Tony Arcieri

Hi there. These days I dabble in cryptography, but in the past made the Celluloid actor framework for Ruby and the Reia programming language

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A gentle introduction to nio4r: low-level portable asynchronous I/O for Ruby

Rails 5.0 was recently released, and with it came ActionCable, a new part of the framework to put WebSockets “on Rails”. ActionCable has had something of a sordid history, from taking Rails Core developer Aaron Patterson by surprise when he first heard of it at a RailsConf keynote to at one point using both EventMachine and Celluloid, each of which independently is an onerous dependency (I say this as the author of Celluloid).

That said, the dust has settled and both EventMachine and Celluloid have been removed. Instead, ActionCable is based on concurrent-ruby, a Ruby library inspired by Java’s java.util.concurrent which was already a Rails dependency, and nio4r, i.e. New I/O (or Non-blocking I/O) for Ruby, a library you may not have heard of before inspired by java.nio. While EventMachine and Celluloid are both grand inventions, I think there’s something to be said for copying our...

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A tale of two cryptocurrencies: Ethereum and Bitcoin’s ongoing challenges


It’s been one of the most interesting months in the history of cryptocurrency. The price of Bitcoin has soared up to nearly $800 (then dropped to $675 as $19 million in BTC hit the market) as the reward for mining a block is soon set to be halved. Ethereum created what is arguably the world’s most complex multi-million dollar financial instrument, the DAO, only to see it hacked through a combination of flaws in its “smart contract” and the language it was implemented in. Meanwhile, the average size of a block in the Bitcoin blockchain nears 90% of the 1MB hard limit.

I’ve been meaning to write a year-in-review followup to my previous post The Death Of Bitcoin, but with the recent events covering Ethereum I just couldn’t help but cover that too, and also speculate what effects this will have on Bitcoin.

Ethereum’s Hindenburg moment: The DAO disaster and smart contract security


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On the dangers of a blockchain monoculture


At first there was Bitcoin: the world’s most successful cryptocurrency to-date. But lately there has been more and more talk about “the Bitcoin blockchain”, “the blockchain”, “blockchain”, or “blockchain technology”. Bloomberg reports that Nasdaq is seeking to show progress using the much-hyped blockchain. LWN notes The Linux Foundation recently announced a project to “advance blockchain technology”. The Washington Post lists Bitcoin and the blockchain as one of six inventions of magnitude we haven’t seen since the printing press. VISA, Citi, and Nasdaq have invested $30 million into a blockchain company. VCs have collectively invested $1 billion in the Bitcoin ecosystem. Bank of America is allegedly trying to load up on “blockchain” patents. The Bank of England says there’s lots of “buzz around blockchain” and is curious what you’d use “blockchain” for. It seems “blockchain” is...

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The Death of Bitcoin


The road of innovation is paved with the corpses of outmoded technologies. Throughout history there are countless examples of a technology presumed to be the “next big thing” starting to gain traction, only to find itself outmoded in the light of a technology that can solve a problem better.

Will this happen to Bitcoin? I don’t know. Unfortunately I don’t have a crystal ball which can tell me that. However, I think it’s an interesting thing to speculate about. Bitcoin is described by enthusiasts as potentially being bigger than the Internet itself (a claim I can’t seem to understand, considering that Bitcoin is an Internet-powered technology), but what if the opposite happened, and Bitcoin wound up being as popular as Betamax cassettes or Napster in the grand scheme of things?

I don’t want to be entirely grim, despite this post’s title. This isn’t intended to be some “Bitcoin is...

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An open letter to Matz on Ruby type systems


Hi Matz,

I really enjoyed your keynote at RubyConf 2014. The most interesting part of it to me was where you talked about how Ruby 3.0 might include some sort of type system. There are lots of directions you can go with type systems in Ruby. Your presentation talked about how you like to explore different directions that you could go with a given feature.

