Wednesday, 7 October 2015

An open response to Veiltower and Edsard Ravelli's Kickstarter update

An update was posted on the Veiltower Kickstarter earlier today. This was in response to the furor expressed by myself and many others on Twitter since yesterday morning. As a result of this response and as a follow up to my previous entry, I've opted to opine on the response.
Dear Backers,
Edsard here, developer of Veiltower. Our project has now been active on Kickstarter for over 24 hours. To say that it has been overwhelming is a major understatement.
On the one hand we’ve been receiving a lot of praise - particularly from friends, colleagues and business partners who know us - and on the other hand there has been criticism directed at our project from a few people in the information security community. 
The criticism was primarily directed at one thing; the ‘100% secure’ statement on our Kickstarter page. Information security officers will always tell you that nothing can be infinitely 100% secure. And that is true. But frankly this is, in my honest opinion, a theoretical debate. For instance ‘PGP’-encrypting technology for e-mail is great, but 99% of people on the planet don’t use it. Why? 

This isn't amateur hour: the fact that you tried to enter the cyber security space with what appears to be inadequate knowledge and research should be enough to warrant scorn and ridicule over the use of the term "100% secure".

Trying to also pass off praise from friends, colleagues, and business partners in face of this valid criticism is akin to a child receiving praise from their parent after having achieved a failing grade in school. The opinion of the parent is not going to change the outcome of the child's inability to perform.

The reason why information security professionals who are adept at their jobs frown upon "100% secure" statements is that it is impossible to have such a thing. If your device was even remotely capable of providing this, you wouldn't be selling it at $159 but instead for much, much more. By using that statement, you've put yourself in a league of many other failures who've gone and made such a remark and then later found to be far from secure.

The problem with information security isn't a device or application problem: it's a human one. The human problem--or as I like to call it, the "Layer 8 Problem"--is the primary culprit behind breaches, malware infections, and scams. With infections and scams, users tend to fail to keep their machines up to date or do not take a critical look at what they're being presented with. You fail to understand this but have no problem going about stating that a simple VPN and "secure" access point is going to solve everything.

I am ignoring your PGP question because if you truly understood the problem you're facing you would have not asked that.
If you want to secure yourself as a tech-savvy person you would setup a solution in your home with a strong firewall, strong Wi-Fi encryption, and add into the mix a VPN both on your system at home as on all of your devices. You will configure and maintain them daily, spend the effort and remain vigilant at all the time. Simple. But most of you, and the majority of internet users, neither have the time or the experience to set this up, let alone maintain it. 
And that’s what the Veiltower concept is all about. It’s about combining existing and proven methods in a way that’s easy for ‘Average Joe’. The real threat to our security – as stands today – is the complexity of use and the lack of usability. We don’t use ‘PGP’ because it’s perceived as complex. 
The "real threat to our security" is not just the complexity of it or that humans make mistakes, it is also the fact that people like you try and sell half-baked solutions. I come across many, many products on a constant basis in my line of work where the vendors promise that it will do this with minimal cost on resources. For every one good security product out there, there are umpteen that are complete garbage and are backed by individuals like yourself. I rarely if ever endorse a product but I have no problem calling one "garbage" when I see it--and yours comes under that category.

When you go on Kickstarter claiming "100% secure" then go on Twitter and claim that you're just stating this for the common layperson, you're being deceitful and demeaning. It doesn't matter if you're talking to an information security professional or a common user: you tell the truth. Making security easier for users is something that all of us should try and do, but we do it in a way that doesn't require us to talk down to them--like you are--and also doesn't involve us manipulating them by making outright lies--such as claiming "100% secure".

