieves, and you’ve got yourself a groovy weekend project. We proudly present to you one man’s epic quest to add LED lights (controllable via a smartphone!) to his daughter’s LEGO Mini Cooper.
Patriotism intensifies: for the last 200-odd years, the Black Country has been a hotbed of making. Urban Hax, based in Walsall, is the latest makerspace to show off its riches in the coveted Space of the Month pages. Every space has its own way of doing things, but not every space has a portrait of Rob Halford on the wall. All hail!
Diversity: advice on diversity often boils down to ‘Be nice to people’, which might feel more vague than actionable. This is where we come in to help: it is truly worth making the effort to give people of all backgrounds access to your makerspace, so we take a look at why it’s nice to be nice, and at the ways in which one makerspace has put niceness into practice — with great results.
And there’s more!
We also show you how to easily calculate the size and radius of laser-cut gears, use a bank of LEDs to etch PCBs in your own mini factory, and use chemistry to mess with your lunch menu.
All this plus much, much more waits for you in HackSpace magazine issue 7!
Get your copy of HackSpace magazine
If you like the sound of that, you can find HackSpace magazine in WHSmith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and independent newsagents in the UK. If you live in the US, check out your local Barnes & Noble, Fry’s, or Micro Center next week. We’re also shipping to stores in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, Belgium, and Brazil, so be sure to ask your local newsagent whether they’ll be getting HackSpace magazine.
First, let me tell you why this partnership matters to me. As a child growing up in North Wales in the 1980s, Scouting changed my life. My time with 2nd Rhyl provided me with countless opportunities to grow and develop new skills. It taught me about teamwork and community in ways that continue to shape my decisions today.
As my own kids (now seven and ten) have joined Scouting, I’ve seen the same opportunities opening up for them, and like so many parents, I’ve come back to the movement as a volunteer to support their local section. So this is deeply personal for me, and the same is true for many of my colleagues at the Raspberry Pi Foundation who in different ways have been part of the Scouting movement.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Scouting and Raspberry Pi share many of the same values. We are both community-led movements that aim to help young people develop the skills they need for life. We are both powered by an amazing army of volunteers who give their time to support that mission. We both care about inclusiveness, and pride ourselves on combining fun with learning by doing.
Raspberry Pi started life in 2008 as a response to the problem that too many young people were growing up without the skills to create with technology. Our goal is that everyone should be able to harness the power of computing and digital technologies, for work, to solve problems that matter to them, and to express themselves creatively.
In 2012 we launched our first product, the world’s first $35 computer. Just six years on, we have sold over 20 million Raspberry Pi computers and helped kickstart a global movement for digital skills.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation now runs the world’s largest network of volunteer-led computing clubs (Code Clubs and CoderDojos), and creates free educational resources that are used by millions of young people all over the world to learn how to create with digital technologies. And lots of what we are able to achieve is because of partnerships with fantastic organisations that share our goals. For example, through our partnership with the European Space Agency, thousands of young people have written code that has run on two Raspberry Pi computers that Tim Peake took to the International Space Station as part of his Mission Principia.
Today we’re launching the new Digital Maker Staged Activity Badge to help tens of thousands of young people learn how to create with technology through Scouting. Over the past few months, we’ve been working with the Scouts all over the UK to develop and test the new badge requirements, along with guidance, project ideas, and resources that really make them work for Scouting. We know that we need to get two things right: relevance and accessibility.
Relevance is all about making sure that the activities and resources we provide are a really good fit for Scouting and Scouting’s mission to equip young people with skills for life. From the digital compass to nature cameras and the reinvented wide game, we’ve had a lot of fun thinking about ways we can bring to life the crucial role that digital technologies can play in the outdoors and adventure.
We are beyond excited to be launching a new partnership with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which will help tens of thousands of young people learn digital skills for life.
We also know that there are great opportunities for Scouts to use digital technologies to solve social problems in their communities, reflecting the movement’s commitment to social action. Today we’re launching the first set of project ideas and resources, with many more to follow over the coming weeks and months.
Accessibility is about providing every Scout leader with the confidence, support, and kit to enable them to offer the Digital Maker Staged Activity Badge to their young people. A lot of work and care has gone into designing activities that require very little equipment: for example, activities at Stages 1 and 2 can be completed with a laptop without access to the internet. For the activities that do require kit, we will be working with Scout Stores and districts to make low-cost kit available to buy or loan.
We’re producing accessible instructions, worksheets, and videos to help leaders run sessions with confidence, and we’ll also be planning training for leaders. We will work with our network of Code Clubs and CoderDojos to connect them with local sections to organise joint activities, bringing both kit and expertise along with them.
Today’s launch is just the start. We’ll be developing our partnership over the next few years, and we can’t wait for you to join us in getting more young people making things with technology.
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.
This post courtesy of Jeff Levine Solutions Architect for Amazon Web Services
Amazon Linux 2 is the next generation of Amazon Linux, a Linux server operating system from Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon Linux 2 offers a high-performance Linux environment suitable for organizations of all sizes. It supports applications ranging from small websites to enterprise-class, mission-critical platforms.
Amazon Linux 2 includes support for the LAMP (Linux/Apache/MariaDB/PHP) stack, one of the most popular platforms for deploying websites. To secure the transmission of data-in-transit to such websites and prevent eavesdropping, organizations commonly leverage Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) services which leverage certificates to provide encryption. The LAMP stack provided by Amazon Linux 2 includes a self-signed SSL/TLS certificate. Such certificates may be fine for internal usage but are not acceptable when attestation by a certificate authority is required.
In this post, I discuss how to extend the capabilities of Amazon Linux 2 by installing Let’s Encrypt, a certificate authority provided by the Internet Security Research Group. Let’s Encrypt offers basic SSL/TLS certificates for DNS hosts at no charge that you can use to add encryption-in-transit to a single web server. For commercial or multi-server configurations, you should consider AWS Certificate Manager and Elastic Load Balancing.
Let’s Encrypt also requires the certbot package, which you install from EPEL, the Extra Packaged for Enterprise Linux collection. Although EPEL is not included with Amazon Linux 2, I show how you can install it from the Fedora Project.
At a high level, you perform the following tasks for this walkthrough:
Provision a VPC, Amazon Linux 2 instance, and LAMP stack.
Install and enable the EPEL repository.
Install and configure Let’s Encrypt.
Validate the installation.
Prerequisites and costs
To follow along with this walkthrough, you need the following:
Accept all other default values including with regard to storage.
Create a new security group and accept the default rule that allows TCP port 22 (SSH) from everywhere (0.0.0.0/0 in IPv4). For the purposes of this walkthrough, permitting access from all IP addresses is reasonable. In a production environment, you may restrict access to different addresses.
Allocate and associate an Elastic IP address to the server when it enters the running state.
Respond “Y” to all requests for approval to install the software.
Step 3: Install and configure Let’s Encrypt
If you are no longer connected to the Amazon Linux 2 instance, connect to it at the Elastic IP address that you just created.
Install certbot, the Let’s Encrypt client to be used to obtain an SSL/TLS certificate and install it into Apache.
sudo yum install python2-certbot-apache.noarch
Respond “Y” to all requests for approval to install the software. If you see a message appear about SELinux, you can safely ignore it. This is a known issue with the latest version of certbot.
Create a DNS “A record” that maps a host name to the Elastic IP address. For this post, assume that the name of the host is lamp.example.com. If you are hosting your DNS in Amazon Route 53, do this by creating the appropriate record set.
