Search Results: "cmr"

13 May 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Population, Immigration, Vaccines and Mass-Surveilance.

The Population Issue and its many facets Another couple of weeks passed. A Lot of things happening, lots of anger and depression in folks due to handling in pandemic, but instead of blaming they are willing to blame everybody else including the population. Many of them want forced sterilization like what Sanjay Gandhi did during the Emergency (1975). I had to share So Long, My son . A very moving tale of two families of what happened to them during the one-child policy in China. I was so moved by it and couldn t believe that the Chinese censors allowed it to be produced, shot, edited, and then shared worldwide. It also won a couple of awards at the 69th Berlin Film Festival, silver bear for the best actor and the actress in that category. But more than the award, the theme, and the concept as well as the length of the movie which was astonishing. Over a 3 hr. something it paints a moving picture of love, loss, shame, relief, anger, and asking for forgiveness. All of which can be identified by any rational person with feelings worldwide.

Girl child What was also interesting though was what it couldn t or wasn t able to talk about and that is the Chinese leftover men. In fact, a similar situation exists here in India, only it has been suppressed. This has been more pronounced more in Asia than in other places. One big thing in this is human trafficking and mostly women trafficking. For the Chinese male, that was happening on a large scale from all neighboring countries including India. This has been shared in media and everybody knows about it and yet people are silent. But this is not limited to just the Chinese, even Indians have been doing it. Even yesteryear actress Rupa Ganguly was caught red-handed but then later let off after formal questioning as she is from the ruling party. So much for justice. What is and has been surprising at least for me is Rwanda which is in the top 10 of some of the best places in equal gender. It, along with other African countries have also been in news for putting quite a significant amount of percentage of GDP into public healthcare (between 20-10%), but that is a story for a bit later. People forget or want to forget that it was in Satara, a city in my own state where 220 girls changed their name from nakusha or unwanted to something else and that had become a piece of global news. One would think that after so many years, things would have changed, the only change that has happened is that now we have two ministries, The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) and The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MoHFW). Sadly, in both cases, the ministries have been found wanting, Whether it was the high-profile Hathras case or even the routine cries of help which given by women on the twitter helpline. Sadly, neither of these ministries talks about POSH guidelines which came up after the 2012 gangrape case. For both these ministries, it should have been a pinned tweet. There is also the 1994 PCPNDT Act which although made in 1994, actually functioned in 2006, although what happens underground even today nobody knows  . On the global stage, about a decade ago, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt argued in their book Freakonomics how legalized abortion both made the coming population explosion as well as expected crime rates to be reduced. There was a huge pushback on the same from the conservatives and has become a matter of debate, perhaps something that the Conservatives wanted. Interestingly, it hasn t made them go back but go forward as can be seen from the Freakonomics site.

Climate Change Another topic that came up for discussion was repeatedly climate change, but when I share Shell s own 1998 Confidential report titled Greenhouse effect all become strangely silent. The silence here is of two parts, there probably is a large swathe of Indians who haven t read the report and there may be a minority who have read it and know what already has been shared with U.S. Congress. The Conservative s argument has been for it is jobs and a weak we need to research more . There was a partial debunk of it on the TBD podcast by Matt Farell and his brother Sean Farell as to how quickly the energy companies are taking to the coming change.

Health Budget Before going to Covid stories. I first wanted to talk about Health Budgets. From the last 7 years the Center s allocation for health has been between 0.34 to 0.8% per year. That amount barely covers the salaries to the staff, let alone any money for equipment or anything else. And here by allocation I mean, what is actually spent, not the one that is shared by GOI as part of budget proposal. In fact, an article on Wire gives a good breakdown of the numbers. Even those who are on the path of free markets describe India s health business model as a flawed one. See the Bloomberg Quint story on that. Now let me come to Rwanda. Why did I chose Rwanda, I could have chosen South Africa where I went for Debconf 2016, I chose because Rwanda s story is that much more inspiring. In many ways much more inspiring than that South Africa in many ways. Here is a country which for decades had one war or the other, culminating into the Rwanda Civil War which ended in 1994. And coincidentally, they gained independence on a similar timeline as South Africa ending Apartheid in 1994. What does the country do, when it gains its independence, it first puts most of its resources in the healthcare sector. The first few years at 20% of GDP, later than at 10% of GDP till everybody has universal medical coverage. Coming back to the Bloomberg article I shared, the story does not go into the depth of beyond-expiry date medicines, spurious medicines and whatnot. Sadly, most media in India does not cover the deaths happening in rural areas and this I am talking about normal times. Today what is happening in rural areas is just pure madness. For last couple of days have been talking with people who are and have been covering rural areas. In many of those communities, there is vaccine hesitancy and why, because there have been whatsapp forwards sharing that if you go to a hospital you will die and your kidney or some other part of the body will be taken by the doctor. This does two things, it scares people into not going and getting vaccinated, at the same time they are prejudiced against science. This is politics of the lowest kind. And they do it so that they will be forced to go to temples or babas and what not and ask for solutions. And whether they work or not is immaterial, they get fixed and property and money is seized. Sadly, there are not many Indian movies of North which have tried to show it except for oh my god but even here it doesn t go the distance. A much more honest approach was done in Trance . I have never understood how the South Indian movies are able to do a more honest job of story-telling than what is done in Bollywood even though they do in 1/10th the budget that is needed in Bollywood. Although, have to say with OTT, some baggage has been shed but with the whole film certification rearing its ugly head through MEITY orders, it seems two steps backward instead of forward. The idea being simply to infantilize the citizens even more. That is a whole different ball-game which probably will require its own space.

Vaccine issues One good news though is that Vaccination has started. But it has been a long story full of greed by none other than GOI (Government of India) or the ruling party BJP. Where should I start with. I probably should start with this excellent article done by Priyanka Pulla. It is interesting and fascinating to know how vaccines are made, at least one way which she shared. She also shared about the Cutter Incident which happened in the late 50 s. The response was on expected lines, character assassination of her and the newspaper they published but could not critique any of the points made by her. Not a single point that she didn t think about x or y. Interestingly enough, in January 2021 Bharati Biotech was supposed to be share phase 3 trial data but hasn t been put up in public domain till May 2021. In fact, there have been a few threads raised by both well-meaning Indians as well as others globally especially on twitter to which GOI/ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) is silent. Another interesting point to note is that Russia did say in its press release that it is possible that their vaccine may not be standard (read inactivation on their vaccines and another way is possible but would take time, again Brazil has objected, but India hasn t till date.) What also has been interesting is the homegrown B.1.617 lineage or known as double mutant . This was first discovered from my own state, Maharashtra and then transported around the world. There is also B.1.618 which was found in West Bengal and is same or supposed to be similar to the one found in South Africa. This one is known as Triple mutant . About B.1.618 we don t know much other than knowing that it is much more easily transferable, much more infectious. Most countries have banned flights from India and I cannot fault them anyway. Hell, when even our diplomats do not care for procedures to be followed during the pandemic then how a common man is supposed to do. Of course, now for next month, Mr. Modi was supposed to go and now will not attend the G7 meeting. Whether, it is because he would have to face the press (the only Prime Minister and the only Indian Prime Minister who never has faced free press.) or because the Indian delegation has been disinvited, we would never know.

A good article which shares lots of lows with how things have been done in India has been an article by Arundhati Roy. And while the article in itself is excellent and shares a bit of the bitter truth but is still incomplete as so much has been happening. The problem is that the issue manifests in so many ways, it is difficult to hold on. As Arundhati shared, should we just look at figures and numbers and hold on, or should we look at individual ones, for e.g. the one shared in Outlook India. Or the one shared by Dr. Dipshika Ghosh who works in Covid ICU in some hospital
Dr. Dipika Ghosh sharing an incident in Covid Ward

Interestingly as well, while in the vaccine issue, Brazil Anvisa doesn t know what they are doing or the regulator just isn t knowledgeable etc. (statements by various people in GOI, when it comes to testing kits, the same is an approver.)

ICMR/DGCI approving internationally validated kits, Press release.

Twitter In the midst of all this, one thing that many people have forgotten and seem to have forgotten that Twitter and other tools are used by only the elite. The reason why the whole thing has become serious now than in the first phase is because the elite of India have also fallen sick and dying which was not the case so much in the first phase. The population on Twitter is estimated to be around 30-34 million and people who are everyday around 20 odd million or so, which is what 2% of the Indian population which is estimated to be around 1.34 billion. The other 98% don t even know that there is something like twitter on which you can ask help. Twitter itself is exclusionary in many ways, with both the emoticons, the language and all sorts of things. There is a small subset who does use Twitter in regional languages, but they are too small to write anything about. The main language is English which does become a hindrance to lot of people.

Censorship Censorship of Indians critical of Govt. mishandling has been non-stop. Even U.S. which usually doesn t interfere into India s internal politics was forced to make an exception. But of course, this has been on deaf ears. There is and was a good thread on Twitter by Gaurav Sabnis, a friend, fellow Puneite now settled in U.S. as a professor.
Gaurav on Trump-Biden on vaccination of their own citizens
Now just to surmise what has been happened in India and what has been happening in most of the countries around the world. Most of the countries have done centralization purchasing of the vaccine and then is distributed by the States, this is what we understand as co-operative federalism. While last year, GOI took a lot of money under the shady PM Cares fund for vaccine purchase, donations from well-meaning Indians as well as Industries and trade bodies. Then later, GOI said it would leave the states hanging and it is they who would have to buy vaccines from the manufacturers. This is again cheap politics. The idea behind it is simple, GOI knows that almost all the states are strapped for cash. This is not new news, this I have shared a couple of months back. The problem has been that for the last 6-8 months no GST meeting has taken place as shared by Punjab s Finance Minister Amarinder Singh. What will happen is that all the states will fight in-between themselves for the vaccine and most of them are now non-BJP Governments. The idea is let the states fight and somehow be on top. So, the pandemic, instead of being a public health issue has become something of on which politics has to played. The news on whatsapp by RW media is it s ok even if a million or two also die, as it is India is heavily populated. Although that argument vanishes for those who lose their dear and near ones. But that just isn t the issue, the issue goes much more deeper than that Oxygen:12%
Remedisivir:12%
Sanitiser:12%
Ventilator:12%
PPE:18%
Ambulances 28% Now all the products above are essential medical equipment and should be declared as essential medical equipment and should have price controls on which GST is levied. In times of pandemic, should the center be profiting on those. States want to let go and even want the center to let go so that some relief is there to the public, while at the same time make them as essential medical equipment with price controls. But GOI doesn t want to. Leaders of opposition parties wrote open letters but no effect. What is sad to me is how Ambulances are being taxed at 28%. Are they luxury items or sin goods ? This also reminds of the recent discovery shared by Mr. Pappu Yadav in Bihar. You can see the color of ambulances as shared by Mr. Yadav, and the same news being shared by India TV news showing other ambulances. Also, the weak argument being made of not having enough drivers. Ideally, you should have 2-3 people, both 9-1-1 and Chicago Fire show 2 people in ambulance but a few times they have also shown to be flipped over. European seems to have three people in ambulance, also they are also much more disciplined as drivers, at least an opinion shared by an American expat.
Pappu Yadav, President Jan Adhikar Party, Bihar May 11, 2021
What is also interesting to note is GOI plays this game of Health is State subject and health is Central subject depending on its convenience. Last year, when it invoked the Epidemic and DMA Act it was a Central subject, now when bodies are flowing down the Ganges and pyres being lit everywhere, it becomes a State subject. But when and where money is involved, it again becomes a Central subject. The States are also understanding it, but they are fighting on too many fronts.
Snippets from Karnataka High Court hearing today, 13th March 2021
One of the good things is most of the High Courts have woken up. Many of the people on the RW think that the Courts are doing Judicial activism . And while there may be an iota of truth in it, the bitter truth is that many judges or relatives or their helpers have diagnosed and some have even died due to Covid. In face of the inevitable, what can they do. They are hauling up local Governments to make sure they are accountable while at the same time making sure that they get access to medical facilities. And I as a citizen don t see any wrong in that even if they are doing it for selfish reasons. Because, even if justice is being done for selfish reasons, if it does improve medical delivery systems for the masses, it is cool. If it means that the poor and everybody else are able to get vaccinations, oxygen and whatever they need, it is cool. Of course, we are still seeing reports of patients spending in the region of INR 50k and more for each day spent in hospital. But as there are no price controls, judges cannot do anything unless they want to make an enemy of the medical lobby in the country. A good story on medicines and what happens in rural areas, see no further than Laakhon mein ek.
Allahabad High Court hauling Uttar Pradesh Govt. for lack of Oxygen is equal to genocide, May 11, 2021
The censorship is not just related to takedown requests on twitter but nowadays also any articles which are critical of the GOI s handling. I have been seeing many articles which have shared facts and have been critical of GOI being taken down. Previously, we used to see 404 errors happen 7-10 years down the line and that was reasonable. Now we see that happen, days weeks or months. India seems to be turning more into China and North Korea and become more anti-science day-by-day

