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Using AWS Step Functions State Machines to Handle Workflow-Driven AWS CodePipeline Actions

Post Syndicated from Marcilio Mendonca original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/using-aws-step-functions-state-machines-to-handle-workflow-driven-aws-codepipeline-actions/

AWS CodePipeline is a continuous integration and continuous delivery service for fast and reliable application and infrastructure updates. It offers powerful integration with other AWS services, such as AWS CodeBuildAWS CodeDeployAWS CodeCommit, AWS CloudFormation and with third-party tools such as Jenkins and GitHub. These services make it possible for AWS customers to successfully automate various tasks, including infrastructure provisioning, blue/green deployments, serverless deployments, AMI baking, database provisioning, and release management.

Developers have been able to use CodePipeline to build sophisticated automation pipelines that often require a single CodePipeline action to perform multiple tasks, fork into different execution paths, and deal with asynchronous behavior. For example, to deploy a Lambda function, a CodePipeline action might first inspect the changes pushed to the code repository. If only the Lambda code has changed, the action can simply update the Lambda code package, create a new version, and point the Lambda alias to the new version. If the changes also affect infrastructure resources managed by AWS CloudFormation, the pipeline action might have to create a stack or update an existing one through the use of a change set. In addition, if an update is required, the pipeline action might enforce a safety policy to infrastructure resources that prevents the deletion and replacement of resources. You can do this by creating a change set and having the pipeline action inspect its changes before updating the stack. Change sets that do not conform to the policy are deleted.

This use case is a good illustration of workflow-driven pipeline actions. These are actions that run multiple tasks, deal with async behavior and loops, need to maintain and propagate state, and fork into different execution paths. Implementing workflow-driven actions directly in CodePipeline can lead to complex pipelines that are hard for developers to understand and maintain. Ideally, a pipeline action should perform a single task and delegate the complexity of dealing with workflow-driven behavior associated with that task to a state machine engine. This would make it possible for developers to build simpler, more intuitive pipelines and allow them to use state machine execution logs to visualize and troubleshoot their pipeline actions.

In this blog post, we discuss how AWS Step Functions state machines can be used to handle workflow-driven actions. We show how a CodePipeline action can trigger a Step Functions state machine and how the pipeline and the state machine are kept decoupled through a Lambda function. The advantages of using state machines include:

  • Simplified logic (complex tasks are broken into multiple smaller tasks).
  • Ease of handling asynchronous behavior (through state machine wait states).
  • Built-in support for choices and processing different execution paths (through state machine choices).
  • Built-in visualization and logging of the state machine execution.

The source code for the sample pipeline, pipeline actions, and state machine used in this post is available at https://github.com/awslabs/aws-codepipeline-stepfunctions.

Overview

This figure shows the components in the CodePipeline-Step Functions integration that will be described in this post. The pipeline contains two stages: a Source stage represented by a CodeCommit Git repository and a Prod stage with a single Deploy action that represents the workflow-driven action.

This action invokes a Lambda function (1) called the State Machine Trigger Lambda, which, in turn, triggers a Step Function state machine to process the request (2). The Lambda function sends a continuation token back to the pipeline (3) to continue its execution later and terminates. Seconds later, the pipeline invokes the Lambda function again (4), passing the continuation token received. The Lambda function checks the execution state of the state machine (5,6) and communicates the status to the pipeline. The process is repeated until the state machine execution is complete. Then the Lambda function notifies the pipeline that the corresponding pipeline action is complete (7). If the state machine has failed, the Lambda function will then fail the pipeline action and stop its execution (7). While running, the state machine triggers various Lambda functions to perform different tasks. The state machine and the pipeline are fully decoupled. Their interaction is handled by the Lambda function.

The Deploy State Machine

The sample state machine used in this post is a simplified version of the use case, with emphasis on infrastructure deployment. The state machine will follow distinct execution paths and thus have different outcomes, depending on:

  • The current state of the AWS CloudFormation stack.
  • The nature of the code changes made to the AWS CloudFormation template and pushed into the pipeline.

If the stack does not exist, it will be created. If the stack exists, a change set will be created and its resources inspected by the state machine. The inspection consists of parsing the change set results and detecting whether any resources will be deleted or replaced. If no resources are being deleted or replaced, the change set is allowed to be executed and the state machine completes successfully. Otherwise, the change set is deleted and the state machine completes execution with a failure as the terminal state.

Let’s dive into each of these execution paths.

Path 1: Create a Stack and Succeed Deployment

The Deploy state machine is shown here. It is triggered by the Lambda function using the following input parameters stored in an S3 bucket.

Create New Stack Execution Path

{
    "environmentName": "prod",
    "stackName": "sample-lambda-app",
    "templatePath": "infra/Lambda-template.yaml",
    "revisionS3Bucket": "codepipeline-us-east-1-418586629775",
    "revisionS3Key": "StepFunctionsDrivenD/CodeCommit/sjcmExZ"
}

Note that some values used here are for the use case example only. Account-specific parameters like revisionS3Bucket and revisionS3Key will be different when you deploy this use case in your account.

These input parameters are used by various states in the state machine and passed to the corresponding Lambda functions to perform different tasks. For example, stackName is used to create a stack, check the status of stack creation, and create a change set. The environmentName represents the environment (for example, dev, test, prod) to which the code is being deployed. It is used to prefix the name of stacks and change sets.

With the exception of built-in states such as wait and choice, each state in the state machine invokes a specific Lambda function.  The results received from the Lambda invocations are appended to the state machine’s original input. When the state machine finishes its execution, several parameters will have been added to its original input.

The first stage in the state machine is “Check Stack Existence”. It checks whether a stack with the input name specified in the stackName input parameter already exists. The output of the state adds a Boolean value called doesStackExist to the original state machine input as follows:

{
  "doesStackExist": true,
  "environmentName": "prod",
  "stackName": "sample-lambda-app",
  "templatePath": "infra/lambda-template.yaml",
  "revisionS3Bucket": "codepipeline-us-east-1-418586629775",
  "revisionS3Key": "StepFunctionsDrivenD/CodeCommit/sjcmExZ",
}

The following stage, “Does Stack Exist?”, is represented by Step Functions built-in choice state. It checks the value of doesStackExist to determine whether a new stack needs to be created (doesStackExist=true) or a change set needs to be created and inspected (doesStackExist=false).

If the stack does not exist, the states illustrated in green in the preceding figure are executed. This execution path creates the stack, waits until the stack is created, checks the status of the stack’s creation, and marks the deployment successful after the stack has been created. Except for “Stack Created?” and “Wait Stack Creation,” each of these stages invokes a Lambda function. “Stack Created?” and “Wait Stack Creation” are implemented by using the built-in choice state (to decide which path to follow) and the wait state (to wait a few seconds before proceeding), respectively. Each stage adds the results of their Lambda function executions to the initial input of the state machine, allowing future stages to process them.

Path 2: Safely Update a Stack and Mark Deployment as Successful

Safely Update a Stack and Mark Deployment as Successful Execution Path

If the stack indicated by the stackName parameter already exists, a different path is executed. (See the green states in the figure.) This path will create a change set and use wait and choice states to wait until the change set is created. Afterwards, a stage in the execution path will inspect  the resources affected before the change set is executed.

The inspection procedure represented by the “Inspect Change Set Changes” stage consists of parsing the resources affected by the change set and checking whether any of the existing resources are being deleted or replaced. The following is an excerpt of the algorithm, where changeSetChanges.Changes is the object representing the change set changes:

...
var RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED = "RESOURCES-BEING-DELETED-OR-REPLACED";
var CAN_SAFELY_UPDATE_EXISTING_STACK = "CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK";
for (var i = 0; i < changeSetChanges.Changes.length; i++) {
    var change = changeSetChanges.Changes[i];
    if (change.Type == "Resource") {
        if (change.ResourceChange.Action == "Delete") {
            return RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED;
        }
        if (change.ResourceChange.Action == "Modify") {
            if (change.ResourceChange.Replacement == "True") {
                return RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED;
            }
        }
    }
}
return CAN_SAFELY_UPDATE_EXISTING_STACK;

The algorithm returns different values to indicate whether the change set can be safely executed (CAN_SAFELY_UPDATE_EXISTING_STACK or RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED). This value is used later by the state machine to decide whether to execute the change set and update the stack or interrupt the deployment.

The output of the “Inspect Change Set” stage is shown here.

{
  "environmentName": "prod",
  "stackName": "sample-lambda-app",
  "templatePath": "infra/lambda-template.yaml",
  "revisionS3Bucket": "codepipeline-us-east-1-418586629775",
  "revisionS3Key": "StepFunctionsDrivenD/CodeCommit/sjcmExZ",
  "doesStackExist": true,
  "changeSetName": "prod-sample-lambda-app-change-set-545",
  "changeSetCreationStatus": "complete",
  "changeSetAction": "CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK"
}

At this point, these parameters have been added to the state machine’s original input:

  • changeSetName, which is added by the “Create Change Set” state.
  • changeSetCreationStatus, which is added by the “Get Change Set Creation Status” state.
  • changeSetAction, which is added by the “Inspect Change Set Changes” state.

The “Safe to Update Infra?” step is a choice state (its JSON spec follows) that simply checks the value of the changeSetAction parameter. If the value is equal to “CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK“, meaning that no resources will be deleted or replaced, the step will execute the change set by proceeding to the “Execute Change Set” state. The deployment is successful (the state machine completes its execution successfully).

"Safe to Update Infra?": {
      "Type": "Choice",
      "Choices": [
        {
          "Variable": "$.taskParams.changeSetAction",
          "StringEquals": "CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK",
          "Next": "Execute Change Set"
        }
      ],
      "Default": "Deployment Failed"
 }

Path 3: Reject Stack Update and Fail Deployment

Reject Stack Update and Fail Deployment Execution Path

If the changeSetAction parameter is different from “CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK“, the state machine will interrupt the deployment by deleting the change set and proceeding to the “Deployment Fail” step, which is a built-in Fail state. (Its JSON spec follows.) This state causes the state machine to stop in a failed state and serves to indicate to the Lambda function that the pipeline deployment should be interrupted in a fail state as well.

 "Deployment Failed": {
      "Type": "Fail",
      "Cause": "Deployment Failed",
      "Error": "Deployment Failed"
    }

In all three scenarios, there’s a state machine’s visual representation available in the AWS Step Functions console that makes it very easy for developers to identify what tasks have been executed or why a deployment has failed. Developers can also inspect the inputs and outputs of each state and look at the state machine Lambda function’s logs for details. Meanwhile, the corresponding CodePipeline action remains very simple and intuitive for developers who only need to know whether the deployment was successful or failed.

The State Machine Trigger Lambda Function

The Trigger Lambda function is invoked directly by the Deploy action in CodePipeline. The CodePipeline action must pass a JSON structure to the trigger function through the UserParameters attribute, as follows:

{
  "s3Bucket": "codepipeline-StepFunctions-sample",
  "stateMachineFile": "state_machine_input.json"
}

The s3Bucket parameter specifies the S3 bucket location for the state machine input parameters file. The stateMachineFile parameter specifies the file holding the input parameters. By being able to specify different input parameters to the state machine, we make the Trigger Lambda function and the state machine reusable across environments. For example, the same state machine could be called from a test and prod pipeline action by specifying a different S3 bucket or state machine input file for each environment.

