Category Archives: Linux

General Linux and Open Source related blog posts

Using Elliptic Curve Cryptography with TPM2

One of the most significant advances going from TPM1.2 to TPM2 was the addition of algorithm agility: The ability of TPM2 to work with arbitrary symmetric and asymmetric encryption schemes.  In practice, in spite of this much vaunted agile encryption capability, most actual TPM2 chips I’ve seen only support a small number of asymmetric encryption schemes, usually RSA2048 and a couple of Elliptic Curves.  However, the ability to support any Elliptic Curve at all is a step up from TPM1.2.  This blog post will detail how elliptic curve schemes can be integrated into existing cryptographic systems using TPM2.  However, before we start on the practice, we need at least a tiny swing through the theory of Elliptic Curves.

What is an Elliptic Curve?

An Elliptic Curve (EC) is simply the set of points that lie on the curve in the two dimensional plane (x,y) defined by the equation

y2 = x3 + ax + b

which means that every elliptic curve can be parametrised by two constants a and b.  The set of all points lying on the curve plus a point at infinity is combined with an addition operation to produce an abelian (commutative) group.  The addition property is defined by drawing straight lines between two points and seeing where they intersect the curve (or picking the infinity point if they don’t intersect).  Wikipedia has a nice diagrammatic description of this here.  The infinity point acts as the identity of the addition rule and the whole group is denoted E.

The utility for cryptography is that you can define an integer multiplier operation which is simply the element added to itself n times, so for P ∈ E, you can always find Q ∈ E such that

Q = P + P + P … = n × P

And, since it’s a simple multiplication like operation, it’s very easy to compute Q.  However, given P and Q it is computationally very difficult to get back to n.  In fact, it can be demonstrated mathematically that trying to compute n is equivalent to the discrete logarithm problem which is the mathematical basis for the cryptographic security of RSA.  This also means that EC keys suffer the same (actually more so) problems as RSA keys: they’re not Quantum Computing secure (vulnerable to the Quantum Shor’s algorithm) and they would be instantly compromised if the discrete logarithm problem were ever solved.

Therefore, for any elliptic curve, E, you can choose a known point G ∈ E, select a large integer d and you can compute a point P = d × G.  You can then publish (P, G, E) as your public key knowing it’s computationally infeasible for anyone to derive your private key d.

For instance, Diffie-Hellman key exchange can be done by agreeing (E, G) and getting Alice and Bob to select private keys dA, dB.  Then knowing Bob’s public key PB, Alice can select a random integer r, which she publishes, and compute a key agreement as a secret point on the Elliptic Curve (r dA) × PB.  Bob can derive the same Elliptic Curve point because

(r dA) × PB = (r dA)dB × G = (r dB) dA × G = (r dB) × PA

The agreement is a point on the curve, but you can use an agreed hashing or other mechanism to get from the point to a symmetric key.

Seems simple, but the problem for computing is that we really want to use integers and right at the moment the elliptic curve is defined over all the real numbers, meaning E is of infinite size and involves floating point computations (of rather large precision).

Elliptic Curves over Finite Fields

Fortunately there is a mathematical theory of finite fields, called Galois Theory, which allows us to take the Galois Field over prime number p, which is denoted GF(p), and compute Elliptic Curve points over this field.  This derivation, which is mathematically rather complicated, is denoted E(GF(p)), where every point (x,y) is represented by a pair of integers between 0 and p-1.  There is another theory that says the number of elements in E(GF(p))

n = |E(GF(p))|

is roughly the same size as p, meaning if you choose a 32 bit prime p, you likely have a field over roughly 2^32 elements.  For every point P in E(GF(p)) it is also mathematically proveable that n × P = 0. where 0 is the zero point (which was the infinity point in the real elliptic curve).

This means that you can take any point, G,  in E(GF(p)) and compute a subgroup based on it:

EG = { ∀m ∈ Zn : m × G }

If you’re lucky |EG| = |E(GF(p))| and G is the generator of the entire group.  However, G may only generate a subgroup and you will find |EG| = h|E(GF(p))| where integer h is called the cofactor.  In general you want the cofactor to be small (preferably less than four) for EG to be cryptographically useful.

For a computer’s purposes, EG is the elliptic curve group used for integer arithmetic in the cryptographic algorithms.  The Curve and Generator is then defined by (p, a, b, Gx, Gy, n, h) which are the published parameters of the key (Gx, Gy represent the x and y elements of point G).  You select a random number d as your private key and your public key P = d × G exactly as above, except now P is easy to compute with integer operations.

Problems with Elliptic Curves

Although I stated above that solving P = d × G is equivalent in difficulty to the discrete logarithm problem, that’s not generally true.  If the discrete logarithm problem were solved, then we’d easily be able to compute d for every generator and curve, but it is possible to pick curves for which d can be easily computed without solving the discrete logarithm problem. This is the reason why you should never pick your own curve parameters (even if you think you know what you’re doing) because it’s very easy to choose a compromised curve.  As a demonstration of the difficulty of the problem: each of the major nation state actors, Russia, China and the US, publishes their own curve parameters for use in their own cryptographic EC implementations and each of them thinks the parameters published by the others is compromised in a way that allows the respective national security agencies to derive private keys.  So if nation state actors can’t tell if a curve is compromised or not, you surely won’t be able to either.

Therefore, to be secure in EC cryptography, you pick and existing curve which has been vetted and select some random Generator Point on it.  Of course, if you’re paranoid, that means you won’t be using any of the nation state supplied curves …

Using the TPM2 with Elliptic Curves in Cryptosystems

The initial target for this work was the openssl cryptosystem whose libraries are widely used for deriving other uses (like https in apache or openssh). Originally, when I did the initial TPM2 enabling of openssl as described in this blog post, I added TPM2 as a patch to the existing TPM 1.2 openssl_tpm_engine.  Unfortunately, openssl_tpm_engine seems to be pretty much defunct at this point, so I started my own openssl_tpm2_engine as a separate git tree to begin experimenting with Elliptic Curve keys (if you don’t use git, you can download the tar file here). One of the benefits to running my own source tree is that I can now add a testing infrastructure that makes use of the IBM TPM emulator to make sure that the basic cryptographic operations all work which means that make check functions even when a TPM2 isn’t available.  The current key creation and import algorithms use secured connections to the TPM (to avoid eavesdropping) which means it’s only really possible to construct them using the IBM TSS. To make all of this easier, I’ve set up an openSUSE Build Service repository which is building for all major architectures and the openSUSE and Fedora distributions (ignore the failures, they’re currently induced because the TPM emulator only currently works on 64 bit little endian systems, so make check is failing, but the TPM people at IBM are working on this, so eventually the builds should be complete).

