Call for proposal proposals

I'm excited to announce that I was invited to speak at PyCon PL. Hence, I'm preparing to freshen up my arsenal of talks for the coming year. The organizers have very generously given me a lot of freedom regarding what to talk about.

I'd like to do more security talks as well as shift focus towards a more technical audience, going more in-depth and touching on more advanced topics.


Object-capability systems

Capabilities are a better way of thinking about authorization. A capability ("cap") gives you the authority to perform some action, without giving you any other authority. Unlike role-based access control systems, capability based systems nearly always fail-closed; if you don't have the capability, you simply don't have enough information to perform an action. Contrast this with RBAC systems, where authorization constraints are enforced with pinky swears, and therefore often subverted.

I think I can make an interesting case for capability systems to any technical audience with some professional experience. Just talk about secret management, and how it's nearly always terrifying! This gives me an opportunity to talk about icecap (docs) and shimmer (blog, my favorite pastimes.

Putting a backdoor in RDRAND

I've blogged about this before before, but I think I could turn it into a talk. The short version is that Linux's PRNG mixes in entropy from the RDRAND in a way that would allow a malicious implementation to control the output of the PRNG in ways that would be indistinguishable to a (motivated) observer.

As a proof of concept, I'd love to demo the attack, either in software (for example, with QEMU) or even in hardware with an open core. I could also go into the research that's been done regarding hiding stuff on-die. Unfortunately, the naysayers so far have relied on moving the goalposts continuously, so I'm not sure that would convince them this is a real issue.


An opportunity to get in touch with my languishing inner electrical engineer! It turns out that when you zap radio waves at most hardware, the reflection gets modulated based on what it's doing right now. The concept became known as TEMPEST, an NSA program. So far, there's little public research on how feasible it is for your average motivated hacker. This is essentially van Eck phreaking, with 2015 tools. There's probably some interesting data to pick off of USB HIDs, and undoubtedly a myriad of interesting devices controlled by low-speed RS-232. Perhaps wireless JTAG debugging?

The unfinished draft bin

Underhanded curve selection

Another talk in the underhanded cryptography section I've considered would be about underhanded elliptic curve selection. Unfortunately, bringing the audience up to speed with the math to get something out of it would be impossible in one talk slot. People already familiar with the math are also almost certainly familiar with the argument for rigid curves.

Web app authentication

Some folks asked for a tutorial on how to authenticate to web apps. I'm not sure I can turn that into a great talk. There's a lot of general stuff that's reasonably obvious, and then there's highly framework-specific stuff. I don't really see how I can provide a lot of value for people's time.


David Reid and Dwayne Litzenberger made similar, excellent points. They both recommend talking about object-capability systems. Unlike the other two, it will (hopefully) actually help people build secure software. Also, the other two will just make people feel sad. I feel like those points generalize to all attack talks; are they just not that useful?