Archived ideas

These were offered to prospective GSoC students in prior years, but are not explicitly offered currently.

Tasks that are not currently offered to new contributors

These are kept recorded in here, but are not currently offered as initial tasks to new contributors for a variety of reasons (such as our mentoring capacity).

Openwall GNU/*/Linux

Openwall GNU/*/Linux (or simply Owl) is our security-hardened Linux distro for servers, currently at (and beyond) version 3.0. We have a nearly perfect userland in terms of privilege reduction and privilege separation of/in individual programs/services. Specifically, Owl 3.0 is the very first Linux distro to have no SUID programs in the default install (yet be usable). However, further work is needed.

Student roles

We can reasonably accept and work with several GSoC students on the Owl tasks below. Although the separation between the task categories is not exact, here are three potential roles that students are invited to apply for:

  1. Owl: new functionality
  2. Owl: updates to existing functionality
  3. Owl: security 1)
  4. Owl: port to ARM
  5. Owl: documentation (not suitable for GSoC, but perfectly acceptable for our Summer of Security)

Each of these focuses on the corresponding one of the task categories identified below.


  1. Functionality available out of the box needs to be expanded in multiple ways, including:
    • Need to have full LAMP stack in the base system. We need to add Apache, MySQL, PHP - and do so in accordance with our project concepts, which will include some security-relevant changes.
    • DHCP and PPP/PPPoE/PPTP client support (add userland packages, introduce privilege separation where needed)
    • Assorted extra packages that are in line with typical uses, concepts, and goals of Owl
    • Support and setup a package repository (for easier updates), possibly with Zypper, yum, or apt
  2. The system should be brought more up to date:
    • New GNU toolchain, and new upstream software versions in general (since Owl 3.0, we've already updated gcc, but not much else)
    • RHEL6 binary and package compatibility where this does not conflict with our other goals
    • OpenVZ kernels from their “rhel6” branch (Owl 3.0 uses “rhel5” branch)
    • (Better) support for: IPv6 (in network startup scripts and installer), UTF-8 (in many places), GPT (disk partitions beyond 2 TB), etc.
  3. System security should be improved further:
    • The “rhel6” branch OpenVZ kernel that we'd update to will need to be security-hardened, in part by reviewing, extracting, cleaning up, porting, and documenting/commenting individual changes from grsecurity and PaX (some of which have originated from Openwall's patches for older kernels), and in part by implementing new security-related changes/features, some of those specific to container-based virtualization (purpose-specific restrictions to be applied on per-container basis). We expect help/consulting/mentoring from the author of PaX on portions that are PaX (some of these are difficult to understand from the code alone, especially the rationale behind things being done in a certain way), whereas the rest are not too complicated for a capable person to fully figure out on their own. References: 1, 2
      • Under GSoC 2011, Vasiliy Kulikov did much work getting security hardening changes into mainline Linux 3.x kernels, so for Owl we'll also be back-porting “our own” stuff from those newer mainline kernels to “rhel6” branch kernels
      • We should work with upstreams - OpenVZ and Red Hat - to try and get some of these enhancements accepted
      • If time permits and this sub-task is not claimed by another person, the same person could also port the individual changes to mainline kernels and work with LKML - although Vasiliy already did much work on this (before getting to do it for Owl, actually)
    • The gcc options used to build the userland will need to be adjusted (globally, but with some per-package exceptions) to maximize the effect of ASLR and to harden the programs in other ways. (This is what some other hardened distros did while we were focusing on re-working privilege management in our userland, which they did not do. Now we need to catch up, and we'll be ahead of them overall. This should be a lot easier than the work we did so far.) References: 1, 2, 3, 4
      • This is currently in progress - we're done updating options to make use of our gcc update, and now we need to update glibc and then to update the gcc options further
  4. Port Owl to the ARM architecture (need to consider/support specific devices).
  5. Documentation should be improved.
    • We should “complete” and publish a User Guide, covering not only specifics of Owl, but its use in general.
    • Per-package info on Owl specifics may be added (including explanations of how and in what ways certain packages on Owl are more secure than their “equivalents” found in other distros - e.g., how our syslogd runs as non-root and verifies/logs credentials of local message senders).
    • More web pages may be added: a packages directory (based on RPM metadata and the per-package text files mentioned above), man pages (some of these are Owl-specific).

