Do The Right Things

A site devoted to discussing techniques that promote quality and ethical practices in software development.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Signal Messenger vs Wire Messenger - private voice communication

I am a frequent user of Signal but I met a situation where a friend, let's call this Bob, also a Signal user, wanting to talk with me using Signal. We could chat but we could not talk to him. I have no trouble with have a voice conversation using Signal with other users using public Internet services. Attempts to connect to or from Bob always fail. He was using Signal in a campus network and I suspect the reason for these failure was due to certain ports required by Signal calls to go through being been blocked. Bob also uses Skype and there is no problem of striking up a crystal clear voice conversation with him using that.

So I am wondering whether other so called private messengers supporting E2EE on voice call will suffer from the same problem?

After waiting for Bob to upgrade his Android machine from his old Android 4.0 machine, as an experiment he installed Wire Messenger, one that I also use, showing great promises, and I have great respect for it. This messenger also uses the Signal protocol to perform E2EE and it has far more features than Signal. However, it is not as widely known as Signal and definitely less than WhatsApp.

Finally, Bob and I successfully managed to talk securely using Wire protected by Signal protocol transversing the same tightly protected network. We've decided to give Signal a miss because the new phone is now a full populated due SIM, see comments below.

So if anyone having trouble talking with Signal, give Wire a try and you even can test it using your web browser. For those not familiar with Wire, Wire has several great benefits that Signal and WhatsApp fail to offer:

✔ Work without dependent of SIM or phone number

Unlike Signal & WhatsApp, it uses an e-mail address as the identifier with name and phone number as optional identifiers. These optional identifiers can be change at will; the phone number you enter can be different from that in the SIM.

Moreover, the e-mail is only used during account registration for receiving the verification code. After that it is just a pure identifier, like the mobile number used in WhatsApp or Signal.

You can look up friends base on e-mail address, name, or number.

✔ Because of its independence on SIM, its desktop version is a totally stand alone program, unlike Signal and WhatsApp where theirs are appendages to their smart phone siblings.

✔ Because of that, you can run Wire totally from a web browser without having to establish an account in a smart phone. No need to install anything. It is a great bonus for being able to walk up to the airport kiosk and start chatting.

✔ Access to your phone's Contacts is totally optional because its primary identifier is the e-mail address and not phone number. However, if you grant it access to the Contacts, it can use the Contacts data to look up friends.

✔ Its oblivion of a SIM is a great bonus for those operating a dual-SIM phone. Because it does not rely on the SIM, it can be used in a dual-SIM phone without the usual chaos associated with SIM dependent messengers.

If you are in a situation with a dual SIM phone, switch over to Wire and you can use the phone to the fullest rather than carrying two phyiscal phones just to escape the madness.

✔ Because it does not care about the SIM, it is a great tool for travelers who likes to use local SIM. One does not have to do anything to continue the conversation.

✔ At the time of writing and testing (Signal 3.22.2 and Wire 2.22.298) Wire is the only one with encrypted video conferencing and file attachment.

❌ Since most private messengers use encryption using various schemes to provide content integrity and safest, the degree of its privacy is now measured based solely on how much meta data the messenger retains, for how long and its purpose. Meta data are essential for the system to operate correctly. It is the system retention policy of these data or portion of them that have effect on its degree of privacy.

According to this measure, Signal ranks supreme and as the ultimate private messenger. A recent grand jury demand in US lay bare the amount of data retained by Signal - the date the user first registered and the last time the user contacted the system (it does not even record the participant of the conversation).

No messenger so far has ever published verifiable data to surpass Signal or even dare to challenge its supremacy. If you do not hold data how can one be forced to hand over the data? The best defense against authority demanding to hand over data as opposed to data retainer's expensive court fight.

While Wire has declared what kind of meta data (Creator, Timestamp, Participants list, and Conversation name) it records, it has not declared the retention period and the purpose of retaining them. As can be demonstrated, Wire collects tons of data by comparison to Signal and as a result less private and thus secure than Signal.

In fairness, what Wire collects is probably small by comparison or typical of what other messengers, such as WhatsApp, Wickr, etc, collect. At least Wire declares precisely what are being collected without explanation of the purpose rather than some general non-specific statement from WhatsApp, who even attempts, but aborted, to share data with its master.

❌ Small user base.
This can be a bonus if you really want a private private messenger without being bombarded by tons of conversations. This is not a reflection of Wire's lack of technical excellence but more human inertia to change - a Network Effect. It also demonstrates the bulk of messenger users pay little attention to encryption and meta data retention.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Remove Nagware from Foxit Reader (Linux) version 2.1.0805

It is disappointing to see a perfectly good, useful, and feature rich PDF viewer damaging its reputation by engaging nagware in the latest version of Foxit Reader for Linux.

The nagware is very persistent trying to force user to use ConnectedPDF every time one launches Foxit Reader. There is no way to tell it to stop pestering me.

