Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Bitcoin: In Crypto We Trust

Tim Wu, who coined "net neutrality", has written an op-ed on the New York Times called "The Bitcoin Boom: In Code We Trust". He is wrong about "code".

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Libertarians are against net neutrality

This post claims to be by a libertarian in support of net neutrality. As a libertarian, I need to debunk this. "Net neutrality" is a case of one-hand clapping, you rarely hear the competing side, and thus, that side may sound attractive. This post is about the other side, from a libertarian point of view.

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Thanksgiving Carol: How Those Smart Engineers at Twitter Screwed Me

Thanksgiving Holiday is a time for family and cheer. Well, a time for family. It's the holiday where we ask our doctor relatives to look at that weird skin growth, and for our geek relatives to fix our computers. This tale is of such computer support, and how the "smart" engineers at Twitter have ruined this for life.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Don Jr.: I'll bite

So Don Jr. tweets the following, which is an excellent troll. So I thought I'd bite. The reason is I just got through debunk Democrat claims about NetNeutrality, so it seems like a good time to balance things out and debunk Trump nonsense.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

NetNeutrality vs. limiting FaceTime

People keep retweeting this ACLU graphic in regards to NetNeutrality. In this post, I debunk the fourth item. In previous posts [1] [2] I debunk other items.

NetNeutrality vs. Verizon censoring Naral

People keep retweeting this ACLU graphic in support of net neutrality. It's wrong. In this post, I debunk the second item. I debunk other items in other posts [1] [4].

NetNeutrality vs. AT&T censoring Pearl Jam

People keep retweeting this ACLU graphic in response to the FCC's net neutrality decision. In this post, I debunk the first item on the list. In other posts [2] [4] I debunk other items.

The FCC has never defended Net Neutrality

This op-ed by a "net neutrality expert" claims the FCC has always defended "net neutrality". It's garbage.

This wrong on its face. It imagines decades ago that the FCC inshrined some plaque on the wall stating principles that subsequent FCC commissioners have diligently followed. The opposite is true. FCC commissioners are a chaotic bunch, with different interests, influenced (i.e. "lobbied" or "bribed") by different telecommunications/Internet companies. Rather than following a principle, their Internet regulatory actions have been ad hoc and arbitrary -- for decades.

Sure, you can cherry pick some of those regulatory actions as fitting a "net neutrality" narrative, but most actions don't fit that narrative, and there have been gross net neutrality violations that the FCC has ignored.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Your Holiday Cybersecurity Guide

Many of us are visiting parents/relatives this Thanksgiving/Christmas, and will have an opportunity to help our them with cybersecurity issues. I thought I'd write up a quick guide of the most important things.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Why Linus is right (as usual)

People are debating this email from Linus Torvalds (maintainer of the Linux kernel). It has strong language, like:
Some security people have scoffed at me when I say that security
problems are primarily "just bugs".
Those security people are f*cking morons.
Because honestly, the kind of security person who doesn't accept that
security problems are primarily just bugs, I don't want to work with.
I thought I'd explain why Linus is right.

Friday, November 17, 2017

How to read newspapers

News articles don't contain the information you think. Instead, they are written according to a formula, and that formula is as much about distorting/hiding information as it is about revealing it.

A good example is the following. I claimed hate-crimes aren't increasing. The tweet below tries to disprove me, by citing a news article that claims the opposite:




But the data behind this article tells a very different story than the words.

Every November, the FBI releases its hate-crime statistics for the previous year. They've been doing this every year for a long time. When they do so, various news organizations grab the data and write a quick story around it.

By "story" I mean a story. Raw numbers don't interest people, so the writer instead has to wrap it in a narrative that does interest people. That's what the writer has done in the above story, leading with the fact that hate crimes have increased.

But is this increase meaningful? What do the numbers actually say?

To answer this, I went to the FBI's website, the source of this data, and grabbed the numbers for the last 20 years, and graphed them in Excel, producing the following graph:


As you can see, there is no significant rise in hate-crimes. Indeed, the latest numbers are about 20% below the average for the last two decades, despite a tiny increase in the last couple years. Statistically/scientifically, there is no change, but you'll never read that in a news article, because it's boring and readers won't pay attention. You'll only get a "news story" that weaves a narrative that interests the reader.

So back to the original tweet exchange. The person used the news story to disprove my claim, but going to the underlying data, it only supports my claim that the hate-crimes are going down, not up -- the small increases of the past couple years are insignificant to the larger decreases of the last two decades.

So that's the point of this post: news stories are deceptive. You have to double-check the data they are based upon, and pay less attention to the narrative they weave, and even less attention to the title designed to grab your attention.


Anyway, as a side-note, I'd like to apologize for being human. The snark/sarcasm of the tweet above gives me extra pleasure in proving them wrong :).

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Some notes about the Kaspersky affair

I thought I'd write up some notes about Kaspersky, the Russian anti-virus vendor that many believe has ties to Russian intelligence.

There's two angles to this story. One is whether the accusations are true. The second is the poor way the press has handled the story, with mainstream outlets like the New York Times more intent on pushing government propaganda than informing us what's going on.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Some notes on the KRACK attack

This is my interpretation of the KRACK attacks paper that describes a way of decrypting encrypted WiFi traffic with an active attack.

tl;dr: Wow. Everyone needs to be afraid. (Well, worried -- not panicked.) It means in practice, attackers can decrypt a lot of wifi traffic, with varying levels of difficulty depending on your precise network setup. My post last July about the DEF CON network being safe was in error.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Responsible encryption" fallacies

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave a speech recently calling for "Responsible Encryption" (aka. "Crypto Backdoors"). It's full of dangerous ideas that need to be debunked.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Microcell through a mobile hotspot

I accidentally acquired a tree farm 20 minutes outside of town. For utilities, it gets electricity and basic phone. It doesn't get water, sewer, cable, or DSL (i.e. no Internet). Also, it doesn't really get cell phone service. While you can get SMS messages up there, you usually can't get a call connected, or hold a conversation if it does.

