The Commons Clause was announced recently, along with several projects moving portions of their codebase under it. It's an additional restriction intended to be applied to existing open source licenses with the effect of preventing the work from being sold[1], where the definition of being sold includes being used as a component of an online pay-for service. As described in the FAQ, this changes the effective license of the work from an open source license to a source-available license. However, the site doesn't go into a great deal of detail as to why you'd want to do that.

Fortunately one of the VCs behind this move wrote an opinion article that goes into more detail. The central argument is that Amazon make use of a great deal of open source software and integrate it into commercial products that are incredibly lucrative, but give little back to the community in return. By adopting the commons clause, Amazon will be forced to negotiate with the projects before being able to use covered versions of the software. This will, apparently, prevent behaviour that is not conducive to sustainable open-source communities.

But this is where things get somewhat confusing. The author continues:

Our view is that open-source software was never intended for cloud infrastructure companies to take and sell. That is not the original ethos of open source.

which is a pretty astonishingly unsupported argument. Open source code has been incorporated into proprietary applications without giving back to the originating community since before the term open source even existed. MIT-licensed X11 became part of not only multiple Unixes, but also a variety of proprietary commercial products for non-Unix platforms. Large portions of BSD ended up in a whole range of proprietary operating systems (including older versions of Windows). The only argument in favour of this assertion is that cloud infrastructure companies didn't exist at that point in time, so they weren't taken into consideration[2] - but no argument is made as to why cloud infrastructure companies are fundamentally different to proprietary operating system companies in this respect. Both took open source code, incorporated it into other products and sold them on without (in most cases) giving anything back.

There's one counter-argument. When companies sold products based on open source code, they distributed it. Copyleft licenses like the GPL trigger on distribution, and as a result selling products based on copyleft code meant that the community would gain access to any modifications the vendor had made - improvements could be incorporated back into the original work, and everyone benefited. Incorporating open source code into a cloud product generally doesn't count as distribution, and so the source code disclosure requirements don't trigger. So perhaps that's the distinction being made?

Well, no. The GNU Affero GPL has a clause that covers this case - if you provide a network service based on AGPLed code then you must provide the source code in a similar way to if you distributed it under a more traditional copyleft license. But the article's author goes on to say:

AGPL makes it inconvenient but does not prevent cloud infrastructure providers from engaging in the abusive behavior described above. It simply says that they must release any modifications they make while engaging in such behavior.

IE, the problem isn't that cloud providers aren't giving back code, it's that they're using the code without contributing financially. There's no difference between what cloud providers are doing now and what proprietary operating system vendors were doing 30 years ago. The argument that "open source" was never intended to permit this sort of behaviour is simply untrue. The use of permissive licenses has always allowed large companies to benefit disproportionately when compared to the authors of said code. There's nothing new to see here.

But that doesn't mean that the status quo is good - the argument for why the commons clause is required may be specious, but that doesn't mean it's bad. We've seen multiple cases of open source projects struggling to obtain the resources required to make a project sustainable, even as many large companies make significant amounts of money off that work. Does the commons clause help us here?

As hinted at in the title, the answer's no. The commons clause attempts to change the power dynamic of the author/user role, but it does so in a way that's fundamentally tied to a business model and in a way that prevents many of the things that make open source software interesting to begin with. Let's talk about some problems.

The power dynamic still doesn't favour contributors

The commons clause only really works if there's a single copyright holder - if not, selling the code requires you to get permission from multiple people. But the clause does nothing to guarantee that the people who actually write the code benefit, merely that whoever holds the copyright does. If I rewrite a large part of a covered work and that code is merged (presumably after I've signed a CLA that assigns a copyright grant to the project owners), I have no power in any negotiations with any cloud providers. There's no guarantee that the project stewards will choose to reward me in any way. I contribute to them but get nothing back in return - instead, my improved code allows the project owners to charge more and provide stronger returns for the VCs. The inequity has shifted, but individual contributors still lose out.

It discourages use of covered projects

One of the benefits of being able to use open source software is that you don't need to fill out purchase orders or start commercial negotiations before you're able to deploy. Turns out the project doesn't actually fill your needs? Revert it, and all you've lost is some development time. Adding additional barriers is going to reduce uptake of covered projects, and that does nothing to benefit the contributors.

You can no longer meaningfully fork a project

One of the strengths of open source projects is that if the original project stewards turn out to violate the trust of their community, someone can fork it and provide a reasonable alternative. But if the project is released with the commons clause, it's impossible to sell any forked versions - anyone who wishes to do so would still need the permission of the original copyright holder, and they can refuse that in order to prevent a fork from gaining any significant uptake.

It doesn't inherently benefit the commons

The entire argument here is that the cloud providers are exploiting the commons, and by forcing them to pay for a license that allows them to make use of that software the commons will benefit. But there's no obvious link between these things. Maybe extra money will result in more development work being done and the commons benefiting, but maybe extra money will instead just result in greater payout to shareholders. Forcing cloud providers to release their modifications to the wider world would be of benefit to the commons, but this is explicitly ruled out as a goal. The clause isn't inherently incompatible with this - the negotiations between a vendor and a project to obtain a license to be permitted to sell the code could include a commitment to provide patches rather money, for instance, but the focus on money makes it clear that this wasn't the authors' priority.

What we're left with is a license condition that does nothing to benefit individual contributors or other users, and costs us the opportunity to fork projects in response to disagreements over design decisions or governance. What it does is ensure that a range of VC-backed projects are in a better position to improve their returns, without any guarantee that the commons will be left better off. It's an attempt to solve a problem that's existed since before the term "open source" was even coined, by simply layering on a business model that's also existed since before the term "open source" was even coined[3]. It's not anything new, and open source derives from an explicit rejection of this sort of business model.

That's not to say we're in a good place at the moment. It's clear that there is a giant level of power disparity between many projects and the consumers of those projects. But we're not going to fix that by simply discarding many of the benefits of open source and going back to an older way of doing things. Companies like Tidelift[4] are trying to identify ways of making this sustainable without losing the things that make open source a better way of doing software development in the first place, and that's what we should be focusing on rather than just admitting defeat to satisfy a small number of VC-backed firms that have otherwise failed to develop a sustainable business model.

[1] It is unclear how this interacts with licenses that include clauses that assert you can remove any additional restrictions that have been applied
[2] Although companies like Hotmail were making money from running open source software before the open source definition existed, so this still seems like a reach
[3] "Source available" predates my existence, let alone any existing open source licenses
[4] Disclosure: I know several people involved in Tidelift, but have no financial involvement in the company
David Howells recently published the latest version of his kernel lockdown patchset. This is intended to strengthen the boundary between root and the kernel by imposing additional restrictions that prevent root from modifying the kernel at runtime. It's not the first feature of this sort - /dev/mem no longer allows you to overwrite arbitrary kernel memory, and you can configure the kernel so only signed modules can be loaded. But the present state of things is that these security features can be easily circumvented (by using kexec to modify the kernel security policy, for instance).

Why do you want lockdown? If you've got a setup where you know that your system is booting a trustworthy kernel (you're running a system that does cryptographic verification of its boot chain, or you built and installed the kernel yourself, for instance) then you can trust the kernel to keep secrets safe from even root. But if root is able to modify the running kernel, that guarantee goes away. As a result, it makes sense to extend the security policy from the boot environment up to the running kernel - it's really just an extension of configuring the kernel to require signed modules.

The patchset itself isn't hugely conceptually controversial, although there's disagreement over the precise form of certain restrictions. But one patch has, because it associates whether or not lockdown is enabled with whether or not UEFI Secure Boot is enabled. There's some backstory that's important here.

Most kernel features get turned on or off by either build-time configuration or by passing arguments to the kernel at boot time. There's two ways that this patchset allows a bootloader to tell the kernel to enable lockdown mode - it can either pass the lockdown argument on the kernel command line, or it can set the secure_boot flag in the bootparams structure that's passed to the kernel. If you're running in an environment where you're able to verify the kernel before booting it (either through cryptographic validation of the kernel, or knowing that there's a secret tied to the TPM that will prevent the system booting if the kernel's been tampered with), you can turn on lockdown.

There's a catch on UEFI systems, though - you can build the kernel so that it looks like an EFI executable, and then run it directly from the firmware. The firmware doesn't know about Linux, so can't populate the bootparam structure, and there's no mechanism to enforce command lines so we can't rely on that either. The controversial patch simply adds a kernel configuration option that automatically enables lockdown when UEFI secure boot is enabled and otherwise leaves it up to the user to choose whether or not to turn it on.

Why do we want lockdown enabled when booting via UEFI secure boot? UEFI secure boot is designed to prevent the booting of any bootloaders that the owner of the system doesn't consider trustworthy[1]. But a bootloader is only software - the only thing that distinguishes it from, say, Firefox is that Firefox is running in user mode and has no direct access to the hardware. The kernel does have direct access to the hardware, and so there's no meaningful distinction between what grub can do and what the kernel can do. If you can run arbitrary code in the kernel then you can use the kernel to boot anything you want, which defeats the point of UEFI Secure Boot. Linux distributions don't want their kernels to be used to be used as part of an attack chain against other distributions or operating systems, so they enable lockdown (or equivalent functionality) for kernels booted this way.

