British Intelligence, GCHQ, Oxford & Debian conspiracy theories, Edward & Una Brocklesby fact checking


At 21:00 UTC on 5 June 2024, I published the first disclosure about the secret expulsion of Edward Brocklesby from Debian.

A few hours later and some of the rogue elements at Debian started spreading more defamation about me. It looks like the disclosure about Debian's lack of competence for security has struck a chord and people need to look more deeply at this particular case.

As the elections are in progress the Internet is full of conspiracy theories right now. An Irish election candidate poking fun at British Intelligence should be viewed with scepticism and fact checked very carefully.

Therefore, I will simply link to some of the facts and leave it up to the community to draw conclusions.

The first thing to note is that GCHQ is reknowned for their use of puzzles. For example, they have published puzzles as a strategy for recruiting people. The stuff about GCHQ using puzzles is widely known and published by GCHQ themselves and it is also described by the press in the UK and abroad. From RTE, Ireland's national broadcaster:

An Irish code-breaker, along with two others, has proved he is almost a match for the UK's national intelligence and security agency by winning its Christmas card cryptography challenge.

One of the first things that people found about Edward Brocklesby is a web page about Chess scores from the Oxford Cambridge Varsity competition in London. The games took place in 1935 and 1936. The page tells us that this particular Edward Brocklesby was born 29 April 1914 and died 9 December 2004. Clicking through the pages we find a link to another article telling us this was Edward Willingham Brocklesby who was originally associated with Cambridge but later went to Oxford. However, the middle initial doesn't match Edward J Brocklesby in Debian.

In practice, we know that people are not always using their real names in Debian and free software. People may tweak their initials or use pseudonyms. For example, the woman using the name "cryptie" in the FSFE subsequently had to reveal she was a French Government employee moving to a job at the European Union. She admitted her real name is Amandine Jambert and her conflict of interest and resigned.

It is not uncommon for people to commit identity fraud by using the names of other real people, whether alive or dead, rather than making up names that are entirely fictitious. Using the name of somebody who is elderly or somebody with a disability is a special case.

The name of the FSFE is itself an example of identity fraud because it is confusingly similar to the real FSF. This type of thing is very common in open source software.

People found a HP Enterprise Forum account for Edward Brocklesby. The account was created 12 May 2003 and last used on 21 June 2011. It is not uncommon for accounts in online forums to be hacked so even if the account was created by the "real" Edward Brocklesby from Debian, it may have been used by another person in later years.

The 192.com directory service finds both Edward Brocklesby and Una Brocklesby living at the same address that is used in the document submitted to the IETF. 192.com tells us they are on the electoral roll at that address at the same time and both of them were removed from the electoral roll in 2002, not long after the Debian expulsion.

There are various reasons somebody could be removed from the electoral roll. They might die, they might move to another country or they might have simply moved to another address and decided not to enroll again. However, there are also special cases for police and military employees to have their status on the electoral roll protected.

There are many regular police units who have engaged in undercover activities. It would be wrong to assume every person using a fake name in Debian is with GCHQ or the NSA. London's Met Police issues with the undercover officer Mark Kennedy have been widely documented. It wouldn't be a big surprise to find people like this operating in free software communities.

There is an Una Brocklesby account on Trustpilot and she is in the UK and active between 2017 and 2024.

In the St Hugh's College, Oxford Chronicle of 1998-1999, we find that Una Brocklesby is listed in the staff section as a Finance Assistant.

Una Brocklesby, St Hugh's College, Oxford

This adds weight to the idea that they were either using their real names or they were very sophisticated deep cover agents, living as a couple, having paperwork and jobs.

Looking at Edward Brocklesby's activities in the debian-private cubby house over the years, we find most of his messages concern security topics. He appears to have various email addresses on different networks.

Subject: www.tr.debian.org security
Date: Sun, 6 Jun 1999 17:26:49 +0000
From: Edward Brocklesby 
To: debian-private@lists.debian.org

Hi,

A user on #shells was offering to trade www.tr.debian.org.  It might be an
idea to check security on this host.

-- 
Edward Brocklesby                            System Administrator
ejb@styx.uk.eu.org                 Styx Public Access Unix System
                                        http://www.styx.uk.eu.org

and in this second example, Brocklesby signs off with Diolch, which is Welsh.

