A possible approach to NSA-proof Secure Email

Nobody likes the NSA , or anyone else , spying on their email activities.

Many secure email systems have all shuttered , because they were compelled by courts to invalidate their security or feared that possibility.

Here are two popular models and weaknesses :

1. *Send/Receive unencrypted email , encrypt on server.* This is what Lavabit did. The weakness is that the government is able to compel the provider to copy/clone/divert the unencrypted mail.

2. *Web based mail, encrypted in browser.* Hushmail did this. Their weakness is that the government is able to compel them to deliver a compromised applet/library onto the client side browsers.

In order for email to be reasonably secure, it requires a few key components:

1. *End-to-End Encryption.* Data must be encrypted by the Sender and decrypted by the receiver. Service providers should never be able to access a plaintext version or have the means to decrypt a message.
2. *Full Transparency of Code.* Email clients must publish their source code and libraries, so that any sort of backdoors can be identified. Without open-source and full transparency, Service Providers and Software Vendors can be compelled by courts to offer insecure products.
3. *Required Encryption.* Plaintext emails should not be deliverable at all. This would force widespread adoption of secure email , and keep ‘snoopable’ email off of email servers.

In order to achieve this , I suggest the start of novel improvements to current email as follows:

1. All emails should be encrypted via public-key cryptography within the email client.
– Outbound email is encrypted for the Recipient
– Drafts are encrypted for the Sender
– An email header contains a digest of the key used for encryption
2. SMTP should be extended with new commands and responses ( SSMTP ). Generally speaking :
– SMTP servers should reject unencrypted email
– SMTP servers should reject email with an unknown or expired Public Key

It would be trivial to extend a SMTP server like Exim with those requests. Many mail servers easily connect to SQL or LDAP backends to find delivery information; extending this information with a list of VALID and INVALID public keys for each user is trivial.

A current SMTP example looks like this ( from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMTP )

S: 220 smtp.example.com ESMTP Postfix
C: HELO relay.example.org
S: 250 Hello relay.example.org, I am glad to meet you
S: 250 Ok
S: 250 Ok
C: RCPT TO: S: 250 Ok
S: 354 End data with .
C: From: “Bob Example”
C: To: “Alice Example”
C: Cc: theboss@example.com
C: Date: Tue, 15 January 2008 16:02:43 -0500
C: Subject: Test message
C: Hello Alice.
C: This is a test message with 5 header fields and 4 lines in the message body.
C: Your friend,
C: Bob
C: .
S: 250 Ok: queued as 12345
S: 221 Bye
{The server closes the connection}

A more secure version would be:

S: 220 smtp.example.com SSMTP Postfix

note that Secure SMTP is required

C: HELO relay.example.org
S: 250 Hello relay.example.org, I am glad to meet you
S: 250 Ok
S: 250 Ok
C: PUBLIC KEY: ca978112ca1bbdcafac231b39a23dc4da786eff8147c4e72b9807785afee48bb
S: 250 Ok

A hash of the public key is provided. It is allowed.

Perhaps the key has been expired ?

C: PUBLIC KEY: ca978112ca1bbdcafac231b39a23dc4da786eff8147c4e72b9807785afee48bb

Assuming we have the key, send the message…

C: RCPT TO: S: 250 Ok
S: 354 End data with .
C: From: “Bob Example”
C: To: “Alice Example”
C: Date: Tue, 15 January 2008 16:02:43 -0500
C: Subject: Test message
C: <<>>
C: .
S: 250 Ok: queued as 12345
S: 221 Bye
{The server closes the connection}

The message is encrypted in a payload

There are some caveats with this approach.

1- This greatly complicates multiple recipients — ie , CC and BCC

2- A new Mail format might be needed. Currently, email headers contain a lot of sender/recipient information — as well as the subject lines. In order to be fully secure, the Subject line needs to move into the encrypted payload. Other headers would need to either move or be stripped. at the least, something like this should exist.

+ unencrypted headers
– to
– from
+ encrypted payload
– headers
. subject
. etc
– body

3- The distribution of Public Keys is troublesome. At first I thought servers could advertise public keys as a directory service, and delivery failures could contain a “New Key” attachment. However, this creates a potential for a man-in-the-middle attack. For example, the NSA could compel an ISP to work with them by advertising an NSA key , decrypting and storing the message, then re-encoding the message with the proper key. It would be possible to identify this with Message Signing , but one or more messages would have been stolen.

Nevertheless, a secure method of distributing and verifying public keys would be needed.

There are complications and weaknesses in this approach, but I feel they are significantly smaller than other approaches I’ve seen lately.

In any event, I don’t think it’s possible to make the current SMTP system reasonably secure — I believe we need to change/extend it.

trouble installing psycopg2 on OSX ?

I had some trouble with a new virtualenv — psycopg2 wouldn’t install.

