this blog uses Content Security Policy

Having recently given some talks about Content Security Policy (CSP), I decided just now to enable it on my own blog to prevent cross-site scripting.

This lil’ blog is hosted by the MIT Student Information Processing Board and runs on a fairly-uncustomized WordPress 4.x installation. Although I could have enabled CSP by modifying my .htaccess file, I chose to use HTML <meta> tags instead so that these instructions would work for people who don’t have shell access to their WordPress host. Unfortunately, CSP using <meta> hasn’t landed in Firefox yet (tracking bug) so I should probably do the .htaccess thing anyway.

It’s pretty easy to turn on CSP in WordPress from the dashboard:

  1. Go to <your_blog_path>/wp-admin/theme-editor.php. Note that this isn’t available for WordPress-hosted blogs (*
  2. Click on Header (header.php) in the sidebar to edit the header HTML.
  3. At the start of the HTML <head> element, add a CSP meta tag with your CSP policy. This blog uses <meta http-equiv="Content-Security-Policy" content="script-src 'self'"> which disallows all scripts except from its own origin (including inline scripts). As far as I can tell, this blocks a few inline scripts but doesn’t impede any functionality on a vanilla WordPress instance. You might want a more permissive policy if you use fancy widgets and plugins.
  4. [Bonus points] You can also show a friendly message to users who disable javascript by adding a <noscript> element to your header.noscript

A fun fact I discovered during this process is that embedding a SoundCloud iframe will include tracking scripts from Google Analytics and Unfortunately CSP on the embedding page (my blog) doesn’t extend to embedded contexts ( iframe), so those scripts will still run unless you’ve disabled JS.


That’s all. I might do more posts on WordPress hardening later or even write a WP plugin (*shudders at the thought of writing PHP*). More tips are welcome too.

lessons from the ad blocker trenches

Greetings from the beautiful museum district of Berlin, where I’ve been trapped in a small conference room all week for the quarterly meeting of the W3C Technical Architecture group. So far we’ve produced two documents this week that I think are pretty good:

I just realized I have a few more things to say about the latter, based on my experience building and maintaining a semi-popular ad blocker (Privacy Badger Firefox).

  1. Beware of ad blockers that don’t actually block requests to tracking domains. For instance, an ad blocker that simply hides ads using CSS rules is not really useful for preventing tracking. Many users can’t tell the difference.
  2. Third-party cookies are not the only way to track users anymore, which means that browser features and extensions that only block/delete third-party cookies are not as useful as they once were. This 2012 survey paper [PDF] by Jonathan Mayer et. al. has a table of non-cookie browser tracking methods, which is probably out of date by now: Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 4.32.55 PM
  3. Detecting whether a domain is performing third-party tracking is not straightforward. Naively, you could do this by counting the number of first-party domains that a domain reads high-entropy cookies from in a third-party context. However, this doesn’t encompass reading non-cookie browser state that could be used to uniquely identify users in aggregate (see table above). A more general but probably impractical approach is to try to tag every piece of site-readable browser state with an entropy estimate so that you can score sites by the total entropy that is readable by them in a third-party context. (We assume that while a site is being accessed as a first-party, the user implicitly consents to letting it read information about them. This is a gross simplification, since first parties can read lots of information that users don’t consent to by invisible fingerprinting. Also, I am recklessly using the term “entropy” here in a way that would probably cause undergrad thermodynamics professors to have aneurysms.)
  4. The browser definition of “third-party” only roughly approximates the real-life definition. For instance, and are the same party from a business and privacy perspective but not from the cookie-scoping or DNS or same-origin-policy perspective.
  5. The hardest-to-block tracking domains are the ones who cause collateral damage when blocked. A good example of this is Disqus, commonly embedded as a third-party widget on blogs and forums; if we block requests to Disqus (which include cookies for logged-in users), we severely impede the functionality of many websites. So Disqus is too usability-expensive to block, even though they can track your behavior from site to site.
  6. The hardest-to-block tracking methods are the ones that cause collateral damage when disabled. For instance, HSTS and HPKP both store user-specific persistent data that can be abused to probe users’ browsing histories and/or mark users so that you can re-identify them after the first time they visit your site. However, clearing HSTS/HPKP state between browser sessions dilutes their security value, so browsers/extensions are reluctant to do so.
  7. Specifiers and implementers sometimes argue that Feature X, which adds some fingerprinting/tracking surface, is okay because it’s no worse than cookies. I am skeptical of this argument for the following reasons:
    a. Unless explicitly required, there is no guarantee that browsers will treat Feature X the same as cookies in privacy-paranoid edge cases. For instance, if Safari blocks 3rd party cookies by default, will it block 3rd party media stream captures (which will store a unique deviceid) by default too?
    b. Ad blockers and anti-tracking tools like Disconnect, Privacy Badger, and Torbutton were mostly written to block and detect tracking on the basis of cookies, not arbitrary persistent data. It’s arguable that they should be blocking these other things as soon as they are shipped in browsers, but that requires developer time.

