Planet Russell

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Kevin RuddThe Guardian: If the Liberal Party truly cared about racial injustice, they would pay their fair share to Close the Gap

Published in the Guardian on 7 August 2020

Throughout our country’s modern history, the treatment of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters has been appalling. It has also been inconsistent with the original instructions from the British Admiralty to treat the Indigenous peoples of this land with proper care and respect. From first encounter to the frontier wars, the stolen generations and ongoing institutionalised racism, First Nations people have been handed a raw deal. The gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians’ outcomes in areas of education, employment, health, housing and justice are a product of historical, intergenerational maltreatment.

In 2008, I apologised to the stolen generations and Indigenous Australians for the racist laws and policies of successive Australian governments. The apology may have been 200 years late, but it was an important part of the reconciliation process.

But the apology meant nothing if it wasn’t backed by action. For this reason, my government acted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Tom Calma’s call to Close the Gap. We worked hard to push this framework through the Council of Australian governments so that all states and territories were on board with the strategy. We also funded it, with $4.6bn committed to achieve each of the six targets we set. While the targets and funding were critical to any improvements in the lives of Indigenous Australians, we suspected the Coalition would scrap our programs once they returned to government. After all, only a few years earlier, John Howard’s Indigenous affairs minister was denying the very existence of the stolen generations. Howard himself had refused to deliver an apology for a decade. And then both he and Peter Dutton decided to boycott the official apology in 2008.

To ensure that the Closing the Gap strategy would not be abandoned, we made it mandatory for the prime minister to stand before the House of Representatives each year and account for the success and failures in reaching the targets that were set.

Had we not adopted the Closing the Gap framework, would we now be on target to have 95% of Indigenous four year-olds enrolled in early childhood education? I think not. Would we have halved the gap for young Indigenous adults to have completed year 12 by 2020? I think not. And would we see progress on closing the gap in child mortality, and literacy and numeracy skills? No, I think not.

Despite these achievements, the most recent Closing the Gap report nonetheless showed Australia was not on track to meet four of the deadlines we’d originally set. A major reason for this is that federal funding for the closing the gap strategy collapsed under Tony Abbott, the great wrecking-ball of Australian politics, whose government cut $534.4m from programs dedicated to improving the lives of Indigenous Australians. And it’s never been restored by Abbott’s successors. It’s all there in the budget papers.

Whatever targets are put in place, governments must commit to physical resourcing of Closing the Gap. They are not going to be delivered by magic.

On Thursday last week, the new national agreement on Closing the Gap was announced. I applaud Pat Turner and other Indigenous leaders who will now sit with the leaders of the commonwealth, states, territories and local government to devise plans to achieve the new targets they have negotiated.

Scott Morrison, however, sought to discredit our government’s targets, rather than coming clean about the half-billion-dollar funding cuts that had made it impossible to achieve these targets under any circumstances. His argument that the original targets were conjured out of thin air by my government is demonstrably untrue. The truth is, Jenny Macklin, the responsible minister, spoke widely with Indigenous leaders to prioritise the areas that needed to be urgently addressed in the original Closing the Gap targets. Furthermore, if Morrison is now truly awakened to the intrinsic value of listening to Indigenous Australians, I look forward to him enshrining an Indigenous voice to parliament in the Constitution, given this is the universal position of all Indigenous groups.

Yet amid the welter of news coverage of the new closing the gap agreement, the central question remains: who will be paying the bill? While shared responsibility to close the gap between all levels of government and Indigenous organisations might sound like good news, this will quickly unravel into a political blame game if the commonwealth continues to shirk its financial duty.

The announcement this week that the commonwealth would allocate $45m over four years is just a very bad joke. This is barely 10% of what the Liberals cut from our national Closing the Gap strategy. And barely 1% of our total $4.5bn national program to meet our targets agreed to with the states and territories in 2009.

The Liberals want you to believe they care about racial injustice. But they don’t believe there are any votes in it. This is well understood by Scotty From Marketing, a former state director of the Liberal party, who lives and breathes polling and focus groups. That’s why they are not even pretending to fund the realisation of the new more “realistic” targets they have so loudly proclaimed.

The post The Guardian: If the Liberal Party truly cared about racial injustice, they would pay their fair share to Close the Gap appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Planet DebianJonathan Dowland: Vimwiki

At the start of the year I begun keeping a daily diary for work as a simple text file. I've used various other approaches for this over the years, including many paper diaries and more complex digital systems. One great advantage of the one-page text file was it made assembling my weekly status report email very quick, nearly just a series of copies and pastes. But of course there are drawbacks and room for improvement.

vimwiki is a personal wiki plugin for the vim and neovim editors. I've tried to look at it before, years ago, but I found it too invasive, changing key bindings and display settings for any use of vim, and I use vim a lot.

I decided to give it another look. The trigger was actually something completely unrelated: Steve Losh's blog post "Coming Home to vim". I've been using vim for around 17 years but I still learned some new things from that blog post. In particular, I've never bothered to Use The Leader for user-specific shortcuts.

The Leader, to me, feels like a namespace that plugins should not touch: it's like the /usr/local of shortcut keys, a space for the local user only. Vimwiki's default bindings include several incorporating the Leader. Of course since I didn't use the leader, those weren't the ones that bothered me: It turns out I regularly use carriage return and backspace for moving the cursor around in normal mode, and Vimwiki steals both of those. It also truncates the display of (what it thinks are) URIs. It turns out I really prefer to see exactly what's in the file I'm editing. I haven't used vim folds since I first switched to it, despite them being why I switched.

Disabling all the default bindings and URI concealing stuff and Vimwiki is now much less invasive and I can explore its features at my own pace:

let g:vimwiki_key_mappings = { 'all_maps': 0, }
let g:vimwiki_conceallevel = 0
let g:vimwiki_url_maxsave = 0 

Followed by explicitly configuring the bindings I want. I'm letting it steal carriage return. And yes, I've used some Leader bindings after all.

nnoremap <leader>ww :VimwikiIndex<cr>
nnoremap <leader>wi :VimwikiDiaryIndex<cr>
nnoremap <leader>wd :VimwikiMakeDiaryNote<cr>

nnoremap <CR> :VimwikiFollowLink<cr>
nnoremap <Tab> :VimwikiNextLink<cr>
nnoremap <S-Tab> :VimwikiPrevLink<cr>
nnoremap <C-Down> :VimwikiDiaryNextDay<cr>
nnoremap <C-Up> :VimwikiDiaryPrevDay<cr>

,wd (my leader) now brings me straight to today's diary page, and I can create separate, non-diary pages for particular work items (e.g. a Ticket reference) that will span more than one day, and keep all the relevant stuff in one place.

Worse Than FailureError'd: All Natural Errors

"I'm glad the asdf is vegan. I'm really thinking of going for the asasdfsadf, though. With a name like that, you know it's got to be 2 1/2 times as good for you," writes VJ.

 

Phil G. wrote, "Get games twice as fast with Epic's new multidimensional downloads!"

 

"But...it DOES!" Zed writes.

 

John M. wrote, "I appreciate the helpful suggestion, but I think I'll take a pass."

 

"java.lang.IllegalStateException...must be one of those edgy indie games! I just hope it's not actually illegal," writes Matthijs .

 

"For added flavor, I received this reminder two hours after I'd completed my checkout and purchased that very same item_name," Aaron K. writes.

 

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Planet DebianReproducible Builds (diffoscope): diffoscope 155 released

The diffoscope maintainers are pleased to announce the release of diffoscope version 155. This version includes the following changes:

[ Chris Lamb ]
* Bump Python requirement from 3.6 to 3.7 - most distributions are either
  shipping3.5 or 3.7, so supporting 3.6 is not somewhat unnecessary and also
  more difficult to test locally.
* Improvements to setup.py:
  - Apply the Black source code reformatter.
  - Add some URLs for the site of PyPI.org.
  - Update "author" and author email.
* Explicitly support Python 3.8.

[ Frazer Clews ]
* Move away from the deprecated logger.warn method logger.warning.

[ Mattia Rizzolo ]
* Document ("classify") on PyPI that this project works with Python 3.8.

You find out more by visiting the project homepage.

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Planet DebianDirk Eddelbuettel: nanotime 0.3.0: Yuge New Features!

A fresh major release of the nanotime package for working with nanosecond timestamps is hitting CRAN mirrors right now.

nanotime relies on the RcppCCTZ package for (efficient) high(er) resolution time parsing and formatting up to nanosecond resolution, and the bit64 package for the actual integer64 arithmetic. Initially implemented using the S3 system, it has benefitted greatly from work by Leonardo Silvestri who rejigged internals in S4—and now added new types for periods, intervals and durations. This is what is commonly called a big fucking deal!! So a really REALLY big thank you to my coauthor Leonardo for all these contributions.

With all these Yuge changes patiently chisseled in by Leonardo, it took some time since the last release and a few more things piled up. Matt Dowle corrected something we borked for integration with the lovely and irreplacable data.table. We also switched to the awesome yet minimal tinytest package by Mark van der Loo, and last but not least we added the beginnings of a proper vignette—currently at nine pages but far from complete.

The NEWS snippet adds full details.

Changes in version 0.3.0 (2020-08-06)

  • Use tzstr= instead of tz= in call to RcppCCTZ::parseDouble()) (Matt Dowle in #49).

  • Add new comparison operators for nanotime and charcters (Dirk in #54 fixing #52).

  • Switch from RUnit to tinytest (Dirk in #55)

  • Substantial functionality extension in with new types nanoduration, nanoival and nanoperiod (Leonardo in #58, #60, #62, #63, #65, #67, #70 fixing #47, #51, #57, #61, #64 with assistance from Dirk).

  • A new (yet still draft-ish) vignette was added describing the four core types (Leonardo and Dirk in #71).

  • A required compilation flag for Windows was added (Leonardo in #72).

  • RcppCCTZ function are called in new 'non-throwing' variants to not trigger exeception errors (Leonardo in #73).

We also have a diff to the previous version thanks to CRANberries. More details and examples are at the nanotime page; code, issue tickets etc at the GitHub repository.

If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub. For the first year, GitHub will match your contributions.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

Planet DebianChris Lamb: The Bringers of Beethoven

This is a curiously poignant work to me that I doubt I would ever be able to communicate in writing. I found it first about fifteen years ago with a friend who I am quite regrettably no longer in regular contact with, so there was some complicated nostalgia entangled with rediscovering it today.

What might I say about it instead? One tell-tale sign of 'good' art is that you can find something new in it, or yourself, each time. In this sense, despite The Bringers of Beethoven being more than a little ridiculous, it is somehow 'good' music to me. For example, it only really dawned on me now that the whole poem is an allegory for a GDR-like totalitarianism.

But I also realised that it is not an accident that it is Beethoven himself (quite literally the soundtrack for Enlightenment humanism) that is being weaponised here, rather than some fourth-rate composer of military marches or one with a problematic past. That is to say, not only is the poem arguing that something universally recognised as an unalloyed good can be subverted for propagandistic ends, but that is precisely the point being made by the regime. An inverted Clockwork Orange, if you like.

Yet when I listen to it again I can't help but laugh. I think of the 18th-century poet Alexander Pope, who first used the word bathos to refer to those abrupt and often absurd transitions from the elevated to the ordinary, contrasting it with the concept of pathos, the sincere feeling of sadness and tragedy. I can't think of two better words.

Planet DebianJoey Hess: Mr Process's wild ride

When a unix process is running in a directory, and that directory gets renamed, the process is taken on a ride to a new location in the filesystem. Suddenly, any "../" paths it might be using point to new, and unexpected locations.

This can be a source of interesting behavior, and also of security holes.

Suppose root is poking around in ~user/foo/bar/ and decides to vim ../../etc/conffile

If the user notices this process is running, they can mv ~/foo/bar /tmp and when vim saves the file, it will write to /tmp/bar/../../etc/conffile AKA /etc/conffile.

(Vim does warn that the file has changed while it was being edited. Other editors may not. Or root may be feeling especially BoFH and decide to overwrite the user's changes to their file. Or the rename could perhaps be carefully timed to avoid vim's overwrite protection.)

Or, suppose root, in the same place, decides to archive ../../etc with tar, and then delete it:

tar cf etc.tar ../../etc; rm -rf ../../etc

Now the user has some time to take root's shell on a ride, before the rm starts ... and make it delete all of /etc!

Anyone know if this class of security hole has a name?

Krebs on SecurityHacked Data Broker Accounts Fueled Phony COVID Loans, Unemployment Claims

A group of thieves thought to be responsible for collecting millions in fraudulent small business loans and unemployment insurance benefits from COVID-19 economic relief efforts gathered personal data on people and businesses they were impersonating by leveraging several compromised accounts at a little-known U.S. consumer data broker, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

In June, KrebsOnSecurity was contacted by a cybersecurity researcher who discovered that a group of scammers was sharing highly detailed personal and financial records on Americans via a free web-based email service that allows anyone who knows an account’s username to view all email sent to that account — without the need of a password.

The source, who asked not to be identified in this story, said he’s been monitoring the group’s communications for several weeks and sharing the information with state and federal authorities in a bid to disrupt their fraudulent activity.

The source said the group appears to consist of several hundred individuals who collectively have stolen tens of millions of dollars from U.S. state and federal treasuries via phony loan applications with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and through fraudulent unemployment insurance claims made against several states.

KrebsOnSecurity reviewed dozens of emails the fraud group exchanged, and noticed that a great many consumer records they shared carried a notation indicating they were cut and pasted from the output of queries made at Interactive Data LLC, a Florida-based data analytics company.

Interactive Data, also known as IDIdata.com, markets access to a “massive data repository” on U.S. consumers to a range of clients, including law enforcement officials, debt recovery professionals, and anti-fraud and compliance personnel at a variety of organizations.

The consumer dossiers obtained from IDI and shared by the fraudsters include a staggering amount of sensitive data, including:

-full Social Security number and date of birth;
-current and all known previous physical addresses;
-all known current and past mobile and home phone numbers;
-the names of any relatives and known associates;
-all known associated email addresses
-IP addresses and dates tied to the consumer’s online activities;
-vehicle registration, and property ownership information
-available lines of credit and amounts, and dates they were opened
-bankruptcies, liens, judgments, foreclosures and business affiliations

Reached via phone, IDI Holdings CEO Derek Dubner acknowledged that a review of the consumer records sampled from the fraud group’s shared communications indicates “a handful” of authorized IDI customer accounts had been compromised.

“We identified a handful of legitimate businesses who are customers that may have experienced a breach,” Dubner said.

Dubner said all customers are required to use multi-factor authentication, and that everyone applying for access to its services undergoes a rigorous vetting process.

“We absolutely credential businesses and have several ways do that and exceed the gold standard, which is following some of the credit bureau guidelines,” he said. “We validate the identity of those applying [for access], check with the applicant’s state licensor and individual licenses.”

Citing an ongoing law enforcement investigation into the matter, Dubner declined to say if the company knew for how long the handful of customer accounts were compromised, or how many consumer records were looked up via those stolen accounts.

“We are communicating with law enforcement about it,” he said. “There isn’t much more I can share because we don’t want to impede the investigation.”

The source told KrebsOnSecurity he’s identified more than 2,000 people whose SSNs, DoBs and other data were used by the fraud gang to file for unemployment insurance benefits and SBA loans, and that a single payday can land the thieves $20,000 or more. In addition, he said, it seems clear that the fraudsters are recycling stolen identities to file phony unemployment insurance claims in multiple states.

ANALYSIS

Hacked or ill-gotten accounts at consumer data brokers have fueled ID theft and identity theft services of various sorts for years. In 2013, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that the U.S. Secret Service had arrested a 24-year-old man named Hieu Minh Ngo for running an identity theft service out of his home in Vietnam.

Ngo’s service, variously named superget[.]info and findget[.]me, gave customers access to personal and financial data on more than 200 million Americans. He gained that access by posing as a private investigator to a data broker subsidiary acquired by Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus in the United States.

Ngo’s ID theft service superget.info

Experian was hauled before Congress to account for the lapse, and assured lawmakers there was no evidence that consumers had been harmed by Ngo’s access. But as follow-up reporting showed, Ngo’s service was frequented by ID thieves who specialized in filing fraudulent tax refund requests with the Internal Revenue Service, and was relied upon heavily by an identity theft ring operating in the New York-New Jersey region.

Also in 2013, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that ssndob[.]ms, then a major identity theft service in the cybercrime underground, had infiltrated computers at some of America’s large consumer and business data aggregators, including LexisNexis Inc., Dun & Bradstreet, and Kroll Background America Inc.

The now defunct SSNDOB identity theft service.

In 2006, The Washington Post reported that a group of five men used stolen or illegally created accounts at LexisNexis subsidiaries to lookup SSNs and other personal information more than 310,000 individuals. And in 2004, it emerged that identity thieves masquerading as customers of data broker Choicepoint had stolen the personal and financial records of more than 145,000 Americans.

Those compromises were noteworthy because the consumer information warehoused by these data brokers can be used to find the answers to so-called knowledge-based authentication (KBA) questions used by companies seeking to validate the financial history of people applying for new lines of credit.

In that sense, thieves involved in ID theft may be better off targeting data brokers like IDI and their customers than the major credit bureaus, said Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and lecturer at UC Berkeley.

“This means you have access not only to the consumer’s SSN and other static information, but everything you need for knowledge-based authentication because these are the types of companies that are providing KBA data.”

The fraud group communications reviewed by this author suggest they are cashing out primarily through financial instruments like prepaid cards and a small number of online-only banks that allow consumers to establish accounts and move money just by providing a name and associated date of birth and SSN.

While most of these instruments place daily or monthly limits on the amount of money users can deposit into and withdraw from the accounts, some of the more popular instruments for ID thieves appear to be those that allow spending, sending or withdrawal of between $5,000 to $7,000 per transaction, with high limits on the overall number or dollar value of transactions allowed in a given time period.

KrebsOnSecurity is investigating the extent to which a small number of these financial instruments may be massively over-represented in the incidence of unemployment insurance benefit fraud at the state level, and in SBA loan fraud at the federal level. Anyone in the financial sector or state agencies with information about these apparent trends may confidentially contact this author at krebsonsecurity @ gmail dot com, or via the encrypted message service Wickr at “krebswickr“.

The looting of state unemployment insurance programs by identity thieves has been well documented of late, but far less public attention has centered on fraud targeting Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and advance grant programs run by the U.S. Small Business Administration in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Late last month, the SBA Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a scathing report (PDF) saying it has been inundated with complaints from financial institutions reporting suspected fraudulent EIDL transactions, and that it has so far identified $250 million in loans given to “potentially ineligible recipients.” The OIG said many of the complaints were about credit inquiries for individuals who had never applied for an economic injury loan or grant.

The figures released by the SBA OIG suggest the financial impact of the fraud may be severely under-reported at the moment. For example, the OIG said nearly 3,800 of the 5,000 complaints it received came from just six financial institutions (out of several thousand across the United States). One credit union reportedly told the U.S. Justice Department that 59 out of 60 SBA deposits it received appeared to be fraudulent.

CryptogramThe NSA on the Risks of Exposing Location Data

The NSA has issued an advisory on the risks of location data.

Mitigations reduce, but do not eliminate, location tracking risks in mobile devices. Most users rely on features disabled by such mitigations, making such safeguards impractical. Users should be aware of these risks and take action based on their specific situation and risk tolerance. When location exposure could be detrimental to a mission, users should prioritize mission risk and apply location tracking mitigations to the greatest extent possible. While the guidance in this document may be useful to a wide range of users, it is intended primarily for NSS/DoD system users.

The document provides a list of mitigation strategies, including turning things off:

If it is critical that location is not revealed for a particular mission, consider the following recommendations:

  • Determine a non-sensitive location where devices with wireless capabilities can be secured prior to the start of any activities. Ensure that the mission site cannot be predicted from this location.
  • Leave all devices with any wireless capabilities (including personal devices) at this non-sensitive location. Turning off the device may not be sufficient if a device has been compromised.
  • For mission transportation, use vehicles without built-in wireless communication capabilities, or turn off the capabilities, if possible.

Of course, turning off your wireless devices is itself a signal that something is going on. It's hard to be clandestine in our always connected world.

News articles.

Planet DebianChristian Kastner: My new favorite utility: autojump

Like any developer, I have amassed an impressive collection of directory trees both broad and deep. Navigating these trees became increasingly cumbersome, and setting CDPATH, using auto-completion, and working with the readline history search alleviated this only somewhat.

Enter autojump, from the package of the same name.

Whatever magic it uses is unbelievably effective. I estimate that in at least 95% of my cases, typing j <name-fragment> changes to the directory I was actually thinking of.

Say I'm working on package scikit-learn. My clone of the Salsa repo is in ~/code/pkg-scikit-learn/scikit-learn. Changing to that directory is trivial, I only need to specify a name fragment:

$ j sci
/home/christian/code/pkg-scikit-learn/scikit-learn
christian@workstation:~/code/pkg-scikit-learn/scikit-learn

But what if I want to work on scikit-learn upstream, to prepare a patch, for example? That repo has been cloned to ~/code/github/scikit-learn. No problem at all, just add another name fragment:

$ j gi sci
/home/christian/code/github/scikit-learn
christian@workstation:~/code/github/scikit-learn

The magic, however, is most evident with directory trees I rarely enter. As in: I have a good idea of the directory name I wish to change to, but I don't really recall its exact name, nor where (in the tree) it is located. I used to rely on autocomplete to somehow get there which can involve hitting the [TAB] key far too many times, and falling back to find in the worst case, but now, autojump always seems gets me there on first try.

I can't believe that this has been available in Debian for 10 years and I only discovered it now.

LongNowChildhood as a solution to explore–exploit tensions

Big questions abound regarding the protracted childhood of Homo sapiens, but there’s a growing argument that it’s an adaptation to the increased complexity of our social environment and the need to learn longer and harder in order to handle the ever-raising bar of adulthood. (Just look to the explosion of requisite schooling over the last century for a concrete example of how childhood grows along with social complexity.)

It’s a tradeoff between genetic inheritance and enculturation — see also Kevin Kelly’s remarks in The Inevitable that we have entered an age of lifelong learning and the 21st Century requires all of us to be permanent “n00bs”, due to the pace of change and the scale at which we have to grapple with evolutionarily relevant sociocultural information.

New research from Past Long Now Seminar Speaker Alison Gopnik:

“I argue that the evolution of our life history, with its distinctively long, protected human childhood, allows an early period of broad hypothesis search and exploration, before the demands of goal-directed exploitation set in. This cognitive profile is also found in other animals and is associated with early behaviours such as neophilia and play. I relate this developmental pattern to computational ideas about explore–exploit trade-offs, search and sampling, and to neuroscience findings. I also present several lines of empirical evidence suggesting that young human learners are highly exploratory, both in terms of their search for external information and their search through hypothesis spaces. In fact, they are sometimes more exploratory than older learners and adults.”

Alison Gopnik, “Childhood as a solution to explore-exploit tensions” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Planet DebianSam Hartman: Good Job Debian: Compatibility back to 1999

So, I needed a container of Debian Slink (2.1), released back in 1999. I expected this was going to be a long and involved process. Things didn't look good from the start:
root@mount-peerless:/usr/lib/python3/dist-packages/sqlalchemy# debootstrap  slink /build/slink2 
http://archive.debian.org/debian                                                               
E: No such script: /usr/share/debootstrap/scripts/slink

Hmm, I thought I remembered slink support for debootstrap--not that slink used debootstrap by default--back when I was looking through the debootstrap sources years ago. Sure enough looking through the changelogs, slink support was dropped back in 2005.
Okay, well, this isn't going to work either, but I guess I could try debootstrapping sarge and from there go back to slink.
Except it worked fine.
Go us!

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: A Slow Moving Stream

We’ve talked about Java’s streams in the past. It’s hardly a “new” feature at this point, but its blend of “being really useful” and “based on functional programming techniques” and “different than other APIs” means that we still have developers struggling to figure out how to use it.

Jeff H has a co-worker, Clarence, who is very “anti-stream”. “It creates too many copies of our objects, so it’s terrible for memory, and it’s so much slower. Don’t use streams unless you absolutely have to!” So in many a code review, Jeff submits some very simple, easy to read, and fast-performing bit of stream code, and Clarence objects. “It’s slow. It wastes memory.”

Sometimes, another team member goes to bat for Jeff’s code. Sometimes they don’t. But then, in a recent review, Clarence submitted his own bit of stream code.

schedules.stream().forEach(schedule -> visitors.stream().forEach(scheduleVisitor -> {
    scheduleVisitor.visitSchedule(schedule);

    if (schedule.getDays() != null && !schedule.getDays().isEmpty()) {
        schedule.getDays().stream().forEach(day -> visitors.stream().forEach(dayVisitor -> {
            dayVisitor.visitDay(schedule, day);

            if (day.getSlots() != null && !day.getSlots().isEmpty()) {
                day.getSlots().stream().forEach(slot -> visitors.stream().forEach(slotVisitor -> {
                    slotVisitor.visitSlot(schedule, day, slot);
                }));
            }
        }));
    }
}));

That is six nested “for each” operations, and they’re structured so that we iterate across the same list multiple times. For each schedule, we look at each visitor on that schedule, then we look at each day for that schedule, and then we look at every visitor again, then we look at each day’s slots, and then we look at each visitor again.

Well, if nothing else, we understand why Clarence thinks the Java Streams API is slow. This code did not pass code review.

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Planet DebianHolger Levsen: 20200805-debconf7

DebConf7

This tshirt is 13 years old and from DebConf7.

DebConf7 was my 5th DebConf and took place in Edinburgh, Scotland.

And finally I could tell people I was a DD :-D Though as you can guess, that's yet another story to be told. So anyway, Edinburgh.

I don't recall exactly whether the video team had to record 6 or 7 talk rooms on 4 floors, but this was probably the most intense set up we ran. And we ran a lot, from floor to floor, and room to room.

DebConf7 was also special because it had a very special night venue, which was in an ex-church in a rather normal building, operated as sort of community center or some such, while the old church interior was still very much visible as in everything new was build around the old stuff.

And while the night venue was cool, it also ment we (video team) had no access to our machines over night (or for much of the evening), because we had to leave the university over night and the networking situation didn't allow remote access with the bandwidth needed to do anything video.

The night venue had some very simple house rules, like don't rearrange stuff, don't break stuff, don't fix stuff and just a few little more and of course we broke them in the best possible way: Toresbe with the help of people I don't remember fixed the organ, which was broken for decades. And so the house sounded in some very nice new old tune and I think everybody was happy we broke that rule.

I believe the city is really nice from the little I've seen of it. A very nice old town, a big castle on the hill :) I'm not sure whether I missed the day trip to Glasgow to fix video things or to rest or both...

Another thing I missed was getting a kilt, for which Phil Hands made a terrific design (update: the design is called tartan and was made by Phil indeed!), which spelled Debian in morse code. That was pretty cool and the kilts are really nice on DebConf group pictures since then. And if you've been wearing this kilt regularily for the last 13 years it was probably also a sensible investment. ;)

It seems I don't have that many more memories of this DebConf, British power plugs and how to hack them comes to my mind and some other stuff here and there, but I remember less than previous years. I'm blaming this on the intense video setup and also on the sheer amount of people, which was the hightest until then and for some years, I believe maybe even until Heidelberg 8 years later. IIRC there were around 470 people there and over my first five years of DebConf I was incredible lucky to make many friends in Debian, so I probably just hung out and had good times.

Planet DebianHolger Levsen: 20200805-debconf7.jpg

Chaotic IdealismTo a Newly Diagnosed Autistic Teenager

I was recently asked by a 14-year-old who had just been diagnosed autistic what advice I had to give. This is what I said.

The thing that helped me most was understanding myself and talking to other autistic people, so you’re already well on that road.

The more you learn about yourself, the more you learn about how you *learn*… meaning that you can become better at teaching yourself to communicate with neurotypicals.

Remember though: The goal is to communicate. Blending in is secondary, or even irrelevant, depending on your priorities. If you can get your ideas from your brain to theirs, and understand what they’re saying, and live in the world peacefully without hurting anyone and without putting yourself in danger, then it does not matter how different you are or how differently you do things.

Autistic is not better and not worse than neurotypical; it’s simply different. Having a disability is a normal part of human life; it’s nothing to be proud of and nothing to be ashamed of. Disability doesn’t stop you from being talented or from becoming unusually skilled, especially with practice. Being different means that you see things from a different perspective, which means that as you grow and gain experience you will be able to provide solutions to problems that other people simply don’t see, to contribute skills that most people don’t have.

Learn to advocate for yourself. If you have an IEP, go to the meetings and ask questions about what help is available and what problems you have. When you are mistreated, go to someone you trust and ask for help; and if you can’t get help, protect yourself as best you can. Learn to stand up for yourself, to keep other people from taking advantage of you. Also learn to help other people stay safe.

Your best social connections now will be anyone who treats you with kindness. You can tell whether someone is kind by observing how they treat those they have power over when nobody, or nobody with much influence, is watching. You want people who are honest, or who only lie when they are trying to protect others’ feelings. Talk to these people; explain that you are not very good with social things and that you sometimes embarrass yourself or accidentally insult people, and that you would like them to tell you when you are doing something clumsy, offensive, confusing, or cringeworthy. Explain to these people that you would prefer to know about mistakes you are making, because if you are not told you will never be able to correct those mistakes.

Learn to apologize, and learn that an apology simply means, “I recognize I have made a mistake and shall work to correct it in the future.” An apology is not a sign of failure or an admission of inferiority. Sometimes an apology can even mean, “I have made a mistake that I could not control; if I had been able to control it, I would not have made the mistake.” Therefore, it is okay to apologize if you have simply made an honest mistake. The best apology includes an explanation of how you will fix your mistake or what you will change to keep it from happening in the future.

Learn not to apologize when you have done nothing wrong. Do not apologize for being different, for standing up for yourself or for other people, or for having an opinion others disagree with. You do not need to justify your existence. You should never give in to the pressure to say, “I am autistic, but that’s okay because I have this skill and that talent.” The correct statement is, “I am autistic, and that is okay.” You don’t need to do anything to be valuable. You just need to be human.

If someone uses you to fulfill their own desires but doesn’t give things back in return; if someone doesn’t care about your needs when you tell them; if someone can tell you are hurt and doesn’t care; then that is a person you cannot trust.

In general, you can expect your teen years to be harder than your young-adult years. As you grow and gain experience, you’ll gain skills and you’ll gather a library of techniques to help you navigate the social and sensory world, to help you deal with your emotions and with your relationships. You will never be perfect–but then, nobody is. What you’re aiming for is useful, functional skills, in whatever form they take, whether they are the typical way of doing things or not. As the saying goes: If it looks stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid.

Keep trying. Take good care of yourself. When you are tired, rest. Learn to push yourself to your limits, but not beyond; and learn where those limits are. When you are tired from something that would not tire a neurotypical, be unashamed about your need for down time. Learn to say “no” when you don’t want something, and learn to say “yes” when you want something but you are a little bit intimidated by it because it is new or complicated or unpredictable. Learn to accept failure and learn from it. Help others. Make your world better. Make your own way. Grow. Live.

You’ll be okay.

Krebs on SecurityPorn Clip Disrupts Virtual Court Hearing for Alleged Twitter Hacker

Perhaps fittingly, a Web-streamed court hearing for the 17-year-old alleged mastermind of the July 15 mass hack against Twitter was cut short this morning after mischief makers injected a pornographic video clip into the proceeding.

17-year-old Graham Clark of Tampa, Fla. was among those charged in the July 15 Twitter hack. Image: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

The incident occurred at a bond hearing held via the videoconferencing service Zoom by the Hillsborough County, Fla. criminal court in the case of Graham Clark. The 17-year-old from Tampa was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of social engineering his way into Twitter’s internal computer systems and tweeting out a bitcoin scam through the accounts of high-profile Twitter users.

Notice of the hearing was available via public records filed with the Florida state attorney’s office. The notice specified the Zoom meeting time and ID number, essentially allowing anyone to participate in the proceeding.

Even before the hearing officially began it was clear that the event would likely be “zoom bombed.” That’s because while participants were muted by default, they were free to unmute their microphones and transmit their own video streams to the channel.

Sure enough, less than a minute had passed before one attendee not party to the case interrupted a discussion between Clark’s attorney and the judge by streaming a live video of himself adjusting his face mask. Just a few minutes later, someone began interjecting loud music.

It became clear that presiding Judge Christopher C. Nash was personally in charge of administering the video hearing when, after roughly 15 seconds worth of random chatter interrupted the prosecution’s response, Nash told participants he was removing the troublemakers as quickly as he could.

Judge Nash, visibly annoyed immediately after one of the many disruptions to today’s hearing.

What transpired a minute later was almost inevitable given the permissive settings of this particular Zoom conference call: Someone streamed a graphic video clip from Pornhub for approximately 15 seconds before Judge Nash abruptly terminated the broadcast.

With the ongoing pestilence that is the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s state and federal courts have largely been forced to conduct proceedings remotely via videoconferencing services. While Zoom and others do offer settings that can prevent participants from injecting their own audio and video into the stream unless invited to do so, those settings evidently were not enabled in today’s meeting.

At issue before the court today was a defense motion to modify the amount of the defendant’s bond, which has been set at $750,000. The prosecution had argued that Clark should be required to show that any funds used toward securing that bond were gained lawfully, and were not merely the proceeds from his alleged participation in the Twitter bitcoin scam or some other form of cybercrime.

Florida State Attorney Andrew Warren’s reaction as a Pornhub clip began streaming to everyone in today’s Zoom proceeding.

Mr. Clark’s attorneys disagreed, and spent most of the uninterrupted time in today’s hearing explaining why their client could safely be released under a much smaller bond and close supervision restrictions.

On Sunday, The New York Times published an in-depth look into Clark’s wayward path from a small-time cheater and hustler in online games like Minecraft to big-boy schemes involving SIM swapping, a form of fraud that involves social engineering employees at mobile phone companies to gain control over a target’s phone number and any financial, email and social media accounts associated with that number.

According to The Times, Clark was suspected of being involved in a 2019 SIM swapping incident which led to the theft of 164 bitcoins from Gregg Bennett, a tech investor in the Seattle area. That theft would have been worth around $856,000 at the time; these days 164 bitcoins is worth approximately $1.8 million.

The Times said that soon after the theft, Bennett received an extortion note signed by Scrim, one of the hacker handles alleged to have been used by Clark. From that story:

“We just want the remainder of the funds in the Bittrex,” Scrim wrote, referring to the Bitcoin exchange from which the coins had been taken. “We are always one step ahead and this is your easiest option.”

In April, the Secret Service seized 100 Bitcoins from Mr. Clark, according to government forfeiture documents. A few weeks later, Mr. Bennett received a letter from the Secret Service saying they had recovered 100 of his Bitcoins, citing the same code that was assigned to the coins seized from Mr. Clark.

Florida prosecutor Darrell Dirks was in the middle of explaining to the judge that investigators are still in the process of discovering the extent of Clark’s alleged illegal hacking activities since the Secret Service returned the 100 bitcoin when the porn clip was injected into the Zoom conference.

Ultimately, Judge Nash decided to keep the bond amount as is, but to remove the condition that Clark prove the source of the funds.

Clark has been charged with 30 felony counts and is being tried as an adult. Federal prosecutors also have charged two other young men suspected of playing roles in the Twitter hack, including a 22-year-old from Orlando, Fla. and a 19-year-old from the United Kingdom.

Kevin RuddABC RN: South China Sea

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
RN BREAKFAST
ABC RADIO NATIONAL
5 AUGUST 2020

Fran Kelly
Prime Minister Scott Morrison today will warn of the unprecedented militarization of the Indo-Pacific which he says has become the epicentre of strategic competition between the US and China. In his virtual address to the Aspen Security Forum in the United States, Scott Morrison will also condemn the rising frequency of cyber attacks and the new threats democratic nations are facing from foreign interference. This speech coincides with a grim warning from former prime minister Kevin Rudd that the threat of armed conflict in the region is especially high in the run-up to the US presidential election in November. Kevin Rudd, welcome back to breakfast.

Kevin Rudd
Thanks for having me on the program, Fran.

Fran Kelly
Kevin Rudd, you’ve written in the Foreign Affairs journal that the US-China tensions could lead to, quote, a hot war not just a cold one. That conflict, you say, is no longer unthinkable. It’s a fairly alarming assessment. Just how likely do you rate the confrontation in the Indo-Pacific other coming three or four months?

Kevin Rudd
Well, Fran, I think it’s important to narrow our geographical scope here. Prime Minister Morrison is talking about a much wider theatre. My comments in Foreign Affairs are about crisis scenarios emerging over what will happen or could happen in Hong Kong over the next three months leading up to the presidential election. And I think things in Hong Kong are more likely to get worse than better. What’s happening in relation to the Taiwan Straits where things have become much sharper than before in terms of actions on both sides, that’s the Chinese and the United States. But the thrust of my article is that the real problem area in terms of crisis management, crisis escalation, etc, lies in the South China Sea. And what I simply try to pull together is the fact that we now have a much greater concentration of military hardware, ships at sea, aircraft flying reconnaissance missions, together with changes in deployments by the Chinese fighters and bombers now into the actual Paracel Islands themselves in the north part of the South China Sea. Together with the changes in the declaratory postures of both sides. So what I do in this article this pull these threads together and say to both sides: be careful what you wish for; you’re playing with fire.

Fran Kelly
And when you talk about a heightened risk of armed conflict, or you’re talking about a being confined to a flare-up in one very specific location like the South China Sea?

Kevin Rudd
What I try to do is to go to where could a crisis actually emerge?

Fran Kelly
Yeah.

Kevin Rudd
If you go across the whole spectrum of conflicts, at the moment between China and the United States on a whole range of policies, all roads tend to lead back to the South China Sea because it’s effectively a ruleless environment at the moment. We have contested views of both territorial and maritime sovereignty. And that’s where my concern, Fran, is that we have a crisis, which comes about through a collision at sea, a collision in the air, and given the nationalist politics now in Washington because of the presidential election, but also the nationalist politics in China, as its own leadership go to their annual August retreat, Beidaihe, that it’s a very bad admixture which could result in a crisis for allies like Australia, which have treaty obligations with the United States through the ANZUS treaty. This is a deeply concerning set of developments because if the crisis erupts, what then does the Australian government do?

Fran Kelly
Well, what does it do in your view from your viewpoint as a former Prime Minister. You know Australia tries to walk a very fine line by Washington and Beijing. That’s proved very difficult lately, but we are in the ANZUS alliance. Would we need to get involved militarily?

Kevin Rudd
Let me put it in these terms: Australia, like other countries dealing with China’s greater regional and international assertiveness, has had to adjust its strategy. We can have a separate debate, Fran, about what that strategy should be across the board in terms of the economy, technology, Huawei in the rest. But what I’ve sought to do in this article is go specifically to the possibility of a national security crisis. Now, if I was Prime Minister Morrison, what I’d be doing in the current circumstances is taking out the fire hose to those in Washington and to the extent that you can to those in Beijing, and simply make it as plain as possible through private diplomacy and public statements, the time has come for de-escalation because the obligations under the treaty, Fran, to go to your direct question, are relatively clear. What it says in one of the operational clauses of the ANZUS treaty of 1951 is that if the armed forces of either of the contracting parties, namely Australia or the United States, come under attack in the Pacific area, then the allies shall meet and consult to meet the common danger. That, therefore, puts us as an Australian ally directly into this frame. Hence my call for people to be very careful about the months which lie ahead.

Fran Kelly
In terms of ‘the time has come for de-escalation’, that message, do we see signs that that was the message very clearly being given by the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister when they’re in Washington last week? Marise Payne didn’t buy into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s very elevated rhetoric aimed at China, kept a distance there. And is it your view that this danger period will be over come the first Tuesday in November, the presidential election?

Kevin Rudd
I think when we looking at the danger of genuine armed conflict between China and United States, that is now with us for a long period of time, whoever wins in November, including under the Democrats. What I’m more concerned about, however, is given that President Trump is in desperate domestic political circumstances at present in Washington, and that there will be a temptation to continue to elevate. And also domestic politics are playing their role in China itself where Xi Jinping is under real pressure because of the state of the Chinese economy because of COVID and a range of other factors. On Australia, you asked directly about what Marise Payne was doing in Washington. I think finally the penny dropped with Prime Minister Morrison and Foreign Minister Payne that the US presidential election campaign strategy was beginning to directly influence the content of rational national security policy. I think wisely they decided to step back slightly from that.

Fran Kelly
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is our guest. Kevin Rudd, this morning Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, is addressing the US Aspen Security Forum. He’s also talking about rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific. He’s pledged that Australia won’t be a bystander, quote, who will leave it to others in the region. He wants other like-minded democracies of the region to step up and act in some kind of alliance. Is that the best way to counter Beijing’s rising aggression and assertiveness?

Kevin Rudd
Well, Prime Minister Morrison seems to like making speeches but I’ve yet to see evidence of a coherent Australian national China strategy in terms of what the government is operationally doing as opposed to what it continues to talk about. So my concern on his specific proposal is: what are you doing, Mr Morrison? The talk of an alliance I think is misplaced. The talk of, shall we say, a common policy approach to the challenges which China now represents, that is an entirely appropriate course of action and something which we sought to do during our own period in government, but it’s a piece of advice which Morrison didn’t bother listening to himself when he unilaterally went out and called for an independent global investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Far wiser, if Morrison had taken his own counsel and brought together a coalition of the policy willing first and said: do we have a group of 10 robust states standing behind this proposal? And the reason for that, Fran, is that makes it much harder then for Beijing to unilaterally pick off individual countries.

Fran Kelly
Kevin Rudd, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

Kevin Rudd
Good to be with you, Fran.

Fran Kelly
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He’s president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York, and the article that he’s just penned is in the Foreign Affairs journal.

The post ABC RN: South China Sea appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: A Private Code Review

Jessica has worked with some cunning developers in the past. To help cope with some of that “cunning”, they’ve recently gone out searching for new developers.

Now, there were some problems with their job description and salary offer, specifically, they were asking for developers who do too much and get paid too little. Which is how Jessica started working with Blair. Jessica was hoping to staff up her team with some mid-level or junior developers with a background in web development. Instead, she got Blair, a 13+ year veteran who had just started doing web development in the past six months.

Now, veteran or not, there is a code review process, so everything Blair does goes through code review. And that catches some… annoying habits, but every once in awhile, something might sneak through. For example, he thinks static is a code smell, and thus removes the keyword any time he sees it. He’ll rewrite most of the code to work around it, except once the method was called from a cshtml template file, so no one discovered that it didn’t work until someone reported the error.

Blair also laments that with all the JavaScript and loosely typed languages, kids these days don’t understand the importance of separation of concerns and putting a barrier between interface and implementation. To prove his point, he submitted his MessageBL class. BL, of course, is to remind you that this class is “business logic”, which is easy to forget because it’s in an assembly called theappname.businesslogic.

Within that class, he implemented a bunch of data access methods, and this pair of methods lays out the pattern he followed.

public async Task<LinkContentUpdateTrackingModel> GetLinkAndContentTrackingModelAndUpdate(int id, Msg msg)
{
    return await GetLinkAndContentTrackingAndUpdate(id, msg);
}

/// <summary>
/// LinkTrackingUpdateLinks
/// returns: HasAnalyticsConfig, LinkTracks, ContentTracks
/// </summary>
/// <param name="id"></param>
/// <param name="msg"></param>
private async Task<LinkContentUpdateTrackingModel> GetLinkAndContentTrackingAndUpdate(int id, Msg msg)
{
  //snip
}

Here, we have one public method, and one private method. Their names, as you can see, are very similar. The public method does nothing but invoke the private method. This public method is, in fact, the only place the private method is invoked. The public method, in turn, is called only twice, from one controller.

This method also doesn’t ever need to be called, because the same block of code which constructs this object also fetches the relevant model objects. So instead of going back to the database with this thing, we could just use the already fetched objects.

But the real magic here is that Blair was veteran enough to know that he should put some “thorough” documentation using Visual Studio’s XML comment features. But he put the comments on the private method.

Jessica was not the one who reviewed this code, but adds:

I won’t blame the code reviewer for letting this through. There’s only so many times you can reject a peer review before you start questioning yourself. And sometimes, because Blair has been here so long, he checks code in without peer review as it’s a purely manual process.

[Advertisement] ProGet’s got you covered with security and access controls on your NuGet feeds. Learn more.

Planet DebianDirk Eddelbuettel: RcppCCTZ 0.2.8: Minor API Extension

A new minor release 0.2.8 of RcppCCTZ is now on CRAN.

RcppCCTZ uses Rcpp to bring CCTZ to R. CCTZ is a C++ library for translating between absolute and civil times using the rules of a time zone. In fact, it is two libraries. One for dealing with civil time: human-readable dates and times, and one for converting between between absolute and civil times via time zones. And while CCTZ is made by Google(rs), it is not an official Google product. The RcppCCTZ page has a few usage examples and details. This package was the first CRAN package to use CCTZ; by now at least three others do—using copies in their packages which remains less than ideal.

This version adds three no throw variants of three existing functions, contributed again by Leonardo. This will be used in an upcoming nanotime release which we are finalising now.

Changes in version 0.2.8 (2020-08-04)

  • Added three new nothrow variants (for win32) needed by the expanded nanotime package (Leonardo in #37)

We also have a diff to the previous version thanks to CRANberries. More details are at the RcppCCTZ page; code, issue tickets etc at the GitHub repository.

If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub. For the first year, GitHub will match your contributions.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

Planet DebianHolger Levsen: 20200804-debconf6

DebConf6

This tshirt is 14 years old and from DebConf6.

DebConf6 was my 4th DebConf and took place in Oaxtepec, Mexico.

I'm a bit exhausted right now which is probably quite fitting to write something about DebConf6... many things in life are a question of perception, so I will mention the waterfall and the big swirl and the band playing with the fireworks during the conference dinner, the joy that we finally could use the local fiber network (after asking for months) just after discovering that the 6h shopping tour forgot to bring the essential pig tail connectors to connect the wireless antennas to the cards, which we needed to provide network to the rooms where the talks would take place.

DebConf6 was the first DebConf with live streaming using dvswitch (written by Ben Hutchings and removed from unstable in 2015 as the world had moved to voctomix, which is yet another story to be told eventually). The first years (so DebConf6 and some) the videoteam focussed on getting the post processing done and the videos released, and streaming was optional, even though it was an exciting new feature and we still managed to stream mostly all we recorded and sometimes more... ;)

Setting up the network uplink also was very challenging and took, I don't remember exactly, until day 4 or 5 of DebCamp (which lasted 7 days), so there were group of geeks in need of network, and mostly unable to fix it, because for fixing it we needed to communicate and IRC was down. (There was no mobile phone data at that time, the first iphone wasn't sold yet, it were the dark ages.)