I remembered going though this before, but couldn’t find my notes. I ended up fixing it before finding my notes ( which point to this StackOverflow question http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2088569/how-do-i-force-python-to-be-32-bit-on-snow-leopard-and-other-32-bit-64-bit-quest ) , but I want to share this with others.

psycopg2 was showing compilation errors in relation to some PostgreSQL libraries

> ld: warning: in /Library/PostgreSQL/8.4.5/lib/libpq.dylib, missing required architecture x86_64 in file

so then I checked how the file was built:

lets see how that was built…

$ file /Library/PostgreSQL/8.4.5/lib/

> /Library/PostgreSQL/8.4.5/lib/libpq.dylib: Mach-O universal binary with 2 architectures
> /Library/PostgreSQL/8.4.5/lib/libpq.dylib (for architecture ppc): Mach-O dynamically linked shared library
> /Library/PostgreSQL/8.4.5/lib/libpq.dylib (for architecture i386): Mach-O dynamically linked shared library i386

Crap. it’s built i386 only. The fix is easy right? We just need to export archflags and build.

$ export ARCHFLAGS=”-arch i386″
$ pip install –upgrade psycopg2

That works perfect, right?


> File “/environments/example-2.7.5/lib/python2.7/site-packages/psycopg2/__init__.py”, line 50, in
> from psycopg2._psycopg import BINARY, NUMBER, STRING, DATETIME, ROWID
>ImportError: dlopen(/environments/example-2.7.5/lib/python2.7/site-packages/psycopg2/_psycopg.so, 2): no suitable image found. Did find:
> /environments/example-2.7.5/lib/python2.7/site-packages/psycopg2/_psycopg.so: mach-o, but wrong architecture

I was dumbfounded for a few seconds, then I realized — Python was trying to run 64 bit (x86_64) , but I only have the 32 bit library.

the right fix? Rebuild PostgreSQL to support 64bit.

My PostgrSQL was a prebuilt package, and I don’t have time to fix that, so I need to do a few hacky/janky things

basically , we’re going to force python to run in i386 ( and not 64bit )

go to our virtualenv…

cd /environments/example-2.7.5/bin

back it up

cp python python-original

strip it…

# note that our last arg is the input, and the 2nd to last it output
lipo -thin i386 -output python-i386 python

replace it

rm python
mv python-i386 python

now install psycopg2

export ARCHFLAGS=”-arch i386″
pip install –upgrade psycopg2

yay this works !

now get some work done and save some time so you can build a 64bit PostgreSQL

On Advertising and the Boston Marathon Tragedy

I like to read recaps of late-night talk show monologues. Craig Ferguson’s really resonated with me ( paraphrased: I’m sick of this shit ).

Then I clicked to this HuffingtonPost article for a recap of Conan O’Brien. It infuriated me. http://huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/conan-addresses-boston-marathon-bombing_n_3091426.html?utm_hp_ref=comedy

As I start reading a recap of Conan O’Brien’s monologue, all of the sudden there’s audio coming out of my computer of an incredibly annoying woman talking. WTF?

I’m not watching a video. There’s no ad on the screen. I keep scrolling down several page heights.

And there it is… the Huffington Post has pre-roll video commercials running auto-play as pre-roll to a gallery after the article — more than 2050 pixels down the screen.

This is shitty beyond belief.

* The obvious issue is that I’m hearing an incredibly annoying ad for Dannon yogurt while reading a story about a terrible tragedy. This is not a great moment in content adjacency — this is quite horrible.
* Add the fact that it’s a hidden ad that just started playing , without me triggering anything — and it’s quite offensive.
* This is as horrible a “media buy” as one could imagine.
** Long Pre-Roll ads aren’t a good ad unit. 30 seconds without the ability to skip out is really bad and makes the brand look bad to users.
** Pre-Roll is supposed to be a “premium” ad unit. Selling a premium unit to client — but then delivering it as both an autoplay ad AND on an *incredibly* off screen page element — cheapens the unit beyond worth. This is an antagonistic unit to both the brand and consumer. As a consumer, I had to hunt to look for an ad on the page. As a brand, I pay for impressions and views. AOL/HuffingtonPost created an advertising product that effectively hid the ad unit on screen, keeping people from turning it off — or even actually viewing the ad unit.

Stuff like this doesn’t happen by accident. Having worked in advertising and publishing, some scenarios are the more likely reasons:

* AOL/HuffingtonPost was incredibly shady, and started pumping “premium” ad sales into non-premium units in order to fulfill an inventory order or take advantage of traffic spikes.
* AOL/HuffingtonPost purposefully sold a sub-standard unit to Dannon’s media buying agency, claiming it’s premium inventory.
* AOL/HuffingtonPost and Dannon’s media buying agency colluded to divert a portion of their spend of “premium units” into non-premium units like these.

The least likely scenarios ?

* Dannon’s media buying agency wanted to buy units like this, because they thought it was a great investment for their client.

* This is all just a mistake, and AOL/HuffingtonPost is not greedy or doing anything shady – their technology and advertising teems are just grossly inept.

If I had to choose only one option, I’d guess that AOL/HuffingtonPost is trying to earn extra revenue by hiding “premium” videos on traffic spike ( Boston tragedy related ) pages. Welcome to the wonderful world of online publishing.

I feel sorry for Dannon and am really disgusted by AOL/HuffingtonPost. I can’t seem to figure out who buys digital inventory for Dannon; Havas’ MPG unit ( now Havas ) handled TV media for Dannon as far back as December, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention about online buying.

Attached, a stitched screen…

The blue line is approximately 2050 pixels down the screen; the ad unit is the “embedded gallery” directly below it. The average browser window hight right now is around 750pixels, making that ad unit appear on the 4th page.