So why not enable it everywhere? There's a couple of reasons. The first is that some of the features may break things people need - for instance, some strange embedded apps communicate with PCI devices by mmap()ing resources directly from sysfs[2]. This is blocked by lockdown, which would break them. Distributions would then have to ship an additional kernel that had lockdown disabled (it's not possible to just have a command line argument that disables it, because an attacker could simply pass that), and users would have to disable secure boot to boot that anyway. It's easier to just tie the two together.

The second is that it presents a promise of security that isn't really there if your system didn't verify the kernel. If an attacker can replace your bootloader or kernel then the ability to modify your kernel at runtime is less interesting - they can just wait for the next reboot. Appearing to give users safety assurances that are much less strong than they seem to be isn't good for keeping users safe.

So, what about people whose work is impacted by lockdown? Right now there's two ways to get stuff blocked by lockdown unblocked: either disable secure boot[3] (which will disable it until you enable secure boot again) or press alt-sysrq-x (which will disable it until the next boot). Discussion has suggested that having an additional secure variable that disables lockdown without disabling secure boot validation might be helpful, and it's not difficult to implement that so it'll probably happen.

Overall: the patchset isn't controversial, just the way it's integrated with UEFI secure boot. The reason it's integrated with UEFI secure boot is because that's the policy most distributions want, since the alternative is to enable it everywhere even when it doesn't provide real benefits but does provide additional support overhead. You can use it even if you're not using UEFI secure boot. We should have just called it securelevel.

[1] Of course, if the owner of a system isn't allowed to make that determination themselves, the same technology is restricting the freedom of the user. This is abhorrent, and sadly it's the default situation in many devices outside the PC ecosystem - most of them not using UEFI. But almost any security solution that aims to prevent malicious software from running can also be used to prevent any software from running, and the problem here is the people unwilling to provide that policy to users rather than the security features.
[2] This is how X.org used to work until the advent of kernel modesetting
[3] If your vendor doesn't provide a firmware option for this, run sudo mokutil --disable-validation
(Note: all discussion here is based on publicly disclosed information, and I am not speaking on behalf of my employers)

I wrote about the potential impact of the most recent Intel ME vulnerabilities a couple of weeks ago. The details of the vulnerability were released last week, and it's not absolutely the worst case scenario but it's still pretty bad. The short version is that one of the (signed) pieces of early bringup code for the ME reads an unsigned file from flash and parses it. Providing a malformed file could result in a buffer overflow, and a moderately complicated exploit chain could be built that allowed the ME's exploit mitigation features to be bypassed, resulting in arbitrary code execution on the ME.

Getting this file into flash in the first place is the difficult bit. The ME region shouldn't be writable at OS runtime, so the most practical way for an attacker to achieve this is to physically disassemble the machine and directly reprogram it. The AMT management interface may provide a vector for a remote attacker to achieve this - for this to be possible, AMT must be enabled and provisioned and the attacker must have valid credentials[1]. Most systems don't have provisioned AMT, so most users don't have to worry about this.

Overall, for most end users there's little to worry about here. But the story changes for corporate users or high value targets who rely on TPM-backed disk encryption. The way the TPM protects access to the disk encryption key is to insist that a series of "measurements" are correct before giving the OS access to the disk encryption key. The first of these measurements is obtained through the ME hashing the first chunk of the system firmware and passing that to the TPM, with the firmware then hashing each component in turn and storing those in the TPM as well. If someone compromises a later point of the chain then the previous step will generate a different measurement, preventing the TPM from releasing the secret.

However, if the first step in the chain can be compromised, all these guarantees vanish. And since the first step in the chain relies on the ME to be running uncompromised code, this vulnerability allows that to be circumvented. The attacker's malicious code can be used to pass the "good" hash to the TPM even if the rest of the firmware has been tampered with. This allows a sufficiently skilled attacker to extract the disk encryption key and read the contents of the disk[2].

In addition, TPMs can be used to perform something called "remote attestation". This allows the TPM to provide a signed copy of the recorded measurements to a remote service, allowing that service to make a policy decision around whether or not to grant access to a resource. Enterprises using remote attestation to verify that systems are appropriately patched (eg) before they allow them access to sensitive material can no longer depend on those results being accurate.

Things are even worse for people relying on Intel's Platform Trust Technology (PTT), which is an implementation of a TPM that runs on the ME itself. Since this vulnerability allows full access to the ME, an attacker can obtain all the private key material held in the PTT implementation and, effectively, adopt the machine's cryptographic identity. This allows them to impersonate the system with arbitrary measurements whenever they want to. This basically renders PTT worthless from an enterprise perspective - unless you've maintained physical control of a machine for its entire lifetime, you have no way of knowing whether it's had its private keys extracted and so you have no way of knowing whether the attestation attempt is coming from the machine or from an attacker pretending to be that machine.

Bootguard, the component of the ME that's responsible for measuring the firmware into the TPM, is also responsible for verifying that the firmware has an appropriate cryptographic signature. Since that can be bypassed, an attacker can reflash modified firmware that can do pretty much anything. Yes, that probably means you can use this vulnerability to install Coreboot on a system locked down using Bootguard.

(An aside: The Titan security chips used in Google Cloud Platform sit between the chipset and the flash and verify the flash before permitting anything to start reading from it. If an attacker tampers with the ME firmware, Titan should detect that and prevent the system from booting. However, I'm not involved in the Titan project and don't know exactly how this works, so don't take my word for this)

Intel have published an update that fixes the vulnerability, but it's pretty pointless - there's apparently no rollback protection in the affected 11.x MEs, so while the attacker is modifying your flash to insert the payload they can just downgrade your ME firmware to a vulnerable version. Version 12 will reportedly include optional rollback protection, which is little comfort to anyone who has current hardware. Basically, anyone whose threat model depends on the low-level security of their Intel system is probably going to have to buy new hardware.

This is a big deal for enterprises and any individuals who may be targeted by skilled attackers who have physical access to their hardware, and entirely irrelevant for almost anybody else. If you don't know that you should be worried, you shouldn't be.

[1] Although admins should bear in mind that any system that hasn't been patched against CVE-2017-5689 considers an empty authentication cookie to be a valid credential

[2] TPMs are not intended to be strongly tamper resistant, so an attacker could also just remove the TPM, decap it and (with some effort) extract the key that way. This is somewhat more time consuming than just reflashing the firmware, so the ME vulnerability still amounts to a change in attack practicality.
(Note: this is my personal opinion based on public knowledge around this issue. I have no knowledge of any non-public details of these vulnerabilities, and this should not be interpreted as the position or opinion of my employer)

Intel's Management Engine (ME) is a small coprocessor built into the majority of Intel CPU chipsets[0]. Older versions were based on the ARC architecture[1] running an embedded realtime operating system, but from version 11 onwards they've been small x86 cores running Minix. The precise capabilities of the ME have not been publicly disclosed, but it is at minimum capable of interacting with the network[2], display[3], USB, input devices and system flash. In other words, software running on the ME is capable of doing a lot, without requiring any OS permission in the process.

Back in May, Intel announced a vulnerability in the Advanced Management Technology (AMT) that runs on the ME. AMT offers functionality like providing a remote console to the system (so IT support can connect to your system and interact with it as if they were physically present), remote disk support (so IT support can reinstall your machine over the network) and various other bits of system management. The vulnerability meant that it was possible to log into systems with enabled AMT with an empty authentication token, making it possible to log in without knowing the configured password.

This vulnerability was less serious than it could have been for a couple of reasons - the first is that "consumer"[4] systems don't ship with AMT, and the second is that AMT is almost always disabled (Shodan found only a few thousand systems on the public internet with AMT enabled, out of many millions of laptops). I wrote more about it here at the time.

How does this compare to the newly announced vulnerabilities? Good question. Two of the announced vulnerabilities are in AMT. The previous AMT vulnerability allowed you to bypass authentication, but restricted you to doing what AMT was designed to let you do. While AMT gives an authenticated user a great deal of power, it's also designed with some degree of privacy protection in mind - for instance, when the remote console is enabled, an animated warning border is drawn on the user's screen to alert them.

This vulnerability is different in that it allows an authenticated attacker to execute arbitrary code within the AMT process. This means that the attacker shouldn't have any capabilities that AMT doesn't, but it's unclear where various aspects of the privacy protection are implemented - for instance, if the warning border is implemented in AMT rather than in hardware, an attacker could duplicate that functionality without drawing the warning. If the USB storage emulation for remote booting is implemented as a generic USB passthrough, the attacker could pretend to be an arbitrary USB device and potentially exploit the operating system through bugs in USB device drivers. Unfortunately we don't currently know.

Note that this exploit still requires two things - first, AMT has to be enabled, and second, the attacker has to be able to log into AMT. If the attacker has physical access to your system and you don't have a BIOS password set, they will be able to enable it - however, if AMT isn't enabled and the attacker isn't physically present, you're probably safe. But if AMT is enabled and you haven't patched the previous vulnerability, the attacker will be able to access AMT over the network without a password and then proceed with the exploit. This is bad, so you should probably (1) ensure that you've updated your BIOS and (2) ensure that AMT is disabled unless you have a really good reason to use it.

