Twenty years

Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of my FreeBSD commit bit, and tomorrow will be the twentieth anniversary of my first commit. I figured I’d split the difference and write a few words about it today.

My level of engagement with the FreeBSD project has varied greatly over the twenty years I’ve been a committer. There have been times when I worked on it full-time, and times when I did not touch it for months. The last few years, health issues and life events have consumed my time and sapped my energy, and my contributions have come in bursts. Commit statistics do not tell the whole story, though: even when not working on FreeBSD directly, I have worked on side projects which, like OpenPAM, may one day find their way into FreeBSD.

My contributions have not been limited to code. I was the project’s first Bugmeister; I’ve served on the Security Team for a long time, and have been both Security Officer and Deputy Security Officer; I managed the last four Core Team elections and am doing so again this year.

In return, the project has taught me much about programming and software engineering. It taught me code hygiene and the importance of clarity over cleverness; it taught me the ins and outs of revision control; it taught me the importance of good documentation, and how to write it; and it taught me good release engineering practices.

Last but not least, it has provided me with the opportunity to work with some of the best people in the field. I have the privilege today to count several of them among my friends.

For better or worse, the FreeBSD project has shaped my career and my life. It set me on the path to information security in general and IAA in particular, and opened many a door for me. I would not be where I am now without it.

I won’t pretend to be able to tell the future. I don’t know how long I will remain active in the FreeBSD project and community. It could be another twenty years; or it could be ten, or five, or less. All I know is that FreeBSD and I still have things to teach each other, and I don’t intend to call it quits any time soon.

Previously

Yes, all men

As a man, you are, and always have been, part of the problem. Accept it, and start being part of the solution.

Since Susan Fowler blogged about her experience at Uber in February, the debate about sexism in tech has dominated IT and business news. Note that this debate is not new, and Fowler’s story isn’t all that different from many other stories we’ve heard before. It’s just that for once, finally, people were paying attention, and There Were Consequences. Then matters escalated in June with a string of revelations about sexism—not just discrimination, but full on sexual harassment.

Then came the apologies. Let me tell you about the apologies. The average response from a manager or venture capitalist accused of sexism went something like this:

I apologized unreservedly for my treatment of X. I realize now that my innocent jokes may have been misinterpreted. I’m actually a pretty nice guy, and X’s refusal to sleep with me had no impact whatsoever on my decision not to invest in her startup.

Then came the White Knights:

As a VC, I’m appalled to hear about my colleagues’ behavior towards women. I would like to reassure you all that Not All Men are like that. I myself am actually a pretty nice guy and completely innocent in all this.

Guys, it’s time to face the music. We have all been That Guy. We have all made sexist jokes, or laughed when others made them, or stood by silently while our male bosses, coworkers and colleagues ignored or patronized or belittled or humiliated women. We have all benefited from a system that eliminates close to 50% of our competition before the race has even started.

We are all complicit. We are all guilty.

So what do we do? Where do we go next?

First, take a deep breath, do a little soul-searching, and re-read that paragraph until any impulse, however minor, to say to yourself “OK, but not me” is gone. Yes, you too.

Next, if you’ve ever acted inappropriately towards a female coworker or friend or acquaintance, or stood by silently while others did, consider apologizing.

Third, vow to never do so again, and work hard to keep that vow. Respect the women around you as much as you respect the men. If someone around you acts or speaks inappropriately, speak up, even if there are no women present. Be proactive: make sure that women are given equal opportunity to join those career-building projects, and are included in those backstage chats where decisions are made. If you are hiring, seek out female candidates, keeping in mind that women have a tendency to underestimate their abilities and experience just as men have a tendency to overestimate them. If you are teaching, encourage and mentor female students. Reach out to them if they seem discouraged. Don’t wait until they drop out.

Open your eyes. Open your ears. Listen to the women around you. Believe them. Respect them. Be someone they can vent to and someone they can count on for support when push comes to shove.

You will slip up. When you do, apologize and vow to do better.

As a man, you are, and always have been, part of the problem. Accept it, and start being part of the solution.

Not up to our usual standards

For a few years now, I’ve been working on and off on a set of libraries which collect cryptography- and security-related code I’ve written for other projects as well as functionality which is not already available under a permissive license, or where existing implementations do not meet my expectations of cleanliness, readability, portability and embeddability.

(Aside: the reasons why this has taken years, when I initially expected to publish the first release in the spring or summer of 2014, are too complex to explain here; I may write about them at a later date. Keywords are health, family and world events.)

Two of the major features of that collection are the OATH Authentication Methods (which includes the algorithm used by Google Authenticator and a number of commercial one-time code fobs) and the Common Platform Enumeration, part of the Security Content Automation Protocol. I implemented the former years ago for my employer, and it has languished in the OpenPAM repository since 2012. The latter, however, has proven particularly elusive and frustrating, to the point where it has existed for two years as merely a header file and a set of mostly empty functions, just to sketch out the API. I decided to have another go at it yesterday, and actually made quite a bit of progress, only to hit the wall again. And this morning, I realized why. Continue reading “Not up to our usual standards” »

FreeBSD and CVE-2015-7547

As you have probably heard by now, a buffer overflow was recently discovered in GNU libc’s resolver code which can allow a malicious DNS server to inject code into a vulnerable client. This was announced yesterday as CVE-2015-7547. The best sources of information on the bug are currently Google’s Online Security Blog and Carlos O’Donnell’s in-depth analysis.

Naturally, people have started asking whether FreeBSD is affected. The FreeBSD Security Officer has not yet released an official statement, but in the meantime, here is a brief look at the issue as far as FreeBSD is concerned.

Continue reading “FreeBSD and CVE-2015-7547” »

Camouflage

Sechuran Fox / Mike Weedon / Wikimedia / CC-BY-SA 3.0
One fine morning, the King summoned Gerrard, Captain of the Guard, to attend to him at Council.

Gerrard bowed as he approached his monarch. “You asked for me, Sire?”

“Gerrard, my good man, I keep hearing stories about a band of smugglers led by a man who calls himself the Fox. I want to know what your men are doing about it.”

“Sire—we have guard posts and roving patrols, and sometimes we catch a smuggler or two, but they move quietly through the woods and brush, wearing camouflage, and they can choose any direction of approach, whereas we have to stretch our forces along the entire border.”

“Very well, Gerrard. I hereby ban the manufacture, sale and use of camouflage clothing except for the needs of the Royal Guard. You are dismissed.”

Three months later, the King summoned Gerrard again.

“I hear that the smugglers are still operating, despite the measures I ordered. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Banning camouflage clothing cut off the smugglers’ supply, but did not prevent them from using what they already had. We made more arrests when they ran out, but then they started making their own out of green, gray and black fabric, and we’re back to square one.”

“Very well. Henceforth, the manufacture and sale of green, gray or black fabric or clothing shall be illegal, except for the needs of the Royal Guard. Get to it, Gerrard.”

Some months later, Gerrard was once again summoned to discuss the matter of the Fox.

“I am very displeased, Gerrard. I would have thought your men would have little trouble catching smugglers now that they can no longer buy or make camouflage clothing. And I have been told that the villagers are restless and discontent.”

“Sire, the smugglers are tying grass, moss and branches to their clothes, and blending in better than ever before! And the villagers are complaining that the ban on camouflage and dark clothing is making it difficult for them to hunt—we forbade them to use vegetation like the smugglers do.”

“There is only one solution, then. Burn down the forests and the brush. Let us see the Fox try to sneak through a charred wasteland!”

“But, Sire—”

“Do not question my orders, Gerrard. Burn it all down.”

“Very well, Sire.”