Petter Reinholdtsen

Entries tagged "freedombox".

A Debian package for SMTP via Tor (aka SMTorP) using exim4
10th November 2014

The right to communicate with your friends and family in private, without anyone snooping, is a right every citicen have in a liberal democracy. But this right is under serious attack these days.

A while back it occurred to me that one way to make the dragnet surveillance conducted by NSA, GCHQ, FRA and others (and confirmed by the whisleblower Snowden) more expensive for Internet email, is to deliver all email using SMTP via Tor. Such SMTP option would be a nice addition to the FreedomBox project if we could send email between FreedomBox machines without leaking metadata about the emails to the people peeking on the wire. I proposed this on the FreedomBox project mailing list in October and got a lot of useful feedback and suggestions. It also became obvious to me that this was not a novel idea, as the same idea was tested and documented by Johannes Berg as early as 2006, and both the Mailpile and the Cables systems propose a similar method / protocol to pass emails between users.

To implement such system one need to set up a Tor hidden service providing the SMTP protocol on port 25, and use email addresses looking like username@hidden-service-name.onion. With such addresses the connections to port 25 on hidden-service-name.onion using Tor will go to the correct SMTP server. To do this, one need to configure the Tor daemon to provide the hidden service and the mail server to accept emails for this .onion domain. To learn more about Exim configuration in Debian and test the design provided by Johannes Berg in his FAQ, I set out yesterday to create a Debian package for making it trivial to set up such SMTP over Tor service based on Debian. Getting it to work were fairly easy, and the source code for the Debian package is available from github. I plan to move it into Debian if further testing prove this to be a useful approach.

If you want to test this, set up a blank Debian machine without any mail system installed (or run apt-get purge exim4-config to get rid of exim4). Install tor, clone the git repository mentioned above, build the deb and install it on the machine. Next, run /usr/lib/exim4-smtorp/setup-exim-hidden-service and follow the instructions to get the service up and running. Restart tor and exim when it is done, and test mail delivery using swaks like this:

torsocks swaks --server dutlqrrmjhtfa3vp.onion \
  --to fbx@dutlqrrmjhtfa3vp.onion

This will test the SMTP delivery using tor. Replace the email address with your own address to test your server. :)

The setup procedure is still to complex, and I hope it can be made easier and more automatic. Especially the tor setup need more work. Also, the package include a tor-smtp tool written in C, but its task should probably be rewritten in some script language to make the deb architecture independent. It would probably also make the code easier to review. The tor-smtp tool currently need to listen on a socket for exim to talk to it and is started using xinetd. It would be better if no daemon and no socket is needed. I suspect it is possible to get exim to run a command line tool for delivery instead of talking to a socket, and hope to figure out how in a future version of this system.

Until I wipe my test machine, I can be reached using the fbx@dutlqrrmjhtfa3vp.onion mail address, deliverable over SMTorP. :)

Tags: debian, english, freedombox, personvern, surveillance.
FreedomBox milestone - all packages now in Debian Sid
15th April 2014

The Freedombox project is working on providing the software and hardware to make it easy for non-technical people to host their data and communication at home, and being able to communicate with their friends and family encrypted and away from prying eyes. It is still going strong, and today a major mile stone was reached.

Today, the last of the packages currently used by the project to created the system images were accepted into Debian Unstable. It was the freedombox-setup package, which is used to configure the images during build and on the first boot. Now all one need to get going is the build code from the freedom-maker git repository and packages from Debian. And once the freedombox-setup package enter testing, we can build everything directly from Debian. :)

Some key packages used by Freedombox are freedombox-setup, plinth, pagekite, tor, privoxy, owncloud and dnsmasq. There are plans to integrate more packages into the setup. User documentation is maintained on the Debian wiki. Please check out the manual and help us improve it.

