Quickly securing local secrets

One thing I have run into recently and have been thinking about a little bit lately, is a simple way to hide environment variables that contain sensitive information. For example, when working in a local environment, if you need access to a secret like an oauth token or some authentication method to an API, the first inclination is usually to just hard code the secret contents into your local bash/zsh profile so that it can be read anytime you need access to it. This method obviously will work but if the filesystem itself isn’t encrypted, the secret can easily be leaked and for a small amount of effort I believe I have found an effective way of shrinking the visibility of these secrets.

Inspired by the aws-vault tool which is a simple but secure way of storing local AWS credentials in environment variables using a local password store, in this post I will show you a quick and dirty way to add an extra layer of security to your (other) local environment by injecting sensitive secrets stored in an encrypted location (password store) into your local terminal. This method works for both OSX and Linux and is just a few lines of configuration and examples for both OSes are shown below.

In OSX the keychain is a good starting place for storing and retrieving secrets and in Linux the combination of GPG and the standard unix password manager “pass” work well together. Pass also works on OSX if you aren’t a fan of keychain.

Below are steps for storing and retrieving local secrets using the Linux pass tool. There are installation instructions and full documentation for how to use the tool in the link above. It should also be noted that the system needs to have GPG installed in order to write and read secrets.

One you have GPG configured, create the password store. I am skipping most of the GPG configuration because there is a lot to know, the command below should be enough to get things started. If you already have GPG set up and configured you can skip the setup.

Set up GPG and pass.

gpg2 --full-gen-key # follow prompts to create a gpg store with defaults
pass init <email> # use the same email address used with gpg
pass git init # optionally set pass up as a git repo

To create/edit a secret.

#pass insert/edit <secret>
pass insert mysecret
pass edit mysecret

Pass allows for hierarchies but in the example we are just going to put the secret at the top level. The command above will open the default editor. After closing the editor, the password will be written to an encrypted file in ~/.password-store. Once you have added the password you can show the contents of the newly added secret.

To read a secret into the terminal.

#pass show <secret>
pass show mysecret

You can also quickly list all of your secrets.

pass ls

Now that we have a created secret, we can write a little bash function to pull out the contents of the password and export them as an environment variable when the shell gets sourced. Put the following snippet into your ~/.bashrc, ~/.zshrc or ~/.bashprofile to read secrets.

get_password () {
  pass show "$1"
}

A similar result can be achieved in OSX using the “security” command line tool.

get_password () {
  security find-generic-password -ga "$1" -w
}

In your shell configuration file you can simply export the result of calling the get_password() function into an environment variable.

export MYSECRET="$(get_password mysecret)"

Source the shell profile to pickup the new changes. After that, you should now see the contents of the secret inside an environment variable in your terminal.

source ~/.bashrc
env | grep MYSECRET

Conclusion

Obviously this isn’t a perfect way to secure your environment since the secret is available to anyone who is able to connect to this user so make sure you practice good security in as many other ways as possible.

What this method does do though is cuts down the amount of sensitive information that can be gleaned from a user account by ensuring that shell secrets are encrypted at rest and unavailable as clear text.

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Build a Pine64 Kubernetes Cluster with k3os

Kubernetes (k3os) arm64 cluster with custom 3D printed case

The k3os project was recently announced and I finally got a chance to test it out. k3os greatly simplifies the steps needed to create a Kubernetes cluster along with its counterpart, k3s, to reduce the overhead of running Kubernetes clusters. Paired with Rancher for the UI, all of these components make for an even better option. You can even run Rancher in your (arm64) k3os cluster via the Rancher Helm chart now.

Instead of using Etcd, k3s opts to use SQLite by default and does some other magic to reduce extra Kubernetes bloat and simplify management. Check here for more about k3s and how it works and how to run it.

k3os replaces some complicated OS components with much simpler ones. For example, instead of using Systemd it uses OpenRC, instead of Docker it uses containerd, it also leverages connman for configuring network components and it doesn’t use a package manager.

The method I am showing in this post uses the k3os overlay installation, which is detailed here. The reason for this choice is because the pine64 boards use u-boot to boot the OS and so special steps are needed to accommodate for the way this process is handled. The upside of this method is that these instructions should pretty much work for any of the Pi form factor boards, including the newly released Raspberry Pi4, with minimal changes.