Also, while I won't explain the problem with PGP in this response, I will explain the problem with your example. PGP is not something that you'd use to secure a network or computer but instead it's something to secure data. PGP won't stop malware, won't stop data leaks on networks, and won't prevent the human problem. This is a really an inadequate example on your part and I am not sure why you'd want to use this other than you have no clue which is really what I think is going on here.
And that is what I have focused on for the past 12 years; taking something very complex and making it easy to use. For example in 2001 at KPN (biggest Dutch carrier) I created a simple way to connect via ‘GPRS’ – because they understood that without usability nobody would use their service. I introduced automatic carrier detection and Wi-Fi (including automatic authentication to various hotspot providers) into the Vodafone Connection Manager worldwide in 2005 and 2006, although it seemed like it couldn’t be done because Wi-Fi was a ‘competing technology’ to their mobile data offering. In 2009 I created a solution for Best-Buy that would do both GSM and CDMA (2 competing technologies used by AT&T and Verizon) and switch a user from one network to the other, based on the best coverage for that user at that location - without the consumer having to do anything. 
Veil Systems is not based around a small group. It’s about a collection of idealistic people from the US, UK, Ukraine, Argentina, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Russia that came together – all bringing their own expertise – to create Veiltower. Our goal: help stop cyber-crime and protect the people that need protecting. 
Great. I am glad that you have this team and experience behind you: why are you just pointing out yourself, a designer, and a logistics person in the Kickstarter instead of you know maybe people who are behind the development of this project? You claim to have people scattered all over the Americas and Europe yet only focus on yourself and two people from the Detroit area. When you cite these countries, are they the actors in your videos or are they actually the main people behind the project?
We received comments about the lack of technical specs on our Kickstarter page. We did this deliberately. In our experience most of you don’t care about the various technical ‘flavours’ which could have been used. EAP-TLS vs. EAP-TTLS vs. EAP-FAST or 256-bit symmetric key vs. 2048-bit asymmetric key or Broadcom vs. Intel chipsets or why 256Mb is enough instead of 512Mb or Debian vs. OpenBSD vs. openSUSE. Every one of them have pro’s and con’s. That creates an infinite debate without end. In the end; it’s a ‘flavour’. You – the people we have built Veiltower for - just want it to work. You just want it to protect you. We knew, well in advance, that with adding a lot of tech specs we would scare you off or run the risk of our story would end up in a technical debate. And that is not what this should be about. 
You're essentially telling everyone that you'd rather create a blackbox rather than give any level of specifications on the product? This makes no sense considering even other Kickstarters like your own have referenced such things. Also, calling encryption symmetries as "flavours" is woefully ignorant and just demonstrates a lack of technical depth that you have.
Is Veiltower is finished product that has undergone every possible certification and validation process? No! It’s a prototype that we have developed, tested and that works. Can it be improved? Always! And that’s exactly why we are on Kickstarter. The funding will allow us, as part of our 6 month process, to do the types of improvements, certification and validation tests that the information security community – rightfully – demands from a finished product.  
Whoa. Stop the fuck right there.

So what you're telling us is that Veiltower has not gone under every possible certification and validation process, but you had the audacity to claim that it is "100% secure"? What sort of validation tests do you plan to take on this? What sort of certification? Can you elaborate on how you tested the device?
Note: If we don’t achieve our funding goal. Nobody pays anything. And if we achieve our funding goal and we don’t deliver we also refund your money. We have stated this on our Kickstarter page very clearly. 
This opens up a question for me: how are you going to continue to guarantee support for the product after raising all the money? The reason why I ask this is that in 2013, your prior company, Diginext claimed bankruptcy, leaving the organization owing almost half-a-million Euro.

If your product is as good as you claim it to be, you would not be going to Kickstarter for getting it launched because you'd have investors crawling all over you for what would be considered the Holy Grail of Cyber Security. Your business plan to use Kickstarter and your earlier bankruptcy does not seem to add up in my books as something that will work long-term for users.
Let’s do this!
Edsard Ravelli
Let's say we don't do this and instead end the Kickstarter. You're making yourself look like a fool and you're tarnishing the names of two other individuals who do not deserve to be part of your failure.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Veiltower: a misleading plastic jungle of deception

Once again we have another Kickstarter that claims that it is 100% secure, un-breachable, and uses unheard of cryptography. Introducing "VeilTower", a plastic jungle of deception.

As indicated in my opening, I've dealt with this sort of claim before where erroneous claims about the product's capabilities were made in a Kickstarter. In this case, we're being told of the following capabilities in the device using terms like "military-grade" which tend to set off alarms:
Some of the most security conscious organizations in the world have been using what’s called 802.1x with great success. That’s what we’re using. The encryption currently in use for typical consumers is 256 bit encryption. We’re utilizing 2048 bit encryption. We wanted to give consumers a product with military-grade technology.
Veiltower also makes your digital presence anonymous by masking your traffic and connected devices with it's state of the art embedded VPN (Virtual Private Network) solution.
It goes on further in an update that was posted after they were confronted online to explain its "100% secure" statement:
Some have questioned whether its not too bold of a statement to claim Veiltower provides 100% security. And that is a very fair question.
The simple reality is that almost anything can be cracked/hacked if enough effort is put in and over the years various standards (remember the heartbleed bug?) contained, in hindsight, vulnerabilities.
So to our knowledge, the encryption we use in Veiltower is secure! That's until one day we, and many other Access Point providers that employ the same encryption, are proven wrong.
For the techs:
VPN: Strong Swan IKEv2
This of course after this tweet was made at me:

Needless to say it started quite the Twitter conversation so I am going to condense everything I know about them and additionally opine on the matter.