I remember literally standing on a roof to catch the wifi signal and excitingly shouting "I got one ping back! ... one ping back ...", less excitingly. I'll spare you the details now (and me writing them down) but I'll say that the solution involved Neil McGovern climbing an antenna and attaching a wifi antenna up high, probably 15m or 20m or some such. Finally we had uplink. I don't recall if that pig tail connector incident happened before of after, but in the end the network setup worked nicely on the wide area we occupied. Even though in some dorms the cleaning people daily removed one of our APs to be able to watch TV while cleaning ;) (Which kind of was ok, but still... they could have plugged it back in.)

I also joyfully remember a certain vegetarian table, a most memorable bus ride (I'll just say 5 or rather cinco, and, unrelated except on the same bus ride, "Jesus" (and "Maria" for sure..)!) and talking with Jim Gettys and thus learning about the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project.

As for any DebConf, there's sooo much more to be told, but I'll end here and just thank Gunnar Wolf (as he masterminded much of this DebConf) and go to bed now :-)

,

Planet DebianOsamu Aoki: exim4 configuration for Desktop (better gmail support)

Since gmail rewrites "From:" address now (2020) and keep changing access limitation, it is wise not  to use it as smarthost any more.  (If you need to access multiple gmail addresses from mutt etc, use esmtp etc.)

---
For most of our Desktop PC running with stock exim4 and mutt, I think sending out mail is becoming a bit rough since using random smarthost causes lots of trouble due to the measures taken to prevent spams.

As mentioned in Exim4 user FAQ , /etc/hosts should have FQDN with external DNS resolvable domain name listed instead of localdomain to get the correct EHLO/HELO line.  That's the first step.

The stock configuration of exim4 only allows you to use single smarthost for all your mails.  I use one address for my personal use which is checked by my smartphone too.  The other account is for subscribing to the mailing list.  So I needed to tweak ...

Usually, mutt is smart enough to set the From address since my .muttrc has

# Set default for From: for replyes for alternates.
set reverse_name

So how can I teach exim4 to send mails depending on the  mail accounts listed in the From header.

For my gmail accounts, each mail should be sent to the account specific SMTP connection matching your From header to get all the modern SPAM protection data in right state.  DKIM, SPF, DMARC...  (Besides, they overwrite From: header anyway if you use wrong connection.)

For my debian.org mails, mails should be sent from my shell account on people.debian.org so it is very unlikely to be blocked.  Sometimes, I wasn't sure some of these debian.org mails sent through my ISP's smarthost are really getting to the intended person.

To these ends, I have created small patches to the /etc/exim4/conf.d files and reported it to Debian BTS: #869480 Support multiple smarthosts (gmail support).  These patches are for the source package.

To use my configuration tweak idea, you have easier route no matter which exim version you are using.  Please copy and read pertinent edited files from my github site to your installed /etc/exim4/conf.d files and get the benefits.
If you really wish to keep envelope address etc. to match From: header, please rewite agressively using the From: header using eddited rewrite/31_exim4-config_rewriting as follows:

.ifndef NO_EAA_REWRITE_REWRITE
*@+local_domains "${lookup{${local_part}}lsearch{/etc/email-addresses}\
                   {$value}fail}" f
# identical rewriting rule for /etc/mailname
*@ETC_MAILNAME "${lookup{${local_part}}lsearch{/etc/email-addresses}\
                   {$value}fail}" f
.endif
* "$h_from:" Frs

So far its working fine for me but if you find bug, let me know.

Osamu

LongNowTraditional Ecological Knowledge

Archaeologist Stefani Crabtree writes about her work to reconstruct Indigenous food and use networks for the National Park Service:

Traditional Ecological Knowledge gets embedded in the choices that people make when they consume, and how TEK can provide stability of an ecosystem. Among Martu, the use of fire for hunting and the knowledge of the habits of animals are enshrined in the Dreamtime stories passed inter-generationally; these Dreamtime stories have material effects on the food web, which were detected in our simulations. The ecosystem thrived with Martu; it was only through their removal that extinctions began to cascade through the system.

CryptogramCybercrime in the Age of COVID-19

The Cambridge Cybercrime Centre has a series of papers on cybercrime during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kevin RuddForeign Affairs: Beware the Guns of August — in Asia

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor DiMartino

Published in Foreign Affairs on August 3, 2020.

In just a few short months, the U.S.-Chinese relationship seems to have returned to an earlier, more primal age. In China, Mao Zedong is once again celebrated for having boldly gone to war against the Americans in Korea, fighting them to a truce. In the United States, Richard Nixon is denounced for creating a global Frankenstein by introducing Communist China to the wider world. It is as if the previous half century of U.S.-Chinese relations never happened.

The saber rattling from both Beijing and Washington has become strident, uncompromising, and seemingly unending. The relationship lurches from crisis to crisis—from the closures of consulates to the most recent feats of Chinese “wolf warrior” diplomacy to calls by U.S. officials for the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The speed and intensity of it all has desensitized even seasoned observers to the scale and significance of change in the high politics of the U.S.-Chinese relationship. Unmoored from the strategic assumptions of the previous 50 years but without the anchor of any mutually agreed framework to replace them, the world now finds itself at the most dangerous moment in the relationship since the Taiwan Strait crises of the 1950s.

The question now being asked, quietly but nervously, in capitals around the world is, where will this end? The once unthinkable outcome—actual armed conflict between the United States and China—now appears possible for the first time since the end of the Korean War. In other words, we are confronting the prospect of not just a new Cold War, but a hot one as well.

Click here to read the rest of the article at Foreign Affairs.

The post Foreign Affairs: Beware the Guns of August — in Asia appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Worse Than FailureA Massive Leak

"Memory leaks are impossible in a garbage collected language!" is one of my favorite lies. It feels true, but it isn't. Sure, it's much harder to make them, and they're usually much easier to track down, but you can still create a memory leak. Most times, it's when you create objects, dump them into a data structure, and never empty that data structure. Usually, it's just a matter of finding out what object references are still being held. Usually.

A few months ago, I discovered a new variation on that theme. I was working on a C# application that was leaking memory faster than bad waterway engineering in the Imperial Valley.

A large, glowing, computer-controlled chandelier

I don't exactly work in the "enterprise" space anymore, though I still interact with corporate IT departments and get to see some serious internal WTFs. This is a chandelier we built for the Allegheny Health Network's Cancer Institute which recently opened in Pittsburgh. It's 15 meters tall, weighs about 450kg, and is broken up into 30 segments, each with hundreds of addressable LEDs in a grid. The software we were writing was built to make them blink pretty.

Each of those 30 segments is home to a single-board computer with their GPIO pins wired up to addressable LEDs. Each computer runs a UDP listener, and we blast them with packets containing RGB data, which they dump to the LEDs using a heavily tweaked version of LEDScape.

This is our standard approach to most of our lighting installations. We drop a Beaglebone onto a custom circuit board and let it drive the LEDs, then we have a render-box someplace which generates frame data and chops it up into UDP packets. Depending on the environment, we can drive anything from 30-120 frames per second this way (and probably faster, but that's rarely useful).

Apologies to the networking folks, but this works very well. Yes, we're blasting many megabytes of raw bitmap data across the network, but we're usually on our own dedicated network segment. We use UDP because, well, we don't care about the data that much. A dropped packet or an out of order packet isn't going to make too large a difference in most cases. We don't care if our destination Beaglebone is up or down, we just blast the packets out onto the network, and they get there reliably enough that the system works.

Now, normally, we do this from Python programs on Linux. For this particular installation, though, we have an interactive kiosk which provides details about cancer treatments and patient success stories, and lets the users interact with the chandelier in real time. We wanted to show them a 3D model of the chandelier on the screen, and show them an animation on the UI that was mirrored in the physical object. After considering our options, we decided this was a good case for Unity and C#. After a quick test of doing multitouch interactions, we also decided that we shouldn't deploy to Linux (Unity didn't really have good Linux multitouch support), so we would deploy a Windows kiosk. This meant we were doing most of our development on MacOS, but our final build would be for Windows.

Months go by. We worked on the software while building the physical pieces, which meant the actual testbed hardware wasn't available for most of the development cycle. Custom electronics were being refined and physical designs were changing as we iterated to the best possible outcome. This is normal for us, but it meant that we didn't start getting real end-to-end testing until very late in the process.

Once we started test-hanging chandelier pieces, we started basic developer testing. You know how it is: you push the run button, you test a feature, you push the stop button. Tweak the code, rinse, repeat. Eventually, though, we had about 2/3rds of the chandelier pieces plugged in, and started deploying to the kiosk computer, running Windows.

We left it running, and the next time someone walked by and decided to give the screen a tap… nothing happened. It was hung. Well, that could be anything. We rebooted and checked again, and everything seems fine, until a few minutes later, when it's hung… again. We checked the task manager- which hey, everything is really slow, and sure enough, RAM is full and the computer is so slow because it's constantly thrashing to disk.

We're only a few weeks before we actually have to ship this thing, and we've discovered a massive memory leak, and it's such a sudden discovery that it feels like the draining of Lake Agassiz. No problem, though, we go back to our dev machines, fire it up in the profiler, and start looking for the memory leak.

Which wasn't there. The memory leak only appeared in the Windows build, and never happened in the Mac or Linux builds. Clearly, there must be some different behavior, and it must be around object lifecycles. When you see a memory leak in a GCed language, you assume you're creating objects that the GC ends up thinking are in use. In the case of Unity, your assumption is that you're handing objects off to the game engine, and not telling it you're done with them. So that's what we checked, but we just couldn't find anything that fit the bill.

Well, we needed to create some relatively large arrays to use as framebuffers. Maybe that's where the problem lay? We keep digging through the traces, we added a bunch of profiling code, we spent days trying to dig into this memory leak…

… and then it just went away. Our memory leak just became a Heisenbug, our shipping deadline was even closer, and we officially knew less about what was going wrong than when we started. For bonus points, once this kiosk ships, it's not going to be connected to the Internet, so if we need to patch the software, someone is going to have to go onsite. And we aren't going to have a suitable test environment, because we're not exactly going to build two gigantic chandeliers.

The folks doing assembly had the whole chandelier built up, hanging in three sections (we don't have any 14m tall ceiling spaces), and all connected to the network for a smoke test. There wasn't any smoke, but they needed to do more work. Someone unplugged a third of the chandelier pieces from the network.

And the memory leak came back.

We use UDP because we don't care if our packet sends succeed or not. Frame-by-frame, we just want to dump the data on the network and hope for the best. On MacOS and Linux, our software usually uses a sender thread that just, at the end of the day, wraps around calls to the send system call. It's simple, it's dumb, and it works. We ignore errors.

In C#, though, we didn't do things exactly the same way. Instead, we used the .NET UdpClient object and it's SendAsync method. We assumed that it would do roughly the same thing.

We were wrong.

await client.SendAsync(packet, packet.Length, hostip, port);

Async operations in C# use Tasks, which are like promises or futures in other environments. It lets .NET manage background threads without the developer worrying about the details. The await keyword is syntactic sugar which lets .NET know that it can hand off control to another thread while we wait. While we await here, we don't actually await the results of the await, because again: we don't care about the results of the operation. Just send the packet, hope for the best.

We don't care- but Windows does. After a load of investigation, what we discovered is that Windows would first try and resolve the IP address. Which, if a host was down, obviously it couldn't. But Windows was friendly, Windows was smart, and Windows wasn't going to let us down: it kept the Task open and kept trying to resolve the address. It held the task open for 3 seconds before finally deciding that it couldn't reach the host and errored out.

An error which, as I stated before, we were ignoring, because we didn't care.

Still, if you can count and have a vague sense of the linear passage of time, you can see where this is going. We had 30 hosts. We sent each of the 30 packets every second. When one or more of those hosts were down, Windows would keep each of those packets "alive" for 3 seconds. By the time that one expired, 90 more had queued up behind it.

That was the source of our memory leak, and our Heisenbug. If every Beaglebone was up, we didn't have a memory leak. If only one of them was down, the leak was pretty slow. If ten or twenty were out, the leak was a waterfall.

I spent a lot of time reading up on Windows networking after this. Despite digging through the socket APIs, I honestly couldn't figure out how to defeat this behavior. I tried various timeout settings. I tried tracking each task myself and explicitly timing them out if they took longer than a few frames to send. I was never able to tell Windows, "just toss the packet and hope for the best".

Well, my co-worker was building health monitoring on the Beaglebones anyway. While the kiosk wasn't going to be on the Internet via a "real" Internet connection, we did have a cellular modem attached, which we could use to send health info, so getting pings that say "hey, one of the Beaglebones failed" is useful. So my co-worker hooked that into our network sending layer: don't send frames to Beaglebones which are down. Recheck the down Beaglebones every five minutes or so. Continue to hope for the best.

This solution worked. We shipped. The device looks stunning, and as patients and guests come to use it, I hope they find some useful information, a little joy, and maybe some hope while playing with it. And while there may or may not be some ugly little hacks still lurking in that code, this was the one thing which made me say: WTF.

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Krebs on SecurityRobocall Legal Advocate Leaks Customer Data

A California company that helps telemarketing firms avoid getting sued for violating a federal law that seeks to curb robocalls has leaked the phone numbers, email addresses and passwords of all its customers, as well as the mobile phone numbers and other data on people who have hired lawyers to go after telemarketers.

The Blacklist Alliance provides technologies and services to marketing firms concerned about lawsuits under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a 1991 law that restricts the making of telemarketing calls through the use of automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages. The TCPA prohibits contact with consumers — even via text messages — unless the company has “prior express consent” to contact the consumer.

With statutory damages of $500 to $1,500 per call, the TCPA has prompted a flood of lawsuits over the years. From the telemarketer’s perspective, the TCPA can present something of a legal minefield in certain situations, such as when a phone number belonging to someone who’d previously given consent gets reassigned to another subscriber.

Enter The Blacklist Alliance, which promises to help marketers avoid TCPA legal snares set by “professional plaintiffs and class action attorneys seeking to cash in on the TCPA.” According to the Blacklist, one of the “dirty tricks” used by TCPA “frequent filers” includes “phone flipping,” or registering multiple prepaid cell phone numbers to receive calls intended for the person to whom a number was previously registered.

Lawyers representing TCPA claimants typically redact their clients’ personal information from legal filings to protect them from retaliation and to keep their contact information private. The Blacklist Alliance researches TCPA cases to uncover the phone numbers of plaintiffs and sells this data in the form of list-scrubbing services to telemarketers.

“TCPA predators operate like malware,” The Blacklist explains on its website. “Our Litigation Firewall isolates the infection and protects you from harm. Scrub against active plaintiffs, pre litigation complainers, active attorneys, attorney associates, and more. Use our robust API to seamlessly scrub these high-risk numbers from your outbound campaigns and inbound calls, or adjust your suppression settings to fit your individual requirements and appetite for risk.”

Unfortunately for the Blacklist paying customers and for people represented by attorneys filing TCPA lawsuits, the Blacklist’s own Web site until late last week leaked reams of data to anyone with a Web browser. Thousands of documents, emails, spreadsheets, images and the names tied to countless mobile phone numbers all could be viewed or downloaded without authentication from the domain theblacklist.click.

The directory also included all 388 Blacklist customer API keys, as well as each customer’s phone number, employer, username and password (scrambled with the relatively weak MD5 password hashing algorithm).

The leaked Blacklist customer database points to various companies you might expect to see using automated calling systems to generate business, including real estate and life insurance providers, credit repair companies and a long list of online advertising firms and individual digital marketing specialists.

The very first account in the leaked Blacklist user database corresponds to its CEO Seth Heyman, an attorney in southern California. Mr. Heyman did not respond to multiple requests for comment, although The Blacklist stopped leaking its database not long after that contact request.

Two other accounts marked as administrators were among the third and sixth registered users in the database; those correspond to two individuals at Riip Digital, a California-based email marketing concern that serves a diverse range of clients in the lead generation business, from debt relief and timeshare companies, to real estate firms and CBD vendors.

Riip Digital did not respond to requests for comment. But According to Spamhaus, an anti-spam group relied upon by many Internet service providers (ISPs) to block unsolicited junk email, the company has a storied history of so-called “snowshoe spamming,” which involves junk email purveyors who try to avoid spam filters and blacklists by spreading their spam-sending systems across a broad swath of domains and Internet addresses.

The irony of this data leak is that marketers who constantly scrape the Web for consumer contact data may not realize the source of the information, and end up feeding it into automated systems that peddle dubious wares and services via automated phone calls and text messages. To the extent this data is used to generate sales leads that are then sold to others, such a leak could end up causing more legal problems for The Blacklist’s customers.

The Blacklist and their clients talk a lot about technologies that they say separate automated telephonic communications from dime-a-dozen robocalls, such as software that delivers recorded statements that are manually selected by a live agent. But for your average person, this is likely a distinction without a difference.

Robocalls are permitted for political candidates, but beyond that if the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), companies are using auto-dialers to send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost.

In fiscal year 2019, the FTC received 3.78 million complaints about robocalls. Readers may be able to avoid some marketing calls by registering their mobile number with the Do Not Call registry, but the list appears to do little to deter all automated calls — particularly scam calls that spoof their real number. If and when you do receive robocalls, consider reporting them to the FTC.

Some wireless providers now offer additional services and features to help block automated calls. For example, AT&T offers wireless customers its free Call Protect app, which screens incoming calls and flags those that are likely spam calls. See the FCC’s robocall resource page for links to resources at your mobile provider. In addition, there are a number of third-party mobile apps designed to block spammy calls, such as Nomorobo and TrueCaller.

Obviously, not all telemarketing is spammy or scammy. I have friends and relatives who’ve worked at non-profits that rely a great deal on fundraising over the phone. Nevertheless, readers who are fed up with telemarketing calls may find some catharsis in the Jolly Roger Telephone Company, which offers subscribers a choice of automated bots that keep telemarketers engaged for several minutes. The service lets subscribers choose which callers should get the bot treatment, and then records the result.

For my part, the volume of automated calls hitting my mobile number got so bad that I recently enabled a setting on my smart phone to simply send to voicemail all calls from numbers that aren’t already in my contacts list. This may not be a solution for everyone, but since then I haven’t received a single spammy jingle.

Planet DebianHolger Levsen: 20200803-debconf5

DebConf5

This tshirt is 15 years old and from DebConf5. It still looks quite nice! :)

DebConf5 was my 3rd DebConf and took place in Helsinki, or rather Espoo, in Finland.

This was one of my most favorite DebConfs (though I basically loved them all) and I'm not really sure why, I guess it's because of the kind of community at the event. We stayed in some future dorms of the universtity, which were to be first used by some European athletics chamopionship and which we could use even before that, guests zero. Being in Finland there were of course saunas in the dorms, which we frequently used and greatly enjoyed. Still, one day we had to go on a trip to another sauna in the forest, because of course you cannot visit Finland and only see one sauna. Or at least, you should not.

Another aspect which increased community bonding was that we had to authenticate using 802.10 (IIRC, please correct me) which was an authentication standard mostly used for wireless but which also works for wired ethernet, except that not many had used it on Linux before. Thus quite some related bugs were fixed in the first days of DebCamp...

Then my powerpc ibook also decided to go bad, so I had to remove 30 screws to get the harddrive out and 30 screws back in, to not have 30 screws laying around for a week. Then I put the harddrive into a spare (x86) laptop and only used my /home partition and was very happy this worked nicely. And then, for travelling back, I had to unscrew and screw 30 times again. (I think my first attempt took 1.5h and the fourth only 45min or so ;) Back home then I bought a laptop where one could remove the harddrive using one screw.

Oh, and then I was foolish during the DebConf5 preparations and said, that I could imagine setting up a team and doing video recordings, as previous DebConfs mostly didn't have recordings and the one that had, didn't have releases of them...

And so we did videos. And as we were mostly inexperienced we did them the hard way: during the day we recorded on tape and then when the talks were done, we used a postprocessing tool called 'cinelerra' and edited them. And because Eric Evans was on the team and because Eric worked every night almost all night, all nights, we managed to actually release them all when DebConf5 was over. I very well remember many many (23 or 42) Debian people cleaning the dorms thoroughly (as they were brand new..) and Eric just sitting somewhere, exhausted and watching the cleaners. And everybody was happy Eric was idling there, cause we knew why. In the aftermath of DebConf5 Ben Hutchings then wrote videolink (removed from sid in 2013) which we used to create video DVDs of our recordings based on a simple html file with links to the actual videos.

There were many more memorable events. The boat ride was great. A pirate flag appeared. One night people played guitar until very late (or rather early) close to the dorms, so at about 3 AM someone complained about it, not in person, but on the debian-devel mailinglist. And those drunk people playing guitar, replied immediatly on the mailinglist. And then someone from the guitar group gave a talk, at 9 AM, and the video is online... ;) (It's a very slowwwwwww talk.)

If you haven't been to or close to the polar circles it's almost impossible to anticipate how life is in summer there. It get's a bit darker after midnight or rather after 1 AM and then at 3 AM it get's light again, so it's reaaaaaaally easy to miss the night once and it's absolutly not hard to miss the night for several nights in a row. And then I shared a room with 3 people who all snore quite loud...

There was more. I was lucky to witness the first (or second?) cheese and whine party which at that time took place in a dorm room with, dunno 10 people and maybe 15 kinds of cheese. And, of course, I met many wonderful people there, to mention a few I'll say Jesus, I mean mooch or data, Amaya and p2. And thanks to some bad luck which turned well, I also had my first time ever Sushi in Helsinki.

And and and. DebConfs are soooooooo good! :-) I'll stop here as I originally planned to only write a paragraph or two about each and there are quite some to be written!

Oh, and as we all learned, there are probably no mosquitos in Helsinki, just in Espoo. And you can swim naked through a lake and catch a taxi on the other site, with no clothes and no money, no big deal. (And you might not believe it, but that wasn't me. I cannot swim that well.)

Planet DebianGiovanni Mascellani: Bye bye Python 2!

And so, today, while I was browsing updates for my Debian unstable laptop, I noticed that aptitude wouldn't automatically upgrade python2 and related packages (I don't know why, and at this point don't care). So I decided to dare: I removed the python2 package to see what the dependency solver would have proposed me. It turned out that there was basically nothing I couldn't live without.

So, bye bye Python 2. It was a long ride and I loved programming with you. But now it's the turn of your younger brother.

$ python
bash: python: comando non trovato

(guess what "comando non trovato" means?)

And thanks to all those who made this possible!

CryptogramBlackBerry Phone Cracked

Australia is reporting that a BlackBerry device has been cracked after five years:

An encrypted BlackBerry device that was cracked five years after it was first seized by police is poised to be the key piece of evidence in one of the state's longest-running drug importation investigations.

In April, new technology "capabilities" allowed authorities to probe the encrypted device....

No details about those capabilities.

Planet DebianSylvain Beucler: Debian LTS and ELTS - July 2020

Debian LTS Logo

Here is my transparent report for my work on the Debian Long Term Support (LTS) and Debian Extended Long Term Support (ELTS), which extend the security support for past Debian releases, as a paid contributor.

In July, the monthly sponsored hours were split evenly among contributors depending on their max availability - I was assigned 25.25h for LTS (out of 30 max; all done) and 13.25h for ELTS (out of 20 max; all done).

We shifted suites: welcome Stretch LTS and Jessie ELTS. The LTS->ELTS switch happened at the start of the month, but the oldstable->LTS switch happened later (after finalizing and flushing proposed-updates to a last point release), causing some confusion but nothing major.

ELTS - Jessie

  • New local build setup
  • ELTS buildds: request timezone harmonization
  • Reclassify in-progress updates from jessie-LTS to jessie-ELTS
  • python3.4: finish preparing update, security upload ELA 239-1
  • net-snmp: global triage: bisect CVE-2019-20892 to identify affected version, jessie/stretch not-affected
  • nginx: global triage: clarify CVE-2013-0337 status; locate CVE-2020-11724 original patch and regression tests, update MITRE
  • nginx: security upload ELA-247-1 with 2 CVEs

LTS - Stretch

  • Reclassify in-progress/needed updates from stretch/oldstable to stretch-LTS
  • rails: upstream security: follow-up on CVE-2020-8163 (RCE) on upstream bug tracker and create pull request for 4.x (merged), hence getting some upstream review
  • rails: global security: continue coordinating upload in multiple Debian versions, prepare fixes for common stretch/buster vulnerabilities in buster
  • rails: security upload DLA-2282 fixing 3 CVEs
  • python3.5: security upload DLA-2280-1 fixing 13 pending non-critical vulnerabilities, and its test suite
  • nginx: security upload DLA-2283 (cf. common ELTS work)
  • net-snmp: global triage (cf. common ELTS work)
  • public IRC monthly team meeting
  • reach out to clarify the intro from last month's report, following unsettled feedback during meeting

Documentation/Scripts

  • ELTS/README.how-to-release-an-update: fix typo
  • ELTS buildd: attempt to diagnose slow perfs, provide comparison with Debian and local builds
  • LTS/Meetings: improve presentation
  • SourceOnlyUpload: clarify/de-dup pbuilder doc
  • LTS/Development: reference build logs URL, reference proposed-updates issue during dists switch, reference new-upstream-versioning discussion, multiple jessie->stretch fixes and clean-ups
  • LTS/Development/Asan: drop wheezy documentation
  • Warn about jruby mis-triage
  • Provide feedback for ksh/CVE-2019-14868
  • Provide feedback for condor update
  • LTS/TestsSuites/nginx: test with new request smuggling test cases

Cory DoctorowSomeone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 12)

Here’s part twelve of my new reading of my novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (you can follow all the installments, as well as the reading I did in 2008/9, here).

This is easily the weirdest novel I ever wrote. Gene Wolfe (RIP) gave me an amazing quote for it: “Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is a glorious book, but there are hundreds of those. It is more. It is a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read.”

Here’s how my publisher described it when it came out:

Alan is a middle-aged entrepeneur who moves to a bohemian neighborhood of Toronto. Living next door is a young woman who reveals to him that she has wings—which grow back after each attempt to cut them off.

Alan understands. He himself has a secret or two. His father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine, and among his brothers are sets of Russian nesting dolls.

Now two of the three dolls are on his doorstep, starving, because their innermost member has vanished. It appears that Davey, another brother who Alan and his siblings killed years ago, may have returned, bent on revenge.

Under the circumstances it seems only reasonable for Alan to join a scheme to blanket Toronto with free wireless Internet, spearheaded by a brilliant technopunk who builds miracles from scavenged parts. But Alan’s past won’t leave him alone—and Davey isn’t the only one gunning for him and his friends.

Whipsawing between the preposterous, the amazing, and the deeply felt, Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is unlike any novel you have ever read.

MP3

CryptogramTwitter Hacker Arrested

A 17-year-old Florida boy was arrested and charged with last week's Twitter hack.

News articles. Boing Boing post. Florida state attorney press release.

This is a developing story. Post any additional news in the comments.

EDITED TO ADD (8/1): Two others have been charged as well.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: A Unique Choice

There are many ways to mess up doing unique identifiers. It's a hard problem, and that's why we've sorta agreed on a few distinct ways to do it. First, we can just autonumber. Easy, but it doesn't always scale that well, especially in distributed systems. Second, we can use something like UUIDs: mix a few bits of real data in with a big pile of random data, and you can create a unique ID. Finally, there are some hashing-related options, where the data itself generates its ID.

Tiffanie was digging into some weird crashes in a database application, and discovered that their MODULES table couldn't decide which was correct, and opted for two: MODULE_ID, an autonumbered field, and MODULE_UUID, which one would assume, held a UUID. There were also the requsite MODULE_NAME and similar fields. A quick scan of the table looked like:

MODULE_ID MODULE_NAME MODULE_UUID MODULE_DESC
0 Defects 8461aa9b-ba38-4201-a717-cee257b73af0 Defects
1 Test Plan 06fd18eb-8214-4431-aa66-e11ae2a6c9b3 Test Plan

Now, using both UUIDs and autonumbers is a bit suspicious, but there might be a good reason for that (the UUIDs might be used for tracking versions of installed modules, while the ID is the local database-reference for that, so the ID shouldn't change ever, but the UUID might). Still, given that MODULE_NAME and MODULE_DESC both contain exactly the same information in every case, I suspect that this table was designed by the Department of Redunancy Department.

Still, that's hardly the worst sin you could commit. What would be really bad would be using the wrong datatype for a column. This is a SQL Server database, and so we can safely expect that the MODULE_ID is numeric, the MODULE_NAME and MODULE_DESC must be text, and clearly the MODULE_UUID field should be the UNIQUEIDENTIFIER type, right?

Well, let's look at one more row from this table:

MODULE_ID MODULE_NAME MODULE_UUID MODULE_DESC
11 Releases Releases does not have a UUID Releases

Oh, well. I think I have a hunch what was causing the problems. Sure enough, the program was expecting the UUID field to contain UUIDs, and was failing when a field contained something that couldn't be converted into a UUID.

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Planet DebianEnrico Zini: Toxic positivity links

“That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.” — Carl Jung
Emotional support of others can take the form of surface-level consolation. But compassion means being willing to listen and feel, even when it's uncomfortable.
Ultimately, the driving force behind the “power of positive thinking” meme is the word “power.” But what about those whose bodies are not powerful? What about those who are vulnerable? What about those who are tired, isolated, and struggling? What about those who are ill? What about those who lack
I have often been dismissive or unhelpful when someone close to me was dealing with painful circumstances, having learned to “accentuate the positive.” In the more recent past, I have recognized these behavioral patterns as part of what some mental health professionals term, “toxic positivity.”
Toxic positivity is the overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state resulting in the denial & invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.

Planet DebianHolger Levsen: 20200802-debconf4

DebConf4

This tshirt is 16 years old and from DebConf4. Again, I should probably wash it at 60 celcius for once...

DebConf4 was my 2nd DebConf and took place in Porto Alegre, Brasil.

Like many DebConfs, it was a great opportunity to meet people: I remember sitting in the lobby of the venue and some guy asked me what I did in Debian and I told him about my little involvements and then asked him what he was doing, and he told me he wanted to become involved in Debian again, after getting distracted away. His name was Ian Murdock...

DebConf4 also had a very cool history session in the hallway track (IIRC, but see below) with Bdale Garbee, Ian Jackson and Ian Murdock and with a young student named Biella Coleman busy writing notes.

That same hallway also saw the kickoff meeting of the Debian Women project, though sadly today http://tinc.debian.net ("there's no cabal") only shows an apache placeholder page and not a picture of that meeting.

DebCon4 was also the first time I got a bit involved in preparing DebConf, together with Jonas Smedegaard I've set up some computers there, using FAI. I had no idea that this was the start of me contributing to DebConfs for text ten years.

And of course I also saw some talks, including one which I really liked, which then in turn made me notice there were no people doing video recordings, which then lead to something...

I missed the group picture of this one. I guess it's important to me to mention it because I've met very wonderful people at this DebConf... (some mentioned in this post, some not. You know who you are!)

Afterwards some people stayed in Porto Alegre for FISL, where we saw Lawrence Lessing present Creative Commons to the world for the first time. On the flight back I sat next to a very friendly guy from Poland and we talked almost the whole flight and then we never saw each other again, until 15 years later in Asia...

Oh, and then, after DebConf4, I used IRC for the first time. And stayed in the #debconf4 IRC channel for quite some years :)

Finally, DebConf4 and more importantly FISL, which was really big (5000 people?) and after that, the wizard of OS conference in Berlin (which had a very nice talk about Linux in different places in the world, illustrating the different states of 'first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win'), made me quit my job at a company supporting Windows- and Linux-setups as I realized I'd better start freelancing with Linux-only jobs. So, once again, my life would have been different if I would not have attended these events!

Note: yesterdays post about DebConf3 was thankfully corrected twice. This might well happen to this post too! :)

Planet DebianEnrico Zini: Libreoffice presentation tips

Snap guides

Dragging from the rulers does not always create snap guides. If it doesn't, click on the slide background, "Snap guides", "Insert snap guide". In my case, after the first snap guide was manually inserted, it was possible to drag new one from the rulers.

Master slides

How to edit a master slide

  • Show master slides side pane
  • Right click on master slide
  • Edit Master...
  • An icon appears in the toolbar: "Close Master View"
  • Apply to all slides might not apply to the first slide created as the document was opened

Change styles in master slide

Do not change properties of text by selecting placeholder text in the Master View. Instead, open the Styles and formatting sidebar, and edit the styles in there.

This means the style changes are applied to pages in all layouts, not just the "Title, Content" layout that is the only one editable in the "Master View".

How to duplicate a master slide

There seems to be no feature implemented for this, but you can do it, if you insist:

  • Save a copy of the document
  • Rename the master slide
  • Drag a slide, that uses the renamed master slide, from the copy of the document to the original one

It's needed enough that someone made a wikihow: https://www.wikihow.com/Copy-a-LibreOffice-Impress-Master-Slide archive.org

How to change the master slide for a layout that is not "Title, Content"

I could not find a way to do it, but read on for a workaround.

I found an ask.libreoffice.org question that went unanswered.

I asked on #libreoffice on IRC and got no answer:

Hello. I'm doing the layout for a presentation in impress, and I can edit all sorts of aspects of the master slide. It seems that I can only edit the "Title, Content" layout of the master slide, though. I'd like to edit, for example, the "Title only" layout so that the title appears in a different place than the top of the page. Is it possible to edit specific layouts in a master page?

In the master slide editor it seems impossible to select a layout, for example.

Alternatively I tried creating multiple master slides, but then if I want to create a master slide for a title page, there's no way to remove the outline box, or the title box.

My work around has been to create multiple master slides, one for each layout. For a title layout, I moved the outline box into a corner, and one has to remove it manually after create a new slide.

There seems to be no way of changing the position of elements not found in the "Title, Content" layout, like "Subtitle". On the other hand, given that one's working with an entirely different master slide, one can abuse the outline box as a subtitle.

Note that if you later decide to change a style element for all the slides, you'll need to go propagate the change to the "Styles and Formatting" menu of all master slides you're using.

Planet DebianAndrew Cater: Debian 10.5 media testing - 202001082250 - last few debian-live images being tested for amd64 - Calamares issue - Post 5 of several.

Last few debian-live images being tested for amd64. We have found a bug with the debian-live Gnome flavour. This specifically affects installs after booting from the live media and then installing to the machine using  the Calamares installer found on the desktop. The bug was introduced as a fix for one issue that has produced further buggy behaviour as a result.

Fixes are known - we've had highvoltage come and debug them with us - but will not be put out with this release but will wait for the 10.6 release which will allow for a longer time for debugging overall.

You can still run from the live-media, you can still install with the standard Debian installers found in the menu of the live-media disk - this is _only_ a limited time issue with the Calamares installer. At this point in the release cycle, it's been judged better to release the images as they are - with known and documented issues - than to try and debug them in a hurry and risk damaging or delaying a stable point release.

Planet DebianEnrico Zini: Gender, inclusive communities, and dragonflies

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragonfly#Sex_ratios:

Sex ratios

The sex ratio of male to female dragonflies varies both temporally and spatially. Adult dragonflies have a high male-biased ratio at breeding habitats. The male-bias ratio has contributed partially to the females using different habitats to avoid male harassment.

As seen in Hine's emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana), male populations use wetland habitats, while females use dry meadows and marginal breeding habitats, only migrating to the wetlands to lay their eggs or to find mating partners.

Unwanted mating is energetically costly for females because it affects the amount of time that they are able to spend foraging.

,

Planet DebianMolly de Blanc: busy busy

I’ve been working with Karen Sandler over the past few months on the first draft of the Declaration of Digital Autonomy. Feedback welcome, please be constructive. It’s a pretty big deal for me, and feels like the culmination of a lifetime of experiences and the start of something new.

We talked about it at GUADEC and HOPE. We don’t have any other talks scheduled yet, but are available for events, meetups, dinner parties, and b’nai mitzvahs.

Planet DebianAndrew Cater: Debian 10.5 media testing - 202008012055 - post 4 of several

We've more or less finished testing on the Debian install images. Now moving on to the debian-live images. Bugs found and being triaged live as I type. Lots of typing and noises in the background of the video conference. Now at about 12-14 hours in on this for some of the participants. Lots of good work still going on, as ever.

Planet DebianAndrew Cater: Debian 10.5 media testing - pause for supper - 202001081715 - post 3 of several

Various of the folk doing this have taken a food break until 1900 local. A few glitches, a few that needed to be tried over again - but it's all going fairly well.

It is likely that at least one of the CD images will be dropped. The XFCE desktop install CD for i386 is now too large to fit on CD media. The netinst .iso files / the DVD 1 file / any of the larger files available via Jigdo will all help you achieve the same result.

There are relatively few machines that are i386 architecture only - it might be appropriate for people to use 64 bit amd64 from this point onwards as pure i386 machines are now approaching ten years old as a minimum. If you do need a graphical user environment for a pure i386 machine, it can be installed by using an expert install or using tasksel in the installation process.

Planet DebianHolger Levsen: 20200801-debconf3

DebConf3

This tshirt is 17 years old and from DebConf3. I should probably wash it at 60 celcius for once...

DebConf3 was my first DebConf and took place in Oslo, Norway, in 2003. I was very happy to be invited, like any Debian contributor at that time, and that Debian would provide food and accomodation for everyone. Accomodation was sleeping on the floor in some classrooms of an empty school and I remember having tasted grasshoppers provided by a friendly Gunnar Wolf there, standing in line on the first day with the SSH maintainer (OMG!1 (update: I originally wrote here that it wasn't Colin back then, but Colin mailed me to say that he was indeed maintaining SSH even back then, so I've met a previous maintainer there)) and meeting the one Debian person I had actually worked with before: Thomas Lange or MrFAI (update: Thomas also mailed me and said this was at DebConf5). In Oslo I also was exposed to Skolelinux / Debian Edu for the first time, saw a certain presentation from the FTP masters and also noticed some people recording the talks, though as I learned later these videos were never released to the public. And there was this fiveteen year old called Toresbe, who powered on the PDP's which were double his age. And then actually made use of them. And and and.

I'm very happy I went to this DebConf. Without going my Debian journey would have been very different today. Thanks to everyone who made this such a welcoming event. Thanks to anyone who makes any event welcoming! :)

Planet DebianAndrew Cater: Debian 10.5 media testing - continuing quite happily - 202001081320 - post 2 of several

We've now settled into a reasonable rhythm: RattusRattus and Isy and Sledge all working away hard in Cambridge: Schweer in Germany and me here in Cheltenham.

Lots of chat backwards and forwards and a good deal of work being done, as ever.

It's really good to be back in the swing of it and we owe thanks to folk for setting up infrastructure for us to use for video chat, which makes a huge difference: even though I know what they're like, it's still good to see my colleagues.

Planet DebianAndrew Cater: Debian 10.5 media testing process started 202008011145 - post 1 of several.

The media testing process has started slightly late. There will be a _long_ testing process over much of the day: the final media image releases are likely to be at about 0200-0300UTC tomorrow.

Just settling in for a long day of testing: as ever, it's good to be chatting with my Debian colleagues in Cambridge and with Schweer in Germany. It's going to be a hot one - 30 Celsius (at least) and high humidity for all of us.

EDIT: Corrected for UTC :)

Planet DebianAndrew Cater: Debian 10.5 Buster point release 20200801 - all of the fixes :)

The point release is happening today for Debian Buster 10.5. This is an important release because it incorporates all the recent security fixes from the latest GRUB / Secure Boot "Boothole" security problems.

Behind the scenes, there has been a lot of work to get this right: a release subject to an embargo to allow all the Linux releases to co-ordinate this as far as possible, lots of consistent effort, lots of cooperation - the very best of Free/Libre/Open Source working together.

Secure Boot shims are signed with a different key to go to upstream this time around: in due course, when revocation of old, insecure code happens to plug the security hole, older media may be deny-listed. All the updates for all the affected packages (listed in https://www.debian.org/security/2020-GRUB-UEFI-SecureBoot/ ) are included in this release.

This has been a major wake-up call: the work behind the scenes has meant that each affected Linux distribution will be in a much better position going forward and working together is always good.

Planet DebianUtkarsh Gupta: FOSS Activites in July 2020

Here’s my (tenth) monthly update about the activities I’ve done in the F/L/OSS world.

Debian

This was my 17th month of contributing to Debian. I became a DM in late March last year and a DD last Christmas! \o/

Well, this month I didn’t do a lot of Debian stuff, like I usually do, however, I did a lot of things related to Debian (indirectly via GSoC)!

Anyway, here are the following things I did this month:

Uploads and bug fixes:

Other $things:

  • Mentoring for newcomers.
  • FTP Trainee reviewing.
  • Moderation of -project mailing list.
  • Sponsored php-twig for William, ruby-growl, ruby-xmpp4r, and uby-uniform-notifier for Cocoa, sup-mail for Iain, and node-markdown-it for Sakshi.

GSoC Phase 2, Part 2!

In May, I got selected as a Google Summer of Code student for Debian again! \o/
I am working on the Upstream-Downstream Cooperation in Ruby project.

The first three blogs can be found here:

Also, I log daily updates at gsocwithutkarsh2102.tk.

Whilst the daily updates are available at the above site^, I’ll breakdown the important parts of the later half of the second month here:

  • Marc Andre, very kindly, helped in fixing the specs that were failing earlier this month. Well, the problem was with the specs, but I am still confused how so. Anyway..
  • Finished documentation of the second cop and marked the PR as ready to be reviewed.
  • David reviewed and suggested some really good changes and I fixed/tweaked that PR as per his suggestion to finally finish the last bits of the second cop, RelativeRequireToLib.
  • Merged the PR upon two approvals and released it as v0.2.0! 💖
  • We had our next weekly meeting where we discussed the next steps and the things that are supposed to be done for the next set of cops.
  • Introduced rubocop-packaging to the outer world and requested other upstream projects to use it! It is being used by 13 other projects already! 😭💖
  • Started to work on packaging-style-guide but I didn’t push anything to the public repository yet.
  • Worked on refactoring the cops_documentation Rake task which was broken by the new auto-corrector API. Opened PR #7 for it. It’ll be merged after the next RuboCop release as it uses CopsDocumentationGenerator class from the master branch.
  • Whilst working on autoprefixer-rails, I found something unusual. The second cop shouldn’t really report offenses if the require_relative calls are from lib to lib itself. This is a false-positive. Opened issue #8 for the same.

Whilst working on rubocop-packaging, I contributed to more Ruby projects, refactoring their library a little bit and mostly fixing RuboCop issues and fixing issues that the Packaging extension reports as “offensive�.
Following are the PRs that I raised:


Debian (E)LTS

Debian Long Term Support (LTS) is a project to extend the lifetime of all Debian stable releases to (at least) 5 years. Debian LTS is not handled by the Debian security team, but by a separate group of volunteers and companies interested in making it a success.

And Debian Extended LTS (ELTS) is its sister project, extending support to the Jessie release (+2 years after LTS support).

This was my tenth month as a Debian LTS and my first as a Debian ELTS paid contributor.
I was assigned 25.25 hours for LTS and 13.25 hours for ELTS and worked on the following things:

LTS CVE Fixes and Announcements:

ELTS CVE Fixes and Announcements:

Other (E)LTS Work:

  • Did my LTS frontdesk duty from 29th June to 5th July.
  • Triaged qemu, firefox-esr, wordpress, libmediainfo, squirrelmail, xen, openjpeg2, samba, and ldb.
  • Mark CVE-2020-15395/libmediainfo as no-dsa for Jessie.
  • Mark CVE-2020-13754/qemu as no-dsa/intrusive for Stretch and Jessie.
  • Mark CVE-2020-12829/qemu as no-dsa for Jessie.
  • Mark CVE-2020-10756/qemu as not-affected for Jessie.
  • Mark CVE-2020-13253/qemu as postponed for Jessie.
  • Drop squirrelmail and xen for Stretch LTS.
  • Add notes for tomcat8, shiro, and cacti to take care of the Stretch issues.
  • Emailed team@security.d.o and debian-lts@l.d.o regarding possible clashes.
  • Maintenance of LTS Survey on the self-hosted LimeSurvey instance. Received 1765 (just wow!) responses.
  • Attended the fourth LTS meeting. MOM here.
  • General discussion on LTS private and public mailing list.

Other(s)

Sometimes it gets hard to categorize work/things into a particular category.
That’s why I am writing all of those things inside this category.
This includes two sub-categories and they are as follows.

Personal:

This month I did the following things:

  • Released v0.2.0 of rubocop-packaging on RubyGems! 💯
    It’s open-sourced and the repository is here.
    Bug reports and pull requests are welcomed! 😉
  • Released v0.1.0 of get_root on RubyGems! 💖
    It’s open-sourced and the repository is here.
  • Wrote max-word-frequency, my Rails C1M2 programming assignment.
    And made it pretty neater & cleaner!
  • Refactored my lts-dla and elts-ela scripts entirely and wrote them in Ruby so that there are no issues and no false-positives! 🚀
    Check lts-dla here and elts-ela here.
  • And finally, built my first Rails (mini) web-application! 🤗
    The repository is here. This was also a programming assignment (C1M3).
    And furthermore, hosted it at Heroku.

Open Source:

Again, this contains all the things that I couldn’t categorize earlier.
Opened several issues and PRs:

  • Issue #8273 against rubocop, reporting a false-positive auto-correct for Style/WhileUntilModifier.
  • Issue #615 against http reporting a weird behavior of a flaky test.
  • PR #3791 for rubygems/bundler to remove redundant bundler/setup require call from spec_helper generated by bundle gem.
  • Issue #3831 against rubygems, reporting a traceback of undefined method, rubyforge_project=.
  • Issue #238 against nheko asking for enhancement in showing the font name in the very font itself.
  • PR #2307 for puma to constrain rake-compiler to v0.9.4.
  • And finally, I joined the Cucumber organization! \o/

Thank you for sticking along for so long :)

Until next time.
:wq for today.

Planet DebianPaul Wise: FLOSS Activities July 2020

Focus

This month I didn't have any particular focus. I just worked on issues in my info bubble.

Changes

Issues

Review

Administration

  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts, reset email addresses

Communication

Sponsors

The purple-discord, ifenslave and psqlodbc work was sponsored by my employer. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

Planet DebianJunichi Uekawa: August and feels like it finally.

August and feels like it finally. July didn't feel like July and felt like June because it rained so much. This is summer.

,

Planet DebianBen Hutchings: Debian LTS work, July 2020

I was assigned 20 hours of work by Freexian's Debian LTS initiative, but only worked 5 hours this month and returned the remainder to the pool.

