Monday, May 22, 2017

Houston we have a problem!


Of the many undesirable results of the Space Program is the fetishization of the "mission control center", with it's rows of workstations facing a common central screen. Ever since, anybody with any sort of mission now has a similar control center.

It's a pain for us in the cybersecurity community because every organization wants a "security operations center" laid out the same way. The point of he room isn't to create something that's efficient for working, but one that will impress visitors. The things done to impress customers can often make an already difficult job even more difficult.




I point this out because of the "glowing globe" picture from President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia. It's supposed to celebrate the opening of the "Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology" (http://etidal.org). Zoom the camera out a bit, and you can see it's the mission control center from hell.


Manually counting, I see three sides, each with slightly more than 100 workstations/employees, or more than 300 in total. I don't know if they intend all three sections to focus on the same sets of problems, or if they are split into three different tasks (e.g. broadcast TV vs. Internet content). Their brochure is unclear. I suspect in the long it'll be full of third country nations from a broad swath of Muslim nations who can speak the local languages and dialects, working in a sweat-shop manner.

In any case, it's clear that the desire for show/spectacle has far outstripped any practical use.

The more I read about this, the more Orwellian it seems. Rather than opposing ISIS's violence, it seems more intent on promoting a Saudi ideology. The whole spectacle seems intent on tricking the Trump administration into supporting something it really should be opposing.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Some notes on Trump's cybersecurity Executive Order

President Trump has finally signed an executive order on "cybersecurity". The first draft during his first weeks in power were hilariously ignorant. The current draft, though, is pretty reasonable as such things go. I'm just reading the plain language of the draft as a cybersecurity expert, picking out the bits that interest me. In reality, there's probably all sorts of politics in the background that I'm missing, so I may be wildly off-base.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

John Oliver is wrong about Net Neutrality

People keep linking to John Oliver bits. We should stop doing this. This is comedy, but people are confused into thinking Oliver is engaging in rational political debate:


Enlightened people know that reasonable people disagree, that there's two sides to any debate. John Oliver's bit erodes that belief, making one side (your side) sound smart, and the other side sound unreasonable.

The #1 thing you should know about Net Neutrality is that reasonable people disagree. It doesn't mean they are right, only that they are reasonable. They aren't stupid. They aren't shills for the telcom lobby, or confused by the telcom lobby. Indeed, those opposed to Net Neutrality are the tech experts who know how packets are routed, whereas the supporters tend only to be lawyers, academics, and activists. If you think that the anti-NetNeutrality crowd is unreasonable, then you are in a dangerous filter bubble.

Most everything in John Oliver's piece is incorrect.

For example, he says that without Net Neutrality, Comcast can prefer original shows it produces, and slow down competing original shows by Netflix. This is silly: Comcast already does that, even with NetNeutrality rules.

Comcast owns NBC, which produces a lot of original shows. During prime time (8pm to 11pm), Comcast delivers those shows at 6-mbps to its customers, while Netflix is throttled to around 3-mbps. Because of this, Comcast original shows are seen at higher quality than Netflix shows.

Comcast can do this, even with NetNeutrality rules, because it separates its cables into "channels". One channel carries public Internet traffic, like Netflix. The other channels carry private Internet traffic, for broadcast TV shows and pay-per-view.

All NetNeutrality means is that if Comcast wants to give preference to its own contents/services, it has to do so using separate channels on the wire, rather than pushing everything over the same channel. This is a detail nobody tells you because NetNeutrality proponents aren't techies. They are lawyers and academics. They maximize moral outrage, while ignoring technical details.

Another example in Oliver's show is whether search engines like Google or the (hypothetical) Bing can pay to get faster access to customers. They already do that. The average distance a packet travels on the web is less than 100-miles. That's because the biggest companies (Google, Facebook, Netflix, etc.) pay to put servers in your city close to you. Smaller companies, such as search engine DuckDuckGo.com, also pay third-party companies like Akamai or Amazon Web Services to get closer to you. The smallest companies, however, get poor performance, being a thousand miles away.

