Troubleshooting A Symlink — A Whodunnit For The Git Record Books

While I normally sport the well-worn fedora of a hard-boiled sysadmin, Sunday mornings I swap that neo-noir accessory for the tech-noir: a pair of pro headphones. This is the tale of the collision of those two roles. An educational caper, dear reader. You see, my weekly gig is to run a Facebook Live Stream, and Facebook just recently began enforcing a new policy: all video streams are required to use encryption. We have Fedora installed on the media machine, and use Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) to stream. It should have been easy to update the stream settings. I made the necessary changes and tested it out — no luck. The error message was less than helpful: “Failed to connect to server”. With a sigh, I took off my headphones, put my sysadmin hat on, and walked out into the digital darkness. It was time to get back to work.

Continue reading “Troubleshooting A Symlink — A Whodunnit For The Git Record Books”

DNS-over-HTTPS Is The Wrong Partial Solution

Openness has been one of the defining characteristics of the Internet for as long as it has existed, with much of the traffic today still passed without any form of encryption. Most requests for HTML pages and associated content are in plain text, and the responses are returned in the same way, even though HTTPS has been around since 1994.

But sometimes there’s a need for security and/or privacy. While the encryption of internet traffic has become more widespread for online banking, shopping, the privacy-preserving aspect of many internet protocols hasn’t kept pace. In particular, when you look up a website’s IP address by hostname, the DNS request is almost always transmitted in plain text, allowing all the computers and ISPs along the way to determine what website you were browsing, even if you use HTTPS once the connection is made.

The idea of also encrypting DNS requests isn’t exactly new, with the first attempts starting in the early 2000s, in the form of DNSCrypt, DNS over TLS (DoT), and others. Mozilla, Google, and a few other large internet companies are pushing a new method to encrypt DNS requests: DNS over HTTPS (DoH).

DoH not only encrypts the DNS request, but it also serves it to a “normal” web server rather than a DNS server, making the DNS request traffic essentially indistinguishable from normal HTTPS. This is a double-edged sword. While it protects the DNS request itself, just as DNSCrypt or DoT do, it also makes it impossible for the folks in charge of security at large firms to monitor DNS spoofing and it moves the responsibility for a critical networking function from the operating system into an application. It also doesn’t do anything to hide the IP address of the website that you just looked up — you still go to visit it, after all.

And in comparison to DoT, DoH centralizes information about your browsing in a few companies: at the moment Cloudflare, who says they will throw your data away within 24 hours, and Google, who seems intent on retaining and monetizing every detail about everything you’ve ever thought about doing.

DNS and privacy are important topics, so we’re going to dig into the details here. Continue reading “DNS-over-HTTPS Is The Wrong Partial Solution”

A New Way To Remote Terminal

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, collaborating with others across great distances has become pretty simple. It’s easy now to share computer desktops over a network connection, and even take control of another person’s computer if the need arises. But these graphical tools are often overkill, especially if all we really need is to share a terminal session with someone else over a network.

A new project from [Elis] allows just that: to share an active terminal session over a web browser for anyone else to view. The browser accesses a “secret” URL which grants access to the terminal via a tunnel which is able to live stream the entire session. The server end takes care of all of the work of generating this URL, and it is encrypted with TLS and HTTPS. It also allows for remote control as well as viewing, so it is exceptionally well-featured for being simple and easy to run.

To run this software only a binary is needed, but [Elis] has also made the source code available. Currently he finds it a much more convenient way of administering his Raspberry Pi, but we can see a lot of use for this beyond the occasional headless server. Certainly this makes remote administration easy, but could be used collaboratively among a large group of people as well.

Transcending The Stack With The Right Network Protocol

The increase in network-connected devices the past years has been something of a dual-edged sword. While on one hand it’s really nice to have an easy and straight-forward method to have devices talk with each other, this also comes with a whole host of complications, mostly related to reliability and security.

With WiFi, integrating new devices into the network is much trickier than with Ethernet or CAN, and security (e.g. WPA and TLS) isn’t optional any more, because physical access to the network fabric can no longer be restricted. Add to this reliability issues due to interference from nearby competing WiFi networks and other sources of electromagnetic noise, and things get fairly complicated already before considering which top-layer communication protocol one should use. Continue reading “Transcending The Stack With The Right Network Protocol”

Chris Conlon: Device Security 101

We all wring our hands over the security (or lack thereof!) of our myriad smart devices. If you haven’t had your home network hacked through your toaster, or baby cam, you’re missing out on the zeitgeist. But it doesn’t have to be this way — smart devices can be designed with security in mind, and [Chris Conlon] came to Pasadena to give us a talk on the basics.

He starts off the talk with three broad conceptual realms of data security: data in transit, data at rest on the device, and the firmware and how it’s updated. A common thread underlying all of this is cryptography, and he devotes the last section of his  talk to getting that right. So if you’d like a whirlwind tour of device security, watch on!

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Google Security Certificates Forged

Recently, Google discovered that a certificate authority (CA) issued forged certificates for Google domains. This compromises the trust provided by Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure HTTP (HTTPS), allowing the holder of the forged certificates to perform a man-in-the-middle attack.

To validate that the website you’re visiting is actually who they claim to be, your browser ensures that the certificate presented by the server you’re accessing was signed by a trusted CA. When someone requests a certificate from a CA, they should verify the identity of the person making the request. Your browser, and operating system, have a set of ultimately trusted CAs (called root CAs). If the certificate was issued by one of them, or a intermediate CA that they trust, you will trust the connection. This whole structure of trust is called a Chain of Trust.

With a forged certificate, you can convince a client that your server is actually You can use this to sit between a client’s connection and the actual Google server, eavesdropping their session.

In this case, an intermediate CA did just that. This is scary, because it undermines the security that we all rely on daily for all secure transactions on the internet. Certificate pinning is one tool that can be used to resist this type of attack. It works by associating a host with a specific certificate. If it changes, the connection will not be trusted.

The centralized nature of TLS doesn’t work if you can’t trust the authorities. Unfortunately, we can’t.