Tag Archives: Websites

Acunetix v12 – More Comprehensive More Accurate & 2x Faster

Post Syndicated from Darknet original https://www.darknet.org.uk/2018/05/acunetix-v12-more-comprehensive-more-accurate-2x-faster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=darknetfeed

Acunetix v12 – More Comprehensive More Accurate & 2x Faster

Acunetix, the pioneer in automated web application security software, has announced the release of Acunetix v12. This new version provides support for JavaScript ES7 to better analyse sites which rely heavily on JavaScript such as SPAs. This coupled with a new AcuSensor for Java web applications, sets Acunetix ahead of the curve in its ability to comprehensively and accurately scan all types of websites.

With v12 also comes a brand new scanning engine, re-engineered and re-written from the ground up, making Acunetix the fastest scanning engine in the industry.

Read the rest of Acunetix v12 – More Comprehensive More Accurate & 2x Faster now! Only available at Darknet.

Sending Inaudible Commands to Voice Assistants

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

Researchers have demonstrated the ability to send inaudible commands to voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.

Over the last two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Inside university labs, the researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online ­– simply with music playing over the radio.

A group of students from University of California, Berkeley, and Georgetown University showed in 2016 that they could hide commands in white noise played over loudspeakers and through YouTube videos to get smart devices to turn on airplane mode or open a website.

This month, some of those Berkeley researchers published a research paper that went further, saying they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.

Some notes on eFail

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original https://blog.erratasec.com/2018/05/some-notes-on-efail.html

I’ve been busy trying to replicate the “eFail” PGP/SMIME bug. I thought I’d write up some notes.

PGP and S/MIME encrypt emails, so that eavesdroppers can’t read them. The bugs potentially allow eavesdroppers to take the encrypted emails they’ve captured and resend them to you, reformatted in a way that allows them to decrypt the messages.

Disable remote/external content in email

The most important defense is to disable “external” or “remote” content from being automatically loaded. This is when HTML-formatted emails attempt to load images from remote websites. This happens legitimately when they want to display images, but not fill up the email with them. But most of the time this is illegitimate, they hide images on the webpage in order to track you with unique IDs and cookies. For example, this is the code at the end of an email from politician Bernie Sanders to his supporters. Notice the long random number assigned to track me, and the width/height of this image is set to one pixel, so you don’t even see it:

Such trackers are so pernicious they are disabled by default in most email clients. This is an example of the settings in Thunderbird:

The problem is that as you read email messages, you often get frustrated by the fact the error messages and missing content, so you keep adding exceptions:

The correct defense against this eFail bug is to make sure such remote content is disabled and that you have no exceptions, or at least, no HTTP exceptions. HTTPS exceptions (those using SSL) are okay as long as they aren’t to a website the attacker controls. Unencrypted exceptions, though, the hacker can eavesdrop on, so it doesn’t matter if they control the website the requests go to. If the attacker can eavesdrop on your emails, they can probably eavesdrop on your HTTP sessions as well.

Some have recommended disabling PGP and S/MIME completely. That’s probably overkill. As long as the attacker can’t use the “remote content” in emails, you are fine. Likewise, some have recommend disabling HTML completely. That’s not even an option in any email client I’ve used — you can disable sending HTML emails, but not receiving them. It’s sufficient to just disable grabbing remote content, not the rest of HTML email rendering.

I couldn’t replicate the direct exfiltration

There rare two related bugs. One allows direct exfiltration, which appends the decrypted PGP email onto the end of an IMG tag (like one of those tracking tags), allowing the entire message to be decrypted.

An example of this is the following email. This is a standard HTML email message consisting of multiple parts. The trick is that the IMG tag in the first part starts the URL (blog.robertgraham.com/…) but doesn’t end it. It has the starting quotes in front of the URL but no ending quotes. The ending will in the next chunk.

The next chunk isn’t HTML, though, it’s PGP. The PGP extension (in my case, Enignmail) will detect this and automatically decrypt it. In this case, it’s some previous email message I’ve received the attacker captured by eavesdropping, who then pastes the contents into this email message in order to get it decrypted.

What should happen at this point is that Thunderbird will generate a request (if “remote content” is enabled) to the blog.robertgraham.com server with the decrypted contents of the PGP email appended to it. But that’s not what happens. Instead, I get this:

I am indeed getting weird stuff in the URL (the bit after the GET /), but it’s not the PGP decrypted message. Instead what’s going on is that when Thunderbird puts together a “multipart/mixed” message, it adds it’s own HTML tags consisting of lines between each part. In the email client it looks like this:

The HTML code it adds looks like:

That’s what you see in the above URL, all this code up to the first quotes. Those quotes terminate the quotes in the URL from the first multipart section, causing the rest of the content to be ignored (as far as being sent as part of the URL).

So at least for the latest version of Thunderbird, you are accidentally safe, even if you have “remote content” enabled. Though, this is only according to my tests, there may be a work around to this that hackers could exploit.

STARTTLS

In the old days, email was sent plaintext over the wire so that it could be passively eavesdropped on. Nowadays, most providers send it via “STARTTLS”, which sorta encrypts it. Attackers can still intercept such email, but they have to do so actively, using man-in-the-middle. Such active techniques can be detected if you are careful and look for them.
Some organizations don’t care. Apparently, some nation states are just blocking all STARTTLS and forcing email to be sent unencrypted. Others do care. The NSA will passively sniff all the email they can in nations like Iraq, but they won’t actively intercept STARTTLS messages, for fear of getting caught.
The consequence is that it’s much less likely that somebody has been eavesdropping on you, passively grabbing all your PGP/SMIME emails. If you fear they have been, you should look (e.g. send emails from GMail and see if they are intercepted by sniffing the wire).