TPM2 itself also has some annoying restrictions.  The biggest of which is that it doesn’t allow you to pass in arbitrary elliptic curve parameters; you may only use elliptic curves which the TPM itself knows.  This will be annoying if you have an existing EC key you’re trying to import because the TPM may reject it as an unknown algorithm.  For instance, openssl can actually compute with arbitrary EC parameters, but has 39 current elliptic curves parametrised by name. By contrast, my Nuvoton TPM2 inside my Dell XPS 13 knows precisely two curves:

jejb@jarvis:~> create_tpm2_key --list-curves
prime256v1
bnp256

However, assuming you’ve picked a compatible curve for your EC private key (and you’ve defined a parent key for the storage hierarchy) you can simply import it to a TPM bound key:

create_tpm2_key -p 81000001 -w key.priv key.tpm

The tool will report an error if it can’t convert the curve parameters to a named elliptic curve known to the TPM

jejb@jarvis:~> openssl genpkey -algorithm EC -pkeyopt ec_paramgen_curve:brainpoolP256r1 > key.priv
jejb@jarvis:~> create_tpm2_key -p 81000001 -w key.priv key.tpm
TPM does not support the curve in this EC key
openssl_to_tpm_public failed with 166
TPM_RC_CURVE - curve not supported Handle number unspecified

You can also create TPM resident private keys simply by specifying the algorithm

create_tpm2_key -p 81000001 --ecc bnp256 key.tpm

Once you have your TPM based EC keys, you can use them to create public keys and certificates.  For instance, you create a self-signed X509 certificate based on the tpm key by

openssl req -new -x509 -sha256  -key key.tpm -engine tpm2 -keyform engine -out my.crt

Why you should use EC keys with the TPM

The initial attraction is the same as for RSA keys: making it impossible to extract your private key from the system.  However, the mathematical calculations for EC keys are much simpler than for RSA keys and don’t involve finding strong primes, so it’s much simpler for the TPM (being a fairly weak calculation machine) to derive private and public EC keys.  For instance the times taken to derive a RSA key from the primary seed and an EC key differ dramatically

jejb@jarvis:~> time tsscreateprimary -hi o -ecc bnp256 -st
Handle 80ffffff

real 0m0.111s
user 0m0.000s
sys 0m0.014s

jejb@jarvis:~> time tsscreateprimary -hi o -rsa -st
Handle 80ffffff

real 0m20.473s
user 0m0.015s
sys 0m0.084s

so for a slow system like the TPM, using EC keys is a significant speed advantage.  Additionally, there are other advantages.  The standard EC Key signature algorithm is a modification of the NIST Digital Signature Algorithm called ECDSA.  However DSA and ECDSA require a cryptographically strong (and secret) random number as Sony found out to their cost in the EC Key compromise of Playstation 3.  The TPM is a good source of cryptographically strong random numbers and if it generates the signature internally, you can be absolutely sure of keeping the input random number secret.

Why you might want to avoid EC keys altogether

In spite of the many advantages described above, EC keys suffer one additional disadvantage over RSA keys in that Elliptic Curves in general are very hot fields of mathematical research so even if the curve you use today is genuinely not compromised, it’s not impossible that a mathematical advance tomorrow will make the curve you chose (and thus all the private keys you generated) vulnerable.  Of course, the same goes for RSA if anyone ever cracks the discrete logarithm problem, but solving that problem would likely be fully published to world acclaim and recognition as a significant contribution to the advancement of number theory.  Discovering an attack on a currently used elliptic curve on the other hand might be better remunerated by offering to sell it privately to one of the national security agencies …

TPM2 and Linux

Recently Microsoft started mandating TPM2 as a hardware requirement for all platforms running recent versions of windows.  This means that eventually all shipping systems (starting with laptops first) will have a TPM2 chip.  The reason this impacts Linux is that TPM2 is radically different from its predecessor TPM1.2; so different, in fact, that none of the existing TPM1.2 software on Linux (trousers, the libtpm.so plug in for openssl, even my gnome keyring enhancements) will work with TPM2.  The purpose of this blog is to explore the differences and how we can make ready for the transition.

What are the Main 1.2 vs 2.0 Differences?

The big one is termed Algorithm Agility.  TPM1.2 had SHA1 and RSA2048 only.  TPM2 is designed to have many possible algorithms, including support for elliptic curve and a host of government mandated (Russian and Chinese) crypto systems.  There’s no requirement for any shipping TPM2 to support any particular algorithms, so you actually have to ask your TPM what it supports.  The bedrock for TPM2 in the West seems to be RSA1024-2048, ECC and AES for crypto and SHA1 and SHA256 for hashes1.

What algorithm agility means is that you can no longer have root keys (EK and SRK see here for details) like TPM1.2 did, because a key requires a specific crypto algorithm.  Instead TPM2 has primary “seeds” and a Key Derivation Function (KDF).  The way this works is that a seed is simply a long string of random numbers, but it is used as input to the KDF along with the key parameters and the algorithm and out pops a real key based on the seed.  The KDF is deterministic, so if you input the same algorithm and the same parameters you get the same key again.  There are four primary seeds in the TPM2: Three permanent ones which only change when the TPM2 is cleared: endorsement (EPS), Platform (PPS) and Storage (SPS).  There’s also a Null seed, which is used for ephemeral keys and changes every reboot.  A key derived from the SPS can be regarded as the SRK and a key derived from the EPS can be regarded as the EK. Objects descending from these keys are called members of hierarchies2. One of the interesting aspects of the TPM is that the root of a hierarchy is a key not a seed (because you need to exchange secret information with the TPM), and that there can be multiple of these roots with different key algorithms and parameters.

Additionally, the mechanism for making use of keys has changed slightly.  In TPM 1.2 to import a secret key you wrapped it asymmetrically to the SRK and then called LoadKeyByBlob to get a use handle.  In TPM2 this is a two stage operation, firstly you import a wrapped (or otherwise protected) private key with TPM2_Import, but that returns a private key structure encrypted with the parent key’s internal symmetric key.  This symmetrically encrypted key is then loaded (using TPM2_Load) to obtain a use handle whenever needed.  The philosophical change is from online keys in TPM 1.2 (keys which were resident inside the TPM) to offline keys in TPM2 (keys which now can be loaded when needed).  This philosophy has been reinforced by reducing the space available to keep keys loaded in TPM2 (see later).

Playing with TPM2

If you have a recent laptop, chances are you either have or can software upgrade to a TPM2.  I have a dell XPS13 the skylake version which comes with a software upgradeable Nuvoton TPM.  Dell kindly provides a 1.2->2 switching program here, which seems to work under Freedos (odin boot) so I have a physical TPM2 based system.  For those of you who aren’t so lucky, you can still play along, but you need a TPM2 emulator.  The best one is here; simply download and untar it then type make in the src directory and run it as ./tpm_server.  It listens on two TCP ports, 2321 and 2322, for TPM commands so there’s no need to install it anywhere, it can be run directly from the source directory.

After that, you need the interface software called tss2.  The source is here, but Fedora 25 and recent Ubuntu already package it.  I’ve also built openSUSE packages here.  The configuration of tss2 is controlled by environment variables.  The most important one is TPM_INTERFACE_TYPE which tells it how to connect to the TPM2.  If you’re using a simulator, you set this to “socsim” and if you have a real TPM2 device you set it to “dev”.  One final thing about direct device connection: in tss2 there’s no daemon like trousers had to broker the connection, all your users connect directly to the TPM2 device /dev/tpm0.  To do this, the device has to support read and write by arbitrary users, so its permissions need to be 0666.  I’ve got a udev script to achieve this

# tpm 2 devices need to be world readable
SUBSYSTEM=="tpm", ACTION=="add", MODE="0666"

Which goes in /etc/udev/rules.d/80-tpm-2.rules on openSUSE.  The next thing you need to do, if you’re running the simulator, is power it on and start it up (for a real device, this is done by the bios):

tsspowerup
tssstartup

The simulator will now create a NVChip file wherever you started it to store NV ram based objects, which it will read on next start up.  The first thing you need to do is create an SRK and store it in NV memory.  Microsoft uses the well known key handle 81000001 for this, so we’ll do the same.  The reason for doing this is that a real TPM takes ages to run the KDF for RSA keys because it has to look for prime numbers:

jejb@jarvis:~> TPM_INTERFACE_TYPE=socsim time tsscreateprimary -hi o -st -rsa
Handle 80000000
0.03 user 0.00 system 0:00.06 elapsed

jejb@jarvis:~> TPM_INTERFACE_TYPE=dev time tsscreateprimary -hi o -st -rsa
Handle 80000000
0.04 user 0.00 system 0:20.51 elapsed

As you can see: the simulator created a primary storage key (the SRK) in a few milliseconds, but it took my real TPM2 20 seconds to do it3 … not something you want to wait for, hence the need to store this permanently under a well known key handle and get rid of the temporary copy

tssevictcontrol -hi o -ho 80000000 -hp 81000001
tssflushcontext -ha 80000000

tssevictcontrol tells the TPM to copy the key at transient handle 800000004  to permanent NV handle 81000001 and tssflushcontext erases the transient key.  Flushing transient objects is very important, because TPM2 has a lot less transient storage space than TPM1.2 did; usually only about three handles worth.  You can tell how much you have by doing

tssgetcapability -cap 6|grep -i transient
TPM_PT 0000010e value 00000003 TPM_PT_HR_TRANSIENT_MIN - the minimum number of transient objects that can be held in TPM RAM

Where the value (00000003) tells me that the TPM can store at least 3 transient objects.  After that you’ll start getting out of space errors from it.