You can test this out for yourself. Run a packet-sniffer on your home network for a week, then for each address, use mapping tools like ping and traceroute to figure out how far away things are.

The Oliver bit mentioned how Verizon banned Google Wallet. Again, technical details are important here. It had nothing to do with Net Neutrality issues blocking network packets, but only had to do with Verizon-branded phones blocking access to the encrypted enclave. You could use Google Wallet on unlocked phones you bought separately. Moreover, market forces won in the end, with Google Wallet (aka. Android Wallet) now the preferred wallet on their network. In other words, this incident shows that the "free market" fixes things in the long run without the heavy hand of government.

Oliver shows a piece where FCC chief Ajit Pai points out that Internet companies didn't do evil without Net Neutrality rules, and thus NetNeutrality rules were unneeded. Oliver claimed this was a "disingenuous" argument. No, it's not "disingenuous", it entirely the point of why Net Neutrality is bad. It's chasing theoretical possibility of abuse, not the real thing. Sure, Internet companies will occasionally go down misguided paths. If it's truly bad, customers will rebel. In some cases, it's not actually a bad thing, and will end up being a benefit to customers (e.g. throttling BitTorrent during primetime would benefit most BitTorrent users). It's the pro-NetNeutrality side that's being disingenuous, knowingly trumping up things as problems that really aren't.


The point is this. The argument here is a complicated one, between reasonable sides. For humor, John Oliver has created a one-sided debate that falls apart under any serious analysis. Those like the EFF should not mistake such humor for intelligent technical debate.















Sunday, May 07, 2017

Hacker dumps, magnet links, and you

In an excellent post pointing out Wikileaks deserves none of the credit given them in the #MacronLeaks, the author erroneously stated that after Archive.org took down the files, that Wikileaks provided links to a second archive. This is not true. Instead, Wikileaks simply pointed to what's known as "magnet links" of the first archive. Understanding magnet links is critical to understanding all these links and dumps, so I thought I'd describe them.

The tl;dr version is this: anything published via BitTorrent has a matching "magnet link" address, and the contents can still be reached via magnet links when the original publisher goes away.


In this case, the leaker uploaded to "archive.org", a popular Internet archiving resource. This website allows you to either download files directly, which is slow, or via peer-to-peer using BitTorrent, which is fast. As you know, BitTorrent works by all the downloaders exchanging pieces with each other, rather getting them from the server. I give you a piece you don't have, in exchange for a piece I don't have.

BitTorrent, though still requires a "torrent" (a ~30k file that lists all the pieces) and a "tracker" (http://bt1.archive.org:6969/announce) that keeps a list of all the peers so they can find each other. The tracker also makes sure that every piece is available from at least one peer.

When "archive.org" realized what was happening, they deleted the leaked files, the torrent, and the tracking.

However, BitTorrent has another feature called "magnet links". This is simply the "hash" of the "torrent" file contents, which looks something like "06724742e86176c0ec82e294d299fba4aa28901a". (This isn't a hash of the entire file, but just the important parts, such as the filenames and sizes).

Along with downloading files, BitTorrent software on your computer also participates in a "distributed hash" network. When using a torrent file to download, your BitTorrent software still tell other random BitTorrent clients about the hash. Knowledge of this hash thus spreads throughout the BitTorrent world. It's only 16 bytes in size, so the average BitTorrent client can keep track of millions of such hashes while consuming very little memory or bandwidth.

If somebody decides they want to download the BitTorrent with that hash, they broadcast that request throughout this "distributed hash" network until they find one or more people with the full torrent. They then get the torrent description file from them, and also a list of peers in the "swarm" who are downloading the file.

Thus, when the original torrent description file, the tracker, and original copy goes away, you can still locate the swarm of downloaders through this hash. As long as all the individual pieces exist in the swarm, you can still successfully download the original file.