The Trigger Lambda function performs two main tasks: triggering the state machine and checking the execution state of the state machine. Its core logic is shown here:

exports.index = function (event, context, callback) {
    try {
        console.log("Event: " + JSON.stringify(event));
        console.log("Context: " + JSON.stringify(context));
        console.log("Environment Variables: " + JSON.stringify(process.env));
        if (Util.isContinuingPipelineTask(event)) {
            monitorStateMachineExecution(event, context, callback);
        }
        else {
            triggerStateMachine(event, context, callback);
        }
    }
    catch (err) {
        failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, err.message);
    }
}

Util.isContinuingPipelineTask(event) is a utility function that checks if the Trigger Lambda function is being called for the first time (that is, no continuation token is passed by CodePipeline) or as a continuation of a previous call. In its first execution, the Lambda function will trigger the state machine and send a continuation token to CodePipeline that contains the state machine execution ARN. The state machine ARN is exposed to the Lambda function through a Lambda environment variable called stateMachineArn. Here is the code that triggers the state machine:

function triggerStateMachine(event, context, callback) {
    var stateMachineArn = process.env.stateMachineArn;
    var s3Bucket = Util.actionUserParameter(event, "s3Bucket");
    var stateMachineFile = Util.actionUserParameter(event, "stateMachineFile");
    getStateMachineInputData(s3Bucket, stateMachineFile)
        .then(function (data) {
            var initialParameters = data.Body.toString();
            var stateMachineInputJSON = createStateMachineInitialInput(initialParameters, event);
            console.log("State machine input JSON: " + JSON.stringify(stateMachineInputJSON));
            return stateMachineInputJSON;
        })
        .then(function (stateMachineInputJSON) {
            return triggerStateMachineExecution(stateMachineArn, stateMachineInputJSON);
        })
        .then(function (triggerStateMachineOutput) {
            var continuationToken = { "stateMachineExecutionArn": triggerStateMachineOutput.executionArn };
            var message = "State machine has been triggered: " + JSON.stringify(triggerStateMachineOutput) + ", continuationToken: " + JSON.stringify(continuationToken);
            return continueExecution(Util.jobId(event), continuationToken, callback, message);
        })
        .catch(function (err) {
            console.log("Error triggering state machine: " + stateMachineArn + ", Error: " + err.message);
            failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, err.message);
        })
}

The Trigger Lambda function fetches the state machine input parameters from an S3 file, triggers the execution of the state machine using the input parameters and the stateMachineArn environment variable, and signals to CodePipeline that the execution should continue later by passing a continuation token that contains the state machine execution ARN. In case any of these operations fail and an exception is thrown, the Trigger Lambda function will fail the pipeline immediately by signaling a pipeline failure through the putJobFailureResult CodePipeline API.

If the Lambda function is continuing a previous execution, it will extract the state machine execution ARN from the continuation token and check the status of the state machine, as shown here.

function monitorStateMachineExecution(event, context, callback) {
    var stateMachineArn = process.env.stateMachineArn;
    var continuationToken = JSON.parse(Util.continuationToken(event));
    var stateMachineExecutionArn = continuationToken.stateMachineExecutionArn;
    getStateMachineExecutionStatus(stateMachineExecutionArn)
        .then(function (response) {
            if (response.status === "RUNNING") {
                var message = "Execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + " is still " + response.status;
                return continueExecution(Util.jobId(event), continuationToken, callback, message);
            }
            if (response.status === "SUCCEEDED") {
                var message = "Execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + " has: " + response.status;
                return success(Util.jobId(event), callback, message);
            }
            // FAILED, TIMED_OUT, ABORTED
            var message = "Execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + " has: " + response.status;
            return failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, message);
        })
        .catch(function (err) {
            var message = "Error monitoring execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + ", Error: " + err.message;
            failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, message);
        });
}

If the state machine is in the RUNNING state, the Lambda function will send the continuation token back to the CodePipeline action. This will cause CodePipeline to call the Lambda function again a few seconds later. If the state machine has SUCCEEDED, then the Lambda function will notify the CodePipeline action that the action has succeeded. In any other case (FAILURE, TIMED-OUT, or ABORT), the Lambda function will fail the pipeline action.

This behavior is especially useful for developers who are building and debugging a new state machine because a bug in the state machine can potentially leave the pipeline action hanging for long periods of time until it times out. The Trigger Lambda function prevents this.

Also, by having the Trigger Lambda function as a means to decouple the pipeline and state machine, we make the state machine more reusable. It can be triggered from anywhere, not just from a CodePipeline action.

The Pipeline in CodePipeline

Our sample pipeline contains two simple stages: the Source stage represented by a CodeCommit Git repository and the Prod stage, which contains the Deploy action that invokes the Trigger Lambda function. When the state machine decides that the change set created must be rejected (because it replaces or deletes some the existing production resources), it fails the pipeline without performing any updates to the existing infrastructure. (See the failed Deploy action in red.) Otherwise, the pipeline action succeeds, indicating that the existing provisioned infrastructure was either created (first run) or updated without impacting any resources. (See the green Deploy stage in the pipeline on the left.)

The Pipeline in CodePipeline

The JSON spec for the pipeline’s Prod stage is shown here. We use the UserParameters attribute to pass the S3 bucket and state machine input file to the Lambda function. These parameters are action-specific, which means that we can reuse the state machine in another pipeline action.

{
  "name": "Prod",
  "actions": [
      {
          "inputArtifacts": [
              {
                  "name": "CodeCommitOutput"
              }
          ],
          "name": "Deploy",
          "actionTypeId": {
              "category": "Invoke",
              "owner": "AWS",
              "version": "1",
              "provider": "Lambda"
          },
          "outputArtifacts": [],
          "configuration": {
              "FunctionName": "StateMachineTriggerLambda",
              "UserParameters": "{\"s3Bucket\": \"codepipeline-StepFunctions-sample\", \"stateMachineFile\": \"state_machine_input.json\"}"
          },
          "runOrder": 1
      }
  ]
}

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed how state machines in AWS Step Functions can be used to handle workflow-driven actions. We showed how a Lambda function can be used to fully decouple the pipeline and the state machine and manage their interaction. The use of a state machine greatly simplified the associated CodePipeline action, allowing us to build a much simpler and cleaner pipeline while drilling down into the state machine’s execution for troubleshooting or debugging.

Here are two exercises you can complete by using the source code.

Exercise #1: Do not fail the state machine and pipeline action after inspecting a change set that deletes or replaces resources. Instead, create a stack with a different name (think of blue/green deployments). You can do this by creating a state machine transition between the “Safe to Update Infra?” and “Create Stack” stages and passing a new stack name as input to the “Create Stack” stage.

Exercise #2: Add wait logic to the state machine to wait until the change set completes its execution before allowing the state machine to proceed to the “Deployment Succeeded” stage. Use the stack creation case as an example. You’ll have to create a Lambda function (similar to the Lambda function that checks the creation status of a stack) to get the creation status of the change set.

Have fun and share your thoughts!

About the Author

Marcilio Mendonca is a Sr. Consultant in the Canadian Professional Services Team at Amazon Web Services. He has helped AWS customers design, build, and deploy best-in-class, cloud-native AWS applications using VMs, containers, and serverless architectures. Before he joined AWS, Marcilio was a Software Development Engineer at Amazon. Marcilio also holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science. In his spare time, he enjoys playing drums, riding his motorcycle in the Toronto GTA area, and spending quality time with his family.

What’s new in HiveMQ 3.3

Post Syndicated from The HiveMQ Team original https://www.hivemq.com/whats-new-in-hivemq-3-3

We are pleased to announce the release of HiveMQ 3.3. This version of HiveMQ is the most advanced and user friendly version of HiveMQ ever. A broker is the heart of every MQTT deployment and it’s key to monitor and understand how healthy your system and your connected clients are. Version 3.3 of HiveMQ focuses on observability, usability and advanced administration features and introduces a brand new Web UI. This version is a drop-in replacement for HiveMQ 3.2 and of course supports rolling upgrades for zero-downtime.

HiveMQ 3.3 brings many features that your users, administrators and plugin developers are going to love. These are the highlights:

Web UI

Web UI
The new HiveMQ version has a built-in Web UI for advanced analysis and administrative tasks. A powerful dashboard shows important data about the health of the broker cluster and an overview of the whole MQTT deployment.
With the new Web UI, administrators are able to drill down to specific client information and can perform administrative actions like disconnecting a client. Advanced analytics functionality allows indetifying clients with irregular behavior. It’s easy to identify message-dropping clients as HiveMQ shows detailed statistics of such misbehaving MQTT participants.
Of course all Web UI features work at scale with more than a million connected MQTT clients. Learn more about the Web UI in the documentation.

Time To Live

TTL
HiveMQ introduces Time to Live (TTL) on various levels of the MQTT lifecycle. Automatic cleanup of expired messages is as well supported as the wiping of abandoned persistent MQTT sessions. In particular, version 3.3 implements the following TTL features:

  • MQTT client session expiration
  • Retained Message expiration
  • MQTT PUBLISH message expiration

Configuring a TTL for MQTT client sessions and retained messages allows freeing system resources without manual administrative intervention as soon as the data is not needed anymore.
Beside global configuration, MQTT PUBLISHES can have individual TTLs based on application specific characteristics. It’s a breeze to change the TTL of particular messages with the HiveMQ plugin system. As soon as a message TTL expires, the broker won’t send out the message anymore, even if the message was previously queued or in-flight. This can save precious bandwidth for mobile connections as unnecessary traffic is avoided for expired messages.

Trace Recordings

Trace Recordings
Debugging specific MQTT clients or groups of MQTT clients can be challenging at scale. HiveMQ 3.3 introduces an innovative Trace Recording mechanism that allows creating detailed recordings of all client interactions with given filters.
It’s possible to filter based on client identifiers, MQTT message types and topics. And the best of all: You can use regular expressions to select multiple MQTT clients at once as well as topics with complex structures. Getting detailed information about the behavior of specific MQTT clients for debugging complex issues was never easier.

Native SSL

Native SSL
The new native SSL integration of HiveMQ brings a performance boost of more than 40% for SSL Handshakes (in terms of CPU usage) by utilizing an integration with BoringSSL. BoringSSL is Google’s fork of OpenSSL which is also used in Google Chrome and Android. Besides the compute and huge memory optimizations (saves up to 60% Java Heap), additional secure state-of-the-art cipher suites are supported by HiveMQ which are not directly available for Java (like ChaCha20-Poly1305).
Most HiveMQ deployments on Linux systems are expected to see decreased CPU load on TLS handshakes with the native SSL integration and huge memory improvements.

New Plugin System Features

New Plugin System Features
The popular and powerful plugin system has received additional services and callbacks which are useful for many existing and future plugins.
Plugin developers can now use a ConnectionAttributeStore and a SessionAttributeStore for storing arbitrary data for the lifetime of a single MQTT connection of a client or for the whole session of a client. The new ClientGroupService allows grouping different MQTT client identifiers by the same key, so it’s easy to address multiple MQTT clients (with the same group) at once.

A new callback was introduced which notifies a plugin when a HiveMQ instance is ready, which means the instance is part of the cluster and all listeners were started successfully. Developers can now react when a MQTT client session is ready and usable in the cluster with a dedicated callback.

Some use cases require modifying a MQTT PUBLISH packet before it’s sent out to a client. This is now possible with a new callback that was introduced for modifying a PUBLISH before sending it out to a individual client.
The offline queue size for persistent clients is now also configurable for individual clients as well as the queue discard strategy.

Additional Features

Additional Features
HiveMQ 3.3 has many additional features designed for power users and professional MQTT deployments. The new version also has the following highlights:

  • OCSP Stapling
  • Event Log for MQTT client connects, disconnects and unusual events (e.g. discarded message due to slow consumption on the client side
  • Throttling of concurrent TLS handshakes
  • Connect Packet overload protection
  • Configuration of Socket send and receive buffer sizes
  • Global System Information like the HiveMQ Home folder can now be set via Environment Variables without changing the run script
  • The internal HTTP server of HiveMQ is now exposed to the holistic monitoring subsystem
  • Many additional useful metrics were exposed to HiveMQ’s monitoring subsystem

 

In order to upgrade to HiveMQ 3.3 from HiveMQ 3.2 or older versions, take a look at our Upgrade Guide.
Don’t forget to learn more about all the new features with our HiveMQ User Guide.

Download HiveMQ 3.3 now

How to Compete with Giants

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/how-to-compete-with-giants/

How to Compete with Giants

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

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

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

Perhaps your business is competing in a brand new space free from established competitors. Most of us, though, start companies that compete with existing offerings from large, established companies. You need to come up with a better mousetrap — not the first mousetrap.

That’s the challenge Backblaze faced. In this post, I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned from that experience.

Backblaze vs. Giants

Competing with established companies that are orders of magnitude larger can be daunting. How can you succeed?

