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* Posts by Werner McGoole

173 posts • joined 11 Mar 2008

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Not just websites hit by OpenSSL's Heartbleed – PCs, phones and more under threat

Werner McGoole

Re: The real bug

No, the real bug is having a software development system that allows someone with insufficient experience to add code to a system that needs to be secure - and then not having a sufficiently robust review process in place - and then installing that software in a critical situation on huge numbers of servers around the world.

This bug is the sort of mistake beginners make (I believe the culprit was still at uni). I'd be embarrassed if I put a bug like that into a one-off throw-away lash-up. But somehow it got into openSSL which everyone regarded as secure.

It's a bit like the debt-laundering that took place before the financial crash. Everyone thought the debt was solid, but simply because no-one bothered to look at the fundamentals. I think this incident has shown FOSS security to be based on similar principles.

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Werner McGoole

In my view seeing a naked memcpy call at all in supposedly secure code is like walking into a restaurant kitchen and seeing a big pile of rotting carrion on the floor. The staff may know not to handle it before dipping their fingers in the gravy, but it's a clear danger that you don't want to have around. It may cost to clear it up, but that's what you have to do.

memcpy is a big red flashing warning light that says "make damn sure you've checked and sanitised every bit of data that goes in and out of here" (not only memcpy, of course, but quite a few other C functions). In fact. I'd suspect simply looking for all the memcpy et al. calls is a pretty good way of finding vulnerabilities. The best approach is to wrap them up pretty tightly. Even that's not 100% secure, but it does make a difference and in security code it's 100% worth doing.

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Boffins make noise about D-Wave chip: it seems quantum

Werner McGoole

Re: I don't get it.

That makes me scratch my head a bit too. Either it's a lot faster than a classical computer or it doesn't really matter whether it's a quantum computer or not.

I could say I'd sold my soul to the devil in return for the skills to make blisteringly fast computers, but if the computers I sold weren't actually fast, what would be the point?

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New IPCC report: 8 ways climate change will throw world INTO PERIL

Werner McGoole
Pint

Re: ..everyone can identify with slower maturation of wine grapes as an issue worth tackling! ..

I'm more interested in what it'll do to barley and hops, actually.

For once, the perfect icon!

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US to strengthen privacy rights for Euro bods' personal data transfers

Werner McGoole
Facepalm

Ha ha ha ha ha

What bit of "trust" don't they understand?

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GNOME 3.12: Pixel perfect ... but homeless

Werner McGoole

Re: Nope

OK, so you have to edit a config file. Not ideal, obviously.

But OTOH, do you want a dancing paperclip popping up saying "I see you're looking at a web page, would you like me to help you create a short cut to that?" and then proceeding to create a widget that plays a tune every time you mouse over it, tells you the time of day in the web site's locale, adds it to a semantic map of your browsing habits, emails all your friends to tell them what a great site you think it is and posts to Facebook, Twitter et al. just for good measure, before suggesting where you can get discount vouchers, signing you up to the web site's spamletter and prompting you to create an account?

There's a balance to be struck here. In my view it's about at the level of right-click and select "create a desktop link to a web page". Unfortunately, 99% of GUI designers seem to have convinced themselves we prefer the "paperclip" approach. So kudos to Gnome for going the other way, but it's still not right guys!!

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Middle England's allotments become metric battlefield

Werner McGoole
Holmes

Now that's proper mental mental arithmetic... a counting system with multiple fields and different bases in each field. Who on earth would invent a system like that? Oh, hang on... I seem to recall spending several years of my life practicing that stuff.

FWIW I also recall we had a computer* made out of relays when I was at school that could do arithmetic in yards, feet and inches and suchlike. I think it could calculate pi as well, but rather slowly.

* IT angle.

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Monkey steals iPod touch, loses interest in minutes

Werner McGoole

I feel a patent coming on...

Rounded corners aren't cool in monkey society. Simians prefer curved, elongated shapes with pointy ends. So that idea's now in the public domain, before Apple patent it and come up with the iBanana.

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Blighty goes retro with 12-sided pound coin

Werner McGoole

Re: You can get the fakes at clubs

I think it doesn't really help that they change the design on coins and banknotes so often. There are so many designs in circulation now that I don't necessarily recognise them all and I'm not that surprised when I see a new one. If I got given a pound coin with a picture of Mickey Mouse on one side, I'd probably assume it's some stupid attempt to commemorate Walt Disney or something.