That’s all. And here’s some photos I took while walking around Berlin in a jetlagged haze for hours last night:



Update (7/18/15): Artur Janc of Google pointed out this document by folks at Chromium analyzing various client identification methods, including several I hadn’t thought about.

pseudorandom podcast series, episode 1

The combination of my roommate starting a Rust podcast and a long, animated conversation with a (drunk) storyteller last night caused me to become suddenly enamored with the idea of starting my own lil’ podcast. Lately I keep thinking about how many spontaneous, insightful conversations are never remembered, much less entombed in a publicly-accessible server for posterity. So a podcast seemed like an excellent way to share these moments without spending a lot of time writing (I’m a regrettably slow writer). I’d simply bring folks into my warehouse living room, give them a beverage of their choice, and spend a leisurely hour chatting about whatever miscellaneous topics came to mind.

And so, wasting no time, today I asked my ex-ex-colleague Peter Eckersley if he would like to be my first podcast guest. Peter runs the technology projects team at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and, more importantly, lives 3 blocks away from me. Fortuitously, Peter agreed to have me over for a chat later this afternoon.

When I arrived, it turned out that one of Peter’s housemates was having friends over for dinner, so finding a quiet spot became a challenge. We ended up in a tiny room at the back of his house where every flat surface was covered in sewing equipment and sundry household items. As Peter grabbed a hammer to reconstruct the only available chair in the room, I set up my laptop and fancy (borrowed) podcast microphone. We gathered around as close as we could and hit the record button.

Except for one hiccup where Audacity decided to stop recording abruptly, the interview went smoothly and didn’t need much editing. Next time I’ll plan to put myself closer to the mic, do a longer intro, and maybe cut the length down to 15 minutes.

Overall, I had a fun time recording this podcast and am unduly excited about future episodes. Turns out a podcast takes ~10% of the time to write a blog post with the same content. :)

For this and future episodes in the Pseudorandom Podcast Series, here’s an RSS feed. I’m going to reach SoundCloud’s limit of 180 minutes real quick at this rate, so I will probably host these somewhere else in the future or start a microfunding campaign to pay $15/month.

life update

i’ve finally recovered enough from a multi-week bout of sickness to say some things and put up some photos. lately i’ve felt exhausted and lethargic and unproductive to be honest. being sick probably had something to do with it; i sure hope next week gets better.

yesterday, someone told me they had a theory that everyone who sleeps at night (with rare exceptions) can only manage ~3 significant life events at a time. that sounds about right, but it feels like a lot has been going on. a partial, unordered list:

1. talked yesterday at the Yahoo Trust Unconference about the future of email security


photo credit Bill Childers

2. working on graceful degradation of hopes and feelings

3. writing software for Let’s Encrypt as an EFF Technology fellow

4. trying to make sane w3c standards with these fine folks from the W3C Technical Architecture group


photo credit Tantek Celik

5. packing bag(s) and moving to a new neighborhood (twice)

6. finding balance on a skateboard and otherwise

“I think emotional and crypto intelligence are severely underrated” – spectator at the Yahoo Trust Unconference.

rate-limiting anonymous accounts

Yesterday TechCrunch reported that Twitter now seems to be requiring SMS validation from new accounts registered over Tor. Though this might be effective for rate-limiting registration of abusive/spammy accounts, sometimes actual people use Twitter over Tor because anonymity is a prerequisite to free speech and circumventing information barriers imposed by oppressive governments. These users might not want to link their telco-sanctioned identity with their Twitter account, hence why they’re using Tor in the first place.

