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OSS Leftovers

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  • Why isn't open source hot among computer science students?

    The technical savvy and inventive energy of young programmers is alive and well.

    This was clear from the diligent work that I witnessed while participating in this year’s PennApps, the nation’s largest college hackathon. Over the course of 48 hours, my high school- and college-age peers created projects ranging from a blink-based communication device for shut-in patients to a burrito maker with IoT connectivity. The spirit of open source was tangible throughout the event, as diverse groups bonded over a mutual desire to build, the free flow of ideas and tech know-how, fearless experimentation and rapid prototyping, and an overwhelming eagerness to participate.

    Why then, I wondered, wasn’t open source a hot topic among my tech geek peers?

    To learn more about what college students think when they hear "open source," I surveyed several college students who are members of the same professional computer science organization I belong to. All members of this community must apply during high school or college and are selected based on their computer science-specific achievements and leadership—whether that means leading a school robotics team, founding a nonprofit to bring coding into insufficiently funded classrooms, or some other worthy endeavor. Given these individuals’ accomplishments in computer science, I thought that their perspectives would help in understanding what young programmers find appealing (or unappealing) about open source projects.

  • Blue Brain Nexus: An open-source knowledge graph for data-driven science

    EPFL's Blue Brain Project today announces the release of its open source software project 'Blue Brain Nexus', designed to enable the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) data management principles for the Neuroscience and broader scientific community. It is part of EPFL's open-science initiative, which seeks to maximize the reach and impact of research conducted at the school.

    The aim of the Blue Brain Project is to build accurate, biologically detailed, digital reconstructions and simulations of the rodent brain and, ultimately the human brain. Blue Brain Nexus is instrumental in supporting all stages of Blue Brain's data-driven modelling cycle including, but not limited to experimental data, single cell models, circuits, simulations and validations. The brain is a complex multi-level system and is one of the biggest 'Big Data' problems we have today. Therefore, Blue Brain Nexus has been built to organize, store and process exceptionally large volumes of data and support usage by a broad number of users.

  • Devery.io – a Blockchain Powered, Open-Source, Product Verification Protocol

    Devery.io are developing the Devery Protocol, aiming to provide a decentralized verification platform enabling the marking and tracking of items over the Ethereum blockchain.

  • What the Haven app shows us about the value of Open Source

    Christmas may have come a few days early this past December for security advocates with the introduction of the Haven app, bringing with it a fair amount of excitement, criticism, and an excellent opportunity to explore some of the less often discussed aspects of working with open source.

    For those who have been off of Twitter since the coverage started since Friday, the Haven app has been proposed as a solution for protecting your physical space from surveillance (or worse). Built for Android by the good folks over at the Guardian Project, the makers of great anonymity apps that help protect their users from surveillance, the app makes use of the phone’s sensors to detect intruders that might attempt to creep on your personal space.

  • Jet Villegas: Turning a Corner in the New Year

    2017 was quite a year beyond the socio-economic, geo-political, and bizarre. I, and many of my colleagues did what we could: find solace in work. I’ve often found that in uncertain times, making forward progress on difficult technical projects provides just enough incentive to continue for a bit longer. With the successful release of Firefox 57, I’m again optimistic about the future for the technical work. The Firefox Layout Engine team has a lot to be proud of in the 57 version. The winning combination was shipping big-ticket investments, and grinding down on many very difficult bugs. Plan “A” all the way!

  • Facebook has open-sourced encrypted group chat

    Facebook has responded to governments' criticism of cryptography by giving the world an open source encrypted group chat tool.

    It's hardly likely to endear the ad-farm to people like FBI Director Christopher Wray, who yesterday told an international infosec conference it was “ridiculous” that the Feds have seized nearly 8,000 phones they can't access. UK prime minister Theresa May has also called for backdoors in messaging services and for social networks to stop offering "safe spaces" for extremists.

  • Open source code recycling: Know your software supply chain

    GNU/Linux was able to fill this gap, truly reshaping software design and development. Rather than writing and updating proprietary, foundational code, various developers working at varying companies or on their own could use and enhance the basic software building blocks, thereby focusing the majority of their resources on higher stack-level innovations.

    And, it worked.