Fake websites Before going into fake websites, let me start with a fake newspaper which was started by none other than the Gujarat CM Mr. Modi in 2005 .
Gujarat Satya Samachar 2005 launched by Mr. Modi.
And if this wasn t enough than on Feb 8, 2005, he had invoked Official Secrets Act
Mr. Modi invoking Official Secrets Act, Feb 8 2005 Gujarat Samachar
The headlines were In Modi s regime press freedom is in peril-Down with Modi s dictatorship. So this was a tried and tested technique. The above information was shared by Mr. Urvish Kothari, who incidentally also has his own youtube channel. Now cut to 2021, and we have a slew of fake websites being done by the same party. In fact, it seems they started this right from 2011. A good article on BBC itself tells the story. Hell, Disinfo.eu which basically combats disinformation in EU has a whole pdf chronicling how BJP has been doing it. Some of the sites it shared are

Times of New York
Manchester Times
Times of Los Angeles
Manhattan Post
Washington Herald
and many more. The idea being take any site name which sounds similar to a brand name recognized by Indians and make fool of them. Of course, those of who use whois and other such tools can easily know what is happening. Two more were added to the list yesterday, Daily Guardian and Australia Today. There are of course, many features which tell them apart from genuine websites. Most of these are on shared hosting rather than dedicated hosting, most of these are bought either from Godaddy and Bluehost. While Bluehost used to be a class act once upon a time, both the above will do anything as long as they get money. Don t care whether it s a fake website or true. Capitalism at its finest or worst depending upon how you look at it. But most of these details are lost on people who do not know web servers, at all and instead think see it is from an exotic site, a foreign site and it chooses to have same ideas as me. Those who are corrupt or see politics as a tool to win at any cost will not see it as evil. And as a gentleman Raghav shared with me, it is so easy to fool us. An example he shared which I had forgotten. Peter England which used to be an Irish brand was bought by Aditya Birla group way back in 2000. But even today, when you go for Peter England, the way the packaging is done, the way the prices are, more often than not, people believe they are buying the Irish brand. While sharing this, there is so much of Naom Chomsky which comes to my mind again and again

Caste Issues I had written about caste issues a few times on this blog. This again came to the fore as news came that a Hindu sect used forced labor from Dalit community to make a temple. This was also shared by the hill. In both, Mr. Joshi doesn t tell that if they were volunteers then why their passports have been taken forcibly, also I looked at both minimum wage prevailing in New Jersey as a state as well as wage given to those who are in the construction Industry. Even in minimum wage, they were giving $1 when the prevailing minimum wage for unskilled work is $12.00 and as Mr. Joshi shared that they are specialized artisans, then they should be paid between $23 $30 per hour. If this isn t exploitation, then I don t know what is. And this is not the first instance, the first instance was perhaps the case against Cisco which was done by John Doe. While I had been busy with other things, it seems Cisco had put up both a demurrer petition and a petition to strike which the Court stayed. This seemed to all over again a type of apartheid practice, only this time applied to caste. The good thing is that the court stayed the petition. Dr. Ambedkar s statement if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem given at Columbia University in 1916, seems to be proven right in today s time and sadly has aged well. But this is not just something which is there only in U.S. this is there in India even today, just couple of days back, a popular actress Munmun Dutta used a casteist slur and then later apologized giving the excuse that she didn t know Hindi. And this is patently false as she has been in the Bollywood industry for almost now 16-17 years. This again, was not an isolated incident. Seema Singh, a lecturer in IIT-Kharagpur abused students from SC, ST backgrounds and was later suspended. There is an SC/ST Atrocities Act but that has been diluted by this Govt. A bit on the background of Dr. Ambedkar can be found at a blog on Columbia website. As I have shared and asked before, how do we think, for what reason the Age of Englightenment or the Age of Reason happened. If I were a fat monk or a priest who was privileges, would I have let Age of Enlightenment happen. It broke religion or rather Church which was most powerful to not so powerful and that power was more distributed among all sort of thinkers, philosophers, tinkers, inventors and so on and so forth.

Situation going forward I believe things are going to be far more complex and deadly before they get better. I had to share another term called Comorbidities which fortunately or unfortunately has also become part of twitter lexicon. While I have shared what it means, it simply means when you have an existing ailment or condition and then Coronavirus attacks you. The Virus will weaken you. The Vaccine in the best case just stops the damage, but the damage already done can t be reversed. There are people who advise and people who are taking steroids but that again has its own side-effects. And this is now, when we are in summer. I am afraid for those who have recovered, what will happen to them during the Monsoons. We know that the Virus attacks most the lungs and their quality of life will be affected. Even the immune system may have issues. We also know about the inflammation. And the grant that has been given to University of Dundee also has signs of worry, both for people like me (obese) as well as those who have heart issues already. In other news, my city which has been under partial lockdown since a month, has been extended for another couple of weeks. There are rumors that the same may continue till the year-end even if it means economics goes out of the window.There is possibility that in the next few months something like 2 million odd Indians could die
The above is a conversation between Karan Thapar and an Oxford Mathematician Dr. Murad Banaji who has shared that the under-counting of cases in India is huge. Even BBC shared an article on the scope of under-counting. Of course, those on the RW call of the evidence including the deaths and obituaries in newspapers as a narrative . And when asked that when deaths used to be in the 20 s or 30 s which has jumped to 200-300 deaths and this is just the middle class and above. The poor don t have the money to get wood and that is the reason you are seeing the bodies in Ganges whether in Buxar Bihar or Gajipur, Uttar Pradesh. The sights and visuals makes for sorry reading
Pandit Ranjan Mishra son on his father s death due to unavailability of oxygen, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, 11th May 2021.
For those who don t know Pandit Ranjan Mishra was a renowned classical singer. More importantly, he was the first person to suggest Mr. Modi s name as a Prime Ministerial Candidate. If they couldn t fulfil his oxygen needs, then what can be expected for the normal public.

Conclusion Sadly, this time I have no humorous piece to share, I can however share a documentary which was shared on Feluda . I have shared about Feluda or Prodosh Chandra Mitter a few times on this blog. He has been the answer of James Bond from India. I have shared previously about The Golden Fortress . An amazing piece of art by Satyajit Ray. I watched that documentary two-three times. I thought, mistakenly that I am the only fool or fan of Feluda in Pune to find out that there are people who are even more than me. There were so many facets both about Feluda and master craftsman Satyajit Ray that I was unaware about. I was just simply amazed. I even shared few of the tidbits with mum as well, although now she has been truly hooked to Korean dramas. The only solace from all the surrounding madness. So, if you have nothing to do, you can look up his books, read them and then see the movies. And my first recommendation would be the Golden Fortress. The only thing I would say, do not have high hopes. The movie is beautiful. It starts slow and then picks up speed, just like a train. So, till later. Update The Mass surveillance part I could not do justice do hence removed it at the last moment. It actually needs its whole space, article. There is so much that the Govt. is doing under the guise of the pandemic that it is difficult to share it all in one article. As it is, the article is big

20 July 2020

Shirish Agarwal: Hearing loss, pandemic, lockdown

Sorry for not being on blog for sometime, the last few months have been brutal. While I am externally ok, because of the lockdown I sensed major hearing loss. First, I thought it may be a hallucination or something but as it persisted for days, I got myself checked and found out that I got 80% hearing loss in my right ear. How and why I don t know. Is this NIHL or some other kind of hearing loss is yet to be ascertained. I do live what is and used to be one of the busiest roads in the city, now for last few months not so much. On top of it, you have various other noises.

Tinnitus I also experienced Tinnitus which again I perceived to be a hallucination but found it s not. I have no clue if my eiplepsy has anything to do with hearing loss or both are different. I did discover that while today we know that something like Tinnitus exists, just 10-15 years back, people might mistake it for madness. In a way it is madness because you are constantly hearing sound, music etc. 24 7 , that is enough to drive anybody mad. During this brief period, did learn what an Otoscope is . I did get audiometry tests done but need to get at least a second or if possible also a third opinion but those will have to wait as the audio clinics are about 8-10 kms. away. In the open-close-open-close environment just makes it impossible to figure out the time, date and get it done. After that is done then probably get a hearing device, probably a Siemens Signia hearing aid. The hearing aids are damn expensive, almost 50k per piece and they probably have a lifetime of about 5-6 years, so it s a bit of a expensive proposition. I also need a second or/and third opinion on the audiometry profile so I know things are correct. All of these things are gonna take time.

Pandemic Situation in India and Testing Coincidentally, was talking to couple of people about this. It is sad to see that we have the third highest number of covid cases at 1/10th the tests we are doing vis-a-vis U.S.A. According to statistical site ourworldindata , we seem to be testing 0.22 per thousand people compared to 2.28 people per thousand done by United States. Sadly it doesn t give the breakup of the tests, from what I read the PCR tests are better than the antibody tests, a primer shares the difference between the two tests. IIRC, the antibody tests are far cheaper than the swab tests but swab tests are far more accurate as it looks for the virus s genetic material (RNA) . Anyways coming to the numbers, U.S. has a population of roughly 35 crores taking a little bit liberty from numbers given at popclock . India meanwhile has 135 crore or almost four times the population of U.S. and the amount of testing done is 1/10th as shared above. Just goes to share where the GOI priorities lie . We are running out of beds, ventilators and whatever else there is. Whatever resources are there are being used for covid patients and they are being charged a bomb. I have couple of hospitals near my place and the cost of a bed in an isolation ward is upward of INR 100k and if you need a ventilator then add another 50k . And in moment of rarity, the differences between charges of private and public are zero. Meaning there is immense profiteering happening it seems in the medical world. Heck, even the Govt. is on the act where they are charging 18% GST on sanitizers. If this is not looting then I dunno what is.
Example of Medical Bills people have to pay.

