How to Get Into a Programming Career

I was just talking to a friend about programming. She’s interested for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that she’s read all about how ‘programming is the future’ and that tech people make tons of money.

We talked about some things that I thought would be useful to share more openly — so here it is: my advice for getting into programming, System Administration, or any other technology path.

Read more

32c3 Video: Capability-Based Security

System Administration and programming are becoming more and more entwined with each passing year. If you’re not programming yet (or don’t view the scripting/configuration-management you do as programming), my hunch is that you will be, soon.

There were a few talks at 32c3 about different methods for securing applications on Linux and Unix. You’ve probably heard of several, like AppArmor, SELinux. Capsicum is an interesting solution for FreeBSD; its basics are explained well in this video (although the video is really about another technology).

We’re definitely still at the very beginning stages of running untrusted code safely on our machines. It’s kludgy, breaks common applications, and works cleanly for only a few very specific use-cases at the moment. One of the problems is that applications really aren’t written with containment in mind — a lot of security problems require the cooperation of developers to really work smoothly. For example, your web browser needs to read and write files ANYWHERE on your filesystem (for opening local HTML and saving files from the Web). Even if web browsers had no other features, this would make them difficult to effectively contain.

CloudABI looks like it’s a big step forward in this space. It’s a way to limit what software can do once it’s running on your system; a sort of ‘restricted execution environment.’ CloudABI has three huge features, along with many great small ones):

  • Capsicum is always turned on.
  • Applications are forced to behave (no global namespaces, no hardcoded filepaths). Dependency injection is enforced.
  • Implementations/Ports for NetBSD + Linux.

This talk gives you a good idea of how it works on both a theoretical and a practical level. Even if you never write applications that comply with an environment like CloudABI or mechanisms like Capsicum/SELinux/AppArmor/etc., this talk is an interesting introduction to the thoughts behind how to contain applications, write safer/less-exploitable applications, and otherwise improve Operating System security.


The Education of a System Administrator

Here’s something that surprises many people: I actually don’t have a college degree. Before I got into System Administration, I did all kinds of things: I’ve been a soldier, carpet salesman, martial arts teacher, Chinese massage (Tui Na) practitioner, data entry temp, bakery worker, and a few other things.

On the surface, these don’t look like they are related to System Administration, but each of these other attempts at ‘finding the right career’ taught me something valuable that I still use today in System Administration and Development work.

For example, all that ‘unrelated‘ experience has taught me how to

Read more

Chaos Communication Congress 2015 (32c3) Report

I just came back from the 2015 Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany — my brain is going to need some time to process everything that I’ve experienced in the past week.

The congress is in some sense a combination of Burning Man and DEFCON. Four days of nonstop talks, workshops/assemblies, impromptu parties and projects, capture the flag, and much more. Some of the things we did there (this counts for about 0.01% of the available activities):

  • Attend talks about a huge number of topics, ranging from Open-Source intelligence, hardware trojans, the Tor network, privilege-dropping frameworks in Unix and Linux, reverse engineering, quantum computing and cryptography, journalism, politics and law, etc.
  • Drink huge amounts of Mate.
  • New friends and drinking buddies!
  • Whisk(e)y tasting.
  • Participate in a CTF contest.
  • Play around at a lockpicking workshop.
  • Talk to tons of programmers, infrastructure people, security specialists, journalists, artists, tinkerers, hobbyists, and other computer-folk.
  • etc.

I’ll spend some time posting the talks I enjoyed the most — if you’re interested in sorting through them yourself, here are some links:


Read more