7 tips for kicking off an open source project

It’s not really about project mechanics at all

オープンソースプロジェクトを始める7つのアドバイス

I’m currently involved – heavily involved – in Enarx, an open source (of course!) project to allow you run sensitive workloads on untrusted hosts.  I’ve had involvement in various open source projects over the years, but this is the first for which I’m one of the founders.  We’re at the stage now where we’ve got a fair amount of code, quite a lot of documentation, a logo and (important!) stickers.  The project should hopefully be included in a Linux Foundation group – the Confidential Computing Consortium – so things are going very well indeed.  We’re at the stage where I thought it might be useful to reflect on some of the things we did to get things going.  To be clear, Enarx is a particular type of project: one that we believe has commercial and enterprise applications.  It’s also not mature yet, and we’ll have hurdles and challenges along the way.  What’s more, the route we’ve taken won’t be right for all projects, but hopefully there’s enough here to give a few pointers to other projects, or people considering starting one up.

The first thing I’d say is that there’s lots of help to be had out there.  I’d start with Opensource.com, where you’ll find lots of guidance.  I’d then follow up by saying that however much of it you follow, you’ll still get things wrong.  Anyway, here’s my list of things to consider.

1. Aim for critical mass

I’m very lucky to work at the amazing Red Hat, where everything we do is open source, and where we take open source and community very seriously.  I’ve heard it called a “critical mass” company: in order to get something taken seriously, you need to get enough people interested in it that it’s difficult to ignore. The two co-founders – Nathaniel McCallum and I – are both very enthusiastic about the project, and have spent a lot of time gaining sponsors within the organisation (you know who you are, and we thank you – we also know we haven’t done a good enough job with you on all occasions!), and “selling” it to engineers to get them interested enough that it was difficult to stop.  Some projects just bobble along with one or two contributors, but if you want to attract people and attention, getting a good set of people together who can get momentum going is a must.

2. Create a demo

If you want to get people involved, then a demo is great.  It doesn’t necessarily need to be polished, but it does need to show that what you’re doing it possible, and that you know what you’re doing.  For early demos, you may be talking to command line output: that’s fine, if what you’re providing isn’t a UI product.  Being able to talk to what you’re doing, and convey both your passion and the importance of the project, is a great boon.  People like to be able to see or experience something, and it’s much easier to communicate your enthusiasm if they have something that’s real which expresses that.

3. Choose a licence

Once you have code, and it’s open source, you want other people to be able to contribute.  This may seem like an unimportant step, but selecting an appropriate open source licence[1] will allow other people to contribute on well-understood and defined terms, making it easier for them, and easier for the organisations for which they work to allow them to be involved.

4. Get documentation

You might think that developer documentation is the most important to get out there – otherwise, how will other people get involved and coding?  I’d disagree, at least to start with.  For a small project, you can probably scale to a few more people just by explaining what the code does, what it should do, and what’s missing.  However, if there’s no documentation available to explain what it’s for, and how it’s going to help people, then why would anyone bother even looking at it?  This doesn’t need to be polished marketing copy, and it doesn’t need to be serious, but it does need to convey to people why they should care.  It’s also going to help you with the first point I mentioned, attaining critical mass, as being able to point to documentation, use cases and the rest will help convince people that you’ve thought through the point of your project.  We’ve used a github wiki as our main documentation hub, and we try to update that with new information as we generate it.  This is an area, to be clear, where we could do better.  But at least we know that.

5. Be visible

People aren’t going to find out about you unless you’re visible.  We were incredibly lucky in that just as we were beginning to get to a level of critical mass, the Confidential Computing Consortium was formed, and we immediately had a platform to increase our exposure.  We have Twitter account, I publish articles on my blog and at Opensource.com, we’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to publish on Red Hat’s now + Next blog, I’ve done interviews the the press and we speak at conferences wherever and whenever we can.  We’re very lucky to have these opportunities, and it’s clear that not all these approaches are appropriate for all projects, but make use of what you can: the more people that know about you, the more people can contribute.

