Monday, April 6. 2020
I would like to point out a security problem with a classic variant of web space hosting. While this issue should be obvious to anyone knowing basic web security, I have never seen it being discussed publicly.
Some server operators allow every user on the system to have a personal web space where they can place files in a directory (often ~/public_html) and they will appear on the host under a URL with a tilde and their username (e.g. https://example.org/~username/). The Apache web server provides such a function in the mod_userdir module. While this concept is rather old, it is still used by some and is often used by universities and Linux distributions.
To put this into a practical example: If you read your emails on a web interface on example.com then a script running on example.org should not be able to read your mails, change your password or mess in any other way with the application running on a different host. However if an attacker can place a script on example.com, which is called a Cross Site Scripting or XSS vulnerability, the attacker may be able to do all that.
The problem with userdir URLs should now become obvious: All userdir URLs on one server run on the same host and thus are in the same origin. It has XSS by design.
What does that mean in practice? Let‘s assume we have Bob, who has the username „bob“ on exampe.org, runs a blog on https://example.org/~bob/. User Mallory, who has the username „mallory“ on the same host, wants to attack Bob. If Bob is currently logged into his blog and Mallory manages to convince Bob to open her webpage – hosted at https://example.org/~mallory/ - at the same time she can place an attack script there that will attack Bob. The attack could be a variety of things from adding another user to the blog, changing Bob‘s password or reading unpublished content.
This is only an issue if the users on example.org do not trust each other, so the operator of the host may decide this is no problem if there is only a small number of trusted users. However there is another issue: An XSS vulnerability on any of the userdir web pages on the same host may be used to attack any other web page on the same host.
So if for example Alice runs an outdated web application with a known XSS vulnerability on https://example.org/~alice/ and Bob runs his blog on https://example.org/~bob/ then Mallory can use the vulnerability in Alice‘s web application to attack Bob.
All of this is primarily an issue if people run non-trivial web applications that have accounts and logins. If the web pages are only used to host static content the issues become much less problematic, though it is still with some limitations possible that one user could show the webpage of another user in a manipulated way.
So what does that mean? You probably should not use userdir URLs for anything except hosting of simple, static content - and probably not even there if you can avoid it. Even in situations where all users are considered trusted there is an increased risk, as vulnerabilities can cross application boundaries. As for Apache‘s mod_userdir I have contacted the Apache developers and they agreed to add a warning to the documentation.
If you want to provide something similar to your users you might want to give every user a subdomain, for example https://alice.example.org/, https://bob.example.org/ etc. There is however still a caveat with this: Unfortunately the same origin policy does not apply to all web technologies and particularly it does not apply to Cookies. However cross-hostname Cookie attacks are much less straightforward and there is often no practical attack scenario, thus using subdomains is still the more secure choice.
To avoid these Cookie issues for domains where user content is hosted regularly – a well-known example is github.io – there is the Public Suffix List for such domains. If you run a service with user subdomains you might want to consider adding your domain there, which can be done with a pull request.
Thursday, June 15. 2017
Coredumps are a feature of Linux and other Unix systems to analyze crashing software. If a software crashes, for example due to an invalid memory access, the operating system can save the current content of the application's memory to a file. By default it is simply called
While this is useful for debugging purposes it can produce a security risk. If a web application crashes the coredump may simply end up in the web server's root folder. Given that its file name is known an attacker can simply download it via an URL of the form
https://example.org/core. As coredumps contain an application's memory they may expose secret information. A very typical example would be passwords.
PHP used to crash relatively often. Recently a lot of these crash bugs have been fixed, in part because PHP now has a bug bounty program. But there are still situations in which PHP crashes. Some of them likely won't be fixed.
How to disclose?
With a scan of the Alexa Top 1 Million domains for exposed core dumps I found around 1.000 vulnerable hosts. I was faced with a challenge: How can I properly disclose this? It is obvious that I wouldn't write hundreds of manual mails. So I needed an automated way to contact the site owners.
Abusix runs a service where you can query the abuse contacts of IP addresses via a DNS query. This turned out to be very useful for this purpose. One could also imagine contacting domain owners directly, but that's not very practical. The domain whois databases have rate limits and don't always expose contact mail addresses in a machine readable way.
Using the abuse contacts doesn't reach all of the affected host operators. Some abuse contacts were nonexistent mail addresses, others didn't have abuse contacts at all. I also got all kinds of automated replies, some of them asking me to fill out forms or do other things, otherwise my message wouldn't be read. Due to the scale I ignored those. I feel that if people make it hard for me to inform them about security problems that's not my responsibility.
I took away two things that I changed in a second batch of disclosures. Some abuse contacts seem to automatically search for IP addresses in the abuse mails. I originally only included affected URLs. So I changed that to include the affected IPs as well.
In many cases I was informed that the affected hosts are not owned by the company I contacted, but by a customer. Some of them asked me if they're allowed to forward the message to them. I thought that would be obvious, but I made it explicit now. Some of them asked me that I contact their customers, which again, of course, is impractical at scale. And sorry: They are your customers, not mine.
How to fix and prevent it?
If you have a coredump on your web host, the obvious fix is to remove it from there. However you obviously also want to prevent this from happening again.
There are two settings that impact coredump creation: A limits setting, configurable via
ulimit and a sysctl interface that can be found under
The limits setting is a size limit for coredumps. If it is set to zero then no core dumps are created. To set this as the default you can add something like this to your
* soft core 0
The sysctl interface sets a pattern for the file name and can also contain a path. You can set it to something like this:
This would store all coredumps under
/var/log/core/ and add the executable name, process id, host name and timestamp to the filename. The directory needs to be writable by all users, you should use a directory with the sticky bit (
If you set this via the proc file interface it will only be temporary until the next reboot. To set this permanently you can add it to
kernel.core_pattern = /var/log/core/core.%e.%p.%h.%t
Some Linux distributions directly forward core dumps to crash analysis tools. This can be done by prefixing the pattern with a pipe (|). These tools like apport from Ubuntu or abrt from Fedora have also been the source of security vulnerabilities in the past. However that's a separate issue.
Look out for coredumps
My scans showed that this is a relatively common issue. Among popular web pages around one in a thousand were affected before my disclosure attempts. I recommend that pentesters and developers of security scan tools consider checking for this. It's simple: Just try download the
/core file and check if it looks like an executable. In most cases it will be an ELF file, however sometimes it may be a Mach-O (OS X) or an a.out file (very old Linux and Unix systems).
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Université Paris Diderot
Tuesday, January 26. 2016
Update: When I wrote this blog post it was an open question for me whether using Address Sanitizer in production is a good idea. A recent analysis posted on the oss-security mailing list explains in detail why using Asan in its current form is almost certainly not a good idea. Having any suid binary built with Asan enables a local root exploit - and there are various other issues. Therefore using Gentoo with Address Sanitizer is only recommended for developing and debugging purposes.
Address Sanitizer is a remarkable feature that is part of the gcc and clang compilers. It can be used to find many typical C bugs - invalid memory reads and writes, use after free errors etc. - while running applications. It has found countless bugs in many software packages. I'm often surprised that many people in the free software community seem to be unaware of this powerful tool.
Address Sanitizer is mainly intended to be a debugging tool. It is usually used to test single applications, often in combination with fuzzing. But as Address Sanitizer can prevent many typical C security bugs - why not use it in production? It doesn't come for free. Address Sanitizer takes significantly more memory and slows down applications by 50 - 100 %. But for some security sensitive applications this may be a reasonable trade-off. The Tor project is already experimenting with this with its Hardened Tor Browser.
One project I've been working on in the past months is to allow a Gentoo system to be compiled with Address Sanitizer. Today I'm publishing this and want to allow others to test it. I have created a page in the Gentoo Wiki that should become the central documentation hub for this project. I published an overlay with several fixes and quirks on Github.