Setup

If you haven’t downloaded and imaged your Pine64 yet, I like to use the ayufan images, which can be found here. You can easily write these images to a microSD card on OSX using something like Etcher.

Assuming the node is connected to your network, you can SSH into it.

ssh [email protected] # or use the ip, password is rock64

When using the overlay installation, the first step is to download the k3os rootfs and lay it down on the host. This step applies to all nodes in the cluster.

curl -sL https://github.com/rancher/k3os/releases/download/v0.2.1/k3os-rootfs-arm64.tar.gz | tar --strip-components=1 -zxvf - -C 

The above command is installing v0.2.1 which is the most current version as of writing this, so make sure to check if there is a newer version available.

After installing, lay down the following configurations into /k3os/system/config.yaml, modifying as needed. After the machine is rebooted this path will become read only so if you need to change the configuration again you will need to edit /etc/fstab to change the location to be writable again.

Server node

ssh_authorized_keys:
- ssh-rsa <your-public-ssh-key-to-login>
hostname: k3s-master

k3os:
  data_sources:
  - cdrom
  dns_nameservers:
  - 192.168.1.1 # update this to your local or public DNS server if needed
  ntp_servers:
  - 0.us.pool.ntp.org
  - 1.us.pool.ntp.org
  password: rancher
  token: <TOKEN>

The k3s config will be written to /etc/rancher/k3s/k3s.yaml on this node so make sure to grab it if you want to connect the cluster from outside this node. Reboot the machine to boot to the new filesystem and you should be greeted with the k3os splash screen.

Agent node

The agent uses nearly the same config, with the addition of the server_url. Just point the agent nodes to the server/master and you should be good to go. Again, reboot after creating the config and the host should boot to the new filesystem and everything should be ready.

ssh_authorized_keys:
- ssh-rsa <your-public-ssh-key-to-login>
hostname: k3s-node-1

k3os:
  data_sources:
  - cdrom
  dns_nameservers:
  - 192.168.1.1 # update this to your local or public DNS server if needed
  ntp_servers:
  - 0.us.pool.ntp.org
  - 1.us.pool.ntp.org
  password: rancher
  server_url: https://<server-ip-or-hostname>:6443
  token: <TOKEN>

You can do a lot more with the bootstrap configurations, such as setting labels or environment variables. Some folks in the community have had luck getting the wifi configuration working on the RPi4’s out of the box, but I haven’t been able to get it to work yet on my Pine64 cluster. Check the docs for more details on the various configuration options.

After the nodes have been rebooted and configs applied, the cluster “should just work”. You can check that the cluster is up using k3s using the kubectl passthrough command (checking from the master node below).

k3s-master [~]$ k3s kubectl get nodes
NAME         STATUS   ROLES    AGE     VERSION
k3s-master   Ready    <none>   6d1h    v1.14.1-k3s.4
k3s-node-1   Ready    <none>   7m10s   v1.14.1-k3s.4

NOTE: After installing the overlay filesystem there will be no package manager and no obvious way to upgrade the kernel so use this guide only for testing purposes. The project is still very young and a number of things still need to be added, including update mechanisms and HA. Be sure to follow the k3os issue tracker and Rancher Slack (#k3os channel) for updates and developments.

Conclusion

This is easily the best method I have found so far for getting a Kubernetes cluster up and running, minus the few caveats mentioned above, which I believe will be resolved very soon. I have been very impressed with how simple and easy it has been to configure and use. The next step for me is to figure out how to run Rancher and start working on some configurations for running workloads on the cluster. I will share more on that project in another post.

There are definitely some quirks to getting this setup working for the Pi and Pine64 based boards, but aren’t major problems by any means.

References

This post was heavily inspired by this gist for getting the overlay installation method working on Raspberry Pi.

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Manually Reset Windows Subsystem for Linux

The problem is described in more detail in the link below and there are a tons of posts in this thread but it was an arduous process and there wasn’t a lot of other information about this problem so I figured I would write up a quick summary of how to fix this for the case where the instructions aren’t quite enough.

https://github.com/Microsoft/WSL/issues/473#issuecomment-224422589

Bascially, you need to run the lxrun command to reset Windows subsystem for Linux. The intructions were basically the following.

lxrun /uninstall /full /y
Reboot
Open an admin prompt or through explorer, delete all the content under the %localappdata%\lxss directory.
Install using bash.exe or "LxRun.exe /install"

However, something strange happened and every time I tried to do this I got a neat little error.