The final step in taking ownership of a TPM2 is to set the authorization passwords.  Each of the four hierarchies (Null, Owner, Endorsement, Platform) and the Lockout has a possible authority password.  The Platform authority is cleared on startup, so there’s not much point setting it (it’s used by the BIOS or Firmware to perform TPM functions).  Of the other four, you really only need to set Owner, Endorsement and Lockout (I use the same password for all of them).

tsshierarchychangeauth -hi l -pwdn <your password>
tsshierarchychangeauth -hi e -pwdn <your password>
tsshierarchychangeauth -hi o -pwdn <your password>

After this is done, you’re all set.  Note that as well as these authorizations, each object can have its own authorization (or even policy), so the SRK you created earlier still has no password, allowing it to be used by anyone.  Note also that the owner authorization controls access to the NV memory, so you’ll need to supply it now to make other objects persistent.

An Aside about Real TPM2 devices and the Resource Manager

Although I’m using the code below to store my keys in the TPM2, there’s a couple of practical limitations which means it won’t work for you if you have multiple TPM2 using applications without a kernel update.  The two problems are

  1. The Linux Kernel TPM2 device /dev/tpm0 only allows one user at once.  If a second application tries to open the device it will get an EBUSY which causes TSS_Create() to fail.
  2. Because most applications make use of transient key slots and most TPM2s have only a couple of these, simultaneous users can end up running out of these and getting unexpected out of space errors.

The solution to both of these is something called a Resource Manager (RM).  What the RM does is effectively swap transient objects in and out of the TPM as needed to prevent it from running out of space.  Linux has an issue in that both the kernel and userspace are potential users of TPM keys so the resource manager has to live inside the kernel.  Jarkko Sakkinen has preliminary resource manager patches here, and they will likely make it into kernel 4.11 or 4.12.  I’m currently running my laptop with the RM patches applied, so multiple applications work for me, but since these are preliminary patches, I wouldn’t currently advise others to do this.  The way these patches work is that once you declare to the kernel via an ioctl that you want to use the RM, every time you send a command to the TPM, your context gets swapped in, the command is executed, the context is swapped out and the response sent meaning that no other user of the TPM sees your transient objects.  The moment you send the ioctl, the TPM device allows another user to open it as well.

Using TPM2 as a keystore

Once the implementation is sorted out, openssl and gnome-keyring patches can be produced for TPM2.  The only slight wrinkle is that for create_tpm2_key you require a parent key to exist in the NV storage (at the 81000001 handle we talked about previously).  So to convert from a password protected openssh RSA key to a TPM2 based one, you do

create_tpm2_key -a -p 81000001 -w id_rsa id_rsa.tpm
mv id_rsa.tpm id_rsa

And then gnome keyring manager will work nicely (make sure you keep a copy of your original private key in case you want to move to a new laptop or reseed the TPM2).  If you use the same TPM2 password as your original key password, you won’t even need to update the gnome loginkeyring for the new password.

Conclusions

Because of the lack of an in-kernel Resource Manager, TPM2 is ready for experimentation in Linux but definitely not ready for prime time yet (unless you’re willing to patch your kernel).  Hopefully this will change in the 4.11 or 4.12 kernel when the Resource Manager finally goes upstream5.

Looking forwards to the new stack, the lack of a central daemon is really a nice feature: tcsd crashing used to kill all of my TPM key based applications, but with tss2 having no central daemon, everything has just worked(tm) so far.  A kernel based RM also means that the kernel can happily use the TPM (for its trusted keys and disk encryption) without interfering with whatever userspace is doing.

TPM enabling gnome-keyring

One of the questions about the previous post on using your TPM as a secure key store was “could the TPM be used to protect ssh keys?”  The answer is yes, because openssh uses openssl (so you can simply convert an openssh private key to a TPM private key) but the ssh-agent wouldn’t work because ssh-add passes in the private keys by their component primes, which is not possible when the private key is guarded by the TPM.  However,  that made me actually look at gnome-keyring to figure out how it worked and whether it could be used with the TPM.  The answer is yes, but there are also some interesting side effects of TPM enabling gnome-keyring.

Gnome-keyring Architecture

Gnome-keyring consists of essentially three components: a pluggable store backend, a secure passphrase holder (which is implemented as a backend store) and an agent frontend.  The frontend and backend talk to each other using the pkcs11 protocol.  This also means that the backend can serve anything that also speaks pkcs11, which most encryption systems do.  The stores consist of a variety of file or directory backed keys (for instance the ssh-store simply loads all the ssh keys in your $HOME/.ssh; the secret-store uses the gnome default keyring store, $HOME/.local/shared/keyring/,  to store collections of passwords)  The frontends act as bridges between a variety of external protocols and the keyring daemon.  They take whatever external protocol they’re speaking in, convert the request to pkcs11 and query the backends for the information.  The most important frontend is the login one which is called by gnome-keyring-daemon at start of day to unlock the secret-store which contains all your other key passwords using your login password as the key.  The ssh-agent frontend speaks the ssh agent protocol and converts key and signing requests to pkcs11 which is mostly served by the ssh-store.  The gpg-agent store speaks a very cut down version of the gpg agent protocol: basically all it does is allow you to store gpg key passwords in the secret-store; it doesn’t do any cryptographic operations.

Pkcs11 Essentials

Pkcs11 is a highly complex protocol designed for opening sessions which query or operate on tokens, which roughly speaking represent a bundle of objects (If you have a USB crypto key, that’s usually represented as a token and your stored keys as objects).  There is some intermediate stuff about slots, but that mostly applies to tokens which may be offline and need insertion, which isn’t relevant to the gnome keyring.  The objects may have several levels of visibility, but the most common is public (always visible) and private (must be logged in to the token to see them).  Objects themselves have a variety of attributes, some of which depend on what type of object they are and some of which are universal (like id and label).  For instance, an object representing an RSA public key would have the public exponent and the public modulus as queryable attributes.

The pkcs11 protocol also has a reasonably comprehensive object finding protocol.  An arbitrary list of attributes and values can be passed to the query and it will return all objects that fully match.  The token identifier is a query attribute which may be present but doesn’t have to be, so if you omit it, you end up searching over every token the pkcs11 subsystem knows about.

The other operation that pkcs11 understands is logging into a token with a pin (which is pkcs11 speak for a passphrase).  The pin doesn’t have to be supplied by the entity performing the login, it may be supplied to the token via an out of band mechanism (for instance the little button on the yukikey, or even a real keypad).  The important thing for gnome keyring here is that logging into a token may be as simple as sending the login command and letting the token sort out the authorization, which is the way gnome keyring operates.

You also need to understand is conventions about searching for keys.  The pkcs11 standard recommends (but does not require) that public and private key pairs, which exist as two separate objects, should have the same id attribute.  This means that if you want to find an rsa private key, the way you do this is by searching the public objects for the exponent and modulus.  Once this is returned, you log into the token and retrieve the private key object by the public key id.

The final thing to understand is that once you have the private key object, it merely acts as an entitlement to have the token perform certain private key operations for you (like encryption, decryption or signing); it doesn’t mean you have access to the private key itself.

