Open source malware is actually a possibility

For a long time we’ve assumed that, if the software that we use is open source, we’re safe from malware. It was too difficult, and the reward was too small compared to traditional forms of distributing malware. But as open source software is gaining popularity, and more and more single-handed projects are popping up, this may not be true anymore. Today, it would in fact be feasible for an open source trojan to exist, which disguises malware inside another, seemingly innocent and presumably useful enough to be attractive, application. And why has this really become so much easier? Because users and developers alike don’t pay enough attention to the code they’re running.

Why do we assume that open source software is safe?

Let’s start with why we naturally assume that open source software is safe and free from malware:

  • The code is written by a team of independent developers. If one developer tries to slip malware into a project, it’ll be caught by the other developers.
  • The code is publicly available, meaning that if there was malware hidden within it someone would find it.
  • If malware is hidden in some open source code and someone does find it, the code can be traced back to the developer who wrote and distributed it. Most developers don’t want to take that risk.
  • The code is reviewed by the package maintainers of popular Linux distributions before they compile it to produce packages for their users. If there is any malware hidden in the code, they should find it.

Unfortunately, these all rely on one assumption: people actually read the code. There are a number of other reasons why these points don’t necessarily apply, though, so let’s look at them in turn and see how an open source trojan could actually exist.Read More »


Audio Game Hub game review

I received a response from my review of A Blind Legend asking me to take a look at another audio game, Audio Game Hub available for iOS, Android, and Microsoft Windows (from the official website). This game has a somewhat confusing name and when I first received the request I wasn’t sure if I was being asked to review a game or an app/website that collects a list of audio games (which, by the way, does exist); the app is in fact a collection of eight arcade-style games adapted for playing by sound.

Although it’s been a long time since I played A Blind Legend and, consequent to my BIID going away, I no longer have much of a personal interest in audio games, I nevertheless decided to take a look (figuratively speaking) at the Android version. I’ve played each of the eight games and while I’m not going to give a full review for each there are some general aspects that I would like to comment on.Read More »

Blind in Minecraft

Minecraft: The game which gives you a parallel world modelled after the real world, but where you can build whatever you want, do whatever you want, and run your life whatever way you want. You’ve got a world that works in a similar way to the real world – you still need to find food, build shelter, and even buy and sell goods in villages – but with the freedom to develop the world and live in it however you want. You can settle on the plains and build a ranch with some crops and animals and a stable for your horses, or you can hollow-out a fully-automated food and materials production plant underneath a jungle. You can tend to your animals when you feel like it, and afterwards you can stay up all night fighting monsters (if that’s your thing) or you can head into your house and put some music on while you craft new tools or you can settle into bed for the night and wake up fresh and ready to go exploring the next morning. And with a game like this, it’s natural that I’m going to pretend to be blind in the virtual world as well as the real world – after all, I can do so whenever I want!

While Minecraft isn’t accessible to blind gamers, there is a way to greatly reduce your vision in Minecraft and play as a blind character in the game (or one who is pretending to be blind). I’ve added this to my main survival world, and enjoy spending whole days or more blind in Minecraft, just like in real life! In this post, I’ll explain the mechanism behind this and how to do it yourself.Read More »

Another look at A Blind Legend

I wrote a review a few months ago of the recently-released “A Blind Legend” audio-only game for mobile devices. When I wrote the review, I had only played the game for half an hour or so, and already I was impressed with the quality of the 3D audio and the gameplay looked promising, but I wanted to come back after I’d played the game and take a more in-depth look at the gameplay itself. That review has received a lot of views on my blog, so here’s the follow-up.Read More »

A Blind Legend game review

Sometime during the first half of last year, I came across a new video game being developed for iOS, Android, and more recently Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X (the desktop versions were not available at the time of writing so please note that this review focuses on the mobile versions only). Unlike almost every other video game, it was intended to be played using sound only, making it accessible to blind players. Furthermore, the main character in the game – and the character which the player plays as – is in fact blind, and as someone with an interest in technology, an interest in accessible software for the blind, and considerable experience with pretending to be blind in real life, I was very interested in the game and intended to play it as soon as it was released, which was supposed to be some time in October last year. It was released, I believe, on time, although it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally got round to downloading it, and only this morning did I get a chance to play the first few scenes.