PS C:\Users\jmreicha\AppData\Local> LxRun /install /y
Warning: lxrun.exe is only used to configure the legacy Windows Subsystem for Linux distribution.
Distributions can be installed by visiting the Microsoft Store:
https://aka.ms/wslstore

This will install Ubuntu on Windows, distributed by Canonical and licensed under its terms available here:
https://aka.ms/uowterms

Error: 0x80070005

Likewise, I couldn’t reinstall the Windows subsystem using other methods, I just got the same exact error. I was poking around a little bit more and found that the files the subsystem uses get saved off into %localappdata%\lxss. By default this directory isn’t displayed in Windows so in order to see this folder you need to uncheck the “Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)” option in Windows Explorer View Options.

After showing OS files I was able to see the lxss directory and so I tried to delete the files, but got an interesting error message saying the files were no longer there and that Windows couldn’t remove them.

could not find this item
Item Not Found

The only way I found to get around this problem was to rename the folder (hence the _old suffix in the screen shot).

After moving the directory to another name I was able to run the lxrun /install command and successfully reinstall Ubuntu.

PS C:\Users\jmreicha\AppData\Local> LxRun /install
Warning: lxrun.exe is only used to configure the legacy Windows Subsystem for Linux distribution.
Distributions can be installed by visiting the Microsoft Store:
https://aka.ms/wslstore

This will install Ubuntu on Windows, distributed by Canonical and licensed under its terms available here:
https://aka.ms/uowterms

Type "y" to continue: y
Downloading from the Microsoft Store... 100%
Extracting filesystem, this will take a few minutes...

Conclusion

I saw various renditions of the solution sprinkled around the internet but none of them seemed to mention how to handle the case where Windows couldn’t locate a file and therefore couldn’t actually delete the lxss directory and recreate everything.

I haven’t figured out how to hard delete everything in the newly renamed “lxss_old” directory, so if anyone has any input it would be appreciated. As far as I know its contents are still consuming some amount of space on the system.

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Kubernets plugins

Manage Kubernetes Plugins with Krew

There have been quite a few posts recently describing how to write custom plugins, now that the mechanism for creating and working with them has been made easier in upstream Kubernetes (as of v1.12). Here are the official plugin docs if you’re interested in learning more about how it all works.

One neat thing about the new plugin architecture is that they don’t need to be written in Go to be recognized by kubectl. There is a document in the Kubernetes repo that describes how to write your own custom plugin and even a helper library for making it easier to write plugins.

Instead of just writing another tutorial about how to make your own plugin, I decided to show how easy it is to grab and experiment with existing plugins.

Installing krew

If you haven’t heard about it yet, Krew is a new tool released by the Google Container Tools team for managing Kubernetes plugins. As far as I know this is the first plugin manager offering available, and it really scratches my itch for finding a specific tool for a specific job (while also being easy to use).

Krew basically builds on top of the kubectl plugin architecture for making it easier to deal with plugins by providing a sort of framework for keeping track of things and making sure they are doing what they are supposed to.

The following kubectl-compatible plugins are available:

/home/jmreicha/.krew/bin/kubectl-krew
/home/jmreicha/.krew/bin/kubectl-rbac_lookup
...

You can manage plugins without Krew, but if you work with a lot of plugins complexity and maintenance generally start to escalate quickly if you are managing everything manually. Below I will show you how easy it is to deal with plugins instead using Krew.

There are installation instructions in the repo, but it is really easy to get going. Run the following commands in your shell and you are ready to go.

(
  set -x; cd "$(mktemp -d)" &&
  curl -fsSLO "https://storage.googleapis.com/krew/v0.2.1/krew.{tar.gz,yaml}" &&
  tar zxvf krew.tar.gz &&
  ./krew-"$(uname | tr '[:upper:]' '[:lower:]')_amd64" install \
    --manifest=krew.yaml --archive=krew.tar.gz
)

# Then append the following to your .zshrc or bashrc
export PATH="${KREW_ROOT:-$HOME/.krew}/bin:$PATH"

# Then source your shell to pick up the path
source ~/.zshrc # or ~/.bashrc

You can use the kubectl plugin list command to look at all of your plugins.