The AMT vulnerability applies to a wide range of versions, everything from version 6 (which shipped around 2008) and later. The other vulnerability that Intel describe is restricted to version 11 of the ME, which only applies to much more recent systems. This vulnerability allows an attacker to execute arbitrary code on the ME, which means they can do literally anything the ME is able to do. This probably also means that they are able to interfere with any other code running on the ME. While AMT has been the most frequently discussed part of this, various other Intel technologies are tied to ME functionality.

Intel's Platform Trust Technology (PTT) is a software implementation of a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) that runs on the ME. TPMs are intended to protect access to secrets and encryption keys and record the state of the system as it boots, making it possible to determine whether a system has had part of its boot process modified and denying access to the secrets as a result. The most common usage of TPMs is to protect disk encryption keys - Microsoft Bitlocker defaults to storing its encryption key in the TPM, automatically unlocking the drive if the boot process is unmodified. In addition, TPMs support something called Remote Attestation (I wrote about that here), which allows the TPM to provide a signed copy of information about what the system booted to a remote site. This can be used for various purposes, such as not allowing a compute node to join a cloud unless it's booted the correct version of the OS and is running the latest firmware version. Remote Attestation depends on the TPM having a unique cryptographic identity that is tied to the TPM and inaccessible to the OS.

PTT allows manufacturers to simply license some additional code from Intel and run it on the ME rather than having to pay for an additional chip on the system motherboard. This seems great, but if an attacker is able to run code on the ME then they potentially have the ability to tamper with PTT, which means they can obtain access to disk encryption secrets and circumvent Bitlocker. It also means that they can tamper with Remote Attestation, "attesting" that the system booted a set of software that it didn't or copying the keys to another system and allowing that to impersonate the first. This is, uh, bad.

Intel also recently announced Intel Online Connect, a mechanism for providing the functionality of security keys directly in the operating system. Components of this are run on the ME in order to avoid scenarios where a compromised OS could be used to steal the identity secrets - if the ME is compromised, this may make it possible for an attacker to obtain those secrets and duplicate the keys.

It's also not entirely clear how much of Intel's Secure Guard Extensions (SGX) functionality depends on the ME. The ME does appear to be required for SGX Remote Attestation (which allows an application using SGX to prove to a remote site that it's the SGX app rather than something pretending to be it), and again if those secrets can be extracted from a compromised ME it may be possible to compromise some of the security assumptions around SGX. Again, it's not clear how serious this is because it's not publicly documented.

Various other things also run on the ME, including stuff like video DRM (ensuring that high resolution video streams can't be intercepted by the OS). It may be possible to obtain encryption keys from a compromised ME that allow things like Netflix streams to be decoded and dumped. From a user privacy or security perspective, these things seem less serious.

The big problem at the moment is that we have no idea what the actual process of compromise is. Intel state that it requires local access, but don't describe what kind. Local access in this case could simply require the ability to send commands to the ME (possible on any system that has the ME drivers installed), could require direct hardware access to the exposed ME (which would require either kernel access or the ability to install a custom driver) or even the ability to modify system flash (possible only if the attacker has physical access and enough time and skill to take the system apart and modify the flash contents with an SPI programmer). The other thing we don't know is whether it's possible for an attacker to modify the system such that the ME is persistently compromised or whether it needs to be re-compromised every time the ME reboots. Note that even the latter is more serious than you might think - the ME may only be rebooted if the system loses power completely, so even a "temporary" compromise could affect a system for a long period of time.

It's also almost impossible to determine if a system is compromised. If the ME is compromised then it's probably possible for it to roll back any firmware updates but still report that it's been updated, giving admins a false sense of security. The only way to determine for sure would be to dump the system flash and compare it to a known good image. This is impractical to do at scale.

So, overall, given what we know right now it's hard to say how serious this is in terms of real world impact. It's unlikely that this is the kind of vulnerability that would be used to attack individual end users - anyone able to compromise a system like this could just backdoor your browser instead with much less effort, and that already gives them your banking details. The people who have the most to worry about here are potential targets of skilled attackers, which means activists, dissidents and companies with interesting personal or business data. It's hard to make strong recommendations about what to do here without more insight into what the vulnerability actually is, and we may not know that until this presentation next month.

Summary: Worst case here is terrible, but unlikely to be relevant to the vast majority of users.

[0] Earlier versions of the ME were built into the motherboard chipset, but as portions of that were incorporated onto the CPU package the ME followedEdit: Apparently I was wrong and it's still on the chipset
[1] A descendent of the SuperFX chip used in Super Nintendo cartridges such as Starfox, because why not
[2] Without any OS involvement for wired ethernet and for wireless networks in the system firmware, but requires OS support for wireless access once the OS drivers have loaded
[3] Assuming you're using integrated Intel graphics
[4] "Consumer" is a bit of a misnomer here - "enterprise" laptops like Thinkpads ship with AMT, but are often bought by consumers.
(Note: While the majority of the events described below occurred while I was a member of the board of directors of the Free Software Foundation, I am no longer. This is my personal position and should not be interpreted as the opinion of any other organisation or company I have been affiliated with in any way)

Eben Moglen has done an amazing amount of work for the free software community, serving on the board of the Free Software Foundation and acting as its general counsel for many years, leading the drafting of GPLv3 and giving many forceful speeches on the importance of free software. However, his recent behaviour demonstrates that he is no longer willing to work with other members of the community, and we should reciprocate that.

In early 2016, the FSF board became aware that Eben was briefing clients on an interpretation of the GPL that was incompatible with that held by the FSF. He later released this position publicly with little coordination with the FSF, which was used by Canonical to justify their shipping ZFS in a GPL-violating way. He had provided similar advice to Debian, who were confused about the apparent conflict between the FSF's position and Eben's.

This situation was obviously problematic - Eben is clearly free to provide whatever legal opinion he holds to his clients, but his very public association with the FSF caused many people to assume that these positions were held by the FSF and the FSF were forced into the position of publicly stating that they disagreed with legal positions held by their general counsel. Attempts to mediate this failed, and Eben refused to commit to working with the FSF on avoiding this sort of situation in future[1].

Around the same time, Eben made legal threats towards another project with ties to FSF. These threats were based on a license interpretation that ran contrary to how free software licenses had been interpreted by the community for decades, and was made without any prior discussion with the FSF (2017-12-11 update: page 126 of this document includes the email in which Eben asserts that the Software Freedom Conservancy is engaging in plagiarism by making use of appropriately credited material released under a Creative Commons license). This, in conjunction with his behaviour over the ZFS issue, led to him stepping down as the FSF's general counsel.

Throughout this period, Eben disparaged FSF staff and other free software community members in various semi-public settings. In doing so he harmed the credibility of many people who have devoted significant portions of their lives to aiding the free software community. At Libreplanet earlier this year he made direct threats against an attendee - this was reported as a violation of the conference's anti-harassment policy.

Eben has acted against the best interests of an organisation he publicly represented. He has threatened organisations and individuals who work to further free software. His actions are no longer to the benefit of the free software community and the free software community should cease associating with him.

[1] Contrary to the claim provided here, Bradley was not involved in this process.

(Edit to add: various people have asked for more details of some of the accusations here. Eben is influential in many areas, and publicising details without the direct consent of his victims may put them at professional risk. I'm aware that this reduces my credibility, and it's entirely reasonable for people to choose not to believe me as a result. I will add that I said much of this several months ago, so I'm not making stuff up in response to recent events)
In measured boot, each component of the boot process is "measured" (ie, hashed and that hash recorded) in a register in the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) build into the system. The TPM has several different registers (Platform Configuration Registers, or PCRs) which are typically used for different purposes - for instance, PCR0 contains measurements of various system firmware components, PCR2 contains any option ROMs, PCR4 contains information about the partition table and the bootloader. The allocation of these is defined by the PC Client working group of the Trusted Computing Group. However, once the boot loader takes over, we're outside the spec[1].

One important thing to note here is that the TPM doesn't actually have any ability to directly interfere with the boot process. If you try to boot modified code on a system, the TPM will contain different measurements but boot will still succeed. What the TPM can do is refuse to hand over secrets unless the measurements are correct. This allows for configurations where your disk encryption key can be stored in the TPM and then handed over automatically if the measurements are unaltered. If anybody interferes with your boot process then the measurements will be different, the TPM will refuse to hand over the key, your disk will remain encrypted and whoever's trying to compromise your machine will be sad.

The problem here is that a lot of things can affect the measurements. Upgrading your bootloader or kernel will do so. At that point if you reboot your disk fails to unlock and you become unhappy. To get around this your update system needs to notice that a new component is about to be installed, generate the new expected hashes and re-seal the secret to the TPM using the new hashes. If there are several different points in the update where this can happen, this can quite easily go wrong. And if it goes wrong, you're back to being unhappy.

