Jan 01 2016

a bad way to end the year

Sadly, I read today that Ian Murdock, the “Ian” in Debian, died on Monday, 28 December 2015. He was only 42 years old. Various reports indicate that he had been distressed for some time before his death. The tweets reportedly from Murdock’s twitter account shortly before his death are very disturbing.

Murdock’s contribution to the FLOSS community was immense. The operating system he created with “Deb”, Debra Lynn, his then girlfriend, is the foundation upon which much of today’s internet infrastructure is built. Ubuntu, one of the most popular desktop linux distros, is itself built upon debian. This blog, and all of my web, mail and other servers is built upon debian. His legacy will endure.

Murdock left a wife and two young children. He died much, much, too young.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2016/01/01/a-bad-way-to-end-the-year/

Dec 24 2015

merry christmas 2015

It’s trivia’s birthday again (9 years old today!), so I just have to post to wish my readers (both of you, you know who you are….) a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Much has happened over the last year or so which has distracted me from blogging (life gets in the way sometimes) but I feel my muse returning so I may write more in the new year. Meanwhile, take a look at Alan Woodward’s update to Scott Culp’s 2000 essay “10 Immutable Laws Of Security” which he posted on the BBC site. It is called
have yourself a merry cyber-safe Christmas.

santa with laptop

I’ll drink to that.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/12/24/merry-christmas-2015/

Dec 08 2015

knees and other jerks

On sunday, the motherboard intially reported that, in the wake of the Paris atrocities of November 13th, the French Government was proposing to ban Tor and free WiFi. As it turns out, this is not strictly accurate. The report was later corrected – thus:

Correction: The initial headline and copy of this article suggested that the proposals to block Tor and control free wifi were already part of a proposed law. These are in fact points that the French police and gendarmes would like to see included in the bill, according to the document seen by Le Monde. The headline and copy have been updated to clarify this; we apologise for the error.

Nevertheless, the actual story is still worrying. Governments of all shades seem to react badly when they feel that they must be seen to “do something”. We, in the UK, have already seen how the desire to “do something” results in unfortunate over reaction and ill-thought proposals for legislation. So it is sad to see the French (for whom I have much admiration) apparently reacting to Paris by opting to clamp down on civil liberties. I’d like to think that the reality is not as bad as the initial report suggested though. Certainly the motherboard post now makes clear that:

French law enforcement wants to have (my emphasis) several powers added to a proposed law, including the move to forbid and block the use of the Tor anonymity network, according to an internal document from the Ministry of Interior seen by French newspaper Le Monde.

It continues:

French law enforcement wish to “Forbid free and shared wi-fi connections” during a state of emergency. This comes from a police opinion included in the document: the reason being that it is apparently difficult to track individuals who use public wi-fi networks.

Noting that China actively blocks connections to Tor, the article continues:

If the French really wanted to block Tor, they might have to consider a model similar to the Chinese regime’s. Naturally, that might be worrying for anyone that cares about free-speech, increasing surveillance, or, say, democracy.

Let’s just hope that sense prevails and Western democracies do not react to terrorism in a way which reduces the very freedoms we cherish so much.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/12/08/knees-and-other-jerks/

Nov 28 2015

cameron meets corbyn

war

(With thanks to David Malki!)

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/11/28/cameron-meets-corbyn/

Nov 23 2015

christmas present

Like most people in the UK at this time of the year I’ve been doing some on-line shopping lately. Consequently I’m waiting for several deliveries. Some delivery companies (DHL are a good example) actually allow you to track your parcels on-line. In order to do this they usually send out text or email messages giving the tracking ID. Today I received an email purporting to come from UKMail. That email message said:

UKMail Info!
Your parcel has not been delivered to your address November 23, 2015, because nobody was at home.
Please view the information about your parcel, print it and go to the post office to receive your package.