I see this work as part of my Fuzzing Project. (I'm posting it here because the Gentoo category of my personal blog gets indexed by Planet Gentoo.)
I am not sure if using Gentoo with Address Sanitizer is reasonable for a production system. One thing that makes me uneasy in suggesting this for high security requirements is that it's currently incompatible with Grsecurity. But just creating this project already caused me to find a whole number of bugs in several applications. Some notable examples include Coreutils/shred, Bash (, ), man-db, Pidgin-OTR, Courier, Syslog-NG, Screen, Claws-Mail (, ), ProFTPD (, ) ICU, TCL (), Dovecot. I think it was worth the effort.
I will present this work in a talk at FOSDEM in Brussels this Saturday, 14:00, in the Security Devroom.
Tuesday, June 23. 2015
tl;dr Most servers running a multi-user webhosting setup with Apache HTTPD probably have a security problem. Unless you're using Grsecurity there is no easy fix.
I am part of a small webhosting business that I run as a side project since quite a while. We offer customers user accounts on our servers running Gentoo Linux and webspace with the typical Apache/PHP/MySQL combination. We recently became aware of a security problem regarding Symlinks. I wanted to share this, because I was appalled by the fact that there was no obvious solution.
Apache has an option FollowSymLinks which basically does what it says. If a symlink in a webroot is accessed the webserver will follow it. In a multi-user setup this is a security problem. Here's why: If I know that another user on the same system is running a typical web application - let's say Wordpress - I can create a symlink to his config file (for Wordpress that's wp-config.php). I can't see this file with my own user account. But the webserver can see it, so I can access it with the browser over my own webpage. As I'm usually allowed to disable PHP I'm able to prevent the server from interpreting the file, so I can read the other user's database credentials. The webserver needs to be able to see all files, therefore this works. While PHP and CGI scripts usually run with user's rights (at least if the server is properly configured) the files are still read by the webserver. For this to work I need to guess the path and name of the file I want to read, but that's often trivial. In our case we have default paths in the form /home/[username]/websites/[hostname]/htdocs where webpages are located.
So the obvious solution one might think about is to disable the FollowSymLinks option and forbid users to set it themselves. However symlinks in web applications are pretty common and many will break if you do that. It's not feasible for a common webhosting server.
Apache supports another Option called SymLinksIfOwnerMatch. It's also pretty self-explanatory, it will only follow symlinks if they belong to the same user. That sounds like it solves our problem. However there are two catches: First of all the Apache documentation itself says that "this option should not be considered a security restriction". It is still vulnerable to race conditions.
But even leaving the race condition aside it doesn't really work. Web applications using symlinks will usually try to set FollowSymLinks in their .htaccess file. An example is Drupal which by default comes with such an .htaccess file. If you forbid users to set FollowSymLinks then the option won't be just ignored, the whole webpage won't run and will just return an error 500. What you could do is changing the FollowSymLinks option in the .htaccess manually to SymlinksIfOwnerMatch. While this may be feasible in some cases, if you consider that you have a lot of users you don't want to explain to all of them that in case they want to install some common web application they have to manually edit some file they don't understand. (There's a bug report for Drupal asking to change FollowSymLinks to SymlinksIfOwnerMatch, but it's been ignored since several years.)
So using SymLinksIfOwnerMatch is neither secure nor really feasible. The documentation for Cpanel discusses several possible solutions. The recommended solutions require proprietary modules. None of the proposed fixes work with a plain Apache setup, which I think is a pretty dismal situation. The most common web server has a severe security weakness in a very common situation and no usable solution for it.
The one solution that we chose is a feature of Grsecurity. Grsecurity is a Linux kernel patch that greatly enhances security and we've been very happy with it in the past. There are a lot of reasons to use this patch, I'm often impressed that local root exploits very often don't work on a Grsecurity system.
Grsecurity has an option like SymlinksIfOwnerMatch (CONFIG_GRKERNSEC_SYMLINKOWN) that operates on the kernel level. You can define a certain user group (which in our case is the "apache" group) for which this option will be enabled. For us this was the best solution, as it required very little change.
I haven't checked this, but I'm pretty sure that we were not alone with this problem. I'd guess that a lot of shared web hosting companies are vulnerable to this problem.
Here's the German blog post on our webpage and here's the original blogpost from an administrator at Uberspace (also German) which made us aware of this issue.
Tuesday, April 7. 2015
tl;dr With a reasonably simple fuzzing setup I was able to rediscover the Heartbleed bug. This uses state-of-the-art fuzzing and memory protection technology (american fuzzy lop and Address Sanitizer), but it doesn't require any prior knowledge about specifics of the Heartbleed bug or the TLS Heartbeat extension. We can learn from this to find similar bugs in the future.
Exactly one year ago a bug in the OpenSSL library became public that is one of the most well-known security bug of all time: Heartbleed. It is a bug in the code of a TLS extension that up until then was rarely known by anybody. A read buffer overflow allowed an attacker to extract parts of the memory of every server using OpenSSL.
Can we find Heartbleed with fuzzing?
Heartbleed was introduced in OpenSSL 1.0.1, which was released in March 2012, two years earlier. Many people wondered how it could've been hidden there for so long. David A. Wheeler wrote an essay discussing how fuzzing and memory protection technologies could've detected Heartbleed. It covers many aspects in detail, but in the end he only offers speculation on whether or not fuzzing would have found Heartbleed. So I wanted to try it out.
Of course it is easy to find a bug if you know what you're looking for. As best as reasonably possible I tried not to use any specific information I had about Heartbleed. I created a setup that's reasonably simple and similar to what someone would also try it without knowing anything about the specifics of Heartbleed.
Heartbleed is a read buffer overflow. What that means is that an application is reading outside the boundaries of a buffer. For example, imagine an application has a space in memory that's 10 bytes long. If the software tries to read 20 bytes from that buffer, you have a read buffer overflow. It will read whatever is in the memory located after the 10 bytes. These bugs are fairly common and the basic concept of exploiting buffer overflows is pretty old. Just to give you an idea how old: Recently the Chaos Computer Club celebrated the 30th anniversary of a hack of the German BtX-System, an early online service. They used a buffer overflow that was in many aspects very similar to the Heartbleed bug. (It is actually disputed if this is really what happened, but it seems reasonably plausible to me.)
Fuzzing is a widely used strategy to find security issues and bugs in software. The basic idea is simple: Give the software lots of inputs with small errors and see what happens. If the software crashes you likely found a bug.
When buffer overflows happen an application doesn't always crash. Often it will just read (or write if it is a write overflow) to the memory that happens to be there. Whether it crashes depends on a lot of circumstances. Most of the time read overflows won't crash your application. That's also the case with Heartbleed. There are a couple of technologies that improve the detection of memory access errors like buffer overflows. An old and well-known one is the debugging tool Valgrind. However Valgrind slows down applications a lot (around 20 times slower), so it is not really well suited for fuzzing, where you want to run an application millions of times on different inputs.
Address Sanitizer finds more bug
A better tool for our purpose is Address Sanitizer. David A. Wheeler calls it “nothing short of amazing”, and I want to reiterate that. I think it should be a tool that every C/C++ software developer should know and should use for testing.
Address Sanitizer is part of the C compiler and has been included into the two most common compilers in the free software world, gcc and llvm. To use Address Sanitizer one has to recompile the software with the command line parameter -fsanitize=address . It slows down applications, but only by a relatively small amount. According to their own numbers an application using Address Sanitizer is around 1.8 times slower. This makes it feasible for fuzzing tasks.
For the fuzzing itself a tool that recently gained a lot of popularity is american fuzzy lop (afl). This was developed by Michal Zalewski from the Google security team, who is also known by his nick name lcamtuf. As far as I'm aware the approach of afl is unique. It adds instructions to an application during the compilation that allow the fuzzer to detect new code paths while running the fuzzing tasks. If a new interesting code path is found then the sample that created this code path is used as the starting point for further fuzzing.
