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Monday, October 10, 2011

Real citizens of a virtual world or virtual citizens of a real world?

I like GPG.
When I started wandering around the Web with my modem about fifteen years ago, the impression was that of being a ghost. There were channels and newsgroups, but behind the words you wrote you could be anyone.
Internet was anonymous.
Time has passed, at the beginning we worried about not being anonymous anymore, then we started not wanting to be that anymore. The Internet has become a virtual extension of our social space.
With the first social networks we thought we could finally have the nationality of this virtual world, but once again we were wrong. We have become virtual citizens of a real world.
What we do on social networks has real world consequences because, in fact, the Internet IS the real world.
Every company has its own site, unique and recognizable. It is difficult for a phishing or cybersquatting not being soon discovered.
But, on the Internet we are less real than the Internet itself. Our virtual identities are ephemeral and too easy to counterfeit and violate. Anyone can pretend to be us, by registering on our behalf, robbing a password, or self attributing pictures, videos, comments or even entire blogs.
And increasingly those who do not know us personally take an idea of us with an online search.
Yet there is a standard protocol (RFC 4880 ), a standard as the email and the Internet itself, which guarantees to each of us a Pretty Good Privacy (PGP).

Each sysadmin knows and uses SSH. And being lazy as all the sysadmins has learned that he can store his public key on remote servers for not even having to type a password to connect.
Indeed, this mechanism should provide better security than passwords, but it's not true because nobody cares about the keys and keeps them safe. On the contrary, during hardware or software changes SSH keys are easily regenerated.

A sysadmin has learned that this message:
means to delete the corresponding line from ~ / .ssh / known_hosts
Almost all sysadmins that I know, at the sight of the message, not even go look for the line and delete the entire portfolio of keys.
And even the very rare cases of people who care about preserving and checking the keys, completely ignore their AUTHENTICITY.

GIT is a distributed code versioning system, and for programmers is a revolution. But lacking the central server repository as a guarantee of the revisions, disappears even the last glimmer of authenticity of the code.
So we put it all on GitHub ... but as long as we rely on the SSH only we are just at the same point.

GPG is not more complex than GIT. Those who keep care of their GPG keys why don't use this portfolio of keys for SSH?
GPG is powerful. Allows you to generate subkeys of the primary key (which should be kept on a disconnected storage and used only when necessary), to choose an expire date, and even to revoke them.
And unlike certificates is as reliable, is free and requires no bureaucratic times.
I have read of the possibility to export a GPG subkey and use it as public key for SSH, but publications on the correct procedure are scarce. Since when it comes to safety it's better not to improvise, I decided to ask for help from someone who was an expert rather than do it by myself. On StackOverflow the question was even banned from a security specialist arguing that it "solicited opinions, debates, discussions, surveys, or flaming".
Maybe no one really cares, because we all want to remain virtual citizens of a virtual world.



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