We have found a solution -- an evil solution. We connect an AT&T "Microcell", which provides home cell phone service through your Internet connection, to an AT&T Mobile Hotspot, which provides an Internet connection through your cell phone service.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Browser hacking for 280 character tweets

Twitter has raised the limit to 280 characters for a select number of people. However, they left open a hole, allowing anybody to make large tweets with a little bit of hacking. The hacking skills needed are basic hacking skills, which I thought I'd write up in a blog post.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

5 years with home NAS/RAID

I have lots of data-sets (packet-caps, internet-scans), so I need a large RAID system to hole it all. As I described in 2012, I bought a home "NAS" system. I thought I'd give the 5 year perspective.


Reliability. I had two drives fail, which is about to be expected. Buying a new drive, swapping it in, and rebuilding the RAID went painless, though that's because I used RAID6 (two drive redundancy). RAID5 (one drive redundancy) is for chumps.

Speed. I've been unhappy with the speed, but there's not much I can do about it. Mechanical drives access times are slow, and I don't see any way of fixing that.

Cost. It's been $3000 over 5 years (including the two replacement drives). That comes out to $50/month. Amazon's "Glacier" service is $108/month. Since we all have the same hardware costs, it's unlikely that any online cloud storage can do better than doing it yourself.

Moore's Law. For the same price as I spent 5 years ago, I can now get three times the storage, including faster processors in the NAS box. From that perspective, I've only spent $33/month on storage, as the remaining third still has value.

Ease-of-use: The reason to go with a NAS is ease-of-use, so I don't have to mess with it. Yes, I'm a Linux sysadmin, but I have more than enough Linux boxen needing my attention. The NAS has been extremely easy to use, even dealing with the two disk failures.

Battery backup. The cheap $50 CyberPower UPS I bought never worked well and completely failed recently, so I've ordered a $150 APC unit to replace it.

Vendor. I chose Synology, and have no reason to complain. Of course they've had security vulnerabilities, but then, so have all their competition.

DLNA. This is a standard for streaming music among home devices. It never worked well. I suspect partly it's Synology's fault that they can't transcode well. I suspect it's also the apps I tried on the iPad which have obvious problems. I end up streaming to the iPad by simply using the SMB protocol to serve files rather than a video protocol.

Consumer vs. enterprise drives. I chose consumer rather than enterprise drives. I think this is always the best choice (RAID means inexpensive drives). But very smart people with experience in recovering data disagree with me.

If you are in the market. If you are building your own NAS, get a 4 or 5 bay device and RAID6. Two-drive redundancy is really important.



Friday, September 15, 2017

People can't read (Equifax edition)

One of these days I'm going to write a guide for journalists reporting on the cyber. One of the items I'd stress is that they often fail to read the text of what is being said, but instead read some sort of subtext that wasn't explicitly said. This is valid sometimes -- as the subtext is what the writer intended all along, even if they didn't explicitly write it. Other times, though the imagined subtext is not what the writer intended at all.

Monday, September 04, 2017

State of MAC address randomization

tldr: I went to DragonCon, a conference of 85,000 people, so sniff WiFi packets and test how many phones now uses MAC address randomization. Almost all iPhones nowadays do, but it seems only a third of Android phones do.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

ROI is not a cybersecurity concept

In the cybersecurity community, much time is spent trying to speak the language of business, in order to communicate to business leaders our problems. One way we do this is trying to adapt the concept of "return on investment" or "ROI" to explain why they need to spend more money. Stop doing this. It's nonsense. ROI is a concept pushed by vendors in order to justify why you should pay money for their snake oil security products. Don't play the vendor's game.

The correct concept is simply "risk analysis". Here's how it works.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

On ISO standardization of blockchains

So ISO, the primary international standards organization, is seeking to standardize blockchain technologies. On the surface, this seems a reasonable idea, creating a common standard that everyone can interoperate with.

But it can be silly idea in practice. I mean, it should not be assumed that this is a good thing to do.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Announcement: IPS code

So after 20 years, IBM is killing off my BlackICE code created in April 1998. So it's time that I rewrite it.

BlackICE was the first "inline" intrusion-detection system, aka. an "intrusion prevention system" or IPS. ISS purchased my company in 2001 and replaced their RealSecure engine with it, and later renamed it Proventia. Then IBM purchased ISS in 2006. Now, they are formally canceling the project and moving customers onto Cisco's products, which are based on Snort.

So now is a good time to write a replacement. The reason is that BlackICE worked fundamentally differently than Snort, using protocol analysis rather than pattern-matching. In this way, it worked more like Bro than Snort. The biggest benefit of protocol-analysis is speed, making it many times faster than Snort. The second benefit is better detection ability, as I describe in this post on Heartbleed.

So my plan is to create a new project. I'll be checking in the starter bits into GitHub starting a couple weeks from now. I need to figure out a new name for the project, so I don't have to rip off a name from William Gibson like I did last time :).

Some notes:

  • Yes, it'll be GNU open source. I'm a capitalist, so I'll earn money like snort/nmap dual-licensing it, charging companies who don't want to open-source their addons. All capitalists GNU license their code.
  • C, not Rust. Sorry, I'm going for extreme scalability. We'll re-visit this decision later when looking at building protocol parsers.
  • It'll be 95% compatible with Snort signatures. Their language definition leaves so much ambiguous it'll be hard to be 100% compatible.
  • It'll support Snort output as well, though really, Snort's events suck.
  • Protocol parsers in Lua, so you can use it as a replacement for Bro, writing parsers to extract data you are interested in.
  • Protocol state machine parsers in C, like you see in my Masscan project for X.509.
  • First version IDS only. These days, "inline" means also being able to MitM the SSL stack, so I'm gong to have to think harder on that.
  • Mutli-core worker threads off PF_RING/DPDK/netmap receive queues. Should handle 10gbps, tracking 10 million concurrent connections, with quad-core CPU.
So if you want to contribute to the project, here's what I need:
  • Requirements from people who work daily with IDS/IPS today. I need you to write up what your products do well that you really like. I need to you write up what they suck at that needs to be fixed. These need to be in some detail.
  • Testing environment to play with. This means having a small server plugged into a real-world link running at a minimum of several gigabits-per-second available for the next year. I'll sign NDAs related to the data I might see on the network.
  • Coders. I'll be doing the basic architecture, but protocol parsers, output plugins, etc. will need work. Code will be in C and Lua for the near term. Unfortunately, since I'm going to dual-license, I'll need waivers before accepting pull requests.
Anyway, follow me on Twitter @erratarob if you want to contribute.





Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why that "file-copy" forensics of DNC hack is wrong

People keep asking me about this story about how forensics "experts" have found proof the DNC hack was an inside job, because files were copied at 22-megabytes-per-second, faster than is reasonable for Internet connections.

This story is bogus.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Query name minimization

One new thing you need to add your DNS security policies is "query name minimizations" (RFC 7816). I thought I'd mention it since many haven't heard about it.

Right now, when DNS resolvers lookup a name like "www.example.com.", they send the entire name to the root server (like a.root-servers.net.). When it gets back the answer to the .com DNS server a.gtld-servers.net), it then resends the full "www.example.com" query to that server.

This is obviously unnecessary. The first query should be just .com. to the root server, then example.com. to the next server -- the minimal amount needed for each query, not the full query.

The reason this is important is that everyone is listening in on root name server queries. Universities and independent researchers do this to maintain the DNS system, and to track malware. Security companies do this also to track malware, bots, command-and-control channels, and so forth. The world's biggest spy agencies do this in order just to spy on people. Minimizing your queries prevents them from spying on you.

An example where this is important is that story of lookups from AlfaBank in Russia for "mail1.trump-emails.com". Whatever you think of Trump, this was an improper invasion of privacy, where DNS researchers misused their privileged access in order to pursue their anti-Trump political agenda. If AlfaBank had used query name minimization, none of this would have happened.

It's also critical for not exposing internal resources. Even when you do "split DNS", when the .com record expires, you resolver will still forward the internal DNS record to the outside world. All those Russian hackers can map out the internal names of your network simply by eavesdropping on root server queries.

Servers that support this are Knot resolver and Unbound 1.5.7+ and possibly others. It's a relatively new standard, so it make take a while for other DNS servers to support this.





Monday, July 31, 2017

Top 10 Most Obvious Hacks of All Time (v0.9)

For teaching hacking/cybersecurity, I thought I'd create of the most obvious hacks of all time. Not the best hacks, the most sophisticated hacks, or the hacks with the biggest impact, but the most obvious hacks -- ones that even the least knowledgeable among us should be able to understand. Below I propose some hacks that fit this bill, though in no particular order.

The reason I'm writing this is that my niece wants me to teach her some hacking. I thought I'd start with the obvious stuff first.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Is DefCon Wifi safe?

DEF CON is the largest U.S. hacker conference that takes place every summer in Las Vegas. It offers WiFi service. Is it safe?

Probably.

The trick is that you need to download the certificate from https://wifireg.defcon.org and import it into your computer. They have instructions for all your various operating systems. For macOS, it was as simple as downloading "dc25.mobileconfig" and importing it.

I haven't validated the DefCon team did the right thing for all platforms, but I know that safety is possible. If a hacker could easily hack into arbitrary WiFi, then equipment vendors would fix it. Corporations widely use WiFi -- they couldn't do this if it weren't safe.

The first step in safety is encryption, obviously. WPA does encryption well, you you are good there.

The second step is authentication -- proving that the access-point is who it says it is. Otherwise, somebody could setup their own access-point claiming to be "DefCon", and you'd happily connect to it. Encrypted connect to the evil access-point doesn't help you. This is what the certificate you download does -- you import it into your system, so that you'll trust only the "DefCon" access-point that has the private key.

That's not to say you are completely safe. There's a known vulnerability for the Broadcom WiFi chip imbedded in many devices, including iPhone and Android phones. If you have one of these devices, you should either upgrade your software with a fix or disable WiFi.

There may also be unknown vulnerabilities in WiFi stacks. the Broadcom bug shows that after a couple decades, we still haven't solved the problem of simple buffer overflows in WiFi stacks/drivers. Thus, some hacker may have an unknown 0day vulnerability they are using to hack you.

Of course, this can apply to any WiFi usage anywhere. Frankly, if I had such an 0day, I wouldn't use it at DefCon. Along with black-hat hackers DefCon is full of white-hat researchers monitoring the WiFi -- looking for hackers using exploits. They are likely to discover the 0day and report it. Thus, I'd rather use such 0-days in international airpots, catching business types, getting into their company secrets. Or, targeting government types.

So it's impossible to guarantee any security. But what the DefCon network team bas done looks right, the same sort of thing corporations do to secure themselves, so you are probably secure.

On the other hand, don't use "DefCon-Open" -- not only is it insecure, there are explicitly a ton of hackers spying on it at the "Wall of Sheep" to point out the "sheep" who don't secure their passwords.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Slowloris all the things

At DEFCON, some researchers are going to announce a Slowloris-type exploit for SMB -- SMBloris. I thought I'd write up some comments.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Defending anti-netneutrality arguments

Last week, activists proclaimed a "NetNeutrality Day", trying to convince the FCC to regulate NetNeutrality. As a libertarian, I tweeted many reasons why NetNeutrality is stupid. NetNeutrality is exactly the sort of government regulation Libertarians hate most. Somebody tweeted the following challenge, which I thought I'd address here.


The links point to two separate cases.
  • the Comcast BitTorrent throttling case
  • a lawsuit against Time Warning for poor service
The tone of the tweet suggests that my anti-NetNeutrality stance cannot be defended in light of these cases. But of course this is wrong. The short answers are:

  • the Comcast BitTorrent throttling benefits customers
  • poor service has nothing to do with NetNeutrality

The long answers are below.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Burner laptops for DEF CON

Hacker summer camp (Defcon, Blackhat, BSidesLV) is upon us, so I thought I'd write up some quick notes about bringing a "burner" laptop. Chrome is your best choice in terms of security, but I need Windows/Linux tools, so I got a Windows laptop.

