Les terminaux sont ils le maillon faible de l’ouverture d’internet ?

Les terminaux font aujourd’hui partie de la vie quotidienne de millions d’utilisateurs, au travers d’appareils de différents formats et en particulier d’appareils mobiles de type smartphone, tablette ou d’ordinateurs portables. Ces appareils ont permis de numériser bon nombre d’aspects de la vie, qu’il s’agisse des communications entre les individus ou la capture, le stockage et l’échange d’informations. Ces appareils disposent en effet de nombreuses entrées/sorties permettant de capter et d’interagir avec l’environnement, en récoltant et en stockant une très grande quantité de données tout au long de chaque journée. Ces données sont très largement stockées au sein d’infrastructures de stockage de différentes entreprises, le plus souvent des multinationales Américaines.

Ces appareils se caractérisent donc par une grande capacité à interagir avec les différents aspects du quotidien et une connectivité accrue permettant la communication et le partage de données, mais également par l’accès à de nombreux contenus et services en ligne. En effet, ces terminaux sont les passerelles d’accès pour l’accès rapide au web et à différents types de services, qui génèrent un grand nombre de méta-données et forment en cela une empreinte numérique de l’utilisateur, qui permettra son identification fine. Ces procédés d’identification sont par ailleurs connus pour être mis en œuvre par de nombreuses agences de renseignement.

Les utilisateurs peuvent donc légitimement se poser la question de la confiance qu’ils peuvent accorder à ces terminaux, en particulier du point de vue de leur fonctionnement et agissements réels vis-à-vis des données qu’ils traitent, mais également de leur sécurité, afin de s’assurer que ces données ne sont pas vulnérables et restent effectivement privées. Le contrôle de ces appareils apparaît ainsi comme un élément clef, en ce qu’il permet à l’utilisateur de s’assurer du bon fonctionnement de l’appareil tout au long de son utilisation. Il s’agit pour cela dans un premier temps d’être en mesure d’effectuer des audits du code utilisé sur l’appareil et de pouvoir le modifier et l’exécuter par la suite. Il devient alors possible pour l’utilisateur d’y apporter ses modifications personnelles ou celles de la communauté, de supprimer toute restriction volontaire de fonctionnalité mais aussi d’effectuer des audits de sécurité pour identifier les vulnérabilités et les portes dérobées et d’apporter des corrections indépendamment des constructeurs des appareils qui prennent rarement en charge les appareils de nombreuses années. Il s’agit également par là de garantir l’accès à la connaissance du fonctionnement des appareils, présentant ainsi une opportunité pour étudiants, curieux et passionnés d’étudier et de modifier des logiciels largement utilisés. De plus, la préservation de cette connaissance reste un enjeu pour assurer un certain contrôle à long terme de la technologie, toujours plus présente, de la part de la société toute entière.

Le règlement Européen 2015/2120 prévoit pour les utilisateurs « le droit d’accéder aux informations et aux contenus et de les diffuser, d’utiliser et de fournir des applications et des services et d’utiliser les équipements terminaux de leur choix, ». La question du libre choix du terminal ouvre la porte à la possibilité pour l’utilisateur de pouvoir choisir des terminaux en lesquels ils peuvent avoir confiance, sur lesquels ils ont le contrôle et dont le fonctionnement est connu et largement diffusé. Le projet Replicant s’inscrit tout particulièrement dans cette démarche, en développant un système d’exploitation entièrement composé de logiciels libres, basé sur le code libre d’Android, diffusé par Google. Il s’agit, à partir de cette base libre, de développer les logiciels nécessaires à la prise en charge matérielle de différents appareils mobiles, de manière plus ou moins complète mais avec un minimum de fonctionnalités disponible. Replicant s’inscrit donc au niveau du système d’exploitation, mais les problématiques de la confiance, du contrôle et de la connaissance des appareils concernent plus largement l’ensemble des composants des appareils mobiles. S’il est en général aujourd’hui possible de remplacer le système d’exploitation de ces appareils, la tâche est autrement moins aisée pour d’autres composants critiques tels que les logiciels de démarrage, qui s’exécutent avant le système d’exploitation, mais également les environnements d’exécution de confiance qui s’exécutent pendant toute la durée d’utilisation des appareils avec les privilèges les plus élevés sur l’appareil. Les appareils qui, en plus de présenter une connectivité TCP/IP à l’Internet sont également connectés au réseau GSM disposent d’un composant dédié à cette communication mobile, le baseband ou modem. Tout comme les logiciels cités précédemment, le logiciel qui s’exécute sur ce modem est bien souvent protégé par une signature numérique qui rend impossible sa modification par quiconque ne possède pas la clef privée du fabricant, qu’il ne divulgue pas. Il est ainsi impossible d’exécuter du logiciel libre dans ces cas de figure, n’offrant ainsi jamais à l’utilisateur une véritable confiance, ni de véritable contrôle ou une connaissance complète de son fonctionnement.

