Talking at Cubaconf 2017 in Havanna, Cuba

Few weeks ago I had a talk at Cubaconf 2017 in Havanna, Cuba. It’s certainly been an interesting experience. If only because of Carribean people. But also because of the food and the conditions the country has be run under the last decades.

Before entering Cuba, I needed a tourist visa in form of the turist trajeta. It was bothering me for more than it should have. I thought I’d have to go to the embassy or take a certain airline in order to be able to get hold of one of these cased. It turned out that you can simply buy these tourist cards in the Berlin airport from the TUI counter. Some claimed it was possible to buy at the immigration, but I couldn’t find any tourist visa for sale there, so be warned. Also, I read that you have to prove that you have health insurance, but nobody was interested in mine. That said, I think it’s extremely clever to have one…

Connecting to the Internet is a bit difficult in Cuba. I booked a place which had “Wifi” marked as their features and I naïvely thought that it meant that you by booking the place I also get to connect to the Internet. Turns out that it’s not entirely correct. It’s not entirely wrong either, though. In my case, there was an access point in the apartment in which I rented a room. The owner needs to turn it on first and run a weird managing software on his PC. That software then makes the AP connect to other already existing WiFis and bridges connections. That other WiFi, in turn, does not have direct Internet access, but instead somehow goes through the ISP which requires you to log in. The credentials for logging in can be bought in the ISPs shops. You can buy credentials worth 1 hour of WiFi connection (note that I’m avoiding the term “Internet” here) for 3 USD or so from the dealer around the corner. You can get your fix from the legal dealer cheaper (i.e. the Internet office…), but that will probably involve waiting in queues. I often noticed people gathering somewhere on the street looking into their phones. That’s where some signal was. When talking to the local hacker community, I found out that they were using a small PCB with an ESP8266 which repeats the official WiFi signal. The hope is that someone will connect to their piece of electronics so that the device is authenticated and also connects the other clients associated with the fake hotspot. Quite clever.

The conference was surprisingly well attended. I reckon it’s been around hundred people. I say surprisingly, because from all what I could see the event was weirdly organised. I had close to zero communication with the organisers and it was pure luck for me to show up in time. But other people seemed to be in the know so I guess I fell through the cracks somehow. Coincidentally, you could only install the conference’s app from Google, because they wouldn’t like to offer a plain APK that you can install. I also didn’t really know how long my talks should be and needed to prepare for anything between 15 and 60 minutes.

My first talk was on PrivacyScore.org, a Web scanner for privacy and security issues. As I’ve indicated, the conference was a bit messily organised. The person before me was talking into my slot and then there was no cable to hook my laptop up with the projector. We ended up transferring my presentation to a different machine (via pen drives instead of some fancy distributed local p2p network) in order for me to give my presentation. And then I needed to rush through my content, because we were pressed for going for lunch in time. Gnah. But I think a few people were still able to grasp the concepts and make it useful for them. My argument was that Web pages load much faster if you don’t have to load as many trackers and other external content. Also, these people don’t get updates in time, so they might rather want to visit Web sites which generally seem to care about their security. I was actually approached by a guy running StreetNet, the local DIY Internet. His idea is to run PrivacyScore against their network to see what is going on and to improve some aspects. Exciting.

My other talk was about GNOME and how I believe it makes more secure operating systems. Here, my thinking was that many people don’t have expectations of how their system is supposed to be looking or even working. And being thrown into the current world in which operating systems spy on you could lead to being primed to have low expectations of the security of the system. In the GNOME project, however, we believe that users must have confidence in their computing being safe and sound. To that end, Flatpak was a big thing, of course. People were quite interested. Mostly, because they know everything about Docker. My trick to hook these people is to claim that Docker does it all wrong. Then they ask pesky questions which gives me many opportunities to mention that for some applications squashfs is inferior to, say, OStree, or that you’d probably want to hand out privileges only for a certain time rather than the whole life-time of an app. I was also to make people look at EndlessOS which attempts to solve many problems I think Cubans have.

The first talk of the conference was given by Ismael and I was actually surprised to meet people I know. He talked about his hackerspace in Almería, I think. It was a bit hard to me to understand, because it was in Spanish. He was followed by Valessio Brito who talked about putting a price on Open Source Software. He said he started working on Open Source Software at the age of 16. He wondered how you determine how much software should cost. Or your work on Open Source. His answer was that one of the determining factors was simply personal preference of the work to be performed. As an example he said that if you were vegan and didn’t like animals to be killed, you would likely not accept a job doing exactly that. At least, you’d be inclined to demand a higher price for your time. That’s pretty much all he could advise the audience on what to do. But it may also very be that I did not understand everything because it was half English and half Spanish and I never noticed quickly enough that the English was on.