What are services like Twitter to do, then? I thought of one simple solution that borrows a popular idea from anonymous e-cash systems.

In a 1983 paper, cryptographer David Chaum introduced the concept of blind signatures [1]. A blind signature is a cryptographic signature in which the signer can’t see the content of the message that she’s signing. So if Bob wants Alice to sign the message “Bob is great” without her knowing, he first “blinds” the message using a random factor that is unknown to her and gives Alice the blinded message to sign. When he unblinds her signed message by removing the blinding factor, the original message “Bob is great” also has a valid signature from Alice!

This may seem weird and magical, but blinded signatures are actually possible using the familiar RSA signature scheme. The proof is straightforward and on Wikipedia so I’ll skip it here [2]. Basically, since RSA signatures are just modulo’d exponentiation of some message M to a secret exponent d, when you create a signature over a blinded message M’ = M*r^e (where r is the blinding factor and e is the public exponent), you also create a valid signature over M thanks to the distributive property of exponentiation over multiplication.

Given the existence of blind signature schemes, Twitter can do something like the following to rate-limit Tor accounts without deanonymizing them:

  1. Say that @bob is an existing Twitter user who would like to make an anonymous account over Tor, which we’ll call @notbob. He computes T = H(notbob) * r^e mod N, where H is a hash function, r is a random number that Bob chooses, and {e,N} is the public part of an Identity Provider’s RSA keypair (defined in step 2).
  2. Bob sends T to an identity provider. This could be Twitter itself, or any service like Google, Identica, Facebook, LinkedIn, Keybase, etc. as long as it can check that Bob is probably a real person via SMS verification or a reputation-based algorithm. If Bob seems real enough, the Identity Provider sends him Sig(T) = T^d mod N = H(notbob)^d * r mod N, where d is the private part of the Identity Provider’s RSA keypair. [3]
  3. Bob divides Sig(T) by r to get Sig(H(notbob)), AKA his Identity Provider’s signature over the hash of his desired anonymous username.
  4. Bob opens up Tor browser and goes to register @notbob. In the registration form, he sends Sig(H(notbob)). Twitter can then verify the Identity Provider’s signature over ‘notbob’ and only accept @notbob’s account registration if verification is successful!

It seems to me that this achieves some nice properties.

  • Every anonymous account is transitively validated via SMS or reputation.
  • Ignoring traffic analysis (admittedly a big thing to ignore), anonymous accounts and the actual identities or phone numbers used to validate them are unlinkable.

Thoughts? I’d bet that someone has thought of this use case before but I couldn’t find any references on the Internet.



canvas #1


that could have been us, 2015
Oil pastels, lipstick, eyeliner, cold medicine, and ballpoint pen on canvas.

i painted this while standing in my bathroom on valentine’s day’s night, unable to sleep and grotesquely feeling the weight of the oncoming dawn. it was my first time drawing on canvas.

as i worked, i kept thinking about all these people passing to and from doomed relationships, that feeling of being stupidly and everlastingly perched on the brink between hope and mutilation. that’s more or less what this is about.

solving boolean satisfiability on human circuits

I remember quite clearly sitting in Scott Aaronson’s computability and complexity theory course at MIT in 2011. I was a 19 year-old physics major back then, so Scott’s class was mostly new and fascinating.

One spring day, Scott was at the chalkboard delightedly introducing the concept of time complexity classes to us, with the same delight he used when introducing most abstract constructs. He said that you could categorize algorithms into time complexity classes based on the amount of time they take to run as a function of the input length. For instance, you could prove that certain decision problems couldn’t be solved by a deterministic Turing machine in polynomial time. I raised my hand.

