Search Results: "Daniel Pocock"

9 March 2020

Sam Hartman: Forged Email

Last night, a series of forged emails was sent to a number of places around the Debian, Ubuntu and Free Software communities. The meat of the mail was a fake message from me to debian-private with the subject "DebConf19 Diversity Girls." I didn't write such a message.
I view this message as the latest installment in a campaign of attacks on Debian that attempt to undermine the project and take up the time of our members.
I was expecting something like this: yesterday, I banned Daniel Pocock from the project.There's been a pattern of related events over the past year and a half:

22 November 2017

Daniel Pocock: VR Hackathon at FIXME, Lausanne (1-3 December 2017)

The FIXME hackerspace in Lausanne, Switzerland is preparing a VR Hackathon on the weekend of 1-3 December. Competitors and visitors are welcome, please register here. Some of the free software technologies in use include Blender and Mozilla VR.

15 November 2017

Daniel Pocock: Linking hackerspaces with OpenDHT and Ring

Francois and Nemen at the FIXME hackerspace (Lausanne) weekly meeting are experimenting with the Ring peer-to-peer softphone: Francois is using Raspberry Pi and PiCam to develop a telepresence network for hackerspaces (the big screens in the middle of the photo). The original version of the telepresence solution is using WebRTC. Ring's OpenDHT potentially offers more privacy and resilience.

19 October 2017

Daniel Pocock: FOSDEM 2018 Real-Time Communications Call for Participation

FOSDEM is one of the world's premier meetings of free software developers, with over five thousand people attending each year. FOSDEM 2018 takes place 3-4 February 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. This email contains information about:
  • Real-Time communications dev-room and lounge,
  • speaking opportunities,
  • volunteering in the dev-room and lounge,
  • related events around FOSDEM, including the XMPP summit,
  • social events (the legendary FOSDEM Beer Night and Saturday night dinners provide endless networking opportunities),
  • the Planet aggregation sites for RTC blogs
Call for participation - Real Time Communications (RTC) The Real-Time dev-room and Real-Time lounge is about all things involving real-time communication, including: XMPP, SIP, WebRTC, telephony, mobile VoIP, codecs, peer-to-peer, privacy and encryption. The dev-room is a successor to the previous XMPP and telephony dev-rooms. We are looking for speakers for the dev-room and volunteers and participants for the tables in the Real-Time lounge. The dev-room is only on Sunday, 4 February 2018. The lounge will be present for both days. To discuss the dev-room and lounge, please join the FSFE-sponsored Free RTC mailing list. To be kept aware of major developments in Free RTC, without being on the discussion list, please join the Free-RTC Announce list. Speaking opportunities Note: if you used FOSDEM Pentabarf before, please use the same account/username Real-Time Communications dev-room: deadline 23:59 UTC on 30 November. Please use the Pentabarf system to submit a talk proposal for the dev-room. On the "General" tab, please look for the "Track" option and choose "Real Time Communications devroom". Link to talk submission. Other dev-rooms and lightning talks: some speakers may find their topic is in the scope of more than one dev-room. It is encouraged to apply to more than one dev-room and also consider proposing a lightning talk, but please be kind enough to tell us if you do this by filling out the notes in the form. You can find the full list of dev-rooms on this page and apply for a lightning talk at https://fosdem.org/submit Main track: the deadline for main track presentations is 23:59 UTC 3 November. Leading developers in the Real-Time Communications field are encouraged to consider submitting a presentation to the main track. First-time speaking? FOSDEM dev-rooms are a welcoming environment for people who have never given a talk before. Please feel free to contact the dev-room administrators personally if you would like to ask any questions about it. Submission guidelines The Pentabarf system will ask for many of the essential details. Please remember to re-use your account from previous years if you have one. In the "Submission notes", please tell us about:
  • the purpose of your talk
  • any other talk applications (dev-rooms, lightning talks, main track)
  • availability constraints and special needs
You can use HTML and links in your bio, abstract and description. If you maintain a blog, please consider providing us with the URL of a feed with posts tagged for your RTC-related work. We will be looking for relevance to the conference and dev-room themes, presentations aimed at developers of free and open source software about RTC-related topics. Please feel free to suggest a duration between 20 minutes and 55 minutes but note that the final decision on talk durations will be made by the dev-room administrators based on the received proposals. As the two previous dev-rooms have been combined into one, we may decide to give shorter slots than in previous years so that more speakers can participate. Please note FOSDEM aims to record and live-stream all talks. The CC-BY license is used. Volunteers needed To make the dev-room and lounge run successfully, we are looking for volunteers:
  • FOSDEM provides video recording equipment and live streaming, volunteers are needed to assist in this
  • organizing one or more restaurant bookings (dependending upon number of participants) for the evening of Saturday, 4 February
  • participation in the Real-Time lounge
  • helping attract sponsorship funds for the dev-room to pay for the Saturday night dinner and any other expenses
  • circulating this Call for Participation (text version) to other mailing lists
Related events - XMPP and RTC summits The XMPP Standards Foundation (XSF) has traditionally held a summit in the days before FOSDEM. There is discussion about a similar summit taking place on 2 February 2018. XMPP Summit web site - please join the mailing list for details. Social events and dinners The traditional FOSDEM beer night occurs on Friday, 2 February. On Saturday night, there are usually dinners associated with each of the dev-rooms. Most restaurants in Brussels are not so large so these dinners have space constraints and reservations are essential. Please subscribe to the Free-RTC mailing list for further details about the Saturday night dinner options and how you can register for a seat. Spread the word and discuss If you know of any mailing lists where this CfP would be relevant, please forward this email (text version). If this dev-room excites you, please blog or microblog about it, especially if you are submitting a talk. If you regularly blog about RTC topics, please send details about your blog to the planet site administrators:
Planet site Admin contact
All projects Free-RTC Planet (http://planet.freertc.org) contact planet@freertc.org
XMPP Planet Jabber (http://planet.jabber.org) contact ralphm@ik.nu
SIP Planet SIP (http://planet.sip5060.net) contact planet@sip5060.net
SIP (Espa ol) Planet SIP-es (http://planet.sip5060.net/es/) contact planet@sip5060.net
Please also link to the Planet sites from your own blog or web site as this helps everybody in the free real-time communications community. Contact For any private queries, contact us directly using the address fosdem-rtc-admin@freertc.org and for any other queries please ask on the Free-RTC mailing list. The dev-room administration team:

8 October 2017

Daniel Pocock: A step change in managing your calendar, without social media

Have you been to an event recently involving free software or a related topic? How did you find it? Are you organizing an event and don't want to fall into the trap of using Facebook or Meetup or other services that compete for a share of your community's attention? Are you keen to find events in foreign destinations related to your interest areas to coincide with other travel intentions? Have you been concerned when your GSoC or Outreachy interns lost a week of their project going through the bureaucracy to get a visa for your community's event? Would you like to make it easier for them to find the best events in the countries that welcome and respect visitors? In many recent discussions about free software activism, people have struggled to break out of the illusion that social media is the way to cultivate new contacts. Wouldn't it be great to make more meaningful contacts by attending more a more diverse range of events rather than losing time on social media? Making it happen There are already a number of tools (for example, Drupal plugins and Wordpress plugins) for promoting your events on the web and in iCalendar format. There are also a number of sites like Agenda du Libre and GriCal who aggregate events from multiple communities where people can browse them. How can we take these concepts further and make a convenient, compelling and global solution? Can we harvest event data from a wide range of sources and compile it into a large database using something like PostgreSQL or a NoSQL solution or even a distributed solution like OpenDHT? Can we use big data techniques to mine these datasources and help match people to events without compromising on privacy? Why not build an automated iCalendar "to-do" list of deadlines for events you want to be reminded about, so you never miss the deadlines for travel sponsorship or submitting a talk proposal? I've started documenting an architecture for this on the Debian wiki and proposed it as an Outreachy project. It will also be offered as part of GSoC in 2018. Ways to get involved If you would like to help this project, please consider introducing yourself on the debian-outreach mailing list and helping to mentor or refer interns for the project. You can also help contribute ideas for the specification through the mailing list or wiki. Mini DebConf Prishtina 2017 This weekend I've been at the MiniDebConf in Prishtina, Kosovo. It has been hosted by the amazing Prishtina hackerspace community. Watch out for future events in Prishtina, the pizzas are huge, but that didn't stop them disappearing before we finished the photos:

2 October 2017

Antoine Beaupr : Strategies for offline PGP key storage

While the adoption of OpenPGP by the general population is marginal at best, it is a critical component for the security community and particularly for Linux distributions. For example, every package uploaded into Debian is verified by the central repository using the maintainer's OpenPGP keys and the repository itself is, in turn, signed using a separate key. If upstream packages also use such signatures, this creates a complete trust path from the original upstream developer to users. Beyond that, pull requests for the Linux kernel are verified using signatures as well. Therefore, the stakes are high: a compromise of the release key, or even of a single maintainer's key, could enable devastating attacks against many machines. That has led the Debian community to develop a good grasp of best practices for cryptographic signatures (which are typically handled using GNU Privacy Guard, also known as GnuPG or GPG). For example, weak (less than 2048 bits) and vulnerable PGPv3 keys were removed from the keyring in 2015, and there is a strong culture of cross-signing keys between Debian members at in-person meetings. Yet even Debian developers (DDs) do not seem to have established practices on how to actually store critical private key material, as we can see in this discussion on the debian-project mailing list. That email boiled down to a simple request: can I have a "key dongles for dummies" tutorial? Key dongles, or keycards as we'll call them here, are small devices that allow users to store keys on an offline device and provide one possible solution for protecting private key material. In this article, I hope to use my experience in this domain to clarify the issue of how to store those precious private keys that, if compromised, could enable arbitrary code execution on millions of machines all over the world.

Why store keys offline? Before we go into details about storing keys offline, it may be useful to do a small reminder of how the OpenPGP standard works. OpenPGP keys are made of a main public/private key pair, the certification key, used to sign user identifiers and subkeys. My public key, shown below, has the usual main certification/signature key (marked SC) but also an encryption subkey (marked E), a separate signature key (S), and two authentication keys (marked A) which I use as RSA keys to log into servers using SSH, thanks to the Monkeysphere project.
    pub   rsa4096/792152527B75921E 2009-05-29 [SC] [expires: 2018-04-19]
      8DC901CE64146C048AD50FBB792152527B75921E
    uid                 [ultimate] Antoine Beaupr  <anarcat@anarc.at>
    uid                 [ultimate] Antoine Beaupr  <anarcat@koumbit.org>
    uid                 [ultimate] Antoine Beaupr  <anarcat@orangeseeds.org>
    uid                 [ultimate] Antoine Beaupr  <anarcat@debian.org>
    sub   rsa2048/B7F648FED2DF2587 2012-07-18 [A]
    sub   rsa2048/604E4B3EEE02855A 2012-07-20 [A]
    sub   rsa4096/A51D5B109C5A5581 2009-05-29 [E]
    sub   rsa2048/3EA1DDDDB261D97B 2017-08-23 [S]
All the subkeys (sub) and identities (uid) are bound by the main certification key using cryptographic self-signatures. So while an attacker stealing a private subkey can spoof signatures in my name or authenticate to other servers, that key can always be revoked by the main certification key. But if the certification key gets stolen, all bets are off: the attacker can create or revoke identities or subkeys as they wish. In a catastrophic scenario, an attacker could even steal the key and remove your copies, taking complete control of the key, without any possibility of recovery. Incidentally, this is why it is so important to generate a revocation certificate and store it offline. So by moving the certification key offline, we reduce the attack surface on the OpenPGP trust chain: day-to-day keys (e.g. email encryption or signature) can stay online but if they get stolen, the certification key can revoke those keys without having to revoke the main certification key as well. Note that a stolen encryption key is a different problem: even if we revoke the encryption subkey, this will only affect future encrypted messages. Previous messages will be readable by the attacker with the stolen subkey even if that subkey gets revoked, so the benefits of revoking encryption certificates are more limited.

Common strategies for offline key storage Considering the security tradeoffs, some propose storing those critical keys offline to reduce those threats. But where exactly? In an attempt to answer that question, Jonathan McDowell, a member of the Debian keyring maintenance team, said that there are three options: use an external LUKS-encrypted volume, an air-gapped system, or a keycard. Full-disk encryption like LUKS adds an extra layer of security by hiding the content of the key from an attacker. Even though private keyrings are usually protected by a passphrase, they are easily identifiable as a keyring. But when a volume is fully encrypted, it's not immediately obvious to an attacker there is private key material on the device. According to Sean Whitton, another advantage of LUKS over plain GnuPG keyring encryption is that you can pass the --iter-time argument when creating a LUKS partition to increase key-derivation delay, which makes brute-forcing much harder. Indeed, GnuPG 2.x doesn't have a run-time option to configure the key-derivation algorithm, although a patch was introduced recently to make the delay configurable at compile time in gpg-agent, which is now responsible for all secret key operations. The downside of external volumes is complexity: GnuPG makes it difficult to extract secrets out of its keyring, which makes the first setup tricky and error-prone. This is easier in the 2.x series thanks to the new storage system and the associated keygrip files, but it still requires arcane knowledge of GPG internals. It is also inconvenient to use secret keys stored outside your main keyring when you actually do need to use them, as GPG doesn't know where to find those keys anymore. Another option is to set up a separate air-gapped system to perform certification operations. An example is the PGP clean room project, which is a live system based on Debian and designed by DD Daniel Pocock to operate an OpenPGP and X.509 certificate authority using commodity hardware. The basic principle is to store the secrets on a different machine that is never connected to the network and, therefore, not exposed to attacks, at least in theory. I have personally discarded that approach because I feel air-gapped systems provide a false sense of security: data eventually does need to come in and out of the system, somehow, even if only to propagate signatures out of the system, which exposes the system to attacks. System updates are similarly problematic: to keep the system secure, timely security updates need to be deployed to the air-gapped system. A common use pattern is to share data through USB keys, which introduce a vulnerability where attacks like BadUSB can infect the air-gapped system. From there, there is a multitude of exotic ways of exfiltrating the data using LEDs, infrared cameras, or the good old TEMPEST attack. I therefore concluded the complexity tradeoffs of an air-gapped system are not worth it. Furthermore, the workflow for air-gapped systems is complex: even though PGP clean room went a long way, it's still lacking even simple scripts that allow signing or transferring keys, which is a problem shared by the external LUKS storage approach.

Keycard advantages The approach I have chosen is to use a cryptographic keycard: an external device, usually connected through the USB port, that stores the private key material and performs critical cryptographic operations on the behalf of the host. For example, the FST-01 keycard can perform RSA and ECC public-key decryption without ever exposing the private key material to the host. In effect, a keycard is a miniature computer that performs restricted computations for another host. Keycards usually support multiple "slots" to store subkeys. The OpenPGP standard specifies there are three subkeys available by default: for signature, authentication, and encryption. Finally, keycards can have an actual physical keypad to enter passwords so a potential keylogger cannot capture them, although the keycards I have access to do not feature such a keypad. We could easily draw a parallel between keycards and an air-gapped system; in effect, a keycard is a miniaturized air-gapped computer and suffers from similar problems. An attacker can intercept data on the host system and attack the device in the same way, if not more easily, because a keycard is actually "online" (i.e. clearly not air-gapped) when connected. The advantage over a fully-fledged air-gapped computer, however, is that the keycard implements only a restricted set of operations. So it is easier to create an open hardware and software design that is audited and verified, which is much harder to accomplish for a general-purpose computer. Like air-gapped systems, keycards address the scenario where an attacker wants to get the private key material. While an attacker could fool the keycard into signing or decrypting some data, this is possible only while the key is physically connected, and the keycard software will prompt the user for a password before doing the operation, though the keycard can cache the password for some time. In effect, it thwarts offline attacks: to brute-force the key's password, the attacker needs to be on the target system and try to guess the keycard's password, which will lock itself after a limited number of tries. It also provides for a clean and standard interface to store keys offline: a single GnuPG command moves private key material to a keycard (the keytocard command in the --edit-key interface), whereas moving private key material to a LUKS-encrypted device or air-gapped computer is more complex. Keycards are also useful if you operate on multiple computers. A common problem when using GnuPG on multiple machines is how to safely copy and synchronize private key material among different devices, which introduces new security problems. Indeed, a "good rule of thumb in a forensics lab", according to Robert J. Hansen on the GnuPG mailing list, is to "store the minimum personal data possible on your systems". Keycards provide the best of both worlds here: you can use your private key on multiple computers without actually storing it in multiple places. In fact, Mike Gerwitz went as far as saying:
For users that need their GPG key on multiple boxes, I consider a smartcard to be essential. Otherwise, the user is just furthering her risk of compromise.