Now that Debian 9 'stretch' has entered LTS, the stretch-backports suite will be closed and no longer updated. However, some stretch users rely on the newer kernel version provided there. I prepared to add Linux 4.19 to the stretch-security suite, alongside the standard package of Linux 4.9. I also prepared to update the firmware-nonfree package so that firmware needed by drivers in Linux 4.19 will also be available in stretch's non-free section. Both these updates will be based on the packages in stretch-backports, but needed some changes to avoid conflicts or regressions for users that continue using Linux 4.9 or older non-Debian kernel versions. I will upload these after the Debian 10 'buster' point release.

Planet DebianChris Lamb: Free software activities in July 2020

Here is my monthly update covering what I have been doing in the free and open source software world during July 2020 (previous month):

  • Opened a pull request to make the build reproducible in PyERFA, a set of Python bindings for various astronomy-related utilities (#45), as well as one for PeachPy assembler to make the output of codecode/x86_64.py reproducible (#108).
  • As part of being on the board of directors of the Open Source Initiative and Software in the Public Interest I attended their respective monthly meetings and participated in various licensing and other discussions occurring on the internet, as well as the usual internal discussions regarding logistics and policy etc. This month, it was SPI's Annual General Meeting and the OSI has been running a number of remote strategy sessions for the board.

  • Fixed an issue in my tickle-me-email library that implements Getting Things Done (GTD)-like behaviours in IMAP inboxes to ensure that all messages have a unique Message-Id header. [...]

  • Reviewed and merged even more changes by Pavel Dolecek into my Strava Enhancement Suite, a Chrome extension to improve the user experience on the Strava athletic tracker.

  • Updated travis.debian.net, my hosted service for projects that host their Debian packaging on GitHub, to use the Travis CI continuous integration platform) to fix a compatibility issue with the latest version of mk-build-deps. [...][...]

For Lintian, the static analysis tool for Debian packages:

  • Update the regular expression to search for all the released versions in a .changes file. [...]

  • Avoid false-positives when matching sensible-utils utilities such as i3-sensible-pager. (#966022)

  • Rename the send-patch tag to patch-not-forwarded-upstream. [...]

  • Drop reminders from 26 tags that false-positives should be reported to Lintian as this is implicit in all our tags. [...]


§


Reproducible Builds

One of the original promises of open source software is that distributed peer review and transparency of process results in enhanced end-user security. However, whilst anyone may inspect the source code of free and open source software for malicious flaws, almost all software today is distributed as pre-compiled binaries. This allows nefarious third-parties to compromise systems by injecting malicious code into ostensibly secure software during the various compilation and distribution processes.

The motivation behind the Reproducible Builds effort is to ensure no flaws have been introduced during this compilation process by promising identical results are always generated from a given source, thus allowing multiple third-parties to come to a consensus on whether a build was compromised.

The project is proud to be a member project of the Software Freedom Conservancy. Conservancy acts as a corporate umbrella allowing projects to operate as non-profit initiatives without managing their own corporate structure. If you like the work of the Conservancy or the Reproducible Builds project, please consider becoming an official supporter.

This month, I:


§


diffoscope

Elsewhere in our tooling, I made the following changes to diffoscope, including preparing and uploading versions 150, 151, 152, 153 & 154 to Debian:

  • New features:

    • Add support for flash-optimised F2FS filesystems. (#207)
    • Don't require zipnote(1) to determine differences in a .zip file as we can use libarchive. [...]
    • Allow --profile as a synonym for --profile=-, ie. write profiling data to standard output. [...]
    • Increase the minimum length of the output of strings(1) to eight characters to avoid unnecessary diff noise. [...]
    • Drop some legacy argument styles: --exclude-directory-metadata and --no-exclude-directory-metadata have been replaced with --exclude-directory-metadata={yes,no}. [...]
  • Bug fixes:

    • Pass the absolute path when extracting members from SquashFS images as we run the command with working directory in a temporary directory. (#189)
    • Correct adding a comment when we cannot extract a filesystem due to missing libguestfs module. [...]
    • Don't crash when listing entries in archives if they don't have a listed size such as hardlinks in ISO images. (#188)
  • Output improvements:

    • Strip off the file offset prefix from xxd(1) and show bytes in groups of 4. [...]
    • Don't emit javap not found in path if it is available in the path but it did not result in an actual difference. [...]
    • Fix ... not available in path messages when looking for Java decompilers that used the Python class name instead of the command. [...]
  • Logging improvements:

    • Add a bit more debugging info when launching libguestfs. [...]
    • Reduce the --debug log noise by truncating the has_some_content messages. [...]
    • Fix the compare_files log message when the file does not have a literal name. [...]
  • Codebase improvements:

    • Rewrite and rename exit_if_paths_do_not_exist to not check files multiple times. [...][...]
    • Add an add_comment helper method; don't mess with our internal list directly. [...]
    • Replace some simple usages of str.format with Python 'f-strings' [...] and make it easier to navigate to the main.py entry point [...].
    • In the RData comparator, always explicitly return None in the failure case as we return a non-None value in the success one. [...]
    • Tidy some imports [...][...][...] and don't alias a variable when we don't end up using. [...]
    • Clarify the use of a separate NullChanges quasi-file to represent missing data in the Debian package comparator [...] and clarify use of a 'null' diff in order to remember an exit code. [...]
  • Misc:


§


Debian

In Debian, I made the following uploads this month:


§


Debian LTS

This month I have worked 18 hours on Debian Long Term Support (LTS) and 12 for the Extended LTS project. This included:

You can find out more about the project via the following video:

Krebs on SecurityThree Charged in July 15 Twitter Compromise

Three individuals have been charged for their alleged roles in the July 15 hack on Twitter, an incident that resulted in Twitter profiles for some of the world’s most recognizable celebrities, executives and public figures sending out tweets advertising a bitcoin scam.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s Twitter account on the afternoon of July 15.

Nima “Rolex” Fazeli, a 22-year-old from Orlando, Fla., was charged in a criminal complaint in Northern California with aiding and abetting intentional access to a protected computer.

Mason “Chaewon” Sheppard, a 19-year-old from Bognor Regis, U.K., also was charged in California with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and unauthorized access to a computer.

A U.S. Justice Department statement on the matter does not name the third defendant charged in the case, saying juvenile proceedings in federal court are sealed to protect the identity of the youth. But an NBC News affiliate in Tampa reported today that authorities had arrested 17-year-old Graham Clark as the alleged mastermind of the hack.

17-year-old Graham Clark of Tampa, Fla. was among those charged in the July 15 Twitter hack. Image: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Wfla.com said Clark was hit with 30 felony charges, including organized fraud, communications fraud, one count of fraudulent use of personal information with over $100,000 or 30 or more victims, 10 counts of fraudulent use of personal information and one count of access to a computer or electronic device without authority. Clark’s arrest report is available here (PDF). A statement from prosecutors in Florida says Clark will be charged as an adult.

On Thursday, Twitter released more details about how the hack went down, saying the intruders “targeted a small number of employees through a phone spear phishing attack,” that “relies on a significant and concerted attempt to mislead certain employees and exploit human vulnerabilities to gain access to our internal systems.”

By targeting specific Twitter employees, the perpetrators were able to gain access to internal Twitter tools. From there, Twitter said, the attackers targeted 130 Twitter accounts, tweeting from 45 of them, accessing the direct messages of 36 accounts, and downloading the Twitter data of seven.

Among the accounts compromised were democratic presidential candidate Joe BidenAmazon CEO Jeff BezosPresident Barack ObamaTesla CEO Elon Musk, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and investment mogul Warren Buffett.

The hacked Twitter accounts were made to send tweets suggesting they were giving away bitcoin, and that anyone who sent bitcoin to a specified account would be sent back double the amount they gave. All told, the bitcoin accounts associated with the scam received more than 400 transfers totaling more than $100,000.

Sheppard’s alleged alias Chaewon was mentioned twice in stories here since the July 15 incident. On July 16, KrebsOnSecurity wrote that just before the Twitter hack took place, a member of the social media account hacking forum OGUsers named Chaewon advertised they could change email address tied to any Twitter account for $250, and provide direct access to accounts for between $2,000 and $3,000 apiece.

The OGUsers forum user “Chaewon” taking requests to modify the email address tied to any twitter account.

On July 17, The New York Times ran a story that featured interviews with several people involved in the attack. The young men told The Times they weren’t responsible for the Twitter bitcoin scam and had only brokered the purchase of accounts from the Twitter hacker — who they referred to only as “Kirk.”

One of those interviewed by The Times used the alias “Ever So Anxious,” and said he was a 19-year from the U.K. In my follow-up story on July 22, it emerged that Ever So Anxious was in fact Chaewon.

The person who shared that information was the principal subject of my July 16 post, which followed clues from tweets sent by one of the accounts claimed during the Twitter compromise back to a 21-year-old from the U.K. who uses the nickname PlugWalkJoe.

That individual shared a series of screenshots showing he had been in communications with Chaewon/Ever So Anxious just prior to the Twitter hack, and had asked him to secure several desirable Twitter usernames from the Twitter hacker. He added that Chaewon/Ever So Anxious also was known as “Mason.”

The negotiations over highly-prized Twitter usernames took place just prior to the hijacked celebrity accounts tweeting out bitcoin scams. PlugWalkJoe is pictured here chatting with Ever So Anxious/Chaewon/Mason using his Discord username “Beyond Insane.”

On July 22, KrebsOnSecurity interviewed Mason/Chaewon/Ever So Anxious, who confirmed that PlugWalkJoe had indeed asked him to ask Kirk to change the profile picture and display name for a specific Twitter account on July 15. Mason/Chaewon/Ever So Anxious acknowledged that while he did act as a “middleman” between Kirk and others seeking to claim desirable Twitter usernames, he had nothing to do with the hijacking of the VIP Twitter accounts for the bitcoin scam that same day.

“Encountering Kirk was the worst mistake I’ve ever made due to the fact it has put me in issues I had nothing to do with,” he said. “If I knew Kirk was going to do what he did, or if even from the start if I knew he was a hacker posing as a rep I would not have wanted to be a middleman.”

Another individual who told The Times he worked with Ever So Anxious/Chaewon/Mason in communicating with Kirk said he went by the nickname “lol.” On July 22, KrebsOnSecurity identified lol as a young man who went to high school in Danville, Calif.

Federal investigators did not mention lol by his nickname or his real name, but the charging document against Sheppard says that on July 21 federal agents executed a search warrant at a residence in Northern California to question a juvenile who assisted Kirk and Chaewon in selling access to Twitter accounts. According to that document, the juvenile and Chaewon had discussed turning themselves in to authorities after the Twitter hack became publicly known.

CryptogramFriday Squid Blogging: Squid Proteins for a Better Face Mask

Researchers are synthesizing squid proteins to create a face mask that better survives cleaning. (And you thought there was no connection between squid and COVID-19.) The military thinks this might have applications for self-healing robots.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

CryptogramData and Goliath Book Placement

Notice the copy of Data and Goliath just behind the head of Maine Senator Angus King.

Screenshot of MSNBC interview with Angus King

This demonstrates the importance of a vibrant color and a large font.

Kevin RuddABC: Closing The Gap, AUSMIN & Public Health

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TELEVISION INTERVIEW

ABC NEWS CHANNEL
AFTERNOON BRIEFING
31 JULY 2020

Patricia Karvelas
My next guest this afternoon is the former prime minister Kevin Rudd. He’s the man that delivered the historic Apology to the stolen generations and launched the original Close the Gap targets. Of course, yesterday, there was a big revamp of the Close the Gap so we thought it was a good idea to talk to the man originally responsible. Kevin Rudd, welcome.

Kevin Rudd
Good to be with you. Patricia.

Patricia Karvelas
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there had been a failure to partner with Indigenous people to develop and deliver the 2008 targets. Is that something you regret?

Kevin Rudd
Oh, Prime Minister Morrison is always out to differentiate himself from what previous Labor governments have done. We worked closely with Indigenous leaders at the time through minister Jenny Macklin in framing those Closing the Gap targets. The bottom line is: we deliver the National Apology; we established a Closing the Gap framework, which we thought should be measurable; and on top of that, Patricia, what we also did was, we negotiated the first-ever commonwealth-state agreement in 2008-9 over the following 10-year period, which had Closing the Gap targets as the basis for the funding commitments by the commonwealth and the states. Those things have been sustained into the future. If the Indigenous leadership of Australia have decided that it’s time to refresh the targets then I support Pat Turner’s leadership and I support what Indigenous leaders have done.

Patricia Karvelas
She’s got a seat at the table though. I remember, you know, I covered it extensively at the time. But she has got a point and they have a point that they now have a seat at the table in a different partnership model than was delivered originally.

Kevin Rudd
Well, as you know, the realities back in 2007 were radically different. Back then there was a huge partisan fight over whether we should have a National Apology. We had people like Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott threatening not to participate in the Apology. So it was a highly partisan environment back then. So these things evolve over time. The Apology remains in place. The national statement each year on the anniversary of the Apology remains in place on progress in achieving Closing the Gap, our successes and our failures. But yes, I welcome any advance that’s been made. But here’s the rub, Patricia: why have there been challenges in delivering on previous Closing the Gap targets? In large part it’s because in the 2014 budget, the first year after the current Coalition government took office, as you know, someone who’s covered the area extensively, they pulled out half a billion dollars worth of funding. Now you’re not going to achieve targets, if simultaneously you gut the funding capacity to act in these areas. That’s what essentially happened over the last five-to-six years.

Patricia Karvelas
That’s absolutely part of the story. But is it all of the story? I mean, if you look at failure to deliver on these targets, it’s been very disappointing for Aboriginal Australians. But I think for Australians who wanted to see the gap closed because it’s the right thing to do; it’s the kind of country they want to live in. There are other reasons aren’t there, that the gap hasn’t been closed? Isn’t one of the reasons that it’s lacked Aboriginal authority and ownership, that it’s been a top-down approach?

Kevin Rudd
Well, I welcome the statement by Pat Turner in bringing Indigenous leadership to the table with these new targets for the future. I’m fully supportive of that. You’re looking at someone who has stood for a lifetime in empowerment of Indigenous organisations. As I said, realities change over time, and I welcome what will happen in the future. But the bottom line is, Patricia, with or without Indigenous leadership from the ground up, nothing will happen in the absence of physical resources as well. And that is a critical part of the equation as I think you’ve just agreed with me. And we can have as many notional targets as we like, but if on day two you, as it were, disembowel the funding arrangements, which is what happened under the current government, guess what: nothing happens. And I note that when these new targets were announced yesterday that Ken Wyatt and the Prime Minister were silent on the question of future funding commitments by the commonwealth. So our Closing the Gap targets, yes, they weren’t all realised. We were on track to achieve two of the six targets that we set. We made some progress on another two. And we were kind of flatlining when it came to the remaining two. But I make no apology for measurement, Patricia, because unless you measure things, guess what? They never happen. And so I’m all for actually an annual report card on success and failure. That’s why I did it in the first place, and without apology.

Patricia Karvelas
I want to move on just to another story that was big this week. What did you make of this week’s AUSMIN talks and the Foreign Minister’s emphasis on Australia taking what is an independent position here, particularly with our relationship with China, was that significant?

Kevin Rudd
Well, whacko! The Australian Foreign Minister says we should have an independent foreign policy! Hold the front page! I mean, for God’s sake.

Patricia Karvelas
Well, it was in the AUSMIN framework. I mean, it wasn’t just a statement to the media, do you think?

Kevin Rudd
Yeah, yeah, but you know, the function of the national government of Australia is to run the foreign policy of Australia, an independent foreign policy. And if the conservatives have recently discovered this principle is a good one, well, I welcome them to the table. That’s been our view for about the last hundred years that the Australian Labor Party has been engaged in the foreign policy debates of this country. But why did she say that? That’s the more important question, I think, Patricia. I think the Australian Government, both Morrison and the Foreign Minister looked at Secretary of State Pompeo’s speech at the Nixon Library a week or so ago when effectively he called for a Second Cold War against China and, within that, called for the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party. Even for the current Australian conservative government, that looked like a bridge too far, and I think they basically took fright at what they were walking into. And my judgment is: it’s very important to separate out our national interests from those the United States; secondly, understand what a combined allied strategy could and should be on China, as opposed to finding yourself wrapped up either in President Trump’s re-election strategy or Secretary of State Pompeo’s interest in securing the Republican nomination in 2024. These are quite separate political matters as opposed to national strategy.

Patricia Karvelas
Just on COVID, before I let you go, the Queensland Government has declared all of Greater Sydney as a COVID-19 hotspot and the state’s border will be closed to people travelling from that region from 1am on Saturday. Is that the right decision?

Kevin Rudd
Well, absolutely right. I mean, Premier Palaszczuk has faced like every premier, Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian, very hard public policy decisions. But what Premier Palaszczuk has done — and I’ve been here in Queensland for the last three and a half months now, observing this on a daily basis — is that she has taken the Chief Medical Officer’s advice day-in, day-out and acted accordingly. She’s come under enormous attack within Queensland, led initially by the Murdoch media, followed up by Frecklington, the leader of the LNP, saying ‘open the borders’. In fact, I think Frecklington called for the borders to be opened some 60 or 70 separate times, but to give Palaszczuk her due, she’s just stood her ground and said ‘my job is to give effect to the Chief Medical Officer’s advice, despite all the political clamour to the contrary’. So as she did then and as she does now, I think that’s right in terms of the public health and wellbeing of your average Queenslanders, including me.

Patricia Karvelas
Including you. And now you are very much a long-standing Queenslander being there for that long. Kevin Rudd, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon.

Kevin Rudd
Still from Queensland. Here to help. Bye.

Patricia Karvelas
Always. That’s the former prime minister Kevin Rudd, Joining me to talk about yesterday’s Closing the Gap announcement, defending his government’s legacy there but also, of course, talking about the failure as well to deliver on those targets. But particularly pointed comments around the withdrawal of funding in relation to Indigenous affairs which happened under the Abbott Government and he says was responsible for the failure to deliver at the rate that was expected, and it’s been obviously a disappointing journey not quite as planned. Now, a whole bunch of new targets.

The post ABC: Closing The Gap, AUSMIN & Public Health appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Planet DebianJonathan Carter: Free Software Activities for 2020-07

Here are my uploads for the month of July, which is just a part of my free software activities, I’ll try to catch up on the rest in upcoming posts. I haven’t indulged in online conferences much over the last few months, but this month I attended the virtual editions of Guadec 2020 and HOPE 2020. HOPE isn’t something I knew about before and I enjoyed it a lot, you can find their videos on archive.org.

Debian Uploads

2020-07-05: Sponsor backport gamemode-1.5.1-5 for Debian buster-backports.

2020-07-06: Sponsor package piper (0.5.1-1) for Debian unstable (mentors.debian.net request).

2020-07-14: Upload package speedtest-cli (2.0.2-1+deb10u1) to Debian buster (Closes: #940165, #965116).

2020-07-15: Upload package calamares (3.2.27-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-07-15: Merge MR#1 for gnome-shell-extension-dash-to-panel.

2020-07-15: Upload package gnome-shell-extension-dash-to-panel (38-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-07-15: Upload package gnome-shell-extension-disconnect-wifi (25-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-07-15: Upload package gnome-shell-extension-draw-on-your-screen (6.1-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-07-15: Upload package xabacus (8.2.8-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-07-15: Upload package s-tui (1.0.2-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-07-15: Upload package calamares-settings-debian (10.0.2-1+deb10u2) to Debian buster (Closes: #934503, #934504).

2020-07-15: Upload package calamares-settings-debian (10.0.2-1+deb10u3) to Debian buster (Closes: #959541, #965117).

2020-07-15: Upload package calamares-settings-debian (11.0.2-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-07-19: Upload package bluefish (2.2.11+svn-r8872-1) to Debian unstable (Closes: #593413, #593427, #692284, #730543, #857330, #892502, #951143).

2020-07-19: Upload package bundlewrap (4.0.0-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-07-20: Upload package bluefish (2.2.11+svn-r8872-1) to Debian unstable (Closes: #965332).

2020-07-22: Upload package calamares (3.2.27-1~bpo10+1) to Debian buster-backports.

2020-07-24: Upload package bluefish (2.2.11_svn-r8872-3) to Debian unstable (Closes: #965944).

LongNowPredicting the Animals of the Future

Jim Cooke / Gizmodo

Gizmodo asks half a dozen natural historians to speculate on who is going to be doing what jobs on Earth after the people disappear. One of the streams that runs wide and deep through this series of fun thought experiments is how so many niches stay the same through catastrophic changes in the roster of Earth’s animals. Dinosaurs die out but giant predatory birds evolve to take their place; butterflies took over from (unrelated) dot-winged, nectar-sipping giant lacewing pollinator forebears; before orcas there were flippered ocean-going crocodiles, and there will probably be more one day.

In Annie Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she writes about a vision in which she witnesses glaciers rolling back and forth “like blinds” over the Appalachian Mountains. In this Gizmodo piece, Alexis Mychajliw of the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum talks about how fluctuating sea levels connected island chains or made them, fusing and splitting populations in great oscillating cycles, shrinking some creatures and giantizing others. There’s something soothing in the view from orbit paleontologists, like other deep-time mystics, possess, embody, and transmit: a sense for the clockwork of the cosmos and its orderliness, an appreciation for the powerful resilience of life even in the face of the ephemerality of life-forms.

While everybody interviewed here has obvious pet futures owing to their areas of interest, hold all of them superimposed together and you’ll get a clearer image of the secret teachings of biology…

(This article must have been inspired deeply by Dougal Dixon’s book After Man, but doesn’t mention him – perhaps a fair turn, given Dixon was accused of plagiarizing Wayne Barlowe for his follow-up, Man After Man.)

Worse Than FailureError'd: Please Reboot Faster, I Can't Wait Any Longer

"Saw this at a German gas station along the highway. The reboot screen at the pedestal just kept animating the hourglass," writes Robin G.

 

"Somewhere, I imagine there's a large number of children asking why their new bean bag is making them feel hot and numb," Will N. wrote.

 

Joel B. writes, "I came across these 'deals' on the Microsoft Canada store. Normally I'd question it, but based on my experiences with Windows, I bet, to them, the math checks out."

 

Kyle H. wrote, "Truly, nothing but the best quality strip_zeroes will be accepted."

 

"My Nan is going to be thrilled at the special discount on these masks!" Paul R. wrote.

 

Paul G. writes, "I know it seemed like the hours were passing more slowly, and thanks to Apple, I now know why."

 

[Advertisement] ProGet’s got you covered with security and access controls on your NuGet feeds. Learn more.

Planet DebianFrançois Marier: Extending GPG key expiry

Extending the expiry on a GPG key is not very hard, but it's easy to forget a step. Here's how I did my last expiry bump.

Update the expiry on the main key and the subkey:

gpg --edit-key KEYID
> expire
> key 1
> expire
> save

Upload the updated key to the keyservers:

gpg --export KEYID | curl -T - https://keys.openpgp.org
gpg --keyserver keyring.debian.org --send-keys KEYID

Planet DebianReproducible Builds (diffoscope): diffoscope 154 released

The diffoscope maintainers are pleased to announce the release of diffoscope version 154. This version includes the following changes:

[ Chris Lamb ]

* Add support for F2FS filesystems.
  (Closes: reproducible-builds/diffoscope#207)
* Allow "--profile" as a synonym for "--profile=-".
* Add an add_comment helper method so don't mess with our _comments list
  directly.
* Add missing bullet point in a previous changelog entry.
* Use "human-readable" over unhyphenated version.
* Add a bit more debugging around launching guestfs.
* Profile the launch of guestfs filesystems.
* Correct adding a comment when we cannot extract a filesystem due to missing
  guestfs module.

You find out more by visiting the project homepage.

,

Planet DebianRussell Coker: Links July 2020

iMore has an insightful article about Apple’s transition to the ARM instruction set for new Mac desktops and laptops [1]. I’d still like to see them do something for the server side.

Umair Haque wrote an insightful article about How the American Idiot Made America Unlivable [2]. We are witnessing the destruction of a once great nation.

Chris Lamb wrote an interesting blog post about comedy shows with the laugh tracks edited out [3]. He then compares that to social media with the like count hidden which is an interesting perspective. I’m not going to watch TV shows edited in that way (I’ve enjoyed BBT inspite of all the bad things about it) and I’m not going to try and hide like counts on social media. But it’s interesting to consider these things.

Cory Doctorow wrote an interesting Locus article suggesting that we could have full employment by a transition to renewable energy and methods for cleaning up the climate problems we are too late to prevent [4]. That seems plausible, but I think we should still get a Universal Basic Income.

The Thinking Shop has posters and decks of cards with logical fallacies and cognitive biases [5]. Every company should put some of these in meeting rooms. Also they have free PDFs to download and print your own posters.

gayhomophobe.com [6] is a site that lists powerful homophobic people who hurt GLBT people but then turned out to be gay. It’s presented in an amusing manner, people who hurt others deserve to be mocked.

Wired has an insightful article about the shutdown of Backpage [7]. The owners of Backpage weren’t nice people and they did some stupid things which seem bad (like editing posts to remove terms like “lolita”). But they also worked well with police to find criminals. The opposition to what Backpage were doing conflates sex trafficing, child prostitution, and legal consenting adult sex work. Taking down Backpage seems to be a bad thing for the victims of sex trafficing, for consenting adult sex workers, and for society in general.

Cloudflare has an interesting blog post about short lived certificates for ssh access [8]. Instead of having user’s ssh keys stored on servers each user has to connect to a SSO server to obtain a temporary key before connecting, so revoking an account is easy.

CryptogramFake Stories in Real News Sites

Fireeye is reporting that a hacking group called Ghostwriter broke into the content management systems of Eastern European news sites to plant fake stories.

From a Wired story:

The propagandists have created and disseminated disinformation since at least March 2017, with a focus on undermining NATO and the US troops in Poland and the Baltics; they've posted fake content on everything from social media to pro-Russian news websites. In some cases, FireEye says, Ghostwriter has deployed a bolder tactic: hacking the content management systems of news websites to post their own stories. They then disseminate their literal fake news with spoofed emails, social media, and even op-eds the propagandists write on other sites that accept user-generated content.

That hacking campaign, targeting media sites from Poland to Lithuania, has spread false stories about US military aggression, NATO soldiers spreading coronavirus, NATO planning a full-on invasion of Belarus, and more.


Kevin RuddAIIA: The NT’s Global Opportunities and Challenges

REMARKS AT THE LAUNCH OF THE
NORTHERN TERRITORY BRANCH OF THE
AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

 

 

Image: POIS Tom Gibson/ADF

 

The post AIIA: The NT’s Global Opportunities and Challenges appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Krebs on SecurityIs Your Chip Card Secure? Much Depends on Where You Bank

Chip-based credit and debit cards are designed to make it infeasible for skimming devices or malware to clone your card when you pay for something by dipping the chip instead of swiping the stripe. But a recent series of malware attacks on U.S.-based merchants suggest thieves are exploiting weaknesses in how certain financial institutions have implemented the technology to sidestep key chip card security features and effectively create usable, counterfeit cards.

A chip-based credit card. Image: Wikipedia.

Traditional payment cards encode cardholder account data in plain text on a magnetic stripe, which can be read and recorded by skimming devices or malicious software surreptitiously installed in payment terminals. That data can then be encoded onto anything else with a magnetic stripe and used to place fraudulent transactions.

Newer, chip-based cards employ a technology known as EMV that encrypts the account data stored in the chip. The technology causes a unique encryption key — referred to as a token or “cryptogram” — to be generated each time the chip card interacts with a chip-capable payment terminal.

Virtually all chip-based cards still have much of the same data that’s stored in the chip encoded on a magnetic stripe on the back of the card. This is largely for reasons of backward compatibility since many merchants — particularly those in the United States — still have not fully implemented chip card readers. This dual functionality also allows cardholders to swipe the stripe if for some reason the card’s chip or a merchant’s EMV-enabled terminal has malfunctioned.

But there are important differences between the cardholder data stored on EMV chips versus magnetic stripes. One of those is a component in the chip known as an integrated circuit card verification value or “iCVV” for short — also known as a “dynamic CVV.”

The iCVV differs from the card verification value (CVV) stored on the physical magnetic stripe, and protects against the copying of magnetic-stripe data from the chip and the use of that data to create counterfeit magnetic stripe cards. Both the iCVV and CVV values are unrelated to the three-digit security code that is visibly printed on the back of a card, which is used mainly for e-commerce transactions or for card verification over the phone.

The appeal of the EMV approach is that even if a skimmer or malware manages to intercept the transaction information when a chip card is dipped, the data is only valid for that one transaction and should not allow thieves to conduct fraudulent payments with it going forward.

However, for EMV’s security protections to work, the back-end systems deployed by card-issuing financial institutions are supposed to check that when a chip card is dipped into a chip reader, only the iCVV is presented; and conversely, that only the CVV is presented when the card is swiped. If somehow these do not align for a given transaction type, the financial institution is supposed to decline the transaction.

The trouble is that not all financial institutions have properly set up their systems this way. Unsurprisingly, thieves have known about this weakness for years. In 2017, I wrote about the increasing prevalence of “shimmers,” high-tech card skimming devices made to intercept data from chip card transactions.

A close-up of a shimmer found on a Canadian ATM. Source: RCMP.

More recently, researchers at Cyber R&D Labs published a paper detailing how they tested 11 chip card implementations from 10 different banks in Europe and the U.S. The researchers found they could harvest data from four of them and create cloned magnetic stripe cards that were successfully used to place transactions.

There are now strong indications the same method detailed by Cyber R&D Labs is being used by point-of-sale (POS) malware to capture EMV transaction data that can then be resold and used to fabricate magnetic stripe copies of chip-based cards.

Earlier this month, the world’s largest payment card network Visa released a security alert regarding a recent merchant compromise in which known POS malware families were apparently modified to target EMV chip-enabled POS terminals.

“The implementation of secure acceptance technology, such as EMV® Chip, significantly reduced the usability of the payment account data by threat actors as the available data only included personal account number (PAN), integrated circuit card verification value (iCVV) and expiration date,” Visa wrote. “Thus, provided iCVV is validated properly, the risk of counterfeit fraud was minimal. Additionally, many of the merchant locations employed point-to-point encryption (P2PE) which encrypted the PAN data and further reduced the risk to the payment accounts processed as EMV® Chip.”

Visa did not name the merchant in question, but something similar seems to have happened at Key Food Stores Co-Operative Inc., a supermarket chain in the northeastern United States. Key Food initially disclosed a card breach in March 2020, but two weeks ago updated its advisory to clarify that EMV transaction data also was intercepted.

“The POS devices at the store locations involved were EMV enabled,” Key Food explained. “For EMV transactions at these locations, we believe only the card number and expiration date would have been found by the malware (but not the cardholder name or internal verification code).”

While Key Food’s statement may be technically accurate, it glosses over the reality that the stolen EMV data could still be used by fraudsters to create magnetic stripe versions of EMV cards presented at the compromised store registers in cases where the card-issuing bank hadn’t implemented EMV correctly.

Earlier today, fraud intelligence firm Gemini Advisory released a blog post with more information on recent merchant compromises — including Key Food — in which EMV transaction data was stolen and ended up for sale in underground shops that cater to card thieves.

“The payment cards stolen during this breach were offered for sale in the dark web,” Gemini explained. “Shortly after discovering this breach, several financial institutions confirmed that the cards compromised in this breach were all processed as EMV and did not rely on the magstripe as a fallback.”

Gemini says it has verified that another recent breach — at a liquor store in Georgia — also resulted in compromised EMV transaction data showing up for sale at dark web stores that sell stolen card data. As both Gemini and Visa have noted, in both cases proper iCVV verification from banks should render this intercepted EMV data useless to crooks.

Gemini determined that due to the sheer number of stores affected, it’s extremely unlikely the thieves involved in these breaches intercepted the EMV data using physically installed EMV card shimmers.

“Given the extreme impracticality of this tactic, they likely used a different technique to remotely breach POS systems to collect enough EMV data to perform EMV-Bypass Cloning,” the company wrote.

Stas Alforov, Gemini’s director of research and development, said financial institutions that aren’t performing these checks risk losing the ability to notice when those cards are used for fraud.

That’s because many banks that have issued chip-based cards may assume that as long as those cards are used for chip transactions, there is virtually no risk that the cards will be cloned and sold in the underground. Hence, when these institutions are looking for patterns in fraudulent transactions to determine which merchants might be compromised by POS malware, they may completely discount any chip-based payments and focus only on those merchants at which a customer has swiped their card.

“The card networks are catching on to the fact that there’s a lot more EMV-based breaches happening right now,” Alforov said. “The larger card issuers like Chase or Bank of America are indeed checking [for a mismatch between the iCVV and CVV], and will kick back transactions that don’t match. But that is clearly not the case with some smaller institutions.”

For better or worse, we don’t know which financial institutions have failed to properly implement the EMV standard. That’s why it always pays to keep a close eye on your monthly statements, and report any unauthorized transactions immediately. If your institution lets you receive transaction alerts via text message, this can be a near real-time way to keep an eye out for such activity.

CryptogramImages in Eye Reflections

In Japan, a cyberstalker located his victim by enhancing the reflections in her eye, and using that information to establish a location.

Reminds me of the image enhancement scene in Blade Runner. That was science fiction, but now image resolution is so good that we have to worry about it.

LongNowThe Digital Librarian as Essential Worker

Michelle Swanson, an Oregon-based educator and educational consultant, has written a blog post on the Internet Archive on the increased importance of digital librarians during the pandemic:

With public library buildings closed due to the global pandemic, teachers, students, and lovers of books everywhere have increasingly turned to online resources for access to information. But as anyone who has ever turned up 2.3 million (mostly unrelated) results from a Google search knows, skillfully navigating the Internet is not as easy as it seems. This is especially true when conducting serious research that requires finding and reviewing older books, journals and other sources that may be out of print or otherwise inaccessible.

Enter the digital librarian.

Michelle Swanson, “Digital Librarians – Now More Essential Than Ever” from the Internet Archive.

Kevin Kelly writes (in New Rules for the New Economy and in The Inevitable) about how an information economy flips the relative valuation of questions and answers — how search makes useless answers nearly free and useful questions even more precious than before, and knowing how to reliably produce useful questions even more precious still.

But much of our knowledge and outboard memory is still resistant to or incompatible with web search algorithms — databases spread across both analog and digital, with unindexed objects or idiosyncratic cataloging systems. Just as having map directions on your phone does not outdo a local guide, it helps to have people intimate with a library who can navigate the weird specifics. And just as scientific illustrators still exist to mostly leave out the irrelevant and make a paper clear as day (which cameras cannot do, as of 02020), a librarian is a sharp instrument that cuts straight through the extraneous info to what’s important.

Knowing what to enter in a search is one thing; knowing when it won’t come up in search and where to look amidst an analog collection is another skill entirely. Both are necessary at a time when libraries cannot receive (as many) scholars in the flesh, and what Penn State Prof Rich Doyle calls the “infoquake” online — the too-much-all-at-once-ness of it all — demands an ever-sharper reason just to stay afloat.

Learn More

  • Watch Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle’s 02011 Long Now talk, “Universal Access to All Knowledge.”

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: A Variation on Nulls

Submitter “NotAThingThatHappens” stumbled across a “unique” way to check for nulls in C#.

Now, there are already a few perfectly good ways to check for nulls. variable is null, for example, or use nullable types specifically. But “NotAThingThatHappens” found approach:

if(((object)someObjThatMayBeNull) is var _)
{
    //object is null, react somehow
} 
else
{ 
  UseTheObjectInAMethod(someObjThatMayBeNull);
}

What I hate most about this is how cleverly it exploits the C# syntax to work.

Normally, the _ is a discard. It’s meant to be used for things like tuple unpacking, or in cases where you have an out parameter but don’t actually care about the output- foo(out _) just discards the output data.

But _ is also a perfectly valid identifier. So var _ creates a variable _, and the type of that variable is inferred from context- in this case, whatever type it’s being compared against in someObjThatMayBeNull. This variable is scoped to the if block, so we don’t have to worry about it leaking into our namespace, but since it’s never initialized, it’s going to choose the appropriate default value for its type- and for reference types, that default is null. By casting explicitly to object, we guarantee that our type is a reference type, so this makes sure that we don’t get weird behavior on value types, like integers.

So really, this is just an awkward way of saying objectCouldBeNull is null.

NotAThingThatHappens adds:

The code never made it to production… but I was surprised that the compiler allowed this.
It’s stupid, but it WORKS!

It’s definitely stupid, it definitely works, I’m definitely glad it’s not in your codebase.

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Sam VargheseHistory lessons at a late stage of life

In 1987, I got a job in Dubai, to work for a newspaper named Khaleej (Gulf) Times. I was chosen because the interviewer was a jolly Briton who came down to Bombay to do the interview on 12 June.

Malcolm Payne, the first editor of the newspaper that had been started in 1978 by Iranian brothers named Galadari, told me that he had always wanted to come and pick some people to work at the paper. By then he had been pushed out of the editorship by the politics of both Pakistani and Indian journalists who worked there.

For some strange reason, he took a liking to me. At the end of about 45 minutes of what was a much more robust conversation than I had ever experienced in earlier job interviews, which were normally tense affairs, Payne told me, “You’re a good bugger, Samuel. I’ll see you in Dubai.”

I took it with a pinch of salt. Anyway, I reckoned that I would know in a matter of months whether he pulling my leg or not in few months. I was more focused on my upcoming wedding which was to be scheduled shortly.

But, Payne turned out to be a man of his word. In September, I got a telegram from Dubai asking me to send copies of my passport in order that a visa could be obtained for me to work in Dubai. I had mixed emotions: on the one hand, I was happy that a chance to get out of the grinding poverty I lived in had presented itself. At the same time, I was worried about leaving my sickly mother in India; by then, she had been a widow for a few months and I was her only son.

When my mother-in-law to be heard about the job opportunity, she insisted that the wedding should be held before I left for Dubai. Probably she thought that once I went to the Persian Gulf, I would begin to look for another woman.

The wedding was duly fixed for 19 October and I was to leave for Dubai on 3 November.

After I landed in Dubai, I learnt about the tension that exists between most Indian and Pakistanis as a result of the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Pakistanis are bitter because they feel that they were forced to leave for a country that had turned out to be a basket case, subsisting only because of aid from the US, and Indians felt that the Pakistanis had been the ones to force Britain, then the colonial ruler, to split the country.

Never did this enmity come to the fore more than when India and Pakistan sent their cricket teams to the UAE — Dubai is part of this country — to play in a tournament organised there by some businessman from Sharjah.

Of course, the whole raison d’etre for the tournament was the Indo-Pakistan enmity; pitting teams that had a history of this sort against each other was like staging a proxy war. What’s more, there were both expatriate Indians and Pakistanis in large numbers waiting eagerly to buy tickets and pour into what was literally a coliseum.
The other teams who were invited — sometimes there was a three-way contest, at others a four-way fight — were just there to make up the numbers.

And the organisers always prayed for an India-Pakistan final.

A year before I arrived in Dubai, a Pakistani batsman known as Javed Miandad had taken his team to victory by hitting a six off the last ball; the contests were limited to 50 overs a side. He was showered with gifts by rich Pakistanis and one even gifted him some land. Such was the euphoria a victory in the former desert generated.

Having been born and raised in Sri Lanka, I knew nothing of the history of India. My parents did not clue me in either. I learnt all about the grisly history of the subcontinent after I landed in Dubai.

That enmity resulted in several other incidents worth telling, which I shall relate soon.

,

Planet DebianNorbert Preining: KDE/Plasma Status Update 2020-07-30

Only a short update on the current status of my KDE/Plasma package for Debian sid and testing:

  • Frameworks 5.72
  • Plasma 5.19.4
  • Apps 20.04.3
  • Digikam 7.0.0
  • Ark CVE-2020-16116 fixed in version 20.04.3-1~np2

Hope that helps a few people. See this post for how to setup archives.

Enjoy.

Planet DebianDima Kogan: An awk corner case?

So even after years and years of experience, core tools still find ways to surprise me. Today I tried to do some timestamp comparisons with mawk (vnl-filter, to be more precise), and ran into a detail of the language that made it not work. Not a bug, I guess, since both mawk and gawk are affected. I'll claim "language design flaw", however.

Let's say I'm processing data with unix timestamps in it (seconds since the epoch). gawk and recent versions of mawk have strftime() for that:

$ date
Wed Jul 29 15:31:13 PDT 2020

$ date +"%s"
1596061880

$ date +"%s" | mawk '{print strftime("%H",$1)}'
15

And let's say I want to do something conditional on them. I want only data after 9:00 each day:

$ date +"%s" | mawk 'strftime("%H",$1) >= 9 {print "Yep. After 9:00"}'

That's right. No output. But it is 15:31 now, and I confirmed above that strftime() reports the right time, so it should know that it's after 9:00, but it doesn't. What gives?

As we know, awk (and perl after it) treat numbers and strings containing numbers similarly: 5+5 and ="5"+5= both work the same, which is really convenient. This can only work if it can be inferred from context whether we want a number or a string; it knows that addition takes two numbers, so it knows to convert ="5"= into a number in the example above.

But what if an operator is ambiguous? Then it picks a meaning based on some internal logic that I don't want to be familiar with. And apparently awk implements string comparisons with the same < and > operators, as numerical comparisons, creating the ambiguity I hit today. strftime returns strings, and you get silent, incorrect behavior that then demands debugging. How to fix? By telling awk to treat the output of strftime() as a number:

$ date +"%s" | mawk '0+strftime("%H",$1) >= 9 {print "Yep. After 9:00"}'

Yep. After 9:00

With the benefit of hindsight, they really should not have reused any operators for both number and string operations. Then these ambiguities wouldn't occur, and people wouldn't be grumbling into their blogs decades after these decisions were made.

Krebs on SecurityHere’s Why Credit Card Fraud is Still a Thing

Most of the civilized world years ago shifted to requiring computer chips in payment cards that make it far more expensive and difficult for thieves to clone and use them for fraud. One notable exception is the United States, which is still lurching toward this goal. Here’s a look at the havoc that lag has wrought, as seen through the purchasing patterns at one of the underground’s biggest stolen card shops that was hacked last year.

In October 2019, someone hacked BriansClub, a popular stolen card bazaar that uses this author’s likeness and name in its marketing. Whoever compromised the shop siphoned data on millions of card accounts that were acquired over four years through various illicit means from legitimate, hacked businesses around the globe — but mostly from U.S. merchants. That database was leaked to KrebsOnSecurity, which in turn shared it with multiple sources that help fight payment card fraud.

An ad for BriansClub has been using my name and likeness for years to peddle millions of stolen credit cards.

Among the recipients was Damon McCoy, an associate professor at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering [full disclosure: NYU has been a longtime advertiser on this blog]. McCoy’s work in probing the credit card systems used by some of the world’s biggest purveyors of junk email greatly enriched the data that informed my 2014 book Spam Nation, and I wanted to make sure he and his colleagues had a crack at the BriansClub data as well.

McCoy and fellow NYU researchers found BriansClub earned close to $104 million in gross revenue from 2015 to early 2019, and listed over 19 million unique card numbers for sale. Around 97% of the inventory was stolen magnetic stripe data, commonly used to produce counterfeit cards for in-person payments.

“What surprised me most was there are still a lot of people swiping their cards for transactions here,” McCoy said.

In 2015, the major credit card associations instituted new rules that made it riskier and potentially more expensive for U.S. merchants to continue allowing customers to swipe the stripe instead of dip the chip. Complicating this transition was the fact that many card-issuing U.S. banks took years to replace their customer card stocks with chip-enabled cards, and countless retailers dragged their feet in updating their payment terminals to accept chip-based cards.

Indeed, three years later the U.S. Federal Reserve estimated (PDF) that 43.3 percent of in-person card payments were still being processed by reading the magnetic stripe instead of the chip. This might not have been such a big deal if payment terminals at many of those merchants weren’t also compromised with malicious software that copied the data when customers swiped their cards.

Following the 2015 liability shift, more than 84 percent of the non-chip cards advertised by BriansClub were sold, versus just 35 percent of chip-based cards during the same time period.

“All cards without a chip were in much higher demand,” McCoy said.

Perhaps surprisingly, McCoy and his fellow NYU researchers found BriansClub customers purchased only 40% of its overall inventory. But what they did buy supports the notion that crooks generally gravitate toward cards issued by financial institutions that are perceived as having fewer or more lax protections against fraud.

Source: NYU.

While the top 10 largest card issuers in the United States accounted for nearly half of the accounts put up for sale at BriansClub, only 32 percent of those accounts were sold — and at a roughly half the median price of those issued by small- and medium-sized institutions.

In contrast, more than half of the stolen cards issued by small and medium-sized institutions were purchased from the fraud shop. This was true even though by the end of 2018, 91 percent of cards for sale from medium-sized institutions were chip-based, and 89 percent from smaller banks and credit unions. Nearly all cards issued by the top ten largest U.S. card issuers (98 percent) were chip-enabled by that time.

REGION LOCK

The researchers found BriansClub customers strongly preferred cards issued by financial institutions in specific regions of the United States, specifically Colorado, Nevada, and South Carolina.

“For whatever reason, those regions were perceived as having lower anti-fraud systems or those that were not as effective,” McCoy said.

Cards compromised from merchants in South Carolina were in especially high demand, with fraudsters willing to spend twice as much on those cards per capita than any other state — roughly $1 per resident.

That sales trend also was reflected in the support tickets filed by BriansClub customers, who frequently were informed that cards tied to the southeastern United States were less likely to be restricted for use outside of the region.

Image: NYU.

McCoy said the lack of region locking also made stolen cards issued by banks in China something of a hot commodity, even though these cards demanded much higher prices (often more than $100 per account): The NYU researchers found virtually all available Chinese cards were sold soon after they were put up for sale. Ditto for the relatively few corporate and business cards for sale.

A lack of region locks may also have caused card thieves to gravitate toward buying up as many cards as they could from USAA, a savings bank that caters to active and former military service members and their immediate families. More than 83 percent of the available USAA cards were sold between 2015 and 2019, the researchers found.

Although Visa cards made up more than half of accounts put up for sale (12.1 million), just 36 percent were sold. MasterCards were the second most-plentiful (3.72 million), and yet more than 54 percent of them sold.

American Express and Discover, which unlike Visa and MasterCard are so-called “closed loop” networks that do not rely on third-party financial institutions to issue cards and manage fraud on them, saw 28.8 percent and 33 percent of their stolen cards purchased, respectively.