To test for yourself and create boot images with the FreedomBox setup, run this on a Debian machine using a user with sudo rights to become root:

sudo apt-get install git vmdebootstrap mercurial python-docutils \
  mktorrent extlinux virtualbox qemu-user-static binfmt-support \
git clone \
make -C freedom-maker dreamplug-image raspberry-image virtualbox-image

Root access is needed to run debootstrap and mount loopback devices. See the README in the freedom-maker git repo for more details on the build. If you do not want all three images, trim the make line. Note that the virtualbox-image target is not really virtualbox specific. It create a x86 image usable in kvm, qemu, vmware and any other x86 virtual machine environment. You might need the version of vmdebootstrap in Jessie to get the build working, as it include fixes for a race condition with kpartx.

If you instead want to install using a Debian CD and the preseed method, boot a Debian Wheezy ISO and use this boot argument to load the preseed values:


I have not tested it myself the last few weeks, so I do not know if it still work.

If you wonder how to help, one task you could look at is using systemd as the boot system. It will become the default for Linux in Jessie, so we need to make sure it is usable on the Freedombox. I did a simple test a few weeks ago, and noticed dnsmasq failed to start during boot when using systemd. I suspect there are other problems too. :) To detect problems, there is a test suite included, which can be run from the plinth web interface.

Give it a go and let us know how it goes on the mailing list, and help us get the new release published. :) Please join us on IRC (#freedombox on and the mailing list if you want to help make this vision come true.

Tags: debian, english, freedombox, sikkerhet, surveillance, web.
Dokumentaren om Datalagringsdirektivet sendes endelig på NRK
26th March 2014

Foreningen NUUG melder i natt at NRK nå har bestemt seg for når den norske dokumentarfilmen om datalagringsdirektivet skal sendes (se IMDB for detaljer om filmen) . Første visning blir på NRK2 mandag 2014-03-31 kl. 19:50, og deretter visninger onsdag 2014-04-02 kl. 12:30, fredag 2014-04-04 kl. 19:40 og søndag 2014-04-06 kl. 15:10. Jeg har sett dokumentaren, og jeg anbefaler enhver å se den selv. Som oppvarming mens vi venter anbefaler jeg Bjørn Stærks kronikk i Aftenposten fra i går, Autoritær gjøkunge, der han gir en grei skisse av hvor ille det står til med retten til privatliv og beskyttelsen av demokrati i Norge og resten verden, og helt riktig slår fast at det er vi i databransjen som sitter med nøkkelen til å gjøre noe med dette. Jeg har involvert meg i prosjektene og FreedomBox for å forsøke å gjøre litt selv for å bedre situasjonen, men det er mye hardt arbeid fra mange flere enn meg som gjenstår før vi kan sies å ha gjenopprettet balansen.

Jeg regner med at nettutgaven dukker opp på NRKs side om filmen om datalagringsdirektivet om fem dager. Hold et øye med siden, og tips venner og slekt om at de også bør se den.

Tags: dld, freedombox, mesh network, norsk, personvern, sikkerhet, surveillance.
Freedombox on Dreamplug, Raspberry Pi and virtual x86 machine
14th March 2014

The Freedombox project is working on providing the software and hardware for making it easy for non-technical people to host their data and communication at home, and being able to communicate with their friends and family encrypted and away from prying eyes. It has been going on for a while, and is slowly progressing towards a new test release (0.2).

And what day could be better than the Pi day to announce that the new version will provide "hard drive" / SD card / USB stick images for Dreamplug, Raspberry Pi and VirtualBox (or any other virtualization system), and can also be installed using a Debian installer preseed file. The Debian based Freedombox is now based on Debian Jessie, where most of the needed packages used are already present. Only one, the freedombox-setup package, is missing. To try to build your own boot image to test the current status, fetch the freedom-maker scripts and build using vmdebootstrap with a user with sudo access to become root:

git clone \
sudo apt-get install git vmdebootstrap mercurial python-docutils \
  mktorrent extlinux virtualbox qemu-user-static binfmt-support \
make -C freedom-maker dreamplug-image raspberry-image virtualbox-image

Root access is needed to run debootstrap and mount loopback devices. See the README for more details on the build. If you do not want all three images, trim the make line. But note that thanks to a race condition in vmdebootstrap, the build might fail without the patch to the kpartx call.

