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Julian Assange: Debian Is Owned By The NSA

In his Q&A to his keynote address at the World Hosting Days Global 2014 conference in April, the world’s largest hosting and cloud event, Julian Assange discussed encryption technology in the context of hosting systems. He discussed the cypherpunk credo of how encryption can level the playing field between powerful governments and people, and about 20 minutes into his address, he discussed how UNIX-like systems like Debian (which he mentioned by name) are engineered by nation-states with backdoors which are easily introduced as ‘bugs’, and how the Linux system depends on thousands of packages and libraries that may be compromised.

I recommend watching his 36 minute Q&A in its entirety, keeping in mind my recent warnings about how GNU/Linux is almost entirely engineered by the government/military-affiliated Red Hat corporation.

The Voice of Russia website has an article on Assange’s address with a few quotes:

“To a degree this is a matter of national sovereignty. The news is all flush with talk about how Russia has annexed the Crimea, but the reality is, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, principally the United States, have annexed the whole world as a result of annexing the computer systems and communications technology that is used to run the modern world,” stated Julian Assange in his keynote address…

Don’t just read the short article, listen to the address yourself, because Assange goes into many areas, and the work being done in these fields.

Assange mentions how Debian famously botched the SSH random number generator for years (which was clearly sabotaged). Speaking of botched security affecting Red Hat, Debian, Ubuntu, Gentoo, SuSE, *BSD, and more, the nightmarish OpenSSL recently botched SSL again (very serious – updated comments on how a defense contractor in Finland outed the NSA here?) It’s very hard to believe this wasn’t deliberate, as botching the memory space of private keys is about as completely incompetent as you can get, as this area is ultra-critical to the whole system. As a result, many private keys, including of providers, were potentially compromised, and much private info of service users. Be sure to update your systems as this bug is now public knowledge. (For more on how OpenSSL is a nightmare, and why this bug is one among many that will never be found, listen to FreeBSD developer Poul-Heening Kamp’s excellent talk at the FOSDEM BSD conference.)

From the start, my revelations on this blog about Red Hat’s deep control of Linux, along with their large corporate/government connections, hasn’t been just about spying, but about losing the distributed engineering quality of Linux, with Red Hat centralizing control. Yet as an ex-cypherpunk and crypto software developer, as soon as I started using Linux years ago, I noted that all the major distributions used watered-down encryption (to use stronger encryption in many areas, such as AES-loop, you needed to compile your own kernel and go to great lengths to manually bypass barriers they put in place to the use of genuinely strong encryption). This told me then that those who controlled distributions were deeply in the pockets of intelligence networks. So it comes as no surprise to me that they jumped on board systemd when told to, despite the mock choice publicized to users – there was never any option.

A computer, and especially hosting services (which often run Linux), are powerful communication and broadcasting systems into today’s world. If you control and have unfettered access to such systems, you basically control the world. As Assange notes in the talk, encryption is only as strong as its endpoints. eg if you’re running a very secure protocol on a system with a compromised OS, you’re owned.

As Assange observed:

“The sharing of information, the communication of free peoples, across history and across geography, is something that creates, maintains, and disciplines laws [governments].”

UPDATE: Wikileaks is officially denying that Julian Assange literally said “Debian Is Owned By The NSA”. For people who are choking on the mere summary title of this article, please see definition of Owned/Pwn (and get some hip!)

Related:

April 8, 2014 Posted by | News | 131 Comments

Treker And Linux Advocate Wil Wheaton Starring In New SyFy Series

To lighten the mood a bit here, a little news from Linux Hollywood…

While some may only remember the name Wil Wheaton as the teenage Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, he went on to become one of the first and biggest celebrity bloggers (with a hand-coded website running on Linux), and is touted as a champion of geek affairs. He’s a big advocate of Linux, open source and anti-DRM. Is he a SpaceFM user? :) Not sure – try it out Wil – but I’ve talked with him a few times on his blog and he’s a great guy, and super-talented. Just a few weeks ago he posted his geeky thoughts on his latest Ubuntu install, and he’s even an Xfce user.