Is there a way to improve this? Surprisingly, the answer is "yes" and the people to thank are Microsoft. Appendix A of a basically entirely unrelated spec defines a mechanism for storing the UEFI Secure Boot policy and used keys in PCR 7 of the TPM. The idea here is that you trust your OS vendor (since otherwise they could just backdoor your system anyway), so anything signed by your OS vendor is acceptable. If someone tries to boot something signed by a different vendor then PCR 7 will be different. If someone disables secure boot, PCR 7 will be different. If you upgrade your bootloader or kernel, PCR 7 will be the same. This simplifies things significantly.

I've put together a (not well-tested) patchset for Shim that adds support for including Shim's measurements in PCR 7. In conjunction with appropriate firmware, it should then be straightforward to seal secrets to PCR 7 and not worry about things breaking over system updates. This makes tying things like disk encryption keys to the TPM much more reasonable.

However, there's still one pretty major problem, which is that the initramfs (ie, the component responsible for setting up the disk encryption in the first place) isn't signed and isn't included in PCR 7[2]. An attacker can simply modify it to stash any TPM-backed secrets or mount the encrypted filesystem and then drop to a root prompt. This, uh, reduces the utility of the entire exercise.

The simplest solution to this that I've come up with depends on how Linux implements initramfs files. In its simplest form, an initramfs is just a cpio archive. In its slightly more complicated form, it's a compressed cpio archive. And in its peak form of evolution, it's a series of compressed cpio archives concatenated together. As the kernel reads each one in turn, it extracts it over the previous ones. That means that any files in the final archive will overwrite files of the same name in previous archives.

My proposal is to generate a small initramfs whose sole job is to get secrets from the TPM and stash them in the kernel keyring, and then measure an additional value into PCR 7 in order to ensure that the secrets can't be obtained again. Later disk encryption setup will then be able to set up dm-crypt using the secret already stored within the kernel. This small initramfs will be built into the signed kernel image, and the bootloader will be responsible for appending it to the end of any user-provided initramfs. This means that the TPM will only grant access to the secrets while trustworthy code is running - once the secret is in the kernel it will only be available for in-kernel use, and once PCR 7 has been modified the TPM won't give it to anyone else. A similar approach for some kernel command-line arguments (the kernel, module-init-tools and systemd all interpret the kernel command line left-to-right, with later arguments overriding earlier ones) would make it possible to ensure that certain kernel configuration options (such as the iommu) weren't overridable by an attacker.

There's obviously a few things that have to be done here (standardise how to embed such an initramfs in the kernel image, ensure that luks knows how to use the kernel keyring, teach all relevant bootloaders how to handle these images), but overall this should make it practical to use PCR 7 as a mechanism for supporting TPM-backed disk encryption secrets on Linux without introducing a hug support burden in the process.

[1] The patchset I've posted to add measured boot support to Grub use PCRs 8 and 9 to measure various components during the boot process, but other bootloaders may have different policies.

[2] This is because most Linux systems generate the initramfs locally rather than shipping it pre-built. It may also get rebuilt on various userspace updates, even if the kernel hasn't changed. Including it in PCR 7 would entirely break the fragility guarantees and defeat the point of all of this.
More details about Intel's AMT vulnerablity have been released - it's about the worst case scenario, in that it's a total authentication bypass that appears to exist independent of whether the AMT is being used in Small Business or Enterprise modes (more background in my previous post here). One thing I claimed was that even though this was pretty bad it probably wasn't super bad, since Shodan indicated that there were only a small number of thousand machines on the public internet and accessible via AMT. Most deployments were probably behind corporate firewalls, which meant that it was plausibly a vector for spreading within a company but probably wasn't a likely initial vector.

I've since done some more playing and come to the conclusion that it's rather worse than that. AMT actually supports being accessed over wireless networks. Enabling this is a separate option - if you simply provision AMT it won't be accessible over wireless by default, you need to perform additional configuration (although this is as simple as logging into the web UI and turning on the option). Once enabled, there are two cases:
  1. The system is not running an operating system, or the operating system has not taken control of the wireless hardware. In this case AMT will attempt to join any network that it's been explicitly told about. Note that in default configuration, joining a wireless network from the OS is not sufficient for AMT to know about it - there needs to be explicit synchronisation of the network credentials to AMT. Intel provide a wireless manager that does this, but the stock behaviour in Windows (even after you've installed the AMT support drivers) is not to do this.
  2. The system is running an operating system that has taken control of the wireless hardware. In this state, AMT is no longer able to drive the wireless hardware directly and counts on OS support to pass packets on. Under Linux, Intel's wireless drivers do not appear to implement this feature. Under Windows, they do. This does not require any application level support, and uninstalling LMS will not disable this functionality. This also appears to happen at the driver level, which means it bypasses the Windows firewall.
Case 2 is the scary one. If you have a laptop that supports AMT, and if AMT has been provisioned, and if AMT has had wireless support turned on, and if you're running Windows, then connecting your laptop to a public wireless network means that AMT is accessible to anyone else on that network[1]. If it hasn't received a firmware update, they'll be able to do so without needing any valid credentials.

If you're a corporate IT department, and if you have AMT enabled over wifi, turn it off. Now.

[1] Assuming that the network doesn't block client to client traffic, of course
Intel just announced a vulnerability in their Active Management Technology stack. Here's what we know so far.

Background

Intel chipsets for some years have included a Management Engine, a small microprocessor that runs independently of the main CPU and operating system. Various pieces of software run on the ME, ranging from code to handle media DRM to an implementation of a TPM. AMT is another piece of software running on the ME, albeit one that takes advantage of a wide range of ME features.

Active Management Technology

AMT is intended to provide IT departments with a means to manage client systems. When AMT is enabled, any packets sent to the machine's wired network port on port 16992 or 16993 will be redirected to the ME and passed on to AMT - the OS never sees these packets. AMT provides a web UI that allows you to do things like reboot a machine, provide remote install media or even (if the OS is configured appropriately) get a remote console. Access to AMT requires a password - the implication of this vulnerability is that that password can be bypassed.

Remote management

AMT has two types of remote console: emulated serial and full graphical. The emulated serial console requires only that the operating system run a console on that serial port, while the graphical environment requires drivers on the OS side requires that the OS set a compatible video mode but is also otherwise OS-independent[2]. However, an attacker who enables emulated serial support may be able to use that to configure grub to enable serial console. Remote graphical console seems to be problematic under Linux but some people claim to have it working, so an attacker would be able to interact with your graphical console as if you were physically present. Yes, this is terrifying.

Remote media

AMT supports providing an ISO remotely. In older versions of AMT (before 11.0) this was in the form of an emulated IDE controller. In 11.0 and later, this takes the form of an emulated USB device. The nice thing about the latter is that any image provided that way will probably be automounted if there's a logged in user, which probably means it's possible to use a malformed filesystem to get arbitrary code execution in the kernel. Fun!

The other part of the remote media is that systems will happily boot off it. An attacker can reboot a system into their own OS and examine drive contents at their leisure. This doesn't let them bypass disk encryption in a straightforward way[1], so you should probably enable that.

How bad is this

That depends. Unless you've explicitly enabled AMT at any point, you're probably fine. The drivers that allow local users to provision the system would require administrative rights to install, so as long as you don't have them installed then the only local users who can do anything are the ones who are admins anyway. If you do have it enabled, though…

How do I know if I have it enabled?

Yeah this is way more annoying than it should be. First of all, does your system even support AMT? AMT requires a few things:

1) A supported CPU
2) A supported chipset
3) Supported network hardware
4) The ME firmware to contain the AMT firmware

Merely having a "vPRO" CPU and chipset isn't sufficient - your system vendor also needs to have licensed the AMT code. Under Linux, if lspci doesn't show a communication controller with "MEI" or "HECI" in the description, AMT isn't running and you're safe. If it does show an MEI controller, that still doesn't mean you're vulnerable - AMT may still not be provisioned. If you reboot you should see a brief firmware splash mentioning the ME. Hitting ctrl+p at this point should get you into a menu which should let you disable AMT.

How about over Wifi?

Turning on AMT doesn't automatically turn it on for wifi. AMT will also only connect itself to networks it's been explicitly told about. Where things get more confusing is that once the OS is running, responsibility for wifi is switched from the ME to the OS and it forwards packets to AMT. I haven't been able to find good documentation on whether having AMT enabled for wifi results in the OS forwarding packets to AMT on all wifi networks or only ones that are explicitly configured.

What do we not know?

We have zero information about the vulnerability, other than that it allows unauthenticated access to AMT. One big thing that's not clear at the moment is whether this affects all AMT setups, setups that are in Small Business Mode, or setups that are in Enterprise Mode. If the latter, the impact on individual end-users will be basically zero - Enterprise Mode involves a bunch of effort to configure and nobody's doing that for their home systems. If it affects all systems, or just systems in Small Business Mode, things are likely to be worse.
We now know that the vulnerability exists in all configurations.

What should I do?

Make sure AMT is disabled. If it's your own computer, you should then have nothing else to worry about. If you're a Windows admin with untrusted users, you should also disable or uninstall LMS by following these instructions.

Does this mean every Intel system built since 2008 can be taken over by hackers?

No. Most Intel systems don't ship with AMT. Most Intel systems with AMT don't have it turned on.