China, Nepal & Diplomacy While everybody today knows how China has intruded and captured quite a part of Ladakh, this wasn t the case when they started in April. That time Ajai Shukla had shared this with the top defence personnel but nothing came of it. Then on May 30th he broke/shared the news with the rest of the world and was immediately branded anti-national, person on Chinese payroll and what not. This is when he and Pravin Sawnhey of Force Magazine had both been warning of the same from last year itself. Pravin, has a youtube channel and had been warning India against Chinese intentions from 2015 and even before that. He had warned repeatedly that our obsession with the Pakistan border meant that we were taking eyes of the border with China which spans almost 2300 odd kms. going all the way to Arunachal Pradesh. A good map which shows the conflict can be found at dw.com which I am sharing/reproducing below
India-China Border Areas Copyright DW.com 2020
Note:- I am sharing a neutral party s rendering of the border disputes or somebody who doesn t have much at stake as the two countries have so that things could be looked at little objectively. The Prime Minister on the other hand, made the comment which made galvanising a made-up word into verb . It means to go without coming in. In fact, several news sites shared the statement told by the Prime Minister and the majority of people were shocked. In fact, there had been reports that he gave the current CDS, General Rawat, a person of his own choosing, a peace of his mind. But what lead to this confrontation in the first place ? I think many pieces are part of that puzzle, one of the pieces are surely the cutting of defense budget for the last 6 years, Even this year, if you look at the budget slashes done in the earlier part of the year when he shared how HAL had to raise loans from the market to pay salaries of its own people. Later he shared how the Govt. was planning to slash the defence budget. Interestingly, he had also shared some of the reasons which reaffirm that it is the only the Govt. which can solve some of the issues/conundrum

First, it must recognize that our firms competing for global orders are up against rivals that are being supported by their home governments with tax and export incentives and infrastructure that almost invariably surpasses India s. Our government must provide its aerospace firms with a level playing field, if not a competitive advantage. The greatest deterrent to growth our companies face is the high cost of capital and lack of access to funds. In several cases, Indian MSMEs have had to turn down offers to build components and assemblies for global OEM supply chains simply because the cost of capital to create the shop floor and train the personnel was too high. This resulted in a loss of business and a missed opportunity for creating jobs and skills. To overcome this, the government could create a sector specific A&D Fund to provide low cost capital quickly to enable our MSMEs to grab fleeting business opportunities. Ajai Shukla, blogpost 13th March 2020 . And then reporting on 11th May 2020 itself, CDS Gen. Rawat himself commented on saving the budget, they were in poor taste but still he shared what he thought about it. So, at the end of it one part of the story. The other part of the story probably lies in India s relations with its neighbors and lack of numbers in diplomats and diplomacy. So let me cover both the things one by one .

Diplomats, lack of numbers and hence the hands we are dealth with When Mr. Modi started his first term, he used the term Maximum Governance, Minimum Government but sadly cut those places where it indeed needs more people, one of which is diplomacy. A slightly dated 2012 article/opinion shared writes that India needs to engage with the rest of the world and do with higher number. Cut to 2020 and the numbers more or less remain the same . What Mr. Modi tried to do is instead of using diplomats, he tried to use his charm and hugopolicy for lack of a better term. 6 years later, here we are. After 200 trips abroad, not a single trade agreement to show what he done. I could go on but both time and energy are not on my side hence now switching to Nepal

Nepal, once friend, now enemy ? Nepal had been a friend of India for 70 odd years, what changed in the last few years that it changed from friend to enemy ? There had been two incidents in recent memory that changed the status quo. The first is the 2015 Nepal blockade . Now one could argue it either way but the truth is that Nepal understood that it is heavily dependent on India hence as any sovereign country would do in its interest it also started courting China for imports so there is some balance. The second one though is one of our own making. On December 16, 2014 RBI allowed Nepali citizens to have cash upto INR 25,000/- . Then in 2016 when demonetization was announced, they said that people could exchange only upto INR 4,500/- which was far below the limit shared above. And btw, before people start blaming just RBI for the decision, FEMA decisions are taken jointly by the finance ministry (FE) as well as ministry of external affairs (MEA) . So without them knowing the decision could not have been taken when announcing it. The result of lowering of demonetization is what made Nepal move more into Chinese hands and this has been shared by number of people in numerous articles in different websites. The wire interview with the vice-chairman of Niti Ayog is pretty interesting. The argument that Nepal show give an estimate of how much old money is there falls flat when in demonetization itself, it was thought of that around 30-40% was black money and would not be returned but by RBI s own admissions all 99.3% of the money was returned. Perhaps they should have consulted Prof. Arun Kumar of JNU who has extensively written and studied the topic before doing that fool-hardy step. It is the reason that since then, an economy which was searing at 9% has been contracting ever since, I could give a dozen articles stating that, but for the moment, just one will suffice. The slowing economy and the sharp divisions between people based on either outlook, religion or whatever also encouraged China to attack us. This year is not good for India. The only thing I hope Indians and people all over do is just maintain physical distances, masks and somehow survive till middle of next year without getting infected when probably most of the vaccine candidates have been trialed, results are in and we have a ready vaccine. I do hope that at least for once, ICMR shares data even after the vaccine is approved, whichever vaccine. Till later.

17 May 2020

Matthew Palmer: Private Key Redaction: UR DOIN IT RONG

Because posting private keys on the Internet is a bad idea, some people like to redact their private keys, so that it looks kinda-sorta like a private key, but it isn t actually giving away anything secret. Unfortunately, due to the way that private keys are represented, it is easy to redact a key in such a way that it doesn t actually redact anything at all. RSA private keys are particularly bad at this, but the problem can (potentially) apply to other keys as well. I ll show you a bit of Inside Baseball with key formats, and then demonstrate the practical implications. Finally, we ll go through a practical worked example from an actual not-really-redacted key I recently stumbled across in my travels.

The Private Lives of Private Keys Here is what a typical private key looks like, when you come across it:
-----BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY-----
MGICAQACEQCxjdTmecltJEz2PLMpS4BXAgMBAAECEDKtuwD17gpagnASq1zQTYEC
CQDVTYVsjjF7IQIJANUYZsIjRsR3AgkAkahDUXL0RSECCB78r2SnsJC9AghaOK3F
sKoELg==
-----END RSA PRIVATE KEY-----
Obviously, there s some hidden meaning in there computers don t encrypt things by shouting BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY! , after all. What is between the BEGIN/END lines above is, in fact, a base64-encoded DER format ASN.1 structure representing a PKCS#1 private key. In simple terms, it s a list of numbers very important numbers. The list of numbers is, in order:
  • A version number (0);
  • The public modulus , commonly referred to as n ;
  • The public exponent , or e (which is almost always 65,537, for various unimportant reasons);
  • The private exponent , or d ;
  • The two private primes , or p and q ;
  • Two exponents, which are known as dmp1 and dmq1 ; and
  • A coefficient, known as iqmp .

Why Is This a Problem? The thing is, only three of those numbers are actually required in a private key. The rest, whilst useful to allow the RSA encryption and decryption to be more efficient, aren t necessary. The three absolutely required values are e, p, and q. Of the other numbers, most of them are at least about the same size as each of p and q. So of the total data in an RSA key, less than a quarter of the data is required. Let me show you with the above toy key, by breaking it down piece by piece1:
  • MGI DER for this is a sequence
  • CAQ version (0)
  • CxjdTmecltJEz2PLMpS4BX n
  • AgMBAA e
  • ECEDKtuwD17gpagnASq1zQTY d
  • ECCQDVTYVsjjF7IQ p
  • IJANUYZsIjRsR3 q
  • AgkAkahDUXL0RS dmp1
  • ECCB78r2SnsJC9 dmq1
  • AghaOK3FsKoELg== iqmp
Remember that in order to reconstruct all of these values, all I need are e, p, and q and e is pretty much always 65,537. So I could redact almost all of this key, and still give all the important, private bits of this key. Let me show you:
-----BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY-----
..............................................................EC
CQDVTYVsjjF7IQIJANUYZsIjRsR3....................................
........
-----END RSA PRIVATE KEY-----
Now, I doubt that anyone is going to redact a key precisely like this but then again, this isn t a typical RSA key. They usually look a lot more like this:
-----BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY-----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-----END RSA PRIVATE KEY-----
People typically redact keys by deleting whole lines, and usually replacing them with [...] and the like. But only about 345 of those 1588 characters (excluding the header and footer) are required to construct the entire key. You can redact about 4/5ths of that giant blob of stuff, and your private parts (or at least, those of your key) are still left uncomfortably exposed.

But Wait! There s More! Remember how I said that everything in the key other than e, p, and q could be derived from those three numbers? Let s talk about one of those numbers: n. This is known as the public modulus (because, along with e, it is also present in the public key). It is very easy to calculate: n = p * q. It is also very early in the key (the second number, in fact). Since n = p * q, it follows that q = n / p. Thus, as long as the key is intact up to p, you can derive q by simple division.

Real World Redaction At this point, I d like to introduce an acquaintance of mine: Mr. Johan Finn. He is the proud owner of the GitHub repo johanfinn/scripts. For a while, his repo contained a script that contained a poorly-redacted private key. He since deleted it, by making a new commit, but of course because git never really deletes anything, it s still available. Of course, Mr. Finn may delete the repo, or force-push a new history without that commit, so here is the redacted private key, with a bit of the surrounding shell script, for our illustrative pleasure:
#Add private key to .ssh folder
cd /home/johan/.ssh/
echo  "-----BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY-----
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
KKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK
 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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::.::
:::::::::::::::::::::::::::.::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLlL
 
 
 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-----END RSA PRIVATE KEY-----" >> id_rsa
Now, if you try to reconstruct this key by removing the obvious garbage lines (the ones that are all repeated characters, some of which aren t even valid base64 characters), it still isn t a key at least, openssl pkey doesn t want anything to do with it. The key is very much still in there, though, as we shall soon see. Using a gem I wrote and a quick bit of Ruby, we can extract a complete private key. The irb session looks something like this:
>> require "derparse"
>> b64 = <<EOF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>> b64 += <<EOF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>> der = b64.unpack("m").first
>> c = DerParse.new(der).first_node.first_child
>> version = c.value
=> 0
>> c = c.next_node
>> n = c.value
=> 80071596234464993385068908004931... # (etc)
>> c = c.next_node
>> e = c.value
=> 65537
>> c = c.next_node
>> d = c.value
=> 58438813486895877116761996105770... # (etc)
>> c = c.next_node
>> p = c.value
=> 29635449580247160226960937109864... # (etc)
>> c = c.next_node
>> q = c.value
=> 27018856595256414771163410576410... # (etc)
What I ve done, in case you don t speak Ruby, is take the two chunks of plausible-looking base64 data, chuck them together into a variable named b64, unbase64 it into a variable named der, pass that into a new DerParse instance, and then walk the DER value tree until I got all the values I need. Interestingly, the q value actually traverses the split in the two chunks, which means that there s always the possibility that there are lines missing from the key. However, since p and q are supposed to be prime, we can sanity check them to see if corruption is likely to have occurred:
>> require "openssl"
>> OpenSSL::BN.new(p).prime?
=> true
>> OpenSSL::BN.new(q).prime?
=> true
Excellent! The chances of a corrupted file producing valid-but-incorrect prime numbers isn t huge, so we can be fairly confident that we ve got the real p and q. Now, with the help of another one of my creations we can use e, p, and q to create a fully-operational battle key:
>> require "openssl/pkey/rsa"
>> k = OpenSSL::PKey::RSA.from_factors(p, q, e)
=> #<OpenSSL::PKey::RSA:0x0000559d5903cd38>
>> k.valid?
=> true
>> k.verify(OpenSSL::Digest::SHA256.new, k.sign(OpenSSL::Digest::SHA256.new, "bob"), "bob")
=> true
and there you have it. One fairly redacted-looking private key brought back to life by maths and far too much free time. Sorry Mr. Finn, I hope you re not still using that key on anything Internet-facing.

What About Other Key Types? EC keys are very different beasts, but they have much the same problems as RSA keys. A typical EC key contains both private and public data, and the public portion is twice the size so only about 1/3 of the data in the key is private material. It is quite plausible that you can redact an EC key and leave all the actually private bits exposed.

What Do We Do About It? In short: don t ever try and redact real private keys. For documentation purposes, just put KEY GOES HERE in the appropriate spot, or something like that. Store your secrets somewhere that isn t a public (or even private!) git repo. Generating a dummy private key and sticking it in there isn t a great idea, for different reasons: people have this odd habit of reusing demo keys in real life. There s no need to encourage that sort of thing.
  1. Technically the pieces aren t 100% aligned with the underlying DER, because of how base64 works. I felt it was easier to understand if I stuck to chopping up the base64, rather than decoding into DER and then chopping up the DER.

30 March 2020

Shirish Agarwal: Covid 19 and the Indian response.

There have been lot of stories about Coronavirus and with it a lot of political blame-game has been happening. The first step that India took of a lockdown is and was a good step but without having a plan as to how especially the poor and the needy and especially the huge migrant population that India has (internal migration) be affected by it. A 2019 World Economic Forum shares the stats. as 139 million people. That is a huge amount of people and there are a variety of both push and pull factors which has displaced these huge number of people. While there have been attempts in the past and probably will continue in future they will be hampered unless we have trust-worthy data which is where there is lots that need to be done. In the recent few years, both the primary and secondary data has generated lot of controversies within India as well as abroad so no point in rehashing all of that. Even the definition of who is a migrant needs to be well-established just as who is a farmer . The simplest lucanae in the later is those who have land are known as farmers but the tenant farmers and their wives are not added as farmers hence the true numbers are never known. Is this an India-specific problem or similar definition issues are there in the rest of the world I don t know.