Keycard tradeoffs As Gerwitz hinted, there are multiple downsides to using a keycard, however. Another DD, Wouter Verhelst clearly expressed the tradeoffs:
Smartcards are useful. They ensure that the private half of your key is never on any hard disk or other general storage device, and therefore that it cannot possibly be stolen (because there's only one possible copy of it). Smartcards are a pain in the ass. They ensure that the private half of your key is never on any hard disk or other general storage device but instead sits in your wallet, so whenever you need to access it, you need to grab your wallet to be able to do so, which takes more effort than just firing up GnuPG. If your laptop doesn't have a builtin cardreader, you also need to fish the reader from your backpack or wherever, etc.
"Smartcards" here refer to older OpenPGP cards that relied on the IEC 7816 smartcard connectors and therefore needed a specially-built smartcard reader. Newer keycards simply use a standard USB connector. In any case, it's true that having an external device introduces new issues: attackers can steal your keycard, you can simply lose it, or wash it with your dirty laundry. A laptop or a computer can also be lost, of course, but it is much easier to lose a small USB keycard than a full laptop and I have yet to hear of someone shoving a full laptop into a washing machine. When you lose your keycard, unless a separate revocation certificate is available somewhere, you lose complete control of the key, which is catastrophic. But, even if you revoke the lost key, you need to create a new one, which involves rebuilding the web of trust for the key a rather expensive operation as it usually requires meeting other OpenPGP users in person to exchange fingerprints. You should therefore think about how to back up the certification key, which is a problem that already exists for online keys; of course, everyone has a revocation certificates and backups of their OpenPGP keys... right? In the keycard scenario, backups may be multiple keycards distributed geographically. Note that, contrary to an air-gapped system, a key generated on a keycard cannot be backed up, by design. For subkeys, this is not a problem as they do not need to be backed up (except encryption keys). But, for a certification key, this means users need to generate the key on the host and transfer it to the keycard, which means the host is expected to have enough entropy to generate cryptographic-strength random numbers, for example. Also consider the possibility of combining different approaches: you could, for example, use a keycard for day-to-day operation, but keep a backup of the certification key on a LUKS-encrypted offline volume. Keycards introduce a new element into the trust chain: you need to trust the keycard manufacturer to not have any hostile code in the key's firmware or hardware. In addition, you need to trust that the implementation is correct. Keycards are harder to update: the firmware may be deliberately inaccessible to the host for security reasons or may require special software to manipulate. Keycards may be slower than the CPU in performing certain operations because they are small embedded microcontrollers with limited computing power. Finally, keycards may encourage users to trust multiple machines with their secrets, which works against the "minimum personal data" principle. A completely different approach called the trusted physical console (TPC) does the opposite: instead of trying to get private key material onto all of those machines, just have them on a single machine that is used for everything. Unlike a keycard, the TPC is an actual computer, say a laptop, which has the advantage of needing no special procedure to manage keys. The downside is, of course, that you actually need to carry that laptop everywhere you go, which may be problematic, especially in some corporate environments that restrict bringing your own devices.

Quick keycard "howto" Getting keys onto a keycard is easy enough:
  1. Start with a temporary key to test the procedure:
        export GNUPGHOME=$(mktemp -d)
        gpg --generate-key
    
  2. Edit the key using its user ID (UID):
        gpg --edit-key UID
    
  3. Use the key command to select the first subkey, then copy it to the keycard (you can also use the addcardkey command to just generate a new subkey directly on the keycard):
        gpg> key 1
        gpg> keytocard
    
  4. If you want to move the subkey, use the save command, which will remove the local copy of the private key, so the keycard will be the only copy of the secret key. Otherwise use the quit command to save the key on the keycard, but keep the secret key in your normal keyring; answer "n" to "save changes?" and "y" to "quit without saving?" . This way the keycard is a backup of your secret key.
  5. Once you are satisfied with the results, repeat steps 1 through 4 with your normal keyring (unset $GNUPGHOME)
When a key is moved to a keycard, --list-secret-keys will show it as sec> (or ssb> for subkeys) instead of the usual sec keyword. If the key is completely missing (for example, if you moved it to a LUKS container), the # sign is used instead. If you need to use a key from a keycard backup, you simply do gpg --card-edit with the key plugged in, then type the fetch command at the prompt to fetch the public key that corresponds to the private key on the keycard (which stays on the keycard). This is the same procedure as the one to use the secret key on another computer.

Conclusion There are already informal OpenPGP best-practices guides out there and some recommend storing keys offline, but they rarely explain what exactly that means. Storing your primary secret key offline is important in dealing with possible compromises and we examined the main ways of doing so: either with an air-gapped system, LUKS-encrypted keyring, or by using keycards. Each approach has its own tradeoffs, but I recommend getting familiar with keycards if you use multiple computers and want a standardized interface with minimal configuration trouble. And of course, those approaches can be combined. This tutorial, for example, uses a keycard on an air-gapped computer, which neatly resolves the question of how to transmit signatures between the air-gapped system and the world. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, however. Once one has decided to use a keycard, the next order of business is to choose a specific device. That choice will be addressed in a followup article, where I will look at performance, physical design, and other considerations.
This article first appeared in the Linux Weekly News.

Antoine Beaupr : Strategies for offline PGP key storage

While the adoption of OpenPGP by the general population is marginal at best, it is a critical component for the security community and particularly for Linux distributions. For example, every package uploaded into Debian is verified by the central repository using the maintainer's OpenPGP keys and the repository itself is, in turn, signed using a separate key. If upstream packages also use such signatures, this creates a complete trust path from the original upstream developer to users. Beyond that, pull requests for the Linux kernel are verified using signatures as well. Therefore, the stakes are high: a compromise of the release key, or even of a single maintainer's key, could enable devastating attacks against many machines. That has led the Debian community to develop a good grasp of best practices for cryptographic signatures (which are typically handled using GNU Privacy Guard, also known as GnuPG or GPG). For example, weak (less than 2048 bits) and vulnerable PGPv3 keys were removed from the keyring in 2015, and there is a strong culture of cross-signing keys between Debian members at in-person meetings. Yet even Debian developers (DDs) do not seem to have established practices on how to actually store critical private key material, as we can see in this discussion on the debian-project mailing list. That email boiled down to a simple request: can I have a "key dongles for dummies" tutorial? Key dongles, or keycards as we'll call them here, are small devices that allow users to store keys on an offline device and provide one possible solution for protecting private key material. In this article, I hope to use my experience in this domain to clarify the issue of how to store those precious private keys that, if compromised, could enable arbitrary code execution on millions of machines all over the world.

