Cross-platform software

Making Chrome Less Horrible

Saturday, June 13, 2015 

Google’s Chrome is  a useful tool to have around, but the security features have gotten out of hand and make it increasingly useless for real work without actually improving security.

After a brief rant about SSL, there’s a quick solution at the bottom of this post.


Chrome’s Idiotic SSL Handling Model

I don’t like Chrome nearly as much as Firefox,  but it does do some things better (I have a persistent annoyance with pfSense certificates that cause slow loading of the pfSense management page in FF, for example). Lately I’ve found that the Google+ script seems to kill firefox, so I use Chrome for logged-in Google activities.

But Chrome’s handling of certificates is abhorrent.  I’ve never seen anything so resolutely destructive to security and utility.  It is the most ill-considered, poorly implemented, counter-productive failure in UI design and security policy I’ve ever encountered.  It is hateful and obscene.  A disaster.  An abomination. The ill-conceived excrement of ignorant twits.  I’d be happy to share my unrestrained feelings privately.

It is a private network, you idiots

I’ve discussed the problem before, but the basic issues are that:

  • The certificate authority is NOT INVALID, Chrome just doesn’t recognize it because it is self-signed.  There is a difference, dimwits.
  • This is a private network (10.x.x.x or 192.168.x.x) and if you pulled your head out for a second and thought about it, white-listing private networks is obvious.  Why on earth would anyone pay the cert mafia for a private cert?  Every web-interfaced appliance in existence automatically generates a self-signed cert, and Chrome flags every one of them as a security risk INCORRECTLY.
  • A “valid” certificate merely means that one of the zillions of cert mafia organizations ripping people off by pretending to offer security has “verified” the “ownership” of a site before taking their money and issuing a certificate that placates browsers
  • Or a compromised certificate is being used.
  • Or a law enforcement certificate is being used.
  • Or the site has been hacked by criminals or some country’s law enforcement.
  • etc.

A “valid” certificate doesn’t mean nothing at all, but close to it.

So one might think it is harmless security theater, like a TSA checkpoint: it does no real harm and may have some deterrent value.  It is a necessary fiction to ensure people feel safe doing commerce on the internet.  If a few percent of people are reassured by firm warnings and are thus seduced into consummating their shopping carts, improving ad traffic quality and thus ensuring Google’s ad revenue continues to flow, ensuring their servers continue sucking up our data, what’s the harm?

The harm is that it makes it hard to secure a website.  SSL does two things: it pretends to verify that the website you connect to is the one you intended to connect to (but it does not do this) and it does actually serve to encrypt data between the browser and the server, making eavesdropping very difficult.  The latter useful function does not require verifying who owns the server, which can only be done with a web of trust model like perspectives or with centralized, authoritarian certificate management.

How to fix Chrome:

The damage is done. Millions of websites that could be encrypted are not because idiots writing browsers have made it very difficult for users to override inane, inaccurate, misleading browser warnings.  However, if you’re reading this, you can reduce the headache with a simple step (Thanks!):

Right click on the shortcut you use to launch Chrome and modify the launch command by adding the following “--ignore-certificate-errors

Unfuck chrome a bit.

Once you’ve done this, chrome will open with a warning:

zomg: ignore certificate errors?  who doesn't anyway?

YAY.  Suffer my ass.

Java?  What happened to Java?

Bonus rant

Java sucks so bad.  It is the second worst abomination loosed on the internet, yet lots of systems use it for useful features, or try to.  There’s endless compatibility problems with JVM versions and there’s the absolutely idiotic horror of the recent security requirement that disables setting “medium” security completely no matter how hard you want to override it, which means you can’t ever update past JVM 7.  Ever.  Because 8 is utterly useless because they broke it completely thinking they’d protect you from man in the middle attacks on your own LAN.

However, even if you have frozen with the last moderately usable version of Java, you’ll find that since Chrome 42 (yeah, the 42nd major release of chrome. That numbering scheme is another frustratingly stupid move, but anyway, get off my lawn) Java just doesn’t run in chrome.  WTF?

Turns out Google, happy enough to push their own crappy products like Google+, won’t support Oracle’s crappy product any more.  As of 42 Java is disabled by default.  Apparently, after 45 it won’t ever work again.  I’d be happy to see Java die, but I have a lot of infrastructure that requires Java for KVM connections, camera management, and other equipment that foolishly embraced that horrible standard.  Anyhow, you can fix it until 45 comes along…

To enable Java in Chrome for a little while longer, you can follow these instructions to enable NPAPI (which enables Java).  Type “chrome://flags/#enable-npapi” in the browser bar and click “enable.”