An interesting talk was given by Christian titled “Free Data and the Infrastructure of the Commons”. He began saying that the early textile industry in Lyon, France made use of “software” in 1802 with (hard wired) wires for the patterns to produce. With the rise of computers, software used to be common good in the early 1960s, he said. Software was a common good and exchanged freely, he said. The sharing of knowledge about software helped to get the industry going, he said. At the end of the 1970s, software got privatised and used to be licensed from the manufacturer which caused the young hacker movement to be felt challenged. Eventually, the Free Software movement formed and hijacked the copyright law in order to preserve the users’ freedoms, he said. He then compared the GPL with the French revolution and basic human rights in that the Free Software movement had a radical position and made the users’ rights explicit. Eventually, Free Software became successful, he said, mainly because software was becoming more successful in general. And, according to him, Free Software used to fill a gap that other software created in the 80s. Eventually, the last bastion to overcome was the desktop, he said, but then the Web happened which changed the landscape. New struggles are software patents, DRM, and privacy of the “bad services”. He, in my point of view rightfully so, said that all the proliferation of free and open source software, has not lead to less proprietary software though. Also, he is missing the original FOSS attitude and enthusiasm. Eventually he said that data is the new software. Data not was not an issue back when software, or Free Software even, started. He said that 99% of the US growth is coming from the data processing ad companies like Google or Facebook. Why does data have so much value, he asked. He said that actually living a human is a lot of work. Now you’re doing that labour for Facebook by entering the data of your human life into their system. That, he said, is where the value in coming from. He made the the point that Software Freedoms are irrelevant for data. He encouraged the hackers to think of information systems, not software. Although he left me wondering a bit how I could actually do that. All in all, a very inspiring talk. I’m happy that there is a (bad) recording online:

I visited probably the only private company in Cuba which doubles as a hackerspace. It’s interesting to see, because in my world, people go and work (on computer stuff) to make enough money to be free to become a singer, an author, or an artist. In Cuba it seems to be the other way around, people work in order to become computer professionals. My feeling is that many Cubans are quite artsy. There is music and dancing everywhere. Maybe it’s just the prospects of a rich life though. The average Cuban seems to make about 30USD a month. That’s surprising given that an hour of bad WiFi costs already 1 USD. A beer costs as much. I was told that everybody has their way to get hold of some more money. Very interesting indeed. Anyway, the people in the hackerspace seemed to be happy to offer their work across the globe. Their customers can be very happy, because these Cubans are a dedicated bunch of people. And they have competitive prices. Even if these specialists make only hundred times as much the average Cuban, they’d still be cheap in the so called developed world.

After having arrived back from Cuba, I went to the Rust Hackfest in Berlin. It was hosted by the nice Kinvolk folks and I enjoyed meeting all the hackers who care about making use of a safer language. I could continue my work on rustifying pixbuf loaders which will hopefully make it much harder to exploit them. Funnily enough, I didn’t manage to write a single line of Rust during the hackfest. But I expected that, because we need to get to code ready to be transformed to Rust first. More precisely, restructure it a bit so that it has explicit error codes instead of magic numbers. And because we’re parsing stuff, there are many magic numbers. While digging through the code, other bugs popped up as well which we needed to eliminate as side challenges. I’m looking much forward to writing an actual line of Rust soon! ;-)

Talking at Kieler LinuxTage 2017 in Kiel, Germany

I was invited to present GNOME at the Kieler LinuxTage in Kiel, Germany.

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Compared to other events, it’s a tiny happening with something between fifty and hundred people or so. I was presenting on how I think GNOME pushes the envelope regarding making secure operating systems (slides, videos to follow). I was giving three examples of how GNOME achieves its goal of priding a secure OS without compromising on usability. In fact, I claimed that the most successful security solutions must not involve the user. That sounds a bit counter intuitive to people in the infosec world, because we’re trying to protect the user, surely they must be involved in the process. But we better not do that. This is not to say that we shouldn’t allow the user to change preferences regarding how the solutions behave, but rather that it should work without intervention. My talk was fairly good attended, I think, and we had a great discussion. I tend to like the discussion bit better than the actual presentation, because I see it as an indicator for how much the people care. I couldn’t attend many other presentations, because I would only attend the second day. That’s why I couldn’t meet with Jim :-/

