In the anonymous rant The Wikemacs Experiment: 300 Days Later, the author claims “The biggest problem is that it is insecure. […] Anyone can edit any of the pages that contain Elisp code.” The same sentiment was expressed by Alex Bennée in a comment on Google+: “What is really needed is a way to be sure that the source for the emacs extension your updating hasn’t been subverted by someone else with ill intent.”
Experiences and ideas of “what is really necessary” vary. As for myself, I’ve installed code from all over the Internet without reviewing the source. Installing it from a gist or git repo is hardly a different experience. If you want to figure out whether a source is trustworthy, you do the usual things: do people link to the code, how long has it been around, what about recent checkins, that sort of thing. Or you get into the crypto business of signing releases.
You could of course say that every day that passes without a problem increases our false sense of security… I have no answer to that. All I can say is that if security is your problem, using gists and github is not the solution (as you say yourself). The source of the insecurity is our habits, our culture of downloading and installing anything and everything. I’m not sure how you’ll ever make sure “that the source for the emacs extension your updating hasn’t been subverted by someone else with ill intent.” That seems pretty impossible to me unless you limit yourself to the core Emacs distribution (and even that’s not a guarantee).
People on the #emacs channel keep asking “is there way to do X” and thus my impression is that finding stuff is a more pressing problem. I feel that encouraging people to create a page on the wiki saying “here is code to help you do something” is the solution to that problem.
But then again, I guess we all differ in what we consider to be the most pressing problem.
Alex Bennée the correctly points out that using “a user locked solution like a gist or git repo you can at least be assured what you’re installing has come through one person who you’ve trusted to a degree before.” I guess that’s true. We’ll see whether people start switching over to using gists instead of editing wiki pages. I said in an earlier comment:
I added gist support […] because it was easy to do, not because it will encourage existing authors to move their elisp code on wiki pages to github. If at all, it might encourage future elisp authors to transclude a gist… But then again, there’s nothing preventing them from linking to a gist right now. Perhaps it’s also a generational thing. People that have been living without github and gists don’t feel a particular need to start using it.
DSA-1571 openssl – the bug that forces you to regenerate all your keys. Gah!
A few days ago I started exploring the addition of OpenID to Oddmuse via a module (→ 2008-05-02 OpenID and Oddmuse). I realized that I would have to store some sort of secret in a session variable, because I cannot hit the authentication service for every hit I’m getting. Now, the obviously stupid idea is store some sort of flag “validated url X” in the Oddmuse cookie. Then everybody can fake it. The less stupid idea is to implement a server side session saying “validated url X” per user. That also incurs a lot of maintenance problems: Sessions are persistent, ie. stored in files. They need to be expired on the filesystem. CGI::Session is also yet another dependency. And anybody can listen in on the traffic, steal the session ID, and thus circumvent authentication.
The only way to circumvent that is by using an encrypted connection. But once you’re using SSL, you might as well be using a webserver plugin that solves your authentication problems: mod_auth_openid for Apache 2!
That’s the only real solution to the problem. Everything else is just window-dressing.
Based on that premise, it would be possible to build a little module for Oddmuse that implements ACLs based on OpenID using the environment variable
I guess I’ll have to stop filing posts on misguided security issues under “USA” – time for me to globalize it.
In TheRegister, Andrew Orlowski (I don’t usually like his articles at all) from San Francisco writes:
- If you think that the police’s profiling of terror suspects is something that only happens to other people - think again. Today’s panicky Plod doesn’t seem to be very discriminating at all. And you could be next. 
And he points at the article by David Mery published in the GuardianUnlimited. There’s a copy on David’s website, too:
- I check for messages on my phone, then take out a printout of an article about Wikipedia from inside jacket pocket and begin to read.
- The train enters the station.
- Police officers, all uniformed men, appear on the platform and surround me. They ask me to take off my rucksack. They must immediately notice my French accent, still strong after living more than 12 years in London. They handcuff me – hands behind my back (the handcuffs have a rigid bar between the two cuffs – i.e. not like the ones often shown on TV). They take my rucksack out of my sight. They explain that this is for my safety, and that they are acting under the authority of the Terrorism Act.  
The next time somebody comes up to me and tries to persuade me that some security measure X is just a trade-off we need to make, I think I’m going to enter a shouting match.
If you read his story, you’ll notice that he asked the police to call his girlfriend before searching the flat so that she would not be scared, which they did not, and so she was, I guess. I have had policement at my door and in my appartment in the early morning hours as well, and it does not increase your sense of security.
- The laws limiting police power were put in place to protect us from police abuse. Privacy protects us from threats by government, corporations, and individuals. And the greatest strength of our nation comes from our freedoms, our openness, our liberties, and our system of justice. Ben Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Since 9/11 Americans have squandered an enormous amount of liberty, and we didn’t even get any temporary safety in return. 
And another one:
- Identification and profiling don’t provide very good security, and they do so at an enormous cost. Dropping ID checks completely, and engaging in random screening where appropriate, is a far better security trade-off. People who know they’re being watched, and that their innocent actions can result in police scrutiny, are people who become scared to step out of line. They know that they can be put on a “bad list” at any time. People living in this kind of society are not free, despite any illusionary security they receive. It’s contrary to all the ideals that went into founding the United States.