To start off here, no product no matter its claims can go and say that what they do and or provide is 100% secure and is immune to breaches. Anyone who makes such a claim is either being intentionally deceptive or has zero clue about what they're talking about. In this case, I think that's more of the latter as based on the background of the individual leading this project, as he does not appear to have ever worked on anything cyber security-related.

Veiltower (also known as Veil Systems) has a bit of a history and this is not their first Kickstarter either. It has since been removed but did manage to create a PNG mirror of the campaign draft which was penned around November 2014. They did tweet aggressively leading up to the date they expected to launch everything but for some unspecified reason, Kickstarter did not accept the submission so they promised to regroup and launch again later in the year.

However, after the last tweet, they made no quip about the Kickstarter campaign and just proceeded to share videos that they had already made. Additionally, the product was slightly different than what we are seeing now as they were also promising NAS functionality and an IP camera in addition to the "security" features we're seeing today.

Physically the products are similar except that there is a glowing, device shaped like a bowling pin that would have had the IP camera at the top. The campaign however appears to provide more details on the inner guts the device which is something I found lacking in the current campaign.

They're also providing the specifications in this old campaign.
Which again is sorely missing from the campaign.

However, something didn't add up: how is the PCB larger than the above disc in the guts image? If we look at a photo of the rear of the unit, you'll notice that the device doesn't even have ports that match the board.
This sort of reminds me of the Sever thing because it was revealed to me in conversation with some people close to the project that the board didn't match the case itself. What's going on here? Well without details on the specs of the unit in the current campaign, I guess we'll never know.

One thing to add: I call this a "misleading plastic jungle of deception" for good reason: they make the following claim about the antenna design:

A friend of mine is an avid ham radio operator and he informed me that the antenna slant wouldn't be enough to incur a polarization shift, meaning that the benefit from this design would be non-existent.

In any event, based on the hardware details from the previous Kickstarter and the lack of details in the current, it doesn't really bode well for this device at least from a physical standpoint. Any claims about its abilities to improve your overall Internet experience will be exaggerated at best.

Perhaps it's worth learning a bit about who's behind it: really there is one but it seems like there is quite a bit of discord going on behind the scenes as evident in these tweets.

I am guessing that after the exchange had started earlier (the crypto one from earlier was by this "social media guru"), Edsard Ravelli, the founder or leader behind this project decided to get involved and effectively sack the person behind the Twitter account--it should be assumed that the 802.1x encryption remark was made by the removed individual. I think that it is a bit fair to talk about the person behind this project.

Edsard hails from Amsterdam and appears to have been involved with the project from the start. He has claimed via his LinkedIn to once have been CEO and Founder of a company called DigiNext, but left in Autumn 2014, a year and a half after founding Veil Systems--I was not able to procure details on what happened with DigiNext but I can safely tell you that their website has a lot of broken links. Additionally he also has a software patent to his name, depicting some sort of update mechanism that reeks of similarity to every other software updater out there.

Veiltower mentions two other employees in the Kickstarter: Eric Stebel and Kris Caryl. Eric is cited as being the "Lead Designer" for the project, but judging based on his website, he's likely involved in the creation of the physical case of the device and not the electronics itself--however I will admit that Eric has done some cool stuff. I was not able to get much in the way on Kris other than her being cited as a Veiltower's logistics person.

Noticed something peculiar? Not a single person with an information security, software development, or hardware design background is cited. And here they are making claims about having a product that is 100% secure.

Of course, Edsard was okay in citing that it was okay to claim this because he's trying to lay it out to the laymen:

Edsard's excuse here is that it's acceptable to lie in the Kickstarter because he's trying to "appeal to consumers who [are] technology illiterate". By that logic, Volkswagen should be off the hook because consumers wouldn't notice the difference between the government-mandated emissions testing and "real world situations".