Currently afl only uses file inputs and cannot directly fuzz network input. OpenSSL has a command line tool that allows all kinds of file inputs, so you can use it for example to fuzz the certificate parser. But this approach does not allow us to directly fuzz the TLS connection, because that only happens on the network layer. By fuzzing various file inputs I recently found two issues in OpenSSL, but both had been found by Brian Carpenter before, who at the same time was also fuzzing OpenSSL.
Let OpenSSL talk to itself
So to fuzz the TLS network connection I had to create a workaround. I wrote a small application that creates two instances of OpenSSL that talk to each other. This application doesn't do any real networking, it is just passing buffers back and forth and thus doing a TLS handshake between a server and a client. Each message packet is written down to a file. It will result in six files, but the last two are just empty, because at that point the handshake is finished and no more data is transmitted. So we have four files that contain actual data from a TLS handshake. If you want to dig into this, a good description of a TLS handshake is provided by the developers of OCaml-TLS and MirageOS.
Then I added the possibility of switching out parts of the handshake messages by files I pass on the command line. By calling my test application selftls with a number and a filename a handshake message gets replaced by this file. So to test just the first part of the server handshake I'd call the test application, take the output file packed-1 and pass it back again to the application by running selftls 1 packet-1. Now we have all the pieces we need to use american fuzzy lop and fuzz the TLS handshake.
I compiled OpenSSL 1.0.1f, the last version that was vulnerable to Heartbleed, with american fuzzy lop. This can be done by calling ./config and then replacing gcc in the Makefile with afl-gcc. Also we want to use Address Sanitizer, to do so we have to set the environment variable AFL_USE_ASAN to 1.
There are some issues when using Address Sanitizer with american fuzzy lop. Address Sanitizer needs a lot of virtual memory (many Terabytes). American fuzzy lop limits the amount of memory an application may use. It is not trivially possible to only limit the real amount of memory an application uses and not the virtual amount, therefore american fuzzy lop cannot handle this flawlessly. Different solutions for this problem have been proposed and are currently developed. I usually go with the simplest solution: I just disable the memory limit of afl (parameter -m -1). This poses a small risk: A fuzzed input may lead an application to a state where it will use all available memory and thereby will cause other applications on the same system to malfuction. Based on my experience this is very rare, so I usually just ignore that potential problem.
After having compiled OpenSSL 1.0.1f we have two files libssl.a and libcrypto.a. These are static versions of OpenSSL and we will use them for our test application. We now also use the afl-gcc to compile our test application:
AFL_USE_ASAN=1 afl-gcc selftls.c -o selftls libssl.a libcrypto.a -ldl
Now we run the application. It needs a dummy certificate. I have put one in the repo. To make things faster I'm using a 512 bit RSA key. This is completely insecure, but as we don't want any security here – we just want to find bugs – this is fine, because a smaller key makes things faster. However if you want to try fuzzing the latest OpenSSL development code you need to create a larger key, because it'll refuse to accept such small keys.
The application will give us six packet files, however the last two will be empty. We only want to fuzz the very first step of the handshake, so we're interested in the first packet. We will create an input directory for american fuzzy lop called in and place packet-1 in it. Then we can run our fuzzing job:
afl-fuzz -i in -o out -m -1 -t 5000 ./selftls 1 @@
We pass the input and output directory, disable the memory limit and increase the timeout value, because TLS handshakes are slower than common fuzzing tasks. On my test machine around 6 hours later afl found the first crash. Now we can manually pass our output to the test application and will get a stack trace by Address Sanitizer:
==2268==ERROR: AddressSanitizer: heap-buffer-overflow on address 0x629000013748 at pc 0x7f228f5f0cfa bp 0x7fffe8dbd590 sp 0x7fffe8dbcd38
READ of size 32768 at 0x629000013748 thread T0
#0 0x7f228f5f0cf9 (/usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-pc-linux-gnu/4.9.2/libasan.so.1+0x2fcf9)
#1 0x43d075 in memcpy /usr/include/bits/string3.h:51
#2 0x43d075 in tls1_process_heartbeat /home/hanno/code/openssl-fuzz/tests/openssl-1.0.1f/ssl/t1_lib.c:2586
#3 0x50e498 in ssl3_read_bytes /home/hanno/code/openssl-fuzz/tests/openssl-1.0.1f/ssl/s3_pkt.c:1092
#4 0x51895c in ssl3_get_message /home/hanno/code/openssl-fuzz/tests/openssl-1.0.1f/ssl/s3_both.c:457
#5 0x4ad90b in ssl3_get_client_hello /home/hanno/code/openssl-fuzz/tests/openssl-1.0.1f/ssl/s3_srvr.c:941
#6 0x4c831a in ssl3_accept /home/hanno/code/openssl-fuzz/tests/openssl-1.0.1f/ssl/s3_srvr.c:357
#7 0x412431 in main /home/hanno/code/openssl-fuzz/tests/openssl-1.0.1f/selfs.c:85
#8 0x7f228f03ff9f in __libc_start_main (/lib64/libc.so.6+0x1ff9f)
#9 0x4252a1 (/data/openssl/openssl-handshake/openssl-1.0.1f-nobreakrng-afl-asan-fuzz/selfs+0x4252a1)
0x629000013748 is located 0 bytes to the right of 17736-byte region [0x62900000f200,0x629000013748)
allocated by thread T0 here:
#0 0x7f228f6186f7 in malloc (/usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-pc-linux-gnu/4.9.2/libasan.so.1+0x576f7)
#1 0x57f026 in CRYPTO_malloc /home/hanno/code/openssl-fuzz/tests/openssl-1.0.1f/crypto/mem.c:308
We can see here that the crash is a heap buffer overflow doing an invalid read access of around 32 Kilobytes in the function tls1_process_heartbeat(). It is the Heartbleed bug. We found it.
I want to mention a couple of things that I found out while trying this. I did some things that I thought were necessary, but later it turned out that they weren't. After Heartbleed broke the news a number of reports stated that Heartbleed was partly the fault of OpenSSL's memory management. A mail by Theo De Raadt claiming that OpenSSL has “exploit mitigation countermeasures” was widely quoted. I was aware of that, so I first tried to compile OpenSSL without its own memory management. That can be done by calling ./config with the option no-buf-freelist.
But it turns out although OpenSSL uses its own memory management that doesn't defeat Address Sanitizer. I could replicate my fuzzing finding with OpenSSL compiled with its default options. Although it does its own allocation management, it will still do a call to the system's normal malloc() function for every new memory allocation. A blog post by Chris Rohlf digs into the details of the OpenSSL memory allocator.
Breaking random numbers for deterministic behaviour
When fuzzing the TLS handshake american fuzzy lop will report a red number counting variable runs of the application. The reason for that is that a TLS handshake uses random numbers to create the master secret that's later used to derive cryptographic keys. Also the RSA functions will use random numbers. I wrote a patch to OpenSSL to deliberately break the random number generator and let it only output ones (it didn't work with zeros, because OpenSSL will wait for non-zero random numbers in the RSA function).
During my tests this had no noticeable impact on the time it took afl to find Heartbleed. Still I think it is a good idea to remove nondeterministic behavior when fuzzing cryptographic applications. Later in the handshake there are also timestamps used, this can be circumvented with libfaketime, but for the initial handshake processing that I fuzzed to find Heartbleed that doesn't matter.
You may ask now what the point of all this is. Of course we already know where Heartbleed is, it has been patched, fixes have been deployed and it is mostly history. It's been analyzed thoroughly.