6. Be welcoming

Let’s assume that people have found out about you: what next?  Well, they’re hopefully going to want to get involved.  If they don’t feel welcome, then any involvement they have will taper off soon.  Yes, you need documentation (and, after a while, technical documentation, no matter what I said above), but you need ways for them to talk to you, and for them to feel that they are valued.  We have Gitter channels (https://gitter.im/enarx/), and our daily stand-ups are open to anyone who wants to join.  Recently, someone opened an issue on our issues database, and during the conversation on that thread, it transpired that our daily stand-up time doesn’t work for them given their timezone, so we’re going to ensure that at least one a week does, and we’ve assured that we’ll accommodate them.

7. Work with people you like

I really, really enjoy meeting and working with the members of Enarx project team.  We get on well, we joke, we laugh and we share a common aim: to make Enarx successful.  I’m a firm believer in doing things you enjoy, where possible.  Particularly for the early stages of a project, you need people who are enthusiastic and enjoy working closely together – even if they’re separated by thousands of kilometres[2] geographically.  If they don’t get on, there’s a decent chance that your and their enthusiasm for the project will falter, that the momentum will be lost, and that the project will end up failing.  You won’t always get the chance to choose those with whom you work, but if you can, then choose people you like and get on with.

Conclusion – “people”

I didn’t realise it when I started writing this article, but it’s not really about project mechanics at all: it’s about people.  If you read back, you’ll find the importance of people visible in every tip, even including the one about choosing a licence.  Open source projects aren’t really about code: they’re about people, how they share, how they work together, and how they interact.

I’m certain that your experience of open source projects will vary, and I’d be very surprised if everyone agrees about the top seven things you should do for project success.  Arguably, Enarx isn’t a success yet, and I shouldn’t be giving advice at this stage of our maturity.  But when I think back to all of the open source projects that I can think of which are successful, people feature strongly, and I don’t think that’s a surprise at all.


1 – or “license”, if you’re from the US.

2 – or, in fact, miles.

 

オープンソースプロジェクトを始める7つのアドバイス

プロジェクト手法ではなく…

私は今Enarxプロジェクトに関わっています。とても深く、です。すでにご存知かもしれませんが、これはオープンソースのプロジェクトで、信頼できないホスト上で機密性の高いワークロードの実行を可能にするプロジェクトです。

 

何年もオープンソースプロジェクトに関わってきましたが、このプロジェクトで初めて私は共同創立者となりました。

私たちは現状、コードや文書を十分用意し、ロゴもステッカーも(これ重要!)用意できている段階です。

 

プロジェクトはLinux Foundationグループ(Confidential Computing Consortium)に含まれるはずなので、順調です。さらにプロジェクトを加速させるためにも内容に関してもお伝えしていったほうがいいでしょう。はっきりさせておくと、Enarxは商用とエンタープライズアプリケーションになるプロジェクトです。十分には成熟しておらず、まだまだハードルやチャレンジがあるかもしれません。さらに言うと、私たちの歩んできた道は全てのプロジェクトも当てはまらないかもしれませんが、他のプロジェクトやこれからプロジェクトを始めようとする人への指針になればと思っています。

 

ここまで来るにはたくさんのサポートがあったことをまずお伝えします。

私はOpenSource.comから始めましたが、ここではたくさんのガイドが載っています。それに従っても間違ってしまうこともあるかもしれません。ただ、以下に考慮すべき点を挙げておきます。

 

1 クリティカルマスを目標に

 

私は幸いにもRed Hatと言う素晴らしい職場で働いています。ここでは全てのものがオープンソースですし、オープンソースとそのコミュニティを非常に重要だと考えています。そこで「クリティカルマス」企業と言うものを耳にしました。物事を実際に行っていくには十分な人々の関心が必要で、人々が無視できないものとする必要があるということです。共同創立者のNathaniel McCallumと私はプロジェクトに情熱的で、組織内でスポンサーを得ることに時間をかけました。(誰のことだかわかりますよね、皆さんに感謝です!)そしてエンジニア達に「売り込み」をして惹き込み、プロジェクトが止まれなくなるくらいほどにしました。

プロジェクトのいくつかは一人二人の貢献者しか得ることができずもたついてしまいますが、人々の興味を惹きつけるには、どんどん進めてくれる、ある程度の人数を集めることが必須なのです。