He continues to say that he had details posted on Facebook weeks before with over 5,000 followers where nobody made a quip about the claims. This is completely idiotic to claim and I am not even going to entertain the idea of writing here about why.

Going back to employees, Veiltower has gone out of their way to hire freelancers using Elance. Since April 2014, they have spent $38,002 USD across 29 different freelancing job requests--or about $1,300 on average per request. In contrast to their $250,000 goal on Kickstarter, the money spent on Elance would account for 15% of what they need to raise. How much is Edsard paying himself, Eric, and Kris? At a minimum, if these two have worked a year for Veil Systems at a wage of $8.12/hour, they'd each account for $16,952 ignoring things like sick days or other labour aspects. Times two, that's 14% of the campaign costs, meaning that around 30% is just for labour--this is a huge assumption too.

It should also be noted that none of the freelance requests were for anything technical and appeared to be solely marketing-related.

There's also no indication that there are other employees with Veil Systems as the name does not link to any other employees on LinkedIn other than Edsard himself.

One of the rewards is a white Veiltower for 1,999 people at a cost of $159. To meet that goal of $250,000, they need to get over three-quarters of that amount in order to cross that threshold required for a Kickstarter payout. But makes me wonder: does $250,000 cover all the salaries and development costs incurred?

If this was a product that was worth funding, a Kickstarter campaign would have not been ever needed. I tend to believe that the vast majority of campaigns out there are for ideas that are not marketable at all and just pander to a niche market. There are exceptions to this rule but it's a very short list of them.

Edsard has claimed that tomorrow he'll have some answers so we shall wait and see!

Friday, 2 October 2015

How Patreon made themselves a hole

As you might have heard, Patreon was breached and had its database and code dumped on the Internet. Canary has a copy of all e-mails and they are now all searchable.

I wrote this elsewhere, but this is how Patreon created a problem for themselves.

It's pretty easy to enable debug within Werkzeug but it isn't enabled by default. It's also not by default listening on "" but rather instead by default "".

Here's exactly what they did in the code (this is straight from the dump):
    web_app.debug = patreon.config.debug'', port=args.port, use_reloader=False)
Then in the patreon.config.debug string, it had a true statement:
debug = True
Whoever enabled this server wouldn't have fed arguments to enable it as it was hard-coded into the application. All someone had to do was just type "python" and the server would be ready to go with debug-mode enabled.

Detectify Labs wrote a blog entry and linked to a previous one of mine. Don't enable debug on Internet-facing servers and if you can help it don't enable it to listen on "" either.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Threat Intelligence (is|can be) (useless|useful)

One of the interesting side-effects of SIEMs becoming popular in organizations is the rise of threat intelligence. Threat intelligence is really nothing new as it has existed since the mid-90s in the form of DNS Blackhole Lists (DNSBL) to combat spam. Today, we're seeing it used to not only identify spam but to also identify infected hosts belonging to botnets, machines identified belonging to less-than-reputable ISPs, and much more.

However, I've struggled with the usefulness or uselessness of this data. At the organization I work at, we're using some free threat intelligence data that is as described really useful but in practicality is very difficult to utilise because of the fact that in order for us to sift out the useful tidbits, we have to filter out the noise.

A prime example of a useful list that is littered with noise are lists of Tor exit and entry nodes. This is very useful data to know one can detect the use of these nodes quite quickly and then perhaps determine if there is an infected machine or inappropriate use. However, the data becomes useless when these Tor nodes (smartly) add themselves to NTP pools and these machines have misconfigured software that uses an NTP pool instead of whatever is set within domain policy. The solution is of course to fix your domain policy but then there may be other pitfalls that may arise as these nodes may just adopt something else to obscure their purpose.

Another example of where I find threat lists useless is that some groups will just place numerous honeypots and sensors across the globe and then use that to collect information on which machines are misbehaving and where they are attacking. A good example of such a setup would be with IP Viking's Norse map which looks like something ripped out of a remake of Wargames.

The problem I have with this approach is that it's like making yourself a member of as many Block Watch groups as possible. Sure. You're going to know which neighbourhood is more at risk than the other and you might even know who the perpetrators might be, but is it going to be useful to know this as someone not belonging to any of these Block Watches for your neighbourhood located in Seattle when the incident happened in Mumbai? Yeah. You'll mark that IP or IP block as malicious, but is it really a true concern?

