Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Vienna DevOps & Security and System Architects Group meetup summary - Sept 9, 2014

Some twenty developers and security experts gathered at the Stockwork Coworking Space for today´s joint Vienna DevOps & Security and System Architects Group meetup http://meetu.ps/2v2DGg.

Best practices for AWS Security

Philipp Krenn (@xeraa) nicely explained the fundamental risks of AWS services:
Starting services on AWS is easy. So is stopping.

Recent incidents show that a compromised infrastructure can cause more than short disruptions. Several companies went out of business when not only their online services but also data stores and backups were gone:
(Some) recommendation for using AWS services:
  • Lock away the root account. Never use this account for service or action authentication, ever.
  • Create an IAM user with a password policy for every service or action to limit damage in case an API key gets compromised.
  • Use groups to manage permissions.
  • Use two-factor authentication (2FA) using Google Authenticator.
  • Never commit your credentials to a source code repository.
  • Enable IP restrictions to limit who can manage your services even with an API key.
  • Enable Cloudtrail to trace which user triggered an event using which API key.
Other cloud security providers may offer different security features

The (fancy!) slides are available here: https://speakerdeck.com/xeraa/i-am-what-iam-for-devops-vienna

ISO 27001 - Goals of ISO 27001, relation to similar standards, implementation scenarios

Roman Kellner, Chief Happiness Officer :-) at @xtradesoft, gave an overview of the ISO 27001 and related standards:
  • ISO 27001:2013 Information Security Management System (ISMS) Requirements
  • ISO 27002:2013 Code of Practice
  • ISO 31000 Risk Management
Information security management is not limited to computer security; it is equally relevant for paper documents, human knowledge, etc.

The structure of ISO 27001 looks somewhat similar to ISO 9001 Quality Assurance, including the monitoring and continuous improvement loop of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA).

For a successful implementation and certification, the ISO 27001 efforts must be supported and driven by the company leadership

The third talk about Splunk unfortunately had to be postponed.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Velocity Europe 2011 conference report

Web companies, big and small, face the same challenges. Our pages must be fast, our infrastructure must scale up (and down) efficiently, and our sites and services must be reliable … without burning out the team.
Velocity Europe conference Website

Three years after its inception in California O’Reilly’s Velocity Web Performance and Operations Conference finally made it to Europe. Some 500 people, web developers, architects, system administrators, hackers, designers, artists, got together at Velocity Europe in Berlin on November 8 and 9 to learn about the latest developments in web performance optimization and managing web infrastructure, exchange ideas and meet vendors in the exhibition hall.

Velocity Europe was well organized and run. There were power strips everywhere and a dedicated wireless network for the participants, although the latter barely handled the load when everyone was hogging for bandwidth. Seeing bytes trickling in slowly at a performance conference was not without irony. Some things never change: Getting connected sometimes requires patience and endurance. Back in the days I was volunteering at the W3C conferences preparation involved running cables and configuring the “Internet access room”, only then contention for network resources meant waiting for an available computer.

As expected for a techie conference, about the only people wearing jackets and ties were the AV operators, food was plentiful and good, and the sponsors handed out T-shirts, caps, and other give-aways. Plenary sessions were recorded and streamed live, and #velocityconf on Twitter also has a good collection of facts and memorable quotes for those who couldn’t attend in person.

Steve Souders and John Allspaw led through two busy days packed with plenary sessions, lighting talks and two parallel tracks on Web performance and Web operations. While bits and bytes certainly mattered to the speakers and the audience, the focus was clearly on improving the Web experience for users and the business aspects of fast and well-managed Web sites.

The conference started with a controversial talk about building a career in Web operations by Theo Schlossnagle, and I couldn’t agree more with many of his observations, from suggesting discipline and patience (and recommending martial arts to develop those virtues), learning from mistakes, developing with operations in mind to seeing security not as a feature but a mentality, a state of mind. Along the same lines, Jon Jenkins later talked about the importance of dev ops velocity, why it’s important to iterate fast, deploy fast, and learn from mistakes quickly, mentioning the OODA loop. Some of the Amazon.com deployment stats are just mind-boggling: 11.6 seconds mean time between deployments, and over 1,000 deployments in a single hour to thousands of hosts.