Does this allow persistent compromise of the system?

Not in any novel way. An attacker could disable Secure Boot and install a backdoored bootloader, just as they could with physical access.

But isn't the ME a giant backdoor with arbitrary access to RAM?

Yes, but there's no indication that this vulnerability allows execution of arbitrary code on the ME - it looks like it's just (ha ha) an authentication bypass for AMT.

Is this a big deal anyway?

Yes. Fixing this requires a system firmware update in order to provide new ME firmware (including an updated copy of the AMT code). Many of the affected machines are no longer receiving firmware updates from their manufacturers, and so will probably never get a fix. Anyone who ever enables AMT on one of these devices will be vulnerable. That's ignoring the fact that firmware updates are rarely flagged as security critical (they don't generally come via Windows update), so even when updates are made available, users probably won't know about them or install them.

Avoiding this kind of thing in future

Users ought to have full control over what's running on their systems, including the ME. If a vendor is no longer providing updates then it should at least be possible for a sufficiently desperate user to pay someone else to do a firmware build with the appropriate fixes. Leaving firmware updates at the whims of hardware manufacturers who will only support systems for a fraction of their useful lifespan is inevitably going to end badly.

How certain are you about any of this?

Not hugely - the quality of public documentation on AMT isn't wonderful, and while I've spent some time playing with it (and related technologies) I'm not an expert. If anything above seems inaccurate, let me know and I'll fix it.

[1] Eh well. They could reboot into their own OS, modify your initramfs (because that's not signed even if you're using UEFI Secure Boot) such that it writes a copy of your disk passphrase to /boot before unlocking it, wait for you to type in your passphrase, reboot again and gain access. Sealing the encryption key to the TPM would avoid this.

[2] Updated after this comment - I thought I'd fixed this before publishing but left that claim in by accident.

(Updated to add the section on wifi)

(Updated to typo replace LSM with LMS)

(Updated to indicate that the vulnerability affects all configurations)
Another in the series of looking at the security of IoT type objects. This time I've gone for the Arlo network connected cameras produced by Netgear, specifically the stock Arlo base system with a single camera. The base station is based on a Broadcom 5358 SoC with an 802.11n radio, along with a single Broadcom gigabit ethernet interface. Other than it only having a single ethernet port, this looks pretty much like a standard Netgear router. There's a convenient unpopulated header on the board that turns out to be a serial console, so getting a shell is only a few minutes work.

Normal setup is straight forward. You plug the base station into a router, wait for all the lights to come on and then you visit arlo.netgear.com and follow the setup instructions - by this point the base station has connected to Netgear's cloud service and you're just associating it to your account. Security here is straightforward: you need to be coming from the same IP address as the Arlo. For most home users with NAT this works fine. I sat frustrated as it repeatedly failed to find any devices, before finally moving everything behind a backup router (my main network isn't NATted) for initial setup. Once you and the Arlo are on the same IP address, the site shows you the base station's serial number for confirmation and then you attach it to your account. Next step is adding cameras. Each base station is broadcasting an 802.11 network on the 2.4GHz spectrum. You connect a camera by pressing the sync button on the base station and then the sync button on the camera. The camera associates with the base station via WPS and now you're up and running.

This is the point where I get bored and stop following instructions, but if you're using a desktop browser (rather than using the mobile app) you appear to need Flash in order to actually see any of the camera footage. Bleah.

But back to the device itself. The first thing I traced was the initial device association. What I found was that once the device is associated with an account, it can't be attached to another account. This is good - I can't simply request that devices be rebound to my account from someone else's. Further, while the serial number is displayed to the user to disambiguate between devices, it doesn't seem to be what's used internally. Tracing the logon traffic from the base station shows it sending a long random device ID along with an authentication token. If you perform a factory reset, these values are regenerated. The device to account mapping seems to be based on this random device ID, which means that once the device is reset and bound to another account there's no way for the initial account owner to regain access (other than resetting it again and binding it back to their account). This is far better than many devices I've looked at.

Performing a factory reset also changes the WPA PSK for the camera network. Newsky Security discovered that doing so originally reset it to 12345678, which is, uh, suboptimal? That's been fixed in newer firmware, along with their discovery that the original random password choice was not terribly random.

All communication from the base station to the cloud seems to be over SSL, and everything validates certificates properly. This also seems to be true for client communication with the cloud service - camera footage is streamed back over port 443 as well.

Most of the functionality of the base station is provided by two daemons, xagent and vzdaemon. xagent appears to be responsible for registering the device with the cloud service, while vzdaemon handles the camera side of things (including motion detection). All of this is running as root, so in the event of any kind of vulnerability the entire platform is owned. For such a single purpose device this isn't really a big deal (the only sensitive data it has is the camera feed - if someone has access to that then root doesn't really buy them anything else). They're statically linked and stripped so I couldn't be bothered spending any significant amount of time digging into them. In any case, they don't expose any remotely accessible ports and only connect to services with verified SSL certificates. They're probably not a big risk.

Other than the dependence on Flash, there's nothing immediately concerning here. What is a little worrying is a family of daemons running on the device and listening to various high numbered UDP ports. These appear to be provided by Broadcom and a standard part of all their router platforms - they're intended for handling various bits of wireless authentication. It's not clear why they're listening on 0.0.0.0 rather than 127.0.0.1, and it's not obvious whether they're vulnerable (they mostly appear to receive packets from the driver itself, process them and then stick packets back into the kernel so who knows what's actually going on), but since you can't set one of these devices up in the first place without it being behind a NAT gateway it's unlikely to be of real concern to most users. On the other hand, the same daemons seem to be present on several Broadcom-based router platforms where they may end up being visible to the outside world. That's probably investigation for another day, though.

Overall: pretty solid, frustrating to set up if your network doesn't match their expectations, wouldn't have grave concerns over having it on an appropriately firewalled network.

(Edited to replace a mistaken reference to WDS with WPS)
Reverse engineering protocols is a great deal easier when they're not encrypted. Thankfully most apps I've dealt with have been doing something convenient like using AES with a key embedded in the app, but others use remote protocols over HTTPS and that makes things much less straightforward. MITMProxy will solve this, as long as you're able to get the app to trust its certificate, but if there's a built-in pinned certificate that's going to be a pain. So, given an app written in C running on an embedded device, and without an easy way to inject new certificates into that device, what do you do?

First: The app is probably using libcurl, because it's free, works and is under a license that allows you to link it into proprietary apps. This is also bad news, because libcurl defaults to having sensible security settings. In the worst case we've got a statically linked binary with all the symbols stripped out, so we're left with the problem of (a) finding the relevant code and (b) replacing it with modified code. Fortuntely, this is much less difficult than you might imagine.

First, let's find where curl sets up its defaults. Curl_init_userdefined() in curl/lib/url.c has the following code:
set->ssl.primary.verifypeer = TRUE;
set->ssl.primary.verifyhost = TRUE;
#ifdef USE_TLS_SRP
set->ssl.authtype = CURL_TLSAUTH_NONE;
#endif
set->ssh_auth_types = CURLSSH_AUTH_DEFAULT; /* defaults to any auth
type */
set->general_ssl.sessionid = TRUE; /* session ID caching enabled by
default */
set->proxy_ssl = set->ssl;

set->new_file_perms = 0644; /* Default permissions */
set->new_directory_perms = 0755; /* Default permissions */

TRUE is defined as 1, so we want to change the code that currently sets verifypeer and verifyhost to 1 to instead set them to 0. How to find it? Look further down - new_file_perms is set to 0644 and new_directory_perms is set to 0755. The leading 0 indicates octal, so these correspond to decimal 420 and 493. Passing the file to objdump -d (assuming a build of objdump that supports this architecture) will give us a disassembled version of the code, so time to fix our problems with grep:
objdump -d target | grep --after=20 ,420 | grep ,493

This gives us the disassembly of target, searches for any occurrence of ",420" (indicating that 420 is being used as an argument in an instruction), prints the following 20 lines and then searches for a reference to 493. It spits out a single hit:
43e864: 240301ed li v1,493
Which is promising. Looking at the surrounding code gives:
43e820: 24030001 li v1,1
43e824: a0430138 sb v1,312(v0)
43e828: 8fc20018 lw v0,24(s8)
43e82c: 24030001 li v1,1
43e830: a0430139 sb v1,313(v0)
43e834: 8fc20018 lw v0,24(s8)
43e838: ac400170 sw zero,368(v0)
43e83c: 8fc20018 lw v0,24(s8)
43e840: 2403ffff li v1,-1
43e844: ac4301dc sw v1,476(v0)
43e848: 8fc20018 lw v0,24(s8)
43e84c: 24030001 li v1,1
43e850: a0430164 sb v1,356(v0)
43e854: 8fc20018 lw v0,24(s8)
43e858: 240301a4 li v1,420
43e85c: ac4301e4 sw v1,484(v0)
43e860: 8fc20018 lw v0,24(s8)
43e864: 240301ed li v1,493
43e868: ac4301e8 sw v1,488(v0)

Towards the end we can see 493 being loaded into v1, and v1 then being copied into an offset from v0. This looks like a structure member being set to 493, which is what we expected. Above that we see the same thing being done to 420. Further up we have some more stuff being set, including a -1 - that corresponds to CURLSSH_AUTH_DEFAULT, so we seem to be in the right place. There's a zero above that, which corresponds to CURL_TLSAUTH_NONE. That means that the two 1 operations above the -1 are the code we want, and simply changing 43e820 and 43e82c to 24030000 instead of 24030001 means that our targets will be set to 0 (ie, FALSE) rather than 1 (ie, TRUE). Copy the modified binary back to the device, run it and now it happily talks to MITMProxy. Huge success.