But I did watch Benni talking about hosting a secure Web site (slides). He started his show with mentioning DNS which everybody could read, He introduced DNSSEC. Which, funnily enough, everybody also can read, but he failed to mention that. But at least nobody can manipulate the response. Another issue is that you leak information about your host names with negative responses, because you tell the client that there is nothing between a.example.com and b.example.com. He continued with SSH for deploying your Web site and mentioned SSHFP which is a mechanism for authenticating the host key. The same mechanism exists for Web or Mail servers, he said: DANE, DNS-based Authentication of named entities. It works via TLSA records which encode either the certificate or the used public key. Another DNS-based mechanism is relatively young: CAA. It asserts that a certificate for a host name shall be signed by a certain entity. So you can hopefully prevent a CA that you’ve never heard of creating a certificate for your hosts. All of these mechanisms try to make the key exchange in TLS a bit less shady. TLS ensures a secure channel, i.e. confidentiality, non-repudiation, and integrity. That is considered to be generally useful in the Web context. TLS tends to be a bit of a minefield, because of the version and configuration matrix. He recommended to use at least TLS as of version 1.2, to disable compression due to inherent attacks on typical HTTP traffic (CRIME), and to use “perfect forward secrecy” ciphers for protecting the individual connections after the main key leaked. Within TLS you use x509 certificates for authenticating the parties, most importantly in the Web world, the server side. The certificate shall use a long enough RSA key, he said, The certificate shall not use a CN field to indicate the host name, but rather the SAN field. The signatures should be produced with “at least SHA-256”. He then mentioned OCSP because life happens and keys get lost or stolen. However, with regular OSCP the clients expose the host names they visit, he said. Enter OCSP Stapling. In that case the Web server itself gets the OCSP response and hands it over to the client. Of course, this comes with its own challenges. But it may also happen that CAs issue certificates for a host name which doesn’t expect that new certificate. In that case, Certificate transparency becomes useful. It’s composed of three components, he said. Log servers which logs all created certificates, monitors which pull the logs, and auditors which check the logs for host names. Again, your Browser may want to check whether the given certificate is in the CT logs. This opens the same privacy issue as with OCSP and can be somewhat countered with signed log statements from a few trusted log servers.

In any case, TLS is only useful, he said, if you are actually using it. Assuming you had a secure connection once, you can use the TLS Strict Transport Security header. It tells the browser to use TLS in the future. Of course, if you didn’t have that first connection, you can have your webapp entered in the STS Preloading list which is then baked into major browsers. Another mechanism is HTTP Public Key Pinning which is a HTTP header to tell the client which certificates or CAs shall be accepted. The header value is a simple list of hashed certificates. He mentioned the risk of someone hijacking your Web presence with an injected HPKP header. A TLS connection has eventually been established successfully. Now the HTTP layer gets interesting, he said. The Content Type Options header prevents Internet Explorer from snooping content types which might cause an image to be executed as JavaScript. Many Cross-Site Scripting attacks, he said, originate from being embedded in a frame. To prevent that, you can set the X-Frame-Options header. To activate Cross-Site Scripting protection mechanisms, the X-XSS-Protection header can be set. It’s probably turned off by default for compatibility reasons, he said. If you know where exactly your data is coming from, you can make use of a Content Security Policy which is like SELinux for your browser. It’s a bit of a complicated mechanism though. For protecting your Webapp he mentioned Sub-Resource Integrity which is essentially the hash of what script you expect. This prevents tampering with the foreign script, malicious or not.

I think that was one of the better talks in the schedule with many interesting details to be discovered. I enjoyed it a lot. I did not enjoy their Web sites, though, which are close to being unusable. The interface for submitting talks gives you a flashback to the late 90’s. Anyway, it seems to have worked for many years now and hope they will have many years to come.

Talked at mrmcd 2017 in Darmstadt, Germany

I attended this year’s MRMCD in Darmstadt, Germany. I attended a few times in the past and I think this year’s edition was not as successful as the last ones. The venue changed this year, what probably contributed to some more chaos than usual and hence things not running as smoothly as they did. I assume it will be better next year, when people know how to operate the venue. Although all tickets were sold during the presale phase, it felt smaller than in the last years. In fairness, though, the venue was also bigger this year. The schedule had some interesting talks, but I didn’t really get around to attend many, because I was busy preparing my own shows (yeah, should’ve done that before…).

I had two talks at this conference. The first was on playing the children’s game “battleship” securely (video). That means with cryptography. Lennart and I explained how concepts such as commitment schemes, zero knowledge proofs of knowledge, oblivious transfer, secure multiparty computation and Yao’s protocol can be used to play that game without a trusted third party. The problem, in short, is to a) make sure that the other party’s ships are placed correctly and b) to make sure the other party answers correctly. Of course, if you get hold of the placements of the ships these problems are trivial. But your opponent doesn’t like you to know about the placements. Then a trusted third party would solve that problem trivially. But let’s assume we don’t have such a party. Also, we want to decentralise things, so let’s come up with a solution that involves two players only.