PREPAIDS

Some people concerned about the scourge of debit and credit card fraud opt to purchase prepaid cards, which generally enjoy the same cardholder protections against fraudulent transactions. But the NYU team found compromised prepaid accounts were purchased at a far higher rate than regular debit and credit cards.

Several factors may be at play here. For starters, relatively few prepaid cards for sale were chip-based. McCoy said there was some data to suggest many of these prepaids were issued to people collecting government benefits such as unemployment and food assistance. Specifically, the “service code” information associated with these prepaid cards indicated that many were restricted for use at places like liquor stores and casinos.

“This was a pretty sad finding, because if you don’t have a bank this is probably how you get your wages,” McCoy said. “These cards were disproportionately targeted. The unfortunate and striking thing was the sheer demand and lack of [chip] support for prepaid cards. Also, these cards were likely more attractive to fraudsters because [the issuer’s] anti-fraud countermeasures weren’t up to par, possibly because they know less about their customers and their typical purchase history.”

PROFITS

The NYU researchers estimate BriansClub pulled in approximately $24 million in profit over four years. They calculated this number by taking the more than $100 million in total sales and subtracting commissions paid to card thieves who supplied the shop with fresh goods, as well as the price of cards that were refunded to buyers. BriansClub, like many other stolen card shops, offers refunds on certain purchases if the buyer can demonstrate the cards were no longer active at the time of purchase.

On average, BriansClub paid suppliers commissions ranging from 50-60 percent of the total value of the cards sold. Card-not-present (CNP) accounts — or those stolen from online retailers and purchased by fraudsters principally for use in defrauding other online merchants — fetched a much steeper supplier commission of 80 percent, but mainly because these cards were in such high demand and low supply.

The NYU team found card-not-present sales accounted for just 7 percent of all revenue, even though card thieves clearly now have much higher incentives to target online merchants.

A story here last year observed that this exact supply and demand tug-of-war had helped to significantly increase prices for card-not-present accounts across multiple stolen credit card shops in the underground. Not long ago, the price of CNP accounts was less than half that of card-present accounts. These days, those prices are roughly equivalent.

One likely reason for that shift is the United States is the last of the G20 nations to fully transition to more secure chip-based payment cards. In every other country that long ago made the chip card transition, they saw the same dynamic: As they made it harder for thieves to counterfeit physical cards, the fraud didn’t go away but instead shifted to online merchants.

The same progression is happening now in the United States, only the demand for stolen CNP data still far outstrips supply. Which might explain why we’ve seen such a huge uptick over the past few years in e-commerce sites getting hacked.

“Everyone points to this displacement effect from card-present to card-not-present fraud,” McCoy said. “But if the supply isn’t there, there’s only so much room for that displacement to occur.”

No doubt the epidemic of card fraud has benefited mightily from hacked retail chains — particularly restaurants — that still allow customers to swipe chip-based cards. But as we’ll see in a post to be published tomorrow, new research suggests thieves are starting to deploy ingenious methods for converting card data from certain compromised chip-based transactions into physical counterfeit cards.

A copy of the NYU research paper is available here (PDF).

LongNowThe Unexpected Influence of Cosmic Rays on DNA

Samuel Velasco/Quanta Magazine

Living in a world with multiple spatiotemporal scales, the very small and fast can often drive the future of the very large and slow: Microscopic genetic mutations change macroscopic anatomy. Undetectably small variations in local climate change global weather patterns (the infamous “butterfly effect”).

And now, one more example comes from a new theory about why DNA on modern Earth only twists in one of two possible directions:

Our spirals might all trace back to an unexpected influence from cosmic rays. Cosmic ray showers, like DNA strands, have handedness. Physical events typically break right as often as they break left, but some of the particles in cosmic ray showers tap into one of nature’s rare exceptions. When the high energy protons in cosmic rays slam into the atmosphere, they produce particles called pions, and the rapid decay of pions is governed by the weak force — the only fundamental force with a known mirror asymmetry.

Millions if not billions of cosmic ray strikes could be required to yield one additional free electron in a [right-handed] strand, depending on the event’s energy. But if those electrons changed letters in the organisms’ genetic codes, those tweaks may have added up. Over perhaps a million years…cosmic rays might have accelerated the evolution of our earliest ancestors, letting them out-compete their [left-handed] rivals.

In other words, properties of the subatomic world seem to have conferred a benefit to the potential for innovation among right-handed nucleic acids, and a “talent” for generating useful copying errors led to the entrenched monopoly we observe today.

But that isn’t the whole story. Read more at Quanta.

Planet DebianEnrico Zini: Building and packaging a sysroot

This is part of a series of posts on compiling a custom version of Qt5 in order to develop for both amd64 and a Raspberry Pi.

After having had some success with a sysroot in having a Qt5 cross-build environment that includes QtWebEngine, the next step is packaging the sysroot so it can be available both to build the cross-build environment, and to do cross-development with it.

The result is this Debian source package which takes a Raspberry Pi OS disk image, provisions it in-place, extracts its contents, and packages them.

Yes. You may want to reread the last paragraph.

It works directly in the disk image to avoid a nasty filesystem issue on emulated 32bit Linux over a 64bit mounted filesystem.

This feels like the most surreal Debian package I've ever created, and this saga looks like one of the hairiest yaks I've ever shaved.

Integrating this monster codebase, full of bundled code and hacks, into a streamlined production and deployment system has been for me a full stack nightmare, and I have a renewed and growing respect for the people in the Qt/KDE team in Debian, who manage to stay on top of this mess, so that it all just works when we need it.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: True if Documented

“Comments are important,” is one of those good rules that often gets misapplied. No one wants to see a method called addOneToSet and a comment that tells us Adds one item to the set.

Still, a lot of our IDEs and other tooling encourage these kinds of comments. You drop a /// or /* before a method or member, and you get an autostubbed out comment that gives you a passable, if useless, comment.

Scott Curtis thinks that is where this particular comment originated, but over time it decayed into incoherent nonsense:

///<summary> True to use quote value </summary>
///
///<value> True if false, false if not </value>
private readonly bool _mUseQuoteValue

True if false, false if not. Or, worded a little differently, documentation makes code less clear, clearer if not.

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Planet DebianDirk Eddelbuettel: Installing and Running Ubuntu on a 2015-ish MacBook Air

So a few months ago kiddo one dropped an apparently fairly large cup of coffee onto her one and only trusted computer. With a few months (then) to graduation (which by now happened), and with the apparent “genuis bar” verdict of “it’s a goner” a new one was ordered. As it turns out this supposedly dead one coped well enough with the coffee so that after a few weeks of drying it booted again. But give the newer one, its apparent age and whatnot, it was deemed surplus. So I poked around a little on the interwebs and conclude that yes, this could work.

Fast forward a few months and I finally got hold of it, and had some time to play with it. First, a bootable usbstick was prepared, and the machine’s content was really (really, and check again: really) no longer needed, I got hold of it for good.

tl;dr It works just fine. It is a little heavier than I thought (and isn’t “air” supposed to be weightless?) The ergonomics seem quite nice. The keyboard is decent. Screen-resolution on this pre-retina simple Air is so-so at 1440 pixels. But battery live seems ok and e.g. the camera is way better than what I have in my trusted Lenovo X1 or at my desktop. So just as a zoom client it may make a lot of sense; otherwise just walking around with it as a quick portable machine seems perfect (especially as my Lenovo X1 still (ahem) suffers from one broken key I really need to fix…).

Below are some lightly edited notes from the installation. Initial steps were quick: maybe an hour or less? Customizing a machine takes longer than I remembered, this took a few minutes here and there quite a few times, but always incremental.

Initial Steps

  • Download of Ubuntu 20.04 LTS image: took a few moments, even on broadband, feels slower than normal (fast!) Ubuntu package updates, maybe lesser CDN or bad luck

  • Startup Disk Creator using a so-far unused 8gb usb drive

  • Plug into USB, recycle power, press “Option” on macOS keyboard: voila

  • After a quick hunch… no to ‘live/test only’ and yes to install, whole disk

  • install easy, very few questions, somehow skips wifi

  • so activate wifi manually — and everythings pretty much works

Customization

  • First deal with ‘fn’ and ‘ctrl’ key swap. Install git and followed this github repo which worked just fine. Yay. First (manual) Linux kernel module build needed need in … half a decade? Longer?

  • Fire up firefox, go to ‘download chrome’, install chrome. Sign in. Turn on syncing. Sign into Pushbullet and Momentum.

  • syncthing which is excellent. Initially via apt, later from their PPA. Spend some time remembering how to set up the mutual handshakes between devices. Now syncing desktop/server, lenovo x1 laptop, android phone and this new laptop

  • keepassx via apt and set up using Sync/ folder. Now all (encrypted) passwords synced.

  • Discovered synergy now longer really free, so after a quick search found and installed barrier (via apt) to have one keyboard/mouse from desktop reach laptop.

  • Added emacs via apt, so far ‘empty’, so config files yet

  • Added ssh via apt, need to propagate keys to github and gitlab

  • Added R via add-apt-repository --yes "ppa:marutter/rrutter4.0" and add-apt-repository --yes "ppa:c2d4u.team/c2d4u4.0+". Added littler and then RStudio

  • Added wajig (apt frontend) and byobu, both via apt

  • Created ssh key, shipped it to server and github + gitlab

  • Cloned (not-public) ‘dotfiles’ repo and linked some dotfiles in

  • Cloned git repo for nord-theme for gnome terminal and installed it; also added it to RStudio via this repo

  • Emacs installed, activated dotfiles, then incrementally install a few elpa-* packages and a few M-x package-install including nord-theme, of course

  • Installed JetBrains Mono font from my own local package; activated for Gnome Terminal and Emacs

  • Install gnome-tweak-tool via apt, adjusted a few settings

  • Ran gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.wm.preferences focus-mode 'sloppy'

  • Set up camera following this useful GH repo

  • At some point also added slack and zoom, because, well, it is 2020

  • STILL TODO:

    • docker
    • bother with email setup?,
    • maybe atom/code/…?

,

Planet DebianChris Lamb: Pop culture matters

Many people labour under the assumption that pop culture is trivial and useless while only 'high' art can grant us genuine and eternal knowledge about the world. Given that we have a finite time on this planet, we are all permitted to enjoy pop culture up to a certain point, but we should always minimise our interaction with it, and consume more moral and intellectual instruction wherever possible.

Or so the theory goes. What these people do not realise is that pop and mass culture can often provide more information about the world, humanity in general and — what is even more important — ourselves.

This is not quite the debate around whether high art is artistically better, simply that pop culture can be equally informative. Jeremy Bentham argued in the 1820s that "prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry", that it didn't matter where our pleasures come from. (John Stuart Mill, Bentham's intellectual rival, disagreed.) This fundamental question of philosophical utilitarianism will not be resolved here.

However, what might begin to be resolved is our instinctive push-back against pop culture. We all share an automatic impulse to disregard things we do not like and to pretend they do not exist, but this wishful thinking does not mean that these cultural products do not continue to exist when we aren't thinking about them and, more to our point, continue to influence others and even ourselves.

Take, for example, the recent trend for 'millennial pink'. With its empty consumerism, faux nostalgia, reductive generational stereotyping, objectively ugly æsthetics and tedious misogyny (photographed with Rose Gold iPhones), the very combination appears to have been deliberately designed to annoy me, curiously providing circumstantial evidence in favour of intelligent design. But if I were to immediately dismiss millennial pink and any of the other countless cultural trends I dislike simply because I find them disagreeable, I would be willingly keeping myself blind to their underlying ideology, their significance and their effect on society at large. If I had any ethical or political reservations I might choose not to engage with them economically or to avoid advertising them to others, but that is a different question altogether.

Even if we can't notice this pattern within ourselves we can first observe it in others. We can all recall moments where someone has brushed off a casual reference to pop culture, be it Tiger King, TikTok, team sports or Taylor Swift; if you can't, simply look for the abrupt change of tone and the slightly-too-quick dismissal. I am not suggesting you attempt to dissuade others or even to point out this mental tic, but merely seeing it in action can be highly illustrative in its own way.

In summary, we can simultaneously say that pop culture is not worthy of our time relative to other pursuits while consuming however much of it we want, but deliberately dismissing pop culture doesn't mean that a lot of other people are not interacting with it and is therefore undeserving of any inquiry. And if that doesn't convince you, just like the once-unavoidable millennial pink, simply sticking our collective heads in the sand will not mean that wider societal-level ugliness is going to disappear anytime soon.

Anyway, that's a very long way of justifying why I plan to re-watch TNG.

Planet DebianDirk Eddelbuettel: ttdo 0.0.6: Bugfix

A bugfix release of our (still small) ttdo package arrived on CRAN overnight. As introduced last fall, the ttdo package extends the most excellent (and very minimal / zero depends) unit testing package tinytest by Mark van der Loo with the very clever and well-done diffobj package by Brodie Gaslam to give us test results with visual diffs:

ttdo screenshot

This release corrects a minor editing error spotted by the ever-vigilant John Blischak.

The NEWS entry follow.

Changes in ttdo version 0.0.6 (2020-07-27)

  • Correct a minor editing mistake spotted by John Blischak.

CRANberries provides the usual summary of changes to the previous version. Please use the GitHub repo and its issues for any questions.

If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub. For the first year, GitHub will match your contributions.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

Planet DebianJonathan Carter: Free Software Activities for 2020-06

Hmm, this is the latest I’ve posted my monthly updates yet (nearly by a month!). June was both crazy on the incoming side, and at the same time I just wasn’t that productive (at least since then I caught up a lot). In theory, lockdown means that I spend less time in traffic, in shops or with friends and have more time to do stuff, in practice I go to bed later and later and waste more time watching tv shows and playing mobile games. A cycle that I have at least broken free from since June.

Debian Package Uploads

2020-06-04: Upload package btfs (2.21-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-06-04: Upload package gnome-shell-extension-disconnect-wifi (24-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-06-18: Sponsor package gamemode (1.5.1-5) for Debian unstable (Games team request).

2020-06-21: Upload package calamares (3.2.26-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-06-21: Upload package s-tui (1.0.1-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-06-29: Sponsor package libinih (48-1~bpo10+1) for Debian buster-backports.

2020-06-30: Upload packge calamares (3.2.26-1~bpo10+1) to Debian buster-backports.

2020-06-30: Upload package toot (0.27.0-1) to Debian unstable.

2020-06-30: Upload package calamares (3.2.26.1-1) to Debian unstable.

Planet DebianSteve Kemp: I'm a bit of a git (hacker?)

Sometimes I enjoy reading the source code to projects I like, use, or am about to install for the first time. This was something I used to do on a very regular basis, looking for security issues to report. Nowadays I don't have so much free time, but I still like to inspect the source code to new applications I install, and every now and again I'll find the time to look at the source to random projects.

Reading code is good. Reading code is educational.

One application I've looked at multiple times is redis, which is a great example of clean and well-written code. That said when reading the redis codebase I couldn't help noticing that there were a reasonably large number of typos/spelling mistakes in the comments, so I submitted a pull-request:

Sadly that particular pull-request didn't receive too much attention, although a previous one updating the configuration file was accepted. I was recently reminded of these pull-requests when I was when I was doing some other work. So I figured I'd have a quick scan of a couple of other utilities.

In the past I'd just note spelling mistakes when I came across them, usually I'd be opening each file in a project one by one and reading them from top to bottom. (Sometimes I'd just open files in emacs and run "M-x ispell-comments-and-strings", but more often I'd just notice them with my eyes). It did strike me that if I were to do this in a more serious fashion it would be good to automate it.

So this time round I hacked up a simple "dump comments" utility, which would scan named files and output the contents of any comments (be they single-line, or multi-line). Once I'd done that I could spell-check easily:

 $ go run dump-comments.go *.c > comments
 $ aspell -c comments

Anyway the upshot of that was a pull-request against git:

We'll see if that makes its way live sometime. In case I get interested in doing this again I've updated my sysbox-utility collection to have a comments sub-command. That's a little more robust and reliable than my previous hack:

$ sysbox comments -pretty=true $(find . -name '*.c')
..
..

The comments sub-command has support for:

  • Single-line comments, for C, as prefixed with //.
  • Multi-line comments, for C++, as between /* and */.
  • Single-line comments, for shell, as prefixed with #.
  • Lua comments, both single-line (prefixed with --) and multiline between --[[ and --]].

Adding new support would be trivial, I just need a start and end pattern to search against. Pull-requests welcome:

Rondam RamblingsThe insidious problem of racism

Take a moment to seriously think about what is wrong with racism.  If you're like most people, your answer will probably be that racism is bad because it's a form of prejudice, and prejudice is bad.  This is not wrong, but it misses a much deeper, more insidious issue.  The real problem with racism is that it is that it can be (and usually is) rationalized and those rationalizations can turn into

CryptogramSurvey of Supply Chain Attacks

The Atlantic Council has a released a report that looks at the history of computer supply chain attacks.

Key trends from their summary:

  1. Deep Impact from State Actors: There were at least 27 different state attacks against the software supply chain including from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran as well as India, Egypt, the United States, and Vietnam.States have targeted software supply chains with great effect as the majority of cases surveyed here did, or could have, resulted in remote code execution. Examples: CCleaner, NotPetya, Kingslayer, SimDisk, and ShadowPad.

  2. Abusing Trust in Code Signing: These attacks undermine public key cryptography and certificates used to ensure the integrity of code. Overcoming these protections is a critical step to enabling everything from simple alterations of open-source code to complex nation-state espionage campaigns. Examples: ShadowHammer, Naid/McRAT, and BlackEnergy 3.

  3. Hijacking Software Updates: 27% of these attacks targeted software updates to insert malicious code against sometimes millions of targets. These attacks are generally carried out by extremely capable actors and poison updates from legitimate vendors. Examples: Flame, CCleaner 1 & 2, NotPetya, and Adobe pwdum7v71.

  4. Poisoning Open-Source Code: These incidents saw attackers either modify open-source code by gaining account access or post their own packages with names similar to common examples. Attacks targeted some of the most widely used open source tools on the internet. Examples: Cdorked/Darkleech, RubyGems Backdoor, Colourama, and JavaScript 2018 Backdoor.

  5. Targeting App Stores: 22% of these attacks targeted app stores like the Google Play Store, Apple's App Store, and other third-party app hubs to spread malware to mobile devices. Some attacks even targeted developer tools ­ meaning every app later built using that tool was potentially compromised. Examples: ExpensiveWall, BankBot, Gooligan, Sandworm's Android attack, and XcodeGhost.

Recommendations included in the report. The entirely open and freely available dataset is here.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Underscoring the Comma

Andrea writes to confess some sins, though I'm not sure who the real sinner is. To understand the sins, we have to talk a little bit about C/C++ macros.

Andrea was working on some software to control a dot-matrix display from an embedded device. Send an array of bytes to it, and the correct bits on the display light up. Now, if you're building something like this, you want an easy way to "remember" the proper sequences. So you might want to do something like:

uint8_t glyph0[] = {'0', 0x0E, 0x11, 0x0E, 0};
uint8_t glyph1[] = {'1', 0x09, 0x1F, 0x01, 0};

And so on. And heck, you might want to go so far as to have a lookup array, so you might have a const uint8_t *const glyphs[] = {glyph0, glyph1…}. Now, you could just hardcode those definitions, but wouldn't it be cool to use macros to automate that a bit, as your definitions might change?

Andrea went with a style known as X macros, which let you specify one pattern of data which can be re-used by redefining X. So, for example, I could do something like:

#define MY_ITEMS \
  X(a, 5) \
  X(b, 6) \
  X(c, 7)
  
#define X(name, value) int name = value;
MY_ITEMS
#undef X

This would generate:

int a = 5;
int b = 6;
int c = 7;

But I could re-use this, later:

#define X(name, data) name, 
int items[] = { MY_ITEMS nullptr};
#undef X

This would generate, in theory, something like: int items[] = {a,b,c,nullptr};

We are recycling the MY_ITEMS macro, and we're changing its behavior by altering the X macro that it invokes. This can, in practice, result in much more readable and maintainable code, especially code where you need to have parallel lists of items. It's also one of those things that the first time you see it, it's… surprising.

Now, this is all great, and it means that Andrea could potentially have a nice little macro system for defining arrays of bytes and a lookup array pointing to those arrays. There's just one problem.

Specifically, if you tried to write a macro like this:

#define GLYPH_DEFS \
  X(glyph0, {'0', 0x0E, 0x11, 0x0E, 0})

It wouldn't work. It doesn't matter what you actually define X to do, the preprocessor isn't aware of the C/C++ syntax. So it doesn't say "oh, that second comma is inside of an array initalizer, I'll ignore it", it says, "Oh, they're trying to pass more than two parameters to the macro X."

So, you need some way to define an array initializer that doesn't use commas. If macros got you into this situation, macros can get you right back out. Here is Andrea's solution:

#define _ ,  // Sorry.
#define GLYPH_DEFS \
	X(glyph0, { '0' _ 0x0E _ 0x11 _ 0x0E _ 0 } ) \
	X(glyph1, { '1' _ 0x09 _ 0x1F _ 0x01 _ 0 }) \
	X(glyph2, { '2' _ 0x13 _ 0x15 _ 0x09 _ 0 }) \
	X(glyph3, { '3' _ 0x15 _ 0x15 _ 0x0A _ 0 }) \
	X(glyph4, { '4' _ 0x18 _ 0x04 _ 0x1F _ 0 }) \
	X(glyph5, { '5' _ 0x1D _ 0x15 _ 0x12 _ 0 }) \
	X(glyph6, { '6' _ 0x0E _ 0x15 _ 0x03 _ 0 }) \
	X(glyph7, { '7' _ 0x10 _ 0x13 _ 0x0C _ 0 }) \
	X(glyph8, { '8' _ 0x0A _ 0x15 _ 0x0A _ 0 }) \
	X(glyph9, { '9' _ 0x08 _ 0x14 _ 0x0F _ 0 }) \
	X(glyphA, { 'A' _ 0x0F _ 0x14 _ 0x0F _ 0 }) \
	X(glyphB, { 'B' _ 0x1F _ 0x15 _ 0x0A _ 0 }) \
	X(glyphC, { 'C' _ 0x0E _ 0x11 _ 0x11 _ 0 }) \
	X(glyphD, { 'D' _ 0x1F _ 0x11 _ 0x0E _ 0 }) \
	X(glyphE, { 'E' _ 0x1F _ 0x15 _ 0x15 _ 0 }) \
	X(glyphF, { 'F' _ 0x1F _ 0x14 _ 0x14 _ 0 }) \

#define X(name, data) const uint8_t name [] = data ;
GLYPH_DEFS
#undef X

#define X(name, data) name _
const uint8_t *const glyphs[] = { GLYPH_DEFS nullptr };
#undef X
#undef _

So, when processing the X macro, we pass it a pile of _s, which aren't commas, so it doesn't complain. Then we expand the _ macro and voila: we have syntactically valid array initalizers. If Andrea ever changes the list of glyphs, adding or removing any, the macro will automatically sync the declaration of the individual arrays and their pointers over in the glyphs array.

Andrea adds:

The scope of this definition is limited to this data structure, in which the X macros are used, and it is #undef'd just after that. However, with all the stories of #define abuse on this site, I feel I still need to atone.
The testing sketch works perfectly.

Honestly, all sins are forgiven. There isn't a true WTF here, beyond "the C preprocessor is TRWTF". It's a weird, clever hack, and it's interesting to see this technique in use.

That said, as you might note: this was a testing sketch, just to prove a concept. Instead of getting clever with macros, your disposable testing code should probably just get to proving your concept as quickly as possible. You can worry about code maintainability later. So, if there are any sins by Andrea, it's the sin of overengineering a disposable test program.

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Planet DebianRuss Allbery: Review: The City in the Middle of the Night

Review: The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders

Publisher: Tor
Copyright: February 2019
Printing: February 2020
ISBN: 1-4668-7113-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 366

January is a tidally-locked planet divided between permanent night and permanent day, an unfortunate destination for a colony starship. Now, humans cling to a precarious existence along the terminator, huddling in two wildly different cities and a handful of smaller settlements, connected by a road through the treacherous cold.

The novel opens with Sophie, a shy university student from the dark side of the city of Xiosphant. She has an overwhelming crush on Bianca, her high-class, self-confident roommate and one of the few people in her life to have ever treated her with compassion and attention. That crush, and her almost non-existent self-esteem, lead her to take the blame for Bianca's petty theft, resulting in what should have been a death sentence. Sophie survives only because she makes first contact with a native intelligent species of January, one that the humans have been hunting for food and sport.

Sadly, I think this is enough Anders for me. I've now bounced off two of her novels, both for structural reasons that I think go deeper than execution and indicate a fundamental mismatch between what Anders wants to do as an author and what I'm looking for as a reader.

I'll talk more about what this book is doing in a moment, but I have to start with Bianca and Sophie. It's difficult for me to express how much I loathed this relationship and how little I wanted to read about it. It took me about five pages to peg Bianca as a malignant narcissist and Sophie's all-consuming crush as dangerous codependency. It took the entire book for Sophie to figure out how awful Bianca is to her, during which Bianca goes through the entire abusive partner playbook of gaslighting, trivializing, contingent affection, jealous rage, and controlling behavior. And meanwhile Sophie goes back to her again, and again, and again, and again. If I hadn't been reading this book on a Kindle, I think it would have physically hit a wall after their conversation in the junkyard.

This is truly a matter of personal taste and preference. This is not an unrealistic relationship; this dynamic happens in life all too often. I'm sure there is someone for whom reading about Sophie's spectacularly poor choices is affirming or cathartic. I've not personally experienced this sort of relationship, which doubtless matters.

But having empathy for someone who is making awful and self-destructive life decisions and trusting someone they should not be trusting and who is awful to them in every way is difficult work. Sophie is the victim of Bianca's abuse, but she does so many stupid and ill-conceived things in support of this twisted relationship that I found it very difficult to not get angry at her. Meanwhile, Anders writes Sophie as so clearly fragile and uncertain and devoid of a support network that getting angry at her is like kicking a puppy. The result for me was spending nearly an entire book in a deeply unpleasant state of emotional dissonance. I may be willing to go through that for a close friend, but in a work of fiction it's draining and awful and entirely not fun.

The other viewpoint character had the opposite problem for me. Mouth starts the book as a traveling smuggler, the sole survivor of a group of religious travelers called the Citizens. She's practical, tough, and guarded. Beneath that, I think the intent was to show her as struggling to come to terms with the loss of her family and faith community. Her first goal in the book is to recover a recording of Citizen sacred scripture to preserve it and to reconnect with her past.

This sounds interesting on the surface, but none of it gelled. Mouth never felt to me like someone from a faith community. She doesn't act on Citizen beliefs to any meaningful extent, she rarely talks about them, and when she does, her attitude is nostalgia without spirituality. When Mouth isn't pursuing goals that turn out to be meaningless, she aimlessly meandered through the story. Sophie at least has agency and makes some important and meaningful decisions. Mouth is just there, even when Anders does shattering things to her understanding of her past.

Between Sophie and Bianca putting my shoulders up around my ears within the first few pages of the first chapter and failing to muster any enthusiasm for Mouth, I said the eight deadly words ("I don't care what happens to these people") about a hundred pages in and the book never recovered.

There are parts of the world-building I did enjoy. The alien species that Sophie bonds with is not stunningly original, but it's a good (and detailed) take on one of the alternate cognitive and social models that science fiction has dreamed up. I was comparing the strangeness and dislocation unfavorably to China Miéville's Embassytown while I was reading it, but in retrospect Anders's treatment is more decolonialized. Xiosphant's turn to Circadianism as their manifestation of order is a nicely understated touch, a believable political overreaction to the lack of a day/night cycle. That touch is significantly enhanced by Sophie's time working in a salon whose business model is to help Xiosphant residents temporarily forget about time. And what glimmers we got of politics on the colony ship and their echoing influence on social and political structures were intriguing.

Even with the world-building, though, I want the author to be interested in and willing to expand the same bits of world-building that I'm engaged with. Anders didn't seem to be. The reader gets two contrasting cities along a road, one authoritarian and one libertine, which makes concrete a metaphor for single-axis political classification. But then Anders does almost nothing with that setup; it's just the backdrop of petty warlord politics, and none of the political activism of Bianca's student group seems to have relevance or theoretical depth. It's a similar shallowness as the religion of Mouth's Citizens: We get a few fragments of culture and religion, but without narrative exploration and without engagement from any of the characters. The way the crew of the Mothership was assembled seems to have led to a factional and racial caste system based on city of origin and technical expertise, but I couldn't tell you more than that because few of the characters seem to care. And so on.

In short, the world-building that I wanted to add up to a coherent universe that was meaningful to the characters and to the plot seemed to be little more than window-dressing. Anders tosses in neat ideas, but they don't add up to anything. They're just background scenery for Bianca and Sophie's drama.

The one thing that The City in the Middle of the Night does well is Sophie's nervous but excited embrace of the unknown. It was delightful to see the places where a typical protagonist would have to overcome a horror reaction or talk themselves through tradeoffs and where Sophie's reaction was instead "yes, of course, let's try." It provided an emotional strength to an extended first-contact exploration scene that made it liberating and heart-warming without losing the alienness. During that part of the book (in which, not coincidentally, Bianca does not appear), I was able to let my guard down and like Sophie for the first time, and I suspect that was intentional on Anders's part.

But, overall, I think the conflict between Anders's story-telling approach and my preferences as a reader are mostly irreconcilable. She likes to write about people who make bad decisions and compound their own problems. In one of the chapters of her non-fiction book about writing that's being serialized on Tor.com she says "when we watch someone do something unforgivable, we're primed to root for them as they search desperately for an impossible forgiveness." This is absolutely not true for me; when I watch a character do something unforgivable, I want to see repudiation from the protagonists and ideally some clear consequences. When that doesn't happen, I want to stop reading about them and find something more enjoyable to do with my time. I certainly don't want to watch a viewpoint character insist that the person who is doing unforgivable things is the center of her life.

If your preferences on character and story arc are closer to Anders's than mine, you may like this book. Certainly lots of people did; it was nominated for multiple awards and won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. But despite the things it did well, I had a truly miserable time reading it and am not anxious to repeat the experience.

Rating: 4 out of 10

,

Krebs on SecurityBusiness ID Theft Soars Amid COVID Closures

Identity thieves who specialize in running up unauthorized lines of credit in the names of small businesses are having a field day with all of the closures and economic uncertainty wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, KrebsOnSecurity has learned. This story is about the victims of a particularly aggressive business ID theft ring that’s spent years targeting small businesses across the country and is now pivoting toward using that access for pandemic assistance loans and unemployment benefits.

Most consumers are likely aware of the threat from identity theft, which occurs when crooks apply for new lines of credit in your name. But the same crime can be far more costly and damaging when thieves target small businesses. Unfortunately, far too many entrepreneurs are simply unaware of the threat or don’t know how to be watchful for it.

What’s more, with so many small enterprises going out of business or sitting dormant during the COVID-19 pandemic, organized fraud rings have an unusually rich pool of targets to choose from.

Short Hills, N.J.-based Dun & Bradstreet [NYSE:DNB] is a data analytics company that acts as a kind of de facto credit bureau for companies: When a business owner wants to open a new line of credit, creditors typically check with Dun & Bradstreet to gauge the business’s history and trustworthiness.

In 2019, Dun & Bradstreet saw more than a 100 percent increase in business identity theft. For 2020, the company estimates an overall 258 percent spike in the crime. Dun & Bradstreet said that so far this year it has received over 4,700 tips and leads where business identity theft or malfeasance are suspected.

“The ferocity of cyber criminals to take advantage of COVID-19 uncertainties by preying on small businesses is disturbing,” said Andrew LaMarca, who leads the global high-risk and fraud team at Dun & Bradstreet.

For the past several months, Milwaukee, Wisc. based cyber intelligence firm Hold Security has been monitoring the communications between and among a businesses ID theft gang apparently operating in Georgia and Florida but targeting businesses throughout the United States. That surveillance has helped to paint a detailed picture of how business ID thieves operate, as well as the tricks they use to gain credit in a company’s name.

Hold Security founder Alex Holden said the group appears to target both active and dormant or inactive small businesses. The gang typically will start by looking up the business ownership records at the Secretary of State website that corresponds to the company’s state of incorporation. From there, they identify the officers and owners of the company, acquire their Social Security and Tax ID numbers from the dark web and other sources online.

To prove ownership over the hijacked firms, they hire low-wage image editors online to help fabricate and/or modify a number of official documents tied to the business — including tax records and utility bills.

The scammers frequently then file phony documents with the Secretary of State’s office in the name(s) of the business owners, but include a mailing address that they control. They also create email addresses and domain names that mimic the names of the owners and the company to make future credit applications appear more legitimate, and submit the listings to business search websites, such as yellowpages.com.

For both dormant and existing businesses, the fraudsters attempt to create or modify the target company’s accounts at Dun & Bradstreet. In some cases, the scammers create dashboard accounts in the business’s names at Dun & Bradstreet’s credit builder portal; in others, the bad guys have actually hacked existing business accounts at DNB, requesting a new DUNS numbers for the business (a DUNS number is a unique, nine-digit identifier for businesses).

Finally, after the bogus profiles are approved by Dun & Bradstreet, the gang waits a few weeks or months and then starts applying for new lines of credit in the target business’s name at stores like Home Depot, Office Depot and Staples. Then they go on a buying spree with the cards issued by those stores.

Usually, the first indication a victim has that they’ve been targeted is when the debt collection companies start calling.

“They are using mostly small companies that are still active businesses but currently not operating because of COVID-19,” Holden said. “With this gang, we see four or five people working together. The team leader manages the work between people. One person seems to be in charge of getting stolen cards from the dark web to pay for the reactivation of businesses through the secretary of state sites. Another team member works on revising the business documents and registering them on various sites. The others are busy looking for specific businesses they want to revive.”

Holden said the gang appears to find success in getting new lines of credit with about 20 percent of the businesses they target.

“One’s personal credit is nothing compared to the ability of corporations to borrow money,” he said. “That’s bad because while the credit system may be flawed for individuals, it’s an even worse situation on average when we’re talking about businesses.”

Holden said over the past few months his firm has seen communications between the gang’s members indicating they have temporarily shifted more of their energy and resources to defrauding states and the federal government by filing unemployment insurance claims and apply for pandemic assistance loans with the Small Business Administration.

“It makes sense, because they’ve already got control over all these dormant businesses,” he said. “So they’re now busy trying to get unemployment payments and SBA loans in the names of these companies and their employees.”

PHANTOM OFFICES

Hold Security shared data intercepted from the gang that listed the personal and financial details of dozens of companies targeted for ID theft, including Dun & Bradstreet logins the crooks had created for the hijacked businesses. Dun & Bradstreet declined to comment on the matter, other than to say it was working with federal and state authorities to alert affected businesses and state regulators.

Among those targeted was Environmental Safety Consultants Inc. (ESC), a 37-year-old environmental engineering firm based in Bradenton, Fla. ESC owner Scott Russell estimates his company was initially targeted nearly two years ago, and that he first became aware something wasn’t right when he recently began getting calls from Home Depot’s corporate offices inquiring about the company’s delinquent account.

But Russell said he didn’t quite grasp the enormity of the situation until last year, when he was contacted by the manager of a virtual office space across town who told him about a suspiciously large number of deliveries at an office space that was rented out in his name.

Russell had never rented that particular office. Rather, the thieves had done it for him, using his name and the name of his business. The office manager said the deliveries came virtually non-stop, even though there was apparently no business operating within the rented premises. And in each case, shortly after the shipments arrived someone would show up and cart them away.

“She said we don’t think it’s you,” he recalled. “Turns out, they had paid for a lease in my name with someone else’s credit card. She shared with me a copy of the lease, which included a fraudulent ID and even a vehicle insurance card for a Land Cruiser we got rid of like 15 years ago. The application listed our home address with me and some woman who was not my wife’s name.”

The crates and boxes being delivered to his erstwhile office space were mostly computers and other high-priced items ordered from 10 different Office Depot credit cards that also were not in his name.

“The total value of the electronic equipment that was bought and delivered there was something like $75,000,” Russell said, noting that it took countless hours and phone calls with Office Depot to make it clear they would no longer accept shipments addressed to him or his company. “It was quite spine-tingling to see someone penned a lease in the name of my business and personal identity.”

Even though the virtual office manager had the presence of mind to take photocopies of the driver’s licenses presented by the people arriving to pick up the fraudulent shipments, the local police seemed largely uninterested in pursuing the case, Russell said.

“I went to the local county sheriff’s office and showed them all the documentation I had and the guy just yawned and said he’d get right on it,” he recalled. “The place where the office space was rented was in another county, and the detective I spoke to there about it was interested, but he could never get anyone from my county to follow up.”

RECYCLING VICTIMS

Russell said he believes the fraudsters initially took out new lines of credit in his company’s name and then used those to defraud others in a similar way. One of those victims is another victim on the gang’s target list obtained by Hold Security — Mary McMahan, owner of Fan Experiences, an event management company in Winter Park, Fla.

McMahan also had stolen goods from Office Depot and other stores purchased in her company’s name and delivered to the same office space rented in Russell’s name. McMahan said she and her businesses have suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraud, and spent nearly as much in legal fees fending off collections firms and restoring her company’s credit.

McMahan said she first began noticing trouble almost four years ago, when someone started taking out new credit cards in her company’s name. At the same time, her business was used to open a new lease on a virtual office space in Florida that also began receiving packages tied to other companies victimized by business ID theft.

“About four years back, they hit my credit hard for a year, getting all these new lines of credit at Home Depot, Office Depot, Office Max, you name it,” she said. “Then they came back again two years ago and hit it hard for another year. They even went to the [Florida Department of Motor Vehicles] to get a driver’s license in my name.”

McMahan said the thieves somehow hacked her DNB account, and then began adding new officers and locations for her business listing.

“They changed the email and mailing address, and even went on Yelp and Google and did the same,” she said.

McMahan said she’s since locked down her personal and business credit to the point where even she would have a tough time getting a new line of credit or mortgage if she tried.

“There’s no way they can even utilize me anymore because there’s so many marks on my credit stating that it’s been stolen” she said. “These guys are relentless, and they recycle victims to defraud others until they figure out they can’t recycle them anymore.”

SAY…THAT’S A NICE CREDIT PROFILE YOU GOT THERE…

McMahan says she, too, has filed multiple reports about the crimes with local police, but has so far seen little evidence that anyone is interested in following up on the matter. For now, she is paying Dun and Bradstreet more than a $100 a month to monitor her business credit profile.

Dun & Bradstreet does offer a free version of credit monitoring called Credit Signal that lets business owners check their business credit scores and any inquiries made in the previous 14 days up to four times a year. However, those looking for more frequent checks or additional information about specific credit inquiries beyond 14 days are steered toward DNB’s subscription-based services.

Eva Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a California-based nonprofit that assists ID theft victims, said she finds that troubling.

“When we look at these institutions that are necessary for us to operate and function in society and they start to charge us a fee for a service to fix a problem they helped create through their infrastructure, that’s just unconscionable,” Velasquez said. “We need to take a hard look at the infrastructures that businesses are beholden to and make sure the risk minimization protections they’re entitled to are not fee-based — particularly if it’s a problem created by the very infrastructure of the system.”

Velasquez said it’s unfortunate that small business owners don’t have the same protections afforded to consumers. For example, only recently did the three major consumer reporting bureaus allow all U.S. residents to place a freeze on their credit files for free.

“We’ve done a good job in educating the public that anyone can be victim of identity theft, and in compelling our infrastructure to provide robust consumer protection and risk minimization processes that are more uniform,” she said. “It’s still not good by any means, but it’s definitely better for consumers than it is for businesses. We currently put all the responsibility on the small business owner, and very little on the infrastructure and processes that should be designed to protect them but aren’t doing a great job, frankly.”

Rather, the onus continues to be on the business owner to periodically check with DNB and state agencies to monitor for any signs of unauthorized changes. Worse still, too many private and public organizations still don’t do a good enough job protecting employee identification and tax ID numbers that are so often abused in business identity theft, Velasquez said.

“You can put alerts and other protections in place but the problem is you have to go on a department by department and case by case basis,” she said. “The place to begin is your secretary of state’s office or wherever you file your documents to operate your business.

For its part, Dun & Bradstreet recently published a blog post outlining recommendations for businesses to ward off identity thieves. DNB says anyone who suspects fraudulent activity on their account should contact its support team.

Planet DebianMatthew Garrett: Filesystem deduplication is a sidechannel

First off - nothing I'm going to talk about in this post is novel or overly surprising, I just haven't found a clear writeup of it before. I'm not criticising any design decisions or claiming this is an important issue, just raising something that people might otherwise be unaware of.

With that out of the way: Automatic deduplication of data is a feature of modern filesystems like zfs and btrfs. It takes two forms - inline, where the filesystem detects that data being written to disk is identical to data that already exists on disk and simply references the existing copy rather than, and offline, where tooling retroactively identifies duplicated data and removes the duplicate copies (zfs supports inline deduplication, btrfs only currently supports offline). In a world where disks end up with multiple copies of cloud or container images, deduplication can free up significant amounts of disk space.

What's the security implication? The problem is that deduplication doesn't recognise ownership - if two users have copies of the same file, only one copy of the file will be stored[1]. So, if user a stores a file, the amount of free space will decrease. If user b stores another copy of the same file, the amount of free space will remain the same. If user b is able to check how much free space is available, user b can determine whether the file already exists.

This doesn't seem like a huge deal in most cases, but it is a violation of expected behaviour (if user b doesn't have permission to read user a's files, user b shouldn't be able to determine whether user a has a specific file). But we can come up with some convoluted cases where it becomes more relevant, such as law enforcement gaining unprivileged access to a system and then being able to demonstrate that a specific file already exists on that system. Perhaps more interestingly, it's been demonstrated that free space isn't the only sidechannel exposed by deduplication - deduplication has an impact on access timing, and can be used to infer the existence of data across virtual machine boundaries.

As I said, this is almost certainly not something that matters in most real world scenarios. But with so much discussion of CPU sidechannels over the past couple of years, it's interesting to think about what other features also end up leaking information in ways that may not be obvious.

(Edit to add: deduplication isn't enabled on zfs by default and is explicitly triggered on btrfs, so unless it's something you've enabled then this isn't something that affects you)

[1] Deduplication is usually done at the block level rather than the file level, but given zfs's support for variable sized blocks, identical files should be deduplicated even if they're smaller than the maximum record size

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Planet DebianWouter Verhelst: giphy.gif

Planet DebianWouter Verhelst: On Statements, Facts, Hypotheses, Science, Religion, and Opinions

The other day, we went to a designer's fashion shop whose owner was rather adamant that he was never ever going to wear a face mask, and that he didn't believe the COVID-19 thing was real. When I argued for the opposing position, he pretty much dismissed what I said out of hand, claiming that "the hospitals are empty dude" and "it's all a lie". When I told him that this really isn't true, he went like "well, that's just your opinion". Well, no -- certain things are facts, not opinions. Even if you don't believe that this disease kills people, the idea that this is a matter of opinion is missing the ball by so much that I was pretty much stunned by the level of ignorance.

His whole demeanor pissed me off rather quickly. While I disagree with the position that it should be your decision whether or not to wear a mask, it's certainly possible to have that opinion. However, whether or not people need to go to hospitals is not an opinion -- it's something else entirely.

After calming down, the encounter got me thinking, and made me focus on something I'd been thinking about before but hadn't fully forumlated: the fact that some people in this world seem to misunderstand the nature of what it is to do science, and end up, under the claim of being "sceptical", with various nonsense things -- see scientology, flat earth societies, conspiracy theories, and whathaveyou.

So, here's something that might (but probably won't) help some people figuring out stuff. Even if it doesn't, it's been bothering me and I want to write it down so it won't bother me again. If you know all this stuff, it might be boring and you might want to skip this post. Otherwise, take a deep breath and read on...

Statements are things people say. They can be true or false; "the sun is blue" is an example of a statement that is trivially false. "The sun produces light" is another one that is trivially true. "The sun produces light through a process that includes hydrogen fusion" is another statement, one that is a bit more difficult to prove true or false. Another example is "Wouter Verhelst does not have a favourite color". That happens to be a true statement, but it's fairly difficult for anyone that isn't me (or any one of the other Wouters Verhelst out there) to validate as true.

While statements can be true or false, combining statements without more context is not always possible. As an example, the statement "Wouter Verhelst is a Debian Developer" is a true statement, as is the statement "Wouter Verhelst is a professional Volleybal player"; but the statement "Wouter Verhelst is a professional Volleybal player and a Debian Developer" is not, because while I am a Debian Developer, I am not a professional Volleybal player -- I just happen to share a name with someone who is.

A statement is never a fact, but it can describe a fact. When a statement is a true statement, either because we trivially know what it states to be true or because we have performed an experiment that proved beyond any possible doubt that the statement is true, then what the statement describes is a fact. For example, "Red is a color" is a statement that describes a fact (because, yes, red is definitely a color, that is a fact). Such statements are called statements of fact. There are other possible statements. "Grass is purple" is a statement, but it is not a statement of fact; because as everyone knows, grass is (usually) green.

A statement can also describe an opinion. "The Porsche 911 is a nice car" is a statement of opinion. It is one I happen to agree with, but it is certainly valid for someone else to make a statement that conflicts with this position, and there is nothing wrong with that. As the saying goes, "opinions are like assholes: everyone has one". Statements describing opinions are known as statements of opinion.

The differentiating factor between facts and opinions is that facts are universally true, whereas opinions only hold for the people who state the opinion and anyone who agrees with them. Sometimes it's difficult or even impossible to determine whether a statement is true or not. The statement "The numbers that win the South African Powerball lottery on the 31st of July 2020 are 2, 3, 5, 19, 35, and powerball 14" is not a statement of fact, because at the time of writing, the 31st of July 2020 is in the future, which at this point gives it a 1 in 24,435,180 chance to be true). However, that does not make it a statement of opinion; it is not my opinion that the above numbers will win the South African powerball; instead, it is my guess that those numbers will be correct. Another word for "guess" is hypothesis: a hypothesis is a statement that may be universally true or universally false, but for which the truth -- or its lack thereof -- cannot currently be proven beyond doubt. On Saturday, August 1st, 2020 the above statement about the South African Powerball may become a statement of fact; most likely however, it will instead become a false statement.

An unproven hypothesis may be expressed as a matter of belief. The statement "There is a God who rules the heavens and the Earth" cannot currently (or ever) be proven beyond doubt to be either true or false, which by definition makes it a hypothesis; however, for matters of religion this is entirely unimportant, as for believers the belief that the statement is correct is all that matters, whereas for nonbelievers the truth of that statement is not at all relevant. A belief is not an opinion; an opinion is not a belief.