 

2 デモ

 

人々を巻き込みたければデモをすると良いでしょう。洗練されている必要はなく、しようとしていることが実現可能であること、あなたが成し得たいことを示さなければいけません。初期段階のデモではコマンドラインの出力だけでしょうが、UIプロダクトを提供するのでなければ、それでもいいんです。成し遂げようとすることと情熱、プロジェクトの大切さを伝えることが有益なのです。人は何かを「見たい」「体験したい」ので、形にしてやる気を見せることが近道なのです。

 

3 ライセンスを選ぶ

コードをオープンソースで作ると、他の人にも貢献してもらいたくなるでしょう。これはあまり重要ではなく、正しいオープンソースのライセンスを選択することが他の人の貢献度を高め、定義された用語の理解を深め、その貢献する人働いている組織とその人たち自身の貢献するハードルを下げるのです。

 

4 文書作成

 

開発者文書が最重要だと考えるかもしれません。それなければどうやって人が貢献してコードを書くことができるでしょうか。

 

初めのうちは必要ないと思っています。小さなプロジェクトではコードが何をするものか、何をさせたいか、何が欠けているかいるか、の説明をすることで何人かの人を巻き込むことができます。

しかしコードが何をするものでどう便利か説明する文書がないのに、どうやってたくさんの人が時間を割いてくれるでしょうか。

 

文書といっても、ちゃんとしたマーケティング用のものだったり正式なものである必要はなくて、どうしてそれをしなくてはいけないかと皆さんに伝えるものでなければいけません。

これは一番目のポイント、クリティカルマスに注力することにも通じています。文書、ユースケースを示すことで、「ポイント」でプロジェクトが実現したいことに説得力を持たせるのに役立ちます。

 

私たちはgithubウィキをメインの文書置き場にしていて、作成と同時にアップデートしています。これはもう少し改善できるかと思います。

 

5 見えるプロジェクト

 

プロジェクトがちゃんと見える状態でないと見つけてもらえません。私たちのプロジェクトはとてもラッキーで、Confidential Computing Consortiumができた上にそこで見せられるだけのプラットフォームをすぐに作ることができたので、クリティカルマスに届く状態です。

 

Twitterのアカウントもあり(@enarxproject)このブログOpensource.comで記事も出しています。Red Hatのhttps://next.redhat.com/にてブログを出す機会にも恵まれ、プレスのインタビューも受けましたし出来るだけカンファレンスでも講演しています。私たちにはこのような良い機会がありましたが、全てのプロジェクトに適切なアプローチではないかもしれません。しかし知ってもらうことで、もっとたくさんの人々に貢献してもらえます。

 

6 歓迎しましょう

世間に知って頂けたとしましょう。次は何ができるでしょうか。そう、皆さんにプロジェクトに参加したいと思って頂きたいですよね。歓迎してもらえなければその参加数は少なくなって行きます。また上の方で私が何を言ったかに関わらず、しばらくすると技術文書も必要になります。そしてその人たちがあなたと話し合う方法が必要ですね。そうすることで評価されていると感じますから。

 

私たちの場合、Gitter(https://gitter.im/enarx/)で、毎日のスタンドアップ会議には参加したい人がみんな参加できます。最近ではそ課題データベース(https://github.com/enarx/enarx/issues)をGithubに作成しタコとで、スレッドの会話でタイムゾーンがあることから毎日のスタンドアップ会議の時間が合っていないことが明らかになりました。ので、会議の数を少なくとも週一とする配慮をしたのです。

 

7 仲の良い人と活動しましょう

 

私はとてもとてもEnarxプロジェクトチームのみんなと働くことが楽しいです。楽しく過ごし、冗談をかわし、笑って、共通の目標をシェアしています。Enarxの成功のためです。出来るだけ楽しんですること、それが大切だと思います。特にプロジェクトの初期段階では情熱的な人と楽しく仕事できる人が必要です。例えその人が地理的には数千キロ(マイル?)離れた場所にいても、です。そのように参加できなければ情熱もどんどん先細ってくるでしょうし勢いも失われ、プロジェクトは失敗に終わるでしょう。一緒に活動する人は選べるわけではないでしょうが、できればあなたの仲が良い人を選びましょう。

