Simon Willison’s Weblog

354 items tagged “security”


James Bennett on why Django should not support JWT in core (via) The topic of adding JWT support to Django core comes up occasionally—here’s James Bennett’s detailed argument for not doing that. The short version is that the JWT specification isn’t just difficult to implement securely: it’s fundamentally flawed, which results in things like five implementations in three different languages all manifesting the same vulnerability. Third party modules exist that add JWT support to Django, but baking it into core would act as a form of endorsement and Django’s philosophy has always been to encourage people towards best practices. # 1st August 2020, 12:28 am

Sandboxing and Workload Isolation (via) run other people’s code in containers, so workload isolation is a Big Deal for them. This blog post goes deep into the history of isolation and the various different approaches you can take, and fills me with confidence that the team at know their stuff. I got to the bottom and found it had been written by Thomas Ptacek, which didn’t surprise me in the slightest. # 30th July 2020, 10:19 pm

Restricting SSH connections to devices within a Tailscale network. TIL how to run SSH on a VPS instance (in this case Amazon Lightsail) such that it can only be SSHd to by devices connected to a private Tailscale VPN. # 23rd April 2020, 6:28 pm

The unexpected Google wide domain check bypass (via) Fantastic story of discovering a devious security vulnerability in a bunch of Google products stemming from a single exploitable regular expression in the Google closure JavaScript library. # 9th March 2020, 11:27 pm

Weeknotes: datasette-ics, datasette-upload-csvs, datasette-configure-fts, asgi-csrf

I’ve been preparing for the NICAR 2020 Data Journalism conference this week which has lead me into a flurry of activity across a plethora of different projects and plugins.

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Two malicious Python libraries caught stealing SSH and GPG keys. Nasty. Two typosquatting libraries were spotted on PyPI—targetting dateutil and jellyfish but with tricky variants of their names. They attempted to exfiltrate SSH and GPG keys and send them to an IP address defined server. npm has seen this kind of activity too—it’s important to consider this when installing packages. # 5th December 2019, 6:07 am

Client-Side Certificate Authentication with nginx. I’m intrigued by client-side browser certificates, which allow you to lock down a website such that only browsers with a specific certificate installed can access them. They work on both laptops and mobile phones. I followed the steps in this tutorial and managed to get an nginx instance running which only allows connections from my personal laptop and iPhone. # 5th October 2019, 5:26 pm

Looking back at the Snowden revelations (via) Six years on from the Snowden revelations, crypto researcher Matthew Green reviews their impact and reminds us what we learned. Really interesting. # 25th September 2019, 5:48 am

Single sign-on against GitHub using ASGI middleware

I released Datasette 0.29 last weekend, the first version of Datasette to be built on top of ASGI (discussed previously in Porting Datasette to ASGI, and Turtles all the way down).

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Practical campaign security is a wood chipper for your hopes and dreams. It sits at the intersection of 19 kinds of status quo, each more odious than the last. You have to accept the fact that computers are broken, software is terrible, campaign finance is evil, the political parties are inept, the DCCC exists, politics is full of parasites, tech companies are run by arrogant man-children, and so on.

Maciej Cegłowski # 30th May 2019, 12:03 pm

Building a stateless API proxy (via) This is a really clever idea. The GitHub API is infuriatingly coarsely grained with its permissions: you often end up having to create a token with way more permissions than you actually need for your project. Thea Flowers proposes running your own proxy in front of their API that adds more finely grained permissions, based on custom encrypted proxy API tokens that use JWT to encode the original API key along with the permissions you want to grant to that particular token (as a list of regular expressions matching paths on the underlying API). # 30th May 2019, 4:28 am

asgi-cors (via) I’ve been trying out the new ASGI 3.0 spec and I just released my first piece of ASGI middleware: asgi-cors, which lets you wrap an ASGI application with Access-Control-Allow-Origin CORS headers (either “*” or dynamic headers based on an origin whitelist). # 7th May 2019, 12:12 am

What is a Self-XSS scam? Facebook link to this page from a console.log message that they display the browser devtools console, specifically warning that “If someone told you to copy-paste something here to enable a Facebook feature or hack someone’s account, it is a scam and will give them access to your Facebook account.” # 8th April 2019, 6:01 pm

Colm MacCárthaigh tells the inside story of how AWS responded to Heartbleed. The Heartbleed SSL vulnerability came out five years ago. In this Twitter thread Colm, who was Amazon’s principal engineer for Elastic Load Balancer at the time, describes how the AWS team responded to something that “was scarier than any bug I’d ever seen”. It’s a cracking story. # 7th April 2019, 8:32 pm

Experiments, growth engineering, and exposing company secrets through your API (via) This is fun: Jon Luca observes that many companies that run A/B tests have private JSON APIs that list all of their ongoing experiments, and uses them to explore tests from Lyft, Airbnb, Pinterest, Amazon and more. Facebook and Instagram use SSL Stapling which makes it harder to spy on their mobile app traffic. # 26th February 2019, 4:49 am


Extended Validation Certificates are Dead. Troy Hunt has been writing about the flaws of Extended Validation certificates for a while. Now iOS 12 is out and Mobile Safari no longer displays their visual indicator in the URL bar (and desktop Safari will stop doing so next week when Mac OS Mojave ships). EV certificates are being dropped by many of the larger companies that were using them. “This turned out to be a long blog post because every time I sat down to write, more and more evidence on the absolute pointlessness of EV presented itself”. # 18th September 2018, 1:41 pm

Most administrators will force users to change their password at regular intervals, typically every 30, 60 or 90 days. This imposes burdens on the user (who is likely to choose new passwords that are only minor variations of the old) and carries no real benefits as stolen passwords are generally exploited immediately. [...] Regular password changing harms rather than improves security, so avoid placing this burden on users. However, users must change their passwords on indication or suspicion of compromise.