He writes yesterday on his blog that he will be starring in a new innovative series on the SyFy (formerly Sci-Fi) network: The Wil Wheaton Project, airing May 27th. His account there of what he went through to make the show happen was interesting, and it sounds like quite a creative show. Maybe he’ll even feature some Linux stuff there? Who can say, but nice to see a talented Linux geek making it big. Check it out.

Also see: Hollywood Reporter Article

April 3, 2014 Posted by | News | Comments Off

Ts’o and Linus And The Impotent Rage Against systemd

Bringing some links buried in comments below to the top, I think these critiques of systemd’s integration and maintenance deserve some review.

First, kernel developer Theodore Ts’o, the developer of e2fsprogs and current maintainer of ext4, shares his reservations about systemd’s engineering, and the trouble he has had understanding and using it.

…a lot of the fear and uncertainty over systemd may not be so much about systemd, but the fear and loathing over radical changes that have been coming down the pike over the past few years, many of which have been not well documented, and worse, had some truly catastrophic design flaws that were extremely hard to fix.

He goes on to describe how he previously had to neuter policykit’s security (rendering his system very vulnerable) just to get his system working, and how he has found systemd “very difficult sometimes to figure out”. Should we be concerned that a kernel developer, obviously a very qualified computer user (an MIT graduate in his 40s), has trouble understanding and using policykit and systemd to configure his own system? Where does that leave the average Linux user in handling these atrociously complex and built-to-be-broken technologies?

His discussion is not a tirade against systemd, but he too warns of the complexity of the system and its XML (even javascript-based?) configuration files, and also of the very poor track record developers like Red Hat’s Lennart Poettering have:

…Kay Sievers and Lennart Poettering often have the same response style to criticisms as the GNOME developers [read other Red Hat developers] — go away, you’re clueless, we know better than you, and besides, we have commit privs and you don’t, so go away.

Predictably, fanboys rush to systemd’s defense in the comments, telling us how wonderfully documented and supported it is, what a quiet, fascist paradise the systemd mailing list is, and how responsive the developers are to every bug, request and patch submission.

Yet just two days ago, we see Linus Torvalds (the creator of Linux and maintainer of the Linux kernel), launching into a tirade against – yes, you guessed it – systemd developers because of their atrocious response to a bug in systemd that is crashing the kernel and preventing it from being debugged. Linus is so upset with systemd developer Kay Sievers (gee, where I have heard that name before – oh, that’s right, he’s the moron who refused to fix udev problems) that Linus is threatening to refuse any further contributions from this Red Hat developer, not just because of this bug, but because of a pattern of this behavior – a problem for Kay because Red Hat is also foaming at the mouth to have their kernel-based, no doubt bug- and security-flaw-ridden D-Bus implementation included in our kernels. Other developers were so peeved that they suggested simply triggering a kernel panic and halting the system when systemd is so much as detected in use.

So much for systemd developers’ responsiveness, and its great engineering, witless fanboys. (Are we really sure many of these fanboys aren’t part of an Infiltrate, Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy program?)

While Ts’o’s discussion of systemd wanted to make me wretch for its usual polite, politically-correct crap, he did at least bring up some core problems in that typically watered-down way that mainstream developers express their opinions so as not to offend any fascists in their midst. Yet even Linus’s tirade, and the lengthy user discussion which followed it, completely miss what’s really happening to Linux. It seems these developers and users can’t rise up enough to get a 3D view – all they can do is focus on minute issues in isolation and fail to put the pieces together in any coherent way. Are they just afraid or feeling awkward to discuss it, or are they like other kernel developers I’ve heard from who are completely clueless about what Red Hat developers represent?

I’ll put it together for you once again. For those who missed it in my other articles, Red Hat is a billion-dollar corporation with deep ties to the US military (their largest customer), and thus inevitably the NSA (a military security organization), etc. Adding to the conflict of interest, they have as direct corporate partners Google, Apple, and other too-large-to-imagine corporations with their hands in slime. Red Hat developers dictatorially control the core engineering of Linux, including components such as udev, udisks, xorg, dbus, systemd, etc., used by every major Linux distribution, as well as other common desktop components such as GNOME and GTK. (As Ts’o put it, “we have commit privs and you don’t”.) These are simple facts, though curiously never discussed. In many developers’ views, these Red Hat developers have consistently introduced closed, overly complex, security-breaking technologies to Linux for years, and have a long and tired history of sabotaging kernel development, creating unending bugs and problems for kernel developers, which they often categorically refuse to address. Linus knows them well – or does he?