The second problem can be solved with a commitment. A commitment is a statement about a something you’ve chosen but that doesn’t reveal the choice itself nor allows for changing ones mind later. Think of a letter in a closed envelope that you hand over. The receiver doesn’t know what’s written in the letter and the sender cannot change the content anymore. Once the receiver is curious, they can open the envelope. This analogy isn’t the best and I’m sure there’s better real-world concepts to compare to commitment schemes. Anyway, for battleship, you can make the other party commit to the placement of the ships. Then, when the battle starts, you have the other party open the commitment for the field that you’re shooting. You can easily check whether the commitment verifies correctly in order to determine whether you hit a ship or water.

The other problem is the correct placement of the ships, e.g. no ships shall be adjacent, exactly ten ships, exactly one five-field ship, etc. You could easily wait until the end of the game and then check whether everything was placed correctly. But that wouldn’t be (cryptographic) fun. Let’s assume one round of shooting is expensive and you want to make sure to only engage if the other party indeed follows the rules. Now it’s getting a bit crazy, because we need to perform a calculation without learning anything else than “the ships are correctly placed”. That’s a classic zero knowledge problem. And I think it’s best explained with the magic door in a cave.

Even worse, we need to somehow make sure that we cannot change our placement afterwards. There is a brain melting concept of secure multi-party computation which allows you to do exactly that. You can execute a function without knowing what you’re doing. Crazy. I won’t be able to explain how it works in a single blog post and I also don’t intend to, because others are much better in doing that than I could ever be. The gist of the protocol is, that you model your functionality as a Boolean circuit and assign random values to represent “0” or “1” for each wire. You then build the truth table for each gate and replace the values of the table (zeros and ones) with an encryption under both the random value for the first input wire and the random value for the second input wire. The idea now is that the evaluator can only decrypt one value in the truth table given the input keys. There are many more details to care about but eventually you have a series of encrypted, or garbled, gates and you need the relevant keys in order to evaluate it. You can’t tell from the keys you get whether it represents a “0” or a “1”. Hence you can evaluate without knowing the other party’s input.

My other talk was about a probable successor of Return Oriented Programming: Data Oriented Programming (video). In Return Oriented Programming (ROP) and its variants like JOP the aim is to diverge the original control flow in order to make the program execute the attacker’s functionality. This, however, can probably be thwarted by Control Flow Integrity. In its simplest form, it checks on every branch whether it is legit. Think of a database with a list of addresses which are allowed to a list of other addresses. Of course, real-world implementations are more clever. Anyway, let’s assume that we’ll have a hard time exploiting our target with ROP, because we cannot change the CFG of the program. If our attack doesn’t change the CFG, though, we should be safe for anything that detects its modification. That’s the central idea of DOP.

Although I’m not super excited about this year’s edition, I’m looking forward to seeing the next year’s event. I hope it’s going to be a bit more organised; including myself ;-)

Talking at FrOSCon 2017

I attended my first FrOSCon in St. Augusting, Germany. It’s one of the bigger Free Software events in Germany. Supposedly, the Chemnitzer LinuxTage is one of the few events which are bigger than FrOSCon. I thought it’s time for me to attend this event, so I went.

I was scheduled for two talks. One in the very first slot and one in the very last slot. So, to some extent, I was opening and closing the conference ;-) But the official keynote was, to my surprise, performed by Karen. She keynoted the conferences with her “big heart” talk. He told her story about her wanting to find out what software her pacemaker runs. Of course, it was an endless quest with no success. She described herself as a cyborg because of the machinery that is linked up to her body. She researched the security of devices such as pacemakers and found devastating results. In fact, software is deployed in many critical parts with people having no clue how the impact will be if the software is being attacked. She described the honeymoon effect and projected it to the security aspects of deployed software. She described it as a time in which no vulnerabilities are known. But once a vulnerability has been found, the number of known vulnerability increases exponentially. She found a study which shows that Free Software responds better to found vulnerabilities than proprietary systems. She said she went from thinking “Open Source was cool” to “Open Source is essential” because it responds much better in case of security breaches. She cautioned us to be careful with the Internet of Things™, because it will lead to people being connected without the people even knowing. All software has bugs, she said, but with Software Freedom we are able to do something about the situation. It’s been an enjoyable talk and I recommend watching the video.