(If the app calls Curl_setopt() to reconfigure the state of these values, you'll need to stub those out as well - thankfully, recent versions of curl include a convenient string "CURLOPT_SSL_VERIFYHOST no longer supports 1 as value!" in this function, so if the code in question is using semi-recent curl it's easy to find. Then it's just a matter of looking for the constants that CURLOPT_SSL_VERIFYHOST and CURLOPT_SSL_VERIFYPEER are set to, following the jumps and hacking the code to always set them to 0 regardless of the argument)
Ikea recently launched their Trådfri smart lighting platform in the US. The idea of Ikea plus internet security together at last seems like a pretty terrible one, but having taken a look it's surprisingly competent. Hardware-wise, the device is pretty minimal - it seems to be based on the Cypress[1] WICED IoT platform, with 100MBit ethernet and a Silicon Labs Zigbee chipset. It's running the Express Logic ThreadX RTOS, has no running services on any TCP ports and appears to listen on two single UDP ports. As IoT devices go, it's pleasingly minimal.

That single port seems to be a COAP server running with DTLS and a pre-shared key that's printed on the bottom of the device. When you start the app for the first time it prompts you to scan a QR code that's just a machine-readable version of that key. The Android app has code for using the insecure COAP port rather than the encrypted one, but the device doesn't respond to queries there so it's presumably disabled in release builds. It's also local only, with no cloud support. You can program timers, but they run on the device. The only other service it seems to run is an mdns responder, which responds to the _coap._udp.local query to allow for discovery.

From a security perspective, this is pretty close to ideal. Having no remote APIs means that security is limited to what's exposed locally. The local traffic is all encrypted. You can only authenticate with the device if you have physical access to read the (decently long) key off the bottom. I haven't checked whether the DTLS server is actually well-implemented, but it doesn't seem to respond unless you authenticate first which probably covers off a lot of potential risks. The SoC has wireless support, but it seems to be disabled - there's no antenna on board and no mechanism for configuring it.

However, there's one minor issue. On boot the device grabs the current time from pool.ntp.org (fine) but also hits http://fw.ota.homesmart.ikea.net/feed/version_info.json . That file contains a bunch of links to firmware updates, all of which are also downloaded over http (and not https). The firmware images themselves appear to be signed, but downloading untrusted objects and then parsing them isn't ideal. Realistically, this is only a problem if someone already has enough control over your network to mess with your DNS, and being wired-only makes this pretty unlikely. I'd be surprised if it's ever used as a real avenue of attack.

Overall: as far as design goes, this is one of the most secure IoT-style devices I've looked at. I haven't examined the COAP stack in detail to figure out whether it has any exploitable bugs, but the attack surface is pretty much as minimal as it could be while still retaining any functionality at all. I'm impressed.

[1] Formerly Broadcom
Shim has been hugely successful, to the point of being used by the majority of significant Linux distributions and many other third party products (even, apparently, Solaris). The aim was to ensure that it would remain possible to install free operating systems on UEFI Secure Boot platforms while still allowing machine owners to replace their bootloaders and kernels, and it's achieved this goal.

However, a legitimate criticism has been that there's very little transparency in Microsoft's signing process. Some people have waited for significant periods of time before being receiving a response. A large part of this is simply that demand has been greater than expected, and Microsoft aren't in the best position to review code that they didn't write in the first place.

To that end, we're adopting a new model. A mailing list has been created at shim-review@lists.freedesktop.org, and members of this list will review submissions and provide a recommendation to Microsoft on whether these should be signed or not. The current set of expectations around binaries to be signed documented here and the current process here - it is expected that this will evolve slightly as we get used to the process, and we'll provide a more formal set of documentation once things have settled down.

This is a new initiative and one that will probably take a little while to get working smoothly, but we hope it'll make it much easier to get signed releases of Shim out without compromising security in the process.
The Utah teapot was one of the early 3D reference objects. It's canonically a Melitta but hasn't been part of their range in a long time, so I'd been watching Ebay in the hope of one turning up. Until last week, when I discovered that a company called Friesland had apparently bought a chunk of Melitta's range some years ago and sell the original teapot[1]. I've just ordered one, and am utterly unreasonably excited about this.

Update: Friesland have apparently always produced the Utah teapot, but were part of the Melitta group for some time - they didn't buy the range from Melitta.

[1] They have them in 0.35, 0.85 and 1.4 litre sizes. I believe (based on the measurements here) that the 1.4 litre one matches the Utah teapot.
So the CIA has tools to snoop on you via your TV and your Echo is testifying in a murder case and yet people are still buying connected devices with microphones in and why are they doing that the world is on fire surely this is terrible?

You're right that the world is terrible, but this isn't really a contributing factor to it. There's a few reasons why. The first is that there's really not any indication that the CIA and MI5 ever turned this into an actual deployable exploit. The development reports[1] describe a project that still didn't know what would happen to their exploit over firmware updates and a "fake off" mode that left a lit LED which wouldn't be there if the TV were actually off, so there's a potential for failed updates and people noticing that there's something wrong. It's certainly possible that development continued and it was turned into a polished and usable exploit, but it really just comes across as a bunch of nerds wanting to show off a neat demo.

But let's say it did get to the stage of being deployable - there's still not a great deal to worry about. No remote infection mechanism is described, so they'd need to do it locally. If someone is in a position to reflash your TV without you noticing, they're also in a position to, uh, just leave an internet connected microphone of their own. So how would they infect you remotely? TVs don't actually consume a huge amount of untrusted content from arbitrary sources[2], so that's much harder than it sounds and probably not worth it because:

YOU ARE CARRYING AN INTERNET CONNECTED MICROPHONE THAT CONSUMES VAST QUANTITIES OF UNTRUSTED CONTENT FROM ARBITRARY SOURCES

Seriously your phone is like eleven billion times easier to infect than your TV is and you carry it everywhere. If the CIA want to spy on you, they'll do it via your phone. If you're paranoid enough to take the battery out of your phone before certain conversations, don't have those conversations in front of a TV with a microphone in it. But, uh, it's actually worse than that.

These days audio hardware usually consists of a very generic codec containing a bunch of digital→analogue converters, some analogue→digital converters and a bunch of io pins that can basically be wired up in arbitrary ways. Hardcoding the roles of these pins makes board layout more annoying and some people want more inputs than outputs and some people vice versa, so it's not uncommon for it to be possible to reconfigure an input as an output or vice versa. From software.

Anyone who's ever plugged a microphone into a speaker jack probably knows where I'm going with this. An attacker can "turn off" your TV, reconfigure the internal speaker output as an input and listen to you on your "microphoneless" TV. Have a nice day, and stop telling people that putting glue in their laptop microphone is any use unless you're telling them to disconnect the internal speakers as well.

If you're in a situation where you have to worry about an intelligence agency monitoring you, your TV is the least of your concerns - any device with speakers is just as bad. So what about Alexa? The summary here is, again, it's probably easier and more practical to just break your phone - it's probably near you whenever you're using an Echo anyway, and they also get to record you the rest of the time. The Echo platform is very restricted in terms of where it gets data[3], so it'd be incredibly hard to compromise without Amazon's cooperation. Amazon's not going to give their cooperation unless someone turns up with a warrant, and then we're back to you already being screwed enough that you should have got rid of all your electronics way earlier in this process. There are reasons to be worried about always listening devices, but intelligence agencies monitoring you shouldn't generally be one of them.

tl;dr: The CIA probably isn't listening to you through your TV, and if they are then you're almost certainly going to have a bad time anyway.

[1] Which I have obviously not read
[2] I look forward to the first person demonstrating code execution through malformed MPEG over terrestrial broadcast TV
[3] You'd need a vulnerability in its compressed audio codecs, and you'd need to convince the target to install a skill that played content from your servers
The Fantasyland Institute of Learning is the organisation behind Lambdaconf, a functional programming conference perhaps best known for standing behind a racist they had invited as a speaker. The fallout of that has resulted in them trying to band together events in order to reduce disruption caused by sponsors or speakers declining to be associated with conferences that think inviting racists is more important than the comfort of non-racists, which is weird in all sorts of ways but not what I'm talking about here because they've also written a "Code of Professionalism" which is like a Code of Conduct except it protects abusers rather than minorities and no really it is genuinely as bad as it sounds.