The question has been asked if Heartbleed could've been found by fuzzing. I'm confident to say the answer is yes. One thing I should mention here however: American fuzzy lop was already available back then, but it was barely known. It only received major attention later in 2014, after Michal Zalewski used it to find two variants of the Shellshock bug. Earlier versions of afl were much less handy to use, e. g. they didn't have 64 bit support out of the box. I remember that I failed to use an earlier version of afl with Address Sanitizer, it was only possible after a couple of issues were fixed. A lot of other things have been improved in afl, so at the time Heartbleed was found american fuzzy lop probably wasn't in a state that would've allowed to find it in an easy, straightforward way.
I think the takeaway message is this: We have powerful tools freely available that are capable of finding bugs like Heartbleed. We should use them and look for the other Heartbleeds that are still lingering in our software. Take a look at the Fuzzing Project if you're interested in further fuzzing work. There are beginner tutorials that I wrote with the idea in mind to show people that fuzzing is an easy way to find bugs and improve software quality.
I already used my sample application to fuzz the latest OpenSSL code. Nothing was found yet, but of course this could be further tweaked by trying different protocol versions, extensions and other variations in the handshake.
I also wrote a German article about this finding for the IT news webpage Golem.de.
I want to point out some feedback I got that I think is noteworthy.
On Twitter it was mentioned that Codenomicon actually found Heartbleed via fuzzing. There's a Youtube video from Codenomicon's Antti Karjalainen explaining the details. However the way they did this was quite different, they built a protocol specific fuzzer. The remarkable feature of afl is that it is very powerful without knowing anything specific about the used protocol. Also it should be noted that Heartbleed was found twice, the first one was Neel Mehta from Google.
Kostya Serebryany mailed me that he was able to replicate my findings with his own fuzzer which is part of LLVM, and it was even faster.
In the comments Michele Spagnuolo mentions that by compiling OpenSSL with -DOPENSSL_TLS_SECURITY_LEVEL=0 one can use very short and insecure RSA keys even in the latest version. Of course this shouldn't be done in production, but it is helpful for fuzzing and other testing efforts.
Sunday, March 15. 2015
Just wanted to quickly announce two talks I'll give in the upcoming weeks: One at BSidesHN (Hannover, 20th March) about some findings related to PGP and keyservers and one at the Easterhegg (Braunschweig, 4th April) about the current state of TLS.
A look at the PGP ecosystem and its keys
PGP-based e-mail encryption is widely regarded as an important tool to provide confidential and secure communication. The PGP ecosystem consists of the OpenPGP standard, different implementations (mostly GnuPG and the original PGP) and keyservers.
The PGP keyservers operate on an add-only basis. That means keys can only be uploaded and never removed. We can use these keyservers as a tool to investigate potential problems in the cryptography of PGP-implementations. Similar projects regarding TLS and HTTPS have uncovered a large number of issues in the past.
The talk will present a tool to parse the data of PGP keyservers and put them into a database. It will then have a look at potential cryptographic problems. The tools used will be published under a free license after the talk.
A look at the PGP ecosystem through the key server data (background paper)
Some tales from TLS
The TLS protocol is one of the foundations of Internet security. In recent years it's been under attack: Various vulnerabilities, both in the protocol itself and in popular implementations, showed how fragile that foundation is.
On the other hand new features allow to use TLS in a much more secure way these days than ever before. Features like Certificate Transparency and HTTP Public Key Pinning allow us to avoid many of the security pitfals of the Certificate Authority system.
Update: Slides and video available. Bonus: Contains rant about DNSSEC/DANE.
Slides PDF, LaTeX, Slideshare
Video recording, also on Youtube
Friday, January 30. 2015
On Tuesday details about the security vulnerability GHOST in Glibc were published by the company Qualys. When severe security vulnerabilities hit the news I always like to take this as a chance to learn what can be improved and how to avoid similar incidents in the future (see e. g. my posts on Heartbleed/Shellshock, POODLE/BERserk and NTP lately).
GHOST itself is a Heap Overflow in the name resolution function of the Glibc. The Glibc is the standard C library on Linux systems, almost every software that runs on a Linux system uses it. It is somewhat unclear right now how serious GHOST really is. A lot of software uses the affected function gethostbyname(), but a lot of conditions have to be met to make this vulnerability exploitable. Right now the most relevant attack is against the mail server exim where Qualys has developed a working exploit which they plan to release soon. There have been speculations whether GHOST might be exploitable through Wordpress, which would make it much more serious.
Technically GHOST is a heap overflow, which is a very common bug in C programming. C is inherently prone to these kinds of memory corruption errors and there are essentially two things here to move forwards: Improve the use of exploit mitigation techniques like ASLR and create new ones (levee is an interesting project, watch this 31C3 talk). And if possible move away from C altogether and develop core components in memory safe languages (I have high hopes for the Mozilla Servo project, watch this linux.conf.au talk).
GHOST was discovered three times
But the thing I want to elaborate here is something different about GHOST: It turns out that it has been discovered independently three times. It was already fixed in 2013 in the Glibc Code itself. The commit message didn't indicate that it was a security vulnerability. Then in early 2014 developers at Google found it again using Address Sanitizer (which – by the way – tells you that all software developers should use Address Sanitizer more often to test their software). Google fixed it in Chrome OS and explicitly called it an overflow and a vulnerability. And then recently Qualys found it again and made it public.
Now you may wonder why a vulnerability fixed in 2013 made headlines in 2015. The reason is that it widely wasn't fixed because it wasn't publicly known that it was serious. I don't think there was any malicious intent. The original Glibc fix was probably done without anyone noticing that it is serious and the Google devs may have thought that the fix is already public, so they don't need to make any noise about it. But we can clearly see that something doesn't work here. Which brings us to a discussion how the Linux and free software world in general and vulnerability management in particular work.
The “Never touch a running system” principle
Quite early when I came in contact with computers I heard the phrase “Never touch a running system”. This may have been a reasonable approach to IT systems back then when computers usually weren't connected to any networks and when remote exploits weren't a thing, but it certainly isn't a good idea today in a world where almost every computer is part of the Internet. Because once new security vulnerabilities become public you should change your system and fix them. However that doesn't change the fact that many people still operate like that.
A number of Linux distributions provide “stable” or “Long Time Support” versions. Basically the idea is this: At some point they take the current state of their systems and further updates will only contain important fixes and security updates. They guarantee to fix security vulnerabilities for a certain time frame. This is kind of a compromise between the “Never touch a running system” approach and reasonable security. It tries to give you a system that will basically stay the same, but you get fixes for security issues. Popular examples for this approach are the stable branch of Debian, Ubuntu LTS versions and the Enterprise versions of Red Hat and SUSE.
To give you an idea about time frames, Debian currently supports the stable trees Squeeze (6.0) which was released 2011 and Wheezy (7.0) which was released 2013. Red Hat Enterprise Linux has currently 4 supported version (4, 5, 6, 7), the oldest one was originally released in 2005. So we're talking about pretty long time frames that these systems get supported. Ubuntu and Suse have similar long time supported Systems.
These systems are delivered with an implicit promise: We will take care of security and if you update regularly you'll have a system that doesn't change much, but that will be secure against know threats. Now the interesting question is: How well do these systems deliver on that promise and how hard is that?
Vulnerability management is chaotic and fragile
I'm not sure how many people are aware how vulnerability management works in the free software world. It is a pretty fragile and chaotic process. There is no standard way things work. The information is scattered around many different places. Different people look for vulnerabilities for different reasons. Some are developers of the respective projects themselves, some are companies like Google that make use of free software projects, some are just curious people interested in IT security or researchers. They report a bug through the channels of the respective project. That may be a mailing list, a bug tracker or just a direct mail to the developer. Hopefully the developers fix the issue. It does happen that the person finding the vulnerability first has to explain to the developer why it actually is a vulnerability. Sometimes the fix will happen in a public code repository, sometimes not. Sometimes the developer will mention that it is a vulnerability in the commit message or the release notes of the new version, sometimes not. There are notorious projects that refuse to handle security vulnerabilities in a transparent way. Sometimes whoever found the vulnerability will post more information on his/her blog or on a mailing list like full disclosure or oss-security. Sometimes not. Sometimes vulnerabilities get a CVE id assigned, sometimes not.