I’d like to start off by saying that the game is as impressive as I was hoping it would be. The environments and game play feel incredibly realistic and immersive, and the player gets into the first-person role quite quickly. This is one game that you’ll definitely want to have plenty of time to try out.Read More »

Building a custom Debian system, part 3

This is the third and final part of a three-part tutorial on setting up a customised Debian system. In this part, you can get an overview of some of the customisation options available, and step-by-step instructions for setting up some common basic configurations. The previous part walked through installing the base system that you will be working from in this part, and the first part explained how to choose and download an installation image for installing the base system.Read More »

Building a custom Debian system, part 1

I wrote a few days ago about the advantages of building a Debian-based system from scratch. Now I’m going to explain how to do this. Remember that, while this isn’t the most complicated thing to do, it takes a fairly solid knowledge of how a Linux system is structured and how the apt package manager works, so if you’re just looking to try out another desktop environment then this isn’t for you. If you have a solid idea of exactly what you want in a Linux system, but you can’t find a distro that doesn’t need considerable hacking up to get it to work the way you want it to, then this may well be the right choice.

This is the first part of a three-part tutorial. It covers downloading, preparing, and booting the installation image. The next part will walk you through the installation process, and the final part will cover the range of customisation options available after installation.Read More »

Custom Debian systems

Ever set up a new Ubuntu installation only to then attempt to remove most of the installed packages? I have, when I wanted to put a small, fast-to-boot, command-line only live Linux system on the backup hard drives to facilitate backing up the computer without an optical drive. And it was a real pain, because I pretty soon had a broken Ubuntu system which nevertheless had a lot of clutter left behind from packages that I didn’t even know were there until I removed a dependency thereof. Fortunately I gave up on trying to “slim down” an Ubuntu system and turned to Google for an answer.

This should have been much easier to find, but it wasn’t, and that’s why I’m posting it here: Debian. Debian live, to be precise. Yes, unless you specifically choose a version that includes a graphical desktop, you get just a basic command-line interface with a number – but not an excessive number – of common Linux tools included. Exactly what I needed.

But the real power of this “base” Debian system is not how little software comes pre-installed, but rather how much software is available. You’ve got the full Debian package repositories available – the same repositories that projects such as Ubuntu are based off of – and combined with the slim system that you get either in the live environment or after installation, you’ll be building up your perfect system from modular blocks rather than stripping it down from a pile of bloat.Read More »

Most accessible: Ubuntu MATE

Yes, that’s right. The most accessible Linux distro that I’ve used so far is not Vinux, a purpose-built Ubuntu remix designed for blind users. Neither is it the standard Ubuntu with the Unity desktop environment. It’s Ubuntu MATE.

But why? Well, let’s start with standard Ubuntu. The Orca screenreader works out of the box and is easily launched with a simple keyboard combination (alt+winkey+s for those who are interested), and pretty much all of the installed software works nicely with it, including LibreOffice which relies on a bridge between Java and the Linux ATK framework for Orca to work with it. The only thing which doesn’t work nicely with the screenreader is… the desktop itself. Switching between multiple windows of the same application in the Unity desktop environment ideally requires one to see the thumbnails of the windows. Pinning and rearranging items in the launcher is impossible without the mouse (or at least so difficult that even I can’t figure it out). Let’s not even mention the dash – it crashed the screenreader every time I tried it.

Now I’ll tell you a secret about Vinux: it’s really just Ubuntu under a different name. You’d think that it’s been “tweaked” a little to make it more accessible – in fact that’s what they claim on their website – but actually it hasn’t. Short of being configured with a different wallpaper and login sound, a larger mouse pointer, and a screenreader that starts up by default rather than by pressing a key combination, there’s pretty much no difference between Vinux and Ubuntu. It’s got the same Unity desktop environment with the same accessibility issues as standard Ubuntu. Furthermore, for some reason LibreOffice isn’t installed by default and it doesn’t work with the screenreader when one installs it from the package repositories – the latter of which are almost completely broken due to numerous mis-matched package versions which prevent apt from installing additional packages that depend on them. In short, Vinux is a hacked-up Ubuntu system that doesn’t offer any genuine advantage in terms of accessibility for blind users.Read More »