In this case, one of the leaked documents was a 2.3 gigabyte file called "langannerch.rar". The torrent description file called "langanerch_archive.torrent" is 26 kilobytes in size. The hash (magnet link) is 16 bytes in size, written "magnet:?xt=urn:btih:06724742e86176c0ec82e294d299fba4aa28901a". If you've got BitTorrent software installed and click on the link, you'll join the swarm and start downloading the file, even though the original torrent/tracker/files have gone away.

According to my BitTorrent client, there are currently 108 people in the swarm downloading this file world-wide. I'm currently connected to 11 of them. Most of them appear to be located in France.

Looking at the General tab, I see that "availability" is 2.95. That means there exist 2.95 complete copies of the download. In other words, if there are 20 pieces, it means that for one of the pieces in the swarm, only 2 people have it. This is dangerously small -- if those two people leave the network, then a complete copy of the dump will no longer exist in the swarm, and it'll be impossible to download it all.

Such dumps can remain popular enough for years after the original tracker/torrent has disappeared, but at some point, a critical piece disappears, and it becomes impossible for anybody to download more than 99.95%, with everyone in the swarm waiting for that last piece. If you read this blogpost 6 months from now, you are likely to see 10 people in the swarm, all stuck at 99.95% complete.

Conclusion

The upshot of this is that it's hard censoring BitTorrent, because all torrents also exist as magnet links. It took only a couple hours for Archive.org to take down the tracker/torrents/files, but after complete downloads were out in the swarm, all anybody needed was the hash of the original torrent to create a magnet link to the data. Those magnet links had already been published by many people. The Wikileaks tweet that linked to them was fairly late, all things considered, other people had already published them.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Some notes on #MacronLeak

Tonight (Friday May 5 2017) hackers dumped emails (and docs) related to French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. He's the anti-Putin candidate running against the pro-Putin Marin Le Pen. I thought I'd write up some notes.


Are they Macron's emails?

No. They are e-mails from members of his staff/supporters, namely Alain Tourret, Pierre Person, Cedric O??, Anne-Christine Lang, and Quentin Lafay.

There are some documents labeled "Macron" which may have been taken from his computer, cloud drive -- his own, or an assistant.


Who done it?

Obviously, everyone assumes that Russian hackers did it, but there's nothing (so far) that points to anybody in particular.

It appears to be the most basic of phishing attacks, which means anyone could've done it, including your neighbor's pimply faced teenager.

Update: Several people [*] have pointed out Trend Micro reporting that Russian/APT28 hackers were targeting Macron back on April 24. Coincidentally, this is also the latest that emails appear in the dump.


What's the hacker's evil plan?

Everyone is proposing theories about the hacker's plan, but the most likely answer is they don't have one. Hacking is opportunistic. They likely targeted everyone in the campaign, and these were the only victims they could hack. It's probably not the outcome they were hoping for.

But since they've gone through all the work, it'd be a shame to waste it. Thus, they are likely releasing the dump not because they believe it will do any good, but because it'll do them no harm. It's a shame to waste all the work they put into it.

If there's any plan, it's probably a long range one, serving notice that any political candidate that goes against Putin will have to deal with Russian hackers dumping email.


Why now? Why not leak bits over time like with Clinton?

France has a campaign blackout starting tonight at midnight until the election on Sunday. Thus, it's the perfect time to leak the files. Anything salacious, or even rumors of something bad, will spread viraly through Facebook and Twitter, without the candidate or the media having a good chance to rebut the allegations.

The last emails in the logs appear to be from April 24, the day after the first round vote (Sunday's vote is the second, runoff, round). Thus, the hackers could've leaked this dump any time in the last couple weeks. They chose now to do it.


Are the emails verified?

Yes and no.

Yes, we have DKIM signatures between people's accounts, so we know for certain that hackers successfully breached these accounts. DKIM is an anti-spam method that cryptographically signs emails by the sending domain (e.g. @gmail.com), and thus, can also verify the email hasn't been altered or forged.

But no, when a salacious email or document is found in the dump, it'll likely not have such a signature (most emails don't), and thus, we probably won't be able to verify the scandal. In other words, the hackers could have altered or forged something that becomes newsworthy.


What are the most salacious emails/files?