I’ll set the stage by offering a few sets of giants we compete with:

  • When we started Backblaze, we offered online backup in a market where companies had been offering “online backup” for at least a decade, and even the newer entrants had raised tens of millions of dollars.
  • When we built our storage servers, the alternatives were EMC, NetApp, and Dell — each of which had a market cap of over $10 billion.
  • When we introduced our cloud storage offering, B2, our direct competitors were Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. You might have heard of them.

What did we learn by competing with these giants on a bootstrapped budget? Let’s take a look.

Determine What Success Means

For a long time Apple considered Apple TV to be a hobby, not a real product worth focusing on, because it did not generate a billion in revenue. For a $10 billion per year revenue company, a new business that generates $50 million won’t move the needle and often isn’t worth putting focus on. However, for a startup, getting to $50 million in revenue can be the start of a wildly successful business.

Lesson Learned: Don’t let the giants set your success metrics.

The Advantages Startups Have

The giants have a lot of advantages: more money, people, scale, resources, access, etc. Following their playbook and attacking head-on means you’re simply outgunned. Common paths to failure are trying to build more features, enter more markets, outspend on marketing, and other similar approaches where scale and resources are the primary determinants of success.

But being a startup affords many advantages most giants would salivate over. As a nimble startup you can leverage those to succeed. Let’s breakdown nine competitive advantages we’ve used that you can too.

1. Drive Focus

It’s hard to build a $10 billion revenue business doing just one thing, and most giants have a broad portfolio of businesses, numerous products for each, and targeting a variety of customer segments in multiple markets. That adds complexity and distributes management attention.

Startups get the benefit of having everyone in the company be extremely focused, often on a singular mission, product, customer segment, and market. While our competitors sell everything from advertising to Zantac, and are investing in groceries and shipping, Backblaze has focused exclusively on cloud storage. This means all of our best people (i.e. everyone) is focused on our cloud storage business. Where is all of your focus going?

Lesson Learned: Align everyone in your company to a singular focus to dramatically out-perform larger teams.

2. Use Lack-of-Scale as an Advantage

You may have heard Paul Graham say “Do things that don’t scale.” There are a host of things you can do specifically because you don’t have the same scale as the giants. Use that as an advantage.

When we look for data center space, we have more options than our largest competitors because there are simply more spaces available with room for 100 cabinets than for 1,000 cabinets. With some searching, we can find data center space that is better/cheaper.

When a flood in Thailand destroyed factories, causing the world’s supply of hard drives to plummet and prices to triple, we started drive farming. The giants certainly couldn’t. It was a bit crazy, but it let us keep prices unchanged for our customers.

Our Chief Cloud Officer, Tim, used to work at Adobe. Because of their size, any new product needed to always launch in a multitude of languages and in global markets. Once launched, they had scale. But getting any new product launched was incredibly challenging.

Lesson Learned: Use lack-of-scale to exploit opportunities that are closed to giants.

3. Build a Better Product

This one is probably obvious. If you’re going to provide the same product, at the same price, to the same customers — why do it? Remember that better does not always mean more features. Here’s one way we built a better product that didn’t require being a bigger company.

All online backup services required customers to choose what to include in their backup. We found that this was complicated for users since they often didn’t know what needed to be backed up. We flipped the model to back up everything and allow users to exclude if they wanted to, but it was not required. This reduced the number of features/options, while making it easier and better for the user.

This didn’t require the resources of a huge company; it just required understanding customers a bit deeper and thinking about the solution differently. Building a better product is the most classic startup competitive advantage.

Lesson Learned: Dig deep with your customers to understand and deliver a better mousetrap.

4. Provide Better Service

How can you provide better service? Use your advantages. Escalations from your customer care folks to engineering can go through fewer hoops. Fixing an issue and shipping can be quicker. Access to real answers on Twitter or Facebook can be more effective.

A strategic decision we made was to have all customer support people as full-time employees in our headquarters. This ensures they are in close contact to the whole company for feedback to quickly go both ways.

Having a smaller team and fewer layers enables faster internal communication, which increases customer happiness. And the option to do things that don’t scale — such as help a customer in a unique situation — can go a long way in building customer loyalty.

Lesson Learned: Service your customers better by establishing clear internal communications.

5. Remove The Unnecessary

After determining that the industry standard EMC/NetApp/Dell storage servers would be too expensive to build our own cloud storage upon, we decided to build our own infrastructure. Many said we were crazy to compete with these multi-billion dollar companies and that it would be impossible to build a lower cost storage server. However, not only did it prove to not be impossible — it wasn’t even that hard.

One key trick? Remove the unnecessary. While EMC and others built servers to sell to other companies for a wide variety of use cases, Backblaze needed servers that only Backblaze would run, and for a single use case. As a result we could tailor the servers for our needs by removing redundancy from each server (since we would run redundant servers), and using lower-performance components (since we would get high-performance by running parallel servers).

What do your customers and use cases not need? This can trim costs and complexity while often improving the product for your use case.

Lesson Learned: Don’t think “what can we add” to what the giants offer — think “what can we remove.”

6. Be Easy

How many times have you visited a large company website, particularly one that’s not consumer-focused, only to leave saying, “Huh? I don’t understand what you do.” Keeping your website clear, and your product and pricing simple, will dramatically increase conversion and customer satisfaction. If you’re able to make it 2x easier and thus increasing your conversion by 2x, you’ve just allowed yourself to spend ½ as much acquiring a customer.

Providing unlimited data backup wasn’t specifically about providing more storage — it was about making it easier. Since users didn’t know how much data they needed to back up, charging per gigabyte meant they wouldn’t know the cost. Providing unlimited data backup meant they could just relax.

Customers love easy — and being smaller makes easy easier to deliver. Use that as an advantage in your website, marketing materials, pricing, product, and in every other customer interaction.

Lesson Learned: Ease-of-use isn’t a slogan: it’s a competitive advantage. Treat it as seriously as any other feature of your product

7. Don’t Be Afraid of Risk

Obviously unnecessary risks are unnecessary, and some risks aren’t worth taking. However, large companies that have given guidance to Wall Street with a $0.01 range on their earning-per-share are inherently going to be very risk-averse. Use risk-tolerance to open up opportunities, and adjust your tolerance level as you scale. In your first year, there are likely an infinite number of ways your business may vaporize; don’t be too worried about taking a risk that might have a 20% downside when the upside is hockey stick growth.

Using consumer-grade hard drives in our servers may have caused pain and suffering for us years down-the-line, but they were priced at approximately 50% of enterprise drives. Giants wouldn’t have considered the option. Turns out, the consumer drives performed great for us.

Lesson Learned: Use calculated risks as an advantage.

8. Be Open

The larger a company grows, the more it wants to hide information. Some of this is driven by regulatory requirements as a public company. But most of this is cultural. Sharing something might cause a problem, so let’s not. All external communication is treated as a critical press release, with rounds and rounds of editing by multiple teams and approvals. However, customers are often desperate for information. Moreover, sharing information builds trust, understanding, and advocates.

I started blogging at Backblaze before we launched. When we blogged about our Storage Pod and open-sourced the design, many thought we were crazy to share this information. But it was transformative for us, establishing Backblaze as a tech thought leader in storage and giving people a sense of how we were able to provide our service at such a low cost.

Over the years we’ve developed a culture of being open internally and externally, on our blog and with the press, and in communities such as Hacker News and Reddit. Often we’ve been asked, “why would you share that!?” — but it’s the continual openness that builds trust. And that culture of openness is incredibly challenging for the giants.

Lesson Learned: Overshare to build trust and brand where giants won’t.

9. Be Human

As companies scale, typically a smaller percent of founders and executives interact with customers. The people who build the company become more hidden, the language feels “corporate,” and customers start to feel they’re interacting with the cliche “faceless, nameless corporation.” Use your humanity to your advantage. From day one the Backblaze About page listed all the founders, and my email address. While contacting us shouldn’t be the first path for a customer support question, I wanted it to be clear that we stand behind the service we offer; if we’re doing something wrong — I want to know it.

To scale it’s important to have processes and procedures, but sometimes a situation falls outside of a well-established process. While we want our employees to follow processes, they’re still encouraged to be human and “try to do the right thing.” How to you strike this balance? Simon Sinek gives a good talk about it: make your employees feel safe. If employees feel safe they’ll be human.

If your customer is a consumer, they’ll appreciate being treated as a human. Even if your customer is a corporation, the purchasing decision-makers are still people.

Lesson Learned: Being human is the ultimate antithesis to the faceless corporation.

Build Culture to Sustain Your Advantages at Scale

Presumably the goal is not to always be competing with giants, but to one day become a giant. Does this mean you’ll lose all of these advantages? Some, yes — but not all. Some of these advantages are cultural, and if you build these into the culture from the beginning, and fight to keep them as you scale, you can keep them as you become a giant.

Tesla still comes across as human, with Elon Musk frequently interacting with people on Twitter. Apple continues to provide great service through their Genius Bar. And, worst case, if you lose these at scale, you’ll still have the other advantages of being a giant such as money, people, scale, resources, and access.

Of course, some new startup will be gunning for you with grand ambitions, so just be sure not to get complacent. 😉

The post How to Compete with Giants appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

ACME Support in Apache HTTP Server Project

Post Syndicated from Let's Encrypt - Free SSL/TLS Certificates original https://letsencrypt.org//2017/10/17/acme-support-in-apache-httpd.html

We’re excited that support for getting and managing TLS certificates via the ACME protocol is coming to the Apache HTTP Server Project (httpd). ACME is the protocol used by Let’s Encrypt, and hopefully other Certificate Authorities in the future. We anticipate this feature will significantly aid the adoption of HTTPS for new and existing websites.

We created Let’s Encrypt in order to make getting and managing TLS certificates as simple as possible. For Let’s Encrypt subscribers, this usually means obtaining an ACME client and executing some simple commands. Ultimately though, we’d like for most Let’s Encrypt subscribers to have ACME clients built in to their server software so that obtaining an additional piece of software is not necessary. The less work people have to do to deploy HTTPS the better!

ACME support being built in to one of the world’s most popular Web servers, Apache httpd, is great because it means that deploying HTTPS will be even easier for millions of websites. It’s a huge step towards delivering the ideal certificate issuance and management experience to as many people as possible.

The Apache httpd ACME module is called mod_md. It’s currently in the development version of httpd and a plan is being formulated to backport it to an httpd 2.4.x stable release. The mod_md code is also available on GitHub.

It’s also worth mentioning that the development version of Apache httpd now includes support for an SSLPolicy directive. Properly configuring TLS has traditionally involved making a large number of complex choices. With the SSLPolicy directive, admins simply select a modern, intermediate, or old TLS configuration, and sensible choices will be made for them.

Development of mod_md and the SSLPolicy directive has been funded by Mozilla and carried out primarily by Stefan Eissing of greenbytes. Thank you Mozilla and Stefan!

Let’s Encrypt is currently providing certificates for more than 55 million websites. We look forward to being able to serve even more websites as efforts like this make deploying HTTPS with Let’s Encrypt even easier. If you’re as excited about the potential for a 100% HTTPS Web as we are, please consider getting involved, making a donation, or sponsoring Let’s Encrypt.

New KRACK Attack Against Wi-Fi Encryption

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/10/new_krack_attac.html

Mathy Vanhoef has just published a devastating attack against WPA2, the 14-year-old encryption protocol used by pretty much all wi-fi systems. Its an interesting attack, where the attacker forces the protocol to reuse a key. The authors call this attack KRACK, for Key Reinstallation Attacks

This is yet another of a series of marketed attacks; with a cool name, a website, and a logo. The Q&A on the website answers a lot of questions about the attack and its implications. And lots of good information in this ArsTechnica article.

There is an academic paper, too:

“Key Reinstallation Attacks: Forcing Nonce Reuse in WPA2,” by Mathy Vanhoef and Frank Piessens.

