Feb 06, 2023
Forskjellige meldingssystemer ble populær de siste tiårene. Den
meste kjente eksempler er Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat eller
Discord. Mange bruker dem uten å tenke bare fordi de ser praktiske ut og er
gratis. Kostnadene er imidlertid alvorlig: den er personvernkatastrofe.
Brukere har ingen egenkontroll, så eieren kan endre alle funksjoner uten
at brukerne vilje. Disse tjenstene (platformene) er laget og fullstendig
kontrollert av store monopoler fokuserte på å suge alle slags av
brukerdata. Personvernkostnaden til store kommersielle direktmeldingssystemer
av er mye høyere enn brukervennligheten. De er bevisst laget for å være
gjensidig uforenlige. En bruker av Whatsapp kan ikke sende en melding til
noen på Telegram eller Facebook. Bare se for deg at du hadde Telenor men kunne
ikke sende sms til noen på Telia, kun til sin eget system Telenor. Eller
se hvis du kunne ikke sende en epost fra Gmail til Yahoo. Det er helt dumt.
Nå, blant de populære systemene er det bare epost det eneste systemet på
internett som har ikke vært monopolisert. Og det er fortsett fordi epost
ikke er en plattform (eller 'ecosystem'), men åpen og federert protokoll
etter eget design. Alle kan konfigurere og kjøre egen mailserver og meldinger
skal sendes mellom evt. Alle kan velge mellom mange epost apper. Alle kan
legge til ytterligere funksjonalitet, slik at ende-til-ende kryptering, men
Protokoll betyr et sett med regler og konvensjoner for interoperabilitet,
ikke et enkelt komplett produkt.
Men, det finnes en direktemeldingssystem som er like enkel å bruke
som Whatsapp, men mangler de fleste av problemene. Faktisk, er det
XMPP. Det er en åpen og federert protokoller
som epost. Alle kan ha egen server, så kan ha kontakt med noen på alle
serverer som helst, akkurat som epost eller mobil. I tillegg, kan alle også
velge mellom ulike app etter vilje: foretrekker du funksjonalitet,
eller skjønnhet eller bare det å være veldig lett... Det finnes også
flere XMPP serverer programvare å velge mellom, de fleste er gratis og
åpen kildekode. Med XMPP kan du få alt: direktemeldinger, filer, tale,
video, gruppechat, flere enheter. Det er også flere typer av
OTR) og mye mer. Det finnes enda en XMPP-basert
XMPP er ikke alene. Det finnes også en alternativ åpen og
federert protokoll: Matrix. Men
sammenlignet med XMPP, har den flere mangler: (a) problemer med
(selv om mange ikke bryr seg om det), (b) alvorlige ytelsesproblemer:
mens XMPP fungerer fint selv på den minste og billigste
server krever mange gigabyter med RAM og stor diskplass, på denne grunn
er det dyrere i drift, også krever Matrix mye mer oppmerksomhet (f.eks. se
her). Det kan være berettiget
i bedrifts- eller stororganisasjonsbruk, men ikke i hjemmebruk.
Så XMPP er ideell for å lage et helt privat kommunikasjonssystem
for et familie. Du trenger bare dette: (a) en server: billigste
VPS eller enda
en Rasberry Pi boks vil fungere fint (f.eks ejabberd skal støtte
hundrevis brukere med dette nivå); (b) server programvare
som kjøres alt: sjekke ut flere og velge selv, de mest populære er
ejabberd og Prosody;
(c) domenenavn slik at brukere kan konnektere til: domenenavn er også
en del av brukernavn, som i epost, f. eks
email@example.com (enkelt DNS
trenges for å støtte tale og video); (d) hver bruker kan velge hvilken
klientapp som skal brukes (f. eks
Monal eller Siskin IM på
iPhone). Og det er det.
Nå må serveren konfigureres. Så kontrollerer du systemet fullt
ut! Du kan registrere så mange brukere at du trenger, men for en
familieserver anbefaler jeg ikke å tillate åpen registrering av alle som
helst. For eksempel du kan registrere flere kontoer for en enkelt bruker
hvis nyttig (å bruke med forskjellige formål). Ingen mobilnummer kreves:
f.eks. trenger du ikke fem SIM-korter for fem brukere, faktisk ingen er
nødvendig. Det også anbefales å konfigurere ‘Shared roster group’
(delt brukerliste) for å unngå å legge til familiekontakter manuelt for
alle familiemedlemmer. Ende-til-ende kryptering er ikke avgjørende
for din egen private server fordi transportkryptering (TLS) brukes alltid;
men det er lettere å konfigurere hvis du bruker flere enheter (mobil,
nettbrett, desktop, laptop, web-basert). Men det er bedre og sikrere å
bruke ende-til-ende kryptering til å kommunisere med noen på andre
Og nå, når flere grupper har sine egne private servere, kan de
kommunisere fritt og sikkert. For eksempel, det er nå lett
firstname.lastname@example.org å sende melding (eller video-ringe) til
email@example.com (samme familier og på samme privat server) eller
til en venn
firstname.lastname@example.org eller enda alle som bruker hundrevis av
åpne gratis offentlige serverer f. eks
(på Jabber Norge),
Se her for litt mer informasjon
Apr 22, 2022
The old good email remains the most critical digital communication tool.
What makes the venerable email so useful and sustainable
over the long time is its openness and standardization. Email is radically
different from the modern "apps" which integrate all pieces of technology--the
server, the client, and the protocol--by a single monopolist provider. With
email, we are free to choose the server (provider) and client with any
combination. It provides enormous flexibility, added privacy and
security. Indeed, the provider does not control my client and cannot add
backdoors; there is no monoculture of client software with all the related
security risks (any security vulnerability is global). Email is one of
the few pieces of technology that is very resistant against internet
censorship. Repressive state can easily block a web site and even force
an app store to remove an app
(as the Navalny's "Smart Voting").
Also, an app store can delete it for any other bizarre reason. But it
is much more difficult to block a mailing list: it is easy to redeploy and
recreate it on a different server (without the users even noticing anything).
Furthermore, The user can easily create several different email-based
identities (e.g. a separate one for politically sensitive activity) which
adds anonymity. And anonymity means physical security in some countries.
It is not surprising that many internet services use the email address
to register users, authenticate, restore password and other similar
purposes. Open, standardized and decentralized email is one of the most
critical technology everything else depends on. After all, the flexibility
offered by the email technology--the freedom to choose all pieces (provider,
client etc.) is just very very handy, at least for an advanced user (you
can add new features on top of what the provider realized, even against the
provider's will--isn't it convenient?).
The whole email technology is build around open protocols rather than a
centralized platform. This facilitates competition, makes for better and
fairer service and reduce possible impacts of malicious monopolists
Google's Gmail has long been one of the main pillars of email, millions used
to rely upon every day. We should praise Google for popularising email
as the basic mainstream technology among the masses. I started using Gmail
many years ago when it was in its "beta" and available only by invitation.
At that time Gmail openness and unrestricted nature was just blazing. The
web interface was lightweight and not really cluttered with ugly banners,
unlike other email providers. There were ads but they were small and
unobtrusive. Gmail had long supported all the basic protocols (POP, IMAP,
SMTP) that allowed to use any standard compliant client software, and that
was available for free (some other providers were more greedy and allowed
this only on paid plans). Google's POP, IMAP and SMTP implementations
have been (and still remain!) quite idiosyncratic, incomplete and not
really standard-compliant which caused various glitches (e.g. message
deletion and default sorting are weird, I always hated Gmail's labels). But
this was bearable.
The serious privacy problems and threats of Gmail,
such as user email scanning for context-specific advertising
which could provide access to some pieces of data to third-party
That is nearly a disaster that cannot be fixed because spying on the user's
data is at the heart of Google's business model. But who cares as long as
it is free! I have long been using and promoting PGP encryption which
could fix many of the privacy (and security) problems.
Yes, PGP is crucial for individuals and businesses
and yes, a motivated user can encrypt.
Gmail still remained free and relatively open while an alternative of
deploying private email server is time-consuming and tedious (e.g. ensuring
that emails from a tiny private server don't end up in spam folders of
intended recipients). I used to pay with some of my privacy to get the
usability and stability of Gmail.
But over time I became increasingly concerned about the clear trend taken
by Google to make the open email more and more difficult to use outside of
the Google monopolistic ecosystem. There are signs of the famous
embrace, extend, and extinguish
strategy. Gmail API is featureful and powerful... but only if
you really need the complexity and like to play with the Google rules. If
you don't like to see ads, for example, and for this use a standard IMAP
mail client of your choice, your must suffer. If you need full PGP support on
a mobile client, never offered by Google, you are out of luck and have to
use an IMAP-based mobile app like Android K-9 Mail
that requires sacrificing some usability.
Google tends to draw its users by all means into its browser, its
own apps and APIs to get more user's private data and show ads. For
that matter, Google's security usability has become just terrible. The
intrusive access-blocks when a mobile user with an IMAP client moves across
IP addresses can drive anyone crazy... Access can be blocked even if the
user switches just to the next IP address within the same provider's IP
I have to use VPN with fixed IP address to avoid these stupid blocks!
To help keep your account secure, Google will no longer support the use
of third-party apps or devices which ask you to sign in to your Google
Account using only your username and password. Instead, you’ll need
to sign in using Sign in with Google.
The Google's insistence on rather complicated and heavyweight
for basic email client access (remember, most email programs do not require
you to enter your password every time, diminishing the risk of phishing)
is understandable only as a means to limit all uncontrollable third-party
clients. Yes, OAuth2 is logical for complex workflows of data access delegation
across multiple web-based services with different login/password combinations
(the "Auth" stands for authorization, not
Whenever I need access to my own emails I need to authenticate
my identity granting full access. But isn't OAuth2 client secret kept
on the device just as the username/password combination? Yet, limiting the
(power) users access to their own data provides just an illusion of
security at a large cost to usability and compatibility.
The Google's move to OAuth2 authorization seem to point that
the Gmail-hosted emails do not belong to me any more. My emails are now
owned by Google, who just "authorizes" (delegates) me access to some of
the data without trusting me. This is not what I need from my private
communication. Does Google pretend to "zero-trust" any third-party
apps? Maybe it doesn't trust its users (the owners of their data),
assuming they are all idiots?
If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will use it [your service]. ---
And there is another side effect: as Google increasingly deployed more and
more heavyweight frameworks and technologies, Gmail became very sluggish
and bloated. It is cluttered and confusing, especially to those who don't
use it often enough to remember all the idiosyncrasies. And it's still poorly
adaptable to the user's needs. How can I get a fixed-width font for my plain
text message? Where is my favourite basic (and very fast) HTML web interface?
Enough is enough. I now go away from Gmail, and primarily not because of
big privacy concerns (which is quite expectable) but because of deteriorating
usability and growing incompatibility. It looks like the people at Google have
forgotten their old motto "Don't be evil." While I have been paying Google
with my privacy currency in the past to get functionality and usability,
the benefits of Gmail continuously went lower and now reached an unprofitable
Migadu is my choice
There are many hosted email providers, some are focused on privacy and
security. For example, Protonmail is a fantastic
project that makes it nearly trivial to use PGP even for an uninitiated. But
its drawbacks are that it is non-standard and has too high publicity making
it quite undesirable in certain authoritarian countries. Simply said, if
you use Protonmail in some countries you may be suspected; Protonmail can
be blocked by the authorities, and worse still,
blocked in quite idiosyncratic way.
Some services may also reject registration
using this service.
What I have finally chosen is Migadu. It is not
yet another standard email hosting provider. It is a domain-based service. Once
you have got your own domain name (domains are now cheap), you can make your
own email service for your domain. That simple. This makes it super useful
for companies, families, groups and NGOs without large budgets. For a
reasonable price you get nearly your own mail server with many configurable
features (any custom mailboxes, aliases, forwarding, regexp, webmail,
etc.) but without the need to maintain all this complex system.
If you have a web site, you necessarily get a domain name for it. Now it's
easy to get your own email identity. True that some hosting providers also
do host email. But if you decide to switch to a different hosting it will
create a trouble: you need to move also email and this fact strongly limits
your next choice. Having a completely indpendent email system for your
existing domain avoids such hoster lock-in and makes life much easier.
By the way, the Migadu standard webmail interface
is sleek and very simple. Looks modern but lightweight and quite fast. No
bloat whatsoever, only the most crucial functionality. I am not big fan
of web-based email, but use it from time to time. And there is even some
very basic support for PGP! (But remember that web-based PGP is
not a very secure solution.)
I found the mail server configuration (including more esoteric stuff like
DNS setup and DKIM signatures) very easy. In my view you do not need an
IT degree to configure your email server with full functionality. I like the
admin panel, it is minimalist and easy to use, no stupid and distracting
visual effects. And Migadu is advertised as
fully open standard compliant service without proprietary glitches and
limitations. So any standard (open source or closed source) software is very
likely to be fully usable. This freedom is very important. And they are also
clear and honest about the
limitations and drawbacks.
Finally, goodbye Gmail.
PS: Disclaimer: I have no links with Migadu.
This post is also published on
Nov 10, 2021
Cisco AnyConect is an unethical software. First, it is proprietary and
closed source code, although the nature of its functioning makes it capable
to control all the user's network traffic. Even worse, Cisco AnyConnect
implements controversial functionality making it technically a kind of malware:
the so called "posture" (HostScan) service is scanning the user's device and
(steals?) sends various information out (Cisco said this is done "to improve
security," e.g. to avoid non-certified and unauthorized devices), Cisco VPN
client can officially download and install spyware trojan on the user's device
(Cisco also advertises the trojan as a tool to "improve security"). Also,
the VPN client can reroute the network settings in arbitrary way without the
user's consent and knowledge. All this is a serious security and privacy
threat. (And Cisco products have a bad history of serious security flaws
that look like backdoors.)
It can be justified to run Cisco AnyConnect on a corporate-owned
machine (understanding the consequences for the user's privacy and
security). But installing it on the user's owned private
devices should be avoided.
Openconnect is an open source SSL VPN client that supports several protocols
including Cisco AnyConnect. It can be used as an alternative to proprietary
Cisco software that may in some installation include controversial and
undesirable functions such as uncontrollable network re-routing, proprietary
scanning module, installable spyware trojan etc.
For more information go to the Opeconnect web site: https://www.infradead.org/openconnect/.
Install openconnect from the standard Linux repository, e.g. in case of
apt install openconnect network-manager-openconnect \
To connect to the vpn, go to the network configuration entry, then add a
new VPN connection, choosing Cisco AnyConnect Compatible VPN (openconnect)
in the list.
To connect to the UiB VPN one needs this:
- Server gateway:
- UiB username (short name, in the following examples
Basic connect using command line
The simplest command to connect to UiB network is:
sudo openconnect --user zzz000 vpn3.uib.no
sudo is required to set up the
tun device (It is, however,
possible to configure openconnect to run as unprivileged user, see
There are also a few useful options:
--background run openconnect at the background
--syslog send messages to the system log
--pid-file /var/run/openconnect.pid use specific pid file, then it is
easy to switch off the background vpn using this command:
kill $(cat /var/run/openconnect.pid) assuming process pid is saved to
These options result in this command:
sudo openconnect --background --syslog --pid-file /var/run/openconnect.pid \
--user zzz000 vpn3.uib.no
Connect using graphical user interface
Most Linux desktop environments (e.g. Gnome, xfce etc ) have graphical
utility that is accessible in the system tray. To configure it use:
- VPN protocol: Cisco AnyConnect
- Software token authentication: TOTP
Other options should be left intact.
At login, the GUI program will ask the University user name and password. Enter
and press Login
Then, Microsoft authentication code will be sent via SMS on the mobile phone.
There may be a caveat: DNS might not work with the default configuration
(web sites are inaccessible by their http names). If this is the case,
go to IPv4 settings and manually configure DNS servers, such as Google DNS
and then to IPv6 settings and enter DNS servers manually, e.g. Google DNS
Now UiB VPN should work in a private way. Openconnect turns out to be a
useful tool to connect to the UiB network in a simple and straightforward way.
Openconnect also works on Microsoft Windows. If you are
then there is a port that can installed
be using this command:
choco install openconnect-gui
Disclaimer: I did not try it.
Oct 25, 2021
Any major university IT infrastructure is huge and heterogeneous, it is
used by lots of people, many of whom are experimenters and explorers,
who like challenge, rather than office robots. Most users are busy,
focus on research and study and hate additional (and especially sudden)
hassle. This is why consideration of the usability cost is absolutely
critical for IT security strategy.
Creating a walled "trusted" area by a firewall--the perimeter model--is
an outdated approach to security at the age of universal zero-trust
deployment. Instead of following an already outdated approach, a more
sensible strategy is to start implementing components of the zero-trust
model, including score-based trust and wide use of personal identity
Major focus in security should be shifted from solely technology components
to the end users, creating incentives to use more secure technology,
rather than making additional hassle.
The great firewall
There was a very rapid trend towards an increasingly restrictive IT policies at
the University of Bergen implemented from October this year. While the aim of
“Increasing security” is laudable, I think the planning and implementation
of the policies has several flaws which may compromise its declared aim. The
biggest problem is that the UiB IT is huge and heterogeneous. There is a
variety of services with different levels of security risks, many users,
with diverse needs, user cases and environments, competences, personal
backgrounds and personalities. This requires a more sensible, flexible and
inclusive approach. If this is not the case, rigid policies will not make
the IT environment significantly safer. Instead, it may hamper normal work
for some users, and in the long run compromise both security and privacy
contrary to the declared aim.
Security, including the computer security, is not a fixed state, it is
rather a continuous process. Security is not limited solely to the IT
technology. Technology alone cannot bring security. Security is primarily
a human rather than technical problem. Indeed, most dangerous security
breaches did not target encryption algorithms, many even only partly involved
exploitation of software and hardware vulnerabilities. They typically make
use of human factors, such as social engineering, trust exploitation, human
mistakes and so on. Successful tracking and catching cyber criminals do not
often primarily target technology, but usually depends on exploiting
human errors, negligence, laziness and other similar factors. This is why the
current primary focus on just technological restriction of the IT environment,
aimed barely to its isolation from the outside networks, is neither sufficient
nor efficient. A more balanced, flexible and holistic approach is needed.
Security can only work at a balance with usability. Moreover, there is
often a trade-off: technological security restrictions often make for worse
usability. A completely “sealed” environment would be just too restricted
to be usable. Usability is indeed a primary factor: research shows that many
security problems and users’ hesitance or unwillingness to make use of
(more) secure tools is caused by their imperfect usability. Furthermore,
within a hugely heterogeneous environment, there would be no single optimal
balance between security and usability. An important consequence of this
is that a flexible and inclusive approach to security, aimed at different
degrees of balance with usability, is important.
The technical part of security should start and primarily respond to specific
threat model(s), not theoretical or vaguely possible risks. And the threat
model(s) should be connected with the real life statistics, e.g. how many
breach attempts usually occur, to which of the services, from which IP
addresses etc. It does not make sense to install solid steel screens on
all windows in our department building to make it “more secure” from
any kind of possible breaches; even if there are crowds of hungry zombies
walking outside, it is just enough to protect the first floor.
Blanket unconditional restriction of the UiB IT network environment as is
being implemented does not seem to respond to specific consideration of threat
model(s), the variety of users, needs, sub-environments etc. It looks like
a desperate attempt to seal everything in a hope that a jailed environment,
isolated from the outside, will be more secure. This is a wrong assumption.
Some specific problems
Multi-factor authentication via TOTP: Not a panacea.
introduced multi-factor authentication policy. This is generally a crucial
component to improve security, if implemented sensibly. However, not all
implementations would automatically improve security or provide a sufficient
balance between security and usability. What is called “multi-factor
authentication” may not even be really multi-factor. The definition
of multi-factor authentication involves the use of several things for
authentication, typically something you know: password, plus something you
own, e.g. a mobile device (SIM) and something you are e.g. fingerprint. If
the password is entered using the password manager software saved on the
mobile device and the “multi-factor” SMS comes to the same mobile device
(or password entered and SMS read on the same computer that links to the
smartphone as is now the norm within the Apple ecosystem), the whole idea of
two factors is ridiculed: the smartphone becomes the single authentication
device. It can be at best called “two-step authentication,” a weaker
mechanism. The SMS (and anything based on phone-line or phone-number) is
actually one of the poorest authentication means due to the long known and
essentially unsolvable vulnerabilities in the GSM, SS7 and other related
protocols. SMS can be hijacked by malicious smartphone apps (e.g. Google Play
store does not even approach 100% safety, there are occasional scandals with
malware in apps with very substantial audience) or even basic GSM dumb phones
(there are reports about quite a few Chinese-made GSM button-phones having
factory-installed malware). Worse still, some of the modern and widespread
multi-factor mechanisms such as push-based popups are also easily exploited
(even worse, they make for a bad habit of clicking “approve” without
thinking). If authentication is done on a web page, it is usual to save
the authentication cookie to avoid repeated two-factor invocation. However,
cookies are not necessarily secure, long kept cookies might be hijacked by
malware, there is a well known mechanism of CSRF attacks, there is also a
big privacy drawback (e.g. tracking). The current industry trend is to go
away from the cookie mechanism in the mainstream browsers (e.g. Google Chrome
will not allow any third-party cookies from 2022). A sensible user policy is
to reduce the lifetime of any cookie. However, it makes the “two-step”
authentication as is currently implemented at the UiB a hassle. Indeed,
the user then has to go via the SMS code process nearly every time he
or she logins, even if it is done from the same IP address and the same
The ssh access to the
login.uib.no server have apparently disabled the
best-practices secure mechanism of ssh-key authentication (incidentally,
if the key is combined with a passphrase then it is actually a two-factor
authentication itself!) and forced the potentially week password-based
mechanism with SMS code. There seems to be no other TOTP mechanisms except
SMS at the time of writing!
A better mechanism is to use the time-based one-time password code (TOTP)
authenticator application on the mobile phone. This is in fact recommended at
the Microsoft and UiB web pages as a more secure alternative (via Microsoft
authenticator app). While TOTP is better than SMS, it is far from perfect
because it is potentially vulnerable to phishing and the MITM attack and
the secret seed should be kept on the authenticator application as well as
on the server to make synchronised generation of TOTPs possible.
Personal hardware tokens
There is a much better and stronger two-factor authentication mechanism:
U2F and FIDO2/WebAuthn that use hardware security device keeping
the private key. The security token, in the form of a small USB or
NFC key can both authenticate on the server and authenticate the server
itself with strong asymmetric crypto, making phishing and many other attacks
virtually impossible. Many such devices also implement biometric
(e.g. fingerprint) identification with privacy-respected way (e.g. biometric
data is not sent from the user's device). This is now a mature technology
that is implemented in all major web browsers, can be used with ssh key-based
authentication, GPG-enabled email etc.
The best known hardware token is probably the
Yibikey and there are a few others on the market
(e.g. Google Titan, FEITIAN, Token2, Thetis etc.). They can be not very cheap,
but not prohibitively expensive either.
VPN needed for all, even the most essential everyday services
The UiB IT services have previously used several open and industry-standard
VPN mechanisms (IPsec, OpenVPN) so that different users could easily find a
solution working for them individually. Now, there is a single closed and
proprietary mechanism: Cisco AnyConnect including both unique protocol
(SSL-based) and the software client. This mechanism may work for many
but not necessarily for everyone (e.g. unlike open solution, it may not
be available on some computing platforms, some enthusiasts of the open
source might find restriction to a single proprietary tool unethical,
etc.). There are rumors about unreliable connections with Cisco AnyConnect,
and that OpenVPN was previously more stable for some users. It is indeed
likely if Cisco AnyConnect is used over certain restrictive environments
with DPI that block connections to certain ports or UDP traffic even at
the 443 port, or otherwise censor VPNs (e.g. some public WiFi networks may
have such limitations). Some implementations of the OpenVPN, in contrast,
can be configured to mimic normal SSL web traffic (e.g. shadowsocks) and
work even under the Great Chinese firewall. There is a clear benefit at not
prohibitively high cost to provide at least some limited support for such a
mechanism for certain users (e.g. special needs or during travel). It might
even be provided only on special request with some substantiation. Also, the
reliability statistics internally used by the IT department might be biased
if not all users report minor and transient VPN issues. So there is a case to
deploy and support alternative VPN solutions, perhaps even on a smaller scale.
It sounds quite reasonable that providing and supporting a wider choice of VPN
solutions for a minority of users would not be economically feasible. However,
it is certainly not the case when just all the services become available
only from within the UiB internal network jail. Then, there should be more
flexibility and inclusion, several ways to get into a jailed environment
comfortably by a variety of users in different environments. It is just too
unbalanced limitation to mandate the use of a single restricted VPN to get
email from home or from an airport, for example. A better alternative is of
course to relax the policy moving at least the most essential but inherently
secure services out of the jail.
Is the universal jail really essential for everything?
One issue with unconditional moving of all the UiB IT services into a jailed
environment is that this would not reflect sufficient balance between security
and usability. It is of course good to keep potentially less secure services
(e.g. RDP) jailed. But are real threats substantial enough to hide just
everything into such a jail?
Are there any real-life statistical or other data evidencing that accessing
the university email system from an IMAP client with normal SSL/TLS protection
can be dangerous? The user in such a case does not need to enter the UiB
password for login (it is saved into the software, often encrypted on devise),
so phishing risk is near zero. The authenticity of the IMAP server certificate
is usually checked through the standard SSL mechanism. So is there any real
security advantage to move such essential everyday tool as email into the
jail, does this just induces additional hurdle?
Another example is connecting the UiB login.uib.no ssh server. Many (presumably
less advanced) users can use the ssh with their default password. Then,
the “two-factor” authentication is a serious security improvement of
course, even if it is in fact used in the weakened two-step authentication
mode. However, some other users can configure ssh-key authentication,
which is a much more secure mechanism. Will the manual entry password with
two-factor authentication really provide sufficient security improvement
in such a case? Will it provide anything beyond a negligible effect if the
user has already authenticated with SMS on the same device, or a different
device from the same IP address shortly before? Is there any improvement in
security that substantiates such degradation of usability?
The question is this: is the same level of restriction and jailing really
essential for all services, often and rarely used, potentially less secure
and highly secure, easy and difficult to exploit, those with documented
attacks and those that present little interest to intruders? Does not it
just provide usability costs not balanced by any security improvement?
Human ingenuity: Is the jail actually made of paper?
It is clear that equally and unconditionally restricting just everything,
especially, without considering usability costs, will not automatically
increase security. The situation can well be worse: lower security as
well as compromised privacy.
For example, to avoid all the nuisance, users may switch to using third-party
commercial providers, such as increasingly use private gmail.com accounts,
Dropbox etc. Users may use smaller, more cryptic online tools and applications
(e.g. file sharing sites, communication tools, some advertised as encrypted)
with uncontrollable and unknown security. Some of them might be owned and
run by community and volunteers, some could be compromised or deliberately
devised to gather data, track users and spy.
Some of more qualified "insider" users might successfully hack the system
to get nuisance-free access to the UiB jailed environment from outside. It
is actually not a hard problem. One possible solution is to use the reverse
ssh proxy. It does not even require administrative rights and can be done
by a motivated average level computer user after 20 min of reading the
ssh manual. More advanced users can create stable backdoors implementing
such things as proxy jump and port forwarding that will sustain reboots,
logouts etc. It is also easy to add various layers for plausible deniability
There are much more tools, ways and possibilities to implant and efficiently
hide a backdoor into the UiB jailed environment. All that is required is
various open source components freely available on the net and an incentive
to do such unauthorized actions. It is not just an abstract theoretical
threat but real and serious risk left behind the current jailing policy.
Imposing a jailed environment without considering trade-off of flexibility
and usability has this biggest problem: It may create an incentive to break
the rules to make life more hassle-free. A related and serious problem
is that the IT department would not be able to control this and in most
cases will remain unaware of the issue. It is virtually impossible to detect
that users communicate and share sensitive medical or personal data over a
private google mail account, for example. A cryptic backdoor implanted on
the computer within the UiB jail with sufficient plausible deniability can
remain long undetected without costly and tedious forensic analysis. But
such an analysis will be conducted only by the police after a catastrophic
break-in has occurred, too late.
There are many advanced users, smart students, at the university. Many well
understand (and they do discuss!) the inconsistency of the restrictive jail
policies. Some people may find it quite fun to overcome the silly rules
imposing unneeded hassle. It can indeed be an interesting challenge but,
unfortunately, an additional incentive.
A further problem is that many users usually do not bother to report
smaller or transient problems at the normal issue tracking channels such
as hjelp.uib.no. They may not be acquainted with it or just consider it a
hassle if they are very busy (and they are very busy with real things to
hang at tangential IT problems). A quite typical way of action is to ask
someone nearby for a help or workaround. Therefore, if the knowledge of
the ways for implanting backdoors and the obvious fact that it is quite
easy and just solves the problem, is spread within the student and staff,
it can create a real security disaster. Unfortunately, backdoor skills are
very likely to spread if the IT department continues to create more and more
restrictive jail and provide more incentives to break the rules. Then, it
would be essential to further tighten the jail: inspect all devices on entry
and refuse entry to everyone with IQ > 0.60. The simple fact is that the
jail that is being happily built is not made of rock and steel, it is paper.
The situation at the UiB is quite different from a typical commercial
organization that the standard security recipes are based upon. There
are many brilliant students and staff out here, many are young and like
challenges. There can be those who would not hesitate to take risk, given
the benefit of making one’s own hassle-free environment is high, the cost
is zero while expected risk is rather low. Making a backdoor is indeed a
way of learning technology that is fun and another added incentive. Many
folks are already aware of various software tools and know how to use their
black magic. People are ingenious, and people at UiB are on average much more
ingenious than outside. What is the threat model for developing the jailed IT
environment? Is to protect the UiB from outside hackers? It is a wrong model
because many such hackers are already within the jailed environment and are
ready and to get the challenge to punch its feeble paper walls from inside.
What should be done?
Inconsiderate and inflexible jailing of the UiB IT networks should certainly
be slowed down before it is too low and people started using third-party
tools and making their own unauthorized solutions. There should be a serious
analysis on what must be implemented and over which time scale so the users
can get acquainted and do not just suddenly get huge hassle. As to now,
the “analysis” seems to be mainly focused on “what is suddenly broken
down once we put everything into a jail”; this is not acceptable. The
policies should not be based mechanistically on some manual made for a
different type of environment, they should be inclusive, flexible enough to
adapt to the complex, diverse and heterogeneous UiB environment. The main
focus should switch from technology to people: how to reach most of them
(they are busy!), make security improvements minimally obtrusive, teach very
busy people sufficient security skills without much hassle. Specifically,
the most important information should not be sent by global mailing list
that may disappear in user’s mail filter, but must be directed personally
to each user (it isn’t prohibitively hard to write a script for this,
%NAME% with the real user’s name).
The technological part of the solution should develop sensible threat models
based on attack and usage statistics. It should be governed by real risks
rather than desire to just protect everything quickly and at all costs. Some
of the restrictions already applied can be relaxed. A reasonable solution is
to apply more sensible score-based security mechanism, e.g. including
IP based rules for two-factor or two-step authentication. Some of more
secure services, can for example, be available without firewall restriction
if the user comes from his/her frequently used Norwegian home IP address
(to improve usability while still reducing potential attack surface). This
efficiently transforms a jail into a continuum adapting for the threat
and uncertainty level. It will also pay back to demonstrate the practical
benefits of client-side certificate authentication, OAuth2 and similar more
phishing-resistant security token mechanisms (e.g. they can relax the need in
TOTP/SMS authentication) to all users. The university should also facilitate
much wider use of hardware-based authentication devices, such as YubiKey,
for proper two-factor authentication, perhaps even distribute such devices
freely in some groups if universal deployment turns out expensive. Such
personal identity verification hardware devices are actually a crucial
component of modern zero-trust security approaches.
The crucial element of the whole policy is to create incentives for using
more secure tools. For example, the use of hardware personal identity
verification tokens should allow to bypass all or most restrictions,
perhaps even the need in VPN. There would currently be little added risk
with such a policy, but the users would be much happier to do their work
securely whenever they need without hassle. This would require hard work,
additional integration and funding. But educating, helping and cooperating
with users—not restricting and obstructing them—would be the only viable
strategy to achieve increased security in the University environment in
reality, not just on paper.
Apr 03, 2020
Zoom privacy and security problems
Zoom has demonstrated significant negligence with respect to
cybersecurity. Additionally, the company has shown aggressive marketing
campaigns and was caught at providing false information to its end users.
Zoom aggressively forces the user to download and install native
application rather than use web browser for videoconferencing even
though videoconferences will work in the web browser. This is a little
suspicious. Browser-based conferences are more convenient for an occasional
user and is safer due to browser sandboxing of network applications.
Serious security deficiency on the Apple Mac platform allowing
any unauthorized remote attacker to activate web camera, connect
to a conference and execute denial-of-service attack. Zoom tried
to ignore and deliberately hide information about the very serious
security vulnerability and was slow to fix it.
See here for more details,
(technical information is
Zoom management response seem to point to quite irresponsible corporate
More recently it appeared that Zoom was sending users' data
to Facebook servers without the user's consent. This is now fixed. See
and this follow-up.
Zoom was caught at providing false and misleading information that the
videoconference has "end-to-end" encryption while this was not so. Check out this.
The explanation for this provided by Zoom is unsatisfactory.
Zoom had a serious security vulnerability that could lead to
user password leak in Microsoft Windows.
See here for details.
is very important to us," requires quite large collection of private user's
information. There is little explanation about to why this information
is collected. Unlike many other similar companies, Zoom does not release
transparency report(s). See here: https://zoom.us/privacy
Electronic Privacy Information Centre has filed complaint to FCC
- alleging that the videoconferencing company Zoom has committed unfair
and deceptive practices in violation of the FTC Act. According to EPIC,
Zoom intentionally designed its web conferencing service to bypass
browser security settings and remotely enable a user's web camera
without the knowledge or consent of the user.
See more details here
There is a growing concern on the privacy deficiency in Zoom,
for more details see this and
Also see The Guardian.
Recently SpaceX has banned Zoom because
of privacy concerns, see
here for details.
Zoom has close links with China. Even though the intellectual property,
management and marketing are based in the USA, many if not most developers and
engineers are bsed in China (see Form S-1 registration statement). This
can potentially lead to serious privacy and cybersecurity issues, given
the Chinese regime tightening of Internet regulation (censorship, privacy
etc.). One example is MLPS 2.0 legislation, 2019 mandating China residents
and any foreign companies unrestricted access to user data. (In China, Zoom
has a network of agents acting under different names but using the same
Updates: More on Zoom problems
CitizenLab Report on Zoom:
Google now banned Zoom for its employees: Google has banned the popular
videoconferencing software Zoom from its employees’ devices, BuzzFeed
News has learned. Zoom, a competitor to Google’s own Meet app, has seen an
explosion of people using it to work and socialize from home and has become
a cultural touchstone during the coronavirus pandemic.
Zoom zero-days for sale: People who trade in zero-day
exploits say there are two Zoom zero-days, one for Windows
and one for MacOS, on the market. See here for more detail.
Zoom is using the microphone even when not in meeting on MacOSX.
Why is the Zoom app listening on my microphone when not in a meeting?
An update fixed the problem... but NOT with microphone being activated, but with interface: microphone indicator.
Zoom nevertheless continues to activate microphone on MacOSX. Is CCP listening?
How to increase privacy and security of using Zoom on Linux
Sandboxing. On the Linux platform, one solution is always to run Zoom
videoconferencing software only in a limited sandbox. Then, Zoom client
would not have access to user's files and other processes running on the
- Update: This recipe works for Zoom v. 3.5.361645.0301, but not for some
later versions, e.g. 3.5.374815.0324, see update below on this.
Disable any unauthorized update/upgrade of Zoom client. Do not install
Zoom software via the standard reopository. Use static tar.gz archive
instead. Select Other Linux OS for installation. Uncompress the static
distribution in a safe directory. Disadvantage of this is that update is
only manual, check out Zoom web site for new releases and read changelog. But
advantage is that zoom cannot silently install any unauthorized update or
software on the system.
It also makes sense to register at Zoom with the institutional email but
separate password, so Zoom does not use the main institutional login (SSO
login). This might help against credentials leak in case of Zoom software
vulnerability. Using the institutional email to register would ensure Zoom
is registered as "licensed."
Install firejail sandboxing. https://firejail.wordpress.com/:
sudo apt install firejail.
- Firejail is a SUID program that reduces the risk of security breaches
by restricting the running environment of untrusted applications using
Linux namespaces and seccomp-bpf. ... Firejail can sandbox any type
of processes: servers, graphical applications, and even user login
sessions. The software includes security profiles for a large number
of Linux programs: Mozilla Firefox, Chromium, VLC, Transmission etc. To
start the sandbox, prefix your command with “firejail.”
Make a configuration file for Zoom in
.config/firejail/. Here is the
configuration file named as the main Zoom run executable: ZoomLauncher.profile
(given the running executable is ZoomLauncher):
# Note: to delete all firejail profiles for all local trusted apps
# run sudo firecfg --clean
# Duplication of zoom configs in noblacklist and whitelist
# sections fixes login credentials no save problem:
# Needed for latest versions of Zoom and perhaps certain other Qt/QML apps
Now Zoom client can be started from the firejail sandbox:
To make it possible to use standard graphical menus, one need
to make a zoom.desktop startup file in the user's directory
.local/share/applications. The Exec entry of the file must include the
Name=Zoom Desktop [Jailed]
Comment=Zoom Desktop Client jailed
Exec=firejail /path_to_safe_install_location/bin/zoom/ZoomLauncher %f
Firejail can start serving all user's applications in its jail, which is
often too restrictive (e.g. settings are not saved).
To force reconfiguring all application to run in firejail do (do not do
this if you are unsure) this:
To disable configuring all local applications to run in jail, do this:
sudo firecfg --clean
Do this (
sudo firecfg --clean) if you have problems starting applications
after installing firejail.
To check if an application is by default starting in a jail, run it
from the terminal. If terminal shows several lines like Reading profile
/etc/firejail/disable-common.inc then the application runs in a jail.
A newer version of Zoom client (3.5.374815.0324) refused to run in a jailed
environment and hanged.
A workaround for running recent Zoom in jail:
add the below line
to the firejail config file.
QML_DISABLE_DISK_CACHE Disables the disk cache and forces re-compilation
How to increase privacy and security of using Zoom on Microsoft Windows
Here is a link on sandbox in Windows 10: How to
use Windows sandbox.
I have not tested how this works.
For Android, one solution is to use the open source Shelter application,
then mobile Zoom can run in a secure container.
I have been running several programs that I do not like to give access to
my data within Shelter. It works fine for me.
Contacts (address book) are not leaked to Zoom if a separate address book
is used within shelter
All apps can be frozen to avoid them run all the time at the background,
this reduces the chances of data leaks as well as battery drain. Freezing
can be done automatically, after timeout.