Security unawareness

I really don’t understand the people who keep yelling that security awareness is no good.  Here’s the latest rant.

The argument is always the same: security awareness is not 100% foolproof protection against all possible attacks, so you shouldn’t (it is morally wrong to?) even try to teach security awareness in your company.

This guys works for  a security consultancy.  He says that instead of teaching awareness, you should concentrate on audit, monitoring, protecting critical data, segmenting the network, access creep, incident response, and strong security leadership.  (If we looked into their catalogue of seminars, I wonder what we would find them selling?)

Security awareness training isn’t guaranteed to be 100% effective protection.  Neither is AV, audit, monitoring, incident response, etc.  You still use those thing even though they don’t guarantee 100% protection.  You should at least try (seriously) to teach security awareness.  Maybe more than just a single 4 hour session.  (It’s called “defence in depth.”)

Tell you what: I’ll teach security awareness in my company, and you try a social engineering attack.  You may hit some of my people: people aren’t perfect.  But I’ll bet that at least some of my people will detect and report your social engineering attack.  And your data isolation won’t.

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Citizen cyber-protectors?

Marc Goodman (who I believe is FutureCrimes on Twitter and the Web) gave a recent TED talk on trends in the use of high technology in crime.

The 20 minute talk is frightening, with very little in the way of comfort for the protection or security side.  He ends with a call for crowdsourcing of protection.

Now as a transparent society/open source/full disclosure kind of guy, I like the general idea.  But, as someone who has been involved in education, security awareness, and professional security training for some time, I see a few problems.  For crowdsourcing to work, you need a critical mass of at least minimally capable people.  When you are talking about a weather reporting app, that minimal capability isn’t much. When you are talking about detecting cyberwar or bioweapons, the capability levels are a bit different.

Just yesterday the PNWER (Pacific NorthWest Economic Region) conference became the latest to bemoan the lack of trained employees.  I rather suspect these constant complaints, since I see lots of people out of work.  But the people who are whining about employees are just looking for network admins and such.  We need people with more depth and more breadth in their backgrounds.  I get CISSP candidates in my seminars who are network admins who simply want to know a few ACLS for firewalls.  I have to keep telling them that security professionals need to know more than that.

Yes, I am privileged to be able to meet a number who *are* interested in learning everything possible in order to meet any need or problem.  But, relatively speaking, those are few.  And my sample set tends to be abnormal, in that these are people who have already shown some interest in training (even if only job related).  What Goodman is talking about is the general public.  And those of us who have actually tried security awareness know how little conceptual awareness we have to build on, let alone advanced technical knowledge.

I think awareness, self-protection, and crowdsourcing is probably the only good way to approach the problems Goodman outlines.  I just worry that we have a long way to go.

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Trust me, I didn’t look right as I typed this …

‘Lying eyes’ are a myth – looking to the right DOESN’T mean you are fibbing.

“Many psychologists believe that when a person looks up to their right they are
likely to be telling a lie.  Glancing up to the left, on the other hand, is said to
indicate honesty.

“Co-author Dr Caroline Watt, from the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘A large
percentage of the public believes that certain eye movements are a sign of lying,
and this idea is even taught in organisational training courses. … The claimed link
between lying and eye movements is a key element of neuro-linguistic
programming.

“According to the theory, when right-handed people look up to their right they
are likely to be visualising a ‘constructed’ or imagined event.  In contrast when
they look to their left they are likely to be visualising a ‘remembered’ memory.
For this reason, when liars are constructing their own version of the truth, they
tend to look to the right.”

“Psychologist Prof Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, said: ‘The
results of the first study revealed no relationship between lying and eye
movements, and the second showed that telling people about the claims made by
NLP practitioners did not improve their lie detection skills.’

However, this study raises a much more serious question.  These types of “skills” are being extensively taught (and sought) by law enforcement and other agencies.  How many investigations are being misdirected and delayed by false suppositions based on NLP “techniques”?  More disturbingly, how many people are being falsely accused, dismissed, or charged due to the same questionable “information”?  (As I keep telling my seminars, when you get sidetracked into pursuing the wrong suspect, the real culprit is getting away free.)

(I guess we’ll have to stop watching “The Mentalist” now …)

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Howto: Phish HSBC credit card numbers

Like many other people, I try helping developing countries when I can. So to help boost GDP in Eastern Europe and Africa (or ‘redistribute the wealth’ if you will) here’s a quick tutorial that will help scammers get HSBC customers’ credit card numbers. All the steps below are done by the real HSBC, so you don’t even need to “fool” anyone.