Possible Security Exploit in Dreamhost.com Domain Transfers

I’ve been transferring my domains over to Dreamhost.com after Name.com & GoDaddy.com both turned out to be run by complete assholes. ( reference [Name.com is doing some really sketchy stuff](http://www.destructuring.net/2013/02/28/name-com-is-doing-some-really-sketchy-stuff/) )

During the Dreamhost transfer process, I noticed an odd behavior and brought it up with their Customer Support team. After numerous back & forths, they don’t seem to understand the issue I’ve brought up. Perhaps you will…

When you receive an confirmation request from Dreamhost at the ‘outbound’ registrar’s email address, you’ll read this message:

Re: Transfer of destroybrooklyn.com

New Dream Network, LLC (dba DreamHost.com) has received a request from

jonathan vanasco

via our web administration panel on 2013-03-18 for us to become the new
registrar of record.

You have received this message because you are listed as the
Registered Name Holder or Administrative contact for this domain name
in the WHOIS database.

Please read the following important information about transferring
your domain name:

* You must agree to enter into a new Registration Agreement with
us. You can review the full terms and conditions of the Agreement at

* Once you have entered into the Agreement, the transfer will take
place within five (5) calendar days unless the current registrar of
record denies the request.

* Once a transfer takes place, you will not be able to transfer to
another registrar for 60 days, apart from a transfer back to the
original registrar, in cases where both registrars so agree or where a
decision in the dispute resolution process so directs.

If you WISH TO PROCEED with the transfer, you must respond to this
message via one of the following methods (note if you do not respond
by 2014-03-18, destroybrooklyn.com will not be transferred to us.).

* please go to our website,


to confirm.

If you DO NOT WANT the transfer to proceed, then don’t respond to this

If you have any questions about this process, please contact

You might have noted that the text of that email just says “Do you want to approve this transfer from Godaddy to Dreamhost?”. It doesn’t say who at Dreamhost initiated the request. It doesn’t give a “Transaction ID” that can link the request I made when starting this Transfer , to this confirmation request.

The webpage you click onto is equally as cryptic:

Attention: godaddy@2xlp.com

Re: Transfer of destroybrooklyn.com

New Dream Network, LLC (dba DreamHost.com) has received a
request on 2013-03-18 08:37:23 for us to become
the new registrar of record.

You have received this message because you are listed as the
Registered Name Holder or Administrative contact for this domain name
in the WHOIS database.

Please read the following important information about transferring
your domain name:

  • You must agree to enter into a new Registration Agreement with
    us. You can review the full terms and conditions of the Agreement at

  • Once you have entered into the Agreement, the transfer will take
    place within five (5) calendar days unless the current registrar of
    record denies the request.

  • Once a transfer takes place, you will not be able to transfer to
    another registrar for 60 days, apart from a transfer back to the
    original registrar, in cases where both registrars so agree or where a
    decision in the dispute resolution process so directs.

If you WISH TO PROCEED with the transfer, please click “Approve”
below. (Note if you do not respond by 2014-03-18, destroybrooklyn.com will
not be transferred to us.)

If you DO NOT WANT the transfer to proceed, then ignore this page, or click “Deny” above.

If you have any questions about this process, please contact

While both the email and webpage seem to have “SOME_BIG_NUMBER”, they’re a transaction ID that appears on the email as a query_string, is a hidden value on the HTML page, and something I’ve never seen before during my transfer initiation.

Perhaps I’ve become a bit too security-minded in my age, but this scenario really jumps out at me — if someone knew that I was likely to transfer a domain to Dreamhost ( which is something more than a few people have tweeted about ) , another party could ostensibly try and transfer a domain at the same time — and I would have no idea what I’m approving. Granted, one would need to get a Registrar Authorization Code in order to initiate a domain transfer — but there are plenty of stories online involving email hacking, password guessing, and registrar manipulation to get that done. While the email does state my name, if I wanted to trick someone into giving up their domain… I could just use their public whois data ( or their twitter info ) to have that seemingly populated.

An exploit like this is admittedly an edge case… but it’s possible and there’s such a silly little fix to this sort of situation — giving the transaction a unique id ( which is probably already has ) , and making that ID clear to both the account requesting a transfer and the one approving a transfer.

Do you wish to approve the transfer DomainXYZ from GoDaddy to Dreamhost ?

Could so easily be…

Do you wish to approve the transfer DomainXYZ from GoDaddy to Dreamhost, with the TransactionID 12345 ?

SoundCloud and Responsive Design

I noticed something interesting while resizing a SoundCloud.com browser window – there is (at least) a three phase responsive layout.

Phase 1 – Any windows under ~800px wide are a single column. Cross that threshold and…

Phase 2 – A second column pops up on the right. If you make the window a bit wider…

Phase 3 – The artwork on the lefthand column enlarges.

The Phase3 shift is the most interesting to me. I don’t think i’ve seen something like that in responsive layouts before.

An Open Letter to Name.com

Dear Name.com,

Yesterday I noticed, via a typo, that your name servers are performing a “DNS Hijack” on all Third-Level domain queries. If an exact Third-Level domain is not configured , instead of responding with a NXDOMAIN (non-existant domain) status, your servers direct users to a “domain parking page” which you fully control and monetize.