 

結論:「人」です。

 

この記事を書き始めるまでは気づきませんでしたが、全くプロジェクト手法が問題ではないのです。

 

人、です。

 

読み返せばどのアドバイスにも人の大切さが述べてあり、ライセンスの選び方にも、です。オープンソースプロジェクトとはコードではないのです。人なのです。どのようにシェアし、一緒に活動し交流するかなのです。

 

オープンソースプロジェクトはそれぞれ異なるものでしょうから、この7つのアドバイスが全て当てはまることはないでしょう。間違いなくEnarxはまだ成功と言い切れるものではありませんので、今の段階でこのようなアドバイスをすべきでないのかもしれません。しかし成功してきた今までのオープンソースプロジェクトを思い起こすと、やはり人と言うものはとても大切なのです。

 

元の記事:https://aliceevebob.com/2019/12/17/7-tips-for-kicking-off-an-open-source-project/

2019年12月7日 Mike Bursell

 

タグ:オープンソース

 

Timely risk or risky times?

Being aware of “the long game”.

On Friday, 29th November 2019, Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were killed in a terrorist attack.  A number of members of the public (some with with improvised weapons) and of the emergency services acted with great heroism.  I wanted to mention the mention the names of the victims and to praise those involved in stopping him before mentioning the name of the attacker: Usman Khan.  The victims, the attacker were taking part in an offender rehabilitation conference to help offenders released from prison to reintegrate into society: Khan had been convicted to 16 years in prison for terrorist offences.

There’s an important formula that everyone involved in risk – and given that IT security is all about mitigating risk, that’s anyone involved in security – should know. It’s usually expressed thus:

Risk = likelihood x impact

Sometimes likelihood is sometimes expressed as “probability”, impact as “consequence” or “loss”, and I’ve seen some other variants as well, but the version above is generally sufficient for most purposes.

Using the formula

How should you use the formula? Well, it’s most useful for comparing risks and deciding how to mitigate them. Humans are terrible at calculating risk, and any tools that help them[1] is good.  In order to use this formula correctly, you want to compare risks over the same time period.  You could say that almost any eventuality may come to pass over the lifetime of the universe, but comparing the risk of losing broadband access to the risk of your lead developer quitting for another company between the Big Bang and the eventual heat death of the universe is probably not going to give you much actionable information.

Let’s look at the two variables that we need to have in order to calculate risk.  We’ll start with the impact, because I want to devote most of this article to the other part: likelihood.

Impact is what the damage will be if the risk happens.  In a business context, you want to look at the risk of your order system being brought down for a week by malicious attackers.  You might calculate that you would lose £15,000 in orders.  On top of that, there might be a loss of reputation which you might calculate at £30,000.  Fixing the problem might add £10,000.  Add these together, and the impact is £55,000.

What’s the likelihood?  Well, remember that we need to consider a particular time period.  What you choose will depend on what you’re interested in, but a classic use is for budgeting, and so the length of time considered is often a year.  “What is the likelihood of my order system being brought down for a week by malicious attackers over the next twelve months?” is the question you want to ask.  If you decide that it’s 0.005 (or 0.5%), then your risk is calculated thus:

Risk = 0.005 x 55,000

Risk = 275

The units don’t really matter, because what you want to do is compare risks.  If the risk of your order system being brought down through hardware failure is higher (say 500), then you should probably balance the amount of resources you assign to mitigate these risks accordingly.

Time, reputation, trust and risk

What I’m interested in is a set of rather more complicated risks, however: those associated with human behaviour.  I’m very interested in trust, and one of the interesting things about trust is how we decide to trust people.  One way is by their reputation: if someone keeps behaving well over a long period, then we tend to trust them more – or if badly, then to trust them less[2].  If we trust someone more, our calculation of risk is likely to be strongly based on that trust, as our view of the likelihood of a behaviour at odds with the reputation that person holds will be informed by that.

