Blog

Much belated book presentation, this Saturday

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 02/28/2017 - 00:21

Once again, I'm making an announcement mainly for my local circle of friends and (gasp!) followers. For those of you over 100Km away from Mexico City, please disregard this message.

Back in July 2015, and after two years of hard work, my university finished the publishing step of my second book. This is a textbook for the subject I teach at Computer Engineering: Operating Systems Fundamentals.

The book is, from its inception, fully available online under a permissive (CC-BY) license. One of the books aimed contributions is to present a text natively written in Spanish. Besides, our goal (I coordinated a team of authors, working with two colleagues from Rosario, Argentina, and one from Cauca, Colombia) was to provide a book students can easily and legally share with no legal issues.

I have got many good reviews so far, and after teaching based on it for four years (while working on it and after its publication), I can attest the material is light enough to fit in a Bachelors level degree, while it's deep enough to make our students sweat healthily ;-)

Anyway: I have been scheduled to present the book at my university's main book show, 38 Feria Internacional del Libro del Palacio de Minería this Saturday, 2017.03.04 16:00; Salón Manuel Tolsá. What's even better: This time, I won't be preparing a speech! The book will be presented by my two very good friends, José María Serralde and Rolando Cedillo. Both of them are clever, witty, fun, and a real honor to work with. Of course, having them present our book is more than a double honor.

So, everybody who can make it: FIL Minería is always great and fun. Come share the love! Come have a book! Or, at least, have a good time and a nice chat with us!

Started getting ads for ransomware. Coincidence?

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 02/24/2017 - 14:06

Very strange. Verrrry strange.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post on spam stuff that has been hitting my mailbox. Nothing too deep, just me scratching my head.

Coincidentally (I guess/hope), I have been getting messages via my Bitlbee to one of my Jabber accounts, offering me ransomware services. I am reproducing it here, omitting of course everything I can recognize as their brand names related URLs (as I'm not going to promote the 3vi1-doers). I'm reproducing this whole as I'm sure the information will be interesting for some.

*BRAND* Ransomware - The Most Advanced and Customisable you've Ever Seen
Conquer your Independence with *BRAND* Ransomware Full Lifetime License!
* UNIQUE FEATURES
* NO DEPENDENCIES (.net or whatever)!!!
* Edit file Icon and UAC - Works on All Windows Versions
* Set Folders and Extensions to Encrypt, Deadline and Russian Roulette
* Edit the Text, speak with voice (multilang) and Colors for Ransom Window
* Enable/disable USB infect, network spread & file melt
* Set Process Name, sleep time, update ransom amount, Give mercy button
* Full-featured headquarter (for Windows) with unlimited builds, PDF reports, charts and maps, totally autonomous operation
* PHP Bridges instead of expensive C&C servers!
* Automatic Bitcoin payment detection (impossible to bypass/crack - we challege who says the contrary to prove what they say!)
* Totally/Mathematically IMPOSSIBLE to DECRYPT! Period.
* Award-Winning Five-Stars support and constant updates!
* We Have lot vouchs in *BRAND* Market, can check!
Watch the promo video: *URL*
Screenshots: *URL*
Website: *URL*
Price: $389
Promo: just $309 - 20% OFF! until 25th Feb 2017
Jabber: *JID*

I think I can comment on this with my students. Hopefully, this is interesting to others.
Now... I had never received Jabber-spam before. This message has been sent to me 14 times in the last 24 hours (all from different JIDs, all unknown to me). I hope this does not last forever :-/ Otherwise, I will have to learn more on how to configure Bitlbee to ignore contacts not known to me. Grrr...

( categories: )

Spam: Tactics, strategy, and angry bears

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 02/23/2017 - 00:55

I know spam is spam is spam, and I know trying to figure out any logic underneath it is a lost cause. However... I am curious.

Many spam subjects are seemingly random, designed to convey whatever "information" they contain and fool spam filters. I understand that.