After blogging about your practice of [Hijacking DNS for failed queries yesterday](http://www.destructuring.net/2013/02/28/name-com-is-doing-some-really-sketchy-stuff/) I learned that you have been doing this for years, and have frustrated countless bloggers and consumers on sites such as “Get Satifsaction”. Thanks to it trending on [HackerNews](http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5299534) I also learned that many other internet professionals have been subject to your antics over the years ( [even 2 years ago on HackerNews](http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2443710 ) )

You’ve defended this practice multiple times as being enabled by your registration services agreement:

* [http://nathanhammond.com/namedotcom-another-unscrupulous-registrar](http://nathanhammond.com/namedotcom-another-unscrupulous-registrar)
* [http://www.name.com/blog/general/domains/2012/01/pro-tip-how-to-get-rid-of-that-pesky-parking-page/](http://www.name.com/blog/general/domains/2012/01/pro-tip-how-to-get-rid-of-that-pesky-parking-page/)

And in your own words you state:

> It is standard practice in the registrar world, and it is spelled out in our TOS.

I have some news for you : this is completely not standard for a registrar. And when I read your TOS more closely, it seems to completely runs afoul of your TOS too.

Let me be clear about this : Your DNS Hijacking is beyond being sketchy and wrong — it is illegal and not covered by your Terms of Service justifications.

Section 21 of your Terms of Service states:

>21. Parked domain service

>All domain names registered via Name.com will automatically be provided a Parked Domain Service. All domains will default to our name servers unless and until you modify your default settings. At any time, you may disable the placeholder page by updating, modifying or otherwise changing the name servers for the relevant domain name.

>Domain names using our Parked Domain Service may display a placeholder page for your future website. These placeholder pages may include contextual and/or other advertisements for products or services. Name.com will collect and retain any and all revenue acquired from these advertisements, and you will have no right to any information or funds generated via the Parked Domain Service.

>You agree that we may display our logo and links to our website(s) on pages using the Parked Domain Service.

>Name.com will make no effort to edit, control, monitor, or restrict the content displayed by the Parked Page Service. Any advertising displayed on your parked page may be based on the content of your domain name and may include advertisements of you and/or your competitors. It is your responsibility to ensure that all content placed on the parked page conforms to all local, state, federal, and international laws and regulations.

>It is your obligation to ensure that no third party intellectual or proprietary rights are being violated or infringed due to the content placed on your parked page. Neither Name.com nor our advertising partners will be liable to you for any criminal or civil sanctions imposed as a direct or indirect result of the content or links (or the content of the websites to which the links resolve) displayed on your parked pages.

>As further set forth above, you agree to indemnify and hold Name.com and its affiliated parties harmless for any harm or damages arising from your use of the Parked Domain Service.

Let’s focus on what has happened in the context of the first two paragraphs of Section 21 ( and ignore the egregious and abusive language on the rest of the clause , which you should be totally ashamed of) :

* I registered my domain with Name.com
* I updated my DNS record entries with name.com
* You continued to serve “parked pages” and monetize DNS failures

Upon configuring DNS services for my domain by modifying the default settings despite remaining with Name.com, I effectively and legally opted-out of your Parked Domain service for that domain. I literally “unparked” the domain when establishing specific DNS records. Additionally, while my “Domain Name” specifically fell under the “Parked Domain Service” terms which your lawyers explicitly crafted , the third-level domain names which you are monetizing against do not.

There exists no items in your Terms Of Service that state :

* DNS failures will be treated as a parked page and/or monetized
* Third-level domain names will be monetized ( your lawyer specifically identified the “domain names” registered , not the subdomains which fall under the aforementioned domain’s registration )
* Users of Name.com for DNS services will also be covered by a Parked Domain policy

I’d also note that there exists no space on your administration console that notifies users that their unspecified third-level domains are falling under a “parked domain” monetization scheme or that ( according to your blog instructions ) a “*” wildcard entry must be created to disable these monetization pages. And to speak for a moment from a technical standpoint — aside from breaking the RFC describing how DNS should work, your system is completely unable to deliver a NXDOMAIN status code — pushing a wildcard entry to a specific address or TXT entry is not that same thing as saying “I don’t exist”.

Technically, Legally, and Ethically you are completely in the wrong.

At this point, you’ve lost me as a customer. There’s nothing you can say or do — I don’t have enough time in my day for bullshit like this. I’m in the process of finding a new registrar and I would never consider using you again. Your actions and defenses are beyond redeemable. They are underhanded and downright sleazy.

I’m writing you to strongly suggest that you to “Do the right thing” for all your remaining customers – and yourself – and stop this practice immediately. By immediately, I mean “you should really call in your CTO and VP Engineering as you read this , and have turn things off before they go home tonight”.

Your underhanded scheme to generate revenue compromises the security and privacy of every domain under your DNS services. Unless a user knows the bizzarre trick to disable your “Domain Parking” pages , their website is vulnerable to XSS ( Cross Site Scripting ) attacks through your monetization partners. Additionally, unless a consumer’s cookie was locked down to a single Fully Qualified Domain Name, those cookies would be sent to your business partners as well. ( I’d also add that while Name.com suggests you operate these services yourselves , yesterday the domains were displaying logos for Sedo.com. )

If you’re not familiar with DNS Hijacking or all the risks that you’ve put your customers at, I suggest you start reading this [WikiPedia entry on DNS Hijacking](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNS_hijacking).