Joshua Bixby addressed the relationship between faster mobile sites and business KPIs. Details of the tests conducted and the short-term and long-term effects on visitor behaviour are also available in his recent blog post about a controlled performance degradation experiment conducted by Strangeloop. Another interesting observation was the strong preference of customers for the full Web sites over mobile versions and native apps: One retailer in the U. S. found that of the online revenue growth for that company was driven by the full site. 35% of the visitors on their mobile site clicked through to the full site immediately, 24% left on page 1, another 40% left after page 1, and only 1% bought something.

Performance also matters at Betfair, one of the world’s largest betting providers. Doing cool stuff is important too, but according to Tim Morrow’s performance pyramid of needs that’s not where you start:

  1. It works.
  2. It’s fast.
  3. It’s useful. (I personally have a slight preference for useful over fast.)
  4. It’s cool.

Jeffrey Veen of Hotwired, Adaptive Path, TypeKit fame kicked off the second day with an inspiring talk on designing for disaster, working through crises and doing the impossible. I liked the fancy status boards on the walls, and the “CODE YELLOW” mode, the openness and the clear roles when something bad happens. And something bad will happen, as John Allspaw pointed out: “You will reach the point of compensation exhausted, systems, networks, staff, and budgets.” A helpful technique for planning changes is to write down the assumptions, expectated outcomes and potential failures individually, and then consolide results as a group and look for discrepancies. If things still go wrong, Michael Brunton-Spall and Lisa van Gelder suggested to stay calm, isolate failing components, and reduce functionality to the core. Having mechanisms in place to easily switch on and off optional features is helpful, down to “page pressing” to produce static copies of the most frequently requested content to handle peak loads.

Several talks covered scripting performance and optimization techniques. Javascript is already getting really fast, as David Mandelin pointed out, running everything from physics engines to an H.264 decoder at 30 fps, as long as we avoid sparse arrays and the slow eval statements and with blocks. Using proven libraries is generally a good idea and results in less code and good cross-browser compatibility, but Aaron Peters made the point that using jQuery (or your favorite JavaScript library) for everything may not be best solution, and accessing the DOM directly when it’s simple and straightforward can be a better choice. Besides that, don’t load scripts if the page doesn’t need them – not that anyone would ever do that, right? – and then do waterfall chart analysis, time and again. Mathias Bynens added various techniques for reducing the number of accesses to the DOM, function calls and lookups with ready-to-use code snippets for common tasks.

For better mobile UI performance, Estelle Weyl suggested inlining CSS and JS on the first page, using data: URLs and extracting and saving resources in LocalStorage. Power Saving Mode (PSM) for Wi-fi and Radio Resource Control (RRC) for cellular are intended to increase battery life but have the potential to degrade perceived application performance as subsequent requests will have to wait for the network reconnection. Jon Jenkins explained the split browser architecture of Amazon Silk, which can use proxy servers on Amazon EC2 for compression, caching and predictive loading to overcome some of these performance hogs.

IBM’s Patrick Mueller showed WEINRE (WEb INspector REmote) for mobile testing, a component of the PhoneGap project.

Google has been a strong advocate for a faster Web experience and long offered tools for measuring and improving performance. The Apache module mod_pagespeed will do much of the heavy lifting to optimize web performance, from inlining small CSS files to compressing images and moving metadata to headers. Andrew Oates also revealed Google’s latest enhancements to Page Speed Online, and gave away the secret parameter to access the new Critical Path Explorer component. Day 2 ended with an awesome talk by Bradley Heilbrun about what it takes to run the platform that serves “funny cat videos and dogs on skateboards”. Bradley had been the first ops guy at YouTube, which once started with five Apache boxes hosted at Rackspace. They have a few more boxes now.

With lots of useful information, real world experiences and ideas we can apply to our Websites, three books signed by the authors and conference chairs, High Performance Web Sites and Even Faster Web Sites, and Web Operations: Keeping the Data On Time, stickers, caps and cars for the kids, Velocity Europe worked great for me. The next Velocity will be held in Santa Clara, California in June next year, and hopefully there will be another Velocity Europe again.

