A Geek With Guns

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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Bitwarden Completes Security Audit

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In my opinion one of the easiest things an individual can do to improve their overall computer security is use a password manager. I had been using 1Password for years and have nothing but good things to say about it. However, when I decided to move from macOS to Linux, I decide that I needed a different option. 1Password’s support on Linux is only available through 1Password X, which is strictly a browser plugin. Moreover, in order to use 1Password X, you need to pay a subscription (I was using a one-time paid license for 1Password 7 on macOS as well as the one-time paid version for iOS), which I generally prefer to avoid.

Bitwarden bubbled to the top of my list because it’s both open source and can be self-hosted (which is what I ended up doing). While Bitwarden lacks several nice features that 1Password has, using it has been an overall pleasant experience. Besides missing some features that I’ve come to enjoy, another downside to Bitwarden has been the lack of a security audit. Two days ago the Bitwarden team announced that a third-party vendor has completed a code audit and the results were good:

In the interest of providing full disclosure, below you will find the technical report that was compiled from the team at Cure53 along with an internal report containing a summary of each issue, impact analysis, and the actions taken/planned by Bitwarden regarding the identified issues and vulnerabilities. Some issues are informational and no action is currently planned or necessary. We are happy to report that no major issues were identified during this audit and that all issues that had an immediate impact have already been resolved in recent Bitwarden application updates.

The full report can be read here [PDF].

With this announcement I’m of the opinion that Bitwarden should be given serious consideration if you’re looking for a password manager. It’s an especially good option if you want to go the self-hosted route and/or want support for Linux, macOS, and Windows.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 14th, 2018 at 10:00 am

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Lockdown

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I’ve always treated mobile devices differently than desktops and laptops. Part of this is because mobile devices tend to be restrictive. Most mobile devices are closed platforms that don’t allow you to load a different operation system. And while you can load custom firmware on a few mobile devices, it often requires some hackery. It appears as though I jumped ship at the proper time though because Apple is bringing the restrictive nature of iOS to its desktops and laptops:

Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops have become increasingly unfriendly with Linux in recent years while their Mac Mini computers have generally continued working out okay with most Linux distributions due to not having to worry about multiple GPUs, keyboards/touchpads, and other Apple hardware that often proves problematic with the Linux kernel. But now with the latest Mac Mini systems employing Apple’s T2 security chip, they took are likely to crush any Linux dreams.

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Update 2: It looks like even if disabling the Secure Boot functionality, the T2 chip is reportedly still blocking operating systems aside from macOS and Windows 10.

I know a lot of people have expressed the feeling that buying an Apple computer and installing Linux on it is rather foolish. After all, you can buy a computer for far less that is fully supported by Linux (Linux support on Apple computers has always been a bit hit or miss). I mostly agree with that attitude. However, there comes a time in every Mac’s life where Apple drops support for it in macOS. While it’s possible to coax macOS onto a lot of unsupported Macs, there are also quite a few older Macs where installing a modern version of macOS is impossible. In such cases Linux offers an option to continue using the hardware with an operating system that has current security updates.

I prefer to repurpose old computers rather than throw them away. Having the option to install Linux on older Macs has always been a desirable option to me. For me losing that ability severely limits the functional lifetime of a Mac. Moreover, I worry that the limitations put into place by the T2 chip will make installing future versions of macOS on these machines impossible when they fall out of support.

Secure Boot functionality is a good security measure. However, Secure Boot on a vast majority of PCs can be disabled (in fact Microsoft requires that Secure Boot can be disabled for logo-certificate). Even if you don’t disable it, many Linux distributions have signed bootloaders that work with Secure Boot (unfortunately, even these signed bootloaders don’t work on Apple computers with a T2 chip). So it is possible to provide boot-time security while supporting third-party operating systems. Apple is simply choosing not to do so.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 7th, 2018 at 10:30 am

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Meet the Modern Military

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The United States military has a problem. OK, it has a lot of problems, but the problem I’m specifically referring to is the trend as of late of acquiring unfinished or flawed technology. From a $1 trillion jet that doesn’t seem capable of doing anything well to stealthy destroyers with flawed engines to fancy new aircraft carriers with nonfunctional munition elevators:

The $13 billion Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, the U.S. Navy’s costliest warship, was delivered last year without elevators needed to lift bombs from below deck magazines for loading on fighter jets.

Previously undisclosed problems with the 11 elevators for the ship built by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. add to long-standing reliability and technical problems with two other core systems — the electromagnetic system to launch planes and the arresting gear to catch them when they land.