I chose the Asus e200ha for $199 from Amazon with free (and fast) shipping. There are similar notebooks with roughly the same hardware and price from other manufacturers (HP, Dell, etc.), so I'm not sure how this compares against those other ones. However, it fits my needs as a "burner" laptop, namely:
  • cheap
  • lasts 10 hours easily on battery
  • weighs 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram)
  • 11.6 inch and thin
Some other specs are:
  • 4 gigs of RAM
  • 32 gigs of eMMC flash memory
  • quad core 1.44 GHz Intel Atom CPU
  • Windows 10
  • free Microsoft Office 365 for one year
  • good, large keyboard
  • good, large touchpad
  • USB 3.0
  • microSD
  • WiFi ac
  • no fans, completely silent
There are compromises, of course.
  • The Atom CPU is slow, thought it's only noticeable when churning through heavy webpages. Adblocking addons or Brave are a necessity. Most things are usably fast, such as using Microsoft Word.
  • Crappy sound and video, though VLC does a fine job playing movies with headphones on the airplane. Using in bright sunlight will be difficult.
  • micro-HDMI, keep in mind if intending to do presos from it, you'll need an HDMI adapter
  • It has limited storage, 32gigs in theory, about half that usable.
  • Does special Windows 10 compressed install that you can't actually upgrade without a completely new install. It doesn't have the latest Windows 10 Creators update. I lost a gig thinking I could compress system files.

Copying files across the 802.11ac WiFi to the disk was quite fast, several hundred megabits-per-second. The eMMC isn't as fast as an SSD, but its a lot faster than typical SD card speeds.

The first thing I did once I got the notebook was to install the free VeraCrypt full disk encryption. The CPU has AES acceleration, so it's fast. There is a problem with the keyboard driver during boot that makes it really hard to enter long passwords -- you have to carefully type one key at a time to prevent extra keystrokes from being entered.

You can't really install Linux on this computer, but you can use virtual machines. I installed VirtualBox and downloaded the Kali VM. I had some problems attaching USB devices to the VM. First of all, VirtualBox requires a separate downloaded extension to get USB working. Second, it conflicts with USBpcap that I installed for Wireshark.

It comes with one year of free Office 365. Obviously, Microsoft is hoping to hook the user into a longer term commitment, but in practice next year at this time I'd get another burner $200 laptop rather than spend $99 on extending the Office 365 license.

Let's talk about the CPU. It's Intel's "Atom" processor, not their mainstream (Core i3 etc.) processor. Even though it has roughly the same GHz as the processor in a 11inch MacBook Air and twice the cores, it's noticeably and painfully slower. This is especially noticeable on ad-heavy web pages, while other things seem to work just fine. It has hardware acceleration for most video formats, though I had trouble getting Netflix to work.

The tradeoff for a slow CPU is phenomenal battery life. It seems to last forever on battery. It's really pretty cool.

Conclusion

A Chromebook is likely more secure, but for my needs, this $200 is perfect.


Saturday, July 01, 2017

Yet more reasons to disagree with experts on nPetya

In WW II, they looked at planes returning from bombing missions that were shot full of holes. Their natural conclusion was to add more armor to the sections that were damaged, to protect them in the future. But wait, said the statisticians. The original damage is likely spread evenly across the plane. Damage on returning planes indicates where they could damage and still return. The undamaged areas are where they were hit and couldn't return. Thus, it's the undamaged areas you need to protect.

This is called survivorship bias.

Many experts are making the same mistake with regards to the nPetya ransomware. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

NonPetya: no evidence it was a "smokescreen"

Many well-regarded experts claim that the not-Petya ransomware wasn't "ransomware" at all, but a "wiper" whose goal was to destroy files, without any intent at letting victims recover their files. I want to point out that there is no real evidence of this.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A kindly lesson for you non-techies about encryption

The following tweets need to be debunked:



The answer to John Schindler's question is:
every expert in cryptography doesn't know this
Oh, sure, you can find fringe wacko who also knows crypto that agrees with you but all the sane members of the security community will not.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Notes on open-sourcing abandoned code

Some people want a law that compels companies to release their source code for "abandoned software", in the name of cybersecurity, so that customers who bought it can continue to patch bugs long after the seller has stopped supporting the product. This is a bad policy, for a number of reasons.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

What about other leaked printed documents?

So nat-sec pundit/expert Marci Wheeler (@emptywheel) asks about those DIOG docs leaked last year. They were leaked in printed form, then scanned in an published by The Intercept. Did they have these nasty yellow dots that track the source? If not, why not?

The answer is that the scanned images of the DIOG doc don't have dots. I don't know why. One reason might be that the scanner didn't pick them up, as it's much lower quality than the scanner for the Russian hacking docs. Another reason is that the printer used my not have printed them -- while most printers do print such dots, some printers don't. A third possibility is that somebody used a tool to strip the dots from scanned images. I don't think such a tool exists, but it wouldn't be hard to write.

Monday, June 05, 2017

How The Intercept Outed Reality Winner

Today, The Intercept released documents on election tampering from an NSA leaker. Later, the arrest warrant request for an NSA contractor named "Reality Winner" was published, showing how they tracked her down because she had printed out the documents and sent them to The Intercept. The document posted by the Intercept isn't the original PDF file, but a PDF containing the pictures of the printed version that was then later scanned in.

As the warrant says, she confessed while interviewed by the FBI. Had she not confessed, the documents still contained enough evidence to convict her: the printed document was digitally watermarked.

The problem is that most new printers print nearly invisibly yellow dots that track down exactly when and where documents, any document, is printed. Because the NSA logs all printing jobs on its printers, it can use this to match up precisely who printed the document.

In this post, I show how.