After the “A record” has propagated, browse to lamp.example.com. The Apache test page should appear. If the page does not appear, use a tool such as nslookup on your workstation to confirm that the DNS record has been properly configured.
You are now ready to install Let’s Encrypt. Let’s Encrypt does the following:
Confirms that you have control over the DNS domain being used, by having you create a DNS TXT record using the value that it provides.
Obtains an SSL/TLS certificate.
Modifies the Apache-related scripts to use the SSL/TLS certificate and redirects users browsing the site in HTTP mode to HTTPS mode.
Use the following command to install certbot:
sudo certbot -i apache -a manual \
--preferred-challenges dns -d lamp.example.com
The options have the following meanings:
-i apache Use the Apache installer.
-a manual Authenticate domain ownership manually.
--preferred-challenges dns Use DNS TXT records for authentication challenge.
-d lamp.example.com Specify the domain for the SSL/TLS certificate.
You are prompted for the following information: E-mail address for renewals? Enter an email address for certificate renewals. Accept the terms of services? Respond as appropriate. Send your e-mail address to the EFF? Respond as appropriate. Log your current IP address? Respond as appropriate.
You are prompted to deploy a DNS TXT record with the name “_acme-challenge.lamp.example.com” with the supplied value, as shown below.
After you enter the record, wait until the TXT record propagates. To look up the TXT record to confirm the deployment, use the nslookup command in a separate command window, as shown below. Remember to use the set ty=txt command before entering the TXT record. You are prompted to select a virtual host. There is only one, so choose 1. The final prompt asks whether to redirect HTTP traffic to HTTPS. To perform the redirection, choose 2. That completes the configuration of Let’s Encrypt.
To look at the encryption information, use the appropriate actions within your browser. For example, in Firefox, you can open the padlock and traverse the menus. In the encryption technical details, you can see from the “Connection Encrypted” line that traffic to the website is now encrypted using TLS 1.2.
Security note: As of the time of publication, this website also supports TLS 1.0. I recommend that you disable this protocol because of some known vulnerabilities associated with it. To do this:
Edit the file /etc/letsencrypt/options-ssl-apache.conf.
Look for the line beginning with SSLProtocol and change it to the following:
SSLProtocol all -SSLv2 -SSLv3 -TLSv1
Save the file. After you make changes to this file, Let’s Encrypt no longer automatically updates it. Periodically check your log files for recommended updates to this file.
Restart the httpd server with the following command:
sudo service httpd restart
Step 5: Cleanup
Use the following steps to avoid incurring any further costs.
Terminate the Amazon Linux 2 instance that you created.
Release the Elastic IP address that you allocated.
Revert any DNS changes that you made, including the A and TXT records.
Amazon Linux 2 is an excellent option for hosting websites through the LAMP stack provided by the Amazon-Linux-Extras feature. You can then enhance the security of the Apache web server by installing EPEL and Let’s Encrypt. Let’s Encrypt provisions an SSL/TLS certificate, optionally installs it for you on the Apache server, and enables data-in-transit encryption. You can get started with Amazon Linux 2 in just a few clicks.
Spencer Ackerman has this interesting story about a guy assigned to crack down on unauthorized White House leaks. It’s necessarily light on technical details, so I thought I’d write up some guesses, either as a guide for future reporters asking questions, or for people who want to better know the risks when leak information.
It should come as no surprise that your work email and phone are already monitored. They can get every email you’ve sent or received, even if you’ve deleted it. They can get every text message you’ve sent or received, the metadata of every phone call sent or received, and so forth.
To a lesser extent, this also applies to your well-known personal phone and email accounts. Law enforcement can get the metadata (which includes text messages) for these things without a warrant. In the above story, the person doing the investigation wasn’t law enforcement, but I’m not sure that’s a significant barrier if they can pass things onto the Secret Service or something.
The danger here isn’t that you used these things to leak, it’s that you’ve used these things to converse with the reporter before you made the decision to leak. That’s what happened in the Reality Winner case: she communicated with The Intercept before she allegedly leaked a printed document to them via postal mail. While it wasn’t conclusive enough to convict her, the innocent emails certainly put the investigators on her trail.
The path to leaking often starts this way: innocent actions before the decision to leak was made that will come back to haunt the person afterwards. That includes emails. That also includes Google searches. That includes websites you visit (like this one). I’m not sure how to solve this, except that if you’ve been in contact with The Intercept, and then you decide to leak, send it to anybody but The Intercept.
By the way, the other thing that caught Reality Winner is the records they had of her accessing files and printing them on a printer. Depending where you work, they may have a record of every file you’ve accessed, every intranet page you visited. Because of the way printers put secret dots on documents, investigators know precisely which printer and time the document leaked to The Intercept was printed.
Photographs suffer the same problem: your camera and phone tag the photographs with GPS coordinates and time the photograph was taken, as well as information about the camera. This accidentally exposed John McAfee’s hiding location when Vice took pictures of him a few years ago. Some people leak by taking pictures of the screen — use a camera without GPS for this (meaning, a really old camera you bought from a pawnshop).
These examples should impress upon you the dangers of not understanding technology. As soon as you do something to evade surveillance you know about, you may get caught by surveillance you don’t know about.
If you nonetheless want to continue forward, the next step may be to get a “burner phone”. You can get an adequate Android “prepaid” phone for cash at the local Walmart, electronics store, or phone store.
There’s some problems with such phones, though. They can often be tracked back to the store that sold them, and the store will have security cameras that record you making the purchase. License plate readers and GPS tracking on your existing phone may also place you at that Walmart.
I don’t know how to resolve these problems. Perhaps the best is grow a beard and on the last day of your vacation, color your hair, take a long bike/metro ride (without your existing phone) to a store many miles away and pick up a phone, then shave and change your color back again. I don’t know — there’s a good chance any lame attempt you or I might think of has already been experienced by law enforcement, so they are likely ahead of you. Maybe ask your local drug dealer where they get their burner phones, and if they can sell you one. Of course, that just means when they get caught for drug dealing, they can reduce their sentence by giving up the middle class person who bought a phone from them.
Lastly, they may age out old security videos, so simply waiting six months before using the phone might work. That means prepaying for an entire year.
Note that I’m not going to link to examples of cheap burner phones on this page. Web browsers will sometimes prefetch some information from links in a webpage, so simply including links in this page can condemn you as having interest in burner phones. You are already in enough trouble for having visited this web page.
Burner phones have GPS. Newer the technology, like the latest Android LTE phones, have pretty accurate GPS that the police can query (without a warrant). If you take the phone home and turn it on, they’ll then be able to trace back the phone to your home. Carrying the phone around with you has the same problem, with the phone’s location correlating with your existing phone (which presumably you also carry) or credit card receipts. Rumors are that Petraeus was partly brought down by tracking locations where he used his credit card, namely, matching the hotel he was in with Internet address information.
Older phones that support 3G or even 2G have poorer GPS capabilities. They’ll still located you to the nearest cell tower, but not as accurately to your exact location.
A better strategy than a burner phone would be a burner laptop computer used with WiFi. You can get a cheap one for $200 at Amazon.com. My favorite are the 11 inch ones with a full sized keyboard and Windows 10. Better yet, get an older laptop for cash from a pawn shop.
You can install chat apps on this like “Signal Desktop”, “Wire Desktop”, or “WhatsApp” that will allow you to securely communicate. Or use “Discord”, which isn’t really encrypted, but it’s popular among gamers so therefore less likely to stand out. You can sit in a bar with free WiFi and a USB headset and talk to reporters without having a phone. If the reporter you want to leak to doesn’t have those apps (either on their own laptop or phone) then you don’t want to talk to them.
