* Posts by Christian Berger

3442 posts • joined 9 Mar 2007

Intel loses its ARM wrestling match, kicks out Atom mobe chips

Christian Berger
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Intel didn't even try

They apparently failed to understand that they are tied to the PC-platform. People want x86 because it comes with a whole ecosystem of hardware that's well standardized. You have a wide variety of operating systems available, and it doesn't matter if your PC was made by company A or B.

This could have lead to a new class of devices, connected Palmtops. Essentially spiritual successors of the Nokia Communicators, but with x86/PC hardware.

However Intel promoted bog standard Android devices. Exactly the kind of device Intel has a great disadvantage at, since Android is ARM country. Many applications come with their own ARM binaries to actually do stuff. Those need to be emulated. In effect the user will have a device which looks and feels precisely the same as cheaper ARM-based competitors. Having closed boot loaders also eliminates all the remaining advantages.

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Q. What's the difference between smartphones and that fad diet you all got bored of? A. Nothing

Christian Berger
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If you continuously bring out the same product...

...the market is going to "mature" as everyone who wants one, got one.

The obvious solution is to diversify, but that's risky, that's why business people won't do it.

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Reskilling to become a devops dude could net you $105k+

Christian Berger
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I don't think that's what TheReg is about

So far "tech marketing" seems to be a large part of it's identity.

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Time for a patch: six vulns fixed in NTP daemon

Christian Berger
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Luckily you can run your own time infrastructure

Running your own NTP-server is not particularly hard. Essentially you buy a box with an antenna which then acts as an NTP-server without any connection to the Internet. It can get it's time from various sources like GPS/Glonas or your local long wave time transmitter. You can even patch some of them into your local time infrastructure.

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German prof scores €2.4m EU grant to crack software on your bicycle

Christian Berger
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Such projects often end up in desasters

We have seen that with projects like Kamailio (formerly known as SIP Express Router) which try to solve a simple problem and end up being complex monsters.

What we'd need is simple standards. They don't need to be "perfect", but they have to be good enough to make the things simple everyone needs.

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Microsoft's Windows 10 nagware storms live TV weather forecast

Christian Berger
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That's why you should always avoid complexity

The Windows 10 upgrade ads are just another bit of the needless complexity you get when using Windows, or increasingly systems designed by "Freedesktop/systemd" people.

That's why you should always try to cut down your systems as far as possible. Every feature you don't need is a potential bug, even though I'm sure Microsoft considers the Windows 10 ad screens an essential feature. It's just like the OpenSSL "keep alive" feature.

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Jaron Lanier: Big Tech is worse than Big Oil

Christian Berger
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One should also note that large services got popular because it shields you

I mean in the past, if you wanted to distribute things like opening themes to cartoon shows, you'd do it on your website. Usually nobody would care, but you always had the fear that some big copyright holder would sue you into oblivion... not a good prospect for someone having a small private webpage.

Now with services like Youtube you can simply do that. At worst Google will take it down, but there is no personal risk involved in it. That's why they got so popular. If we'd have a saner approach to copyright, (i.e. allowing personal use and citing things on the Internet, as well as making DRM illegal) we'd have a much more distributed Internet again.

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Ten years in the clink, file-sharing monsters! (If UK govt gets its way)

Christian Berger
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In an authoritorian regime that makes perfect sense

If you allow DRM to exist, large parts of your society will have to make copyright violations. Either by directly pirating the content or by breaking the DRM.

Essentially this allows regimes to pick people they don't like, claim they committed copyright violations (which is probably true) and jail them.

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Business gadget-makers eyeing modular LG G5 smartmobe

Christian Berger
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Well it would need some points to be suitable for business

First of all a "bare bones" Android which is of course rooted and has at least iptables on it, so you can lock it down to not talk to anything else than your company servers.

Second it would need a decent keyboard. Not just one of those 3-row Blackberry thingies, but a full 4-5 row keyboard in a clamshell case.

Then you can just use those mobile devices as a terminal to access your terminal server or desktop computer (either via RDP or VNC). That way you could immediately use the software you already have and make it available on your mobile device.

Of course the next step would be a sort of "modified screenreader" which would "parse" GUIs and re-arrange the elements so you can use them more easily on a small screen.

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MIT boffins build AI bot that spots '85 per cent' of hacker invasions

Christian Berger
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So, it can detect portscans?