Add to that the fact that in many cases it's far from clear what is a security vulnerability. It is absolutely common that if you ask the people involved whether this is serious the best and most honest answer they can give is “we don't know”. And very often bugs get fixed without anyone noticing that it even could be a security vulnerability.
Then there are projects where the number of security vulnerabilities found and fixed is really huge. The latest Chrome 40 release had 62 security fixes, version 39 had 42. Chrome releases a new version every two months. Browser vulnerabilities are found and fixed on a daily basis. Not that extreme but still high is the vulnerability count in PHP, which is especially worrying if you know that many webhosting providers run PHP versions not supported any more.
So you probably see my point: There is a very chaotic stream of information in various different places about bugs and vulnerabilities in free software projects. The number of vulnerabilities is huge. Making a promise that you will scan all this information for security vulnerabilities and backport the patches to your operating system is a big promise. And I doubt anyone can fulfill that.
GHOST is a single example, so you might ask how often these things happen. At some point right after GHOST became public this excerpt from the Debian Glibc changelog caught my attention (excuse the bad quality, had to take the image from Twitter because I was unable to find that changelog on Debian's webpages):
What you can see here: While Debian fixed GHOST (which is CVE-2015-0235) they also fixed CVE-2012-6656 – a security issue from 2012. Admittedly this is a minor issue, but it's a vulnerability nevertheless. A quick look at the Debian changelog of Chromium both in squeeze and wheezy will tell you that they aren't fixing all the recent security issues in it. (Debian already had discussions about removing Chromium and in Wheezy they don't stick to a single version.)
It would be an interesting (and time consuming) project to take a package like PHP and check for all the security vulnerabilities whether they are fixed in the latest packages in Debian Squeeze/Wheezy, all Red Hat Enterprise versions and other long term support systems. PHP is probably more interesting than browsers, because the high profile targets for these vulnerabilities are servers. What worries me: I'm pretty sure some people already do that. They just won't tell you and me, instead they'll write their exploits and sell them to repressive governments or botnet operators.
Then there are also stories like this: Tavis Ormandy reported a security issue in Glibc in 2012 and the people from Google's Project Zero went to great lengths to show that it is actually exploitable. Reading the Glibc bug report you can learn that this was already reported in 2005(!), just nobody noticed back then that it was a security issue and it was minor enough that nobody cared to fix it.
There are also bugs that require changes so big that backporting them is essentially impossible. In the TLS world a lot of protocol bugs have been highlighted in recent years. Take Lucky Thirteen for example. It is a timing sidechannel in the way the TLS protocol combines the CBC encryption, padding and authentication. I like to mention this bug because I like to quote it as the TLS bug that was already mentioned in the specification (RFC 5246, page 23: "This leaves a small timing channel"). The real fix for Lucky Thirteen is not to use the erratic CBC mode any more and switch to authenticated encryption modes which are part of TLS 1.2. (There's another possible fix which is using Encrypt-then-MAC, but it is hardly deployed.) Up until recently most encryption libraries didn't support TLS 1.2. Debian Squeeze and Red Hat Enterprise 5 ship OpenSSL versions that only support TLS 1.0. There is no trivial patch that could be backported, because this is a huge change. What they likely backported are workarounds that avoid the timing channel. This will stop the attack, but it is not a very good fix, because it keeps the problematic old protocol and will force others to stay compatible with it.
LTS and stable distributions are there for a reason
The big question is of course what to do about it. OpenBSD developer Ted Unangst wrote a blog post yesterday titled Long term support considered harmful, I suggest you read it. He argues that we should get rid of long term support completely and urge users to upgrade more often. OpenBSD has a 6 month release cycle and supports two releases, so one version gets supported for one year.
Given what I wrote before you may think that I agree with him, but I don't. While I personally always avoided to use too old systems – I 'm usually using Gentoo which doesn't have any snapshot releases at all and does rolling releases – I can see the value in long term support releases. There are a lot of systems out there – connected to the Internet – that are never updated. Taking away the option to install systems and let them run with relatively little maintenance overhead over several years will probably result in more systems never receiving any security updates. With all its imperfectness running a Debian Squeeze with the latest updates is certainly better than running an operating system from 2011 that stopped getting security fixes in 2012.
Improving the information flow
I don't think there is a silver bullet solution, but I think there are things we can do to improve the situation. What could be done is to coordinate and share the work. Debian, Red Hat and other distributions with stable/LTS versions could agree that their next versions are based on a specific Glibc version and they collaboratively work on providing patch sets to fix all the vulnerabilities in it. This already somehow happens with upstream projects providing long term support versions, the Linux kernel does that for example. Doing that at scale would require vast organizational changes in the Linux distributions. They would have to agree on a roughly common timescale to start their stable versions.
What I'd consider the most crucial thing is to improve and streamline the information flow about vulnerabilities. When Google fixes a vulnerability in Chrome OS they should make sure this information is shared with other Linux distributions and the public. And they should know where and how they should share this information.
One mechanism that tries to organize the vulnerability process is the system of CVE ids. The idea is actually simple: Publicly known vulnerabilities get a fixed id and they are in a public database. GHOST is CVE-2015-0235 (the scheme will soon change because four digits aren't enough for all the vulnerabilities we find every year). I got my first CVEs assigned in 2007, so I have some experiences with the CVE system and they are rather mixed. Sometimes I briefly mention rather minor issues in a mailing list thread and a CVE gets assigned right away. Sometimes I explicitly ask for CVE assignments and never get an answer.
I would like to see that we just assign CVEs for everything that even remotely looks like a security vulnerability. However right now I think the process is to unreliable to deliver that. There are other public vulnerability databases like OSVDB, I have limited experience with them, so I can't judge if they'd be better suited. Unfortunately sometimes people hesitate to request CVE ids because others abuse the CVE system to count assigned CVEs and use this as a metric how secure a product is. Such bad statistics are outright dangerous, because it gives people an incentive to downplay vulnerabilities or withhold information about them.
This post was partly inspired by some discussions on oss-security
Saturday, December 20. 2014
Update: This blogpost was written before NTS was available, and the information is outdated. If you are looking for a modern solution, I recommend using software and a time server with Network Time Security, as specified in RFC 8915.
tl;dr Several severe vulnerabilities have been found in the time setting software NTP. The Network Time Protocol is not secure anyway due to the lack of a secure authentication mechanism. Better use tlsdate.
Today several severe vulnerabilities in the NTP software were published. On Linux and other Unix systems running the NTP daemon is widespread, so this will likely cause some havoc. I wanted to take this opportunity to argue that I think that NTP has to die.
In the old times before we had the Internet our computers already had an internal clock. It was just up to us to make sure it shows the correct time. These days we have something much more convenient – and less secure. We can set our clocks through the Internet from time servers. This is usually done with NTP.
NTP is pretty old, it was developed in the 80s, Wikipedia says it's one of the oldest Internet protocols in use. The standard NTP protocol has no cryptography (that wasn't really common in the 80s). Anyone can tamper with your NTP requests and send you a wrong time. Is this a problem? It turns out it is. Modern TLS connections increasingly rely on the system time as a part of security concepts. This includes certificate expiration, OCSP revocation checks, HSTS and HPKP. All of these have security considerations that in one way or another expect the time of your system to be correct.