You’ll know if you are getting hacked

If somebody attacks you using eFail, you’ll know. You’ll get an email message formatted this way, with multipart/mixed components, some with corrupt HTML, some encrypted via PGP. This means that for the most part, your risk is that you’ll be attacked only once — the hacker will only be able to get one message through and decrypt it before you notice that something is amiss. Though to be fair, they can probably include all the emails they want decrypted as attachments to the single email they sent you, so the risk isn’t necessarily that you’ll only get one decrypted.
As mentioned above, a lot of attackers (e.g. the NSA) won’t attack you if its so easy to get caught. Other attackers, though, like anonymous hackers, don’t care.
Somebody ought to write a plugin to Thunderbird to detect this.

Summary

It only works if attackers have already captured your emails (though, that’s why you use PGP/SMIME in the first place, to guard against that).
It only works if you’ve enabled your email client to automatically grab external/remote content.
It seems to not be easily reproducible in all cases.
Instead of disabling PGP/SMIME, you should make sure your email client hast remote/external content disabled — that’s a huge privacy violation even without this bug.

Notes: The default email client on the Mac enables remote content by default, which is bad:

AWS Online Tech Talks – May and Early June 2018

Post Syndicated from Devin Watson original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/aws-online-tech-talks-may-and-early-june-2018/

AWS Online Tech Talks – May and Early June 2018  

Join us this month to learn about some of the exciting new services and solution best practices at AWS. We also have our first re:Invent 2018 webinar series, “How to re:Invent”. Sign up now to learn more, we look forward to seeing you.

Note – All sessions are free and in Pacific Time.

Tech talks featured this month:

Analytics & Big Data

May 21, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PT Integrating Amazon Elasticsearch with your DevOps Tooling – Learn how you can easily integrate Amazon Elasticsearch Service into your DevOps tooling and gain valuable insight from your log data.

May 23, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTData Warehousing and Data Lake Analytics, Together – Learn how to query data across your data warehouse and data lake without moving data.

May 24, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTData Transformation Patterns in AWS – Discover how to perform common data transformations on the AWS Data Lake.

Compute

May 29, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PT – Creating and Managing a WordPress Website with Amazon Lightsail – Learn about Amazon Lightsail and how you can create, run and manage your WordPress websites with Amazon’s simple compute platform.

May 30, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PTAccelerating Life Sciences with HPC on AWS – Learn how you can accelerate your Life Sciences research workloads by harnessing the power of high performance computing on AWS.

Containers

May 24, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PT – Building Microservices with the 12 Factor App Pattern on AWS – Learn best practices for building containerized microservices on AWS, and how traditional software design patterns evolve in the context of containers.

Databases

May 21, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PTHow to Migrate from Cassandra to Amazon DynamoDB – Get the benefits, best practices and guides on how to migrate your Cassandra databases to Amazon DynamoDB.

May 23, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PT5 Hacks for Optimizing MySQL in the Cloud – Learn how to optimize your MySQL databases for high availability, performance, and disaster resilience using RDS.

DevOps

May 23, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PT.NET Serverless Development on AWS – Learn how to build a modern serverless application in .NET Core 2.0.

Enterprise & Hybrid

May 22, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTHybrid Cloud Customer Use Cases on AWS – Learn how customers are leveraging AWS hybrid cloud capabilities to easily extend their datacenter capacity, deliver new services and applications, and ensure business continuity and disaster recovery.

IoT

May 31, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTUsing AWS IoT for Industrial Applications – Discover how you can quickly onboard your fleet of connected devices, keep them secure, and build predictive analytics with AWS IoT.

Machine Learning

May 22, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PTUsing Apache Spark with Amazon SageMaker – Discover how to use Apache Spark with Amazon SageMaker for training jobs and application integration.

May 24, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PTIntroducing AWS DeepLens – Learn how AWS DeepLens provides a new way for developers to learn machine learning by pairing the physical device with a broad set of tutorials, examples, source code, and integration with familiar AWS services.

Management Tools

May 21, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PTGaining Better Observability of Your VMs with Amazon CloudWatch – Learn how CloudWatch Agent makes it easy for customers like Rackspace to monitor their VMs.

Mobile

May 29, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PT – Deep Dive on Amazon Pinpoint Segmentation and Endpoint Management – See how segmentation and endpoint management with Amazon Pinpoint can help you target the right audience.

Networking

May 31, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PTMaking Private Connectivity the New Norm via AWS PrivateLink – See how PrivateLink enables service owners to offer private endpoints to customers outside their company.

Security, Identity, & Compliance

May 30, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PT – Introducing AWS Certificate Manager Private Certificate Authority (CA) – Learn how AWS Certificate Manager (ACM) Private Certificate Authority (CA), a managed private CA service, helps you easily and securely manage the lifecycle of your private certificates.

June 1, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PTIntroducing AWS Firewall Manager – Centrally configure and manage AWS WAF rules across your accounts and applications.

Serverless

May 22, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PTBuilding API-Driven Microservices with Amazon API Gateway – Learn how to build a secure, scalable API for your application in our tech talk about API-driven microservices.

