Tag Archives: Smoke

IoT Inspector Tool from Princeton

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

Researchers at Princeton University have released IoT Inspector, a tool that analyzes the security and privacy of IoT devices by examining the data they send across the Internet. They’ve already used the tool to study a bunch of different IoT devices. From their blog post:

Finding #3: Many IoT Devices Contact a Large and Diverse Set of Third Parties

In many cases, consumers expect that their devices contact manufacturers’ servers, but communication with other third-party destinations may not be a behavior that consumers expect.

We have found that many IoT devices communicate with third-party services, of which consumers are typically unaware. We have found many instances of third-party communications in our analyses of IoT device network traffic. Some examples include:

  • Samsung Smart TV. During the first minute after power-on, the TV talks to Google Play, Double Click, Netflix, FandangoNOW, Spotify, CBS, MSNBC, NFL, Deezer, and Facebook­even though we did not sign in or create accounts with any of them.
  • Amcrest WiFi Security Camera. The camera actively communicates with cellphonepush.quickddns.com using HTTPS. QuickDDNS is a Dynamic DNS service provider operated by Dahua. Dahua is also a security camera manufacturer, although Amcrest’s website makes no references to Dahua. Amcrest customer service informed us that Dahua was the original equipment manufacturer.

  • Halo Smoke Detector. The smart smoke detector communicates with broker.xively.com. Xively offers an MQTT service, which allows manufacturers to communicate with their devices.

  • Geeni Light Bulb. The Geeni smart bulb communicates with gw.tuyaus.com, which is operated by TuYa, a China-based company that also offers an MQTT service.

We also looked at a number of other devices, such as Samsung Smart Camera and TP-Link Smart Plug, and found communications with third parties ranging from NTP pools (time servers) to video storage services.

Their first two findings are that “Many IoT devices lack basic encryption and authentication” and that “User behavior can be inferred from encrypted IoT device traffic.” No surprises there.

Boingboing post.

Related: IoT Hall of Shame.

What John Oliver gets wrong about Bitcoin

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2018/03/what-john-oliver-gets-wrong-about.html

John Oliver covered bitcoin/cryptocurrencies last night. I thought I’d describe a bunch of things he gets wrong.

How Bitcoin works

Nowhere in the show does it describe what Bitcoin is and how it works.
Discussions should always start with Satoshi Nakamoto’s original paper. The thing Satoshi points out is that there is an important cost to normal transactions, namely, the entire legal system designed to protect you against fraud, such as the way you can reverse the transactions on your credit card if it gets stolen. The point of Bitcoin is that there is no way to reverse a charge. A transaction is done via cryptography: to transfer money to me, you decrypt it with your secret key and encrypt it with mine, handing ownership over to me with no third party involved that can reverse the transaction, and essentially no overhead.
All the rest of the stuff, like the decentralized blockchain and mining, is all about making that work.
Bitcoin crazies forget about the original genesis of Bitcoin. For example, they talk about adding features to stop fraud, reversing transactions, and having a central authority that manages that. This misses the point, because the existing electronic banking system already does that, and does a better job at it than cryptocurrencies ever can. If you want to mock cryptocurrencies, talk about the “DAO”, which did exactly that — and collapsed in a big fraudulent scheme where insiders made money and outsiders didn’t.
Sticking to Satoshi’s original ideas are a lot better than trying to repeat how the crazy fringe activists define Bitcoin.

How does any money have value?

Oliver’s answer is currencies have value because people agree that they have value, like how they agree a Beanie Baby is worth $15,000.
This is wrong. A better way of asking the question why the value of money changes. The dollar has been losing roughly 2% of its value each year for decades. This is called “inflation”, as the dollar loses value, it takes more dollars to buy things, which means the price of things (in dollars) goes up, and employers have to pay us more dollars so that we can buy the same amount of things.
The reason the value of the dollar changes is largely because the Federal Reserve manages the supply of dollars, using the same law of Supply and Demand. As you know, if a supply decreases (like oil), then the price goes up, or if the supply of something increases, the price goes down. The Fed manages money the same way: when prices rise (the dollar is worth less), the Fed reduces the supply of dollars, causing it to be worth more. Conversely, if prices fall (or don’t rise fast enough), the Fed increases supply, so that the dollar is worth less.
The reason money follows the law of Supply and Demand is because people use money, they consume it like they do other goods and services, like gasoline, tax preparation, food, dance lessons, and so forth. It’s not like a fine art painting, a stamp collection or a Beanie Baby — money is a product. It’s just that people have a hard time thinking of it as a consumer product since, in their experience, money is what they use to buy consumer products. But it’s a symmetric operation: when you buy gasoline with dollars, you are actually selling dollars in exchange for gasoline. That you call one side in this transaction “money” and the other “goods” is purely arbitrary, you call gasoline money and dollars the good that is being bought and sold for gasoline.
The reason dollars is a product is because trying to use gasoline as money is a pain in the neck. Storing it and exchanging it is difficult. Goods like this do become money, such as famously how prisons often use cigarettes as a medium of exchange, even for non-smokers, but it has to be a good that is fungible, storable, and easily exchanged. Dollars are the most fungible, the most storable, and the easiest exchanged, so has the most value as “money”. Sure, the mechanic can fix the farmers car for three chickens instead, but most of the time, both parties in the transaction would rather exchange the same value using dollars than chickens.
So the value of dollars is not like the value of Beanie Babies, which people might buy for $15,000, which changes purely on the whims of investors. Instead, a dollar is like gasoline, which obey the law of Supply and Demand.
This brings us back to the question of where Bitcoin gets its value. While Bitcoin is indeed used like dollars to buy things, that’s only a tiny use of the currency, so therefore it’s value isn’t determined by Supply and Demand. Instead, the value of Bitcoin is a lot like Beanie Babies, obeying the laws of investments. So in this respect, Oliver is right about where the value of Bitcoin comes, but wrong about where the value of dollars comes from.

