Monthly Archives: December 2013

Encrypting disk on Android 4

Traditional computer operating systems have been around for a while, long enough that concerns around physical security have been well addressed. We understand the value and power that the information on our computers can provide to an attacker, so we have locked them down with features such as disk encryption, passphrase protected lock screens and techniques to prevent unwanted DMA attacks via high speed buses.

Yet despite the massive development of mobile devices technology in the past several years, a number of these features didn’t manage to make their way into the mobile operating systems as defaults. Whilst we take the time to setup disk encryption on our laptops and maybe desktops, we tend not to bother securing our mobile devices, possibly due to the perception of them being less risky to have exposed, or that they are less attractive targets.

Even a relatively paranoid IT geek like myself with an encrypted laptop, secure passphrases, and VPNs, still had a mobile phone that was protected with nothing more than it’s physical proximity to myself. Anyone gaining physical access to my phone could unlock it, whether it be by guessing a trivial unlock pattern, or by attaching it to another computer and reading the unencrypted filesystem.

And as these mobile devices have increased in functionality, so has the risk of an attacker getting hold of the device. When a mobile phone did nothing but phone calls and txts, having someone gain access would be more of a annoyance when they rack up a bill or prank call your contacts, than a serious risk.

But rather than leave it there, we started adding other productivity features – email, so we could keep in touch on the go. Instant messaging. Fully featured web browers that sync account details, bookmarks and history with your desktop. Banking applications. Access to shared storage solutions like Dropbox. Suddenly a mobile device is a much more attractive target.

And even if we decide that the mobile apps are too limited in scope, there’s  the risk of an attacker using the information such as credentials stored on the device to gain full access to the desktop version of these services. Having an email application that limits the phone to the inbox can reduce risk by protecting your archives, but not if the attacker can obtain your full username/passphrase from the device and then use it to gain full access with some alternative software.

Remember that obtaining credentials from a device isn’t hard – the credentials  have to be kept in some decrypted format somewhere on disk, so even if they’re hashed/obfuscated in some form, they’ll still have the key that enables them to be exposed somewhere on disk.

A quick grep through the /data/ volume on my phone revealed numerous applications that had my passphrases in plain text, extremely easy pickings for an attacker.

Mmmm plain text passwords. :-)

Mmmm plain text passwords. :-)

I was getting increasingly concerned with this hole in my security, so recently having replaced my Galaxy Nexus with a Samsung Galaxy Note II, I decided to set it up in a more secure fashion.

Android added disk encryption in Android 3, but it’s suffered two main issues that limits it’s usefulness:

  1. The disk encryption only covers the data volumes (/data, /sdcard) which is good in that it protects the data, but it still leaves the application volumes open to be exploited by anyone wanting to install malware such as key loggers.
  2. Turning on Android disk encryption then forces the user to use either a PIN or a passphrase to unlock their device as swipe or pattern unlock is disabled. For a frequent phone user this is too much of an usability issue, it makes frequent locks/unlocks much more difficult, so users may chose not to use encryption altogether, or choose a very easy/weak passphrase.

The first point I can’t do much about without digging into the low guts of Android, however the second is fixable. My personal acceptable trade-off is a weaker lock screen using a pattern, but being able to have a secure disk encryption passphrase. This ensures that if powered off, an attacker can’t exploit my data and the passphrase is long and secure, but if the phone is running, I take a compromise of security for convenience and ease of use.

There’s still the risk of an attacker installing malware on the non-encrypted OS portion of the mobile device, however if I lose physical access of my phone in an untrusted environment (eg border security confiscation) I can reload the OS from backup.

To setup disk encryption on Android 4 without losing pattern unlock, instead of adjusting via the settings interface, you need to enable it via the shell -easiest way is via the ADB shell in root mode.

Firstly you need to enable developer mode in Settings -> About Phone by tapping the build number multiple times, until it tells you that the developer mode has been unlocked. Then inside Settings -> Developer options, change the “Root Access” option to “Apps and ADB”.

Enable ADB root for all the fun stuff!

Enable ADB root for all the fun stuff!

Secondly, you need a workstation running the latest version of ADB (ships with the Android ADK under platform-tools) and to connect your phone via USB. Once done, you can enable disk encryption with the following commands (where PASSWORD is the desired encryption passphrase).

user@laptop # adb root
user@laptop # adb shell
root@phone:/ #
root@phone:/ # /system/bin/vdc cryptfs enablecrypto inplace PASSWORD

Your Android device will then restart and encrypt itself. This process takes time, factor up to an hour for it to complete it’s work.

Android phone undergoing encryption; and subsequent boot with encryption enabled.

Android phone undergoing encryption; and subsequent boot with encryption enabled.

Once rebooted, your existing pattern based unlock continues to work fine and all your private data and credentials are now secured.

Recovering SW RAID with Ubuntu on Amazon AWS

Amazon’s AWS cloud service is a very popular and generally mature offering, but it does have it’s issues at times – in particular it’s storage options and limited debug facilities.