Related links

Photo credit: O´Reilly

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010


July 2010 Vienna JavaScript User Group meeting

vienna.js, the Vienna JavaScript User Group meeting was held tonight at Metalab. Attendance wasn’t bad considering that it’s summer holiday season and lots of folks wouldn’t be in Vienna at this time of the year.

First, Matti Paksula from the University of Helsinki gave a mini-talk about SVG and JavaScript. Matti pointed out that canvas was unsuitable for shapes, “it’s for bitmaps, it’s not accessible, and it doesn’t scale”. Canvas isn’t all bad though; a combination of HTML 5, JavaScript, canvas and SVG is needed to replace Flash. (That probably means that Flash will be around for a while, despite the lack of support from some devices starting with an “i”.)

Demonstrations included the Canvas to SVG conversions and back as shown at SVG Open 2009, and a sneak preview on the latest version which runs completely client-side. Matti also mentioned the PottisJS SVG prototype library and showed an interactive SVG demo.

Next, Roland Schütz talked about JavaScript code management, specifically how to structure code and source files, implement an efficient workflow and automate the building (and testing) of JavaScript code. Roland mentioned a few nice tools for coding and testing JavaScript source code:Roland welcomes followers on his newly created Twitter feed @rolandschuetz.

Finally, Lars Dieckow delivered an impromptu talk entitled “Sommerloch” about–Perl :-). More than fifteen years after the release of Perl 5.000, Perl 6 is just around the corner and the Rakudo Star release will be available from the usual sources starting tomorrow.

As a long time Perl programmer–the first Perl programs I touched were Perl 4 code and I am pretty sure there are some &function calls around still in code we use today–I hadn’t closely followed the development of Perl 6, and it was good to get an update on enhancements and changes in Perl 6 and a live demo of some of the new features after the talk.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010


Human rights 2.0

“Human rights 2.0: Human rights in the information society” was the topic of two lectures in the series “Am Puls” by Dr. Jan Krone, professor for media science at the Fachhochschule St. Pölten, and Dr. Wolfgang Benedek, professor for public international law and international relations at the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz.

Krone focused on freedom of the media, freedom of speech and data privacy in the European Union, pointing out that the Internet itself is not a mass medium but merely a communication channel that carries, amongst other things, media products: Individuals often gather information about others purely to satisfy their curiosity, and conversely share their personal information seeking for recognition. Companies mainly satisfy their business needs and sometimes manage to create “sect-like islands on the net like Apple does”, but generally lack the sensibility and awareness for data privacy needs. States need to balance the need for security and state intervention with the freedom of the people and basic rights.

In the following discussion, Krone suggested the Internet would eventually become fragmented along cultural or ideological borders, and Europe would have to build a European firewall similar to the Great Firewall in China (which uses technology from European IT and telecom suppliers). The audience strongly objected to the notion of a digital Schengen border, which goes against the liberal tradition in many European countries and doesn’t recognize the range of believes and the diversity within Europe.

Benedek talked about Internet governance and the role of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a “forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue”. Concepts for dealing with illegal activities and what is considered acceptable and appropriate encroachment upon basic rights such as those guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) vary between countries. Even more, what is illegal in one country may be perfectly legal and even socially accepted behavior elsewhere.

Touching on net neutrality and the digital divide, he mentioned that there is a push to make Internet access a human right and some countries have indeed added rights to participate in the information society to their constitutions. At the same time the copyright industry focuses on the three strikes model in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) model as punishment for intellectual property violations.

ACTA is not the only threat to access for all though: Much content today is only available to people who understand English, and not all content is suitable for children or accessible to elderly people. How we can make the net accessible to people of all ages and qualifications, and in their native languages, remains a challenge.

Basic human rights, including the rights to education, freedom of speech and freedom of press, increasingly have a material dependency on the right to Internet access. As an audience member pointed out, “offline” studying at university is virtually impossible; long gone are the days of paper handouts and blackboard announcements.

Both speakers agreed that the right to privacy requires “educated decisions” by the people, and consequently educating people. The lectures and the following lively discussion last night served that purpose well.

Related links:

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Internet Summit Austria 2009

Today I attended the Internet Summit Austria 2009 held by the Internet Service Providers Austria association at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The motto of the event was “We are Internet”, referring to the fact that the Internet is created by people and used by people.