Scientists do not deal with unproven hypotheses, except insofar that they attempt to prove, through direct observation of nature (either out in the field or in a controlled laboratory setting) that the hypothesis is, in fact, a statement of fact. This makes unprovable hypotheses unscientific -- but that does not mean that they are false, or even that they are uninteresting statements. Unscientific statements are merely statements that science cannot either prove or disprove, and that therefore lie outside of the realm of what science deals with.

Given that background, I have always found the so-called "conflict" between science and religion to be a non-sequitur. Religion deals in one type of statements; science deals in another. The do not overlap, since a statement can either be proven or it cannot, and religious statements by their very nature focus on unprovable belief rather than universal truth. Sure, the range of things that science has figured out the facts about has grown over time, which implies that religious statements have sometimes been proven false; but is it heresy to say that "animals exist that can run 120 kph" if that is the truth, even if such animals don't exist in, say, Rome?

Something very similar can be said about conspiracy theories. Yes, it is possible to hypothesize that NASA did not send men to the moon, and that all the proof contrary to that statement was somehow fabricated. However, by its very nature such a hypothesis cannot be proven or disproven (because the statement states that all proof was fabricated), which therefore implies that it is an unscientific statement.

It is good to be sceptical about what is being said to you. People can have various ideas about how the world works, but only one of those ideas -- one of the possible hypotheses -- can be true. As long as a hypothesis remains unproven, scientists love to be sceptical themselves. In fact, if you can somehow prove beyond doubt that a scientific hypothesis is false, scientists will love you -- it means they now know something more about the world and that they'll have to come up with something else, which is a lot of fun.

When a scientific experiment or observation proves that a certain hypothesis is true, then this probably turns the hypothesis into a statement of fact. That is, it is of course possible that there's a flaw in the proof, or that the experiment failed (but that the failure was somehow missed), or that no observance of a particular event happened when a scientist tried to observe something, but that this was only because the scientist missed it. If you can show that any of those possibilities hold for a scientific proof, then you'll have turned a statement of fact back into a hypothesis, or even (depending on the exact nature of the flaw) into a false statement.

There's more. It's human nature to want to be rich and famous, sometimes no matter what the cost. As such, there have been scientists who have falsified experimental results, or who have claimed to have observed something when this was not the case. For that reason, a scientific paper that gets written after an experiment turned a hypothesis into fact describes not only the results of the experiment and the observed behavior, but also the methodology: the way in which the experiment was run, with enough details so that anyone can retry the experiment.

Sometimes that may mean spending a large amount of money just to be able to run the experiment (most people don't have an LHC in their backyard, say), and in some cases some of the required materials won't be available (the latter is expecially true for, e.g., certain chemical experiments that involve highly explosive things); but the information is always there, and if you spend enough time and money reading through the available papers, you will be able to independently prove the hypothesis yourself. Scientists tend to do just that; when the results of a new experiment are published, they will try to rerun the experiment, partially because they want to see things with their own eyes; but partially also because if they can find fault in the experiment or the observed behavior, they'll have reason to write a paper of their own, which will make them a bit more rich and famous.

I guess you could say that there's three types of people who deal with statements: scientists, who deal with provable hypotheses and statements of fact (but who have no use for unprovable hypotheses and statements of opinion); religious people and conspiracy theorists, who deal with unprovable hypotheses (where the religious people deal with these to serve a large cause, while conspiracy theorists only care about the unprovable hypotheses); and politicians, who should care about proven statements of fact and produce statements of opinion, but who usually attempt the reverse of those two these days :-/

Anyway...

mic drop

Cory DoctorowSomeone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 11)

Here’s part eleven of my new reading of my novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (you can follow all the installments, as well as the reading I did in 2008/9, here).

This is easily the weirdest novel I ever wrote. Gene Wolfe (RIP) gave me an amazing quote for it: “Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is a glorious book, but there are hundreds of those. It is more. It is a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read.”

Here’s how my publisher described it when it came out:

Alan is a middle-aged entrepeneur who moves to a bohemian neighborhood of Toronto. Living next door is a young woman who reveals to him that she has wings—which grow back after each attempt to cut them off.

Alan understands. He himself has a secret or two. His father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine, and among his brothers are sets of Russian nesting dolls.

Now two of the three dolls are on his doorstep, starving, because their innermost member has vanished. It appears that Davey, another brother who Alan and his siblings killed years ago, may have returned, bent on revenge.

Under the circumstances it seems only reasonable for Alan to join a scheme to blanket Toronto with free wireless Internet, spearheaded by a brilliant technopunk who builds miracles from scavenged parts. But Alan’s past won’t leave him alone—and Davey isn’t the only one gunning for him and his friends.

Whipsawing between the preposterous, the amazing, and the deeply felt, Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is unlike any novel you have ever read.

MP3

LongNowDiscovery in Mexican Cave May Drastically Change the Known Timeline of Humans’ Arrival to the Americas

Human history in the Americas may be twice long as long as previously believed — at least 26,500 years — according to authors of a new study at Mexico’s Chiquihuite cave and other sites throughout Central Mexico.

According to the study’s lead author Ciprian Ardelean:

“This site alone can’t be considered a definitive conclusion. But with other sites in North America like Gault (Texas), Bluefish Caves (Yukon), maybe Cactus Hill (Virginia)—it’s strong enough to favor a valid hypothesis that there were humans here probably before and almost surely during the Last Glacial Maximum.”

Planet DebianSteve Kemp: Growing food is fun.

"I grew up on a farm" is something I sometimes what I tell people. It isn't true, but it is a useful shorthand. What is true is that my parents both come from a farming background, my father's family up in Scotland, my mother's down in Yorkshire.

Every summer my sisters and myself would have a traditional holiday at the seaside, which is what people do in the UK (Blackpool, Scarborough, Great Yarmouth, etc). Before, or after, that we'd spend the rest of the summer living on my grandmother's farm.

I loved spending time on the farm when I was a kid, and some of my earliest memories date from that time. For example I remember hand-feeding carrots to working dogs (alsatians) that were taller than I was. I remember trying to ride on the backs of those dogs, and how that didn't end well. In fact the one and only time I can recall my grandmother shouting at me, or raising her voice at all, was when my sisters and I spent an afternoon playing in the coal-shed. We were filthy and covered in coal-dust from head to toe. Awesome!

Anyway the only reason I bring this up is because I have a little bit of a farming background, largely irrelevant in my daily life, but also a source of pleasant memories. Despite it being an animal farm (pigs, sheep, cows) there was also a lot of home-grown food, which my uncle Albert would deliver/sell to people nearby out of the back of a van. That same van that would be used to ferry us to see the fireworks every November. Those evenings were very memorable too - they would almost always involve flasks of home-made vegetable soup.

Nowadays I live in Finland, and earlier in the year we received access to an allotment - a small piece of land (10m x 10m) for €50/year - upon which we can grow our own plants, etc.

My wife decided to plant flowers and make it look pretty. She did good.

I decided to plant "food". I might not have done this stuff from scratch before, but I was pretty familiar with the process from my youth, and also having the internet to hand to make the obvious searches such as "How do you know when you can harvest your garlic?"

Before I started I figured it couldn't be too hard, after all if you leave onions/potatoes in the refrigerator for long enough they start to grow! It isn't like you have to do too much to help them. In short it has been pretty easy and I'm definitely going to be doing more of it next year.

I've surprised myself by enjoying the process as much as I have. Every few days I go and rip up the weeds, and water the things we've planted. So far I've planted, and harvested, Radish, Garlic, Onions, and in a few more weeks I'll be digging up potatoes.

I have no particular point to this post, except to say that if you have a few hours spare a week, and a slab of land to hand upon which you can dig and plant I'd recommend it. Sure there were annoyances, and not a single one of the carrot-seeds I planted showed any sign of life, but the other stuff? The stuff that grew? Very tasty, om nom nom ..

(It has to be said that when we received the plot there was a jungle growing upon it. Once we tidied it all up we found raspberries, roses, and other things. The garlic I reaped was already growing so I felt like a cheat to harvest it. That said I did plant a couple of bulbs on my balcony so I could say "I grew this from scratch". Took a while, but I did indeed harvest my own garlic.)

Planet DebianMartin Michlmayr: ledger2beancount 2.4 released

I released version 2.4 of ledger2beancount, a ledger to beancount converter.

There are two notable changes in this release:

  1. I fixed two regressions introduced in the last release. Sorry about the breakage!
  2. I improved support for hledger. I believe all syntax differences in hledger are supported now.

Here are the changes in 2.4:

  • Fix regressions introduced in version 2.3
    • Handle price directives with comments
    • Don't assume implicit conversion when price is on second posting
  • Improve support for hledger
    • Fix parsing of hledger tags
    • Support commas as decimal markers
    • Support digit group marks through commodity and D directives
    • Support end aliases directive
    • Support regex aliases
    • Recognise total balance assertions
    • Recognise sub-account balance assertions
  • Add support for define directive
  • Convert all uppercase metadata tags to all lowercase
  • Improve handling of ledger lots without cost
  • Allow transactions without postings
  • Fix parsing issue in commodity declarations
  • Support commodities that contain quotation marks
  • Add --version option to show version
  • Document problem of mixing apply and include

Thanks to Kirill Goncharov for pointing out one regressions, to Taylor R Campbell for for a patch, to Stefano Zacchiroli for some input, and finally to Simon Michael for input on hledger!

You can get ledger2beancount from GitHub

Worse Than FailureUltrabase

After a few transfers across departments at IniTech, Lydia found herself as a senior developer on an internal web team. They built intranet applications which covered everything from home-grown HR tools to home-grown supply chain tools, to home-grown CMSes, to home-grown "we really should have purchased something but the approval process is so onerous and the budgeting is so constrained that it looks cheaper to carry an IT team despite actually being much more expensive".

A new feature request came in, and it seemed extremely easy. There was a stored procedure that was normally invoked by a scheduled job. The admin users in one of the applications wanted to be able to invoke it on demand. Now, Lydia might be "senior", but she was new to the team, so she popped over to Desmond's cube to see what he thought.

"Oh, sure, we can do that, but it'll take about a week."

"A week?" Lydia asked. "A week? To add a button that invokes a stored procedure. It doesn't even take any parameters or return any results you'd need to display."

"Well, roughly 40 hours of effort, yeah. I can't promise it'd be a calendar week."

"I guess, with testing, and approvals, I could see it taking that long," Lydia said.

"Oh, no, that's just development time," Desmond said. "You're new to the team, so it's time you learned about Ultrabase."

Wyatt was the team lead. Lydia had met him briefly during her onboarding with the team, but had mostly been interacting with the other developers on the team. Wyatt, as it turned out, was a Certified Super Genius™, and was so smart that he recognized that most of their applications were, functionally, quite the same. CRUD apps, mostly. So Wyatt had "automated" the process, with his Ultrabase solution.

First, there was a configuration database. Every table, every stored procedure, every view or query, needed to be entered into the configuration database. Now, Wyatt, Certified Super Genius™, knew that he couldn't define a simple schema which would cover all the possible cases, so he didn't. He defined a fiendishly complicated schema with opaque and inconsistent validity rules. Once you had entered the data for all of your database objects, hopefully correctly, you could then execute the Data program.

The Data program would read through the configuration database, and through the glories of string concatenation generate a C# solution containing the definitions of your data model objects. The Data program itself was very fault tolerant, so fault tolerant that if anything went wrong, it still just output C# code, just not syntactically correct C# code. If the C# code couldn't compile, you needed to go back to the configuration database and figure out what was wrong.

Eventually, once you had a theoretically working data model library, you pushed the solution to the build server. That would build and sign the library with a corporate key, and publish it to their official internal software repository. This could take days or weeks to snake its way through all the various approval steps.

Once you had the official release of the datamodel, you could fire up the Data Access Layer tool, which would then pull down the signed version in the repository, and using reflection and the config database, the Data Access Layer program would generate a DAL. Assuming everything worked, you would push that to the build server, and then wait for that to wind its way through the plumbing of approvals.

Then the Business Logic Layer. Then the "Core" layer. The "UI Adapter Layer". The "Front End" layer.

Each layer required the previous layer to be in the corporate repository before you could generate it. Each layer also needed to check the config database. It was trivial to make an error that wouldn't be discovered until you tried to generate the front end layer, and if that happened, you needed to go all the way back to the beginning.

"Wyatt is working on a 'config validation tool' which he says will avoid some of these errors," Desmond said. "So we've got that to look forward to. Anyway, that's our process. Glad to have you on the team!"

Lydia was significantly less glad to be on the team, now that Desmond had given her a clearer picture of how it actually worked.

[Advertisement] Keep the plebs out of prod. Restrict NuGet feed privileges with ProGet. Learn more.

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Rondam RamblingsAbortion restrictions result in more abortions

Not that this was ever in any serious doubt, but now there is actual data published in The Lancet showing that abortion restrictions increase the number of abortions: In 2015–19, there were 121.0 million unintended pregnancies annually (80% uncertainty interval [UI] 112.8–131.5), corresponding to a global rate of 64 unintended pregnancies (UI 60–70) per 1000 women aged 15–49 years. 61% (58–63)

Rondam RamblingsMark your calendars: I am debating Ken Hovind on July 9

I've recently taken up a new hobby of debating young-earth creationists on YouTube.  (It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.)  I've done two of them so far [1][2], both on a creationist channel called Standing For Truth.  My third debate will be against Kent Hovind, one of the more prominent and, uh, outspoken members of the YEC community.  In case you haven't heard of him, here's a sample

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Krebs on SecurityThinking of a Cybersecurity Career? Read This

Thousands of people graduate from colleges and universities each year with cybersecurity or computer science degrees only to find employers are less than thrilled about their hands-on, foundational skills. Here’s a look at a recent survey that identified some of the bigger skills gaps, and some thoughts about how those seeking a career in these fields can better stand out from the crowd.

Virtually every week KrebsOnSecurity receives at least one email from someone seeking advice on how to break into cybersecurity as a career. In most cases, the aspirants ask which certifications they should seek, or what specialization in computer security might hold the brightest future.

Rarely am I asked which practical skills they should seek to make themselves more appealing candidates for a future job. And while I always preface any response with the caveat that I don’t hold any computer-related certifications or degrees myself, I do speak with C-level executives in cybersecurity and recruiters on a regular basis and frequently ask them for their impressions of today’s cybersecurity job candidates.

A common theme in these C-level executive responses is that a great many candidates simply lack hands-on experience with the more practical concerns of operating, maintaining and defending the information systems which drive their businesses.

Granted, most people who have just graduated with a degree lack practical experience. But happily, a somewhat unique aspect of cybersecurity is that one can gain a fair degree of mastery of hands-on skills and foundational knowledge through self-directed study and old fashioned trial-and-error.

One key piece of advice I nearly always include in my response to readers involves learning the core components of how computers and other devices communicate with one another. I say this because a mastery of networking is a fundamental skill that so many other areas of learning build upon. Trying to get a job in security without a deep understanding of how data packets work is a bit like trying to become a chemical engineer without first mastering the periodic table of elements.

But please don’t take my word for it. The SANS Institute, a Bethesda, Md. based security research and training firm, recently conducted a survey of more than 500 cybersecurity practitioners at 284 different companies in an effort to suss out which skills they find most useful in job candidates, and which are most frequently lacking.

The survey asked respondents to rank various skills from “critical” to “not needed.” Fully 85 percent ranked networking as a critical or “very important” skill, followed by a mastery of the Linux operating system (77 percent), Windows (73 percent), common exploitation techniques (73 percent), computer architectures and virtualization (67 percent) and data and cryptography (58 percent). Perhaps surprisingly, only 39 percent ranked programming as a critical or very important skill (I’ll come back to this in a moment).

How did the cybersecurity practitioners surveyed grade their pool of potential job candidates on these critical and very important skills? The results may be eye-opening:

“Employers report that student cybersecurity preparation is largely inadequate and are frustrated that they have to spend months searching before they find qualified entry-level employees if any can be found,” said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute. “We hypothesized that the beginning of a pathway toward resolving those challenges and helping close the cybersecurity skills gap would be to isolate the capabilities that employers expected but did not find in cybersecurity graduates.”

The truth is, some of the smartest, most insightful and talented computer security professionals I know today don’t have any computer-related certifications under their belts. In fact, many of them never even went to college or completed a university-level degree program.

Rather, they got into security because they were passionately and intensely curious about the subject, and that curiosity led them to learn as much as they could — mainly by reading, doing, and making mistakes (lots of them).

I mention this not to dissuade readers from pursuing degrees or certifications in the field (which may be a basic requirement for many corporate HR departments) but to emphasize that these should not be viewed as some kind of golden ticket to a rewarding, stable and relatively high-paying career.

More to the point, without a mastery of one or more of the above-mentioned skills, you simply will not be a terribly appealing or outstanding job candidate when the time comes.

BUT..HOW?

So what should you focus on, and what’s the best way to get started? First, understand that while there are a near infinite number of ways to acquire knowledge and virtually no limit to the depths you can explore, getting your hands dirty is the fastest way to learning.

No, I’m not talking about breaking into someone’s network, or hacking some poor website. Please don’t do that without permission. If you must target third-party services and sites, stick to those that offer recognition and/or incentives for doing so through bug bounty programs, and then make sure you respect the boundaries of those programs.

Besides, almost anything you want to learn by doing can be replicated locally. Hoping to master common vulnerability and exploitation techniques? There are innumerable free resources available; purpose-built exploitation toolkits like Metasploit, WebGoat, and custom Linux distributions like Kali Linux that are well supported by tutorials and videos online. Then there are a number of free reconnaissance and vulnerability discovery tools like Nmap, Nessus, OpenVAS and Nikto. This is by no means a complete list.

Set up your own hacking labs. You can do this with a spare computer or server, or with older hardware that is plentiful and cheap on places like eBay or Craigslist. Free virtualization tools like VirtualBox can make it simple to get friendly with different operating systems without the need of additional hardware.

Or look into paying someone else to set up a virtual server that you can poke at. Amazon’s EC2 services are a good low-cost option here. If it’s web application testing you wish to learn, you can install any number of web services on computers within your own local network, such as older versions of WordPress, Joomla or shopping cart systems like Magento.

Want to learn networking? Start by getting a decent book on TCP/IP and really learning the network stack and how each layer interacts with the other.

And while you’re absorbing this information, learn to use some tools that can help put your newfound knowledge into practical application. For example, familiarize yourself with Wireshark and Tcpdump, handy tools relied upon by network administrators to troubleshoot network and security problems and to understand how network applications work (or don’t). Begin by inspecting your own network traffic, web browsing and everyday computer usage. Try to understand what applications on your computer are doing by looking at what data they are sending and receiving, how, and where.

ON PROGRAMMING

While being able to program in languages like Go, Java, Perl, Python, C or Ruby may or may not be at the top of the list of skills demanded by employers, having one or more languages in your skillset is not only going to make you a more attractive hire, it will also make it easier to grow your knowledge and venture into deeper levels of mastery.

It is also likely that depending on which specialization of security you end up pursuing, at some point you will find your ability to expand that knowledge is somewhat limited without understanding how to code.

For those intimidated by the idea of learning a programming language, start by getting familiar with basic command line tools on Linux. Just learning to write basic scripts that automate specific manual tasks can be a wonderful stepping stone. What’s more, a mastery of creating shell scripts will pay handsome dividends for the duration of your career in almost any technical role involving computers (regardless of whether you learn a specific coding language).

GET HELP

Make no mistake: Much like learning a musical instrument or a new language, gaining cybersecurity skills takes most people a good deal of time and effort. But don’t get discouraged if a given topic of study seems overwhelming at first; just take your time and keep going.

That’s why it helps to have support groups. Seriously. In the cybersecurity industry, the human side of networking takes the form of conferences and local meetups. I cannot stress enough how important it is for both your sanity and career to get involved with like-minded people on a semi-regular basis.

Many of these gatherings are free, including Security BSides events, DEFCON groups, and OWASP chapters. And because the tech industry continues to be disproportionately populated by men, there are also a number cybersecurity meetups and membership groups geared toward women, such as the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu and others listed here.

Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, chances are there’s a number of security conferences and security meetups in your general area. But even if you do reside in the boonies, the good news is many of these meetups are going virtual to avoid the ongoing pestilence that is the COVID-19 epidemic.

In summary, don’t count on a degree or certification to prepare you for the kinds of skills employers are going to understandably expect you to possess. That may not be fair or as it should be, but it’s likely on you to develop and nurture the skills that will serve your future employer(s) and employability in this field.

I’m certain that readers here have their own ideas about how newbies, students and those contemplating a career shift into cybersecurity can best focus their time and efforts. Please feel free to sound off in the comments. I may even update this post to include some of the better recommendations.

CryptogramFriday Squid Blogging: Introducing the Seattle Kraken

The Kraken is the name of Seattle's new NFL franchise.

I have always really liked collective nouns as sports team names (like the Utah Jazz or the Minnesota Wild), mostly because it's hard to describe individual players.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

LongNowThe Comet Neowise as seen from the ISS

For everyone who cannot see the Comet Neowise with their own eyes this week — or just wants to see it from a higher perch — this video by artist Seán Doran combines 550 NASA images from the International Space Station into a real-time view of the comet from 250 miles above Earth’s surface and 17,500 mph.

CryptogramUpdate on NIST's Post-Quantum Cryptography Program

NIST has posted an update on their post-quantum cryptography program:

After spending more than three years examining new approaches to encryption and data protection that could defeat an assault from a quantum computer, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has winnowed the 69 submissions it initially received down to a final group of 15. NIST has now begun the third round of public review. This "selection round" will help the agency decide on the small subset of these algorithms that will form the core of the first post-quantum cryptography standard.

[...]

For this third round, the organizers have taken the novel step of dividing the remaining candidate algorithms into two groups they call tracks. The first track contains the seven algorithms that appear to have the most promise.

"We're calling these seven the finalists," Moody said. "For the most part, they're general-purpose algorithms that we think could find wide application and be ready to go after the third round."

The eight alternate algorithms in the second track are those that either might need more time to mature or are tailored to more specific applications. The review process will continue after the third round ends, and eventually some of these second-track candidates could become part of the standard. Because all of the candidates still in play are essentially survivors from the initial group of submissions from 2016, there will also be future consideration of more recently developed ideas, Moody said.

"The likely outcome is that at the end of this third round, we will standardize one or two algorithms for encryption and key establishment, and one or two others for digital signatures," he said. "But by the time we are finished, the review process will have been going on for five or six years, and someone may have had a good idea in the interim. So we'll find a way to look at newer approaches too."

Details are here. This is all excellent work, and exemplifies NIST at its best. The quantum-resistant algorithms will be standardized far in advance of any practical quantum computer, which is how we all want this sort of thing to go.

Kevin RuddCNN: Cold War 1.5

INTERVIEW VIDEO
TV INTERVIEW
CONNECT THE WORLD, CNN
24 JULY 2020

Topics: US-China relations, Australia’s coronavirus second wave

BECKY ANDERSON: Kevin Rudd is the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and he’s joining us now from the Sunshine Coast in Australia. It’s great to have you. This type of rhetoric you say is not new. But it does feel like we are approaching a precipitous point.

KEVIN RUDD: Well Becky, I think there’s been a lot of debate in recent months as to whether we’re on the edge of a new Cold War between China and the United States. Rather than being Cold War 2.0, I basically see it as Cold War 1.5. That is, it’s sliding in that direction, and sliding rapidly in that direction. But we’re by no means there yet. And one of the reasons we’re not there yet is because of the continued depth and breadth of the economic relationship between China and the United States, which was never the case, in terms of the historical relationship, between the United States and the Soviet Union during the first Cold War. That may change, but that I think is where we are right now.

ANDERSON: We haven’t seen an awful lot of retaliation nor very much of a narrative really from Beijing in response to some of this US anti-China narrative. What do you expect next from Beijing?

RUDD: Well, in terms of the consulate general, I think as night follows day, you’re likely to see either a radical reduction in overall American diplomatic staff numbers in China and consular staff numbers, or the direct reciprocal action, which would close for example, the US Consulate General in perhaps Chengdu or Wuhan or in Shenyang, somewhere like that. But this as you said before in your introduction, Becky, forms just one part of a much broader deterioration relationship. I’ve been observing the US-China relationship for the better part of 35 years. Really, since Nixon and Kissinger first went to Beijing in 1971/1972. This is the low point, the lowest point of the US-China relationship in now half a century. And it’s only heading in one direction. Is there an exit ramp? Open question. But the dynamics both in Beijing and in Washington are pulling this relationship right apart, and that leaves third countries in an increasingly difficult position.

ANDERSON: Yes, and I wanted to talk to you about that because Australia is continually torn between the sort of economic relationship with China that it has, and its strategic partnership with the US. We have seen the US to all intents and purposes, leaning on the UK over Huawei. How should other countries engage with China going forward?

RUDD: Well, one thing I think is to understand that Xi Jinping’s China is quite different from the China of Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin or even Deng Xiaoping. And since Xi Jinping took over in 2012/2013, it’s a much more assertive China, right across the board. And even in this COVID reality of 2020, we see not just the Hong Kong national security legislation, we see new actions by China in the South China Sea, against Taiwan, against Japan, in the East China Sea, on the Sino-Indian border, and the frictions with Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom – you’ve just mentioned – and elsewhere as well. So, this is a new, assertive China – quite different from the one we’ve seen in the past. So, your question is entirely valid – how do, as it were, the democracies of Asia and the democracies of Europe and elsewhere respond to this new phenomenon on the global stage? I think it’s along these lines. Number one, be confident in the position which democracies have, that we believe in universal values, and human rights and democracy. And we’re not about to change. Number two, many of us, whether we’re in Asia or Europe, or longstanding allies, the United States, that’s not about change. But number three, to make it plain to our Chinese friends that on a reciprocal basis, we wish to have a mutually productive trade, investment, and capital markets relationship. And four, the big challenges of global governance – whether it’s pandemics, or climate change, or stability of global financial markets, and the current crisis we have around the world – where it is incumbent on all of us to work together. I think those four principles form a basis for us dealing with Xi Jinping’s China.

ANDERSON: Kevin, do you see this as a Cold War?

RUDD: As I said before, we’re trending that way. As I said, the big difference between the Soviet Union and the United States is that China and the United States are deeply economically in mesh and have become that way over the last 20 years or so. And that never was the case in the old Cold War. Secondly, in the old Cold War, we basically had a strategic relationship of mutually assured destruction, which came to the flashpoint of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s. That’s not the case either. But I’ve got to say in all honesty, it’s trending in a fundamentally negative direction, and when we start to see actions like shutting down each other’s consulate generals, that does remind me of where we got to in the last Cold War as well. There should be an exit ramp, but it’s going to require a new strategic framework for the US-China relationship, based on what I describe as: manage strategic competition between these two powers, where each side’s red lines are well recognized, understood and observed – and competition occurs, as it were, in all other domains. At present, we don’t seem to have parameters or red lines at all.

ANDERSON: And we might have had this discussion four or five months ago. The new layer of course, is the coronavirus pandemic and the way that the US has responded which you say has provided an opportunity for the Chinese to steal a march on the US with regard to its position and its power around the world. Is Beijing, do you think – if you believe that there is a power vacuum at present after this coronavirus response – is Beijing taking advantage of that vacuum?

RUDD: Well, when the coronavirus broke out, China was, by definition, in a defensive position, because the virus came from Wuhan, and therefore, as the virus then spread across the world, China found itself in a deeply problematic position – not just the damage to its economy at home – but frankly its reputation abroad as well. However, President Trump’s America has demonstrated to the world that a) his administration can’t handle the virus within the United States itself, and b) there has been a phenomenal lack of American global leadership in dealing with the public health and global economic dimensions of – let’s call it the COVID-19 crisis – across the world. So, the argument that I’m attracted to is that both these great powers have been fundamentally damaged by the coronavirus crisis that has inflicted the world. So the challenge for the future is whether in fact we a) see a change in administration in Washington with Biden, and secondly, whether a democrat administration will choose to reassert American global leadership through the institutions of global governance, where frankly, the current administration has left so many vacuums across the UN system and beyond it. And that remains the open question – which I think the international community is focusing on – as we move towards that event in November, when the good people the United States cast their ballot.

ANDERSON: Yeah, no fascinating. I’ll just stick to the coronavirus for a final question for you and thank you for this sort of wide-ranging discussion. Australia, of course, applauded for its ability to act fast and flatten its coronavirus curve back in April. That has all been derailed. We’ve seen a second wave. It’s worse than the first. Earlier this week, the country reporting its worst day since the pandemic began despite new tough restrictions. What do you believe it will take to flatten the curve again? And are you concerned that the situation in Australia is slipping out of control?

RUDD: What the situation in the state of Victoria and the city of Melbourne in particular demonstrates is what we see in so many countries around the world, which is the ease with which a second wave effect can be made manifest. It’s not just of course in Australia. We see evidence of this in Hong Kong. We see it in other countries, where in fact, the initial management of the crisis was pretty effective. What the lesson of Melbourne, and the lesson of Victoria is for all of us, is that when it comes to maintaining the disciplines of social distancing, of proper quarantine arrangements, as well as contact tracing and the rest, that there is no, as it were, release of our discipline applied to these challenges. And in the case of Victoria, it was in Melbourne – it was simply a poor application of quarantine arrangements in a single hotel, or Australians returning from elsewhere in the world, that led to this community-level transmission. And that can happen in the northern part of the United Kingdom. It can happen in regional France; it can happen anywhere in Germany. What’s the message? Vigilance across the board, until we can eliminate this thing. We’ve still got a lot to learn from Jacinda Ardern’s success in New Zealand in virtually eliminating this virus altogether.

ANDERSON: With that, we’re going to leave it there. Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia, it’s always a pleasure. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.

RUDD: Good to be with you.

ANDERSON: Extremely important subject, US-China relations at present.

The post CNN: Cold War 1.5 appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Worse Than FailureError'd: Free Coff...Wait!

"Hey! I like free coffee! Let me just go ahead and...um...hold on a second..." writes Adam R.

 

"I know I have a lot of online meetings these days but I don't remember signing up for this one," Ged M. wrote.

 

Peter G. writes, "The $60 off this $1M nylon bag?! What a deal! I should buy three of them!"

 

"So, because it's free, it's null, so I guess that's how Starbucks' app logic works?" James wrote.

 

Graham K. wrote, "How very 'zen' of National Savings to give me this particular error when I went to change my address."

 

"I'm not sure I trust "scenem3.com" with their marketing services, if they send out unsolicited template messages. (Muster is German for template, Max Muster is our equivalent of John Doe.)" Lukas G. wrote.

 

[Advertisement] ProGet’s got you covered with security and access controls on your NuGet feeds. Learn more.

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Krebs on SecurityNY Charges First American Financial for Massive Data Leak

In May 2019, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that the website of mortgage title insurance giant First American Financial Corp. had exposed approximately 885 million records related to mortgage deals going back to 2003. On Wednesday, regulators in New York announced that First American was the target of their first ever cybersecurity enforcement action in connection with the incident, charges that could bring steep financial penalties.

First American Financial Corp.

Santa Ana, Calif.-based First American [NYSE:FAF] is a leading provider of title insurance and settlement services to the real estate and mortgage industries. It employs some 18,000 people and brought in $6.2 billion in 2019.

As first reported here last year, First American’s website exposed 16 years worth of digitized mortgage title insurance records — including bank account numbers and statements, mortgage and tax records, Social Security numbers, wire transaction receipts, and drivers license images.

The documents were available without authentication to anyone with a Web browser.

According to a filing (PDF) by the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), the weakness that exposed the documents was first introduced during an application software update in May 2014 and went undetected for years.

Worse still, the DFS found, the vulnerability was discovered in a penetration test First American conducted on its own in December 2018.

“Remarkably, Respondent instead allowed unfettered access to the personal and financial data of millions of its customers for six more months until the breach and its serious ramifications were widely publicized by a nationally recognized cybersecurity industry journalist,” the DFS explained in a statement on the charges.

A redacted screenshot of one of many millions of sensitive records exposed by First American’s Web site.

Reuters reports that the penalties could be significant for First American: The DFS considers each instance of exposed personal information a separate violation, and the company faces penalties of up to $1,000 per violation.

In a written statement, First American said it strongly disagrees with the DFS’s findings, and that its own investigation determined only a “very limited number” of consumers — and none from New York — had personal data accessed without permission.

In August 2019, the company said a third-party investigation into the exposure identified just 32 consumers whose non-public personal information likely was accessed without authorization.

When KrebsOnSecurity asked last year how long it maintained access logs or how far back in time that review went, First American declined to be more specific, saying only that its logs covered a period that was typical for a company of its size and nature.

But in Wednesday’s filing, the DFS said First American was unable to determine whether records were accessed prior to Jun 2018.

“Respondent’s forensic investigation relied on a review of web logs retained from June 2018 onward,” the DFS found. “Respondent’s own analysis demonstrated that during this 11-month period, more than 350,000 documents were accessed without authorization by automated ‘bots’ or ‘scraper’ programs designed to collect information on the Internet.

The records exposed by First American would have been a virtual gold mine for phishers and scammers involved in so-called Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams, which often impersonate real estate agents, closing agencies, title and escrow firms in a bid to trick property buyers into wiring funds to fraudsters. According to the FBI, BEC scams are the most costly form of cybercrime today.

First American’s stock price fell more than 6 percent the day after news of their data leak was published here. In the days that followed, the DFS and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission each announced they were investigating the company.

First American released its first quarter 2020 earnings today. A hearing on the charges alleged by the DFS is slated for Oct. 26.

Kevin RuddBloomberg: US-China Relations Worsen

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
BLOOMBERG
23 JULY 2020

TOM MACKENZIE: Let’s start with your reaction to this latest sequence of events.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, structurally, the US-China relationship is in the worst state it’s been in about 50 years. It’s 50 years next year since Henry Kissinger undertook his secret diplomacy in Beijing. So, this relationship is in trouble strategically, militarily, diplomatically, politically, economically, trade, investment technology, and of course, in the wonderful world of espionage as well. And so, whereas this is a surprising move against a Chinese consulate general of the United States, it certainly fits within the fabric of a structural deterioration relationship underway now for quite a number of years.

MACKENZIE: So far, China, Beijing has taken what many would argue would be a proportionate response to actions by the US, at least in the last few months. Is there an argument now that this kind of action, calling for the closure of this consulate in Houston, will strengthen the hands of the hardliners here in Beijing, and it will force them to take a stronger response? What do you think ultimately will be the material reaction then from Beijing

RUDD: Well, on this particular consulate general closure, I think, as night follows day, you’ll see a Chinese decision to close an American consulate general in China. There are a number already within China. I think you would look to see what would happen with the future of the US Consulate General in say Shenyang up in the northeast, or in Chengdu in the west, because this tit-for-tat is alive very much in the way in which China views the necessity politically, to respond in like form to what the Americans have done. But overall, the Chinese leadership are a very hard-bitten, deeply experienced Marxist-Leninist leadership, who look at the broad view of the US-China relationship. They see it as structurally deteriorating. They see it in part as an inevitable reaction to China’s rise. And if you look carefully at some of the internal statements by Xi Jinping in recent months, the Chinese system is gearing up for what it describes internally as 20 to 30 years of growing friction in the US-China relationship, and that will make life difficult for all countries who have deep relationships with both countries.

MACKENZIE: Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State was in London talking to his counterparts there, and he called for a coalition with allies. Presumably, that will include at some point Australia, though we have yet to hear from their leaders about the sense of a coalition against China. Do you think this is significant? Do you think this is a shift in US policy? How much traction do you think Mike Pompeo and the Trump administration will get in forming a coalition to push back against China?

RUDD: Well, the truth is, most friends and allies of the United States, are waiting to see what happens in the US presidential election. There was a general expectation that President Trump will not be re-elected. Therefore, the attitude of friends and allies of the United States: well, what will be the policy cost here of an incoming Biden administration, in relation to China, and in critical areas like the economy, trade, investment technology and the rest? Bear in mind, however, that what has happened under Xi Jinping’s leadership, since he became leader of the Chinese Communist Party the end of 2012, is that China has progressively become more assertive in the promotion of its international interests, whether it’s in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, whether it’s in Europe, whether it’s the United States, whether its countries like Australia. And therefore, what is happening is that countries who are now experiencing this for the first time – the real impact of an assertive Chinese foreign policy – are themselves beginning to push back. And so whether it’s with American leadership or not, the bottom line is that what I now observe is that countries in Europe, democracies in Europe, democracies in Asia, are increasingly in discussion with one another about how do you deal with the emerging China challenge to the international rules based system. That I think is happening as a matter of course, whether or not Mike Pompeo seeks to lead it or not.

DAVID INGLES: Mr Rudd I’d like to pick it up there. David here, by the way, in Hong Kong. In terms of what do you think is the proper way to engage an emerging China? You’ve dealt with them at many levels. You understand how sensitive their past is to their leadership, and how that shapes where they think their country should be, their ambitions. How should the world – let alone the US, let’s set that aside – how should the rest of the world engage an emerging China?

RUDD: Well you’re right. In one capacity or another, I’ve been dealing with China for the last 35 years, since I first went to work there as an Australian embassy official way back in the 1980s. It’s almost the Mesolithic period now. And I’ve seen the evolution of China’s international posture over that period of time. And certainly, there is a clear dividing line with the emergence of Xi Jinping’s leadership, where China has ceased to hide its strength, bide its time, never to take the lead – that was Deng Xiaoping’s axiom for the past. And instead, we see a China under this new leadership, which is infinitely more assertive. And so my advice to governments when they asked me about this, is that governments need to have a coordinated China strategy themselves – just as China has a strategy for dealing with the rest of the world including the major countries and economies within it. But the principles of those strategies should be pretty basic. Number one, those of us who are democracies, we simply make it plain to the Chinese leadership that that’s our nature, our identity, and we’re not about change as far as our belief in universal human rights and values are concerned. Number two, most of us are allies with the United States for historical reasons, and current reasons as well. And that’s not going to change either. Number three, we would like to however, prosecute a mutually beneficial trade and investment and capital markets relationship with you in China, that works for both of us on the basis of reciprocity in each other’s markets. And four, there are so many global challenges out there at the moment – from the pandemic, through to global climate change action, and onto financial markets stability – which require us and China to work together in the major forums of the world like the G20. I think those principles should govern everyone’s approach to how you deal with this emerging and different China.

The post Bloomberg: US-China Relations Worsen appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

CryptogramAdversarial Machine Learning and the CFAA

I just co-authored a paper on the legal risks of doing machine learning research, given the current state of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act:

Abstract: Adversarial Machine Learning is booming with ML researchers increasingly targeting commercial ML systems such as those used in Facebook, Tesla, Microsoft, IBM, Google to demonstrate vulnerabilities. In this paper, we ask, "What are the potential legal risks to adversarial ML researchers when they attack ML systems?" Studying or testing the security of any operational system potentially runs afoul the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the primary United States federal statute that creates liability for hacking. We claim that Adversarial ML research is likely no different. Our analysis show that because there is a split in how CFAA is interpreted, aspects of adversarial ML attacks, such as model inversion, membership inference, model stealing, reprogramming the ML system and poisoning attacks, may be sanctioned in some jurisdictions and not penalized in others. We conclude with an analysis predicting how the US Supreme Court may resolve some present inconsistencies in the CFAA's application in Van Buren v. United States, an appeal expected to be decided in 2021. We argue that the court is likely to adopt a narrow construction of the CFAA, and that this will actually lead to better adversarial ML security outcomes in the long term.

Medium post on the paper. News article, which uses our graphic without attribution.

Kevin RuddCNN: America, Britain and China

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TELEVISION INTERVIEW
QUEST MEANS BUSINESS, CNN
22 JULY 2020

Richard Quest
Kevin Rudd, very good to see you. The strategy that China is now employing to put pressure — you’ve already seen the result of what the US sanctions on China has done — so now what happens with Australia?

Kevin Rudd
Well, it’s important, Richard, to understand what’s driving I think Chinese government decision making, not just on the Hong Kong question, but more broadly what’s happening with a number of other significant relationships which China has in the world. Since COVID-19 has hit, what many of us have observed is China actually doubling down hard in a nationalist direction in terms of a whole range of its external relationships, whether it’s with Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, but also over questions like Hong Kong, the South China Sea, Taiwan, and look at what most recently has happened on the China-India border. And so, therefore, we see a much more hardening Chinese response across the board. And it’s inevitable in my judgment, this is going to generate reactions of the type that we’ve seen in governments from Canberra to London to other points in between.

Richard Quest
But is China in danger of fighting on too many fronts? It’s got its enormous trade war with the United States. It’s now, of course, got the problems over Hong Kong, which will add more potential sanctions and tariffs to China. Now it’s got its row with the UK and of course its recent now with Australia. So what point in your view does China have to start rowing back?

Kevin Rudd
Well, it’s an important question for the Chinese leadership now in August, Richard, because in August they retreat east of Beijing for a month of high-level meetings amongst the extended central leadership. And a central question on the agenda for this upcoming set of meetings will be a) the state of the US-China relationship, which for them is central to everything, and b) the relationship with other principal countries like the UK and c) the unstated topic will be: has China gone too far? In Chinese strategic literature, there’s an expression just like you mentioned before, Richard, that is, it’s not sensible to fight on multiple fronts simultaneously. So there’s an internal debate in China at the moment about whether, in fact, the current strategy is the right one. And therefore the impact of this decision including the British decision most recently both the impending decision on Huawei and on Hong Kong will feed into that.

Richard Quest
But Kevin, whether it’s wise or not, and bearing in mind that China has enormous problems at home, it’s not as if President Xi has, by any means, an electorate or populace, I should say, more likely, that that’s entirely behind him. But he seems determined to prosecute these disagreements with other nations, whatever the cost, and I suggest to you that because he doesn’t have to face an electorate, like all the rest of them have to.

Kevin Rudd
But the bottom line is, however, Richard, is that you then see the economic impact of China being progressively, as it were, imperilled and its principal economic relationships abroad. The big debate in Beijing, for example, with the US-China trade war in the last two years has been: has China pushed too far in order to generate the magnitude of this American reaction? Parallel logic on Huawei, parallel logic in terms of the Hong Kong national security law. So your point goes to whether Xi Jinping is domestically immune from pressure? Well, yes, China is not a liberal democracy. We all know that. It never has been, at least since 1949 and for a long time before that, as well. But there are pressures within the Communist Party at a level of sheer pragmatism, which is: is this sustainable in terms of China’s economic interests? Remember 38% of the Chinese gross domestic product is generated through the traded sector of its economy. It has an unfolding balance of payments challenge and therefore, in terms of any potential financial sanctions coming out of the Hong Kong national security law from Washington in particular. China, therefore, experiences the economic impact, which then feeds into its domestic political debate within the Communist Party.

Journalist
Kevin Rudd joining us.

The post CNN: America, Britain and China appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: A Step too Var

Astor works for a company that provides software for research surveys. Someone needed a method to return a single control object from a list of control objects, so they wrote this C# code:

 
private ResearchControl GetResearchControlFromListOfResearchControls(int theIndex, 
    List<ResearchControl> researchControls)
{
    var result = new ResearchControl();
    result = researchControls[theIndex];
    return result;
}

Astor has a theory: “I can only guess the author was planning to return some default value in some case…”

I’m sorry, Astor, but you are mistaken. Honestly, if that were the case, I wouldn’t consider this much of a WTF at all, but here we have a subtle hint about deeper levels of ignorance, and it’s all encoded in that little var.

C# is strongly typed, but declaring the type for every variable is a pain, and in many cases, it’s redundant information. So C# lets you declare a variable with var, which does type interpolation. A var variable has a type, just instead of saying what it is, we just ask the compiler to figure it out from context.

But you have to give it that context, which means you have to declare and assign to the variable in a single step.

So, imagine you’re a developer who doesn’t know C# very well. Maybe you know some JavaScript, and you’re just trying to muddle through.

“Okay, I need a variable to hold the result. I’ll type var result. Hmm. Syntax error. Why?”

The developer skims through the code, looking for similar statements, and sees a var / new construct, and thinks, “Ah, that must be what I need to do!” So var result = new ResearchControl() appears, and the syntax error goes away.

Now, that doesn’t explain all of this code. There are still more questions, like: why not just return researchControls[index] or realize that, wait, you’re just indexing an array, so why not just not write a function at all? Maybe someone had some thoughts about adding exception handling, or returning a default value in cases where there wasn’t a valid entry in the array, but none of that ever happened. Instead, we just get this little artifact of someone who didn’t know better, and who wasn’t given any direction on how to do better.

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,

Krebs on SecurityTwitter Hacking for Profit and the LoLs

The New York Times last week ran an interview with several young men who claimed to have had direct contact with those involved in last week’s epic hack against Twitter. These individuals said they were only customers of the person who had access to Twitter’s internal employee tools, and were not responsible for the actual intrusion or bitcoin scams that took place that day. But new information suggests that at least two of them operated a service that resold access to Twitter employees for the purposes of modifying or seizing control of prized Twitter profiles.

As first reported here on July 16, prior to bitcoin scam messages being blasted out from such high-profile Twitter accounts @barackobama, @joebiden, @elonmusk and @billgates, several highly desirable short-character Twitter account names changed hands, including @L, @6 and @W.

A screenshot of a Discord discussion between the key Twitter hacker “Kirk” and several people seeking to hijack high-value Twitter accounts.

Known as “original gangster” or “OG” accounts, short-character profile names confer a measure of status and wealth in certain online communities, and such accounts can often fetch thousands of dollars when resold in the underground.

The people involved in obtaining those OG accounts on July 15 said they got them from a person identified only as “Kirk,” who claimed to be a Twitter employee. According to The Times, Kirk first reached out to the group through a hacker who used the screen name “lol” on OGusers, a forum dedicated to helping users hijack and resell OG accounts from Twitter and other social media platforms. From The Times’s story:

“The hacker ‘lol’ and another one he worked with, who went by the screen name ‘ever so anxious,’ told The Times that they wanted to talk about their work with Kirk in order to prove that they had only facilitated the purchases and takeovers of lesser-known Twitter addresses early in the day. They said they had not continued to work with Kirk once he began more high-profile attacks around 3:30 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday.

‘lol’ did not confirm his real-world identity, but said he lived on the West Coast and was in his 20s. “ever so anxious” said he was 19 and lived in the south of England with his mother.

Kirk connected with “lol” late Tuesday and then “ever so anxious” on Discord early on Wednesday, and asked if they wanted to be his middlemen, selling Twitter accounts to the online underworld where they were known. They would take a cut from each transaction.”