Storage

May 30, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTAccelerate Productivity by Computing at the Edge – Learn how AWS Snowball Edge support for compute instances helps accelerate data transfers, execute custom applications, and reduce overall storage costs.

June 1, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTLearn to Build a Cloud-Scale Website Powered by Amazon EFS – Technical deep dive where you’ll learn tips and tricks for integrating WordPress, Drupal and Magento with Amazon EFS.

 

 

 

 

Firefox 60 released

Post Syndicated from ris original https://lwn.net/Articles/754040/rss

Mozilla has released Firefox 60. From the release
notes
: “Firefox 60 offers something for everyone and a little
something extra for everyone who deploys Firefox in an enterprise environment. This release includes changes that give you more content and more ways to customize your New Tab/Firefox Home. It also introduces support for the Web Authentication API, which means you can log in to websites in Firefox with USB tokens like YubiKey.
Firefox 60 also brings a new policy engine and Group Policy support for
enterprise deployments. For more info about why and how to use Firefox in
the enterprise, see this blog post.

Bad Software Is Our Fault

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/bad-software-is-our-fault/

Bad software is everywhere. One can even claim that every software is bad. Cool companies, tech giants, established companies, all produce bad software. And no, yours is not an exception.

Who’s to blame for bad software? It’s all complicated and many factors are intertwined – there’s business requirements, there’s organizational context, there’s lack of sufficient skilled developers, there’s the inherent complexity of software development, there’s leaky abstractions, reliance on 3rd party software, consequences of wrong business and purchase decisions, time limitations, flawed business analysis, etc. So yes, despite the catchy title, I’m aware it’s actually complicated.

But in every “it’s complicated” scenario, there’s always one or two factors that are decisive. All of them contribute somehow, but the major drivers are usually a handful of things. And in the case of base software, I think it’s the fault of technical people. Developers, architects, ops.

We don’t seem to care about best practices. And I’ll do some nasty generalizations here, but bear with me. We can spend hours arguing about tabs vs spaces, curly bracket on new line, git merge vs rebase, which IDE is better, which framework is better and other largely irrelevant stuff. But we tend to ignore the important aspects that span beyond the code itself. The context in which the code lives, the non-functional requirements – robustness, security, resilience, etc.

We don’t seem to get security. Even trivial stuff such as user authentication is almost always implemented wrong. These days Twitter and GitHub realized they have been logging plain-text passwords, for example, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Too often we ignore the security implications.

“But the business didn’t request the security features”, one may say. The business never requested 2-factor authentication, encryption at rest, PKI, secure (or any) audit trail, log masking, crypto shredding, etc., etc. Because the business doesn’t know these things – we do and we have to put them on the backlog and fight for them to be implemented. Each organization has its specifics and tech people can influence the backlog in different ways, but almost everywhere we can put things there and prioritize them.

The other aspect is testing. We should all be well aware by now that automated testing is mandatory. We have all the tools in the world for unit, functional, integration, performance and whatnot testing, and yet many software projects lack the necessary test coverage to be able to change stuff without accidentally breaking things. “But testing takes time, we don’t have it”. We are perfectly aware that testing saves time, as we’ve all had those “not again!” recurring bugs. And yet we think of all sorts of excuses – “let the QAs test it”, we have to ship that now, we’ll test it later”, “this is too trivial to be tested”, etc.

And you may say it’s not our job. We don’t define what has do be done, we just do it. We don’t define the budget, the scope, the features. We just write whatever has been decided. And that’s plain wrong. It’s not our job to make money out of our code, and it’s not our job to define what customers need, but apart from that everything is our job. The way the software is structured, the security aspects and security features, the stability of the code base, the way the software behaves in different environments. The non-functional requirements are our job, and putting them on the backlog is our job.

You’ve probably heard that every software becomes “legacy” after 6 months. And that’s because of us, our sloppiness, our inability to mitigate external factors and constraints. Too often we create a mess through “just doing our job”.

And of course that’s a generalization. I happen to know a lot of great professionals who don’t make these mistakes, who strive for excellence and implement things the right way. But our industry as a whole doesn’t. Our industry as a whole produces bad software. And it’s our fault, as developers – as the only people who know why a certain piece of software is bad.

In a talk of his, Bob Martin warns us of the risks of our sloppiness. We have been building websites so far, but we are more and more building stuff that interacts with the real world, directly and indirectly. Ultimately, lives may depend on our software (like the recent unfortunate death caused by a self-driving car). And I’ll agree with Uncle Bob that it’s high time we self-regulate as an industry, before some technically incompetent politician decides to do that.

How, I don’t know. We’ll have to think more about it. But I’m pretty sure it’s our fault that software is bad, and no amount of blaming the management, the budget, the timing, the tools or the process can eliminate our responsibility.

Why do I insist on bashing my fellow software engineers? Because if we start looking at software development with more responsibility; with the fact that if it fails, it’s our fault, then we’re more likely to get out of our current bug-ridden, security-flawed, fragile software hole and really become the experts of the future.

The post Bad Software Is Our Fault appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Serverless Architectures with AWS Lambda: Overview and Best Practices

Post Syndicated from Andrew Baird original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/architecture/serverless-architectures-with-aws-lambda-overview-and-best-practices/

For some organizations, the idea of “going serverless” can be daunting. But with an understanding of best practices – and the right tools — many serverless applications can be fully functional with only a few lines of code and little else.

