Encryption is vital

June 7th, 2017 by

We refuse to bid for government IT work because we can’t handle the incompetence.

At Mythic Beasts we make use of free secure encryption all the time. Like all powerful tools such as roads, trains, aeroplanes, GPS navigation, computers, kitchen knives, vans and Casio watches; things that are very useful for day to day life are also useful for criminals and terrorists. It’s very popular for our politicians and the Home Office, especially our current prime minister King Canute Theresa May and leader of The Thick Party, to suggest that fully secure encryption should be banned and replaced with a weaker version that will reveal all of your secrets but only to the UK security services.

We disagree and think this is a terrible idea. There’s the basic technical objection that a backdoor is a backdoor and keeping knowledge of the backdoor secret is essentially impossible. There’s a recent practical demonstration of this: the NSA knew of an accidental backdoor in Windows and kept it secret.  It was leaked, resulting in the thankfully not very effective WannaCry virus which disabled substantial fractions of the NHS. The government is very good at scope creep: the Food Standards Agency refused to disclose why it needs the power to demand your entire internet history. We think it fundamentally wrong that MPs excluded themselves from the Investigatory Powers act. Then there’s simple commercial objections: it’s a slight commercial disadvantage if every UK product has an ‘Insecure By Order of The Home Office’ sticker on the front when your foreign competitors products don’t.

However, Mathematics does not care what our politicians wish and refuses to change according to their desires. Strong cryptography is free, available on every computer, and can be given away on the front of a magazine. Taking away secure cryptography is going to involve dragging a playstation out of your teenagers’ hands, quite literally stealing from children. Of course secure communications will still be available to any criminal who can illegally access some dice and a pencil.

It’s a good job you can’t build encryption machines with childrens toys.

At Mythic Beasts we make extensive use of open source free cryptography. OpenSSH protects our administrative access to the servers we run and the customers we manage. OpenSSL protects all our secure web downloads, including last month’s million or so copies of Raspbian ensuring that children with a Raspberry Pi don’t have their computer compromised. We make extensive use of free certificates through Let’s Encrypt and we’ve deployed tens of thousands of upgraded packages to customers which are securely verified by GnuPG.

Without these projects, vast quantities of the internet would be insecure. So we’ve made donations to OpenSSH, GnuPG and Let’s Encrypt to support their ongoing work. We’d like to donate to OpenSSL but we can’t see easily how to pay from a UK bank account.

Cambridge Beer Festival, Raspberry Pi powered Apps for Beer

May 22nd, 2017 by

We drew the architecture diagram for the beer festival on a beer mat.

Today marks the first day of the Cambridge Beer Festival, the longest running CAMRA beer festival, one of the largest beer festivals in the UK and in our obviously correct opinion, by far the best. Not only have we run the web back-end for many Cambridge CAMRA websites for many years, this year we’ve been involved with Cambridge App Solutions who run the iPhone Beer Festival App. They’d been having some trouble with their existing hosting provider for the back-end. In frustration they moved it to their Cloud Raspberry Pi which worked rather better. They then suggested that we keep the production service on the Raspberry Pi, despite it being a beta service.

Preparing for production

We’ve set up all our management services for the hosted Pi in question, including 24/7 monitoring and performance graphing. We then met up with Craig, their director in the pub to discuss the app prior to launch. The Pi 3 is fronted by CloudFlare who provide SSL. However, the connection to the Pi3 from Cloudflare was initially unencrypted. We took Craig through our SSL on a Raspberry Pi hosting guide and about a minute later we had a free Let’s Encrypt certificate to enable full end-to-end data security.



The iPhone app that runs the Cambridge Beer Festival (also found at Belfast and Leestock)


The iPhone Beer Festival App tracks which beers are available and the ratings for how good they are. Availability is officially provided, ratings are crowd sourced.  The app is continuously talking to the back end to keep the in app data up to date. All this data is stored and served from the Raspberry Pi 3 in the cloud.


The festival also has some Estimote beacons for proximity sensing which use Bluetooth Low Energy to provide precise location data to the phone. On entry to the beer festival the app wakes up and sends a hello message.

One click HTTPS + HSTS

March 27th, 2017 by

Last year we rolled out one-click HTTPS hosting for our hosting accounts using free Let’s Encrypt certificates.  We’ve been making some further improvements to our control panel so that once you have enabled and tested HTTPS hosting, it’s also easy to redirect all HTTP traffic to your HTTPS site.