Some non-lessons from WannaCry

This piece by Bruce Schneier needs debunking. I thought I'd list the things wrong with it.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

How to track that annoying pop-up

In a recent update to their Office suite on Windows, Microsoft made a mistake where every hour, for a fraction of a second,  a black window pops up on the screen. This leads many to fear their system has been infected by a virus. I thought I'd document how to track this down.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I want to talk for a moment about tolerance

This post is in response to this Twitter thread. I was going to do a series of tweets in response, but as the number grew, I thought it'd better be done in a blog.


She thinks we are fighting for the rights of Nazis. We aren't -- indeed, the fact that she thinks we are is exactly the problem. They aren't Nazis.

The issue is not about a slippery slope that first Nazi's lose free speech, then other groups start losing their speech as well. The issue is that it's a slippery slope that more and more people get labeled a Nazi. And we are already far down that slope.

The "alt-right" is a diverse group. Like any group. Vilifying the entire alt-right by calling them Nazi's is like lumping all Muslims in with ISIS or Al Qaeda. We really don't have Nazi's in America. Even White Nationalists don't fit the bill. Nazism was about totalitarianism, real desire to exterminate Jews, lebensraum, and Aryan superiority. Sure, some of these people exist, but they are a fringe, even among the alt-right.

It's at this point we need to discuss words like "tolerance". I don't think it means what you think it means.

The idea of tolerance is that reasonable people can disagree. You still believe you are right, and the other person is wrong, but you accept that they are nonetheless a reasonable person with good intentions, and that they don't need to be punished for holding the wrong opinion.

Gay rights is a good example. I agree with you that there is only one right answer to this. Having spent nights holding my crying gay college roommate, because his father hated gays, has filled me with enormous hatred and contempt for people like his father. I've done my fair share shouting at people for anti-gay slurs.

Yet on the other hand, progressive icons like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have had evolving positions on gay rights issues, such as having opposed gay marriage at one time.

Tolerance means accepting that a person is reasonable, intelligent, and well-meaning -- even if they oppose gay marriage. It means accepting that Hillary and Obama were reasonable people, even when they were vocally opposing gay marriage.

I'm libertarian. Like most libertarians, I support wide open borders, letting any immigrant across the border for any reason. To me, Hillary's and Obama's immigration policies are almost as racist as Trump's. I have to either believe all you people supporting Hillary/Obama are irredeemably racist -- or that well-meaning, good people can disagree about immigration.


I could go through a long list of issues that separate the progressive left and alt-right, and my point would always be the same. While people disagree on issues, and I have my own opinions about which side is right, there are reasonable people on both sides. If there are issues that divide our country down the middle, then by definition, both sides are equally reasonable. The problem with the progressive left is that they do not tolerate this. They see the world as being between one half who hold the correct opinions, and the other half who are unreasonable.

What defines the "alt-right" is not Nazism or White Nationalism, but the reaction of many on the right to intolerance of many on the left. Every time somebody is punished and vilified for uttering what is in fact a reasonable difference of opinion, they join the "alt-right".

The issue at stake here, the issue that the ACLU is defending, is after that violent attack on the Portland train by an extremist, the city is denying all "alt-right" protesters the right to march. It's blaming all those of the "alt-right" for the actions of one of their member. It's similar to cities blocking Muslims from building a mosque because of extremists like ISIS and Al Qaeda, or disturbed individuals who carry out violent attacks in the name of Islam.

This is not just a violation of the First Amendment rights, it's an obvious one. As the Volokh Conspiracy documents, the courts have ruled many times on this issue. There is no doubt that the "alt-right" has the right to march, and that the city's efforts to deny them this right is a blatant violation of the constitution.

What we are defending here is not the rights of actual Nazi's to march (as the courts famous ruled was still legitimate speech in Skokie, Illinois), but the rights of non-Nazi's to march, most who have legitimate, reasonable (albeit often wrong) grievances to express. This speech is clearly being suppressed by gun wielding thugs in Portland, Oregon.

Those like Jillian see this as dealing with unreasonable speech, we see this as a problem of tolerably wrong speech. Those like Jillian York aren't defending the right to free speech because, in their minds, they've vilified the people they disagree with. But that's that's exactly when, and only when, free speech needs our protection, when those speaking out have been vilified, and their repression seems just. Look at how Russia suppresses supporters of gay rights, with exactly this sort of vilification, whereby the majority of the populace sees the violence and policing as a legitimate response to speech that should not be free.

We aren't fighting a slippery slope here, by defending Nazis. We've already slid down that slope, where reasonable people's rights are being violated. We are fighting to get back up top.

--> -->

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]

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mirai, Bitcoin, and numeracy

Newsweek (the magazine famous for outing the real Satoshi Nakamoto) has a story about how a variant of the Mirai botnet is mining bitcoin. They fail to run the numbers.

The story repeats a claim by Mcafee that 2.5 million devices were infected with Mirai at some point in 2016. If they were all mining bitcoin, how much money would the hackers be earning?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pranksters gonna prank

So Alfa Bank (the bank whose DNS traffic link it to trump-email.com) is back in the news with this press release about how in the last month, hackers have spoofed traffic trying to make it look like there's a tie with Trump. In other words, Alfa claims these packets are trying to frame them for a tie with Trump now, and thus (by extension) it must've been a frame last October.

There is no conspiracy here: it's just merry pranksters doing pranks (as this CNN article quotes me).

Indeed, among the people pranking has been me (not the pranks mentioned by Alfa, but different pranks). I ran a scan sending packets from IP address to almost everyone one the Internet, and set the reverse lookup to "mail1.trumpemail.com".

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Assert() in the hands of bad coders

Using assert() creates better code, as programmers double-check assumptions. But only if used correctly. Unfortunately, bad programmers tend to use them badly, making code worse than if no asserts were used at all. They are a nuanced concept that most programmers don't really understand.

We saw this recently with the crash of "Bitcoin Unlimited", a version of Bitcoin that allows more transactions. They used an assert() to check the validity of input, and when they received bad input, most of the nodes in the network crashed.