The Advanced Weapons Elevators, which are moved by magnets rather than cables, were supposed to be installed by the vessel’s original delivery date in May 2017. Instead, final installation was delayed by problems including four instances of unsafe “uncommanded movements” since 2015, according to the Navy.

I guess when the deck is used to launch $1 trillion jets that don’t function reliably, getting munitions to the desk isn’t terribly important.

The modern United States military is addicted to high-tech bells and whistles. While those bells and whistles look great on paper, they are often plagued with problems in real world testing and on the battlefield.

At the rate things are going the United States’ military will win the war for its enemies.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 7th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Security for Me, Not for Thee

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Google has announced several security changes. However, it’s evident that those changes are for its security, not the security of its users:

According to Google’s Jonathan Skelker, the first of these protections that Google has rolled out today comes into effect even before users start typing their username and password.

In the coming future, Skelker says that Google won’t allow users to sign into accounts if they disabled JavaScript in their browser.

The reason is that Google uses JavaScript to run risk assessment checks on the users accessing the login page, and if JavaScript is disabled, this allows crooks to pass through those checks undetected.

Conveniently JavaScript is also used to run a great deal of Google’s tracking software.

Disabling JavaScript is a great way to improve your browser’s security. Most browser-based malware and a lot of surveillance capabilities rely on JavaScript. With that said, disabling JavaScript entirely also makes much of the web unusable because web developers love to use JavaScript for everything, even loading text. But many sites will provide at least a hobbled experience if you choose to disable JavaScript.

Mind you, I understand why Google would want to improve its security and why it would require JavaScript if it believed that doing so would improve its overall security. But it’s important to note what is meant by improving security here and what potential consequences it has for users.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 2nd, 2018 at 10:30 am

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Deafening the Bug

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I know a lot of people who put a piece of tape over their computer’s webcam. While this is a sane countermeasure, I’m honestly less worried about my webcam than the microphone built into my laptop. Most laptops, unfortunately, lack a hardware disconnect for the microphone and placing a piece of tap over the microphone input often isn’t enough to prevent it from picking up sound in whatever room it’s located. Fortunately, Apple has been stepping up its security game and now offers a solution to the microphone problem:

Little was known about the chip until today. According to its newest published security guide, the chip comes with a hardware microphone disconnect feature that physically cuts the device’s microphone from the rest of the hardware whenever the lid is closed.

“This disconnect is implemented in hardware alone, and therefore prevents any software, even with root or kernel privileges in macOS, and even the software on the T2 chip, from engaging the microphone when the lid is closed,” said the support guide.

The camera isn’t disconnected, however, because its “field of view is completely obstructed with the lid closed.”

While I have misgivings with Apple’s recent design and business decisions, I still give the company credit for pushing hardware security forward.

Implementing a hardware cutoff for the microphone doesn’t require something like Apple’s T2 chip. Any vendor could put a hardware disconnect switch on their computer that would accomplish the same thing. Almost none of them do though, even if they include hardware cutoffs for other peripherals (my ThinkPad, for example, has a build in cover for the webcam, which is quite nice). I hope Apple’s example encourages more vendors to implement some kind of microphone cutoff switch because being able to listen to conversations generally allows gathering more incriminating evidence that merely being able to look at whatever is in front of a laptop.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 1st, 2018 at 11:00 am

Good News from the Arms Race

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Security is a constant arms race. When people celebrate good security news, I caution them from getting too excited because bad news is almost certainly soon to follow. Likewise, when people are demoralized by bad security news, I tell them not to lose hope because good news is almost certainly soon to follow.

Earlier this year news about a new smartphone cracking device called GrayKey broke. The device was advertised as being able to bypass the full-disk encryption utilized by iOS. But now it appears that iOS 12 renders GrayKey mostly useless again:

Now, though, Apple has put up what may be an insurmountable wall. Multiple sources familiar with the GrayKey tech tell Forbes the device can no longer break the passcodes of any iPhone running iOS 12 or above. On those devices, GrayKey can only do what’s called a “partial extraction,” sources from the forensic community said. That means police using the tool can only draw out unencrypted files and some metadata, such as file sizes and folder structures.

