10 things that I liked in 2017

Written on 24 December 2017, 12:01am

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Time to look back at 2017 and put together a few things that I enjoyed.
You can read the rest of this post while playing the song below, one of the things that will remind of 2017:

1. A book: Sapiens: A brief history of humankind, by Yuval Harari.
If you want to explain to an alien who we are and what’s our story on Earth, this is probably your handbook. A lot of insightful ideas and explanations, but one that stuck in my mind was how evolution doesn’t care about the individual:

The Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.
The evolutionary success of a species is measured by the number of copies of its DNA. If a species boasts many DNA copies, it is a success, and the species flourishes. From such a perspective, 1000 copies are always better than a hundred copies. This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions.
Quote from the book on goodreads.com

2. A photo editing tool: Photolemur. It promises to edit all your photos in one click, with the help of artificial intelligence. I like taking pictures, but I was never really into photo editing. So I am happy to leave this part to AI 🙂
And the results are not bad:

Click the image for the entire Flickr album

3. A place: Tuscany. One of the most amazing places in Italy, which is in turn one of the most amazing places in Europe. I spent there a full week last summer and I enjoyed every day of it!

Click the image for the entire Flickr album

4. A game: Really Bad Chess One of the very few games I play; really smart and so addictive that I’m playing it daily. The classic rules of chess apply, but you play with random pieces (ex. you can start with 3 queens and 4 towers).

5. A movie. I did not watch too many movies in 2017. But I watched again (after 8 years) Inglorious Basterds, and I believe that the way Christoph Waltz is playing the German detective is a masterpiece. I could watch it over and over again:

6. A learning tool. I am trying to constantly learn new things. Learning how to learn is one of them. Brainscape helps me create flash cards on my laptop and study them on my phone, whenever I have a few minutes free. Highly motivating.

7. A blog: waitbutwhy.com. Even if I know it for a couple of years, it’s in 2017 when I spent lots of time reading it. The series of posts about Elon Musk are really entertaining, but you have to see them as small novels instead of blog posts. Tim Urban (the author) has a funny way of zooming out and showing you things from a higher perspective.

8. An event: In 2017 I was lucky to attend a number of interesting sports events. I went for the first time on Anfield to watch Liverpool play in Champions League, I saw Ronnie O’Sullivan winning the Snooker Masters in London, and was present to the amazing comeback of Simona Halep in the quarter finals of Roland Garros.
But the live event that I enjoyed the most was no doubt the summer Coldplay concert in Brussels. The sport events have their own way of making you feel the moment, but once it’s over there’s not too much left. But a music concert is different. The way the songs make their way into your mind turns the entire experience into something close to magic and create long-lasting memories.

9. Writing In line with one of the resolutions for 2017, I tried to write a bit more. I had a few guest posts about snooker, football and analytics on anglofil.ro and doubled the number of posts on this blog. Turns out, writing is one of the experiences that I enjoy 🙂

10. A picture: Romanian protests in Bucharest, February 2017. To be continued in 2018…

Web PKI: 3 improvements

Written on 24 September 2017, 03:09pm

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Some insights about web security from the excellent ‘Bulletproof SSL and TLS‘ book from Ivan Ristic.

– the Internet was not designed with security in mind
– the first efforts to improve this were in 1995, when SSL3 was released (by Netscape). Then TLS followed up.
– TLS 1.2 – the most recent version – was released in August 2008 (its successor – TLS 1.3 – is still under development, as of September 2017)
– the goal back in 1995 was to enable e-commerce. Today we have that (‘commercial security’), but we want much more.

One of the biggest problem with the Web PKI is the approach to certificate validation. The following improvements aim to fix that:
1. Public Key Pinning:
– addresses the fact that any CA can issue a certificate for any domain name without the owner’s permission.
– with pinning, site owners can select (pin) one or more CAs that they trust, creating their own (small) trust ecosystem
– delivered via HTTP headers (Public-Key-Pins)

2. HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS)
– allows web servers to declare that web browsers should only interact with it using secure HTTPS connections, and never via the insecure HTTP protocol.
– also, when an invalid certificate is encountered, it instructs compliant browsers to replace warnings with errors, disallowing bypass.
– delivered also via HTTP headers (Strict-Transport-Security)

3. OCSP stapling
– There are two standards for certificate revocation (revocation is used when the private key is compromised or no longer needed)
– CRL (Certificate Revocation List) is a large list of revoked certificate serial numbers maintained by the CA. Because of the size, the lookup is slow
– OCSP (Online Certificate Status Protocol) allows browsers to obtain the revocation status of a single certificate.
– the problem with OCSP is that the individual lookup can slow down browsing and can affect the performance of the OCSP responder for high traffic websites
– to address this, OCSP stapling allows each server to embed an OCSP response directly into the TLS initial handshake

In the end, do not forget that the current Web PKI is controlled by 2 actors: Certificate Authorities (interested in profit) and browser vendors (interested in market share).

Neither group has strong security as its top priority, but they are not necessarily to blame—at least not entirely. They won’t give us security until we, the end users, start to demand it from them.

Update 10 October 2017: I have just enabled HSTS here. Inspired by Troy Hunt.

Make the questions easy to answer

Written on 7 March 2017, 11:30pm

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About a month ago I was asking MalwareBytes to stop making me think.
I recently read for the 3rd time Don’t make me think (but actually the first time the paperback version 🙂 ) and I found a reference to another excellent book: Forms that work: Designing Web Forms for Usability.
I am at Chapter 3 – Making questions easy to answer – and there is the exact same situation as the one I encountered last month. The heading is ‘Turn negative questions into positive ones’, and I take the liberty to post the relevant paragraph here:

Happy to see this kind of confirmation 🙂

PS – Go buy the book! 30 EUR well spent. And it also comes with a companion site: formsthatwork.com