John the Ripper

John the Ripper is a popular Open Source and cross-platform password cracker (password security auditing tool).

Student roles

There is a little bit of overlap between some of the JtR tasks below. A compatible subset of the tasks (with no overlap and no dependencies of any one of the tasks on another) will need to be picked and the tasks' scope adjusted for GSoC (if applicable) to match the student applications we receive.

We can work with multiple students on a subset of these tasks, leaving the rest of the tasks for further occasions (such as for next summer). Students are welcome to apply for the following roles, which directly correspond to the tasks below:

  1. JtR: GPU for slow hashes
    (was successfully worked on by Lukas Odzioba under GSoC 2011, but more work is needed: optimizations, more hash and non-hash types, multi-GPU, documentation, etc.)
  2. JtR: GPU for fast hashes
    (we currently have proof-of-concept implementations - need to deal with the bottlenecks to advance at this task)
  3. JtR: GUI
    (work was started by Shinnok and Aleksey Cherepanov)
  4. JtR: convert more of the DES-based JtR “formats” to use JtR's existing bitslice DES implementation


  1. Support for more things beyond password hashes: Mac OS X FileVault and/or keychain passwords (these use PBKDF2), WEP & WPA-PSK passphrase (part of functionality of aircrack-ng available right inside JtR), more SSH private key types (we already have support for OpenSSH's due to Dhiru's GSoC 2011 work), GnuPG and PGP secret key passphrase, more archive passwords (we already have support for many ZIP and RAR archives due to Dhiru's GSoC 2011 work as well as later work by JimF and magnum), …
  2. GPU support for “slow” hashes (does not require changes to JtR interfaces and program structure)
  3. GPU support for “fast” hashes (requires some invasive changes to achieve good efficiency)
  4. GUI, likely using Qt in C++: as wrapper around the command-line program (this is what's being worked on now) and/or integrated (will require/provide greater interaction)

Low-level GPU programming

This project was worked on in GSoC 2013, but there's more to do on it. Wiki page: Low-level GPU programming

Smaller and/or new projects

We have a number of project ideas, where the student's role would correspond to completion of an entire software, research, and/or “community” project independent from our existing larger projects (albeit closely related to our activities in general).

Student roles

Here are the short “role names” for individual tasks briefly described below. Please use these short names when you apply to work on one of the tasks.

  1. blists development


  1. blists is our web-based interface to mailing list archives. It works off pre-indexed mbox files. This approach enables it to be extremely fast and lightweight: messages are located instantly (in at most a few disk seeks) and there's no need to cache pre-generated HTML page bodies. Even though we're making use of blists already (for publishing our own, hosted, and some third-party mailing lists on the web), it needs a lot more work (yet we failed to find time for work on it lately). Some of the things to add are support for character encodings for message bodies (converting them to UTF-8), thread view, and a search feature. At least the latter will require changes to the index file format (or a separate search index). Use of existing search libraries such as Xapian and/or implementing the search functionality entirely on our own are both within consideration. Please refer to this thread (click thread-next) for status as of early 2012.

Further archived task descriptions

Student roles

  1. JtR: automatic rule set generation
  2. JtR: distributed processing, including a possible sub-task:
    • Greater interaction with running cracking sessions (e.g., with an ircII-like ncurses interface or/and a GUI) - such as to add/remove nodes on the fly
  3. JtR: parallel processing (on one node) - not just further work on OpenMP support (initially integrated in 1.7.6), but also other approaches (not specific to individual hash types and achieving greater efficiency than OpenMP can provide for “non-slow” hashes)
  4. JtR: integration of contributions
  5. Linux kernel hardening: work with LKML - combined with Vasiliy Kulikov's GSoC 2011 task under Owl above, will likely last beyond the summer
  6. PHP password security
  7. New password hashing method
  8. Bitslice DES
  9. Virtual distributed vector computer