Warranties
UKMail expressly disclaims all conditions, guarantees and warranties, express or implied, in respect of the Service. Where the law prevents such exclusion and implies conditions and warranties into this contract, where legally permissible the liability of UKMail for breach of such condition,
guarantee or warranty is limited at the option of UKMail to either supplying the Service again or paying the cost of having the service supplied again. If you don’t receive a package within 30 working days UKMail will charge you for it’s keeping. You can find any information about the procedure and conditions of parcel keeping in the nearest post office.

Best regards,
UKMail

I /very/ nearly opened the attached file. That is probably the closest I have come to reacting incorrectly to a phishing attack. Nice try guys. And a very good piece of social engineering given the time of year.

Virustotal suggests that the attached file is a malicious word macro container. Interestingly though, only 7 of the 55 AV products that Virustotal uses identified the attachment as malicious. And even they couldn’t agree on the identity of the malware. I suspect that it may be a relatively new piece of code.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/11/23/christmas-present/

Nov 10 2015

torflow

Yesterday, Kenneth Freeman posted a note to the tor-relays list drawing attention to a new resource called TorFlow. TorFlow is a beautiful visualisation of Tor network traffic around the world. It enables you to see where traffic is concentrated (Europe) and where there is almost none (Australasia). Having the data overlaid on a world map gives a startling picture of the unfortunate concentration of Tor nodes in particular locations.

Map graphic of Tor network traffic around the world

I recently moved my own relay from Amsterdam (190 relays) to London (133) but the network needs much more geo-diversity. Unfortunately, international bandwidth costs are lowest is the areas where relays are currently located. Given that the relays are all (well, nearly all…..) run by volunteers like me and funded out of their own pockets it is perhaps not surprising that this concentration should occur. But it is not healthy for the network.

There appears to be a particularly intriguing concentration of 16 relays on a tiny island in the Gulf of Guinea. Apparently this is an artifact though because those relays are all at (0, 0) which I am told GeoIP uses as a placeholder for “unknown” (in fact, GeoIP location is a somewhat imprecise art so there may be other anomalies in the data.)

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/11/10/torflow/

Oct 29 2015

lancashire police fail

This is simply depressing. Today I received a classic phishing attack email – the sort I normally bin without thought. According to virustotal, the attachment, which purported to be an MS Word document called “Invoice 7500005791.doc”, was a copy of W97M/Downloader, a word macro trojan which Symantec says is a downloader for additional malware. So far so annoying, but not unusual.

However, the email came from an address given as “@lancashire.pnn.police.uk” (so it looked as if it came from a Police National Network address allocated to Lancashire Police). Intriguingly, the “From:”, “Return-Path:” and “Return-Receipt-To:” headers all contained the same (legitimate looking) address at that domain. Only one header, “Disposition-Notification-To:” was slightly different. It gave the email address as “@lancashire.pnn.police.au”. Now that header is used to request a “Read Receipt” and most email clients will obey that and display a message of the form “This message asks for a return receipt” along with a “send” button. Had I pressed that button, a message /might/ have gone to the “police.au” domain address. I say “might” because there is no such domain, so this could simply be a mistake on the part of the attacker. All the “Received:” headers (i.e. the addresses of mail servers the message went through en route to me) were shown as network 77.75.88.xx – whois records this as belonging to an entity called “Farahnet” registered in Beirut. Unfortunately the whois record does not give an abuse, or admin contact email address.

Most phishing emails simply have a forged “From:” address and all other headers are obviously wrong. This one looked distinctly odd and a little more professional than most. I therefore decided it might be a good idea to tip off the Lancashire Police to the misuse and misrepresentation of their domain name. This is where it got depressing.

