Accidental Bitcoin Speculation

I had to pay a ransomware bill in February 2015. I bought the right amount of Bitcoin but, like many people, forgot about the transfer fee, so some kind person donated me 0.005 BTC. This means once I was done, my Bitcoin wallet wasn’t totally empty. I have just logged into it again for the first time since, and found that the value of Bitcoin has gone up 28x since then, and so that small amount is now worth… £21.94 (US$28.91). I guess I’m an accidental Bitcoin speculator…

Submitting comments to the UK Algorithms Inquiry

Algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other code-driven decision-making are increasingly hot topics for policymakers across the globe. The latest request for information came from the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee of the UK Parliament – a cross party body holding an inquiry into the use of algorithms in public and business decision making. Last week, Mozilla submitted comments, written by me and edited/improved by Heather West, on how we think about the intersection of algorithms and policy.

Join OpenStreetMap UK

OpenStreetMap is the world’s premier provider of free-as-in-freedom mapping and routing data, with a data density in many places which far surpasses all proprietary providers. Here, for example, is the centre of Kampala, Uganda, Africa:

They have chapters around the world, and one was recently set up in the home of OSM, the UK. Joining is only £5 a year; please consider joining and supporting them in this way if you use OSM data at all or are interested in the project.

Mycroft Mark 1 Extendable for sale

I’m selling a Mycroft Mark 1 Extendable. In a fit of enthusiasm back in 2015 I ordered a 3-pack and, now they’ve arrived, I realise that’s rather overkill, and I just need one to start developing. So I’m selling one of my spares. It’s totally as-new, never been opened except to take the listing photos. It’s the Extendable version, so it has all the ports on the back, unlike the Basic.

Please spread the word to anyone you think might have fun with one :-)

Firefox Secure Travel Addon

In these troubled times, business travellers occasionally have to cross borders where the border guards have significant powers to seize your electronic devices, and even compel you to unlock them or provide passwords. You have the difficult choice between refusing, and perhaps not getting into the country, or complying, and having sensitive data put at risk.

It is possible to avoid storing confidential data on your device if it’s all in the cloud, but then your browser is logged into (or has stored passwords for) various important systems which have lots of sensitive data, so anyone who has access to your machine has access to that data. And simply deleting all these passwords and cookies is a) a pain, and b) hard to recover from.

What might be very cool is a Firefox Secure Travel addon where you press a “Travelling Now” button and it:

  • Disconnects you from Sync
  • Deletes all cookies for a defined list of domains
  • Deletes all stored passwords for the same defined list of domains

Then when you arrive, you can log back in to Sync and get your passwords back (assuming it doesn’t propagate the deletions!), and log back in to the services.

I guess the border authorities can always ask for your Sync password but there’s a good chance they might not think to do that. A super-paranoid version of the above would also:

  • Generate a random password
  • Submit it securely to a company-run web service
  • On receiving acknowledgement of receipt, change your Sync password to
    the random password

Then, on arrival, you just need to call your IT department (who would ID you e.g. by voice or in person) to get the random password from them, and you are up and running. In the mean time, your data is genuinely out of your reach. You can unlock your device and tell them any passwords you know, and they won’t get your data.

Worth doing?

Overheard at Google CT Policy Day…

Jacob Hoffman-Andrews (of Let’s Encrypt): “I tried signing up for certspotter alerts for a domain and got a timeout on the signup page.”
Andrew Ayer (of CertSpotter): “Oh, dear. Which domain?”
Jacob Hoffman-Andrews: “hoffman-andrews.com
Andrew Ayer: “Do you have a lot of certs for that domain?”
Jacob Hoffman-Andrews: “Oh yeah, I totally do!”
Andrew Ayer: “How many?”
Jacob Hoffman-Andrews: “A couple of hundred thousand.”
Andrew Ayer: “Yeah, that would do it…”

Technology Is More Like Magic Than Like Science

So said Peter Kreeft, commenting on three very deep sentences from C.S. Lewis on the problems and solutions of the human condition.

Suppose you are asked to classify four things –

  • religion,
  • science,
  • magic, and
  • technology.

– and put them into two categories. Most people would choose “religion and magic” and “science and technology”. Read Justin Taylor’s short article to see why the deeper commonalities are between “religion and science” and “magic and technology”.