Needless to say, don’t cross the streams. Don’t log onto your normal accounts like Facebook. If you create fake Facebook accounts, don’t follow the same things. Better yet, configure your browser to discard all information (especially “cookies”) every time you log off, so you can’t be tracked. Install ad blockers, or use the “Brave” web browser, to remove even more trackers. A common trick among hackers is to change the “theme” to a red background, as a constant subliminal reminder that you using your dangerous computer, and never to do anything that identifies the real you.
Put tape over the camera. I’m not sure it’s a really big danger, but put tape over the camera. If they infect you enough to get your picture, they’ve also infected you enough to record any audio on your computer. Remember that proper encryption is end-to-end (they can’t eavesdrop in transit), but if they hack the ends (your laptop, or the reporter’s) they can still record the audio.
Note that when your burner laptop is in “sleep” mode, it can still be talking to the local wifi. Before taking it home, make sure it’s off. Go into the settings and configure it so that when the lid is closed, the computer is turned completely off.
It goes without saying: don’t use that burner laptop from home. Luckily, free wifi is everyone, so the local cafe, bar, or library can be used.
The next step is to also use a VPN or Tor to mask your Internet address. If there’s an active investigation into the reporter, they’ll get the metadata, the Internet address of the bar/cafe you are coming from. A good VPN provider or especially Tor will stop this. Remember that these providers increase latency, making phone calls a bit harder, but they are a lot safer.
Remember that Ross Ulbricht (owner of dark website market Silk Road) was caught in a library. They’d traced back his Internet address and grabbed his laptop out of his hands. Having it turn off (off off, not sleep off) when the lid is closed is one way to reduce this risk. Configuring your web browser to flush all cookies and passwords on restart is another. If they catch you in mid conversation with your secret contact, though, they’ll at least be able to hear your side of the conversation, and know who you are talking to.
The best measure, though it takes some learning, is “Tails live”. It’s a Linux distribution preconfigured with Tor and various secure chat apps that’ll boot from the USB or SD card. When you turn off the computer, nothing will be saved, so there will be no evidence saved to the disk for investigators to retrieve later.
While we are talking about Tor, it should be noted that many news organizations (NYTimes, Washington Post, The Intercept, etc.) support “SecureDrop” accessed only through Tor for receiving anonymous tips. Burner laptops you use from bars from Tails is the likely your most secure way of doing things.
The point of this post was not to provide a howto guide, but to discuss many of the technological issues involved. In a story about White House people investigating leaks, I’d like to see something in this technological direction. I’d like to know exactly how they were investigating leaks. Certainly, they were investigating all work computers, accounts, and phones. Where they also able to get to non-work computers, accounts, phones? Did they have law enforcement powers? What could they do about burner phones and laptops?
In any case, if you do want a howto guide, the discussion above should put some fear into you how easily you can inadvertently make a mistake.
In our blog post on Tuesday, Cryptocurrency Security Challenges, we wrote about the two primary challenges faced by anyone interested in safely and profitably participating in the cryptocurrency economy: 1) make sure you’re dealing with reputable and ethical companies and services, and, 2) keep your cryptocurrency holdings safe and secure.
In this post, we’re going to focus on how to make sure you don’t lose any of your cryptocurrency holdings through accident, theft, or carelessness. You do that by backing up the keys needed to sell or trade your currencies.
$34 Billion in Lost Value
Of the 16.4 million bitcoins said to be in circulation in the middle of 2017, close to 3.8 million may have been lost because their owners no longer are able to claim their holdings. Based on today’s valuation, that could total as much as $34 billion dollars in lost value. And that’s just bitcoins. There are now over 1,500 different cryptocurrencies, and we don’t know how many of those have been misplaced or lost.
Now that some cryptocurrencies have reached (at least for now) staggering heights in value, it’s likely that owners will be more careful in keeping track of the keys needed to use their cryptocurrencies. For the ones already lost, however, the owners have been separated from their currencies just as surely as if they had thrown Benjamin Franklins and Grover Clevelands over the railing of a ship.
The Basics of Securing Your Cryptocurrencies
In our previous post, we reviewed how cryptocurrency keys work, and the common ways owners can keep track of them. A cryptocurrency owner needs two keys to use their currencies: a public key that can be shared with others is used to receive currency, and a private key that must be kept secure is used to spend or trade currency.
Many wallets and applications allow the user to require extra security to access them, such as a password, or iris, face, or thumb print scan. If one of these options is available in your wallets, take advantage of it. Beyond that, it’s essential to back up your wallet, either using the backup feature built into some applications and wallets, or manually backing up the data used by the wallet. When backing up, it’s a good idea to back up the entire wallet, as some wallets require additional private data to operate that might not be apparent.
No matter which backup method you use, it is important to back up often and have multiple backups, preferable in different locations. As with any valuable data, a 3-2-1 backup strategy is good to follow, which ensures that you’ll have a good backup copy if anything goes wrong with one or more copies of your data.
One more caveat, don’t reuse passwords. This applies to all of your accounts, but is especially important for something as critical as your finances. Don’t ever use the same password for more than one account. If security is breached on one of your accounts, someone could connect your name or ID with other accounts, and will attempt to use the password there, as well. Consider using a password manager such as LastPass or 1Password, which make creating and using complex and unique passwords easy no matter where you’re trying to sign in.
Approaches to Backing Up Your Cryptocurrency Keys
There are numerous ways to be sure your keys are backed up. Let’s take them one by one.
1. Automatic backups using a backup program
If you’re using a wallet program on your computer, for example, Bitcoin Core, it will store your keys, along with other information, in a file. For Bitcoin Core, that file is wallet.dat. Other currencies will use the same or a different file name and some give you the option to select a name for the wallet file.
To back up the wallet.dat or other wallet file, you might need to tell your backup program to explicitly back up that file. Users of Backblaze Backup don’t have to worry about configuring this, since by default, Backblaze Backup will back up all data files. You should determine where your particular cryptocurrency, wallet, or application stores your keys, and make sure the necessary file(s) are backed up if your backup program requires you to select which files are included in the backup.
Backblaze B2 is an option for those interested in low-cost and high security cloud storage of their cryptocurrency keys. Backblaze B2 supports 2-factor verification for account access, works with a number of apps that support automatic backups with encryption, error-recovery, and versioning, and offers an API and command-line interface (CLI), as well. The first 10GB of storage is free, which could be all one needs to store encrypted cryptocurrency keys.
2. Backing up by exporting keys to a file
Apps and wallets will let you export your keys from your app or wallet to a file. Once exported, your keys can be stored on a local drive, USB thumb drive, DAS, NAS, or in the cloud with any cloud storage or sync service you wish. Encrypting the file is strongly encouraged — more on that later. If you use 1Password or LastPass, or other secure notes program, you also could store your keys there.
3. Backing up by saving a mnemonic recovery seed
A mnemonic phrase, mnemonic recovery phrase, or mnemonic seed is a list of words that stores all the information needed to recover a cryptocurrency wallet. Many wallets will have the option to generate a mnemonic backup phrase, which can be written down on paper. If the user’s computer no longer works or their hard drive becomes corrupted, they can download the same wallet software again and use the mnemonic recovery phrase to restore their keys.
The phrase can be used by anyone to recover the keys, so it must be kept safe. Mnemonic phrases are an excellent way of backing up and storing cryptocurrency and so they are used by almost all wallets.