Twice in the past year, the OGUsers forum was hacked, and both times its database of usernames, email addresses and private messages was leaked online. A review of the private messages for “lol” on OGUsers provides a glimpse into the vibrant market for the resale of prized OG accounts.

On OGUsers, lol was known to other members as someone who had a direct connection to one or more people working at Twitter who could be used to help fellow members gain access to Twitter profiles, including those that had been suspended for one reason or another. In fact, this was how lol introduced himself to the OGUsers community when he first joined.

“I have a twitter contact who I can get users from (to an extent) and I believe I can get verification from,” lol explained.

In a direct message exchange on OGUsers from November 2019, lol is asked for help from another OGUser member whose Twitter account had been suspended for abuse.

“hello saw u talking about a twitter rep could you please ask if she would be able to help unsus [unsuspend] my main and my friends business account will pay 800-1k for each,” the OGUusers profile inquires of lol.

Lol says he can’t promise anything but will look into it. “I sent her that, not sure if I will get a reply today bc its the weekend but ill let u know,” Lol says.

In another exchange, an OGUser denizen quizzes lol about his Twitter hookup.

“Does she charge for escalations? And how do you know her/what is her department/job. How do you connect with them if I may ask?”

“They are in the Client success team,” lol replies. “No they don’t charge, and I know them through a connection.”

As for how he got access to the Twitter employee, lol declines to elaborate, saying it’s a private method. “It’s a lil method, sorry I cant say.”

In another direct message, lol asks a fellow OGUser member to edit a comment in a forum discussion which included the Twitter account “@tankska,” saying it was his IRL (in real life) Twitter account and that he didn’t want to risk it getting found out or suspended (Twitter says this account doesn’t exist, but a simple text search on Twitter shows the profile was active until late 2019).

“can u edit that comment out, @tankska is a gaming twitter of mine and i dont want it to be on ogu :D’,” lol wrote. “just dont want my irl getting sus[pended].”

Still another OGUser member would post lol’s identifying information into a forum thread, calling lol by his first name — “Josh” — in a post asking lol what he might offer in an auction for a specific OG name.

“Put me down for 100, but don’t note my name in the thread please,” lol wrote.

WHO IS LOL?

The information in lol’s OGUsers registration profile indicates he was probably being truthful with The Times about his location. The hacked forum database shows a user “tankska” registered on OGUsers back in July 2018, but only made one post asking about the price of an older Twitter account for sale.

The person who registered the tankska account on OGUsers did so with the email address jperry94526@gmail.com, and from an Internet address tied to the San Ramon Unified School District in Danville, Calif.

According to 4iq.com, a service that indexes account details like usernames and passwords exposed in Web site data breaches, the jperry94526 email address was used to register accounts at several other sites over the years, including one at the apparel store Stockx.com under the profile name Josh Perry.

Tankska was active only briefly on OGUsers, but the hacked OGUsers database shows that “lol” changed his username three times over the years. Initially, it was “freej0sh,” followed by just “j0sh.”

lol did not respond to requests for comment sent to email addresses tied to his various OGU profiles and Instagram accounts.

ALWAYS IN DISCORD

Last week’s story on the Twitter compromise noted that just before the bitcoin scam tweets went out, several OG usernames changed hands. The story traced screenshots of Twitter tools posted online back to a moniker that is well-known in the OGUsers circle: PlugWalkJoe, a 21-year-old from the United Kingdom.

Speaking with The Times, PlugWalkJoe — whose real name is Joseph O’Connor — said while he acquired a single OG Twitter account (@6) through one of the hackers in direct communication with Kirk, he was otherwise not involved in the conversation.

“I don’t care,” O’Connor told The Times. “They can come arrest me. I would laugh at them. I haven’t done anything.”

In an interview with KrebsOnSecurity, O’Connor likewise asserted his innocence, suggesting at least a half dozen other hacker handles that may have been Kirk or someone who worked with Kirk on July 15, including “Voku,” “Crim/Criminal,” “Promo,” and “Aqua.”

“That twit screenshot was the first time in a while I joke[d], and evidently I shouldn’t have,” he said. “Joking is what got me into this mess.”

O’Connor shared a number of screenshots from a Discord chat conversation on the day of the Twitter hack between Kirk and two others: “Alive,” which is another handle used by lol, and “Ever So Anxious.” Both were described by The Times as middlemen who sought to resell OG Twitter names obtained from Kirk. O’Connor is referenced in these screenshots as both “PWJ” and by his Discord handle, “Beyond Insane.”

The negotiations over highly-prized OG Twitter usernames took place just prior to the hijacked celebrity accounts tweeting out bitcoin scams.

Ever So Anxious told Kirk his OGU nickname was “Chaewon,” which corresponds to a user in the United Kingdom. Just prior to the Twitter compromise, Chaewon advertised a service on the forum that could change the email address tied to any Twitter account for around $250 worth of bitcoin. O’Connor said Chaewon also operates under the hacker alias “Mason.”

“Ever So Anxious” tells Kirk his OGUsers handle is “Chaewon,” and asks Kirk to modify the display names of different OG Twitter handles to read “lol” and “PWJ”.

At one point in the conversation, Kirk tells Alive and Ever So Anxious to send funds for any OG usernames they want to this bitcoin address. The payment history of that address shows that it indeed also received approximately $180,000 worth of bitcoin from the wallet address tied to the scam messages tweeted out on July 15 by the compromised celebrity accounts.

The Twitter hacker “Kirk” telling lol/Alive and Chaewon/Mason/Ever So Anxious where to send the funds for the OG Twitter accounts they wanted.

SWIMPING

My July 15 story observed there were strong indications that the people involved in the Twitter hack have connections to SIM swapping, an increasingly rampant form of crime that involves bribing, hacking or coercing employees at mobile phone and social media companies into providing access to a target’s account.

The account “@shinji,” a.k.a. “PlugWalkJoe,” tweeting a screenshot of Twitter’s internal tools interface.

SIM swapping was thought to be behind the hijacking of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey‘s Twitter account last year. As recounted by Wired.com, @jack was hijacked after the attackers conducted a SIM swap attack against AT&T, the mobile provider for the phone number tied to Dorsey’s Twitter account.

Immediately after Jack Dorsey’s Twitter handle was hijacked, the hackers tweeted out several shout-outs, including one to @PlugWalkJoe. O’Connor told KrebsOnSecurity he has never been involved in SIM swapping, although that statement was contradicted by two law enforcement sources who closely track such crimes.

However, Chaewon’s private messages on OGusers indicate that he very much was involved in SIM swapping. Use of the term “SIM swapping” was not allowed on OGusers, and the forum administrators created an automated script that would watch for anyone trying to post the term into a private message or discussion thread.

The script would replace the term with “I do not condone illegal activities.” Hence, a portmanteau was sometimes used: “Swimping.”

“Are you still swimping?” one OGUser member asks of Chaewon on Mar. 24, 2020. “If so and got targs lmk your discord.” Chaewon responds in the affirmative, and asks the other user to share his account name on Wickr, an encrypted online messaging app that automatically deletes messages after a few days.

Chaewon/Ever So Anxious/Mason did not respond to requests for comment.

O’Connor told KrebsOnSecurity that one of the individuals thought to be associated with the July 15 Twitter hack — a young man who goes by the nickname “Voku” — is still actively involved in SIM-swapping, particularly against customers of AT&T and Verizon.

Voku is one of several hacker handles used by a Canton, Mich. youth whose mom turned him in to the local police in February 2018 when she overheard him talking on the phone and pretending to be an AT&T employee. Officers responding to the report searched the residence and found multiple cell phones and SIM cards, as well as files on the kid’s computer that included “an extensive list of names and phone numbers of people from around the world.”

The following month, Michigan authorities found the same individual accessing personal consumer data via public Wi-Fi at a local library, and seized 45 SIM cards, a laptop and a Trezor wallet — a hardware device designed to store crytpocurrency account data. In April 2018, Voku’s mom again called the cops on her son — identified only as confidential source #1 (“CS1”) in the criminal complaint against him — saying he’d obtained yet another mobile phone.

Voku’s cooperation with authorities led them to bust up a conspiracy involving at least nine individuals who stole millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency and other items of value from their targets.

CONSPIRACY

Samy Tarazi, an investigator with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, has spent hundreds of hours tracking young hackers during his tenure with REACT, a task force set up to combat SIM swapping and bring SIM swappers to justice.

According to Tarazi, multiple actors in the cybercrime underground are constantly targeting people who work in key roles at major social media and online gaming platforms, from Twitter and Instagram to Sony, Playstation and Xbox.

Tarazi said some people engaged in this activity seek to woo their targets, sometimes offering them bribes in exchange for the occasional request to unban or change the ownership of specific accounts.

All too often, however, employees at these social media and gaming platforms find themselves the object of extremely hostile and persistent personal attacks that threaten them and their families unless and until they give in to demands.

“In some cases, they’re just hitting up employees saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got a business opportunity for you, do you want to make some money?'” Tarazi explained. “In other cases, they’ve done everything from SIM swapping and swatting the victim many times to posting their personal details online or extorting the victims to give up access.”

Allison Nixon is chief research officer at Unit 221B, a cyber investigations company based in New York. Nixon says she doesn’t buy the idea that PlugWalkJoe, lol, and Ever So Anxious are somehow less culpable in the Twitter compromise, even if their claims of not being involved in the July 15 Twitter bitcoin scam are accurate.

“You have the hackers like Kirk who can get the goods, and the money people who can help them profit — the buyers and the resellers,” Nixon said. “Without the buyers and the resellers, there is no incentive to hack into all these social media and gaming companies.”

Mark Rasch, Unit 221B’s general counsel and a former U.S. federal prosecutor, said all of the players involved in the Twitter compromise of July 15 can be charged with conspiracy, a legal concept in the criminal statute which holds that any co-conspirators are liable for the acts of any other co-conspirator in furtherance of the crime, even if they don’t know who those other people are in real life or what else they may have been doing at the time.

“Conspiracy has been called the prosecutor’s friend because it makes the agreement the crime,” Rasch said. “It’s a separate crime in addition to the underlying crime, whether it be breaking in to a network, data theft or account takeover. The ‘I just bought some usernames and gave or sold them to someone else’ excuse is wrong because it’s a conspiracy and these people obviously don’t realize that.”

In a statement on its ongoing investigation into the July 15 incident, Twitter said it resulted from a small number of employees being manipulated through a social engineering scheme. Twitter said at least 130 accounts were targeted by the attackers, who succeeded in sending out unauthorized tweets from 45 of them and may have been able to view additional information about those accounts, such as direct messages.

On eight of the compromised accounts, Twitter said, the attackers managed to download the account history using the Your Twitter Data tool. Twitter added that it is working with law enforcement and is rolling out additional company-wide training to guard against social engineering tactics.

CryptogramFawkes: Digital Image Cloaking

Fawkes is a system for manipulating digital images so that they aren't recognized by facial recognition systems.

At a high level, Fawkes takes your personal images, and makes tiny, pixel-level changes to them that are invisible to the human eye, in a process we call image cloaking. You can then use these "cloaked" photos as you normally would, sharing them on social media, sending them to friends, printing them or displaying them on digital devices, the same way you would any other photo. The difference, however, is that if and when someone tries to use these photos to build a facial recognition model, "cloaked" images will teach the model an highly distorted version of what makes you look like you. The cloak effect is not easily detectable, and will not cause errors in model training. However, when someone tries to identify you using an unaltered image of you (e.g. a photo taken in public), and tries to identify you, they will fail.

Research paper.

Worse Than FailureScience Is Science

Oil well

Bruce worked for a small engineering consultant firm providing custom software solutions for companies in the industrial sector. His project for CompanyX involved data consolidation for a new oil well monitoring system. It was a two-phased approach: Phase 1 was to get the raw instrument data into the cloud, and Phase 2 was to aggregate that data into a useful format.

Phase 1 was completed successfully. When it came time to write the business logic for aggregating the data, CompanyX politely informed Bruce's team that their new in-house software team would take over from here.

Bruce and his team smelled trouble. They did everything they could think of to persuade CompanyX not to go it alone when all the expertise rested on their side. However, CompanyX was confident they could handle the job, parting ways with handshakes and smiles.

Although Phase 2 was officially no longer on his plate, Bruce had a suspicion borne from experience that this wasn't the last he'd hear from CompanyX. Sure enough, a month later he received an urgent support request via email from Rick, an electrical engineer.

We're having issues with our aggregated data not making it into the database. Please help!!

Rick Smith
LEAD SOFTWARE ENGINEER

"Lead Software Engineer!" Bruce couldn't help repeating out loud. Sadly, he'd seen this scenario before with other clients. In a bid to save money, their management would find the most sciency people on their payroll and would put them in charge of IT or, worse, programming.

Stifling a cringe, Bruce dug deeper into the email. Rick had written a Python script to read the raw instrument data, aggregate it in memory, and re-insert it into a table he'd added to the database. Said script was loaded with un-parameterized queries, filters on non-indexed fields, and SELECT * FROM queries. The aggregation logic was nothing to write home about, either. It was messy, slow, and a slight breeze could take it out. Bruce fired up the SQL profiler and found a bigger issue: a certain query was failing every time, throwing the error Cannot insert the value NULL into column 'requests', table 'hEvents'; column does not allow nulls. INSERT fails.

Well, that seemed straightforward enough. Bruce replied to Rick's email, asking if he knew about the error.

Rick's reply came quickly, and included someone new on the email chain. Yes, but we couldn't figure it out, so we were hoping you could help us. Aaron is our SQL expert and even he's stumped.

Product support was part of Bruce's job responsibilities. He helpfully pointed out the specific query that was failing and described how to use the SQL profiler to pinpoint future issues.

Unfortunately, CompanyX's crack new in-house software team took this opportunity to unload every single problem they were having on Bruce, most of them just as basic or even more basic than the first. The back-and-forth email chain grew to epic proportions, and had less to do with product support than with programming education. When Bruce's patience finally gave out, he sent Rick and Aaron a link to the W3 schools SQL tutorial page. Then he talked to his manager. Agreeing that things had gotten out of hand, Bruce's manager arranged for a BA to contact CompanyX to offer more formal assistance. A teleconference was scheduled for the next week, which Bruce and his manager would also be attending.

When the day of the meeting came, Bruce and his associates dialed in—but no one from CompanyX did. After some digging, they learned that the majority of CompanyX's software team had been fired or reassigned. Apparently, the CompanyX project manager had been BCC'd on Bruce's entire email chain with Rick and Aaron. Said PM had decided a new new software team was in order. The last Bruce heard, the team was still "getting organized." The fate of Phase 2 remains unknown.

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CryptogramHacking a Power Supply

This hack targets the firmware on modern power supplies. (Yes, power supplies are also computers.)

Normally, when a phone is connected to a power brick with support for fast charging, the phone and the power adapter communicate with each other to determine the proper amount of electricity that can be sent to the phone without damaging the device­ -- the more juice the power adapter can send, the faster it can charge the phone.

However, by hacking the fast charging firmware built into a power adapter, Xuanwu Labs demonstrated that bad actors could potentially manipulate the power brick into sending more electricity than a phone can handle, thereby overheating the phone, melting internal components, or as Xuanwu Labs discovered, setting the device on fire.

Research paper, in Chinese.

Kevin RuddBrookings: Prioritising Education During Covid-19

SPEAKING REMARKS
BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
LEADERSHIP DIALOGUE SERIES
21 JULY 2020

The post Brookings: Prioritising Education During Covid-19 appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Kevin RuddAFR: Seven Questions Morrison Must Answer

On the eve the government’s much-delayed financial statement, it’s time for some basic questions about Australia’s response.

The uncomfortable truth is that we are still in the economic equivalent of ‘‘the phoney war’’ between September 1939 and May 1940. Our real problem is not now but the fourth quarter of this year, and next year, by when temporary measures will have washed through, while globally the real economy will still be wrecked. But there’s no sign yet of a long-term economic strategy, centred on infrastructure, to rebuild business confidence to start investing and re-employing people.

So while Scott Morrison may look pleased with himself (after months of largely uncritical media, a Parliament that barely meets and a delayed budget) it’s time for some intellectual honesty in what passes for our public policy debate. So here are seven questions for Scotty to answer.

First, the big one. It’s well past time to come fully clean on the two dreaded words of Australian politics: debt and deficit. How on earth can Morrison’s Liberal Party and its coalition partner, the Murdoch party, justify their decade-long assault on public expenditure and investment in response to an existential financial and economic crisis?

Within nine months of taking office, we had to deal with a global financial crisis that threatened our banks, while avoiding mass unemployment. We avoided economic and social disaster by … borrowing. In total, we expended $88 billion, taking our federal net debt to 13 per cent of GDP by 2014 – while still sustaining our AAA credit rating.

Four months into the current crisis, Morrison has so far allocated $259 billion, resulting in a debt-to-GDP ratio of about 50 per cent and rising. We haven’t avoided recession – partly because Morrison had to be dragged kicking and screaming late to the stimulus table. He ignored Reserve Bank and Treasury advice to act earlier because it contradicted the Liberals’ political mantra of getting ‘‘back in black’’.

On debt and deficit, this emperor has no clothes. Indeed, the gargantuan nature of this stimulus strategy has destroyed the entire edifice of Liberal ideology and politics. No wonder Scotty from Marketing now talks of us being ‘‘beyond ideology’’: he no longer has one. He’s adopted social democracy instead, including the belated rediscovery that the agency of the state is essential in the economy, public health and broadband. Where would we be on online delivery of health, education and business Zoom services in the absence of our NBN, despite the Liberals botching its final form?

So Morrison and the Murdoch party should just admit their dishonest debt-anddeficit campaign was bullshit all along – a political myth manufactured to advance the proposition that Labor governments couldn’t manage the economy.

Then there’s Morrison’s claim that his mother-of-all-stimulus-strategies, unlike ours, is purring like a well-oiled machine without a wasted dollar. What about the monumental waste of paying $19,500 to young people who were previously working only part-time for less than half that amount? All part of a $130 billion program that suddenly became $70 billion after a little accounting error (imagine the howls of ‘‘incompetence’’ had we done that).

And let’s not forget the eerie silence surrounding the $40 billion ‘‘loans program’’ to businesses. If that’s administered with anything like the finesse we’ve seen with the $100 million sports rorts affair, heaven help the Auditor-General. Then there’s Stuart ‘‘Robodebt’’ Robert and the rolling administrative debacle that is Centrelink. Public administration across the board is just rolling along tickety-boo.

Third, the $30 billion snatch-and-grab raid (so far) on superannuation balances is the most financially irresponsible assault on savings since Federation. Paul Keating built a $3.1 trillion national treasure. I added to it by lifting the super guarantee from 9 per cent to 12 per cent, which the Liberals are seeking to wreck. The long-term damage this will do to the fiscal balance (age pensions), the balance of payments and our credit rating is sheer economic vandalism.

Fourth, industry policy. Yes to bailouts for regional media, despite Murdoch using COVID-19 to kill more than 100 local and regional papers nationwide. But no JobKeeper for the universities, one of our biggest export industries. Why? Ideology! The Liberals hate universities because they worry educated people become lefties. It’s like the Liberals killing off Australian car manufacturing because they hated unions, despite the fact our industry was among the least subsidised in the world.

Fifth, Morrison proclaimed an automatic ‘‘snapback’’ of his capital-S stimulus strategy after six months to avoid the ‘‘mistakes’’ of my government in allowing ours to taper out over two years. Looks like Scotty has been mugged by reality again. Global recessions have a habit of ignoring domestic political fiction.

Sixth, infrastructure. For God’s sake, we should be using near-zero interest rates to deploy infrastructure bonds and invest in our economic future. Extend the national transmission grid to accommodate industrial-scale solar. Admit the fundamental error of abandoning fibre for copper broadband and complete the NBN as planned. The future global economy will become more digital, not less. Use Infrastructure Australia (not the Nationals) to advise on the cost benefit of each.

Finally, there is trade – usually 43 per cent of our GDP. Global trade is collapsing because of the pandemic and Trumpian protectionism. Yet nothing from the government on forging a global free-trade coalition. Yes, the China relationship is hard. But the government’s failure to prosecute an effective China strategy is now compounding our economic crisis. And, outrageously, the US is moving in on our barley and beef markets. Trade policy is a rolled-gold mess.

So far Morrison’s government, unlike mine, has had unprecedented bipartisan support from the opposition. But public trust is hanging by a thread. It’s time for Morrison to get real with these challenges, not just spin us a line. Ultimately, the economy does not lie.

Kevin Rudd was the 26th prime minister of Australia.

First published in the Australian Financial Review on 21 July 2020.

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Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: A Dropped Pass

A charitable description of Java is that it’s a strict language, at least in terms of how it expects you to interact with types and definitions. That strictness can create conflict when you’re interacting with less strict systems, like JSON data.

Tessie produces data as a JSON API that wraps around sensing devices which report a numerical value. These sensors, as far as we care for this example, come in two flavors: ones that report a maximum recorded value, and ones which don’t. Something like:

  {
    dataNoMax: [
      {name: "sensor1", value: 20, max: 0} 
    ],
    dataWithMax: [
      {name: "sensor2", value: 25, max: 50 }
    ]
  }

By convention, the API would report max: 0 for all the devices which didn’t have a max.

With that in mind, they designed their POJOs like this:

  class Data {
    String name;
    int value;
    int max;
  }

  class Readings {
    List<Data> dataNoMax;
    List<Data> dataWithMax;
  }

These POJOs would be used both on the side producing the data, and in the client libraries for consuming the data.

Of course, by JSON convention, including a field that doesn’t actually hold a meaningful value is a bad idea- max: 0 should either be max: null, or better yet, just excluded from the output entirely.

So one of Tessie’s co-workers hacked some code into the JSON serializer to conditionally include the max field in the output.

QA needed to validate that this change was correct, so they needed to implement some automated tests. And this is where the problems started to crop up. The developer hadn’t changed the implementation of the POJOs, and they were using int.

For all that Java has a reputation as “everything’s an object”, a few things explicitly aren’t: primitive types. int is a primitive integer, while Integer is an object integer. Integers are references. ints are not. An Integer could be null, but an int cannot ever be null.

This meant if QA tried to write a test assertion that looked like this:

assertThat(readings.dataNoMax[0].getMax()).isNull()

it wouldn’t work. max could never be null.

There are a few different ways to solve this. One could make the POJO support nullable types, which is probably a better way to represent an object which may not have a value for certain fields. An int in Java that isn’t initialized to a value will default to zero, so they probably could have left their last unit test unchanged and it still would have passed. But this was a code change, and a code change needs to have a test change to prove the code change was correct.

Let’s compare versions. Here was their original test:

/** Should display max */
assertEquals("sensor2", readings.dataWithMax[0].getName())
assertEquals(50, readings.dataWithMax[0].getMax());
assertEquals(25, readings.dataWithMax[0].getValue());

/** Should not display max */
assertEquals("sensor1", readings.dataNoMax[0].getName())
assertEquals(0, readings.dataNoMax[0].getMax());
assertEquals(20, readings.dataNoMax[0].getValue());

And, since the code changed, and they needed to verify that change, this is their new test:

/** Should display max */
assertEquals("sensor2", readings.dataWithMax[0].getName())
assertThat(readings.dataWithMax[0].getMax()).isNotNull()
assertEquals(25, readings.dataWithMax[0].getValue());

/** Should not display max */
assertEquals("sensor1", readings.dataNoMax[0].getName())
//assertThat(readings.dataNoMax[0].getMax()).isNull();
assertEquals(20, readings.dataNoMax[0].getValue());

So, their original test compared strictly against values. When they needed to test if values were present, they switched to using an isNotNull comparison. On the side with a max, this test will always pass- it can’t possibly fail, because an int can’t possibly be null. When they tried to do an isNull check, on the other value, that always failed, because again- it can’t possibly be null.

So they commented it out.

Test is green. Clearly, this code is ready to ship.

Tessie adds:

[This] is starting to explain why our git history is filled with commits that “fix failing test” by removing all the asserts.

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Cory DoctorowSomeone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 10)

Here’s part ten of my new reading of my novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (you can follow all the installments, as well as the reading I did in 2008/9, here).

This is easily the weirdest novel I ever wrote. Gene Wolfe (RIP) gave me an amazing quote for it: “Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is a glorious book, but there are hundreds of those. It is more. It is a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read.”

Here’s how my publisher described it when it came out:

Alan is a middle-aged entrepeneur who moves to a bohemian neighborhood of Toronto. Living next door is a young woman who reveals to him that she has wings—which grow back after each attempt to cut them off.

Alan understands. He himself has a secret or two. His father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine, and among his brothers are sets of Russian nesting dolls.

Now two of the three dolls are on his doorstep, starving, because their innermost member has vanished. It appears that Davey, another brother who Alan and his siblings killed years ago, may have returned, bent on revenge.

Under the circumstances it seems only reasonable for Alan to join a scheme to blanket Toronto with free wireless Internet, spearheaded by a brilliant technopunk who builds miracles from scavenged parts. But Alan’s past won’t leave him alone—and Davey isn’t the only one gunning for him and his friends.

Whipsawing between the preposterous, the amazing, and the deeply felt, Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is unlike any novel you have ever read.

MP3

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CryptogramOn the Twitter Hack

Twitter was hacked this week. Not a few people's Twitter accounts, but all of Twitter. Someone compromised the entire Twitter network, probably by stealing the log-in credentials of one of Twitter's system administrators. Those are the people trusted to ensure that Twitter functions smoothly.

The hacker used that access to send tweets from a variety of popular and trusted accounts, including those of Joe Biden, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, as part of a mundane scam -- stealing bitcoin -- but it's easy to envision more nefarious scenarios. Imagine a government using this sort of attack against another government, coordinating a series of fake tweets from hundreds of politicians and other public figures the day before a major election, to affect the outcome. Or to escalate an international dispute. Done well, it would be devastating.

Whether the hackers had access to Twitter direct messages is not known. These DMs are not end-to-end encrypted, meaning that they are unencrypted inside Twitter's network and could have been available to the hackers. Those messages -- between world leaders, industry CEOs, reporters and their sources, heath organizations -- are much more valuable than bitcoin. (If I were a national-intelligence agency, I might even use a bitcoin scam to mask my real intelligence-gathering purpose.) Back in 2018, Twitter said it was exploring encrypting those messages, but it hasn't yet.

Internet communications platforms -- such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube -- are crucial in today's society. They're how we communicate with one another. They're how our elected leaders communicate with us. They are essential infrastructure. Yet they are run by for-profit companies with little government oversight. This is simply no longer sustainable. Twitter and companies like it are essential to our national dialogue, to our economy, and to our democracy. We need to start treating them that way, and that means both requiring them to do a better job on security and breaking them up.

In the Twitter case this week, the hacker's tactics weren't particularly sophisticated. We will almost certainly learn about security lapses at Twitter that enabled the hack, possibly including a SIM-swapping attack that targeted an employee's cellular service provider, or maybe even a bribed insider. The FBI is investigating.

This kind of attack is known as a "class break." Class breaks are endemic to computerized systems, and they're not something that we as users can defend against with better personal security. It didn't matter whether individual accounts had a complicated and hard-to-remember password, or two-factor authentication. It didn't matter whether the accounts were normally accessed via a Mac or a PC. There was literally nothing any user could do to protect against it.

Class breaks are security vulnerabilities that break not just one system, but an entire class of systems. They might exploit a vulnerability in a particular operating system that allows an attacker to take remote control of every computer that runs on that system's software. Or a vulnerability in internet-enabled digital video recorders and webcams that allows an attacker to recruit those devices into a massive botnet. Or a single vulnerability in the Twitter network that allows an attacker to take over every account.

For Twitter users, this attack was a double whammy. Many people rely on Twitter's authentication systems to know that someone who purports to be a certain celebrity, politician, or journalist is really that person. When those accounts were hijacked, trust in that system took a beating. And then, after the attack was discovered and Twitter temporarily shut down all verified accounts, the public lost a vital source of information.

There are many security technologies companies like Twitter can implement to better protect themselves and their users; that's not the issue. The problem is economic, and fixing it requires doing two things. One is regulating these companies, and requiring them to spend more money on security. The second is reducing their monopoly power.

The security regulations for banks are complex and detailed. If a low-level banking employee were caught messing around with people's accounts, or if she mistakenly gave her log-in credentials to someone else, the bank would be severely fined. Depending on the details of the incident, senior banking executives could be held personally liable. The threat of these actions helps keep our money safe. Yes, it costs banks money; sometimes it severely cuts into their profits. But the banks have no choice.

The opposite is true for these tech giants. They get to decide what level of security you have on your accounts, and you have no say in the matter. If you are offered security and privacy options, it's because they decided you can have them. There is no regulation. There is no accountability. There isn't even any transparency. Do you know how secure your data is on Facebook, or in Apple's iCloud, or anywhere? You don't. No one except those companies do. Yet they're crucial to the country's national security. And they're the rare consumer product or service allowed to operate without significant government oversight.

For example, President Donald Trump's Twitter account wasn't hacked as Joe Biden's was, because that account has "special protections," the details of which we don't know. We also don't know what other world leaders have those protections, or the decision process surrounding who gets them. Are they manual? Can they scale? Can all verified accounts have them? Your guess is as good as mine.

In addition to security measures, the other solution is to break up the tech monopolies. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have so much power because they are so large, and they face no real competition. This is a national-security risk as well as a personal-security risk. Were there 100 different Twitter-like companies, and enough compatibility so that all their feeds could merge into one interface, this attack wouldn't have been such a big deal. More important, the risk of a similar but more politically targeted attack wouldn't be so great. If there were competition, different platforms would offer different security options, as well as different posting rules, different authentication guidelines -- different everything. Competition is how our economy works; it's how we spur innovation. Monopolies have more power to do what they want in the quest for profits, even if it harms people along the way.

This wasn't Twitter's first security problem involving trusted insiders. In 2017, on his last day of work, an employee shut down President Donald Trump's account. In 2019, two people were charged with spying for the Saudi government while they were Twitter employees.

Maybe this hack will serve as a wake-up call. But if past incidents involving Twitter and other companies are any indication, it won't. Underspending on security, and letting society pay the eventual price, is far more profitable. I don't blame the tech companies. Their corporate mandate is to make as much money as is legally possible. Fixing this requires changes in the law, not changes in the hearts of the company's leaders.

This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

LongNowSix Ways to Think Long-term: A Cognitive Toolkit for Good Ancestors

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Illustration: Tom Lee at Rocket Visual

Human beings have an astonishing evolutionary gift: agile imaginations that can shift in an instant from thinking on a scale of seconds to a scale of years or even centuries. Our minds constantly dance across multiple time horizons. One moment we can be making a quickfire response to a text and the next thinking about saving for our pensions or planting an acorn in the ground for posterity. We are experts at the temporal pirouette. Whether we are fully making use of this gift is, however, another matter.

The need to draw on our capacity to think long-term has never been more urgent, whether in areas such as public health care (like planning for the next pandemic on the horizon), to deal with technological risks (such as from AI-controlled lethal autonomous weapons), or to confront the threats of an ecological crisis where nations sit around international conference tables, bickering about their near-term interests, while the planet burns and species disappear. At the same time, businesses can barely see past the next quarterly report, we are addicted to 24/7 instant news, and find it hard to resist the Buy Now button.

What can we do to overcome the tyranny of the now? The easy answer is to say we need more long-term thinking. But here’s the problem: almost nobody really knows what it is.

In researching my latest book, The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World, I spoke to dozens of experts — psychologists, futurists, economists, public officials, investors — who were all convinced of the need for more long-term thinking to overcome the pathological short-termism of the modern world, but few of them could give me a clear sense of what it means, how it works, what time horizons are involved and what steps we must take to make it the norm. This intellectual vacuum amounts to nothing less than a conceptual emergency.

Let’s start with the question, ‘how long is long-term?’ Forget the corporate vision of ‘long-term’, which rarely extends beyond a decade. Instead, consider a hundred years as a minimum threshold for long-term thinking. This is the current length of a long human lifespan, taking us beyond the ego boundary of our own mortality, so we begin to imagine futures that we can influence but not participate in ourselves. Where possible we should attempt to think longer, for instance taking inspiration from cultural endeavours like the 10,000 Year Clock (the Long Now Foundation’s flagship project), which is being designed to stay accurate for ten millennia. At the very least, when you aim to think ‘long-term’, take a deep breath and think ‘a hundred years and more’.

The Tug of War for Time

It is just as crucial to equip ourselves with a mental framework that identifies different forms of long-term thinking. My own approach is represented in a graphic I call ‘The Tug of War for Time’ (see below). On one side, six drivers of short-termism threaten to drag us over the edge of civilizational breakdown. On the other, six ways to think long-term are drawing us towards a culture of longer time horizons and responsibility for the future of humankind.

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These six ways to think long are not a simplistic blueprint for a new economic or political system, but rather comprise a cognitive toolkit for challenging our obsession with the here and now. They offer conceptual scaffolding for answering what I consider to be the most important question of our time: How can we be good ancestors?

The tug of war for time is the defining struggle of our generation. It is going on both inside our own minds and in our societies. Its outcome will affect the fate of the billions upon billions of people who will inhabit the future. In other words, it matters. So let’s unpack it a little.

Drivers of Short-termism

Amongst the six drivers of short-termism, we all know about the power of digital distraction to immerse us in a here-and-now addiction of clicks, swipes and scrolls. A deeper driver has been the growing tyranny of the clock since the Middle Ages. The mechanical clock was the key machine of the Industrial Revolution, regimenting and speeding up time itself, bringing the future ever-nearer: by 01700 most clocks had minute hands and by 01800 second hands were standard. And it still dominates our daily lives, strapped to our wrists and etched onto our screens.

Speculative capitalism has been a source of boom-bust turbulence at least since the Dutch Tulip Bubble of 01637, through to the 02008 financial crash and the next one waiting around the corner. Electoral cycles also play their part, generating a myopic political presentism where politicians can barely see beyond the next poll or the latest tweet. Such short-termism is amplified by a world of networked uncertainty, where events and risks are increasingly interdependent and globalised, raising the prospect of rapid contagion effects and rendering even the near-term future almost unreadable.

Looming behind it all is our obsession with perpetual progress, especially the pursuit of endless GDP growth, which pushes the Earth system over critical thresholds of carbon emissions, biodiversity loss and other planetary boundaries. We are like a kid who believes they can keep blowing up the balloon, bigger and bigger, without any prospect that it could ever burst.

Put these six drivers together and you get a toxic cocktail of short-termism that could send us into a blind-drunk civilizational freefall. As Jared Diamond argues, ‘short-term decision making’ coupled with an absence of ‘courageous long-term thinking’ has been at the root of civilizational collapse for centuries. A stark warning, and one that prompts us to unpack the six ways to think long.

Six Ways to Think Long-term

1. Deep-Time Humility: grasp we are an eyeblink in cosmic time

Deep-time humility is about recognising that the two hundred thousand years that humankind has graced the earth is a mere eyeblink in the cosmic story. As John McPhee (who coined the concept of deep time in 01980) put it: ‘Consider the earth’s history as the old measure of the English yard, the distance from the king’s nose to the tip of his outstretched hand. One stroke of a nail file on his middle finger erases human history.’

But just as there is deep time behind us, there is also deep time ahead. In six billion years, any creatures that will be around to see our sun die, will be as different from us, as we are from the first single-celled bacteria.

Yet why exactly do long-term thinkers need this sense of temporal humility? Deep time prompts us to consider the consequences of our actions far beyond our own lifetimes, and puts us back in touch with the long-term cycles of the living world like the carbon cycle. But it also helps us grasp our destructive potential: in an incredibly short period of time — only a couple of centuries — we have endangered a world that took billions of years to evolve. We are just a tiny link in the great chain of living organisms, so who are we to put it all in jeopardy with our ecological blindness and deadly technologies? Don’t we have an obligation to our planetary future and the generations of humans and other species to come?

2. Legacy Mindset: be remembered well by posterity

We are the inheritors of extraordinary legacies from the past — from those who planted the first seeds, built the cities where we now live, and made the medical discoveries we benefit from. But alongside the good ancestors are the ‘bad ancestors’, such as those who bequeathed us colonial and slavery-era racism and prejudice that deeply permeate today’s criminal justice systems. This raises the question of what legacies we will leave to future generations: how do we want to be remembered by posterity?

The challenge is to leave a legacy that goes beyond egoistic legacy (like a Russian oligarch who wants a wing of an art gallery named after them) or even familial legacy (like wishing to pass on property or cultural traditions to our children). If we hope to be good ancestors, we need to develop a transcendent ‘legacy mindset’, where we aim to be remembered well by the generations we will never know, by the universal strangers of the future.

We might look for inspiration in many places. The Māori concept of whakapapa (‘genealogy’), describes a continues lifeline that connects an individual to the past, present and future, and generates a sense of respect for the traditions of previous generations while being mindful of those yet to come. In Katie Paterson’s art project Future Library, every year for a hundred years a famous writer (the first was Margaret Atwood) is depositing a new work, which will remain unread until 02114, when they will all be printed on paper made from a thousand trees that have been planted in a forest outside Oslo. Then there are activists like Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 01977 she founded the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, which by the time of her death in 02011 had trained more than 25,000 women in forestry skills and planted 40 million trees. That’s how to pass on a legacy gift to the future.

3. Intergenerational Justice: consider the seventh generation ahead

“Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?’ This clever quip attributed to Groucho Marx highlights the issue of intergenerational justice. This is not the legacy question of how we will be remembered, but the moral question of what responsibilities we have to the ‘futureholders’ — the generations who will succeed us.

One approach, rooted in utilitarian philosophy, is to recognise that at least in terms of sheer numbers, the current population is easily outweighed by all those who will come after us. In a calculation made by writer Richard Fisher, around 100 billion people have lived and died in the past 50,000 years. But they, together with the 7.7 billion people currently alive, are far outweighed by the estimated 6.75 trillion people who will be born over the next 50,000 years, if this century’s birth rate is maintained (see graphic below). Even in just the next millennium, more than 135 billion people are likely to be born. How could we possibly ignore their wellbeing, and think that our own is of such greater value?

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Such thinking is embodied in the idea of ‘seventh-generation decision making’, an ethic of ecological stewardship practised amongst some Native American peoples such as the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota: community decisions take into the account the impacts seven generations from the present. This ideal is fast becoming a cornerstone of the growing global intergenerational justice movement, inspiring groups such as Our Children’s Trust (fighting for the legal rights of future generations in the US) and Future Design in Japan (which promotes citizens’ assemblies for city planning, where residents imagine themselves being from future generations).

4. Cathedral thinking: plan projects beyond a human lifetime

Cathedral thinking is the practice of envisaging and embarking on projects with time horizons stretching decades and even centuries into the future, just like medieval cathedral builders who began despite knowing they were unlikely to see construction finished within their own lifetimes. Greta Thunberg has said that it will take ‘cathedral thinking’ to tackle the climate crisis.

Historically, cathedral thinking has taken different forms. Apart from religious buildings, there are public works projects such as the sewers built in Victorian London after the ‘Great Stink’ of 01858, which are still in use today (we might call this ‘sewer thinking’ rather than ‘cathedral thinking’). Scientific endeavours include the Svalbard Global Seed in the remote Arctic, which contains over one million seeds from more than 6,000 species, and intends to keep them safe in an indestructible rock bunker for at least a thousand years. We should also include social and political movements with long time horizons, such as the Suffragettes, who formed their first organisation in Manchester in 01867 and didn’t achieve their aim of votes for women for over half a century.

Inspiring stuff. But remember that cathedral thinking can be directed towards narrow and self-serving ends. Hitler hoped to create a Thousand Year Reich. Dictators have sought to preserve their power and privilege for their progeny through the generations: just look at North Korea. In the corporate world, Gus Levy, former head of investment bank Goldman Sachs, once proudly declared, ‘We’re greedy, but long-term greedy, not short-term greedy’.

That’s why cathedral thinking alone is not enough to create a long-term civilization that respects the interests of future generations. It needs to be guided by other approaches, such as intergenerational justice and a transcendent goal (see below).

5. Holistic Forecasting: envision multiple pathways for civilization

Numerous studies demonstrate that most forecasting professionals tend to have a poor record at predicting future events. Yet we must still try to map out the possible long-term trajectories of human civilization itself — what I call holistic forecasting — otherwise we will end up only dealing with crises as they hit us in the present. Experts in the fields of global risk studies and scenario planning have identified three broad pathways, which I call Breakdown, Reform and Transformation (see graphic below).

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Breakdown is the path of business-as-usual. We continue striving for the old twentieth-century goal of material economic progress but soon reach a point of societal and institutional collapse in the near term as we fail to respond to rampant ecological and technological crises, and cross dangerous civilizational tipping points (think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road).

A more likely trajectory is Reform, where we respond to global crises such as climate change but in an inadequate and piecemeal way that merely extends the Breakdown curve outwards, to a greater or lesser extent. Here governments put their faith in reformist ideals such as ‘green growth’, ‘reinventing capitalism’, or a belief that technological solutions are just around the corner.

A third trajectory is Transformation, where we see a radical shift in the values and institutions of society towards a more long-term sustainable civilization. For instance, we jump off the Breakdown curve onto a new pathway dominated by post-growth economic models such as Doughnut Economics or a Green New Deal.

Note the crucial line of Disruptions. These are disruptive innovations or events that offer an opportunity to switch from one curve onto another. It could be a new technology like blockchain, the rise of a political movement like Black Lives Matter, or a global pandemic like COVID-19. Successful long-term thinking requires turning these disruptions towards Transformative change and ensuring they are not captured by the old system.

6. Transcendent Goal: strive for one-planet thriving

Every society, wrote astronomer Carl Sagan, needs a ‘telos’ to guide it — ‘a long-term goal and a sacred project’. What are the options? While the goal of material progress served us well in the past, we now know too much about its collateral damage: fossil fuels and material waste have pushed us into the Anthropocene, the perilous new era characterised by a steep upward trend in damaging planetary indicators called the Great Acceleration (see graphic).

Image for post
See an enlarged version of this graphic here.

An alternative transcendent goal is to see our destiny in the stars: the only way to guarantee the survival of our species is to escape the confines of Earth and colonise other worlds. Yet terraforming somewhere like Mars to make it habitable could take centuries — if it could be done at all. Additionally, the more we set our sights on escaping to other worlds, the less likely we are to look after our existing one. As cosmologist Martin Rees points out, ‘It’s a dangerous delusion to think that space offers an escape from Earth’s problems. We’ve got to solve these problems here.’

That’s why our primary goal should be to learn to live within the biocapacity of the only planet we know that sustains life. This is the fundamental principle of the field of ecological economics developed by visionary thinkers such as Herman Daly: don’t use more resources than the earth can naturally regenerate (for instance, only harvest timber as fast as it can grow back), and don’t create more wastes than it can naturally absorb (so avoid burning fossil fuels that can’t be absorbed by the oceans and other carbon sinks).

Once we’ve learned to do this, we can do as much terraforming of Mars as we like: as any mountaineer knows, make sure your basecamp is in order with ample supplies before you tackle a risky summit. But according to the Global Footprint Network, we are not even close and currently use up the equivalent of around 1.6 planet Earths each year. That’s short-termism of the most deadly kind. A transcendent goal of one-planet thriving is our best guarantee of a long-term future. And we do it by caring about place as much as rethinking time.

Bring on the Time Rebellion

So there is a brief overview of a cognitive toolkit we could draw on to survive and thrive into the centuries and millennia to come. None of these six ways is enough alone to create a long-term revolution of the human mind — a fundamental shift in our perception of time. But together — and when practised by a critical mass of people and organisations — a new age of long-term thinking could emerge out of their synergy.

Is this a likely prospect? Can we win the tug of war against short-termism?

‘Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change,’ wrote economist Milton Friedman. Out of the ashes of World War Two came pioneering long-term institutions such as the World Health Organisation, the European Union and welfare states. So too out of the global crisis of COVID-19 could emerge the long-term institutions we need to tackle the challenges of our own time: climate change, technology threats, the racism and inequality structured into our political and economic systems. Now is the moment for expanding our time horizons into a longer now. Now is the moment to become a time rebel.


Roman Krznaric is a public philosopher, research fellow of the Long Now Foundation, and founder of the world’s first Empathy Museum. His latest book is The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World. He lives in Oxford, UK. @romankrznaric

Note: All graphics from The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World by Roman Krznaric. Graphic design by Nigel Hawtin. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.

Worse Than FailureMega-Agile

A long time ago, way back in 2009, Bruce W worked for the Mega-Bureaucracy. It was a slog of endless forms, endless meetings, endless projects that just never hit a final ship date. The Mega-Bureaucracy felt that the organization which manages best manages the most, and ensured that there were six tons of management overhead attached to the smallest project.

After eight years in that position, Bruce finally left for another division in the same company.

But during those eight years, Bruce learned a few things about dealing with the Mega-Bureaucracy. His division was a small division, and while Bruce needed to interface with the Mega-Bureaucracy, he could shield the other developers on his team from it, as much as possible. This let them get embedded into the business unit, working closely with the end users, revising requirements on the fly based on rapid feedback and a quick release cycle. It was, in a word, "Agile", in the most realistic version of the term: focus on delivering value to your users, and build processes which support that. They were a small team, and there were many layers of management above them, which served to blunt and filter some of the mandates of the Mega-Bureaucracy, and that let them stay Agile.

Nothing, however, protects against management excess than a track record of success. While they had a reputation for being dangerous heretics: they released to test continuously and releasing to production once a month, they changed requirements as needs changed, meaning what they delivered was almost never what they specced, but it was what their users needed, and worst of all, their software defeated all the key Mega-Bureaucracy metrics. It performed better, it had fewer reported defects, it return-on-investment metrics their software saved the division millions of dollars in operating costs.

The Mega-Bureaucracy seethed at these heretics, but the C-level of the company just saw a high functioning team. There was nothing that the Bureaucracy could do to bring them in line-

-at least until someone opened up a trade magazine, skimmed the buzzwords, and said, "Maybe our processes are too cumbersome. We should do Agile. Company wide, let's lay out an Agile Process."

There's a huge difference between the "agile" created by a self-organizing team, that grows based on learning what works best for the team and their users, and the kind of "agile" that's imposed from the corporate overlords.

