Qubes 3.2 has support for USB passthrough. This one feature has made Qubes so much more useful for me. It means that a wide variety of devices — from my laptop’s internal webcam, to plugging in smartphones to transfer data or do Android development — are finally supported. I used to have to use a separate non-Qubes computer for several tasks that I can now more conveniently and securely do within Qubes.
One way that I use USB passthrough on a daily basis is with my Yubikey. (If you’re unfamiliar, Yubikeys are small USB devices that can be used for two-factor authentication, for storing and typing static passwords, and for OpenPGP smart cards.) Normally when you use GnuPG, you keep your secret key in a file stored in
~/.gnupg. If you use an OpenPGP smart card, you don’t have your secret key on your computer at all — instead you have it stored on your smart card. With a smart card you can use your secret key, by decrypting or signing messages, but it’s designed to be impossible to export the secret key itself.
Someone hacked the website of Linux Mint — which, according to Wikipedia’s traffic analysis report is the 3rd most popular desktop Linux distribution after Ubuntu and Fedora — and replaced links to ISO downloads with a backdoored version of the operating system. This blog post explains the situation.
Last week, during USENIX’s first Enigma conference, EFF hosted a small Capture the Flag hacking competition. I designed one of the challenges myself, entitled Usable Crypto. It requires you to use PGP as an attacker rather than a defender. It’s on the easy side, as far as CTF challenges go, and I think many people who have absolutely no hacking skills but some fumbling-around-with-PGP skills could beat it without too much trouble. And it might even demonstrate why verifying fingerprints really is rather important.
If you’d like to give it a go, it’s live at https://usable-crypto.ctf.micahflee.com/. The plot for Enigma’s CTF was loosely based off of Cory Doctorow’s novel Little Brother. You’re an X-NET hacker fighting the surveillance state’s Department of National Security. You win when you capture the flag, which is a string of text that starts with “FLAG_” (but please don’t post it in the comments).
I’ve been writing a computer security column for the Intercept. In most of my columns I mention Linux. Even when it’s not directly relevant (though it often is), most of my columns are in the form of tutorials, and I’d like my tutorials to be equally useful for Linux users as they are for Windows and Mac users.
For one thing, I love free and open source software. These projects are critical for security, privacy, and for the ability to tinker with and learn about your own computer. As the number of people who run free (as in speech) operating systems rise, so will the development resources that get poured into those operating systems until they “just work” at least as well as Windows and OS X do, so I talk about them every chance I get. Many of my readers already run free operating systems, and I would hate to leave them out.
After writing a column about how to communicate in secret while we’re all being watched, I got an email from Richard Stallman saying when I say Linux I clearly mean the GNU system, and he asked that I start referring to Linux distributions as GNU/Linux “so as to give us equal mention when you talk about our work.” And after writing my most recent column about how VMs can be used for isolation security, Stallman wrote a comment again saying that I mean “GNU and Linux” and asking that I give GNU equal mention. This is a really common point of view (though not at all a consensus) in the free software community, and one that I shared for a long time. But I’ve come to change my mind.
For those wanting to decentralize the Internet and encrypt all the things, Mailpile is a hot topic.
Mailpile is a web-based email client (like Thunderbird or Outlook, not to be confused with a service, like Gmail) that you install locally and access by opening http://localhost:33411/ in your browser.
The goal of Mailpile is to give everyone all the nice features they’re used to with Gmail but that you don’t get with a traditional email client, like labels, conversations, and really quick search. You can use Mailpile to check any email address (including your @gmail.com one).