A "hacker invasion" can be anything from a ping to an armed militia physically messing with your computers. So "85%" is not a well defined statement if you don't know what the baseline is.

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Job ad promises 'Meaningless Repetitive Work on the .NET Stack'

Christian Berger
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Re: Managed COBOL?

Actually most languages from that time were, what Microsoft now calls "managed". It's simply because back in the day language developers looked at what programmers had difficulties with... and addressed those problems. One of the main problems programmers are still having was pointers. So it's just logical to remove or de-fang those. For systems programmers there still was assembler or C.

It's only in the 1980s that, with things like the emergence of C++, we look at languages and deliberately create more difficulties.

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Mitel nabs Polycom in $1.96bn deal

Christian Berger
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This should be a red flag to all customers

Essentially Mitel already contained an accumulation of products which just don't work very well. They speak very peculiar dialects of SIP which are sometimes just plain wrong. Adding to that it seems as if you can only get those installed by "certified" "technicians" which typically means that you get a salesperson with nothing more than a in depth knowledge of the marketing material.

Now add the typical business model of a hedge fund to it, and you'll get a company essentially stopping all bug fixing to change marketing related things. The code probably will be bad enough that even changing "Polycom" to "Mitel" in the strings will change the memory enough layout so the buggy code won't work any more.

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Websites take control of USB devices: Googlers propose WebUSB API

Christian Berger
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Re: Makes sense for a browser company to support it

"Google is also trying to make the browser an OS - just, it will also have all the issues an OS has."

Well the problem is that browsers are horribly badly designed OSes. That's why browsers are so much more complex than actual operating systems. One might argue that this is because modern OSes follow the Unix philosophy while modern browsers follow the Stroustroup OOP philosophy.

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Christian Berger
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Makes sense for a browser company to support it

... as this makes browsers more complex and therefore lowers the chances of a new browser vendor coming up. This keeps the current oligopoly safe.

Just imagine there being a FOSS browser which actually does what its users want and doesn't just make the GUI worse with every version. Mozilla would be broke within a couple of years.

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Spinning rust fans reckon we'll have 18TB disk drives in two years

Christian Berger
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Re: Price is a myth!

Yes, but only if you need very fast hard drives. For simple mass storage you don't need that speed.

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Microsoft drives an Edge between Adobe and the web: Flash ads blocked

Christian Berger
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Good, but the next head has already grown

It's good to see that Microsoft finally tries to slay the dragon's head that's Flash, however it's ugly replacement heads have already grown in the form of miss used Javascript.

We already have lots of web sites that require _megabytes_ of Javascript to run just to display a quasi-static page.

The problem is that, during the browser wars days, there was the idiotic idea that you should be able to design a web page, just like you could design what is on a piece of paper. This has lead to thousands of features which allow you to specify how a page should look like instead of just specifying your content and letting the browser decide. Today with different screen sizes this adds the added complexity of designers having to "respond" to different screen sizes.

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GCHQ is having problems meeting Osborne's 2020 recruitment target

Christian Berger
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Re: I love UK...

Essentially it's not a civil service, but a civil disservice job. While on many civil service jobs you can go home knowing that you made the world a tiny little bit better, when working for the GCHQ you know you made it somewhat worse.

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Illegal drugs and dodgy pics? Nah. Half the dark web is perfectly legal

Christian Berger
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Maybe we should call it by its propper name

"Websites that don't come up in (the first 2 pages) of Google results".

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When Steve Jobs was away, Apple's designers snuck out a penis-shaped remote control

Christian Berger
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That's the standard design of Phillips remotes from that time

Phillips just experimented a lot with designs in that time. They also had a "helmet" shaped TV http://www.radiomuseum.org/r/philips_discoverer_gr1_ax_14gr122.html

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India orders 770 million LED light bulbs, prices drop 83 per cent

Christian Berger
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"I have a stockpile of incandescents because I have dimmer switches and most LED and CFL don't like working with dimmers."

Actually at least the simpler LED lamps should work fine with dimmers. It's just that companies selling such lamps usually don't know to much about electronics, so they assume they don't work with dimmers. Plus there's, in theory, a wide variety of devices called dimmers. Usually you have something that turns on the power for small amounts of time. Those are made with Thyristors. However other dimmers might use a variable transformer as that might have been cheaper at one point in time. So in effect you'd have lots of testing to do for a minority of users.