“But time is reference-frame dependent! What if you ran the deterministic Turing machine on earth while you yourself were on a rocket going at relativistic speeds?”

Scott’s eyes lit up. “Aha!” he said, without pause. “Suppose you traveled faster as the input length increased, so from your perspective, a problem in EXP is decidable in polynomial time. However you would be using more and more energy to propel your spaceship. So there is necessarily a tradeoff in the resources needed to solve the problem.”

In retrospect, this was pretty characteristic of why I liked the class so much. Scott didn’t give the easy and useless answer, which would have been that *by our definition* all running times are measured in a fixed inertial reference frame. Instead he reminds us that we, as humans, ultimately care about the totality of resources needed to solve a problem. Time complexity analysis is just one step toward grasping at how hard, how expensive, how painful something really is; mired as we may be in mathematical formalism, the reality of our dying planet and unpaid bills stays within sight when Scott lectures.

All this came to mind when I read Scott’s now-infamous blog comment about growing up as a shy, self-proclaimed and self-hating male nerd; followed by the much-cited response from journalist Laurie Penny about growing up as a shy, self-proclaimed and self-hating female nerd; followed by Scott’s latest blog post clarifying what he believes about feminism and the plight of shy nerdy people anguished by sexual frustration. What suprised me about the latter was that Scott went so far as to write:

“How to help all the young male nerds I meet who suffer from this problem, in a way that passes feminist muster, and that triggers the world’s sympathy rather than outrage, is a problem that interests me as much as P vs. NP, and right now that seems about equally hard.”

(“As much as P vs NP”?! Remember that Scott once bet his house on the invalidity of a paper claiming to prove P != NP, cf.

Sometimes I think that the obvious step towards solving the problem Scott mentions is for the frustrated person to politely and non-expectantly inform the other person of his/her desires. In an ideal world, they would then discuss them until reaching an amicable resolution, at which point they can return to platonically multiplying tensors or whatever.

But I suppose part of the definition of shy is the fear of exposing yourself to untrusted parties, for which they can reject you, humiliate you, and otherwise destroy that which you value or at least begrudgingly tolerate. Sadly, the shyness of analytical minds seems justified, because pretty much nobody has worked out how to communicate rejection without passing unfair judgement or otherwise patterning poisonous behavior. There is an art to divulging hidden feelings, an art to giving rejection, an art to handling sadness graciously, and an art to growing friendships from tenuous beginnings. None of these are taught to adolescent humans. Instead, we learn to hide ourselves and shame others.

I feel unprepared to write anything resembling a guide on how to do this, having recoiled from human contact for most of my life thanks to shyness, but I think it’s well worth some human brain cycles. Here’s hoping to live in a culture of rejection-positivity.

tls everything

Yesterday the W3C Technical Architecture Group published a new finding titled, “The Web and Encryption.” In it, they conclude:

“. . . the Web platform should be designed to actively prefer secure origins — typically, by encouraging use of HTTPS URLs instead of HTTP ones. Furthermore, the end-to-end nature of TLS encryption must not be compromised on the Web, in order to preserve this trust.”

To many HTTPS Everywhere users like myself, this seemed a decade or so beyond self-evident. So I was surprised to see a flurry of objections appear on the public mailing list thread discussing the TAG findings.

It seems bizarre to me that security-minded web developers are spending so much effort hardening the web platform by designing and implementing standards like CSP Level 2, WebCrypto, HTTP Public Key Pinning, and Subresource Integrity, while others are still debating whether requiring the bare minimum security guarantee on the web is a good thing. While some sites are preventing any javascript from running on their page unless it’s been whitelisted, other sites can’t even promise that any user will ever visit a page that hasn’t been tampered with.


small consolation: the second one has more downloads

Obviously we shouldn’t ignore arguments for a plaintext-permissive web; they’re statistically useful as indicators of misconceptions about HTTPS and sometimes also as indicators of real friction that website operators face. What can we learn?