Companies will sell this sort of information at ridiculous rates too. One company I had the pleasure of being on the phone with wanted to offer such data at a rate of $150,000 USD per year. That's a six-figure value for a constantly updating list of IP addresses. The data isn't really verifiable either as they depend on their own sources and purportedly say that whatever they're seeing is a "threat".

And that is just it: what constitutes a threat to your network and will threat intelligence provide you with anything of value? Is it really worth spending $150,000 USD per year on threat intelligence that may or may not be of value?

I'm going to toot my own horn here and say that the type of threat intelligence that these lists provide is more or less useless outside of perhaps the Tor example and perhaps mail reputation--I can save the latter for another rant.

With Canary (name soon to be retired), I don't mark discoveries found within the database as a threat--in fact, I avoid the phrase "threat intelligence" entirely on the site but that is likely to change. It's better to identify a threat on your own rather than rely on some third-party to do so. If your IP block, company hostname, or perhaps a hash with your own special salt shows up in the service, it's up to you to determine if it is worth investigating. At that point, the threat intelligence could actually be potentially useful.

Your security team should be making a decision on what is a threat and then reacting appropriately based on your response plan. Relying on a third-party to determine a threat is going to slow you down and eat up resources that otherwise may be better suited for other things.

When you look at the aforementioned Rolls Royce-costing service, you're going to get a list of IP addresses that you should look out for. It may be useful because maybe you'll just go and block those addresses from touching your network or maybe you'll sniff around your firewall logs to see if an address popped up before, but at the end of the day you're dealing with potential red-herrings and all because you're reacting to a situation in Mumbai when you're all the way in Seattle.

I don't really hate threat intelligence services per se like my example, but I at the same time struggle with finding the value in them. It is useful to know what sort of malicious activity is going on the Internet, but it can be useless to make decisions within your enterprise based on them.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

CSAW CTF 2015 - Web 200 in two steps (using PHP's awfulness)

Some friends and I participated in this year's CSAW CTF under the name "Northwest Beer Drinkers". We placed 89th out of a total of 1,100+ teams, so I guess we can boast about being in the top-100 this year (woo). Sadly I couldn't participate myself too much this year as I had a family gathering to attend to, but I did spend some time early on and managed to solve Web 200.

Web 200, or "Lawn Care Simulator", was a simple web application that plays on the joke about "growth hackers". It was written to look like it was PHP-based, complete with a login page, registration form, and a suggestion that you join "their company". It definitely was quite tongue in cheek and they even went out of their way to make the grass grow in the blue square if you pressed the "grow" button.

When you attempt to login, it hashes the password field before sending off the form. This is done via an embedded JavaScript that makes use of the MD5 function in the CryptoJS library. The code executes as follows:

function init(){
            document.getElementById('login_form').onsubmit = function() {
                var pass_field = document.getElementById('password'); 
                pass_field.value = CryptoJS.MD5(pass_field.value).toString(CryptoJS.enc.Hex);

The registration page also refuses to let you sign up for an account, citing that it is currently in "private beta". It tries to play a trick on you in the form that it's looking for a hash value from the initial page, supplied by an improperly placed Git repository (which is important to note for later in this writeup), but I couldn't find a way to make use of this hash in the form, so I decided to attack the login mechanism instead since it was doing some weird hashing before sending the form off.

And this is where we sort of quickly solve the problem.

I decided to see what would happen if I just logged in with no credentials at all using Python Requests. The intention here was to see what sort of error would be produced and then use that to solve the problem. However, it sort of went sideways...
>>> import requests
>>> data = { 'username': '', 'password': '' }
>>> r ='', data=data)
>>> r.text
u'<html>\n<head>\n    <title>Lawn Care Simulator 2015</title>\n    <script src="//"></script>\n    <script src=""></script> \n    <link href="" rel="stylesheet"></link>\n</head>\n<body>\n<h1>

As we can see, this worked. At the time when the flag was revealed, I was not 100% certain that this was an intentional way to get the flag but while reviewing my notes and other information, I became conflicted.

If we go back to my remark about the Git repository, it was the repo for the entire source code to this challenge. And as it turns out in another write-up, it was key in solving the challenge for that person.