Test it out to make sure it works.

kubectl krew help

If everything went smoothly you should see some help information and can start working with the plugin manager. For example, if you want to check currently available plugins you can use Krew.

kubectl krew update
kubectl krew search

Or you can browse around the plugin index on GitHub. Once you find a plugin you want to try out, just install it.

kubectl krew install view-utilization

That’s it. Krew should take care of downloading the plugin and putting it in the correct path to make it usable right away.

kubectl view-utilization

Some plugins require additional tools to be installed beforehand as dependencies but should tell you which ones are required when they are installed the first time.

Installing plugin: view-secret
CAVEATS:
\
 |  This plugin needs the following programs:
 |  * jq
/
Installed plugin: view-secret

When you are done with a plugin, you can install it just as easily as it was installed.

kubectl krew uninstall view-secret

Conclusion

I must say I am a really big fan of this new model for managing and creating plugins, and I think it will encourage the community to develop even more tools so I’m looking forward to seeing what people come up with.

Likewise I think Krew is a great fit for this because it is super easy to get installed and started with, which I think is important for gaining widespread adoption in the community. If you have an idea for a Kubectl plugin please consider adding it to the krew-index. The project maintainers are super friendly and are great about feedback and getting things merged.

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Turbocharge your Ansible Playbooks

If you haven’t already discovered Mitogen yet, read on for how to use it (and a few other tricks) to make you Ansible plays a much better experience.

In short, Mitogen is a Python library that (among other things) provides an alternative way to connect to distributed machines using tools like Ansible, Salt and Fabric. And it is fast. Like really fast. Here is a note taken from the Mitogen documentation.

Expect a 1.25x – 7x speedup and a CPU usage reduction of at least 2x, depending on network conditions, modules executed, and time already spent by targets on useful work. Mitogen cannot improve a module once it is executing, it can only ensure the module executes as quickly as possible.

As the documentation says, Mitogen isn’t intended to be used directly but has entrypoints for connecting various tools with its API.

Here is what the sample output might look like with the SSH pipelining and other tweaks configured, not including Mitogen. It clocks in around 120 seconds.

And here is the same run again with Mitogen. The same playbook run is down to around 90 seconds, about a 25% improvement as shown below. The output and few of the other settings are described in more detail below.

mitogen output
better Ansible play output

To set up Mitogen as an Ansible replacement for connecting to hosts, first install it. Note the version. In my own testing, versions earlier than 0.2.5 had some issues.

cd </path/to/install>
curl -OL https://files.pythonhosted.org/packages/source/m/mitogen/mitogen-0.2.5.tar.gz
tar xvzf mitogen-0.2.5.tar.gz

Then modify the anisble.cfg file to point at Mitogen.

[defaults]
strategy_plugins = </path/to/install>/mitogen-0.2.4/ansible_mitogen/plugins/strategy
strategy = mitogen_linear

An option was addin in Mitogen v0.2.4 to disable SSH compression, which can reduce run times in faster networks. The documentation says this option will be default in the future but for now you can turn it on with the following command configuration.

mitogen_ssh_compression = False

NOTE: If you are having trouble with Mitogen and need to turn it off you should also be aware of SSH pipelining. This method of execution isn’t as fast as Mitogen but should at least help bring playbook times down. You can turn it on with the following configuration.

[ssh_connection]
pipelining = True

There are a few other bells and whistles that you can adjust in the anisble.cfg file to help with performance and gain visibility into what is happening.

There is a setting for callback configurations that can be added to ansible.cfg that makes it much easier to see how long things take.

...
# Record some metrics about the Ansible runs
callback_whitelist = timer, profile_tasks
# Better output formatting
stdout_callback = yaml
# Minimal output formatting
#stdout_callback = minimal
callback_plugins = callback_plugins
...

Other settings that can be tuned include some of the defaults like poll_interval, caching and the number of forks to run. I found this blog post to be very helpful in discovering and describing a number of these Ansible tweaks.

Below is a modified ansible.cfg with these settings tuned.

# How often Ansible checks running tasks. The default is set to 15
poll_interval = 5

# Number of processes to fork.  Default is set to 5.
forks = 100

#caching
fact_caching            = jsonfile
fact_caching_connection = .cache/

With these tweaks your Ansible playbooks should run much faster and more cleanly. I highly recommend giving Mitogen a try as well, I have not run into any issues with Mitogen 0.2.3 and it isn’t much effort to add for the amount of gains you get by switching to it. If you know of any other tweaks or settings feel free to let me know!

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