Many spam subjects are time-related. As an example, in the last months there has been a surge of spam mentioning Donald Trump. I am thankful: Very easy to filter out, even before it reaches spamassassin.

Of course, spam will find thousands of ways to talk about sex; cialis/viagra sellers, escort services, and a long list of WTF.

However... Tactical flashlights. Bright enough to blind a bear.

WTF‽‽‽

I mean... Truly. Really. WTF‽‽

What does that mean? Why is that even a topic? Who is interested in anything like that? How often does the average person go camping in the woods? Why do we need to worry about stupid bears attacking us? Why would a bear attack me?

The list of WTF questions could go on forever. What am I missing? What does "tactical flashlight" mean that I just fail to grasp? Has this appeared in your spam?

( categories: )

Giving up on the Drupal 8 debianization ☹

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 12/26/2016 - 22:03

I am sad (but feel my duty) to inform the world that we will not be providing a Drupal 8 package in Debian.

I filed an Intent To Package bug a very long time ago, intending to ship it with Jessie; Drupal 8 was so deep a change that it took their community overly long to achieve and stabilize. Still, Drupal 8 was released over a year ago today.

I started working on debianizing the package shortly afterwards. There is also some online evidence – As my call for help sent through this same blog.

I have been too busy this last year. I let the packaging process lay dormant for too long, without even touching it for even half a year. Then, around September, I started working with the very nice guys of Indava, David and Enrique, and did very good advances. They clearly understood Debian's needs when it comes to full source inclusion (as D8 ships many minified Javascript libraries), attribution (as additionally to all those, many third-party PHP projects are bundled in the infamous vendor/ directory), and system-wide dependency management (as Drupal builds on some frameworks and libraries already available within Debian, chiefly Symfony, Doctrine, Twig... Even more, most of them appeared to work at the version levels we will be shipping, so all was dandy and for some weeks, I was quite optimistic on finishing the package on time and with the needed quality and testing. Yay!

But... Reality bites.

When I started testing my precious package... It broke in horrible ways. Uncomprehensible PHP errors (and I have to add here, I am a PHP newbie and am reluctant to learn better a language that strikes me as so inconsistent, so ugly), which we spent some time tackling... Of course, configuration changes are more than expected...

But, just as we Debianers learnt some important lessons after the way-too-long Sarge freeze (ten years ago, many among you won't remember those frustrating days), Drupal learnt as well. They changed their release strategy — Instead of describing it, those interested can read it at its source.

What it meant for me, sadly, is that this process does not align with the Debian maintenance model. This means: The Drupal API stays mostly-stable between 8.0.x, 8.1.x, 8.2.x, etc. However, Drupal will incorporate new versions of their bundled libraries. I understood the new versions would be incorporated at minor-level branches, but if I read correctly some of my errors, some dependencies change even at patch-level updates.

And... Well, if you update a PHP library, and the invoking PHP code (that is, Drupal) relies in this new version... Sadly, it makes it unmaintainable for Debian.

So, long story short: I have decided to drop Drupal8 support in Debian. Of course, if somebody wants to pick up the pieces, the Git repository is still there (although I do plan on erasing it in a couple of weeks, as it means useless waste of project resources otherwise), and you could probably even target unstable+backports in a weird way (as it's software that, given our constraints, shouldn't enter testing, at least during a freeze).

So... Sigh, a tear is dropped for every lost hour of work, and my depeest regrets to David and Enrique who put their work as well to make D8 happen in Debian. I will soon be closing the ITP and... Forgetting about the whole issue? ☹

( categories: )

Book presentation by @arenitasoria: Hacker ethics, security and surveillance

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 11/17/2016 - 14:24

At the beginning of this year, Irene Soria invited me to start a series of talks on the topic of hacker ethics, security and surveillance. I presented a talk titled Cryptography and identity: Not everything is anonymity.

The talk itself is recorded and available in archive.org (sidenote: I find it amazing that Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana uses archive.org as their main multimedia publishing platform!)