Why store keys offline? Before we go into details about storing keys offline, it may be useful to do a small reminder of how the OpenPGP standard works. OpenPGP keys are made of a main public/private key pair, the certification key, used to sign user identifiers and subkeys. My public key, shown below, has the usual main certification/signature key (marked SC) but also an encryption subkey (marked E), a separate signature key (S), and two authentication keys (marked A) which I use as RSA keys to log into servers using SSH, thanks to the Monkeysphere project.
    pub   rsa4096/792152527B75921E 2009-05-29 [SC] [expires: 2018-04-19]
      8DC901CE64146C048AD50FBB792152527B75921E
    uid                 [ultimate] Antoine Beaupr  <anarcat@anarc.at>
    uid                 [ultimate] Antoine Beaupr  <anarcat@koumbit.org>
    uid                 [ultimate] Antoine Beaupr  <anarcat@orangeseeds.org>
    uid                 [ultimate] Antoine Beaupr  <anarcat@debian.org>
    sub   rsa2048/B7F648FED2DF2587 2012-07-18 [A]
    sub   rsa2048/604E4B3EEE02855A 2012-07-20 [A]
    sub   rsa4096/A51D5B109C5A5581 2009-05-29 [E]
    sub   rsa2048/3EA1DDDDB261D97B 2017-08-23 [S]
All the subkeys (sub) and identities (uid) are bound by the main certification key using cryptographic self-signatures. So while an attacker stealing a private subkey can spoof signatures in my name or authenticate to other servers, that key can always be revoked by the main certification key. But if the certification key gets stolen, all bets are off: the attacker can create or revoke identities or subkeys as they wish. In a catastrophic scenario, an attacker could even steal the key and remove your copies, taking complete control of the key, without any possibility of recovery. Incidentally, this is why it is so important to generate a revocation certificate and store it offline. So by moving the certification key offline, we reduce the attack surface on the OpenPGP trust chain: day-to-day keys (e.g. email encryption or signature) can stay online but if they get stolen, the certification key can revoke those keys without having to revoke the main certification key as well. Note that a stolen encryption key is a different problem: even if we revoke the encryption subkey, this will only affect future encrypted messages. Previous messages will be readable by the attacker with the stolen subkey even if that subkey gets revoked, so the benefits of revoking encryption certificates are more limited.

Common strategies for offline key storage Considering the security tradeoffs, some propose storing those critical keys offline to reduce those threats. But where exactly? In an attempt to answer that question, Jonathan McDowell, a member of the Debian keyring maintenance team, said that there are three options: use an external LUKS-encrypted volume, an air-gapped system, or a keycard. Full-disk encryption like LUKS adds an extra layer of security by hiding the content of the key from an attacker. Even though private keyrings are usually protected by a passphrase, they are easily identifiable as a keyring. But when a volume is fully encrypted, it's not immediately obvious to an attacker there is private key material on the device. According to Sean Whitton, another advantage of LUKS over plain GnuPG keyring encryption is that you can pass the --iter-time argument when creating a LUKS partition to increase key-derivation delay, which makes brute-forcing much harder. Indeed, GnuPG 2.x doesn't have a run-time option to configure the key-derivation algorithm, although a patch was introduced recently to make the delay configurable at compile time in gpg-agent, which is now responsible for all secret key operations. The downside of external volumes is complexity: GnuPG makes it difficult to extract secrets out of its keyring, which makes the first setup tricky and error-prone. This is easier in the 2.x series thanks to the new storage system and the associated keygrip files, but it still requires arcane knowledge of GPG internals. It is also inconvenient to use secret keys stored outside your main keyring when you actually do need to use them, as GPG doesn't know where to find those keys anymore. Another option is to set up a separate air-gapped system to perform certification operations. An example is the PGP clean room project, which is a live system based on Debian and designed by DD Daniel Pocock to operate an OpenPGP and X.509 certificate authority using commodity hardware. The basic principle is to store the secrets on a different machine that is never connected to the network and, therefore, not exposed to attacks, at least in theory. I have personally discarded that approach because I feel air-gapped systems provide a false sense of security: data eventually does need to come in and out of the system, somehow, even if only to propagate signatures out of the system, which exposes the system to attacks. System updates are similarly problematic: to keep the system secure, timely security updates need to be deployed to the air-gapped system. A common use pattern is to share data through USB keys, which introduce a vulnerability where attacks like BadUSB can infect the air-gapped system. From there, there is a multitude of exotic ways of exfiltrating the data using LEDs, infrared cameras, or the good old TEMPEST attack. I therefore concluded the complexity tradeoffs of an air-gapped system are not worth it. Furthermore, the workflow for air-gapped systems is complex: even though PGP clean room went a long way, it's still lacking even simple scripts that allow signing or transferring keys, which is a problem shared by the external LUKS storage approach.

Keycard advantages The approach I have chosen is to use a cryptographic keycard: an external device, usually connected through the USB port, that stores the private key material and performs critical cryptographic operations on the behalf of the host. For example, the FST-01 keycard can perform RSA and ECC public-key decryption without ever exposing the private key material to the host. In effect, a keycard is a miniature computer that performs restricted computations for another host. Keycards usually support multiple "slots" to store subkeys. The OpenPGP standard specifies there are three subkeys available by default: for signature, authentication, and encryption. Finally, keycards can have an actual physical keypad to enter passwords so a potential keylogger cannot capture them, although the keycards I have access to do not feature such a keypad. We could easily draw a parallel between keycards and an air-gapped system; in effect, a keycard is a miniaturized air-gapped computer and suffers from similar problems. An attacker can intercept data on the host system and attack the device in the same way, if not more easily, because a keycard is actually "online" (i.e. clearly not air-gapped) when connected. The advantage over a fully-fledged air-gapped computer, however, is that the keycard implements only a restricted set of operations. So it is easier to create an open hardware and software design that is audited and verified, which is much harder to accomplish for a general-purpose computer. Like air-gapped systems, keycards address the scenario where an attacker wants to get the private key material. While an attacker could fool the keycard into signing or decrypting some data, this is possible only while the key is physically connected, and the keycard software will prompt the user for a password before doing the operation, though the keycard can cache the password for some time. In effect, it thwarts offline attacks: to brute-force the key's password, the attacker needs to be on the target system and try to guess the keycard's password, which will lock itself after a limited number of tries. It also provides for a clean and standard interface to store keys offline: a single GnuPG command moves private key material to a keycard (the keytocard command in the --edit-key interface), whereas moving private key material to a LUKS-encrypted device or air-gapped computer is more complex. Keycards are also useful if you operate on multiple computers. A common problem when using GnuPG on multiple machines is how to safely copy and synchronize private key material among different devices, which introduces new security problems. Indeed, a "good rule of thumb in a forensics lab", according to Robert J. Hansen on the GnuPG mailing list, is to "store the minimum personal data possible on your systems". Keycards provide the best of both worlds here: you can use your private key on multiple computers without actually storing it in multiple places. In fact, Mike Gerwitz went as far as saying:
For users that need their GPG key on multiple boxes, I consider a smartcard to be essential. Otherwise, the user is just furthering her risk of compromise.

Keycard tradeoffs As Gerwitz hinted, there are multiple downsides to using a keycard, however. Another DD, Wouter Verhelst clearly expressed the tradeoffs:
Smartcards are useful. They ensure that the private half of your key is never on any hard disk or other general storage device, and therefore that it cannot possibly be stolen (because there's only one possible copy of it). Smartcards are a pain in the ass. They ensure that the private half of your key is never on any hard disk or other general storage device but instead sits in your wallet, so whenever you need to access it, you need to grab your wallet to be able to do so, which takes more effort than just firing up GnuPG. If your laptop doesn't have a builtin cardreader, you also need to fish the reader from your backpack or wherever, etc.
"Smartcards" here refer to older OpenPGP cards that relied on the IEC 7816 smartcard connectors and therefore needed a specially-built smartcard reader. Newer keycards simply use a standard USB connector. In any case, it's true that having an external device introduces new issues: attackers can steal your keycard, you can simply lose it, or wash it with your dirty laundry. A laptop or a computer can also be lost, of course, but it is much easier to lose a small USB keycard than a full laptop and I have yet to hear of someone shoving a full laptop into a washing machine. When you lose your keycard, unless a separate revocation certificate is available somewhere, you lose complete control of the key, which is catastrophic. But, even if you revoke the lost key, you need to create a new one, which involves rebuilding the web of trust for the key a rather expensive operation as it usually requires meeting other OpenPGP users in person to exchange fingerprints. You should therefore think about how to back up the certification key, which is a problem that already exists for online keys; of course, everyone has a revocation certificates and backups of their OpenPGP keys... right? In the keycard scenario, backups may be multiple keycards distributed geographically. Note that, contrary to an air-gapped system, a key generated on a keycard cannot be backed up, by design. For subkeys, this is not a problem as they do not need to be backed up (except encryption keys). But, for a certification key, this means users need to generate the key on the host and transfer it to the keycard, which means the host is expected to have enough entropy to generate cryptographic-strength random numbers, for example. Also consider the possibility of combining different approaches: you could, for example, use a keycard for day-to-day operation, but keep a backup of the certification key on a LUKS-encrypted offline volume. Keycards introduce a new element into the trust chain: you need to trust the keycard manufacturer to not have any hostile code in the key's firmware or hardware. In addition, you need to trust that the implementation is correct. Keycards are harder to update: the firmware may be deliberately inaccessible to the host for security reasons or may require special software to manipulate. Keycards may be slower than the CPU in performing certain operations because they are small embedded microcontrollers with limited computing power. Finally, keycards may encourage users to trust multiple machines with their secrets, which works against the "minimum personal data" principle. A completely different approach called the trusted physical console (TPC) does the opposite: instead of trying to get private key material onto all of those machines, just have them on a single machine that is used for everything. Unlike a keycard, the TPC is an actual computer, say a laptop, which has the advantage of needing no special procedure to manage keys. The downside is, of course, that you actually need to carry that laptop everywhere you go, which may be problematic, especially in some corporate environments that restrict bringing your own devices.

