Friday, August 29, 2008

Watch High Quality YouTube Videos by Default

Explained here. Man, I missed the boat on this one... it's been out for half a year!

Cool Gmail Feature -- Periods do not Matter

It's true: is the same email address as as far as Gmail is concerned. And to think that everyone makes such a big fuss about making sure you have that period in the right place when they give out their emails...

This feature is documented in Gmail help here. Gmail even idiot-proofs this feature by having a link to the docs when you receive an email at a different address from the one you registered (see photo).

Some have used this feature to their advantage to reduce spam or create multiple accounts on a web service that all send mail to the same Gmail address.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Thoughts on Facebook and Privacy (or Lack Thereof)

After watching a DEFCON 16 presentation about the vulnerabilities in social networks, I reflected further upon Facebook and the privacy it offers you and me, which is close to nil. Your guarantees to privacy on Facebook depend on a multitude of assumptions, all of which are quite poor. [B]

First, you are trusting that the Facebook developers have implemented the privacy controls correctly such that there is no inadvertent information leakage on the site as a result of bugs. I write code for a living, and let me tell you, bug-free code does not exist. Facebook, like other applications, has had its share of bugs to scramble to fix in the past (including at least one truly amateur mistake) and the future will be (and the present is) no different.

Second, you are assuming that you can configure the myriad privacy options correctly such that every piece of information on your site is accessible to only those that you want it to be. Are you really sure that marking one person as only being allowed to see your limited profile and specifying that picture as globally viewable, for example, will turn out the restrictions you desire for the correct people? How can you tell which preferences override which? It would certainly be tedious to register other accounts (or use friends') and test various combinations of privacy features against their profiles and I am not aware of anyone that does this.

Third, anyone that can see your information is capable of leaking it to the public. [A] With the addition of every friend you are increasing the chance that your pictures, contact info, videos, etc. will be posted and shared outside of the Facebook walled garden. It is simply not possible that each of your 500 friends is not susceptible to give away information that you thought was just between you and them, especially when they have some kind of (monetary or otherwise) incentive to do so. The scenarios of a rival political party digging up dirt on a candidate and gossip magazines researching what someone did last night both come to mind.

Fourth, all of your information can be accessed by any Facebook engineer or executive who choses to do so. The engineers likely need access to real-world pages to debug their code, and the managers can order information from a compliant underling (if Facebook doesn't have internal tools set up already for them to access this information). And let's not forget everyone else that works there (sales, PR, HR, etc.) who can request your personal information as a favor from an engineer friend.

Fifth, just as with any other website, information on Facebook can be subpoenaed in a trial. Facebook, needing to comply with the law, will gladly turn over your personal information to any judge who so wishes.

Sixth, let's not forget the countless ways Facebook could involuntarily compromise your information. A malicious hacker could slurp down personal data off the site. A Facebook employee could negligently leave an unencrypted disk drive with your information on it in a public place. Etc.

The only conclusion is this sound advice: don't put anything on Facebook that you don't want to be exposed to the world. Because chances are, sooner or later, it will be.


[A] This is, of course, assuming that your group of Facebook friends can not be considered 'the public.' With the amount of friends some have, and especially one's willingness to accept any request that comes their way and fire out friend requests at random, this distinction begins to blur.

[B] I was going to add this post to my Facebook Sucks article but it became too long and I thought it deserved a post of its own.


Here is a post for those that want a HOWTO for micromanaging their privacy settings on Facebook. (Even Schneier likes it).