But as part of this excercise, Irene invited me to write a chapter for a book covering the series. And, yes, she delivered!

So, finally, we will have the book presentation:

I know, not everybody following my posts (that means... Only those at or near Mexico City) will be able to join. But the good news: The book, as soon as it is presented, will be published under a CC BY-SA license. Of course, I will notify when it is ready.

On the results of vote "gr_private2"

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 10/24/2016 - 20:46

Given that I started the GR process, and that I called for discussion and votes, I feel somehow as my duty to also put a simple wrap-around to this process. Of course, I'll say many things already well-known to my fellow Debian people, but also non-debianers read this.

So, for further context, if you need to, please read my previous blog post, where I was about to send a call for votes. It summarizes the situation and proposals; you will find we had a nice set of messages in debian-vote@lists.debian.org during September; I have to thank all the involved parties, much specially to Ian Jackson, who spent a lot of energy summing up the situation and clarifying the different bits to everyone involved.

So, we held the vote; you can be interested in looking at the detailed vote statistics for the 235 correctly received votes, and most importantly, the results:

Results for gr_private2

First of all, I'll say I'm actually surprised at the results, as I expected Ian's proposal (acknowledge difficulty; I actually voted this proposal as my top option) to win and mine (repeal previous GR) to be last; turns out, the winner option was Iain's (remain private). But all in all, I am happy with the results: As I said during the discussion, I was much disappointed with the results to the previous GR on this topic — And, yes, it seems the breaking point was when many people thought the privacy status of posted messages was in jeopardy; we cannot really compare what I would have liked to have in said vote if we had followed the strategy of leaving the original resolution text instead of replacing it, but I believe it would have passed. In fact, one more surprise of this iteration was that I expected Further Discussion to be ranked higher, somewhere between the three explicit options. I am happy, of course, we got such an overwhelming clarity of what does the project as a whole prefer.

And what was gained or lost with this whole excercise? Well, if nothing else, we gain to stop lying. For over ten years, we have had an accepted resolution binding us to release the messages sent to debian-private given such-and-such-conditions... But never got around to implement it. We now know that debian-private will remain private... But we should keep reminding ourselves to use the list as little as possible.

For a project such as Debian, which is often seen as a beacon of doing the right thing no matter what, I feel being explicit about not lying to ourselves of great importance. Yes, we have the principle of not hiding our problems, but it has long been argued that the use of this list is not hiding or problems. Private communication can happen whenever you have humans involved, even if administratively we tried to avoid it.

Any of the three running options could have won, and I'd be happy. My #1 didn't win, but my #2 did. And, I am sure, it's for the best of the project as a whole.

( categories: )

Proposing a GR to repeal the 2005 vote for declassification of the debian-private mailing list

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 09/20/2016 - 11:03

For the non-Debian people among my readers: The following post presents bits of the decision-taking process in the Debian project. You might find it interesting, or terribly dull and boring :-) Proceed at your own risk.

My reason for posting this entry is to get more people to read the accompanying options for my proposed General Resolution (GR), and have as full a ballot as possible.

Almost three weeks ago, I sent a mail to the debian-vote mailing list. I'm quoting it here in full:

Some weeks ago, Nicolas Dandrimont proposed a GR for declassifying
debian-private[1]. In the course of the following discussion, he
accepted[2] Don Armstrong's amendment[3], which intended to clarify the
meaning and implementation regarding the work of our delegates and the
powers of the DPL, and recognizing the historical value that could lie
within said list.

[1] https://www.debian.org/vote/2016/vote_002
[2] https://lists.debian.org/debian-vote/2016/07/msg00108.html
[3] https://lists.debian.org/debian-vote/2016/07/msg00078.html

In the process of the discussion, several people objected to the
amended wording, particularly to the fact that "sufficient time and
opportunity" might not be sufficiently bound and defined.