Abstract: We introduce the key reinstallation attack. This attack abuses design or implementation flaws in cryptographic protocols to reinstall an already-in-use key. This resets the key’s associated parameters such as transmit nonces and receive replay counters. Several types of cryptographic Wi-Fi handshakes are affected by the attack. All protected Wi-Fi networks use the 4-way handshake to generate a fresh session key. So far, this 14-year-old handshake has remained free from attacks, and is even proven secure. However, we show that the 4-way handshake is vulnerable to a key reinstallation attack. Here, the adversary tricks a victim into reinstalling an already-in-use key. This is achieved by manipulating and replaying handshake messages. When reinstalling the key, associated parameters such as the incremental transmit packet number (nonce) and receive packet number (replay counter) are reset to their initial value. Our key reinstallation attack also breaks the PeerKey, group key, and Fast BSS Transition (FT) handshake. The impact depends on the handshake being attacked, and the data-confidentiality protocol in use. Simplified, against AES-CCMP an adversary can replay and decrypt (but not forge) packets. This makes it possible to hijack TCP streams and inject malicious data into them. Against WPA-TKIP and GCMP the impact is catastrophic: packets can be replayed, decrypted, and forged. Because GCMP uses the same authentication key in both communication directions, it is especially affected.

Finally, we confirmed our findings in practice, and found that every Wi-Fi device is vulnerable to some variant of our attacks. Notably, our attack is exceptionally devastating against Android 6.0: it forces the client into using a predictable all-zero encryption key.

I’m just reading about this now, and will post more information
as I learn it.

EDITED TO ADD: More news.

EDITED TO ADD: This meets my definition of brilliant. The attack is blindingly obvious once it’s pointed out, but for over a decade no one noticed it.

EDITED TO ADD: Matthew Green has a blog post on what went wrong. The vulnerability is in the interaction between two protocols. At a meta level, he blames the opaque IEEE standards process:

One of the problems with IEEE is that the standards are highly complex and get made via a closed-door process of private meetings. More importantly, even after the fact, they’re hard for ordinary security researchers to access. Go ahead and google for the IETF TLS or IPSec specifications — you’ll find detailed protocol documentation at the top of your Google results. Now go try to Google for the 802.11i standards. I wish you luck.

The IEEE has been making a few small steps to ease this problem, but they’re hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit. There’s an IEEE program called GET that allows researchers to access certain standards (including 802.11) for free, but only after they’ve been public for six months — coincidentally, about the same time it takes for vendors to bake them irrevocably into their hardware and software.

This whole process is dumb and — in this specific case — probably just cost industry tens of millions of dollars. It should stop.

Nicholas Weaver explains why most people shouldn’t worry about this:

So unless your Wi-Fi password looks something like a cat’s hairball (e.g. “:SNEIufeli7rc” — which is not guessable with a few million tries by a computer), a local attacker had the capability to determine the password, decrypt all the traffic, and join the network before KRACK.

KRACK is, however, relevant for enterprise Wi-Fi networks: networks where you needed to accept a cryptographic certificate to join initially and have to provide both a username and password. KRACK represents a new vulnerability for these networks. Depending on some esoteric details, the attacker can decrypt encrypted traffic and, in some cases, inject traffic onto the network.

But in none of these cases can the attacker join the network completely. And the most significant of these attacks affects Linux devices and Android phones, they don’t affect Macs, iPhones, or Windows systems. Even when feasible, these attacks require physical proximity: An attacker on the other side of the planet can’t exploit KRACK, only an attacker in the parking lot can.

Manufacturing Astro Pi case replicas

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/astro-pi-case-guest-post/

Tim Rowledge produces and sells wonderful replicas of the cases which our Astro Pis live in aboard the International Space Station. Here is the story of how he came to do this. Over to you, Tim!

When the Astro Pi case was first revealed a couple of years ago, the collective outpouring of ‘Squee!’ it elicited may have been heard on board the ISS itself. People wanted to buy it or build it at home, and someone wanted to know whether it would blend. (There’s always one.)

The complete Astro Pi

The Sense HAT and its Pi tucked snugly in the original Astro Pi flight case — gorgeous, isn’t it?

Replicating the Astro Pi case

Some months later the STL files for printing your own Astro Pi case were released, and people jumped at the chance to use them. Soon reports appeared saying you had to make quite a few attempts before getting a good print — normal for any complex 3D-printing project. A fellow member of my local makerspace successfully made a couple of cases, but it took a lot of time, filament, and post-print finishing work. And of course, a plastic Astro Pi case simply doesn’t look or feel like the original made of machined aluminium — or ‘aluminum’, as they tend to say over here in North America.

Batch of tops of Astro Pi case replicas by Tim Rowledge

A batch of tops designed by Tim

I wanted to build an Astro Pi case which would more closely match the original. Fortunately, someone else at my makerspace happens to have some serious CNC machining equipment at his small manufacturing company. Therefore, I focused on creating a case design that could be produced with his three-axis device. This meant simplifying some parts to avoid expensive, slow, complex multi-fixture work. It took us a while, but we ended up with a design we can efficiently make using his machine.

Lasered Astro Pi case replica by Tim Rowledge

Tim’s first lasered case

And the resulting case looks really, really like the original — in fact, upon receiving one of the final prototypes, Eben commented:

“I have to say, at first glance they look spectacular: unless you hold them side by side with the originals, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s changed. I’m looking forward to seeing one built up and then seeing them in the wild.”

Inside the Astro Pi case

Making just the bare case is nice, but there are other parts required to recreate a complete Astro Pi unit. Thus I got my local electronics company to design a small HAT to provide much the same support the mezzanine board offers: an RTC and nice, clean connections to the six buttons. We also added well-labelled, grouped pads for all the other GPIO lines, along with space for an ADC. If you’re making your own Astro Pi replica, you might like the Switchboard.

The electronics supply industry just loves to offer *some* of what you need, so that one supplier never has everything: we had to obtain the required stand-offs, screws, spacers, and JST wires from assorted other sources. Jeff at my nearby Industrial Paint & Plastics took on the laser engraving of our cases, leaving out copyrighted logos etcetera.

Lasering the top of an Astro Pi case replica by Tim Rowledge

Lasering the top of a case

Get your own Astro Pi case

Should you like to buy one of our Astro Pi case kits, pop over to www.astropicase.com, and we’ll get it on its way to you pronto. If you’re an institutional or corporate customer, the fully built option might make more sense for you — ordering the Pi and other components, and having a staff member assemble it all, may well be more work than is sensible.

Astro Pi case replica Tim Rowledge

Tim’s first full Astro Pi case replica, complete with shiny APEM buttons

To put the kit together yourself, all you need to do is add a Pi, Sense HAT, Camera Module, and RTC battery, and choose your buttons. An illustrated manual explains the process step by step. Our version of the Astro Pi case uses the same APEM buttons as the units in orbit, and whilst they are expensive, just clicking them is a source of great joy. It comes in a nice travel case too.

Tim Rowledge holding up a PCB

This is Tim. Thanks, Tim!

Take part in Astro Pi

If having an Astro Pi replica is not enough for you, this is your chance: the 2017-18 Astro Pi challenge is open! Do you know a teenager who might be keen to design a experiment to run on the Astro Pis in space? Are you one yourself? You have until 29 October to send us your Mission Space Lab entry and become part of the next generation of space scientists? Head over to the Astro Pi website to find out more.

The post Manufacturing Astro Pi case replicas appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

‘Pirate’ EBook Site Refuses Point Blank to Cooperate With BREIN

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/pirate-ebook-site-refuses-point-blank-to-cooperate-with-brein-171015/

Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN is probably best known for its legal action against The Pirate Bay but the outfit also tackles many other forms of piracy.

A prime example is the case it pursued against a seller of fully-loaded Kodi boxes in the Netherlands. The subsequent landmark ruling from the European Court of Justice will reverberate around Europe for years to come.

Behind the scenes, however, BREIN persistently tries to take much smaller operations offline, and not without success. Earlier this year it revealed it had taken down 231 illegal sites and services includes 84 linking sites, 63 streaming portals, and 34 torrent sites. Some of these shut down completely and others were forced to leave their hosting providers.

Much of this work flies under the radar but some current action, against an eBook site, is now being thrust into the public eye.

For more than five years, EBoek.info (eBook) has serviced Internet users looking to obtain comic books in Dutch. The site informs TorrentFreak it provides a legitimate service, targeted at people who have purchased a hard copy but also want their comics in digital format.

“EBoek.info is a site about comic books in the Dutch language. Besides some general information about the books, people who have legally obtained a hard copy of the books can find a link to an NZB file which enables them to download a digital version of the books they already have,” site representative ‘Zala’ says.

For those out of the loop, NZB files are a bit like Usenet’s version of .torrent files. They contain no copyrighted content themselves but do provide software clients with information on where to find specific content, so it can be downloaded to a user’s machine.

“BREIN claims that this is illegal as it is impossible for us to verify if our visitor is telling the truth [about having purchased a copy],” Zala reveals.

Speaking with TorrentFreak, BREIN chief Tim Kuik says there’s no question that offering downloads like this is illegal.

“It is plain and simple: the site makes links to unauthorized digital copies available to the general public and therefore is infringing copyright. It is distribution of the content without authorization of the rights holder,” Kuik says.

“The unauthorized copies are not private copies. The private copy exception does not apply to this kind of distribution. The private copy has not been made by the owner of the book himself for his own use. Someone else made the digital copy and is making it available to anyone who wants to download it provided he makes the unverified claim that he has a legal copy. This harms the normal exploitation of the
content.”

Zala says that BREIN has been trying to take his site offline for many years but more recently, the platform has utilized the services of Cloudflare, partly as a form of shield. As readers may be aware, a site behind Cloudflare has its originating IP addresses hidden from the public, not to mention BREIN, who values that kind of information. According to the operator, however, BREIN managed to obtain the information from the CDN provider.

“BREIN has tried for years to take our site offline. Recently, however, Cloudflare was so friendly to give them our IP address,” Zala notes.

A text copy of an email reportedly sent by BREIN to EBoek’s web host and seen by TF appears to confirm that Cloudflare handed over the information as suggested. Among other things, the email has BREIN informing the host that “The IP we got back from Cloudflare is XXX.XXX.XX.33.”

This means that BREIN was able to place direct pressure on EBoek.info’s web host, so only time will tell if that bears any fruit for the anti-piracy group. In the meantime, however, EBoek has decided to go public over its battle with BREIN.

“We have received a request from Stichting BREIN via our hosting provider to take EBoek.info offline,” the site informed its users yesterday.

Interestingly, it also appears that BREIN doesn’t appreciate that the operators of EBoek have failed to make their identities publicly known on their platform.

“The site operates anonymously which also is unlawful. Consumer protection requires that the owner/operator of a site identifies himself,” Kuik says.

According to EBoek, the anti-piracy outfit told the site’s web host that as a “commercial online service”, EBoek is required under EU law to display its “correct and complete business information” including names, addresses, and other information. But perhaps unsurprisingly, the site doesn’t want to play ball.

“In my opinion, you are confusing us with Facebook. They are a foreign commercial company with a European branch in Ireland, and therefore are subject to Irish legislation,” Zala says in an open letter to BREIN.

“Eboek.info, on the other hand, is a foreign hobby club with no commercial purpose, whose administrators have no connection with any country in the European Union. As administrators, we follow the laws of our country of residence which do not oblige us to disclose our identity through our website.

“The fact that Eboek is visible in the Netherlands does not just mean that we are going to adapt to Dutch rules, just as we don’t adapt the site to the rules of Saudi Arabia or China or wherever we are available.”

In a further snub to the anti-piracy group, EBoek says that all visitors to the site have to communicate with its operators via its guestbook, which is publicly visible.

“We see no reason to make an exception for Stichting BREIN,” the site notes.

What makes the situation more complex is that EBoek isn’t refusing dialog completely. The site says it doesn’t want to talk to BREIN but will speak to BREIN’s customers – the publishers of the comic books in question – noting that to date no complaints from publishers have ever been received.

While the parties argue about lines of communication, BREIN insists that following this year’s European Court of Justice decision in the GS Media case, a link to a known infringing work represents copyright infringement. In this case, an NZB file – which links to a location on Usenet – would generally fit the bill.

But despite focusing on the Dutch market, the operators of EBoek say the ruling doesn’t apply to them as they’re outside of the ECJ’s jurisdiction and aren’t commercially motivated. Refusing point blank to take their site offline, EBoek’s operators say that BREIN can do its worst, nothing will have much effect.