More in Tux Machines

Security: OpenSSL, IoT, and LWN Coverage of 'Intelpocalypse'

  • Another Face to Face: Email Changes and Crypto Policy
    The OpenSSL OMC met last month for a two-day face-to-face meeting in London, and like previous F2F meetings, most of the team was present and we addressed a great many issues. This blog posts talks about some of them, and most of the others will get their own blog posts, or notices, later. Red Hat graciously hosted us for the two days, and both Red Hat and Cryptsoft covered the costs of their employees who attended. One of the overall threads of the meeting was about increasing the transparency of the project. By default, everything should be done in public. We decided to try some major changes to email and such.
  • Some Basic Rules for Securing Your IoT Stuff

    Throughout 2016 and 2017, attacks from massive botnets made up entirely of hacked [sic] IoT devices had many experts warning of a dire outlook for Internet security. But the future of IoT doesn’t have to be so bleak. Here’s a primer on minimizing the chances that your IoT things become a security liability for you or for the Internet at large.

  • A look at the handling of Meltdown and Spectre
    The Meltdown/Spectre debacle has, deservedly, reached the mainstream press and, likely, most of the public that has even a remote interest in computers and security. It only took a day or so from the accelerated disclosure date of January 3—it was originally scheduled for January 9—before the bugs were making big headlines. But Spectre has been known for at least six months and Meltdown for nearly as long—at least to some in the industry. Others that were affected were completely blindsided by the announcements and have joined the scramble to mitigate these hardware bugs before they bite users. Whatever else can be said about Meltdown and Spectre, the handling (or, in truth, mishandling) of this whole incident has been a horrific failure. For those just tuning in, Meltdown and Spectre are two types of hardware bugs that affect most modern CPUs. They allow attackers to cause the CPU to do speculative execution of code, while timing memory accesses to deduce what has or has not been cached, to disclose the contents of memory. These disclosures can span various security boundaries such as between user space and the kernel or between guest operating systems running in virtual machines. For more information, see the LWN article on the flaws and the blog post by Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton that well describes modern CPU architectures and speculative execution to explain why the Raspberry Pi is not affected.
  • Addressing Meltdown and Spectre in the kernel
    When the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities were disclosed on January 3, attention quickly turned to mitigations. There was already a clear defense against Meltdown in the form of kernel page-table isolation (KPTI), but the defenses against the two Spectre variants had not been developed in public and still do not exist in the mainline kernel. Initial versions of proposed defenses have now been disclosed. The resulting picture shows what has been done to fend off Spectre-based attacks in the near future, but the situation remains chaotic, to put it lightly. First, a couple of notes with regard to Meltdown. KPTI has been merged for the 4.15 release, followed by a steady trickle of fixes that is undoubtedly not yet finished. The X86_BUG_CPU_INSECURE processor bit is being renamed to X86_BUG_CPU_MELTDOWN now that the details are public; there will be bug flags for the other two variants added in the near future. 4.9.75 and 4.4.110 have been released with their own KPTI variants. The older kernels do not have mainline KPTI, though; instead, they have a backport of the older KAISER patches that more closely matches what distributors shipped. Those backports have not fully stabilized yet either. KPTI patches for ARM are circulating, but have not yet been merged.
  • Is it time for open processors?
    The disclosure of the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities has brought a new level of attention to the security bugs that can lurk at the hardware level. Massive amounts of work have gone into improving the (still poor) security of our software, but all of that is in vain if the hardware gives away the game. The CPUs that we run in our systems are highly proprietary and have been shown to contain unpleasant surprises (the Intel management engine, for example). It is thus natural to wonder whether it is time to make a move to open-source hardware, much like we have done with our software. Such a move may well be possible, and it would certainly offer some benefits, but it would be no panacea. Given the complexity of modern CPUs and the fierceness of the market in which they are sold, it might be surprising to think that they could be developed in an open manner. But there are serious initiatives working in this area; the idea of an open CPU design is not pure fantasy. A quick look around turns up several efforts; the following list is necessarily incomplete.
  • Notes from the Intelpocalypse
    Rumors of an undisclosed CPU security issue have been circulating since before LWN first covered the kernel page-table isolation patch set in November 2017. Now, finally, the information is out — and the problem is even worse than had been expected. Read on for a summary of these issues and what has to be done to respond to them in the kernel. All three disclosed vulnerabilities take advantage of the CPU's speculative execution mechanism. In a simple view, a CPU is a deterministic machine executing a set of instructions in sequence in a predictable manner. Real-world CPUs are more complex, and that complexity has opened the door to some unpleasant attacks. A CPU is typically working on the execution of multiple instructions at once, for performance reasons. Executing instructions in parallel allows the processor to keep more of its subunits busy at once, which speeds things up. But parallel execution is also driven by the slowness of access to main memory. A cache miss requiring a fetch from RAM can stall the execution of an instruction for hundreds of processor cycles, with a clear impact on performance. To minimize the amount of time it spends waiting for data, the CPU will, to the extent it can, execute instructions after the stalled one, essentially reordering the code in the program. That reordering is often invisible, but it occasionally leads to the sort of fun that caused Documentation/memory-barriers.txt to be written.

