Local secret is more secure in Convos 4.20

Posted by Jan Henning Thorsen on 18. Jun, 2020.

Convos 4.20 has an important update - especially if you are running Convos in Docker.

Secrets in Convos

There are two secrets that is very important for the overall security of Convos: CONVOS_LOCAL_SECRET and CONVOS_SECRETS.

The initial value of these to secrets can be set in environment variables, but after Convos has been started the first time they will be saved and read from $CONVOS_HOME/settings.json.

What has been changed?

The CONVOS_SECRETS setting was relatively safe before v4.20, since it used a pseudo random number and a floating point timestamp. CONVOS_LOCAL_SECRET on the other hand can be guessed by hacker, especially if you were running Convos inside Docker.

This security issue has now been patched in 54d1763ac.

The new way to calculate secrets is either...

  1. Read some random bytes from /dev/urandom, if that device is available.
  2. Fall back on using a pseudo random number and a floating point timestamp for both CONVOS_LOCAL_SECRET and CONVOS_SECRETS.

What should you do?

Either if you are running inside Docker or not, then we urge you to restart Convos with a new secret right away. You can do so by following these steps:

  1. Stop Convos
  2. Generate new secrets either from this website or even better with a command like this:

    # Run this command twice
    echo "$(< /dev/urandom tr -dc A-Za-z0-9 | head -c 40)"
  3. Edit $CONVOS_HOME/settings.json and replace the existing value for local_secret and session_secrets.

  4. Start a fresh Convos that is more secure than before!

Here is a sample settings.json file:

  "contact": "",
  "default_connection": "",
  "forced_connection": false,
  "open_to_public": false,
  "organization_name": "",
  "organization_url": "",
  "local_secret": "710da2cf2fd8e3cf0f65f405293858e607d70bc7",
  "session_secrets": ["9563bcbd5853f7871f1f2585317aa9c573f7d9a6"]

What if you do not know how to edit settings.json?

If you do not know how to change the values of the settings file, then simply stop Convos, delete $CONVOS_HOME/settings.json and start Convos again. You have to manually go to "Settings" in Convos to restore your application settings, but that is a small price to pay.

How can I tell if my system has been exploited?

If you do not have unexpected users $CONVOS_HOME, then your system has not been exploited.

For the future

You might want to rotate your secrets from time to time. This means that you follow the steps above every now and then to make sure your secrets are indeed private to Convos.

Special thanks

Special thanks to Stig P for pointing out how bad the "local_secret" generator was inside Docker.