Examples of fully-serverless-application use cases include:

  • Web or mobile backends – Create fully-serverless, mobile applications or websites by creating user-facing content in a native mobile application or static web content in an S3 bucket. Then have your front-end content integrate with Amazon API Gateway as a backend service API. Lambda functions will then execute the business logic you’ve written for each of the API Gateway methods in your backend API.
  • Chatbots and virtual assistants – Build new serverless ways to interact with your customers, like customer support assistants and bots ready to engage customers on your company-run social media pages. The Amazon Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and Amazon Lex have the ability to apply natural-language understanding to user-voice and freeform-text input so that a Lambda function you write can intelligently respond and engage with them.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) backends – AWS IoT has direct-integration for device messages to be routed to and processed by Lambda functions. That means you can implement serverless backends for highly secure, scalable IoT applications for uses like connected consumer appliances and intelligent manufacturing facilities.

Using AWS Lambda as the logic layer of a serverless application can enable faster development speed and greater experimentation – and innovation — than in a traditional, server-based environment.

We recently published the “Serverless Architectures with AWS Lambda: Overview and Best Practices” whitepaper to provide the guidance and best practices you need to write better Lambda functions and build better serverless architectures.

Once you’ve finished reading the whitepaper, below are a couple additional resources I recommend as your next step:

  1. If you would like to better understand some of the architecture pattern possibilities for serverless applications: Thirty Serverless Architectures in 30 Minutes (re:Invent 2017 video)
  2. If you’re ready to get hands-on and build a sample serverless application: AWS Serverless Workshops (GitHub Repository)
  3. If you’ve already built a serverless application and you’d like to ensure your application has been Well Architected: The Serverless Application Lens: AWS Well Architected Framework (Whitepaper)

About the Author

 

Andrew Baird is a Sr. Solutions Architect for AWS. Prior to becoming a Solutions Architect, Andrew was a developer, including time as an SDE with Amazon.com. He has worked on large-scale distributed systems, public-facing APIs, and operations automation.

Securing Elections

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/securing_electi_1.html

Elections serve two purposes. The first, and obvious, purpose is to accurately choose the winner. But the second is equally important: to convince the loser. To the extent that an election system is not transparently and auditably accurate, it fails in that second purpose. Our election systems are failing, and we need to fix them.

Today, we conduct our elections on computers. Our registration lists are in computer databases. We vote on computerized voting machines. And our tabulation and reporting is done on computers. We do this for a lot of good reasons, but a side effect is that elections now have all the insecurities inherent in computers. The only way to reliably protect elections from both malice and accident is to use something that is not hackable or unreliable at scale; the best way to do that is to back up as much of the system as possible with paper.

Recently, there have been two graphic demonstrations of how bad our computerized voting system is. In 2007, the states of California and Ohio conducted audits of their electronic voting machines. Expert review teams found exploitable vulnerabilities in almost every component they examined. The researchers were able to undetectably alter vote tallies, erase audit logs, and load malware on to the systems. Some of their attacks could be implemented by a single individual with no greater access than a normal poll worker; others could be done remotely.

Last year, the Defcon hackers’ conference sponsored a Voting Village. Organizers collected 25 pieces of voting equipment, including voting machines and electronic poll books. By the end of the weekend, conference attendees had found ways to compromise every piece of test equipment: to load malicious software, compromise vote tallies and audit logs, or cause equipment to fail.

It’s important to understand that these were not well-funded nation-state attackers. These were not even academics who had been studying the problem for weeks. These were bored hackers, with no experience with voting machines, playing around between parties one weekend.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that voting equipment, including voting machines, voter registration databases, and vote tabulation systems, are that hackable. They’re computers — often ancient computers running operating systems no longer supported by the manufacturers — and they don’t have any magical security technology that the rest of the industry isn’t privy to. If anything, they’re less secure than the computers we generally use, because their manufacturers hide any flaws behind the proprietary nature of their equipment.

We’re not just worried about altering the vote. Sometimes causing widespread failures, or even just sowing mistrust in the system, is enough. And an election whose results are not trusted or believed is a failed election.

Voting systems have another requirement that makes security even harder to achieve: the requirement for a secret ballot. Because we have to securely separate the election-roll system that determines who can vote from the system that collects and tabulates the votes, we can’t use the security systems available to banking and other high-value applications.

We can securely bank online, but can’t securely vote online. If we could do away with anonymity — if everyone could check that their vote was counted correctly — then it would be easy to secure the vote. But that would lead to other problems. Before the US had the secret ballot, voter coercion and vote-buying were widespread.

We can’t, so we need to accept that our voting systems are insecure. We need an election system that is resilient to the threats. And for many parts of the system, that means paper.

Let’s start with the voter rolls. We know they’ve already been targeted. In 2016, someone changed the party affiliation of hundreds of voters before the Republican primary. That’s just one possibility. A well-executed attack that deletes, for example, one in five voters at random — or changes their addresses — would cause chaos on election day.

Yes, we need to shore up the security of these systems. We need better computer, network, and database security for the various state voter organizations. We also need to better secure the voter registration websites, with better design and better internet security. We need better security for the companies that build and sell all this equipment.

Multiple, unchangeable backups are essential. A record of every addition, deletion, and change needs to be stored on a separate system, on write-only media like a DVD. Copies of that DVD, or — even better — a paper printout of the voter rolls, should be available at every polling place on election day. We need to be ready for anything.