Why Bitcoin conference didn’t take Bitcoin

John Oliver points out the irony of a Bitcoin conference that stopped accepting payments in Bitcoin for tickets.
The biggest reason for this is because Bitcoin has become so popular that transaction fees have gone up. Instead of being proof of failure, it’s proof of popularity. What John Oliver is saying is the old joke that nobody goes to that popular restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded and you can’t get a reservation.
Moreover, the point of Bitcoin is not to replace everyday currencies for everyday transactions. If you read Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper, it’s only goal is to replace certain types of transactions, like purely electronic transactions where electronic goods and services are being exchanged. Where real-life goods/services are being exchanged, existing currencies work just fine. It’s only the crazy activists who claim Bitcoin will eventually replace real world currencies — the saner people see it co-existing with real-world currencies, each with a different value to consumers.

Turning a McNugget back into a chicken

John Oliver uses the metaphor of turning a that while you can process a chicken into McNuggets, you can’t reverse the process. It’s a funny metaphor.
But it’s not clear what the heck this metaphor is trying explain. That’s not a metaphor for the blockchain, but a metaphor for a “cryptographic hash”, where each block is a chicken, and the McNugget is the signature for the block (well, the block plus the signature of the last block, forming a chain).
Even then that metaphor as problems. The McNugget produced from each chicken must be unique to that chicken, for the metaphor to accurately describe a cryptographic hash. You can therefore identify the original chicken simply by looking at the McNugget. A slight change in the original chicken, like losing a feather, results in a completely different McNugget. Thus, nuggets can be used to tell if the original chicken has changed.
This then leads to the key property of the blockchain, it is unalterable. You can’t go back and change any of the blocks of data, because the fingerprints, the nuggets, will also change, and break the nugget chain.
The point is that while John Oliver is laughing at a silly metaphor to explain the blockchain becuase he totally misses the point of the metaphor.
Oliver rightly says “don’t worry if you don’t understand it — most people don’t”, but that includes the big companies that John Oliver name. Some companies do get it, and are producing reasonable things (like JP Morgan, by all accounts), but some don’t. IBM and other big consultancies are charging companies millions of dollars to consult with them on block chain products where nobody involved, the customer or the consultancy, actually understand any of it. That doesn’t stop them from happily charging customers on one side and happily spending money on the other.
Thus, rather than Oliver explaining the problem, he’s just being part of the problem. His explanation of blockchain left you dumber than before.


John Oliver mocks the Brave ICO ($35 million in 30 seconds), claiming it’s all driven by YouTube personalities and people who aren’t looking at the fundamentals.
And while this is true, most ICOs are bunk, the  Brave ICO actually had a business model behind it. Brave is a Chrome-like web-browser whose distinguishing feature is that it protects your privacy from advertisers. If you don’t use Brave or a browser with an ad block extension, you have no idea how bad things are for you. However, this presents a problem for websites that fund themselves via advertisements, which is most of them, because visitors no longer see ads. Brave has a fix for this. Most people wouldn’t mind supporting the websites they visit often, like the New York Times. That’s where the Brave ICO “token” comes in: it’s not simply stock in Brave, but a token for micropayments to websites. Users buy tokens, then use them for micropayments to websites like New York Times. The New York Times then sells the tokens back to the market for dollars. The buying and selling of tokens happens without a centralized middleman.
This is still all speculative, of course, and it remains to be seen how successful Brave will be, but it’s a serious effort. It has well respected VC behind the company, a well-respected founder (despite the fact he invented JavaScript), and well-respected employees. It’s not a scam, it’s a legitimate venture.

How to you make money from Bitcoin?