Aside from the various privacy concerns this raises, or the laws this breaks in specific jurisdictions — as these “Parked Pages” occur from DNS Failures on domains configured via your systems — the indemnifications and blame shifting available under Clause 21 would likely not be applicable and you would fully liable. I’m not a lawyer, but having dealt with numerous contracts and negotiations on behalf of technology companies , I really can’t imagine any lawyer, judge or jury agreeing that the near-infinite number of “Third Level Domains” (or 4th, 5th, etc) for an explicitly configured “Second Level Domain” fall within the terms of you Domain Parking language , or that any of your claimed rights exist after a DNS entry has been updated.

I’d also note that, until this deceptive and underhanded practice is stopped, every new client signing up for your service is a candidate for a potential class action lawsuit. Your greedy and indefensible attempt at generating negligible revenue has put the security of countless internet users at risk, in addition to exposing your own customers to serious security and legal complications.

Jonathan Vanasco

Attention: Name.com Customers,

If you use Name.com for DNS services , [a comment on Hacker News by Machrider]( http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5300205 ) suggests a very effective way to quickly address your situation

Quoted below:
> My workaround for this was to add a TXT record for *.mydomain.com that just returns a string like “Unused”. This seems to stop them from hijacking any subdomains, and it’s not an A record so undefined subdomain names do not resolve, just like if you had not defined them in the first place.
> (Workaround shouldn’t be necessary of course, but this kind of bullshit is par for the course with cheap hosting companies.)

Stop Patent Trolls, but Oppose the SHIELD act.

In the wake of patent trolling against some Podcasting companies, several House members have devised the SHIELD act to protect people from Patent Trolls.

This is a horrible, terrible bill. I am firmly against it.

If you read the actual bill – http://www.scribd.com/doc/127669554/H-R-845-2013-Shield-Act-re-patent-trolls — it legislates the scenario where a non-original inventor must post a bond covering full court costs in order to litigate a patent claim.

The costs of serious Patent litigation ( not a trolling one ) where it is proven that one party violated another’s patents , averages $3-5 million dollars. Under this law, if an independent inventor wants to sell their invention ( I’m not sure what would happen if a company is acquired ), that invention is no longer covered by the clause and effectively tremendously devalued — requiring bonds that are potentially millions of dollars to be posted if litigation were ever to happen.

The free market effects of this are obvious – it creates an economy where independent inventors have a tremendously reduced ability to sell their innovations , and secondary patent holders can be infringed upon with almost guaranteed impunity.

* Who wants to buy a Patent if you need at least 5 Million dollars to defend it ?
* Why respect a patent if you know the rightsholder won’t be able to raise enough money to sue ?

On top of all this, some of the most notorious Patent Trolls are totally immune from this law. Many of these companies set up co-owned trusts/business entities or licensing schemes where there is joint ownership of the IP Rights with the inventor — enabling them protections under the “original inventor” clause of this bill.

This law does little but ensure that patent litigation can only happen between a David and Goliath, precludes small/medium businesses from exerting patent protections, and seriously undermines the incentive for independent entities or small businesses to support innovation.

It is horribly misguided.

If you want to directly fix the situation, address 35 U.S.C. § 285 : “court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.” Tone down “exceptional” and attorney fees can be awarded when appropriate. Create a USPTO review and recertification process for (oft?) litigated patents. Create a variety of means to directly address the issue of Patent Trolling , without damaging inventors.

Stopping Patent Trolls can – and should – be done… but this law is an attack on individual inventors and the incentive to innovate / fund research & development.

Name.com is doing some really sketchy stuff

A lot of people read this and say “I read the Terms Of Service, and it says in shady language they can do that.” I read it too — and I actually went through it carefully, line by line. The TOS does not permit 3LD DNS Hijacking. As I explain in this follow-up posting [An Open Letter to Name.com](http://www.destructuring.net/2013/02/28/an-open-letter-to-name-com/) the Name.com TOS — in very clear terms — merely permits for 2nd Level “Parked Domains” as a default activity. In no way whatsoever does Name.com’s TOS suggest that they have the right to control 3rd Level domains if you use their DNS services.

Like many other people, I got frustrated with GoDaddy.com. Aside from the founder being a jackass… there were endless upsells, constantly increasing prices, and a need to use crappy online ‘coupon’ sites whenever I renewed a domain. I decided to slowly move off them, and in the wake of their misguided SOPA/CISPA support I went with Name.com

I really regret that now. They seem to be jackasses too. They are Hijacking DNS ( aka squatting ) all 3rd level domains registered through them.

I registered a few domains with name.com for a new project. One of them is for shortened urls `clqd.in`. The following illustrates why i’m pissed.

`clqd.in` uses name.com’s nameservers (DNS), pretty standard when you use a registrar. I configured my account on Name.com to direct a handful of `A records` to specific IP addresses – which is also pretty standard.

If I `whois` the domain, I see these nameservers :

>> Name Server:NS4JPZ.NAME.COM
>> Name Server:NS2NSW.NAME.COM
>> Name Server:NS1FKL.NAME.COM
>> Name Server:NS3GMV.NAME.COM

Great. Things appear to be working.