Practical attack against HSTS on Ubuntu
At the Black Hat Europe conference last October in Amsterdam there was a talk presenting a pretty neat attack against HSTS (the background paper is here, unfortunately there seems to be no video of the talk). HSTS is a protocol to prevent so-called SSL-Stripping-Attacks. What does that mean? In many cases a user goes to a web page without specifying the protocol, e. g. he might just type www.example.com in his browser or follow a link from another unencrypted page. To avoid attacks here a web page can signal the browser that it wants to be accessed exclusively through HTTPS for a defined amount of time. TLS security is just an example here, there are probably other security mechanisms that in some way rely on time.
Here's the catch: The defined amount of time depends on a correct time source. On some systems manipulating the time is as easy as running a man in the middle attack on NTP. At the Black Hat talk a live attack against an Ubuntu system was presented. He also published his NTP-MitM-tool called Delorean. Some systems don't allow arbitrary time jumps, so there the attack is not that easy. But the bottom line is: The system time can be important for application security, so it needs to be secure. NTP is not.
Now there is an authenticated version of NTP. It is rarely used, but there's another catch: It has been shown to be insecure and nobody has bothered to fix it yet. There is a pre-shared-key mode that is not completely insecure, but that is not really practical for widespread use. So authenticated NTP won't rescue us. The latest versions of Chrome shows warnings in some situations when a highly implausible time is detected. That's a good move, but it's not a replacement for a secure system time.
There is another problem with NTP and that's the fact that it's using UDP. It can be abused for reflection attacks. UDP has no way of checking that the sender address of a network package is the real sender. Therefore one can abuse UDP services to amplify Denial-of-Service-attacks if there are commands that have a larger reply. It was found that NTP has such a command called monlist that has a large amplification factor and it was widely enabled until recently. Amplification is also a big problem for DNS servers, but that's another toppic.
tlsdate can improve security
While there is no secure dedicated time setting protocol, there is an alternative: TLS. A TLS packet contains a timestamp and that can be used to set your system time. This is kind of a hack. You're taking another protocol that happens to contain information about the time. But it works very well, there's a tool called tlsdate together with a timesetting daemon tlsdated written by Jacob Appelbaum.
There are some potential problems to consider with tlsdate, but none of them is even closely as serious as the problems of NTP. Adam Langley mentions here that using TLS for time setting and verifying the TLS certificate with the current system time is a circularity. However this isn't a problem if the existing system time is at least remotely close to the real time. If using tlsdate gets widespread and people add random servers as their time source strange things may happen. Just imagine server operator A thinks server B is a good time source and server operator B thinks server A is a good time source. Unlikely, but could be a problem. tlsdate defaults to the PTB (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt) as its default time source, that's an organization running atomic clocks in Germany. I hope they set their server time from the atomic clocks, then everything is fine. Also an issue is that you're delegating your trust to a server operator. Depending on what your attack scenario is that might be a problem. However it is a huge improvement trusting one time source compared to having a completely insecure time source.
So the conclusion is obvious: NTP is insecure, you shouldn't use it. You should use tlsdate instead. Operating systems should replace ntpd or other NTP-based solutions with tlsdated (ChromeOS already does).
(I should point out that the authentication problems have nothing to do with the current vulnerabilities. These are buffer overflows and this can happen in every piece of software. Tlsdate seems pretty secure, it uses seccomp to make exploitability harder. But of course tlsdate can have security vulnerabilities, too.)
Update: Accuracy and TLS 1.3
This blog entry got much more publicity than I expected, I'd like to add a few comments on some feedback I got.
A number of people mentioned the lack of accuracy provided by tlsdate. The TLS timestamp is in seconds, adding some network latency you'll get a worst case inaccuracy of around 1 second, certainly less than two seconds. I can see that this is a problem for some special cases, however it's probably safe to say that for most average use cases an inaccuracy of less than two seconds does not matter. I'd prefer if we had a protocol that is both safe and as accurate as possible, but we don't. I think choosing the secure one is the better default choice.
Then some people pointed out that the timestamp of TLS will likely be removed in TLS 1.3. From a TLS perspective this makes sense. There are already TLS users that randomize the timestamp to avoid leaking the system time (e. g. tor). One of the biggest problems in TLS is that it is too complex so I think every change to remove unneccesary data is good.
For tlsdate this means very little in the short term. We're still struggling to get people to start using TLS 1.2. It will take a very long time until we can fully switch to TLS 1.3 (which will still take some time till it's ready). So for at least a couple of years tlsdate can be used with TLS 1.2.
I think both are valid points and they show that in the long term a better protocol would be desirable. Something like NTP, but with secure authentication. It should be possible to get both: Accuracy and security. With existing protocols and software we can only have either of these - and as said, I'd choose security by default.
I finally wanted to mention that the Linux Foundation is sponsoring some work to create a better NTP implementation and some code was just published. However it seems right now adding authentication to the NTP protocol is not part of their plans.
OpenBSD just came up with a pretty nice solution that combines the security of HTTPS and the accuracy of NTP by using an HTTPS connection to define boundaries for NTP timesetting.
Sunday, November 30. 2014
This is already a few days old but I haven't announced it here yet. I recently started a little project to improve the state of security in free software apps and libraries:
The Fuzzing Project
This was preceded by a couple of discussions on the mailing list oss-security and findings that basic Unix/Linux tools like strings or less could pose a security risk. Also the availability of powerful tools like Address Sanitizer and american fuzzy lop makes fuzzing easier than ever before.
Fuzzing is a simple and powerful strategy to find bugs in software. It works by feeding a software with a large number of malformed input files usually by taking a small, valid file as a starting point. The sad state of things is that for a large number of software project you can find memory violation bugs within seconds with common fuzzing tools. The goal of the Fuzzing Project is to change that. At its core is currently a list of free software projects and their state of fuzzing robustness. What should follow are easy tutorials to start fuzzing, a collection of small input file samples and probably more ways to get involved (I think about moving the page's source code to github to allow pull requests). My own fuzzing already turned up a number of issues including a security bug in GnuPG.
Monday, October 6. 2014
The free software community was recently shattered by two security bugs called Heartbleed and Shellshock. While technically these bugs where quite different I think they still share a lot.
Heartbleed hit the news in April this year. A bug in OpenSSL that allowed to extract privat keys of encrypted connections. When a bug in Bash called Shellshock hit the news I was first hesistant to call it bigger than Heartbleed. But now I am pretty sure it is. While Heartbleed was big there were some things that alleviated the impact. It took some days till people found out how to practically extract private keys - and it still wasn't fast. And the most likely attack scenario - stealing a private key and pulling off a Man-in-the-Middle-attack - seemed something that'd still pose some difficulties to an attacker. It seemed that people who update their systems quickly (like me) weren't in any real danger.
Shellshock was different. It's astonishingly simple to use and real attacks started hours after it became public. If circumstances had been unfortunate there would've been a very real chance that my own servers could've been hit by it. I usually feel the IT stuff under my responsibility is pretty safe, so things like this scare me.
What OpenSSL and Bash have in common
Shortly after Heartbleed something became very obvious: The OpenSSL project wasn't in good shape. The software that pretty much everyone in the Internet uses to do encryption was run by a small number of underpaid people. People trying to contribute and submit patches were often ignored (I know that, I tried it). The truth about Bash looks even grimmer: It's a project mostly run by a single volunteer. And yet almost every large Internet company out there uses it. Apple installs it on every laptop. OpenSSL and Bash are crucial pieces of software and run on the majority of the servers that run the Internet. Yet they are very small projects backed by few people. Besides they are both quite old, you'll find tons of legacy code in them written more than a decade ago.
People like to rant about the code quality of software like OpenSSL and Bash. However I am not that concerned about these two projects. This is the upside of events like these: OpenSSL is probably much securer than it ever was and after the dust settles Bash will be a better piece of software. If you want to ask yourself where the next Heartbleed/Shellshock-alike bug will happen, ask this: What projects are there that are installed on almost every Linux system out there? And how many of them have a healthy community and received a good security audit lately?