Next, the voting machines themselves. Security researchers agree that the gold standard is a voter-verified paper ballot. The easiest (and cheapest) way to achieve this is through optical-scan voting. Voters mark paper ballots by hand; they are fed into a machine and counted automatically. That paper ballot is saved, and serves as a final true record in a recount in case of problems. Touch-screen machines that print a paper ballot to drop in a ballot box can also work for voters with disabilities, as long as the ballot can be easily read and verified by the voter.

Finally, the tabulation and reporting systems. Here again we need more security in the process, but we must always use those paper ballots as checks on the computers. A manual, post-election, risk-limiting audit varies the number of ballots examined according to the margin of victory. Conducting this audit after every election, before the results are certified, gives us confidence that the election outcome is correct, even if the voting machines and tabulation computers have been tampered with. Additionally, we need better coordination and communications when incidents occur.

It’s vital to agree on these procedures and policies before an election. Before the fact, when anyone can win and no one knows whose votes might be changed, it’s easy to agree on strong security. But after the vote, someone is the presumptive winner — and then everything changes. Half of the country wants the result to stand, and half wants it reversed. At that point, it’s too late to agree on anything.

The politicians running in the election shouldn’t have to argue their challenges in court. Getting elections right is in the interest of all citizens. Many countries have independent election commissions that are charged with conducting elections and ensuring their security. We don’t do that in the US.

Instead, we have representatives from each of our two parties in the room, keeping an eye on each other. That provided acceptable security against 20th-century threats, but is totally inadequate to secure our elections in the 21st century. And the belief that the diversity of voting systems in the US provides a measure of security is a dangerous myth, because few districts can be decisive and there are so few voting-machine vendors.

We can do better. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security declared elections to be critical infrastructure, allowing the department to focus on securing them. On 23 March, Congress allocated $380m to states to upgrade election security.

These are good starts, but don’t go nearly far enough. The constitution delegates elections to the states but allows Congress to “make or alter such Regulations”. In 1845, Congress set a nationwide election day. Today, we need it to set uniform and strict election standards.

This essay originally appeared in the Guardian.

Let’s stop talking about password strength

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original https://blog.erratasec.com/2018/04/lets-stop-talking-about-password.html

Picture from EFF — CC-BY license

Near the top of most security recommendations is to use “strong passwords”. We need to stop doing this.

Yes, weak passwords can be a problem. If a website gets hacked, weak passwords are easier to crack. It’s not that this is wrong advice.

On the other hand, it’s not particularly good advice, either. It’s far down the list of important advice that people need to remember. “Weak passwords” are nowhere near the risk of “password reuse”. When your Facebook or email account gets hacked, it’s because you used the same password across many websites, not because you used a weak password.

Important websites, where the strength of your password matters, already take care of the problem. They use strong, salted hashes on the backend to protect the password. On the frontend, they force passwords to be a certain length and a certain complexity. Maybe the better advice is to not trust any website that doesn’t enforce stronger passwords (minimum of 8 characters consisting of both letters and non-letters).

To some extent, this “strong password” advice has become obsolete. A decade ago, websites had poor protection (MD5 hashes) and no enforcement of complexity, so it was up to the user to choose strong passwords. Now that important websites have changed their behavior, such as using bcrypt, there is less onus on the user.

But the real issue here is that “strong password” advice reflects the evil, authoritarian impulses of the infosec community. Instead of measuring insecurity in terms of costs vs. benefits, risks vs. rewards, we insist that it’s an issue of moral weakness. We pretend that flaws happen because people are greedy, lazy, and ignorant. We pretend that security is its own goal, a benefit we should achieve, rather than a cost we must endure.

We like giving moral advice because it’s easy: just be “stronger”. Discussing “password reuse” is more complicated, forcing us discuss password managers, writing down passwords on paper, that it’s okay to reuse passwords for crappy websites you don’t care about, and so on.

What I’m trying to say is that the moral weakness here is us. Rather then give pertinent advice we give lazy advice. We give the advice that victim shames them for being weak while pretending that we are strong.

So stop telling people to use strong passwords. It’s crass advice on your part and largely unhelpful for your audience, distracting them from the more important things.

AWS Online Tech Talks – April & Early May 2018

Post Syndicated from Betsy Chernoff original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/aws-online-tech-talks-april-early-may-2018/

We have several upcoming tech talks in the month of April and early May. Come join us to learn about AWS services and solution offerings. We’ll have AWS experts online to help answer questions in real-time. Sign up now to learn more, we look forward to seeing you.

Note – All sessions are free and in Pacific Time.

April & early May — 2018 Schedule

Compute

April 30, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PTBest Practices for Running Amazon EC2 Spot Instances with Amazon EMR (300) – Learn about the best practices for scaling big data workloads as well as process, store, and analyze big data securely and cost effectively with Amazon EMR and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances.

May 1, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PTHow to Bring Microsoft Apps to AWS (300) – Learn more about how to save significant money by bringing your Microsoft workloads to AWS.

May 2, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PTDeep Dive on Amazon EC2 Accelerated Computing (300) – Get a technical deep dive on how AWS’ GPU and FGPA-based compute services can help you to optimize and accelerate your ML/DL and HPC workloads in the cloud.

Containers

April 23, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTNew Features for Building Powerful Containerized Microservices on AWS (300) – Learn about how this new feature works and how you can start using it to build and run modern, containerized applications on AWS.

Databases

April 23, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PTElastiCache: Deep Dive Best Practices and Usage Patterns (200) – Learn about Redis-compatible in-memory data store and cache with Amazon ElastiCache.