I think there were two big points you made about a type system in Ruby that are important:

  • DRY: adding types should not make the Rubyist add type declarations to their program over and over again
  • Duck Typing: this is important to the way Rubyists program and any type system added to Ruby should still enable duck typing

After many years of writing Ruby, I have taken on a rather defensive programming style for a lot of the code I write after debugging too many type-related issues. I often find myself writing code like this:


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Would Rust have prevented Heartbleed? Another look

In case you haven’t heard, another serious OpenSSL vulnerability will be announced this Thursday. It reminded me of about a year ago, when Heartbleed was announced:


In December 2014 I gave a talk at Mozilla about cryptography in Rust (slides here). I have been meaning to do a followup blog post both about my talk, reactions I received from it, and my subsequent thoughts…

And then this blog post happens. I have been reading Ted Unangst’s blog for quite awhile, mostly with great respect. This particular blog post was, unfortunately, not up to his usual standards. He blogs on a wide range of topics, but security is a complicated field and this blog post is, in my opinion, highly misleading. Ted claims he implemented “Heartbleed” in Rust. Is that actually the case?

In my talk at Mozilla, I covered several of the SSL/TLS bugs seen in 2014, and spent a lot of time covering “goto fail”...

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Volapük: A Cautionary Tale for Any Language Community

You may have heard of artificially constructed spoken languages such as Esperanto, Interlingua, or Lojban, but do you realize that before any of these languages there was another constructed language which once claimed nearly a million followers, making it the most popular constructed language of all time?

That language was Volapük, and despite achieving such a high number of speakers is nowadays all but forgotten, even among linguists. I think Volapük’s story is one worth telling, because the reasons for its downfall are worth knowing for any member of a language community.

Volapük was created by Johann Martin Schleyer between 1879 and 1880. Schleyer was a Roman Catholic Priest who, one night, claimed to hear God himself speak to him commanding him to create a universal language to unite the European peoples. Volapük was a hybrid of English, German, and French, although you probably...

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CREAM: the scary SSL attack you’ve probably never heard of


2014 was a year packed full of the discovery of new SSL attacks. First we found Java was vulnerable to a new type of “Bleichenbacher” attack. Apple’s SecureTransport, used by both iOS and OS X, went down next with the “goto fail” vulnerability. GNUTLS was vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack. OpenSSL perhaps came out as the most notorious with the Heartbleed attack. The NSS library, used by Chrome and Firefox among others, was vulnerable to yet another Bleichenbacher attack known as BERserk. The Microsoft SChannel library used by Windows was vulnerable to a particularly scary remote code execution vulnerability. At least two protocol-level vulnerabilities in SSL were widely circulated: the triple-handshake attack and POODLE. And we still have over a month left in the year!

While 2014 is a notable outlier in terms of the sheer number of attacks discovered and the publicity they’ve...

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What’s wrong with in-browser cryptography?

Above image taken from Douglas Crockford’s Principles of Security talk

If you’re reading this, then I hope that sometime somebody or some web site told you that doing cryptography in a web browser is a bad idea. You may have read “JavaScript Cryptography Considered Harmful”. You may have found it a bit dated and dismissed it.

You may have read about WebCrypto and what it hopes to bring to the browser ecosystem. This particular development may make you feel that it’s okay to start moving various forms of cryptography into the browser.

Why not put cryptography in the browser? Isn’t it inevitable? This is a perpetual refrain from various encryption products which target the browser (names and addresses intentionally omitted). While the smarter ones try to mitigate certain classes of attacks by shipping as browser extensions rather than just a web site that a user types into their...

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Imperfect Forward Secrecy: The Coming Cryptocalypse

If the Snowden debacle has accomplished anything, it’s raising public awareness in cryptography. This has spawned some sort of meme that if we use “perfect forward secrecy”, our communications are protected from the NSA! Various blog posts and articles in major newspapers have conferred all sorts of magical secret powers onto perfect forward secrecy, specifically surrounding its NSA-fighting powers, going as far to say that perfect forward secrecy is NSA-proof.

First off, let me say that forward secrecy is great, and you should try to deploy it if you can. However, even if you run a stack that supports it (many hardware SSL terminators do not, for example), it’s still pretty hard to implement properly (you need to rotate session ticket keys frequently to gain anything from it, for example).

But let’s not beat around the bush: perfect forward secrecy isn’t some magical silver bullet...

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