The Bitcoin Classic/Unlimited code is full of bad uses of assert. The following examples are all from the file main.cpp.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Some confusing language in the 0day debate

As revealed in last week's CIA #Vault7 leaks, the CIA has some 0days. This has ignited the debate about whether organizations like the CIA should be disclosing these 0days so that vendors can fix them, rather than "stockpiling" them. There seems to be some confusion about language.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

FBI: what to look for in the Trump/AlfaBank connection

As CNN reports, the FBI seems to be looking into that connection between Trump and Alfa Bank. Here are some things to look for.

First, get your own copy of the logs from root name servers. I don't trust the source of the original logs. I suspect they've been edited in order to show a relationship with Alfa Bank. You've got lots of sources both inside government and in private industry that can provide a copy of these logs without a warrant. (Which sucks, you should need a warrant, but that's the current state of affairs).

Second, look at the server in question. It's probably located at 140 Akron Road, Ephrata, PA. What you are looking for are the logs of anything sent from the server during that time, specifically any e-mails.

Third, talk to Cendyn, and ask them what that server was used for during that time. Their current statement is that it was used by the Metron meeting software. In other words, they say that after they stopped using it to send marketing emails, they started using it for their meeting product. They seem a little confused, so it'd be nice to pin them down. Specifically, get logfiles indicating precisely what happened, and figure out how Metron works, what sorts of messages it will generate.

Fourth, talk to Cendyn, and ask them about customers of their Metron meeting software, namely who used it to arrange meetings with Alfa Bank or the Trump organization. My guess is that this is where you'll really get the juicy information, getting a list of what meetings happened when and who was invited.

Fifth, talk to Cendyn and get logfiles form their DNS servers to figure out who was resolving that domain name (mail1.trump-email.com) during that time period.

Sixth, ask Alfa Bank for logfiles from their DNS resolvers that would tell you which machines internally were generating those requests.

My guess is that all of this will come up empty. There's a coincidence here, but a small one. Much of the technical details have been overhyped and mean little.

Some notes on the RAND 0day report

The RAND Corporation has a research report on the 0day market [ * ]. It's pretty good. They talked to all the right people. It should be considered the seminal work on the issue. They've got the pricing about right ($1 million for full chain iPhone exploit, but closer to $100k for others). They've got the stats about right (5% chance somebody else will discover an exploit).

Yet, they've got some problems, namely phrasing the debate as activists want, rather than a neutral view of the debate.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

A note about "false flag" operations

There's nothing in the CIA #Vault7 leaks that calls into question strong attribution, like Russia being responsible for the DNC hacks. On the other hand, it does call into question weak attribution, like North Korea being responsible for the Sony hacks.

There are really two types of attribution. Strong attribution is a preponderance of evidence that would convince an unbiased, skeptical expert. Weak attribution is flimsy evidence that confirms what people are predisposed to believe.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Only lobbyist and politicians matter, not techies

The NSA/CIA will only buy an 0day if they can use it. They can't use it if they disclose the bug.

I point this out, yet again, because of this WaPo article [*] built on the premise that the NSA/CIA spend millions of dollars on 0day they don't use, while unilaterally disarming tiself. Since that premise is false, the entire article is false. It's the sort of article you get when all you interview are Washington D.C. lobbyists and Washington D.C. politicians -- and no outside experts.


It quotes former cyberczar (under Obama) Michael Daniel explaining that the "default assumption" is to disclose 0days that the NSA/CIA get. This is a Sean Spicer style lie. He's paid to say this, but it's not true. The NSA/CIA only buy 0day if they can use it. They won't buy 0day if the default assumption is that they will disclose it. QED: the default assumption of such 0day is they won't disclose them.

The story quotes Ben Wizner of the ACLU saying that we should patch 0days instead of using them. Patching isn't an option. If we aren't using them, then we aren't buying them, and hence, there are no 0days to patch. The two options are to not buy 0days at all (and not patch) or buy to use them (and not patch). Either way, patching doesn't happen.

Wizner didn't actually say "use them". He said "stockpiling" them, a word that means "hold in reserve for use in the future". That's not what the NSA/CIA does. They buy 0days to use, now. They've got budgets and efficiency ratings. They don't buy 0days which they can't use in the near future. In other words, Wizner paints the choice between an 0day that has no particular value to the government, and one would have value being patched.

The opposite picture is true. Almost all the 0days possessed by the NSA/CIA have value, being actively used against our adversaries right now. Conversely, patching an 0day provides little value for defense. Nobody else knew about the 0day anyway (that's what 0day means), so nobody was in danger, so nobody was made safer by patching it.

Wizner and Snowden are quoted in the article that somehow the NSA/CIA is "maintaining vulnerabilities" and "keeping the holes open". This phrasing is deliberately misleading. The NSA/CIA didn't create the holes. They aren't working to keep them open. If somebody else finds the same 0day hole and tells the vendor (like Apple), then the NSA/CIA will do nothing to stop them. They just won't work to close the holes.

Activists like Wizner and Snowden deliberate mislead on the issue because they can't possibly win a rational debate. The government is not going to continue to spend millions of dollars on buying 0days just to close them, because everyone agrees the value proposition is crap, that the value of fixing yet another iPhone hole is not worth the $1 million it'll cost, and do little to stop Russians from finding an unrelated hole. Likewise, while the peacenicks (rightfully, in many respects) hate the militarization of cyberspace, they aren't going to win the argument that the NSA/CIA should unilaterally disarm themselves. So instead they've tried to morph the debate into some crazy argument that makes no sense.


This is the problem with Washington D.C. journalism. It presumes the only people who matter are those in Washington, either the lobbyists of one position, or government defenders of another position. At no point did they go out and talk to technical experts, such as somebody who has discovered, weaponized, used an 0day exploit. So they write articles premised on the fact that the NSA/CIA, out of their offensive weapons budget, will continue to buy 0days that are immediately patched and fixed without ever being useful.