Another interesting talk was given by Raffa about open data in public transport. Open data, especially in trip planning, can give us better results, he said, because personal preferences can be respected better. But also competition will become tougher if the data is free which might lead to better products. My personal argument in favour of open data is that it would allow offline routing rather than having to connect to the Internet. Some public transportation companies have freed their data, like the companies in Berlin, Ulm, Rhein Neckar, and Rhein Sieg, which is, funnily enough, the local company responsible for the public transport in the area of the event. However, some companies are still hesitant. The reasons are manifold. One is that they don’t want to deal with complaints about wrongly displayed data or simply outdated data that the third party didn’t bother to update. Also abuse is a concern. What would abuse even mean in this context? Well, some companies are afraid that the data is not only being used for trip planning but for finding out how the companies work or what their financial situation is, e.g. by inferring information from the data.

Andreas Schreiber talked about the complications of Open Source in Science. He works at DLR, which is a publicly funded research institute. Software is important to the DLR. 1500 people develop software which costs around 150 Million EUR per year and makes them probably the biggest software house in Germany, he said. As they are producing as releasing software they got in trouble with licensing issues. For example, they released software which was not open source although they thought it was. They also used software themselves which they may not have been entitled to use. Their CIO eventually issued a warning regarding the use and release of Open Source which made the speaker offer workshops and knowledge databases for issues around open source. They created a brochure which they intend to distribute to other institutes, too, because they tend to get more requests for this kind of information from the outside than from the inside of their organisation. I found interesting that the problems, according to the participants of their workshops, are that monetising won’t work, that building a community is hard, and that it costs more time to do “open source” than not which is demotivating. It’s been interesting to learn about issues involved in both consuming and producing open source software.

As I’ve mentioned, I was booked for two events, a talk and a workshop. My workshop was about signing OpenPGP keys. I held a small presentation and ranted, some times a bit unfairly, about the current state of affairs. I showed how people do it as of now and how I think we can do better than that. It’s been the first slot in this conference and the audience was small, albeit larger than expected. We even got to suggest improvements in Gentoo’s packaging, so I consider it a success. My talk (slides) was about how GNOME advances the security of desktop systems. The audience was super engaged and I felt I couldn’t focus so much on other things I only touched upon. But the discussion showed that people do care about a usable desktop. We were talking a lot about dialogues and modal prompts and how they do not contribute to the security of a system. I claimed that they exist because they were cheap for the app developer to do. But we at GNOME, I said, try or at least should try to avoid those as much as possible and we find other ways of enabling the app to capture the user’s intent. I’m surprised that we had such a lively discussion in the very last slot of the conference.

I’m happy to have attended the event and to meet surprisingly many GNOME people! It’s surprisingly close to Frankfurt and Cologne both of which have good connections via plane or train. With around 1800 attendees it’s quite big although the many tracks and rooms make it feel less crowded.

GUADEC 2017

It’s summer and it’s GUADEC time! This year’s GUADEC took place in Manchester, England. It was surprisingly less bad for that location ;-) The organisers deserve a big round of applause for having pulled the event off. After having organised last year’s GUADEC I have first hands experience running such an event. So a big “thank you” to the team from England :)

The venue was a big and modern university and the accommodation was neatly located a few footsteps from the lecture hall. That’s especially nice for the typical English weather ;-) We got to live in the student dorms and I’m a bit jealous of today’s student to be able to live in such a comfortable place.

I attended a few talks from the list, among them was Christian Hergert reporting on The State of Builder which was a bit scattered and not very well structured for beginners like me. I guess was meant to be more of a showing off new features instead of a structured walk through the design and thoughts behind the project. I knew the project existed but I never really got around to work with it so I was a bit put off. But I took that for a good opportunity for installing the latest Flatpaked application :)

I liked Simon’s talk on enabling users to modify the software they are running. Essentially, you can click a button in the application and it’ll fire up an IDE where you can change code and hit “play” to run the new version. Amazing. Software Freedom at its best. He demoed a prototype and I think it’s got potential. I really like the idea of the user being able to tinker around easily. Especially given that the status quo is jhbuild. That’s a nice tool, but it proves to be hard for people to make good use of it. I hope we will see something like this being used in the future.

Federico was telling us about the efforts to make use of the Rust language for GNOME. The gist is, essentially, that you better start with leaf functions of your app or library rather than a central function in your architecture. I then tried to find leaf functions with the help of the compiler, but I failed. I tried Egypt but I wasn’t patient enough to make proper use of the generated dot file in order to identify leaf functions. Maybe I should give cflow a try next time.

I used the BoF days to dip a little bit into Rust. It’s always helpful to have a bunch of smart hackers around. That’s what I like about these kind of events. You get to know and talk to very smart people. I also tried to catch up with my very talented student and discuss the changes we’d like to see.

Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel and to the local team for having organised a successful event!

GUADEC 2017 group photo

OpenSuSE Conference 2017 Nuremberg, Germany

As last year I was honoured to be invited to OpenSuSE Conference in Nuremberg, Germany.

The event has grown and I felt a relaxed yet productive atmosphere when entering the venue. Just a few minutes after I arrived I hooked up with interesting people with even more interesting discussions. It was very nice to get together with all the Free Software friends I made over the last years. It was also pleasent to see the event becoming bigger and bigger. I take that as a sign that our community grows although it might also just be consolidation of events.

The organision team provided everything from Brazilian BBQ to perfect weather :) The schedule hosted interesting sessions, including mine of course ;-) I had a small workshop on signing OpenPGP keys and I made people use GNOME Keysign. ;-) It was successful in the sense that we were able to shake out a few bugs to make the application more robust. I also realised that networks are not very permissive nowadays. More precisely, the WiFi blocked mDNS traffic preventing the apps from finding each other :( One design goal of the app was to not have to rely on an Internet connection. But if the networks prevent clients from talking to each other then I think we need to go via the Internet in order to transfer files locally :/ Fortunately, we are working on an Internet transport. Stay tuned for further posts on this issue.

Oh, and we even had a GNOME stand full of amazing stuff.

Talking at GPN 2017 in Karlsruhe, Germany

Although the GPN is an annual event, I haven’t managed to go very often. Last time has already been a while. It’s a pity, because the event is very cute. The location is just amazing which makes being there really fun. It’s a museum hosting many things from our digital world. If you visit only one thing in Karlsruhe, go and visit it. In fact, we tried to organise a small excursion during GUADEC last year. Bloomberg also has an article about the event.

I could only stay one day, but I opened the conference with my talk on building a more secure operating system without sacrificing usability which, of course, was a GNOME related talk. The room was packed and people had to sit on the floor. Based on the feedback I think the people liked to be explained what challenges are to be solved in order to ship more secure systems to more people. You can find the slides here. In case you want to practise your German, you can watch the video here.

The schedule had a few other gems, too. My favourite was Loeschi talking about the upcoming Smart Meter Gateway situation in Germany and how it compares to the rest of Europe. The talk about QR Codes was also nicely done and explained quite well how they work. I hope to be able to attend the event more often :) Especially because I wish the Free Software and the “hacker” people would mingle a bit more.

GNOME Keysign 0.9 released

Oh boy, it’s been a while that we’ve released GNOME Keysign 0.9. We changed quite a few things since last time I’ve reported but the most visible change are the new widgets which I already announced last time. Now it should be much easier to make changes with the GUI and experiment with designs.

Other changes include less visible things like the ability to run the program in a VM. We use gtksink now which not only reduces the amount of code we have to maintain but also makes it easier for us to maintain compatibility with different display servers. Similarly, we don’t use the v4l2src but rather a autovideosrc hoping that it will be more compatible with other platforms.

If you want to try to new version, the instructions in the README should get you going:

pip install --user 'git+https://github.com/GNOME-Keysign/gnome-keysign.git#egg=gnome-keysign'

Alternatively, you may try the Debian or openSuSE package. The Flatpak is still work in progress as we still need to figure out how to work with GnuPG running on the host.

The future will bring exciting changes, too. I plan for i18n support and more Python 3 compatibility.

Attended FOSDEM 2017

Unsurprisingly, the biggest European Free Software event happened in Brussels, Belgium again. I’m talking about FOSDEM, of course. It’s a fixed entry in many peoples calendar and always a good excuse to visit Brussels :-)

I’m a bit late to report on what talks I managed to see as others have already covered some of the talks, but I still want to add some observations.

Richard Brown from SuSE talked about dinosaurs and resurrecting them (video). It was more about containerised apps than actual dinosaurs, though. The general theme was about repeating mistakes that we might or should have learned in the past. He started by mentioning that the Windows DLL Hell was a nightmare. You needed to test your application with each and every version combination of every possible library. The DLLs did not necessarily have ABI compatibility so it was very cumbersome to test. Windows 2000 brought Side-by-Side assembly, which is some form of DLL containerisation, he said. It uses separate memory space for each app and its DLLs. Programs can ship “private” DLLs in their application directory so you don’t necessarily break other apps with your DLL carrying the same name. This approach, however, still has issues: Security wise each app needs to update their libraries themselves rather than have them updated. So each app needed to build and ship their own updater which is not trivial to do. Legally it’s also interesting, he said, because bundling these DLLs may impose restrictions. Last but not least, you have to have the same DLL potentially multiple times on disk, because each app may ship the same DLL.