If I want to test my DNS records, I use another tool — `dig` — and I query their nameservers directly.

If I `dig @NS4JPZ.NAME.COM clqd.in` , as expected, I get the DNS records that I’ve updated with name.com. Yay.

; <<>> DiG 9.6-ESV-R4-P3 <<>> @NS4JPZ.NAME.COM clqd.in
; (1 server found)
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 60866 ;; flags: qr aa rd; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0 ;; WARNING: recursion requested but not available ;; QUESTION SECTION: ;clqd.in. IN A ;; ANSWER SECTION: clqd.in. 300 IN A ;; Query time: 43 msec ;; SERVER: ;; WHEN: Wed Feb 27 19:24:3

Now, this is where things get weird...

If I query a domain name that doesn't exist, I'm supposed to see a failure. The `status` above should read `NXDOMAIN` and I'd get something like when I `dig` a non-existant domain from Microsoft using `dig nodomain.microsoft.com` :

; <<>> DiG 9.6-ESV-R4-P3 <<>> nodomain.microsoft.com
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NXDOMAIN, id: 64226 ;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 0, AUTHORITY: 1, ADDITIONAL: 0 ;; QUESTION SECTION: ;nodomain.microsoft.com. IN A ;; AUTHORITY SECTION: microsoft.com. 3600 IN SOA ns1.msft.net. msnhst.microsoft.com. 2013022601 300 600 2419200 3600 ;; Query time: 521 msec ;; SERVER: ;; WHEN: Wed Feb 27 19:28:26 2013 ;; MSG SIZE rcvd: 95

Now, if i `dig` a non-existant third-level domain against `clqd.in`, here is what i see ( `dig @NS4JPZ.NAME.COM nodomain.clqd.in` ):

; <<>> DiG 9.6-ESV-R4-P3 <<>> @NS4JPZ.NAME.COM nodomain.clqd.in
; (1 server found)
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 46513 ;; flags: qr aa rd; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0 ;; WARNING: recursion requested but not available ;; QUESTION SECTION: ;nodomain.clqd.in. IN A ;; ANSWER SECTION: nodomain.clqd.in. 300 IN A ;; Query time: 226 msec ;; SERVER: ;; WHEN: Wed Feb 27 19:31:23 2013 ;; MSG SIZE rcvd: 50

Instead of returning a `NXDOMAIN` status (non-existant domain), Name.com is returning a valid status and directing the user to the ip address of "" while still showing the domain name. That IP address displays a "parked domain" , managed by sedo.com and filled with a mix of advertising and search engine marketing, which one of those two parties (sedo.com or name.com) controls. I use the phrase "directing" because you are not redirectied, and the original url still appears on the browser. Name.com is telling your computer that ip address corresponds to the domain, and the Sedo site is serving the marketing material off of your domain.

Instead of saying "This domain doesn't exist" -- as expected -- Name.com has created a system where any wildcarded third-level domain name that fails a real DNS query is treated like a real domain... a real domain that I don't control, but instead they do , and are trying to monetize.

In fact, if you make a DNS query against ANY fully qualified domain name ( FQDN ) that is not entirely configured on Name.com, you are redirected to the same marketing sites. You can try querying any domain registered elsewhere -- they'll all point to as the configured ip address for that domain. As far as Name.com is concerned, there doesn't seem to be any such thing as a non-existant domain.

I am beyond mad:

- I didn't sign up for this.
- There is no way to opt out of this on any of their screens.
- This practice actively hurts the business and brands of domain owners by associating low-value content on third-level domains with the second-level domain.
- This has serious security implications in regards to Cross-Site Scripting and how cookies are locked down into a domain.
- This violates the IETF's RFC 2308, which pretty much states "how dns should work"

I'm now looking to transfer these domain names elsewhere. I only found out about this, because of a typo.

I've put in a support request with Name.com to address this, I sure as hell don't trust them do the right thing - this is a dirty and backhanded practice that should not have existed in the first place.

As a quick addendum: this practice is called "DNS HiJacking". It's popular with a handful of ISPs who try to monetize DNS failures. I've never heard of a Registrar doing this before. You can read about it more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNS_hijacking


After looking on Bing and Google against "Name.com" + "dns hijack", it turns out this has been going on for a LONG time

* http://nathanhammond.com/namedotcom-another-unscrupulous-registrar
* http://www.taborcg.com/2010/05/06/name-com-host-typo-hijacking/

and if you look on the GetSatisfaction site, it's filled with people complaining over the same thing : https://getsatisfaction.com/namecom

Update 2 -

Name.com reached out over twitter, and pointed to a blog posting defending this practice on technical grounds and that it's hidden in their TOS. I call bullshit. Hiding things in a TOS doesn't make it right, and there are no technical grounds to trying to generate revenue.

Update 3 -

Apologies if you had trouble reading this. WordPress Caching was not enabled, and my server failed.

What a Product Manager Is and Isn't, and Why You Should Probably Stop Trying to Hire One.

I’ve had a lot of people contact me over the past two years trying to recruit me for a Product Manger role or looking for referrals to qualified candidates. I have a solid network and am well respected in NY Technology, Advertising and Publishing circles — so I’m used to constant pings by Executives I’ve consulted with or recruiters I’ve worked with and am happy to help when I can.