Some comments on the Wikileaks CIA/#vault7 leak

I thought I'd write up some notes about the Wikileaks CIA "#vault7" leak. This post will be updated frequently over the next 24 hours.


The CIA didn't remotely hack a TV. The docs are clear that they can update the software running on the TV using a USB drive. There's no evidence of them doing so remotely over the Internet. If you aren't afraid of the CIA breaking in an installing a listening device, then you should't be afraid of the CIA installing listening software.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Journalists: How hacking details matter

When I write my definitive guide for journalists covering hacking, I'm going to point out how easy it is for journalists to misunderstand the details of a story -- especially when they change the details to fit the story they want to tell.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Some moon math

So "Brianna Wu" (famous for gamergate) is trending, and because I love punishment, I clicked on it to see why. Apparently she tweeted that Elon Musk's plan to go to the moon is bad, because once there he can drop rocks on the Earth with the power of 100s of nuclear bombs. People are mocking her for the stupidity of this.

But the math checks out.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Some notes on space heaters (GPU rigs)

So I carried my GPU rig up to my bedroom to act as a space heater. I thought I'd write some notes on it.

This is a "GPU rig", containing five graphics cards. Graphics cards have highly parallel processors (GPUs) with roughly 10 times the performance of a CPU -- but only for highly parallel problems.

Two such problems are password cracking [*] and cryptocurrency mining.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A quick note about iconoclasm

I'm an iconoclast [*]. Whenever things become holy, whereby any disagreement is treated as heresy, then I disagree. There are two reasonable sides to every argument. When you vilify one of the sides in the argument, then I step into defend them -- not that they are right, but that they are reasonable.

This makes many upset, because once a cause has become Holy, anybody disagreeing with orthodoxy (like me) is then, by definition, a horrible person. I get things like the image to the right.

(Please don't harass/contact this person -- she believes what many do, and singling her out would be mean).

For the record, I'm rabidly feminist, anti-racist, pro-LGBT, pro-civil-rights. It's just that while I care a lot, I'm not Orthodox. I likely disagree with you about the details. When you vilify those who disagree with you, I will defend them.

...which is the best troll, ever. Admitting somebody is wrong, but defending them as reasonable, seems to upset people more than just arguing the other side is right.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Border Digital Safety for Journalists

The CPJ, the "Committee to Protect Journalists", offers some horrible advice [*] on Digital Security, especially when crossing the border.

The most important piece of advice I can give you is this: if somebody's life depends upon it, then no simple piece of advice, no infographic, is going to help you. You have to learn about cybersecurity enough to make intelligent decisions for yourself. You have to make difficult tradeoffs yourself. Anybody giving you simple advice or infographics is a charlatan.

So I thought I'd discuss what's wrong with the following infographic:


I. Passwords, managers, and two-factor

The biggest issue is don't reuse passwords across different accounts. If you do, when hackers breach one of your accounts, they breach all of them. I use a simple password for all the accounts I don't care about, then complex unique passwords for all my important accounts. I have to write them down on a piece of paper I've got hidden at home, because sometimes I forget them.

Password managers certainly help you have multiple strong passwords across many accounts. On the other hand, it puts all your eggs in one basket, and the police can grab them from the company.

Two-fact can help, but hackers have shown they can intercept SMS messages to your phone number.

One problem you have to deal with is that going through border control, they'll ask for all your social media passwords. If you are using two-factor authentication (SMS to a phone) then it won't do them much good having the passwords. Not having your phone with you while your cross the border isn't hard. You can use a separate Google Voice phone number (free) which you disconnect form your phone before traveling across the border, and reconnect when you get back home. You can also use a cheap $3/month account (like one of the M2M/IoT SIMs) on a second phone.


II. Encrypt laptop and screen lock

Border control, law enforcement, and smart criminals can bypass the "screen lock". This is practically true for MacBooks (with their Thunderbolt ports), they've got the tools to do this with ease. This is theoretically true for Windows, though without Thunderbolt or Firewire, I don't know how to easily break out the screen lock on most of them.

The upshot is that before going through border security, power off your laptop completely.

Encrypting your laptop is excellent advice, but you are still likely to fail at this. In all likelihood, you are going to choose a weak password that can be "brute-forced" (guessed) by the police. Or, you are going to setup a "password recovery" feature where the police can get your password by subpoenaing Apple or Microsoft. Describing how to do this well requires multiple pages of text.


III. Use Signal or WhatsApp

Using Signal is good. However, they still get the metadata who you are talking to. Also, using Signal in a foreign country makes you stand out, because only people with something to hide from the police use Signal. Using WhatsApp is better, because lots of people use WhatsApp for normal day-to-day chat. These are the sorts of subtle issues you have to think through.

IV. Secure Browser

On the phone, use Brave. It's like having Chrome with HTTPS-Anywhere and uBlock origin built in, getting rid of privacy tracking cookies and ads. Indeed, one of the engineers of HTTPS-Anywhere is one of the principle engineers of Brave.

On a laptop, either configure the browser to forget all cookies when it exits, or use "incognito" mode a lot. Features that secure cookies aren't as important as not leaving a cookie trail to begin with. I've got Twitter, Gmail, Spotify, and other privacy-identifying apps open in Chrome, but use "incognito" mode whenever I google search for something (like "weapons grade uranium"), so that the government can't tie the search back to me.

Conclusion

Don't take this post as advice what you should do.

Instead, the purpose of this post is to show the limitations of a simple infographic. While it's not precisely bad advice, if you do what it says, you (the journalist in the case) will still divulge all your sources to border control when coming into the United States.


Bonus

The situations you are really confronted with are things like border control demanding access to your Facebook account before they let you into the country. How long are you willing to wait? They'll certainly try to detain you long enough until you miss your connecting flight. Whatever security you have still depends upon how much pressure they can apply. If you aren't willing to miss your connecting flight, no amount of security is going to help you.













Monday, February 20, 2017

Skillz: editing a web page

So one of the skillz you ought to have in cybersec is messing with web-pages client-side using Chrome's Developer Tools. Web-servers give you a bunch of HTML and JavaScript code which, once it reaches your browser, is yours to change and play with. You can do a lot with web-sites that they don't intend by changing that code.