When using AWS, you have three main storage options for your instances (virtual machine servers):

  1. Ephemeral disk , storage attached locally to your instance which is lost at shutdown or if the instance terminates unexpectedly. A fixed amount is included with your instance, the size set depending on your instance size.
  2. Elastic Block Storage (EBS) which is a network-attached block storage exposed to your Linux instance as if it was a traditional local disk.
  3. EBS with provisioned IOPs – the same as the above, but with guarantees around performance – for a price of course. ;-)

With EBS, there’s no need to use RAID from a disk reliability perspective- the EBS volume itself has it’s own underlying redundancy (although one should still perform snapshots and backups to handle end user failure or systematic EBS failure), which is the common reason for using RAID with conventional physical hosts.

So with RAID being pointless for redundancy in an Amazon world, why write about recovering hosts in AWS using software RAID? Because there are still situations where you may end up using it for purposes other than redundancy:

  1. Poor man’s performance gains – EBS provisioned IOPs are the proper way of getting performance from EBS to meet your particular requirements. But it comes with a cost attached – you pay increasingly more for faster disk, but also need proportionally larger disks minimum sizes to go with the higher speeds (10:1 ratio IOPs:size) which can quickly make a small fast volume prohibitively expensive. A software RAID array can allow you to get more performance by combining numerous small volumes together at low cost.
  2. Merging multiple EBS volumes – EBS volumes have an Amazon-imposed limit of 1TB per volume. If a single filesystem of more than 1TB is required, either LVM or software RAID is needed to merge them.
  3. Merging multiple ephemeral volumes – software RAID can be used to also merge the multiple EBS volumes that Amazon provides on some larger instances. However being ephemeral, if your RAID gets degraded, there’s no need to repair it – just destroy the instance and build a nice new one.

So whilst using software RAID with your AWS Instances can be a legitimate exercise, it can also introduce it’s own share of issues.

Firstly you can no longer use EBS snapshotting to do backups of the EBS volumes, unless you first halt the entire RAID array/freeze the filesystem writes for the duration of all the snapshots to be created – which depending on your application may or may not be feasible.

Secondly you now have the issue of increased complexity of your I/O configuration. If using automation to build your instances, you need to do additional work to handle the setup of the array which is a one-time investment, but the use of RAID also adds complexity to the maintenance (such as resizes) and increases the risk of a fault occurring.

I recently had the excitement/misfortune of such an experience. We had a pair of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS instances using GlusterFS to provide a redundant NFS mount to some of our legacy applications running in AWS (AWS unfortunately lacks a hosted NFS filer service). To provide sufficient speed to an otherwise small volume, RAID 0 had been used with a number of small EBS volumes.

The RAID array was nearly full, so a resize/grow operation was required. This is not an uncommon requirement and just involves adding an EBS volume to the instance, growing the RAID array size and expanding the filesystem on top. Unfortunately something nasty happened between Gluster and the Linux kernel, where the RAID resize operation on one of the two hosts suddenly triggered a kernel panic and failed, killing the host. I wasn’t able to get the logs for it, but at this stage it looks like gluster tried to do some operation right when the resize was active and instead of being blocked, triggered a panic.

Upon a subsequent restart, the host didn’t come back online. Connecting to the AWS Instance’s console output (ec2-get-console-output <instanceid>) showed that the RAID array failure was preventing the instance from booting back up, even through it was an auxiliary mount, not the root filesystem or anything required to boot.

The system may have suffered a hardware fault, such as a disk drive
failure.  The root device may depend on the RAID devices being online. One
or more of the following RAID devices are degraded:
Personalities : [linear] [multipath] [raid0] [raid1] [raid6] [raid5] [raid4] [raid10] 
md0 : inactive xvdn[9](S) xvdm[7](S) xvdj[4](S) xvdi[3](S) xvdf[0](S) xvdh[2](S) xvdk[5](S) xvdl[6](S) xvdg[1](S)
      13630912 blocks super 1.2

unused devices: <none>
Attempting to start the RAID in degraded mode...
mdadm: CREATE user root not found
mdadm: CREATE group disk not found
[31761224.516958] bio: create slab <bio-1> at 1
[31761224.516976] md/raid:md0: not clean -- starting background reconstruction
[31761224.516981] md/raid:md0: reshape will continue
[31761224.516996] md/raid:md0: device xvdm operational as raid disk 7
[31761224.517002] md/raid:md0: device xvdj operational as raid disk 4
[31761224.517007] md/raid:md0: device xvdi operational as raid disk 3
[31761224.517013] md/raid:md0: device xvdf operational as raid disk 0
[31761224.517018] md/raid:md0: device xvdh operational as raid disk 2
[31761224.517023] md/raid:md0: device xvdk operational as raid disk 5
[31761224.517029] md/raid:md0: device xvdl operational as raid disk 6
[31761224.517034] md/raid:md0: device xvdg operational as raid disk 1
[31761224.517683] md/raid:md0: allocated 10592kB
[31761224.517771] md/raid:md0: cannot start dirty degraded array.
[31761224.518405] md/raid:md0: failed to run raid set.
[31761224.518412] md: pers->run() failed ...
mdadm: failed to start array /dev/md0: Input/output error
mdadm: CREATE user root not found
mdadm: CREATE group disk not found
Could not start the RAID in degraded mode.
Dropping to a shell.