I feel compelled to write a post because out of several dozen inquiries for positions titled with some variation of “Product Manger”, only one was actually involved with any sort of product management. The rest? Sigh…

There’s been a huge conflation of terms with regard to “product management” in the past few years and it seems to be over-represented in NYC area. This conflation really needs to stop. Now.

The role of a Product Manager has a bit of variation in it’s definition, but it’s usually something around the lines of “the person who is ultimately responsible for a product”. In a large organization, Product Managers are essentially divisional GMs or ‘micro-ceos’; in smaller ( and tech ) organizations, they tend to be inter-disciplinary people who might report to a “head of product” or directly to the CEO.

Generally speaking: Product Managers are highly skilled and highly experienced professionals, often with extensive background across one or more areas, who are tasked with developing or fine-tuning what a ‘product’ should be to best achieve business goals.

Most “Product Managers” I’ve known can be categorized like this:

* Most have 10+ years of professional experience, with pretty impressive track records; rarely do they have less than 5years experience;
* They either have advanced degrees like an MBA, MS, PHD or work-based equivalent, i.e. a C/VP/D level employee who have done some stellar work;
* All are experts / authorities in at least one discipline — and can somewhat function in whatever roles they oversee/interact with, as they’ve quite a bit of experience working across them. They understand when the Engineers are slacking off or overworking, when the Marketers have a ridiculous request, and when the project managers are over/under promising.

Sometimes people have a strong technical background – but that’s not a requirement, it’s a bonus over their experience leading teams and deeply understanding the marketplace they’re working in.

To give some quick examples:

1. I was recently at eConsultancy’s Digital Cream NYC event, in a room full of 150 people who were mostly Chief Marketing Officers / VPs of Marketing. If I were a technology company in the advertising space or a publisher looking to sell innovative new ad solutions, I would want to recruit a Product Manager from the attendee list. This is rather simple – the person who could best manage my advertising product, would be an expert in advertising. Few (if any) people there had any coding experience whatsoever.

2. Several publications that I know of built out Editorial Product departments staffed with former Senior Editors and Operational Editors. What better way to deliver on editorial needs than by hiring a seasoned journalist ?

3. A friend literally wrote the book on a certain technology, and is often called in to advise on different implementations of it — addressing the costs to scale/iterate, user behaviors, implementations, etc. He tends to advise people in a very “product management” capacity.

4. When Facebook buys a startup, their executive staff tend to be acquired as Product Managers to own a section of the Facebook experience.

Some of the things a Product Manager typically does is:

* Understand and manage the business goals: identify the best business opportunities , create and push products to address them.
* Understand the functionality and scope of the product: if it’s technology, they can code; if it’s a marketing product, they understand how and why advertising is bought.
* Understand the customers: make sure people will want to consume the product
* Make decisions and be qualified to make them: balance a mix of Strategic Decisions ( into markets or users ) and Operations ( costs to iterate – both financially and team morale )
* Manage the process : work with P&L sheets, quarterback the scope/design/build/deploy/sales process.
* other things I’m too tired to note. Product Managers are tasked with balancing the goals of the Organization against the needs of multiple types of Consumers and the people/resources to build them. It’s a lot of work, but it’s amazing fun for a lot of us.

The scores of “Product Manager” positions that are plentiful in NYC right now are nothing like my descriptions above – they tend to be a hybrid of skills belonging to a Digital Producer ( in the adverting world ) and Project Manager ( in , well any industry ). They are mostly what I consider entry level – with a max of 3 total years work experience , but often in the 1-2 range.

These positions tend to be highly administrative , require no expertise or inter-disciplinary skills, and don’t even have access to seeing budgets — much less managing them or trying to affect revenue operations. Sometimes they’ll include a bit of customer development work, but most often they don’t. These positions completely lack a “Strategy” component, tending to either be a very entry level position or a mislabling for the most incredibly experienced and talented Project Manager you’ve ever met.

Almost always these roles become filled by someone who honestly shouldn’t have that job. One of my more favorite “Product Manager” interactions was with someone who had just assumed the new role as their second-ever job, with their first job being several years as a Customer Service representative. If the company provided Customer Service, it would have been a really good fit — but the company provided a very technical service, and their “Product Manager” was really functioning more like a mix of an “Account Manager” and “Digital Producer”, they were visibly out of their element and unable to understand the needs of their clients or the capabilities of their team.

This is really a dis-service to everyone involved.

* It makes a potential employers look foolish to actual Product Managers , and labeled as a company to avoid.
* It skips over a huge pool of extremely talented Digital Producers and Project Managers who would excel at these roles.
* It creates a generation of early-career professionals with the title of a Product Manager, but without the relevant experience or skills to back it up.

Because “Product Manager” is so often a role that an experienced professional transitions into, it’s not uncommon to see someone with 1-2 years of “Product Manager” in their title, but a resume that shows 3 years as a Vice President and 5 years as a Director at a previous employer. You might even see someone with 3 years of “Product Manager” as a title — but an additional 9 years of “Digital Producer” or “Project Manager” experience behind them as well. Plenty of professionals from the Production side transition into Product Management too, once they’re well versed in their respective industries.