An HSBC customer who has gone through this process before won’t be able to distinguish between you and the real HSBC. Customer that has not been through this process certainly won’t know better anyway. In fact, you can do it to HSBC employees and they won’t know.

All you need is a toll-free number for them to call (feel free to forward it to Nigeria). The nice thing about HSBC is that the process below is identical to how the real HSBC asks customers for information. In other words: HSBC is training their customers to follow this path. I propose a new term for HSBC’s method of breeding phish: spowning (spawn+p0wn).

Step 1:

Prepare an email that looks like:

Dear :

As a service to our customers and in an effort to protect their HSBC Premier  MasterCard  account, we are attempting to confirm recent charge activity or changes to the account.

Please contact the HSBC Premier Fraud Servicing Center to validate the activity at 1-888-206-5963 within the Continental United States. If you are calling from outside the United States, please call us collect at 716-841-7755.

If the activity is unauthorized, we will be able to close the account and reissue both a new account number and cards. Please use the Subject Reference Number below, when calling.

At HSBC, the security of our customer’s accounts has always been, and will continue to be a high priority. We appreciate your business and regret any inconvenience this may have caused you.

Sincerely,

Security & Fraud Risk HSBC USA

Alert ID Number :  10917558

Note:  Emails sent to this repository will go unmonitored.  Please do not reply to this email. —————————————– ************************************************************** This e-mail is confidential. It may also be legally privileged. If you are not the addressee you may not copy, forward, disclose or use any part of it. If you have received this message in error, please delete it and all copies from your system and notify the sender immediately by return e-mail. Internet communications cannot be guaranteed to be timely, secure, error or virus-free. The sender does not accept liability for any errors or omissions. ************************************************************** “SAVE PAPER – THINK BEFORE YOU PRINT!”

Step 2:

Replace the phone numbers with your own. The above are HSBC’s.

Don’t worry about the ‘alert ID’. Just make something up. Unlike other credit cards, the caller (me, in this case) can’t use the alert ID to confirm this is really HSBC.

Step 3:

Blast this email. You’re bound to reach plenty of HSBC card holders. The rest you don’t care about anyway.

Main perk: Before the customer gets to speak to a human they need to enter full credit card number and 4 digit SSN. So even the most lazy scammer can at least get those.

For the overachieving scammers, have a human answer and ask for  Card expiration and Full name on the card before agreeing to answer any other questions from the customer. This is all standard procedure at HSBC so customers shouldn’t be suspicious.

Oh, and if the customer who happens to be a security blogger tries to authenticate you back, tell them to hang up and call the number on the back of their card. That will shut them up.

At HSBC, the security of our customer’s accounts has always been, and will continue to be a high priority.

If it really was, you wouldn’t make me such an easy target for scammers. But thanks for playing.

 

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REVIEW: “Dark Market: CyberThieves, CyberCops, and You”, Misha Glenny

BKDRKMKT.RVW 20120201

“Dark Market: CyberThieves, CyberCops, and You”, Misha Glenny, 2011,
978-0-88784-239-9, C$29.95
%A   Misha Glenny
%C   Suite 801, 110 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON Canada  M5V 2K4
%D   2011
%G   978-0-88784-239-9 0-88784-239-9
%I   House of Anansi Press Ltd.
%O   C$29.95 416-363-4343 fax 416-363-1017 www.anansi.ca
%O  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0887842399/robsladesinterne
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0887842399/robsladesinte-21
%O   http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0887842399/robsladesin03-20
%O   Audience n Tech 1 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   296 p.
%T   “Dark Market: CyberThieves, CyberCops, and You”

There is no particular purpose stated for this book, other than the vague promise of the subtitle that this has something to do with bad guys and good guys in cyberspace.  In the prologue, Glenny admits that his “attempts to assess when an interviewee was lying, embellishing or fantasising and when an interviewee was earnestly telling the truth were only partially successful.”  Bear in mind that all good little blackhats know that, if you really want to get in, the easiest thing to attack is the person.  Social engineering (which is simply a fancy way of saying “lying”) is always the most effective tactic.

It’s hard to have confidence in the author’s assessment of security on the Internet when he knows so little of the technology.  A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is said to be a system whereby a group of computers share a single address.  That’s not a VPN (which is a system of network management, and possibly encryption): it’s a description of NAT (Network Address Translation).  True, a VPN can, and fairly often does, use NAT in its operations, but the carelessness is concerning.