How our Policies fail to reach the poor and the vulnerable The sad part is most policies in India are made in castles in the air . An interview by the wire shares the conundrum of those who are affected and the policies which are enacted for them (it s a youtube video, sorry)
If one with an open and fresh mind sees the interview it is clear that why there was a huge reverse migration from Indian cities to villages. The poor and marginalized has always seen the Indian state as an extortive force so it doesn t make sense for them to be in the cities. The Prime Minister s annoucement of food for 3 months was a clear indication for the migrant population that for 3 months they will have no work. Faced with such a scenario, the best option for them was to return to their native places. While videos of huge number of migrants were shown of Delhi, this was the scenario of most states and cities, including Pune, my own city . Another interesting point which was made is most of the policies will need the migrants to be back in the villages. Most of these are tied to the accounts which are opened in villages, so even if they want to have the benefits they will have to migrate to villages in order to use them. Of course, everybody in India knows how leaky the administration is. The late Shri Rajiv Gandhi had famously and infamously remarked once how leaky the Public Distribution system and such systems are. It s only 10 paise out of rupee which reaches the poor. And he said this about 30 years ago. There have been numerous reports of both IPS (Indian Police Services) reforms and IAS (Indian Administrative Services) reforms over the years, many of the committee reports have been in public domain and in fact was part of the election manifesto of the ruling party in 2014 but no movement has happened on that part. The only thing which has happened is people from the ruling party have been appointed on various posts which is same as earlier governments. I was discussing with a friend who is a contractor and builder about the construction labour issues which were pointed in the report and if it is true that many a times the migrant labour is not counted. While he shared a number of cases where he knew, a more recent case in public memory was when some labourers died while building Amanora mall which is perhaps one of largest malls in India. There were few accidents while constructing the mall. Apparently, the insurance money which should have gone to the migrant laborer was taken by somebody close to the developers who were building the mall. I have a friend in who lives in Jharkhand who is a labour officer. She has shared with me so many stories of how the labourers are exploited. Keep in mind she has been a labor officer appointed by the state and her salary is paid by the state. So she always has to maintain a balance of ensuring worker s rights and the interests of the state, private entities etc. which are usually in cahoots with the state and it is possible that lot of times the State wins over the worker s rights. Again, as a labour officer, she doesn t have that much power and when she was new to the work, she was often frustrated but as she remarked few months back, she has started taking it easy (routinized) as anyways it wasn t helping her in any good way. Also there have been plenty of cases of labor officers being murdered so its easier to understand why one tries to retain some sanity while doing their job.

The Indian response and the World Response The Indian response has been the lockdown and very limited testing. We seem to be following the pattern of UK and U.S. which had been slow to respond and slow to testing. In the past Kerala showed the way but this time even that is not enough. At the end of the day we need to test, test and test just as shared by the WHO chairman. India is trying to create its own cheap test kits with ICMR approval, for e.g. a firm from my own city Pune MyLab has been given approval. We will know how good or bad they are only after they have been field-tested. For ventilators we have asked Mahindra and Mahindra even though there are companies like Allied Medical and others who have exported to EU and others which the Govt. is still taking time to think through. This is similar to how in UK some companies who are with the Govt. but who have no experience in making ventilators are been given orders while those who have experience and were exporting to Germany and other countries are not been given orders. The playbook is errily similar. In India, we don t have the infrastructure for any new patients, period. Heck only a couple of states have done something proper for the anganwadi workers. In fact, last year there were massive strikes by anganwadi workers all over India but only NDTV showed a bit of it along with some of the news channels from South India. Most mainstream channels chose to ignore it. On the world stage, some of the other countries and how they have responded perhaps need sharing. For e.g. I didn t know that Cuba had so many doctors and the politics between it and Brazil. Or the interesting stats. shared by Andreas Backhaus which seems to show how distributed the issue (age-wise) is rather than just a few groups as has been told in Indian media. What was surprising for me is the 20-29 age group which has not been shared so much in the Indian media which is the bulk of our population. The HBR article also makes a few key points which I hope both the general public and policymakers both in India as well as elsewhere take note of. What is worrying though that people can be infected twice or more as seems to be from Singapore or China and elsewhere. I have read enough of Robin Cook and Michael Crichton books to be aware that viruses can do whatever. They will over time mutate, how things will happen then is anybody s guess. What I found interesting is the world economic forum article which hypothesis that it may be two viruses which got together as well as research paper from journal from poteome research which has recently been published. The biggest myth flying around is that summer will halt or kill the spread which even some of my friends have been victim of . While a part of me wants to believe them, a simple scientific fact has been viruses have probably been around us and evolved over time, just like we have. In fact, there have been cases of people dying due to common cold and other things. Viruses are so prevalent it s unbelivable. What is and was interesting to note is that bat-borne viruses as well as pangolin viruses had been theorized and shared by Chinese researchers going all the way back to 90 s . The problem is even if we killed all the bats in the world, some other virus will take its place for sure. One of the ideas I had, dunno if it s feasible or not that at least in places like Airports, we should have some sort of screenings and a labs working on virology. Of course, this will mean more expenses for flying passengers but for public health and safety maybe it would worth doing so. In any case, virologists should have a field day cataloging various viruses and would make it harder for viruses to spread as fast as this one has. The virus spread also showed a lack of leadership in most of our leaders who didn t react fast enough. While one hopes people do learn from this, I am afraid the whole thing is far from over. These are unprecedented times and hope that all are maintaining social distancing and going out only when needed.

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.

23 June 2017

Joachim Breitner: The perils of live demonstrations

Yesterday, I was giving a talk at the The South SF Bay Haskell User Group about how implementing lock-step simulation is trivial in Haskell and how Chris Smith and me are using this to make CodeWorld even more attractive to students. I gave the talk before, at Compose::Conference in New York City earlier this year, so I felt well prepared. On the flight to the West Coast I slightly extended the slides, and as I was too cheap to buy in-flight WiFi, I tested them only locally. So I arrived at the offices of Target1 in Sunnyvale, got on the WiFi, uploaded my slides, which are in fact one large interactive CodeWorld program, and tried to run it. But I got a type error Turns out that the API of CodeWorld was changed just the day before:
commit 054c811b494746ec7304c3d495675046727ab114
Author: Chris Smith <cdsmith@gmail.com>
Date:   Wed Jun 21 23:53:53 2017 +0000
    Change dilated to take one parameter.
    
    Function is nearly unused, so I'm not concerned about breakage.
    This new version better aligns with standard educational usage,
    in which "dilation" means uniform scaling.  Taken as a separate
    operation, it commutes with rotation, and preserves similarity
    of shapes, neither of which is true of scaling in general.
Ok, that was quick to fix, and the CodeWorld server started to compile my code, and compiled, and aborted. It turned out that my program, presumably the larges CodeWorld interaction out there, hit the time limit of the compiler. Luckily, Chris Smith just arrived at the venue, and he emergency-bumped the compiler time limit. The program compiled and I could start my presentation. Unfortunately, the biggest blunder was still awaiting for me. I came to the slide where two instances of pong are played over a simulated network, and my point was that the two instances are perfectly in sync. Unfortunately, they were not. I guess it did support my point that lock-step simulation can easily go wrong, but it really left me out in the rain there, and I could not explain it I did not modify this code since New York, and there it worked flawless2. In the end, I could save my face a bit by running the real pong game against an attendee over the network, and no desynchronisation could be observed there. Today I dug into it and it took me a while, and it turned out that the problem was not in CodeWorld, or the lock-step simulation code discussed in our paper about it, but in the code in my presentation that simulated the delayed network messages; in some instances it would deliver the UI events in different order to the two simulated players, and hence cause them do something different. Phew.

  1. Yes, the retail giant. Turns out that they have a small but enthusiastic Haskell-using group in their IT department.
  2. I hope the video is going to be online soon, then you can check for yourself.

1 April 2017

Antoine Beaupr : My free software activities, February and March 2017

Looking into self-financing Before I begin, I should mention that I started tracking my time working on free software more systematically. I spend a lot of time on the computer, as regular readers of this blog might remember so I wanted to know exactly how much time was paid vs free work. I was already using org-mode's time clock system to keep track of my work hours, so I just extended this to my regular free software contributions, which also helps in writing those reports. It turns out that over 60% of my computer time is spent working on free software. That's huge! I was expecting something more along the range of 20 to 40% of my time. So I started thinking about ways of financing this work. I created a Patreon page but I'm hesitant into launching such a campaign: the only thing worse than "no patreon page" is "a patreon page with failed goals and no one financing it". So before starting such an effort, I'd like to get a feeling of what other people's experience with it are. I know that joeyh is close to achieving his goals, but I can't compare with the guy that invented git-annex or debhelper, so I'm concerned I wouldn't be able to raise the same level of funding. So any advice you have, feel free to contact me in private or in the comments. If you would be ready to fund my work, I'd love to know about it, obviously, but I guess I wouldn't get real numbers until I actually open up such a page... Now, onto the regular report.

Wallabako I spent a good chunk of time completing most of the things I had in mind for Wallabako, which I mentioned quickly in the previous report. Wallabako is now much easier to installed, with clearer instructions, an easier to use configuration file, more reliable synchronization and read status propagation. As usual the Wallabako README file has all the details. I've also looked at better integration with Koreader, the free software e-reader that forms the basis of the okreader free software distribution which has been able to port Debian to the Kobo e-readers, a project I am really excited about. This project has the potential of supporting Kobo readers beyond the lifetime that upstream grants it and removes a lot of proprietary software and spyware that ships with the Kobo readers. So I have made a few contributions to okreader and also on koreader, the ebook reader okreader is based on.

Stressant I rewrote stressant, my simple burn-in and stress-testing tool. After struggling in turn with Debirf, live-build, vmdebootstrap and even FAI, I just figured maybe it wasn't the best idea to try and reinvent that particular wheel: instead of reinventing how to build yet another Debian system build tool, maybe I should just reuse what's already there. It turns out there's a well known, succesful and fairly complete recovery system called Grml. It is a Debian Derivative, so all I needed to do was to stop procrastinating and actually write the actual stressant tool instead of just creating a distribution with a bunch of random tools shipped in. This allowed me to focus on which tools were the best to stress test different components. This selection ended up being: fio can also be used to overwrite disk drives with the proper options (--overwrite and --size=100%), although grml also ships with nwipe for wiping old spinning disks and hdparm to do a secure erase of SSD disks (whatever that's worth). Stressant still needs to be shipped with grml for this transition to be complete. In the meantime, I was able to configure the excellent public Gitlab CI service to provide ISO images with Stressant built-in as a stopgap measure. I also need to figure out a way to automate starting stressant from a boot menu to automate deployments on a larger scale, although because I have little need for the feature at this moment in time, this will likely wait for a sponsor to show up for this to be implemented. Still, stressant has useful features like the capability of sending logs by email using a fresh new implementation of the Python SMTPHandler (BufferedSMTPHandler) which waits for logging to complete before sending a single email. Another interesting piece of code in there is the NegateAction argparse handler that enables the use of "toggle flags" (e.g. --flag / --no-flag). I'm so happy with the code that I figure I could just share it here directly:
class NegateAction(argparse.Action):
    '''add a toggle flag to argparse

    this is similar to 'store_true' or 'store_false', but allows
    arguments prefixed with --no to disable the default. the default
    is set depending on the first argument - if it starts with the
    negative form (define by default as '--no'), the default is False,
    otherwise True.
    '''
    negative = '--no'
    def __init__(self, option_strings, *args, **kwargs):
        '''set default depending on the first argument'''
        default = not option_strings[0].startswith(self.negative)
        super(NegateAction, self).__init__(option_strings, *args,
                                           default=default, nargs=0, **kwargs)
    def __call__(self, parser, ns, values, option):
        '''set the truth value depending on whether
        it starts with the negative form'''
        setattr(ns, self.dest, not option.startswith(self.negative))
Short and sweet. I wonder why stuff like this is not in the standard library yet - maybe just because no one bothered yet? It'd be great to get feedback of more experienced Pythonistas on this one. I hope that my work on Stressant is complete. I get zero funding for this work, and have little use for it myself: I manage only a few machines and such a tool really shines when you regularly put new hardware online, which is (fortunately?) not my case anymore. I'd be happy, of course, to accompany organisations and people that wish to further develop and use such a tool. A short demo of stressant as well as detailed description of how it works is of course available in its README file.

