I have lately been reading Charlie Stross’s excellent Laundry Files series. In that series, the main protagonist is Bob Howard, one time sysadmin for the Department of Transport, since recruited by the “Laundry” which is that part of HMG’s Security Service which deals with countering Occult Threats. Bob’s IT skills are wide, deep and varied and they are put to good use by the Laundry which has an interesting, if rather scary, collection of hardware and software. And an even scarier range of foes.
Stross writes beautifully and the Laundry files books are spattered with enough technical in-jokes and apparent knowledge of HMG’s less public face, including well researched references to institutions such as Qinetic/DERA, GCHQ, SIS and HMGCC (not, as Bob initially guessed, Her Majesty’s GNU C Compiler) to lend credence to the stories.
As a computational demonologist, Bob is shown to be both highly technically competent and short tempered with the opposition (or less technically competent persons). It is therefore of no surprise whatsoever that in “The Jennifer Morgue” he should reveal his full name to be Bob Oliver Francis Howard.
Absolutely delightful. A must read for all geeks.
P.S. Stross also writes a phenomenally good blog at the antipope. (“I never met Prince Philip, or his wife and kids.” copyright © Stross.)
Go read it. Now.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/09/09/dirty-laundry/
For many years now I have used check2ip to, well, check my IP address. That service on a single page on the net gave me a quick snapshot of my current address and the DNS servers I was resolving against. I used it because I have a bunch of VPNs (and usually route my traffic through one of them) and I also use Tor. Getting an outsider’s view of my public IP address gives me reassurance that I am not visible on my ISP’s assigned address.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/09/06/check2ip-gone/
I have been a subscriber to Hanno Böck’s Feisty Duck TLS Newsletter for some time. Böck’s newsletters provide a useful service to TLS users. I am also a big fan of Ivan Ristić’s “Openssl cookbook” which is available as a free download from the Feistyduck website.
A couple of days ago the latest Feistyduck newsletter hit my email inbox. That newsletter pointed to a paper published at the USENIX security conference which detailed a large number of vulnerabilities in STARTTLS implementations.
STARTTLS is a mechanism that allows for upgrading plaintext protocol connections to TLS. The research focused on STARTTLS in the communication between email clients and servers (SMTP, IMAP, POP3). Apparently, it turns out this upgrading mechanism is fragile and can lead to a number of security problems.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/09/04/stop-starttls/
I recently came across this rather nice (spoof) NSA site describing the work of the Agency’s “Domestic Surveillance Directorate”. That Directorate supposedly exists to protect the citizen from the usual suspects (terrorists, paedophiles, criminals) and is tasked with data collection and analysis to support that end.
The site says:
“Our value is founded on a unique and deep understanding of risks, vulnerabilities, mitigations, and threats. Domestic Surveillance plays a vital role in our national security by using advanced data mining systems to “connect the dots” to identify suspicious patterns.”
“In the past, domestic law enforcement agencies collected data AFTER a suspect had been identified. This often resulted in lost intelligence and missed opportunities. But what if data could be collected in advance, BEFORE the target was known? What if the mere act of collecting data could result in the identification of new targets?
What if we could build a national data warehouse containing information about every person in the United States? Thanks to secret interpretations of the PATRIOT ACT, top-secret Fourth Amendment exceptions allowed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and broad cooperation at the local, state, and federal level, we can!”
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/05/27/nothing-to-hide-nothing-to-fear/
I am posting this in the hope it may help others who find themselves in a similar position to myself.
I have recently upgraded my mobile ‘phone (from a Motorola Moto X4) to a Moto G7 plus. I chose this particular phone because I like Motorolas. I like the fact that they are relatively cheap for a well specced device. I like the fact that they are (usually) easy to reflash with lineageos, and I like the fact that Motorola is quite supportive of that process and gives you some assistance in doing so. Of course the more paranoid of the tin hat brigade might see that support (from a Chinese manufacturer) as somewhat suspect, but that aside, I much prefer my ‘phones to be Google free and all of my past mobiles have been reflashed to either lineageos or its predecessor CyanogenMod.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/05/15/fastboot-oem-get_unlock_data-hangs-on-moto-g7-plus/
I found this on flipboard.
Take a look at the headline.
Oh yes indeed. My browsing will be so much more private if I pass everything through a google VPN.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/05/02/is-it-me/
I learned today that Dan Kaminsky died on Friday 23 April of complications arising from his diabetes. (I would probably have learned earlier if I followed twitter, but I don’t.) He was only 42. I met Kaminsky at an MSRC Bluehat Forum in 2009. He was only 30 at the time, but already widely respected, and not just for his work on DNS.