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Christian Berger
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Well even the simplest ones are a start

Even the cheapest way to connect those LEDs to the mains is a good start, just using a rectifier and many LEDs in series gives you rather good efficiency. That's what is done in those "filament" LEDs.

Using switch mode constant current supplies is hard to get much more efficient than that. Considering that they are also more complex and therefore fail much more often, it might not be worth it energy wise.

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Canadian rotter abducts giant Playmobil fireman

Christian Berger
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Those figures at that size are common around Playmobilland

For example I used to live in Langenzenn and there were quite a few of those >1m figures standing around.

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Android's unpatched dead device jungle is good for security

Christian Berger
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Re: The problem is actually different

"Those two requests are contradictory. Installing few apps and having little functionality in the OS."

Actually not. You can reach that by having few, but orthogonal features, something many modern developers don't seem to understand. The functionality you get from apps today could also be implemented by a simple "terminal" standard.

The only problem would be games... but there's a whole group of people they don't want to have that. Those want to get information from "online services", they want to communicate, and they don't want to worry what happens if their device gets stolen.

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Christian Berger
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The problem is actually different

Modern "smartphones" are designed for a business case that is incompatible with security. They are built to sell apps.

The problem with this is rather simple, apps come from a number of untrustable sources, usually only in binary form, and some even deliberately malicious. The proposed solutions for this problem are as follows:

1. An Appstore with censorship: In theory some Authority determines what software may go in, and what software must not go in. In that theory there is no other way to install software. In reality commercial pressures on that Authority mean that malware (by some standards) may pass, while perfectly harmless software gets filtered out as it expresses different opinions. So a large amount of people root or jailbreak their devices to get at least some sort of control over it. Since that wasn't seen as a possibility in the security concept, there are no other meaningful precautions.

2. Sandboxing: In theory you would simply sandbox an application and restrict it's abilities that way. Unfortunately that doesn't work. Any app can just refuse to run if it doesn't get the access it wants. Since the user wants to run that app, those rights will be granted. Even if you solve that problem by providing "fake rights" to that app, sandboxes are by no means secure. With Rowhammer we have learned that even allowing memory accesses to restricted areas can lead to sandbox breakouts.

So what can we do against it?

First of all we need to ditch the idea of installing random software from some app-designer. Installing an app should be something rare, not something you do because a billboard tells you to do. Maybe it should even only be possible by holding down some hardware button inside of the device.

Then we need to greatly simplify those operating systems. Those systems should be roughly at the same level of complexity of Windows 3.1 or a task switching DOS. That level of complexity still can be managed and you might even get to a point where a typical user will not notice a bug. Then you can get rid of the idea that software updates have to be something that has to be simple.

The main problem is that people want web browsers and that web standards are already to complex and are on the way of becoming even more complex. Today a web browser is probably the most complex piece of software you have. Often it's more complex than the operating system kernel it runs on.

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'No regrets' says chap who felled JavaScript's Jenga tower – as devs ask: Have we forgotten how to code?

Christian Berger
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Dependencies are always a problem

People have to weigh the problems of dependencies against the advantages and make a sensible decision.

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Love our open API? Talk to our lawyers, says If This Then That

Christian Berger
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Re: Seriously?

"Free to use isn't the same as cost free, and without funding who's going to pay their bills? This isn't necessarily a good way of monetising their business, but I can't see a paid for service working commercially for IFTTT either."

Well but with those startups we are talking about perhaps 100-200k USD a year for the actual operational and development costs, essentially such services can be done by a mildly competent programmer sitting in a room... what's expensive are the people trying to turn such a service into a business. They are the ones talking to investors and advertisers. They are the ones doing marketing campaigns to promote the service... which at best helps raising the price you sell your company for.

Just like Twitter, such a service could easily be done donation based. It's the desire to turn it into a profitable company that makes it uneconomical.

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US govt says it has cracked killer's iPhone, legs it from Apple fight

Christian Berger
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Re: Do as we ask...

"It'll be decades before the first 'perfectly secure' device *actually* exists."

Actually we are moving away from secure devices, as such devices become more and more complex. Often that complexity is completely unnecessary.

Only when we learn how to make such devices as simple as possible, we will get something that remotely resembles a secure device.

