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Showing posts from 2015

Why developers should do their own documentation and code samples

I was recently on the Microsoft Developer Network website (aka MSDN) looking at some API documentation. Many of the more popular APIs have code examples so the developer can see example usage rather than have to try to understand every nuance of the API before using it. The particular API that I was looking to use had an example, so I made the unfortunate decision to look at the code. The example was a turd. It wasn't a polished turd. It was just a normal, run-of-the-mill turd. The code had HANDLE leaks, memory leaks, and a bunch of other critical issues. It looked like it was written by a 20 line Norris Number programmer (aka newbie).

Being rather bothered by this, I set out to learn how Microsoft produces its code samples. According to one source I found, the company hands the task off to interns. So, sample code that a whole bunch of other programmers are going to simply copy-pasta into their own code is being written by amateur programmers. Nothing could possibly go…

Let's NOT Encrypt - Critical problems with the new Mozilla-sponsored CA

Starting a new Certificate Authority is a time-consuming, expensive, and difficult task. It is also annoying to set up and maintain SSL/TLS certificates. So I completely understand what Let's Encrypt is trying to do. Their goal? Free, functional SSL/TLS certificates that are easy to create, install/deploy, and even keep up-to-date. What's not to like about that? Well, it turns out there are some serious problems with this up-and-coming Certificate Authority (CA). I'm going to list the issues in order of concern:

Doesn't solve the problems of storing roots in the browser or global trust issues.A U.S.-based company.Browser support/acceptance.Sponsored by Mozilla.Other, publicly traded, corporate sponsors.A brand-new, relatively untested, and complex issuance protocol (ACME).Limited clients (Python bindings only) and no libraries.Linux only. Each of these issues in detail:

For the first issue, even though it is all we have got, SSL/TLS is fundamentally broken. Le…

GitHub commits publicly reveal your private life

GitHub is a great tool. It enables software developers to work together on open source projects. That's pretty awesome. However, it also unfortunately exposes your personal life to the entire world. It is easy to look at the history log of commits for any given GitHub user and identify their an incredibly creepy level.

Using GitHub histories, an attacker can identify when you are probably awake, asleep, at home, and at work. They can also identify habits such as what days of the week you tend to commit code. As well as what days of the week you never commit code. Which days and months you commit the most code and which days and months you do not as well as the frequency of commits. All of that information can be used to derive your physical location in the world, your religion, your favorite sports team(s), and your relationship status with your significant other (if you are on good terms or not, having sex or not, etc). And possibly your hobbies and genera…

Solving "unresolved external symbol ___report_rangecheckfailure" Visual Studio linker errors

Let's say you import a library from Visual Studio 2012 or later into your project in an older version of Visual Studio (e.g. Visual Studio 2008 or Visual Studio 2010) but now get linker errors:

error LNK2019: unresolved external symbol ___report_rangecheckfailure referenced in function ...
error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol ___report_rangecheckfailure ...

Sad day. Especially since you don't really get a say in how that library is being built. Your options are:

Upgrade your version of Visual Studio. That includes going through the whole project upgrade cycle. We know how well that usually goes.Recompile the library yourself. Sad day turns into sad week.Hack it. The function __report_rangecheckfailure() is called when the /GS compiler option is used. The option enabled buffer overflow security cookie checking, which, in this day and age, is a good option to have enabled. Unfortunately, that causes problems with older versions of Visual Studio. Let's take a l…

The Death Master File...a blackhat's dream come true

First, watch this CBS 60 Minutes special on the Social Security Administration's Death Master File:

The ultimate hack, from a blackhat/rogue government perspective, is the one that has significant negative impact on the financial stability of a country one can figure out who is responsible.

The Death Master File meets all of the prerequisite criteria:

Large quantities of data? Check.Has significant financial consequences for anyone who gets into it? Check.Individuals can't readily find out if they are on the file or not? Check.Relatively easy to add anyone to the file? Probably check (e.g. plop some malware on funeral home computers and get remote access to adding entries to the file).Takes years to get off the file? Check.Has recurrent consequences for the rest of the individual's life? Check.No way to track additions back to the original source? Check.The head honcho at the Social Security Administration doesn't really care about "accidental&quo…

How to call select() - the CORRECT way!

There is a TON of broken code out on the Internet with lots of programmers who enter the world of TCP/IP socket development and think they have figured out how to write socket code. They then disseminate their broken code to others who, in turn, disseminate broken code to other people.

One of the most egregious problems plaguing the world of software development today is the use, or abuse, of select(). Today, you are going to contribute to fixing this problem once and for all by reading what I have to say and then ingraining it into your brainz.

There are two types of file descriptors/sockets/what-have-you:

Blocking and non-blocking. Sometimes referred to as synchronous and asynchronous.

If you are using select() on synchronous sockets in your code, you are doing it wrong!

select() is ONLY for asynchronous sockets. Think of it this way: A synchronous socket is you telling the OS that you know the exact order of operations on that socket (e.g. POP3) and are willing to wait until h…

Dear WebSocket, 1980 called and wants its text mode back among other things

This is a mostly tongue-in-cheek response to RFC 6455, which defines the WebSocket protocol, which I recently built a client for and can be found in the Ultimate Web Scraper Toolkit. Certain things annoyed me.