Nowhere could I find a simple email address or other electronic contact mechanism to enable me to say to Lancashire Police “Hi guys, see attached, you may have a problem”. The Lancs Police website has a “Contact Us” page giving pointers to various means of providing feedback – but no immediately obvious one for reporting email attacks. Here the banks are way ahead of the Police. All banks I have ever dealt with have an email address (usually of the form “phishing@bank.co.uk”) to which you can send details of the latest scam. However, the bottom of the contact page on the Lancs Police site shows a link to “online fraud” under the heading “popular pages”. This link takes you to their on-line safety advice page which then has a further link to “Action Fraud“, the National Fraud & Cyber Crime Reporting Centre, that site in turn does actually give you a means of reporting phishing attacks. But it takes too long. I had to click through four pages of feedback with Radio buttons asking what I wanted to report, how the attack arrived, where it purported to come from etc. before I was given a page with the email address NFIBPhishing@city-of-london.pnn.police.uk and an instruction to email them giving the details I should have been able to provide on the damned form I had just spent ages finding and filling in.

Having obtained this email adddress, I was given a “Fraud Report Summary” (see below) which is precisely useless for anything other than simple statistics. My guess is that this information is collated simply to be used to provide the sort of banal analysis beloved of senior management everywhere.

action-fraud-report

Not good enough guys, not nearly good enough.

But it gets worse. In my attempts to find what should be an obvious contact point, I plugged “lancashire police cyber crime” (I know, I know) as search terms into my search engine. The first likely entry listed in response (after rubbish like facebook pages or comments on non-existent fora such as cybercrimeops.com) was https://www.lancashire.police.uk/help-advice/online-safety/online-crime-fraud.aspx
(note the https). This is a supposedly secure link to the very same page I later found on the Lancs Police site. Try clicking that link. If you use Firefox, this is what you will get (chrome will give you something similar):

lancs-police

So – the site is not trusted because it uses an X509 certificate which is only valid for the commercial domains of the service on which the Police site is presumably hosted. Idiotic. If I got that sort of response from a bank I’d be deeply worried. As it is, I’m just depressed.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/10/29/lancashire-police-fail/

Oct 15 2015

update to privacy policy

As promised in my privacy policy, this post draws attention to the fact that I have amended that policy (very slightly).

The amendments refer to the fact that I no longer use Counterize to collect run time statistics. I prefer instead to use Awstats which runs over my log file on a weekly basis. I have also deleted reference to personal information collected in my feedback form because I no longer use such a form.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/10/15/update-to-privacy-policy/

Aug 20 2015

update to domain privacy

At the end of last month I noted that I had been receiving multiple emails to each of the proxy addresses listed for my newly registered “private” domains. Intriguingly, whilst I was receiving at least three or four such emails a week before I wrote about it, I have had precisely zero since.

Probably coincidence, but a conspiracy theorist would have a field day with that.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/08/20/update-to-domain-privacy/

Aug 19 2015

why privacy matters

Last month my wife and I shared a holiday with a couple of old friends. We have known this couple since before we got married, indeed, they attended our wedding. We consider them close friends and enjoy their company. One evening in a pub in Yorkshire, we got to discussing privacy, the Snowden revelations, and the implications of a global surveillance mechanism such as is used by both the UK and its Five Eyes partners (the US NSA in particular). To my complete surprise, Al expressed the view that he was fairly relaxed about the possibility that GCHQ should be capable of almost complete surveillance of his on-line activity since, in his view, “nothing I do can be of any interest to them, so why should I worry.”

I have met this view before, but oddly I had never heard Al express himself in quite this way in all the time I have known him. It bothers me that someone I love and trust, someone whose opinions I value, someone I consider to be intelligent and articulate and caring, should be so relaxed about so pernicious an activity as dragnet surveillance. It is not only the fact that Al himself is so relaxed that bothers me so much as the fact that if he does not care, then many, possibly most, people like him will not care either. That attitude plays into the hands of those, like Eric Schmidt, who purport to believe that “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Back in October last year, Glenn Greenwald gave a TED talk on the topic, “Why privacy matters”. I recommended it to Al and I commend it to anyone who thinks, as he does, that dragnet surveillance doesn’t impact on them because they “are not doing anything wrong”.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/08/19/why-privacy-matters/

Jul 30 2015

get your porn here

Dear Dave is at it again. Sometimes I worry about our PM’s priorities. Not content with his earlier insistence that UK ISPs must introduce “family friendly (read “porn”) filters”, our man in No 10 now wants to “see age restrictions put into place or these (i.e. “porn”) websites will face being shut down”.