First, you couldn't do Agile without adopting the Agile Process, which in Mega-Bureaucracy-speak meant "we're doing a very specific flavor of scrum". This meant morning standups were mandated. You needed a scrum-master on the team, which would be a resource drawn from the project management office, and well, they'd also pull double duty as the project manager. The word "requirements" was forbidden, you had to write User Stories, and then estimate those User Stories as taking a certain number of hours. Then you could hold your Sprint Planning meeting, where you gathered a bucket of stories that would fit within your next sprint, which would be a 4-week cadence, but that was just the sprint planning cadence. Releases to production would happen only quarterly. Once user stories were written, they were never to be changed, just potentially replaced with a new story, but once a story was added to a sprint, you were expected to implement it, as written. No changes based on user feedback. At the end of the sprint, you'd have a whopping big sprint retrospective, and since this was a new process, instead of letting the team self-evaluate in private and make adjustments, management from all levels of the company would sit in on the retrospectives to be "informed" about the "challenges" in adopting the new process.

The resulting changes pleased nearly no one. The developers hated it, the users, especially in Bruce's division, hated it, management hated it. But the Mega-Bureaucracy had won; the dangerous heretics who didn't follow the process now were following the process. They were Agile.

That is what motivated Bruce to transfer to a new position.

Two years later, he attended an all-IT webcast. The CIO announced that they'd spun up a new pilot development team. This new team would get embedded into the business unit, work closely with the end user, revise requirements on the fly based on rapid feedback and a continuous release cycle. "This is something brand new for our company, and we're excited to see where it goes!"

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Sam VargheseThe Indian Government cheated my late father of Rs 332,775

Back in 1976. the Indian Government, for whom my father, Ipe Samuel Varghese, worked in Colombo, cheated him of Rs 13,500 – the gratuity that he was supposed to be paid when he was dismissed from the Indian High Commission (the equivalent of the embassy) in Colombo.

That sum, adjusted for inflation, works out to Rs 332,775 in today’s rupees.

But he was not paid this amount because the embassy said he had contravened rules by working at a second job, something which everyone at the embassy was doing, because what people were paid was basically a starvation wage. But my father had rubbed against powerful interests in the embassy who were making money by taking bribes from poor Sri Lankan Tamils who were applying for Indian passports to return to India.

But let me start at the beginning. My father went to Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) in 1947, looking for employment after the war. He took up a job as a teacher, something which was his first love. But in 1956, when the Sri Lankan Government nationalised the teaching profession, he was left without a job.

It was then that he began working for the Indian High Commission which was located in Colpetty, and later in Fort. As he was a local recruit, he was not given diplomatic status. The one benefit was that our family did not need visas to stay in Sri Lanka – we were all Indian citizens – but only needed to obtain passports once we reached the age of 14.

As my father had six children, the pay from the High Commission was not enough to provide for the household. He would tutor some students, either at our house, or else at their houses. He was very strict about his work, and was unwilling to compromise on any rules.

There were numerous people who worked alongside him and they would occasionally take a bribe from here and there and push the case of some person or the other for a passport. The Tamils, who had gone to Sri Lanka to work on the tea plantations, were being repatriated under a pact negotiated by Sirima Bandaranaike, the Sri Lankan prime minister, and Lal Bahadur Shastri, her Indian counterpart. It was thus known as the Sirima-Shastri pact.

There was a lot of anti-Tamil sentiment brewing in Sri Lanka at the time, feelings that blew up into the civil war from 1983 onwards, a conflict that only ended in May 2009. Thus, many Tamils were anxious and wanted to do whatever it took to get an Indian passport.

And in this, they found many High Commission employees more than willing to accept bribes in order to push their cases. But they came up against a brick wall in my father. There was another gentleman who was an impediment too, a man named Navamoni. The others used to call him Koranga Moonji Dorai – meaning monkey face man – as he was a wizened old man. He would lose his temper and shout at people when they tried to mollify him with this or that to push their cases.

Thus, it was only a matter of time before some of my father’s colleagues went to the higher-ups and complained that he was earning money outside his High Commission job. They all were as well, but nobody had rubbed up against the powers-that-be. By then, due to his competence, my father had been put in charge of the passport section, a very powerful post, because he could approve or turn down any application.

The men who wanted to make money through bribes found him a terrible obstacle. One day in May, when my mother called up the High Commission, she was told that my father no longer worked there. Shocked, she waited until he came home to find out the truth. We had no telephone at home.

The family was not in the best financial position at the time. We had a few weeks to return to India as we had been staying in Sri Lanka on the strength of my father’s employment. And then came the biggest shock: the money my father had worked for all those 20 years was denied to him.

We came back to India by train and ferry; we could not afford to fly back. It was a miserable journey and for many years after that we suffered financial hardship because we had no money to tide us over that period.

Many years later, after I migrated to Australia, I went to Indian Consulate in Coburg, a suburb of Melbourne, to get a new passport, I happened to speak to the consul and asked him what I should do with my old passport. He made my blood boil by telling me that it was my patriotic duty to send it by post to the Indian embassy in Canberra. I told him that I owed India nothing considering the manner in which it had treated my father. And I added that if the Indian authorities wanted my old passport, then they could damn well pay for the postage. He was not happy with my reply.

India is the only country in the world which will not restore a person’s citizenship if he asks for it in his later years for sentimental reasons, just so that he can die in the land of his birth. India is also the only country that insists its own former citizens obtain a visa to enter what is their own homeland. Money is not the only thing for the Indian Government; it is everything.

Every other country will restore a person’s citizenship in their latter years of they ask for it for sentimental reasons. Not India.

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Kevin RuddInterview: UN Youth Australia

INTERVIEW VIDEO
UN YOUTH AUSTRALIA
PUBLISHED 18 JULY 2020

The post Interview: UN Youth Australia appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Kevin RuddSMH: Stimulus Opportunity Knocks for Climate Action

By Kevin Rudd and Patrick Suckling

As the International Monetary Fund recently underlined in sharply revising down global growth prospects, recovering from the biggest peacetime shock to the global economy since the Great Depression will be a long haul.

There is a global imperative to put in place the strongest, most durable economic recovery. This is not a time for governments to retreat. Recovery will require massive and sustained support.

At the same time, spending decisions by governments now will shape our economic future for decades to come. In other words, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity and can’t blow it.

But it’s looking like we might. This is because too few stimulus packages globally are reaping the double-dividend of both investing in growth and jobs, and in the transition to low emissions, more climate-resilient economies. And in Australia, this means we risk lagging even further behind the rest of the world as a result.

As Australia’s summer of hell demonstrated, climate change is only getting worse. It remains the greatest threat to our future welfare and economic prosperity. And while the world has legitimately been preoccupied with COVID-19, few have noticed that this year is on track to be the warmest in recorded history. Perhaps even fewer still have also made the connection between climate and biodiversity habitat loss and the outbreak of infectious diseases.

Stimulus decisions that do not address this climate threat therefore don’t just sell us short; they sell us out. And they cut against the grain of the global economy. This is the irreducible logic that flows from the 2015 Paris Agreement to which the world – including Australia – signed up to.

Unfortunately, as things stand today, many of the biggest stimulus efforts around the world are in danger of failing this logic.

For example, the US economic recovery is heavily focused on high emitting industries. The same is true in China, India, Japan and the large South-East Asian economies.

In fact, Beijing is approving plans for new coal-fired power plants at the fastest rate since 2015. And whether these plants are now actually built by China’s regional and provincial governments is increasingly becoming the global bellwether for whether we will emerge from this crisis better or worse off in the global fight against climate change.

And for our own part, Australia’s COVID Recovery Commission has placed limited emphasis on renewables despite advances in energy storage technologies and plummeting costs.

But as we know from our experience in the Global Financial Crisis a decade ago, it is entirely possible to design an economic recovery that is also good for the planet. This means investing in clean energy, energy efficiency systems, new transport systems, more sustainable homes and buildings and improved agricultural production, water and waste management. In fact, as McKinsey recently found, government spending on renewable energy technologies creates five more jobs per million dollars than spending on fossil fuels.

Despite these cautionary tales, there are thankfully also bright spots.

Take the European Union and its massive 750 billion Euro stimulus package. It will invest heavily in areas like energy efficiency, turbocharging renewable energy, accelerating hydrogen technologies, rolling out clean transport and promoting the circular economy.

To be fair, China is also emphasising new infrastructure like electric transport in its US$500 billion stimulus package. India is doubling down on its world-leading renewable energy investments. Indonesia has announced a major investment in solar energy. And Japan and South Korea are now announcing climate transition spending. But whether these are just bright spots amongst a dark haze of pollution, or genuinely light the way is the key question that confronts these economies.

In Australia, the government has confirmed significant investment in pumped hydro-power for “Snowy 2.0.” The government has also indicated acceleration of important projects such as the Marinus Link to ensure more renewable energy from Tasmania for the mainland. But much more is now needed.

An obvious starting point could be a nation-building stimulus investment around our decrepit energy system. By now the federal and state governments have a much stronger grasp of what we need for success, encouragingly evident on the recent $2 billion Commonwealth-NSW government package for better access, security and affordability.

Turbocharging this with a stimulus package for more renewable energy and storage of all sorts (including hydrogen), accompanying extension and stabilisation technologies for our electricity grid, and investment in dramatically improving energy efficiency would – literally and figuratively – power our economy forward.

In the aftermath of our drought and bushfires, another obvious area for nation-building investment is our land sector. Farm productivity can be dramatically improved by precision agriculture and regenerative farming technologies while building resilience to drought. New sources of revenue for farmers can be created through soil carbon and forest carbon farming – with carbon trading from these activities internationally set to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming decade.

Importantly, the Australian business community is not just calling for policy certainty, but actively ushering in change themselves. The Australian Industry Group, for instance, has called for a stronger climate-focused recovery. And in recent days, our largest private energy generator, AGL, has announced a significant strengthening of its commitment to climate transition, linking performance pay to progress in the company’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 – a goal that BHP, Qantas and every Australian state and territory has signed up. HESTA has also announced it will be the first major Australian superannuation fund to align its investment portfolio to this end as well.

These sort of decisions are being replicated at a growing rate by companies around the world and show that business is leading and increasingly it is time for governments – including our own – to do the same. Whether we can use this crisis as an opportunity to emerge in a better place to tackle other global challenges remains to be seen, but rests on many of the decisions that will continue to be taken in the months to come.

Kevin Rudd is a former Prime Minister of Australia and now President of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York. 

Patrick Suckling is a Senior Fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute; Senior Partner at Pollination (pollinationgroup.com), a specialist climate investment and advisory firm; and was Australia’s Ambassador for the Environment.

 

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 18 February 2020.

The post SMH: Stimulus Opportunity Knocks for Climate Action appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

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CryptogramFriday Squid Blogging: Squid Found on Provincetown Sandbar

Headline: "Dozens of squid found on Provincetown sandbar." Slow news day.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

CryptogramTwitter Hackers May Have Bribed an Insider

Motherboard is reporting that this week's Twitter hack involved a bribed insider. Twitter has denied it.

I have been taking press calls all day about this. And while I know everyone wants to speculate about the details of the hack, we just don't know -- and probably won't for a couple of weeks.

Dave HallIf You’re not Using YAML for CloudFormation Templates, You’re Doing it Wrong

In my last blog post, I promised a rant about using YAML for CloudFormation templates. Here it is. If you persevere to the end I’ll also show you have to convert your existing JSON based templates to YAML.

Many of the points I raise below don’t just apply to CloudFormation. They are general comments about why you should use YAML over JSON for configuration when you have a choice.

One criticism of YAML is its reliance on indentation. A lot of the code I write these days is Python, so indentation being significant is normal. Use a decent editor or IDE and this isn’t a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re using JSON or YAML, you will want to validate and lint your files anyway. How else will you find that trailing comma in your JSON object?

Now we’ve got that out of the way, let me try to convince you to use YAML.

As developers we are regularly told that we need to document our code. CloudFormation is Infrastructure as Code. If it is code, then we need to document it. That starts with the Description property at the top of the file. If you JSON for your templates, that’s it, you have no other opportunity to document your templates. On the other hand, if you use YAML you can add inline comments. Anywhere you need a comment, drop in a hash # and your comment. Your team mates will thank you.

JSON templates don’t support multiline strings. These days many developers have 4K or ultra wide monitors, we don’t want a string that spans the full width of our 34” screen. Text becomes harder to read once you exceed that “90ish” character limit. With JSON your multiline string becomes "[90ish-characters]\n[another-90ish-characters]\n[and-so-on"]. If you opt for YAML, you can use the greater than symbol (>) and then start your multiline comment like so:

Description: >
  This is the first line of my Description
  and it continues on my second line
  and I'll finish it on my third line.

As you can see it much easier to work with multiline string in YAML than JSON.

“Folded blocks” like the one above are created using the > replace new lines with spaces. This allows you to format your text in a more readable format, but allow a machine to use it as intended. If you want to preserve the new line, use the pipe (|) to create a “literal block”. This is great for an inline Lambda functions where the code remains readable and maintainable.

  APIFunction:
    Type: AWS::Lambda::Function
    Properties:
      Code:
        ZipFile: |
          import json
          import random


          def lambda_handler(event, context):
              return {"statusCode": 200, "body": json.dumps({"value": random.random()})}
      FunctionName: "GetRandom"
      Handler: "index.lambda_handler"
      MemorySize: 128
      Role: !GetAtt LambdaServiceRole.Arn
      Runtime: "python3.7"
		Timeout: 5

Both JSON and YAML require you to escape multibyte characters. That’s less of an issue with CloudFormation templates as generally you’re only using the ASCII character set.

In a YAML file generally you don’t need to quote your strings, but in JSON double quotes are used every where, keys, string values and so on. If your string contains a quote you need to escape it. The same goes for tabs, new lines, backslashes and and so on. JSON based CloudFormation templates can be hard to read because of all the escaping. It also makes it harder to handcraft your JSON when your code is a long escaped string on a single line.

Some configuration in CloudFormation can only be expressed as JSON. Step Functions and some of the AppSync objects in CloudFormation only allow inline JSON configuration. You can still use a YAML template and it is easier if you do when working with these objects.

The JSON only configuration needs to be inlined in your template. If you’re using JSON you have to supply this as an escaped string, rather than nested objects. If you’re using YAML you can inline it as a literal block. Both YAML and JSON templates support functions such as Sub being applied to these strings, it is so much more readable with YAML. See this Step Function example lifted from the AWS documentation:

MyStateMachine:
  Type: "AWS::StepFunctions::StateMachine"
  Properties:
    DefinitionString:
      !Sub |
        {
          "Comment": "A simple AWS Step Functions state machine that automates a call center support session.",
          "StartAt": "Open Case",
          "States": {
            "Open Case": {
              "Type": "Task",
              "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:${AWS::Region}:${AWS::AccountId}:function:open_case",
              "Next": "Assign Case"
            }, 
            "Assign Case": {
              "Type": "Task",
              "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:${AWS::Region}:${AWS::AccountId}:function:assign_case",
              "Next": "Work on Case"
            },
            "Work on Case": {
              "Type": "Task",
              "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:${AWS::Region}:${AWS::AccountId}:function:work_on_case",
              "Next": "Is Case Resolved"
            },
            "Is Case Resolved": {
                "Type" : "Choice",
                "Choices": [ 
                  {
                    "Variable": "$.Status",
                    "NumericEquals": 1,
                    "Next": "Close Case"
                  },
                  {
                    "Variable": "$.Status",
                    "NumericEquals": 0,
                    "Next": "Escalate Case"
                  }
              ]
            },
             "Close Case": {
              "Type": "Task",
              "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:${AWS::Region}:${AWS::AccountId}:function:close_case",
              "End": true
            },
            "Escalate Case": {
              "Type": "Task",
              "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:${AWS::Region}:${AWS::AccountId}:function:escalate_case",
              "Next": "Fail"
            },
            "Fail": {
              "Type": "Fail",
              "Cause": "Engage Tier 2 Support."    }   
          }
        }

If you’re feeling lazy you can use inline JSON for IAM policies that you’ve copied from elsewhere. It’s quicker than converting them to YAML.

YAML templates are smaller and more compact than the same configuration stored in a JSON based template. Smaller yet more readable is winning all round in my book.

If you’re still not convinced that you should use YAML for your CloudFormation templates, go read Amazon’s blog post from 2017 advocating the use of YAML based templates.

Amazon makes it easy to convert your existing templates from JSON to YAML. cfn-flip is aPython based AWS Labs tool for converting CloudFormation templates between JSON and YAML. I will assume you’ve already installed cfn-flip. Once you’ve done that, converting your templates with some automated cleanups is just a command away:

cfn-flip --clean template.json template.yaml

git rm the old json file, git add the new one and git commit and git push your changes. Now you’re all set for your new life using YAML based CloudFormation templates.

If you want to learn more about YAML files in general, I recommend you check our Learn X in Y Minutes’ Guide to YAML. If you want to learn more about YAML based CloudFormation templates, check Amazon’s Guide to CloudFormation Templates.

LongNowLong Now partners with Avenues: The World School for year-long, online program on the future of invention

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

The Long Now Foundation has partnered with Avenues: The World School to offer a program on the past, present, and future of innovation. A fully online program for ages 17 and above, the Avenues Mastery Year is designed to equip aspiring inventors with the ability to: 

  • Conceive original ideas and translate those ideas into inventions through design and prototyping, 
  • Communicate the impact of the invention with an effective pitch deck and business plan, 
  • Ultimately file for and receive patent pending status with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

Applicants select a concentration in either Making and Design or Future Sustainability

Participants will hack, reverse engineer, and re-invent a series of world-changing technologies such as the smartphone, bioplastics, and the photovoltaic cell, all while immersing themselves in curated readings about the origins and possible trajectories of great inventions. 

The Long Now Foundation will host monthly fireside chats for participants where special guests offer feedback, spark new ideas and insights, and share advice and wisdom. Confirmed guests include Kim Polese (Long Now Board Member), Alexander Rose (Long Now Executive Director and Board Member), Samo Burja (Long Now Research Fellow), Jason Crawford (Roots of Progress), and Nick Pinkston (Volition). Additional guests from the Long Now Board and community are being finalized over the coming weeks.

The goal of Avenues Mastery Year is to equip aspiring inventors with the technical skills and long-term perspective needed to envision and invent the future. Visit Avenues Mastery Year to learn more, or get in touch directly by writing to ama@avenues.org.

Worse Than FailureError'd: Not Applicable

"Why yes, I have always pictured myself as not applicable," Olivia T. wrote.

 

"Hey Amazon, now I'm no doctor, but you may need to reconsider your 'Choice' of Acetaminophen as a 'stool softener'," writes Peter.

 

Ivan K. wrote, "Initially, I balked at the price of my new broadband plan, but the speed is just so good that sometimes it's so fast that the reply packets arrive before I even send a request!"

 

"I wanted to check if a site was being slow and, well, I figured it was good time to go read a book," Tero P. writes.

 

Robin L. writes, "I just can't wait to try Edge!"

 

"Yeah, one car stays in the garage, the other is out there tailgating Starman," Keith wrote.

 

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Krebs on SecurityWho’s Behind Wednesday’s Epic Twitter Hack?

Twitter was thrown into chaos on Wednesday after accounts for some of the world’s most recognizable public figures, executives and celebrities starting tweeting out links to bitcoin scams. Twitter says the attack happened because someone tricked or coerced an employee into providing access to internal Twitter administrative tools. This post is an attempt to lay out some of the timeline of the attack, and point to clues about who may have been behind it.

The first public signs of the intrusion came around 3 PM EDT, when the Twitter account for the cryptocurrency exchange Binance tweeted a message saying it had partnered with “CryptoForHealth” to give back 5000 bitcoin to the community, with a link where people could donate or send money.

Minutes after that, similar tweets went out from the accounts of other cryptocurrency exchanges, and from the Twitter accounts for democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, President Barack Obama, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and investment mogul Warren Buffett.

While it may sound ridiculous that anyone would be fooled into sending bitcoin in response to these tweets, an analysis of the BTC wallet promoted by many of the hacked Twitter profiles shows that over the past 24 hours the account has processed 383 transactions and received almost 13 bitcoin — or approximately USD $117,000.

Twitter issued a statement saying it detected “a coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools. We know they used this access to take control of many highly-visible (including verified) accounts and Tweet on their behalf. We’re looking into what other malicious activity they may have conducted or information they may have accessed and will share more here as we have it.”

There are strong indications that this attack was perpetrated by individuals who’ve traditionally specialized in hijacking social media accounts via “SIM swapping,” an increasingly rampant form of crime that involves bribing, hacking or coercing employees at mobile phone and social media companies into providing access to a target’s account.

People within the SIM swapping community are obsessed with hijacking so-called “OG” social media accounts. Short for “original gangster,” OG accounts typically are those with short profile names (such as @B or @joe). Possession of these OG accounts confers a measure of status and perceived influence and wealth in SIM swapping circles, as such accounts can often fetch thousands of dollars when resold in the underground.

In the days leading up to Wednesday’s attack on Twitter, there were signs that some actors in the SIM swapping community were selling the ability to change an email address tied to any Twitter account. In a post on OGusers — a forum dedicated to account hijacking — a user named “Chaewon” advertised they could change email address tied to any Twitter account for $250, and provide direct access to accounts for between $2,000 and $3,000 apiece.

The OGUsers forum user “Chaewon” taking requests to modify the email address tied to any twitter account.

“This is NOT a method, you will be given a full refund if for any reason you aren’t given the email/@, however if it is revered/suspended I will not be held accountable,” Chaewon wrote in their sales thread, which was titled “Pulling email for any Twitter/Taking Requests.”

Hours before any of the Twitter accounts for cryptocurrency platforms or public figures began blasting out bitcoin scams on Wednesday, the attackers appear to have focused their attention on hijacking a handful of OG accounts, including “@6.

That Twitter account was formerly owned by Adrian Lamo — the now-deceased “homeless hacker” perhaps best known for breaking into the New York Times’s network and for reporting Chelsea Manning‘s theft of classified documents. @6 is now controlled by Lamo’s longtime friend, a security researcher and phone phreaker who asked to be identified in this story only by his Twitter nickname, “Lucky225.”

Lucky225 said that just before 2 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, he received a password reset confirmation code via Google Voice for the @6 Twitter account. Lucky said he’d previously disabled SMS notifications as a means of receiving multi-factor codes from Twitter, opting instead to have one-time codes generated by a mobile authentication app.

But because the attackers were able to change the email address tied to the @6 account and disable multi-factor authentication, the one-time authentication code was sent to both his Google Voice account and to the new email address added by the attackers.

“The way the attack worked was that within Twitter’s admin tools, apparently you can update the email address of any Twitter user, and it does this without sending any kind of notification to the user,” Lucky told KrebsOnSecurity. “So [the attackers] could avoid detection by updating the email address on the account first, and then turning off 2FA.”

Lucky said he hasn’t been able to review whether any tweets were sent from his account during the time it was hijacked because he still doesn’t have access to it (he has put together a breakdown of the entire episode at this Medium post).

But around the same time @6 was hijacked, another OG account – @B — was swiped. Someone then began tweeting out pictures of Twitter’s internal tools panel showing the @B account.

A screenshot of the hijacked OG Twitter account “@B,” shows the hijackers logged in to Twitter’s internal account tools interface.

Twitter responded by removing any tweets across its platform that included screenshots of its internal tools, and in some cases temporarily suspended the ability of those accounts to tweet further.

Another Twitter account — @shinji — also was tweeting out screenshots of Twitter’s internal tools. Minutes before Twitter terminated the @shinji account, it was seen publishing a tweet saying “follow @6,” referring to the account hijacked from Lucky225.

The account “@shinji” tweeting a screenshot of Twitter’s internal tools interface.

Cached copies of @Shinji’s tweets prior to Wednesday’s attack on Twitter are available here and here from the Internet Archive. Those caches show Shinji claims ownership of two OG accounts on Instagram — “j0e” and “dead.”

KrebsOnSecurity heard from a source who works in security at one of the largest U.S.-based mobile carriers, who said the “j0e” and “dead” Instagram accounts are tied to a notorious SIM swapper who goes by the nickname “PlugWalkJoe.” Investigators have been tracking PlugWalkJoe because he is thought to have been involved in multiple SIM swapping attacks over the years that preceded high-dollar bitcoin heists.

Archived copies of the @Shinji account on twitter shows one of Joe’s OG Instagram accounts, “Dead.”

Now look at the profile image in the other Archive.org index of the @shinji Twitter account (pictured below). It is the same image as the one included in the @Shinji screenshot above from Wednesday in which Joseph/@Shinji was tweeting out pictures of Twitter’s internal tools.

Image: Archive.org

This individual, the source said, was a key participant in a group of SIM swappers that adopted the nickname “ChucklingSquad,” and was thought to be behind the hijacking of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey‘s Twitter account last year. As Wired.com recounted, @jack was hijacked after the attackers conducted a SIM swap attack against AT&T, the mobile provider for the phone number tied to Dorsey’s Twitter account.

A tweet sent out from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s account while it was hijacked shouted out to PlugWalkJoe and other Chuckling Squad members.

The mobile industry security source told KrebsOnSecurity that PlugWalkJoe in real life is a 21-year-old from Liverpool, U.K. named Joseph James O’Connor. The source said PlugWalkJoe is in Spain where he was attending a university until earlier this year. He added that PlugWalkJoe has been unable to return home on account of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mobile industry source said PlugWalkJoe was the subject of an investigation in which a female investigator was hired to strike up a conversation with PlugWalkJoe and convince him to agree to a video chat. The source further explained that a video which they recorded of that chat showed a distinctive swimming pool in the background.

According to that same source, the pool pictured on PlugWalkJoe’s Instagram account (instagram.com/j0e) is the same one they saw in their video chat with him.

If PlugWalkJoe was in fact pivotal to this Twitter compromise, it’s perhaps fitting that he was identified in part via social engineering. Maybe we should all be grateful the perpetrators of this attack on Twitter did not set their sights on more ambitious aims, such as disrupting an election or the stock market, or attempting to start a war by issuing false, inflammatory tweets from world leaders.

Also, it seems clear that this Twitter hack could have let the attackers view the direct messages of anyone on Twitter, information that is difficult to put a price on but which nevertheless would be of great interest to a variety of parties, from nation states to corporate spies and blackmailers.

This is a fast-moving story. There were multiple people involved in the Twitter heist. Please stay tuned for further updates. KrebsOnSecurity would like to thank Unit 221B for their assistance in connecting some of the dots in this story.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Because of the Implication

Even when you’re using TypeScript, you’re still bound by JavaScript’s type system. You’re also stuck with its object system, which means that each object is really just a dict, and there’s no guarantee that any object has any given key at runtime.

Madison sends us some TypeScript code that is, perhaps not strictly bad, in and of itself, though it certainly contains some badness. It is more of a symptom. It implies a WTF.

    private _filterEmptyValues(value: any): any {
        const filteredValue = {};
        Object.keys(value)
            .filter(key => {
                const v = value[key];

                if (v === null) {
                    return false;
                }
                if (v.von !== undefined || v.bis !== undefined) {
                    return (v.von !== null && v.von !== 'undefined' && v.von !== '') ||
                        (v.bis !== null && v.bis !== 'undefined' && v.bis !== '');
                }
                return (v !== 'undefined' && v !== '');

            }).forEach(key => {
            filteredValue[key] = value[key];
        });
        return filteredValue;
    }

At a guess, this code is meant to be used as part of prepping objects for being part of a request: clean out unused keys before sending or storing them. And as a core methodology, it’s not wrong, and it’s pretty similar to your standard StackOverflow solution to the problem. It’s just… forcing me to ask some questions.

Let’s trace through it. We start by doing an Object.keys to get all the fields on the object. We then filter to remove the “empty” ones.

First, if the value is null, that’s empty. That makes sense.

Then, if the value is an object which contains a von or bis property, we’ll do some more checks. This is a weird definition of “empty”, but fine. We’ll check that they’re both non-null, not an empty string, and not… 'undefined'.

Uh oh.

We then do a similar check on the value itself, to ensure it’s not an empty string, and not 'undefined'.

What this is telling me is that somewhere in processing, sometimes, the actual string “undefined” can be stored, and it’s meant to be treated as JavaScript’s type undefined. That probably shouldn’t be happening, and implies a WTF somewhere else.

Similarly, the von and bis check has to raise a few eyebrows. If an object contains these fields, these fields must contain a value to pass this check. Why? I have no idea.

In the end, this code isn’t the WTF itself, it’s all the questions that it raises that tell me the shape of the WTF. It’s like looking at a black hole: I can’t see the object itself, I can only see the effect it has on the space around it.

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MEWindows 10 on Debian under KVM

Here are some things that you need to do to get Windows 10 running on a Debian host under KVM.

UEFI Booting

UEFI is big and complex, but most of what it does isn’t needed at all. If all you want to do is boot from an image of a disk with a GPT partition table then you just install the package ovmf and add something like the following to your KVM start script:

UEFI="-drive if=pflash,format=raw,readonly,file=/usr/share/OVMF/OVMF_CODE.fd -drive if=pflash,format=raw,readonly,file=/usr/share/OVMF/OVMF_VARS.fd"

Note that some of the documentation on this doesn’t have the OVMF_VARS.fd file set to readonly. Allowing writes to that file means that the VM boot process (and maybe later) can change EFI variables that affect later boots and other VMs if they all share the same file. For a basic boot you don’t need to change variables so you want it read-only. Also having it read-only is necessary if you want to run KVM as non-root.

As an experiment I tried booting without the OVMF_VARS.fd file, it didn’t boot and then even after configuring it to use the OVMF_VARS.fd file again Windows gave a boot error about the “boot configuration data file” that required booting from recovery media. Apparently configuration mistakes with EFI can mess up the Windows installation, so be careful and backup the Windows installation regularly!

Linux can boot from EFI but you generally don’t want to unless the boot device is larger than 2TB. It’s relatively easy to convert a Linux installation on a GPT disk to a virtual image on a DOS partition table disk or on block devices without partition tables and that gives a faster boot. If the same person runs the host hardware and the VMs then the best choice for Linux is to have no partition tables just one filesystem per block device (which makes resizing much easier) and have the kernel passed as a parameter to kvm. So booting a VM from EFI is probably only useful for booting Windows VMs and for Linux boot loader development and testing.

As an aside, the Debian Wiki page about Secure Boot on a VM [4] was useful for this. It’s unfortunate that it and so much of the documentation about UEFI is about secure boot which isn’t so useful if you just want to boot a system without regard to the secure boot features.

Emulated IDE Disks

Debian kernels (and probably kernels from many other distributions) are compiled with the paravirtualised storage device drivers. Windows by default doesn’t support such devices so you need to emulate an IDE/SATA disk so you can boot Windows and install the paravirtualised storage driver. The following configuration snippet has a commented line for paravirtualised IO (which is fast) and an uncommented line for a virtual IDE/SATA disk that will allow an unmodified Windows 10 installation to boot.

#DRIVE="-drive format=raw,file=/home/kvm/windows10,if=virtio"
DRIVE="-drive id=disk,format=raw,file=/home/kvm/windows10,if=none -device ahci,id=ahci -device ide-drive,drive=disk,bus=ahci.0"

Spice Video

Spice is an alternative to VNC, Here is the main web site for Spice [1]. Spice has many features that could be really useful for some people, like audio, sharing USB devices from the client, and streaming video support. I don’t have a need for those features right now but it’s handy to have options. My main reason for choosing Spice over VNC is that the mouse cursor in the ssvnc doesn’t follow the actual mouse and can be difficult or impossible to click on items near edges of the screen.

The following configuration will make the QEMU code listen with SSL on port 1234 on all IPv4 addresses. Note that this exposes the Spice password to anyone who can run ps on the KVM server, I’ve filed Debian bug #965061 requesting the option of a password file to address this. Also note that the “qxl” virtual video hardware is VGA compatible and can be expected to work with OS images that haven’t been modified for virtualisation, but that they work better with special video drivers.

KEYDIR=/etc/letsencrypt/live/kvm.example.com-0001
-spice password=xxxxxxxx,x509-cacert-file=$KEYDIR/chain.pem,x509-key-file=$KEYDIR/privkey.pem,x509-cert-file=$KEYDIR/cert.pem,tls-port=1234,tls-channel=main -vga qxl

To connect to the Spice server I installed the spice-client-gtk package in Debian and ran the following command:

spicy -h kvm.example.com -s 1234 -w xxxxxxxx

Note that this exposes the Spice password to anyone who can run ps on the system used as a client for Spice, I’ve filed Debian bug #965060 requesting the option of a password file to address this.

This configuration with an unmodified Windows 10 image only supported 800*600 resolution VGA display.

Networking

To set up bridged networking as non-root you need to do something like the following as root:

chgrp kvm /usr/lib/qemu/qemu-bridge-helper
setcap cap_net_admin+ep /usr/lib/qemu/qemu-bridge-helper
mkdir -p /etc/qemu
echo "allow all" > /etc/qemu/bridge.conf
chgrp kvm /etc/qemu/bridge.conf
chmod 640 /etc/qemu/bridge.conf

Windows 10 supports the emulated Intel E1000 network card. Configuration like the following configures networking on a bridge named br0 with an emulated E1000 card. MAC addresses that have a 1 in the second least significant bit of the first octet are “locally administered” (like IPv4 addresses starting with “10.”), see the Wikipedia page about MAC Address for details.

The following is an example of network configuration where $ID is an ID number for the virtual machine. So far I haven’t come close to 256 VMs on one network so I’ve only needed one octet.

NET="-device e1000,netdev=net0,mac=02:00:00:00:01:$ID -netdev tap,id=net0,helper=/usr/lib/qemu/qemu-bridge-helper,br=br0"

Final KVM Settings

KEYDIR=/etc/letsencrypt/live/kvm.example.com-0001
SPICE="-spice password=xxxxxxxx,x509-cacert-file=$KEYDIR/chain.pem,x509-key-file=$KEYDIR/privkey.pem,x509-cert-file=$KEYDIR/cert.pem,tls-port=1234,tls-channel=main -vga qxl"

UEFI="-drive if=pflash,format=raw,readonly,file=/usr/share/OVMF/OVMF_CODE.fd -drive if=pflash,format=raw,readonly,file=/usr/share/OVMF/OVMF_VARS.fd"

DRIVE="-drive format=raw,file=/home/kvm/windows10,if=virtio"

NET="-device e1000,netdev=net0,mac=02:00:00:00:01:$ID -netdev tap,id=net0,helper=/usr/lib/qemu/qemu-bridge-helper,br=br0"

kvm -m 4000 -smp 2 $SPICE $UEFI $DRIVE $NET

Windows Settings

The Spice Download page has a link for “spice-guest-tools” that has the QNX video driver among other things [2]. This seems to be needed for resolutions greater than 800*600.

The Virt-Manager Download page has a link for “virt-viewer” which is the Spice client for Windows systems [3], they have MSI files for both i386 and AMD64 Windows.

It’s probably a good idea to set display and system to sleep after never (I haven’t tested what happens if you don’t do that, but there’s no benefit in sleeping). Before uploading an image I disabled the pagefile and set the partition to the minimum size so I had less data to upload.

Problems

Here are some things I haven’t solved yet.

The aSpice Android client for the Spice protocol fails to connect with the QEMU code at the server giving the following message on stderr: “error:14094418:SSL routines:ssl3_read_bytes:tlsv1 alert unknown ca:../ssl/record/rec_layer_s3.c:1544:SSL alert number 48“.

Spice is supposed to support dynamic changes to screen resolution on the VM to match the window size at the client, this doesn’t work for me, not even with the Red Hat QNX drivers installed.

The Windows Spice client doesn’t seem to support TLS, I guess running some sort of proxy for TLS would work but I haven’t tried that yet.

,

CryptogramNSA on Securing VPNs

The NSA's Central Security Service -- that's the part that's supposed to work on defense -- has released two documents (a full and an abridged version) on securing virtual private networks. Some of it is basic, but it contains good information.

Maintaining a secure VPN tunnel can be complex and requires regular maintenance. To maintain a secure VPN, network administrators should perform the following tasks on a regular basis:

  • Reduce the VPN gateway attack surface
  • Verify that cryptographic algorithms are Committee on National Security Systems Policy (CNSSP) 15-compliant
  • Avoid using default VPN settings
  • Remove unused or non-compliant cryptography suites
  • Apply vendor-provided updates (i.e. patches) for VPN gateways and clients

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Dates by the Dozen

Before our regularly scheduled programming, Code & Supply, a developer community group we've collaborated with in the past, is running a salary survey, to gauge the state of the industry. More responses are always helpful, so I encourage you to take a few minutes and pitch in.

Cid was recently combing through an inherited Java codebase, and it predates Java 8. That’s a fancy way of saying “there were no good date builtins, just a mess of cruddy APIs”. That’s not to say that there weren’t date builtins prior to Java 8- they were just bad.

Bad, but better than this. Cid sent along a lot of code, and instead of going through it all, let’s get to some of the “highlights”. Much of this is stuff we’ve seen variations on before, but have been combined in ways to really elevate the badness. There are dozens of these methods, which we are only going to look at a sample of.

Let’s start with the String getLocalDate() method, which attempts to construct a timestamp in the form yyyyMMdd. As you can already predict, it does a bunch of string munging to get there, with blocks like:

switch (calendar.get(Calendar.MONTH)){
      case Calendar.JANUARY:
        sb.append("01");
        break;
      case Calendar.FEBRUARY:
        sb.append("02");
        break;
      …
}

Plus, we get the added bonus of one of those delightful “how do I pad an integer out to two digits?” blocks:

if (calendar.get(Calendar.DAY_OF_MONTH) < 10) {
  sb.append("0" + calendar.get(Calendar.DAY_OF_MONTH));
}
else {
  sb.append(calendar.get(Calendar.DAY_OF_MONTH));
}

Elsewhere, they expect a timestamp to be in the form yyyyMMddHHmmssZ, so they wrote a handy void checkTimestamp method. Wait, void you say? Shouldn’t it be boolean?

Well here’s the full signature:

public static void checkTimestamp(String timestamp, String name)
  throws IOException

Why return a boolean when you can throw an exception on bad input? Unless the bad input is a null, in which case:

if (timestamp == null) {
  return;
}

Nulls are valid timestamps, which is useful to know. We next get a lovely block of checking each character to ensure that they’re digits, and a second check to ensure that the last is the letter Z, which turns out to be double work, since the very next step is:

int year = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(0,4));
int month = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(4,6));
int day = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(6,8));
int hour = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(8,10));
int minute = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(10,12));
int second = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(12,14));

Followed by a validation check for day and month:

if (day < 1) {
  throw new IOException(msg);
}
if ((month < 1) || (month > 12)) {
  throw new IOException(msg);
}
if (month == 2) {
  if ((year %4 == 0 && year%100 != 0) || year%400 == 0) {
    if (day > 29) {
      throw new IOException(msg);
    }
  }
  else {
    if (day > 28) {
      throw new IOException(msg);
  }
  }
}
if (month == 1 || month == 3 || month == 5 || month == 7
|| month == 8 || month == 10 || month == 12) {
  if (day > 31) {
    throw new IOException(msg);
  }
}
if (month == 4 || month == 6 || month == 9 || month == 11) {
  if (day > 30) {
    throw new IOException(msg);
  }
"

The upshot is they at least got the logic right.

What’s fun about this is that the original developer never once considered “maybe I need an intermediate data structure beside a string to manipulate dates”. Nope, we’re just gonna munge that string all day. And that is our entire plan for all date operations, which brings us to the real exciting part, where this transcends from “just regular old bad date code” into full on WTF territory.

Would you like to see how they handle adding units of time? Like days?

public static String additionOfDays(String timestamp, int intervall) {
  int year = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(0,4));
  int month = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(4,6));
  int day = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(6,8));
  int len = timestamp.length();
  String timestamp_rest = timestamp.substring(8, len);
  int lastDayOfMonth = 31;
  int current_intervall = intervall;
  while (current_intervall > 0) {
    lastDayOfMonth = getDaysOfMonth(year, month);
    if (day + current_intervall > lastDayOfMonth) {
      current_intervall = current_intervall - (lastDayOfMonth - day);
      if (month < 12) {
        month++;
      }
      else {
        year++;
        month = 1;
      }
      day = 0;
    }
    else {
      day = day + current_intervall;
      current_intervall = 0;
    }
  }
  String new_year = "" + year + "";
  String new_month = null;
  if (month < 10) {
    new_month = "0" + month + "";
  }
  else {
    new_month = "" + month + "";
  }
  String new_day = null;
  if (day < 10) {
    new_day = "0" + day + "";
  }
  else {
    new_day = "" + day + "";
  }
  return new String(new_year + new_month + new_day + timestamp_rest);
}

The only thing I can say is that here they realized that “hey, wait, maybe I can modularize” and figured out how to stuff their “how many days are in a month” logic into getDaysOfMonth, which you can see invoked above.

Beyond that, they manually handle carrying, and never once pause to think, “hey, maybe there’s a better way”.

And speaking of repeating code, guess what- there’s also a public static String additionOfSeconds(String timestamp, int intervall) method, too.

There are dozens of similar methods, Cid has only provided us a sample. Cid adds:

This particular developer didn’t trust in too fine modularization and code reusing (DRY!). So for every of this dozen of methods, he has implemented these date parsing/formatting algorithms again and again! And no, not just copy/paste; every time it is a real wheel-reinvention. The code blocks and the position of single code lines look different for every method.

Once Cid got too frustrated by this code, they went and reimplemented it in modern Java date APIs, shrinking the codebase by hundreds of lines.

The full blob of code Cid sent in follows, for your “enjoyment”:

public static String getLocalDate() {
  TimeZone tz = TimeZone.getDefault();
  GregorianCalendar calendar = new GregorianCalendar(tz);
  calendar.setTime(new Date());
  StringBuffer sb = new StringBuffer();
  sb.append(calendar.get(Calendar.YEAR));
  switch (calendar.get(Calendar.MONTH)){
    case Calendar.JANUARY:
      sb.append("01");
      break;
    case Calendar.FEBRUARY:
      sb.append("02");
      break;
    case Calendar.MARCH:
      sb.append("03");
      break;
    case Calendar.APRIL:
      sb.append("04");
      break;
    case Calendar.MAY:
      sb.append("05");
      break;
    case Calendar.JUNE:
      sb.append("06");
      break;
    case Calendar.JULY:
      sb.append("07");
      break;
    case Calendar.AUGUST:
      sb.append("08");
      break;
    case Calendar.SEPTEMBER:
      sb.append("09");
      break;
    case Calendar.OCTOBER:
      sb.append("10");
      break;
    case Calendar.NOVEMBER:
      sb.append("11");
      break;
    case Calendar.DECEMBER:
      sb.append("12");
      break;
  }
  if (calendar.get(Calendar.DAY_OF_MONTH) < 10) {
    sb.append("0" + calendar.get(Calendar.DAY_OF_MONTH));
  }
  else {
    sb.append(calendar.get(Calendar.DAY_OF_MONTH));
  }
  return sb.toString();
}

public static void checkTimestamp(String timestamp, String name)
throws IOException {
  if (timestamp == null) {
    return;
  }
  String msg = new String(
      "Wrong date or time. (" + name + "=\"" + timestamp + "\")");
  int len = timestamp.length();
  if (len != 15) {
    throw new IOException(msg);
  }
  for (int i = 0; i < (len - 1); i++) {
    if (! Character.isDigit(timestamp.charAt(i))) {
      throw new IOException(msg);
    }
  }
  if (timestamp.charAt(len - 1) != 'Z') {
    throw new IOException(msg);
  }
  int year = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(0,4));
  int month = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(4,6));
  int day = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(6,8));
  int hour = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(8,10));
  int minute = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(10,12));
  int second = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(12,14));
  if (day < 1) {
    throw new IOException(msg);
  }
  if ((month < 1) || (month > 12)) {
    throw new IOException(msg);
  }
  if (month == 2) {
    if ((year %4 == 0 && year%100 != 0) || year%400 == 0) {
      if (day > 29) {
        throw new IOException(msg);
      }
    }
    else {
      if (day > 28) {
        throw new IOException(msg);
    }
    }
  }
  if (month == 1 || month == 3 || month == 5 || month == 7
  || month == 8 || month == 10 || month == 12) {
    if (day > 31) {
      throw new IOException(msg);
    }
  }
  if (month == 4 || month == 6 || month == 9 || month == 11) {
    if (day > 30) {
      throw new IOException(msg);
    }
  }
  if ((hour < 0) || (hour > 24)) {
    throw new IOException(msg);
  }
  if ((minute < 0) || (minute > 59)) {
    throw new IOException(msg);
  }
  if ((second < 0) || (second > 59)) {
    throw new IOException(msg);
  }
}

public static String additionOfDays(String timestamp, int intervall) {
  int year = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(0,4));
  int month = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(4,6));
  int day = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(6,8));
  int len = timestamp.length();
  String timestamp_rest = timestamp.substring(8, len);
  int lastDayOfMonth = 31;
  int current_intervall = intervall;
  while (current_intervall > 0) {
    lastDayOfMonth = getDaysOfMonth(year, month);
    if (day + current_intervall > lastDayOfMonth) {
      current_intervall = current_intervall - (lastDayOfMonth - day);
      if (month < 12) {
        month++;
      }
      else {
        year++;
        month = 1;
      }
      day = 0;
    }
    else {
      day = day + current_intervall;
      current_intervall = 0;
    }
  }
  String new_year = "" + year + "";
  String new_month = null;
  if (month < 10) {
    new_month = "0" + month + "";
  }
  else {
    new_month = "" + month + "";
  }
  String new_day = null;
  if (day < 10) {
    new_day = "0" + day + "";
  }
  else {
    new_day = "" + day + "";
  }
  return new String(new_year + new_month + new_day + timestamp_rest);
}

public static String additionOfSeconds(String timestamp, int intervall) {
  int hour = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(8,10));
  int minute = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(10,12));
  int second = Integer.parseInt(timestamp.substring(12,14));
  int new_second = (second + intervall) % 60;
  int minute_intervall = (second + intervall) / 60;
  int new_minute = (minute + minute_intervall) % 60;
  int hour_intervall = (minute + minute_intervall) / 60;
  int new_hour = (hour + hour_intervall) % 24;
  int day_intervall = (hour + hour_intervall) / 24;
  StringBuffer new_time = new StringBuffer();
  if (new_hour < 10) {
    new_time.append("0" + new_hour + "");
  }
  else {
    new_time.append("" + new_hour + "");
  }
  if (new_minute < 10) {
    new_time.append("0" + new_minute + "");
  }
  else {
    new_time.append("" + new_minute + "");
  }
  if (new_second < 10) {
    new_time.append("0" + new_second + "");
  }
  else {
    new_time.append("" + new_second + "");
  }
  if (day_intervall > 0) {
    return additionOfDays(timestamp.substring(0,8) + new_time.toString() + "Z", day_intervall);
  }
  else {
    return (timestamp.substring(0,8) + new_time.toString() + "Z");
  }
}

public static int getDaysOfMonth(int year, int month) {
  int lastDayOfMonth = 31;
  switch (month) {
    case 1: case 3: case 5: case 7: case 8: case 10: case 12:
      lastDayOfMonth = 31;
      break;
    case 2:
      if ((year % 4 == 0 && year % 100 != 0) || year %400 == 0) {
        lastDayOfMonth = 29;
      }
      else {
        lastDayOfMonth = 28;
      }
      break;
    case 4: case 6: case 9: case 11:
      lastDayOfMonth = 30;
      break;
  }
  return lastDayOfMonth;
}
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CryptogramEFF's 30th Anniversary Livestream

It's the EFF's 30th birthday, and the organization is having a celebratory livestream today from 3:00 to 10:00 pm PDT.