Dear WebSocket,

FTP called (RFC 765, circa 1980) and wants its text mode back. Please return it to the nearest Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) member as soon as possible. You may have shined it up a bit with UTF-8, which was basically designed on a napkin. Of course, Unicode has never had any implementation problems with it whatsoever. Ever.

Your masking key is for clients only and not even being optional for servers defies the core Internet tenet of being liberal with what you accept, strict with what you send. Technically, both are peers and therefore both are clients of each other since you are, after all, bi-directional and the client could easily function as a server after the connection is established. Because this has absolutely never ever been done befor…

SSL verification does NOT prevent MITM server-to-server attacks

Man-in-the-middle, or MITM, is a specific attack whereby an attacker injects themselves into the communication stream between a recipient of a message and the sender of that message. The most common example on the Internet is between a web browser and a web server. I am not disputing the necessity of verification in that example despite being nearly impossible to detect (e.g. generation/issuance of rogue but legitimate-looking certs to law enforcement). Last-hop MITM defense is an essential component of SSL security even though it is nearly impossible to detect rogue certs. However, server-to-server MITM defense is far more dubious.

Let's suppose I am an attacker for a moment and I find a way to inject myself between two servers in your web application (e.g. web server and database server). What is my behavior? Dumb attackers will simply take the low-brow approach and try to access the communication stream in a continual fashion, which seems to be the use-case that's ba…

Portable Apps on a very fresh Windows installation is a bit buggy

I recently reinstalled Windows. Portable Apps shaved off a ton of time during the reinstallation process. It is awesome to return to the DOS days of computing on the modern desktop where each application is self-contained as all applications should be.

However, during my reinstall, running the Portable Apps updater at first resulted in the message, "The downloaded copy of ... is not valid and can not be installed. This could be due to an incomplete download or other network issue. Please try running the updater again when complete." Re-running the updater resulted in the same message. There's something about repeating the same thing again and sanity that could be said here.

I eventually resolved the problem after I realized that I hadn't run Internet Explorer before. So I ran IE for the first time, got through all of the dialog boxes and then shut IE down. After that, the Portable Apps updater worked great. I've always half-figured that IWebBrowser2 wa…

Corel PaintShop Pro X7...still not worth using

I am in the process of finishing up a reinstall of Windows on shiny new hardware. During my adventure, one of the pieces of software I've been needing to upgrade or replace for some time has been Photoshop. I've got CS3 Extended (picked it up for about $300 as an upgrade from 6.0) and, while it serves its purpose, the bugs on newer versions of Windows are incredibly frustrating (even for someone like me who rarely uses it). Adobe Creative Cloud is a non-starter for me for a wide variety of reasons that have already been beaten to death elsewhere on the Internets. I fire up Photoshop about once every 3-4 months, so $120/year is pretty absurd. $1,500+ for CS6 is completely bonkers. Photoshop Elements also doesn't have the feature set I need.

Here is what I depend on in order of most-used:

The color picker in Photoshop. The active response while dragging sliders around and the ability to select specific hue, saturation, and brightness values. The ability to copy and p…

Semi-transparent GIF images

Are you ready to return to the 1980's? neither. But this post will take you back. And your head will hurt thinking about what I've done to the Internet.

Today, I was looking at this logo on the PHP website trying to figure out why it was so distracting:

And then, after digging around for a bit, I realized that the image was larger than it looked:

Then I realized that the browser was resizing the image to the smaller size. And then I realized that the first image looked a bit anti-aliased, which reminded me that a lot of web browsers will use bicubic scaling to resize larger images. I then realized that this behavior could be abused when applied to a 1-bit alpha channel. Such as the 1-bit alpha channels like those found in GIF images.

GIF is one of the oldest image file formats. It was invented in the late 1980's and is still used on the Internet today for some animations. One of the areas it has traditionally been weak in is transparency. PNG has large…

Quick-n-dirty Postfix and Dovecot setup for an internal notification server

Two of my least-favorite open source products are Postfix and anything that interfaces with it. I use Postfix and Dovecot extensively and still find new annoyances with both of them. My major gripe is the lack of a simple package in Ubuntu that simply asks questions and then automatically does stuff based on the answers to set up a working mail server.

The objective of this post is to show a simple setup of Postfix and Dovecot for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS to enable command-line scripts on a box on a local network to send e-mail to itself and then retrieve those e-mails over POP3 using a normal e-mail client. This is NOT a full-blown e-mail server setup. It is a notification message drop with POP3 access. The e-mail client will only be able to retrieve e-mails from the box (not send them), which completely eliminates the possibility of the box accidentally turning into a remote mail relay.

First, install Postfix and Dovecot:

sudo apt-get install postfix sudo apt-get install dovecot-pop3…

Do code overviews NOT code reviews!

Programmers dread the "code review". This is where the programmer sits down with his or her peers and their peers bash their fellow programmer's code - and, in not so many words, tell the programmer that they are a terrible person. The code review is about ego boosting/ego crushing disguised as a quality assurance practice. Well, that's what happens in a lot of code reviews and, when it happens, it is a form of bullying. The word "review" implies that the code is being judged:

Review: "a formal assessment or examination of something with the possibility or intention of instituting change if necessary."

Judged: "form an opinion or conclusion about" or "give a verdict on someone."

Also, the code review involves not only judgment but the peers are the jury and executioner in some sort of twisted intervention:

Intervention: "an occasion on which a person with an addiction or other behavioral problem is confronted by…