A mnemonic recovery seed is represented by a group of easy to remember words. For example:
The first four letters are enough to unambiguously identify the word.
Similar words are avoided (such as: build and built).
Bitcoin and most other cryptocurrencies such as Litecoin, Ethereum, and others use mnemonic seeds that are 12 to 24 words long. Other currencies might use different length seeds.
4. Physical backups — Paper, Metal
Some cryptocurrency holders believe that their backup, or even all their cryptocurrency account information, should be stored entirely separately from the internet to avoid any risk of their information being compromised through hacks, exploits, or leaks. This type of storage is called “cold storage.” One method of cold storage involves printing out the keys to a piece of paper and then erasing any record of the keys from all computer systems. The keys can be entered into a program from the paper when needed, or scanned from a QR code printed on the paper.
Printed public and private keys
Some who go to extremes suggest separating the mnemonic needed to access an account into individual pieces of paper and storing those pieces in different locations in the home or office, or even different geographical locations. Some say this is a bad idea since it could be possible to reconstruct the mnemonic from one or more pieces. How diligent you wish to be in protecting these codes is up to you.
Mnemonic recovery phrase booklet
There’s another option that could make you the envy of your friends. That’s the CryptoSteel wallet, which is a stainless steel metal case that comes with more than 250 stainless steel letter tiles engraved on each side. Codes and passwords are assembled manually from the supplied part-randomized set of tiles. Users are able to store up to 96 characters worth of confidential information. Cryptosteel claims to be fireproof, waterproof, and shock-proof.
Cryptosteel cold wallet
Of course, if you leave your Cryptosteel wallet in the pocket of a pair of ripped jeans that gets thrown out by the housekeeper, as happened to the character Russ Hanneman on the TV show Silicon Valley in last Sunday’s episode, then you’re out of luck. That fictional billionaire investor lost a USB drive with $300 million in cryptocoins. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to you.
Encryption & Security
Whether you store your keys on your computer, an external disk, a USB drive, DAS, NAS, or in the cloud, you want to make sure that no one else can use those keys. The best way to handle that is to encrypt the backup.
With Backblaze Backup for Windows and Macintosh, your backups are encrypted in transmission to the cloud and on the backup server. Users have the option to add an additional level of security by adding a Personal Encryption Key (PEK), which secures their private key. Your cryptocurrency backup files are secure in the cloud. Using our web or mobile interface, previous versions of files can be accessed, as well.
Our object storage cloud offering, Backblaze B2, can be used with a variety of applications for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. With B2, cryptocurrency users can choose whichever method of encryption they wish to use on their local computers and then upload their encrypted currency keys to the cloud. Depending on the client used, versioning and life-cycle rules can be applied to the stored files.
Other backup programs and systems provide some or all of these capabilities, as well. If you are backing up to a local drive, it is a good idea to encrypt the local backup, which is an option in some backup programs.
Some experts recommend using a different address for each cryptocurrency transaction. Since the address is not the same as your wallet, this means that you are not creating a new wallet, but simply using a new identifier for people sending you cryptocurrency. Creating a new address is usually as easy as clicking a button in the wallet.
One of the chief advantages of using a different address for each transaction is anonymity. Each time you use an address, you put more information into the public ledger (blockchain) about where the currency came from or where it went. That means that over time, using the same address repeatedly could mean that someone could map your relationships, transactions, and incoming funds. The more you use that address, the more information someone can learn about you. For more on this topic, refer to Address reuse.
Note that a downside of using a paper wallet with a single key pair (type-0 non-deterministic wallet) is that it has the vulnerabilities listed above. Each transaction using that paper wallet will add to the public record of transactions associated with that address. Newer wallets, i.e. “deterministic” or those using mnemonic code words support multiple addresses and are now recommended.
There are other approaches to keeping your cryptocurrency transaction secure. Here are a couple of them.
Multi-signature refers to requiring more than one key to authorize a transaction, much like requiring more than one key to open a safe. It is generally used to divide up responsibility for possession of cryptocurrency. Standard transactions could be called “single-signature transactions” because transfers require only one signature — from the owner of the private key associated with the currency address (public key). Some wallets and apps can be configured to require more than one signature, which means that a group of people, businesses, or other entities all must agree to trade in the cryptocurrencies.
Deep Cold Storage
Deep cold storage ensures the entire transaction process happens in an offline environment. There are typically three elements to deep cold storage.
First, the wallet and private key are generated offline, and the signing of transactions happens on a system not connected to the internet in any manner. This ensures it’s never exposed to a potentially compromised system or connection.
Second, details are secured with encryption to ensure that even if the wallet file ends up in the wrong hands, the information is protected.
Third, storage of the encrypted wallet file or paper wallet is generally at a location or facility that has restricted access, such as a safety deposit box at a bank.
Deep cold storage is used to safeguard a large individual cryptocurrency portfolio held for the long term, or for trustees holding cryptocurrency on behalf of others, and is possibly the safest method to ensure a crypto investment remains secure.
Keep Your Software Up to Date
You should always make sure that you are using the latest version of your app or wallet software, which includes important stability and security fixes. Installing updates for all other software on your computer or mobile device is also important to keep your wallet environment safer.
One Last Thing: Think About Your Testament
Your cryptocurrency funds can be lost forever if you don’t have a backup plan for your peers and family. If the location of your wallets or your passwords is not known by anyone when you are gone, there is no hope that your funds will ever be recovered. Taking a bit of time on these matters can make a huge difference.
To the Moon*
Are you comfortable with how you’re managing and backing up your cryptocurrency wallets and keys? Do you have a suggestion for keeping your cryptocurrencies safe that we missed above? Please let us know in the comments.
*To the Moon — Crypto slang for a currency that reaches an optimistic price projection.
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.
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.
Last month, Wired published a long article about Ray Ozzie and his supposed new scheme for adding a backdoor in encrypted devices. It’s a weird article. It paints Ozzie’s proposal as something that “attains the impossible” and “satisfies both law enforcement and privacy purists,” when (1) it’s barely a proposal, and (2) it’s essentially the same key escrow scheme we’ve been hearing about for decades.
Basically, each device has a unique public/private key pair and a secure processor. The public key goes into the processor and the device, and is used to encrypt whatever user key encrypts the data. The private key is stored in a secure database, available to law enforcement on demand. The only other trick is that for law enforcement to use that key, they have to put the device in some sort of irreversible recovery mode, which means it can never be used again. That’s basically it.
I have no idea why anyone is talking as if this were anything new. Severalcryptographershavealreadyexplained why this key escrow scheme is no better than any other key escrow scheme. The short answer is (1) we won’t be able to secure that database of backdoor keys, (2) we don’t know how to build the secure coprocessor the scheme requires, and (3) it solves none of the policy problems around the whole system. This is the typical mistake non-cryptographers make when they approach this problem: they think that the hard part is the cryptography to create the backdoor. That’s actually the easy part. The hard part is ensuring that it’s only used by the good guys, and there’s nothing in Ozzie’s proposal that addresses any of that.
I worry that this kind of thing is damaging in the long run. There should be some rule that any backdoor or key escrow proposal be a fully specified proposal, not just some cryptography and hand-waving notions about how it will be used in practice. And before it is analyzed and debated, it should have to satisfy some sort of basic security analysis. Otherwise, we’ll be swatting pseudo-proposals like this one, while those on the other side of this debate become increasingly convinced that it’s possible to design one of these things securely.