The last part of the show is dedicated to describing all the scam out there, advising people to be careful, and to be “responsible”. This is garbage.
It’s like my simple two step process to making lots of money via Bitcoin: (1) buy when the price is low, and (2) sell when the price is high. My advice is correct, of course, but useless. Same as “be careful” and “invest responsibly”.
The truth about investing in cryptocurrencies is “don’t”. The only responsible way to invest is to buy low-overhead market index funds and hold for retirement. No, you won’t get super rich doing this, but anything other than this is irresponsible gambling.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, because everyone is telling you the opposite. The entire channel CNBC is devoted to day traders, who buy and sell stocks at a high rate based on the same principle as a ponzi scheme, basing their judgment not on the fundamentals (like long term dividends) but animal spirits of whatever stock is hot or cold at the moment. This is the same reason people buy or sell Bitcoin, not because they can describe the fundamental value, but because they believe in a bigger fool down the road who will buy it for even more.
For things like Bitcoin, the trick to making money is to have bought it over 7 years ago when it was essentially worthless, except to nerds who were into that sort of thing. It’s the same tick to making a lot of money in Magic: The Gathering trading cards, which nerds bought decades ago which are worth a ton of money now. Or, to have bought Apple stock back in 2009 when the iPhone was new, when nerds could understand the potential of real Internet access and apps that Wall Street could not.
That was my strategy: be a nerd, who gets into things. I’ve made a good amount of money on all these things because as a nerd, I was into Magic: The Gathering, Bitcoin, and the iPhone before anybody else was, and bought in at the point where these things were essentially valueless.
At this point with cryptocurrencies, with the non-nerds now flooding the market, there little chance of making it rich. The lottery is probably a better bet. Instead, if you want to make money, become a nerd, obsess about a thing, understand a thing when its new, and cash out once the rest of the market figures it out. That might be Brave, for example, but buy into it because you’ve spent the last year studying the browser advertisement ecosystem, the market’s willingness to pay for content, and how their Basic Attention Token delivers value to websites — not because you want in on the ICO craze.


John Oliver spends 25 minutes explaining Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies, and the Blockchain to you. Sure, it’s funny, but it leaves you worse off than when it started. It admits they “simplify” the explanation, but they simplified it so much to the point where they removed all useful information.

The deal with Bitcoin

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-deal-with-bitcoin.html

♪ Used to have a little now I have a lot
I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block
          chain ♪

For all that has been written about Bitcoin and its ilk, it is curious that the focus is almost solely what the cryptocurrencies are supposed to be. Technologists wax lyrical about the potential for blockchains to change almost every aspect of our lives. Libertarians and paleoconservatives ache for the return to “sound money” that can’t be conjured up at the whim of a bureaucrat. Mainstream economists wag their fingers, proclaiming that a proper currency can’t be deflationary, that it must maintain a particular velocity, or that the government must be able to nip crises of confidence in the bud. And so on.

Much of this may be true, but the proponents of cryptocurrencies should recognize that an appeal to consequences is not a guarantee of good results. The critics, on the other hand, would be best served to remember that they are drawing far-reaching conclusions about the effects of modern monetary policies based on a very short and tumultuous period in history.

In this post, my goal is to ditch most of the dogma, talk a bit about the origins of money – and then see how “crypto” fits the bill.

1. The prehistory of currencies

The emergence of money is usually explained in a very straightforward way. You know the story: a farmer raised a pig, a cobbler made a shoe. The cobbler needed to feed his family while the farmer wanted to keep his feet warm – and so they met to exchange the goods on mutually beneficial terms. But as the tale goes, the barter system had a fatal flaw: sometimes, a farmer wanted a cooking pot, a potter wanted a knife, and a blacksmith wanted a pair of pants. To facilitate increasingly complex, multi-step exchanges without requiring dozens of people to meet face to face, we came up with an abstract way to represent value – a shiny coin guaranteed to be accepted by every tradesman.

It is a nice parable, but it probably isn’t very true. It seems far more plausible that early societies relied on the concept of debt long before the advent of currencies: an informal tally or a formal ledger would be used to keep track of who owes what to whom. The concept of debt, closely associated with one’s trustworthiness and standing in the community, would have enabled a wide range of economic activities: debts could be paid back over time, transferred, renegotiated, or forgotten – all without having to engage in spot barter or to mint a single coin. In fact, such non-monetary, trust-based, reciprocal economies are still common in closely-knit communities: among families, neighbors, coworkers, or friends.

In such a setting, primitive currencies probably emerged simply as a consequence of having a system of prices: a cow being worth a particular number of chickens, a chicken being worth a particular number of beaver pelts, and so forth. Formalizing such relationships by settling on a single, widely-known unit of account – say, one chicken – would make it more convenient to transfer, combine, or split debts; or to settle them in alternative goods.

Contrary to popular belief, for communal ledgers, the unit of account probably did not have to be particularly desirable, durable, or easy to carry; it was simply an accounting tool. And indeed, we sometimes run into fairly unusual units of account even in modern times: for example, cigarettes can be the basis of a bustling prison economy even when most inmates don’t smoke and there are not that many packs to go around.

2. The age of commodity money

In the end, the development of coinage might have had relatively little to do with communal trade – and far more with the desire to exchange goods with strangers. When dealing with a unfamiliar or hostile tribe, the concept of a chicken-denominated ledger does not hold up: the other side might be disinclined to honor its obligations – and get away with it, too. To settle such problematic trades, we needed a “spot” medium of exchange that would be easy to carry and authenticate, had a well-defined value, and a near-universal appeal. Throughout much of the recorded history, precious metals – predominantly gold and silver – proved to fit the bill.

In the most basic sense, such commodities could be seen as a tool to reconcile debts across societal boundaries, without necessarily replacing any local units of account. An obligation, denominated in some local currency, would be created on buyer’s side in order to procure the metal for the trade. The proceeds of the completed transaction would in turn allow the seller to settle their own local obligations that arose from having to source the traded goods. In other words, our wondrous chicken-denominated ledgers could coexist peacefully with gold – and when commodity coinage finally took hold, it’s likely that in everyday trade, precious metals served more as a useful abstraction than a precise store of value. A “silver chicken” of sorts.