Yet the myth continues that Linux is somehow not surreptitiously developed as a product of the military-industrial complex, and that its core engineering is based on open and free contributions. Discussions like these ones above revolve around whatever the bugs of the day are, and completely fail to assess what appears to be deliberate and systemic damage done to the Linux ecosystem, primarily through Red Hat developers.

Wake up, morons – and that includes you Linus (who likes to call out morons as such himself). Start telling it like it is, and start addressing the real systemic problems in Linux’s engineering – namely that brown shirts like Kay Sievers and Lennart Poettering are just front men for a much uglier reality. Otherwise you’re just trying to sweep back the ocean with a broom – your actions are useless and doomed to fail. Getting angry won’t help – start getting smart, and start developing a genuinely free and open operating system, taking you-know-who out of the loop. If you can’t or won’t do that, then you may as well just surrender Linux to them entirely, which is pretty much the case already.

Related:

April 3, 2014 Posted by | News | 29 Comments

GTK 3.10 Drops Menu Icons and Mnemonics

At the risk of turning this into the ‘bad news blog’, I have discouraging news regarding the release of GTK 3.10, which has now reached Debian Testing.

While working on SpaceFM recently, I noticed that all of the menu icons are gone.

No menu icons, meaning no app icons in the Open menu. This is the new GTK3 default, unannounced as far as I can tell, and not publicly discussed. I see from an Ubuntu thread back in 2009 that GNOME made this their default back then. That thread indicated that GNOME (which I don’t use) has a configuration editor to turn menu icons back on, and there was rumor of the option being removed eventually. The developers deemed it “less cluttered”.

In GTK 3.10, you can still add the line ‘gtk-menu-images = true‘ to ~/.config/gtk-3.0/settings.ini to turn them back on. Yet if this was already the GNOME default, why make it a new GTK default five years later, breaking current behavior? Are they planning to disable them entirely soon? A quick search reveals no discussion or documentation on this change.

As an app developer, I can tell you that most GTK and GNOME users won’t change that setting, or even be aware that it exists. Thus my app will be icon-less, and the settings for customizing menu icons in SpaceFM won’t have any effect. I thought GNOME was always the icon-driven UI compared to KDE, so this seems very strange.

No Mnemonics Either – At All
In addition, as you can see in the above shot, mnemonics have been removed entirely. These are where eg “Copy” in the menu has an underlined ‘C’, allowing you to press Alt+C to activate it. SpaceFM allows you to customize these too. Mnemonics have also been removed from dialog labels, meaning, for example, you can no longer press Alt+N in SpaceFM’s rename dialog to put the cursor in the Name box, and you can’t click an OK button by pressing Alt+O.

Unlike the missing menu icons, it appears that mnemonics have been permanently disabled. Per the GTK 3.10 docs: “gtk-enable-mnemonics has been deprecated since version 3.10 and should not be used in newly-written code. This setting is ignored.” IOW, it’s also impossible to turn them back on with gtk-enable-mnemonics = true in settings.ini, and themes can’t override this either. I say this appears to be the case, because I can find no further documentation or discussion of this change. [UPDATE: It seems you can press the Alt key once to make the mnemonics appear while the mouse is over an item. Anyone know how to disable this feature and make them always shown? Please leave a comment.]

Good luck to disabled persons with limited or no mouse use. And based on feedback, many people use these mnemonics, myself included. Key shortcuts provide a much faster UI than clicking a mouse, especially for commonly repeated tasks.

Fortunately, SpaceFM users can choose a GTK2 build of SpaceFM (most distros offer packages for both for compatibility with MATE, etc), and I personally plan to drop use of GTK3 due to this change, as well as their breaking existing defaults and behavior. I don’t want to deal with lost and broken functionality everytime I update my system – it interrupts my workflow. Plus I use mnemonics at times, especially with annoyingly slow touchpads. Yet for apps that have ‘moved forward’ to GTK3, such as Roxterm, we’re stuck with mnemonic-less menus and dialogs.

