Planet HantsLUG

February 11, 2016

Debian Bits

Tails installer is now in Debian

Tails (The amnesic incognito live system) is a live OS based on Debian GNU/Linux which aims at preserving the user's privacy and anonymity by using the Internet anonymously and circumventing censorship. Installed on a USB device, it is configured to leave no trace on the computer you are using unless asked explicitly.

Tails Logo

As of today, the people the most needy for digital security are not computer experts. Being able to get started easily with a new tool is critical to its adoption, and even more in high-risk and stressful environments. That's why we wanted to make it faster, simpler, and more secure to install Tails for new users.

One of the components of Tails, the Tails Installer is now in Debian thanks to the Debian Privacy Tools Maintainers Team.

Tails Installer is a graphical tool to install or upgrade Tails on a USB stick from an ISO image. It aims at making it easier and faster to get Tails up and running.

The previous process for getting started with Tails was very complex and was problematic for less tech-savvy users. It required starting Tails three times, and copying the full ISO image onto a USB stick twice before having a fully functional Tails USB stick with persistence enabled.

This can now be done simply by installing Tails Installer in your existing Debian system, using sid, stretch or jessie-backports, plugging a USB stick and choosing if one wants to update the USB stick or to install Tails using a previously downloaded ISO image.

Tails Installer also helps Tails users to create an encrypted persistent storage for personal files and settings in the rest of the available space.

by u at February 11, 2016 01:30 PM

February 07, 2016

Steve Kemp

Redesigning my clustered website

I'm slowly planning the redesign of the cluster which powers the Debian Administration website.

Currently the design is simple, and looks like this:

In brief there is a load-balancer that handles SSL-termination and then proxies to one of four Apache servers. These talk back and forth to a MySQL database. Nothing too shocking, or unusual.

(In truth there are two database servers, and rather than a single installation of HAProxy it runs upon each of the webservers - One is the master which is handled via ucarp. Logically though traffic routes through HAProxy to a number of Apache instances. I can lose half of the servers and things still keep running.)

When I setup the site it all ran on one host, it was simpler, it was less highly available. It also struggled to cope with the load.

Half the reason for writing/hosting the site in the first place was to document learning experiences though, so when it came to time to make it scale I figured why not learn something and do it neatly? Having it run on cheap and reliable virtual hosts was a good excuse to bump the server-count and the design has been stable for the past few years.

Recently though I've begun planning how it will be deployed in the future and I have a new design:

Rather than having the Apache instances talk to the database I'll indirect through an API-server. The API server will handle requests like these:

  • POST /users/login
    • POST a username/password and return 200 if valid. If bogus details return 403. If the user doesn't exist return 404.
  • GET /users/Steve
    • Return a JSON hash of user-information.
    • Return 404 on invalid user.

I expect to have four API handler endpoints: /articles, /comments, /users & /weblogs. Again we'll use a floating IP and a HAProxy instance to route to multiple API-servers. Each of which will use local caching to cache articles, etc.

This should turn the middle layer, running on Apache, into simpler things, and increase throughput. I suspect, but haven't confirmed, that making a single HTTP-request to fetch a (formatted) article body will be cheaper than making N-database queries.

Anyway that's what I'm slowly pondering and working on at the moment. I wrote a proof of concept API-server based CMS two years ago, and my recollection of that time is that it was fast to develop, and easy to scale.

February 07, 2016 10:28 AM

February 05, 2016

Andy Smith

Your Debian netboot suddenly can’t do Ext4?

If, like me, you’ve just done a Debian netboot install over PXE and discovered that the partitioner suddenly seems to have no option for Ext4 filesystem (leaving only btrfs and XFS), despite the fact that it worked fine a couple of weeks ago, do not be alarmed. You aren’t losing your mind. It seems to be a bug.

As the comment says, downloading netboot.tar.gz version 20150422+deb8u3 fixes it. You can find your version in the debian-installer/amd64/boot-screens/f1.txt file. I was previously using 20150422+deb8u1 and the commenter was using 20150422+deb8u2.

Looking at the dates on the files I’m guessing this broke on 23rd January 2016. There was a Debian point release around then, so possibly you are supposed to download a new netboot.tar.gz with each one – not sure. Although if this is the case it would still be nice to know you’re doing something wrong as opposed to having the installer appear to proceed normally except for denying the existence of any filesystems except XFS and btrfs.

Oh and don’t forget to restart your TFTP daemon. tftpd-hpa at least seems to cache things (or maybe hold the tftp directory open, as I had just moved the old directory out of the way), so I was left even more confused when it still seemed to be serving 20150422+deb8u1.

by Andy at February 05, 2016 09:50 AM

February 02, 2016

Steve Kemp

Best practice - Don't serve writeable PHP files

I deal with compromises often enough of PHP-based websites that I wish to improve hardening.

One obvious way to improve things is to not serve PHP files which are writeable by the webserver-user. This would ensure that things like wp-content/uploads didn't get served as PHP if a compromise wrote valid PHP there.

In the past using php5-suhosin would have allowd this via the suhosin.executor.include.allow_writable_files flag.

Since suhosin is no longer supported under Debian Jessie I wonder if there is a simple way to achieve this?

I've written a toy-module which allows me to call stat on every request, and return a 403 on access to writeable files/directories. But it seems like I shouldn't need to write my own code for this functionality.

Any pointers welcome; happy to post my code if that is useful but suspect not - it just shouldn't exist.

February 02, 2016 07:10 PM