Quick keycard "howto" Getting keys onto a keycard is easy enough:
  1. Start with a temporary key to test the procedure:
        export GNUPGHOME=$(mktemp -d)
        gpg --generate-key
    
  2. Edit the key using its user ID (UID):
        gpg --edit-key UID
    
  3. Use the key command to select the first subkey, then copy it to the keycard (you can also use the addcardkey command to just generate a new subkey directly on the keycard):
        gpg> key 1
        gpg> keytocard
    
  4. If you want to move the subkey, use the save command, which will remove the local copy of the private key, so the keycard will be the only copy of the secret key. Otherwise use the quit command to save the key on the keycard, but keep the secret key in your normal keyring; answer "n" to "save changes?" and "y" to "quit without saving?" . This way the keycard is a backup of your secret key.
  5. Once you are satisfied with the results, repeat steps 1 through 4 with your normal keyring (unset $GNUPGHOME)
When a key is moved to a keycard, --list-secret-keys will show it as sec> (or ssb> for subkeys) instead of the usual sec keyword. If the key is completely missing (for example, if you moved it to a LUKS container), the # sign is used instead. If you need to use a key from a keycard backup, you simply do gpg --card-edit with the key plugged in, then type the fetch command at the prompt to fetch the public key that corresponds to the private key on the keycard (which stays on the keycard). This is the same procedure as the one to use the secret key on another computer.

Conclusion There are already informal OpenPGP best-practices guides out there and some recommend storing keys offline, but they rarely explain what exactly that means. Storing your primary secret key offline is important in dealing with possible compromises and we examined the main ways of doing so: either with an air-gapped system, LUKS-encrypted keyring, or by using keycards. Each approach has its own tradeoffs, but I recommend getting familiar with keycards if you use multiple computers and want a standardized interface with minimal configuration trouble. And of course, those approaches can be combined. This tutorial, for example, uses a keycard on an air-gapped computer, which neatly resolves the question of how to transmit signatures between the air-gapped system and the world. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, however. Once one has decided to use a keycard, the next order of business is to choose a specific device. That choice will be addressed in a followup article, where I will look at performance, physical design, and other considerations.
This article first appeared in the Linux Weekly News.

4 September 2017

Daniel Pocock: Spyware Dolls and Intel's vPro

Back in February, it was reported that a "smart" doll with wireless capabilities could be used to remotely spy on children and was banned for breaching German laws on surveillance devices disguised as another object. Would you trust this doll? For a number of years now there has been growing concern that the management technologies in recent Intel CPUs (ME, AMT and vPro) also conceal capabilities for spying, either due to design flaws (no software is perfect) or backdoors deliberately installed for US spy agencies, as revealed by Edward Snowden. In a 2014 interview, Intel's CEO offered to answer any question, except this one. The LibreBoot project provides a more comprehensive and technical analysis of the issue, summarized in the statement "the libreboot project recommends avoiding all modern Intel hardware. If you have an Intel based system affected by the problems described below, then you should get rid of it as soon as possible" - eerily similar to the official advice German authorities are giving to victims of Cayla the doll. All those amateur psychiatrists suggesting LibreBoot developers suffer from symptoms of schizophrenia have had to shut their mouths since May when Intel confirmed a design flaw (or NSA backdoor) in every modern CPU had become known to hackers. Bill Gates famously started out with the mission to put a computer on every desk and in every home. With more than 80% of new laptops based on an Intel CPU with these hidden capabilities, can you imagine the NSA would not have wanted to come along for the ride? Four questions everybody should be asking
  • If existing laws can already be applied to Cayla the doll, why haven't they been used to alert owners of devices containing Intel's vPro?
  • Are exploits of these backdoors (either Cayla or vPro) only feasible on a targeted basis, or do the intelligence agencies harvest data from these backdoors on a wholesale level, keeping a mirror image of every laptop owner's hard disk in one of their data centers, just as they already do with phone and Internet records?
  • How long will it be before every fast food or coffee chain with a "free" wifi service starts dipping in to the data exposed by these vulnerabilities as part of their customer profiling initiatives?
  • Since Intel's admissions in May, has anybody seen any evidence that anything is changing though, either in what vendors are offering or in terms of how companies and governments outside the US buy technology?
Share your thoughts This issue was recently raised on the LibrePlanet mailing list. Please feel free to join the list and click here to reply on the thread.

3 September 2017

Lior Kaplan: FOSScamp Syros 2017 day 1

During Debconf17 I was asked by Daniel Pocock if I can attend FOSScamp Syros to help with Debian s l10n in the Balkans. I said I would be happy to, although my visit would be short (2.5 days) due to previous plans. The main idea of camp is to have FOSS people meet for about 1 week near a beach. So it s sun, water and free software. This year it takes place in Syros, Greece. After take the morning ferry, I met with the guys at noon. I didn t know how would it be, as it s my first time with this group/meeting, but they were very nice and welcoming. 10 minutes after my arrival I found myself setting with two of the female attendees starting to work on Albanian (sq) translation of Debian Installer. It took my a few minutes to find my where to check out the current level1 files, as I thought they aren t in SVN anymore, but ended up learning the PO files is the only part of the installer still on SVN. As the girls were quick with the assinged levle1 sublevels, I started to look for the level2 and level3 files, and it was annoying to have the POT files very accessible, but no links to the relevant git repositories. I do want to have all the relevant links in one central place, so people who want to help with translation could do that. While some of the team member just used a text editor to edit the files, I suggested to them using either poedit or granslator, both I used a few years ago. Yaron Shahrabani also recommended virtaal to me, but after trying it for a while I didn t like it (expect it s great feature showing the diff with fuzzy messages). For the few people who also have Windows on their machine, both poedit and Virtaal have windows binaries for download. So you don t have to have Linux in order to help with translations. In parallel, I used the free time to work on the Hebrew translation for level1, as it s been a while since either me or Omer Zak worked on it. Quite soon the guys started to send me the files for review, and I did find some errors using diff. Especially when not everyone use a PO editor. I also missed a few strings during the review, which got fixed later on by Christian Perrier. Team work indeed (: I found it interesting to see the reactions and problems for the team to work with the PO files, and most projects now use some system (e.g. Pootle) for online web translation. Which saves some of the head ace, but also prevents from making some review and quality check before submitting the files. It s a good idea to explore this option for Debian as well. A tip for those who do want to work with PO files, either use git s diff features or use colordiff to check your changes (notice less will require -R parameter to keep the color). Although I met the guys only at noon, the day was very fruitful for Debian Installer l10n: Some files are still work in progress and will be completed tomorrow. My goal is to have Albanian at 100% during the camp and ready for the next d-i alpha. I must admit that I remember d-i to have many more strings as part of the 3 levels, especially levels 2+3 which were huge (e.g. the iso codes). Except all the work and FOSS related conversations, I found a great group who welcomed me quickly, made me feel comfortable and taught me a thing or two about Greece and the Syros specifically. TIP: try the dark chocolate with red hot chili pepper in the icecream shop.
Filed under: Debian GNU/Linux, i18n & l10n

24 August 2017

Urvika Gola: Much awaited.. DebConf 17 in Montreal.