If you instead want to install using a Debian CD and the preseed method, boot a Debian Wheezy ISO and use this boot argument to load the preseed values:


But note that due to a recently introduced bug in apt in Jessie, the installer will currently hang while setting up APT sources. Killing the 'apt-cdrom ident' process when it hang a few times during the installation will get the installation going. This affect all installations in Jessie, and I expect it will be fixed soon.

Give it a go and let us know how it goes on the mailing list, and help us get the new release published. :) Please join us on IRC (#freedombox on and the mailing list if you want to help make this vision come true.

Tags: debian, english, freedombox, sikkerhet, surveillance, web.
Teaching vmdebootstrap to create Raspberry Pi SD card images
27th October 2013

The vmdebootstrap program is a a very nice system to create virtual machine images. It create a image file, add a partition table, mount it and run debootstrap in the mounted directory to create a Debian system on a stick. Yesterday, I decided to try to teach it how to make images for Raspberry Pi, as part of a plan to simplify the build system for the FreedomBox project. The FreedomBox project already uses vmdebootstrap for the virtualbox images, but its current build system made multistrap based system for Dreamplug images, and it is lacking support for Raspberry Pi.

Armed with the knowledge on how to build "foreign" (aka non-native architecture) chroots for Raspberry Pi, I dived into the vmdebootstrap code and adjusted it to be able to build armel images on my amd64 Debian laptop. I ended up giving vmdebootstrap five new options, allowing me to replicate the image creation process I use to make Debian Jessie based mesh node images for the Raspberry Pi. First, the --foreign /path/to/binfm_handler option tell vmdebootstrap to call debootstrap with --foreign and to copy the handler into the generated chroot before running the second stage. This allow vmdebootstrap to create armel images on an amd64 host. Next I added two new options --bootsize size and --boottype fstype to teach it to create a separate /boot/ partition with the given file system type, allowing me to create an image with a vfat partition for the /boot/ stuff. I also added a --variant variant option to allow me to create smaller images without the Debian base system packages installed. Finally, I added an option --no-extlinux to tell vmdebootstrap to not install extlinux as a boot loader. It is not needed on the Raspberry Pi and probably most other non-x86 architectures. The changes were accepted by the upstream author of vmdebootstrap yesterday and today, and is now available from the upstream project page.

To use it to build a Raspberry Pi image using Debian Jessie, first create a small script (the customize script) to add the non-free binary blob needed to boot the Raspberry Pi and the APT source list:

set -e # Exit on first error
cd "$rootdir"
cat <<EOF > etc/apt/sources.list
deb jessie main contrib non-free
# Install non-free binary blob needed to boot Raspberry Pi.  This
# install a kernel somewhere too.
wget \
    -O $rootdir/usr/bin/rpi-update
chmod a+x $rootdir/usr/bin/rpi-update
mkdir -p $rootdir/lib/modules
touch $rootdir/boot/start.elf
chroot $rootdir rpi-update

Next, fetch the latest vmdebootstrap script and call it like this to build the image:

sudo ./vmdebootstrap \
    --variant minbase \
    --arch armel \
    --distribution jessie \
    --mirror \
    --image test.img \
    --size 600M \
    --bootsize 64M \
    --boottype vfat \
    --log-level debug \
    --verbose \
    --no-kernel \
    --no-extlinux \
    --root-password raspberry \
    --hostname raspberrypi \
    --foreign /usr/bin/qemu-arm-static \
    --customize `pwd`/customize \
    --package netbase \
    --package git-core \
    --package binutils \
    --package ca-certificates \
    --package wget \
    --package kmod

The list of packages being installed are the ones needed by rpi-update to make the image bootable on the Raspberry Pi, with the exception of netbase, which is needed by debootstrap to find /etc/hosts with the minbase variant. I really wish there was a way to set up an Raspberry Pi using only packages in the Debian archive, but that is not possible as far as I know, because it boots from the GPU using a non-free binary blob.

The build host need debootstrap, kpartx and qemu-user-static and probably a few others installed. I have not checked the complete build dependency list.