Standard third party repositories After looking at improvements for the grml repository instructions, I realized there was no real "best practices" document on how to configure an Apt repository. Sure, there are tools like reprepro and others, but those hardly qualify as policy: they are very flexible and there are lots of ways to create insecure repositories or curl sh style instructions, which we of course generally want to avoid. While the larger problem of Unstrusted Debian packages remain generally unsolved (e.g. when you install any .deb file, it can get root on your system), it seemed to me one critical part of this problem was how to add a random third-party repository to your machine while limiting, as much as possible, what possible attackers could do with such a repository. In other words, to solve the more general problem of insecure .deb files, we also need to solve the distribution problem, otherwise fixing the .deb files themselves will be useless. This lead to the creation of standardized repository instructions that define:
  1. how to distribute the repository's public signing key (ie. over HTTPS)
  2. how to name suites and components (e.g. use stable and main unless you have a good reason, and explain yourself)
  3. recommend a healthy does of apt preferences pinning
  4. how to distribute keys (e.g. with a derive-archive-keyring package)
I've seen so many third party repositories get this wrong. For example, a lot of repositories recommend this type of command to intialize the OpenPGP trust path:
curl http://example.com/key.asc   apt-key add -
This has the following problems:
  • the key is transfered in plaintext and can easily be manipulated by an active attacker (e.g. a router on your path to the server or a neighbor in a Wifi cafe)
  • the key is added to the main trust root, which allows the key to authentify as the real Debian archive, therefore giving it all rights over all packages
  • since it's part of the global archive, it's difficult for a package to remove/add the key when a key rollover is necessary (and repositories generally don't provide a deriv-archive-keyring to do that process anyways)
An example of this are the Docker install instructions that, at least, manage to do this over HTTPS. Some other repositories don't even bother teaching people about the proper way of adding those keys. We settled for:
wget -O /usr/share/keyrings/deriv-archive-keyring.gpg https://deriv.example.net/debian/deriv-archive-keyring.gpg
That location was explicitly chosen to be out of the main trust directory, so that it needs to be explicitly added to the sources.list as well:
deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/deriv-archive-keyring.gpg] https://deriv.example.net/debian/ stable main
Similarly, we highly recommend users setup "apt pinning" to restrict what a given repository can do. Since pinning is so confusing, most people don't actually bother even configuring it and I have yet to see a single repo advise its users to configure those preferences, which are essential to limit what a repository can do. To keep configuration simple, we recommend this:
Package: *
Pin: origin deriv.example.net
Pin-Priority: 100
Obviously, for a single-package repository, the actual package name should be listed, e.g.:
Package: foo
Pin: origin deriv.example.net
Pin-Priority: 100
And the priority should probably be set to 1 unless you want to allow automatic upgrades. It is my hope that this design will get more traction in the years to come and become a de-facto standard that will be a key part in safely adding third party repositories. There is obviously much more work to be done to improve security when installing untrusted .deb files, and I encourage Debian developers to consider contributing to the UntrustedDebs discussions and particularly to the Teams/Dpkg/Spec/DeclarativePackaging work.

Signal R&D I spent a significant amount of time this month struggling with the Signal project on my phone. I'm still ambivalent on Signal: it's a centralized designed, too dependent on phone numbers, but I must admit they get a lot of things right and it's the only free-software platform that allows for easy-to-use, multi-platform videoconferencing that my family can use. I've been following Signal for a while: up until now, I had been using the LibreSignal rebuild of the official client, as it is distributed on a F-Droid repository. Because I try to avoid Google (proprietary) software on my phone, it's basically the only way I could even install Signal. Unfortunately, the repository is out of date and introduces another point of trust in the distribution model: now you not only need to trust the Signal authors to do the right thing, you also need to trust that F-Droid repo not to inject nasty code on your phone. I've therefore started a discussion about how Signal could be distributed outside of the Google Play Store. I'd like to think it's one of the things that led the Signal people to distribute an official copy of Signal outside of the playstore. After much struggling, I was able to upgrade to this official client and will be able to upgrade easily by just downloading the APK. (Do note that I ended up reinstalling and re-registering Signal, which unfortunately changed my secret keys.) I do hope Signal enters F-Droid one day, but it could take a while because it still doesn't work without Google services and barely works with MicroG, the free software alternative to the Google services clients. Moxie also set a list of requirements like crash reporting and statistics that need to be implemented on F-Droid's side before he agrees to the deployment, so this could take a while. I've also participated in the, ahem, discussion on the JWZ blog regarding a supposed vulnerability in Signal where it would leak previously unknown phone numbers to third parties. I reviewed the way the phone number is uploaded and, while it's possible to create a rainbow table of phone numbers (which are hashed with a truncated SHA-1 checksum), I couldn't verify the claims of other participants in the thread. For me, Signal still does the right thing with contacts, although I do question the way "read status" notifications get transmitted, but that belong in another bug report / blog post.

Debian Long Term Support (LTS) It's been more than a year working on Debian LTS, started by Raphael Hertzog at Freexian. I didn't work much in February so I had a lot of hours to catchup with, and was unfortunately unable to do so, partly because I was busy with other projects, and partly because my colleagues are doing a great job at resolving the most important issues. So one my concerns this month was finding work. It seemed that all the hard packages were either taken (e.g. my usual favorites, tiff and imagemagick, we done by others) or just too challenging (e.g. I don't feel quite comfortable tackling the LTS branch of the Linux kernel yet). I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what was wrong with pcre3, only to realise the "32" in the report was not about the architecture, but about the character width. Because of thise, I marked 4 CVEs (CVE-2017-7186, CVE-2017-7244, CVE-2017-7245, CVE-2017-7246) as "not-affected", since the 32-bith character support wasn't enabled in wheezy (or jessie, for that matter). I still spent some time trying to reproduce the issues, which require a compiler with an AddressSanitizer, something that was introduced in both Clang and GCC after Wheezy was released, which makes reproducing this fairly complicated... This allowed me to experiment more with Vagrant, however, and I have provided the Debian cloud team with a 32-bit Vagrant box that was merged in shortly after, although it doesn't show up yet in the official list of Debian images. Then I looked at the apparmor situation (CVE-2017-6507), Debian bug #858768). That was one tricky bug as well, since it's not a security issue in apparmor per se, but more an issue with things that assume a certain behavior from apparmor. I have concluded that Wheezy was not affected because there are no assumptions of proper isolation there - which are provided only starting from LXC 1.0 - and Docker is not in Wheezy. I also couldn't reproduce the issue on Jessie, but, as it turns out, the issue was sysvinit-specific, which is why I couldn't reproduce it under the default systemd configuration shipped with Jessie. I also looked at the various binutils security issues: as I reported on the mailing list, I didn't see anything serious enough in there to warrant a a security release and followed the lead of both the stable and Red Hat security teams by marking this "no-dsa". I similiarly reviewed the mp3splt security issues (specifically CVE-2017-5666) and was fairly puzzled by that issue, which seems to be triggered only the same address sanitization extensions than PCRE, although there was some pretty wild interplay with debugging flags in there. All in all, it seems we can't reproduce that issue in wheezy, but I do not feel confident enough in the results to push that issue aside for now. I finally uploaded the pending graphicsmagick issue (DLA-547-2), a regression update to fix a crash that was introduced in the previous release (DLA-547-1, mistakenly named DLA-574-1). Hopefully that release should clear up some of the confusion and fix the regression. I also released DLA-879-1 for the CVE-2017-6369 in firebird2.5 which was an interesting experiment: I couldn't reproduce the issue in a local VM. After following the Ubuntu setup tutorial, as I wasn't too familiar with the Firebird database until now (hint: the default username and password is sysdba/masterkey), I ended up assuming we were vulnerable and just backporting the patch after seeing the jessie folks push out a release just in case. I also looked at updating the ca-certificates package to deal with the pending WoSign/Startcom removal: I made an explicit list of the CAs that need to be removed after reviewing the Mozilla list. I also sent a patch for an unrelated issue where ca-certificates is writing to /usr/local (!!) in Debian bug #843722. I have also done some "meta" work in starting a discussion about fixing the missing DLA links in the tracker, as you will notice all of the above links lead to nowhere. Thanks to pabs, there are now some links but unfortunately there are about 500 DLAs missing from the website. We also discussed ways to Debian bug #859123, something which is currently a manual process. This is now in the hands of the excellent webmaster team. I have also filed a few missing security bugs (Debian bug #859135, Debian bug #859136), partly because I wanted to help the security team. But it turned out that I felt the script needed some improvements, so I submitted a patch to improve the script so it is easier to run.

Other projects As usual, there's the usual mixed bags of chaos: More stuff on Github...

1 February 2017

Antoine Beaupr : Testing new hardware with Stressant

I got a new computer and wondered... How can I test it? One of those innocent questions that brings hours and hours of work and questionning...

A new desktop: Intel NUC devices After reading up on Jeff Atwood's blog and especially his article on the scooter computer, I have discovered a whole range of small computers that could answer my need for a faster machine in my office at a low price tag and without taking up too much of my precious desk space. After what now seems like a too short review I ended up buying a new Intel NUC device from NCIX.com, along with 16GB of RAM and an amazing 500GB M.2 hard drive for around 750$. I am very happy with the machine. It's very quiet and takes up zero space on my desk as I was able to screw it to the back of my screen. You can see my review of the hardware compatibility and installation report in the Debian wiki. I wish I had taken more time to review the possible alternatives - for example I found out about the amazing Airtop PC recently and, although that specific brand is a bit too expensive, the space of small computers is far and wide and deserves a more thorough review than just finding the NUC by accident while shopping for laptops on System76.com...

Reviving the Stressant project But this, and Atwood's Is Your Computer Stable? article, got me thinking about how to test new computers. It's one thing to build a machine and fire it up, but how do you know everything is actually really working? It is common practice to do a basic stress test or burn-in when you get a new machine in the industry - how do you proceed with such tests? Back in the days when I was working at Koumbit, I wrote a tool exactly for that purpose called Stressant. Since I am the main author of the project and I didn't see much activity on it since I left, I felt it would be a good idea to bring it under my personal wing again, and I have therefore moved it to my Gitlab where I hope to bring it back to life. Parts of the project's rationale are explained in an "Intent To Package" the "breakin" tool (Debian bug #707178), which, after closer examination, ended up turning into a complete rewrite. The homepage has a bit more information about how the tool works and its objectives, but generally, the idea is to have a live CD or USB stick that you can just plugin into a machine to run a battery of automated tests (memtest86, bonnie++, stress-ng and disk wiping, for example) or allow for interactive rescue missions on broken machines. At Koumbit, we had Debirf-based live images that we could boot off the network fairly easily that we would use for various purposes, although nothing was automated yet. The tool is based on Debian, but since it starts from boot, it should be runnable on any computer. I was able to bring the project back to life, to a certain extent, by switching to vmdebootstrap instead of debirf for builds, but that removed netboot support. Also, I hope that Gitlab could provide with an autobuilder for the images, but unfortunately there's a bug in Docker that makes it impossible to mount loop images in Docker images (which makes it impossible to build Docker in Docker, apparently).