Already people are using the National Academies report on backdoors for law enforcement as evidence that engineers are developing workable and secure backdoors. Writing in Lawfare, Alan Z. Rozenshtein claims that the report — and a related New York Timesstory — “undermine the argument that secure third-party access systems are so implausible that it’s not even worth trying to develop them.” Susan Landau effectively corrects this misconception, but the damage is done.
Here’s the thing: it’s not hard to design and build a backdoor. What’s hard is building the systems — both technical and procedural — around them. Here’s Rob Graham:
He’s only solving the part we already know how to solve. He’s deliberately ignoring the stuff we don’t know how to solve. We know how to make backdoors, we just don’t know how to secure them.
A bunch of us cryptographers have already explained why we don’t think this sort of thing will work in the foreseeable future. We write:
Exceptional access would force Internet system developers to reverse “forward secrecy” design practices that seek to minimize the impact on user privacy when systems are breached. The complexity of today’s Internet environment, with millions of apps and globally connected services, means that new law enforcement requirements are likely to introduce unanticipated, hard to detect security flaws. Beyond these and other technical vulnerabilities, the prospect of globally deployed exceptional access systems raises difficult problems about how such an environment would be governed and how to ensure that such systems would respect human rights and the rule of law.
The reason so few of us are willing to bet on massive-scale key escrow systems is that we’ve thought about it and we don’t think it will work. We’ve looked at the threat model, the usage model, and the quality of hardware and software that exists today. Our informed opinion is that there’s no detection system for key theft, there’s no renewability system, HSMs are terrifically vulnerable (and the companies largely staffed with ex-intelligence employees), and insiders can be suborned. We’re not going to put the data of a few billion people on the line an environment where we believe with high probability that the system will fail.
Today is the early May bank holiday in England and Wales, a public holiday, and while this blog rarely rests, the Pi Towers team does. So, while we take a day with our families, our friends, and/or our favourite pastimes, I thought I’d point you at a couple of features from HackSpace magazine, our monthly magazine for makers.
To my mind, they go quite well with a deckchair in the garden, the buzz of a lawnmower a few houses down, and a view of the weeds I ought to have dealt with by now, but I’m sure you’ll find your own ambience.
If you want a unique piece of jewellery to show your love for pencils, follow Peter Brown’s lead. Peter glued twelve pencils together in two rows of six. He then measured the size of his finger and drilled a hole between the glued pencils using a drill bit.
First off, pencils. It hadn’t occurred to me that you could make super useful stuff like a miniature crossbow and a catapult out of pencils. Not only can you do this, you can probably go ahead and do it right now: all you need is a handful of pencils, some rubber bands, some drawing pins, and a bulldog clip (or, as you might prefer, some push pins and a binder clip). The sentence that really leaps out at me here is “To keep a handful of boys aged three to eleven occupied during a family trip, Marie decided to build mini crossbows to help their target practice.” The internet hasn’t helped me find out much about Marie, but I am in awe of her.
If you haven’t wandered off to make a stationery arsenal by now, read Lucy Rogers‘ reflections on making a right mess of things. I hope you do, because I think it’d be great if more people coped better with the fact that we all, unavoidably, fail. You probably won’t really get anywhere without a few goes where you just completely muck it all up.
This true of everything. Wet lab work and gardening and coding and parenting. And everything. You can share your heroic failures in the comments, if you like, as well as any historic weaponry you have fashioned from the contents of your desk tidy.
Researchers at Princeton University have released IoT Inspector, a tool that analyzes the security and privacy of IoT devices by examining the data they send across the Internet. They’ve already used the tool to study a bunch of different IoT devices. From their blog post:
Finding #3: Many IoT Devices Contact a Large and Diverse Set of Third Parties
In many cases, consumers expect that their devices contact manufacturers’ servers, but communication with other third-party destinations may not be a behavior that consumers expect.
We have found that many IoT devices communicate with third-party services, of which consumers are typically unaware. We have found many instances of third-party communications in our analyses of IoT device network traffic. Some examples include:
Samsung Smart TV. During the first minute after power-on, the TV talks to Google Play, Double Click, Netflix, FandangoNOW, Spotify, CBS, MSNBC, NFL, Deezer, and Facebookeven though we did not sign in or create accounts with any of them.
Amcrest WiFi Security Camera. The camera actively communicates with cellphonepush.quickddns.com using HTTPS. QuickDDNS is a Dynamic DNS service provider operated by Dahua. Dahua is also a security camera manufacturer, although Amcrest’s website makes no references to Dahua. Amcrest customer service informed us that Dahua was the original equipment manufacturer.
Halo Smoke Detector. The smart smoke detector communicates with broker.xively.com. Xively offers an MQTT service, which allows manufacturers to communicate with their devices.
Geeni Light Bulb. The Geeni smart bulb communicates with gw.tuyaus.com, which is operated by TuYa, a China-based company that also offers an MQTT service.
We also looked at a number of other devices, such as Samsung Smart Camera and TP-Link Smart Plug, and found communications with third parties ranging from NTP pools (time servers) to video storage services.
Their first two findings are that “Many IoT devices lack basic encryption and authentication” and that “User behavior can be inferred from encrypted IoT device traffic.” No surprises there.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has precipitated to an influx of connected devices and data that can be mined to gain useful business insights. If you own an IoT device, you might want the data to be uploaded seamlessly from your connected devices to the cloud so that you can make use of cloud storage and the processing power to perform sophisticated analysis of data. To upload the data to the AWS Cloud, devices must pass authentication and authorization checks performed by the respective AWS services. The standard way of authenticating AWS requests is the Signature Version 4 algorithm that requires the caller to have an access key ID and secret access key. Consequently, you need to hardcode the access key ID and the secret access key on your devices. Alternatively, you can use the built-in X.509 certificate as the unique device identity to authenticate AWS requests.
AWS IoT has introduced the credentials provider feature that allows a caller to authenticate AWS requests by having an X.509 certificate. The credentials provider authenticates a caller using an X.509 certificate, and vends a temporary, limited-privilege security token. The token can be used to sign and authenticate any AWS request. Thus, the credentials provider relieves you from having to manage and periodically refresh the access key ID and secret access key remotely on your devices.
In the process of retrieving a security token, you use AWS IoT to create a thing (a representation of a specific device or logical entity), register a certificate, and create AWS IoT policies. You also configure an AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) role and attach appropriate IAM policies to the role so that the credentials provider can assume the role on your behalf. You also make an HTTP-over-Transport Layer Security (TLS) mutual authentication request to the credentials provider that uses your preconfigured thing, certificate, policies, and IAM role to authenticate and authorize the request, and obtain a security token on your behalf. You can then use the token to sign any AWS request using Signature Version 4.
In this blog post, I explain the AWS IoT credentials provider design and then demonstrate the end-to-end process of retrieving a security token from AWS IoT and using the token to write a temperature and humidity record to a specific Amazon DynamoDB table.
Note: This post assumes you are familiar with AWS IoT and IAM to perform steps using the AWS CLI and OpenSSL. Make sure you are running the latest version of the AWS CLI.
Overview of the credentials provider workflow
The following numbered diagram illustrates the credentials provider workflow. The diagram is followed by explanations of the steps.
To explain the steps of the workflow as illustrated in the preceding diagram:
The AWS IoT device uses the AWS SDK or custom client to make an HTTPS request to the credentials provider for a security token. The request includes the device X.509 certificate for authentication.
The credentials provider forwards the request to the AWS IoT authentication and authorization module to verify the certificate and the permission to request the security token.