So now I suspect the fraudsters could start minting 13-sided pound coins and still get away with it. People would just assume it's a new official design.

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WTF is … the multiverse?

Werner McGoole

Inflation conflation?

You seem to be talking about theories that propose that outside our universe there are other things (that might be other universes), hence a multiverse. But in "quantum physics" (as mentioned in the title), the multiverse normally refers to the idea that all possible quantum statistical outcomes of an event actually exist together (rather than one of them being special and representing a unique reality).

So have you just conflated two rather unrelated ideas, or is there some more subtle connection between the two that I've missed? For example, is it being suggested that the existence of inflation is somehow the cause of quantum uncertainty?

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Grav waves: Moment when 'father of Big Bang inflation' learns he was RIGHT ALL ALONG

Werner McGoole
Joke

You call this a triumph for Einstein?

The cosmic gravitational background radiation is enough to make Einstein turn in his grave - although only very slightly.

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Actually, there is an Arapaho word for 'pliers'

Werner McGoole
Devil

Re: Is there an Arapaho word for this?

While attempting to put up a fence the other day I was mystified by where my hammer had gone. It was there the previous day. All the other tools were still there, but the hammer (a vital tool, obviously) was nowhere to be seen. Now I'm well aware of the behaviour of tools, so I naturally assumed it would turn up when I picked up the spirit level, or turned over the concrete-mixing tub, or whatever. But no, there was no hammer to be found anywhere. So the day passed with little fence-putting-up being done in between searches for the hammer and much cursing.

Come 5pm, and the wife returns home and sneaks into the garage clutching a hammer. "I hope you didn't need this today, I just borrowed it to put up a picture at work... ". There is no Arapaho for my thoughts at that point.

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WhatsApp chats not as secret as you think

Werner McGoole
Facepalm

Re: Strange

It's an interesting sleight of hand. On a desktop with no Android-like permissions, any program that started reading data it hadn't written and calling home with it would be called spyware and the antibodies in your AV/security suite would be out to kill it.

OTOH, by including permission settings on mobile devices, it comes to be assumed that if an app has a permission then it's justified in using it, even if it didn't actually need it. So adding something that apparently enhances privacy and security actually ends up reducing it. You'd almost think that was a deliberate move unless you knew better ;-)

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WHOA: Get a load of Asteroid DX110 JUST MISSING planet EARTH

Werner McGoole

Re: Fuck a duck...

Dark matter, apparently.

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GNU security library GnuTLS fails on cert checks: Patch now

Werner McGoole
Joke

Re: Goto considered harmful

"if you're forbidding it's use because people can make mistakes..."

You're dead right there. Otherwise we'd have to ban the apostrophe.

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NHS England DIDN'T tell households about GP medical data grab plan

Werner McGoole
Facepalm

Re: This was probably the whole intent

In my case opting out of junk mail has had ZERO effect on the junk mail, but has nevertheless successfully opted me out of NHS circulars, or so it would appear.

So much for that excuse, then.

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'Polar vortex' or not, last month among the WARMEST Januaries EVER RECORDED

Werner McGoole

Re: The BBC tells us what's really happening

The point I was making is that a scientist shouldn't tell you what the evidence is going to show when they've just said they don't have that evidence. They should wait until they have the evidence, then see what it indicates. At least, that's the way I was taught to do science.

But I think it nicely illustrates the do-you-or-don't-you dilemma between attributing unusual weather events to climate change. Beneath every supposedly objective scientist there's a political animal that wants a certain outcome and wants to make that link, as sneaked out here. I'm not saying it doesn't happen on both sides, as it clearly does.

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Werner McGoole

The BBC tells us what's really happening

Here's what the BBC had to report recently from a "climate expert" (Prof Jennifer Francis) on the subject of whether the jet stream is changing:

"Our data to look at this effect is very short and so it is hard to get a very clear signal.

"But as we have more data I do think we will start to see the influence of climate change."

Spot any science here? Yes, it's in the first statement and it says "there is no scientific basis on which to make a claim about climate change". Then she makes that claim about climate change that she has just told us has no scientific basis.

So even the experts don't know what to make of it, but they sure know what they'd LIKE to make of it!

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Mathematicians spark debate with 13 GB proof for Erdős problem

Werner McGoole

Re: Yes indeedy

My understanding is that you can't pick any old pattern. It has to be every number, or every second number, or every third, etc. But that's just from Wikipedia.