April 25, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PTIntro to Open Source Databases on AWS (200) – Learn how to tap the benefits of open source databases on AWS without the administrative hassle.

DevOps

April 25, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PTDebug your Container and Serverless Applications with AWS X-Ray in 5 Minutes (300) – Learn how AWS X-Ray makes debugging your Container and Serverless applications fun.

Enterprise & Hybrid

April 23, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PTAn Overview of Best Practices of Large-Scale Migrations (300) – Learn about the tools and best practices on how to migrate to AWS at scale.

April 24, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTDeploy your Desktops and Apps on AWS (300) – Learn how to deploy your desktops and apps on AWS with Amazon WorkSpaces and Amazon AppStream 2.0

IoT

May 2, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTHow to Easily and Securely Connect Devices to AWS IoT (200) – Learn how to easily and securely connect devices to the cloud and reliably scale to billions of devices and trillions of messages with AWS IoT.

Machine Learning

April 24, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PT Automate for Efficiency with Amazon Transcribe and Amazon Translate (200) – Learn how you can increase the efficiency and reach your operations with Amazon Translate and Amazon Transcribe.

April 26, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PT Perform Machine Learning at the IoT Edge using AWS Greengrass and Amazon Sagemaker (200) – Learn more about developing machine learning applications for the IoT edge.

Mobile

April 30, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTOffline GraphQL Apps with AWS AppSync (300) – Come learn how to enable real-time and offline data in your applications with GraphQL using AWS AppSync.

Networking

May 2, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PT Taking Serverless to the Edge (300) – Learn how to run your code closer to your end users in a serverless fashion. Also, David Von Lehman from Aerobatic will discuss how they used [email protected] to reduce latency and cloud costs for their customer’s websites.

Security, Identity & Compliance

April 30, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PTAmazon GuardDuty – Let’s Attack My Account! (300) – Amazon GuardDuty Test Drive – Practical steps on generating test findings.

May 3, 2018 | 09:00 AM – 09:45 AM PTProtect Your Game Servers from DDoS Attacks (200) – Learn how to use the new AWS Shield Advanced for EC2 to protect your internet-facing game servers against network layer DDoS attacks and application layer attacks of all kinds.

Serverless

April 24, 2018 | 01:00 PM – 01:45 PM PTTips and Tricks for Building and Deploying Serverless Apps In Minutes (200) – Learn how to build and deploy apps in minutes.

Storage

May 1, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTBuilding Data Lakes That Cost Less and Deliver Results Faster (300) – Learn how Amazon S3 Select And Amazon Glacier Select increase application performance by up to 400% and reduce total cost of ownership by extending your data lake into cost-effective archive storage.

May 3, 2018 | 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM PTIntegrating On-Premises Vendors with AWS for Backup (300) – Learn how to work with AWS and technology partners to build backup & restore solutions for your on-premises, hybrid, and cloud native environments.

User Authentication Best Practices Checklist

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/user-authentication-best-practices-checklist/

User authentication is the functionality that every web application shared. We should have perfected that a long time ago, having implemented it so many times. And yet there are so many mistakes made all the time.

Part of the reason for that is that the list of things that can go wrong is long. You can store passwords incorrectly, you can have a vulnerably password reset functionality, you can expose your session to a CSRF attack, your session can be hijacked, etc. So I’ll try to compile a list of best practices regarding user authentication. OWASP top 10 is always something you should read, every year. But that might not be enough.

So, let’s start. I’ll try to be concise, but I’ll include as much of the related pitfalls as I can cover – e.g. what could go wrong with the user session after they login:

  • Store passwords with bcrypt/scrypt/PBKDF2. No MD5 or SHA, as they are not good for password storing. Long salt (per user) is mandatory (the aforementioned algorithms have it built in). If you don’t and someone gets hold of your database, they’ll be able to extract the passwords of all your users. And then try these passwords on other websites.
  • Use HTTPS. Period. (Otherwise user credentials can leak through unprotected networks). Force HTTPS if user opens a plain-text version.
  • Mark cookies as secure. Makes cookie theft harder.
  • Use CSRF protection (e.g. CSRF one-time tokens that are verified with each request). Frameworks have such functionality built-in.
  • Disallow framing (X-Frame-Options: DENY). Otherwise your website may be included in another website in a hidden iframe and “abused” through javascript.
  • Have a same-origin policy
  • Logout – let your users logout by deleting all cookies and invalidating the session. This makes usage of shared computers safer (yes, users should ideally use private browsing sessions, but not all of them are that savvy)
  • Session expiry – don’t have forever-lasting sessions. If the user closes your website, their session should expire after a while. “A while” may still be a big number depending on the service provided. For ajax-heavy website you can have regular ajax-polling that keeps the session alive while the page stays open.
  • Remember me – implementing “remember me” (on this machine) functionality is actually hard due to the risks of a stolen persistent cookie. Spring-security uses this approach, which I think should be followed if you wish to implement more persistent logins.
  • Forgotten password flow – the forgotten password flow should rely on sending a one-time (or expiring) link to the user and asking for a new password when it’s opened. 0Auth explain it in this post and Postmark gives some best pracitces. How the link is formed is a separate discussion and there are several approaches. Store a password-reset token in the user profile table and then send it as parameter in the link. Or do not store anything in the database, but send a few params: userId:expiresTimestamp:hmac(userId+expiresTimestamp). That way you have expiring links (rather than one-time links). The HMAC relies on a secret key, so the links can’t be spoofed. It seems there’s no consensus, as the OWASP guide has a bit different approach
  • One-time login links – this is an option used by Slack, which sends one-time login links instead of asking users for passwords. It relies on the fact that your email is well guarded and you have access to it all the time. If your service is not accessed to often, you can have that approach instead of (rather than in addition to) passwords.
  • Limit login attempts – brute-force through a web UI should not be possible; therefore you should block login attempts if they become too many. One approach is to just block them based on IP. The other one is to block them based on account attempted. (Spring example here). Which one is better – I don’t know. Both can actually be combined. Instead of fully blocking the attempts, you may add a captcha after, say, the 5th attempt. But don’t add the captcha for the first attempt – it is bad user experience.
  • Don’t leak information through error messages – you shouldn’t allow attackers to figure out if an email is registered or not. If an email is not found, upon login report just “Incorrect credentials”. On passwords reset, it may be something like “If your email is registered, you should have received a password reset email”. This is often at odds with usability – people don’t often remember the email they used to register, and the ability to check a number of them before getting in might be important. So this rule is not absolute, though it’s desirable, especially for more critical systems.
  • Make sure you use JWT only if it’s really necessary and be careful of the pitfalls.
  • Consider using a 3rd party authentication – OpenID Connect, OAuth by Google/Facebook/Twitter (but be careful with OAuth flaws as well). There’s an associated risk with relying on a 3rd party identity provider, and you still have to manage cookies, logout, etc., but some of the authentication aspects are simplified.
  • For high-risk or sensitive applications use 2-factor authentication. There’s a caveat with Google Authenticator though – if you lose your phone, you lose your accounts (unless there’s a manual process to restore it). That’s why Authy seems like a good solution for storing 2FA keys.

