back to article Rowhammer returns, Spectre fix unfixed, Wireguard makes a new friend, and much more

This week we dealt with buggered bookies, trouble at Ticketmaster, and a compromised Linux build from Gentoo. Here's what else went down during the week. Trustwave sued Some breaking news as we were typing away: two insurance companies, Lexington Insurance Co and Beazley Insurance Co in the US, are suing infosec biz Trustwave …

  1. Charles 9 Silver badge

    "...the ball only had a near-field communication (NFC) chip and therefore was out of range of internet hackers."

    INCLUDING those with a Yagi antenna and a signal amplifier?

  2. DCFusor Silver badge

    I'm supposed to believe

    The NSA is that bad at their job - you know, the one we all have to pay them to (not?) do? Why should I not believe instead that they just destroyed the evidence of their sedition and incompetence so no one would ever find out what they were actually up to?

    1. onefang Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: I'm supposed to believe

      Maybe NSA forgot to turn on the USA citizens filter in their slurp of the rest of the worlds stuff? A simple mistake really, some PFY wandered past thinking "what's this switch do?". Too easy to miss hundreds of millions of extra people in a database of several BEEELLION.

    2. elDog Silver badge

      Re: I'm supposed to believe

      It's likely that the current (mis)Administration of the USofA found out that the NSA was able to capture all these phone records. It finally dawned on them that calls between All The pResdents' men and the soviet, whoops russian plutocrats was also ensnared.

      I still want to here the tapes from the Cheney Energy Task force that were mysteriously wiped by that prior malevolent W administration. I'm sure they're somewhere.

    3. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: I'm supposed to believe

      Before going all panicky it might be worth noting that the "685 million call records [NSA collected] over two years" covers well under 0.02% of all calls made in the US during the period.

    4. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: I'm supposed to believe

      I thought they slurped as much as they could and queried the data later anyway.

      So first we have to know what delete means. Mark it so it doesnt appear in search results?

      1. onefang Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: I'm supposed to believe

        Usually "delete" means remove the linking data that points to it, but don't actually overwrite the actual data, and especially don't overwrite it using the sorts of military grade overwriting algorithms that the NSA might just be able to read through anyway. Oh, and don't bother deleting copies on the backups, or on old backup tapes that have been retired due to wear.

        Hopefully they are not using that other definition of "delete". Hold on, there's a loud knocking at the door, and I hear lots of nearby helicopters.

  3. onefang Silver badge

    "The Wireguard VPN service"

    Er, it's not a service, it's software. It's own website says "WireGuard is not yet complete. You should not rely on this code. It has not undergone proper degrees of security auditing and the protocol is still subject to change." I wonder if US Senator Ron Wyden read that bit. I do hear good things about it though, and intend to try it out later.

    1. david 12 Bronze badge

      ""WireGuard is not yet complete.". Not only "not yet complete", by design it doesn't do anything: it's a packet encryption protocol, not a Private Network (which is why it's so small). It's a VPN in the same sense that SMB is a VPN.

  4. IceC0ld Silver badge

    Russian Cybercrime Bust

    Both suspects have confessed. Neither has been named. Their arrests took place last month but news of the case was only released this week.


    Both suspects have confessed....................................

    no surprise there then

    Their arrests took place last month but news of the case was only released this week......................

    probably a week after they were buried :o)

  5. onefang Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    OK, I'm back, it was just the new neighbour wondering about all those helicopters. I live half a suburb away from six major hospitals, at least two of them have helipads on their roofs. I live in a house that is on stilts ("Queenslander" they are called, very common here in Queensland), on top of a hill, in a suburb with "High" and "Hill" in the name. I've watched helicopters flying past two blocks away, by looking down from my bedroom window.

    Oh look, there goes another chopper. /me waves to the pilot. Cool, she waved back.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's wrong with OpenVPN?

    OpenVPN is still being developed, and the last time I tried it, it "did what it says on the tin". Also, the protocol is stable and is supported by a number of OSes.

    Agreed that IPSec is complex, but surely ditto.

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: What's wrong with OpenVPN?

      The author of WireGuard claims that the code is a lot simpler, thus easier to audit. It also works in a different way, which the author claims makes it easier to deal with by the people setting it up. As mentioned above, I've heard good things about it, but have not actually looked deeper yet, so I dunno how true these things are yet.

    2. storner

      Re: What's wrong with OpenVPN?