“[W]hat’s the worst thing that can happen? That our web host hands [BREIN] our address and IP data. In that case, it will turn out that…we are actually far away,” Zala says.

“[In the case the site goes offline], we’ll just put a backup on another server and, in this case, won’t make use of the ‘services’ of Cloudflare, the provider that apparently put BREIN on the right track.”

The question of jurisdiction is indeed an interesting one, particularly given BREIN’s focus in the Netherlands. But Kuik is clear – it is the area where the content is made available that matters.

“The law of the country where the content is made available applies. In this case the EU and amongst others the Netherlands,” Kuik concludes.

To be continued…..

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

timeShift(GrafanaBuzz, 1w) Issue 17

Post Syndicated from Blogs on Grafana Labs Blog original https://grafana.com/blog/2017/10/13/timeshiftgrafanabuzz-1w-issue-17/

It’s been a busy week here at Grafana Labs. While we’ve been working on GrafanaCon EU preparations here at the NYC office, the Stockholm office has been diligently working to release Grafana 4.6-beta-1. We’re really excited about this latest release and look forward to your feedback on the new features.


Latest Release

Grafana 4.6-beta-1 is now available! Grafana v4.6 brings many enhancements to Annotations, Cloudwatch and Prometheus. It also adds support for Postgres as a metric and table data source!

To see more details on what’s in the newest version, please see the release notes.

Download Grafana 4.6.0-beta-1 Now


From the Blogosphere

Using Kafka and Grafana to Monitor Meteorological Conditions: Oliver was looking for a way to track historical mountain conditions around the UK, but only had available data for the last 24 hours. It seemed like a perfect job for Kafka. This post discusses how to get going with Kafka very easily, store the data in Graphite and visualize the data in Grafana.

Web Interfaces for your Syslog Server – An Overview: System administrators often prefer to use the command line, but complex queries can be completed much faster with logs indexed in a database and a web interface. This article provides a run-down of various GUI-based tools available for your syslog server.

JEE Performance with JMeter, Prometheus and Grafana. Complete Project from Scratch: This comprehensive article walks you through the steps of monitoring JEE application performance from scratch. We start with making implementation decisions, then how to collect data, visualization and dashboarding configuration, and conclude with alerting. Buckle up; it’s a long article, with a ton of information.


Early Bird Tickets Now Available

Early bird tickets are going fast, so take advantage of the discounted price before they’re gone! We will be announcing the first block of speakers in the coming week.

There’s still time to submit a talk. We’ll accept submissions through the end of October. We’re accepting technical and non-technical talks of all sizes. Submit a CFP.

Get Your Early Bird Ticket Now


Grafana Plugins

This week we add the Prometheus Alertmanager Data Source to our growing list of plugins, lots of updates to the GLPI Data source, and have a urgent bugfix for the WorldMap Panel. To update plugins from on-prem Grafana, use the Grafana-cli tool, or with 1 click if you are using Hosted Grafana.

NEW PLUGIN

Prometheus Alertmanager Data Source – This new data source lets you show data from the Prometheus Alertmanager in Grafana. The Alertmanager handles alerts sent by client applications such as the Prometheus server. With this data source, you can show data in Table form or as a SingleStat.

Install Now

UPDATED PLUGIN

WorldMap Panel – A new version with an urgent bugfix for Elasticsearch users:

  • A fix for Geohash maps after a breaking change in Grafana 4.5.0.
  • Last Geohash as center for the map – it centers the map on the last geohash position received. Useful for real time tracking (with auto refresh on in Grafana).

Update

UPDATED PLUGIN

GLPI App – Lots of fixes in the new version:

  • Compatibility with GLPI 9.2
  • Autofill the Timerange field based on the query
  • When adding new query, add by default a ticket query instead of undefined
  • Correct values in hover tooltip
  • Can have element count by hour of the day with the panel histogram

Update


Contributions of the week:

Each week we highlight some of the important contributions from our amazing open source community. Thank you for helping make Grafana better!


Grafana Labs is Hiring!

We are passionate about open source software and thrive on tackling complex challenges to build the future. We ship code from every corner of the globe and love working with the community. If this sounds exciting, you’re in luck – WE’RE HIRING!

Check out our Open Positions


New Annotation Function

In addition to being able to add annotations easily in the graph panel, you can also create ranges as shown above. Give 4.6.0-beta-1 a try and give us your feedback.

We Need Your Help!

Do you have a graph that you love because the data is beautiful or because the graph provides interesting information? Please get in touch. Tweet or send us an email with a screenshot, and we’ll tell you about this fun experiment.

Tell Me More


What do you think?

We want to keep these articles interesting and relevant, so please tell us how we’re doing. Submit a comment on this article below, or post something at our community forum. Help us make these weekly roundups better!

Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and join the Grafana Labs community.

Introducing Gluon: a new library for machine learning from AWS and Microsoft

Post Syndicated from Ana Visneski original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/introducing-gluon-a-new-library-for-machine-learning-from-aws-and-microsoft/

Post by Dr. Matt Wood

Today, AWS and Microsoft announced Gluon, a new open source deep learning interface which allows developers to more easily and quickly build machine learning models, without compromising performance.

Gluon Logo

Gluon provides a clear, concise API for defining machine learning models using a collection of pre-built, optimized neural network components. Developers who are new to machine learning will find this interface more familiar to traditional code, since machine learning models can be defined and manipulated just like any other data structure. More seasoned data scientists and researchers will value the ability to build prototypes quickly and utilize dynamic neural network graphs for entirely new model architectures, all without sacrificing training speed.

Gluon is available in Apache MXNet today, a forthcoming Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit release, and in more frameworks over time.

Neural Networks vs Developers
Machine learning with neural networks (including ‘deep learning’) has three main components: data for training; a neural network model, and an algorithm which trains the neural network. You can think of the neural network in a similar way to a directed graph; it has a series of inputs (which represent the data), which connect to a series of outputs (the prediction), through a series of connected layers and weights. During training, the algorithm adjusts the weights in the network based on the error in the network output. This is the process by which the network learns; it is a memory and compute intensive process which can take days.

Deep learning frameworks such as Caffe2, Cognitive Toolkit, TensorFlow, and Apache MXNet are, in part, an answer to the question ‘how can we speed this process up? Just like query optimizers in databases, the more a training engine knows about the network and the algorithm, the more optimizations it can make to the training process (for example, it can infer what needs to be re-computed on the graph based on what else has changed, and skip the unaffected weights to speed things up). These frameworks also provide parallelization to distribute the computation process, and reduce the overall training time.

However, in order to achieve these optimizations, most frameworks require the developer to do some extra work: specifically, by providing a formal definition of the network graph, up-front, and then ‘freezing’ the graph, and just adjusting the weights.

The network definition, which can be large and complex with millions of connections, usually has to be constructed by hand. Not only are deep learning networks unwieldy, but they can be difficult to debug and it’s hard to re-use the code between projects.

The result of this complexity can be difficult for beginners and is a time-consuming task for more experienced researchers. At AWS, we’ve been experimenting with some ideas in MXNet around new, flexible, more approachable ways to define and train neural networks. Microsoft is also a contributor to the open source MXNet project, and were interested in some of these same ideas. Based on this, we got talking, and found we had a similar vision: to use these techniques to reduce the complexity of machine learning, making it accessible to more developers.

Enter Gluon: dynamic graphs, rapid iteration, scalable training
Gluon introduces four key innovations.

  1. Friendly API: Gluon networks can be defined using a simple, clear, concise code – this is easier for developers to learn, and much easier to understand than some of the more arcane and formal ways of defining networks and their associated weighted scoring functions.
  2. Dynamic networks: the network definition in Gluon is dynamic: it can bend and flex just like any other data structure. This is in contrast to the more common, formal, symbolic definition of a network which the deep learning framework has to effectively carve into stone in order to be able to effectively optimizing computation during training. Dynamic networks are easier to manage, and with Gluon, developers can easily ‘hybridize’ between these fast symbolic representations and the more friendly, dynamic ‘imperative’ definitions of the network and algorithms.
  3. The algorithm can define the network: the model and the training algorithm are brought much closer together. Instead of separate definitions, the algorithm can adjust the network dynamically during definition and training. Not only does this mean that developers can use standard programming loops, and conditionals to create these networks, but researchers can now define even more sophisticated algorithms and models which were not possible before. They are all easier to create, change, and debug.
  4. High performance operators for training: which makes it possible to have a friendly, concise API and dynamic graphs, without sacrificing training speed. This is a huge step forward in machine learning. Some frameworks bring a friendly API or dynamic graphs to deep learning, but these previous methods all incur a cost in terms of training speed. As with other areas of software, abstraction can slow down computation since it needs to be negotiated and interpreted at run time. Gluon can efficiently blend together a concise API with the formal definition under the hood, without the developer having to know about the specific details or to accommodate the compiler optimizations manually.

The team here at AWS, and our collaborators at Microsoft, couldn’t be more excited to bring these improvements to developers through Gluon. We’re already seeing quite a bit of excitement from developers and researchers alike.

Getting started with Gluon
Gluon is available today in Apache MXNet, with support coming for the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit in a future release. We’re also publishing the front-end interface and the low-level API specifications so it can be included in other frameworks in the fullness of time.

You can get started with Gluon today. Fire up the AWS Deep Learning AMI with a single click and jump into one of 50 fully worked, notebook examples. If you’re a contributor to a machine learning framework, check out the interface specs on GitHub.

-Dr. Matt Wood

How to Automatically Revert and Receive Notifications About Changes to Your Amazon VPC Security Groups

Post Syndicated from Rob Barnes original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/how-to-automatically-revert-and-receive-notifications-about-changes-to-your-amazon-vpc-security-groups/

In a previous AWS Security Blog post, Jeff Levine showed how you can monitor changes to your Amazon EC2 security groups. The methods he describes in that post are examples of detective controls, which can help you determine when changes are made to security controls on your AWS resources.

In this post, I take that approach a step further by introducing an example of a responsive control, which you can use to automatically respond to a detected security event by applying a chosen security mitigation. I demonstrate a solution that continuously monitors changes made to an Amazon VPC security group, and if a new ingress rule (the same as an inbound rule) is added to that security group, the solution removes the rule and then sends you a notification after the changes have been automatically reverted.

The scenario

Let’s say you want to reduce your infrastructure complexity by replacing your Secure Shell (SSH) bastion hosts with Amazon EC2 Systems Manager (SSM). SSM allows you to run commands on your hosts remotely, removing the need to manage bastion hosts or rely on SSH to execute commands. To support this objective, you must prevent your staff members from opening SSH ports to your web server’s Amazon VPC security group. If one of your staff members does modify the VPC security group to allow SSH access, you want the change to be automatically reverted and then receive a notification that the change to the security group was automatically reverted. If you are not yet familiar with security groups, see Security Groups for Your VPC before reading the rest of this post.

Solution overview

This solution begins with a directive control to mandate that no web server should be accessible using SSH. The directive control is enforced using a preventive control, which is implemented using a security group rule that prevents ingress from port 22 (typically used for SSH). The detective control is a “listener” that identifies any changes made to your security group. Finally, the responsive control reverts changes made to the security group and then sends a notification of this security mitigation.

The detective control, in this case, is an Amazon CloudWatch event that detects changes to your security group and triggers the responsive control, which in this case is an AWS Lambda function. I use AWS CloudFormation to simplify the deployment.

The following diagram shows the architecture of this solution.

Solution architecture diagram

Here is how the process works:

  1. Someone on your staff adds a new ingress rule to your security group.
  2. A CloudWatch event that continually monitors changes to your security groups detects the new ingress rule and invokes a designated Lambda function (with Lambda, you can run code without provisioning or managing servers).
  3. The Lambda function evaluates the event to determine whether you are monitoring this security group and reverts the new security group ingress rule.
  4. Finally, the Lambda function sends you an email to let you know what the change was, who made it, and that the change was reverted.

Deploy the solution by using CloudFormation

In this section, you will click the Launch Stack button shown below to launch the CloudFormation stack and deploy the solution.