Software installed on almost any Linux system
Let me propose a little experiment: Take your favorite Linux distribution, make a minimal installation without anything and look what's installed. These are the software projects you should worry about. To make things easier I did this for you. I took my own system of choice, Gentoo Linux, but the results wouldn't be very different on other distributions. The results are at at the bottom of this text. (I removed everything Gentoo-specific.) I admit this is oversimplifying things. Some of these provide more attack surface than others, we should probably worry more about the ones that are directly involved in providing network services.
After Heartbleed some people already asked questions like these. How could it happen that a project so essential to IT security is so underfunded? Some large companies acted and the result is the Core Infrastructure Initiative by the Linux Foundation, which already helped improving OpenSSL development. This is a great start and an example for an initiative of which we should have more. We should ask the large IT companies who are not part of that initiative what they are doing to improve overall Internet security.
Just to put this into perspective: A thorough security audit of a project like Bash would probably require a five figure number of dollars. For a small, volunteer driven project this is huge. For a company like Apple - the one that installed Bash on all their laptops - it's nearly nothing.
There's another recent development I find noteworthy. Google started Project Zero where they hired some of the brightest minds in IT security and gave them a single job: Search for security bugs. Not in Google's own software. In every piece of software out there. This is not merely an altruistic project. It makes sense for Google. They want the web to be a safer place - because the web is where they earn their money. I like that approach a lot and I have only one question to ask about it: Why doesn't every large IT company have a Project Zero?
There's another aspect I want to talk about. After Heartbleed people started having a closer look at OpenSSL and found a number of small and one other quite severe issue. After Bash people instantly found more issues in the function parser and we now have six CVEs for Shellshock and friends. When a piece of software is affected by a severe security bug people start to look for more. I wonder what it'd take to have people looking at the projects that aren't in the spotlight.
I was brainstorming if we could have something like a "free software audit action day". A regular call where an important but neglected project is chosen and the security community is asked to have a look at it. This is just a vague idea for now, if you like it please leave a comment.
That's it. I refrain from having discussions whether bugs like Heartbleed or Shellshock disprove the "many eyes"-principle that free software advocates like to cite, because I think these discussions are a pointless waste of time. I'd like to discuss how to improve things. Let's start.
Here's the promised list of Gentoo packages in the standard installation:
Friday, October 3. 2014
While I got along well with my Thinkpad T61 laptop, for quite some time I had the plan to get a new one soon. It wasn't an easy decision and I looked in detail at the models available in recent months. I finally decided to buy one of Lenovo's Thinkpad X1 Carbon laptops in its 2014 edition. The X1 Carbon was introduced in 2012, however a completely new variant which is very different from the first one was released early 2014. To distinguish it from other models it is the 20A7 model.
Judging from the first days of use I think I made the right decision. I hadn't seen the device before I bought it because it seems rarely shops keep this device in stock. I assume this is due to the relatively high price.
I was a bit worried because Lenovo made some unusual decisions for the keyboard, however having used it for a few days I don't feel that it has any severe downsides. The most unusual thing about it is that it doesn't have normal F1-F12 keys, instead it has what Lenovo calls an adaptive keyboard: A touch sensitive line which can display different kinds of keys. The idea is that different applications can have their own set of special keys there. However, just letting them display the normal F-keys works well and not having "real" keys there doesn't feel like a big disadvantage. Beside that Lenovo removed the Caps lock and placed Pos1/End there, which is a bit unusual but also nothing I worried about. I also hadn't seen any pictures of the German keyboard before I bought the device. The ^/°-key is not where it's used to be (small downside), but the </>/| key is where it belongs(big plus, many laptop vendors get that wrong).
* Lightweight, Ultrabook, no unnecessary stuff like CD/DVD drive
* High resolution (2560x1440)
* Hardware is up-to-date (Haswell chipset)
* Due to ultrabook / integrated design easy changing battery, ram or HD
* No SD card reader
* Have some trouble getting used to the touchpad (however there are lots of possibilities to configure it, I assume by playing with it that'll get better)
It used to be the case that people wrote docs how to get all the hardware in a laptop running on Linux which I did my previous laptops. These days this usually boils down to "run a recent Linux distribution with the latest kernels and xorg packages and most things will be fine". However I thought having a central place where I collect relevant information would be nice so I created one again. As usual I'm running Gentoo Linux.
For people who plan to run Linux without a dual boot it may be worth mentioning that there seem to be troublesome errors in earlier versions of the BIOS and the SSD firmware. You may want to update them before removing Windows. On my device they were already up-to-date.
Saturday, July 12. 2014
Yesterday the LibreSSL project released the first portable version that works on Linux. LibreSSL is a fork of OpenSSL and was created by the OpenBSD team in the aftermath of the Heartbleed bug.
Yesterday and today I played around with it on Gentoo Linux. I was able to replace my system's OpenSSL completely with LibreSSL and with few exceptions was able to successfully rebuild all packages using OpenSSL.
After getting this running on my own system I installed it on a test server. The Webpage tlsfun.de runs on that server. The functionality changes are limited, the only thing visible from the outside is the support for the experimental, not yet standardized ChaCha20-Poly1305 cipher suites, which is a nice thing.
A warning ahead: This is experimental, in no way stable or supported and if you try any of this you do it at your own risk. Please report any bugs you have with my overlay to me or leave a comment and don't disturb anyone else (from Gentoo or LibreSSL) with it. If you want to try it, you can get a portage overlay in a subversion repository. You can check it out with this command:
svn co https://svn.hboeck.de/libressl-overlay/
git clone https://github.com/gentoo/libressl.git
This is what I had to do to get things running:
First of all the Gentoo tree contains a lot of packages that directly depend on openssl, so I couldn't just replace that. The correct solution to handle such issues would be to create a virtual package and change all packages depending directly on openssl to depend on the virtual. This is already discussed in the appropriate Gentoo bug, but this would mean patching hundreds of packages so I skipped it and worked around it by leaving a fake openssl package in place that itself depends on libressl.
LibreSSL deprecates some APIs from OpenSSL. The first thing that stopped me was that various programs use the functions RAND_egd() and RAND_egd_bytes(). I didn't know until yesterday what egd is. It stands for Entropy Gathering Daemon and is a tool written in perl meant to replace the functionality of /dev/(u)random on non-Linux-systems. The LibreSSL-developers consider it insecure and after having read what it is I have to agree. However, the removal of those functions causes many packages not to build, upon them wget, python and ruby. My workaround was to add two dummy functions that just return -1, which is the error code if the Entropy Gathering Daemon is not available. So the API still behaves like expected. I also posted the patch upstream, but the LibreSSL devs don't like it. So on the long term it's probably better to fix applications to stop trying to use egd, but for now these dummy functions make it easier for me to build my system.
The second issue popping up was that the libcrypto.so from libressl contains an undefined main() function symbol which causes linking problems with a couple of applications (subversion, xorg-server, hexchat). According to upstream this undefined symbol is intended and most likely these are bugs in the applications having linking problems. However, for now it was easier for me to patch the symbol out instead of fixing all the apps. Like the egd issue on the long term fixing the applications is better.
The third issue was that LibreSSL doesn't ship pkg-config (.pc) files, some apps use them to get the correct compilation flags. I grabbed the ones from openssl and adjusted them accordingly.
This was the most interesting issue from all of them.
To understand this you have to understand how both LibreSSL and OpenSSH are developed. They are both from OpenBSD and they use some functions that are only available there. To allow them to be built on other systems they release portable versions which ship the missing OpenBSD-only-functions. One of them is arc4random().