Furthermore, in the preference dialog box, the settings for ConnectedPDF fails (possibly deliberately) to remember my change in the setting for "Use ConnectedPDF Format". I unchecked the "Automatically save PDF files in ConnectedPDF format" but the dialog box failed to record my change.

If you are annoyed by this nagware or pester-ware and have no intention of using ConnectedPdf, you can get rid of it easily.

Just go to the foxit reader's installation directory, typically in ~/opt/foxitsoftware/foxitreader, and either rename or delete the fxplugins folder to summarily dismiss the pesterware. You may have to elevate your privilege in order to accomplish that. Once this is done, you will not see the nagware again. Peace at last.

Shame on you Foxit and that is a good way to drive away users.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Dumb algorithm in Yahoo Mail is a laughing stock

I tried to send an e-mail to a Yahoo mail recipient warning him about not to use the e-mail account's password as the password when registering on site that asks him for his e-mail address. I cited the case of LinkedIn. I told him site other than his e-mail account has no right to know his e-mail account's password.

The e-mail was blocked with the "554 Message not allowed - [298]" and Yahoo is the only mail server blocking that message as the other recipients in other mail services have no problem. Clearly their services are smarter than dumb Yahoo.

Not deter and to demonstrate how easy to by-pass Yahoo's so-called algorithm and automatic scanning of the mail content to block offending materials, I simply use the Windows' Snipping tool to convert the content to a bitmap and embedded that into the content of the message.

The exact content is preserved and the dumb Yahoo algorithm is by-passed!! If it was objectionable to Yahoo, the same objectionable content is being waved past as it totally lacks any intelligent. It is not even steganography.

What Yahoo has done is nothing but a theatrical. What a joke their implementation is.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Which of the 10 URL Shorteners are not hostile to Tor?

I examine 10 URL Shortener Services one by one to evaluate its hostility towards Tor Browser.

Those that put road blocks in the way such as using CAPTCHA or other techniques are classified as hostile services. Another requirement is that it should also operate properly in Android's Orfox, the Android's kind of equivalent to Tor Browser.

If it works in laptop/desktop Tor Browser and not in Orfox, it is still classified as hostile. Any service that requires log in etc. even though not presenting any hostility road blocks is placed in the "Useless" category. Too much trouble.

Tor Browser users should black list those hostile services as they do not possess any uniqueness as the review below shows there are friendly alternatives. In that way the Tor community can deny them of visits and advertising dollars, much like AdBlock Plus.

Tor users can refer to this Tor Project sites for more comprehensive list of Tor hostile sites.

Only 5 out of 10 are Tor friendly. Naturally Google is one of the hostile one.

Tor Friendly site

In Orfox, one needs to add and to NoScript's whitelist.
There are times that this site demands CAPTCHA validation and need more experiment to determine its friendliness.
One needs to add this to the whitelist in the NoScript in Orfox.
Given this is in beta, it loads slowly but still works in a no-nonsense manner. Hope it will not be hostile to Tor as it matures.

Hostile Services


Monday, March 14, 2016

Way to by pass Tor Browser hostile web sites

It is really a form of anti-Net Neutrality for web sites, most notably web hosting sites like CloudFlare, to discriminate Tor Browser users by putting all sort of childish barrier in an attempt to prevent Tor Browser users from gaining access to the materials.

Perhaps by comparison, CloudFlare is not as anti-Tor as Akamai which simply greeds Tor users with 404.

It is an easy way out to treat all Tor Browser users in the same boat as those using the tool to abuse the system. If that kind of thinking prevails, may be we should all shut down the Internet as not a day gone by without seeing an attack being carried out on the Internet. Any other way would require intelligence that they have not got and it is also a good sales material of telling their customers that they could block all those abusers using Tor.

Thankfully, there is a way to get past playing their childish game. I simply route the access through Start Page's proxy from Tor Browser. Just do a search on the link from Tor Browser and then uses the proxy to access it.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Lenovo SHAREit - turning a useful program into a useless one

I once enjoyed using Lenovo's SHAREit program on my Android phone and pairing it with the one that came with my Lenovo laptop and have been recommending it to others.

This was in the day of ver 2.x of this program. That version was not only functional but also lacking any of the fancy stuff. It worked wonderfully.

Like many software, Lenovo changed all that in version 3. Instead of letting the program running on the devices scanning for compatible ones, its only option offered to connect to the PC is to use the camera to look for a QR code from the laptop's version of SHAREit.

Surely just because there is a camera in the phone, you don't really have to use it in preference to a workable solution in ver 2. To work with version 3, even though all other facilities on the Android phone and laptop are unchanged, users have to do a version 3 upgrade.

It is not hard to find it and after I installed the version 3, it popped up the EULA and unless I allowed this program to suck up my personal and usage information and hauling it back to Lenovo, I could not use it.

So I treasure my information more than SHAREit and hence without hesitation I hit the decline button and so be it. I highly recommend everyone to do so as I am offering you a much less surveil method.

So disgust with Lenovo's SHAREit, I summarily uninstalled it from my laptop and all the Android phones I have. Good bye SHAREit with pleasure.