I don't know. Before this dump, hackers on 4chan were already making allegations that Macron had secret offshore accounts (debunked). Presumably we need to log in to 4chan tomorrow for them to point out salacious emails/files from this dump.

Another email going around seems to indicate that Alain Tourret, a member of the French legislature, had his assistant @FrancoisMachado buy drugs online with Bitcoin and had them sent to his office in the legislature building. The drugs in question, 3-MMC, is a variant of meth that might be legal in France. The emails point to a tracking number which looks legitimate, at least, that a package was indeed shipped to that area of Paris. There is a bitcoin transaction that matches the address, time, and amount specified in the emails. Some claim these drug emails are fake, but so far, I haven't seen any emails explaining why they should be fake. On the other hand, there's nothing proving they are true (no DKIM sig), either.

Some salacious emails might be obvious, but some may take people with more expertise to find. For example, one email is a receipt from Uber (with proper DKIM validation) that shows the route that "Quenten" took on the night of the first round election. Somebody clued into the French political scene might be able to figure out he's visiting his mistress, or something. (This is hypothetical -- in reality, he's probably going from one campaign rally to the next).


What's the Macron camp's response?

They have just the sort of response you'd expect.

They claim some of the documents/email are fake, without getting into specifics. They claim that information is needed to be understand in context. They claim that this was a "massive coordinated attack", even though it's something that any pimply faced teenager can do. They claim it's an attempt to destabilize democracy. They call upon journalists to be "responsible".


Wednesday, May 03, 2017

FBI's Comey dangerous definition of "valid" journalism

The First Amendment, the "freedom of speech" one, does not mention journalists. When it says "freedom of the press" it means the physical printing press. Yes, that does include newspapers, but it also includes anybody else publishing things, such as the famous agitprop pamphlets published by James Otis, John Dickinson, and Thomas Paine. There was no journalistic value to Thomas Paine's Common Sense. The pamphlet argued for abolishing the monarchy and for American independence.

Today in testimony before congress, FBI directory James Comey came out in support of journalism, pointing out that they would not prosecute journalists doing their jobs. But he then modified his statement, describing "valid" journalists as those who in possession of leaks would first check with the government, to avoid publishing anything that would damage national security. It's a power the government has abused in the past to delay or censor leaks. It's specifically why Edward Snowden contacted Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras -- he wanted journalists who would not kowtow the government on publishing the leaks.

Comey's testimony today was in regards to prosecuting Assange and Wikileaks. Under the FBI's official "journalist" classification scheme, Wikileaks are not real journalists, but instead publish "intelligence porn" and are hostile to America's interests.

To be fair, there may be good reasons to prosecute Assange. Publishing leaks is one thing, but the suspicion with Wikileaks is that they do more, that they actively help getting the leaks in the first place. The original leaks that started Wikileaks may have come from hacks by Assange himself. Assange may have helped Manning grab the diplomatic cables. Wikileaks may have been involved in hacking the DNC and Podesta emails, more than simply receiving and publishing the information.

If that's the case, then the US government would have good reason to prosecute Wikileaks.

But that's not what Comey said today. Instead, Comey referred only to Wikileaks constitutionally protected publishing activities, and how since they didn't fit his definition of "journalism", they were open to prosecution. This is fundamentally wrong, and a violation of the both the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment. The FBI should not have a definition of "journalism" it thinks is valid. Yes, Assange is an anti-American douchebag. Being an apologist for Putin's Russia disproves his claim of being a neutral journalist targeting the corrupt and powerful. But these activities are specifically protected by the Constitution.

If this were 1776, Comey would of course be going after Thomas Paine, for publishing "revolution porn", and not being a real journalist.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Fast and Furious 8: Fate of the Furious"

So "Fast and Furious 8" opened this weekend to world-wide box office totals of $500,000,000. I thought I'd write up some notes on the "hacking" in it. The tl;dr version is this: yes, while the hacking is a bit far fetched, it's actually more realistic than the car chase scenes, such as winning a race with the engine on fire while in reverse.

[SPOILERS]