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My smelly Valentine: Europe's perfumers wake to V-Day nightmare

Werner McGoole
Joke

Re: Alternatives are available

Tough. I'm allergic to the stuff, so it'll have to be banned I'm afraid!

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Yes, HP will still sue you if you make cartridges for its inkjet printers

Werner McGoole
Happy

Continuous ink supply systems...

...are good things to have if you've a little technical skill to set them up, so it's worth seeking out a printer that'll take one. I'm currently using a Canon MG5250 with a CISS and ink is now effectively so cheap I don't have to worry how much I print.

The downside is the cost of the CISS (about £50 when I bought it) and the fact you'll need a new one if you change printers. So I'm planning on getting an identical printer as a spare.

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Stephen Fry rewrites computer history again: This time it's serious

Werner McGoole

Re: Somebody put it far better than I could...

You just need to remember that he's more interested in facts being interesting than in being correct.

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Amateurs find the 'HOLY GRAIL' supernova – right on our doorstep

Werner McGoole

Re: Who cares who is first to photograph?

I always thought the IAU (www.iau.org) was the arbiter of astronomical discoveries. As the article mentions a "telegram" (remember those?) I assumed this was the official announcement because telegrams used to be the way it was done. Maybe it still is.

However, I couldn't see anything obvious about it on the IAU website.

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Brit boffin tests LETTUCE as wire for future computers

Werner McGoole

Re: Sorry, computers are all down

Lettuce spray we can contain the threat then!

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NSA: It's TRUE, we grab 200 MILLION of your text messages A DAY globally

Werner McGoole

Re: "Lawfully collected"???

It may be legal in the US for the NSA to snoop on Brits. But who made it legal in the UK for a foreign power (the US) to snoop on us without a warrant issued in the UK (and the same applies to every other non-US country)?

It seems to me that if the NSA has taps into infrastructure in UK territory, then they are breaking UK law. In that case, the likes of GCHQ should be involved in searching out these taps and turning them off. After all, who do GCHQ work for, us or the NSA?

Much the same should be happening in all other countries as well.

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Staffs Police face data protection probe over 'drink drivers named' Twitter campaign

Werner McGoole

Even if found guilty...

I'd rather have the courts decide what punishment to set. If they decide the miscreant needs to be named and shamed on Twitter, then by all means let the police do it in the name of the court.

But otherwise, this is the police deciding what punishment should be applied and that's not a good direction to be heading in. Before I'd be happy with that, I'd want to see this overwhelming public support translate itself into legislation that authorised the police action.

Even then, I'd want people to have the option of accepting it as a punishment (although obviously it'd be a pretty weak one on its own) or going to court to challenge it - much like on-the-spot fines.

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Boffins devise world's HARDEST tongue-twister

Werner McGoole

Practice makes perfect

Anyone who plays a musical instrument will know there is an analogous musical problem. Some musical phrases can be especially hard to play for some reason - maybe because the moves are awkward or maybe because they're just unlike anything else you've played before.

Anyway, you can't just label them hard and not play them. The solution is practice. Play them over and over as slowly as you need and eventually you'll find they come naturally. It can sometimes take a while, though.

The same is true of tongue-twisters. Repeat them over and over sufficiently slowly to get them right each time and after a few days (on and off) you'll find they become quite easy. Try it...

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NSA installed '50,000 malware sleeper cells' in world computer networks

Werner McGoole

And I suppose...

...this is "all within the law" (TM).

So did the UK government know the US was hacking our computers on a grand scale? If so, under what UK laws did they allow it to continue and was GCHQ involved? If they didn't know, then why not?

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Vintage WINE laid down in SIXTEEN HUNDRED BC was 'psychotropic'

Werner McGoole

Re: Decant

But wine is commonly brewed today in tanks that are basically like covered swimming pools, dug into the ground and lined to make them watertight. I dare say the ancients could have mastered that technology.

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Biggest quantum cluster does not compute ... yet

Werner McGoole

Like knitting with light

Very clever.

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Linux backdoor squirts code into SSH to keep its badness buried

Werner McGoole

Backdoor or Trojan?

I'd describe it as a backdoor if someone writing the official software sneaked in some unofficial code. If it sneaked itself in, then it'd be a Trojan. Injecting code into an already present file isn't exactly news, though. That's what viruses do, hence their name.

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Mandatory HTTP 2.0 encryption proposal sparks hot debate

Werner McGoole

Yes. Just do it!

Next!