I’m sure I’m missing something. And you see it’s complicated. Sadly we’re still at the point where the most common functionality – authenticating users – is so tricky and cumbersome, that you almost always get at least some of it wrong.

The post User Authentication Best Practices Checklist appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/03/facebook_and_ca.html

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, news articles and commentators have focused on what Facebook knows about us. A lot, it turns out. It collects data from our posts, our likes, our photos, things we type and delete without posting, and things we do while not on Facebook and even when we’re offline. It buys data about us from others. And it can infer even more: our sexual orientation, political beliefs, relationship status, drug use, and other personality traits — even if we didn’t take the personality test that Cambridge Analytica developed.

But for every article about Facebook’s creepy stalker behavior, thousands of other companies are breathing a collective sigh of relief that it’s Facebook and not them in the spotlight. Because while Facebook is one of the biggest players in this space, there are thousands of other companies that spy on and manipulate us for profit.

Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff calls it “surveillance capitalism.” And as creepy as Facebook is turning out to be, the entire industry is far creepier. It has existed in secret far too long, and it’s up to lawmakers to force these companies into the public spotlight, where we can all decide if this is how we want society to operate and — if not — what to do about it.

There are 2,500 to 4,000 data brokers in the United States whose business is buying and selling our personal data. Last year, Equifax was in the news when hackers stole personal information on 150 million people, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers.

You certainly didn’t give it permission to collect any of that information. Equifax is one of those thousands of data brokers, most of them you’ve never heard of, selling your personal information without your knowledge or consent to pretty much anyone who will pay for it.

Surveillance capitalism takes this one step further. Companies like Facebook and Google offer you free services in exchange for your data. Google’s surveillance isn’t in the news, but it’s startlingly intimate. We never lie to our search engines. Our interests and curiosities, hopes and fears, desires and sexual proclivities, are all collected and saved. Add to that the websites we visit that Google tracks through its advertising network, our Gmail accounts, our movements via Google Maps, and what it can collect from our smartphones.

That phone is probably the most intimate surveillance device ever invented. It tracks our location continuously, so it knows where we live, where we work, and where we spend our time. It’s the first and last thing we check in a day, so it knows when we wake up and when we go to sleep. We all have one, so it knows who we sleep with. Uber used just some of that information to detect one-night stands; your smartphone provider and any app you allow to collect location data knows a lot more.

Surveillance capitalism drives much of the internet. It’s behind most of the “free” services, and many of the paid ones as well. Its goal is psychological manipulation, in the form of personalized advertising to persuade you to buy something or do something, like vote for a candidate. And while the individualized profile-driven manipulation exposed by Cambridge Analytica feels abhorrent, it’s really no different from what every company wants in the end. This is why all your personal information is collected, and this is why it is so valuable. Companies that can understand it can use it against you.

None of this is new. The media has been reporting on surveillance capitalism for years. In 2015, I wrote a book about it. Back in 2010, the Wall Street Journal published an award-winning two-year series about how people are tracked both online and offline, titled “What They Know.”

Surveillance capitalism is deeply embedded in our increasingly computerized society, and if the extent of it came to light there would be broad demands for limits and regulation. But because this industry can largely operate in secret, only occasionally exposed after a data breach or investigative report, we remain mostly ignorant of its reach.

This might change soon. In 2016, the European Union passed the comprehensive General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The details of the law are far too complex to explain here, but some of the things it mandates are that personal data of EU citizens can only be collected and saved for “specific, explicit, and legitimate purposes,” and only with explicit consent of the user. Consent can’t be buried in the terms and conditions, nor can it be assumed unless the user opts in. This law will take effect in May, and companies worldwide are bracing for its enforcement.