Should I start yet another project? So there's still a lot of work to do in this project to get it off the ground. I am still a bit hesitant in getting into this, however, for a few reasons:
  1. It's yet another volunteer job - which I am trying to reduce for health and obvious economic reasons. That's a purely personal reason and there isn't much you can do about it.
  2. I am not sure the project is useful. It's one thing to build a tool that can do basic tests on a machine - I can probably just build an live image for myself that will do everything I need - it's another completely different thing to build something that will scale to multiple machines and be useful for more various use cases and users.
(A variation of #1 is how everything and everyone is moving to the cloud. It's become a common argument that you shouldn't run your own metal these days, and we seem to be fighting an uphill economic battle when we run our own datacenters, rack or even physical servers these days. I still think it's essential to have some connexion to metal to be autonomous in our communications, but I'm worried that focusing on such a project is another of my precious dead entreprises... ) Part #2 is obviously where you people come in. Here's a few questions I'd like to have feedback on:
  1. (How) do you perform stress-testing of your machines before putting them in production (or when you find issues you suspect to be hardware-related)?
  2. Would a tool like breakin or stressant be useful in your environment?
  3. Which tools do you use now for such purposes?
  4. Would you contribute to such a project? How?
  5. Do you think there is room for such a project in the existing ecology of projects) or should I contribute to an existing project?
Any feedback here would be, of course, greatly appreciated.

30 September 2016

Chris Lamb: Free software activities in September 2016

Here is my monthly update covering what I have been doing in the free software world (previous month):
Reproducible builds

Whilst anyone can inspect the source code of free software for malicious flaws, most Linux distributions provide binary (or "compiled") packages to end users. The motivation behind the Reproducible Builds effort is to allow verification that no flaws have been introduced either maliciously and accidentally during this compilation process by promising identical binary packages are always generated from a given source. My work in the Reproducible Builds project was also covered in our weekly reports #71, #72, #71 & #74. I made the following improvements to our tools:

diffoscope

diffoscope is our "diff on steroids" that will not only recursively unpack archives but will transform binary formats into human-readable forms in order to compare them.

  • Added a global Progress object to track the status of the comparison process allowing for graphical and machine-readable status indicators. I also blogged about this feature in more detail.
  • Moved the global Config object to a more Pythonic "singleton" pattern and ensured that constraints are checked on every change.

disorderfs

disorderfs is our FUSE filesystem that deliberately introduces nondeterminism into the results of system calls such as readdir(3).

  • Display the "disordered" behaviour we intend to show on startup. (#837689)
  • Support relative paths in command-line parameters (previously only absolute paths were permitted).

strip-nondeterminism

strip-nondeterminism is our tool to remove specific information from a completed build.

  • Fix an issue where temporary files were being left on the filesystem and add a test to avoid similar issues in future. (#836670)
  • Print an error if the file to normalise does not exist. (#800159)
  • Testsuite improvements:
    • Set the timezone in tests to avoid a FTBFS and add a File::StripNondeterminism::init method to the API to to set tzset everywhere. (#837382)
    • "Smoke test" the strip-nondeterminism(1) and dh_strip_nondeterminism(1) scripts to prevent syntax regressions.
    • Add a testcase for .jar file ordering and normalisation.
    • Check the stripping process before comparing file attributes to make it less confusing on failure.
    • Move to a lookup table for descriptions of stat(1) indices and use that for nicer failure messages.
    • Don't uselessly test whether the inode number has changed.
  • Run perlcritic across the codebase and adopt some of its prescriptions including explicitly using oct(..) for integers with leading zeroes, avoiding mixing high and low-precedence booleans, ensuring subroutines end with a return statement, etc.

I also submitted 4 patches to fix specific reproducibility issues in golang-google-grpc, nostalgy, python-xlib & torque.


Debian https://lamby-www.s3.amazonaws.com/yadt/blog.Image/image/original/28.jpeg

Patches contributed

Debian LTS

This month I have been paid to work 12.75 hours on Debian Long Term Support (LTS). In that time I did the following:
  • "Frontdesk" duties, triaging CVEs, etc.
  • Issued DLA 608-1 for mailman fixing a CSRF vulnerability.
  • Issued DLA 611-1 for jsch correcting a path traversal vulnerability.
  • Issued DLA 620-1 for libphp-adodb patching a SQL injection vulnerability.
  • Issued DLA 631-1 for unadf correcting a buffer underflow issue.
  • Issued DLA 634-1 for dropbear fixing a buffer overflow when parsing ASN.1 keys.
  • Issued DLA 635-1 for dwarfutils working around an out-of-bounds read issue.
  • Issued DLA 638-1 for the SELinux policycoreutils, patching a sandbox escape issue.
  • Enhanced Brian May's find-work --unassigned switch to take an optional "except this user" argument.
  • Marked matrixssl and inspircd as being unsupported in the current LTS version.

Uploads
  • python-django 1:1.10.1-1 New upstream release and ensure that django-admin startproject foo creates files with the correct shebang under Python 3.
  • gunicorn:
    • 19.6.0-5 Don't call chown(2) if it would be a no-op to avoid failure under snap.
    • 19.6.0-6 Remove now-obsolete conffiles and logrotate scripts; they should have been removed in 19.6.0-3.
  • redis:
    • 3.2.3-2 Call ulimit -n 65536 by default from SysVinit scripts to normalise the behaviour with systemd. I also bumped the Debian package epoch as the "2:" prefix made it look like we are shipping version 2.x. I additionaly backported this upload to Debian Jessie.
    • 3.2.4-1 New upstream release, add missing -ldl for dladdr(3) & add missing dependency on lsb-base.
  • python-redis (2.10.5-2) Bump python-hiredis to Suggests to sync with Ubuntu and move to a machine-readable debian/copyright. I also backported this upload to Debian Jessie.
  • adminer (4.2.5-3) Move mysql-server dependencies to default-mysql-server. I also backported this upload to Debian Jessie.
  • gpsmanshp (1.2.3-5) on behalf of the QA team:
    • Move to "minimal" debhelper style, making the build reproducible. (#777446 & #792991)
    • Reorder linker command options to build with --as-needed (#729726) and add hardening flags.
    • Move to machine-readable copyright file, add missing #DEBHELPER# tokens to postinst and prerm scripts, tidy descriptions & other debian/control fields and other smaller changes.

I sponsored the upload of 5 packages from other developers:

I also NMU'd:



FTP Team

As a Debian FTP assistant I ACCEPTed 147 packages: alljoyn-services-1604, android-platform-external-doclava, android-platform-system-tools-aidl, aufs, bcolz, binwalk, bmusb, bruteforce-salted-openssl, cappuccino, captagent, chrome-gnome-shell, ciphersaber, cmark, colorfultabs, cppformat, dnsrecon, dogtag-pki, dxtool, e2guardian, flask-compress, fonts-mononoki, fwknop-gui, gajim-httpupload, glbinding, glewmx, gnome-2048, golang-github-googleapis-proto-client-go, google-android-installers, gsl, haskell-hmatrix-gsl, haskell-relational-query, haskell-relational-schemas, haskell-secret-sharing, hindsight, i8c, ip4r, java-string-similarity, khal, khronos-opencl-headers, liblivemedia, libshell-config-generate-perl, libshell-guess-perl, libstaroffice, libxml2, libzonemaster-perl, linux, linux-grsec-base, linux-signed, lua-sandbox, lua-torch-trepl, mbrola-br2, mbrola-br4, mbrola-de1, mbrola-de2, mbrola-de3, mbrola-ir1, mbrola-lt1, mbrola-lt2, mbrola-mx1, mimeo, mimerender, mongo-tools, mozilla-gnome-keyring, munin, node-grunt-cli, node-js-yaml, nova, open-build-service, openzwave, orafce, osmalchemy, pgespresso, pgextwlist, pgfincore, pgmemcache, pgpool2, pgsql-asn1oid, postbooks-schema, postgis, postgresql-debversion, postgresql-multicorn, postgresql-mysql-fdw, postgresql-unit, powerline-taskwarrior, prefix, pycares, pydl, pynliner, pytango, pytest-cookies, python-adal, python-applicationinsights, python-async-timeout, python-azure, python-azure-storage, python-blosc, python-can, python-canmatrix, python-chartkick, python-confluent-kafka, python-jellyfish, python-k8sclient, python-msrestazure, python-nss, python-pytest-benchmark, python-tenacity, python-tmdbsimple, python-typing, python-unidiff, python-xstatic-angular-schema-form, python-xstatic-tv4, quilt, r-bioc-phyloseq, r-cran-filehash, r-cran-png, r-cran-testit, r-cran-tikzdevice, rainbow-mode, repmgr, restart-emacs, restbed, ruby-azure-sdk, ruby-babel-source, ruby-babel-transpiler, ruby-diaspora-prosody-config, ruby-haikunator, ruby-license-finder, ruby-ms-rest, ruby-ms-rest-azure, ruby-rails-assets-autosize, ruby-rails-assets-blueimp-gallery, ruby-rails-assets-bootstrap, ruby-rails-assets-bootstrap-markdown, ruby-rails-assets-emojione, ruby-sprockets-es6, ruby-timeliness, rustc, skytools3, slony1-2, snmp-mibs-downloader, syslog-ng, test-kitchen, uctodata, usbguard, vagrant-azure, vagrant-mutate & vim.

16 March 2015

Daniel Kahn Gillmor: Bootable grub USB stick (EFI and BIOS for Intel)

I'm using grub version 2.02~beta2-2. I want to make a USB stick that's capable of booting Intel architecture EFI machines, both 64-bit (x86_64) and 32-bit (ia32). I'm starting from a USB stick which is attached to a running debian system as /dev/sdX. I have nothing that i care about on that USB stick, and all data on it will be destroyed by this process. I'm also going to try to make it bootable for traditional Intel BIOS machines, since that seems handy.I'm documenting what I did here, in case it's useful to other people. Set up the USB stick's partition table:
parted /dev/sdX -- mktable gpt
parted /dev/sdX -- mkpart biosgrub fat32 1MiB 4MiB
parted /dev/sdX -- mkpart efi fat32 4MiB -1
parted /dev/sdX -- set 1 bios_grub on
parted /dev/sdX -- set 2 esp on
After this, my 1GiB USB stick looks like:
0 root@foo:~# parted /dev/sdX -- print
Model:  USB FLASH DRIVE (scsi)
Disk /dev/sdX: 1032MB
Sector size (logical/physical): 512B/512B
Partition Table: gpt
Disk Flags: 
Number  Start   End     Size    File system  Name      Flags
 1      1049kB  4194kB  3146kB  fat32        biosgrub  bios_grub
 2      4194kB  1031MB  1027MB               efi       boot, esp
0 root@foo:~# 
make a filesystem and mount it temporarily at /mnt:
mkfs -t vfat -n GRUB /dev/sdX2
mount /dev/sdX2 /mnt
ensure we have the binaries needed, and add three grub targets for the different platforms:
apt install grub-efi-ia32-bin grub-efi-amd64-bin grub-pc-bin grub2-common
grub-install --removable --no-nvram --no-uefi-secure-boot \
     --efi-directory=/mnt --boot-directory=/mnt \
     --target=i386-efi
grub-install --removable --no-nvram --no-uefi-secure-boot \
     --efi-directory=/mnt --boot-directory=/mnt \
     --target=x86_64-efi
grub-install --removable --boot-directory=/mnt \
     --target=i386-pc /dev/sdX
At this point, you should add anything else you want to /mnt here! For example: And don't forget to cleanup:
umount /mnt
sync
Tags: bios, efi, grub, tip

23 March 2014

Gregor Herrmann: RC bugs 2013/49 - 2014/12

since people keep talking to me about my RC bug fixing activities, I thought it might be time again for a short report. to be honest, I mostly stopped my almost daily work at some point in december, partly because the overall number of RC bugs affecting both testing & unstable is quite low (& therefore the number of easy-to-fix bugs), due to the auto-removal policy of the release team (kudos!). but I still kept track about RC bugs I worked on, & here's the list; as you can see, mostly pkg-perl bugs ps: the how-can-i-help package is a nice tool for finding RC bugs in packages you care about. install it if you haven't so far!