Mindless recruiters ( and certain nameless conglomerates ) of NYC don’t understand this though. They just focus on buzz-words: if someone has been in “product” for 2 years, they target them as if they’ve only been a professional for that long. It’s all too common for the salary cap of a not-really-a-product-manager position to be 1/4 the targeted recruit’s current salary. The compensation package and role should be commensurate with the full scope of someone’s work — i.e. 12 years, not 3 years.

So my point is simple – if you’re hiring a “Product Manger” you should really think at what you expect out of the role.

* If you’re really looking for a “Project Manager” or “Digital Producer” — which you most likely are — change your posting and recruit that person. You’ll find a great employee and give them a job they really want and care about. If you manage to get a Product Manager in that role, they’re going to be miserable and walk out the door.

* If you realize that you’re looking for a role that its both strategic and operational — and is going to be one of the most important hires for your organization or division, then either hire someone with relevant Product Management experience OR hire a relevant expert to be your “Product Manager”.

Dreamhost UX Creates Security Flaw

Last week I found a Security flaw on Dreamhost caused by the User Experience on their control panel. I couldn’t find a security email, so I posted a message on Twitter. Their Customer Support team reached out and assured me that an email response would be addressed. Six days later I’ve heard nothing from them, so I feel forced to do a public disclosure.

I was hoping that they would do the responsible thing, and immediately fix this issue.

## The issue:

If you create a Subversion repository, there is a checkbox option to add on a “Trac” interface – which is a really great feature, as it can be a pain to set up on their servers yourself (something I’ve usually done in the past).

The exact details of how the “one-click” Trac install works aren’t noted though, and the integration doesnt “work as you would probably expect” from the User Experience path.

If you had previous experience with Trac, and you were to create a “Private” SVN repository on Dreamhost – one that limits access to a set of username/passwords – you would probably assume that access to the Trac instance is handled by the same credentials as the SVN instance, as Trac is tightly integrated into Subversion.

If you had no experience with Trac, you would probably be oblivious to the fact that Trac has it’s own permissions system, and assume your repository is secured from the option above.

The “one click” Trac install from Dreamhost is entirely unsecured – the immediate result of checking the box to enable Trac on a “private” repository, is that you inherently are publicly publishing that repo from within the Trac browser.

For example, if you were to install a private subversion and one-click Trac install onto a domain like this:


The /svn source would be private however it would be publicly available under /trac/browser due to the default one-click install settings.

Here’s a marked-up screenshot of the page that shows the conflicting options ( also on http://screencast.com/t/A2VQT5gOVkK )

I totally understand how the team at Dreamhost that implemented the Trac installer would think their approach was a good idea, because in a way it is. A lot of people who are familiar with Trac want to fine-tune the privileges using Trac’s own very-robust permissions system, deciding who can see the source / file tickets / etc. The problem is that there is absolutely no mention of an alternate permissions system contained within Trac – or that someone may need to fine-tune the Trac permissions. People unfamiliar with Trac have NO IDEA that their code is being made public, and those familiar with Trac would not necessarily realize that a fully unsecured setup is being created. I’ve been using Trac for over 8 years , and the thought of the default integrations being setup like this is downright silly – it’s the last thing I would expect a host to do.

I think it would be totally fine if there is just a “Warning!” sign next to the “enable Trac” — with a link to Trac’s wiki for customization , or instructions ( maybe even a checkbox option ) on how a user can have Trac use the same authorization file as subversion.

But, and this is a huge BUT, people need to be warned that clicking the ‘enable Trac’ button will publish code until Trac is configured. People who are running Trac via an auto-install need to be alerted of this immediately.

This can be a huge security issue depending on what people store in Subversion. Code put in Subversion repositories tends to contain Third Party Account Credentials ( Amazon AWS Secrets/Keys, Facebook Connect Secrets, Paypal/CreditCard Providers, etc ), SSH Keys for automated code deployment, full database connection information, administrator/account default passwords — not to mention the exact algorithms used for user account passwords.

## The fix

If you have a one-click install of Trac tied to Subversion on Dreamhost and you did not manually set up permissions, you need to do the following IMMEDIATELY:

### Secure your Trac installation

If you want to use Trac’s own privileges, you should create this .htaccess file in the meantime to disable all access to the /trac directory

deny from all

Alternately, you can map access your Trac install to the Subversion password file with a .htaccess like this:

AuthType Basic
AuthUserFile /home/##SHELL_ACCOUNT_USER##/svn/##PROJECT_NAME##.passwd
AuthName “##PROJECT_NAME##”
require valid-user

### Audit your affected code and services.

* All Third Party Credentials should be immediately trashed and regenerated.
* All SSH Keys should be regenerated
* All Database Accounts should be reset.
* If you don’t have a secure password system in place , you need up upgrade

## What are the odds of me being affected ?

Someone would need to figure out where your trac/svn repos are to exploit this. Unless you’ve got some great obscurity going on, it’s pretty easy to guess. Many people still like to deploy using files served out of Subversion (it was popular with developers 5 years ago before build/deploy tools became the standard) , if that’s the case and Apache/Nginx aren’t configured to reject .svn directories — your repo information is public.

When it comes to security, play it safe. If your repo was accidentally public for a minute, you should wipe all your credentials.