On 5th August I got a chance to attend, speak and experience DebConf 2017 at Montreal, Canada. The conference was stretch ed from 6 August to 12 August .
debconf_picture1Seasons of Debian Summer of Code & Winter of Outreachy
Pretty late for me to document my DebConf fun-learning-experiences, thanks to my delaying tactics.. I need to overcome.
But better late than ever, I had amazing time at DebConf. I got to meet and learn from my Outreachy Mentor, Daniel Pocock!
img_5634-e1503506917678.jpgPicture of Daniel and me captured by : Dorina Mosku
One thing about DebConf I loved was the amount of Diversity in Debian family! As a beginner, I got to get a big picture of what all projects are there. Daniel helped me a lot in getting started with packaging in Debian. I really appreciate the time he took out to guide me @DebConf and Pranav, remotely. One specific line I liked about Daniel s talk on Open Day, 5th August Free Communications with Free Software and Debian while talking about free RTC (Real Time Communication) is that, ..Instead of communication controlling the user, the user can control the communcation.. I talked about free RTC, my Project Lumicall and about my journey being an Outreachy Intern with Debian. I also covered my co-speaker s project work on Lumicall being a GSoC 2016 student.
IMG_0796Picture captured by Aigars Mahinovs
debconf_picture2Managing Debian s RTC services Daniel Pocock
Meeting the Outreachy family feels amaazzing! Karen Sandler, executive director of the Software Freedom Conservancy gave a talk on the Significance and Impact of Outreachy and Debian s support for the programme.
DG58B_gXUAA2GsAwith Karen Sandler and Outreachy alumini
DebConf 2017 has been a wonderful conference with the community being very welcoming and helpful

18 August 2017

Sean Whitton: The knowledge that one has an unread message is equivalent to a 10 point drop in one's IQ

According to Daniel Pocock s talk at DebConf17 s Open Day, hearing a ping from your messaging or e-mail app or seeing a visual notification of a new unread message has an equivalent effect on your ability to concentrate as This effect is probably at least somewhat mitigated by reading the message, but that is a context switch, and we all know what those do to your concentration. So if you want to get anything done, be sure to turn off notifications.

13 August 2017

Mike Gabriel: @DebConf17: Work for Debian and FLOSS I got done during DebCamp and DebConf... and Beyond...

People I Met and will Remember Topics I have worked on Talks and BoFs Packages Uploaded to Debian unstable Packages Uploaded to Debian NEW I also looked into lightdm-webkit2-greeter, but upstream is in the middle of a transition from Gtk3 to Qt5, so this has been suspended for now. Packages Uploaded to oldstable-/stable-proposed-updates or -security Other Package related Stuff Thanks to Everyone Making This Event Possible A big thanks to everyone who made it possible for me to attend this event!!!

8 July 2017

Urvika Gola: Outreachy Progress on Lumicall

unnamedLumicall 1.13.0 is released!  Through Lumicall, you can make encrypted calls and send messages using open standards. It uses the SIP protocol to inter-operate with other apps and corporate telephone systems. During the Outreachy Internship period I worked on the following issues :-

I researched on creating a white label version of Lumicall. Few ideas on how the white label build could be used..
  1. Existing SIP providers can use white label version of Lumicall to expand their business and launch SIP client. This would provide a one stop shop for them!!
  2. New SIP clients/developers can use Lumicall white label version to get the underlying working of making encrypted phone calls using SIP protocol, it will help them to focus on other additional functionalities they would like to include.
Documentation for implementing white labelling Link 1 and Link 2 Since Lumicall is majorly used to make encrypted calls, there was a need to designate quiet times and the phone will not make an audible ringing tone during that time & if the user has multiple SIP accounts, the user can set the silent mode functionality on one of them, maybe, the Work account.
Documentation for adding silent mode feature Link 1 and Link 2 Using Lumicall, users can send SIP messages across. Just to improve the UI a little, I added a 9 patch image in the message screen. A 9 patch image is created using 9 patch tools and are saved as imagename.9.png . The image will resize itself according to the text length and font size. Documentation for 9 patch image Link 9patch You can try the new version of Lumicall here ! and know more about Lumicall on a blog by Daniel Pocock.
Looking forward to your valuable feedback !!

30 June 2017

Daniel Pocock: A FOSScamp by the beach

I recently wrote about the great experience many of us had visiting OSCAL in Tirana. Open Labs is doing a great job promoting free, open source software there. They are now involved in organizing another event at the end of the summer, FOSScamp in Syros, Greece. Looking beyond the promise of sun and beach, FOSScamp is also just a few weeks ahead of the Outreachy selection deadline so anybody who wants to meet potential candidates in person may find this event helpful. If anybody wants to discuss the possibilities for involvement in the event then the best place to do that may be on the Open Labs forum topic. What will tomorrow's leaders look like? While watching a talk by Joni Baboci, head of Tirana's planning department, I was pleasantly surprised to see this photo of Open Labs board members attending the town hall for the signing of an open data agreement: It's great to see people finding ways to share the principles of technological freedoms far and wide and it will be interesting to see how this relationship with their town hall grows in the future.

27 June 2017

Daniel Pocock: How did the world ever work without Facebook?