There are a lot of interesting discussions and things. I am having a fireside chat at 4:10 pm PDT to talk about the Crypto Wars and more.

Stop by. And thank you for supporting EFF.

EDITED TO ADD: This event is over, but you can watch a recorded version on YouTube.

,

Krebs on Security‘Wormable’ Flaw Leads July Microsoft Patches

Microsoft today released updates to plug a whopping 123 security holes in Windows and related software, including fixes for a critical, “wormable” flaw in Windows Server versions that Microsoft says is likely to be exploited soon. While this particular weakness mainly affects enterprises, July’s care package from Redmond has a little something for everyone. So if you’re a Windows (ab)user, it’s time once again to back up and patch up (preferably in that order).

Top of the heap this month in terms of outright scariness is CVE-2020-1350, which concerns a remotely exploitable bug in more or less all versions of Windows Server that attackers could use to install malicious software simply by sending a specially crafted DNS request.

Microsoft said it is not aware of reports that anyone is exploiting the weakness (yet), but the flaw has been assigned a CVSS score of 10, which translates to “easy to attack” and “likely to be exploited.”

“We consider this to be a wormable vulnerability, meaning that it has the potential to spread via malware between vulnerable computers without user interaction,” Microsoft wrote in its documentation of CVE-2020-1350. “DNS is a foundational networking component and commonly installed on Domain Controllers, so a compromise could lead to significant service interruptions and the compromise of high level domain accounts.”

CVE-2020-1350 is just the latest worry for enterprise system administrators in charge of patching dangerous bugs in widely-used software. Over the past couple of weeks, fixes for flaws with high severity ratings have been released for a broad array of software products typically used by businesses, including Citrix, F5, Juniper, Oracle and SAP. This at a time when many organizations are already short-staffed and dealing with employees working remotely thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Windows Server vulnerability isn’t the only nasty one addressed this month that malware or malcontents can use to break into systems without any help from users. A full 17 other critical flaws fixed in this release tackle security weaknesses that Microsoft assigned its most dire “critical” rating, such as in Office, Internet Exploder, SharePoint, Visual Studio, and Microsoft’s .NET Framework.

Some of the more eyebrow-raising critical bugs addressed this month include CVE-2020-1410, which according to Recorded Future concerns the Windows Address Book and could be exploited via a malicious vcard file. Then there’s CVE-2020-1421, which protects against potentially malicious .LNK files (think Stuxnet) that could be exploited via an infected removable drive or remote share. And we have the dynamic duo of CVE-2020-1435 and CVE-2020-1436, which involve problems with the way Windows handles images and fonts that could both be exploited to install malware just by getting a user to click a booby-trapped link or document.

Not to say flaws rated “important” as opposed to critical aren’t also a concern. Chief among those is CVE-2020-1463, a problem within Windows 10 and Server 2016 or later that was detailed publicly prior to this month’s Patch Tuesday.

Before you update with this month’s patch batch, please make sure you have backed up your system and/or important files. It’s not uncommon for a particular Windows update to hose one’s system or prevent it from booting properly, and some updates even have been known to erase or corrupt files. Last month’s bundle of joy from Microsoft sent my Windows 10 system into a perpetual crash state. Thankfully, I was able to restore from a recent backup.

So do yourself a favor and backup before installing any patches. Windows 10 even has some built-in tools to help you do that, either on a per-file/folder basis or by making a complete and bootable copy of your hard drive all at once.

Also, keep in mind that Windows 10 is set to apply patches on its own schedule, which means if you delay backing up you could be in for a wild ride. If you wish to ensure the operating system has been set to pause updating so you can back up your files and/or system before the operating system decides to reboot and install patches whenever it sees fit, see this guide.

As always, if you experience glitches or problems installing any of these patches this month, please consider leaving a comment about it below; there’s a better-than-even chance other readers have experienced the same and may chime in here with some helpful tips. Also, keep an eye on the AskWoody blog from Woody Leonhard, who keeps a reliable lookout for buggy Microsoft updates each month.

CryptogramEnigma Machine for Sale

A four-rotor Enigma machine -- with rotors -- is up for auction.

CryptogramHalf a Million IoT Passwords Leaked

It is amazing that this sort of thing can still happen:

...the list was compiled by scanning the entire internet for devices that were exposing their Telnet port. The hacker then tried using (1) factory-set default usernames and passwords, or (2) custom, but easy-to-guess password combinations.

Telnet? Default passwords? In 2020?

We have a long way to go to secure the IoT.

EDITED TO ADD (7/14): Apologies, but I previously blogged this story in January.

Worse Than FailureRepresentative Line: An Exceptional Leader

IniTech’s IniTest division makes a number of hardware products, like a protocol analyzer which you can plug into a network and use to monitor data in transport. As you can imagine, it involves a fair bit of software, and it involves a fair bit of hardware. Since it’s a testing and debugging tool, reliability, accuracy, and stability are the watchwords of the day.

Which is why the software development process was overseen by Russel. Russel was the “Alpha Geek”, blessed by the C-level to make sure that the software was up to snuff. This lead to some conflict- Russel had a bad habit of shoulder-surfing his fellow developers and telling them what to type- but otherwise worked very well. Foibles aside, Russel was technically competent, knew the problem domain well, and had a clean, precise, and readable coding style which all the other developers tried to imitate.

It was that last bit which got Ashleigh’s attention. Because, scattered throughout the entire C# codebase, there are exception handlers which look like this:

try
{
	// some code, doesn't matter what
	// ...
}
catch (Exception ex)
{
   ex = ex;
}

This isn’t the sort of thing which one developer did. Nearly everyone on the team had a commit like that, and when Ashleigh asked about it, she was told “It’s just a best practice. We’re following Russel’s lead. It’s for debugging.”

Ashleigh asked Russel about it, but he just grumbled and had no interest in talking about it beyond, “Just… do it if it makes sense to you, or ignore it. It’s not necessary.”

If it wasn’t necessary, why was it so common in the codebase? Why was everyone “following Russel’s lead”?

Ashleigh tracked down the original commit which started this pattern. It was made by Russel, but the exception handler had one tiny, important difference:

catch (Exception ex)
{
   ex = ex; //putting this here to set a breakpoint
}

Yes, this was just a bit of debugging code. It was never meant to be committed. Russel pushed it into the main history by accident, and the other developers saw it, and thought to themselves, “If Russel does it, it must be the right thing to do,” and started copying him.

By the time Russel noticed what was going on, it was too late. The standard had been set while he wasn’t looking, and whether it was ego or cowardice, Russel just could never get the team to follow his lead away from the pointless pattern.

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MEDebian PPC64EL Emulation

In my post on Debian S390X Emulation [1] I mentioned having problems booting a Debian PPC64EL kernel under QEMU. Giovanni commented that they had PPC64EL working and gave a link to their site with Debian QEMU images for various architectures [2]. I tried their image which worked then tried mine again which also worked – it seemed that a recent update in Debian/Unstable fixed the bug that made QEMU not work with the PPC64EL kernel.

Here are the instructions on how to do it.

First you need to create a filesystem in an an image file with commands like the following:

truncate -s 4g /vmstore/ppc
mkfs.ext4 /vmstore/ppc
mount -o loop /vmstore/ppc /mnt/tmp

Then visit the Debian Netinst page [3] to download the PPC64EL net install ISO. Then loopback mount it somewhere convenient like /mnt/tmp2.

The package qemu-system-ppc has the program for emulating a PPC64LE system, the qemu-user-static package has the program for emulating PPC64LE for a single program (IE a statically linked program or a chroot environment), you need this to run debootstrap. The following commands should be most of what you need.

apt install qemu-system-ppc qemu-user-static

update-binfmts --display

# qemu ppc64 needs exec stack to solve "Could not allocate dynamic translator buffer"
# so enable that on SE Linux systems
setsebool -P allow_execstack 1

debootstrap --foreign --arch=ppc64el --no-check-gpg buster /mnt/tmp file:///mnt/tmp2
chroot /mnt/tmp /debootstrap/debootstrap --second-stage

cat << END > /mnt/tmp/etc/apt/sources.list
deb http://mirror.internode.on.net/pub/debian/ buster main
deb http://security.debian.org/ buster/updates main
END
echo "APT::Install-Recommends False;" > /mnt/tmp/etc/apt/apt.conf

echo ppc64 > /mnt/tmp/etc/hostname

# /usr/bin/awk: error while loading shared libraries: cannot restore segment prot after reloc: Permission denied
# only needed for chroot
setsebool allow_execmod 1

chroot /mnt/tmp apt update
# why aren't they in the default install?
chroot /mnt/tmp apt install perl dialog
chroot /mnt/tmp apt dist-upgrade
chroot /mnt/tmp apt install bash-completion locales man-db openssh-server build-essential systemd-sysv ifupdown vim ca-certificates gnupg
# install kernel last because systemd install rebuilds initrd
chroot /mnt/tmp apt install linux-image-ppc64el
chroot /mnt/tmp dpkg-reconfigure locales
chroot /mnt/tmp passwd

cat << END > /mnt/tmp/etc/fstab
/dev/vda / ext4 noatime 0 0
#/dev/vdb none swap defaults 0 0
END

mkdir /mnt/tmp/root/.ssh
chmod 700 /mnt/tmp/root/.ssh
cp ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub /mnt/tmp/root/.ssh/authorized_keys
chmod 600 /mnt/tmp/root/.ssh/authorized_keys

rm /mnt/tmp/vmlinux* /mnt/tmp/initrd*
mkdir /boot/ppc64
cp /mnt/tmp/boot/[vi]* /boot/ppc64

# clean up
umount /mnt/tmp
umount /mnt/tmp2

# setcap binary for starting bridged networking
setcap cap_net_admin+ep /usr/lib/qemu/qemu-bridge-helper

# afterwards set the access on /etc/qemu/bridge.conf so it can only
# be read by the user/group permitted to start qemu/kvm
echo "allow all" > /etc/qemu/bridge.conf

Here is an example script for starting kvm. It can be run by any user that can read /etc/qemu/bridge.conf.

#!/bin/bash
set -e

KERN="kernel /boot/ppc64/vmlinux-4.19.0-9-powerpc64le -initrd /boot/ppc64/initrd.img-4.19.0-9-powerpc64le"

# single network device, can have multiple
NET="-device e1000,netdev=net0,mac=02:02:00:00:01:04 -netdev tap,id=net0,helper=/usr/lib/qemu/qemu-bridge-helper"

# random number generator for fast start of sshd etc
RNG="-object rng-random,filename=/dev/urandom,id=rng0 -device virtio-rng-pci,rng=rng0"

# I have lockdown because it does no harm now and is good for future kernels
# I enable SE Linux everywhere
KERNCMD="net.ifnames=0 noresume security=selinux root=/dev/vda ro lockdown=confidentiality"

kvm -drive format=raw,file=/vmstore/ppc64,if=virtio $RNG -nographic -m 1024 -smp 2 $KERN -curses -append "$KERNCMD" $NET

,

Krebs on SecurityBreached Data Indexer ‘Data Viper’ Hacked

Data Viper, a security startup that provides access to some 15 billion usernames, passwords and other information exposed in more than 8,000 website breaches, has itself been hacked and its user database posted online. The hackers also claim they are selling on the dark web roughly 2 billion records Data Viper collated from numerous breaches and data leaks, including data from several companies that likely either do not know they have been hacked or have not yet publicly disclosed an intrusion.

The apparent breach at St. Louis, Mo. based Data Viper offers a cautionary and twisted tale of what can happen when security researchers seeking to gather intelligence about illegal activity online get too close to their prey or lose sight of their purported mission. The incident also highlights the often murky area between what’s legal and ethical in combating cybercrime.

Data Viper is the brainchild of Vinny Troia, a security researcher who runs a cyber threat intelligence company called Night Lion Security. Since its inception in 2018, Data Viper has billed itself as a “threat intelligence platform designed to provide organizations, investigators and law enforcement with access to the largest collection of private hacker channels, pastes, forums and breached databases on the market.”

Many private companies sell access to such information to vetted clients — mainly law enforcement officials and anti-fraud experts working in security roles at major companies that can foot the bill for these often pricey services.

Data Viper has sought to differentiate itself by advertising “access to private and undisclosed breach data.” As KrebsOnSecurity noted in a 2018 story, Troia has acknowledged posing as a buyer or seller on various dark web forums as a way to acquire old and newly-hacked databases from other forum members.

But this approach may have backfired over the weekend, when someone posted to the deep web a link to an “e-zine” (electronic magazine) describing the Data Viper hack and linking to the Data Viper user base. The anonymous poster alleged he’d been inside Data Viper for months and had exfiltrated hundreds of gigabytes of breached data from the service without notice.

The intruder also linked to several dozen new sales threads on the dark web site Empire Market, where they advertise the sale of hundreds of millions of account details from dozens of leaked or hacked website databases that Data Viper allegedly acquired via trading with others on cybercrime forums.

An online post by the attackers who broke into Data Viper.

Some of the databases for sale tie back to known, publicly reported breaches. But others correspond to companies that do not appear to have disclosed a security incident. As such, KrebsOnSecurity is not naming most of those companies and is currently attempting to ascertain the validity of the claims.

KrebsOnSecurity did speak with Victor Ho, the CEO of Fivestars.com, a company that helps smaller firms run customer loyalty programs. The hackers claimed they are selling 44 million records taken from Fivestars last year. Ho said he was unaware of any data security incident and that no such event had been reported to his company, but that Fivestars is now investigating the claims. Ho allowed that the number of records mentioned in the dark web sales thread roughly matches the number of users his company had last year.

But on Aug. 3, 2019, Data Viper’s Twitter account casually noted, “FiveStars — 44m breached records added – incl Name, Email, DOB.” The post, buried among a flurry of similar statements about huge caches of breached personal information added to Data Viper, received hardly any attention and garnered just one retweet.

GNOSTIC PLAYERS, SHINY HUNTERS

Reached via Twitter, Troia acknowledged that his site had been hacked, but said the attackers only got access to the development server for Data Viper, and not the more critical production systems that power the service and which house his index of compromised credentials.

Troia said the people responsible for compromising his site are the same people who hacked the databases they are now selling on the dark web and claiming to have obtained exclusively from his service.

What’s more, Troia believes the attack was a preemptive strike in response to a keynote he’s giving in Boston this week: On June 29, Troia tweeted that he plans to use the speech to publicly expose the identities of the hackers, who he suspects are behind a large number of website break-ins over the years.

Hacked or leaked credentials are prized by cybercriminals engaged in “credential stuffing,” a rampant form of cybercrime that succeeds when people use the same passwords across multiple websites. Armed with a list of email addresses and passwords from a breached site, attackers will then automate login attempts using those same credentials at hundreds of other sites.

Password re-use becomes orders of magnitude more dangerous when website developers engage in this unsafe practice. Indeed, a January 2020 post on the Data Viper blog suggests credential stuffing is exactly how the group he plans to discuss in his upcoming talk perpetrated their website compromises.

In that post, Troia wrote that the hacker group, known variously as “Gnostic Players” and “Shiny Hunters,” plundered countless website databases using roughly the same method: Targeting developers using credential stuffing attacks to log into their GitHub accounts.

“While there, they would pillage the code repositories, looking for AWS keys and similar credentials that were checked into code repositories,” Troia wrote.

Troia said the intrusion into his service wasn’t the result of the credential re-use, but instead because his developer accidentally left his credentials exposed in documents explaining how customers can use Data Viper’s application programming interface.

“I will say the irony of how they got in is absolutely amazing,” Troia said. “But all of this stuff they claim to be selling is [databases] they were already selling. All of this is from Gnostic players. None of it came from me. It’s all for show to try and discredit my report and my talk.”

Troia said he didn’t know how many of the databases Gnostic Players claimed to have obtained from his site were legitimate hacks or even public yet.

“As for public reporting on the databases, a lot of that will be in my report Wednesday,” he said. “All of my ‘reporting’ goes to the FBI.”

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

The e-zine produced by the Data Viper hackers claimed that Troia used many nicknames on various cybercrime forums, including the moniker “Exabyte” on OGUsers, a forum that’s been closely associated with account takeovers.

In a conversation with KrebsOnSecurity, Troia acknowledged that this Exabyte attribution was correct, noting that he was happy about the exposure because it further solidified his suspicions about who was responsible for hacking his site.

This is interesting because some of the hacked databases the intruders claimed to have acquired after compromising Data Viper correspond to discoveries credited to Troia in which companies inadvertently exposed tens of millions of user details by leaving them publicly accessible online at cloud services like Amazon’s EC2.

For example, in March 2019, Troia said he’d co-discovered a publicly accessible database containing 150 gigabytes of plaintext marketing data — including 763 million unique email addresses. The data had been exposed online by Verifications.io, an email validation firm.

On Oct 12, 2019, a new user named Exabyte registered on RaidForums — a site dedicated to sharing hacked databases and tools to perpetrate credential stuffing attacks. That Exabyte account was registered less than two weeks after Troia created his Exabyte identity on OGUsers. The Exabyte on RaidForums posted on Dec. 26, 2019 that he was providing the community with something of a belated Christmas present: 200 million accounts leaked from Verifications.io.

“Verifications.io is finally here!” Exabyte enthused. “This release contains 69 of 70 of the original verifications.io databases, totaling 200+ million accounts.”

Exabyte’s offer of the Verifications.io database on RaidForums.

In May 2018, Troia was featured in Wired.com and many other publications after discovering that sales intelligence firm Apollo left 125 million email addresses and nine billion data points publicly exposed in a cloud service. As I reported in 2018, prior to that disclosure Troia had sought my help in identifying the source of the exposed data, which he’d initially and incorrectly concluded was exposed by LinkedIn.com. Rather, Apollo had scraped and collated the data from many different sites, including LinkedIn.

Then in August 2018, someone using the nickname “Soundcard” posted a sales thread to the now-defunct Kickass dark web forum offering the personal information of 212 million LinkedIn users in exchange for two bitcoin (then the equivalent of ~$12,000 USD). Incredibly, Troia had previously told me that he was the person behind that Soundcard identity on the Kickass forum.

Soundcard, a.k.a. Troia, offering to sell what he claimed was all of LinkedIn’s user data, on the Dark Web forum Kickass.

Asked about the Exabyte posts on RaidForums, Troia said he wasn’t the only one who had access to the Verifications.io data, and that the full scope of what’s been going on would become clearer soon.

“More than one person can have the same name ‘Exabyte,” Troia said. “So much from both sides you are seeing is smoke and mirrors.”

Smoke and mirrors, indeed. It’s entirely possible this incident is an elaborate and cynical PR stunt by Troia to somehow spring a trap on the bad guys. Troia recently published a book on threat hunting, and on page 360 (PDF) he describes how he previously staged a hack against his own site and then bragged about the fake intrusion on cybercrime forums in a bid to gather information about specific cybercriminals who took the bait — the same people, by the way, he claims are behind the attack on his site.

MURKY WATERS

While the trading of hacked databases may not technically be illegal in the United States, it’s fair to say the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) takes a dim view of those who operate services marketed to cybercriminals.

In January 2020, U.S. authorities seized the domain of WeLeakInfo.com, an online service that for three years sold access to data hacked from other websites. Two men were arrested in connection with that seizure. In February 2017, the Justice Department took down LeakedSource, a service that operated similarly to WeLeakInfo.

The DOJ recently released guidance (PDF) to help threat intelligence companies avoid the risk of prosecution when gathering and purchasing data from illicit sources online. The guidelines suggest that some types of intelligence gathering — particularly exchanging ill-gotten information with others on crime forums as a way to gain access to other data or to increase one’s status on the forum — could be especially problematic.

“If a practitioner becomes an active member of a forum and exchanges information and communicates directly with other forum members, the practitioner can quickly become enmeshed in illegal conduct, if not careful,” reads the Feb. 2020 DOJ document.

The document continues:

“It may be easier for an undercover practitioner to extract information from sources on the forum who have learned to trust the practitioner’s persona, but developing trust and establishing bona fides as a fellow criminal may involve offering useful information, services, or tools that can be used to commit crimes.”

“Engaging in such activities may well result in violating federal criminal law. Whether a crime has occurred usually hinges on an individual’s actions and intent. A practitioner must avoid doing anything that furthers the criminal objectives of others on the forums. Even though the practitioner has no intention of committing a crime, assisting others engaged in criminal conduct can constitute the federal offense of aiding and abetting.”

“An individual may be found liable for aiding and abetting a federal offense if her or she takes an affirmative act — even an act that is lawful on its own — that is in furtherance of the crime and conducted with the intent of facilitating the crime’s commission.”

Cory DoctorowFull Employment

This week’s podcast is a reading of Full Employment, my latest Locus column. It’s a counter to the argument about automation-driven unemployment – namely, that we will have hundreds of years of full employment facing the climate emergency and remediating the damage it wreaks. From relocating all our coastal cities to replacing aviation routes with high-speed rails to the caring and public health work for hundreds of millions of survivors of plagues, floods and fires, we are in no danger of running out of work. The real question is: how will we mobilize people to do the work needed to save our species and the only known planet in the entire universe that can sustain it?

MP3

Kevin RuddCNBC Squawk Box: Hong Kong

CryptogramA Peek into the Fake Review Marketplace

A personal account of someone who was paid to buy products on Amazon and leave fake reviews.

Fake reviews are one of the problems that everyone knows about, and no one knows what to do about -- so we all try to pretend doesn't exist.

Kevin RuddBBC Radio Today: Kevin Rudd on Huawei and China’s growing assertiveness in foreign policy

Kevin RuddGlobal TV: Sino-Canadian Relations

INTERVIEW VIDEO
GLOBAL TV CANADA
‘WEST BLOCK’
RECORDED 10 JULY 2020
BROADCAST 12 JULY 2020

The post Global TV: Sino-Canadian Relations appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Worse Than FailureA Revolutionary Vocabulary

Changing the course of a large company is much like steering the Titanic: it's probably too late, it's going to end in tears, and for some reason there's going to be a spirited debate about the bouyancy and stability of the doors.

Shena works at Initech, which is already a gigantic, creaking organization on the verge of toppling over. Management recognizes the problems, and knows something must be done. They are not, however, particularly clear about what that something should actually be, so they handed the Project Management Office a budget, told them to bring in some consultants, and do something.

The PMO dutifully reviewed the list of trendy buzzwords in management magazines, evaluated their budget, and brought in a team of consultants to "Establish a culture of continuous process improvement" that would "implement Agile processes" and "break down silos" to ensure "high functioning teams that can successfully self-organize to meet institutional objectives on time and on budget" using "the best-in-class tools" to support the transition.

Any sort of organizational change is potentially scary, to at least some of the staff. No matter how toxic or dysfunctional an organization is, there's always someone who likes the status quo. There was a fair bit of resistance, but the consultants and PMO were empowered to deal with them, laying off the fortunate, or securing promotions to vaguely-defined make-work jobs for the deeply unlucky.

There were a handful of true believers, the sort of people who had landed in their boring corporate gig years before, and had spent their time gently suggesting that things could possibly be better, slightly. They saw the changes as an opportunity, at least until they met the reality of trying to acutally commit to changes in an organization the size of Initech.

The real hazard, however, were the members of the Project Management Office who didn't actually care about Initech, their peers, or process change: they cared about securing their own little fiefdom of power. People like Debbie, who before the consultants came, had created a series of "Project Checkpoint Documents". Each project was required to fill out the 8 core documents, before any other work began, and Debbie was the one who reviewed them- which meant projects didn't progress without her say-so. Or Larry, who was a developer before moving into project management, and thus was in charge of the code review processes for the entire company, despite not having written anything in a language newer than COBOL85.

Seeing that the organizational changes would threaten their power, people like Debbie or Larry did the only thing they could do: they enthusiastically embraced the changes and labeled themselves the guardians of the revolution. They didn't need to actually do anything good, they didn't need to actually facilitate the changes, they just needed to show enthusiasm and look busy, and generate the appearance that they were absolutely critical to the success of the transition.

Debbie, specifically, got herself very involved in driving the adoption of Jira as their ticket tracking tool, instead of the hodge-podge of Microsoft Project, spreadsheets, emails, and home-grown ticketing systems. Since this involved changing the vocubulary they used to talk about projects, it meant Debbie could spend much of her time policing the language used to describe projects. She ran trainings to explain what an "Epic" or a "Story" were, about how to "rightsize stories so you can decompose them into actionable tasks". But everything was in flux, which meant the exact way Initech developers were meant to use Jira kept changing, almost on a daily basis.

Which is why Shena eventually received this email from the Project Management Office.

Teams,

As part of our process improvement efforts, we'll be making some changes to how we track work in JIRA. Epics are now to only be created by leadership. They will represent mission-level initiatives that we should all strive for. For all development work tracking, the following shall be the process going forward to account for the new organizational communication directive:

  • Treat Features as Epics
  • Treat Stories as Features
  • Treat Tasks as Stories
  • Treat Sub-tasks as Tasks
  • If you need Sub-tasks, create a spreadsheet to track them within your team.

Additionally, the following is now reflected in the status workflows and should be adhered to:

  • Features may not be deleted once created. Instead, use the Cancel functionality.
  • Cancelled tasks will be marked as Done
  • Done tasks should now be marked as Complete

As she read this glorious and transcended piece of Newspeak, Shena couldn't help but wonder about her laid off co-workers, and wonder if perhaps she shouldn't join them.

[Advertisement] Continuously monitor your servers for configuration changes, and report when there's configuration drift. Get started with Otter today!

,

CryptogramFriday Squid Blogging: China Closing Its Squid Spawning Grounds

China is prohibiting squid fishing in two areas -- both in international waters -- for two seasons, to give squid time to recover and reproduce.

This is the first time China has voluntarily imposed a closed season on the high seas. Some experts regard it as an important step forward in China's management of distant-water fishing (DWF), and crucial for protecting the squid fishing industry. But others say the impact will be limited and that stronger oversight of fishing vessels is needed, or even a new fisheries management body specifically for squid.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

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CryptogramBusiness Email Compromise (BEC) Criminal Ring

A criminal group called Cosmic Lynx seems to be based in Russia:

Dubbed Cosmic Lynx, the group has carried out more than 200 BEC campaigns since July 2019, according to researchers from the email security firm Agari, particularly targeting senior executives at large organizations and corporations in 46 countries. Cosmic Lynx specializes in topical, tailored scams related to mergers and acquisitions; the group typically requests hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars as part of its hustles.

[...]

For example, rather than use free accounts, Cosmic Lynx will register strategic domain names for each BEC campaign to create more convincing email accounts. And the group knows how to shield these domains so they're harder to trace to the true owner. Cosmic Lynx also has a strong understanding of the email authentication protocol DMARC and does reconnaissance to assess its targets' specific system DMARC policies to most effectively circumvent them.

Cosmic Lynx also drafts unusually clean and credible-looking messages to deceive targets. The group will find a company that is about to complete an acquisition and contact one of its top executives posing as the CEO of the organization being bought. This phony CEO will then involve "external legal counsel" to facilitate the necessary payments. This is where Cosmic Lynx adds a second persona to give the process an air of legitimacy, typically impersonating a real lawyer from a well-regarded law firm in the United Kingdom. The fake lawyer will email the same executive that the "CEO" wrote to, often in a new email thread, and share logistics about completing the transaction. Unlike most BEC campaigns, in which the messages often have grammatical mistakes or awkward wording, Cosmic Lynx messages are almost always clean.

Sam VargheseRacism: Holding and Rainford-Brent do some plain speaking

Michael Anthony Holding, one of the feared West Indies pace bowlers from the 1970s and 1980s, bowled his best spell on 10 July, in front of the TV cameras.

Holding, in England to commentate on the Test series between England and the West Indies, took part in a roundtable on the Black Lives Matter protests which have been sweeping the world recently after an African-American man, George Floyd, was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.

Holding speaks frankly, Very frankly. Along with former England cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent, he spoke about the issues he had faced as a black man, the problems in cricket and how they could be resolved.

There was no bitterness in his voice, just audible pain and sadness. At one point, he came close to breaking down and later told one of the hosts that the memory of his mother being ostracised by her own family because she had married a very dark man had led to this.

Holding spoke of the need for education, to wipe out the centuries of conditioning that have resulted in black people knowing that white lives matter, while white people do not really care about black lives. He cited studies from American universities like Yale to make his points.

And much as white people will dismiss whatever he says, one could not escape the fact that here was a 66-year-old who had seen it all and some calling for a sane solution to the ills of racism.

He provided examples of racism from each of England, South Africa and Australia. In England, he cited the case when he was trying to flag down a cab while going home with his wife-to-be – a woman of Portuguese ancestry who is white. The driver had his meter up to indicate his cab was not occupied, but then on seeing Holding quickly offed the meter light and drove on. An Englishman of West Indian descent who recognised Holding, called out to him, “Hey Mikey, you have to put her in front.” To which Holding, characteristically, replied, “I would rather walk.”

In Australia, he cited a case during a tour; the West Indies teams were always put on a single floor in any hotel they stayed in. Holding said he and three of his fast bowling colleagues were coming down in a lift when it stopped at a floor on the way down. “There was a man waiting there,” Holding said. “He looked at us and did not get into the lift. That’s fine, maybe he was intimidated by the presence of four, big black men.

“But then, just before the lift doors closed, he shouted a racial eipthet at us.

And in South Africa, Holding cited a case when he and his Portuguese friend had gone to a hotel to stay. Someone came to him and was getting the details to book him in; meanwhile some other hotel staffer went to his companion and tried to book her in. “To their way of thinking, she could not possibly be with me, because she was white,” was Holding’s comment. “After all, I am black, am I not?”

Rainford-Brent, who took part in a formal video with Holding, also ventilated the problems that black women cricketers faced in England and spoke with tremendous feeling about the lack of people of colour at any level of the sport.

She was in tears occasionally as she spoke, as frankly as Holding, but again with no bitterness of the travails black people have when they join up to play cricket.

One only hopes that the talk does not end there and something is done about equality. Sky Sports, the broadcaster which ran this remarkable and unusual discussion, has pledged put 30 million pounds into efforts to narrow the gap. Holding’s view was that if enough big companies got involved then the gap would close that much faster.

If he has hope after what he has endured, then there is no reason why the rest of us should not.

Worse Than FailureError'd: They Said the Math Checks Out!

"So...I guess...they want me to spend more?" Angela A. writes.

 

"The '[object Object]' feature must be extremely rare and expensive considering that none of the phones in the list have it!" Jonathan writes.

 

Joel T. wrote, "I was checking this Covid-19 dashboard to see if it was safe to visit my family and well, I find it really thoughtful of them to cover the Null states, where I grew up."

 

"Thankfully after my appointment, I discovered I am healthier than my doctor's survey system," writes Paul T.

 

Peter C. wrote, "I am so glad that I went to college in {Other_Region}."

 

"I tried out this Excel currency converter template and it scrapes MSN.com/Money for up to date exchange rates," Kevin J. writes, "but, I think someone updated the website without thinking about this template."

 

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Kevin RuddThe US-China Relationship Needs a New Organising Principle

The US-China Relationship Needs a New Organising Principle
The Hon Kevin Rudd AC
President of the Asia Society Policy Institute, New York.
China-US Think Tanks Online Forum
Peking University
9 July, 2020

It’s good to be in this gathering and to follow Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Dr Kissinger.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi before spoke about the great ship of US-China relations. The great ship of US-China relations currently has a number of holes in the side. It’s not quite the time to man the lifeboats. But I do see people preparing the lifeboats at present. So this conference comes at a critical time.

I’m conscious of the fact that we have many distinguished Americans joining us today. Ambassador Stapleton Roy (former US Ambassador to China in the Bush Administration); Kurt Campbell (former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia under the Obama Administration) who have occupied distinguished offices on behalf the United States government in the past. Steve Orlins, President of the US National Committee on US-China Relations, together with other distinguished Americans, are with us as well. These individuals will have valuable perspectives from an American point of view. And as you know, I’m not an American. Nor am I Chinese. So what I will try to provide here are some separate reflections on the way forward.

We’re asked in this conference to address the correct way forward for US-China relations. I always love the Chinese use of the word zhengque, translated as “correct”. I think the Chinese in the title of today’s conference is Zhong-Mei Guanxi Weilaide Zhengque Fangxiang. Well, it depends on your definition of Zhengque or “correct”. Within a Chinese Marxist-Leninist system, zhengque has a particular meaning. Whereas for those of us from the reactionary West, we have a different idea of what zhengque or “correct” happens to be.

So given I’m an Australian and our traditional culture is to defy all rules, let me suggest that we informally amend our title to not finding a “correct” future for the US-China relationship, but to find a sustainable future for the US-China relationship. A relationship which is kechixu. And by sustainable, what do I mean? I mean four things. “Sustainable” within Chinese domestic politics. China is about to have the Beidaihe meetings in August where the US-China relationship will once again be the central topic. “Sustainable” within US domestic politics, both Republican and Democrat. A third criteria is, dare I add it, is “sustainable” for those of us who are third countries trying to deal with both of you. And fourthly, to do all the above without the relationship spiralling out of control into crisis, escalation, conflict or even war.

Now, as think-tankers, finding this intersecting circle between these four considerations is very difficult and perhaps impossible. We’re in search of the new “golden mean”, the new zhongyong in US-China relations. But I believe it’s worth the effort. In my allocated ten minutes, I’d therefore like to make just three points. And I base these three points on two critical political assumptions. One is that Xi Jinping is likely to remain in office after the 20th Party Congress in 2022. And my second critical assumption is that Biden is likely to be the President of the United States after January 2021.
My first point is we need to understand clearly why the US-China relationship is now in its most volatile condition in 30 years – and perhaps 50 years. I think we need to agree on three mega-changes that have been at work.

Number one: the changes in the underlying power structure of this relationship, that is the balance of power between the US and China, because of China’s rise. Those of us on the American side here who read the Chinese strategic and political literature know that this is openly discussed in China. That the shili pingheng has changed. And therefore this, in China’s mind, provides it with greater opportunity for policy leverage.

The second reason for the change is that those of us who observe China closely, as I’ve done for my entire professional life, have seen significant changes since the Central Party Work Conference on Foreign Affairs held in December of 2013. And since then China’s international policy has become more activist and more assertive across strategic policy, economic policy and human rights policy in this new age of fenfayouwie, and no more an age of taoguangyanghui or “hide your strength, bide your time.” We understand that change and we watch it carefully.

And the third factor that’s structurally at work is the Trump phenomenon and what “America First” has meant in practice. We’ve seen a trade war. We’ve seen the National Security Strategy. We’ve seen the National Defense Strategy. We’ve seen technology decoupling, in part. And we’ve seen it on human rights.

But this third structural factor associated with Trump will not change 180 degrees with Biden. It will change in tone. But my observation is that under Biden the substance is likely to be systematic, strategic competition rather than episodic strategic competition (as we have had with Trump). But with the United States under Biden still willing to work with China on certain defined global challenges like pandemics, like climate change, and possibly global financial management.

My second point is there can be no return, therefore, to previous strategic frameworks for managing a “sustainable” or kechixu US-China relationship in the future. Therefore we need to develop a new framework for doing that. I’m not talking about throwing away the three communiques (from the 1970’s, outlining the foundations of the US-China relationship). I’m talking about building something different based on the three communiques. I often read in the Chinese literature that Beijing hopes that the United States will recognise its errors and return to a “correct” understanding of the US-China relationship and resume the past forms of strategic engagement. For the reasons I’ve outlined, already, that will not happen.

Take one most recent example. China’s decision to enact the national security law on Hong Kong is seen in Beijing as a matter of national sovereignty – in 1997, sovereignty transferred from Britain back to China and that’s the end of the argument. But the essential nature of the American democracy does not permit Washington to see it that way. And hence the reaction from other Asian and Western democracies, which is likely to intensify over the coming months. This is just one example of the much broader point of the changing deep structure of the US-China relationship.

As I said before, the US-China relationship must remain anchored in the three communiques, including the most fundamental issue within them, which is Taiwan. But a new organising principle, and a new strategic architecture for a sustainable relationship, is now needed.
This brings me to my final point: some thoughts on what that alternative organising principle might be for the future.

Of course, the first option is that because we are now in an age of strategic competition, by definition there should be no framework – not even any rules of the road. I disagree with that. Because without any rules of the road, without any guide rails, without any guardrails, this would be highly destabilising. And therefore not sustainable.

The second option is to accept the reality of strategic competition but to mutually agree that strategic competition should be managed within defined parameters – and through a defined mechanism of the highest-level continuing strategic dialogue, communication and contact.

We might not yet be in Cold War 2.0 but, as I’ve written recently in Foreign Affairs magazine, I think we’re probably in Cold War 1.5. And if we’re not careful, we could end up in 2.0. But there are still lessons that we can learn from the US-Soviet relationship and the period of detente.

One of these lessons is in the importance of internal, high-level communication between the two sides that there should be an absolutely clear understanding of the red lines which exist, in particular on Taiwan. By red lines, I do not mean public statements from each other’s foreign ministries as an exercise in public diplomacy. I mean a core understanding about absolutely core interests, both in the military sphere but also in terms of future large-scale financial market actions as well. Within this framework, we also need a bilateral mechanism in place to ensure that these red lines are managed. And that’s quite different to what we have at present where we seem to be engaged in a free voyage of discovery, trying to work out where these red lines might lie. That’s quite dangerous. So to conclude: mutually agreed red lines, both in the military and the economic sphere.

But of course, that’s not the totality of the US-China relationship. But they do represent a foundation for the future strategic framework for the relationship. As for the rest of the architecture of the “managed strategic competition” that I speak of, my thoughts have not changed a lot since I wrote a paper on this at Harvard University, at the Kennedy School, about five years ago. I called it ‘constructive realism’ or jianshexing de xianshizhuyi. There I spoke about: number one, red lines where no common interests exist, but where core interests need to be understood; two, identifying difficult areas where cooperation is possible, for example, like you (both the Chinese and American sides) have recently done on the trade war; and three, those areas where bilateral and multilateral cooperation should be normal, even under current circumstances, like on pandemics, like on climate change, and like making the institutions of global governance operate in an efficient and effective way through the multilateral system, including the WHO.

And, of course, if this framework was to be mutually accepted, it would require changes on both sides – in both Washington and Beijing. But it will also require a new level of intellectual honesty with each other at the highest level of the relationship of the type we’ve seen in the records of Mao’s conversations with Zhou Enlai and with Kissinger and Nixon and those who were party to those critical conversations half a century ago. The framework I’ve just outlined is not dissimilar in some respects to what Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke about just before.

My final thought is this: I’m very conscious it’s easy for an outsider to say these things because I’m an Australian. But I care passionately about both your countries and I really don’t want you to have a fight which ends up in a war. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for us. It’s not good for anybody.

I’m also conscious that in the United States, there are huge domestic challenges leading up to the US presidential elections – Black Lives Matter, COVID-19 – and I’m deeply mindful of Lincoln’s injunction that a house divided among itself cannot stand.

But I’m also mindful of China’s domestic challenges. I’m mindful of what I read in the People’s Daily today about a new zhengdang, a new party rectification campaign. I’m also mindful of traditional Chinese strategic wisdoms, for example, in the days of Liu Bang, Xiang Yu and shimian maifu or the dangers of “having challenges on ten different fronts at the same time” .

So much wisdom is required on both parties. But I do agree with Jiang Zemin and his continued reminder to us all that the US-China relationship remains zhongzhong zhi zhong or “the most important of the most important”. And if we don’t get that right, then we won’t be able to get anything else right.

This is an edited transcript of Mr Rudd’s remarks to the Peking University China-US Think Tanks Online Forum.

The post The US-China Relationship Needs a New Organising Principle appeared first on Kevin Rudd.

Dave HallLogging Step Functions to CloudWatch

Many AWS Services log to CloudWatch. Some do it out of the box, others need to be configured to log properly. When Amazon released Step Functions, they didn’t include support for logging to CloudWatch. In February 2020, Amazon announced StepFunctions could now log to CloudWatch. Step Functions still support CloudTrail logs, but CloudWatch logging is more useful for many teams.

Users need to configure Step Functions to log to CloudWatch. This is done on a per State Machine basis. Of course you could click around he console to enable it, but that doesn’t scale. If you use CloudFormation to manage your Step Functions, it is only a few extra lines of configuration to add the logging support.

In my example I will assume you are using YAML for your CloudFormation templates. I’ll save my “if you’re using JSON for CloudFormation you’re doing it wrong” rant for another day. This is a cut down example from one of my services:

---
AWSTemplateFormatVersion: '2010-09-09'
Description: StepFunction with Logging Example.
Parameters:
Resources:
  StepFunctionExecRole:
    Type: AWS::IAM::Role
    Properties:
      AssumeRolePolicyDocument:
        Version: '2012-10-17'
        Statement:
        - Effect: Allow
          Principal:
            Service: !Sub "states.${AWS::Region}.amazonaws.com"
          Action:
          - sts:AssumeRole
      Path: "/"
      Policies:
      - PolicyName: StepFunctionExecRole
        PolicyDocument:
          Version: '2012-10-17'
          Statement:
          - Effect: Allow
            Action:
            - lambda:InvokeFunction
            - lambda:ListFunctions
            Resource: !Sub "arn:aws:lambda:${AWS::Region}:${AWS::AccountId}:function:my-lambdas-namespace-*"
          - Effect: Allow
            Action:
            - logs:CreateLogDelivery
            - logs:GetLogDelivery
            - logs:UpdateLogDelivery
            - logs:DeleteLogDelivery
            - logs:ListLogDeliveries
            - logs:PutResourcePolicy
            - logs:DescribeResourcePolicies
            - logs:DescribeLogGroups
            Resource: "*"
  MyStateMachineLogGroup:
    Type: AWS::Logs::LogGroup
    Properties:
      LogGroupName: /aws/stepfunction/my-step-function
      RetentionInDays: 14
  DashboardImportStateMachine:
    Type: AWS::StepFunctions::StateMachine
    Properties:
      StateMachineName: my-step-function
      StateMachineType: STANDARD
      LoggingConfiguration:
        Destinations:
          - CloudWatchLogsLogGroup:
             LogGroupArn: !GetAtt MyStateMachineLogGroup.Arn
        IncludeExecutionData: True
        Level: ALL
      DefinitionString:
        !Sub |
        {
          ... JSON Step Function definition goes here
        }
      RoleArn: !GetAtt StepFunctionExecRole.Arn

The key pieces in this example are the second statement in the IAM Role with all the logging permissions, the LogGroup defined by MyStateMachineLogGroup and the LoggingConfiguration section of the Step Function definition.

The IAM role permissions are copied from the example policy in the AWS documentation for using CloudWatch Logging with Step Functions. The CloudWatch IAM permissions model is pretty weak, so we need to grant these broad permissions.

The LogGroup definition creates the log group in CloudWatch. You can use what ever value you want for the LogGroupName. I followed the Amazon convention of prefixing everything with /aws/[service-name]/ and then appended the Step Function name. I recommend using the RetentionInDays configuration. It stops old logs sticking around for ever. In my case I send all my logs to ELK, so I don’t need to retain them in CloudWatch long term.

Finally we use the LoggingConfiguration to tell AWS where we want to send out logs. You can only specify a single Destinations. The IncludeExecutionData determines if the inputs and outputs of each function call is logged. You should not enable this if you are passing sensitive information between your steps. The verbosity of logging is controlled by Level. Amazon has a page on Step Function log levels. For dev you probably want to use ALL to help with debugging but in production you probably only need ERROR level logging.

I removed the Parameters and Output from the template. Use them as you need to.

CryptogramTraffic Analysis of Home Security Cameras

Interesting research on home security cameras with cloud storage. Basically, attackers can learn very basic information about what's going on in front of the camera, and infer when there is someone home.

News article.

Slashdot thread.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Is It the Same?

A common source of bad code is when you have a developer who understands one thing very well, but is forced- either through organizational changes or the tides of history- to adapt to a new tool which they don’t understand. But a possibly more severe problem is modern developers not fully understanding why certain choices may have been made. Today’s code isn’t a WTF, it’s actually very smart.

Eric P was digging through some antique Fortran code, just exploring some retrocomputing history, and found a block which needed to check if two values were the same.

The normal way to do that in Fortran would be to use the .EQ. operator, e.g.:

LSAME = ( (LOUTP(IOUTP)).EQ.(LPHAS1(IOUTP)) )

Now, in this specific case, I happen to know that LOUTP(IOUTP) and LPHAS1(IOUTP) happen to be boolean expressions. I know this, in part, because of how the original developer actually wrote an equality comparison:

      LSAME = ((     LOUTP(IOUTP)).AND.(     LPHAS1(IOUTP)).OR.
               (.NOT.LOUTP(IOUTP)).AND.(.NOT.LPHAS1(IOUTP)) )

Now, Eric sent us two messages. In their first message:

This type of comparison appears in at least 5 different places and the result is then used in other unnecessarily complicated comparisons and assignments.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. We need to understand the actual underlying purpose of this code. And the purpose of this block of code is to translate symbolic formula expressions to execute on Programmable Array Logic (PAL) devices.

PAL’s were an early form of programmable ROM, and to describe the logic you wanted them to perform, you had to give them instructions essentially in terms of gates. Essentially, you ’d throw a binary representation of the gate arrangements at the chip, and it would now perform computations for you.

So Eric, upon further review, followed up with a fresh message:

The program it is from was co-written by the manager of the project to create the PAL (Programmable Array Logic) device. So, of course, this is exactly, down to the hardware logic gate, how you would implement an equality comparison in a hardware PAL!
It’s all NOTs, ANDs, and ORs!

Programming is about building a model. Most of the time, we want our model to be clear to humans, and we focus on finding ways to describe that model in clear, unsurprising ways. But what’s “clear” and “unsurprising” can vary depending on what specifically we’re trying to model. Here, we’re modeling low-level hardware, really low-level, and what looks weird at first is actually pretty darn smart.

Eric also included a link to the code he was reading through, for the PAL24 Assembler.

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