I did grab the source code from the challenge and took a look at why I was successful with fewer steps.
    require_once 'validate_pass.php';
    require_once 'flag.php';
    if (isset($_POST['password']) && isset($_POST['username'])) {
        $auth = validate($_POST['username'], $_POST['password']); 
        if ($auth){
            echo "<h1>" . $flag . "</h1>";
        else {
            echo "<h1>Not Authorized</h1>";
    else {
        echo "<h1>You must supply a username and password</h1>";
So now we know it uses validate function from validate_pass.php, so let's examine that to see why this worked.

function validate($user, $pass) {
    require_once 'db.php';
    $link = mysql_connect($DB_HOST, $SQL_USER, $SQL_PASSWORD) or die('Could not connect: ' . mysql_error());
    mysql_select_db('users') or die("Mysql error");
    $user = mysql_real_escape_string($user);
    $query = "SELECT hash FROM users WHERE username='$user';";
    $result = mysql_query($query) or die('Query failed: ' . mysql_error());
    $line = mysql_fetch_row($result, MYSQL_ASSOC);
    $hash = $line['hash'];

    if (strlen($pass) != strlen($hash))
        return False;

    $index = 0;
        if ($pass[$index] != $hash[$index])
            return false;
        # Protect against brute force attacks
    return true;
While my PHP is not up to snuff, it should at least from what I understand here have came up with no results unless the database itself had a row that was completely blank for both the hash and username field. If the result variable was not able to be created then it should have died outright, but it was able to fetch a row and feed it into the line variable.

In any event, the solution was not to ram it with a bunch of requests but to just post a blank username and blank password. Whether or not this is the official solution I am not 100% sure.

Edit: PHP is an awful language

I had a chat with a friend of mine (pr0zac) who knows PHP better than me and he pointed that that mysql_fetch_row returns "false" if no rows are found. What likely happened here is that SQL failed to return any rows but the query technically succeeded so mysql_query returned successfully.

Then mysql_fetch_row returned "false" when it executed and then strlen reading of that made the result "null".

After all that, it then just passes the check as it remains "null" after hashing and returns "true".

PHP is fucking awful.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A look at Something Awful's moderation by the numbers

Something Awful has been on the Internet for over a decade and a half. In that time, it has been responsible for many aspects of Internet culture. I myself have been on the website's forums since December of 2000, so I've seen a lot of stuff come and go.

One aspect of the forums that is unique when you compare it to other Internet communities is that it keeps a public ledger of all of the punitive actions made by moderators and administrators to the site's users. This was implemented in 2004 and it has been kept since.

During an attempt to get over some jet lag, I decided to see what sort of numbers could be retrieved from the "Leper's Colony" which is the aforementioned ledger. After some attempts, I managed to download the data and then compile it into JSON which will be provided after I finish digging through the information.

I've also crunched some numbers and made pretty graphs to see how the site has behaved since the ledger was started. I'll start with the numbers in this entry and then provide some pretty stuff in the next.

No data outside of the Leper's Colony was retrieved other than a count for total users.

There's a lot of information you can gleam from this information including seeing how much involved Richard "Lowtax" Kyanka has been throughout the years and even how much money accounts can cost.

Base Statistics

The ban data covers all moderator and administrator data from August 7th, 2004 through to September 9th, 2015. During this time there were 136,845 events, meaning that on average there were 33 to 34 events per day.

When the data was compiled, there were approximately 193,000 accounts--this value fluctuates so we're going to leave it at this. Additionally, there are three punishment types marked in this ledger; they are ban, permabanned, and probated.
This table breaks it down by the numbers:


Based on the unique values, this means that around 18% of all users have had their accounts probated for a period of time, 9% have been banned, and about 1% have been permabanned entirely. The numbers also tell us that less than 4% of permanent banishments are not really all that permanent.



One aspect of the Something Awful forums is that temporary banishments (and not-so-temporary) are given quite frequently. Users that receive these probations are able to view the forums and send private messages, but they would not be able to post any new threads or reply.

Probations can be given one of two ways: either a moderator directly probates someone for whatever reason or the user posts a thread that gets removed ("gassed") which results in a 15 minute inability to post--however the latter does not end up on the ledger.

The first reported probation in the dataset was on September 27, 2004, and the infraction was "grasshopper leeching in BYZT".

The following table shows the length of a probation and the number of them given.