I am, as some of its initial seconders, a strong believer in Nicolas'
original proposal; repealing a GR that was never implemented in the
slightest way basically means the Debian project should stop lying,
both to itself and to the whole free software community within which
it exists, about something that would be nice but is effectively not
implementable.

While Don's proposal is a good contribution, given that in the
aforementioned GR "Further Discussion" won 134 votes against 118, I
hereby propose the following General Resolution:

=== BEGIN GR TEXT ===

Title: Acknowledge that the debian-private list will remain private.

1. The 2005 General Resolution titled "Declassification of debian-private
   list archives" is repealed.
2. In keeping with paragraph 3 of the Debian Social Contract, Debian
   Developers are strongly encouraged to use the debian-private mailing
   list only for discussions that should not be disclosed.

=== END GR TEXT ===

Thanks for your consideration,
--
Gunnar Wolf
(with thanks to Nicolas for writing the entirety of the GR text ;-) )

Yesterday, I spoke with the Debian project secretary, who confirmed my proposal has reached enough Seconds (that is, we have reached five people wanting the vote to happen), so I could now formally do a call for votes. Thing is, there are two other proposals I feel are interesting, and should be part of the same ballot, and both address part of the reasons why the GR initially proposed by Nicolas didn't succeed:

So, once more (and finally!), why am I posting this?

  • To invite Iain to formally propose his text as an option to mine
  • To invite more DDs to second the available options
  • To publicize the ongoing discussion

I plan to do the formal call for votes by Friday 23.
[update] Kurt informed me that the discussion period started yesterday, when I received the 5th second. The minimum discussion period is two weeks, so I will be doing a call for votes at or after 2016-10-03.

( categories: )

Talking about the Debian keyring in Investigaciones Nucleares, UNAM

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 08/17/2016 - 13:47

For the readers of my blog that happen to be in Mexico City, I was invited to give a talk at Instituto de Ciencias Nucleares, Ciudad Universitaria, UNAM.

I will be at Auditorio Marcos Moshinsky, on August 26 starting at 13:00. Auditorio Marcos Moshinsky is where we met for the early (~1996-1997) Mexico Linux User Group meetings. And... Wow. I'm amazed to realize it's been twenty years that I arrived there, young and innocent, the newest of what looked like a sect obsessed with world domination and a penguin fetish.

( categories: )

Subtitling DebConf talks — Come and join!

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 07/28/2016 - 13:54

As I have said here a couple of times already, I am teaching a diploma course on embedded Linux at UNAM, and one of the modules I'm teaching (with Sandino Araico) is the boot process. We focus on ARM for obvious reasons, and while I have done my reading on the topic, I am very far from considering myself an expert.

So, after attending Martin Michlmayr's «Debian on ARM devices» talk, I decided to do its subtitles as part of my teaching job. This talk gives a great panorama on what actually has to happen in order to get an ARM machine to boot, and how support for new ARM devices comes around to Linux in general and to Debian in particular — Perfect for our topic! But my students are not always very fluent in English, so giving a hand is always most welcome.

In case any of you dear readers didn't know, we have a DebConf subtitling team. Yes, our work takes much longer to reach the public, and we have no hopes whatsoever in getting it completed, but every person lending a hand and subtitling a talk that they thought was interesting helps a lot to improve our talks' usability. Even if you don't have enough time to do the whole talk (we are talking about some 6hr per 45 minute session), adding a bit of work is very very very welcome. So...

Enjoy — And thanks in advance for your work!

( categories: )

Got the C.H.I.P.s for DebConf!

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 07/04/2016 - 08:17

I had my strong doubts as to whether the shipment would be allowed through customs, and was happily surprised by a smiling Graham today before noon. He handed me a smallish box that arrived to his office, containing...

Our fifty C.H.I.P. computers, those I offered to give away at DebConf!