If the certificate is valid and has permission to request a security token, the AWS IoT authentication and authorization module returns success. Otherwise, it returns failure, which goes back to the device with the appropriate exception.
The requested service invokes IAM to validate the signature and authorize the request against access policies attached to the preconfigured IAM role.
If IAM validates the signature successfully and authorizes the request, the request goes through.
In another solution, you could configure an AWS Lambda rule that ingests your device data and sends it to another AWS service. However, in applications that require the uploading of large files such as videos or aggregated telemetry to the AWS Cloud, you may want your devices to be able to authenticate and send data directly to the AWS service of your choice. The credentials provider enables you to do that.
Outline of the steps to retrieve and use security token
Perform the following steps as part of this solution:
Create an AWS IoT thing: Start by creating a thing that corresponds to your home thermostat in the AWS IoT thing registry database. This allows you to authenticate the request as a thing and use thing attributes as policy variables in AWS IoT and IAM policies.
Register a certificate: Create and register a certificate with AWS IoT, and attach it to the thing for successful device authentication.
Create and configure an IAM role: Create an IAM role to be assumed by the service on behalf of your device. I illustrate how to configure a trust policy and an access policy so that AWS IoT has permission to assume the role, and the token has necessary permission to make requests to DynamoDB.
Create a role alias: Create a role alias in AWS IoT. A role alias is an alternate data model pointing to an IAM role. The credentials provider request must include a role alias name to indicate which IAM role to assume for obtaining a security token from AWS STS. You may update the role alias on the server to point to a different IAM role and thus make your device obtain a security token with different permissions.
Attach a policy: Create an authorization policy with AWS IoT and attach it to the certificate to control which device can assume which role aliases.
Request a security token: Make an HTTPS request to the credentials provider and retrieve a security token and use it to sign a DynamoDB request with Signature Version 4.
Use the security token to sign a request: Use the retrieved token to sign a request to DynamoDB and successfully write a temperature and humidity record from your home thermostat in a specific table. Thus, starting with an X.509 certificate on your home thermostat, you can successfully upload your thermostat record to DynamoDB and use it for further analysis. Before the availability of the credentials provider, you could not do this.
Deploy the solution
1. Create an AWS IoT thing
Register your home thermostat in the AWS IoT thing registry database by creating a thing type and a thing. You can use the AWS CLI with the following command to create a thing type. The thing type allows you to store description and configuration information that is common to a set of things.
Now, you need to have a Certificate Authority (CA) certificate, sign a device certificate using the CA certificate, and register both certificates with AWS IoT before your device can authenticate to AWS IoT. If you do not already have a CA certificate, you can use OpenSSL to create a CA certificate, as described in Use Your Own Certificate. To register your CA certificate with AWS IoT, follow the steps on Registering Your CA Certificate.
You then have to create a device certificate signed by the CA certificate and register it with AWS IoT, which you can do by following the steps on Creating a Device Certificate Using Your CA Certificate. Save the certificate and the corresponding key pair; you will use them when you request a security token later. Also, remember the password you provide when you create the certificate.
Run the following command in the AWS CLI to attach the device certificate to your thing so that you can use thing attributes in policy variables.
aws iot attach-thing-principal – thing-name MyHomeThermostat – principal <certificate-arn>
If the attach-thing-principal command succeeds, the output is empty.
3. Configure an IAM role
Next, configure an IAM role in your AWS account that will be assumed by the credentials provider on behalf of your device. You are required to associate two policies with the role: a trust policy that controls who can assume the role, and an access policy that controls which actions can be performed on which resources by assuming the role.
The following trust policy grants the credentials provider permission to assume the role. Put it in a text document and save the document with the name, trustpolicyforiot.json.
The following access policy allows DynamoDB operations on the table that has the same name as the thing name that you created in Step 1, MyHomeThermostat, by using credentials-iot:ThingName as a policy variable. I explain after Step 5 about using thing attributes as policy variables. Put the following policy in a text document and save the document with the name, accesspolicyfordynamodb.json.
Finally, run the following command in the AWS CLI to attach the access policy to your role.
aws iam attach-role-policy – role-name dynamodb-access-role – policy-arn arn:aws:iam::<your_aws_account_id>:policy/accesspolicyfordynamodb
If the attach-role-policy command succeeds, the output is empty.
Configure the PassRole permissions
The IAM role that you have created must be passed to AWS IoT to create a role alias, as described in Step 4. The user who performs the operation requires iam:PassRole permission to authorize this action. You also should add permission for the iam:GetRole action to allow the user to retrieve information about the specified role. Create the following policy to grant iam:PassRole and iam:GetRole permissions. Name this policy, passrolepermission.json.
Now, run the following command to attach the policy to the user.
aws iam attach-user-policy – policy-arn arn:aws:iam::<your_aws_account_id>:policy/passrolepermission – user-name <user_name>
If the attach-user-policy command succeeds, the output is empty.
4. Create a role alias
Now that you have configured the IAM role, you will create a role alias with AWS IoT. You must provide the following pieces of information when creating a role alias:
RoleAlias: This is the primary key of the role alias data model and hence a mandatory attribute. It is a string; the minimum length is 1 character, and the maximum length is 128 characters.
RoleArn: This is the Amazon Resource Name (ARN) of the IAM role you have created. This is also a mandatory attribute.
CredentialDurationSeconds: This is an optional attribute specifying the validity (in seconds) of the security token. The minimum value is 900 seconds (15 minutes), and the maximum value is 3,600 seconds (60 minutes); the default value is 3,600 seconds, if not specified.
Run the following command in the AWS CLI to create a role alias. Use the credentials of the user to whom you have given the iam:PassRole permission.
You created and registered a certificate with AWS IoT earlier for successful authentication of your device. Now, you need to create and attach a policy to the certificate to authorize the request for the security token.
Let’s say you want to allow a thing to get credentials for the role alias, Thermostat-dynamodb-access-role-alias, with thing owner Alice, thing type thermostat, and the thing attached to a principal. The following policy, with thing attributes as policy variables, achieves these requirements. After this step, I explain more about using thing attributes as policy variables. Put the policy in a text document, and save it with the name, alicethermostatpolicy.json.
If the attach-policy command succeeds, the output is empty.
You have completed all the necessary steps to request an AWS security token from the credentials provider!
Using thing attributes as policy variables
Before I show how to request a security token, I want to explain more about how to use thing attributes as policy variables and the advantage of using them. As a prerequisite, a device must provide a thing name in the credentials provider request.
Thing substitution variables in AWS IoT policies
AWS IoT Simplified Permission Management allows you to associate a connection with a specific thing, and allow the thing name, thing type, and other thing attributes to be available as substitution variables in AWS IoT policies. You can write a generic AWS IoT policy as in alicethermostatpolicy.json in Step 5, attach it to multiple certificates, and authorize the connection as a thing. For example, you could attach alicethermostatpolicy.json to certificates corresponding to each of the thermostats you have that you want to assume the role alias, Thermostat-dynamodb-access-role-alias, and allow operations only on the table with the name that matches the thing name. For more information, see the full list of thing policy variables.
Thing substitution variables in IAM policies
You also can use the following three substitution variables in the IAM role’s access policy (I used credentials-iot:ThingName in accesspolicyfordynamodb.json in Step 3):
When the device provides the thing name in the request, the credentials provider fetches these three variables from the database and adds them as context variables to the security token. When the device uses the token to access DynamoDB, the variables in the role’s access policy are replaced with the corresponding values in the security token. Note that you also can use credentials-iot:AwsCertificateId as a policy variable; AWS IoT returns certificateId during registration.