Let me give you an example. It's only an example -- touching briefly on steps to give you an impression what's going on. It's not a ground up explanation of everything, which you may find off-putting. Click on the images to expand them so you can see fully what's going on.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

You don't need printer security

So there's this tweet:



What it's probably refering to is this:


This is an obviously bad idea.

Well, not so "obvious", so some people have ask me to clarify the situation. After all, without "security", couldn't a printer just be added to a botnet of IoT devices?

The answer is this:
Fixing insecurity is almost always better than adding a layer of security.
Adding security is notoriously problematic, for three reasons

  1. Hackers are active attackers. When presented with a barrier in front of an insecurity, they'll often find ways around that barrier. It's a common problem with "web application firewalls", for example.
  2. The security software itself can become a source of vulnerabilities hackers can attack, which has happened frequently in anti-virus and intrusion prevention systems.
  3. Security features are usually snake-oil, sounding great on paper, with with no details, and no independent evaluation, provided to the public.

It's the last one that's most important. HP markets features, but there's no guarantee they work. In particular, similar features in other products have proven not to work in the past.

HP describes its three special features in a brief whitepaper [*]. They aren't bad, but at the same time, they aren't particularly good. Windows already offers all these features. Indeed, as far as I know, they are just using Windows as their firmware operating system, and are just slapping an "HP" marketing name onto existing Windows functionality.

HP Sure Start: This refers to the standard feature in almost all devices these days of having a secure boot process. Windows supports this in UEFI boot. Apple's iPhones work this way, which is why the FBI needed Apple's help to break into a captured terrorist's phone. It's a feature built into most IoT hardware, though most don't enable it in software.

Whitelisting: Their description sounds like "signed firmware updates", but if that was they case, they'd call it that. Traditionally, "whitelisting" referred to a different feature, containing a list of hashes for programs that can run on the device. Either way, it's a pretty common functionality.

Run-time intrusion detection: They have numerous, conflicting descriptions on their website. It may mean scanning memory for signatures of known viruses. It may mean stack cookies. It may mean double-checking kernel modules. Windows does all these things, and it has a tiny benefit on stopping security threats.

As for traditional threats for attacks against printers, none of these really are important. What you need to secure a printer is the ability to disable services you aren't using (close ports), enable passwords and other access control, and delete files of old print jobs so hackers can't grab them from the printer. HP has features to address these security problems, but then, so do its competitors.

Lastly, printers should be behind firewalls, not only protected from the Internet, but also segmented from the corporate network, so that only those designed ports, or flows between the printer and print servers, are enabled.

Conclusion

The features HP describes are snake oil. If they worked well, they'd still only address a small part of the spectrum of attacks against printers. And, since there's no technical details or independent evaluation of the features, they are almost certainly lies.

If HP really cared about security, they'd make their software more secure. They use fuzzing tools like AFL to secure it. They'd enable ASLR and stack cookies. They'd compile C code with run-time buffer overflow checks. Thety'd have a bug bounty program. It's not something they can easily market, but at least it'd be real.

If you cared about printer security, then do the steps I outline above, especially firewalling printers from the traditional network. Seriously, putting $100 firewall between a VLAN for your printers and the rest of the network is cheap and easy way to do a vast amount of security. If you can't secure printers this way, buying snake oil features like HP describes won't help you.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

1984 is the new Bible in the age of Trump

In the age of Trump, Orwell's book 1984 is becoming the new Bible: a religious text which few read, but which many claim supports their beliefs. A good demonstration is this CNN op-ed, in which the author describes Trump as being Orwellian, but mostly just because Trump is a Republican.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Uber was right to disable surge pricing at JFK

Yesterday, the NYC taxi union had a one-hour strike protesting Trump's "Muslim Ban", refusing to pick up passengers at the JFK airport. Uber responded by disabling surge pricing at the airport. This has widely been interpreted as a bad thing, so the hashtag "#DeleteUber" has been trending, encouraging people to delete their Uber accounts/app.

These people are wrong, obviously so.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Is 'aqenbpuu' a bad password?

Press secretary Sean Spicer has twice tweeted a random string, leading people to suspect he's accidentally tweeted his Twitter password. One of these was 'aqenbpuu', which some have described as a "shitty password". Is is actually bad?

No. It's adequate. Not the best, perhaps, but not "shitty".

Friday, January 20, 2017

The command-line, for cybersec

On Twitter I made the mistake of asking people about command-line basics for cybersec professionals. A got a lot of useful responses, which I summarize in this long (5k words) post. It’s mostly driven by the tools I use, with a bit of input from the tweets I got in response to my query.

Friday, January 13, 2017

About that Giuliani website...

Rumors are that Trump is making Rudy Giuliani some sort of "cyberczar" in the new administration. Therefore, many in the cybersecurity scanned his website "www.giulianisecurity.com" to see if it was actually secure from hackers. The results have been laughable, with out-of-date software, bad encryption, unnecessary services, and so on.

But here's the deal: it's not his website. He just contracted with some generic web designer to put up a simple page with just some basic content. It's there only because people expect if you have a business, you also have a website.

That website designer in turn contracted some basic VPS hosting service from Verio. It's a service Verio exited around March of 2016, judging by the archived page.

The Verio service promised "security-hardened server software" that they "continually update and patch". According to the security scans, this is a lie, as the software is all woefully out-of-date. According OS fingerprint, the FreeBSD image it uses is 10 years old. The security is exactly what you'd expect from a legacy hosting company that's shut down some old business.

You can probably break into Giuliani's server. I know this because other FreeBSD servers in the same data center have already been broken into, tagged by hackers, or are now serving viruses.

But that doesn't matter. There's nothing on Giuliani's server worth hacking. The drama over his security, while an amazing joke, is actually meaningless. All this tells us is that Verio/NTT.net is a crappy hosting provider, not that Giuliani has done anything wrong.