Within a few months I expect the manufacturer of the GrayKey device to announce an update that gets around iOS’s new protections and within a few months of that announcement I expect Apple to announce an update to iOS that renders GrayKey mostly useless again. But for the time being it appears that law enforcers’ resources for acquiring data from a properly secured iOS device are limited.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 26th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Serving Your Overlords Forever

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It used to be if an actor died, they stopped acting but today’s digital editing technology allows even the dead to continue their career:

From Carrie Fisher in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to Paul Walker in the Fast & Furious movies, dead and magically “de-aged” actors are appearing more frequently on movie screens. Sometimes they even appear on stage: next year, an Amy Winehouse hologram will be going on tour to raise money for a charity established in the late singer’s memory. Some actors and movie studios are buckling down and preparing for an inevitable future when using scanning technology to preserve 3-D digital replicas of performers is routine. Just because your star is inconveniently dead doesn’t mean your generation-spanning blockbuster franchise can’t continue to rake in the dough. Get the tech right and you can cash in on superstars and iconic characters forever.

Unlike living actors, dead actors won’t refuse roles or fighting the director, which is great for propagandists. Imagine a future where a hologram of Hunter S. Thompson does a D.A.R.E. touring circuit or a hologram of Emma Goldman gives a lecture about the importance of government.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 18th, 2018 at 10:30 am

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The End of TLS 1.0 and 1.1

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Every major browser developer has announced that they will drop support for Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.0 and 1.1 by 2020:

Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla have announced a unified plan to deprecate the use of TLS 1.0 and 1.1 early in 2020.

TLS (Transport Layer Security) is used to secure connections on the Web. TLS is essential to the Web, providing the ability to form connections that are confidential, authenticated, and tamper-proof. This has made it a big focus of security research, and over the years, a number of bugs that had significant security implications have been found in the protocol. Revisions have been published to address these flaws.

Waiting until 2020 gives website administrators plenty of time to upgrade their sites, which is why I’ll be rolling my eyes when the cutoff date arrives and a bunch of administrators whine about the major browsers “breaking” their websites.

Every time browser developers announced years ahead of time that support will be dropped for some archaic standard, there always seems to be a slew of websites, include many major websites, that continue relying on the dropped standard after the cutoff date.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 17th, 2018 at 11:00 am

The World’s Largest Text Editor

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One of my Macs was screaming that it was running out of disk space so I pulled up a report of the largest files on the system. Since the system contains several virtual machines, those files were at the top as expected. However, as I scrolled through the list of files something jumped out at me. At some point I had installed the Atom text editor on the system. I don’t remember why I did that but it was probably because I wanted to test it for something. Regardless according to the report the Atom text editor was over 800MB in size. Just for fun I decided to download a copy of the latest version of Atom on another system. The downloaded file decompressed to 822.7MB.

I get that disk space is more or less plentiful and cheap but 822.7MB for a text editor is a bit excessive. I’m actually kind of impressed that a development team managed to bloat a text editor to such an enormous size (but not the good kind of impressed).

Written by Christopher Burg

October 11th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Installing macOS Mojave on Unsupported Macs

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I’m back, I’m married, and I’m behind the news cycle. Although being behind the news cycle should be treated as a state of bliss, it’s not a great place to be when you use news articles for blog material. It’s going to take me a day or two to catch up.

One project I did tackle over my extended vacation is getting macOS Mojave installed on my computers. Mojave dropped official support for several Macs but just because Apple doesn’t officially support a platform doesn’t mean it can’t be used. I see no reason to throw away perfectly functional hardware and enjoy receiving security updates. Because of that, I ended up playing with dosdude1’s Mojave Patcher.

The patcher originally didn’t work for me because all of my computers have FileVault enabled and the version I first downloaded had a bug where it couldn’t mount FileVault containers. That was before I left for my wedding. Fortunately, by the time I got back a new version that fixed that bug was released.

I used the patcher to install Mojave on my 2010 Mac mini 4,1 and my 2010 MacBook Pro 5,4. Installation on my Mac mini was smooth. I haven’t had any major problems with it. Installation on my MacBook Pro was another matter. I should note beforehand that the MacBook Pro in question has a bad memory controller. One of the two memory banks has a 50/50 chance of working when I power the system on. If it doesn’t work, I only have access to half of my memory. That may be why I have to reset the NVRAM every time I power the system on in order to get it to boot (if I don’t reset the NVRAM, I get the dreaded no symbol when I start the computer).

If you’ve been happily running an older Mac and found out that Mojave won’t install, try dosdude1’s Mojave Patcher. It doesn’t work on every old Mac (a list of supported Macs can be found at the link) but it does work for most of the 64-bit Intel Macs.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 2nd, 2018 at 10:00 am

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