We’ve also added an option to enable HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS).  This allows you to use HTTPS on your website and commit that you’re not going to stop using it any time soon (we use 14 days by default).  Once a user has visited your site their browser will cache the redirect from HTTP to HTTPS and will automatically redirect any future requests without even visiting the HTTP version of your site.

HSTS makes it harder for an attacker to impersonate your site as even if they can intercept your traffic, they won’t be able to present an non-HTTPS version of your site to any user that has visited your site within the last 14 days.

HTTPS and HSTS control panel settings

We believe that the web should be secure by default, and hope that these latest changes will make it that little bit easier to secure your website.  These features are available on all of our web and email hosting accounts.  We’ll also happily enable this as part of the service for customer of our managed server hosting.


DNSSEC now in use by Raspberry Pi

May 12th, 2016 by

Over the past twelve months we’ve implemented Domain Name Security Extensions, initially by allowing the necessary records to be set with the domain registries, and then in the form of a managed service which sets the records, signs the zone files, and takes care of regular key rotation

Our beta program has been very successful, lots of domains now have DNSSEC and we’ve seen very few issues. We thought that we should do some wider testing with a larger number of users than our own website, so we asked some friends of ours with a busy website if they felt brave enough to give it a go

Eben Upton> I think this would be worth doing.
Ben Nuttall> I'll go ahead and click the green button for each domain.
-- time passes --
Ben Nuttall> Done - for all that use HTTPS.

So now we have this lovely graph that indicates we’ve secured DNS all the way down the chain for every request. Mail servers know for definite they have the correct address to deliver mail to, Web requests know they’re at the correct webserver.

The only remaining task is to remove the beta label in our control panel.

Raspberry Pi DNSSEC visualisation, click for interactive version

Raspberry Pi DNSSEC visualisation, click for interactive version

Let’s Encrypt IPv6-only

April 18th, 2016 by

Let’s Encrypt on a v6-only host

One of the much requested features for Let’s Encrypt free SSL certificates is support for IPv6-only hosts. Whilst this is promised in the very near future we’re happy to say that IPv6-only hosts behind our NAT64 & Proxy services work out of the box with Let’s Encrypt.

To test it we took the traditional dogfood approach, this website is run on an IPv6-only VM and we’ve just enabled Lets Enrypt SSL support on our own blog. As soon as Let’s Encrypt offer SSL certificates for IPV6-only hosts with no proxy and no NAT64 we’ll give that a try too.

DNS-based domain validation (dns-01)

An alternative approach would be to use dns-01 validation using our DNS API. Our API speaks native v6, so that should work just fine on a truly single-stack IPv6 host.

Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates using DNS API – HOWTO

March 16th, 2016 by

Here at Mythic Beasts, we’ve been busily undermining sales of our SSL certificates by rolling out support for free certificates from Let’s Encrypt, partly because we think that the internet should be secure by default, but mostly because we’re lazy and Let’s Encrypt makes it easy to fully automate certificate issue and deployment.

Domain validated certificates

The majority of SSL certificates in use today are “Domain Validated” certificates. These are issued automatically by a certificate authority once you have completed some action that proves that you are in control of the domain for which the certificate is being requested. This can include responding to an email send to an address at your domain, or posting a file to a specific location on your website.

Let’s Encrypt DNS challenge

One of the options for validation offered by Let’s Encrypt is a DNS challenge (known as “dns-01”), whereby you prove ownership of your domain by adding a specific entry to its DNS zone. This option is quite interesting, as it allows you to avoid meddling in any way with your web server configuration and, if your DNS is hosted with Mythic Beasts, you can automate the addition of the necessary records using our DNS API.

Automating via our DNS API

In order to support this, we’ve developed a hook script that works with the letsencrypt.sh client.

We’ve also written a step-by-step guide to configuring dns-01 validation using our DNS API.

Please note, if you’re a hosting account customer, you don’t need to worry about any of this. You can get an SSL certificate for your website simply by hitting a button in the control panel.

Thanks go to David Earl for testing this and providing the initial implementation of the hook script..

One-click DNSSEC – public beta

March 4th, 2016 by

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re now pleased to announce that we’ve got DNSSEC support in public beta, and you can enable it for your domain at the click of a button.

What is DNSSEC?