Kaminsky is probably most famous for his 2008 discovery (and subsequent handling) of the serious flaw in DNS which would permit an attacker to poison DNS caches. Kaminsky successfully managed to get multiple vendors of DNS server products to take the issue seriously, patch their products and co-ordinate the release of said patches, before he announced the vulnerability. Such responsible disclosure is completely antithetical to the kind of viewpoint which leads “bad guys” (of all kinds) to withhold vulnerability details so that they can be exploited in so-called 0-day attacks. We need more Kaminskys.
In his own blog post on the flaw, Kaminsky said:
So there’s a bug in DNS, the name-to-address mapping system at the core of most Internet services. DNS goes bad, every website goes bad, and every email goes…somewhere. Not where it was supposed to. You may have heard about this — the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, and some particularly important people are reporting on what’s been going on. Specifically:
1) It’s a bug in many platforms
2) It’s the exact same bug in many platforms (design bugs, they are a pain)
3) After an enormous and secret effort, we’ve got fixes for all major platforms, all out on the same day.
4) This has not happened before. Everything is genuinely under control.
I’m pretty proud of what we accomplished here. We got Windows. We got Cisco IOS. We got Nominum. We got BIND 9, and when we couldn’t get BIND 8, we got Yahoo, the biggest BIND 8 deployment we knew of, to publicly commit to abandoning it entirely.
It was a good day.
A good day indeed.
A couple of weeks after the first announcement, Kaminsky wrote a “guide for management” summarising the technicalities in a way by which sysadmins could present the flaw to their management to get them to take the issue (and the necessary overtime) seriously.
All of us who use the ‘net owe Kaminsky a debt of gratitude.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/04/29/rip-dan-kaminsky/
Or a spammer with a sense of humour.
I have very recently been hit by a spate of new spam asking me to sign up to save on a new mortgage, or change my car insurer or meet attractive asian ladies amongst other such enticements. They are all blocked now because, despite using different domain names, they (stupidly) all come from the same sending MTA, but I had to smile at one of the embedded URLs I was invited to click.
It looked like this:
I salute you, whoever you are.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/04/05/villainous-spam/
This may be controversial.
Yesterday, a member of the Tor relays mailing list posted the following to the list:
“I’ve been running a relay/exit node for many years. Tor user since ~2004. To the extent that my voice means anything at all here, I would like to strongly condemn the Tor project joining the attempt to cancel Richard Stallman. Stallman represents software freedom to me generally and as of today I will be shutting down my exit node in protest of this action by the Tor Project.
I hope the rest of you out there, who depend every day on GNU project code which would not exist without RMS’s project, might consider joining me.”
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/03/26/stallman-and-tor/
Foreign Secretaries may come and go, but their inability to spot irony seems to be consistent. Back in February 2014 I commented on William Hague’s apparent concern about press restrictions in Egypt at a time when the Guardian newspaper in the UK was reporting on the threats of Legal Action they had received from the Government if they did not relinquish material leaked by Snowden and stop their reporting based upon that material.
Our current Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has followed Hague’s example with his condemnation of the Chinese State’s repression of the Uighurs in an announcement to the House of Commons of the sanctions to be applied on Chinese Officials judged to be directly involved. In that announcement, Raab rightly said that:
“Evidence points to a highly disturbing programme of repression” and that the world “cannot simply look the other way” as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time” unfolds.
He went on to say:
“Expressions of religion have been criminalised, Uighur language and culture discriminated against on a systematic scale.
“There is widespread use of forced labour, women forcibly sterilised, children separated from their parents.”
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/03/23/irony-bypass/
Mark Pesce wrote a column in El Reg this week relating the story of how a friend of his had stumbled upon an example of the phenomenon noted by social media researcher Danah Boyd and Microsoft’s Michael Golebiewski as a “data void”. The particular void that Pesce’s friend had entered was around details of the accuracy of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test used for Covid 19. When searching for definitive, and authoritative, information about this test, Pesce says instead he got back a “tsunami of conspiracy and antivax propaganda.”
Pesce goes on to say:
That a data void exists on a topic as important as the accuracy of PCR tests highlights the weakness of algorithmic approaches to indexing the Web, something we’ve been doing in one form or another since DEC launched AltaVista twenty-six years ago.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/02/12/filling-the-void/
I have written in the past about some of the persistent requests I get for guest posts or sponsored links on trivia. I suppose I should be flattered that some people seem to think that trivia has a wide enough readership to make that sort of thing attractive (to either party), but I’m not. As I have said, I don’t want such requests and it merely annoys me that the requestor hasn’t done their research before asking.