The little machines are quite neat. They are beautiful little devices, including even a plastic back (so you can safely work with it over a conductive surface or things like that). Quite smaller than the usual Raspberry-like format. It has more than enough GPIO to make several of my friends around here drool about the possibilities.

So, what's to this machine besides a nice small ARM CPU, 512MB RAM, wireless connectivity (Wifi and bluetooth)? Although I have not yet looked into them (but intend to do so very soon!), it promises to have the freest available hardware around, and is meant for high hackability!

And not that it matters — But we managed to import them all, legally and completely hassle-free, into South Africa!

That's right — We are all used to the declaring commercial value as one dollar mindset. But... The C.H.I.P.s are actually priced at US$9 a piece. The declared commercial value is US$450. South Africans said all their customs are very hard to clear — But we were able receive 50 legally shipped computers, declared at their commercial value, without any hassles!

(yes, we might have been extremely lucky as well)

Anyway, stay tuned — By Thursday I will announce the list of people that get to take one home. I still have some left, so feel free to mail me at gwolf+chip@gwolf.org.

Batch of the Next Thing Co.'s C.H.I.P. computers on its way to DebConf!)

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 06/29/2016 - 15:28

Hello world!

I'm very happy to inform that the Next Thing Co. has shipped us a pack of 50 C.H.I.P. computers to be given away at DebConf! What is the C.H.I.P.? As their tagline says, it's the world's first US$9 computer. Further details:

https://nextthing.co/pages/chip

All in all, it's a nice small ARM single-board computer; I won't bore you on this mail with tons of specs; suffice to say they are probably the most open ARM system I've seen to date.

So, I agreed with Richard, our contact at the company, I would distribute the machines among the DebConf speakers interested in one. Of course, not every DebConf speaker wants to fiddle with an adorable tiny piece of beautiful engineering, so I'm sure I'll have some spare computers to give out to other interested DebConf attendees. We are supposed to receive the C.H.I.P.s by Monday 4; if you want to track the package shipment, the DHL tracking number is 1209937606. Don't DDoS them too hard!

So, please do mail me telling why do you want one, what your projects are with it. My conditions for this giveaway are:

  • I will hand out the computers by Thursday 7.
  • Preference goes to people giving a talk. I will "line up" requests on two queues, "speaker" and "attendee", and will announce who gets one in a mail+post to this list on the said date.
  • With this in mind, I'll follow a strict "first come, first served".

To sign up for yours, please mail gwolf+chip@gwolf.org - I will capture mail sent to that alias ONLY.

( categories: )

Answering to a CACM «Viewpoint»: on the patent review process

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 06/21/2016 - 23:40

I am submitting a comment to Wen Wen and Chris Forman's Viewpoint on the Communications of the ACM, titled Economic and business dimensions: Do patent commons and standards-setting organizations help navigate patent thickets?. I believe my comment is worth sharing a bit more openly, so here it goes. Nevertheless, please refer to the original article; it makes very interesting and valid points, and my comment should be taken as an extra note on a great text only!

I was very happy to see an article with this viewpoint published. This article, however, mentions some points I believe should be further stressed out as problematic and important. Namely, still at the introduction, after mentioning that patents «are intended to provide incentives for innovation by granting to inventors temporary monopoly rights», the next paragraph continues, «The presence of patent thickets may create challenges for ICT producers. When introducing a new product, a firm must identify patents its product may infringe upon.»

The authors continue explaining the needed process — But this simple statement should be enough to explain how the patent system is broken and needs repair.

A requisite for patenting an invention was originally the «inventive» and «non-obvious» characteristics. Anything worth being granted a patent should be inventive enough, it should be non-obvious to an expert in the field.

When we see huge bodies of awarded (and upheld) patents falling in the case the authors mention, it becomes clear that the patent applications were not thoroughly researched prior to their patent grant. Sadly, long gone are the days where the United States Patent and Trademarks Office employed minds such as Albert Einstein's; nowadays, the office is more a rubber-stamping bureaucracy where most patents are awarded, and this very important requisite is left open to litigation: If somebody is found in breach of a patent, they might choose to defend the issue that the patent was obvious to an expert. But, of course, that will probably cost more in legal fees than settling for an agreement with the patent holder.