Because pretty much all surveillance capitalism companies collect data on Europeans, this will expose the industry like nothing else. Here’s just one example. In preparation for this law, PayPal quietly published a list of over 600 companies it might share your personal data with. What will it be like when every company has to publish this sort of information, and explicitly explain how it’s using your personal data? We’re about to find out.

In the wake of this scandal, even Mark Zuckerberg said that his industry probably should be regulated, although he’s certainly not wishing for the sorts of comprehensive regulation the GDPR is bringing to Europe.

He’s right. Surveillance capitalism has operated without constraints for far too long. And advances in both big data analysis and artificial intelligence will make tomorrow’s applications far creepier than today’s. Regulation is the only answer.

The first step to any regulation is transparency. Who has our data? Is it accurate? What are they doing with it? Who are they selling it to? How are they securing it? Can we delete it? I don’t see any hope of Congress passing a GDPR-like data protection law anytime soon, but it’s not too far-fetched to demand laws requiring these companies to be more transparent in what they’re doing.

One of the responses to the Cambridge Analytica scandal is that people are deleting their Facebook accounts. It’s hard to do right, and doesn’t do anything about the data that Facebook collects about people who don’t use Facebook. But it’s a start. The market can put pressure on these companies to reduce their spying on us, but it can only do that if we force the industry out of its secret shadows.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

EDITED TO ADD (4/2): Slashdot thread.

WordPress: Best Practices on AWS

Post Syndicated from Paul Lewis original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/architecture/wordpress-best-practices-on-aws/

As most of you already know, WordPress is a popular open-source blogging platform and content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL. AWS customers deploy everything from simple blogs to high-traffic, complex websites.

We have recently updated the “WordPress: Best Practices on AWS” whitepaper to incorporate new AWS services and the latest best practices and thinking. In the updated whitepaper we cover creating a simple deployment with a single server, which is a great starting point for those new to WordPress, or those looking for a cost-efficient solution for development and test environments.

We also look at to separate out the various components of a typical WordPress website in order to improve performance, resiliency, and cost efficiency, culminating in a highly available, multi-server, scalable architecture like the one illustrated below.

The elastic deployment outlined in the whitepaper is very closely related to the reference architecture for deploying WordPress on AWS, which is available on GitHub.

About the Author

Paul is a Solutions Architect in the New Economies and Startup practice in the UK. He’s been tinkering with WordPress websites for almost 10 years, and has a special interest in container technologies.

Hijacking Computers for Cryptocurrency Mining

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/03/hijacking_compu.html

Interesting paper “A first look at browser-based cryptojacking“:

Abstract: In this paper, we examine the recent trend towards in-browser mining of cryptocurrencies; in particular, the mining of Monero through Coinhive and similar code-bases. In this model, a user visiting a website will download a JavaScript code that executes client-side in her browser, mines a cryptocurrency, typically without her consent or knowledge, and pays out the seigniorage to the website. Websites may consciously employ this as an alternative or to supplement advertisement revenue, may offer premium content in exchange for mining, or may be unwittingly serving the code as a result of a breach (in which case the seigniorage is collected by the attacker). The cryptocurrency Monero is preferred seemingly for its unfriendliness to large-scale ASIC mining that would drive browser-based efforts out of the market, as well as for its purported privacy features. In this paper, we survey this landscape, conduct some measurements to establish its prevalence and profitability, outline an ethical framework for considering whether it should be classified as an attack or business opportunity, and make suggestions for the detection, mitigation and/or prevention of browser-based mining for non-consenting users.

GetAltName – Discover Sub-Domains From SSL Certificates

Post Syndicated from Darknet original https://www.darknet.org.uk/2018/03/getaltname-discover-sub-domains-from-ssl-certificates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=darknetfeed

GetAltName – Discover Sub-Domains From SSL Certificates

GetAltName it’s a little script to discover sub-domains that can extract Subject Alt Names for SSL Certificates directly from HTTPS websites which can provide you with DNS names or virtual servers.

It’s useful in a discovery phase of a pen-testing assessment, this tool can provide you with more information about your target and scope.

Features of GetAltName to Discover Sub-Domains

  • Strips wildcards and www’s
  • Returns a unique list (no duplicates)
  • Works on verified and self-signed certs
  • Domain matching system
  • Filtering for main domains and TLDs
  • Gets additional sub-domains from crt.sh
  • Outputs to clipboard

GetAltName Subdomain Exctraction Tool Usage

You can output to a text file and also copy the output to your clipboard as a List or a Single line string, which is useful if you’re trying to make a quick scan with Nmap or other tools.

Read the rest of GetAltName – Discover Sub-Domains From SSL Certificates now! Only available at Darknet.

Malcolm: Usability improvements in GCC 8

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/749450/rss

Over on the Red Hat Developer Program blog, David Malcolm describes a number of usability improvements that he has made for the upcoming GCC 8 release. Malcolm has made a number of the C/C++ compiler error messages much more helpful, including adding hints for integrated development environments (IDEs) and other tools to suggest fixes for syntax and other kinds of errors. “[…] the code is fine, but, as is common with fragments of code seen on random websites, it’s missing #include directives. If you simply copy this into a new file and try to compile it as-is, it fails.

This can be frustrating when copying and pasting examples – off the top of your head, which header files are needed by the above? – so for gcc 8 I’ve added hints telling you which header files are missing (for the most common cases).” He has various examples showing what the new error messages and hints look like in the blog post.

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.

ICO’s

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.

Conclusion

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.