De cette façon, on retire du pouvoir aux utilisateurs finaux, qu’il s’agisse d’individus ou d’entreprises intermédiaires qui utilisent et intègrent ces appareils, qui est alors dans les mains du fabricant des appareils. Il s’agit ainsi de consacrer l’union entre le matériel d’une part et le logiciel qui s’exécute sur celui-ci d’autre part. Pour autant, le logiciel se caractérisant comme des instructions pouvant être modifiées, il est une utilisation tout à fait légitime pour l’utilisateur de pouvoir modifier le logiciel s’exécutant sur chacun de ses appareils, qui est par nature dissocié de l’aspect matériel qui permet son exécution. On souhaite donc particulièrement insister sur cette distinction fondamentale, de l’appareil d’une part et du logiciel qu’il exécute d’autre part.

Cette capacité de modifier les logiciels présente par sa nature de nombreuses opportunités d’innovation par la très grande flexibilité qu’elle offre, qui permet l’élaboration d’applications et de services innovants qui sont tout à fait de nature à favoriser l’ouverture d’Internet et le développement de l’activité qui lui est associée.

Contributions to ARCEP work on terminal devices and public consultation

While Replicant is mainly backed by Wolfgang in terms of technical contributions nowadays, Denis and Paul are still active in the project, in other ways.

Over the past few months, we have been working with ARCEP, the independent French governmental agency in charge of regulating telecommunications. The agency is working on evaluating the influence of terminal devices in achieving an open Internet, with a particular focus on mobile device. A first report on this topic was issued at the end of may 2017, based on consultations with various members of the industry as well as non-profits such as FFDN, the federation of non-profit ISPs. This first document presents ARCEP’s approach to the application of EU regulation 2015/2120, that gives users specific rights regarding their choice of terminal devices. It provides an analysis of the various actors involved with terminal devices, making clear distinctions between the hardware, operating system, applications and services.

The EU regulation is however less specific and the articles related to terminals can be interpreted with different scopes:

When accessing the internet, end-users should be free to choose between various types of terminal equipment […].

End-users shall have the right to access and distribute information and content, use and provide applications and services, and use terminal equipment of their choice […].

A narrow understanding would associate the choice of the terminal witch choices made available from the industry, while a broader understanding, that ARCEP is pursuing, also takes in account all the actors involved at every level, including actors from the free software community such as Replicant. This lead the authority to get in touch with us, after members of FFDN kindly put-in a word of recommendation for Replicant.

We attended an initial meeting in Paris in September, where we explained our action at Replicant, the problems we are facing and key elements to shape their understanding. We mentioned that not only the operating system should be considered separately in terms of choice, but also other software components such as the boot software, the privileged execution environment and the modem system, that are also crucial parts of a terminal device that can (and often do) restrict the user.

In November, we attended a workshop with members of the industry, that included Microsoft and Qualcomm among others. We took the occasion to directly question them regarding deliberate choices that are detrimental to users in terms of freedom. It seemed agreed and understood that the ability to load an alternative operating system is a necessity for users and that mistakes were made in the past in that area. However, many of the perspectives presented by the industry were not satisfactory in terms of freedom and privacy/security for end users, especially when it comes to IoT and ISP-provided routers that keep embedding more functionalities. We did not always get answers to our questions, as the representatives that were sitting at the table did not share our technical background and thus sometimes did not fully grasp the reality of the situations at hand.

ARCEP is now organizing a public consultation on the influence of terminal devices on an open Internet, that is presented in a dedicated document. Anyone is welcome to submit a contribution, to share their understanding of what the free choice of terminal devices should entail, either in French or in English. This is an opportunity to send a strong message in favor of free software at all the levels involved in mobile devices: boot software, privileged execution environment (often called TrustZone), operating system, applications and modem system. ARCEP is now organizing a public consultation on the influence of terminal devices on an open Internet, that is presented in a dedicated document. Anyone is welcome to submit a contribution, to share their understanding of what the free choice of terminal devices should entail, either in French or in English. This is an opportunity to send a strong message in favor of free software at all the levels involved in mobile devices: boot software, privileged execution environment (often called TrustZone), operating system, applications and modem system. Replicant will also submit a contribution in this direction, that will be published on the Replicant blog soon.