  1. Further research on and implementation of automatic rule set generation based on previously-cracked passwords. References: 1 2
  2. JtR distributed processing, including a possible sub-task:
    • Greater interaction with running cracking sessions (e.g., with an ircII-like ncurses interface or/and a GUI) - such as to add/remove nodes on the fly
  3. JtR parallel processing (on one node) - not just further work on OpenMP support (initially integrated in 1.7.6), but also other approaches (not specific to individual hash types and achieving greater efficiency than OpenMP can provide for “non-slow” hashes)
  4. JtR: integration of more hashes/ciphers/features/optimizations from the jumbo patch (and other user-contributed patches) into the official JtR - requires code cleanups, portability enhancements and testing, clearing up potential licensing issues (in some cases), etc. - or reimplementation
  5. Linux kernel hardening - extract security hardening changes from various patches (which the mentor will point out), forward-port them to the latest mainstream kernels, make it easy to enable/disable the hardening measures (both compile- and runtime), add documentation, properly submit to and work with LKML (make proposals and own discussions to completion: either rejection or acceptance). This is a noble but thankless job to do, so be prepared! The authors of those changes did not submit them “properly” and did not “own discussions to completion” precisely because the job is so thankless. ;-)
    • This may optionally involve work with other kernel branches and other upstreams as well (OpenVZ, Red Hat, Ubuntu)
  6. Get better password security features into PHP proper (the PHP interpreter)
    • phpass “portable” hashes (C implementation) - approved by a developer of PHP. (Rationale: this will allow site administrators to set higher iteration counts, thereby slowing down offline attacks against stolen/leaked hashes.)
      • Enhance phpass to make use of the above (where available)
      • Support the Drupal 7 flavor of these hashes as well (based on SHA-512)
    • Interface to libpasswdqc: PECL package or/and introduce libpasswdqc into the PHP source tree? - this needs discussion with PHP developers
    • PEAR package containing phpass and a wrapper function using the integrated libpasswdqc or invoking pwqcheck (if used on older versions of PHP)
    • Document the above in proper places
    • It is possible that the above will not consume an entire summer, and delays are expected while waiting for feedback from PHP developers, so if time permits the student will be given further small tasks to work on, such as enhancements to passwdqc or work on some of the tasks listed below (not claimed by another student)
  7. New password hashing method for servers (full scope exceeds one summer, so the task may be split in two or three)
    • New crypt(3) flavor using concepts of scrypt (not only iterations, but also parallelism and memory), optionally making use of AES-NI
    • GPU or/and FPGA accelerated password hashing on servers (to better compete with similarly accelerated or distributed offline password hash cracking), optional local parameterization on specific hardware (parameter unreadable from host OS)
    • There's a mailing list and a wiki page for this project
  8. We have some achievements in generating more optimal DES S-box expressions for bitslice implementations. A possible task for a student would be further work on this: community distributed processing project (with “agents” working on portions of the task) to arrive at even more optimal S-box expressions, potential application to S-boxes of other ciphers, paper on the approach, code cleanups of programs used to generate the S-box expressions and code, and public release of these programs.
  9. “Virtual distributed vector computer”: no native machine code distributed to nodes (good for security), yet near native performance should be possible for suitable tasks (such as bitslice implementations of ciphers applied to key search attacks) given efficient implementation of “agents” for their target machine architectures
    • This task involves research, design, implementation, testing, practical use example, and a publication
    • This might be partially hampered by US Patent 5946496 (expiring in 2017); authors' web page. We have not reviewed these yet (found them when searching for possible existing implementations of the idea, which we did not find).
  10. Develop intense unit tests for all libc interfaces, and test musl and other C libraries for correctness. Ideally the tests would be resilient against missing or buggy interfaces halting the test, so that partial results could be obtained even on certain incomplete or/and highly buggy C libraries.
    This was worked on under GSoC 2011, and it was a half-success (6 out of 13 test categories were implemented).
1) This was partially worked on by Vasiliy Kulikov under GSoC 2011 and by others on our team. The task description below has been adjusted to reflect the remaining sub-tasks.
ideas-archive.txt · Last modified: 2015/05/24 07:31 by solar
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