12 March 2013

Hideki Yamane: Open Source Conference 2013 Tokushima ( )

Some Debian/Ubuntu folks had participated in Open Source Conference 2013 Tokushima, in (Tokushima), which is in Shikoku ( , smallest of the four main islands of Japan).

(Oh, there's Matz. Can you find it? :)





I have not been there but I hope they had a good time...

23 September 2012

Aigars Mahinovs: Cloning or pre-configuring a batch of Android phones

An interesting question popped up in my Twitter stream today is there an Android alternative to Apple configurator (for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) that allows to create a bunch of identical Apple devices with some added configurations and applications. The best I could come up with is not as polished, but on the other hand much more powerful option Nandroid backup and restore (also known as ClockworkMod Recovery backup). To do this, you need a source phone and a bunch of destination phones. On the source phone a ClockworkMod Recovery (CWR) must be installed (either via a root or via a bootloader unlock). On the destination phones you will either need to also install ClockworkMod Recovery or unlock the bootloader to allow the Fastboot tool to work. So the procedure then goes as follows:
1. Unlock the bootloader on the source phone (search for device specific info on how to do that)
2. Use fastboot flash recovery filename.img to write a device-specific version of CWR to the recovery partition of the device (the phone must be in fastboot mode at that point)
3. Do whatever customisations you want to the source phone at this point. You can use custorm ROMs, install whatever applications, do whatever configuration, but I would suggest keeping everything in phone memory so you don t have to flash the SD card as well.
4. Reboot the source phone into CWR mode, use the backup option to create a full backup.
5. The backup will now be in the SD card of the source device. Copy that to the computer that you will use for creating copies. For each destination phone:
6. Unlock the bootloader of the destination phone
7. Reboot the phone in the fastboot mode, connect it via USB to the copying computer
8. Flash all partitions from the backup using fastboot flash ... commands, skip flashing the recovery partition if you don t want CMR on the destination device
9. Re-lock the bootloader (with fastboot oem lock) And you are done! All the phones must be of the same model. And that model must support unlocking bootloader for this to work. I prefer this method, because this way it is possible to create an end device without root, with a locked bootloader and without CWR thus providing some security as unlocking the bootloader wipes the device, so without specific hacking an attacker can not easily get access to system data on such device. It is also possible to do this with devices that do not have an boot unlock if there is a way to root the original firmware which allows to install CWR and go on from there, but that is significantly more complicated and time-consuming, so using devices with an ability to unlock the bootloader is much preferable. However, before you go to all that trouble, it might be worth to consider if maybe for your particular use case it would be enough with the two commands from Android SDK adb install ... and adb push ... to install applications or individual files on devices or adb backup AppName and adb restore ... to backup and restore one or more individual applications with all their settings. These options have the benefit of that they will work across different device models and that they do not wipe other data or applications from the devices. As I could not immediately find a better way or even a detailed guide how to do this, I decided to write this post, so it would be easier for other people to find this information. If you know a better way, please do mention it in the comments section!

29 March 2011

Daniel Kahn Gillmor: auto-built debirf images

jrollins and i recently did a bunch of cleanup work on debirf, with the result that debirf 0.30 can now build all the shipped example profiles without error (well, as long as debootstrap --variant=fakechroot is working properly -- apprently that's not the case for fakechroot 2.9 in squeeze right now, which is why i've uploaded a backport of 2.14). To try to avoid getting into a broken state again, we set up an autobuilder to create the images from the three example profiles (minimal, rescue, and xkiosk) for amd64 systems. The logs for these builds are published (with changes) nightly at:
git://debirf.cmrg.net/debirf-autobuilder-logs
But even better, we are also publishing the auto-generated debirf images themselves. So, for example, if you've got an amd64-capable machine with a decent amount of RAM (512MiB is easily enough), you can download a rescue kernel and image into /boot/debirf/, add a stanza to your bootloader, and be able to reboot to it cleanly, without having to sort out the debirf image creation process yourself. We're also providing ISOs so people who still use optical media don't have to format their own. Please be sure to verify the checksums of the files you download. The checksums themselves are signed by the OpenPGP key for Debirf Autobuilder <debirf@cmrg.net>, which i've certified and published to the keyserver network. What's next? It would be nice to have auto-built images for i386 and other architectures. And if someone has a good idea for a new example profile that we should also be auto-building, please submit a bug to the BTS so we can try to sort it out.Tags: debirf

11 March 2011

Eddy Petri&#537;or: HOWTO: Making Windows usable and avoiding accidental sending of mails in Microsoft Outlook

I've changed jobs recently and after 5 years of not having to work with a Windows system I am having all sorts of adaptation-to-Windows problems at the new job.

First I just had to have the usual X-mouse behaviour and so I installed True X-Mouse Gizmo for Windows. This provides focus under mouse, middle click paste after select (not perfect, but it works), right click to push to bottom the window.

Second I had to have a virtual desktop, so I installed Microsoft's Virtual Desktop Manager from the PowerToys page. I tried another virtual desktop manager before using MSVDM, but I found it too clumsy so I switched to MSVDM which I knew from way back when I used Windows the last time. Good, now I can have my applications organised the way I am used to.

UPDATE:
I gave up on MSVDM in favour of Virtual Dimension since I wasn't able to send a particular window to the intended desktop unless I had in the taskbar all apps visible (Shared Desktop option). I might try other suggestions (Virtual Dimension does not have a way to send a window directly to a specific desktop, but just to the neighbours of the current one.)


Third, I had to make Caps Lock work as Ctrl. I just can't go back to an inferior setup. I found information on this page and ended up at this page from where I got a zip file with various registry keys which allow the deactivation of caps, or turning it into another Ctrl.

Fourth, I am used to write with diacritics in Romanian with the secondary layout of the standard (SR 13392:2004), so I rushed to Cristian Secar 's page for the keyboard driver since on XP the Romanian layout is retarded (some history in which some arbitrary German guy decided y and z had to be switched on Romanian keyboards and some other similarly weird stuff). Since the installation, my keyboard behaves according to this layout:




Things started to look well, but I soon was reminded that Outlook is an idiotic mailer since it doesn't require a confirmation on send, not even if you didn't set a subject. And this is problematic since sending the mail is done via Alt+S, so if the current layer is NOT Romanian, when I want to type (s with a comma below), a fairly common character in Romanian words, you end up looking like an idiot on the recipient side since they receive an incomplete mail. Remember, no confirmation AND no default spell checking before send. Yay!

At my second such accidental mail sending (of which the last two were sent to the same person), I decided to see if this can't be fixed. I initially looked for changing the short cut, but I couldn't find it (I might be inept at finding things in Windows, remember, I haven't touched Windows systems in the last 5 years) but I found another workaround and decided it's good enough to share with other people that might hit the problem.

Just setup a delay rule following these steps.
1. Go to Tools....Rules Wizard
2. Click 'New' Rule
3. Select "Check messages after sending"
4. Click Next on "Which conditions you want to Check?" dialog.
5. Press yes to "This Rule will be applied to every message" message box
6. In the "What do you want to do with message?" dialog, Select "Defer delivery by a number of minutes"
7. Select your favourite number of minutes.... I usually select 2 mins.
8. Select Finish. and close the Rules Wizard.

Now everytime you send an email it will sit in your outbox
for specified number of minutes. If you ever wanted to change it, delete it etc, You have sufficient time to do it :)


I used 3 minutes for the delay. At least now I can prevent looking retarded in front of people... more than necessary :D .


Oh, and Windows' clock display is retarded. It shows, by default, the hour and minutes, but there's no way to change that in a sane way. If you want the date, you must hover over the clock and it shows it, but the day of week is missing. Great job! You can see that information, too, but you have to drag the toolbar to be 2 or even 3 rows high (here it requires 2, but I've seen people saying they needed 3) to get that information, too. Great! One has to choose between wasting desktop real estate and having access to useful information. Or you could install an independent application for the clock... retarded. I am not making this shit up.

I hope this helped.

2 November 2010

Francois Marier: RAID1 alternative for SSD drives

I recently added a solid-state drive to my desktop computer to take advantage of the performance boost rumored to come with these drives. For reliability reasons, I've always tried to use software RAID1 to avoid having to reinstall my machine from backups should a hard drive fail. While this strategy is fairly cheap with regular hard drives, it's not really workable with SSD drives which are still an order of magnitude more expensive.

The strategy I settled on is this one:This setup has the benefit of using a very small SSD to speed up the main partition while keeping all important data on the larger mirrored drives.

Resetting the SSDThe first thing I did, given that I purchased a second-hand drive, was to completely erase the drive and mark all sectors as empty using an ATA secure erase. Because SSDs have a tendency to get slower as data is added to them, it is necessary to clear the drive in a way that will let the controller know that every byte is now free to be used again.

There is a lot of advice on the web on how to do this and many tutorials refer to an old piece of software called Secure Erase. There is a much better solution on Linux: issuing the commands directly using hdparm.

Partitioning the SSDOnce the drive is empty, it's time to create partitions on it. I'm not sure how important it is to align the partitions to the SSD erase block size on newer drives, but I decided to follow Ted Ts'o's instructions anyways.

Another thing I did is leave 20% of the drive unpartitioned. I've often read that SSDs are faster the more free space they have so I figured that limiting myself to 80% of the drive should help the drive maintain its peak performance over time. In fact, I've heard that extra unused unpartitionable space is one of the main differences between the value and extreme series of Intel SSDs. I'd love to see an official confirmation of this from Intel of course!

Keeping the RAID1 array in sync with the SSDOnce I added the solid-state drive to my computer and copied my root partition on it, I adjusted my fstab and grub settings to boot from that drive. I also setup the following cron job (running twice daily) to keep a copy of my root partition on the old RAID1 drives (mounted on /mnt):
nice ionice -c3 rsync -aHx --delete --exclude=/proc/* --exclude=/sys/* --exclude=/tmp/* --exclude=/home/* --exclude=/mnt/* --exclude=/lost+found/* --exclude=/data/* /* /mnt/

Tuning the SSDFinally, after reading this excellent LWN article, I decided to tune the SSD drive (/dev/sda) by adjusting three things:


Is there anything else I should be doing to make sure I get the most out of my SSD?