Prerequisites

  • You must have AWS CloudTrail already enabled in the AWS Region where you will be deploying the solution. CloudTrail lets you log, continuously monitor, and retain events related to API calls across your AWS infrastructure. See Getting Started with CloudTrail for more information.
  • You must have a default VPC in the region in which you will be deploying the solution. AWS accounts have one default VPC per AWS Region. If you’ve deleted your VPC, see Creating a Default VPC to recreate it.

Resources that this solution creates

When you launch the CloudFormation stack, it creates the following resources:

  • A sample VPC security group in your default VPC, which is used as the target for reverting ingress rule changes.
  • A CloudWatch event rule that monitors changes to your AWS infrastructure.
  • A Lambda function that reverts changes to the security group and sends you email notifications.
  • A permission that allows CloudWatch to invoke your Lambda function.
  • An AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) role with limited privileges that the Lambda function assumes when it is executed.
  • An Amazon SNS topic to which the Lambda function publishes notifications.

Launch the CloudFormation stack

The link in this section uses the us-east-1 Region (the US East [N. Virginia] Region). Change the region if you want to use this solution in a different region. See Selecting a Region for more information about changing the region.

To deploy the solution, click the following Launch Stack button to launch the stack. After you click the button, you must sign in to the AWS Management Console if you have not already done so.

Click this "Launch Stack" button

Then:

  1. Choose Next to proceed to the Specify Details page.
  2. On the Specify Details page, type your email address in the Send notifications to box. This is the email address to which change notifications will be sent. (After the stack is launched, you will receive a confirmation email that you must accept before you can receive notifications.)
  3. Choose Next until you get to the Review page, and then choose the I acknowledge that AWS CloudFormation might create IAM resources check box. This confirms that you are aware that the CloudFormation template includes an IAM resource.
  4. Choose Create. CloudFormation displays the stack status, CREATE_COMPLETE, when the stack has launched completely, which should take less than two minutes.Screenshot showing that the stack has launched completely

Testing the solution

  1. Check your email for the SNS confirmation email. You must confirm this subscription to receive future notification emails. If you don’t confirm the subscription, your security group ingress rules still will be automatically reverted, but you will not receive notification emails.
  2. Navigate to the EC2 console and choose Security Groups in the navigation pane.
  3. Choose the security group created by CloudFormation. Its name is Web Server Security Group.
  4. Choose the Inbound tab in the bottom pane of the page. Note that only one rule allows HTTPS ingress on port 443 from 0.0.0.0/0 (from anywhere).Screenshot showing the "Inbound" tab in the bottom pane of the page
  1. Choose Edit to display the Edit inbound rules dialog box (again, an inbound rule and an ingress rule are the same thing).
  2. Choose Add Rule.
  3. Choose SSH from the Type drop-down list.
  4. Choose My IP from the Source drop-down list. Your IP address is populated for you. By adding this rule, you are simulating one of your staff members violating your organization’s policy (in this blog post’s hypothetical example) against allowing SSH access to your EC2 servers. You are testing the solution created when you launched the CloudFormation stack in the previous section. The solution should remove this newly created SSH rule automatically.
    Screenshot of editing inbound rules
  5. Choose Save.

Adding this rule creates an EC2 AuthorizeSecurityGroupIngress service event, which triggers the Lambda function created in the CloudFormation stack. After a few moments, choose the refresh button ( The "refresh" icon ) to see that the new SSH ingress rule that you just created has been removed by the solution you deployed earlier with the CloudFormation stack. If the rule is still there, wait a few more moments and choose the refresh button again.

Screenshot of refreshing the page to see that the SSH ingress rule has been removed

You should also receive an email to notify you that the ingress rule was added and subsequently reverted.

Screenshot of the notification email

Cleaning up

If you want to remove the resources created by this CloudFormation stack, you can delete the CloudFormation stack:

  1. Navigate to the CloudFormation console.
  2. Choose the stack that you created earlier.
  3. Choose the Actions drop-down list.
  4. Choose Delete Stack, and then choose Yes, Delete.
  5. CloudFormation will display a status of DELETE_IN_PROGRESS while it deletes the resources created with the stack. After a few moments, the stack should no longer appear in the list of completed stacks.
    Screenshot of stack "DELETE_IN_PROGRESS"

Other applications of this solution

I have shown one way to use multiple AWS services to help continuously ensure that your security controls haven’t deviated from your security baseline. However, you also could use the CIS Amazon Web Services Foundations Benchmarks, for example, to establish a governance baseline across your AWS accounts and then use the principles in this blog post to automatically mitigate changes to that baseline.

To scale this solution, you can create a framework that uses resource tags to identify particular resources for monitoring. You also can use a consolidated monitoring approach by using cross-account event delivery. See Sending and Receiving Events Between AWS Accounts for more information. You also can extend the principle of automatic mitigation to detect and revert changes to other resources such as IAM policies and Amazon S3 bucket policies.

Summary

In this blog post, I demonstrated how you can automatically revert changes to a VPC security group and have a notification sent about the changes. You can use this solution in your own AWS accounts to enforce your security requirements continuously.

If you have comments about this blog post or other ideas for ways to use this solution, submit a comment in the “Comments” section below. If you have implementation questions, start a new thread in the EC2 forum or contact AWS Support.

– Rob

Changes in Password Best Practices

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/10/changes_in_pass.html

NIST recently published its four-volume SP800-63b Digital Identity Guidelines. Among other things, it makes three important suggestions when it comes to passwords:

  1. Stop it with the annoying password complexity rules. They make passwords harder to remember. They increase errors because artificially complex passwords are harder to type in. And they don’t help that much. It’s better to allow people to use pass phrases.
  2. Stop it with password expiration. That was an old idea for an old way we used computers. Today, don’t make people change their passwords unless there’s indication of compromise.

  3. Let people use password managers. This is how we deal with all the passwords we need.

These password rules were failed attempts to fix the user. Better we fix the security systems.

timeShift(GrafanaBuzz, 1w) Issue 16

Post Syndicated from Blogs on Grafana Labs Blog original https://grafana.com/blog/2017/10/06/timeshiftgrafanabuzz-1w-issue-16/

Welcome to another issue of TimeShift. In addition to the roundup of articles and plugin updates, we had a big announcement this week – Early Bird tickets to GrafanaCon EU are now available! We’re also accepting CFPs through the end of October, so if you have a topic in mind, don’t wait until the last minute, please send it our way. Speakers who are selected will receive a comped ticket to the conference.


Early Bird Tickets Now Available

We’ve released a limited number of Early Bird tickets before General Admission tickets are available. Take advantage of this discount before they’re sold out!

Get Your Early Bird Ticket Now

Interested in speaking at GrafanaCon? We’re looking for technical and non-tecnical talks of all sizes. Submit a CFP Now.


From the Blogosphere

Get insights into your Azure Cosmos DB: partition heatmaps, OMS, and More: Microsoft recently announced the ability to access a subset of Azure Cosmos DB metrics via Azure Monitor API. Grafana Labs built an Azure Monitor Plugin for Grafana 4.5 to visualize the data.

How to monitor Docker for Mac/Windows: Brian was tired of guessing about the performance of his development machines and test environment. Here, he shows how to monitor Docker with Prometheus to get a better understanding of a dev environment in his quest to monitor all the things.

Prometheus and Grafana to Monitor 10,000 servers: This article covers enokido’s process of choosing a monitoring platform. He identifies three possible solutions, outlines the pros and cons of each, and discusses why he chose Prometheus.

GitLab Monitoring: It’s fascinating to see Grafana dashboards with production data from companies around the world. For instance, we’ve previously highlighted the huge number of dashboards Wikimedia publicly shares. This week, we found that GitLab also has public dashboards to explore.

Monitoring a Docker Swarm Cluster with cAdvisor, InfluxDB and Grafana | The Laboratory: It’s important to know the state of your applications in a scalable environment such as Docker Swarm. This video covers an overview of Docker, VM’s vs. containers, orchestration and how to monitor Docker Swarm.

Introducing Telemetry: Actionable Time Series Data from Counters: Learn how to use counters from mulitple disparate sources, devices, operating systems, and applications to generate actionable time series data.

ofp_sniffer Branch 1.2 (docker/influxdb/grafana) Upcoming Features: This video demo shows off some of the upcoming features for OFP_Sniffer, an OpenFlow sniffer to help network troubleshooting in production networks.


Grafana Plugins

Plugin authors add new features and bugfixes all the time, so it’s important to always keep your plugins up to date. To update plugins from on-prem Grafana, use the Grafana-cli tool, if you are using Hosted Grafana, you can update with 1 click! If you have questions or need help, hit up our community site, where the Grafana team and members of the community are happy to help.

UPDATED PLUGIN

PNP for Nagios Data Source – The latest release for the PNP data source has some fixes and adds a mathematical factor option.

Update

UPDATED PLUGIN

Google Calendar Data Source – This week, there was a small bug fix for the Google Calendar annotations data source.

Update

UPDATED PLUGIN

BT Plugins – Our friends at BT have been busy. All of the BT plugins in our catalog received and update this week. The plugins are the Status Dot Panel, the Peak Report Panel, the Trend Box Panel and the Alarm Box Panel.

Changes include:

  • Custom dashboard links now work in Internet Explorer.
  • The Peak Report panel no longer supports click-to-sort.
  • The Status Dot panel tooltips now look like Grafana tooltips.


This week’s MVC (Most Valuable Contributor)

Each week we highlight some of the important contributions from our amazing open source community. This week, we’d like to recognize a contributor who did a lot of work to improve Prometheus support.

pdoan017
Thanks to Alin Sinpaleanfor his Prometheus PR – that aligns the step and interval parameters. Alin got a lot of feedback from the Prometheus community and spent a lot of time and energy explaining, debating and iterating before the PR was ready.
Thank you!


Grafana Labs is Hiring!

We are passionate about open source software and thrive on tackling complex challenges to build the future. We ship code from every corner of the globe and love working with the community. If this sounds exciting, you’re in luck – WE’RE HIRING!

Check out our Open Positions


Tweet of the Week

We scour Twitter each week to find an interesting/beautiful dashboard and show it off! #monitoringLove

Wow – Excited to be a part of exploring data to find out how Mexico City is evolving.

We Need Your Help!

Do you have a graph that you love because the data is beautiful or because the graph provides interesting information? Please get in touch. Tweet or send us an email with a screenshot, and we’ll tell you about this fun experiment.

Tell Me More


What do you think?

That’s a wrap! How are we doing? Submit a comment on this article below, or post something at our community forum. Help us make these weekly roundups better!

Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and join the Grafana Labs community.

RaspiReader: build your own fingerprint reader

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/raspireader-fingerprint-scanner/

Three researchers from Michigan State University have developed a low-cost, open-source fingerprint reader which can detect fake prints. They call it RaspiReader, and they’ve built it using a Raspberry Pi 3 and two Camera Modules. Joshua and his colleagues have just uploaded all the info you need to build your own version — let’s go!

GIF of fingerprint match points being aligned on fingerprint, not real output of RaspiReader software

Sadly not the real output of the RaspiReader

Falsified fingerprints

We’ve probably all seen a movie in which a burglar crosses a room full of laser tripwires and then enters the safe full of loot by tricking the fingerprint-secured lock with a fake print. Turns out, the second part is not that unrealistic: you can fake fingerprints using a range of materials, such as glue or latex.

Examples of live and fake fingerprints collected by the RaspiReader team

The RaspiReader team collected live and fake fingerprints to test the device

If the spoof print layer capping the spoofer’s finger is thin enough, it can even fool readers that detect blood flow, pulse, or temperature. This is becoming a significant security risk, not least for anyone who unlocks their smartphone using a fingerprint.

The RaspiReader

This is where Anil K. Jain comes in: Professor Jain leads a biometrics research group. Under his guidance, Joshua J. Engelsma and Kai Cao set out to develop a fingerprint reader with improved spoof-print detection. Ultimately, they aim to help the development of more secure commercial technologies. With their project, the team has also created an amazing resource for anyone who wants to build their own fingerprint reader.

So that replicating their device would be easy, they wanted to make it using inexpensive, readily available components, which is why they turned to Raspberry Pi technology.