The contemporary software distribution model has its problems, too, he said. Compatibility with various distros is an issue, because each distro is slightly different. Each distribution also has their own pace of change which may be incompatible with the application in question, e.g. the distros may decide to ship an older version because they have tested it more. Different distributions have different libraries and versions thereof. Also, each distribution has different toolsets to package applications up for their environment. Application developers, however, don’t want to care about these details.

Containerised applications solve these issues. Maybe. He mentioned Flatpak, snappy, and Appimage. The latter is the oldest technology dating all the way back to 2003. The solutions have in common that they bundle the app and run it in some kind of container or sandbox. From his criteria, the compatibility issue is solved, because the libraries are in the bundles. Portability is solved, because all dependencies are shipped in the bundle. And the pace of change is up to the app developer.

The containerisations, though, make assumptions of a common standard base provided by the distributions. According to him, such a common standard base does not exist in a practical sense, though. With containerised apps, he said, we might be repeating history. He explained that we might get a security nightmare because each app needs to update their dependencies themselves. The question also begs whether all the libraries can actually be bundled and shipped. App developers are picking up the responsibilities that distros used to have. You still have to test everything on each distro just to be sure that your base dependencies still work correctly, he said. He sees distributions as part of the solution to these problems. He thinks that a rolling release might solve the issues we’re trying to solve with containserised apps. A rolling release can ship new releases of applications very quickly. The distribution still uses their tools for the common problems like maintenance, security, and legal stuff.

In a lightning talk, David talked about “practical TPM 2.0 usage”. He showed how to generate a signing key, sign a document with it, and verify the signature. He said that Microsoft mandated TPM2.0 for Windows 10 Mobile and that it is a cryptographic processor rather than an accelerator. TPM2.0 is different from TPM1.2 in various ways, he said. For example, the 2.0 can do ECC (P256 and BN256) and SHA-256. But it’s also “algorithm agile” which means that you can add algorithms without having to change the specification. He sees three main usages: Platform integrity like secure boot and trusted boot, disk encryption where the TPM stores and controls access to the key, and Digital Restriction Management by verifying code signatures. In order to use the TPM you have two options, he said. IBM or Intel have developed some tools. IBM doesn’t have a “resource manager” according to the specification. Like a multiplexer. Intel does have such a resource manager and they are working on putting that into Linux. However, Intel has less tools, he said, although it’s wasn’t entirely clear to me what he was referring to. He mentioned that his employer, Facebook, uses TPMs for platform attestation.

Hanno talked the security on the Linux desktop. He referred to the issues Chris Evans exposed a few weeks ago.
He wanted to make the audience angry, he said. But not at him, I suppose because he considers himself to be the messenger only. The basic problem is an unfortunate agglomeration of bugs or behaviours. It starts with the browser automatically downloading files into the users downloads folder, i.e. without asking the user. Then there is Tracker which indexes files that you add to your home directory. Such as the download folder. And then there are buggy (read: vulnerable) implementations of file parsers.

He also referred to Carlos’ comment about bugs being bugs and no problem being found except bugs being bugs. Hanno’s point, as far as I could make it out, was that a project of the size as tracker, especially with that number of dependencies that you don’t control, cannot make sure that there will be not yet another bug that can be exploited. That’s quite fatalistic but probably not too far from reality. It’s not just a Tracker issue, though, he said. KDE has Baloo and everybody wants to have thumbnails of the files in your folders. He reiterated that automatic downloads AND automatic indexing creates a huge attack surface. And that the indexers support a vast variety of file formats by using many libraries of varying quality. While Tracker quickly adopted sandboxing, he said, KDE hasn’t.

He mentioned other exploit mitigation techniques such as ASLR or CFI. With ASLR, he said, the idea is to load code and data into random addresses in memory. This mitigates exploits, because they cannot reliably target valid code in memory. A least that’s the idea. You need to compile the code with -fpic and -pie, he said. Linux distribution have been slow in adopting ASLR though. Ubuntu has introduced it with 16.10, Feora with 23, and Debian is WIP. OpenSuSE has it for a few packages only. It should be the default, he said. Windows, on the other hand, has it since Vista. They also explore and experiment with more modern mitigations like CFI. Yet another approach is to avoid the C language, because “[it] is full of memory corruptions”. Rust comes to mind as an alternative. GStreamer already supports plugins in Rust, he said. He concluded that fixing all these bugs, like Carlos seemed to be wanting, is very hard. Not only because GStreamer is very prone to memory corruption due to the amount of complicated formats it parses. He mentioned fuzzing as a viable strategy to shake out bugs and he found many bugs in a few days. He mentioned that probably to make do so more of that ourselves. I’m working on it. More to posted separately.