The fact that in our line of work we must take care to search for patents before releasing any work speaks a lot about the process. Patents are too easily granted. They should be way stricter; the occurence of an independent developer mistakenly (and innocently!) breaching a patent should be most unlikely, as patents should only be awarded to truly non-obvious solutions.

Relax and breathe...

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 06/21/2016 - 14:30

Time passes. I had left several (too many?) pending things to be done un the quiet weeks between the end of the lective semestre and the beginning of muy Summer trip to Winter. But Saturday gets closer every moment... And our long trip to the South begins.

Among many other things, I wanted to avance with some Debían stuff - both packaging and WRT keyring analysis. I want to contacto some people I left pending interactions with, but honestly, that will only come face to face un Capetown.

As to "real life", I hace too many pending issues at work to even begin with; I hope to get some time at South África todo do some decent UNAM sysadmining. Also, I want to play the idea of using Git for my students' workflow (handing in projects and assignments, at least)... This can be interesting to talk with the Debían colleagues about, actually.

As a Masters student, I'm making good advances, and will probably finish muy class work next semester, six months ahead of schedule, but muy thesis work so far has progressed way slower than what I'd like. I have at least a better defined topic and approach, so I'll start the writing phase soon.

And the personal life? Family? I am more complete and happy than ever before. My life su completely different from two years ago. Yes, that was obvious. But it's also the only thing I can come up with. Having twin babies (when will they make the transition from "babies" to "kids"? No idea... We will find out as it comes) is more than beautiful, more than great. Our life has changed in every possible aspect. And yes, I admire my loved Regina for all of the energy and love she puts on the babies... Life is asymetric, I am out for most of the day... Mommy is always there.

As I said, happier than ever before.

( categories: )

University degrees and sysadmin skills

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 06/08/2016 - 12:03

I'll tune in to the post-based conversation being held on Planet Debian: Russell Coker wonders about what's needed to get university graduates with enough skills for a sysadmin job, to which Lucas Nussbaum responds with his viewpoints. They present a very contrasting view of what's needed for students — And for a good reason, I'd say: Lucas is an academician; I don't know for sure about Russell, but he seems to be a down-to-the-earth, dirty-handed, proficient sysadmin working on the field. They both contact newcomers to their fields, and will notice different shortcomings.

I tend to side with Lucas' view. That does not come as a surprise, as I've been working for over 15 years in an university, and in the last few years I started walking from a mostly-operative sysadmin in an academic setting towards becoming an academician that spends most of his time sysadmining. Subtle but important distinction.

I teach at the BSc level at UNAM, and am a Masters student at IPN (respectively, Mexico's largest and second-largest universities). And yes, the lack of sysadmin abilities in both is surprising. But so is a good understanding of programming. And I'm sure that, were I to dig into several different fields, I'd feel the same: Student formation is very basic at each of those fields.

But I see that as natural. Of course, if I were to judge people as geneticists as they graduate from Biology, or were I to judge them as topologists as they graduate from Mathematics, or any other discipline in which I'm not an expert, I'd surely not know where to start — Given I have about 20 years of professional life on my shoulders, I'm quite skewed as to what is basic for a computing professional. And of course, there are severe holes in my formation, in areas I never used. I know next to nothing of electronics, my mathematical basis is quite flaky, and I'm a poor excuse when talking about artificial intelligence.

Where am I going with this? An university degree (BSc in English, would amount to "licenciatura" in Spanish) is not for specialization. It is to have a sufficiently broad panorama of the field, and all of the needed tools to start digging deeper and specializing — either by yourself, working on a given field and learning its details as you go, or going through a postgraduate program (Specialization, Masters, Doctorate).