The resulting image will not use the hardware floating point unit on the Raspberry PI, because the armel architecture in Debian is not optimized for that use. So the images created will be a bit slower than Raspbian based images.

Tags: debian, english, freedombox, mesh network.
A Raspberry Pi based batman-adv Mesh network node
21st October 2013

The last few days I have been experimenting with the batman-adv mesh technology. I want to gain some experience to see if it will fit the Freedombox project, and together with my neighbors try to build a mesh network around the park where I live. Batman-adv is a layer 2 mesh system ("ethernet" in other words), where the mesh network appear as if all the mesh clients are connected to the same switch.

My hardware of choice was the Linksys WRT54GL routers I had lying around, but I've been unable to get them working with batman-adv. So instead, I started playing with a Raspberry Pi, and tried to get it working as a mesh node. My idea is to use it to create a mesh node which function as a switch port, where everything connected to the Raspberry Pi ethernet plug is connected (bridged) to the mesh network. This allow me to hook a wifi base station like the Linksys WRT54GL to the mesh by plugging it into a Raspberry Pi, and allow non-mesh clients to hook up to the mesh. This in turn is useful for Android phones using the Serval Project voip client, allowing every one around the playground to phone and message each other for free. The reason is that Android phones do not see ad-hoc wifi networks (they are filtered away from the GUI view), and can not join the mesh without being rooted. But if they are connected using a normal wifi base station, they can talk to every client on the local network.

To get this working, I've created a debian package meshfx-node and a script build-rpi-mesh-node to create the Raspberry Pi boot image. I'm using Debian Jessie (and not Raspbian), to get more control over the packages available. Unfortunately a huge binary blob need to be inserted into the boot image to get it booting, but I'll ignore that for now. Also, as Debian lack support for the CPU features available in the Raspberry Pi, the system do not use the hardware floating point unit. I hope the routing performance isn't affected by the lack of hardware FPU support.

To create an image, run the following with a sudo enabled user after inserting the target SD card into the build machine:

% wget -O build-rpi-mesh-node \
% sudo bash -x ./build-rpi-mesh-node > build.log 2>&1
% dd if=/root/rpi/rpi_basic_jessie_$(date +%Y%m%d).img of=/dev/mmcblk0 bs=1M

Booting with the resulting SD card on a Raspberry PI with a USB wifi card inserted should give you a mesh node. At least it does for me with a the wifi card I am using. The default mesh settings are the ones used by the Oslo mesh project at Hackeriet, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post about this mesh testing.

The mesh node was not horribly expensive either. I bought everything over the counter in shops nearby. If I had ordered online from the lowest bidder, the price should be significantly lower:

TeknikkmagasinetRaspberry Pi model B349.90
TeknikkmagasinetRaspberry Pi type B case99.90
LefdalJensen Air:Link 25150295.-
Clas OhlsonKingston 16 GB SD card199.-
Total cost943.80

Now my mesh network at home consist of one laptop in the basement connected to my production network, one Raspberry Pi node on the 1th floor that can be seen by my neighbor across the park, and one play-node I use to develop the image building script. And some times I hook up my work horse laptop to the mesh to test it. I look forward to figuring out what kind of latency the batman-adv setup will give, and how much packet loss we will experience around the park. :)

Tags: english, freedombox, mesh network, nuug.
Oslo community mesh network - with NUUG and Hackeriet at Hausmania
11th October 2013

Wireless mesh networks are self organising and self healing networks that can be used to connect computers across small and large areas, depending on the radio technology used. Normal wifi equipment can be used to create home made radio networks, and there are several successful examples like Freifunk and Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network (see wikipedia for a large list) around the globe. To give you an idea how it work, check out the nice overview of the Kiel Freifunk community which can be seen from their dynamically updated node graph and map, where one can see how the mesh nodes automatically handle routing and recover from nodes disappearing. There is also a small community mesh network group in Oslo, Norway, and that is the main topic of this blog post.

I've wanted to check out mesh networks for a while now, and hoped to do it as part of my involvement with the NUUG member organisation community, and my recent involvement in the Freedombox project finally lead me to give mesh networks some priority, as I suspect a Freedombox should use mesh networks to connect neighbours and family when possible, given that most communication between people are between those nearby (as shown for example by research on Facebook communication patterns). It also allow people to communicate without any central hub to tap into for those that want to listen in on the private communication of citizens, which have become more and more important over the years.