The consultation is open until the 10th of January 2018 and submissions can be sent to: terminaux@arcep.fr.

Media from 2016 Replicant talks

Various media, including slides and video recordings, from recent talks about Replicant are available on the Replicant wiki Conferences page, including :

Some of these presentations are great ways to get an overview of the freedom and privacy/security issues associated with mobile devices, either in English or French. They also offer an introduction to Replicant within that context. Other presentations cover specific technical aspects related to liberating devices at the lower levels.

Replicant at PSESHSF 2016

Replicant will take part in PSESHSF on Saturday July 2 near Paris, France for both a talk (in French), entitled Replicant : appareils mobiles, logiciels libres et vie privée and a workshop focused on Replicant (but possibly other aspects related to freedom at the lower levels).

The talk will be a great opportunity to learn about freedom and privacy/security in mobile devices. The Replicant workshop will showcase devices running Replicant and will be the occasion to get help installing Replicant, verify the project’s release key or just come by and have a chat!

As usual, we are looking forward to meeting you there!

Coliberator 2016: keynotes and workshops

Replicant will take part in Coliberator, the free software conference organized by Fundația Ceata in Bucharest, Romania on June 4-5 2016. Fundația Ceata is the Romanian foundation for Free Software and Free Culture, that proposed to host both a keynote and a workshop about Replicant at Coliberator this year. The keynote will be a great opportunity to learn about freedom and privacy/security in mobile devices. The Replicant workshop will showcase devices running Replicant and will be the occasion to get help installing Replicant, verify the project’s release key or just come by and have a chat! The Tehnoetic team will also take part in the workshop, with Replicant devices available for sale and more!

Scheduling details are still being worked out by the organization team and will be available soon. Either way, note that a GNU Libreboot keynote and workshop will be held as well during Coliberator. This year’s edition of the conference will thus highlight freedom at the lower levels in various ways! Note that Coliberator is organized by the Ceata team from small individual donations, so any contribution to fund the conference is welcome!

As usual, we are looking forward to meeting you there!

Replicant at FOSDEM 2016

Just like previous years, Replicant will be at FOSDEM, during the last weekend of January in Brussels, Belgium.

A lightning talk about the road to liberating software at the lower levels will be given at 18:40 on Saturday, in room H.2215 (Ferrer). This talk will be broader than the scope of Replicant. It will detail how liberating the software running at the lower levels can prove to be quite challenging. Those considerations will be made not only regarding the main processor, but also regarding controllers, peripherals and auxiliary processors.

As usual, there will also be plenty of other interesting things to see and nice people to meet!

This year, devices from Tehnoetic with Replicant preinstalled will be available for sale on the FSFE booth, as well as other Replicant goodies, such as 3D-printed keychains! Remember that part of the sales will go to Replicant.

We will also organize an informal Replicant developer meeting at some point during the event, so people interested in contributing to the project are welcome to join in!

In addition, note that Richard M. Stallman, launcher of the GNU project and founder of the Free Software Foundation, will be giving a talk about Free/Libre/Vrije Software: The Goal and the Path on Friday evening (the day before FOSDEM), at Brussels Campus Etterbeek, VUB.

Shops selling devices pre-installed with Replicant

A few months ago, we were contacted to discuss the endorsement of an online shop selling mobile devices pre-installed with Replicant: Qibre Computer Hardware. While we’re very happy to see such initiatives being developed, we asked for some conditions to be met before endorsing the shop, especially conditions that have to do with informing final users:

  • Users should not be mislead into believing that the devices are fine for freedom and privacy/security. There are plenty of issues remaining, that are explained in general on the Freedom and privacy/security issues page of the website and in greater details on each device’s wiki page (when documented). Those are out of the scope of free software support in Replicant, but it is crucial to mention them when selling a full device. Linking to these resources is a fine way to ensure that customers have access to that information.
  • The devices should ship with the official version of Replicant, not a version that was built from source and signed with different keys. However, it is fine to pre-install free applications originating from F-Droid on top of the system, as long as users are made aware of it.

