Big Government vs Big Corp – which is worse?

A programmer has been banned from Google for life.

This appears to be kind of like those Kafka-esque errors that big government sometimes make [1] (and which reinforce the arguments against the “if you’re not doing anything wrong you don’t need privacy” position), with the added factor that there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it.

I suppose an individual programmer could bring civil suit against Google (and its undoubtedly huge population of lawyers) citing material damages for being forbidden from participating in the Google/Play/app store, but I wouldn’t be too sanguine about his chances of succeeding …

 

[1] – since the foreign workers program seems to be being used primarily to bring in workers for the oil and gas sector right now, do you think it would help if she offered to mount a production of “Grease”?

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New computers – Windows 8 Phone

I was given a Win8Phone recently.  I suppose it may seem like looking a gift horse in the mouth to review it, but:

I must say, first off, that the Nokia Lumia has a lot of power compared to my other phone (and Android tablets), so I like the responsiveness using Twitter.  The antenna is decent, so I can connect to hotspots, even at a bit of a distance.  Also, this camera is a lot better than those on the three Android machines.

I’m finding the lack of functionality annoying.  There isn’t any file access on the phone itself, although the ability to access it via Windows Explorer (when you plug the USB cable into a Windows 7 or 8 computer) is handy.

I find the huge buttons annoying, and the interface for most apps takes up a lot of space.  This doesn’t seem to be adjustable: I can change the size of the font, but only for the content of an app, not for the frame or surround.

http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/how-to/wp8 is useful: that’s how I found out how to switch between apps (hold down the back key and it gives you a set of
icons of running/active apps).

The range of apps is pathetic.  Security aside (yes, I know a closed system is supposed to be more secure), you are stuck with a) Microsoft, or b) completely unknown software shops.  You are stuck with Bing for search and maps: no Google, no Gmail.  You are stuck with IE: no Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.  Oh, sorry, yes you *can* get Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, but not from Mozilla, Google, or Apple: from developers you’ve never heard of.  (Progpack, maker(s) of the Windows Phone store version of Safari, admits it is not the real Safari, it just “looks like it.”)  You can’t get YouTube at all.  No Pinterest, although there is a LinkedIn app from LinkedIn, and a Facebook app–from Microsoft.

It’s a bit hard to compare the interface.  I’m comparing a Nokia Lumia 920 which has lots of power against a) the cheapest Android cell phone Bell had when I had to upgrade my account (ver 2.2), b) an Android 4.3 tablet which is really good but not quite “jacket” portable, and c) a Digital2 Android 4.1 mini-tablet which is probably meant for children and is *seriously* underpowered.

Don’t know whether this is the fault of Windows or the Nokia, but the battery indicators/indications are a major shortcoming.  I have yet to see any indication that the phone has been fully charged.  To get any accurate reading you have to go to the battery page under settings, and even that doesn’t tell you a heck of a lot.  (Last night when I turned it off it said the battery was at 46% which should be good for 18 hours.  After using it four times this morning for a total of about an hour screen time and two hours standby it is at 29%.)

(When I installed the Windows Phone app on my desktop, and did some file transfers while charging the phone through USB I found that the app has a battery level indicator on most pages, so that’s helpful.)

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Firewalled

Full details are not out yet, but there was a “police incident” today in NorthVancouver, which resulted in the closure of two bridges from the North Shore.

(No, the cops aren’t looking for me.  Although this is fairly near our home, and only a few blocks up the street from where embroidery and quilting guilds meet.)

If you look at the map, you will see that a) the bridges aren’t that close to each other, and b) the incident was close to neither.

By closing both bridges, the police can completely isolate the North Shore from the rest of the world.  (I assume they put checks out at the Seabus and the road up to Squamish, although whoever they were looking for would have to be pretty stupid to head that way.)  Also, by closing the bridges, the police have probably tied up all traffic everywhere on the North Shore as well, preventing the perp from going very far in any case  :-)

Although we don’t know what happened, IHT indicates a homicide, and the response indicates someone may have been kidnapped, as well.

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BadBIOS

In recent days there has been much interest in the “BadBIOS” infection being reported by Dragos Ruiu.  (The best overview I’ve seen has been from Naked Security.)  But to someone who has lived through several viral myths and legends, parts of it sound strange.

  • It is said to infect the low-level system firmware of your computer, so it can’t be removed or disabled simply by rebooting.