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'Weird' OBJECT, PROPELLED by its OWN JETS, spotted beyond Mars orbit by Hubble

Werner McGoole

It's obviously...

...our first glimpse of dark matter.

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Crowdfunded audit of 'NSA-proof' encryption suite TrueCrypt is GO

Werner McGoole

Re: Classic bait and switch coming up....

But it only takes one person to compare the files instead of the checksums and the game's up.

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Werner McGoole

Use two rival teams

I think you need to give the job to two teams who are in competition with each other. Ideally, to two security researchers with big egos and reputations to defend.

That way, neither has any incentive to overlook something at the request of the NSA. If they do that, and their rival doesn't and spots the backdoor, then they will be shown up as either incompetent or corrupt.

It's the only way to be confident they do a proper job.

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How Dark Mail Alliance hopes to roll out virtually NSA-proof email next year

Werner McGoole

Re: Definitely a bad choice of name

"Anyone thinking 'Dark' automatically means 'nefarious' and nothing else is simply projecting their world view for everyone to see."

I was thinking rather more of the world view already projected by the media. We already have "Dark Web" as a meme which allows them to stigmatise anonymous communication with underworld associations. Conflating Dark Mail and Dark Web doesn't strike me as something that'll be beyond the limited imagination of the Daily Mail.

The thing that'll stop this push towards proper internet security and anonymity is that something cool and popular (but inadequate) will take over instead, because people will learn what to use from their mates who read publications that are, err.., even more cool and popular than El Reg.

"Dark Mail" doesn't say cool and popular to me.

Where are the marketing people when you really need them?

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Werner McGoole
Facepalm

Definitely a bad choice of name

If they can't see that this will immediately put off 90% of potential users with its implications of underworld activity, not to mention provide a perfect target for the press, then they're well out of touch.

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Call yourself a 'hacker', watch your ex-boss seize your PC without warning

Werner McGoole

Re: How can a judge overrule a constitution

Presumably he just ruled that the seizure wasn't unreasonable.

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Can you trust 'NSA-proof' TrueCrypt? Cough up some dough and find out

Werner McGoole

Re: Paying for it.

Or maybe from the billions they get from the US government for giving away free open-source software?

That sort of review might not end up being very independent, might it?

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Werner McGoole

Re: Unnamed qualified professionals vs amateurs?

This is a very good point. I think everyone agrees that open source is now the only way one can potentially gain any assurance of no backdoors. But you still need to look very closely at the code and how it behaves - and, of course, you also need confidence in the audit process itself.

So a program to publicly audit key pieces of FOSS for security weaknesses looks like a good way to go and Truecrypt is certainly a good test case. But I think the real work that needs doing next is on the auditing procedure.

How do you produce a public audit process that is itself secure against possible attempts to infiltrate it and overlook security weaknesses? I suggest you probably need at least two independent and well-known (and trusted) experts, probably with support, to produce independent and public reports. Then you may need a separate independent committee to review those reports and draw attention to (and investigate) any discrepancies.

I see the involvement of many people as being essential in building a web of trust that can't be easily subverted. We should perhaps start to see support for auditing security software as being just as important as supporting the writing of the code. If we had as many people doing the former as the latter, we wouldn't be in this mess.

At the same time, we'll no doubt continue to rely on penetration testing by individual security researchers, as we know that regularly turns up obscure ways to defeat security. The idea of a bug bounty is a good one here, I think.

Just some random ideas, really, but I think this is a key area of trust that urgently needs attention.

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Payday loans firm rapped for failing to register with Info Commissioner

Werner McGoole

Aren't our laws great??

I like the way there's a "victim's surcharge" for those whose personal data use hasn't been registered.

I suspect for the true victims the risk to their personal data is the least of their worries.

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Police constable 1337 stunned by Lego lookalike

Werner McGoole
Pint

Re: Think about the copyright

OTOH, it might be a case of impersonating a police occifer.

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Scientists to IPCC: YES, solar quiet spells like the one now looming CAN mean ICE AGES

Werner McGoole

Re: @Nom

Actually, it's by no means that simple. At the wavelengths absorbed by CO2 the Earth's atmosphere is optically thick. This means that the radiation occurs from the top of the atmosphere, so it's the temperature "up there" that matters.

What happens is that the radiation surface "up there" moves up to a higher level in the atmosphere so it has a larger area and can radiate more heat. The temperature change at ground level results from the vertical temperature gradient in the atmosphere (the lapse rate) combined with this effectively increased depth of atmosphere. The lapse rate, in turn, is determined by the rate at which heat can be transported upwards through the atmosphere, largely by non-radiative processes like convection.