This may seem to be pedantic, but it leads to other errors.  For example, Glenny asserts that running a VPN is very difficult, but that encryption is easy, since encryption software is available on the Internet.  While it is true that the software is available, that availability is only part of the battle.  As I keep pointing out to my students, for effective protection with encryption you need to agree on what key to use, and doing that negotiation is a non-trivial task.  Yes, there is asymmetric encryption, but that requires a public key infrastructure (PKI) which is an enormously difficult proposition to get right.  Of the two, I’d rather run a VPN any day.

It is, therefore, not particularly surprising that the author finds that the best way to describe the capabilities of one group of carders was to compare them to the fictional “hacking” crew from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  The activities in the novel are not impossible, but the ability to perform them on demand is highly
unlikely.

This lack of background colours his ability to ascertain what is possible or not (in the technical areas), and what is likely (out of what he has been told).  Sticking strictly with media reports and indictment documents, Glenny does a good job, and those parts of the book are interesting and enjoyable.  The author does let his taste for mystery get the better of him: even the straight reportage parts of the book are often confusing in terms of who did what, and who actually is what.

Like Dan Verton (cf BKHCKDRY.RVW) and Suelette Dreyfus (cf. BKNDRGND.RVW) before him, Glenny is trying to give us the “inside story” of the blackhat community.  He should have read Taylor’s “Hackers” (cf BKHAKERS.RVW) first, to get a better idea of the territory.  He does a somewhat better job than Dreyfus and Verton did, since he is wise enough to seek out law enforcement accounts (possibly after reading Stiennon’s “Surviving Cyberwar,” cf. BKSRCYWR.RVW).

Overall, this work is a fairly reasonable updating of Levy’s “Hackers” (cf. BKHACKRS.RVW) of almost three decades ago.  The rise of the financial motivation and the specialization of modern fraudulent blackhat activity are well presented.  There is something of a holdover in still portraying these crooks as evil genii, but, in the main, it is a decent picture of reality, although it provides nothing new.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2012    BKDRKMKT.RVW 20120201

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REVIEW: “Steve Jobs”, Walter Isaacson

BKSTVJBS.RVW 20111224

“Steve Jobs”, Walter Isaacson, 2011, 978-1-4104-4522-3
%A   Walter Isaacson pat.zindulka@aspeninstitute.org
%C   27500 Drake Road, Farmington Hills, MI   48331-3535
%D   2011
%G   978-1-4104-4522-3 1451648537
%I   Simon and Schuster/The Gale Group
%O   248-699-4253 800-877-4253 fax: 800-414-5043 galeord@gale.com
%O  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1451648537/robsladesinterne
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1451648537/robsladesinte-21
%O   http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/1451648537/robsladesin03-20
%O   Audience n+ Tech 1 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   853 p.
%T   “Steve Jobs”

I have read many fictional works that start off with a list of the cast of characters, but this is the first biography I’ve ever read that started in this way.

It is fairly obvious that Isaacson has done extensive research, talked to many people, and worked very hard in preparation for this book.  At the same time, it is clear that many areas have not been carefully analyzed.  Many Silicon Valley myths (such as the precise formulation of Moore’s Law, or John Draper’s status with regard to the Cap’n Crunch whistle) are retailed without ascertaining the true facts.  The information collected is extensive in many ways, but, in places (particularly in regard to Jobs’ earlier years) the writing is scattered and disjointed.  We have Jobs living with his girlfriend in a cabin in the hills, and then suddenly he is in college.

Material is duplicated and reiterated in many places.  Quotes are frequently repeated word-for-word in relation to different situations or circumstances, so the reader really cannot know the original reference.  There are also contradictions: we are told that Jobs could not stand a certain staffer, but 18 pages later we are informed that the same person often enthralled Jobs.  (Initially, this staffer is introduced as having been encountered in 1979, but it is later mentioned that he worked for Jobs and Apple as early as 1976.)  At one point we learn that an outside firm designed the Mac mouse: four pages further on we ascertain that it was created internally by Apple.  The author seems to have accepted any and all input, perspectives, and stories without analysis or assessment of where the truth might lie.