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X-ray scanners, CCTV cams, hefty machinery ... let's play: VNC Roulette!

Christian Berger
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One should not that this is not the fault of VNC

Most of those things are perfectly well examples for when to use VNC. For example having VNC access to a GUI running on a device saves you from having special client software which will be useless in a couple of years. Since it's a comparatively simple protocol, there are multiple implementations and most platforms have at least one to choose from. Since it's trivial compared to HTML/CSS/JS it's likely to have _much_ less implementation errors. It probably would even be a good alternative for web services.

The problem here is that some people put such services on the Internet without any authentication.

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Ever wondered what the worst TV show in the world would be? Apple just commissioned it

Christian Berger
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Watch the descend of an Apple developer

Well actually the story of an Apple developer joining the company in it's 68k/PPC days could be interesting, particularly when watching them slowly descend into depression.

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Ello ello ello: Bungling Met cops blew £100m on failing tech wheezes

Christian Berger
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The same everywhere

I mean most larger organisations have such projects which never go anywhere. Often they were ill-fated from the start. There's just this weird idea that somehow companies don't have to have the level of transparency we expect from governmental departments which keeps us from learning about those mistakes.

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Wobbly Acer goes two-legged to steady itself

Christian Berger
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What I don't understand...

...the only remarkable product Acer had in recent years was their netbook series. If I was Acer I'd focus on that and try to explore the market.

However what Acer did was to market it towards consumers which are now fleeing towards tablets. If Acer was to bring out a version of their netbooks for professionals, they'd have a rather lucrative niche.

So they compete with identical products on identical markets. The only thing that could count would be reputation, but that's never been particularly good with Acer.

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True believers mind-meld FreeBSD with Ubuntu to burn systemd

Christian Berger
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Re: Haters gonna hate

"I like that when I insert a USB thumb drive it can automatically FSCK it if needed."

You _can_ already do that without systemd with a simple shell script... however it's one of those automatisms that regularly drive people forced into using NetworkManager or other FreeDesktop users mad.

If your computer is not doing something you wanted it to do, you can always do it separately. If your computer is doing things you don't want to do it, it's a big problem.

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Christian Berger
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Well systemd is what you get

when people in their early formative years get bored by working systems and design complex systems for weird edge cases. This is in part caused by university courses teaching whatever fashionable technology they hear about even though it has long proven to not be as useful as it originally sounded.

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Christian Berger
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It highlights one point ot the Unix philosophy Poettering doesn't get

And that's that every part of your operating system should be replaceable with very little effort.

If you don't like the logging daemon, just replace it, if you don't like the file system just do the same. If you don't like the printer spooling daemon, write your own. If you want a different kernel, free free to use it.

This was simple because those pieces of software had very limited interaction. All all of that interaction was designed to be understood by both machines and people. You didn't have complex messaging services or anything like that.

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iOS flaw exploited to decrypt iMessages, access iThing photos

Christian Berger
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The FBI probably doesn't care

a) They likely already bought the exploit on the exploit market.

b) It's not plausible that they have problems getting to the data, at least not if they are as well equipped as the Dutch police:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVGlr5fleQA

What they want in the current case is a way to make the attack cheap enough so it can be used on large numbers of people. For a single case extracting the key out of a security chip is well within what Apple would charge for custom firmware.

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Smartphones help medicos, but security is a problem

Christian Berger
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We need better e-mail software

It's not like getting more secure than gmail is hard, the problem is that todays E-mail software is just horrible.

What it would need to do is to include GPG by default, even commercial vendors can include the unmodified binary without needing to open any of their code, and then apply sensible rules. If the software gets used for the first time, create a key pair. Then sign _every_ outgoing mail with your public key by default. Then store keys of incoming mail and try to make sensible suggestions to the user when sending mail to addresses you already got the key from.

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Apple engineers rebel, refuse to work on iOS amid FBI iPhone battle

Christian Berger
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Re: It's likely I'm missing something.

"And if it were that simple it is likely the government would do exactly that and avoid an unnecessary dispute."

You are assuming that the goal is to get to the data at all. Getting that data can be achieved by using technologies already available in that area. You can just solder out any security chip and dissolve the case to read it's internal memory. Yes this may cost you 100k, but that's also what Apple would charge them. The feasibility breaking low to medium cost physical security devices has been shown many times in the past. And the actually good ones won't fit into your phone.