El Reg today runs a nice article about Dave’s latest delusion. That article begins:

Prime Minister David Cameron has declared himself “determined to introduce age verification mechanisms to restrict under 18s’ access to pornographic websites” and he is “prepared to legislate to do so if the industry fails to self-regulate.”

It continues in classic El Reg style:

The government will hold a consultation in the autumn, meaning it will be standing on the proverbial street corner and soliciting views on how to stop 17-year-olds running a web search for the phrase “tits”.

and further notes that Baroness Shields (who is apparently our “Minister for internet safety and security”) said:

“Whilst great progress has been made, we remain acutely aware of the risks and dangers that young people face online. This is why we are committed to taking action to protect children from harmful content. Companies delivering adult content in the UK must take steps to make sure these sites are behind age verification controls.”

To which two members of the El Reg commentariat respond:

I give it 5 minutes after the “blockade” is put in place before someone puts a blog post up explaining how to bypass said blockade.

and

Re: 5 minutes

“I give it 5 minutes after the “blockade” is put in place before someone puts a blog post up explaining how to bypass said blockade.”

I can do that now & don’t need a blog.

Q: Are you over 18?

A: Yes

Someone, somewhere, in Government must be able to explain to this bunch of idiots how the internet works. Short of actually pulling the plug on the entire net, any attempt to block access to porn is doomed to failure. China has a well documented and massive censorship mechanism in place (the Great Firewall) in order to control what its populace can watch or read or listen to. That mechanism fails to prevent determined access to censored material. If a Marxist State cannot effectively block free access to the ‘net, then Dear Dave has no chance.

Unless of course he knows that, wants to fail, and plans his own Great Firewall in “reluctant” response.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/07/30/get-your-porn-here/

Jul 28 2015

domain privacy?

Over the past few months or so I have bought myself a bunch of new domain names (I collect ’em….). On some of those names I have chosen the option of “domain privacy” so that the whois record for the domain in question will show limited information to the world at large. I don’t often do this, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I usually don’t much care whether or not the world at large knows that I own and manage a particular domain (I have over a dozen of these). Secondly, the privacy provided is largely illusory anyway. Law Enforcement Agencies, determined companies with pushy lawyers and network level adversaries will always be able to link any domain with the real owner should they so choose. In fact, faced with a simple DMCA request, some ISPs have in the past simply rolled over and exposed their customer’s details.

But, I get spam to all the email addresses I advertise in my whois records, and I also expose other personal details required by ICANN rules. I don’t much like that, but I put up with it as a necessary evil. However, for one or two of the new domains I don’t want the world and his dog attributing the name directly to me – at least not without some effort anyway.

Because the whois record must contain contact details, domain privacy systems tend to mask the genuine registrant email address with a proxy address of the form “some-random-alphanumeric-string@dummy.domain” which simply redirects to the genuine registrant email address. Here is one obvious flaw in the process because a network level adversary can simply post an email to the proxy address and then watch where it goes (so domain privacy is pointless if your adversary is GCHQ or NSA – but then if they are your adversaries you have a bigger problem than just maintaining privacy on your domain).

Interestingly, I have received multiple emails to each of the proxy addresses listed for my “private” domains purporting to come from marketing companies offering me the chance to sign up to various special offers. Each of those emails also offers me the chance to “unsubscribe” from their marketing list if I am not interested in their wares.

I’ll leave the task of spotting the obvious flaw in that as an exercise for the class.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2015/07/28/domain-privacy/