Enable NAPI

Posted at 13:24:37 UTC

Category: HowToSecuritytechnology

Xabber now uses Orbot: OTR+Tor

Sunday, November 3, 2013 

As of Sept 30 2013, Xabber added Orbot support. This is a huge win for chat security. (Gibberbot has done this for a long time, but it isn’t as user-friendly or pretty as Xabber and it is hard to convince people to use it).

The combination of Xabber and Orbot solves the three most critical problems in chat privacy: obscuring what you say via message encryption, obscuring who you’re talking to via transport encryption, and obscuring what servers to subpoena for at least the last information by onion routing. OTR solves the first and Tor fixes the last two (SSL solves the middle one too, though Tor has a fairly secure SSL ciphersuite, who knows what that random SSL-enabled chat server uses – “none?”)

There’s a fly in the ointment of all this crypto: we’ve recently learned a few entirely predictable (and predicted) things about how communications are monitored:

1) All communications are captured and stored indefinitely. Nothing is ephemeral; neither a phone conversation nor an email, nor the web sites you visit. It is all stored and indexed should somebody sometime in the future decide that your actions are immoral or illegal or insidious or insufficiently respectful this record may be used to prove your guilt or otherwise tag you for punishment; who knows what clever future algorithms will be used in concert with big data and cloud services to identify and segregate the optimal scapegoat population for whatever political crises is thus most expediently deflected. Therefore, when you encrypt a conversation it has to be safe not just against current cryptanalytic attacks, but against those that might emerge before the sins of the present are sufficiently in the past to exceed the limitations of whatever entity is enforcing whatever rules. A lifetime is probably a safe bet. YMMV.

2) Those that specialize in snooping at the national scale have tools that aren’t available to the academic community and there are cryptanalytic attacks of unknown efficacy against some or all of the current cryptographic protocols. I heard someone who should know better poo poo the idea that the NSA might have better cryptographers than the commercial world because the commercial world pays better, as if the obsessive brilliance that defines a world-class cryptographer is motivated by remuneration. Not.

But you can still do better than nothing while understanding that a vulnerability to the NSA isn’t likely to be an issue for many, though if PRISM access is already being disseminated downstream to the DEA, it is only a matter of time before politically affiliated hate groups are trolling emails looking for evidence of moral turpitude with which to tar the unfaithful. Any complacency that might be engendered by not being a terrorist may be short lived. Enjoy it while it lasts.

And thus (assuming you have an Android device) you can download Xabber and Orbot. Xabber supports real OTR, not the fake-we-stole-your-acronym-for-our-marketing-good-luck-suing-us “OTR” that Google hugger-muggers and caromshotts you into believing your chats are ephemeral with (of course they and all their intelligence and commercial data mining partners store your chats, they just make it harder for your SO to read your flirty transgressions). Real OTR is a fairly strong, cryptographically secured protocol that transparently and securely negotiates a cryptographic key to secure each chat, which you never know and which is lost forever when the chat is over. There’s no open community way to recover your chat (that is, the NSA might be able to but we can’t). Sure, your chat partner can screen shot or copy-pasta the chat, but if you trust the person you’re chatting with and you aren’t a target of the NSA or DEA, your chat is probably secure.

But there’s still a flaw. You’re probably using Google. So anyone can just go to Google and ask them who you were chatting with, for how long, and about how many words you exchanged. The content is lost, but there’s a lot of meta-data there to play with.

So don’t use gchat if you care about that. It isn’t that hard to set up a chat server.

But maybe you’re a little concerned that your ISP not know who you’re chatting with. Given that your ISP (at the local or national level) might have a bluecoat device and could easily be man-in-the-middling every user on their network simultaneously, you might have reason to doubt Google’s SSL connection. While OTR still protects the content of your chat, an inexpensive bluecoat device renders the meta information visible to whoever along your coms path has bought one. This is where Tor comes in. While Google will still know (you’re still using Google even after they lied to you about PRISM and said, in court, that nobody using Gmail has any reasonable expectation of privacy?) your ISP (commercial or national) is going to have a very hard time figuring out that you’re even talking to Google, let alone with whom. Even the fact that you’re using chat is obscured.

So give Xabber a try. Check out Orbot, the effortless way to run it over Tor. And look into alternatives to cloud providers for everything you do.

Posted at 08:50:47 UTC

Category: FreeBSDself-publishingtechnology

Iraq Blocked For Many Android Apps

Sunday, March 3, 2013 

I’m not sure who decides what apps are blocked on a country by country basis, but an awful lot of apps are blocked in Iraq and it seems like more and more.