Speaking at FOSDEM on the Mozilla Root Program

Like every year for the past ten or more (except for a couple of years when my wife was due to have a baby), I’ll be going to FOSDEM, the premier European grass-roots FLOSS conference. This year, I’m speaking on the Policy and Legal Issues track, with the title “Reflections on Adjusting Trust: Tales of running an open and transparent Certificate Authority Program“. The talk is on Sunday at 12.40pm in the Legal and Policy Issues devroom (H.1301), and I’ll be talking about how we use the Mozilla root program to improve the state of security and encryption on the Internet, and the various CA misdemeanours we have found along the way. Hope to see you there :-)

Note that the Legal and Policy Issues devroom is usually scarily popular; arrive early if you want to get inside.

Support the Software Freedom Conservancy

The Software Freedom Conservancy is an organization which provides two useful services.

Firstly, they provide “fiscal sponsor” services for free software projects which wish to benefit from being a non-profit but which do not have the resources to set up their own Foundation. They have over 35 member projects which they support. If you use WINE, Samba, Mercurial, Inkscape, Git or any of the others, you can thank and support those projects by supporting SFC.

Secondly, if you believe that copyleft has a role (and it doesn’t even have to be an exclusive role) to play in the free software licensing ecosystem, you have an interest in making sure that copyleft licenses do not de facto become the same as permissive ones. That requires working with companies to help them understand their quid pro quo obligations to share and, rarely, taking them to court when flagrant violations are not corrected after significant time. The SFC is basically the only organization which does this valuable work, and that fact makes companies (sadly) less likely to support it.

This means that SFC greatly relies on support from individuals. I have just re-committed as a supporter for 2017 and I hope many of my readers will do the same.

Booklet Printing Calculator

Ever wanted to print a booklet in software which doesn’t directly support it? You can fake it by printing the pages in exactly the right order, but it’s a pain to work out by hand.

I found a JS booklet page order calculator on Github, enhanced it to support duplex printers, cleaned it up, and it’s now on my website.

No Default Passwords

One of the big problems with IoT devices is default passwords – here’s the list coded into the malware that attacked Brian Krebs. But without a default password, you have to make each device unique and then give the randomly-generated password to the user, perhaps by putting it on a sticky label. Again, my IoT vision post suggests a better solution. If the device’s public key and a password are in an RFID tag on it, and you just swipe that over your hub, the hub can find and connect securely to the device over SSL, and then authenticate itself to the device (using the password) as the user’s real hub, with zero configuration on the part of the user. And all of this works without the need for any UI or printed label which needs to be localized. Better usability, better security, better for the internet.

Samsung’s L-ish Model Numbers

[Update 2016-09-02: the poster of the original info has updated this post, and this post therefore turns out to be mostly untrue. Apologies to Samsung.]

A slow hand clap for Samsung, who have managed to create versions of the S4 Mini phone with model numbers (among others):

  • GT-i9195
  • GT-i9195L (big-ell)
  • GT-i9195i (small-eye)
  • GT-i9195l (small-ell)

And of course, the small-ell variant, as well as being case-confusable with the big-ell variant and visually confusable with the small-eye variant if it’s written with a capital I as, say, here, is in fact an entirely different phone with a different CPU and doesn’t support the same aftermarket firmware images that all of the other variants do.

See this post for the terrible details.

Eurovision Bingo (again)

Some people say that all Eurovision songs are the same. (And some say all blog posts on this topic are the same…) That’s probably not quite true, but there is perhaps a hint of truth in the suggestion that some themes tend to recur from year to year. Hence, I thought, Eurovision Bingo.

I wrote some code to analyse a directory full of lyrics, normally those from the previous year of the competition, and work out the frequency of occurrence of each word. It will then generate Bingo cards, with sets of words of different levels of commonness. You can then use them to play Bingo while watching this year’s competition (which is on Saturday).

There’s a Github repo, or if you want to go straight to pre-generated cards for this year, they are here.

Here’s a sample card from the 2014 lyrics:

fell cause rising gonna rain
world believe dancing hold once
every mean LOVE something chance
hey show or passed say
because light hard home heart

Have fun :-)

DNSSEC on gerv.net

My ISP, the excellent Mythic Beasts, has started offering a managed DNSSEC service for domains they control – just click one button, and you’ve got DNSSEC on your domain. I’ve just enabled it on gerv.net (which, incidentally, as of a couple of weeks ago, is also available over a secure channel thanks to MB and Let’s Encrypt).

If you have any problems accessing any resources on gerv.net, please let me know by email – gerv at mozilla dot org should be unaffected by any problems.