I recently became a fellow of the FSFE and so I received a nice letter containing the FSFE fellowship OpenPGP smartcard.
After a quick visual examination I approved the card to be *damn cool*, even though the portrait format of the print of it still confuses me when I look at it. I especially like, how optimistically many digits the membership number field has (we can do it!!!). What I don’t like, is the non-https link on the bottom of the backside.
But how to use it now?
It took me some time to figure out, what that card exactly is. The FSFE overview page about the fellowship card misses the information, that this is a OpenPGP V2 card, which might be handy when choosing key sizes later on. I still don’t know, whether the card is version 2.0 or 2.1, but for my usecase it doesn’t really matter. So, what exactly is a smart-card and what CAN I actually do with it?
Well, OpenPGP is a system that allows to encrypt and sign emails, files and other information. That is and was nothing new to me, but what actually was new to me is the fact, that the encryption keys can be stored elsewhere than on the computer or phone. That intrigued me. So why not jump right into it and get some keys on there? – But where to plug it in?
My laptop has no smart-card slot, but there is that big ugly slit at one side, that never really came to value for me, simply because most peripherals that I wanted to connect to my computer, I connected via loved USB. It’s an ExpressCard slot. I knew that there are extension cards that can be fit in there, so they aren’t in the way (like eg. a USB dongle would be). There must be smart-card readers for ExpressCards, right? Right. And since I want to read mails when I’m on a train or bus, I’d find it convenient, when the card reader vanishes inside my laptop.
So I went online and searched for ExpressCard smart-card readers. I ended up buying a Lenovo Gemplus smart-card reader for about 25€. Then I waited. After half an hour I asked myself, if that particular device would work well with GNU/Linux (I use Debian testing on my ThinkPad), so I did some research and reassured me, that there are free drivers. Nice!
While I waited for my card to arrive, I received another letter with my admin pin for the card. Just for the record 😉
Some days later the smart-card reader arrived and I happily shoved it into the ExpressCard slot. I inserted the card and checked via
what’s on the card, but I got an error message (unfortunately I don’t remember what exactly it was) about that there was no card available. So I did some more research and it turns out I had to install the package
to make it work. After the installation, my smart-card was detected, so I could follow the FSFEs tutorial on how to use the card. So I booted into a live Ubuntu that I had laying around, shut off the internet connection, realized that I needed to install pcscd here as well, reactivated the internet, installed pcscd and disconnected again. At that point in time I wondered, what exact kind of OpenPGP card I had. Somewhere else (forgot where) I read, that the fellowship card is a version 2.0 card, so I could go full 4096 bit RSA. I generated some new keys, which took forever! While I did so, I wrote some nonsense stories into a text editor to generate enough entropy. It still took about 15 minutes for each key to generate (and a lot of nonsense!). What confused me, was the process of removing secret keys and adding them back later (see the tutorial.)
But I did it and now I’m proud owner of a fully functional OpenPGP smart-card + reader. I had some smaller issues with an older GPG key, that I simply revoked (it was about time anyway) and now everything works as intended. I’m a little bit sad, because nearly none of my contacts uses GPG/PGP, so I had to write mails to myself in oder to test the card, but that feel when that little window opens, asking me to insert my card and/or enter my pin pays up for everything 🙂
My main usecase for the card became signing git commits though. Via
git commit -S -m “message”
git commits can be signed with the card (works with normal gpg keys without a card as well)! You just have to add your keys fingerprint to the .gitconfig. Man, that really adds to the experience. Now every time I sign a commit, I feel as if my work is extremely important or I’m a top secret agent or something. I can only recommend that to everyone!
Of course, I know that I might sound a little silly in the last paragraph, but nevertheless, I hope I could at least entertain somebody with my first experiences with the FSFE fellowship card. What I would add to the wish list for a next version of the card is a little field to note the last digits of the fingerprint of the key thats stored on the card. That could be handy for remembering the fingerprint when there is no card reader available. Also it would be quite nice, if the card was usable in combination with smart-phones, even though I don’t know, how exactly that could be accomplished (maybe a usb connector on the card?)
Anyways that’s the end of my first blog post. I hope you enjoyed it. Btw: My GPG key has the ID 0xa027db2f3e1e118a 🙂
Edit: This is a repost from october. In the mean time, I lost my admin pin, because I generated it with KeePassX and did not click on “accept” afterwards. That’s a real issue that should be addressed by the developers, but thats another story. I can still use the card, but I can’t change the key on it, so some day I’ll have to order a new card.