Here is a Slashdot story about a court demanding Facebook information pursuant to a case

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


DEFCON 16 was awesome, as expected. Some highlights:
  • The first presentation I went to was called "Hacking in the Name of Science." Here a bunch of University of Washington grad students and a professor discussed the sweet research they are doing, almost all of which has been in the news (Implicating 'downloading' printers to the RIAA monitors, RFID ghost proxies, TCP information leakage, voting machine vulnerabilities, TrueCrypt vulnerabilities, implantable medical device hacking, ISP injected ads, etc.). They discussed the difference between just hacking and what you need to do in an academic setting to study what anyone else would call hacking. They encouraged attending academic security conferences, such as ACM CCS, NDSS, IEEE Security + Privacy, HotSec and Woot
  • A talk entitled "Satan is on my Friends List" detailed the security vulnerabilities in OpenSocial-enabled websites. These guys demonstrated some hilarious things, including using a CSRF DOS attack: using an img tag placed in an html-enabled form that displays on a page, you can automatically logout anyone that sees that img by pointing the img's src attribute to the logout page. The speakers talked about how the socnet widget applications space is essentially a security free-for-all: apps hacking personal information, apps hacking other apps, etc. An opt-in security model for javascript safety in apps exacerbates the problem. An amusing conclusion to the talk was the speakers' impersonation of another security researcher on social networks which fooled his colleagues and family alike.
  • Locksport enthusiast Eric Schmedl gave a talk that had some amusing anecdotes about cloak-and-dagger spying. Mary Lou McFate (NRA infiltrator of anti-gun groups), reconstructing passwords from audio of keystrokes, and multiple phone bugging technologies were discussed.
  • Fyodor gave a talk on nmap, the tool he created and how he used it to scan a large subset of the Internet. He also presented some new features of the tool, including traceroute, ping, and netcat-like functionality... what can't it do?
  • I briefly stopped in on a talk called "Taking Back Your Cellphone" which plugged the site HowardForums as an excellent resource for phone modification.
  • The activity that I took part in for a fair share of my time there was the Lockpicking Village. I bought a set of lockpicks, and tried my skills on a variety of locks lying about the room. I also listened to talks on how to crack certain types of locks, including masterlocks (use coke can shiv, patterns for figuring out combo).
  • Probably the most interesting thing that happened at DEFCON nobody got to see: a judge ordered a group of MIT students not to talk about hacking the Boston Subway system. This was rather pointless because 1) the presentation was distributed on CD before the gag was ordered 2) the ban was lifted after the conference 3) MIT's student newspaper put the presentation up on its site
  • Other cool things: the badge, the mystery box
  • Didn't see these presentations, but I looked at them on the CD:
    • "The Death of Cash" features a preview of a world without cash. People are turning to credit because it is more convenient, banks love it because of better profit margins, government loves it because it makes you easier to track. (Note: Illegal to transfer $10,000 in/out of the country without declaring it). This is getting worse with stupid legislation (Patriot Act). Also, national security risk: electronic outages now mean that people can't get access to cash (even more troublesome as electric grid becomes less reliable). Strong crypto might be the basis of a future E-payment system. Advice: keep some cash on hand for emergencies, use non-cash as little as possible. says the presentation can be downloaded at but I don't see it there...
    • An introduction to ham radio called "Ham for Hackers"
    • A presentation on Javascript obfuscation that goes over the following methods: ASCII/Unicode escapes, XOR (ASCII/encoding), string splitting, simple encryption, non-obvious variable and function names, member enumeration, whitespace encoding/decoding
    • Another presentation on SCADA systems that made me have nightmares
    • A HOWTO on SSL cookie hijacking by Tor developer Mike Perry: insert an img tag with src into an unencrypted connection and read their cookie, then save that cookie to cookies.txt and read their email (over SSL, if you want!)
    • OCR tools: tesseract, jocr, ocrad
    • A presentation similar to "Satan is on my Friends List" for Google Gadgets
Good photos of the event can be found here