The big point about the "custom firmware" approach is that it'll greatly reduce the cost of such an attack. Instead of having to essentially break the device, such an attack could be done within minutes. Suddenly you can do it at the luggage handling of an airport. You could do it as part of random bag searches.

My guess is that they didn't suspect Apple to cry out about this. However it is in Apples interest to cry out about this, even though they already complied to demands. Their goal is to claim that somehow their devices are more secure than the ones of the competition. And in the minds of their rather uncritical users they have succeeded.

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Christian Berger
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Re: It's likely I'm missing something.

"When you have a combination of lots of money to throw at the problem to figure it out (i.e. credit card companies and Apple)"

I cannot speak for Apple, but I can speak for credit card companies. Those don't care about fraud as they will either make profit of it (when it's undetected) or not loose money (when it's detected). That's why those companies are allowing obviously insecure technologies like biometrics or RFID.

Ohh and with credit cards there's also a different threat model. They want to keep out the "casual" skimmer. Even when you completely clone a credit card you are not likely to get more than a couple of thousand dollars. So all you need is to raise the bar above that level.

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Christian Berger
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Re: It's likely I'm missing something.

"The chip in a chip'n'pin does this."

Yes, but a) those chips cost nearly an Euro.

b) The same technology has been broken multiple times, by rivalling Pay-TV companies.

Here's a talk about the forensic abilities of the Dutch police:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVGlr5fleQA

http://bofh.nikhef.nl/events/OHM/video/

Essentially you can uncap the chip and get the data out directly. Sure this is to expensive to be worth for Chip and Pin or Pay-TV, but it's certainly within the budget of large investigations...

...and that's the actual point about this. It is not to hard to do this, but it is far to hard to do it within the scope of "random bag searches". It's not about being able to unlock that device at all, it's about making it cheap enough so it can be done repeatedly.

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Christian Berger
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Re: It's likely I'm missing something.

"When something seems that obvious, then it's likely that I've either completely misunderstood the problem at hand, or else there are shenanigans going on."

Well yes, but I do understand a fair bit about embedded computers, I know what can and cannot be done on an iPhone budget... however I cannot find a way how Apple could plausibly have built a device which would somehow store it's keys in a way that cannot be easily circumvented by physical access... particularly given the fact that the only "secret" the device can get is a PIN.

The discussion just assumes that Apple somehow magically has solved the problem of physical security on a budget, without giving any evidence on how that could work.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." However we are seeing none of those. The hypothesis that this is all just an elaborate PR stunt seems much more plausible, particularly since it puts Apple in a good light.

Please prove me wrong by telling me how the data is actually encrypted and how it is using things you cannot read out on a crime investigation budget.

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Microsoft sets date for SQL Server on Linux

Christian Berger
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This is actually largely irrelevant

MS-SQL for Windows only serves one purpose, and that's to calm down their customers and users by telling them that even if Windows Server would disappear tomorrow, they could still run their SQL-Server. So there's no need to switch to new fangled web stuff like PHP and MySQL or whatever.

There's virtually no practical use for this, as Linux users won't switch to MS-SQL (there are better free alternatives out there), and MS-SQL users won't switch to Linux.

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Biometrics not a magic infosec bullet for web banking, warns GCHQ bloke

Christian Berger
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The bizarre point is...

...that in many Hollywood films it is shown how to break biometrics. In many cases even rather realistically.

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One in five PCs will be a tablet with detachable keyboard by 2020

Christian Berger
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Yes, but that's not because people want those

It's because in the portable <13" area you can barely get anything else than those things where the keyboard falls off when you want to hold them. So everyone who wants a <13" laptop can only get one of those and will have to live with that bug.

Of course hardware manufactureres will see that as demand for keyboards that fall off, and produce more, perhaps even extending that design flaw into larger laptops.

It's one of the big missunderstandings about the economy. Demand does not drive supply. Supply facilitates demand as you cannot buy things, and therefore cannot express your demand, which aren't offered on the market. So if you only offer X, people will buy X since they have little other chance. Things that aren't offered don't show up as demand in your numbers.

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IEEE delivers Ethernet-for-cars standard

Christian Berger
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It's not weight they are optimising for

It's cost, that's of course heavily correlated to weight as the heavy stuff of a cable is also the expensive stuff.