The first thing you need to know is that the document uses its own jargon. Important here are the concepts of active and inactive participation - active participation is anything that you do within the community covered by a specific instance of the Code, inactive participation is anything that happens anywhere ever (ie, active participation is a subset of inactive participation). The restrictions based around active participation are broadly those that you'd expect in a very weak code of conduct - it's basically "Don't be mean", but with some quirks. The most significant is that there's a "Don't moralise" provision, which as written means saying "I think people who support slavery are bad" in a community setting is a violation of the code, but the description of discrimination means saying "I volunteer to mentor anybody from a minority background" could also result in any community member not from a minority background complaining that you've discriminated against them. It's just not very good.

Inactive participation is where things go badly wrong. If you engage in community or professional sabotage, or if you shame a member based on their behaviour inside the community, that's a violation. Community sabotage isn't defined and so basically allows a community to throw out whoever they want to. Professional sabotage means doing anything that can hurt a member's professional career. Shaming is saying anything negative about a member to a non-member if that information was obtained from within the community.

So, what does that mean? Here are some things that you are forbidden from doing:
  • If a member says something racist at a conference, you are not permitted to tell anyone who is not a community member that this happened (shaming)
  • If a member tries to assault you, you are not allowed to tell the police (shaming)
  • If a member gives a horribly racist speech at another conference, you are not allowed to suggest that they shouldn't be allowed to speak at your event (professional sabotage)
  • If a member of your community reports a violation and no action is taken, you are not allowed to warn other people outside the community that this is considered acceptable behaviour (community sabotage)

Now, clearly, some of these are unintentional - I don't think the authors of this policy would want to defend the idea that you can't report something to the police, and I'm sure they'd be willing to modify the document to permit this. But it's indicative of the mindset behind it. This policy has been written to protect people who are accused of doing something bad, not to protect people who have something bad done to them.

There are other examples of this. For instance, violations are not publicised unless the verdict is that they deserve banishment. If a member harasses another member but is merely given a warning, the victim is still not permitted to tell anyone else that this happened. The perpetrator is then free to repeat their behaviour in other communities, and the victim has to choose between either staying silent or warning them and risk being banished from the community for shaming.

If you're an abuser then this is perfect. You're in a position where your victims have to choose between their career (which will be harmed if they're unable to function in the community) and preventing the same thing from happening to others. Many will choose the former, which gives you far more freedom to continue abusing others. Which means that communities adopting the Fantasyland code will be more attractive to abusers, and become disproportionately populated by them.

I don't believe this is the intent, but it's an inevitable consequence of the priorities inherent in this code. No matter how many corner cases are cleaned up, if a code prevents you from saying bad things about people or communities it prevents people from being able to make informed choices about whether that community and its members are people they wish to associate with. When there are greater consequences to saying someone's racist than them being racist, you're fucking up badly.
I wrote a piece a few days ago about how the Meitu app asked for a bunch of permissions in ways that might concern people, but which were not actually any worse than many other apps. The fact that Android makes it so easy for apps to obtain data that's personally identifiable is of concern, but in the absence of another stable device identifier this is the sort of thing that capitalism is inherently going to end up making use of. Fundamentally, this is Google's problem to fix.

Around the same time, Kaspersky, the Russian anti-virus company, wrote a blog post that warned people about this specific app. It was framed somewhat misleadingly - "reading, deleting and modifying the data in your phone's memory" would probably be interpreted by most people as something other than "the ability to modify data on your phone's external storage", although it ends with some reasonable advice that users should ask why an app requires some permissions.

So, to that end, here are the permissions that Kaspersky request on Android:
  • android.permission.READ_CONTACTS
  • android.permission.WRITE_CONTACTS
  • android.permission.READ_SMS
  • android.permission.WRITE_SMS
  • android.permission.READ_PHONE_STATE
  • android.permission.CALL_PHONE
  • android.permission.SEND_SMS
  • android.permission.RECEIVE_SMS
  • android.permission.RECEIVE_BOOT_COMPLETED
  • android.permission.WAKE_LOCK
  • android.permission.WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE
  • android.permission.SUBSCRIBED_FEEDS_READ
  • android.permission.READ_SYNC_SETTINGS
  • android.permission.WRITE_SYNC_SETTINGS
  • android.permission.WRITE_SETTINGS
  • android.permission.INTERNET
  • android.permission.ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION
  • android.permission.ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION
  • android.permission.READ_CALL_LOG
  • android.permission.WRITE_CALL_LOG
  • android.permission.RECORD_AUDIO
  • android.permission.SET_PREFERRED_APPLICATIONS
  • android.permission.WRITE_APN_SETTINGS
  • android.permission.READ_CALENDAR
  • android.permission.WRITE_CALENDAR
  • android.permission.KILL_BACKGROUND_PROCESSES
  • android.permission.RESTART_PACKAGES
  • android.permission.MANAGE_ACCOUNTS
  • android.permission.GET_ACCOUNTS
  • android.permission.MODIFY_PHONE_STATE
  • android.permission.CHANGE_NETWORK_STATE
  • android.permission.ACCESS_NETWORK_STATE
  • android.permission.ACCESS_LOCATION_EXTRA_COMMANDS
  • android.permission.ACCESS_WIFI_STATE
  • android.permission.CHANGE_WIFI_STATE
  • android.permission.VIBRATE
  • android.permission.READ_LOGS
  • android.permission.GET_TASKS
  • android.permission.EXPAND_STATUS_BAR
  • com.android.browser.permission.READ_HISTORY_BOOKMARKS
  • com.android.browser.permission.WRITE_HISTORY_BOOKMARKS
  • android.permission.CAMERA
  • com.android.vending.BILLING
  • android.permission.SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW
  • android.permission.BATTERY_STATS
  • android.permission.MODIFY_AUDIO_SETTINGS
  • com.kms.free.permission.C2D_MESSAGE
  • com.google.android.c2dm.permission.RECEIVE

Every single permission that Kaspersky mention Meitu having? They require it as well. And a lot more. Why does Kaspersky want the ability to record audio? Why does it want to be able to send SMSes? Why does it want to read my contacts? Why does it need my fine-grained location? Why is it able to modify my settings?

There's no reason to assume that they're being malicious here. The reasons that these permissions exist at all is that there are legitimate reasons to use them, and Kaspersky may well have good reason to request them. But they don't explain that, and they do literally everything that their blog post criticises (including explicitly requesting the phone's IMEI). Why should we trust a Russian company more than a Chinese one?

The moral here isn't that Kaspersky are evil or that Meitu are virtuous. It's that talking about application permissions is difficult and we don't have the language to explain to users what our apps are doing and why they're doing it, and Google are still falling far short of where they should be in terms of making this transparent to users. But the other moral is that you shouldn't complain about the permissions an app requires when you're asking for even more of them because it just makes you look stupid and bad at your job.
There's been a sudden wave of people concerned about the Meitu selfie app's use of unique phone IDs. Here's what we know: the app will transmit your phone's IMEI (a unique per-phone identifier that can't be altered under normal circumstances) to servers in China. It's able to obtain this value because it asks for a permission called READ_PHONE_STATE, which (if granted) means that the app can obtain various bits of information about your phone including those unique IDs and whether you're currently on a call.

Why would anybody want these IDs? The simple answer is that app authors mostly make money by selling advertising, and advertisers like to know who's seeing their advertisements. The more app views they can tie to a single individual, the more they can track that user's response to different kinds of adverts and the more targeted (and, they hope, more profitable) the advertising towards that user. Using the same ID between multiple apps makes this easier, and so using a device-level ID rather than an app-level one is preferred. The IMEI is the most stable ID on Android devices, persisting even across factory resets.

The downside of using a device-level ID is, well, whoever has that data knows a lot about what you're running. That lets them tailor adverts to your tastes, but there are certainly circumstances where that could be embarrassing or even compromising. Using the IMEI for this is even worse, since it's also used for fundamental telephony functions - for instance, when a phone is reported stolen, its IMEI is added to a blacklist and networks will refuse to allow it to join. A sufficiently malicious person could potentially report your phone stolen and get it blocked by providing your IMEI. And phone networks are obviously able to track devices using them, so someone with enough access could figure out who you are from your app usage and then track you via your IMEI. But realistically, anyone with that level of access to the phone network could just identify you via other means. There's no reason to believe that this is part of a nefarious Chinese plot.

Is there anything you can do about this? On Android 6 and later, yes. Go to settings, hit apps, hit the gear menu in the top right, choose "App permissions" and scroll down to phone. Under there you'll see all apps that have permission to obtain this information, and you can turn them off. Doing so may cause some apps to crash or otherwise misbehave, whereas newer apps may simply ask for you to grant the permission again and refuse to do so if you don't.

Meitu isn't especially rare in this respect. Over 50% of the Android apps I have handy request your IMEI, although I haven't tracked what they all do with it. It's certainly something to be concerned about, but Meitu isn't especially rare here - there are big-name apps that do exactly the same thing. There's a legitimate question over whether Android should be making it so easy for apps to obtain this level of identifying information without more explicit informed consent from the user, but until Google do anything to make it more difficult, apps will continue making use of this information. Let's turn this into a conversation about user privacy online rather than blaming one specific example.
Mark Shuttleworth just blogged about their stance against unofficial Ubuntu images. The assertion is that a cloud hoster is providing unofficial and modified Ubuntu images, and that these images are meaningfully different from upstream Ubuntu in terms of their functionality and security. Users are attempting to make use of these images, are finding that they don't work properly and are assuming that Ubuntu is a shoddy product. This is an entirely legitimate concern, and if Canonical are acting to reduce user confusion then they should be commended for that.

