Improving distfile mirror structure

The Gentoo distfile mirror network is essential in distributing sources to our users. It offloads upstream download locations, improves throughput and reliability, guarantees distfile persistency.

The current structure of distfile mirrors dates back to 2002. It might have worked well back when we mirrored around 2500 files but it proved not to scale well. Today, mirrors hold almost 70 000 files, and this number has been causing problems for mirror admins.

The most recent discussion on restructuring mirrors started in January 2015. I have started the preliminary research in January 2017, and it resulted in GLEP 75 being created in January 2018. With the actual implementation effort starting in October 2019, I’d like to summarize all the data and update it with fresh statistics.

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The gruesome MediaWiki API

I have recently needed to work with MediaWiki API. I wanted to create a trivial script to update UID/GID assignment table from its text counterpart. Sounds trivial? Well, it was not, as update-wiki-table script proves.

MediaWiki API really feels like someone took the webpage and replaced HTML templates with JSON, preserving all the silly aspects that do not make any sense. In this short article, I would like to summarize my experience by pointing out what is wrong with it, why and how it could be done much better.

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Verifying Gentoo election results via Votrify

Gentoo elections are conducted using a custom software called votify. During the voting period, the developers place their votes in their respective home directories on one of the Gentoo servers. Afterwards, the election officials collect the votes, count them, compare their results and finally announce them.

The simplified description stated above suggests two weak points. Firstly, we rely on honesty of election officials. If they chose to conspire, they could fake the result. Secondly, we rely on honesty of all Infrastructure members, as they could use root access to manipulate the votes (or the collection process).

To protect against possible fraud, we make the elections transparent (but pseudonymous). This means that all votes cast are public, so everyone can count them and verify the result. Furthermore, developers can verify whether their personal vote has been included. Ideally, all developers would do that and therefore confirm that no votes were manipulated.

Currently, we are pretty much implicitly relying on developers doing that, and assuming that no protest implies successful verification. However, this is not really reliable, and given the unfriendly nature of our scripts I have reasons to doubt that the majority of developers actually verify the election results. In this post, I would like to shortly explain how Gentoo elections work, how they could be manipulated and introduce Votrify — a tool to explicitly verify election results.

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SKS poisoning, keys.openpgp.org / Hagrid and other non-solutions

The recent key poisoning attack on SKS keyservers shook the world of OpenPGP. While this isn’t a new problem, it has not been exploited on this scale before. The attackers have proved how easy it is to poison commonly used keys on the keyservers and effectively render GnuPG unusably slow. A renewed discussion on improving keyservers has started as a result. It also forced Gentoo to employ countermeasures. You can read more on them in the ‘Impact of SKS keyserver poisoning on Gentoo’ news item.

Coincidentally, the attack happened shortly after the launch of keys.openpgp.org, that advertises itself as both poisoning-resistant and GDPR-friendly keyserver. Naturally, many users see it as the ultimate solution to the issues with SKS. I’m afraid I have to disagree — in my opinion, this keyserver does not solve any problems, it merely cripples OpenPGP in order to avoid being affected by them, and harms its security in the process.

In this article, I’d like to shortly explain what the problem is, and which of the different solutions proposed so far to it (e.g. on gnupg-users mailing list) make sense, and which make things even worse. Naturally, I will also cover the new Hagrid keyserver as one of the glorified non-solutions.

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