UK National Cyber Security Centre # 25th August 2018, 7:57 pm

Using achievement stats to estimate sales on steam (via) Really interesting data leak exploit here: Valve’s Steam API was showing the percentage of users that gained a specific achievement up to 16 decimal places—which inadvertently leaked their exact usage statistics, since if 0.012782207690179348 percent of players get an achievement the only possible input is 8 players out of 62,587. # 9th August 2018, 9:03 am

OWASP Top 10 2007-2017: The Fall of CSRF. I was surprised to learn recently that CSRF didn’t make it into the 2017 OWASP Top 10 security vulnerabilities (after featuring almost every year since the list started). The credited reason is that web frameworks do a good enough job protecting against CSRF by default that it’s no longer a top-ten problem. Defaults really do matter. # 6th August 2018, 10:02 pm

Password Tips From a Pen Tester: Common Patterns Exposed (via) Pipal is a tool for analyzing common patterns in passwords. It turns out if you make people change their password every three months and force at least one uppercase letter plus a number they pick “Winter2018”. # 12th June 2018, 3:35 pm

Side-channel attacking browsers through CSS3 features. Really clever attack. Sites like Facebook offer iframe widgets which show the user’s name, but due to the cross-origin resource policy cannot be introspected by the site on which they are embedded. By using CSS3 blend modes it’s possible to construct a timing attack where a stack of divs layered over the top of the iframe can be used to derive the embedded content, by taking advantage of blend modes that take different amounts of time depending on the colour of the underlying pixel. Patched in Firefox 60 and Chrome 63. # 1st June 2018, 2:54 pm

Google is not trying to break the web by pushing for more HTTPS. Neither is Mozilla and neither are any of the other orgs saying “Hey, it would be good if traffic wasn’t eavesdropped on or modified”. This is fixing a deficiency in the web as it has stood for years.

Troy Hunt # 22nd May 2018, 4:17 pm

The Academic Vanity Honeypot phishing scheme. Twitter thread describing a nasty phishing attack where an academic receives an email from a respected peer congratulating them on a recent article and suggesting further reading. The further reading link is a phishing site that emulates the victim’s institution’s login page. # 12th April 2018, 3:07 pm

Protecting Against HSTS Abuse (via) Any web feature that can be used to persist information will eventually be used to build super-cookies. In this case it’s HSTS—a web feature that allows sites to tell browsers “in the future always load this domain over HTTPS even if the request specified HTTP”. The WebKit team caught this being exploited in the wild, by encoding a user identifier in binary across 32 separate sub domains. They have a couple of mitigations in place now—I expect other browser vendors will follow suit. # 19th March 2018, 10:21 pm

BAD TRAFFIC: Sandvine’s PacketLogic Devices Used to Deploy Government Spyware in Turkey and Redirect Egyptian Users to Affiliate Ads? “Targeted users in Turkey and Syria who downloaded Windows applications from official vendor websites including Avast Antivirus, CCleaner, Opera, and 7-Zip were silently redirected to malicious versions by way of injected HTTP redirects. This redirection was possible because official websites for these programs, even though they might have supported HTTPS, directed users to non-HTTPS downloads by default.” # 10th March 2018, 10:40 am

Upgrades to Facebook’s link security (via) Facebook have started scanning links shared on the site for HSTS headers, which are used to indicate that an HTTP page is also available over HTTPS and are intended to be cached by browsers such that future HTTP access is automatically retrieved over HTTPS instead. Facebook will now obey those headers itself and link directly to the HTTPS version. What a great idea: all sites with sophisticated link sharing (where links are fetched to retrieve extracts and images for example) should do this as well. # 5th March 2018, 3:32 pm

GitHub: Weak cryptographic standards removal notice. GitHub deprecated TLSv1 and TLSv1.1 yesterday. I like how they handled the deprecation: they disabled the protocols for one hour on February 8th in order to (hopefully) warm people by triggering errors in automated processes, then disabled them completely a couple of weeks later. # 23rd February 2018, 3:41 pm

I’ve Just Launched “Pwned Passwords” V2 With Half a Billion Passwords for Download (via) Troy Hunt has collected 501,636,842 passwords from a wide collection of major breaches. He suggests using the to build a password strength checker that can say “your password has been used by 53,274 other people”. The full collection is available as a list of SHA1 codes (brute-force reversible but at least slightly obfuscated) in an 8GB file or as an API. Where things get really clever is the API design: you send just the first 5 characters of the SHA1 hash of the user’s password and the API responds with the full list of several hundred hashes that match that prefix. This lets you build a checking feature without sharing full passwords with a remote service, if you don’t want to host the full 8GB of data yourself. # 22nd February 2018, 7:24 pm

A SIM Switch Account Takeover (Mine). Someone walked into a T-Mobile store with a fake ID in his name and stole Albert Wenger’s SIM identity, then used it to gain access to his Yahoo mail account, reset his Twitter password and post a tweet boosting a specific cryptocurrency. His accounts with Google Authenticator 2FA stayed safe. # 14th January 2018, 8:37 pm

How the industry-breaking Spectre bug stayed secret for seven months. It’s pretty amazing that the bug only became public knowledge a week before the intended embargo date, considering the number of individuals and companies that has to be looped in. The biggest public clues were patches being applied in public to the Linux kernel—one smart observer noted that the page table issue “has all the markings of a security patch being readied under pressure from a deadline.” # 14th January 2018, 4:53 pm