6. Request a security token
Make an HTTPS request to the credentials provider to fetch a security token. You have to supply the following information:
Certificate and key pair: Because this is an HTTP request over TLS mutual authentication, you have to provide the certificate and the corresponding key pair to your client while making the request. Use the same certificate and key pair that you used during certificate registration with AWS IoT.
RoleAlias: Provide the role alias (in this example, Thermostat-dynamodb-access-role-alias) to be assumed in the request.
ThingName: Provide the thing name that you created earlier in the AWS IoT thing registry database. This is passed as a header with the name, x-amzn-iot-thingname. Note that the thing name is mandatory only if you have thing attributes as policy variables in AWS IoT or IAM policies.
Run the following command in the AWS CLI to obtain your AWS account-specific endpoint for the credentials provider. See the DescribeEndpoint API documentation for further details.
Note that if you are on Mac OS X, you need to export your certificate to a .pfx or .p12 file before you can pass it in the https request. Use OpenSSL with the following command to convert the device certificate from .pem to .pfx format. Remember the password because you will need it subsequently in a curl command.
Create a DynamoDB table called MyHomeThermostat in your AWS account. You will have to choose the hash (partition key) and the range (sort key) while creating the table to uniquely identify a record. Make the hash the serial_number of the thermostat and the range the timestamp of the record. Create a text file with the following JSON to put a temperature and humidity record in the table. Name the file, item.json.
You can use the accessKeyId, secretAccessKey, and sessionToken retrieved from the output of the curl command to sign a request that writes the temperature and humidity record to the DynamoDB table. Use the following commands to accomplish this.
In this blog post, I demonstrated how to retrieve a security token by using an X.509 certificate and then writing an item to a DynamoDB table by using the security token. Similarly, you could run applications on surveillance cameras or sensor devices that exchange the X.509 certificate for an AWS security token and use the token to upload video streams to Amazon Kinesis or telemetry data to Amazon CloudWatch.
If you have comments about this blog post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about or issues implementing this solution, start a new thread on the AWS IoT forum.
Some gaming consoles make it easy to stream to Twitch, some gaming consoles don’t (come on, Nintendo). So for those that don’t, I’ve made this beta version of the “Twitch-O-Matic”. No it doesn’t chop onions or fold your laundry, but what it DOES do is stream anything with HDMI output to your Twitch channel with the simple push of a button!
eSports and online game streaming
Interest in eSports has skyrocketed over the last few years, with viewership numbers in the hundreds of millions, sponsorship deals increasing in value and prestige, and tournament prize funds reaching millions of dollars. So it’s no wonder that more and more gamers are starting to stream live to online platforms in order to boost their fanbase and try to cash in on this growing industry.
Streaming to Twitch
Launched in 2011, Twitch.tv is an online live-streaming platform with a primary focus on video gaming. Users can create accounts to contribute their comments and content to the site, as well as watching live-streamed gaming competitions and broadcasts. With a staggering fifteen million daily users, Twitch is accessible via smartphone and gaming console apps, smart TVs, computers, and tablets. But if you want to stream to Twitch, you may find yourself using third-party software in order to do so. And with more buttons to click and more wires to plug in for older, app-less consoles, streaming can get confusing.
Side note: we Tinkernut
We’ve featured Tinkernut a few times on the Raspberry Pi blog – his tutorials are clear, his projects are interesting and useful, and his live-streamed comment videos for every build are a nice touch to sharing homebrew builds on the internet.
So, yes, we love him. [This is true. Alex never shuts up about him. – Ed.] And since he has over 500K subscribers on YouTube, we’re obviously not the only ones. We wave our Tinkernut flags with pride.
The Raspberry Pi Zero W is connected to the HDMI to CSI adapter via the camera connector, in the same way you’d attach the camera ribbon. Tinkernut uses a standard Raspbian image on an 8GB SD card, with SSH enabled for remote access from his laptop. He uses the simple command Raspivid to test the HDMI connection by recording ten seconds of video footage from his console.
One lead is all you need
Once you have the Pi receiving video from your console, you can connect to Twitch using your Twitch stream key, which you can find by logging in to your account at Twitch.tv. Tinkernut’s tutorial gives you all the commands you need to stream from your Pi.
To up the aesthetic impact of your project, adding buttons and backlights is fairly straightforward.
Pretty LED frills
To run the stream command, Tinketnut uses a button: press once to start the stream, press again to stop. Pressing the button also turns on the LED backlight, so it’s obvious when streaming is in progress.
For the full code and 3D-printable case STL file, head to Tinketnut’s hackster.io project page. And if you’re already using a Raspberry Pi for Twitch streaming, share your build setup with us. Cheers!
We made it easier for you to comply with regulatory standards by controlling access to AWS Regions using IAM policies. For example, if your company requires users to create resources in a specific AWS region, you can now add a new condition to the IAM policies you attach to your IAM principal (user or role) to enforce this for all AWS services. In this post, I review conditions in policies, introduce the new condition, and review a policy example to demonstrate how you can control access across multiple AWS services to a specific region.
Before I introduce the new condition, let’s review the condition element of an IAM policy. A condition is an optional IAM policy element that lets you specify special circumstances under which the policy grants or denies permission. A condition includes a condition key, operator, and value for the condition. There are two types of conditions: service-specific conditions and global conditions. Service-specific conditions are specific to certain actions in an AWS service. For example, the condition key ec2:InstanceType supports specific EC2 actions. Global conditions support all actions across all AWS services.
Now that I’ve reviewed the condition element in an IAM policy, let me introduce the new condition.
AWS:RequestedRegion condition key
The new global condition key, , supports all actions across all AWS services. You can use any string operator and specify any AWS region for its value.
Allows you to specify the region to which the IAM principal (user or role) can make API calls
I’ll now demonstrate the use of the new global condition key.
Example: Policy with region-level control
Let’s say a group of software developers in my organization is working on a project using Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS. The project requires a web server running on an EC2 instance using Amazon Linux and a MySQL database instance in RDS. The developers also want to test Amazon Lambda, an event-driven platform, to retrieve data from the MySQL DB instance in RDS for future use.
My organization requires all the AWS resources to remain in the Frankfurt, eu-central-1, region. To make sure this project follows these guidelines, I create a single IAM policy for all the AWS services that this group is going to use and apply the new global condition key aws:RequestedRegion for all the services. This way I can ensure that any new EC2 instances launched or any database instances created using RDS are in Frankfurt. This policy also ensures that any Lambda functions this group creates for testing are also in the Frankfurt region.
The first statement in the above example contains all the read-only actions that let my developers use the console for EC2, RDS, and Lambda. The permissions for IAM-related actions are required to launch EC2 instances with a role, enable enhanced monitoring in RDS, and for AWS Lambda to assume the IAM execution role to execute the Lambda function. I’ve combined all the read-only actions into a single statement for simplicity. The second statement is where I give write access to my developers for the three services and restrict the write access to the Frankfurt region using the aws:RequestedRegion condition key. You can also list multiple AWS regions with the new condition key if your developers are allowed to create resources in multiple regions. The third statement grants permissions for the IAM action iam:PassRole required by AWS Lambda. For more information on allowing users to create a Lambda function, see Using Identity-Based Policies for AWS Lambda.