Still, the emergence of commodity money had one interesting side effect: it decoupled the unit of debt – a “claim on the society”, in a sense – from any moral judgment about its origin. A piece of silver would buy the same amount of food, whether earned through hard labor or won in a drunken bet. This disconnect remains a central theme in many of the debates about social justice and unfairly earned wealth.

3. The State enters the game

If there is one advantage of chicken ledgers over precious metals, it’s that all chickens look and cluck roughly the same – something that can’t be said of every nugget of silver or gold. To cope with this problem, we needed to shape raw commodities into pieces of a more predictable shape and weight; a trusted party could then stamp them with a mark to indicate the value and the quality of the coin.

At first, the task of standardizing coinage rested with private parties – but the responsibility was soon assumed by the State. The advantages of this transition seemed clear: a single, widely-accepted and easily-recognizable currency could be now used to settle virtually all private and official debts.

Alas, in what deserves the dubious distinction of being one of the earliest examples of monetary tomfoolery, some States succumbed to the temptation of fiddling with the coinage to accomplish anything from feeding the poor to waging wars. In particular, it would be common to stamp coins with the same face value but a progressively lower content of silver and gold. Perhaps surprisingly, the strategy worked remarkably well; at least in the times of peace, most people cared about the value stamped on the coin, not its precise composition or weight.

And so, over time, representative money was born: sooner or later, most States opted to mint coins from nearly-worthless metals, or print banknotes on paper and cloth. This radically new currency was accompanied with a simple pledge: the State offered to redeem it at any time for its nominal value in gold.

Of course, the promise was largely illusory: the State did not have enough gold to honor all the promises it had made. Still, as long as people had faith in their rulers and the redemption requests stayed low, the fundamental mechanics of this new representative currency remained roughly the same as before – and in some ways, were an improvement in that they lessened the insatiable demand for a rare commodity. Just as importantly, the new money still enabled international trade – using the underlying gold exchange rate as a reference point.

4. Fractional reserve banking and fiat money

For much of the recorded history, banking was an exceptionally dull affair, not much different from running a communal chicken
ledger of the old. But then, something truly marvelous happened in the 17th century: around that time, many European countries have witnessed
the emergence of fractional-reserve banks.

These private ventures operated according to a simple scheme: they accepted people’s coin
for safekeeping, promising to pay a premium on every deposit made. To meet these obligations and to make a profit, the banks then
used the pooled deposits to make high-interest loans to other folks. The financiers figured out that under normal circumstances
and when operating at a sufficient scale, they needed only a very modest reserve – well under 10% of all deposited money – to be
able to service the usual volume and size of withdrawals requested by their customers. The rest could be loaned out.

The very curious consequence of fractional-reserve banking was that it pulled new money out of thin air.
The funds were simultaneously accounted for in the statements shown to the depositor, evidently available for withdrawal or
transfer at any time; and given to third-party borrowers, who could spend them on just about anything. Heck, the borrowers could
deposit the proceeds in another bank, creating even more money along the way! Whatever they did, the sum of all funds in the monetary
system now appeared much higher than the value of all coins and banknotes issued by the government – let alone the amount of gold
sitting in any vault.

Of course, no new money was being created in any physical sense: all that banks were doing was engaging in a bit of creative accounting – the sort of which would probably land you in jail if you attempted it today in any other comparably vital field of enterprise. If too many depositors were to ask for their money back, or if too many loans were to go bad, the banking system would fold. Fortunes would evaporate in a puff of accounting smoke, and with the disappearance of vast quantities of quasi-fictitious (“broad”) money, the wealth of the entire nation would shrink.

In the early 20th century, the world kept witnessing just that; a series of bank runs and economic contractions forced the governments around the globe to act. At that stage, outlawing fractional-reserve banking was no longer politically or economically tenable; a simpler alternative was to let go of gold and move to fiat money – a currency implemented as an abstract social construct, with no predefined connection to the physical realm. A new breed of economists saw the role of the government not in trying to peg the value of money to an inflexible commodity, but in manipulating its supply to smooth out economic hiccups or to stimulate growth.

(Contrary to popular beliefs, such manipulation is usually not done by printing new banknotes; more sophisticated methods, such as lowering reserve requirements for bank deposits or enticing banks to invest its deposits into government-issued securities, are the preferred route.)

The obvious peril of fiat money is that in the long haul, its value is determined strictly by people’s willingness to accept a piece of paper in exchange for their trouble; that willingness, in turn, is conditioned solely on their belief that the same piece of paper would buy them something nice a week, a month, or a year from now. It follows that a simple crisis of confidence could make a currency nearly worthless overnight. A prolonged period of hyperinflation and subsequent austerity in Germany and Austria was one of the precipitating factors that led to World War II. In more recent times, dramatic episodes of hyperinflation plagued the fiat currencies of Israel (1984), Mexico (1988), Poland (1990), Yugoslavia (1994), Bulgaria (1996), Turkey (2002), Zimbabwe (2009), Venezuela (2016), and several other nations around the globe.