Both LibreSSL and OpenSSH ship their compatibility version of arc4random(). The one from OpenSSH calls RAND_bytes(), which is a function from OpenSSL. The RAND_bytes() function from LibreSSL however calls arc4random(). Due to the linking order OpenSSH uses its own arc4random(). So what we have here is a nice recursion. arc4random() and RAND_bytes() try to call each other. The result is a segfault.
I fixed it by using the LibreSSL arc4random.c file for OpenSSH. I had to copy another function called arc4random_stir() from OpenSSH's arc4random.c and the header file thread_private.h. Surprisingly, this seems to work flawlessly.
This package contains the perl bindings for openssl. The problem is a check for the openssl version string that expected the name OpenSSL and a version number with three numbers and a letter (like 1.0.1h). LibreSSL prints the version 2.0. I just hardcoded the OpenSSL version numer, which is not a real fix, but it works for now.
SpamAssassin's code for spamc requires SSLv2 functions to be available. SSLv2 is heavily insecure and should not be used at all and therefore the LibreSSL devs have removed all SSLv2 function calls. Luckily, Debian had a patch to remove SSLv2 that I could use.
libesmtp / gwenhywfar
Some DES-related functions (DES is the old Data Encryption Standard) in OpenSSL are available in two forms: With uppercase DES_ and with lowercase des_. I can only guess that the des_ variants are for backwards compatibliity with some very old versions of OpenSSL. According to the docs the DES_ variants should be used. LibreSSL has removed the des_ variants.
For gwenhywfar I wrote a small patch and sent it upstream. For libesmtp all the code was in ntlm. After reading that ntlm is an ancient, proprietary Microsoft authentication protocol I decided that I don't need that anyway so I just added --disable-ntlm to the ebuild.
In Dovecot two issues popped up. LibreSSL removed the SSL Compression functionality (which is good, because since the CRIME attack we know it's not secure). Dovecot's configure script checks for it, but the check doesn't work. It checks for a function that LibreSSL keeps as a stub. For now I just disabled the check in the configure script. The solution is probably to remove all remaining stub functions. The configure script could probably also be changed to work in any case.
The second issue was that the Dovecot code has some #ifdef clauses that check the openssl version number for the ECDH auto functionality that has been added in OpenSSL 1.0.2 beta versions. As the LibreSSL version number 2.0 is higher than 1.0.2 it thinks it is newer and tries to enable it, but the code is not present in LibreSSL. I changed the #ifdefs to check for the actual functionality by checking a constant defined by the ECDH auto code.
The Apache http compilation complained about a missing ENGINE_CTRL_CHIL_SET_FORKCHECK. I have no idea what it does, but I found a patch to fix the issue, so I didn't investigate it further.
Someone else tried to get things running on Sabotage Linux.
Update: I've abandoned my own libressl overlay, a LibreSSL overlay by various Gentoo developers is now maintained at GitHub.
Wednesday, September 4. 2013
I recently noted that I have never blogged about this nice little device I now own for a couple of years. I originally bought the Toshiba AC100 before a two-month-long trip through Russia and China.
I was looking for a possibility to have a basic laptop, but without much weight. The AC100 is an ARM-based laptop which originally ships with the Android operating system. It weights less than 800 gramms and thus is lighter than the usual subnotebooks. According to my knowledge, it's not produced any more, but it can still be bought on ebay.
The nice thing is: You can install Linux on it and thus it will give you the possibility to run an almost full desktop-system. Though a warning ahead: While basic things work, it is quite a hacky business and you should expect to see problems. If you aren't prepared to solve them, this is probably not the solution for you.
Originally I was running Gentoo Linux on it (and it did well on my two-month trip), but now I'm running Ubuntu. The reason is that it was just too hard to get anything fixed if it didn't work. I rarely could find help anywhere, I assume there are only a handful of people that ever tried installing Gentoo on this Device. Ubuntu up until version 12.10 has reasonable support.
The great thing is: This is probably one of the lightest solutions to have a desktop/laptop-like machine with a real keyboard. Perfect for travelling. As it's running Linux, you can have access to a large number of standard applications. With lightweight apps like Abiword or Claws-Mail you can use basic applications.
The limitations are the Browser and Video. You can run Chromium or Firefox, but the device clearly shows its limits. Expect to wait longer sometimes, don't open too many tabs - and I always have to remember to never try to open Chromium and Firefox at the same time, as this makes the system mostly unusable. Obviously there's no Flash and nothing else that's only available in binary form, because ARM Linux is such a niche OS that nobody will provide binary apps for it.
Videos work, but limited. There's no xv support in the free driver. That means if you want to upscale a video to fullscreen, this has to be done in software and that usually means you cannot play videos fast enough. There's a binary graphics driver by Nvidia (the internals of the device are based on the Nvidia Tegra chipset), but I haven't had much success with it.
Saturday, January 19. 2013
Yesterday, we had a meeting at CAcert Berlin where I had a little talk about how to almost-perfectly configure your HTTPS server. Motivation for that was the very nice Qualys SSL Server test, which can remote-check your SSL configuration and tell you a bunch of things about it.
While playing with that, I created a test setup which passes with 100 points in the Qualys test. However, you will hardly be able to access that page, which is mainly due to it's exclusive support for TLS 1.2. All major browsers fail. Someone from the audience told me that the iPhone browser was successfully able to access the page. To safe the reputation of free software, someone else found out that the Midori browser is also capable of accessing it. I've described what I did there on the page itself and you may also read it here via http.
Here are my slides "SSL, X.509, HTTPS - How to configure your HTTPS server" as ODP, as PDF and on Slideshare.
And some links mentioned in the slides:
Check SSL and SSH weak keys due to broken random numbers
EFF SSL Observatory
Sovereign Keys proect
Some great talks on the mentioned topics by others:
Facthacks Talk 29c3
MD5 considered harmful today - Creating a rogue CA Certificate
Is the SSLiverse a safe place?
Update: As people seem to find these browser issue interesting: It's been pointed out that the iPad Browser also works. Opera with TLS 1.2 enabled seems to work for some people, but not for me (maybe Windows-only). luakit and epiphany also work, but they don't check certificates at all, so that kind of doesn't count.
Wednesday, March 28. 2012
I've promised that I'll dig into some old file formats and check how well they can be accessed on today's systems with free software.
Today, I'll start with audio formats. To begin, in general there are two kinds of audio formats. Streamed audio formats start with a more or less raw audio stream, apply some encoding and sometimes (lossless or lossy) compression. There are also tracker audio formats. They have internal information on tone pitches and instruments. Most really old computer audio files are tracker formats (like the popular C64 SID format). This blog post will be about streamed audio formats and I'll save the tracked ones for a later one.
The file formats I've chosen are more or less random, the main criteria being that I once stepped over them and still remember that. There's a hughe collection of all kinds of media file samples on the mplayer server.
The single most important project regarding exotic audio or video formats is ffmpeg, a library that does despite its name much more than decoding mpeg. All major free software media players use ffmpeg.
The file formats I've investigated:
Shorten playback has some problems, seeking often does not work, but this seems to be a limitation of the format itself. If I found feature requests for those formats, I've linked them, I also opened a bunch of them myself.
Conclusion: ffmpeg does a really fine job in playing all the obscure audio streaming formats. However, not every player that's based on ffmpeg plays every format ffmpeg can play. mplayer is the only player that succeeds with everything, probably because mplayer's devleopment is very tightly related to ffmpeg's development.
Update: I forgot to mention libav. It is a fork of ffmpeg. However, there's not that much to say, as ffmpeg and libav are still quite similar in their codec support. audacious does not support libav yet, all other apps just produce the same result.
(Page 1 of 9, totaling 127 entries) » next page
You can find my web page with links to my work as a journalist at https://hboeck.de/.
You may also find my newsletter about climate change and decarbonization technologies interesting.
Hanno on Mastodon
Show tagged entries