These things, of course, have been around for a while, so that isn’t necessarily wrong.  However, BIOS infectors never became a major vector.

  • It is said to include components that work at the operating system level, so it affects the high-level operation of your computer, too.
  • It is said to be multi-platform, affecting at least Windows, OS X, and OpenBSD systems.

This sounds bit odd, but we’ve had cross-platform stuff before.  But they never became major problems either.

  • It is said to prevent infected systems being booted from CD drives.

Possible: we’ve seen similar effects over the years, both intentionally and un.

  • It is said to spread itself to new victim computers using Software Defined Radio (SDR) program code, even with all wireless hardware removed.

OK, it’s dangerous to go out on a limb when you haven’t seen details and say something can’t happen, but I’m calling bullshit on this one.  Not that I don’t think someone couldn’t create a communications channel without the hardware: anything the hardware guys can do the software guys can emulate, and vice versa.  However, I can’t see getting an infection channel this way, at least without some kind of minimal infection first.  (It is, of course, possible that the person doing the analysis may have made a mistake in what they observed, or in the reporting of it.)

  • It is said to spread itself to new victim computers using the speakers on an infected device to talk to the microphone on an uninfected one.

As above.

  • It is said to infect simply by plugging in a USB key, with no other action required.

We’ve seen that before.

  • It is said to infect the firmware on USB sticks.

Well, a friend has built a device to blow off dangerous firmware on USB sticks, so I don’t see that this would present any problem.

  • It is said to render USB sticks unusable if they aren’t ejected cleanly; these sticks work properly again if inserted into an infected computer.

Reminds me somewhat of the old “fast infectors” of the early 90s.  They had unintended effects that actually made the infections easy to remove.

  • It is said to use TTF (font) files, apparently in large numbers, as a vector when spreading.

Don’t know details of the internals of TTF files, but they should certainly have enough space.

  • It is said to block access to Russian websites that deal with reflashing software.

Possible, and irrelevant unless we find out what is actually true.

  • It is said to render any hardware used in researching the threat useless for further testing.

Well, anything that gets reflashed is likely to become unreliable and untrustworthy …

  • It is said to have first been seen more than three years ago on a Macbook.

And it’s taken three years to get these details?  Or get a sample to competent researchers?  Or ask for help?  This I find most unbelievable.

In sum, then, I think this might be possible, but I strongly suspect that it is either a promotion for PacSec, or a promo for some presentation on social engineering.

 

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Risk management and security theatre

Bruce Schneier is often outrageous, these days, but generally worth reading.  In a piece for Forbes in late August, he made the point that, due to fear and the extra trouble casued by TSA regulations, more people were driving rather than flying, and, thus, more people were dying.

“The inconvenience of extra passenger screening and added costs at airports after 9/11 cause many short-haul passengers to drive to their destination instead, and, since airline travel is far safer than car travel, this has led to an increase of 500 U.S. traffic fatalities per year.”

So, by six years after the event, the TSA had killed more US citizens than had the terrorists.  And continues to kill them.

Given the recent NSA revelations, I suppose this will sound like more US-bashing, but I don’t see it that way.  It’s another example of the importance of *real* risk management, taking all factors into account.

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“Poor” decisions in management?

I started reading this article just for the social significance.  You’ve probably seen reports of it: it’s been much in the media.

However, I wasn’t very far in before I came across a statement that seems to have a direct implication to all business management, and, in particular, the CISSP:

“The authors gathered evidence … and found that just contemplating a projected financial decision impacted performance on … reasoning tests.”

As soon as I read that, I flashed on the huge stress we place on cost/benefit analysis in the CISSP exam.  And, of course, that extends to all business decisions: everything is based on “the bottom line.”  Which would seem to imply that hugely important corporate and public policy decisions are made on the worst possible basis and in the worst possible situation.

(That *would* explain a lot about modern business, policy, and economics.  And maybe the recent insanity in the US Congress.)

Other results seem to temper that statement, and, unfortunately, seem to support wage inequality and the practice of paying obscene wages to CEOs and directors: “… low-income people asked to ponder an expensive car repair did worse on cognitive-function tests than low-income people asked to consider cheaper repairs or than higher-income people faced with either scenario.”

But it does make you think …

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Google’s “Shared Endorsements”

A lot of people are concerned about Google’s new “Shared Endorsements” scheme.

