SSL certificate login for okupy

In this year’s GSoC, I’m co-working on that intends to become a central place for logging in to various Gentoo sites. One of the fancy features that I’d like to implement is SSL-certificate based login.

The client certificate-based authentication is a kind of public key authentication. In order to login, you provide the server with your certificate (containing your public key) and a signature made with your private key. Your private key is never exposed to the server which greatly improves security, and you don’t have to have a store of random passwords.

Unlike many common authentication methods that are implemented in application space, client certificates are part of the SSL/TLS protocols. As a result, they’re supported quite widely by web browsers. But this also introduces a few limitations that will affect the use.

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Keeping the majority happy

One of the major problems that I have faced in Gentoo is that whatever I was doing on a larger scale made some people really unhappy. I would even say that the specifics of Gentoo make it even possible for users to get outraged (and obviously, let all the world know how outraged they are) by a few files they don’t like having installed.

This brings the question whether we should struggle to keep all of our users happy, or whether keeping majority of our users satisfied is sufficient.

I don’t believe that it is actually possible to keep everyone happy. It’s a kind of never-ending struggle that consumes valuable time and demands sacrifices. You work on making one user happy, the other one doesn’t like the result. You work towards the second one, third one is unhappy. You satisfy all three of them, now fourth comes outraged with the net result.

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Local device access — from plugdev to logind

One of the more curious problems of running Linux on desktops is handling the local device access. The idea is usually quite simple: local users should have access to devices such as removable media (floppies, pendrives), scanners, speakers, webcams and ability to power off or reboot the computer. At the same time, remote users should have that access restricted.

Why? I think the main rationale behind this is that those users have physical access to those functions (yes, you could say that they have physical hard drive access too). They can insert the floppies, plug the pendrive, press the power button or just pull out the plug. They usually suffer the speaker noises and scare in front of the webcam.

At the same time, remote (or inactive users) shouldn’t be given the right to shut down the system unexpectedly, shout into the speakers, stream the user’s webcam or install Windows to his pendrive. I think that doesn’t need explaining.

I would like to shortly describe a few attempts to solve the problem and the issues with them.

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