RaspiReader fingerprint scanner by PRIP lab

The Raspireader and its output

Inside the RaspiReader’s 3D-printed housing, LEDs shine light through an acrylic prism, on top of which the user rests their finger. The prism refracts the light so that the two Camera Modules can take images from different angles. The Pi receives these images via a Multi Camera Adapter Module feeding into the CSI port. Collecting two images means the researchers’ spoof detection algorithm has more information to work with.

Comparison of live and spoof fingerprints

Real on the left, fake on the right

RaspiReader software

The Camera Adaptor uses the RPi.GPIO Python package. The RaspiReader performs image processing, and its spoof detection takes image colour and 3D friction ridge patterns into account. The detection algorithm extracts colour local binary patterns … please don’t ask me to explain! You can have a look at the researchers’ manuscript if you want to get stuck into the fine details of their project.

Build your own fingerprint reader

I’ve had my eyes glued to my inbox waiting for Josh to send me links to instructions and files for this build, and here they are (thanks, Josh)! Check out the video tutorial, which walks you through how to assemble the RaspiReader:

RaspiReader: Cost-Effective Open-Source Fingerprint Reader

Building a cost-effective, open-source, and spoof-resilient fingerprint reader for $160* in under an hour. Code: https://github.com/engelsjo/RaspiReader Links to parts: 1. PRISM – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00WL3OBK4/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 (Better fit) https://www.thorlabs.com/thorproduct.cfm?partnumber=PS611 2. RaspiCams – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B012V1HEP4/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 3. Camera Multiplexer https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B012UQWOOQ/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 4. Raspberry Pi Kit: https://www.amazon.com/CanaKit-Raspberry-Clear-Power-Supply/dp/B01C6EQNNK/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1507058509&sr=8-6&keywords=raspberry+pi+3b Whitepaper: https://arxiv.org/abs/1708.07887 * Prices can vary based on Amazon’s pricing. P.s.

You can find a parts list with links to suppliers in the video description — the whole build costs around $160. All the STL files for the housing and the Python scripts you need to run on the Pi are available on Josh’s GitHub.

Enhance your home security

The RaspiReader is a great resource for researchers, and it would also be a terrific project to build at home! Is there a more impressive way to protect a treasured possession, or secure access to your computer, than with a DIY fingerprint scanner?

Check out this James-Bond-themed blog post for Raspberry Pi resources to help you build a high-security lair. If you want even more inspiration, watch this video about a laser-secured cookie jar which Estefannie made for us. And be sure to share your successful fingerprint scanner builds with us via social media!

The post RaspiReader: build your own fingerprint reader appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on a Game Boy?!

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/playerunknowns-battlegrounds-game-boy/

My evenings spent watching the Polygon Awful Squad play PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds for hours on end have made me mildly obsessed with this record-breaking Steam game.

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Raspberry Pi

So when Michael Darby’s latest PUBG-inspired Game Boy build appeared in my notifications last week, I squealed with excitement and quickly sent the link to my team…while drinking a cocktail by a pool in Turkey ☀️🍹

PUBG ON A GAMEBOY

https://314reactor.com/ https://www.hackster.io/314reactor https://twitter.com/the_mikey_d

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

For those unfamiliar with the game: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG for short, is a Battle-Royale-style multiplayer online video game in which individuals or teams fight to the death on an island map. As players collect weapons, ammo, and transport, their ‘safe zone’ shrinks, forcing a final face-off until only one character remains.

The game has been an astounding success on Steam, the digital distribution platform which brings PUBG to the masses. It records daily player counts of over a million!

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Raspberry Pi

Yeah, I’d say one or two people seem to enjoy it!

PUBG on a Game Boy?!

As it’s a fairly complex game, let’s get this out of the way right now: no, Michael is not running the entire game on a Nintendo Game Boy. That would be magic silly impossible. Instead, he’s streaming the game from his home PC to a Raspberry Pi Zero W fitted within the hacked handheld console.

Michael removed the excess plastic inside an old Game Boy Color shell to make space for a Zero W, LiPo battery, and TFT screen. He then soldered the necessary buttons to GPIO pins, and wrote a Python script to control them.

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Raspberry Pi

The maker battleground

The full script can be found here, along with a more detailed tutorial for the build.

In order to stream PUBG to the Zero W, Michael uses the open-source NVIDIA steaming service Moonlight. He set his PC’s screen resolution to 800×600 and its frame rate to 30, so that streaming the game to the TFT screen works perfectly, albeit with no sound.

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Raspberry Pi

The end result is a rather impressive build that has confused YouTube commenters since he uploaded footage for it last week. The video has more than 60000 views to date, so it appears we’re not the only ones impressed with Michael’s make.

314reactor

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you may recognise Michael’s name from his recent Nerf blaster mod. And fans of Raspberry Pi may also have seen his Pi-powered Windows 98 wristwatch earlier in the year. He blogs at 314reactor, where you can read more about his digital making projects.

Windows 98 Wrist watch Raspberry Pi PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

Player Two has entered the game

Now it’s your turn. Have you used a Raspberry Pi to create a gaming system? I’m not just talking arcades and RetroPie here. We want to see everything, from Pi-powered board games to tech on the football field.

Share your builds in the comments below and while you’re at it, what game would you like to stream to a handheld device?

The post PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on a Game Boy?! appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

PS4 Piracy Now Exists – If Gamers Want to Jump Through Hoops

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/ps4-piracy-now-exists-if-gamers-want-to-jump-through-hoops-170930/

During the reign of the first few generations of consoles, gamers became accustomed to their machines being compromised by hacking groups and enthusiasts, to enable the execution of third-party software.

Often carried out under the banner of running “homebrew” code, so-called jailbroken consoles also brought with them the prospect of running pirate copies of officially produced games. Once the floodgates were opened, not much could hold things back.

With the advent of mass online gaming, however, things became more complex. Regular firmware updates mean that security holes could be fixed remotely whenever a user went online, rendering the jailbreaking process a cat-and-mouse game with continually moving targets.

This, coupled with massively improved overall security, has meant that the current generation of consoles has remained largely piracy free, at least on a do-it-at-home basis. Now, however, that position is set to change after the first decrypted PS4 game dumps began to hit the web this week.

Thanks to release group KOTF (Knights of the Fallen), Grand Theft Auto V, Far Cry 4, and Assassins Creed IV are all available for download from the usual places. As expected they are pretty meaty downloads, with GTAV weighing in via 90 x 500MB files, Far Cry4 via 54 of the same size, and ACIV sporting 84 x 250MB.

Partial NFO file for PS4 GTA V

While undoubtedly large, it’s not the filesize that will prove most prohibitive when it comes to getting these beasts to run on a PlayStation 4. Indeed, a potential pirate will need to jump through a number of hoops to enjoy any of these titles or others that may appear in the near future.

KOTF explains as much in the NFO (information) files it includes with its releases. The list of requirements is long.

First up, a gamer needs to possess a PS4 with an extremely old firmware version – v1.76 – which was released way back in August 2014. The fact this firmware is required doesn’t come as a surprise since it was successfully jailbroken back in December 2015.

The age of the firmware raises several issues, not least where people can obtain a PS4 that’s so old it still has this firmware intact. Also, newer games require later firmware, so most games released during the past two to three years won’t be compatible with v1.76. That limits the pool of games considerably.

Finally, forget going online with such an old software version. Sony will be all over it like a cheap suit, plotting to do something unpleasant to that cheeky antique code, given half a chance. And, for anyone wondering, downgrading a higher firmware version to v1.76 isn’t possible – yet.

But for gamers who want a little bit of recent PS4 nostalgia on the cheap, ‘all’ they have to do is gather the necessary tools together and follow the instructions below.

Easy – when you know how

While this is a landmark moment for PS4 piracy (which to date has mainly centered around much hocus pocus), the limitations listed above mean that it isn’t going to hit the mainstream just yet.

That being said, all things are possible when given the right people, determination, and enough time. Whether that will be anytime soon is anyone’s guess but there are rumors that firmware v4.55 has already been exploited, so you never know.

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

Natural Language Processing at Clemson University – 1.1 Million vCPUs & EC2 Spot Instances

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/natural-language-processing-at-clemson-university-1-1-million-vcpus-ec2-spot-instances/

My colleague Sanjay Padhi shared the guest post below in order to recognize an important milestone in the use of EC2 Spot Instances.

Jeff;


A group of researchers from Clemson University achieved a remarkable milestone while studying topic modeling, an important component of machine learning associated with natural language processing, breaking the record for creating the largest high-performance cluster by using more than 1,100,000 vCPUs on Amazon EC2 Spot Instances running in a single AWS region. The researchers conducted nearly half a million topic modeling experiments to study how human language is processed by computers. Topic modeling helps in discovering the underlying themes that are present across a collection of documents. Topic models are important because they are used to forecast business trends and help in making policy or funding decisions. These topic models can be run with many different parameters and the goal of the experiments is to explore how these parameters affect the model outputs.

The Experiment
Professor Amy Apon, Co-Director of the Complex Systems, Analytics and Visualization Institute at Clemson University with Professor Alexander Herzog and graduate students Brandon Posey and Christopher Gropp in collaboration with members of the AWS team as well as AWS Partner Omnibond performed the experiments.  They used software infrastructure based on CloudyCluster that provisions high performance computing clusters on dynamically allocated AWS resources using Amazon EC2 Spot Fleet. Spot Fleet is a collection of biddable spot instances in EC2 responsible for maintaining a target capacity specified during the request. The SLURM scheduler was used as an overlay virtual workload manager for the data analytics workflows. The team developed additional provisioning and workflow automation software as shown below for the design and orchestration of the experiments. This setup allowed them to evaluate various topic models on different data sets with massively parallel parameter sweeps on dynamically allocated AWS resources. This framework can easily be used beyond the current study for other scientific applications that use parallel computing.

Ramping to 1.1 Million vCPUs
The figure below shows elastic, automatic expansion of resources as a function of time, in the US East (Northern Virginia) Region. At just after 21:40 (GMT-1) on Aug. 26, 2017, the number of vCPUs utilized was 1,119,196. Clemson researchers also took advantage of the new per-second billing for the EC2 instances that they launched. The vCPU count usage is comparable to the core count on the largest supercomputers in the world.

Here’s the breakdown of the EC2 instance types that they used:

Campus resources at Clemson funded by the National Science Foundation were used to determine an effective configuration for the AWS experiments as compared to campus resources, and the AWS cloud resources complement the campus resources for large-scale experiments.

Meet the Team
Here’s the team that ran the experiment (Professor Alexander Herzog, graduate students Christopher Gropp and Brandon Posey, and Professor Amy Apon):

Professor Apon said about the experiment:

I am absolutely thrilled with the outcome of this experiment. The graduate students on the project are amazing. They used resources from AWS and Omnibond and developed a new software infrastructure to perform research at a scale and time-to-completion not possible with only campus resources. Per-second billing was a key enabler of these experiments.

Boyd Wilson (CEO, Omnibond, member of the AWS Partner Network) told me:

Participating in this project was exciting, seeing how the Clemson team developed a provisioning and workflow automation tool that tied into CloudyCluster to build a huge Spot Fleet supercomputer in a single region in AWS was outstanding.

About the Experiment
The experiments test parameter combinations on a range of topics and other parameters used in the topic model. The topic model outputs are stored in Amazon S3 and are currently being analyzed. The models have been applied to 17 years of computer science journal abstracts (533,560 documents and 32,551,540 words) and full text papers from the NIPS (Neural Information Processing Systems) Conference (2,484 documents and 3,280,697 words). This study allows the research team to systematically measure and analyze the impact of parameters and model selection on model convergence, topic composition and quality.

Looking Forward
This study constitutes an interaction between computer science, artificial intelligence, and high performance computing. Papers describing the full study are being submitted for peer-reviewed publication. I hope that you enjoyed this brief insight into the ways in which AWS is helping to break the boundaries in the frontiers of natural language processing!

Sanjay Padhi, Ph.D, AWS Research and Technical Computing

 

Browser hacking for 280 character tweets

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/09/browser-hacking-for-280-character-tweets.html

Twitter has raised the limit to 280 characters for a select number of people. However, they left open a hole, allowing anybody to make large tweets with a little bit of hacking. The hacking skills needed are basic hacking skills, which I thought I’d write up in a blog post.