For the United States, the switch to fiat money came relatively late, in 1971. To stop the dollar from plunging like a rock, the Nixon administration employed a clever trick: they ordered the freeze of wages and prices for the 90 days that immediately followed the move. People went on about their lives and paid the usual for eggs or milk – and by the time the freeze ended, they were accustomed to the idea that the “new”, free-floating dollar is worth about the same as the old, gold-backed one. A robust economy and favorable geopolitics did the rest, and so far, the American adventure with fiat currency has been rather uneventful – perhaps except for the fact that the price of gold itself skyrocketed from $35 per troy ounce in 1971 to $850 in 1980 (or, from $210 to $2,500 in today’s dollars).

Well, one thing did change: now better positioned to freely tamper with the supply of money, the regulators in accord with the bankers adopted a policy of creating it at a rate that slightly outstripped the organic growth in economic activity. They did this to induce a small, steady degree of inflation, believing that doing so would discourage people from hoarding cash and force them to reinvest it for the betterment of the society. Some critics like to point out that such a policy functions as a “backdoor” tax on savings that happens to align with the regulators’ less noble interests; still, either way: in the US and most other developed nations, the purchasing power of any money kept under a mattress will drop at a rate of somewhere between 2 to 10% a year.

5. So what’s up with Bitcoin?

Well… countless tomes have been written about the nature and the optimal characteristics of government-issued fiat currencies. Some heterodox economists, notably including Murray Rothbard, have also explored the topic of privately-issued, decentralized, commodity-backed currencies. But Bitcoin is a wholly different animal.

In essence, BTC is a global, decentralized fiat currency: it has no (recoverable) intrinsic value, no central authority to issue it or define its exchange rate, and it has no anchoring to any historical reference point – a combination that until recently seemed nonsensical and escaped any serious scrutiny. It does the unthinkable by employing three clever tricks:

  1. It allows anyone to create new coins, but only by solving brute-force computational challenges that get more difficult as the time goes by,

  2. It prevents unauthorized transfer of coins by employing public key cryptography to sign off transactions, with only the authorized holder of a coin knowing the correct key,

  3. It prevents double-spending by using a distributed public ledger (“blockchain”), recording the chain of custody for coins in a tamper-proof way.

The blockchain is often described as the most important feature of Bitcoin, but in some ways, its importance is overstated. The idea of a currency that does not rely on a centralized transaction clearinghouse is what helped propel the platform into the limelight – mostly because of its novelty and the perception that it is less vulnerable to government meddling (although the government is still free to track down, tax, fine, or arrest any participants). On the flip side, the everyday mechanics of BTC would not be fundamentally different if all the transactions had to go through Bitcoin Bank, LLC.

A more striking feature of the new currency is the incentive structure surrounding the creation of new coins. The underlying design democratized the creation of new coins early on: all you had to do is leave your computer running for a while to acquire a number of tokens. The tokens had no practical value, but obtaining them involved no substantial expense or risk. Just as importantly, because the difficulty of the puzzles would only increase over time, the hope was that if Bitcoin caught on, latecomers would find it easier to purchase BTC on a secondary market than mine their own – paying with a more established currency at a mutually beneficial exchange rate.

The persistent publicity surrounding Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies did the rest – and today, with the growing scarcity of coins and the rapidly increasing demand, the price of a single token hovers somewhere south of $15,000.

6. So… is it bad money?

Predicting is hard – especially the future. In some sense, a coin that represents a cryptographic proof of wasted CPU cycles is no better or worse than a currency that relies on cotton decorated with pictures of dead presidents. It is true that Bitcoin suffers from many implementation problems – long transaction processing times, high fees, frequent security breaches of major exchanges – but in principle, such problems can be overcome.

That said, currencies live and die by the lasting willingness of others to accept them in exchange for services or goods – and in that sense, the jury is still out. The use of Bitcoin to settle bona fide purchases is negligible, both in absolute terms and in function of the overall volume of transactions. In fact, because of the technical challenges and limited practical utility, some companies that embraced the currency early on are now backing out.

When the value of an asset is derived almost entirely from its appeal as an ever-appreciating investment vehicle, the situation has all the telltale signs of a speculative bubble. But that does not prove that the asset is destined to collapse, or that a collapse would be its end. Still, the built-in deflationary mechanism of Bitcoin – the increasing difficulty of producing new coins – is probably both a blessing and a curse.

It’s going to go one way or the other; and when it’s all said and done, we’re going to celebrate the people who made the right guess. Because future is actually pretty darn easy to predict — in retrospect.

HackSpace magazine #1 is out now!

Post Syndicated from Andrew Gregory original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/hackspace-magazine-1/

HackSpace magazine is finally here! Grab your copy of the new magazine for makers today, and try your hand at some new, exciting skills.

HackSpace magazine issue 1 cover

What is HackSpace magazine?

HackSpace magazine is the newest publication from the team behind The MagPi. Chock-full of amazing projects, tutorials, features, and maker interviews, HackSpace magazine brings together the makers of the world every month, with you — the community — providing the content.

HackSpace magazine is out now!

The new magazine for the modern maker is out now! Learn more at https://hsmag.cc HackSpace magazine is the new monthly magazine for people who love to make things and those who want to learn. Grab some duct tape, fire up a microcontroller, ready a 3D printer and hack the world around you!

Inside issue 1

Fancy smoking bacon with your very own cold smoker? How about protecting your home with a mini trebuchet for your front lawn? Or maybe you’d like to learn from awesome creator Becky Stern how to get paid for making the things you love? No matter whether it’s handheld consoles, robot prosthetics, Christmas projects, or, er, duct tape — whatever your maker passion, issue 1 is guaranteed to tick your boxes!