Even most of my colleagues at the Masters in Engineering in Security and Information Technology lack of a good formation in fields I consider essential. However, what does information security mean? Many among them are working on legal implications of several laws that touch our field. Many other are working on authenticity issues in images, audios and other such media. Many other are trying to come up with mathematical ways to cheapen the enormous burden of crypto operations (say, "shaving" CPU cycles off a very large exponentiation). Others are designing autonomous learning mechanisms to characterize malware. Were I as a computing professional to start talking about their research, I'd surely reveal I know nothing about it and get laughed at. That's because I haven't specialized in those fields.

University education should give a broad universal basis to enter a professional field. It should not focus on teaching tools or specific procedures (although some should surely be presented as examples or case studies). Although I'd surely be happy if my university's graduates were to know everything about administering a Debian system, that would be wrong for a university to aim at; I'd criticize it the same way I currently criticize programs that mix together university formation and industry certification as if they were related.

( categories: )

Stop it with those short PGP key IDs!

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 06/03/2016 - 14:03

Debian is quite probably the project that most uses a OpenPGP implementation (that is, GnuPG, or gpg) for many of its internal operations, and that places most trust in it. PGP is also very widely used, of course, in many other projects and between individuals. It is regarded as a secure way to do all sorts of crypto (mainly, encrypting/decrypting private stuff, signing public stuff, certifying other people's identities). PGP's lineage traces back to Phil Zimmerman's program, first published in 1991 — By far, not a newcomer

PGP is secure, as it was 25 years ago. However, some uses of it might not be so. We went through several migrations related to algorithmic weaknesses (i.e. v3 keys using MD5; SHA1 is strongly discouraged, although not yet completely broken, and it should be avoided as well) or to computational complexity (as the migration away from keys smaller than 2048 bits, strongly prefering 4096 bits). But some vulnerabilities are human usage (that is, configuration-) related.

Today, Enrico Zini gave us a heads-up in the #debian-keyring IRC channel, and started a thread in the debian-private mailing list; I understand the mail to a private list was partly meant to get our collective attention, and to allow for potentially security-relevant information to be shared. I won't go into details about what is, is not, should be or should not be private, but I'll post here only what's public information already.

What are short and long key IDs?

I'll start by quoting Enrico's mail:

there are currently at least 3 ways to refer to a gpg key: short key ID (last 8 hex digits of fingerprint), long key ID (last 16 hex digits) and full fingerprint. The short key ID used to be popular, and since 5 years it is known that it is computationally easy to generate a gnupg key with an arbitrary short key id.

A mitigation to this is using "keyid-format long" in gpg.conf, and a better thing to do, especially in scripts, is to use the full fingerprint to refer to a key, or just ship the public key for verification and skip the key servers.

Note that in case of keyid collision, gpg will download and import all the matching keys, and will use all the matching keys for verifying signatures.

So... What is this about? We humans are quite bad at recognizing and remembering randomly-generated strings with no inherent patterns in them. Every GPG key can be uniquely identified by its fingerprint, a 128-bit string, usually encoded as ten blocks of four hexadecimal characters (this allows for 160 bits; I guess there's space for a checksum in it). That is, my (full) key's signature is:

AB41 C1C6 8AFD 668C A045  EBF8 673A 03E4 C1DB 921F

However, it's quite hard to recognize such a long string, let alone memorize it! So, we often do what humans do: Given that strong cryptography implies a homogenous probability distribution, people compromised on using just a portion of the key — the last portion. The short key ID. Mine is then the last two blocks (shown in boldface): C1DB921F. We can also use what's known as the long key ID, that's twice as long: 64 bits. However, while I can speak my short key ID on a single breath (and maybe even expect you to remember and note it down), try doing so with the long one (shown in italics above): 673A03E4C1DB921F. Nah. Too much for our little, analog brains.

This short and almost-rememberable number has then 32 bits of entropy — I have less than one in 4,000,000,000 chance of generating a new key with this same short key ID. Besides, key generation is a CPU-intensive operation, so it's quite unlikely we will have a collision, right?