What is the vision and motivation behind permanently removing such core UI functionality, not just changing the toolkit default, which is bad enough, but killing it entirely? All that GTK and app code, debugged and working well, now in the trash bin. Whatever their vision is, I don’t like it. Their rampage of removing functionality is clearly just getting started.

At some point, I believe I may need to drop GTK3 support entirely from SpaceFM, but we haven’t reached that point yet. This change doesn’t require me to re-code anything, it just diminishes the user experience when GTK3 is used. I had planned to make the GTK3 build the default soon, but I believe I will stick with GTK2 as a default, and for stability I recommend that to users. If it comes to a point where I can’t support both, I will drop GTK3. I’m not chasing after all their time-wasting breakage. And many projects have been resisting the move to GTK3, which I think is wise. I guess it’s telling that the GIMP project, the original developer of GTK (GIMP Toolkit), is sticking to GTK2, and they’ve been told not to expect to be able to use GTK3 for such a robust app.

This still presents problems, because using a mixture of GTK2 and GTK3 apps on your system is wildly inefficient. This means that library components of both versions must be resident in memory, as well as all the components related to GTK, such as icon caches, etc. You’re basically doubling the system requirements and slowing it down. For this reason, I strongly advise app developers to support a hybrid GTK2/GTK3 build. While it requires a few ifdefs, it’s reasonable. See SpaceFM’s gtk2-compat.h for some ideas.

Further, developing an app on a toolkit that is no longer actively developed or supported presents obvious problems. Yet GTK3 is supported so poorly, and the developers of it respond to app developers and users so arrogantly and dismissively, that it’s effectively the same. Yet how long will GTK2 remain compatible with changes in X, glib, and other components? Lets hope some forks get going strong.

This solidifies my conspiratorial opinions that GTK is deliberately being driven into the ground by Red Hat, alienating users and developers, both to turn the corporate-developed Qt into THE monolithic Linux UI toolkit, and perhaps to convert GTK into some kind of tablet-only nightmare. “Linux is a government, military product, right down to its core” – the core engineering is controlled almost exclusively by Red Hat, regardless of what distro or DE you use. I guess the military isn’t keen on recruiting disabled persons, so why bother with mnemonics? And who needs icons in a colorless corporate world? I can understand why app developers, even in Xfce and LXDE, are being slowly driven to Qt, yet once everyone is in that corporate boat, where will the captain take it?

March 22, 2014 Posted by | News, Tips | 29 Comments

Ubuntu To Dump Nautilus – Wants Your Input

In the latest sprint away from all things Red Hat, Ubuntu is planning to develop its own file manager and is asking for feedback. From Phoronix:

The latest piece of the desktop Linux stack that Ubuntu developers are planning to replace with their own home grown solution is a file manager. For likely inclusion into Ubuntu 14.10 would be a new Ubuntu file manager to replace GNOME’s Nautilus. Users and developers of Ubuntu are growing increasingly unhappy with the direction of Nautilus… Oliver Grawert is currently seeking feedback on the requirements and other sought after features of the new default file manager.

While Ubuntu’s likely file manager doesn’t excite me, the discussion is interesting. And it was good to see SpaceFM and udevil raised in the discussion. Isn’t it time for file managers to support ad hoc commands for mounting and other tasks, instead of binding users to one set of hard-coded system tools?

February 2, 2014 Posted by | News | 10 Comments

GTK fesses up – this ain’t for you; Qt takes over the world

LWN.net’s Nathan Willis, who previously covered this blog’s viral Arch’s Dirty Little Secret article a few years ago with unusual courage and honesty, has an article back from August which covers several talks at GUADEC 2013, wherein lead GNOME developers talk about the limited uses and ill future of GTK.

In my clear view, the Red Hat corporation has declared itself sole owner of the community-developed GTK project, and is driving it into the ground, making it unusable, probably at Google’s bequest. Their greatest vision for it is making a desktop clock. Any apps larger than that are pushing the usability envelope. GIMP, the original creator of GTK, need not apply.