OTT apps like Whatsapp and Viber sort of make sense. These apps are at war with the carriers, who claim the app is making money somehow on the backs of the carriers*, and they seem to be largely blocked from install in Iraq. One would imagine that was Asiacell’s doing, but I changed SIMs and that didn’t help.


But then I noticed that weird apps like Angry Birds are not allowed in Iraq—apps that makes no sense for a carrier to block.  The advertising model actually works and ad-supported apps show (some) relevant, regional ads, as they should, in theory generating at least some revenue for the developers. Part of the problem may be that there’s no way for in-app payments to be processed out of Iraq and therefore developers of even “freemium” apps may choose to block their apps in the country reasoning that if they can’t make money, why let people use the app?


If so, it seems short sighted: ultimately payment processing will be worked out and even if it isn’t, Iraqis are allowed to travel to countries where in-app payments do work. Establishing a beachhead in the market, even without revenue seems prudent. Blocking users who represent neither revenue nor cost seems arbitrarily punitive.

* The carrier’s business should be to transport bits agnostically.  They have no business caring what we do with our bits; no bit costs more than any other bit to carry.  If they can’t figure out how to make money carrying bits, they have no business being in the bit carrying business. When they whine about a business like WhatsApp or Viber or Free Conference Call or Skype or Google hurting their profits what they really mean is that these new businesses have obviated a parasitic business that was profitable due to a de facto monopoly over what people could do with their bit carrying business.

If the bit carriers were competent application layer developers, they’d have developed their own versions of these “OTT” applications.  But they’re not competent developers and so they have not and they’ve squandered the expertise and market control they once had and are now crying that they can’t even make the core bit carrying business work. This should not inspire sympathy or legislative support.
Dear telco, I will pay you a fair market price for carrying my bits.  You have no right to worry about what bits I choose to send after I’ve paid my bit toll.  If you can’t do that, we the people have every right to build our own information highways collectively without you.  And we probably should anyway.

Posted at 05:29:54 UTC

Category: cell phonesplacespoliticstechnology

PHP Startup: Unable to load

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 

I noticed the warning
PHP Warning: PHP Startup: Unable to load dynamic library '/usr/local/lib/php/20090626/' - /usr/local/lib/php/20090626/ Undefined symbol "php_session_create_id" in Unknown on line 0

in my apache logs.  Googling for it, some sites suggested that old files might  the cause.  But this is a pretty fresh install so I looked a little further and found a nerdstock note describing a similar problem.  I checked my /usr/local/etc/php/extensions.ini and finding that came after I moved it to the top of the file and the errors went away.

Posted at 00:29:25 UTC

Category: FreeBSDtechnology

Linux 342

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 

An IBM 342 with a ServeRAID 4lx is a fine machine, but getting Linux to install is less the effortless. Emacs!


I’m trying to get zoneminder to work on this very nice IBM 342 with a serve raid card and some good drives and 3 video capture cards. The thing should be able to capture 12 streams of video simultaneously, or 6 at full 30FPS. But getting Linux variants to properly recognize the serveraid card is a challenge.

The Mandrake LiveCD install works great on IDE systems, no problem at all. But it doesn’t see the serveraid, so that one was out. Gentoo saw the serveraid card, and since video capture and real time analysis is one of those things that would be good to do fast, the gentoo optimization scheme seemed promising, but it wasn’t. Just a miserable series of failed compiles and fixes that went on endlessly.

So from there to Debian, which is very nice and since it is the parent of Ubuntu and there’s an Ubuntu package and Carolyn loves Ubuntu, that seemed worth a shot. It does see the Serveraid, but there seems to be a bug in the IPS.o driver which reared it’s irritating head during package installs causing hangs, even after I updated the firmware to 7.12.12.

So that was out. On to a distro officially supported by IBM: Suse. That installed great, easy no problem, detected all the ADCs on the capture cards and everything. Very easy to install, but there are some weird bugs with ffmpeg that hung the compile of Zoneminder. It descended into another endless series of patch and edit and retry effort to get through the compile….

Then I saw that Fedora 7 has an RPM in the main distro for ZoneMinder. It is officially supported by IBM and seems rock solid. So far the network install has gone well – the install CD is only 7.71 MB (!) and it seems tentatively promising… it’s on the “Starting install process” screen, which is supposed to take several minutes. As it may need a few GB of data, I’ll give it some time. Unfortunately Fedora doesn’t support CD installs and the 342 has a laptop style CD-ROM drive, so doing a DVD install is out of the question. Network installs are efficient if you only have to do them once, but the retry is all penalty download.

Posted at 15:05:15 UTC

Category: Linux