It is possible to do a biography along a timeline.  It is possible to do it on a thematic basis.  Isaacson follows a timeline, but generally only covers one subject during any “epoch.”  From the first time Jobs sees a personal computer until he is dismissed from Apple, this is less of a biography and more the story of the development of the company.  There is a short section covering the birth of Jobs’ daughter, we hear of the reality distortion field, and terse mentions of vegan diets, motorcycles, stark housing, and occasional girlfriends, but almost nothing of Jobs away from work.  (Even in covering Apple there are large gaps: the Lisa model is noted as an important development, but then is never really described.)

In fact, it is hard to see this book as a biography.  It reads more like a history of Apple, although with particular emphasis on Jobs.  There are sidetrips to his first girlfriend and daughter, NeXT, Pixar, miscellaneous girlfriends, his wife and kids, Pixar again, and then cancer, but by far the bulk of the book concentrates on Apple.

The “reality distortion field” is famous, and mentioned often.  Equally frequently we are told of a focused and unblinking stare, which Jobs learned from someone, and practiced as a means to intimidate and influence people.  Most people believe that the person who “doesn’t blink” is the dominant personality, and therefore the one in charge.  It is rather ironic that research actually refutes this.  Studies have shown that, when two people meet for the first time, it is actually the dominant personality that “blinks first” and looks away, almost as a signal that they are about to dominate the conversation or interaction.  Both “the field” and “the stare” seem to tell the same story: they are tricks of social engineering which can have a powerful influence, but which are based on an imperfect understanding of reality and people, don’t work with everyone, and can have very negative consequences.

(The chapters on Jobs’ fight with cancer are possibly the most telling.  For anyone who has the slightest background in medicine it will be apparent that Jobs didn’t know much in that field, and that he made very foolish and dangerous decisions, flying in the face of all advice and any understanding of nutrition and biology.)

Those seeking insight into the character that built a major corporation may be disappointed.  Like anybody else, Jobs is a study in contradictions: the seduction with charm and vision, then belittlement and screaming at people; the perfectionist who obsessed on details, but was supposedly a visionary at the intersection of the arts and technology who made major decisions based on intuitive gut feelings with little or no information or analysis; the amaterialistic ascetic who made a fortune selling consumer electronics and was willing to con people to make money; the Zen meditator who never seemed to achieve any calm or patience; the man who insisted that “honesty” compelled him to abuse friends and colleagues, but who was almost pathological in his secrecy about himself and the company; and the creative free-thinker who created the most closed and restricted systems extent.

There is no attempt to find the balance point for any of these dichotomies.  As a security architect I can readily agree with the need for high level design to drive all aspects of the construction of a system: a unified whole always works better and more reliably.  Unfortunately for that premise, there are endless examples of Jobs demanding, at very late points in the process, that radically new functions be included.  Then there is Jobs’ twin assertions that the item must be perfect, but that ship dates must be met.  One has to agree with Voltaire: the best is the enemy of the good, and anyone trying to be good, fast, *and* cheap may succeed a time or two, but is ultimately headed for failure.

Several times Isaacson repeats an assertion from Jobs that money is not important: it is merely recognition of achievements, or a resource that enables you to make great products.  The author does not seem to understand that an awful lot of money is also another resource, one that allows you to make mistakes.  He only vaguely admits that Jobs made some spectacular errors.

The book is not a hagiography.  Isaacson is at pains to point out that he notes Jobs’ weaknesses of character and action.  At the same time, Isaacson is obviously proud of being a personal friend, and, I suspect, does not realize that, while he may mention Jobs’ flaws, he also goes to great lengths to excuse them.

Was Steve Jobs a great man?  He was the driving force behind a company which had, for a time, the largest market capitalization of any publicly traded company.  He was also, by pretty much all accounts, an arrogant jerk.  He had a major influence on the design of personal electronics, although his contribution to personal computing was mostly derivative.  We are conventionally used to saying that people like Napoleon, Ford, and Edison are great, even thought they might have been better at social engineering than the softer people skills.  By this measure Jobs can be considered great, although not by the standards by which we might judge Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama (which is rather ironic, considering Jobs’ personal philosophy).

Those who hold Jobs, Apple, or both, in awe will probably be delighted to find a mass of stories and trivia all in one place.  Those who want to know the secrets of building a business empire may find some interesting philosophies, but will probably be disappointed: the book tends to take all positions at once.  For those who have paid much attention to Apple, and Jobs’ career, there isn’t much here that is novel.  As Jobs himself stated to a journalist, “So, you’ve uncovered the fact that I’m an *sshole.  Why is that news?”