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Your unpatchable, insecure Android mobe will feel right at home in the Internet of Stuff era

Christian Berger
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Sorry, but we are far beyond that

Since classes of exploits like Rowhammer(JS) we know that sandboxes are only an illusion. It may help against errors, but effectively it cannot help against malevolent code. This is why it's so important that we prevent malevolent code from running at all. In short if you are running malware, you are doomed. The complex layers upon layers of code in modern mobile and desktop OSes do nothing meaningful to mitigate against this, they only introduce new security critical bugs.

The far bigger problem is of course that those bugs found here potentially could be used from the network side.

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Better mobe antennas a stretch goal for radiocomm boffins

Christian Berger
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Yeah you can do that...

... at least in principle. Radio hams often have a device called a "tuner" which loads the antenna in a way to change it's resonant frequency. However to make use of this you also need to change the frequency you are transmitting at... and the antenna can always just have one resonant frequency... so I don't quite see how that could be something practically.

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LG builds a DAB+ digital radio radio into a smartmobe

Christian Berger
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DAB would have some great potential if you get propper equipment

I mean audio takes rather little data, so how about building a radio that just records everything that's on? Such a radio would use the DAB EPG and Radiotext information to make the programme available to you just like an audio on demand service would do...

... however there would be one crucial difference and that's licensing. You would have the comfort of a download service, but the station would only have to pay the cost of broadcasting. So eventually you'd build a library of songs and other programmes on your device, completely legally and at a tiny fraction of what CDs or official downloads cost.

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DARPA to geeks: Weaponize your toasters … for America!

Christian Berger
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Re: Toasters

Then of course there's this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpGLpD25dpU

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Obama puts down his encrypted phone long enough to tell us: Knock it off with the encryption

Christian Berger
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Re: The underlying point is deeper

First of all starting a comment with "You are a fucking idiot" automatically weakens your point as it means that you obviously haven't thought about the issue. Otherwise you wouldn't use that kind of language.

Then look at the facts. We are already doing a very decent job at securing servers. Particularly since servers are at secure locations and run operating systems designed to do their job, we can trust them way more than any mobile device.

For a server operating system "vendor" security is one of the prime concerns, for a mobile operating system vendor it's largely irrelevant.

So securing the operating system on the server is _much_ easier than securing the system on the client. Plus since you control the update process on your server, and typically you download everything from a rather transparent 3rd party server, it's much harder to push special updates to you.

Securing a simple "terminal" operating system is also much simpler than securing a mobile telephone. You can, for example, start by using network ACLs, raising the complexity of any attack. Then you can have an additional layer of encryption with a pre-shared key. Since you are only dealing with one server (ideally your own) you can greatly lower the risk of anybody messing with your protocol as the actual cryptographic protocol will only see garbage. You don't need a full operating system for that, so your attack surface becomes minimal.

Bandwidth is not really the issue here as most websites are now so badly made, screen shots of them are smaller than the actual website.... often by a factor of a hundred or more.

In any case, trusting your "smart phone" also means trusting the cloud service it syncs to or talks to. And that's run on servers, lots of servers. You already need to worry about several different operating systems... most of which you have _absolutely_ no control over.

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Christian Berger
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The underlying point is deeper

Well first of all, this particular case is just for show. Clearly if you have physical possession of the device, you can just read out the flash chips and RAM. You can probably do that via JTAG in minutes... so that's not really an issue.

The deeper issue is that Apple, just like virtually all mobile phone manufacturers, is actually able to comply to not just this, but even much more invasive methods of surveillance. The operating system on modern smartphones is so complex that it's so buggy that you actually need over the air updates. Once you do have such updates, it's trivial to put one specific update to one specific telephone. Disabling automatic updates is no option either as many of those bugs being fixed are security holes.

Maybe we need to rethink "smart" phones. There is little need for a full blown operating system and loads of libraries making everything needlessly complex. Why not make devices that are "smart terminals". Essentially machines which do have some local processing capability (e.g. a text editor), but mostly are terminals to a server you might rent some space at, or even own yourself. In fact running a browser remotely and just sending over the image probably is faster and takes less data than displaying it on a local browser. With LTE we are now down to single digit latency, with protocols like mosh we can work with multi second latency. So it's certainly feasible.

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