Meanwhile, Linux developers are flocking to Qt. Yet it should be noted that as soon as Digia aquired Nokia’s Qt, they pledged to become Google’s bitch everlasting. Today, they’re very excited about Chromium. They are controlled by large corporations who make all the decisions and decide the directions. Where do you think that will lead? Why do you think Google didn’t buy Qt themselves? Short of cash? Why use a pawn like Digia?

To me, all of this powerful corporate drive to support ‘cross-platform’ development is merely a game to turn Linux into Windows – to make it so it doesn’t matter what you run, you’re still running a Google product. Google is the new Microsoft. It amazes me how many Linux users think Google is their friend. The Linux community has really become nothing short of stupid, absorbing corporate press releases like populations absorb propaganda. They can’t see even the most obvious attacks, and give their full support to their own demise.

I think it’s safe to say that any spirit of freedom and diversity that once drove Linux is dead. The new people entering the realm of development in Linux are just Windows developers looking for a larger base and more money, or simply corporate whores tearing it apart for short-sighted, malicious goals (which they themselves understand very poorly). They care not for any of the principles that made Linux what it is, or was.

So Linux has been lost because the community has failed to protect it and help it grow. And this isn’t just about toolkits – the infection goes deep into the kernel, udev, the init system, and other areas. In the next few years any remaining GNU Linux users who even know what a principle is, will need to find a new home.

Meanwhile, while you still have a non-Google-implanted brain, you might want to try to figure out why corporations want to (and have always wanted to) completely control the software and abilities of your computer. And you might want to consider differences between Windows and Linux beyond how widgets look. They once represented very different visions of the personal computer.

Updated reading:

January 25, 2014 Posted by | News | 53 Comments

LXDE and Calculate Snub GNOME 3

A little GUI toolkit news, courtesy of some links from a reader…

PCMan has created what looks like a qt fork of PCManFM, and there are some indications there and elsewhere that other LXDE components may be moving in that direction.

PCMan does great work in the lightweight FM area – you can thank him for SpaceFM, as it was built from the legacy PCManFM as a base. However, it should be noted that the current incarnation of PCManFM is based on gvfs/udisks, with all their incumbent issues and GNOME dependencies. This is something which PCMan never liked, and likes even less now that he sees how they perform, so I wonder what he has in store. I know he’s already working on a fuse-based udisks replacement. Yet the rewrite probably got the code in better shape for a qt transition. Will be interesting to see what comes out of that camp.

Also, the Gentoo-derived Calculate distro has announced for their latest 13.4 release:

GNOME3 is no longer supported, as CLDG now features GNOME 2. We’ll not be supporting Gnome in next versions.

This seems like a mass lightweight (if I may combine those) migration away from GNOME3/GTK3, which is clearly being developed in a corporate/hostile-to-free way these days (background). Good for them! Hopefully this spells longer-range support or a viable fork of GNOME2 & GTK2. I’m of the opinion that GNOME3 should have been a fork, not a new major release version of GNOME, as they covered a great public park with concrete.

I’m personally watching these GUI toolkit directions carefully. qt doesn’t excite me much more than GTK3, but its probably somewhat better than what Red Hat has planned. I’ve been toying with the idea of a flexible GUI engine of sorts, perhaps to gradually and eventually replace SpaceFM’s GUI, and take it to the next level. But I’ve been stopped because I don’t like the toolkits available, and things seems so volatile. (It’s not pleasant to invest hundreds of hours on a toolkit, and base software on it, only to have it turn to sand under you.) Perhaps at this point a multiple toolkit framework is best, but that still represents an investment in a particular API.

Linux is really hurting in this area – hard to develop anything decent without wasting your time rewriting the GUI every other day. I’m glad I did SpaceFM as a prototype rather than investing a full design in GTK, but in some areas it’s ready for some new components to allow it to grow, yet I’ve been hesitant to write them in GTK. Overall I would like to break away from Red Hat/GNOME now that they’re poisoning the GTK well, but not sure that qt is for me either.