This makes sense: in the absence of perfect information about humans, their motivations and intentions, our view of risk must be based on something, and reputation is actually a fairly good measure for that.  We might say that the likelihood of a customer defaulting on payment terms reduces year by year as we start to think of them as a “trusted customer”.  As the likelihood reduces, we may decide to increase the amount we lend to them – and thereby the impact of defaulting – to keep the risk about the same, year on year.

The risk here is what is sometimes called “playing the long game”.  Humans sometimes manipulate their reputation, or build up a reputation, in order to perform an action once they have gained trust.  Online sellers my make lots of “good” sales in order to get a 5 star rating over time, only to wait and then make a set of “bad” sales, where they don’t ship goods at all, and then just pocket the money.  Or, they may make many small sales in order to build up a good reputation, and then use that reputation to make one big sale which they have no intention of fulfilling.  Online selling sites are wise to some of these tricks, and have algorithms to try to protect buyers (in fact, the same behaviour can be used by sellers in some cases), but these are not perfect.

I’d like to come back to the London Bridge attack.  In this case, it seems likely that the attacker bided his time over many years, behaving well, and raising his “reputation” among those who knew him – the prison staff, parole board, rehabilitation conference organisers, etc. – so that he had the opportunity to perform one major action at odds with that reputation.  The heroism of those around him stopped him being as successful as he may have hoped, but still at the cost of two innocent lives and several serious injuries.

There is no easy way to deal with such issues.  We need reputation, and we need to allow people to show that they have changed and can be integrated into society, but when we make risk calculations based on reputation in any sphere, we should take care to consider whether actors are playing a long game, and what the possible ramifications would be if they were to act at odds with that reputation.

I noted above that humans are bad at calculating risk, and to follow our example of the non-defaulting customer, one mistake might be to increase the credit we give to that customer beyond the balance of the increase of reputation: actually accepting higher risk than we would have done previously, because we consider them trustworthy.  If we do this, we’ve ceased to use the risk formula, and have started to act irrationally.  Don’t do that.

 


1 – OK, then: “us”.

2 – I’m writing this in the lead up to a UK General Election, and it occurs to me that we actually don’t apply this to most of our politicians.

コンフィデンシャルコンピューティング ー新しいHTTPSとは?

デフォルトで付いてくるセキュリティなんてありません。

この記事は
https://aliceevebob.com/2019/12/03/confidential-computing-the-new-https/ を翻訳したものです。
ここ数年、「http://…&#8221」のようなウェブサイトはなくなってきました。これはやっと業界がウェブサイトにセキュリティが「ある」ことに気付いたからです。と同時にサーバーとクライアントどちらともHTTPS通信の設定をすることが容易になったからです。

同じような動きがクラウド、エッジ、IoT、ブロックチェーン、AI/MLなどのコンピューティングにも現れることでしょう。

ストレージ内に保存するデータやネットワークで転送されるデータはは暗号化すべきである、とは認識されていました。けれどプロセスしている間使用されているデータを暗号化するのは難しく、高価でした。

Trusted Execution Environment (TEE)などのハードウェアを使って、使用中のデータやアルゴリズムを保護します。コンフィデンシャルコンピューティングは、ホストシステムや攻撃されやすい環境のデータを保護するのです。

TEE とEnarx Project(Nathaniel McCallumと共同創立しているプロジェクトです、参考: Enarx for everyone (a quest) and Enarx goes multi-platform )に付いては何度かブログに投稿しています。
EnarxはTEEを使っていて、Enarkでプラットフォームや使用言語に依存せず、機密性が必要なアプリケーションやマイクロサービスなどのコンポーネントを安全に信頼できないホストにデプロイすることができます。

Enarxはもちろん完全にオープンソースで(Apache2.0のライセンス使用)です。
ワークロードを信頼できないホストで稼働させるのはコンフィデンシャルコンピューティングが保証するところです。これからは下記のような場合の機密性があるデータにコンフィデンシャルコンピューティングが普通に使われるようになるでしょう。:

ストレージ:ストレージインフラを完全に信用できないので、保存したデータは暗号化したい
ネットワーク:ネットワークインフラを完全に信用できないので、転送中のデータを暗号化したい
コンピューティング:コンピューティングインフラを信用できないので、使用中のデータを暗号化したい