Most people give up after at most two or three emails (which I don’t answer) but in the past few weeks I have received four requests for a link to a site reviewing “spy” cameras – i.e. covert systems designed to spy on visitors to your home. This is beyond silly. Even a cursory read of trivia should have told the idiot asking for the link that I am a privacy advocate and that spy cameras are almost the antithesis of anything I would endorse.
I confess that I cracked and finally emailed in response pointing to the post she should have read.
It has gone quiet.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2021/01/31/no-spy-cameras/
Shit – what a year. But let’s not go into all that.
I’m a little early with this post this year. I normally mark trivia’s birthday (Dec 26th) on the day itself. This year I may not actually wish to even leave the duvet on Boxing Day so I thought I’d take the opportunity today to post a picture of this year’s Christmas cake made by my beautiful lady wife for her boys. So here it is.
Enjoy – the boys will.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/12/20/merry-christmas-2020/
My last post highlighted the astonishingly good deal I have just had from racknerd. I’ve been running VPS systems for some time now so I thought I would look back over my archived email to see what I could find about my earliest experiences.
I found an invoice for a system I first rented back in December 2008 (so twelve years ago). The spec was:
– 150MB RAM
– 10GB disc
– 50GB transfer per month
and it cost £172.50 for a year (which apparently got me a 15% discount for paying in advance).
So I have just paid 15 times less (in absolute terms, and ignoring inflation) for a VPS with:
– nearly 7 times the memory
– three times the disc capacity (and now on SSD, not spinning rust)
– and about 70 times the allowed network transfer.
Oh, and the CPU is faster too.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/12/01/vps-comparison/
At about this time last year I wrote about my impressively cheap new VPS on ITLDC’s network in Prague. Prices of VPSs continue to come down and I now have several dotted around Europe which each cost me around three euros per month. But I am always on the lookout for a new provider and, of course, a new bargain.
This year I found a reference on lowendtalk to a provider in the US called “racknerd” (cute name) which seems to be re-selling colocrossing servers. That provider was offering a “black friday” deal on servers in nine different data centres for silly money.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/11/30/an-even-bigger-bargain-vps/
Just to prove that ‘bots really are stupid, my last post below has just been hit by a spam bot. And this is what whois has to say about the source address:
inetnum: 220.127.116.11 – 18.104.22.168
descr: OJSC “Sibirtelecom”
remarks: Kemerovo branch of the OJSC “Sibirtelecom”
remarks: broadband service
remarks: Direct reference for the general info on spam
remarks: In unsoluble cases for the general info on spam,
remarks: abusing & hacking complaints email email@example.com
source: RIPE # Filtered
role: NSOELSVZ admin-c role
address: JSC “Sibirtelecom”
address: 18, Ordjenikidze str.,
address: 630099, Novosibirsk, Russia
phone: +7 383 2 270669
fax-no: +7 383 2 270017
source: RIPE # Filtered
Way to go Sibirtelecom.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/11/18/from-russia-with-malintent/
I am very careful about how, or even if, I allow comments on trivia. For example I disallow all comments on any post after a set period of time, I also refuse all comments until I have had time to read and thus moderate them. This cuts down on the type of rubbish often seen on blogs of the form:
“I read this and it was very useful to me. I have bookmarked your page and will come back later.”
Now whilst this may, in and of itself, appear fairly innocuous, it says nothing, and adds nothing, to the post. But the poster (usually a ‘bot) doesn’t care about this, they are only interested in getting their URL (which is almost guaranteed to be a site you should certainly not visit) posted to the blog along with the comment. Next time you view a blog post (including this one) take a look at the comment section. If you press the “Leave comment” button you will be presented with a form like this:
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/11/15/comment-spam-irony/
Back in early 2019, I wrote about a problem I was having with mail from my system going to BT based accounts. At the time, BT was rejecting my mail as potential spam. As I wrote at the time, I was pleasantly surprised when the BT postmaster replied positively to my request that they investigate the problem. Even better, after investigation they acknowledged that the problem lay at their end and they then fixed it.
I am now having a problem with mail to an ntlworld address (@ntlworld.com), part of the virginmedia empire. But this time I have no possibility of getting their postmaster to do anything. Why? Because mail to their postmaster is also refused.