However, one should give credit where credit is due.  This is not one of Facebook’s functions, where, regardless of what you’ve set or unset in the past, every time they add a new feature it defaults to “wide open.”  If you have been careful with your Google account in the past, you will probably find yourself still protected.  I’m pretty paranoid, but when I checked the Shared Endorsements setting page on my accounts, and the “Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads” box is unchecked on all of them.  I can only assume that it is because I’ve been circumspect in my settings in the past.

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Outsourcing, and rebranding, (national) security

I was thinking about the recent trend, in the US, for “outsourcing” and “privatization” of security functions, in order to reduce (government) costs.  For example, we know, from the Snowden debacle, that material he, ummm, “obtained,” was accessed while he was working for a contractor that was working for the NSA.  The debacle also figured in my thinking, particularly the PR fall-out and disaster.

Considering both these trends; outsourcing and PR, I see an opportunity here.  The government needs to reduce costs (or increase revenue).  At the same time, there needs to be a rebranding effort, in order to restore tarnished images.

Sports teams looking for revenue (or cost offsets) have been allowing corporate sponsors to rename, or “rebrand,” arenas.  Why not allow corporations to sponsor national security programs, and rebrand them?

For example: PRISM has become a catch-phrase for all that is wrong with surveillance of the general public.  Why not allow someone like, say, DeBeers to step in.  For a price (which would offset the millions being paid to various tech companies for “compliance”) it could be rebranded as DIAMOND, possibly with a new slogan like “A database is forever!”

(DeBeers is an obvious sponsor, given the activities of NSA personnel in regard to love interests.)

I think the possibilities are endless, and should be explored.

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Click on everything?

You clicked on that link, didn’t you?  I’m writing a posting about malicious links in postings and email, and you click on a link in my posting.  How silly is that?

(No, it wouldn’t have been dangerous, in this case.  I disabled the URL by “x”ing out the “tt” in http;” (which is pretty standard practice in malware circles), and further “x”ed out a couple of the letters in the URL.)

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Thoughts at the library drop slot

A couple of days ago, I happened to walk over to the library in order to return some items.  When I got there, as all too often is the case, a parent was allowing two of his children to put their returns back into the (single) drop slot.  He noticed me, and offered to take my stuff and return it when they were done.  (Parenthetically [as it were], I should note that, in the five years since the new system was put in place, this is only the second time that a parent, in such a situation, has taken any notice of the fact that they were delaying matters.  The previous one, about a year ago, asked her children to stand aside and let me through.  I digress, but not completely.)

I immediately handed over my pile (which included a recent bestseller, and a recent movie).  (We are all creatures of social convention, and social engineering is a powerful force.)  But, being a professional paranoid, as soon as I walked away I started berating myself for being so trusting.

I was also thinking that his actions were pedagogically unsound.  While he was, at least, assisting me in avoiding delay, he was, just as much as the majority of the parents at that slot, teaching his children that they need have no regard for anyone else.

(And, yes, before I left the library, I checked my account, and determined that he had, in fact, returned my items.  Auditing, you know.)

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A virus too big to fail?

Once upon a time, many years ago, a school refused to take my advice (mediated through my brother) as to what to do about a very simple computer virus infection.  The infection in question was Stoned, which was a boot sector infector.   BSIs generally do not affect data, and (and this is the important point) are not eliminated by deleting files on the computer, and often not even by reformatting the hard disk.  (At the time there were at least a dozen simple utilities for removing Stoned, most of them free.)

The school decided to cleanse it’s entire computer network by boxing it up, shipping it back to the store, and having the store reformat everything.  Which the store did.  The school lost it’s entire database of student records, and all databases for the library.  Everything had to be re-entered.  By hand.

I’ve always thought this was the height of computer virus stupidity, and that the days when anyone would be so foolish were long gone.

I was wrong.  On both counts.

“In December 2011 the Economic Development Administration (an agency under the US Department of Commerce) was notified by the Department of Homeland Security that it had a malware infection spreading around its network.

“They isolated their department’s hardware from other government networks, cut off employee email, hired an outside security contractor, and started systematically destroying $170,000 worth of computers, cameras, mice, etc.”

The only reason they *stopped* destroying computer equipment and devices was because they ran out of money.  For the destruction process.