The appropriate means to handle this kind of issue is trademark law. If someone claims that something is Ubuntu when it isn't, that's probably an infringement of the trademark and it's entirely reasonable for the trademark owner to take action to protect the value associated with their trademark. But Canonical's IP policy goes much further than that - it can be interpreted as meaning[1] that you can't distribute works based on Ubuntu without paying Canonical for the privilege, even if you call it something other than Ubuntu.

This remains incompatible with the principles of free software. The freedom to take someone else's work and redistribute it is a vital part of the four freedoms. It's legitimate for Canonical to insist that you not pass it off as their work when doing so, but their IP policy continues to insist that you remove all references to Canonical's trademarks even if their use would not infringe trademark law.

If you ask a copyright holder if you can give a copy of their work to someone else (assuming it doesn't infringe trademark law), and they say no or insist you need an additional contract, it's not free software. If they insist that you recompile source code before you can give copies to someone else, it's not free software. Asking that you remove trademarks that would otherwise infringe trademark law is fine, but if you can't use their trademarks in non-infringing ways, that's still not free software.

Canonical's IP policy continues to impose restrictions on all of these things, and therefore Ubuntu is not free software.

[1] And by "interpreted as meaning" I mean that's what it says and Canonical refuse to say otherwise
One of the most powerful (and most scary) features of TPM-based measured boot is the ability for remote systems to request that clients attest to their boot state, allowing the remote system to determine whether the client has booted in the correct state. This involves each component in the boot process writing a hash of the next component into the TPM and logging it. When attestation is requested, the remote site gives the client a nonce and asks for an attestation, the client OS passes the nonce to the TPM and asks it to provide a signed copy of the hashes and the nonce and sends them (and the log) to the remote site. The remoteW site then replays the log to ensure it matches the signed hash values, and can examine the log to determine whether the system is trustworthy (whatever trustworthy means in this context).

When this was first proposed people were (justifiably!) scared that remote services would start refusing to work for users who weren't running (for instance) an approved version of Windows with a verifiable DRM stack. Various practical matters made this impossible. The first was that, until fairly recently, there was no way to demonstrate that the key used to sign the hashes actually came from a TPM[1], so anyone could simply generate a set of valid hashes, sign them with a random key and provide that. The second is that even if you have a signature from a TPM, you have no way of proving that it's from the TPM that the client booted with (you can MITM the request and either pass it to a client that did boot the appropriate OS or to an external TPM that you've plugged into your system after boot and then programmed appropriately). The third is that, well, systems and configurations vary so much that outside very controlled circumstances it's impossible to know what a "legitimate" set of hashes even is.

As a result, so far remote attestation has tended to be restricted to internal deployments. Some enterprises use it as part of their VPN login process, and we've been working on it at CoreOS to enable Kubernetes clusters to verify that workers are in a trustworthy state before running jobs on them. While useful, this isn't terribly exciting for most people. Can we do better?

Remote attestation has generally been thought of in terms of remote systems requiring that clients attest. But there's nothing that requires things to be done in that direction. There's nothing stopping clients from being able to request that a server attest to its state, allowing clients to make informed decisions about whether they should provide confidential data. But the problems that apply to clients apply equally well to servers. Let's work through them in reverse order.

We have no idea what expected "good" values are

Yes, and this is a problem. CoreOS ships with an expected set of good values, and we had general agreement at the Linux Plumbers Conference that other distributions would start looking at what it would take to do the same. But how do we know that those values are themselves trustworthy? In an ideal world this would involve reproducible builds, allowing anybody to grab the source code for the OS, build it locally and verify that they have the same hashes.

Ok. So we're able to verify that the booted OS was good. But how about the services? The rkt container runtime supports measuring each container into the TPM, which means we can verify which container images were started. If container images are also built in such a way that they're reproducible, users can grab the source code, rebuild the container locally and again verify that it has the same hashes. Users can then be sure that the remote site is running the code they're looking at.

Or can they? Not really - a general purpose OS has all kinds of ways to inject code into containers, so an admin could simply replace the binaries inside the container after it's been measured, or ptrace() the server, or modify rkt so it generates correct measurements regardless of the image or, well, there's lots they could do. So a general purpose OS is probably a bad idea here. Instead, let's imagine an immutable OS that does nothing other than bring up networking and then reads a config file that tells it which container images to download and run. This reduces the amount of code that needs to support reproducible builds, making it easier for a client to verify that the source corresponds to the code the remote system is actually running.

Is this sufficient? Eh sadly no. Even if we know the valid values for the entire OS and every container, we don't know the legitimate values for the system firmware. Any modified firmware could tamper with the rest of the trust chain, making it possible for you to get valid OS values even if the OS has been subverted. This isn't a solved problem yet, and really requires hardware vendor support. Let's handwave this for now, or assert that we'll have some sidechannel for distributing valid firmware values.

Avoiding TPM MITMing

This one's more interesting. If I ask the server to attest to its state, it can simply pass that through to a TPM running on another system that's running a trusted stack and happily serve me content from a compromised stack. Suboptimal. We need some way to tie the TPM identity and the service identity to each other.

Thankfully, we have one. Tor supports running services in the .onion TLD. The key used to identify the service to the Tor network is also used to create the "hostname" of the system. I wrote a pretty hacky implementation that generates that key on the TPM, tying the service identity to the TPM. You can ask the TPM to prove that it generated a key, and that allows you to tie both the key used to run the Tor service and the key used to sign the attestation hashes to the same TPM. You now know that the attestation values came from the same system that's running the service, and that means you know the TPM hasn't been MITMed.

How do you know it's a TPM at all?

This is much easier. See [1].



There's still various problems around this, including the fact that we don't have this immutable minimal container OS, that we don't have the infrastructure to ensure that container builds are reproducible, that we don't have any known good firmware values and that we don't have a mechanism for allowing a user to perform any of this validation. But these are all solvable, and it seems like an interesting project.

"Interesting" isn't necessarily the right metric, though. "Useful" is. And I think this is very useful. If I'm about to upload documents to a SecureDrop instance, it seems pretty important that I be able to verify that it is a SecureDrop instance rather than something pretending to be one. This gives us a mechanism.

The next few years seem likely to raise interest in ensuring that people have secure mechanisms to communicate. I'm not emotionally invested in this one, but if people have better ideas about how to solve this problem then this seems like a good time to talk about them.

[1] More modern TPMs have a certificate that chains from the TPM's root key back to the TPM manufacturer, so as long as you trust the TPM manufacturer to have kept control of that you can prove that the signature came from a real TPM
The Wirecutter, an in-depth comparative review site for various electrical and electronic devices, just published an opinion piece on whether users should be worried about security issues in IoT devices. The summary: avoid devices that don't require passwords (or don't force you to change a default and devices that want you to disable security, follow general network security best practices but otherwise don't worry - criminals aren't likely to target you.

This is terrible, irresponsible advice. It's true that most users aren't likely to be individually targeted by random criminals, but that's a poor threat model. As I've mentioned before, you need to worry about people with an interest in you. Making purchasing decisions based on the assumption that you'll never end up dating someone with enough knowledge to compromise a cheap IoT device (or even meeting an especially creepy one in a bar) is not safe, and giving advice that doesn't take that into account is a huge disservice to many potentially vulnerable users.

Of course, there's also the larger question raised by the last week's problems. Insecure IoT devices still pose a threat to the wider internet, even if the owner's data isn't at risk. I may not be optimistic about the ease of fixing this problem, but that doesn't mean we should just give up. It is important that we improve the security of devices, and many vendors are just bad at that.

So, here's a few things that should be a minimum when considering an IoT device:
  • Does the vendor publish a security contact? (If not, they don't care about security)
  • Does the vendor provide frequent software updates, even for devices that are several years old? (If not, they don't care about security)
  • Has the vendor ever denied a security issue that turned out to be real? (If so, they care more about PR than security)
  • Is the vendor able to provide the source code to any open source components they use? (If not, they don't know which software is in their own product and so don't care about security, and also they're probably infringing my copyright)
  • Do they mark updates as fixing security bugs? (If not, they care more about hiding security issues than fixing them)
  • Has the vendor ever threatened to prosecute a security researcher? (If so, again, they care more about PR than security)
  • Does the vendor provide a public minimum support period for the device? (If not, they don't care about security or their users)

    I've worked with big name vendors who did a brilliant job here. I've also worked with big name vendors who responded with hostility when I pointed out that they were selling a device with arbitrary remote code execution. Going with brand names is probably a good proxy for many of these requirements, but it's insufficient.

    So here's my recommendations to The Wirecutter - talk to a wide range of security experts about the issues that users should be concerned about, and figure out how to test these things yourself. Don't just ask vendors whether they care about security, ask them what their processes and procedures look like. Look at their history. And don't assume that just because nobody's interested in you, everybody else's level of risk is equal.