Qibre has now stopped its activity until further notice.

A few weeks ago, Tehnoetic started selling devices pre-installed with Replicant and was featured on the FSF’s Ethical Tech Giving Guide and FSFE’s Free Your Android campaign. At this point, the following devices can be bought pre-installed with Replicant from Tehnoetic:

Tehnoetic donates a part of the phone sales profits to Replicant and F-Droid projects. In December, Tehnoetic donated Replicant $101 USD.

Thus, buying devices actually helps Replicant move forward! Buying from these shops rather than third-party resellers also helps them secure money to get stocks of Replicant-supported devices in large quantities, so that it remains possible to buy them for a long time!

Upcoming events for Replicant in October/November 2015

Even though development on Replicant is still moving forward at a pretty slow pace, we believe it is crucial to spread the word about the project in order to encourage more people to get involved but also to teach people about the underlying problems for freedom and privacy/security on mobile devices.

During the next two months, Replicant will take part in various free software conferences and events in France. A talk about Replicant, freedom and privacy/security will be given at each event, sometimes with a workshop or some form of public discussion, such as participation in a round table.

Starting next week-end, Replicant will be at the following events:

Those talks will be opened by Benjamin Bayart, iconic figure in the French free software community and long time activist for electronic liberties and net neutrality.

We hope to see as many of you as possible, to help spread the word about Replicant, freedom and privacy/security on mobile devices! As usual, each event will be an occasion to verify the Replicant release key and get some help installing the system on your device! Donations are also welcome, as they make it possible for me to attend such events at all.

See you soon!

November update: Due to the recent attacks in Paris, Capitole du Libre was canceled and Bazar du Libre is taking place in Toulouse on November 21-22. The talk about Replicant was rescheduled in Mix’art Myrys, room 2 at 3:00 pm.

Replicant 4.2 0004 images release

Even though things are moving slowly at Replicant, we figured it was time to release another batch of Replicant 4.2 images. This release doesn’t add support for any new device, but has a focus on security instead, thanks to an active member of the community: Moritz (also known as My Self on the forums). For months, Moritz has been evaluating whether Replicant is affected by various vulnerabilities, retrofitting patches to close those vulnerabilities and submitting these for inclusion in Replicant. Thanks to his great work, this release includes fixes for security issues such as the Stagefright vulnerability or the Installer Hijacking vulnerability.

Since the previous release, all the Replicant-specific source code was moved over to git.replicant.us, that is gracefully hosted by the FSF. We are planning on moving all the Replicant source code over to that new server, so that we don’t have to rely on third parties such as CyanogenMod and AOSP to provide the full source code for Replicant. In the meantime, we have started tagging the commits used for each release and signing those tags with the Replicant release key, so that it’s possible to reliably retrieve the source code for a given Replicant release. Those tags are also combined in the release metadata’s git-tags.

For a complete list of changes, you can take a look at the changelog. Installation instructions are available for each device, as well as build guides.

You’re welcome to join-in and contribute code to Replicant! Resources to get started on development are available on the wiki, as well as a list of tasks to improve Replicant.

Replicant and friends at Chaos Communication Camp 2015

As advertised in the previous blog post, I’ll be at CCCamp 2015 to talk about Replicant (as well as other things that I’m working on, like porting Libreboot to the C201 Chromebook), starting tomorrow.

Formally, I’ll be giving a 45 minute long talk at the Neo village tent on Sunday, about Replicant, software freedom and privacy/security on mobile devices. In addition, I have asked to give a lightning talk to highlight the necessity to have more developers involved in Replicant on Saturday at 17:05. The project is still mostly a one-man-effort and this situation cannot ensure the growth the project deserves.

People from the Neo900 project will organize the Neo village, where I’ll have my tent at, next to Osmocom. As usual, you’re welcome to come and say hi (and possibly verify the Replicant release public key as well)! I may just as well hang around the Quadrature village, where they have a nice tea house set up!

Neo900 folks also plan on giving presentations, starting with a lightning talk about Neo900 on Friday and a full talk about the project on Saturday, at the BER village.

See you there! By the way, my GSM network at camp is 5198, feel free to send me a message if you require my presence!

Update: The talks have been added to the Conferences wiki page. Unfortunately, the longer talk on Sunday had to be interrupted because of the lightning storm and couldn’t be resumed later. The slides are however available and hold the main elements of the talk.