ISPA chairman Andreas Koman opened the session with statistics about Internet use in Austria and an overview of current developments and challenges.

Claudia Bandion-Ortner, minister of justice, admitted her preference for paper files and reminded the audience that the Internet is not an area unregulated by law. There are legal issues specific to information technology, such as data theft and violation of data privacy rights. While fraudsters and other criminals use the Internet, most crimes are media neutral. One area that is closely linked to the Internet, though, is child pornography. Bandion-Ortner referred to the controversial German pilot for blocking access to illegal sites. Needless to say, the same filter technology could be used for censoring access to legitimate information or enforcing intellectual property rights.

Volker Grassmuck delivered a keynote about the reformation of intellectual property law in the digital age. Established “common sense” can block creativity and innovation. Some ideas worked well although most people would have assumed they wouldn’t:
  • Shared space pioneered by Hans Moderman–“If you treat people like idiots, they will behave like idiots.”
  • Shared code with the Free Software Foundation (FSF)
  • Shared profits with the micro-payments of the Grameen bank– “People behave in a trustworthy way when they are trusted.”
Grassmuck touched on aspects of the digital age, the 40th birthday of the ARPANET and the 10th birthday of Napster this year, and the end-to-end principles in system design laid out by Saltzer, Reed and Clark at the MIT. Laboratory for Computer Science in 1984. The network is a universal transport mechanism, intelligence and innovation are at the ends of the network. “Today’s optimization is tomorrow’s bottleneck.”

On net neutrality Grassmuck mentioned a speech by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and a refined view on the issue, with net neutrality but with network management to handle congestion or spam and with provisions for law enforcement, and transparency which would allow blocking or throttling certain types of traffic as long as customers are made aware.

There is no one solution that satisfies the needs of content producers, consumers and intermediaries. Working models will require a combination of an agreement between creative professionals and society, markets, free licenses, public subsidies and a “cultural flat rate”.

One of the conference gifts was, ironically, a USB stick with a locked down installation of Firefox using the Tor network to ensure privacy.

The keynote was followed by a lively discussion about intellectual property rights, including but not limited to compensation for the creator of content. The composer Johanna Doderer and the author Gerhard Ruiss pointed out that they want to maintain control over what happens with their works and reminded the audience that creative professionals are typically paid by how often their works sell. Georg Hitzenberger of Play.fm and Bettina Kann of the Austrian National Library outlined some of the challenges with obtaining rights for use in digital media and making content available. For example, the digital Web archive maintained by the Austrian National Library has unreasonably strict access requirements in selected locations only, one person at a time. Franz Schmidbauer touched on legal aspects and the adequacy of intellectual property rights enforcement.

MEP Eva Lichtenberger made an interesting comment about giving young people the ability to purchase digital media without requiring a credit card, quoting the large amounts spent on ringtones where suitable payment solutions are offered by telecom providers.

After the lunch break, Peter A. Gloor gave an entertaining presentation about “Coolhunting by Swarm Creativity” (that’s a lot of buzzwords for a title), explaining how their system combines different inputs–the wisdom of the crowd in the form of the Web, the wisdom of the swarms in the dynamics of fora and blogs, the knowledge in news and Wikipedia–to understand networks, trends and content. “Experts are right – in 50% of the cases. You never know which 50% you have.” swarmcreativity.net and ickn.org have good information about the concepts and the Condor software for non-commercial use.

Two panel discussions about social networks and business on the Internet concluded the agenda.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009


We are moving

We have finally settled on the moving dates to our new home: April 2 and 4. We plan to move a good portion of the boxes by car on the first day, and get a transporter to move the larger furniture, the remaining boxes, and other stuff on the second day. That leaves one day in between to recover from hauling boxes and furniture down three floors from our apartments, and then up one or two floors in the house.

Help needed!
We greatly appreciate any help you can give us with the move, including packing and unpacking, disassembling and reassembling furniture, moving stuff around, and last but not least looking after the kids (that is, feeding Daniel during the day as needed and keeping an eye on Elias when he returns from kindergarten, or taking him to the nearby playground, weather permitting). Hints and tools for moving are also welcome.

Please kindly let us know if you can help us with the move. Food and drinks will be provided at the house.

(Last updated March 31, 2009)

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