HackSpace magazine is packed with content from every corner of the maker world: from welding to digital making, and from woodwork to wearables. And whatever you enjoy making, we want to see it! So as you read through this first issue, imagine your favourite homemade projects on our pages, then make that a reality by emailing us the details via [email protected].

Get your copy

You can grab issue 1 of HackSpace magazine right now from WHSmith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and independent newsagents. If you live in the US, check out your local Barnes & Noble, Fry’s, or Micro Center next week. We’re also shipping to stores in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, Belgium and Brazil — ask your local newsagent whether they’ll be getting HackSpace magazine. Alternatively, you can get the new issue online from our store, or digitally via our Android or iOS apps. And don’t forget, as with all our publications, a free PDF of HackSpace magazine is available from release day.

We’re also offering money-saving subscriptions — find details on the the magazine website. And if you’re a subscriber of The MagPi, your free copy of HackSpace magazine is on its way, with details of a super 50% discount on subscriptions! Could this be the Christmas gift you didn’t know you wanted?

Share your makes and thoughts

Make sure to follow HackSpace magazine on Facebook and Twitter, or email the team at [email protected] to tell us about your projects and share your thoughts about issue 1. We’ve loved creating this new magazine for the maker community, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

The post HackSpace magazine #1 is out now! appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Blockchain? It’s All Greek To Me…

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/blockchain-its-all-greek-to-me/

The blockchain hype is huge, the ICO craze (“Coindike”) is generating millions if not billions of “funding” for businesses that claim to revolutionize basically anything.

I’ve been following all of that for a while. I got my first (and only) Bitcoin several years ago, I know how the technology works, I’ve implemented the data structure part, I’ve tried (with varying success) to install an Ethereum wallet since almost as soon as Ethereum appeared, and I’ve read and subscribed to newsletters about dozens of projects and new cryptocurrencies, including storj.io, siacoin, namecoin, etc. I would say I’m at least above average in terms of knowledge on how the cryptocurrencies, blockchain, smart contracts, EVM, proof-of-wahtever operates. And I’ve voiced my concerns about the technology in general.

Now it’s rant time.

I’ve been reading whitepapers of various projects, I’ve been to various meetups and talks, I’ve been reading the professed future applications of the blockchain, and I have to admit – it’s all Greek to me. I have no clue what these people are talking about. And why would all of that make any sense. I still think I’m not clever enough to understand the upcoming revolution, but there’s also a cynical side of me that says “this is all a scam”.

Why “X on the blockchain” somehow makes it magical and superior to a good old centralized solution? No, spare me the cliches about “immutable ledger”, “lack of central authority” and the likes. These are the phrases that a person learns after reading literally one article about blockchain. Have you actually written anything apart from a complex-sounding whitepaper or a hello-world smart contract? Do you really know how the overlay network works, how the economic incentives behind that network work, how all the cryptography works? Maybe there are many, many people that indeed know that and they know it better than me and are thus able to imagine the business case behind “X on the blockchain”.

I can’t. I can’t see why it would be useful to abandon a centralized database that you can query in dozens of ways, test easily and scale trivially in favour of a clunky write-only, low-throughput, hard-to-debug privacy nightmare that is any public blockchain. And how do you imagine to gain a substantial userbase with an ecosystem where the Windows client for the 2nd most popular blockchain (Ethereum) has been so buggy, I (a software engineer) couldn’t get it work and sync the whole chain. And why would building a website ontop of that clunky, user-unfriendly database has any benefit over a centralized competitor?

Do we all believe that somehow the huge datacenters with guarnateed power backups, regular hardware and network checks, regular backups and overall – guaranteed redundancy – will somehow be beaten by a few thousand machines hosting a software that has the sole purpose of guaranteeing integrity? Bitcoin has 10 thousand nodes. Ethereum has 22 thousand nodes. And while these nodes are probably very well GPU-equipped, they aren’t supercomputers. Amazon’s AWS has a million servers. How’s that for comparison. And why would anyone take seriously 22 thousand non-servers. Or even 220 thousand, if we believe in some inevitable growth.

Don’t get me wrong, the technology is really cool. The way tamper-evident data structures (hash chains) were combined with a consensus algorithm, an overlay network and a financial incentive is really awesome. When you add a distributed execution environment, it gets even cooler. But is it suitable for literally everything? I fail to see how.

I’m sure I’m missing something. The fact that many of those whitepapers sound increasingly like Greek to me might hint that I’m just a dumb developer and those enlightened people are really onto something huge. I guess time will tell.

But I happen to be living in a country that saw a transition to capitalism in the years of my childhood. And there were a lot of scams and ponzi schemes that people believed in. Because they didn’t know how capitalism works, how the market works. I’m seeing some similarities – we have no idea how the digital realm really works, and so a lot of scams are bound to appear, until we as a society learn the basics.

Until then – enjoy your ICO, enjoy your tokens, enjoy your big-player competitor with practically the same business model, only on a worse database.

And I hope that after the smoke of hype and fraud clears, we’ll be able to enjoy the true benefits of the blockchain innovation.