Monday, August 18, 2008

Proposal: Free Parking through Self-Booting

San Francisco is a tough city to park in, so I've been scheming up some ways in which to get free parking... here's one thing I've come up with, but haven't had the guts to try yet.
  1. Buy four boots (or more formally, wheel immobilizers).
  2. Park in a tow-away parking zone.
  3. Affix one boot to each wheel of your car.
  4. Laugh at the people figuring out how to tow your car away seeing that they can not drag your car along on its back wheels nor wheel the car up onto a platform.
  5. Return to your car at your leisure, detach boots, drive away.
Some things to consider:
  • Boots are somewhat expensive, so the whole cost-efficiency of this scheme needs to be taken into consideration (price of tickets, if you plan to pay them, price of parking, risk of having car destroyed by angry tow truckers).
  • I'm not sure what kinds of contracts tow truckers have with the city, private establishments, etc. If they are not liable for any harm that comes to your car, this probably isn't such a good idea, as the towers have no incentive to not damage your car trying to toe it away.
  • Not paying tickets can bite you in the ass if the ticket-giver somehow manages to figure out your Vehicle Identification Number, usually found etched in various places in the car. Unpaid tickets can come up when you try and re-register your vehicle.
  • Boots can be pried off... I'm sure this isn't the only way
UPDATE: Nothing to do with booting, but here's another way to get free parking in San Francisco, courtesy of Black Hat

Monday, August 11, 2008

HOWTO vertical display (X, Nvidia)

Here is how to get your monitor looking something like this (not my monitor, btw):

Put this line as an option in the "Device" section of /etc/X11/xorg.conf: Option "Rotate" "CCW" Then, restart X with Ctrl+Alt+Backspace. Afterwards, start up sudo nvidia-settings and shuffle the screens around in X Server Display Configuration so that they are properly aligned. Be sure to press the Save to X Configuration File button.

Found via this forum thread and a tip from Arash.

Following is an xorg.conf file to get 2 Dell 2407 monitors in a T formation (with one on the left vertical and one on the right horizontal aka Rajiv-style). This setup has a few problems, though...
1) The screens are flush at the top, which makes a window across both monitors look disjointed... not a huge problem, and could probably be solved by tweaking the config
2) Can't seem to get compiz-fusion to work
3) Using Xinerama instead of Twinview is waaaaay slower, especially when an object is on both screens
4) Just feels too unnatural... I'm going back to both screens horizontal
It's also a bit hard finding helpful forum posts on these things anyways because everyone seems to misuse the terminlogy (Xinerama, Twinview, etc.) and problems are very individual (Depending on video drivers, screens, etc.). Anyways, here's the xorg.conf:

Section "ServerLayout"
Identifier "Default Layout"
Screen 0 "Screen0" RightOf "Screen1"
Screen 1 "Screen1" 0 0

Section "Module"
Load "glx"

Section "ServerFlags"
Option "Xinerama" "1"

Section "InputDevice"
Identifier "Generic Keyboard"
Driver "kbd"
Option "XkbRules" "xorg"
Option "XkbModel" "pc105"
Option "XkbLayout" "us"

Section "InputDevice"
Identifier "Configured Mouse"
Driver "mouse"
Option "CorePointer"

Section "Monitor"
Identifier "Configured Monitor"

Section "Monitor"
Identifier "Monitor0"
VendorName "Unknown"
ModelName "DELL 2407WFP"
HorizSync 30.0 - 83.0
VertRefresh 56.0 - 76.0

Section "Monitor"
Identifier "Monitor1"
VendorName "Unknown"
ModelName "DELL 2407WFP"
HorizSync 30.0 - 83.0
VertRefresh 56.0 - 76.0

Section "Device"
Identifier "Videocard0"
Driver "nvidia"
VendorName "NVIDIA Corporation"
BoardName "GeForce 7900 GS"
Option "Rotate" "CCW"
Option "NoLogo" "True"
BusID "PCI:1:0:0"
Screen 0

Section "Device"
Identifier "Videocard1"
Driver "nvidia"
VendorName "NVIDIA Corporation"
BoardName "GeForce 7900 GS"
BusID "PCI:1:0:0"
Screen 1

Section "Screen"
Identifier "Screen0"
Device "Videocard1"
Monitor "Monitor0"
DefaultDepth 24
Option "TwinView" "0"
Option "metamodes" "DFP-0: nvidia-auto-select +0+0"

Section "Screen"
Identifier "Screen1"
Device "Videocard0"
Monitor "Monitor1"
DefaultDepth 24
Option "TwinView" "0"
Option "metamodes" "DFP-1: nvidia-auto-select +0+0"