Here’s some of my observations and responses to common anti-HTTPS points (as someone who lurks on standards mailing lists and often pokes website operators to deploy HTTPS, both professionally and recreationally):

  1.  “HTTPS is expensive and hard to set up.” This is objectively getting better. Cloudflare offers automatic free SSL to their CDN customers, and SSLMate lets you get a cert for $10 using the command line. In the near future, the LetsEncrypt cert authority will offer free certificates, deployed and managed using a nifty new protocol called ACME that makes the entire process take <30 seconds.
  2. “There is no value in using HTTPS for data that is, by nature, public (such as news articles).” This misses the point that aggregated browsing patterns, even for only public sites, can reveal a lot of private information about a person. If it weren’t, advertisers wouldn’t use third-party tracking beacons. QED.
  3. “TLS is slow.” Chris Palmer thought you would ask this and gave an excellent presentation explaining why not. tl;dr: TLS is usually not noticeably slower, but if it is, chances are that you can optimize away the difference (warning: the previous link is highly well-written and may cause you to become convinced that TLS is not slow).
  4. “HTTPS breaks feature X.” This is something I’m intimately familar with, since most bug reports in HTTPS Everywhere (which I used to maintain) were caused by the extension switching a site to HTTPS and suddenly breaking some feature. Mixed content blocking was the biggest culprit, but there were also cases where CORS stopped working because the header whitelisted the HTTP site but not the HTTPS one. (I also expected some “features” to break because HTTPS sites don’t leak referer to HTTP ones, but surprisingly this never happened.) Luckily if you’re using HTTPS Everywhere in Chrome, there is a panel in the developer console that helps you detect and fix mixed content on websites (shown below). Setting the CSP report-only header to report non-HTTPS subresources is similarly useful but doesn’t tell you which resources can be rewritten.https-switch
  5. “HTTPS gives users a false sense of security.” This comes up surprisingly often from various angles. Some people frame this as, “The CA system isn’t trustworthy and is breakable by every government,” while others say, “Even with HTTPS, you leak DNS lookups and valuable metadata,” and others say, “But many site certificates are managed by the CDN, not the site the user thinks they’re visiting securely.” The baseline counterargument to all of these is that encryption, even encryption that is theoretically breakable by some people, is better than no encryption, which doesn’t need to be broken by anyone. CA trustworthiness in particular is getting better with the implementation of certificate transparency and key pinning in browsers; let’s hope that we solve DNSSEC someday too. Also, regardless of whether HTTPS gives people a false sense of security, HTTP almost certainly gives the average person a false sense of security; otherwise, why would anyone submit their Quora password in plaintext?quora

In summary, it’s very encouraging to see the TAG expressing support for a ubiquitous transit encryption on the web (someday), but from the resulting discussion, it’s clear that developers still need to be convinced that HTTPS is efficient, reliable, affordable, and worthwhile. I think the TAG has a clear path forward here: separate the overgrown anti-HTTPS mythology from the actual measurable obstacles to HTTPS deployment, and encourage standards that fix real problems that developers and implementers have when transitioning to HTTPS. ACME, HPKP, Certificate Transparency, and especially requiring minimum security standards for powerful new web platform features are good examples of work that motivates website operators to turn on HTTPS by lowering the cost and/or raising the benefits.

certificate transparency for PGP?

Yesterday, Prof. Matthew Green wrote a nice blog post about why PGP must die. Ignoring the UX design problem for now, his four main points were: (1) the keys themselves are too unwieldy, (2) key management is hard, (3) the protocol lacks forward secrecy, and (4) the crypto is archaic/non-sane by default.

Happily, (1) and (4) can be solved straightforwardly using more modern crypto primitives like Curve25519 and throwing away superfluous PGP key metadata that comes from options that are ignored 99.999999% of the time. Of course, we would then break backwards compatibility with PGP, so we might as well invent a protocol that has forward/future secrecy built-in via something like Trevor Perrin’s axolotl ratchet. Yay.

