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”.

Free Download of UFO: Enemy Unknown

The best computer game ever, bar none, “UFO: Enemy Unknown” (known as “XCOM: UFO Defense” in the USA) is currently available for free for the next day or so from the Humble Bundle website. And once you have a legit copy of the data files, you can play it (on OSes other than Windows, as well!) using the OpenXCOM reimplementation of the game engine. Launch Interceptors!

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.

Security Audit Finds Nothing: News At 11

Secure Open Source is a project, stewarded by Mozilla, which provides manual source code audits for key pieces of open source software. Recently, we had a trusted firm of auditors, Cure53, examine the dovecot IMAP server software, which runs something like two thirds of all IMAP servers worldwide. (IMAP is the preferred modern protocol for accessing an email store.)

The big news is that they found… nothing. Well, nearly nothing. They managed to scrape up 3 “vulnerabilities” of Low severity.

Cure53 write:

Despite much effort and thoroughly all-encompassing approach, the Cure53 testers only managed to assert the excellent security-standing of Dovecot. More specifically, only three minor security issues have been found in the codebase, thus translating to an exceptionally good outcome for Dovecot, and a true testament to the fact that keeping security promises is at the core of the Dovecot development and operations.

Now, if we didn’t trust our auditors and they came back empty handed, we might suspect them of napping on the job. But we do, and so this sort of result, while seemingly a “failure” or a “waste of money”, is the sort of thing we’d like to see more of! We will know Secure Open Source, and other programs to improve the security of FLOSS code, are having an impact when more and more security audits come back with this sort of result. So well done to the dovecot maintainers; may they be the first of many.

Modern Communications

I just sent something very like the following to someone buying a house from me:

This text is to tell you that I just emailed you a PDF copy of the fax my solicitor just sent your solicitor, containing the email he originally sent last week which your solicitor claimed he didn’t get, plus the confirmation that the fax was received.

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.

Making Good Decisions

Mitchell has been focussed for a while on how Mozilla can make good decisions which are made quickly rather than getting bogged down, but which do not bypass the important step of getting the opinions of a diverse cross-section of interested and knowledgeable members of our community.

In relation to that, I’d like to re-draw everyone’s attention to Productive Discussion, a document which came out of a session at the Summit in Brussels in 2013, and which explains how best to hold a community consultation in a way which invites positive, useful input and avoids the paralysis of assuming that consensus is required before one can move forward.

If there’s a decision you are responsible for making and want to make it using best practice within our community, it’s a recommended read.


I’ve been reading the excellent “Stuff White People Like“, billed as “The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions”. It’s based on a well-read (although now seemingly dormant) satirical blog. Here’s an entry which particularly hit home:

18. Awareness. An interesting fact about white people is that they firmly believe all the world’s problems can be solved through “awareness” – meaning the process of making other people aware of problems, magically causing someone else, like the government, to fix it. This belief allows them to feel that sweet self-satisfaction without actually having to solve anything or face any difficult challenges, because the only challenge of raising awareness is getting the attention of people who are currently unaware.

What make this even more appealing for white people is that you can raise “awareness” through expensive dinners, parties, marathons, T-shirts, fashion shows, concerts and bracelets. In other words, white people just have to keep doing stuff they like, except that now they can feel better about making a difference.

Raising awareness is also awesome because once you raise awareness to an acceptable though arbitrary level, you can just back off and say, “Bam! Did my part. Now it’s your turn. Fix it.”

So, to summarise: you get all the benefits of helping (self-satisfaction, telling other people) but no need for difficult decisions or the ensuing criticism. (How do you criticise awareness?) Once again, white people find a way to score that sweet double victory.

Popular things to be aware of: the environment, diseases like cancer and AIDS, Africa, poverty, anorexia, homophobia, middle school field hockey/lacrosse teams, drug rehab, and political prisoners.

Top 50 DOS Problems Solved: Can I Have A Single Drive?

Q: I intend to upgrade from MS-DOS v3.3 to either DR DOS 6 or MS-DOS 5, both of which will allow me to have my 40MB hard disk configured as a single drive instead of being partitioned into twin 20MB drives. Am I right in thinking that to do this I will re-format my hard disk, and that I must first back up all the data? I dread doing this since I have almost 30MB on there.

A: First the bad news: yes, you will need to re-format your disk to take advantage of the ability to work with partitions greater than 32MB. However, backing up needn’t be as nasty a job as you think. But your question does beg another[0]: since backing up is going to be such a large job, it sounds as though you haven’t done it before.

… The most basic approach … would be to copy important data to a floppy disk, perhaps with the aid of a file compression utility such as LHA. If the worst happens, you simply reinstall applications from their original disks (or, much better still, back-ups of them) and copy your data back from floppy. [Or, you could use] a dedicated backup utility. My current favourite is Fastbak Plus (£110)[1].

32Mb ought to be enough for everyone? How did that work out – 512 byte sectors and a 16-bit index?

[0] No, it doesn’t – Ed.
[1] £210 in today’s money. For a backup program!

A Measure of Globalization

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I needed a steel 15cm ruler. This sort of ruler doesn’t have a margin at one end, and so is good for measuring distances away from walls and other obstructions. I found one on Amazon for 88p including delivery and, thinking that was excellent value, clicked “Buy now with 1-Click” and thought no more of it.

Today, after a slightly longer delay than I expected, it arrived. From Shenzhen.

I knew container transport by sea is cheap, but I am amazed that 88p can cover the cost of the ruler, the postage in China, the air freight, a payment to the delivery firm in the UK, and some profit. And, notwithstanding my copy of “Poorly Made in China” which arrived the same day and which I have not yet read, the quality seems fine…

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.

Killing SHA-1 Properly

Currently, Mozilla’s ban on using the old and insecure SHA-1 hash algorithm as part of the construction of digital certificates is implemented via the ban in the CAB Forum Baseline Requirements, which we require all CAs to adhere to. However, implementing the ban via the BRs is problematic for a number of reasons:

  • It allows the issuance of SHA-1 certs in publicly-trusted hierarchies in those cases where the cert is not within scope of the BRs (e.g. email certs).
  • The scope of the BRs is a matter of debate, and so there are grey areas, as well as areas clearly outside scope, where SHA-1 issuance could happen.
  • Even when the latest version of Firefox stops trusting SHA-1 certs in January, a) that block is overrideable, and b) that doesn’t address risks to older versions.

Therefore, I’ve started a discussion on updating Mozilla’s CA policy to implement a “proper” SHA-1 ban, which we would implement via a CA Communication, and
then later in an updated version of our policy. See mozilla.dev.security.policy if you want to contribute to the discussion.

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.