18 September 2010

Jamie McClelland: From vservers to KVM

Given the impending deprecation of vservers, I've decided to make the switch to KVM on my laptop. Although lxc is a closer approximation to vservers, I decided to go with KVM due to it's support in Virtual Machine Manager. My first step was to confirm that my CPU would support kvm:
egrep -o "svm vmx" /proc/cpuinfo
If that command outputs either svm or vmx (depending on whether you have Intel or AMD hardware) then your CPU supports virtualization. I'm working on a host machine called chicken, which has a logical volume called vg_chicken0. All vservers on chicken operate on a root filesystem that is backed by their own logical volume. In this post, I'll describe the steps to convert the vserver hobo (which operates on a filesystem mounted on the host in /var/lib/vservers/hobo and is backed by the logical volume called vg_chicken0-hobo_root). Both chicken and hobo are running debian squeeze. vservers don't have a kernel installed or grub. KVM virtual servers need both. I was hoping I could simply enter the vserver, install both a kernal and grub and be ready to go. However, grub installation will fail miserably because grub can't figure out how to install on the underlying disk (which is hidden from the vserver). Next, I tried launching a kvm instance, passing a debirf generated ISO with the -c (cdrom) option. However, grub recognized that it was being installed onto a device that did not have a partition table (the logical volume was directly formatted with a file system). So, since I had disk space to spare, I created a new logical volume:
lvcreate --size 5GB --name hobo_root_new vg_chicken0
I then added a gpt partition table (why not prepare for the coming 2TB disks?) and created two partitions. One partition for grub2 and one for everything else:
parted /dev/mapper/vg_chicken0-hobo_root_new mklabel gpt
parted /dev/mapper/vg_chicken0-hobo_root_new unit s mkpart biosboot 2048 4095 
parted /dev/mapper/vg_chicken0-hobo_root_new set 1 bios_grub on 
parted /dev/mapper/vg_chicken0-hobo_root_new unit s mkpart primary 4096
When prompted for the end of the last partition, choose: -1 and accept the adjustment. I had to eyeball cat /proc/partitions to figure out which dm device was the second partition (dm-19). I then created a file system:
mkfs -t ext3 /dev/dm-19
Mounted it:
mount /dev/dm-19 /mnt
And rsync'ed the data:
rsync -a /var/lib/vservers/hobo/ /mnt/
With the data in place, I chroot'ed and installed the packages I needed. When prompted, I chose not to install grub to the disk, because I wanted to wait until I had an environment in which the proper disk would be available to grub as it will when the virtual server boots (see below):
chroot /mnt
mount /proc
aptitude install linux-image-2.6-amd64 grub2
umount /proc
exit
Then, I cleaned up:
umount /mnt
umount /var/lib/vservers/hobo
lvremove vg_chicken0/hobo_root
lvrename vg_chicken0/hobo_root_new hobo_root
dmsetup remove /dev/mapper/vg_chicken0-hobo_root_newp1
dmsetup remove /dev/mapper/vg_chicken0-hobo_root_newp2
kpartx -d /dev/mapper/vg_chicken0-hobo_root
And I removed it from /etc/fstab. Next, I created a new kvm virtual server, using the disk /dev/mapper/vg_chicken0-hobo_root and passing a debirf cd image with -c: virt-install --name hobo --ram 512 --disk /dev/mapper/vgchicken0-hoboroot -c /usr/local/share/debian/ISOs/debirf-rescuesqueeze2.6.32-5-vserver-amd64.iso After logging in, I installed grub2 (aptitude update; aptitude install grub2) and then I installed grub:
mount /dev/sda2 /mnt/
grub-install --no-floppy --root-directory=/mnt /dev/sda
After running grub-install, edit /mnt/boot/grub/device.map so it reads:
(hd0) /dev/sda
Then, rerun grub-install command. I tried generating the grub.cfg file, but got an error message indicating that grub-probe would not detect the device providing / (because I was running on a ram file system from debirf). I added the following to /mnt/etc/fstab:
/dev/sda2  /     ext3 errors=remount-ro 0 1
proc       /proc proc defaults          0 0
And then re-generate the initrd image:
chroot /mnt
mount /proc
update-initramfs -u
So, I rebooted the virtual machine by typing:
exit
reboot
This dropped me into a grub shell. I manually typed:
root (hd0,gpt2)
linux /vmlinuz root=/dev/sda2 ro
initrd /initrd.img
boot
Once booted, I logged in a completed the task with:
update-grub

21 January 2010

Daniel Kahn Gillmor: TCP weirdness, IMAP, wireshark, and perdition

This is the story of a weirdly unfriendly/non-compliant IMAP server, and some nice interactions that arose from a debugging session around it. Over the holidays, i got to do some computer/network debugging for friends and family. One old friend (I'll call him Fred) had a series of problems i managed to help work through, but was ultimately basically stumped based on the weird behavior of an IMAP server. Here's the details (names of the innocent and guilty have been changed), just in case it helps other folks in at least diagnosing similar situations. the diagnosis The initial symptom was that Fred's computer was "very slow". Sadly, this was a Windows machine, so my list of tricks for diagnosing sluggishness is limited. I went through a series of questions, uninstalling things, etc, until we figured it would be better to just have him do his usual work while i watched, kibitzing on what seemed acceptable and what seemed slow. Quite soon, we hit a very specific failure: Fred's Thunderbird installation (version 2, FWIW) was sometimes hanging for a very long period of time during message retrieval. This was not exhaustion of the CPU, disk, RAM, or other local resource. It was pure network delay, and it was a frequent (if unpredictable) frustrating hiccup in his workflow. One thought i had was Thunderbird's per-server max_cached_connections setting, which can sometimes cause a TB instance to hang if a remote server thinks Thunderbird is being too aggressive. After sorting out why Thunderbird was resetting the values after we'd set them to 0 (grr, thanks for the confusing UI, folks!), we set it to 1, but still had the same occasional, lengthy (about 2 minutes) hang when transfering messages between folders (including the trash folder!), or when reading new messages. Sending mail was quite fast, except for occasional (similarly lengthy) hangs writing the copy to the sent folder. So IMAP was the problem (not SMTP), and the 2-minute timeouts smelled like an issue with the networking layer to me. At this point, i busted out wireshark, the trusty packet sniffer, which fortunately works as well on Windows as it does on GNU/Linux. Since Fred was doing his IMAP traffic in the clear, i could actually see when and where in the IMAP session the hang was happening. (BTW, Fred's IMAP traffic is no longer in the clear: after all this happened, i switched him to IMAPS (IMAP wrapped in a TLS session), because although the IMAP server in question actually supports the STARTTLS directive, it fails to advertise it in response to the CAPABILITIES query, so Thunderbird refuses to try it. arrgh.) The basic sequence of Thunderbird's side of an initial IMAP conversation (using plain authentication, anyway) looks something like this:
1 capability
2 login "user" "pass"
3 lsub "" "*"
4 list "" "INBOX"
5 select "INBOX"
6 UID fetch 1:* (FLAGS)
What i found with this server was that if i issued commands 1 through 5, and then left the connection idle for over 5 minutes, then the next command (even if it was just a 6 NOOP or 6 LOGOUT) would cause the IMAP server to issue a TCP reset. No IMAP error message or anything, just a failure at the TCP level. But a nice, fast, responsive failure -- any IMAP client could recover nicely from that by just immediately opening a new connection. I don't mind busy servers killing inactive connections after a reasonable timeout. If it was just this, though, Thunderbird should have continued to be responsive. the deep weirdness But if i issued commands 1 through 6 in rapid succession (the only difference is that extra 6 UID fetch 1:* (FLAGS) command), and then let the connection idle for 5 minutes, then sent the next command: no response of any kind would come from the remote server (not even a TCP ACK or TCP RST). In this circumstance, my client OS's TCP stack would re-send the data repeatedly (staggered at appropriate intervals), until finally the client-side TCP timeout would trigger, and the OS would report the failure to the app, which could turn around and do a simple connection restart to finish up the desired operation. This was the underlying situation causing Fred's Thunderbird client to hang. In both cases above (with or without the 6th command), the magic window for the idle cutoff was a little more than 300 seconds (5 minutes) of idleness. If the client issued a NOOP at 4 minutes, 45 seconds from the last NOOP, it could keep a connection active indefinitely. Furthermore, i could replicate the exact same behavior when i used IMAPS -- the state of the IMAP session itself was somehow modifying the TCP session behavior characteristics, whether it was wrapped in a TLS tunnel or not. One interesting thing about this set of data is that it rules out most common problems in the network connectivity between the two machines. Since none of the hops between the two endpoints know anything about the IMAP state (especially under TLS), and some of the failures are reported properly (e.g. the TCP RST in the 5-command scenario), it's probably safe to say that the various routers, NAT devices, and such were not themselves responsible for the failures. So what's going on on that IMAP server? The service itself does not announce the flavor of IMAP server, though it does respond to a successful login with You are so in, and to a logout with IMAP server logging out, mate. A bit of digging on the 'net suggests that they are running a perdition IMAP proxy. (clearly written by an Aussie, mate!) But why does it not advertise its STARTTLS capability, even though it is capable? And why do some idle connections end up timing out without so much as an RST, when other idle connections give at least a clean break at the TCP level? Is there something about issuing the UID command that causes perdition to hand off the connection to some other service, which in turn doesn't do proper TCP error handling? I don't really know anything about the internals of perdition, so i'm just guessing here. the workaround I ultimately recommended to Fred to reduce the number of cached connections to 1, and to set Thunderbird's interval to check for new mail down to 4 minutes. Hopefully, this will keep his one connection active enough that nothing will timeout, and will keep the interference to his workflow to a minimum. It's an unsatisfactory solution to me, because the behavior of the remote server still seems so non-standard. However, i don't have any sort of control over the remote server, so there's not too much i can do to provide a real fix (other than point the server admins (and perdition developers?) at this writeup). I don't even know the types of backend server that their perdition proxy is balancing between, so i'm pretty lost for better diagnostics even, let alone a real resolution. some notes I couldn't have figured out the exact details listed above just using Thunderbird on Windows. Fortunately, i had a machine with a decent OS available, and was able to cobble together a fake IMAP client from a couple files (imapstart contained the lines above, and imapfinish contained 8 LOGOUT), bash, and socat. Here's the bash snippet i used as a fake IMAP client:
spoolout()   while read foo; do sleep 1 && printf "%s\r\n" "$foo" ; done  
( sleep 2 && spoolout < imapstart && sleep 4 && spoolout < imapfinish && sleep 500 )   socat STDIO TCP4:imap.fubar.example.net:143
To do the test under IMAPS, i just replaced TCP4:imap.fubar.example.net:143 with OPENSSL:imap.fubar.example.net:993. And of course, i had wireshark handy on the GNU/Linux machine as well, so i could analyze the generated packets over there. One thing to note about user empowerment: Fred isn't a tech geek, but he can be curious about the technology he relies on if the situation is right. He was with me through the whole process, didn't get antsy, and never tried to get me to "just fix it" while he did something else. I like that, and wish i got to have that kind of interaction more (though i certainly don't begrudge people the time if they do need to get other things done). I was nervous about breaking out wireshark and scaring him off with it, but it turned out it actually was a good conversation starter about what was actually happening on the network, and how IP and TCP traffic worked. Giving a crash course like that in a quarter of an hour, i can't expect him to retain any concrete specifics, of course. But i think the process was useful in de-mystifying how computers talk to each other somewhat. It's not magic, there are just a lot of finicky pieces that need to fit together a certain way. And Wireshark turned out to be a really nice window into that process, especially when it displays packets during a real-time capture. I usually prefer to do packet captures with tcpdump and analyze them as a non-privileged user afterward for security reasons. But in this case, i felt the positives of user engagement (how often do you get to show someone how their machine actually works?) far outweighed the risks. As an added bonus, it also helped Fred really understand what i meant when i said that it was a bad idea to use IMAP in the clear. He could actually see his username and password in the network traffic! This might be worth keeping in mind as an idea for a demonstration for workshops or hacklabs for folks who are curious about networking -- do a live packet capture of the local network, project it, and just start asking questions about it. Wireshark contains such a wealth of obscure packet dissectors (and today's heterogenous public/open networks are so remarkably chatty and filled with weird stuff) that you're bound to run into things that most (or all!) people in the room don't know about, so it could be a good learning activity for groups of all skill levels. Tags: debugging, imap, perdition, wireshark

26 August 2008

MJ Ray: Solved but Why? Belkin F5D7630 to Realtek 8139 Drop-outs

I’d been having problems connecting my laptop to my router to the Phone Coop using a new network cable that I laid under the floor just after the new heating system was installed. It’s a 1970s building - cat-5 wasn’t installed with the original wiring and mains homeplug networking is tricky on this wiring layout. The growing number of people with WiFi and video senders on my hillside (70% of UK users “never or rarely switch off their broadband wireless routers”) seems to be causing more interference and slow-downs, so it seemed worth installing a wired connection while the floors were up. The connection seemed to work fine, but then kept stopping for 20 seconds at a time - that’s just long enough to break network connections, but barely long enough to start up debugging tools, let alone get useful output. I was pretty sure the cable wasn’t at fault - Paul tested it with his fancy test gear when he completed the wiring for me. That left the hardware: my much-hated Belkin F5D7630 and the Realtek 8139 in the bizarre Compaq Evo N1015v. I’ve still not got around to replacing that Belkin and it’s been behaving itself well enough recently, while the Compaq has run smoothly once I actually got Linux onto it. I found the end of this Ubuntu Forums thread which pointed to this archlinux bulletin board thread which suggested pnpbios=off pnpacpi=off in the boot options. After adding that, the 20-second network pauses have stopped. But why? The ACPI and BIOS in this laptop are generally troublesome (and it looks like this also happens on some Presarios), but what in particular is going wrong this time? Will I suffer ill effects from switching off PNP options? Time will tell, I guess.

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