US Sanctions Against Chinese Android Phones, LWN Report on Eelo

  • A new bill would ban the US government from using Huawei and ZTE phones
    US lawmakers have long worried about the security risks posed the alleged ties between Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE and the country’s government. To that end, Texas Representative Mike Conaway introduced a bill last week called Defending U.S. Government Communications Act, which aims to ban US government agencies from using phones and equipment from the companies. Conaway’s bill would prohibit the US government from purchasing and using “telecommunications equipment and/or services,” from Huawei and ZTE. In a statement on his site, he says that technology coming from the country poses a threat to national security, and that use of this equipment “would be inviting Chinese surveillance into all aspects of our lives,” and cites US Intelligence and counterintelligence officials who say that Huawei has shared information with state leaders, and that the its business in the US is growing, representing a further security risk.
  • U.S. lawmakers urge AT&T to cut commercial ties with Huawei - sources
    U.S. lawmakers are urging AT&T Inc, the No. 2 wireless carrier, to cut commercial ties to Chinese phone maker Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and oppose plans by telecom operator China Mobile Ltd to enter the U.S. market because of national security concerns, two congressional aides said. The warning comes after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump took a harder line on policies initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama on issues ranging from Beijing’s role in restraining North Korea to Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. strategic industries. Earlier this month, AT&T was forced to scrap a plan to offer its customers Huawei [HWT.UL] handsets after some members of Congress lobbied against the idea with federal regulators, sources told Reuters.
  • Eelo seeks to make a privacy-focused phone
    A focus on privacy is a key feature being touted by a number of different projects these days—from KDE to Tails to Nextcloud. One of the biggest privacy leaks for most people is their phone, so it is no surprise that there are projects looking to address that as well. A new entrant in that category is eelo, which is a non-profit project aimed at producing not only a phone, but also a suite of web services. All of that could potentially replace the Google or Apple mothership, which tend to collect as much personal data as possible.

today's howtos

Mozilla: Resource Hogs, Privacy Month, Firefox Census, These Weeks in Firefox

  • Firefox Quantum Eats RAM Like Chrome
    For a long time, Mozilla’s Firefox has been my web browser of choice. I have always preferred it to using Google’s Chrome, because of its simplicity and reasonable system resource (especially RAM) usage. On many Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint and many others, Firefox even comes installed by default. Recently, Mozilla released a new, powerful and faster version of Firefox called Quantum. And according to the developers, it’s new with a “powerful engine that’s built for rapid-fire performance, better, faster page loading that uses less computer memory.”
  • Mozilla Communities Speaker Series #PrivacyMonth
    As a part of the Privacy Month initiative, Mozilla volunteers are hosting a couple of speaker series webinars on Privacy, Security and related topics. The webinars will see renowned speakers talking to us about their work around privacy, how to take control of your digital self, some privacy-security tips and much more.
  • “Ewoks or Porgs?” and Other Important Questions
    You ever go to a party where you decide to ask people REAL questions about themselves, rather than just boring chit chat? Us, too! That’s why we’ve included questions that really hone in on the important stuff in our 2nd Annual Firefox Census.
  • These Weeks in Firefox: Issue 30