The next talk was about testing TLS implementations. For the last year or so I began investigating TLS issues myself and I was wishing for a TLS testing framework. Now I learned about an implementation. Hubert Karlo introduced his “tls fuzzer” which is a bit of a misnomer, because it actually doesn’t perform any fuzzing. He said that TLS was complex and that it has 326 official ciphersuites, 4 PKI cryptosystems, 16 signature-hash pairs, and many more countable things that make the test matrix grow fast. There is a lot of state to be maintained, he said. He presented his tool which takes care of TLS specifics but allows you to define your own payloads and modifications to them. For example, with a few lines of code you can define a client to open a TLS connection and to use a GCM ciphersuite for collecting the nonces. He claims to have found more than 20 issues in NSS, GnuTLS, and OpenSSL. I’m curious to play around with it and maybe hook it up with Scapy’s fuzzing facilities.

Another TLS related talk was given by Fridolin who showed us a TLS Linux Kernel module implementation. The advantages are manyfold he said. Obviously, establishing the connection should be cheaper in terms of computation because the context does not need to be switched so often. Others are already using a kernel implementation of TLS, he said. He mentioned that Solaris has a kssl socket and that netflix uses a modified sendfile() for TLS on BSD. His implementation has been evaluated by Facebook, he said. The implementation leaves the handshaking still to user space and cares about the symmetric encryption only.

Compared to other FOSDEMs, I was able to actually see a few talks, although I was impressed by the number of people I randomly bumped into and who kept me from attending more talks ;-) The size of FOSDEM is its cause and solution to problems. A good thing about it was that I could bribe something to cook up a Debian package for GNOME Keysign so that, hopefully, 200 people don’t have to queue up and do weird things :o)

GNOME Keysign 0.8

I’ve just release GNOME Keysign 0.8. It’s an exciting step towards a more mature codebase with less cruft and pieces of code moved to places where they should be more discoverable. To get the app, we have a tarball as usual, or an experimental flatpak (see below). Also notice that the repository has changed. The new URL should be more discoverable and cause less confusion. I will take down the old URL soon. Also note that this release will not be compatible with older releases. So you cannot find older clients on the network.
One problem that existed was when you selected a key and then pushed the “back” button, the UI would stall an unpleasantly long time. The actual problem is Python’s HTTPd implementation using select() with a relatively long interval instead of, say, doing things asynchronously. The interval is now shorter which increases the number of times the polling loop is executed but should make the UI more responsive. I wonder whether it makes sense to investigate hooking up the GLib Mainloop with Python’s SocketServer…

Another fix went into the HTTP client side which you could stall with a non reacting keyserver, i.e. when the HTTP request was simply not answered. Because the download is not done asynchronously as it should, the UI waits for the completion of the download. The current mitigation is to let the HTTP request time out.

A new thing is a popup when an uncaught exception happens. It’s copy and pasted from MyPaint and works by setting Python’s sys.excepthook.

You can also now switch the screen on which the fullscreen barcode is being shown. Once you have selected a key, you get the barcode displayed. If you click it it will cover your whole screen. If you are hooked up to a projector you might want to make sure that the barcode is shown on the bigger screen. Now you can press the left or right key to “move” the barcode. I needed to work around a bug in GTK which seems to prevent gtk_window_fullscreen_on_monitor () from working.

Finally, a new GPG abstraction consolidates all the required functionality into one module rather than having the required functionality spread around various modules. I named it “gpgmh” for “gpg made hard” which is a pun on “gpgme”, “gpg made easy”. The new module will also allow to use the real™ gpg module instead of the gpg executable wrapper provided by monkeysign. We cannot, however, switch to the library just yet, because it needs gpgme 1.8 which is too recent for current distros (well, Debian and Ubuntu). So we have to wait until we can depend on it.

If you want to try the application, you can now get the Flatpak from here. It should be possible to install the app with a command like flatpak --user install --from http://muelli.cryptobitch.de/tmp/2017-01-29-keysign.flatpakref. You can also grab the bundle if you want. Please note that the flatpak is very experimental. It would be surprising if anything but showing the UI actually worked. There are several issues we still need to work out. One is to send an email from within the sandbox and the other is re-use an existing gpg agent from the existing user session inside the sandbox. Gpg is behaving a bit weirdly there. Just having the agent’s socket available inside the sandbox does not seem to be enough to make it work. We need to investigate what’s going on there.

The future brings other exciting changes, too. We have a new UI in preparation which should be much more appealing. Here is what it will look like: