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KDE Plasma 5.6 Released

Linux Journal - Fri, 03/25/2016 - 13:43

KDE Plasma is the desktop environment that powers Kubuntu, Chakra Linux and openSUSE (among others). This week sees the release of Plasma 5.6, which brings several tweaks and improvements. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Words from Letter Cubes

Linux Journal - Fri, 03/25/2016 - 12:52

I got a great letter from a reader with a puzzle to solve, so let's dig in, shall we? Here's what he wrote:

Love your column in Linux Journal. I've read it for years and learned a lot about shell scripting, but not quite enough to solve a puzzle on my own. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Makeblock's mBot

Linux Journal - Thu, 03/24/2016 - 13:50

The new kid-friendly mBot from Makeblock is marketed as a Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) educational learning tool. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Secure File Transfer

Linux Journal - Thu, 03/24/2016 - 08:00

File transfer between Linux systems (and perhaps all POSIX systems in general) is in some ways a neglected subject. The arcane protocols in common use are far from secure, and the SSH replacements offer too much power and complexity. more>>

Categories: Linux News

IBM LinuxONE: Who Needs the Cloud?

Linux Journal - Tue, 03/22/2016 - 12:41
Article Sponsor:  IBM

IBM has long been a stalwart supporter of, and participant in the Open Source community. So IBM’s announcement of the LinuxONE platform last year should have come as a surprise to no one. The ultimate goal for LinuxONE, however, may be a bit more surprising. more>>

Categories: Linux News

What Does "Fast" Mean?

Linux Journal - Mon, 03/21/2016 - 14:01

Good news! One of my clients is launching a new marketing campaign, which we expect will make the business even more successful than before.

Bad news! This means our Web application, which has existed for some time on a fairly simple infrastructure, and which has handled a steadily growing number of users, now (we hope) will need to deal with a massive spike in users. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Symbolic Math on Android

Linux Journal - Fri, 03/18/2016 - 12:45

For this article, I'm returning to portable science software on Android. In a previous article, I looked at a program called xcas/giac. This program is an open-source engine that is used to handle symbolic manipulation of mathematical equations. Because it is open source, it has been ported to several different platforms. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Upcoming Webinar: When the Golden Master Tarnishes

Linux Journal - Wed, 03/16/2016 - 16:15

Servers are generated – often with a ‘golden master’ and then left never to be checked or examined from a security perspective. This session discusses the ways the server settings can degrade, the undesirable effects this may have on your organization and how you can avoid both. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Your Youth, in a Browser!

Linux Journal - Wed, 03/16/2016 - 13:04

I've mentioned many times before the questionable nature of downloading video game ROMs in order to emulate them on your computer. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Bash Shell Script: Building Your March Madness Bracket

Linux Journal - Tue, 03/15/2016 - 13:30

I must admit that I don't really follow basketball. But, I do like to engage with folks at work, and every spring I've always felt a little left out when my work colleagues fill out their NCAA March Madness basketball brackets. If your office is like mine, it seems everyone gets very excited to build their brackets and follow the basketball games and play in an office pool. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Tighter Security in OwnCloud v9

Linux Journal - Tue, 03/15/2016 - 09:56

OwnCloud is a free Web-based app that provides Dropbox-style file hosting. With the release of version 9 on the horizon, it's a good time to take a look at the improved security features. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Transferring Conserver Logs to Elasticsearch

Linux Journal - Mon, 03/14/2016 - 15:42

If your organization manages Linux, AIX, HP-UX or Solaris servers in-house, chances are your system administrators at least occasionally need low-level access to those devices. Typically, administrators use some kind of serial console—for example, traditional serial port, Serial-over-LAN or Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI). more>>

Categories: Linux News

The Great Linux Mint Heist: the Aftermath

Linux Journal - Mon, 03/14/2016 - 12:26

In a shocking move, cyber criminals recently hacked the Linux Mint Web server and used it to launch an attack against the popular distro's user base. more>>

Categories: Linux News

State of Mapping on the Debian Desktop

Anarcat - Sun, 03/13/2016 - 11:19

TL;DR: Mapbox Studio classic is not as good as Tilemill, Mapbox studio is very promising, but you still need to signup for access, and kosmtik seems to be working right now. Use kosmtik and help getting it in Debian.

The requirement

I have been following the development of fascinating tools from the Development seed people, now seemingly all focused on the Mapbox brand. They created what seemed to me a revolutionary desktop tool called Tilemill. Tilemill allowed you to create custom map stylesheets on your desktop to outline specific areas or patterns or "things". My interest was to create outdoor maps - OSM has pretty good biking maps, but no generic outdoor tiles out there (I need stuff for skiing, canoeing, biking)...

Mapbox has Mapbox outdoors but that's a paid plan as well. Oh and there's a place to download Garmin data files especially made for outdoors as well, and that could be loaded in Qmapshack, but they don't have coverage in Canada at all. Besides, I would like to print maps, I know, crazy...

So I have been looking forward to seeing Tilemill packaged in Debian given how annoying it is to maintain Node apps (period). Unfortunately, by the time Debian people figured out all the Node dependencies, the Tilemill project stopped and has been stalled since 2012. It seems the Mapbox people have now been working on other products, and in the meantime, the community, scratching their heads, just switched to other projects.

Overview of alternatives

I wrote this long post to the Debian bugtrackers to try to untangle all of this, but figured this would be interesting to a wider community than the narrow group of people working on Javascript packages, so I figured I would send this on Debian planet.

So Here's a summary of what happened so far, after Tilemill development stopped. Hang on to your tiles boys and girls, there's a lot going on!

Mapbox Studio classic

Mapbox people have released a new product in September 2014 named Mapbox studio classic. The code is still freely available and seems to be a fork of tilemill. Mapbox classic still has releases on github, last one is from November 2015. It looks like Mapbox studio classic has some sort of lock-in, and there are certainly new copyright issues, if only with the bundled fonts, but it could probably be packaged after addressing those issues.

There is an ITP for Mapbox Studio classic as well.

Mapbox Studio

Then there's Mapbox Studio, which is a full rewrite of Mapbox Studio classic. You need to "signup" somehow to get access, even though parts of the code are free, namely the Mapbox GL studio project. It is an interesting project because it aims to make all this stuff happen in a web browser, which means it "should" work everywhere. Unfortunately for us, it means it doesn't work anywhere without a signup form, so that's out for me at least.

There is an [ITP for Mapbox-studio][] yet it is unclear to me what that one means because the source code to Mapbox-studio doesn't seem to be available, as far as i can tell (and the ITP doesn't say either).

That is actually the ITP for Mapbox studio classic.


The Openstreetmap-carto developers have mostly switched to kosmtik instead of Mapbox. Kosmtik is another Node desktop app that seems fairly lightweight and mostly based on plugins. Ross has an ITP for kosmtik. The package is waiting on other node dependencies to be uploaded (yes, again).

The future of Tilemill

And there's still this RFP for tilemill, which should probably be closed now because the project seems dead and plenty of alternatives exist. I wonder if node some dependencies that were packaged for Tilemill actually now need to be removed from Debian, because they have become useless leaf packages... I am leaving the Tilemill RFP open for someone to clean that up.


Oh, and finally one could mention another Mapbox project, Carto, a command line CSS tools that implements some sort of standard CSS language that all those tools end up using to talk to Mapnik, more or less. There are no RFPs for that.

Categories: External Blogs

Linux Gaming Is Exploding on Steam

Linux Journal - Thu, 03/10/2016 - 14:42

Since the release of the Linux Steam client, Linux gamers have had a greater range of choice. Today, more than 1,900 games are available for download, with another 100 on their way. This compares well with OS X, which currently sports 2,900 downloadable titles. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Trying out Keybase

Anarcat - Thu, 03/10/2016 - 14:37

I was privileged enough to get access to the alpha preview of Last year, the project raised 11M$ in venture capital and they seem to be attacking the hard problems, so it is a serious project, worth considering for any cryptography hacker like me. This was obviously discussed elsewhere previously but since Keybase has evolved a bit since then, I figured it would be worth adding my grain of salt.

The elite alpha problem

My first problem with Keybase was of course that I wasn't in the elite club of invited people. Somehow, I finally got in but the problem remains for the everyone else.

In my case, it was the Keybase filesystem announcement that brought my attention back to the project, although I have yet to test that itself - yet another invite-only problem (need to email to get access, I guess). Still, 10GB of storage might be interesting for some people, but considering the number of hurdles or "friction", as they say, that needs to be jumped over to get access, I am not sure how much traction this will get for now.

The project has been in alpha for a while now (more than a year) with no announced public beta just yet, which is way slower than similarly challenging projects with less capital. Let's encrypt, as a comparison, was publicly announced in 2014 and by the end of 2015, the public beta was opened.

Private key leakage

My second major concern is that Keybase does worrisome things to private key material. If you tell it to import your regular GPG keys, it will copy them into the keybase keyring, which is already a problem: now you have two places where you store sensitive secrets.

But worse, Keybase offers you to upload your private key material on the server, without clearly and explicitely exposing the potential risks that means to the user. The key, presumably, is encrypted (at least that is what I can parse from the Keybase privacy policy). Yet this is still a concern: a determined attacker (e.g. the government or another malicious entity) could force Keybase to give up the encrypted private key material and install sniffers that would reveal the passphrase that would allow decryption and impersonation of the related identity.

That is a huge deal. This is what caused Hushmail's demise in 2007: they had similar promises about how they had a "secure" email (in this case) service based on OpenPGP, but since they key was stored on the server, they only had to serve a malicious applet to victims and were able to give cleartext data to the US government (12 CDs!) under a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with Canada.

In Keybase, When I generate a new key, it asks me if I want to upload the key to their servers, and "Yes" is chosen as a default, so it is clearly a policy that is encouraged. This is presumably to enable browser-based crypto, yet this could be done by storing keys within the browser, not on the server.

The mere possibility that the client can meddle with secret key material in such a way is a problem. Even if uploading secret keys to the server is optional, the fact that it is a possibility widens the attack surface on the client significantly.

GPG has been working on isolating private key operations to a different process (gpg-agent) or smart cards, SSH has privilege seperation. The idea of uploading secret key material online is so beyond current practices that it should bring the project to a full stop already.

My private key material is pretty sensitive. I am a Debian developer: if someone gets access to that key, they can upload arbitrary code for thousands of packages, affecting thousands if not millions of users. That is a huge deal, and I am not ready to give that power to an arbitrary third party that I know little about.

Privacy policy issues

Furthermore, the Keybase privacy policy explicitely states that "Logs of this information may persist for an indefinite period", which include, and I quote:

  • Your computer’s IP address
  • Your preferences and settings (time zone, language, privacy preferences, application preferences, etc.)
  • The URL of the site that referred you to the Service
  • The buttons and controls you clicked on (if any) within the Service
  • How long you used the Service and which parts and features you used
  • Session times and lengths

For a company working to improve user's privacy, this is a pretty bad policy. It exposes Keybase users to undue surveillance, on a lot of private information that is not necessary to operate the service. I haven't actually read the remaining of the policy, as I was already scared as hell and figure I would just log off for now and try not to add any extra personal information in that already growing pile.

Let's mention, while I'm here, that the keybase commandline client has this odd way of working that it forks a daemon in the background all the time, even to run just keybase status. One has to wonder if this thing is included in the surveillance data above, which would make the keybase client an amazing surveillance device in itself. To stop all this, you need:

keybase logout keybase ctl stop

Not quite obvious...

Usability issues

Which brings me to a series of usability issues I have found while working with Keybase. Having worked on usability myself in the Monkeysphere project, I understand how hard those problems can be. But right now, the fact is that keybase is only a commandline client, with some web-based sugar sprinkled on top. I recognize the huge efforts that have been done to make the user experience (UX) as easy as possible through the commandline, but this is definitely not "grand public" material yet.

Even as a OpenPGP hacker, Keybase can get confusing. Since it has its own separate keyring from GPG, things that used to be obvious before are suddenly new things to learn. For example, I originally generated a key for in keybase, thinking it would be a separate thing from my current GPG identity. Well, that ended up creating a new key in my GPG keyring, duplicating my existing identity, with no way for me to tell this was a Keybase copy. This could have ended up on the keyservers and confuse anyone looking for my PGP key.

Revoking keys

So I revoked that key, which, in itself, is not such an obvious process either. I first had to "drop" the key:

keybase pgp drop '010143572d4e438f457a7447c9758804cc7be44c1ee2b7915c3904567d0a3fb5cf590a'

To find that magic number, I had to go on the website and click through the PGP key to end up on the revoke link which told me which magic string to put. The web UI was telling me I could use keybase status to get that information, but I couldn't find that in the output here:

$ keybase status Username: anarcat Logged in: no Device: name: angela ID: 070f6a13f2a66afbb463f49dadfd4518 status: active Keybase keys: unlocked Session: anarcat [salt only] KBFS: status: not running version: log: /home/anarcat/.cache/keybase/keybase.kbfs.log Service: status: running version: 1.0.14-1 log: /home/anarcat/.cache/keybase/keybase.service.log Platform Information: OS: linux Runtime: go1.5.3 Arch: amd64 Client: version: 1.0.14-1 Desktop app: status: not running version: log: /home/anarcat/.cache/keybase/ Config path: /home/anarcat/.config/keybase/config.json Default user: anarcat Other users: command-line client: keybase status [pid: 14562, version: 1.0.14-1]

So keybase drop "deletes" the key from the keybase client (and presumably the server). One problem here is that we have three different verbs to mean the same thing: in some places, the website says "deleted" (in the web graph), the commandline client uses "drop" and everyone else using PGP in the world uses "revoke". So what is it?

Also note that just dropping that key is not enough to eradicate that key: you still need to generate and import a revocation certificate on GPG's side as well, for that key. This makes sense, because you may have imported that key and you may not want to destroy it when you remove it from keybase, but there could be a little better guessing and UX here as well.

Password usage

Then another problem is that, when you signup on the commandline, it asks you to choose a passphrase. It's not clear at all from the UI what that passphrase is for. Is it to protect the private key material? To login the website? Both? It turns out it is actually to login to the website and the Keybase API. It could also be the key to the private key material, but I haven't quite figured that out yet.

Similarly, the "paper devices" are a little confusing to me as well. The registration process is fairly insistent that I need to write a series of secret words down on a piece of paper and put it my wallet. This is based on the idea that you can use that key to recover your account and setup new devices. However, it is not made clear at all how those credentials should be protected or used. What if I lose my wallet? What do I do then? Is it okay if i write it on the back of my laptop instead? I know it sounds like stupid questions to crypto geek, but it's definitely stuff people will do, and education, at all levels, is necessary here.

The existing web of trust

Finally, I found it surprisingly counter-intuitive to sign keys with keybase. I was assuming the whole point of the thing was to expand the web of trust, but it seems their mission lies somewhere else: there is no facility to sign keys directly in keybase. You sign statements on various social sites (Github, Twitter, Reddit...) but doing traditional key exchanges seems to be off limits.

My obvious use case was to sign my existing key material with my newly generated key, so that keybase would become another way of verifying my identity. Well, this is not possible with keybase directly - you still have to go through the regular:

gpg --sign-key DEADBEEF

Which is really unfortunate, because some craaaazy people like me insist on doing in person, actually secure key exchanges sometimes, and the tools to do this right now (mainly gpg, caff and monkeysign) really need a lot of love and help. Keybase could have helped a lot in pushing those initiatives forward and bring new ways of doing secure key exchanges, instead of only lowering the standards on cryptographic identity.

Usual proprietary startup rant

I can't help but finish by noticing that the whole basic problem with Keybase is more fundamental than a few usability issues, which can all be fixed fairly easily.

Keybase.IO is a web-based service that is entirely proprietary. The client is freely downloadable and free software - but the server side is not. This makes us rely on a central point of failure and the goodwill of those operators to not only keep the service running (for free?) indefinitely, but to protect us against all attackers, state-run or otherwise.

This is definitely against basic free software principles and the open architecture of the internet federation, well embodied in the Franklin street statement. Online services should be decentralized and open like the OpenPGP keyservers have always been, period.


I am curious to see where Keybase brings us, as a community. So far, I am concerned about centralization and devaluation of the web of trust as cryptographic system. I do not believe that trusting multiple corporate social networking sites bring much benefit to our security, although it does improve usability significantly and is certainly better than TOFU, so that part of the project is definitely interesting, especially since it allows leveraging classical internet protocols like DNS and HTTPS.

Key exchange is a critical problem that still hasn't properly been resolved in the cryptographic community. Most efforts at building communication tools (say like Signal or Telegram) mostly ignore the problem and expect people to read up strings of numbers or rely on synchronous communications (see the Axolotl rachet for Signal's take on it). Keybase's attempts at fixing this are great, but needs much more work to actually resolve the PKI issues in a significant way.

More fundamentally, the practice of storing keys on the servers should just stop: it is a definite no go for me, and a classic crypto mistake that has bitten way too many people. In my mind, it discredits the whole project. The point of OpenPGP is end to end encryption across devices: storing the keys on a server breaks that apart, and doesn't improve much on the existing HTTPS security systems already in place on the web.

It is especially a problem given the new waves of attacks on cryptography from western governments, from the UK to California... Until those issues are resolved, I can't get myself to recommend Keybase to anyone just yet.


Note to Keybase developers: I have considered filing issues regarding the above, but unfortunately, I was unable to filter through the gigantic github issues list for duplicates, and didn't have time to file detailed reports for everything. I apologize for bypassing those usual conventions.

If you want to try out Keybase to make your own opinion, I do have 4 invites I can give away, but I will do so only if you need to test specific issues. Otherwise, I note that there is a Request For Package for the Debian package to become official, that Debian developers (or Keybase developers!) may be interested in completing.

Categories: External Blogs

Raspberry Pi 3

Linux Journal - Wed, 03/09/2016 - 17:05

Four years ago (last leap day to be specific), the first Raspberry Pi was released. And on February 29, 2016, the third version made its debut. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Non-Linux FOSS: CreateUserPkg

Linux Journal - Tue, 03/08/2016 - 14:13

For Linux users, scripting user installation is fairly simple. It's possible, but not quite as simple with OS X. Thanks to Per Olofsson, it's possible to distribute user accounts as installable packages that are as simple as a double-click to install. more>>

Categories: Linux News

diff -u: What's New in Kernel Development

Linux Journal - Mon, 03/07/2016 - 14:56

Sometimes it's necessary to change function semantics inside the kernel, and then find and update all users of that function to match the new semantics. Such changes can result in huge patches going into the source tree, affecting hundreds of files. more>>

Categories: Linux News

Montréal-Python 57: Biogeographical Ascent

Montreal Python - Mon, 03/07/2016 - 00:00

We're close to a month before the next PyCon Conference in Portland, Oregon. We are organizing our 58th meetup at our lovely UQAM. Join us if you would like to feel what the Python community in Montreal is doing.

As usual we are receiving some guests in both languages and they will present you their projects and realizations.

Don't forget to join us after the meetup at the Benelux to celebrate spring in our lovely city.

Flash presentations

Kate Arthur: Kids CODE Jeunesse

Kids Code Jeunesse is dedicated to giving every Canadian child the chance to learn to code and to learn computational thinking. We introduce educators, parents and communities to intuitive teaching tools.

We work in classrooms, community centres, host events and give workshops to supporting engaging educational experiences for everyone.

Christophe Reverd: Club Framboise

Présentation du Club Framboise, la communauté des utilisateurs de Raspberry Pi à Montréal

Main presentations

Vadim Gubergrits: DIY Quantum Computer

An introduction to Quantum Computing with Python.

Pascal Priori: santropol-feast: Savoir faire Linux et des bénévoles accompagnent le Santropol Roulant

Dans le cadre de la maison du logiciel libre, Savoir faire Linux et des bénévoles accompagnent le Santropol Roulant, un acteur du milieu communautaire montréalais dans la réalisation d'une plateforme de gestion de la base de donnée des clients en Django. En effet, au cœur des activités du Santropol Roulant, il y a le service de popote roulante qui cuisine, prépare et livre plus d’une centaine de repas chauds chaque jour à des personnes en perte d’autonomie. La base de données des clients joue un rôle clé dans la chaîne de services Réalisé en Django, le projet est à la recherche de bénévoles ayant envie de s'engager et contribuer au projet pour poursuivre le développement de la plateforme!

George Peristerakis: How CI is done in Openstack

In George's last talk, there was a lot of questions on the details of integrating code review and continuous integration in Openstack. This talk is a followup on the process and the technology behind implementing CI for Openstack.

Ivo Tzvetkov: Neolixir

An ORM for easy modelling and integration of Neo4j graph databases


UQÀM, Pavillion PK

201, Président-Kennedy avenue

Room PK-1140


Monday, May 9th 2016

  • 6:00pm — Doors open
  • 6:30pm — Presentations start
  • 7:30pm — Break
  • 7:45pm — Second round of presentations
  • 9:00pm — End of the meeting, have a drink with us
We’d like to thank our sponsors for their continued support:
  • UQÀM
  • Bénélux
  • Outbox
  • Savoir-faire Linux
  • Caravan
  • iWeb
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