I started working at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in March of 2011. I joined the tech team as EFF’s first full-fledged web developer, eventually switching jobs internally to become a staff technologist. After over two and a half years of working with the most inspiring group of people I’ve ever met, I’m moving on to join a startup. Monday is my last day of work at EFF.
Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and a fantastic team of people are starting a media organization that will redefine journalism, and I’m joining its tech team. My focus will be on using technology to ensure that the constitutional rights of journalists cannot be violated by powerful spy agencies or anyone else.
I’m ecstatic about my change in career, and there are so many ideas buzzing around my head about it. But I’ll wait until we launch our website before talking about the new company. Instead I’m going to talk about my time at EFF.
I run the website fixubuntu.com, a place to quickly and easily learn how to disable the privacy-invasive features that are enabled by default in Ubuntu.
This morning I received this email from an employee of Canonical Limited, the company that owns and manages the Ubuntu project:
I’ve noticed that a lot of people who are new to GPG really don’t want to give up their HTML email, but the Enigmail setup wizard recommends that you do this.
People have also had weird problems with email attachments when sending signed or encrypted emails. And when you use Enigmail’s default settings and compose your messages in plaintext, Enigmail also turns off “flowed text”, so that lines get wrapped at 72 characters.
You might have read today’s shocking Guardian and New York Times articles outlining the many ways that NSA and GCHQ have defeated crypto on the Internet, and have influenced tech companies to insert back doors into their commercial security products.
But pay close attention to this paragraph in Guardian’s article:
The agencies have not yet cracked all encryption technologies, however, the documents suggest. Snowden appeared to confirm this during a live Q&A with Guardian readers in June. “Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on,” he said before warning that NSA can frequently find ways around it as a result of weak security on the computers at either end of the communication.
Giving up and deciding that privacy is dead is counterproductive. We need to stop using commercial crypto. We need to make sure that free software crypto gets serious security and usability audits.
If we do this right we can still have privacy in the 21st century. If we give up on security because of this we will definitely lose.
Update: This post made the frontpage of reddit and many of the comments are wrong. I took a moment to clear a couple things up at the bottom of the post.
We desperately need to work towards deprecating HTTP and replacing it only with HTTPS. The web is a huge part of what billions of people use the Internet for, and still most of it is not encrypted. Since the Snowden leaks started getting published we’ve learned that NSA and GCHQ spy on as close to the entire Internet as they can get.
It would be naive to think that the US and UK are the only governments doing this too. The network isn’t safe, and the only way to make it safe is to encrypt all the things. Websites that still use HTTP are putting users in danger. Here are a couple of examples.
UPDATE: The Android bug tracker isn’t the correct place to ask Google to fix this bug. The backup/restore feature is part of the proprietary Google apps for Android, not the open source Android project. This thread on the Google product forums is the correct place.
Earlier this week Ars Technica covered a bug report I posted on the Android issue tracker about the “Backup and restore” feature not offering encrypted backups.
Because there’s no option to encrypt your backup data on your Android device with a passphrase that you set, Google has the capability to see the plaintext data, including all your saved wifi passwords. Google can then be compelled to give up this data (and any other user data that they store) to the US government when requested to do so.
Go to your home screen, press the Menu button, select “Settings”, under “Personal” select “Backup and reset”. Is the “Back up my data” checkbox checked? If so, all of the wifi passwords that your phone remembers are being synced to your Google account.
And the passwords are in plaintext, too. When you format an Android phone and set it up on first run, after you login to your Google account and restore your backup, it immediately connects to wifi using a saved password. There’s no sort of password hash that your Android phone could send your router to authenticate besides the password itself.
The world is in shock and anger over recent revelations that NSA and GCHQ are conducting suspiciounless spying on every human with an internet or phone network connection. One of the ways they’re spying on the entire internet is by tapping the underwater fiber-optic cables that connect the continents and parsing and logging the firehose of packets as they fly by.
If we want to keep what we do on the internet private, a good way to do that is to encrypt as much of our internet traffic as possible. End-to-end encryption is hard to do right for end users because identity verification is really, really hard to scale. It’s not practical for everyone who wants to visit an HTTPS website to meet in person and read out SHA1 fingerprints for SSL certs.
Update: KTVU has taken down the story.
Recently I was interviewed about “doxing” by KTVU, a Bay Area news station based in Oakland. Doxing is when someone publishes documents (“dox”) about someone to the internet. It’s usually full of mundane info that can be found in a phone book and with a google search, but sometimes it also contains more sensitive information like the contents of personal emails, lists of passwords, etc.
I found out that the segment aired on TV last night when someone tweeted me asking if I really thought that “swatting” was protected by free speech laws. Swatting, I learned for the first time last night, is when someone dials 911 and reports something like a hostage situation or a terrorist bomb plot at someone else’s address in order to get a SWAT team to bust down their door.
TL;DR: I wrote a piece of software called Tor Browser Launcher that downloads and auto-updates Tor Browser Bundle for you, in your language and for your architecture, and verifies signatures. I’d like help finding bugs before the initial release.
Over the years, Tor Project has done an amazing job at making Tor more user-friendly. In the past if you wanted anonymity you had to download and install Tor, maybe hand-edit your torrc file, and configure your browser to use a proxy server. You had to make sure that you didn’t have browser plugins like Flash or Java enabled that would compromise your anonymity. Eventually, this got easier when you could install the TorButton Firefox add-on, but even then you had to keep manually separate your own identity and your anonymous browsing.
Now all you have to do is head to torproject.org, click the large “Download Tor” button, and then download the Tor Browser Bundle (TBB). Then you extract it (normally to somewhere in your home directory, or to a USB stick) and run start-tor-browser, and wait to connect to the Tor network and for your anonymous browser to pop up with the friendly green “Congratulations. Your browser is configured to use Tor.” page.