So far I have only been able to find one group of people in Oslo working on community mesh networks, over at the hack space Hackeriet at Husmania. They seem to have started with some Freifunk based effort using OLSR, called the Oslo Freifunk project, but that effort is now dead and the people behind it have moved on to a batman-adv based system called meshfx. Unfortunately the wiki site for the Oslo Freifunk project is no longer possible to update to reflect this fact, so the old project page can't be updated to point to the new project. A while back, the people at Hackeriet invited people from the Freifunk community to Oslo to talk about mesh networks. I came across this video where Hans Jørgen Lysglimt interview the speakers about this talk (from youtube):

I mentioned OLSR and batman-adv, which are mesh routing protocols. There are heaps of different protocols, and I am still struggling to figure out which one would be "best" for some definitions of best, but given that the community mesh group in Oslo is so small, I believe it is best to hook up with the existing one instead of trying to create a completely different setup, and thus I have decided to focus on batman-adv for now. It sure help me to know that the very cool Serval project in Australia is using batman-adv as their meshing technology when it create a self organizing and self healing telephony system for disaster areas and less industrialized communities. Check out this cool video presenting that project (from youtube):

According to the wikipedia page on Wireless mesh network there are around 70 competing schemes for routing packets across mesh networks, and OLSR, B.A.T.M.A.N. and B.A.T.M.A.N. advanced are protocols used by several free software based community mesh networks.

The batman-adv protocol is a bit special, as it provide layer 2 (as in ethernet ) routing, allowing ipv4 and ipv6 to work on the same network. One way to think about it is that it provide a mesh based vlan you can bridge to or handle like any other vlan connected to your computer. The required drivers are already in the Linux kernel at least since Debian Wheezy, and it is fairly easy to set up. A good introduction is available from the Open Mesh project. These are the key settings needed to join the Oslo meshfx network:

Protocol / kernel modulebatman-adv
Channel / Frequency11 / 2462
Cell ID02:BA:00:00:00:01

The reason for setting ad-hoc wifi Cell ID is to work around bugs in firmware used in wifi card and wifi drivers. (See a nice post from VillageTelco about "Information about cell-id splitting, stuck beacons, and failed IBSS merges! for details.) When these settings are activated and you have some other mesh node nearby, your computer will be connected to the mesh network and can communicate with any mesh node that is connected to any of the nodes in your network of nodes. :)

My initial plan was to reuse my old Linksys WRT54GL as a mesh node, but that seem to be very hard, as I have not been able to locate a firmware supporting batman-adv. If anyone know how to use that old wifi access point with batman-adv these days, please let me know.

If you find this project interesting and want to join, please join us on IRC, either channel #oslohackerspace or #nuug on

While investigating mesh networks in Oslo, I came across an old research paper from the university of Stavanger and Telenor Research and Innovation called The reliability of wireless backhaul mesh networks and elsewhere learned that Telenor have been experimenting with mesh networks at Grünerløkka in Oslo. So mesh networks are also interesting for commercial companies, even though Telenor discovered that it was hard to figure out a good business plan for mesh networking and as far as I know have closed down the experiment. Perhaps Telenor or others would be interested in a cooperation?

Update 2013-10-12: I was just told by the Serval project developers that they no longer use batman-adv (but are compatible with it), but their own crypto based mesh system.

Tags: english, freedombox, mesh network, nuug.
Videos about the Freedombox project - for inspiration and learning
27th September 2013

The Freedombox project have been going on for a while, and have presented the vision, ideas and solution several places. Here is a little collection of videos of talks and presentation of the project.

A larger list is available from the Freedombox Wiki.

On other news, I am happy to report that Freedombox based on Debian Jessie is coming along quite well, and soon both Owncloud and using Tor should be available for testers of the Freedombox solution. :) In a few weeks I hope everything needed to test it is included in Debian. The withsqlite package is already in Debian, and the plinth package is pending in NEW. The third and vital part of that puzzle is the metapackage/setup framework, which is still pending an upload. Join us on IRC (#freedombox on and the mailing list if you want to help make this vision come true.