信頼信用に関してはもっと言いたいことはあるのですが「完全に」という言葉が大切です。(これは推敲の最中に書き足しました。)
パケットを送ったりやブロックを保存したりするかどうか、上記のどのケースでもCPUやファームウェアなど、インフラをある程度信頼しなくてはいけません。というのも、それらを信頼できなければコンピューティングなんてできません。
(準同型暗号という技術があり提供されつつありますが、まだ限定的で技術も未完成です)

CPU周りで見つかる脆弱性があると、CPUを完全に信頼するかどうか、また乗っているホストの物理攻撃に完全に安全がどうか、というのは何度も出てくる疑問です。
どちらの疑問にも、「いいえ」と答えられますね。しかし拡張性とデプロイの費用の問題から現状ではベストな技術でしょう。

二番目の疑問については、誰も(もしくは他の技術)完全に安全だと偽装できないということです。私たちがすべきなのはthreat model を考慮し、この場合ではTEEが特定の要件に対して十分なセキュリティを提供できるかどうか決定する、ということです。

一つ目の疑問に関してはEnarxの当てはまるモデルは、特定のCPUセットを信頼するかどうかデプロイメントの際に全て決め打ちする、ということでしょう。
例えばQというベンダのR世代のチップに脆弱性が見つかったとしましょう。「ワークロードをQから出ているR世代のCPUにはデプロイさせず、Q社のSタイプ、Tタイプ、Uタイプのチップと、P社、M社、N社のCPUにはデプロイOKとする」と宣言できれば簡単ですね。

コンフィデンシャルコンピューティングが注目されていますが、そこに適応させるには3つの変化のステージがあると考えています。

1 ハードウェアの稼働性:
TEEがサポートされているハードウェアが手に入るようになったのはここ半年から一年の間です。IntelのSGXやAMDのSEVなど市場で鍵となる製品が出てきだことからもわかります。
これからもTEEが使えるハードウェアの製品が出てくると予想されます。

2 業界の受け入れ状態:
アプリケーションのデプロイメントとしてクラウドが急激に受け入れられているのに合わせて法規制や整備は扱うデータを保護するよう、組織や団体に対して要求を増やしてきています。
組織や団体は、信頼性のないホストでの機密性の高いアプリケーション(もしくは機密データを扱うアプリ)の稼働方法にざわざわしてきています。正確には、彼らが完全に信用できないホスト上で、のアプリに関してですね。

これは別に驚くことではないのです。もしマーケットが投資に値するものではなければ、チップベンダーはこの技術に投資しないでしょう。
Linux FoundationのConfidential Computing Consortium (CCC)の体制は、どれくらい業界がコンフィデンシャルコンピューティングの共通使用モデルを見つけようとしているか、オープンソースプロジェクトにこのような技術採用を勧めているか、の別のよい例ですね。

その一つがRed Hatが始めたEnarxはCCCのプロジェクトです。

3 オープンソース:
ブロックチェーンのように、コンフィデンシャルコンピューティングはオープンソースを使うことがとても簡単な技術の一つです。

機密性の高いアプリケーションを動かす場合、動いているもの自体を信用しなくてはいけません。CPUやファームウェアのようなものではなく、TEEの中でワークロードの実際の実行を手伝うフレームワークのことです。

良い言い回しがあります。
「私はホストマシーンとソフトウェアスタックが信用できないからTEEを使うんだ」

しかしTEEのソフトウェア環境に可視性がなければ、ただソフトウェアを別の不可視性の高い環境に移しただけです。
TEEのオープンソースによって、あなたやコミュニティ5トはプロプライエタリのベンダー仕様ソフトウェアにはできないチェックと監査ができるようになるのです。

このようにCCCはオープンな開発モデルをであるLinux Foundationに属しているのであり、TEEに関するソフトウェアプロジェクトにCCCに参加するよう、またオープンソースにするように推進しているのです。

このハードウェアの可動性、業界の受け入れとオープンソースの三つがここ15から20年の技術の変革を促進するものだと考えます。
ブロックチェーン、AI、クラウドコンピューティング、ウェブスケールコンピューティング、ビッグデータ、インターネット販売は全てこの三つが合わさって、今までになかった変革を業界にもたらしたのです。