DNSSEC is a set of extensions to the DNS protocol that ensures that you can trust the IP addresses that you get back from the DNS system. For example, if you visit www.yourbank.com, the first thing that happens is that your browser uses a DNS server to find out the IP address of your bank’s web server. But how do you know that you can trust the address that you get back? Your request will probably get bounced through multiple DNS servers, such as your home router, your ISPs servers, and finally the authoritative server for the domain. If any one of those gets compromised (and let’s face it, home routers have a terrible security record) it could easily insert a different IP address and direct your request to an entirely different server.

DNSSEC means that all responses are signed with encryption keys that have been lodged with the registry, so you can’t inject bogus responses just by compromising an intermediate server.  Of course, the system only works if the systems making the requests check the signatures of the responses that they receive, something which certainly doesn’t happen everywhere yet.

Sounds complicated?

Yes it is, particularly as it is recommended that the encryption keys that you use are changed (or “rotated”) regularly. Fortunately, we’ve now automated all the hard stuff, and if you’ve got your domain registration and DNS hosting with Mythic Beasts, you can make DNSSEC go just by hitting a big green button.  We’ll take care of the rest:

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 18.37.29

Unlike some people, we believe that the internet should be a safe place to do business by default, so this service is, and will continue to be, provided at no extra cost.

If you want to try it out, simply visit our control panel, find the domain under “My Domains” and follow the “DNSSEC” link.

Free SSL certificates for hosting accounts

January 29th, 2016 by

Customers with hosting accounts on either yali or onza can now get free SSL certificates for websites, allowing you to have an https version of your website. We’re using the Let’s Encrypt certificate authority to provide the certificates.

To get a certificate and enable https hosting for your site, simply press the button in the control panel, and within 5 minutes you should have a working https site.  You can find the option under “Web and Email Hosting“.

Free SSL at the press of a button

Free SSL at the press of a button

Let’s Encrypt certificates have a short expiry period, but we will take care of automatically renewing them for you.

Why use HTTPS/SSL?

Using SSL on your website means that traffic between our server and your user’s computers is encrypted and can’t be intercepted (despite David Cameron’s desires).  It allows browsers to guarantee that they are indeed talking to the website shown in the address bar, even if they are using an untrusted network connection.  Even if you don’t view the security aspects as a benefit, Google have previously announced that they will boost the page ranking of SSL-enabled sites.

Sphinx accounts

Unfortunately, this service is not yet available to customers on our sphinx server.  We are working on that, and will have it enabled in the near future.

iOS 9 and SSL

September 28th, 2015 by
We're still installing iOS9 for testing reasons onto this Apple Device

We’re still installing iOS9 for testing reasons onto this Apple Device

tl;dr iOS9 applications only work with the newest SHA-256 certificates. If your iOS9 application or website is showing certificate errors and you’d like some help, contact support@mythic-beasts.com

iOS9 was recently released which brings a number of changes. In addition to the widely publicised changes about IPv6 (iOS9 prefers IPv6 and all applications in the App Store must function without issue on an IPv6 only network), Apple has forced obsolescence of older types of SSL certificate.

SSL certificates use hashing functions to provide security. The Secure Hash Algorithm 1 (SHA-1), was published by the NSA in 1995 as the standard for secure authentication. The first theoretical attacks were shown in 2005 leading to a recommendation in 2010 that we abandon SHA-1 and move to SHA-256. In 2014 Google put a sunset date for SHA-1 of December 2016 – if your website trusts an SHA-1 certificate past this date Chrome refuses to regard your site as secure.

With iOS9, Apple pulled the date at which everyday software stops working with SHA-1 forward. If your website or application is secured with a SHA-1 certificate, iOS9 gives warnings and errors. The fix is easy, we can provide or re-issue your existing certificate with an iOS9 compatible – and more importantly more secure – SHA-256 certificate.

OpenSSL release due

July 8th, 2015 by

If you read security lists, you will already be aware that we’re expecting a new release of OpenSSL tomorrow to fix a high severity vulnerability.

We will be reviewing the details as soon as the vulnerability is released, and will be patching the affected servers shortly after the updated packages are released, if necessary we will be contacting customer to reissue keys as we did after the now infamous Heartbleed vulnerability.

If you have any questions, or would like to upgrade to a manged service so we catch these kinds of issues for you, you can contact us at support@mythic-beasts.com.