April 26, 2013 Posted by | News | 36 Comments

The Dangers of Software Evangelism

From The Sporkbox Blog, a review of the dangers of software evangelism and how it applies to the current situation with systemd adoption, with some devel mailing list quotes.

In May 2011 Lennart Poettering proposed systemd as a dependency for further releases of GNOME. As systemd is available only on Linux, the proposal led to the discussion of possibly dropping support for other platforms in future GNOME releases. While some people responded to the proposal with criticism others suggested the idea of a GNOME Operating System on top of the Linux kernel.

Basically this comes down to: Are Linux users going to allow corporations to take over their OS and change it in unfriendly ways? Because that’s what’s happening.

One of my concerns on this is how poorly these developers maintain these projects. I just came across an easily reproduced GTK3 bug affecting SpaceFM which was reported almost a year ago – with no response yet. That’s one thing you can look forward to when these corporate developers control everything: Microsoft-quality responsiveness and attention to detail.

February 14, 2013 Posted by | News, reviews | 4 Comments

Upcoming Magazine Article

I’m pleased to announce that an article I wrote will be appearing in the upcoming print issue of Linux User & Developer™ magazine. The article, A Linux Conspiracy Theory, is originally based on my November blog article GNOME (et al): Rotting In Threes, trimming down some of the quoted materials there, and integrating some of the discussions and bug reports which followed. In addition, related issues affecting kernel development and other areas of Linux are analyzed in this context, bringing together a larger picture of what is happening in Linux.

Linux User & Developer Issue #122 on sale January 17th

Much thanks to their editor, Russell Barnes, for working with me on this and helping to bring these issues to greater attention.

Linux User & Developer magazine is available worldwide in printed, online and digital forms, including iPad, Android tablets, and PCs. This 6-page feature article will go live in Issue #122 on sale January 17th (in the US, look for it in stores 2-3 weeks later). Look for this cover:

Linux User & Developer Issue #122 on sale January 17th

Thanks for picking up a copy and checking it out! UPDATE: You can now read this article here.

January 2, 2013 Posted by | News | 7 Comments

Ubuntu Spyware

Richard Stallman, creator of the GNU Project and author of several pivotal free software licenses (GPL, etc), yesterday published an article on the Free Software Foundation website exploring the fact that Ubuntu is adding really obnoxious spyware which sends your local file searches to advertisers, et al. For background, I covered this in my GNOME (et al): Rotting In Threes: Ubuntu Spyware article section, and the EFF published Privacy in Ubuntu 12.10: Amazon Ads and Data Leaks.

Stallman writes:

One of the major advantages of free software is that the community protects users from malicious software. Now Ubuntu GNU/Linux has become a counterexample. What should we do?
[...]
Most free software developers would abandon such a plan given the prospect of a mass switch to someone else’s corrected version. But Canonical has not abandoned the Ubuntu spyware. Perhaps Canonical figures that the name “Ubuntu” has so much momentum and influence that it can avoid the usual consequences and get away with surveillance.

See his full article for details and how you can impact their decisions.

This is not exactly a new behavioral trend for Canonical, merely the latest growth. Several years ago when I dumped Ubuntu they were starting to modify Firefox in their repos so that the online search box redirected to their servers. Their escalation into sharing local search data is a gross betrayal of their users. I think anyone who supports Linux should seriously question why they’re using Ubuntu at this point. In free software, we don’t vote much with our dollars, but we do vote by using and giving attention to software and distros. Nothing says ‘I do not support this’ like users moving en masse away from their offerings. Addiction to any one distro or software solution allows these corporations to keep moving Linux in anti-user directions.

Kudos to a community leader such as Richard Stallman for taking a firm stance against these practices. Much of the valuable qualities we find today in Linux are there because of his work and the work of similar activists, as well as Linux users who stay aware of and involved in these issues. Also see Richard’s personal activist site where he gives excellent reasons for Don’t do business with Amazon, Don’t use Skype, and Don’t do business with Apple, among important others.

What this comes down to: Do you want Linux to survive and grow as a viable alternative to closed, user-limiting systems?

December 8, 2012 Posted by | News | 10 Comments

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