The post Blockchain? It’s All Greek To Me… appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

NonPetya: no evidence it was a "smokescreen"

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/06/nonpetya-no-evidence-it-was-smokescreen.html

Many well-regarded experts claim that the not-Petya ransomware wasn’t “ransomware” at all, but a “wiper” whose goal was to destroy files, without any intent at letting victims recover their files. I want to point out that there is no real evidence of this.

Certainly, things look suspicious. For one thing, it certainly targeted the Ukraine. For another thing, it made several mistakes that prevent them from ever decrypting drives. Their email account was shutdown, and it corrupts the boot sector.

But these things aren’t evidence, they are problems. They are things needing explanation, not things that support our preferred conspiracy theory.

The simplest, Occam’s Razor explanation explanation is that they were simple mistakes. Such mistakes are common among ransomware. We think of virus writers as professional software developers who thoroughly test their code. Decades of evidence show the opposite, that such software is of poor quality with shockingly bad bugs.

It’s true that effectively, nPetya is a wiper. Matthieu Suiche‏ does a great job describing one flaw that prevents it working. @hasherezade does a great job explaining another flaw.  But best explanation isn’t that this is intentional. Even if these bugs didn’t exist, it’d still be a wiper if the perpetrators simply ignored the decryption requests. They need not intentionally make the decryption fail.

Thus, the simpler explanation is that it’s simply a bug. Ransomware authors test the bits they care about, and test less well the bits they don’t. It’s quite plausible to believe that just before shipping the code, they’d add a few extra features, and forget to regression test the entire suite. I mean, I do that all the time with my code.

Some have pointed to the sophistication of the code as proof that such simple errors are unlikely. This isn’t true. While it’s more sophisticated than WannaCry, it’s about average for the current state-of-the-art for ransomware in general. What people think of, such the Petya base, or using PsExec to spread throughout a Windows domain, is already at least a year old.

Indeed, the use of PsExec itself is a bit clumsy, when the code for doing the same thing is already public. It’s just a few calls to basic Windows networking APIs. A sophisticated virus would do this itself, rather than clumsily use PsExec.

Infamy doesn’t mean skill. People keep making the mistake that the more widespread something is in the news, the more skill, the more of a “conspiracy” there must be behind it. This is not true. Virus/worm writers often do newsworthy things by accident. Indeed, the history of worms, starting with the Morris Worm, has been things running out of control more than the author’s expectations.

What makes nPetya newsworthy isn’t the EternalBlue exploit or the wiper feature. Instead, the creators got lucky with MeDoc. The software is used by every major organization in the Ukraine, and at the same time, their website was horribly insecure — laughably insecure. Furthermore, it’s autoupdate feature didn’t check cryptographic signatures. No hacker can plan for this level of widespread incompetence — it’s just extreme luck.

Thus, the effect of bumbling around is something that hit the Ukraine pretty hard, but it’s not necessarily the intent of the creators. It’s like how the Slammer worm hit South Korea pretty hard, or how the Witty worm hit the DoD pretty hard. These things look “targeted”, especially to the victims, but it was by pure chance (provably so, in the case of Witty).

Certainly, MeDoc was targeted. But then, targeting a single organization is the norm for ransomware. They have to do it that way, giving each target a different Bitcoin address for payment. That it then spread to the entire Ukraine, and further, is the sort of thing that typically surprises worm writers.

Finally, there’s little reason to believe that there needs to be a “smokescreen”. Russian hackers are targeting the Ukraine all the time. Whether Russian hackers are to blame for “ransomware” vs. “wiper” makes little difference.


We know that Russian hackers are constantly targeting the Ukraine. Therefore, the theory that this was nPetya’s goal all along, to destroy Ukraines computers, is a good one.

Yet, there’s no actual “evidence” of this. nPetya’s issues are just as easily explained by normal software bugs. The smokescreen isn’t needed. The boot record bug isn’t needed. The single email address that was shutdown isn’t significant, since half of all ransomware uses the same technique.

The experts who disagree with me are really smart/experienced people who you should generally trust. It’s just that I can’t see their evidence.

Update: I wrote another blogpost about “survivorship bias“, refuting the claim by many experts talking about the sophistication of the spreading feature.

Update: comment asks “why is there no Internet spreading code?”. The answer is “I don’t know”, but unanswerable questions aren’t evidence of a conspiracy. “What aren’t there any stars in the background?” isn’t proof the moon landings are fake, such because you can’t answer the question. One guess is that you never want ransomware to spread that far, until you’ve figured out how to get payment from so many people.

Baby, you’re a (legal, indoor) firework

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/legal-indoor-firework/

Dr Lucy Rogers is more than just a human LED. She’s also an incredibly imaginative digital maker, ready and willing to void warranties in her quest to take things apart and put them back together again, better than before. With her recipe for legal, digital indoor fireworks, she does exactly that, leaving an electronic cigarette in a battered state as it produces the smoke effects for this awesome build.

Firecracker Demo Video

Uploaded by IBM Internet of Things on 2017-02-28.

In her IBM blog post, Lucy offers a basic rundown of the build. While it may not be a complete how-to for building the firecrackers, the provided GitHub link and commentary should be enough for the seasoned maker to attempt their own version. If you feel less confident about producing the complete build yourself, there are more than enough resources available online to help you create something flashy and bangy without the added smoke show.