If your laptop and phone have bluetooth, why not put that into good use and you can follow this well written instructions to use it.

The best way to send file from the Android phone to the paired device is to use the share facility.

I encourage any user of SHAREit to uninstall it as it only puts a glossy veneer on top of facilities already there with the aim to capture your data.

If all else fail, the USB cable is just as good and one does not have to submit to Lenovo's unreasonable demand.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Is building a better mouse trap (Signal Private Messenger) enough to win market shares?

I am please to see the release of Signal Private Messenger for Android and iOS, a messaging application that has earned full marks in the EFF security score sheet. I am a fan of this product and I like it very much for the following reasons:
  • It is an open-source project offering the service for free. WhatsApp is not a free.
  • As a result, it can be reviewed by anyone capable of doing it while WhatsApp is proprietary, even though it claims to be underpinning by Open Whisper Systems but no one has reviewed that. Recent event has indicated that WhatsApp messages have been intercepted and decoded.
  • It is not owned by any company while WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, Skype by Microsoft. Thus all metadata in WhatsApp and Skype belongs to Facebook or Microsoft respectively.

According to well-known security researchers, Bruce Schneier and Matt Green, Signal is developed to a very high quality to provide end-to-end encryption (E2E) not only for messaging but also for voice and their endorsement must mean something.

I am not here to raise doubt of this product which I am using admittedly with very limited users to interact with and I have great trust. I hope it will do well.

But I am here to question whether it is enough to rely on technical superiority which is so well hidden from the users to induce them to switch to Signal and to grow its market shares. That's is: is building a smarter (more secure) mouse trap enough to win market shares? Other class of software such as web browser, anti-virus, media player, or mail client can draw people to switch based of superiority of features.

Looking at the landscape of messaging applications it is difficult to see how Signal can rely on security implementation, so out of sight of the user, to win market shares. Will this become a replay of VHS (WhatsApp, Skype, etc) vs BetaMax (Signal) of the 21st Century?

Messaging applications are like clubs or cults in which they only allow club members to interact and go to great length to discourage inducement to leave and definitely providing no facility to support inter-club interaction. This produces network effect to draw people in and that also becomes disincentive to leave and its nurture of human social interaction provides a positive feedback to increase the network effect.

Looking at the EFF Security score card, most of the popular messaging applications do not use security best practices and their inferiorities do not seem to matter to the users. The anecdotal conclusion one can draw is that users do not care with online privacy and security despite well publicised massive surveillance activities. Unlike other type of application, such as web browser, there is no report of people deserting one messaging application to another, despite vulnerabilities and caught not using secure messaging mechanism when they claim to use. For those entrenched players, they must feel like in a no-loss situation. The only way they can lose to a competitor is by a total annihilation of the enterprise.

Messaging applications have another unique characteristics that it is not the features that draw users to choose a particular application; there is a great degree of peer pressure exerted by those early adapters unwittingly forcing people to form that circle of friends. This peer pressure then forms a vortex to draw more and more people in. Their only concern is to be able to communicate with the club members.

Because of the lack support for inter-application interaction, the application through using proprietary communication protocol forms a natural barrier for their user to leave. Apart from that, the user does not see any benefit for using a different application that essentially providing the same things - messaging and may be voice - and having to desert their friends. So why leave? What is the benefit to them?

Many users of messaging applications also form the mistaken belief that they can only use one messaging application in their device. Perhaps it is this mistaken belief or blind fanaticism to their favourite application they are also reluctant to install other messaging applications to increase their reach to their friends. Since Signal is so similar to WhatsApp, it is simply a matter of installing and waiting for others in the contact to install their copy of Signal to re-establish communication. Even that simple is not enticing.

I have spoken to several users of messaging applications as well as non-users and recommending to switch over to a more secure application called Signal. But telling them the benefits of Signal is like talking about wine apprecThis is particularly difficult when Signal is so similar to the operations of WhatsApp separated by a thin veneer of technical features. In view of this, users of WhatsApp (or other app) are unwilling to desert their circle of friends to use something that to them is almost the same thing with minute user base, by comparison. iation to a group of teetotalers. To them the improve security and end-to-end encryption (E2E) are not enough to sway them. Even people that has not used messaging application seems to be reluctant to get onboard with Signal because they have not heard of it being mentioned by their friends.

So I wonder how a late comer like Signal can overcome these barriers to increase its market shares? How it can base on technical superiority to entice users who are disinterested of them that Signal relies on to distinguish it from others? What is the future of Signal apart from being a niche player at best? Clearly Signal needs to improve its image and marketing.

From the analysis, users of messaging applications place extremely high premium on their ability to reach their circle of friends and ignore other issues like security and privacy. Therefore if the new comer, like Signal, wanting to rise up, it must give their users a transparent way to interact with their circle of friends without requiring them to switch en masse like the present situation. How to achieve that is the real challenge in messaging application development in view of no standard communication protocol?

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