Specifically, the skills you will exercise are:

  • basic command-line shell
  • basic HTTP requests
  • basic browser DOM editing

The short instructions

The basic instructions were found in tweets like the following:
These instructions are clear to the average hacker, but of course, a bit difficult for those learning hacking, hence this post.

The command-line

The basics of most hacking start with knowledge of the command-line. This is the “Terminal” app under macOS or cmd.exe under Windows. Almost always when you see hacking dramatized in the movies, they are using the command-line.
In the beginning, the command-line is all computers had. To do anything on a computer, you had to type a “command” telling it what to do. What we see as the modern graphical screen is a layer on top of the command-line, one that translates clicks of the mouse into the raw commands.
On most systems, the command-line is known as “bash”. This is what you’ll find on Linux and macOS. Windows historically has had a different command-line that uses slightly different syntax, though in the last couple years, they’ve also supported “bash”. You’ll have to install it first, such as by following these instructions.
You’ll see me use command that may not be yet installed on your “bash” command-line, like nc and curl. You’ll need to run a command to install them, such as:
sudo apt-get install nc curl
The thing to remember about the command-line is that the mouse doesn’t work. You can’t click to move the cursor as you normally do in applications. That’s because the command-line predates the mouse by decades. Instead, you have to use arrow keys.
I’m not going to spend much effort discussing the command-line, as a complete explanation is beyond the scope of this document. Instead, I’m assuming the reader either already knows it, or will learn-from-example as we go along.

Web requests

The basics of how the web works are really simple. A request to a web server is just a small packet of text, such as the following, which does a search on Google for the search-term “penguin” (presumably, you are interested in knowing more about penguins):
GET /search?q=penguin HTTP/1.0
Host: www.google.com
User-Agent: human
The command we are sending to the server is GET, meaning get a page. We are accessing the URL /search, which on Google’s website, is how you do a search. We are then sending the parameter q with the value penguin. We also declare that we are using version 1.0 of the HTTP (hyper-text transfer protocol).
Following the first line there are a number of additional headers. In one header, we declare the Host name that we are accessing. Web servers can contain many different websites, with different names, so this header is usually imporant.
We also add the User-Agent header. The “user-agent” means the “browser” that you use, like Edge, Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. It allows servers to send content optimized for different browsers. Since we are sending web requests without a browser here, we are joking around saying human.
Here’s what happens when we use the nc program to send this to a google web server:
The first part is us typing, until we hit the [enter] key to create a blank line. After that point is the response from the Google server. We get back a result code (OK), followed by more headers from the server, and finally the contents of the webpage, which goes on from many screens. (We’ll talk about what web pages look like below).
Note that a lot of HTTP headers are optional and really have little influence on what’s going on. They are just junk added to web requests. For example, we see Google report a P3P header is some relic of 2002 that nobody uses anymore, as far as I can tell. Indeed, if you follow the URL in the P3P header, Google pretty much says exactly that.
I point this out because the request I show above is a simplified one. In practice, most requests contain a lot more headers, especially Cookie headers. We’ll see that later when making requests.

Using cURL instead

Sending the raw HTTP request to the server, and getting raw HTTP/HTML back, is annoying. The better way of doing this is with the tool known as cURL, or plainly, just curl. You may be familiar with the older command-line tools wget. cURL is similar, but more flexible.
To use curl for the experiment above, we’d do something like the following. We are saving the web page to “penguin.html” instead of just spewing it on the screen.
Underneath, cURL builds an HTTP header just like the one we showed above, and sends it to the server, getting the response back.

Web-pages

Now let’s talk about web pages. When you look at the web page we got back from Google while searching for “penguin”, you’ll see that it’s intimidatingly complex. I mean, it intimidates me. But it all starts from some basic principles, so we’ll look at some simpler examples.
The following is text of a simple web page:
<html>
<body>
<h1>Test</h1>
<p>This is a simple web page</p>
</body>
</html>
This is HTML, “hyper-text markup language”. As it’s name implies, we “markup” text, such as declaring the first text as a level-1 header (H1), and the following text as a paragraph (P).
In a web browser, this gets rendered as something that looks like the following. Notice how a header is formatted differently from a paragraph. Also notice that web browsers can use local files as well as make remote requests to web servers:
You can right-mouse click on the page and do a “View Source”. This will show the raw source behind the web page:
Web pages don’t just contain marked-up text. They contain two other important features, style information that dictates how things appear, and script that does all the live things that web pages do, from which we build web apps.
So let’s add a little bit of style and scripting to our web page. First, let’s view the source we’ll be adding:
In our header (H1) field, we’ve added the attribute to the markup giving this an id of mytitle. In the style section above, we give that element a color of blue, and tell it to align to the center.
Then, in our script section, we’ve told it that when somebody clicks on the element “mytitle”, it should send an “alert” message of “hello”.
This is what our web page now looks like, with the center blue title:
When we click on the title, we get a popup alert:
Thus, we see an example of the three components of a webpage: markup, style, and scripting.

Chrome developer tools

Now we go off the deep end. Right-mouse click on “Test” (not normal click, but right-button click, to pull up a menu). Select “Inspect”.
You should now get a window that looks something like the following. Chrome splits the screen in half, showing the web page on the left, and it’s debug tools on the right.
This looks similar to what “View Source” shows, but it isn’t. Instead, it’s showing how Chrome interpreted the source HTML. For example, our style/script tags should’ve been marked up with a head (header) tag. We forgot it, but Chrome adds it in anyway.
What Google is showing us is called the DOM, or document object model. It shows us all the objects that make up a web page, and how they fit together.
For example, it shows us how the style information for #mytitle is created. It first starts with the default style information for an h1 tag, and then how we’ve changed it with our style specifications.
We can edit the DOM manually. Just double click on things you want to change. For example, in this screen shot, I’ve changed the style spec from blue to red, and I’ve changed the header and paragraph test. The original file on disk hasn’t changed, but I’ve changed the DOM in memory.
This is a classic hacking technique. If you don’t like things like paywalls, for example, just right-click on the element blocking your view of the text, “Inspect” it, then delete it. (This works for some paywalls).
This edits the markup and style info, but changing the scripting stuff is a bit more complicated. To do that, click on the [Console] tab. This is the scripting console, and allows you to run code directly as part of the webpage. We are going to run code that resets what happens when we click on the title. In this case, we are simply going to change the message to “goodbye”.
Now when we click on the title, we indeed get the message:
Again, a common way to get around paywalls is to run some code like that that change which functions will be called.

Putting it all together

Now let’s put this all together in order to hack Twitter to allow us (the non-chosen) to tweet 280 characters. Review Dildog’s instructions above.
The first step is to get to Chrome Developer Tools. Dildog suggests F12. I suggest right-clicking on the Tweet button (or Reply button, as I use in my example) and doing “Inspect”, as I describe above.
You’ll now see your screen split in half, with the DOM toward the right, similar to how I describe above. However, Twitter’s app is really complex. Well, not really complex, it’s all basic stuff when you come right down to it. It’s just so much stuff — it’s a large web app with lots of parts. So we have to dive in without understanding everything that’s going on.
The Tweet/Reply button we are inspecting is going to look like this in the DOM:
The Tweet/Reply button is currently greyed out because it has the “disabled” attribute. You need to double click on it and remove that attribute. Also, in the class attribute, there is also a “disabled” part. Double-click, then click on that and removed just that disabled as well, without impacting the stuff around it. This should change the button from disabled to enabled. It won’t be greyed out, and it’ll respond when you click on it.
Now click on it. You’ll get an error message, as shown below:
What we’ve done here is bypass what’s known as client-side validation. The script in the web page prevented sending Tweets longer than 140 characters. Our editing of the DOM changed that, allowing us to send a bad request to the server. Bypassing client-side validation this way is the source of a lot of hacking.
But Twitter still does server-side validation as well. They know any client-side validation can be bypassed, and are in on the joke. They tell us hackers “You’ll have to be more clever”. So let’s be more clever.
In order to make longer 280 characters tweets work for select customers, they had to change something on the server-side. The thing they added was adding a “weighted_character_count=true” to the HTTP request. We just need to repeat the request we generated above, adding this parameter.
In theory, we can do this by fiddling with the scripting. The way Dildog describes does it a different way. He copies the request out of the browser, edits it, then send it via the command-line using curl.
We’ve used the [Elements] and [Console] tabs in Chrome’s DevTools. Now we are going to use the [Network] tab. This lists all the requests the web page has made to the server. The twitter app is constantly making requests to refresh the content of the web page. The request we made trying to do a long tweet is called “create”, and is red, because it failed.
Google Chrome gives us a number of ways to duplicate the request. The most useful is that it copies it as a full cURL command we can just paste onto the command-line. We don’t even need to know cURL, it takes care of everything for us. On Windows, since you have two command-lines, it gives you a choice to use the older Windows cmd.exe, or the newer bash.exe. I use the bash version, since I don’t know where to get the Windows command-line version of cURL.exe.
There’s a lot of going on here. The first thing to notice is the long xxxxxx strings. That’s actually not in the original screenshot. I edited the picture. That’s because these are session-cookies. If inserted them into your browser, you’d hijack my Twitter session, and be able to tweet as me (such as making Carlos Danger style tweets). Therefore, I have to remove them from the example.
At the top of the screen is the URL that we are accessing, which is https://twitter.com/i/tweet/create. Much of the rest of the screen uses the cURL -H option to add a header. These are all the HTTP headers that I describe above. Finally, at the bottom, is the –data section, which contains the data bits related to the tweet, especially the tweet itself.
We need to edit either the URL above to read https://twitter.com/i/tweet/create?weighted_character_count=true, or we need to add &weighted_character_count=true to the –data section at the bottom (either works). Remember: mouse doesn’t work on command-line, so you have to use the cursor-keys to navigate backwards in the line. Also, since the line is larger than the screen, it’s on several visual lines, even though it’s all a single line as far as the command-line is concerned.
Now just hit [return] on your keyboard, and the tweet will be sent to the server, which at the moment, works. Presto!
Twitter will either enable or disable the feature for everyone in a few weeks, at which point, this post won’t work. But the reason I’m writing this is to demonstrate the basic hacking skills. We manipulate the web pages we receive from servers, and we manipulate what’s sent back from our browser back to the server.

Easier: hack the scripting

Instead of messing with the DOM and editing the HTTP request, the better solution would be to change the scripting that does both DOM client-side validation and HTTP request generation. The only reason Dildog above didn’t do that is that it’s a lot more work trying to find where all this happens.
Others have, though. @Zemnmez did just that, though his technique works for the alternate TweetDeck client (https://tweetdeck.twitter.com) instead of the default client. Go copy his code from here, then paste it into the DevTools scripting [Console]. It’ll go in an replace some scripting functions, such like my simpler example above.
The console is showing a stream of error messages, because TweetDeck has bugs, ignore those.
Now you can effortlessly do long tweets as normal, without all the messing around I’ve spent so much text in this blog post describing.
Now, as I’ve mentioned this before, you are only editing what’s going on in the current web page. If you refresh this page, or close it, everything will be lost. You’ll have to re-open the DevTools scripting console and repaste the code. The easier way of doing this is to use the [Sources] tab instead of [Console] and use the “Snippets” feature to save this bit of code in your browser, to make it easier next time.
The even easier way is to use Chrome extensions like TamperMonkey and GreaseMonkey that’ll take care of this for you. They’ll save the script, and automatically run it when they see you open the TweetDeck webpage again.
An even easier way is to use one of the several Chrome extensions written in the past day specifically designed to bypass the 140 character limit. Since the purpose of this blog post is to show you how to tamper with your browser yourself, rather than help you with Twitter, I won’t list them.

Conclusion

Tampering with the web-page the server gives you, and the data you send back, is a basic hacker skill. In truth, there is a lot to this. You have to get comfortable with the command-line, using tools like cURL. You have to learn how HTTP requests work. You have to understand how web pages are built from markup, style, and scripting. You have to be comfortable using Chrome’s DevTools for messing around with web page elements, network requests, scripting console, and scripting sources.
So it’s rather a lot, actually.
My hope with this page is to show you a practical application of all this, without getting too bogged down in fully explaining how every bit works.