Lucy Rogers Firecracker Raspberry Pi

For the physical build itself, Lucy used a plastic soft drink bottle, a paper plate, and plastic tubing. Once painted, they provided the body for her firecrackers, and the support needed to keep the LED NeoPixels in place. She also drilled holes into the main plastic tube that ran up the centre of the firecracker, allowing smoke to billow out at random points. More of that to come.

Lucy Rogers Firecracker Raspberry Pi

Spray paint and a touch of gold transform the pieces of plastic piping into firecrackers

The cracking, banging sounds play via a USB audio adapter due to complications between the NeoPixels and the audio jack. Lucy explains:

The audio settings need to be set in the Raspberry Pi’s configuration settings (raspi-config). I also used the Linux program ‘alsamixer’ to set the volume. The firecrackers sound file was made by Phil Andrew. I found that using the Node-RED ‘exec node’ calling the ‘mpg123’ program worked best.

Lucy states that the hacking of the e-cigarette was the hardest part of the build. For the smoke show itself, she reversed its recommended usage as follows:

On an electronic cigarette, if you blow down the air-intake hole (not the outlet hole from which you would normally inhale), smoke comes out of the outlet hole. I attached an aquarium pump to the air-intake hole and the firecracker pipe to the outlet, to make smoke on demand.

For the power, she gingerly hacked at the body with a pipe cutter before replacing the inner LiPo battery with a 30W isolated DC-DC converter, allowing for a safer power flow throughout the build (for “safer flow”, read “less likely to blow up the Raspberry Pi”).

Lucy Rogers internal workings Firecracker Raspberry Pi

The pump and e-cigarette fit snugly inside the painted bottle, while the Raspberry Pi remains outside

The project was partly inspired by Lucy’s work with Robin Hill Country Park. A how-to of that build can be seen below:

Dr Lucy Rogers Electronic Fire Crackers

www.farnell.com Dr Lucy Rogers presents her exciting Fire Crackers project, taking you from the initial concept right through to installation. Whilst working in partnership with the Robin Hill country park on the Isle of Wight, Lucy wanted to develop a solution for creating safe electronic Fire Crackers, for their Chinese New year festival.

Although I won’t challenge you all to dismantle electric cigarettes, nor do I expect you to spend money on strobe lights, sensors, and other such peripherals, it would be great to see some other attempts at digital home fireworks. If you build, or have built, anything flashy and noisy, please share it in the comments below.

The post Baby, you’re a (legal, indoor) firework appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Case 230: All Together Now

Post Syndicated from The Codeless Code original http://thecodelesscode.com/case/230

The Hungry Worm Clan was building a website
for a craftsman who made custom farming tools.
Young master Zjing was reviewing the code
of their three developers.

“I do not understand the purpose of the LatestSellByDate property
in your shopping cart’s PurchaseItem,” she said to the three.
“Shovels and rakes do not expire.”

“That property was requested by the Red Pebble Clan,”
replied the first monk. “They are building a system for
managing a merchant’s cherry farms, and they plan to use our
order-placement service instead of building their own.”

“What?” asked Zjing in disbelief. “Who suggested that?”

“You did,” said the second monk. “For did you not
tell two of our clans that the reuse of services
was superior to the copying and pasting of code?”

“Yes, but the business needs of your two clans are
completely different!” cried Zjing.
“Eventually, the cherry purchasers may need options for crate size,
refrigerated shipping, and insurance against pests.
All of these could have their own rules and calculations!”

“You are worrying about a future that may never come to
pass,” countered the third monk. “And even if it does, so
what? The more features we implement, the greater the
chance that we can support our other clients.”

“Other clients?” asked Zjing.

“Two other Tiny Clans have expressed interest in our services,”
said the first monk.

“For unicycle parts and novelty wedding costumes,”
said the second monk.

“And I have begun designing a plug-in mechanism to handle
unforeseen cases,” said the third monk. “In the end the
Temple will save much development time overall.”

- - -

Later that week Zjing called a meeting of the Tiny Clans
under her tutelage. Dozens of monks and nuns crowded
into the dim, stuffy, windowless Hall of Irresistable
Somnolence where long presentations were given.*

Most of the benches had already been taken up by unfamiliar
villagers—employees, explained Zjing, of the novelty
wedding costume shop, who were there to ensure that their
requirements would be met. The meeting then began with an
extraordinarily dull presentation about tailoring, during
which many of the monks and nuns could be seen nodding off.

After the final slide the villagers were excused. When the
last of them had gone, Zjing brought forth a lantern from
behind the podium, and without a word she set the huge rice
paper projection screen on fire. Flames climbed swiftly and
spread across the dry ceiling timbers; heat seared the air;
smoke billowed forth; monks coughed or cried out; the fire
alarm clanged; then somewhere overhead the sprinkers came to
life and began gushing water ineffectively on the scene of
pandemonium below. It was only then—as the occupants
rose to flee in four different directions to the four exit
doors—that they discovered that their robes had been
swiftly and skillfully sewn to the robes of their neighbors.

* Usually these were mandated by the HR department, and included yearly refresher courses like: “First Aid For Accidental Injuries”, “First Aid For Intentional Injuries”, “How to Choose a Comprehensive Life Insurance Plan”, and “The Importance of Good Workplace Morale.”