You can now use the aws:RequestedRegion global condition key in your IAM policies to specify the region to which the IAM principal (user or role) can invoke an API call. This capability makes it easier for you to restrict the AWS regions your IAM principals can use to comply with regulatory standards and improve account security. For more information about this global condition key and policy examples using aws:RequestedRegion, see the IAM documentation.
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.
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Last week, we shared the first half of our Q&A with Raspberry Pi Trading CEO and Raspberry Pi creator Eben Upton. Today we follow up with all your other questions, including your expectations for a Raspberry Pi 4, Eben’s dream add-ons, and whether we really could go smaller than the Zero.
Get your questions to us now using #AskRaspberryPi on Twitter
With internet security becoming more necessary, will there be automated versions of VPN on an SD card?
There are already third-party tools which turn your Raspberry Pi into a VPN endpoint. Would we do it ourselves? Like the power button, it’s one of those cases where there are a million things we could do and so it’s more efficient to let the community get on with it.
Just to give a counterexample, while we don’t generally invest in optimising for particular use cases, we did invest a bunch of money into optimising Kodi to run well on Raspberry Pi, because we found that very large numbers of people were using it. So, if we find that we get half a million people a year using a Raspberry Pi as a VPN endpoint, then we’ll probably invest money into optimising it and feature it on the website as we’ve done with Kodi. But I don’t think we’re there today.
Have you ever seen any Pis running and doing important jobs in the wild, and if so, how does it feel?
It’s amazing how often you see them driving displays, for example in radio and TV studios. Of course, it feels great. There’s something wonderful about the geographic spread as well. The Raspberry Pi desktop is quite distinctive, both in its previous incarnation with the grey background and logo, and the current one where we have Greg Annandale’s road picture.
And so it’s funny when you see it in places. Somebody sent me a video of them teaching in a classroom in rural Pakistan and in the background was Greg’s picture.
Raspberry Pi 4!?!
There will be a Raspberry Pi 4, obviously. We get asked about it a lot. I’m sticking to the guidance that I gave people that they shouldn’t expect to see a Raspberry Pi 4 this year. To some extent, the opportunity to do the 3B+ was a surprise: we were surprised that we’ve been able to get 200MHz more clock speed, triple the wireless and wired throughput, and better thermals, and still stick to the $35 price point.
We’re up against the wall from a silicon perspective; we’re at the end of what you can do with the 40nm process. It’s not that you couldn’t clock the processor faster, or put a larger processor which can execute more instructions per clock in there, it’s simply about the energy consumption and the fact that you can’t dissipate the heat. So we’ve got to go to a smaller process node and that’s an order of magnitude more challenging from an engineering perspective. There’s more effort, more risk, more cost, and all of those things are challenging.
With 3B+ out of the way, we’re going to start looking at this now. For the first six months or so we’re going to be figuring out exactly what people want from a Raspberry Pi 4. We’re listening to people’s comments about what they’d like to see in a new Raspberry Pi, and I’m hoping by early autumn we should have an idea of what we want to put in it and a strategy for how we might achieve that.
Could you go smaller than the Zero?
The challenge with Zero as that we’re periphery-limited. If you run your hand around the unit, there is no edge of that board that doesn’t have something there. So the question is: “If you want to go smaller than Zero, what feature are you willing to throw out?”
It’s a single-sided board, so you could certainly halve the PCB area if you fold the circuitry and use both sides, though you’d have to lose something. You could give up some GPIO and go back to 26 pins like the first Raspberry Pi. You could give up the camera connector, you could go to micro HDMI from mini HDMI. You could remove the SD card and just do USB boot. I’m inventing a product live on air! But really, you could get down to two thirds and lose a bunch of GPIO – it’s hard to imagine you could get to half the size.
What’s the one feature that you wish you could outfit on the Raspberry Pi that isn’t cost effective at this time? Your dream feature.
Well, more memory. There are obviously technical reasons why we don’t have more memory on there, but there are also market reasons. People ask “why doesn’t the Raspberry Pi have more memory?”, and my response is typically “go and Google ‘DRAM price’”. We’re used to the price of memory going down. And currently, we’re going through a phase where this has turned around and memory is getting more expensive again.
Machine learning would be interesting. There are machine learning accelerators which would be interesting to put on a piece of hardware. But again, they are not going to be used by everyone, so according to our method of pricing what we might add to a board, machine learning gets treated like a $50 chip. But that would be lovely to do.
Which citizen science projects using the Pi have most caught your attention?
I like the wildlife camera projects. We live out in the countryside in a little village, and we’re conscious of being surrounded by nature but we don’t see a lot of it on a day-to-day basis. So I like the nature cam projects, though, to my everlasting shame, I haven’t set one up yet. There’s a range of them, from very professional products to people taking a Raspberry Pi and a camera and putting them in a plastic box. So those are good fun.
How does it feel to go to bed every day knowing you’ve changed the world for the better in such a massive way?
What feels really good is that when we started this in 2006 nobody else was talking about it, but now we’re part of a very broad movement.
We were in a really bad way: we’d seen a collapse in the number of applicants applying to study Computer Science at Cambridge and elsewhere. In our view, this reflected a move away from seeing technology as ‘a thing you do’ to seeing it as a ‘thing that you have done to you’. It is problematic from the point of view of the economy, industry, and academia, but most importantly it damages the life prospects of individual children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The great thing about STEM subjects is that you can’t fake being good at them. There are a lot of industries where your Dad can get you a job based on who he knows and then you can kind of muddle along. But if your dad gets you a job building bridges and you suck at it, after the first or second bridge falls down, then you probably aren’t going to be building bridges anymore. So access to STEM education can be a great driver of social mobility.
By the time we were launching the Raspberry Pi in 2012, there was this wonderful movement going on. Code Club, for example, and CoderDojo came along. Lots of different ways of trying to solve the same problem. What feels really, really good is that we’ve been able to do this as part of an enormous community. And some parts of that community became part of the Raspberry Pi Foundation – we merged with Code Club, we merged with CoderDojo, and we continue to work alongside a lot of these other organisations. So in the two seconds it takes me to fall asleep after my face hits the pillow, that’s what I think about.
We’re currently advertising a Programme Manager role in New Delhi, India. Did you ever think that Raspberry Pi would be advertising a role like this when you were bringing together the Foundation?
No, I didn’t.
But if you told me we were going to be hiring somewhere, India probably would have been top of my list because there’s a massive IT industry in India. When we think about our interaction with emerging markets, India, in a lot of ways, is the poster child for how we would like it to work. There have already been some wonderful deployments of Raspberry Pi, for example in Kerala, without our direct involvement. And we think we’ve got something that’s useful for the Indian market. We have a product, we have clubs, we have teacher training. And we have a body of experience in how to teach people, so we have a physical commercial product as well as a charitable offering that we think are a good fit.
It’s going to be massive.
What is your favourite BBC type-in listing?
There was a game called Codename: Druid. There is a famous game called Codename: Droid which was the sequel to Stryker’s Run, which was an awesome, awesome game. And there was a type-in game called Codename: Druid, which was at the bottom end of what you would consider a commercial game.
And I remember typing that in. And what was really cool about it was that the next month, the guy who wrote it did another article that talks about the memory map and which operating system functions used which bits of memory. So if you weren’t going to do disc access, which bits of memory could you trample on and know the operating system would survive.
I still like type-in listings. The Raspberry Pi 2018 Annual has a type-in listing that I wrote for a Babbage versus Bugs game. I will say that’s not the last type-in listing you will see from me in the next twelve months. And if you download the PDF, you could probably copy and paste it into your favourite text editor to save yourself some time.
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