      As you said, OpenVPN does what it claims to do - nothing wrong with that. But Wireguard does have some things going for it:

      1) It doesn't rely on OpenSSL for encryption, so there is a whole lot less code to audit if you want to check for security problems

      2) It is a kernel module implementation (at least on Linux), so the processing overhead is much smaller and it should be able to scale to wirespeed while handling multiple connections. It also means that it works like any other network interface, so the usual configuration files and network scripts will take care of running your VPN.

      3) Authentication and setup is much simpler, since it is a trust-on-first-use so no need for setting up your own CA.

      Have a look at it, it does work quite well.

  7. Steve Jackson


    So timer fuzzing isn't a good mitigation against Spectre but site isolation is better?

    I *did* read, but IANAP.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meltdown and Spectre!

    There is an interesting article in CACM of July (may not yet have arrived in the uni print mag rag) by David Chisnall with the title "C is Not A Low-Level Language" and it lays the extreme complexity of the current microprocessor at the feet of an ancient dogma, which is that the CPU has to make C code run fast, whereas C is meant for a now obsolete abstract machine, the PDP-11 CPU, which does not map to modern CPUs in any convenient way:

    The root cause of the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities was that processor architects were trying to build not just fast processors, but fast processors that expose the same abstract machine as a PDP-11. This is essential because it allows C programmers to continue in the belief that their language is close to the underlying hardware. C code provides a mostly serial abstract machine (until C11, an entirely serial machine if nonstandard vendor extensions were excluded). Creating a new thread is a library operation known to be expensive, so processors wishing to keep their execution units busy running C code rely on ILP (instruction-level parallelism). They inspect adjacent operations and issue independent ones in parallel. This adds a significant amount of complexity (and power consumption) to allow programmers to write mostly sequential code. In contrast, GPUs achieve very high performance without any of this logic, at the expense of requiring explicitly parallel programs. The quest for high ILP was the direct cause of Spectre and Meltdown. A modern Intel processor has up to 180 instructions in flight at a time (in stark contrast to a sequential C abstract machine, which expects each operation to complete before the next one begins).

    ... Unfortunately, simple translation providing fast code is not true for C. In spite of the heroic efforts that processor architects invest in trying to design chips that can run C code fast, the levels of performance expected by C programmers are achieved only as a result of incredibly complex compiler transforms. The Clang compiler, including the relevant parts of LLVM, is around two million lines of code. Even just counting the analysis and transform passes required to make C run quickly adds up to almost 200,000 lines (excluding comments and blank lines). For example, in C, processing a large amount of data means writing a loop that processes each element sequentially. To run this optimally on a modern CPU, the compiler must first determine that the loop iterations are independent. The C "restrict" keyword can help here. It guarantees that writes through one pointer do not interfere with reads via another (or if they do, that the programmer is happy for the program to give unexpected results). This information is far more limited than in a language such as Fortran, which is a big part of the reason that C has failed to displace Fortran in high-performance computing

    ... Optimizers at this point must fight the C memory layout guarantees. C guarantees that structures with the same prefix can be used interchangeably, and it exposes the offset of structure fields into the language. This means that a compiler is not free to reorder fields or insert padding to improve vectorization (for example, transforming a structure of arrays into an array of structures or vice versa). That is not necessarily a problem for a low-level language, where fine-grained control over data structure layout is a feature, but it does make it more difficult to make C fast.

    Several other problems with the unfortunate approach of creating a CPU that shall run an inappropriately obsolete language fast are exposed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meltdown and Spectre!

      Thanks for that explanation. As a hobbyist I ask in all sincerity what is a viable alternative to C? For instance, if a group was going to re-create the functionality of one of the BSDs what would be one of the appropriate languages that one would use to replace C? Is C++ as difficult in the same aspects as C in an OS? I've read that as C++ is expanded it is becoming more difficult to use; so, that would appear to be a disadvantage. I'm curious about this if any of you have time to elucidate that would be wonderful.

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: Meltdown and Spectre!

      That guy sounds kinda full of it. There's a specific reason GPUs are structured the way they are, and yes any other CPU-based algorithm operating on large sets of non-interrelated data could benefit from more massively parallel data processing, but that's an awfully specific condition. Just because every computer operates on data it by no means follows that those operations can always - or even most of the time - be performed simultaneously, and speculative execution is the only thing that can help you there, kinda by definition. We can decide to give it up if we're okay with the performance hit it would cause, but we should stop pretending it's just a matter of "doing it differently" and we can have all that performance right back...

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

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