Complexity is killing us

The other night Gloria asked me what to do about securing the computer if I die first.  (Yes, we talk about those type of things.)  I really didn’t know what to tell her.  And told her that.

A decade ago, I would have had a list of things to do.  Actually, she knows that list: although she always considers herself ignorant about computers, she’s actually more savvy than most (and a lot more savvy than she gives herself credit for).  But these days I hardly know where to start.  You have to qualify every piece of advice you give, and you have to constantly keep up on the latest attacks and threats.  General classes don’t cut it any more.

This isn’t because the attackers are getting any more imaginative.  In general, they aren’t.  Recently a lot of companies (some, like RSA and Sony, very high profile) have been screaming about getting hit by APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) attacks.  What is APT?  Simply social engineering and malware.  Well, since malware has almost always had a social engineering component, I suppose it’s really only malware.  We’ve had malware for thirty years.  So what’s new?  Nothing.  The companies were sloppy.

What is happening is that all of information and communications technology is getting more and more complex.  Programs are tied into the operating system.  Nothing is clear cut.  The actual workings of the system are hidden from the user.  Hardware is virtual.  Networks are cloudy.  Gene Spafford mentioned this in a recent interview.  Since it was an interview, he really didn’t get a chance to expand on this point: the interviewer was more interested in trying to nail down who to blame for the situation.  Who is to blame?  Well, the vendors are creating sloppy systems: forfeiting security in the name of bells and whistles.  But that, of course, is because only a vanishingly small segment of the population is actually interested in security: everyone wants dancing pigs.

I’ve written before about complexity and security.  (And network complexity.)  But every day brings new examples.  Today, for example, Adobe has finally brought out an easier way to delete or manage Flash cookies.  Flash cookies are a particularly pernicious and tenacious form of cookie.  Those of you who think you are “up” on security may have set your browser to delete cookies.  Good.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t do a thing for Flash cookies.  So, Adobe has finally given us control over Flash cookies.  In version 10.3.  What version of Flash do you have?  Do you even know?  How would you find out?  It took me quite a while, and I know what I’m doing.  And, in spite of the fact that I’ve had numerous (annoying) Adobe updates recently, I don’t have 10.3.

I’m supposed to be a specialist not only in security, but in security awareness.  And the job is just getting overwhelming.

It’s really depressing.

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  • jugoro

    Im not a security expert but interested in security.
    i just made the challenge to find out the installed flash version.
    its kinda easy, there are diffrent ways:
    Firefox: about:plugins or opera: opera:plugins
    C:\Windows\SysWOW64\Macromed\Flash\FlashInstall.log
    Controlpanel-> programs and features -> Adoble Flashplayer…
    or
    just make a rightclick on a flashanimation.

    did it on windows 7 but im pretty sure its not much more difficult on linux.

    regards,
    jugoro

  • whatever

    Misinformation on APT does not help us. APT combines spear phishing with a 0day. Spear phishing is a direct phishing campaign, and not just a general bs email. The 0day allows attackers to hit bigger companies despite patched systems. It’s not like they just fell to an outdated browser due to a stupid phishing email about a new game.