Tags: debian, english, freedombox, sikkerhet, surveillance, web.
Recipe to test the Freedombox project on amd64 or Raspberry Pi
10th September 2013

I was introduced to the Freedombox project in 2010, when Eben Moglen presented his vision about serving the need of non-technical people to keep their personal information private and within the legal protection of their own homes. The idea is to give people back the power over their network and machines, and return Internet back to its intended peer-to-peer architecture. Instead of depending on a central service, the Freedombox will give everyone control over their own basic infrastructure.

I've intended to join the effort since then, but other tasks have taken priority. But this summers nasty news about the misuse of trust and privilege exercised by the "western" intelligence gathering communities increased my eagerness to contribute to a point where I actually started working on the project a while back.

The initial Debian initiative based on the vision from Eben Moglen, is to create a simple and cheap Debian based appliance that anyone can hook up in their home and get access to secure and private services and communication. The initial deployment platform have been the Dreamplug, which is a piece of hardware I do not own. So to be able to test what the current Freedombox setup look like, I had to come up with a way to install it on some hardware I do have access to. I have rewritten the freedom-maker image build framework to use .deb packages instead of only copying setup into the boot images, and thanks to this rewrite I am able to set up any machine supported by Debian Wheezy as a Freedombox, using the previously mentioned deb (and a few support debs for packages missing in Debian).

The current Freedombox setup consist of a set of bootstrapping scripts (freedombox-setup), and a administrative web interface (plinth + exmachina + withsqlite), as well as a privacy enhancing proxy based on privoxy (freedombox-privoxy). There is also a web/javascript based XMPP client (jwchat) trying (unsuccessfully so far) to talk to the XMPP server (ejabberd). The web interface is pluggable, and the goal is to use it to enable OpenID services, mesh network connectivity, use of TOR, etc, etc. Not much of this is really working yet, see the project TODO for links to GIT repositories. Most of the code is on github at the moment. The HTTP proxy is operational out of the box, and the admin web interface can be used to add/remove plinth users. I've not been able to do anything else with it so far, but know there are several branches spread around github and other places with lots of half baked features.

Anyway, if you want to have a look at the current state, the following recipes should work to give you a test machine to poke at.

Debian Wheezy amd64

  1. Fetch normal Debian Wheezy installation ISO.
  2. Boot from it, either as CD or USB stick.
  3. Press [tab] on the boot prompt and add this as a boot argument to the Debian installer:

  4. Answer the few language/region/password questions and pick disk to install on.
  5. When the installation is finished and the machine have rebooted a few times, your Freedombox is ready for testing.

Raspberry Pi Raspbian

  1. Fetch a Raspbian SD card image, create SD card.
  2. Boot from SD card, extend file system to fill the card completely.
  3. Log in and add this to /etc/sources.list:

    deb wheezy main
  4. Run this as root:

    wget -O - | \
       apt-key add -
    apt-get update
    apt-get install freedombox-setup
  5. Reboot into your freshly created Freedombox.

You can test it on other architectures too, but because the freedombox-privoxy package is binary, it will only work as intended on the architectures where I have had time to build the binary and put it in my APT repository. But do not let this stop you. It is only a short "apt-get source -b freedombox-privoxy" away. :)

Note that by default Freedombox is a DHCP server on the subnet, so if this is your subnet be careful and turn off the DHCP server by running "update-rc.d isc-dhcp-server disable" as root.

Please let me know if this works for you, or if you have any problems. We gather on the IRC channel #freedombox on and the project mailing list.

Once you get your freedombox operational, you can visit http://your-host-name:8001/ to see the state of the plint welcome screen (dead end - do not be surprised if you are unable to get past it), and next visit http://your-host-name:8001/help/ to look at the rest of plinth. The default user is 'admin' and the default password is 'secret'.

Tags: debian, english, freedombox, sikkerhet, surveillance, web.

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