<6 hours36 hours22,095
12+ hours6,2801 day34,895
3 days24,0501 week13,607
2 weeks11 month3,227
>1 month2100,000 hours192

For the last one, 100,000 hours is about 11.5 years. It's given out periodically for those who may invoke the ire of an administrator who decides that it's much more humourous to just remove them for a decade. The first person to suffer this got the punishment on May 8th, 2005, which means that on October 4th 2016, or about a year from now, that account will be able to post once again--the account has not posted since being probated.

The total number of probation hours given would add up to just slightly over 3,000 years.


Bans are as they described: you are removed from the forums if you're found to be in violation of the rules or you've been probated so many times that a message needs to be sent.

Unlike many other websites such as Reddit or Digg, Something Awful does require you to pay in order to sign up. This hasn't always been the case, but accounts registered past late 2001 are typically paid at a rate of $9.99 USD. Numbers are hard to determine, but at the time before paid accounts became a part of the forums' operation, there were about 20,000 users, meaning that from just account registrations alone, around $1.7 million has been paid by new users. This could be impressive if it weren't for the fact that this is over a span of 14 years, meaning that it would just be $100,000 per year if it to remain consistent.

However, unique to Something Awful is the ability to pay for the ability to return to the forums. With exception to a permanent ban, all one has to do to return is pay the $9.99 fee and they'll have their account back--there is one catch: if you have any upgrades which too also cost $9.99, you'll have to pay for those upgrades once again too.

And it has worked. Accounts have re-registered several times as indicated by the ban data itself. Here's a table that breaks down the ban counts and how many unique users per count.

# of bansCount# of bansCount# of bansCount# of bansCount

As you can see, it can get quite impressive, but it should be kept in mind that if someone does get banned that they won't necessarily come back. However, multiple bans does indicate that the person has at least paid $9.99 once to return. If one were to assume that everyone has paid to come back, Mr. Kyanka would have raised about $240,000 from re-registrations alone.

One user who takes the top with 35 bans actually has more: the person in second place is the same user, which means the user has been banned 66 times, or has contributed at least $660 to Something Awful.

Or maybe they're not the top-most. Another user had registered 77 times under different but similar aliases, meaning they've spent almost $770.

What this speaks of is that you're not going to get rid of all problematic users by banning them, but it does mean that you can at least get some compensation for having to put up with them.


This account punishment is as it reads: a permanent ban. As mentioned earlier, some accounts do get the permanent ban lifted: it appears to be about 3.5%.

To break it down, 2,307 accounts have been permanently banned once. For accounts permabanned twice, it's at 73. Accounts permanently banned three and four times are both at 3.

It should be kept in mind that some accounts permabanned once may also be twice or more as well as they may be registrations under a different name.

Coming up...

In the next entry, I'll show pretty things in graphs. This one will take a bit longer than a few days but it should be fun.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Geotrust/Symantec has revoked all SSL certificates for .PW TLD domains

I just came off of vacation and had this show up in my e-mail regarding some problems with Canary:
Good morning Colin,
I hope your weekend was awesome.
Just a quick email to let you know that I am having issues with a possible certificate problem on Firefox, chrome, ie and even edge.
It works fine on safari on an iPad.
Needless to say I initially passed it off as someone having their client not configured correctly or running some outdated software (I really should avoid having these biases but I digress), but just as a sanity check, I decided to take a look.

Being that I didn't revoke the certificate myself, I reached out to the reseller that issued the certificate and had this relayed to me:
Reseller rep.:
We regret to inform you that certificate [number] for domain has been revoked by the Certificate Authority due to the site being flagged as potentially containing malware in a recent site scanning by Symantec (owner of GeoTrust). Unfortunately we were not warned of the upcoming revocation, so we apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause.


Reseller rep.:
As per our check with Symantec, they will no longer be issuing SSL certs to .PW domains. You are advised to remove the SSL certificate from the server to avoid security errors related to a revoked certificate.
I was not happy to read this, but my reseller was awesome enough to issue me a refund so I could go ahead and just switch the certificate to another provider. There is no malware on Canary to say the least so the statement by Symantec is irrevocably false.

But here's the thing: why did Geotrust just go ahead and revoke the certificates for all .PW domains without any warning? Why did they believe that this was the best course of action and why did they decide to put domains at risk? It is because of these questions that I cannot recommend using them as a certificate authority.

Geotrust has done a great job demonstrating the problem with certificate authorities: they're closed organizations that you cannot put any trust into.