Almost every day, somebody tells me there is no way they can survive without some social media like Facebook or Twitter. Otherwise mature adults fearful that without these dubious services, they would have no human contact ever again, they would die of hunger and the sky would come crashing down too. It is particularly disturbing for me to hear this attitude from community activists and campaigners. These are people who aspire to change the world, but can you really change the system using the tools the system gives you? Revolutionaries like Gandhi and the Bolsheviks don't have a lot in common: but both of them changed the world and both of them did so by going against the system. Gandhi, of course, relied on non-violence while the Bolsheviks continued to rely on violence long after taking power. Neither of them needed social media but both are likely to be remembered far longer than any viral video clip you have seen recently. With US border guards asking visitors for their Facebook profiles and Mark Zuckerberg being a regular participant at secretive Bilderberg meetings, it should be clear that Facebook and conventional social media is not on your side, it's on theirs. Kettling has never been easier When street protests erupt in major cities such as London, the police build fences around the protesters, cutting them off from the rest of the world. They become an island in the middle of the city, like a construction site or broken down bus that everybody else goes around. The police then set about arresting one person at a time, taking their name and photograph and then slowly letting them leave in different directions. This strategy is called kettling. Facebook helps kettle activists in their arm chair. The police state can gather far more data about them, while their impact is even more muted than if they ventured out of their home. You are more likely to win the lottery than make a viral campaign Every week there is news about some social media campaign that has gone viral. Every day, marketing professionals, professional campaigners and motivated activists sit at their computer spending hours trying to replicate this phenomenon. Do the math: how many of these campaigns can really be viral success stories? Society can only absorb a small number of these campaigns at any one time. For most of the people trying to ignite such campaigns, their time and energy is wasted, much like money spent buying lottery tickets and with odds that are just as bad. It is far better to focus on the quality of your work in other ways than to waste any time on social media. If you do something that is truly extraordinary, then other people will pick it up and share it for you and that is how a viral campaign really begins. The time and effort you put into trying to force something to become viral is wasting the energy and concentration you need to make something that is worthy of really being viral. An earthquake and an escaped lion never needed to announce themselves on social media to become an instant hit. If your news isn't extraordinary enough for random people to spontaneously post, share and tweet it in the first place, how can it ever go far? The news media deliberately over-rates social media News media outlets, including TV, radio and print, gain a significant benefit crowd-sourcing live information, free of charge, from the public on social media. It is only logical that they will cheer on social media sites and give them regular attention. Have you noticed that whenever Facebook's publicity department makes an announcement, the media are quick to publish it ahead of more significant stories about social or economic issues that impact our lives? Why do you think the media puts Facebook up on a podium like this, ahead of all other industries, if the media aren't getting something out of it too? The tail doesn't wag the dog One particular example is the news media's fascination with Donald Trump's Twitter account. Some people have gone as far as suggesting that this billionaire could have simply parked his jet and spent the whole of 2016 at one of his golf courses sending tweets and he would have won the presidency anyway. Suggesting that Trump's campaign revolved entirely around Twitter is like suggesting the tail wags the dog. The reality is different: Trump has been a prominent public figure for decades, both in the business and entertainment world. During his presidential campaign, he had at least 220 major campaign rallies attended by over 1.2 million people in the real world. Without this real-world organization and history, the Twitter account would have been largely ignored like the majority of Twitter accounts. On the left of politics, the media have been just as quick to suggest that Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have been supported by the "Facebook generation". This label is superficial and deceiving. The reality, again, is a grass roots movement that has attracted young people to attend local campaign meetings in pubs up and down the country. Getting people to get out and be active is key. Social media is incidental to their campaign, not indispensible. Real-world meetings, big or small, are immensely more powerful than a social media presence. Consider the Trump example again: if 100,000 people receive one of his tweets, how many even notice it in the non-stop stream of information we are bombarded with today? On the other hand, if 100,000 bellow out a racist slogan at one of his rallies, is there any doubt whether each and every one of those people is engaged with the campaign at that moment? If you could choose between 100 extra Twitter followers or 10 extra activists attending a meeting every month, which would you prefer? Do we need this new definition of a Friend? Facebook is redefining what it means to be a friend. Is somebody who takes pictures of you and insists on sharing them with hundreds of people, tagging your face for the benefit of biometric profiling systems, really a friend? If you want to find out what a real friend is and who your real friends really are, there is no better way to do so then blowing away your Facebook and Twitter account and waiting to see who contacts you personally about meeting up in the real world. If you look at a profile on Facebook or Twitter, one of the most prominent features is the number of friends or followers they have. Research suggests that humans can realistically cope with no more than about 150 stable relationships. Facebook, however, has turned Friending people into something like a computer game. This research is also given far more attention then it deserves though: the number of really meaningful friendships that one person can maintain is far smaller. Think about how many birthdays and spouse's names you can remember and those may be the number of real friendships you can manage well. In his book Busy, Tony Crabbe suggests between 10-20 friendships are in this category and you should spend all your time with these people rather than letting your time be spread thinly across superficial Facebook "friends". This same logic can be extrapolated to activism and marketing in its many forms: is it better for a campaigner or publicist to have fifty journalists following him on Twitter (where tweets are often lost in the blink of an eye) or three journalists who he meets for drinks from time to time? Facebook alternatives: the ultimate trap? Numerous free, open source projects have tried to offer an equivalent to Facebook and Twitter. GNU social, Diaspora and identi.ca are some of the more well known examples. Trying to persuade people to move from Facebook to one of these platforms rarely works. In most cases, Metcalfe's law suggests the size of Facebook will suck them back in like the gravity of a black hole. To help people really beat these monstrosities, the most effective strategy is to help them live without social media, whether it is proprietary or not. The best way to convince them may be to give it up yourself and let them see how much you enjoy life without it. Share your thoughts The FSFE community has recently been debating the use of propriety software and services. Please feel free to join the list and click here to reply on the thread.

14 June 2017

Daniel Pocock: Croissants, Qatar and a Food Computer Meetup in Zurich

In my last blog, I described the plan to hold a meeting in Zurich about the OpenAg Food Computer. The Meetup page has been gathering momentum but we are still well within the capacity of the room and catering budget so if you are in Zurich, please join us. Thanks to our supporters The meeting now has sponsorship from three organizations, Project 21 at ETH, the Debian Project and Free Software Foundation of Europe. Sponsorship funds help with travel expenses and refreshments. Food is always in the news In my previous blog, I referred to a number of food supply problems that have occurred recently. There have been more in the news this week: a potential croissant shortage in France due to the rising cost of butter and Qatar's efforts to air-lift 4,000 cows from the US and Australia, among other things, due to the Saudi Arabia embargo. The food computer isn't an immediate solution to these problems but it appears to be a helpful step in the right direction.

17 May 2017

Daniel Pocock: Hacking the food chain in Switzerland

A group has recently been formed on Meetup seeking to build a food computer in Zurich. The initial meeting is planned for 6:30pm on 20 June 2017 at ETH, (Zurich Centre/Zentrum, R mistrasse 101). The question of food security underlies many of the world's problems today. In wealthier nations, we are being called upon to trust a highly opaque supply chain and our choices are limited to those things that major supermarket chains are willing to stock. A huge transport and storage apparatus adds to the cost and CO2 emissions and detracts from the nutritional value of the produce that reaches our plates. In recent times, these problems have been highlighted by the horsemeat scandal, the Guacapocalypse and the British Hummus crisis. One interesting initiative to create transparency and encourage diversity in our diets is the Open Agriculture (OpenAg) Initiative from MIT, summarised in this TED video from Caleb Harper. The food produced is healthier and fresher than anything you might find in a supermarket and has no exposure to pesticides. An open source approach to food An interesting aspect of this project is the promise of an open source approach. The project provides hardware plans, a a video of the build process, source code and the promise of sharing climate recipes (scripts) to replicate the climates of different regions, helping ensure it is always the season for your favour fruit or vegetable. Do we need it? Some people have commented on the cost of equipment and electricity. Carsten Agger recently blogged about permaculture as a cleaner alternative. While there are many places where people can take that approach, there are also many overpopulated regions and cities where it is not feasible. Some countries, like Japan, have an enormous population and previously productive farmland contaminated by industry, such as the Fukushima region. Growing our own food also has the potential to reduce food waste, as individual families and communities can grow what they need. Whether it is essential or not, the food computer project also provides a powerful platform to educate people about food and climate issues and an exciting opportunity to take the free and open source philosophy into many more places in our local communities. The Zurich Meetup group has already received expressions of interest from a diverse group including professionals, researchers, students, hackers, sustainability activists and free software developers. Next steps People who want to form a group in their own region can look in the forum topic "Where are you building your Food Computer?" to find out if anybody has already expressed interest. Which patterns from the free software world can help more people build more food computers? I've already suggested using Debian's live-wrapper to distribute a runnable ISO image that can boot from a USB stick, can you suggest other solutions like this? Can you think of any free software events where you would like to see a talk or exhibit about this project? Please suggest them on the OpenAg forum. There are many interesting resources about the food crisis, an interesting starting point is watching the documentary Food, Inc. If you are in Switzerland, please consider attending the meeting on at 6:30pm on 20 June 2017 at ETH (Centre/Zentrum), Zurich. One final thing to contemplate: if you are not hacking your own food supply, who is?

16 May 2017

Daniel Pocock: Building an antenna and receiving ham and shortwave stations with SDR