Well, wrong.

Previous successful attacks on short key IDs

Already five years ago, Asheesh Laroia migrated his 1024D key to a 4096R. And, as he describes in his always-entertaining fashion, he made his computer sweat until he was able to create a new key for which the short key ID collided with the old one.

It might not seem like a big deal, as he did this non-maliciously, but this easily should have spelt game over for the usage of short key IDs. After all, being able to generate a collision is usually the end for cryptographic systems. Asheesh specifically mentioned in his posting how this could be abused.

But we didn't listen. Short key IDs are just too convenient! Besides, they allow us to have fun, can be a means of expression! I know of at least two keys that would qualify as vanity: Obey Arthur Liu's 0x29C0FFEE (created in 2009) and Keith Packard's 0x00000011 (created in 2012).

Then we got the Evil 32 project. They developed Scallion, started (AFAICT) in 2012. Scallion automates the search for a 32-bit collision using GPUs; they claim that it takes only four seconds to find a collision. So, they went through the strong set of the public PGP Web of Trust, and created a (32-bit-)colliding key for each of the existing keys.

And what happened now?

What happened today? We still don't really know, but it seems we found a first potentially malicious collision — that is, the first "nonacademic" case.

Enrico found two keys sharing the 9F6C6333 short ID, apparently belonging to the same person (as would be the case of Asheesh, mentioned above). After contacting Gustavo, though, he does not know about the second — That is, it can be clearly regarded as an impersonation attempt. Besides, what gave away this attempt are the signatures it has: Both keys are signed by what appears to be the same three keys: B29B232A, F2C850CA and 789038F2. Those three keys are not (yet?) uploaded to the keyservers, though... But we can expect them to appear at any point in the future. We don't know who is behind this, or what his purpose is. We just know this looks very evil.

Now, don't panic: Gustavo's key is safe. Same for his certifiers, Marga, Agustín and Maxy. It's just a 32-bit collision. So, in principle, the only parties that could be cheated to trust the attacker are humans, right?

Nope.

Enrico tested on the PGP pathfinder & key statistics service, a keyserver that finds trust paths between any two arbitrary keys in the strong set. Surprise: The pathfinder works on the short key IDs, even when supplied full fingerprints. So, it turns out I have three faked trust paths into our impostor.

What next?

There are several things this should urge us to do.

  • First of all, configure your local GPG to never show you short IDs. This is done by adding the line keyid-format 0xlong to ~/.gnupg/gpg.conf.
    • I just checked both in /usr/share/gnupg/options.skel and /usr/share/gnupg2/gpg-conf.skel, and that setting is not yet part of the packages' defaults. I'll check a bit deeper and file bugs right away if needed!
  • Have you written or maintained any program that deals with GPG keys in any way? Make sure it specifies --keyid-format long or 0xlong in any relevant call. It might even be better to use the machine-oriented representation instead: --with-colons.
    • ...Of course, your computer will not feel tired or confused at comparing 160-bit full fingerprints instead of 64-bit long IDs, so it's better if our scripts use the full version for everything.
  • Only sign somebody else's key if you see and verify its full fingerprint (this is not a new issue, but given we are talking about it, and that DebConf is around the corner, and that we will have a KSP as usual...)

And there are surely many other important recommendations. But this is a good set of points to start with.

[update] I was pointed at Daniel Kahn Gillmor's 2013 blog post, OpenPGP Key IDs are not useful. Daniel argues, in short, that cutting a fingerprint in order to get a (32- or 64-bit) short key ID is the worst of all worlds, and we should rather target either always showing full fingerprints, or not showing it at all (and leaving all the crypto-checking bits to be done by the software, as comparing 160-bit strings is not natural for us humans).

[update] This post was picked up by LWN.net. A very interesting discussion continues in their comments.

( categories: )
Syndicate content