That still leaves (2) – the problem of how to determine which public key should be associated with an endpoint (email address, IM account, phone number, etc.). Some ways that people have tried to solve this in existing encrypted messaging schemes include:

  1. A central authority tells Alice, “This is Bob’s public key”, and Alice just goes ahead and starts using that key. iMessage does this, with Apple acting as the authority AFAICT. Key continuity may be enforced via pinning.
  2. Alice and Bob verify each others’ key fingerprints via an out-of-band “secure” channel – scanning QR codes when they meet in person, reading fingerprints to each other on the phone, romantically comparing short authentication strings, and so forth. This is used optionally in OTR and ZRTP to establish authenticated conversations.
  3. Alice tries to use a web of trust to obtain a certification chain to Bob’s key. Either she’s verified Bob’s key directly via #2 or there is some other trust path from her key to Bob’s, perhaps because they’ve both attended some “parties” where people don’t have fun at all. This is what people are supposed to do with PGP.
  4. Alice finds Bob’s key fingerprint on some public record that she trusts to be directly controlled by Bob, such as his Twitter profile, DNS entry for a domain that he owns, or a gist on his Github account. This is what does. (I only added this one after @gertvdijk pointed it out on Twitter, so thanks Gert.)

IMO, if we’re trying to improve email security for as many people as possible, the best solution minimizes the extent to which the authenticity of a conversation depends on user actions. Key management should be invisible to the average user, but it should still be auditable by paranoid folks. (Not just Paranoid! folks, haha.)

Out of the 3 options above, the only one in which users have to do zero work in order to have an authenticated conversation is #1. The downside is that Apple could do a targeted MITM attack on Alice’s conversation with Bob by handing her a key that Apple/NSA/etc. controls, and Alice would never know. (Then again, even if Alice verified Bob’s key out-of-band, Apple could still accomplish the same thing by pushing a malicious software update to Alice.)

Clearly, if we’re using a central authority to certify people’s keys, we need a way for anyone to check that the authority is not misbehaving and issuing fake keys for people. Luckily there is a scheme that is designed to do exactly this but for TLS certificates – Certificate Transparency.

How does Certificate Transparency work? The end result is that a client that enforces Certificate Transparency (CT) recognizes a certificate as valid if (1) the certificate has been signed by a recognized authority (which already happens in TLS) and (2) the certificate has been verifiably published in a public log. The latter can be accomplished through efficient mathematical proofs because the log is structured as a Merkle tree.

How would CT work for email? Say that I run a small mail service,, whose users would like to send encrypted emails to each other. In order to provide an environment for crypto operations that is more sandboxed and auditable than a regular webpage, I provide a YanMail browser extension. This extension includes (1) a PGP or post-PGP-asymmetric-encryption library, (2) a hardcoded signing key that belongs to me, and (3) a library that implements a Certificate Transparency auditor.

Now say that wants to email Bob has already registered his public key with, perhaps by submitting it when he first made his account. Alice types in Bob’s address, and the YanMail server sends her (1) a public key that supposedly belongs to Bob, signed by the YanMail signing key, and (2) a CT log proof that Bob’s key is in the public CT log. Alice’s CT client verifies the log proof; if it passes, then Alice trusts Bob’s key to be authentic. (Real CT is more complicated than this, but I think I got the essential parts here.)

Now, if YanMail tries to deliver an NSA-controlled encryption key for Bob, Bob can at least theoretically check the CT log and know that he’s being attacked. Otherwise, if the fake key isn’t in the log, no other YanMail user would trust it. This is an incremental improvement over the iMessage key management situation: key certification trust is still centralized, but at least it’s auditable.

What if Alice and Bob want to send encrypted email to non-YanMail users? Perhaps the browser extension also hard-codes the signing keys for these mail providers, which are used to certify their users’ encryption keys. Or perhaps the mail providers’ signing keys are inserted into DNS with DANE+DNSSEC. Or perhaps the client just trusts any valid CA-certified signing key for the mail provider.

For now, with the release of Google End-to-End and Yahoo’s announcement to start supporting PGP as a first-class feature in Yahoo mail, CT for (post)-PGP seems promising as a way for users of these two large webmail services to send authenticated messages without having to deal with the pains of web-of-trust key management. Building better monitoring/auditing systems can be done incrementally once we get people to actually *use* end-to-end encryption.