Both this heat transport and the original greenhouse effect are also greatly affected by water vapour content, which depends mainly on temperature. Indeed, this is one of the main "feedback" effects.

Of course, at other (non CO2) wavelengths, radiation leaves from lower down in the atmosphere and the situation is more like you assume. But in reality, the whole thing is pretty complicated and not very amenable to a back-of-the envelope calculation.

If I had to put money on where the models are wrong (because I believe they probably are) it would be in the area of cloud cover, which is a poorly understood but very important area of feedback. Anything that significantly increases cloud cover as CO2 rises could easily negate any warning effect.

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Hundreds of hackers sought for new £500m UK cyber-bomber strike force

Werner McGoole
Happy

So... a sort of Dad's Cyber Army then?

"Don't tell them your password, Pike!"

"Er, I think I may have left it on the train, Mr. Mainwaring, sir."

"Stupid boy!"

"What's that you've got there, Corporal Jones?"

"It's a packet sniffer sir. They don't like it up 'em. Not up their backdoors they don't, sir!"

Oh, the fun we're going to have with this one ;-)

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Thorium and inefficient solar power? That's good enough for me

Werner McGoole
Headmaster

I think you'll find...

That "dog's bollocks" means that something is very good. The term is rarely used when referring to government.

Probably you meant "pig's ear".

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Highways Agency tracks Brits' every move by their mobes: THE TRUTH

Werner McGoole
WTF?

TBH

I can't really see how phone data is any more anonymous than ANPR data (as El Reg asserts). You can anonymise either set of data by (for example) replacing the car registration number or the phone number with a simple counter - such that the mapping isn't known to whoever buys the data.

Where the problem lies with both systems is that we only have someone's word that this is being done properly. And we all know how "misteaks" can happen.

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NIST denies it weakened its encryption standard to please the NSA

Werner McGoole

Re: the NSA was one of several contributors

No. If someone is found to have been conspiring to corrupt a process, you can't just go over their work again with a finer comb. They have a resource advantage after all. You need to exclude their contributions entirely.

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Torvalds shoots down call to yank 'backdoored' Intel RdRand in Linux crypto

Werner McGoole

Re: Simple h/w device?

There are some resources here to make use of devices you may already have (like a sound card):

http://www.vanheusden.com/aed/

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Werner McGoole

Re: Linus is correct in both form and substance.

But on Linux, /dev/random is supposed to produce *true* randomness, with full entropy. Its output should be completely unpredictable by an adversary who even knows the exact state of the rest of your system and all the past output. There is no scope for pseudo-randomness or imperfect entropy in /dev/random. If you try to read random bytes and there isn't enough entropy, it must block.

If you want a non-blocking source of randomness, you read /dev/urandom instead, which uses a pseudo-random number generator seeded from /dev/random. So the quality (true randomness) of the entropy harvested for use in /dev/random IS critically important. If the sources used don't have full entropy, you need to "condition" the data before use, which is a way of concentrating its entropy. For example, you might want to take the "random" CPU data in 1MB chunks and hash each of those down to 64 bytes. Then you could be more confident of having truly random bytes.

Let me explain why this is important. If you use a pseudo-random number generator (PRNG) to generate a key with a fixed seed, your random numbers obviously won't fill the keyspace* - because it will only ever produce one output sequence. But what people don't seem to realise is that if you seed it with "random" numbers that don't have full entropy, the output *still* won't fill the keyspace. It may look perfectly random and be unpredictable, but an adversary who understands the PRNG well enough doesn't have to search the entire keyspace equally to discover the key.

So you need to be exceptionally paranoid about /dev/random.

*By which I mean that the probability of each possible sequence of output bits won't be equal.

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Werner McGoole

Re: Linus is totally wrong

I agree you should use a proven algorithm rather than making your own, but I think you've missed part of the point here. A mathematical algorithm can only produce pseudo-randomness. It still needs to be initialised to a non-predictable value otherwise all computers will generate the same pseudo-random sequence (as I think Android was recently found to be doing).

So good cryptography also depends on a source of true randomness for seeding the mathematical algorithm (and also for re-seeding it occasionally just in case someone spots the pattern). On Linux, /dev/random is the standard place to go to get that "true randomness". So you don't have a choice here. You can't rely on a mathematical formula. You have to have true randomness derived from a physical, non algorithmic source.

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