Malware is my field, and so I often sound like a bit of a nut, pointing out issues that most people consider minor.  However, malware, while now recognized as a threat, is a field that extremely few people, even in the information security field, study in any depth.  Most general security texts (and, believe me, I know almost all of them) touch on it only tangentially, and often provide advice that is long out of date.

With that sort of background, I can, unfortunately, see this sort of thing happening again.

 

Lest you think I exaggerate any of this, you can read the actual report.

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REVIEW: “Consent of the Networked”, Rebecca MacKinnon

BKCNSNTW.RVW   20121205

“Consent of the Networked”, Rebecca MacKinnon, 2012, 978-0-465-02442-1, U$26.99/C$30.00
%A   Rebecca MacKinnon
%C   387 Park Ave. South, New York, NY   10016-8810
%D   2012
%G   978-0-465-02442-1 0-465-02442-1
%I   Basic Books
%O   U$26.99/C$30.00 special.markets@perseusbooks.com
%O  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465024421/robsladesinterne
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465024421/robsladesinte-21
%O   http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465024421/robsladesin03-20
%O   Audience n Tech 1 Writing 1 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   294 p.
%T   “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom”

In neither the preface nor the introduction is there a clear statement of the intent of this work.  The closest comes buried towards the end of the introduction, in a sentence which states “This book is about the new realities of power, freedom, and control in the Internet Age.”  Alongside other assertions in the opening segments, one can surmise that MacKinnon is trying to point out the complexities of the use, by countries or corporations, of technologies which enhance either democracy or control, and the desirability of a vague concept which she refers to as “Internet Freedom.”

Readers may think I am opposed to the author’s ideas.  That is not the case.  However, it is very difficult to critique a text, and suggest whether it is good or bad, when there is no clear statement of intent, thesis, or terminology.

Part one is entitled “Disruptions.”  Chapter one outlines a number of stories dealing with nations or companies promising freedom, but actually censoring or taking data without informing citizens or users.  The “digital commons,” conceptually akin to open source but somewhat more nebulous (the author does, in fact, confuse open source and open systems), is promoted in chapter two.

Part two turns more directly to issues of control.  Chapter three concentrates on factors the Republic of China uses to strengthen state censorship.  Variations on this theme are mentioned in chapter four.

Part three examines challenges to democracy.  Chapter five lists recent US laws and decisions related to surveillance and repression of speech.  The tricky issue of making a distinction between repression of offensive speech on the one hand, and censorship on the other, is discussed in chapter six.  The argument made about strengthening censorship by taking actions against intellectual property infringement, in chapter seven, is weak, and particularly in light of more recent events.

Part four emphasizes the role that corporations play in aiding national censorship and surveillance activities.  Chapter eight starts with some instances of corporations aiding censorship, but devolves into a review of companies opposed to “network neutrality.”  Similarly, chapter nine notes corporations aiding surveillance.  Facebook and Google are big, states chapter ten, but the evil done in stories given does not inherently relate to size.

Part five asks what is to be done.  Trust but verify, says (ironically) chapter eleven: hold companies accountable.  MacKinnon mentions that this may be difficult.   Chapter twelve asks for an Internet Freedom Policy, but, since the author admits the term can have multiple meanings, the discussion is fuzzy.  Global Information Governance is a topic that makes chapter thirteen apposite in terms of the current ITU (International Telecommunications Union) summit, but the focus in the book is on the ICANN (Internet Committee on Assigned Names and Numbers) top level domain sale scandals.  The concluding chapter fourteen, on building a netizen-centric Internet is not just fuzzy, but full of warm fuzzies.

There are a great many interesting news reports, stories, and anecdotes in the book.  There is a great deal of passion, but not much structure.  This can make it difficult to follow topical threads.  This book really adds very little to the debates on these topics.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2013   BKCNSNTW.RVW   20121205

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Risk analysis, traffic analysis, and unusual factors

Canadian terrorists strike again: apparently we are responsible for taking down a major piece of transportation infrastructure, vis, the I-5 bridge over the Skagit river at Mount Vernon.

A friend in Seattle assures me that, while he is disappointed in us, he holds no grudges, and is willing to warn us if he hears of any drone strikes planned for north of the border.

(Allow me, for a moment, to examine this “oversized load” on which everyone is blaming the collapse.  Image 2 in the slide deck [if they don't change it] is this “oversized load.”  You will notice that it is basically an empty box with the two sides missing, and has, relatively, zero structural rigidity.  If a ding from that kind of load brought the bridge down [and didn't even collapse the load itself], the bridge was definitely unsafe.)