In my previous blog on the topic of software defined radio (SDR), I provided a quickstart guide to using gqrx, GNU Radio and the RTL-SDR dongle to receive FM radio and the amateur 2 meter (VHF) band. Using the same software configuration and the same RTL-SDR dongle, it is possible to add some extra components and receive ham radio and shortwave transmissions from around the world. Here is the antenna setup from the successful SDR workshop at OSCAL'17 on 13 May: After the workshop on Saturday, members of the OSCAL team successfully reconstructed the SDR and antenna at the Debian info booth on Sunday and a wide range of shortwave and ham signals were detected: Here is a close-up look at the laptop, RTL-SDR dongle (above laptop), Ham-It-Up converter (above water bottle) and MFJ-971 ATU (on right): Buying the parts
Component Purpose, Notes Price/link to source
RTL-SDR dongle Converts radio signals (RF) into digital signals for reception through the USB port. It is essential to buy the dongles for SDR with TCXO, the generic RTL dongles for TV reception are not stable enough for anything other than TV. ~ 25
Enamelled copper wire, 25 meters or more Loop antenna. Thicker wire provides better reception and is more suitable for transmitting (if you have a license) but it is heavier. The antenna I've demonstrated at recent events uses 1mm thick wire. ~ 10
4 (or more) ceramic egg insulators Attach the antenna to string or rope. Smaller insulators are better as they are lighter and less expensive. ~ 10
4:1 balun The actual ratio of the balun depends on the shape of the loop (square, rectangle or triangle) and the point where you attach the balun (middle, corner, etc). You may want to buy more than one balun, for example, a 4:1 balun and also a 1:1 balun to try alternative configurations. Make sure it is waterproof, has hooks for attaching a string or rope and an SO-239 socket. from 20
5 meter RG-58 coaxial cable with male PL-259 plugs on both ends If using more than 5 meters or if you want to use higher frequencies above 30MHz, use thicker, heavier and more expensive cables like RG-213. The cable must be 50 ohm. ~ 10
Antenna Tuning Unit (ATU) I've been using the MFJ-971 for portable use and demos because of the weight. There are even lighter and cheaper alternatives if you only need to receive. ~ 20 for receive only or second hand
PL-259 to SMA male pigtail, up to 50cm, RG58 Joins the ATU to the upconverter. Cable must be RG58 or another 50 ohm cable ~ 5
Ham It Up v1.3 up-converter Mixes the HF signal with a signal from a local oscillator to create a new signal in the spectrum covered by the RTL-SDR dongle ~ 40
SMA (male) to SMA (male) pigtail Join the up-converter to the RTL-SDR dongle ~ 2
USB charger and USB type B cable Used for power to the up-converter. A spare USB mobile phone charge plug may be suitable. ~ 5
String or rope For mounting the antenna. A ligher and cheaper string is better for portable use while a stronger and weather-resistent rope is better for a fixed installation. 5
Building the antenna There are numerous online calculators for measuring the amount of enamelled copper wire to cut. For example, for a centre frequency of 14.2 MHz on the 20 meter amateur band, the antenna length is 21.336 meters. Add an extra 24 cm (extra 12 cm on each end) for folding the wire through the hooks on the balun. After cutting the wire, feed it through the egg insulators before attaching the wire to the balun. Measure the extra 12 cm at each end of the wire and wrap some tape around there to make it easy to identify in future. Fold it, insert it into the hook on the balun and twist it around itself. Use between four to six twists. Strip off approximately 0.5cm of the enamel on each end of the wire with a knife, sandpaper or some other tool. Insert the exposed ends of the wire into the screw terminals and screw it firmly into place. Avoid turning the screw too tightly or it may break or snap the wire. Insert string through the egg insulators and/or the middle hook on the balun and use the string to attach it to suitable support structures such as a building, posts or trees. Try to keep it at least two meters from any structure. Maximizing the surface area of the loop improves the performance: a circle is an ideal shape, but a square or 4:3 rectangle will work well too. For optimal performance, if you imagine the loop is on a two-dimensional plane, the first couple of meters of feedline leaving the antenna should be on the plane too and at a right angle to the edge of the antenna. Join all the other components together using the coaxial cables. Configuring gqrx for the up-converter and shortwave signals Inspect the up-converter carefully. Look for the crystal and find the frequency written on the side of it. The frequency written on the specification sheet or web site may be wrong so looking at the crystal itself is the best way to be certain. On my Ham It Up, I found a crystal with 125.000 written on it, this is 125 MHz. Launch gqrx, go to the File menu and select I/O devices. Change the LNB LO value to match the crystal frequency on the up-converter, with a minus sign. For my Ham It Up, I use the LNB LO value -125.000000 MHz. Click OK to close the I/O devices window. On the Input Controls tab, make sure Hardware AGC is enabled. On the Receiver options tab, change the Mode value. Commercial shortwave broadcasts use AM and amateur transmission use single sideband: by convention, LSB is used for signals below 10MHz and USB is used for signals above 10MHz. To start exploring the 20 meter amateur band around 14.2 MHz, for example, use USB. In the top of the window, enter the frequency, for example, 14.200 000 MHz. Now choose the FFT Settings tab and adjust the Freq zoom slider. Zoom until the width of the display is about 100 kHZ, for example, from 14.15 on the left to 14.25 on the right. Click the Play icon at the top left to start receiving. You may hear white noise. If you hear nothing, check the computer's volume controls, move the Gain slider (bottom right) to the maximum position and then lower the Squelch value on the Receiver options tab until you hear the white noise or a transmission. Adjust the Antenna Tuner knobs Now that gqrx is running, it is time to adjust the knobs on the antenna tuner (ATU). Reception improves dramatically when it is tuned correctly. Exact instructions depend on the type of ATU you have purchased, here I present instructions for the MFJ-971 that I have been using. Turn the TRANSMITTER and ANTENNA knobs to the 12 o'clock position and leave them like that. Turn the INDUCTANCE knob while looking at the signals in the gqrx window. When you find the best position, the signal strength displayed on the screen will appear to increase (the animated white line should appear to move upwards and maybe some peaks will appear in the line). When you feel you have found the best position for the INDUCTANCE knob, leave it in that position and begin turning the ANTENNA knob clockwise looking for any increase in signal strength on the chart. When you feel that is correct, begin turning the TRANSMITTER knob. Listening to a transmission At this point, if you are lucky, some transmissions may be visible on the gqrx screen. They will appear as darker colours in the waterfall chart. Try clicking on one of them, the vertical red line will jump to that position. For a USB transmission, try to place the vertical red line at the left hand side of the signal. Try dragging the vertical red line or changing the frequency value at the top of the screen by 100 Hz at a time until the station is tuned as well as possible. Try and listen to the transmission and identify the station. Commercial shortwave broadcasts will usually identify themselves from time to time. Amateur transmissions will usually include a callsign spoken in the phonetic alphabet. For example, if you hear "CQ, this is Victor Kilo 3 Tango Quebec Romeo" then the station is VK3TQR. You may want to note down the callsign, time, frequency and mode in your log book. You may also find information about the callsign in a search engine. The video demonstrates reception of a transmission from another country, can you identify the station's callsign and find his location? If you have questions about this topic, please come and ask on the Debian Hams mailing list. The gqrx package is also available in Fedora and Ubuntu but it is known to crash on startup in Ubuntu 17.04. Users of other distributions may also want to try the Debian Ham Blend bootable ISO live image as a quick and easy way to get started.

12 May 2017

Daniel Pocock: Thank you to the OSCAL team

The welcome gift deserves its own blog post. If you want to know what is inside, I hope to see you at OSCAL'17.

Daniel Pocock: Kamailio World and FSFE team visit, Tirana arrival

This week I've been thrilled to be in Berlin for Kamailio World 2017, one of the highlights of the SIP, VoIP and telephony enthusiast's calendar. It is an event that reaches far beyond Kamailio and is well attended by leaders of many of the well known free software projects in this space. HOMER 6 is coming Alexandr Dubovikov gave me a sneak peek of the new version of the HOMER SIP capture framework for gathering, storing and analyzing messages in a SIP network. exploring HOMER 6 with Alexandr Dubovikov at Kamailio World 2017 Visiting the FSFE team in Berlin Having recently joined the FSFE's General Assembly as the fellowship representative, I've been keen to get to know more about the organization. My visit to the FSFE office involved a wide-ranging discussion with Erik Albers about the fellowship program and FSFE in general. discussing the Fellowship program with Erik Albers Steak and SDR night After a hard day of SIP hacking and a long afternoon at Kamailio World's open bar, a developer needs a decent meal and something previously unseen to hack on. A group of us settled at Escados, Alexanderplatz where my SDR kit emerged from my bag and other Debian users found out how easy it is to apt install the packages, attach the dongle and explore the radio spectrum. playing with SDR after dinner Next stop OSCAL'17, Tirana Having left Berlin, I'm now in Tirana, Albania where I'll give an SDR workshop and Free-RTC talk at OSCAL'17. The weather forecast is between 26 - 28 degrees celsius, the food is great and the weekend's schedule is full of interesting talks and workshops. The organizing team have already made me feel very welcome here, meeting me at the airport and leaving a very generous basket of gifts in my hotel room. OSCAL has emerged as a significant annual event in the free software world and if it's too late for you to come this year, don't miss it in 2018. OSCAL'17 banner

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