Large caveat: CT doesn’t provide a solution for key revocation as I understand it – instead, in the TLS case, it still relies on CRL/OCSP. So if Bob’s PGP/post-PGP key is stolen by an attacker who colludes with the YanMail server, they can get Alice to send MITM-able messages to Bob encrypted with his stolen key unless there is some reliable revocation mechanism. Ex: Bob communicates out-of-band to Alice that his old key is revoked, and she adds the revoked key to a list of keys that her client never accepts.

Written on 8/14/14 from a hotel room in Manila, Philippines


Update (8/15/14):

Thanks for the responses so far via Twitter and otherwise. Unsurprisingly, I’m not the first to come up with this idea. Here are some reading materials related to CT for e2e communication:

Update (8/29/14):

Since I posted this, folks from Google presented a similar but more detailed proposal for E2E. There has been a nice discussion about it on the Modern Crypto list, in addition to the one in the comments section of the proposal.

 Update (7/18/15):

I know it’s pretty silly to be updating this after a year, but it’d be a travesty to not mention CONIKS here.


4 years ago, I went to HOPE for the first time on a last-minute press pass from my college newspaper. Some relevant facts about the trip:

  • I was 19 and had never been to a hacker con before.
  • I didn’t identify as a hacker (or an activist).
  • I was too shy to talk to anyone the entire time. Combined with the fact that I knew only a few people there, I was mostly off by myself.
  • HOPE that year was the pinnacle of paranoia in probably the most paranoid period of my life. This was 2010, a few months after Chelsea Manning was arrested for leaking a trove of documents to WikiLeaks. Coincidentally, Chelsea Manning had visited my house in the autumn of 2009; this was cause enough for suspicion from certain groups and frequent questions from reporters once the WikiLeaks story broke. Julian Assange was scheduled to give the keynote at HOPE, so you can imagine the atmosphere that year.
  • Overall it was a fun experience regardless.

This year I finally made it back to HOPE. Things were a little different than last time:

  • I flew in from Europe instead of driving from Boston.
  • I was representing EFF and Freedom of the Press Foundation, two organizations that were almost-universally loved by the attendees.
  • I co-presented two talks in front of overflowing rooms of people and got lots of audience feedback.
  • I didn’t have time to talk to all the people that I wanted to, much less all the people who were trying to ask me questions.
  • Whereas last time I made it to several talks per day, this year I was working from 4 AM in the morning until whenever-I-had-to-give-a-presentation for the first 2/3rds of the conference, then running off to meetings or working shifts at the EFF/FPF booths. As a result, I made it to a total of 3 or 4 talks that weren’t mine. :(
  • It was eerie to have contributed to a project that kept getting name-dropped during the conference by the likes of Daniel Ellsberg and Barton Gellman. Literally dozens of people approached me to say that they wanted to help out with SecureDrop or set up an instance. Wow!

Predictably, it was strange to be a very-minor celebrity at a conference where I’d previously felt like an outsider and deliberately tried to make myself invisible. 4 years ago, my experience in the last 4 days would have seemed impossible for a plethora of reasons: I wasn’t a good public speaker*, I had a lot of self-doubt that I could contribute anything to the event,  I felt weird for not having the same interests and background as the vast majority of people at HOPE, I didn’t know much about computers, I didn’t think that I was working on anything interesting, etc.

*Public speaking workshops are immensely helpful here; so does taking an introductory voice acting class.

Despite the slowly-fading jetlag and piling exhaustion after a month of international travel, it felt nice to contribute back to a conference that had been an eye-opening experience to me the first time.

Many thanks to the following people for working on presentations with me, giving last-minute feedback, and/or letting me sleep in their room: Parker Higgins, Bill Budington, Garrett Robinson, Trevor Timm, Runa Sandvik, James Dolan, Kevin Gallagher, Noah Swartz. Also thanks for Oliver Day for appointing me CSO of his company even though I haven’t fixed the SSL cert for his website yet.

Photo by Scott J. O’Brien (@scottjobrien)