I drive that route regularly, and, when I heard that a bridge had gone down, that bridge was the first one I thought of.  I have always felt unsafe crossing it.  There is a wrongness about it you can just feel.

It’s also ugly.  And I am reminded of an essay by an engineer who said that bridges were the most beautiful products of all forms of engineering.  A properly designed bridge has curves, and those curves just feel right.  They are beautiful.

So, if you ever have questions about a bridge, and you don’t have enough facts to go on, just look at it.

If it’s ugly, don’t cross it.

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REVIEW: “Cloud Crash”, Phil Edwards

BKCLDCRS.RVW   20101009

“Cloud Crash”, Phil Edwards, 2011, 978-1466408425, U$9.99
%A   Phil Edwards PhilEdwardsInc.com philipjedwards@gmail.com
%C   Seattle, WA
%D   2011
%G   978-1466408425 1466408421
%I   CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform/Amazon
%O   U$9.99
%O  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1466408421/robsladesinterne
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1466408421/robsladesinte-21
%O   http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/1466408421/robsladesin03-20
%O   Audience n Tech 2 Writing 1 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   386 p.
%T   “Cloud Crash”

To a background of the Internet crashing, and opposed by a conspiracy that has penetrated the highest levels of government, two (no, make that three … err … four … better say five …) groups of individuals race to save the world from … a stock market fraud?  hostile takeover? aliens?  (No, I’m pretty sure the aliens were a red
herring.)

The story and inconsistent characterizations could use some work, and the plot twists don’t make it very easy to follow what is going on.  It’s fairly easy to tell who the good and bad guys are: the politics and philosophy of the book are fairly simple, and one is reminded of the scifi and comics of the 30s and 40s, with heavily anti-fascist and (ironically) right-wing rhetoric.

It would be tempting to dismiss the work as a simple “jump on the latest buzzword” potboiler, were it not for the fact that the technology is fairly realistic.  Yes, right now everyone is jumping on the cloud bandwagon without much regard for real security.  Yes, if you wanted to make a big (and public) splash on the Internet, without doing too much permanent damage, taking down power supplies would still leave the data intact.  (Of course, an axe would do just as good a job as bombs …)

So, while the story isn’t great, at least the technology is less annoying than is normally the case …

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2012     BKCLDCRS.RVW   20101009

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Why BC holds the record for “World’s Weirdest Politicians”

Whenever political pundits get together, they all start the competition for “our politicians are more corrupt/venal/just plain weird than yours.”  Whenever anyone from BC enters the fray, everyone else concedes.

Herewith our latest saga.

The ruling “Today’s BC Liberal Party” is finding itself polling behind the NDP.  (Do not let the word “liberal” in the party name fool you.  Whereas pretty much every other liberal party would be centre-left, the BC Liberals are, politically, somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun.)  The liberals are runing attack ads stating that, twelve years ago, the leader of the NDP backdated a memo.

(No, I’m not making this up.)

The Liberals have just released another version of the same attack ad, this time using a snippet of footage from the recent leaders debate.  Trouble is, the media consortium that ran the debate has copyright on the video of the debate, and all parties agreed that none of the material would be used for political purposes.

The Liberals, called on their use of the video, have refused to take it down.

(How old do you have to be to understand the meaning of “copyright infringement?”)

(I am eagerly awaiting the next installment of this story.  I assume the lawyers paid for by Today’s BC Liberals [or possibly by public money: that's happened before] will argue the provisions of “fair use,” and claim that the attack ads are commentary, or even educational …)

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“New” ideas about distributed computing?

The CEO of BitTorrent thinks we should think about using distributed computing to deal with upgrade issues over the Internet.

It sounds like a good idea.  So good, that you wonder why someone hasn’t thought of it before.  Well, surprise, surprise (unless you know Slade’s Law of Computer History), someone has.  How about Shoch and Hupp, who worked on the idea at Xerox PARC in the late 70s, and reported on it in 1980 and 1982?  Or Fred Cohen, who was quite vocal about using “good” viruses in the late 80s, and mentioned it in one of his earlier popular books?  Or Vesselin Bontchev, who, in the 90s, gave a detailed outline of what you have to do to make it work

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