デフォルトのセキュリティはここ何十年か必要だと訴えられているものですが、まだ達成されていません。正直なところ、それが本当に実現するかはわかりません。

しかし新しい技術が実現することで、業界で、特定のユースケースにセキュリティが浸透することがもっと実用的になり、そこに期待も集まるでしょう。

コンフィデンシャルコンピューティングは次の新しい変革を迎えようとしています。
そして読者の皆さんがその革命に参加する日が来るでしょう。オープンソースなのですから。
元の記事:https://aliceevebob.com/2019/12/03/confidential-computing-the-new-https/
2019年12月3日 Mike Bursell

 

Confidential computing – the new HTTPS?

Security by default hasn’t arrived yet.

Over the past few years, it’s become difficult to find a website which is just “http://…”.  This is because the industry has finally realised that security on the web is “a thing”, and also because it has become easy for both servers and clients to set up and use HTTPS connections.  A similar shift may be on its way in computing across cloud, edge, IoT, blockchain, AI/ML and beyond.  We’ve know for a long time that we should encrypt data at rest (in storage) and in transit (on the network), but encrypting it in use (while processing) has been difficult and expensive.  Confidential computing – providing this type of protection for data and algorithms in use, using hardware capabilities such as Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs) – protects data on hosted system or vulnerable environments.

I’ve written several times about TEEs and, of course, the Enarx project of which I’m a co-founder with Nathaniel McCallum (see Enarx for everyone (a quest) and Enarx goes multi-platform for examples).  Enarx uses TEEs, and provides a platform- and language-independent deployment platform to allow you safely to deploy sensitive applications or components (such as micro-services) onto hosts that you don’t trust.  Enarx is, of course, completely open source (we’re using the Apache 2.0 licence, for those with an interest).  Being able to run workloads on hosts that you don’t trust is the promise of confidential computing, which extends normal practice for sensitive data at rest and in transit to data in use:

  • storage: you encrypt your data at rest because you don’t fully trust the underlying storage infrastructure;
  • networking: you encrypt your data in transit because you don’t fully trust the underlying network infrastructure;
  • compute: you encrypt your data in use because you don’t fully trust the underlying compute infrastructure.

I’ve got a lot to say about trust, and the word “fully” in the statements above is important (I actually added it on re-reading what I’d written).  In each case, you have to trust the underlying infrastructure to some degree, whether it’s to deliver your packets or store your blocks, for instance.  In the case of the compute infrastructure, you’re going to have to trust the CPU and associate firmware, just because you can’t really do computing without trusting them (there are techniques such as homomorphic encryption which are beginning to offer some opportunities here, but they’re limited, and the technology still immature).

Questions sometimes come up about whether you should fully trust CPUs, given some of the security problems that have been found with them and also whether they are fully secure against physical attacks on the host in which they reside.

The answer to both questions is “no”, but this is the best technology we currently have available at scale and at a price point to make it generally deployable.  To address the second question, nobody is pretending that this (or any other technology) is fully secure: what we need to do is consider our threat model and decide whether TEEs (in this case) provide sufficient security for our specific requirements.  In terms of the first question, the model that Enarx adopts is to allow decisions to be made at deployment time as to whether you trust a particular set of CPU.  So, for example, of vendor Q’s generation R chips are found to contain a vulnerability, it will be easy to say “refuse to deploy my workloads to R-type CPUs from Q, but continue to deploy to S-type, T-type and U-type chips from Q and any CPUs from vendors P, M and N.”


5 security tips from Santa

Have you been naughty or nice this year?

If you’re reading this in 2019, it’s less than a month to Christmas (as celebrated according to the Western Christian calendar), or Christmas has just passed.  Let’s assume that it’s the former, and that, like all children and IT professionals, it’s time to write your letter to Santa/St Nick/Father Christmas.  Don’t forget, those who have been good get nice presents, and those who don’t get coal.  Coal is not a clean-burning fuel these days, and with climate change well and truly upon us[1], you don’t want to be going for the latter option.