Subject: Re: another security hole
Date: Sun, 11 Jul 1999 21:55:00 +0000
From: Edward Brocklesby 
To: Josip Rodin 
CC: Grzegorz Stelmaszek , Josip Rodin , security@debian.org, debian-devel@lists.debian.org, 39395@bugs.debian.org

On Sun, Jul 11, 1999 at 05:21:02PM +0200, Josip Rodin wrote:
> 
> > Note bene - AIK debian still uses unpatched version of pine, so there is
> > easy way to run any command via it IF you know to whom send an email.
> 
> File a bug, if it already isn't reported.


I filed a bug on this.  In the end, we decided it was not a pine bug, but
in fact some other program was inserting the bad stuff.

(Bug#33099, BTW)

Diolch, Edward.

The bug report gives us another email address and permutation of the name:

From unknown Fri Jun 07 17:33:16 2024
Received: (at submit) by bugs.debian.org; 8 Feb 1999 20:12:40 +0000
Received: (qmail 26297 invoked from network); 8 Feb 1999 20:12:39 -0000
Received: from finch-post-10.mail.demon.net (HELO post.mail.demon.net) (194.217.242.38)
  by master.debian.org with SMTP; 8 Feb 1999 20:12:39 -0000
Received: from [212.228.198.242] (helo=klamath)
	by post.mail.demon.net with esmtp (Exim 2.12 #1)
	id 109x2j-0005B7-00
	for submit@bugs.debian.org; Mon, 8 Feb 1999 20:12:30 +0000
Received: by klamath.lilithfair.org
	via sendmail from stdin
	id <m109x2g-0005KHC@klamath> (Debian Smail3.2.0.102)
	for submit@bugs.debian.org; Mon, 8 Feb 1999 20:12:26 +0000 (GMT) 
Message-ID: <19990208201225.A1194@klamath.lilithfair.org>
Date: Mon, 8 Feb 1999 20:12:25 +0000
From: "Edward John M. Brocklesby" <ejb@klamath.lilithfair.org>
To: submit@bugs.debian.org
Subject: PINE allows remote users to execute commands as the user running PINE, by sending an email
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
X-Mailer: Mutt 0.91.1i
X-Operating-System: Linux klamath 2.1.131
X-No-Archive: yes

Package: pine396-src
Version: 2
Severity: critical

PINE does not handle the ` character correctly.

Take a look at this email:

************************** MIME MESSAGE FOLLOWS **************************
From: Attacker <attacker@eleet.net>
To: Victim <victim@somewhere.net>
Subject: Happy birthday
...
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: MULTIPART/MIXED; BOUNDARY="8323328-235065145-918425607=:319"

--8323328-235065145-918425607=:319
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset='US-ASCII'

Make a wish...

--8323328-235065145-918425607=:319
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=``touch${IFS}ME``; name="logexec.c"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: BASE64
Content-Description: wish
Content-Disposition: attachment; filename="wish.c"

...it could be your last.
*************************** MIME MESSAGE ENDS ***************************


When pine sees this, it expands:

  text/plain; shownonascii iso-8859-1 %s; test=test "`echo %{charset} | tr
  '[A-Z]' '[a-z]'`" = iso-8859-1; copiousoutput

to this:

  [...] execve </bin/sh> (sh) (-c) (test "`echo '``touch${IFS}ME``' | tr
        '[A-Z]' '[a-z]'`" = iso-8859-1)

This allows any command to be executed. The following patch works against PINE
4.10, it may require modification to compile against slink's version:

--- pine4.10.orig/pine/mailcap.c        Wed Nov 18 13:00:15 1998
+++ pine4.10/pine/mailcap.c     Mon Feb  8 09:17:46 1999
@@ -905,14 +905,18 @@
                     * have to put those outside of the single quotes.
                     * (The parm+1000 nonsense is to protect against
                     * malicious mail trying to overlow our buffer.)
+                                *
+                                * TCH - Change 2/8/1999
+                                * Also quote the ` slash to prevent execution
+of arbirtrary code
                     */
                    for(p = parm; *p && p < parm+1000; p++){
-                       if(*p == '\''){
+                       if((*p == '\'')||(*p=='`')){
                            *to++ = '\'';  /* closing quote */
                            *to++ = '\\';
-                           *to++ = '\'';  /* below will be opening quote */
-                       }
-                       *to++ = *p;
+                                       *to++ = *p; /* quoted character */
+                           *to++ = '\'';  /* opening quote */
+                       } else
+                               *to++ = *p;
                    }

                    fs_give((void **) &parm);
@@ -954,7 +958,7 @@
      */
     if(!used_tmp_file && tmp_file)
       sprintf(to, MC_ADD_TMP, tmp_file);
-
+
     return(cpystr(tmp_20k_buf));
 }


Read more articles about the mysterious Edward Brocklesby & Debian affair.