Friday, February 22, 2008

Cracking disk encryption

I guess in addition to strong passwords you should also consider shutting down your computer instead of simply putting it to sleep.

A new paper (PDF) by a group of Princeton computer scientists suggests that disk encryption is vulnerable to a hack that will be hard to correct for: data about the encryption can be extracted from the machine's RAM.


With the memory contents in hand, the next step was to crack the encryption and compensate for the sporadic memory errors. Here, the researchers relied on the fact that most decryption systems store information derived from the encryption keys in memory to speed calculations.


The paper describes algorithms for recognizing and extracting AES, DES, RSA, and tweak key information from memory. The authors have also turned these on most of the common encryption methods, including TrueCrypt and dm-crypt, as well as Mac OS-X's FileVault and Vista's BitLocker. Using an external USB drive, the authors were able to identify and extract the key and mount a BitLocker-encrypted volume in about 25 minutes. While wandering around the memory of an Intel Mac, they not only cracked the FileVault encryption but also stumbled onto multiple copies of the login password.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why the Microsoft Office file formats are so complicated

An interesting piece by Joel Spolsky, a guy who worked for Microsoft back in the day.

If you started reading these documents with the hope of spending a weekend writing some spiffy code that imports Word documents into your blog system, or creates Excel-formatted spreadsheets with your personal finance data, the complexity and length of the spec probably cured you of that desire pretty darn quickly. A normal programmer would conclude that Office’s binary file formats:

* are deliberately obfuscated
* are the product of a demented Borg mind
* were created by insanely bad programmers
* and are impossible to read or create correctly.

You’d be wrong on all four counts.

Being the charitable guy I am, I only thought the first, second and fourth bullet points were true.

The advice on how to work around the difficult specs is good.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Misinformed craze for hybrids

Hybrids like the Toyota Prius are selling like mad, but they are a stop-gap measure at best and the "misinformed craze" for them may delay sustainable technologies like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, French researchers say.

Gas-electric vehicles are not environmentally sustainable, yet automakers like Toyota and General Motors are pouring tens of millions of dollars into them in no small part because consumers are convinced they are, Jean-Jacques Chanaron and Julius Teske write in "Hybrid Vehicles: A Temporary Step."


Monday, February 11, 2008

Happy day-after-Evolution-Sunday

Yesterday was another Evolution Sunday, a day where some churches celebrate being religious and evolutionists. At the same time! (Cue dramatic gasp.)

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. [...] We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

Er, okay. Except that it sounds kinda post-modern to me. If science says "black" and religion says "white", do they have a problem with that? Or would those be complementary forms of truth?

Here's some previous comments of mine.

And the final word (IMHO):

O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, which teems with things innumerable, living things, both small and great....These all look to thee, to give them their food in due season. When thou givest to the, they gather it up; when thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good things. When thou hidest thy face, they are dismayed; when thou takest away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground. (Psalms 104:27-30 via Mere Comments)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Unprofitable servants

Which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’”

Luke 17:7-10

Friday, February 08, 2008

The ancient church

Interesting article about evangelical Christians' growing interest in the ancient church.

[...] "The Chicago Call: An Appeal to Evangelicals" [...] declared evangelicals' "pressing need to reflect upon the substance of the biblical and historic faith and to recover the fullness of this heritage." This historic document began by issuing a "Call to Historic Roots and Continuity":

"We confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scripture and the Spirit make us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures. … We dare not move beyond the biblical limits of the gospel; but we cannot be fully evangelical without recognizing our need to learn from other times and movements concerning the whole meaning of that gospel."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

New American VW minivan

OK, I'm not the target audience for minivans (I hate them), but still.

Volkswagen has two interesting minivans in Europe: the Touran and the Sharan:

The Touran actually looks half decent. At least it looks like a Volkswagen! But what does America get? The Routan.

Looks like a Chrysler? You don't say. It is. Blah.

I guess we can't expect much more given the weak dollar. (It's much cheaper to build a model in America for sale in America.) But still.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Carbon Lent

The Christian and environmental church converge!

Two senior Church of England Bishops have called on people to give up carbon rather than chocolate for Lent.


Lent is the time when Christians traditionally give up such things as sweets, chocolate or alcohol in recognition of the 40 days Christ spent fasting in the desert to prepare for his ministry.

Christians may give up things such as sweets, chocolate or alcohol for Lent these days, but traditionally they gave up more than that.

This year they will be asked to think about their own carbon footprint and follow a few simple steps designed to help cut CO2 emissions. They include:
  • avoiding plastic bags
  • giving the dishwasher a day off
  • insulating the hot water tank
  • checking the house for drafts with a ribbon and buying draught excluders
Those taking part in the Carbon Fast will be asked to remove one lightbulb from a prominent place in the home and live without it for 40 days. On the final days of the Fast they will be asked to replace it with a low-energy bulb which over its lifetime will save 60kg of carbon dioxide per year and up to £60.

I'm all for environmental practices, but removing a lightbulb for Lent trivializes it, don't you think?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Tis that time of year when more than 20 million Americans are buying sweets and flowers for their loved ones on Valentine's Day. Unfortunately, these tokens of love aren't as sweet or pure as they may appear. Over 40 percent of the world's conventional chocolate (i.e. non-organic and non-Fair Trade) comes from Africa's Ivory Coast, where the International Labor Organization and US State Department have reported widespread instances of child slavery. Meanwhile, commercial flowers, most of which are produced in countries such as Colombia, are the most toxic and heavily sprayed agricultural crops on Earth. In order for you to deliver your bouquet to your beauty, poorly paid workers in Third World countries put in up to 18 hour work days for poverty wages during peak flower buying times such as Valentine's Day. But don't let the bad news squelch your Valentine's plans. Show your love by choosing Fair Trade and organic flowers and chocolate for your Valentine's Day gifts.

Check out OCA's Buying Guide, watch an entertaining flash movie and take action against the 5 major chocolate and flower corporations.