BusyBox v1.18.5 (Ubuntu 1:1.18.5-1ubuntu4.1) built-in shell (ash)
Enter 'help' for a list of built-in commands.

Dropping to a shell during bootup problems is an approach that has differing perspectives – personally I want my hosts to boot regardless of how messed up things are so I can get SSH, but others differ and prefer the safety of halting and dropping to a recovery shell for the sysadmin to resolve. Ubuntu is configured to do the latter by default.

But regardless of your views on this subject, dropping to a shell leaves you stuck when running AWS instances, since there is no way to interact with this console – Amazon doesn’t have a proper console for interacting with instances like a traditional VPS provider, you’re limited to only seeing the console log.

Ubuntu’s documentation actually advises that in the event of a failed RAID array, you can still force a boot by setting a kernel option bootdegraded=true. This helps if the array was degraded, but in this case the array had entirely failed, rather than being degraded, and Ubuntu treats that differently.

Thankfully it is possible to recover the failed instance, by attaching it’s volume to another instance, adjusting the initramfs to allow booting even whilst the RAID is failed and then once booted, you can do a repair on the host itself.

To do this repair you require an additional Linux instance to use as a recovery host and the Amazon CLI tools to be installed on your workstation.

# Set some variables with your instance IDs (eg i-abcd3)
export FAILED=setme
export RECOVERY=setme

# Fetch the root filesystem EBS volume ID and set a var with it:
export VOLUME=vol-setme

# Now stop the failed instance, so we can detach it's root volume.
# (Note: wait till status goes from "stopping" to "stopped")
ec2-stop-instances --force $FAILED
ec2-describe-instances $FAILED | grep INSTANCE | awk '{ print $5 }'

# Attach the root volume to the recovery host as /dev/sdo
ec2-detach-volume $VOLUME -i $FAILED
ec2-attach-volume $VOLUME -i $RECOVERY -d /dev/sdo

# Mount the root volume on the recovery host
mkdir /mnt/recovery
mount /dev/sdo /mnt/recovery

# Disable raid startup scripts for initramfs/initrd. We need to
# unpack the old file and modify the startup scripts inside it.
cp /mnt/recovery/boot/initrd.img-LATESTHERE-virtual /tmp/initrd-old.img
cd /tmp/
mkdir initrd-test
cd initrd-test
cpio --extract < ../initrd-old.img
vim scripts/local-premount/mdadm
- degraded_arrays || exit 0
- mountroot_fail || panic "Dropping to a shell."
+ #degraded_arrays || exit 0
+ #mountroot_fail || panic "Dropping to a shell."
find . | cpio -o -H newc > ../initrd-new.img
cd ..
gzip initrd-new.img
cp initrd-new.img.gz /mnt/recovery/boot/initrd.img-LATESTHERE-virtual

# Disable mounting of filesystem at boot (otherwise startup process
# will fail despite the array being skipped).
vim /mnt/recovery/etc/fstab
- /dev/md0    /mnt/myraidarray    xfs    defaults    1    2
+ #/dev/md0    /mnt/myraidarray    xfs    defaults    1    2

# Work done, umount volume.
umount /mnt/recovery

# Re-attach the root volume back to the failed instance
ec2-detach-volume $VOLUME -i $RECOVERY
ec2-attach-volume $VOLUME -i $FAILED -d /dev/sda1

# Startup the failed instance.
# (Note: Wait for status to go from pending to running)
ec2-start-instances $FAILED
ec2-describe-instances $FAILED | grep INSTANCE | awk '{ print $5 }'

# Watch the startup console. Note: java.lang.NullPointerException
# means that there is no output from the console yet.
ec2-get-console-output $FAILED

# Host should startup, you can get access via SSH and repair RAID
# array via usual means.

The above is very Ubuntu-specific, but the techniques shown are transferable to other platforms as well – just note that the scripts inside the initramfs/initrd will vary per distribution, it’s one of the components of a GNU/Linux system that is completely specific to the distribution vendor.

Route53 with NamedManager 1.8.0

Just released NamedManager 1.8.0, my open source web-based DNS management tool. This release fixes some bugs with MySQL 5.6 and internationalized domain names, but also includes support for using Amazon AWS Route53 alongside the existing Bind9 support.

Just add a name server entry with the type of Route53 and your Amazon credentials and a background process will sync all DNS changes to Route53. You can mix and match thanks to the groups feature, so if you want some zones going to both Bind9 and Route53 and others going to just Route53 or Bind9, you can do so.

NamedManager, now with cloudy goodness.

NamedManager, now with cloudy goodness.

As always, the easiest installation is from the provided RPMs, however you can also install from tarball or from Git – just refer to the installation documentation.

This feature is considered stable, however it is new, so be wary for bugs and issues – and report any issues you encounter back to me via email or the project manager issue tracker.