I first noticed the problem only a month or two ago. Here again, email from me to that same group of friends I wrote about in the BT scenario was being refused to one member of the group. That member has an ntlworld account, and has had for as long as he has been on the mailing list, so they must have changed their mail receipt policy recently. The ntlworld system now refuses all mail from my mailserver. The mail is apparently refused because they believe my mail server is not trustworthy.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/10/27/braindead-mail-service/
We here in England must now limit our social interaction to the “rule of six”. Our dear, delusional, demented, certifiable, mendacious, law breaking Prime Minister says that I cannot meet in my home with more than six people – despite the fact that I can go to the Gym, or a Supermarket, or a Pub, or a Restaurant which will be inside, and with more than six people present.
Well, guess what, my grandchildren come to dinner with my wife and I and visit fairly regularly. They love their Nana. Together with their parents that makes seven people in my home.
So, I tell you now Prime Minister, I fully intend to break the law in a very “specific and limited way” (TM).
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/09/11/laws-are-made-to-be-broken/
My previous two posts discussed the need for encrypted DNS and then how to do it on a linux desktop. I do not have any Microsoft systems so I have no idea how to approach the problem if you use any form of Windows OS, nor do I have any Apple devices so I can’t provide advice for iOS either, but I do use Android devices. All my mobile phones for some time have been re-flashed to run a version of Android’s OS software. My current mobile (and two previous ones) run lineageOS, earlier phones used the (now discontinued) cyanogenmod ROM. I dislike google’s cavalier approach to user privacy, but I do like the flexibility and usability provided by modern smartphones. Apple devices strike me as hugely overpriced and I have never been convinced by the “oooh shiny” adoration shown by some of Apple’s hardened admirers. But each to their own.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/06/06/encrypting-dns-on-android/
In my last post I explained that in order to better protect my privacy I wanted to move all my DNS requests from the existing system of clear text requests to one of encrypted requests. My existing system forwarded DNS requests from my internal dnsmasq caching servers to one of my (four) unbound resolvers and thence onward from them to the root or other authoritative servers. Whilst most of my requests would be shielded from prying eyes by my use of openVPN tunnels, unfortunately, this still left my requests to upstream servers from my unbound resolvers subject to snooping. I don’t like that and the opportunity to encrypt my requests using the new standard DNS over TLS (DoT) looked attractive.
This post describes how I made that change.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/05/25/encrypting-dns-with-dnsmasq-and-stubby/
Any casual reader of trivia will be aware that I care about my privacy and that I go to some lengths to maintain that privacy in the face of concerted attempts by ISPs, corporations, government agencies and others to subvert it. In particular I use personally managed OpenVPN servers at various locations to tunnel my network activity and thus mask it from my ISP’s surveillance. I also use Tor (over those same VPNs), I use XMPP (and latterly Signal) for my messaging and my mobile ‘phone is resolutely non-google because I use lineageos‘ version of android (though that still has holes – it is difficult to be completely free of google if you use an OS developed by them). Unfortunately my email is still largely unprotected, but I treat that medium as if it were correspondence by postcard and simply accept the risks inherent in its use. I like encryption, and I particularly like strong encryption which offers forward secrecy (as is provided by TLS, and unlike that offered by PGP) and will therefore use encryption wherever possible to protect my own and my family member’s usage of the ‘net.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/05/06/encrypting-dns/
Since my previous post below, I have been reading up on Zoom as a company, its staffing and its worrying security (or rather lack of) track record. When I wrote the initial post I said that “Zoom is a US company funded almost entirely by venture capital. Its servers are US based.”. It appears that is not entirely accurate. Indeed, it would appear that some of its servers are actually based in China, furthermore, a large number of its development staff are Chinese nationals, also based in China. And the CEO, Eric S Yuan grew up in China. On a Zoom blog post dated 26 February of this year Yuan wrote:
“I grew up in the eastern Shandong Province of China and studied at the Shandong University of Science & Technology. It’s a place I still hold dear. I am continuously inspired by the courageous efforts of those treating patients in China and around the world — working hard to try to further prevent the spread of the virus.”
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/04/10/zooming-in-on-china/
On Tuesday of this week, Boris Johnson tweeted a picture of what he called the UK’s “first ever digital Cabinet”. That picture (copy below) shows that the Cabinet meeting was held using Zoom – the sort of video conferencing software which is currently popular with business users forced to work at home during the Covid19 pandemic.
Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2020/04/03/zooming-in-on-cabinet/