Gnome Keyring handling of ssh keys

Once the ssh-agent side of gnome keyring receives a challenge, it must respond by returning the private key signature of the challenge.  To do this, it searches the pkcs11 for the key used for the challenge (for RSA keys, it searches by modulus and exponent, for DSA keys it searches by signature primes, etc).  One interesting point to note is the search isn’t limited to the gnome keyring ssh token store, so if the key is found anywhere, in any pkcs11 token, it will be used.  The expectation is that they key id attribute will be the ssh fingerprint and the key label attribute will be the ssh comment, but these aren’t used in the actual search.  Once the public key is found, the agent logs into the token, retrieves the private key by label and id and proceeds to get the private key to sign the challenge.

Adding TPM key handling to the ssh store

Gnome keyring is based on GNU libgcrypt which handles all cryptographic objects via s-expressions (which are basically lisp like strings).  Gcrypt itself doesn’t seem to have an s-expression for a token, so the actual signing will be done inside the keyring code.  The s-expression I chose to represent a TPM based private key is

(private-key
  (rsa
    (tpm
      (blob <binary key blob>)
      (auth <authoriztion>))))

The rsa is necessary for it to be recognised for RSA signatures.  Now the ssh-store is modified to recognise the PEM guards for TPM keys, load the key blob up into the s-expression and ask the secret-store for the authorization passphrase which is also loaded.  In theory, it might be safer to ask the secret store for the authorization at key use time, but this method mirrors what happens to private keys, which are decrypted at load time and stored as s-expressions containing the component primes.

Now the RSA signing code is hooked to check for TPM s-expressions and divert the signature to the TPM if they’re found.  Once this is done, gnome keyring is fully enabled for TPM based ssh keys.  The initial email thread about this is here, and an openSUSE build repository of the modified code is here.

One important design constraint for this is that people (well, OK me) have a lot of ssh keys, sometimes more than could be effectively stored by the TPM in its internal shielded memory (plus if you’re like me, you’re using the TPM for other things like VPN), so the design of the keyring TPM additions is not to burden that memory further, thus TPM keys are only loaded into the TPM whenever they’re needed for an operation and are unloaded otherwise.  This means the TPM can scale to hundreds of keys, but at the expense of taking longer: Instead of simply asking the TPM to sign something, you have to first ask the TPM to load and unwrap (which is an RSA operation) the key, then use it to sign.  Effectively it’s two expensive TPM operations per real cryptographic function.

Using TPM based ssh keys

Once you’ve installed the modified gnome-keyring package, you’re ready actually to make use of it.  Since we’re going to replace all your ssh private keys with TPM equivalents, which are keyed to a given storage root key (SRK)1 which changes every time the TPM is cleared, it is prudent to take a backup of all your ssh keys on some offline encrypted USB stick, just in case you ever need to restore them (or transfer them to a new laptop2).

cd ~/.ssh/
for pub in *rsa*.pub; do
    priv=$(basename $pub .pub)
    echo $priv
    create_tpm_key -m -a -w $priv ${priv}.tpm
    mv ${priv}.tpm $priv
done

You’ll be prompted first to create a TPM authorization password for the key, then to verify it, then to give the PEM password for the ssh key (for each key).  Note, this only transfers RSA keys (the only algorithm the TPM can handle) and also note the script above is overwriting the PEM private key, so make sure you have a backup.  The create_tpm_key command comes from the openssl_tpm_engine package, which I’ve patched here to support random migration authority and well known SRK authority.

All you have to do now is log out and back in (to restart the gnome-keyring daemon with the new ssh keystore) and you’re using TPM based keys for all your ssh operations.  I’ve noticed that this adds a couple of hundred milliseconds per login, so if you batch stuff over ssh, this is why your scripts are slower.

Unprivileged Build Containers

A while ago, a goal I set myself was to be able to maintain my build and test environments for architecture emulation containers without having to do any of the tasks as root and without creating any suid binaries to do this.  One of the big problems here is that distributions get annoyed (and don’t run correctly) if root doesn’t own most of the files … for instance the installers all check to see that the file got installed with the correct ownership and permissions and fail if they don’t.  Debian has an interesting mechanism, called fakeroot, to get around this using a preload library intercepting the chmod and chown system calls, but it’s getting a bit hackish to try to extend this to work permanently for an emulation container.

The correct way to do this is with user namespaces so the rest of this post will show you how.  Before we get into how to use them, lets begin with the theory of how user namespaces actually work.

Theory of User Namespaces

A user namespace is the single namespace that can be created by an unprivileged user.  Their job is to map a set of interior (inside the user namespace) uids, gids and projids1 to a set of exterior (outside the user namespace).

The way this works is that the root user namespace simply has a 1:1 identity mapping of all 2^32 identifiers, meaning it fully covers the space.  However, any new user namespace only need remap a subset of these.  Any id that is not mapped into the user namespace becomes inaccessible to that namespace.  This doesn’t mean completely inaccessible, it just means any resource owned or accessed by an unmapped id treats an attempted access (even from root in the namespace) as though it were completely unprivileged, so if the resource is readable by any id, it can still be read even in a user namespace where its owning id is unmapped.

User namespaces can also be nested but the nested namespace can only map ids that exist in its parent, so you can only reduce but not expand the id space by nesting.  The way the nested mapping works is that it remaps through all the parent namespaces, so what appears on the resource is still the original exterior ids.

User Namespaces also come with an owner (the uid/gid of the process that created the container).  The reason for this is that this owner is allowed to execute setuid/setgid to any id mapped into the namespace, so the owning uid/gid pair is the effective “root” of the container.  Note that this setuid/setgid property works on entry to the namespace even if uid 0 is not mapped inside the namespace, but won’t survive once the first setuid/setgid is issued.

The final piece of the puzzle is that every other namespace also has an owning user namespace, so while I cannot create a mount namespace as unprivileged user jejb, I can as remapped root inside my user namespace

jejb@jarvis:~> unshare --mount
unshare: unshare failed: Operation not permitted
jejb@jarvis:~> nsenter --user=/tmp/userns
root@jarvis:~# unshare --mount
root@jarvis:~#

And once created, I can always enter this mount namespace provided I’m also in my user namespace.

Setting up Unprivileged Namespaces

Any system user can actually create a user namespace.  However a non-root (meaning not uid zero in the parent namespace) user cannot remap any exterior id except their own.  This means that, because a build container needs a range of ids, it’s not possible to set up the intial remapped namespace without the help of root.  However, once that is done, the user can pretty much do every other operation2

The way remap ranges are set up is via the uid_map, gid_map and projid_map files sitting inside the /proc/<pid> directory.  These files may only be written to once and never updated3

As an example, to set up a build container, I need a remapping for every id that would be created during installation.  Traditionally for Linux, these are ids 0-999.  I want to remap them down to something unprivileged, say 100,000 so my line entry for this is

0 100000 1000

However, I also want an identity mapping for my own id (currently I’m at uid 1000), so I can still use my home directory from within the build container.  This also means I can create the roots for the containers within my home directory.  Finally, the nobody user and nobody,nogroup groups also need to be mapped, so the final uid map entries look like

0 100000 1000
1000 1000 1
65534 101001 1

For the groups, it’s even more complex because on openSUSE, I’m a member of the users group (gid 100) which sits in the middle of the privileged 0-999 group range, so the gid_map entry I use is

0 100000 100
100 100 1
101 100100 899
65533 101000 2

Which is almost up to the kernel imposed limit of five separate lines.

Finally, here’s how to set this up and create a binding for the user namespace.  As myself (I’m uid 1000 user name jejb) I do

jejb@jarvis:~> unshare --user
nobody@jarvis:~> echo $$
20211
nobody@jarvis:~>

Note that I become nobody inside the container because currently the map files are unwritten so there are no mapped ids at all.  Now as root, I have to write the mapping files and bind the entry file to the namespace somewhere

jarvis:/home/jejb # echo 1|awk '{print "0 100000 1000\n1000 1000 1\n65534 101001 1"}' > /proc/20211/uid_map
jarvis:/home/jejb # echo 1|awk '{print "0 100000 100\n100 100 1\n101 100100 899\n65533 101000 2"}' > /proc/20211/gid_map
jarvis:/home/jejb # touch /tmp/userns
jarvis:/home/jejb # mount --bind /proc/20211/ns/user /tmp/userns

Now I can exit my user namespace because it’s permanently bound and the next time I enter it I become root inside the container (although with uid 100000 outside)

jejb@jarvis:~> nsenter --user=/tmp/userns
root@jarvis:~# id
uid=0(root) gid=0(root) groups=0(root)
root@jarvis:~# su - jejb
jejb@jarvis:~> id
uid=1000(jejb) gid=100(users) groups=100(users)

Giving me a user namespace with sufficient mapped ids to create a build container.

Unprivileged Architecture Emulation Containers

Essentially, I can use the user namespace constructed above to bootstrap and enter the entire build container and its mount namespace with one proviso that I have to have a pre-created devices directory because I don’t possess the mknod capability as myself, so my container root also doesn’t possess it.  The way I get around this is to create the initial dev directory as root and then change the ownership to 100000.100000 (my unprivileged ids)

jejb@jarvis:~/containers/debian-amd64/dev> ls -l
total 0
lrwxrwxrwx 1 100000 100000 13 Feb 20 09:45 fd -> /proc/self/fd/
crw-rw-rw- 1 100000 100000 1, 7 Feb 20 09:45 full
crw-rw-rw- 1 100000 100000 1, 3 Feb 20 09:45 null
lrwxrwxrwx 1 100000 100000 8 Feb 20 09:45 ptmx -> pts/ptmx
drwxr-xr-x 2 100000 100000 6 Feb 20 09:45 pts/
crw-rw-rw- 1 100000 100000 1, 8 Feb 20 09:45 random
drwxr-xr-x 2 100000 100000 6 Feb 20 09:45 shm/
lrwxrwxrwx 1 100000 100000 15 Feb 20 09:45 stderr -> /proc/self/fd/2
lrwxrwxrwx 1 100000 100000 15 Feb 20 09:45 stdin -> /proc/self/fd/0
lrwxrwxrwx 1 100000 100000 15 Feb 20 09:45 stdout -> /proc/self/fd/1
crw-rw-rw- 1 100000 100000 5, 0 Feb 20 09:45 tty
crw-rw-rw- 1 100000 100000 1, 9 Feb 20 09:45 urandom
crw-rw-rw- 1 100000 100000 1, 5 Feb 20 09:45 zero

This seems to be sufficient of a dev skeleton to function with.  For completeness sake, I placed my bound user namespace into /run/build-container/userns and following the original architecture container emulation post, with modified susebootstrap and build-container scripts.  The net result is that as myself I can now enter and administer and update the build and test architecture emulation container with no suid required

jejb@jarvis:~> nsenter --user=/run/build-container/userns --mount=/run/build-container/ppc64
root@jarvis:/# id
uid=0(root) gid=0(root) groups=0(root)
root@jarvis:/# uname -m
ppc64
root@jarvis:/# su - jejb
jejb@jarvis:~> id
uid=1000(jejb) gid=100(users) groups=100(users)

The only final wrinkle is that root has to set up the user namespace on every boot, but that’s only because there’s no currently defined operating system way of doing this.

Are GPLv2 and CDDL incompatible?

Canonical recently threw this issue into sharp relief by their decision to ship CDDL licensed ZFS as a module of the GPLv2 licensed Linux kernel.  Reading their legal justification for this leaves me somewhat unconvinced because it’s essentially the same “not a derivative work” argument that a number of dubious actors have used to justify binary modules.  So what I’d like to do is look at this issue from a completely different viewpoint.  First by accepting the premise that CDDL and GPLv2 are incompatible (since there’s some debate on this) and secondly by accepting the even more controversial proposition that creating a kernel module is a derivative work.  I don’t want to debate these premises because it’s a worst case assumption I’m using as inputs to make the following analysis possible.

What is compliance?

One of the curious thing about CDDL and GPLv2 is that they’re both copyleft (albeit in differing forms) and the compliance requirements: the release of complete corresponding source code for your binary containing the licensed work.  In fact, the only significant difference is the requirement for build scripts, which is in GPLv2 but not in CDDL.  Therefore you can say that if you follow the compliance regime for GPLv2 on CDDL code, you’ll be in full compliance with the CDDL.  The licences do, in fact, have compatible compliance requirements.  This fact becomes very relevant when you consider the requirements for bringing a copyright lawsuit in the first place.

Where’s the Harm?

Copyright law is something called a tort in law.  That essentially means a branch of law for resolving disputes between individual parties.  However, in order to stem what could be seen as frivolous lawsuits, bringing a claim under tort law requires not just a showing that someone broke the rules of whatever agreement they were under but also that quantifiable harm resulted1.  The essential elements of a tort claim are a showing of a violation, a theory of the harm produced and a request for damages based on the harm2.

All of the bodies which do GPL enforcement recently published a charter in which they make clear that the sole requirement from an enforcement action should be compliance with the terms of the licence.  However, as I showed above, it is perfectly possible to be compatibly in compliance with both the CDDL and the GPLv2.  So the question becomes if the party is already in compliance, even though there’s a technical violation of the terms of the licence produced by the combination, what would our theory of harm be given that we don’t really seem to have anything extra we’d ask of the violating party?

Of course, one can wax lyrical about the “harm to the licence” of allowing incompatible combinations.  However, here we’re on a very sticky wicket because there have been a lot of works published (including by the FSF itself) bemoaning the problems of licence incompatibility.  Indeed, part of the design of the GPLv3 process was to make the licence more amenable to combination with other open source licences.  So suddenly becoming ardent advocates for the benefits of licence incompatibility is probably to be unlikely to fly before a judge as a theory of harm.

Conclusion

What the above analysis shows is that even though we presumed combination of GPLv2 and CDDL works to be a technical violation, there’s no way actually to prosecute such a violation because we can’t develop a convincing theory of harm resulting.  Because this makes it impossible to take the case to court, effectively it must be concluded that the combination of GPLv2 and CDDL, provided you’re following a GPLv2 compliance regime for all the code, is allowable.  This conclusion is the same as the one Canonical reached, but the means by which I got there are very different.

Note that this conclusion would apply to mixing any open source licence with GPLv2: provided the compliance regimes are compatible and the stricter one is followed, it’s difficult to develop a theory of harm and thus the combination is allowable.

Final Thought

The above analysis is all from the point of view of the Linux kernel compliance activities.  However, with ZFS, there is another copyright holder: Oracle.  Nothing prevents Oracle suing for copyright violation with a theory of harm that says something like the CDDL was deliberately designed to be incompatible with GPLv2 to prevent ZFS being shipped in Linux and as the shipper of products base on ZFS, they’ve suffered commercial harm (which would be quantifiable) by this action.

Constructing Architecture Emulation Containers

Usually container related stuff goes on $EMPLOYER blog, but this time, I had a container need for my hobbies. the problem: how to build and test efitools for arm and aarch64 while not possessing any physical hardware.  The solution is to build an architecture emulation container using qemu and mount namespaces such that when its entered you find yourself in your home directory but with the rest of Linux running natively (well emulated natively via qemu) as a new architecture.  Binary emulation in Linux is nothing new: the binfmt_misc kernel module does it, and can execute anything provided you’ve told it what header to expect and how to do the execution.  Most distributions come with a qemu-linux-user package which will usually install the necessary binary emulators via qemu to run non-native binaries.  However, there’s a problem here: the installed binary emulator usually runs as /usr/bin/qemu-${arch}, so if you’re running a full operating system container, you can’t install any package that would overwrite that.  Unfortunately for me, the openSUSE Build Service package osc requires qemu-linux-user and would cause the overwrite of the emulator and the failure of the container.  The solution to this was to bind mount the required emulator into the / directory, where it wouldn’t be overwritten and to adjust the binfmt_misc paths accordingly.

Aside about binfmt_misc

The documentation for this only properly seems to exist in the kernel Documentation directory as binfmt_misc.txt.  However, very roughly, the format is

:name:type:offset:magic:mask:interpreter:flags

name is just a handle which will appear in /proc/sys/fs/binfmt_misc, type is M for magic or E for extension (Magic means recognise the type by the binary header, the usual UNIX way and E means recognise the type by the file extension, the Windows way). offset is where in the file to find the magic header to recognise;  magic and mask are the mask to and the binary string with and the magic to find once the masking is done.  Interpreter is the name of the interpreter to execute and flags tells binfmt_misc how to execute the interpreter.  For qemu, the flags always need to be OC meaning open the binary and generate credentials based on it (this can be seen as a security problem because the interpreter will execute with the same user and permissions as the binary, so you have to trust it).

If you’re on a systemd system, you can put all the above into /etc/binfmt.d/file.conf and systemd will feed it to binfmt_misc on boot.  Here’s an example of the aarch64 emulation file I use.

Bootstrapping

To bring up a minimal environment that’s fully native, you need to bootstrap it by installing just enough binaries using your native system before you can enter the container.  At a minimum, this is enough shared libraries and binaries to run the shell.  If you’re on a debian system, you probably already know how to use debootstrap to do this, but if you’re on openSUSE, like me, this is a much harder proposition because persuading zypper to install non native binaries isn’t easy.  The first thing you need to know is that you need to install an architectural override for libzypp in the file pointed to by the ZYPP_CONF environment variable. Here’s an example of a susebootstrap shell script that will install enough of the architecture to run zypper (so you can install all the packages you actually need).  Just run it as (note, you must have the qemu-<arch> binary installed because the installer will try to run pre and post scripts which may fail if they’re binary unless the emulation is working):

susebootstrap --arch <arch> <location>

And the bootstrap image will be build at <location> (I usually choose somewhere in my home directory, but you can use /var/tmp or anywhere else in your filesystem tree).  Note this script must be run as root because zypper can’t change ownership of files otherwise.  Now you are ready to start the architecture emulation container with <location> as the root.

Building an Architecture Emulation Container

All you really need now is a mount namespace with <location> as the real root and all the necessary Linux filesystems like /sys and /proc mounted.  Additionally, you usually want /home and I also mount /var/tmp so there’s a standard location for all my obs build directories.  Building a mount namespace is easy: simply unshare –mount and then bind mount everything you need.  Finally you use pivot_root to swap the new and old roots and unmount -l the old root (-l is necessary because the mount point is in-use outside the mount namespace as your real root, so you just need it unbinding, you don’t need to wait until no-one is using it).

All of this is easily scripted and I created this script to perform these actions.  As a final act, the script binds the process and creates an entry link in /run/build-container/<arch>.  This is the command line I used for the example below:

build-container --arch arm --location /home/jejb/tmp/arm

Now entering the build container is easy (you still have to enter the namespace as root, but you can exec su – <user> to become whatever your non-root user is).

jejb@jarvis:~> sudo -s
jarvis:/home/jejb # uname -m
x86_64
jarvis:/home/jejb # nsenter --mount=/run/build-container/arm
jarvis:/ # uname -m
armv7l
jarvis:/ # exec su - jejb
jejb@jarvis:~> uname -m
armv7l
jejb@jarvis:~> pwd
/home/jejb

And there you are, all ready to build binaries and run them on an armv7 system.

Aside about systemd and Shared Subtrees

On a normal linux system, you wouldn’t need to worry about any of this, but if you’re running systemd, you do, because systemd has some very inimical properties (to mount namespaces) you need to be aware of.

In Linux, a bind mount creates a subtree.  Because you can bind mount from practically anywhere to anywhere, you can have many such subtrees that are substantially related.  The default way to create subtrees is “private” this means that even if the subtrees are effectively the same set of files, a mount operation on one isn’t seen by any of the others.  This is great, because it’s precisely what you want for containers.  However, if a subtree is set to shared (with the mount –make-shared command) then all mount and unmount operations a propagated to every shared copy.  The reason this matters for systemd is because systemd at start of day sets every mount point in the system to shared.  Unless you re-privatise the bind mounts as you create the architecture emulation container, you’ll notice some very weird effects.  Firstly, because pivot_root won’t pivot to a shared subtree, that call will fail but secondly, you’ll notice that when you umount -l /old-root it will propagate to the real root and unmount everything (like your root /proc /dev and /sys) effectively rendering your system unusable.  the mount –make-rprivate /old-root recursively descends the /old-root and sets all the mounts to private so the umount -l simply detached the /old-root instead of propagating all the umount events.

A Modest Proposal on the DCO

In this post, I discussed why corporations are having trouble regarding the DCO as sufficient for contributions to projects using licences which require patent grants.  The fear being that rogue corporations could legitimately claim that under the DCO they were authorizing their developers as agents for copyrights but not for patents.  Rather than argue about the legality of this trick, I think it will be much more productive to move the environment forwards to a place where it simply won’t work.  The key to doing this is to change the expectations of the corporate players which moves them to the point where they expect that a corporate signoff under the DCO gives agency for both patents and copyrights because once this happens for most of them (the good actors), the usual estoppal rules would make it apply to all.

The fact is that even though corporate lawyers fear that agency might not exist for patent grants via DCO signoffs in contributions, all legitimate corporate entities who make bona fide code contributions wish to effect this anyway; that’s why they go to the additional lengths of setting up Contributor Licence Agreements and signing them.  The corollary here is that really only a bad actor in the ecosystem wishes to perpetuate the myth that patents aren’t handled by the DCO.  So if all good actors want the system to work correctly anyway, how do we make it so?

The lever that will help to make this move is a simple pledge, which can be published on a corporate website,  that allows corporations expecting to make legitimate contributions to patent binding licences under the DCO to do so properly without needing any additional Contributor Licence Agreements.  Essentially it would be an explicit statement that when their developers submit code to a project under the DCO using a corporate signoff, they’re acting as agents for the necessary patent and copyright grants, meaning you can always trust a DCO signoff from that corporation.  When enough corporations do this, it becomes standard practice and thus expectations on the DCO have moved to the point we originally assumed they were at, so here’s the proposal for what such a statement would look like.


 

Corporate Contribution Pledge

Preamble

It is our expectation that any DCO signoff from a corporate email address binds that corporation to grant all necessary copyright and, where required, patent rights to satisfy the terms of the licence.  Accordingly, we are publishing this pledge to illustrate how, as a matter of best practice, we implement this expectation.

For the purposes of this pledge, our corporate email domain is @bigcorp.com and its subdomains.

Limitations

  1. This pledge only applies to projects which use an OSI accepted Open Source  licence and which also use a developer certificate of origin (DCO).
  2. No authority is given under this pledge to sign contribution agreements on behalf of the company or otherwise bind it except by contributing code under an OSI approved licence and DCO process.
  3. No authority is given under this pledge if a developer, who may be our employee, posts patches under an email address which is not our corporate email domain above.
  4. No trademarks of this corporation may ever be bound under this pledge.
  5. Except as stated below, no other warranty, express or implied, is made on behalf of the contribution, including, but not limited to, fitness of the code for a specific purpose or merchantability.  The entire risk of the quality and performance of this contribution rests with the recipient.

Warranties

  1. Our corporation trains its Open Source contributors carefully to understand when they may and may not post patches from our corporate email domain and to obtain all necessary internal clearances according to our processes before making such a posting.
  2. When one of our developers posts a patch to a project under an OSI approved licence with a DCO Signed-off-by: from our corporate email domain, we authorise that developer to be our agent in the minimum set of patent and copyright grants that are required to satisfy the terms of the OSI approved licence for the contribution.

The DCO, Patents and OpenStack

Historically, the Developer Certificate of Origin originally adopted by the Linux Kernel in 2005 has seen widespread use within a large variety of Open Source projects.  The DCO is designed to replace a Contributor Licence Agreement with a simple Signed-off-by attestation which is placed into the commit message of the source repository itself, thus meaning that all the necessary DCO attestations are automatically available to anyone who downloads the source code repository.  It also allows (again, through the use of a strong source control system) the identification of who changed any given line of code within the source tree and all their DCO signoffs.

The legal basis of the DCO is that it is an attestation by an individual developer that they have sufficient rights in the contribution to submit it under the project (or file) licence.

The DCO and Corporate Contributions

In certain jurisdictions, particularly the United States of America, when you work as a software developer for a Corporation, they actually own, exclusively, the copyright of any source code you produce under something called the Work for Hire doctrine.  So the question naturally arises: if the developer who makes the Signed-off-by attestation  doesn’t actually own any rights in the code, how is that attestation valid and how does the rights owning entity (the corporation) actually license the code correctly to make the contribution?

The answer to that question resides in something called the theory of agency.  Agency is the mechanism by which individuals give effect to actions of a corporation.  For example, being a nebulous entity with no actual arms or legs, a corporation cannot itself sign any documents.  Thus, when a salesman signs a contract to supply widgets on behalf of a corporation, he is acting as the agent of that corporation.  His signature on the sales contract becomes binding on the corporation as if the corporation itself had made it.  However, there’s a problem here: how does the person who paid for and is expecting the delivery of widgets know that the sales person is actually authorised to be an agent of the corporation?  The answer here is again in the theory of agency: as long as the person receiving the widgets had reasonable cause to think that the salesperson signing the contract is acting as an agent of the corporation.  Usually all that’s required is that the company gave the salesperson a business card and a title which would make someone think they were authorised to sign contracts (such as “Sales Manager”).

Thus, the same thing applies to developers submitting patches on behalf of a corporation.  They become agents of that corporation when making DCO attestations and thus, even if the contribution is a work for hire and the copyright owned by the corporation, the DCO attestation the developer makes is still binding on the corporation.

Email addresses matter

Under the theory of agency, it’s not sufficient to state “I am an agent”, there must be some sign on behalf of the corporation that they’re granting agency (in the case of the salesperson, it was a business card and checkable title).  For developers making contributions with a Signed-off-by, the best indication of agency is to do the signoff using a corporate email address.  For this reason, the Linux kernel has adopted the habit of not accepting controversial patches without a corporate signoff.

Patents and the DCO

The Linux Kernel uses GPLv2 as its licence.  GPLv2 is solely a copyright licence and has nothing really to say about patents, except that if you assert against the project, you lose your right to distribute under GPLv2.  This is what is termed an implied patent licence, but it means that the DCO signoff for GPLv2 only concerns copyrights.  However, there are many open source licences (like Apache-2 or GPLv3) which require explicit patent grants as well as copyright ones, so can the DCO give all the necessary rights, including patent ones, to make the contribution on behalf of the corporation?  The common sense answer, which is if the developer is accepted as an agent for copyright, they should also be an agent for patent grants, isn’t as universally accepted as you might think.

The OpenStack problem

OpenStack has been trying for years to drop its complex contributor licence infrastructure in favour of a simple DCO attestation.  Most recently, the Technical Committee made that request of the board in 2014 and it was finally granted in a limited fashion on November 2015.  The recommendation of the OpenStack counsel was accepted and the DCO was adopted for individuals only, keeping the contributor licence agreements for corporations.  The given reason for this is that the corporate members of OpenStack want more assurance that corporations are correctly granting their patents in their contributions than they believe the DCO gives (conversely, individuals aren’t expected to have any patents, so, for them, the DCO applies just fine since it’s effectively only a copyright attestation they’re giving).

Why are Patents such an Issue?

Or why do lots of people think developers aren’t agents for patents in contributions unlike for copyrights?  The essential argument (as shown here) is that corporations as a matter of practise, do not allow developers (or anyone else except specific title holders) to be agents for patent transactions and thus there should not be an expectation, even when they make a DCO attestation using a corporate email signoff, that they are.

One way to look at this is that corporations have no choice but to make developers agents for the copyright because without that, the DCO attestation is false since the developers themselves has no rights to a work for hire piece of code.  However, some corporations think they can get away with not making developers agents for patents because the contribution and the licence do not require this to happen.  The theory here is that the developer is making an agency grant for the copyright, but an individual grant of the patents (and, since developers don’t usually own patents, that’s no grant at all).  Effectively this is a get out of jail free card for corporations to cheat on the patent requirements of the licence.

Does this interpretation really hold water?  Well, I don’t think so, because it’s deceptive.  It’s deliberately trying to evade the responsibilities for patents that the licences require.  Usually under the theory of agency, deceptive practises are barred.  However, the fear that a court might be induced to accept this viewpoint is sufficient to get the OpenStack board to require that corporations sign a CLA to ensure that patents are well and truly bound.  The problem with this viewpoint is that, if it becomes common enough, it ends up being de facto what the legal situation actually is (because the question courts most often ask in cases about agency is what would the average person think, so a practise that becomes standard in the industry ipso facto becomes what the average reasonable person would think).  Effectively therefore, the very act of OpenStack acting on its fear causes the thing they fear eventually to become true.  The only way to reverse this now is to change the current state of how the industry views patents and the DCO … and that will be the subject of another post.

Respect and the Linux Kernel Mailing Lists

I recently noticed that Sarah Sharp resigned publicly from the kernel giving a failure to impose a mandatory code of conduct as the reason and citing interaction problems, mainly on the mailing lists.  The net result of this posting, as all these comments demonstrate, is to imply directly that nothing has ever changed.  This implication is incredibly annoying, firstly because it is actually untrue, secondly because it does more to discourage participation than the behaviour that is being complained about and finally because it totally disrespects and ignores the efforts of hundreds of people who, over the last decade or so, have been striving to improve all interactions around Linux … a rather nice irony given that “respect” is listed as one of the issues for the resignation.  I’d just like to remind everyone of the history of these efforts and what the record shows they’ve achieved.

The issue of respect on the Mailing lists goes way back to the beginnings of Linux itself, but after the foundation of the OSDL (precursor to the Linux Foundation) Technical Advisory Board (TAB), one of its first issues from OSDL member companies was the imbalance between Asian and European/American contributions to the kernel.  The problems were partly to do with Management culture and partly because the lack of respect on the various mailing lists was directly counter to the culture of respect in a lot of Asian countries and disproportionately discouraged contributions from that region.  The TAB largely works behind the scenes, but some aspects of the effort filtered into the public domain as can be seen with a session on developer relations at the 2007 kernel summit (and, in fact, at a lot of other kernel summits since then).  Progress was gradual, and influenced by a large number of people, but the climate did improve.  I have to confess that I don’t follow LKML (not because of the flame war issues, simply because it’s too much of a firehose); however, the lists I do participate in (linux-scsi, linux-ide, linux-mm, linux-fsdevel, linux-efi, linux-arch, linux-parisc) haven’t seen any flagrantly disrespectful and personally insulting posts for several years now.  Indeed, when an individual came along who could almost have been flame bait for this with serial efforts to get incorrect and badly thought out patches into the kernel (I won’t give cites here to avoid stigmatising individuals) they met with a large reserve of patience and respectful and helpful advice before finally being banned from the lists for being incorrigible … no insults or flames at all.

Although I’d love to take credit for some of this, I’ve got to say that I think the biggest influencer towards civility is actually the “professionalisation”  of Linux: Employers pay people to work on Linux but the statements of those people become identified with their employers (no matter how many disclaimers they have) … in many ways, Open Source engineers are the new corporate spokespeople.  All employers bear this in mind when they hire and they certainly look over the mailing lists to see how people behave.  The net result is really that the only people who can afford to be rude or abusive are those who don’t think they have much chance of a long term career in Linux.

So, by and large, I’m proud of the achievements we’ve made in civility and the way we have improved over the years.  Are we perfect? by no means (but then perfection in such a large community isn’t a realistic goal).  However, we have passed our stress test: that an individual with bad patches to several mailing lists was met with courtesy and helpful advice, in spite of serially repeating the behaviour.

In conclusion, I’d just like to note that even the thread that gave rise to Sarah’s desire to pursue a code of conduct is now over two years old and try as they might, no-one’s managed to come up with a more recent example and no-one has actually invoked the voluntary code of conflict, which was the compromise for not having a mandatory code of conduct.  If it were me, I’d actually take that as a sign of success …

DNSSEC, DANE and the failure of X.509

As a few people have noticed, I’m a bit of an internet control freak: In an age of central “cloud based” services, I run pretty much my own everything (blog, mail server, DNS, OpenID, web page etc.).  That doesn’t make me anti-cloud; I just believe in federation instead of centralisation.  In particular, I believe in owning my own content and obeying my own rules rather than those of $BIGCLOUDPROVIDER.

In the modern world, this is perfectly possible: I rent a co-lo site and I have a DNS delegation so I can run and tune my own services how I wish.  I need a secure web server for a few things (OpenID, an email portal, secure log in for my blog etc) but I’ve always used a self-signed certificate.  Why?  well having to buy one from a self appointed X.509 root of trust always really annoyed me.  Firstly because they do very little for the money; secondly because it means effectively giving my security to some self appointed entity; and thirdly, as all the compromises and misuse attests, the X.509 root of trust model is fundamentally broken.

In the ordinary course of events, none of this would affect me.  However, recently, curl, which is used as the basis of most OpenID implementations took to verifying X.509 certificate chains, meaning that OpenID simply stopped working for ID providers with self signed certificates and at a stroke I was locked out of quite a few internet sites.  The only solution is to give up on OpenID or swallow pride and get a chained X.509 certificate.  Fortunately startssl will issue free certificates and the Linux Foundation is also getting into the game, so the first objection is overcome but not the other two.

So, what’s the answer?  As a supporter of cloud federation, I really like the monkeysphere approach which links ssl certificate verification directly to the user’s personal pgp web of trust.  Unfortunately, that also means that monkeysphere suffers from all the usual web of trust problems, the biggest being that it’s pretty much inaccessible to non-techies who just don’t understand why they should invest time in building up their own trust contacts.  That’s not to say that the web of trust can’t be made accessible in a simple fashion to everyone and indeed google is working on a project along these lines; however, today the reality is that today it isn’t.

Enter DANE.  At is most basic, DANE is a protocol that links certificate verification to the DNS.  It means that because anyone who owns a domain must have a DNS entry somewhere and the ability to modify it, they can directly link their certificate verification to this ability.  To my mind, this represents a nice compromise between making the system simple for end users and the full federation of the web of trust.  The implementation of DANE relies on DNSSEC (which is a royal pain to set up and get right, but I’ll do another blog post about that).  This means that effectively DANE has the same operational model as X.509, because DNSSEC is a hierarchically rooted trust model.  It also means that the delegation record to your domain is managed by your registrar and could be compromised if your registrar is.  However, as long as you trust the DNSSEC root and your registrar, the ability to generate trusted certificates for your domain is delegated to you.  So how is this different from X509?  Surely abusive registrars could cause similar problems as abusive or negligent X.509 roots?  That’s true, but an abusive registrar can only affect their own domain and delegates, they can’t compromise everyone else (unlike X.509), so to give an example of recent origin: the Chinese registrar could falsify the .cn domain, but wouldn’t be able to issue false certificates for the .com one.  The other reason for hope is that DNSSEC is at the root of the scheme to protect the DNS infrastructure itself from attack.  This makes the functioning and administration of DNSSEC a critical task for ICANN itself, so it’s a fair bet to assume that any abuse by a registrar won’t just result in a light slap on the wrist and a vague threat to delist their certificate in some browsers, but will have ICANN threatening to revoke their accreditation and with it, their entire business model as a domain registrar.

In many ways, the foregoing directly links the business model of the registrars to making DNSSEC work correctly for you.  In theory, the same is true of the X.509 CA roots of trust, of course, but there’s no one sitting at the top making sure they behave (and the fabric of the internet isn’t dependent on securing this behaviour, even if there were).

Details of DANE

In spite of the statements above, DANE is designed to complement X.509 as well as replace it.  Dane has four separate certificate verification styles, two of which integrate with X.509 and solve specific threats in its model (the actual solution is called pinning, a way of protecting yourself from the proliferation of X509 CAs all of whom could issue certificates for your site):

  • Mode 0 – X.509 CA pinning: The TLSA record identifies the exact CA the TLS Certificate must chain to.  This certificate must also be a trusted root in the X.509 certificate database.
  • Mode 1 – Certificate Contstraint: The TLSA record identifies the site certificate and that certificate must also pass X.509 validation
  • Mode 2 – Trust Anchor Assertion: The TLSA record specifies the certificate to which the  TLS Certificate must chain to under standard X.509 validation, but this certificate is not expected to be an X.509 root of trust.
  • Mode 3 – Domain Issued Certificates: The TLSA record specifies exactly the TLS certificate which the service must use.  This allows domains securely to specify verifiable self signed certificates.

Mode 3 is most commonly used to specify an exact certificate outside of the X.509 chain.  Mode 2 can be useful, but the site must have access to an external certificate store (using the DNS CERT records) or the TLSA record must specify the full certificate for it to work.

Who Supports DANE?

This is the big problem:  For certificates distributed via DANE to be useful, there must be support for them in browsers.  For Mozilla, there is the DANE validator extension but in spite of several attempts, nothing actually built into the browser certificate verifier itself.  The most complete patch set is from the DNSSEC people and there’s also a Mozilla inspired one about how they will add it one day but right at the moment it isn’t a priority.  The Chromium browser has had a similar attitude.  The conspiracy theorists are quick to point out that this is because the browser companies derive considerable revenue from the CA system, which is in itself a multi-billion dollar industry and thus there’s active lobbying against anything that would dilute the power, and hence perceived value, of the CA roots.  There is some evidence for this position in that Google recognises that certificate pinning, which DANE supports, can protect against recent fake google certificate attacks, but, while supporting DNSSEC (at least for validation, the google DNS doesn’t secure itself via DNSSEC), they steadfastly ignore DANE certificate pinning and instead have a private arrangement with Mozilla.

I learned long ago: never to ascribe to malice (or conspiracy) what can be easily explained by incompetence (or political problems).  In this case, the world was split long ago into using openssl for security (in spite of the problematic licence) or using nss (the Netscape Security Services).  Mozilla, of course, uses the latter but every implementation of DANE for mozilla (including the patches in the bugzilla) use openssl.   I actually have an experimental build of mozilla with DANE, but incorporating the two separate SSL systems is a real pain.  I think it’s safe to say that until someone comes up with a nss based DANE verifier, the DANE patches for mozilla still aren’t yet up to the starting blocks, and thus conspiracy allegations are somewhat premature.  Unfortunately, the same explanation applies to chromium: for better or worse, it’s currently using nss for certificate validation as well.