Think back to all of the good security practices you’ve adopted over the past 11 or so months.  And then think back to all the bad security practices you’ve adopted when you should have been doing the right thing.  Oh, dear.  It’s not looking good for you, is it?

Here’s the good news, though: unless you’re reading this very, very close to Christmas itself[2], then there’s time to make amends.  Here’s a list of useful security tips and practices that Santa follows, and which are therefore bound to put you on his “good” side.

Use a password manager

Santa is very careful with his passwords.  Here’s a little secret: from time to time, rather than have his elves handcraft every little present, he sources his gifts from other parties.  I’m not suggesting that he pays market rates (he’s ordering in bulk, and he has a very, very good credit rating), but he uses lots of different suppliers, and he’s aware that not all of them take security as seriously as he does.  He doesn’t want all of his account logins to be leaked if one of his suppliers is hacked, so he uses separate passwords for each account.  Now, Santa, being Santa, could remember all of these details if he wanted to, and even generate passwords that meet all the relevant complexity requirements for each site, but he uses an open source password manager for safety, and for succession planning[3].

Manage personal information properly

You may work for a large company, organisation or government, and you may think that you have lots of customers and associated data, but consider Santa.  He manages, or has managed, names, dates of birth, addresses, hobby, shoe sizes, colour preferences and other personal data for literally every person on Earth.  That’s an awful lot of sensitive data, and it needs to be protected.  When people grow too old for presents from Santa[4], he needs to delete their data securely.  Santa may well have been the archetypal GDPR Data Controller, and he needs to be very careful who and what can access the data that he holds.  Of course, he encrypts all the data, and is very careful about key management.  He’s also very aware of the dangers associated with Cold Boot Attacks (given the average temperature around his relevance), so he ensures that data is properly wiped before shutdown.

Measure and mitigate risk

Santa knows all about risk.  He has complex systems for ordering, fulfilment, travel planning, logistics and delivery that are the envy of most of the world.  He understands what impact failure in any particular part of the supply chain can have on his customers: mainly children and IT professionals.  He quantifies risk, recalculating on a regular basis to ensure that he is up to date with possible vulnerabilities, and ready with mitigations.

Patch frequently, but carefully

Santa absolutely cannot afford for his systems to go down, particularly around his most busy period.  He has established processes to ensure that the concerns of security are balanced with the needs of the business[5].  He knows that sometimes, business continuity must take priority, and that on other occasions, the impact of a security breach would be so major that patches just have to be applied.  He tells people what he wants, and listens to their views, taking them into account where he can. In other words, he embraces open management, delegating decisions, where possible, to the sets of people who are best positioned to make the call, and only intervenes when asked for an executive decision, or when exceptions arise.  Santa is a very enlightened manager.

Embrace diversity

One of the useful benefits of running a global operation is that Santa values diversity.  Old or young (at heart), male, female or gender-neutral, neuro-typical or neuro-diverse, of whatever culture, sexuality, race, ability, creed or nose-colour, Santa takes into account his stakeholders and their views on what might go wrong.  What a fantastic set of viewpoints Santa has available to him.  And, for an Aging White Guy, he’s surprisingly hip to the opportunities for security practices that a wide and diverse set of opinions and experiences can bring[6].

Summary

Here’s my advice.  Be like Santa, and adopt at least some of his security practices yourself.  You’ll have a much better opportunity of getting onto his good side, and that’s going to go down well not just with Santa, but also your employer, who is just certain to give you a nice bonus, right?  And if not, well, it’s not too late to write that letter directly to Santa himself.


1 – if you have a problem with this statement, then either you need to find another blog, or you’re reading this in the far future, where all our climate problems have been solved. I hope.

2 – or you dwell in one of those cultures where Santa visits quite early in December.

3 – a high-flying goose in the face can do terrible damage to a fast-moving reindeer, and if the sleigh were to crash, what then…?

4 – not me!

5 – Santa doesn’t refer to it as a “business”, but he’s happy for us to call it that so that we can model our own experience on his.  He’s nice like that.

6 – though Santa would never use the phrase “hip to the opportunities”.  He’s way too cool for that.