Having all of the material in one book does help to clarify certain issues.  Personally, I have always fought with the Macs I used, struggling against the lock step conformity they enforced.  It was only in reviewing this work that it occurred to me that Apple relies upon a closed system that makes Microsoft appear open by comparison.  So, I guess, yes, there is at least one insight to be gained from this volume.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2011     BKSTVJBS.RVW 20111224

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Grandparent scams are still around

No, I didn’t get hit.  Someone even older than I am (although he’s got fewer grandchildren) almost got hit.  Twice.

This is not a stupid guy.  He still runs his own investment company.  A few years ago he recounted a weird call that he thought came from one of his grandkids-in-law.  Everybody who heard the story recognized it for what it was, particularly when it was determined that the grandkid-in-law in question, who does travel a lot, had never made the call.  The scam was explained to the call recipient.

Well, today he sent his whole family into an uproar.  He’d got another call, and seems to have been one phone call away from wiring off $2500.  Fortunately, a couple of family members determined what was happening, in time, and explained the situation.  Again.

Let me try to explain a bit how this works.

The recipient gets a phone call.

Recipient: [answers phone] Hello?
Caller: Grandpa?
Recipient: Is that you, Mary?

OK, at this point the caller knows that whoever answered the phone has a grandchild named “Mary.”  Allow me to theorize why this is the grandparent scam.  Many (older) people may have more grandchildren than they have children, so the odds of hitting someone with a grandchild of the same gender as the caller increase.  Also, most people don’t know their grandchildren, and the doings of said grandchildren, as well as that of their kids.

The fraudsters who make these calls may do it at random, or they may have bought calling lists of those with interests, demographic information, or medication purchasing patterns indicating that they are older.  These calls may also be targeted at geographic areas with a higher proportion of retired people.

Caller: Yeah.
Recipient: Gee, your voice sounds different/that doesn’t sound like you.
Caller: I’m not feeling well/have a cold.

This answer serves two purposes: it explains the differences in voice (although it might not explain an Asian, Russian, or south Asian accent), and also calls on the sympathy of the recipient.

R: That’s too bad.
C: Yeah.  Actually grandpa, [caller launches into story of woe, ending with a requirement for funds for a) medical services, b) legal fees or bail, c) documentation expenses, d) travel expenses, e) etc.]

This particular call added a few refinements.  The explanation ended with a plea that this situation was all very embarrassing, and so would grandpa please not let anyone know.  Grandpa apparently complied with this request: grandpa did do some checking with the family to try and find the grandchild, and, coyly, wouldn’t tell what was going on.  It wasn’t until a) a few family members had had frustrating attempts to find out what the calls were about, and b) the grandchild had been found (well, but busy with an event for one of the great-grandchildren) that the whole story came out.

Fortunately, there was a second refinement.  In an attempt to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative, the caller had finished with the statement that a lawyer would be calling to make arrangements for the money transfer.  Lawyers are trustworthy, of course (no laughing down there in the cheap seats), and the fact that you can no more authenticate the person who claims to be a lawyer than the person who claims to be your grandchild is probably lost on most people.

I say “fortunately,” because the calls grandpa made to the family probably blocked the second call, at least for a while.  It is quite possible that the scammer or scammers, hitting a busy signal a couple of times, suspected that calls were being made to family, and cut their losses rather than carry on with a now likely compromised scam.

This is not a new scam.  It’s a variation on 419s, which were, themselves, variations on the postal mail based “Nigerian” scam, which was a variation on the “Spanish prisoner” scam going back to the middle ages (which was probably based on a similar and even older scam).  But the scam is widespread, targets generosity rather than greed, and seems to be somewhat resistant to eradication.

Please raise this issue with, and explain it to, older friends and relatives.  The media reports on the scam tend to be minimal, and don’t explain how easy, and likely, it is to give away information in what you think is normal conversation.

Oh, and just to conclude, when you answer the phone and someone says “Grandpa?” or “Grandma?”, the correct answer is, “Who’s speaking, please?”

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REVIEW: “Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive”, Bruce Schneier

BKLRSOTL.RVW   20120104

“Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive”,
Bruce Schneier, 2012, 978-1-118-14330-8, U$24.95/C$29.95
%A   Bruce Schneier www.Schneier.com
%C   5353 Dundas Street West, 4th Floor, Etobicoke, ON   M9B 6H8
%D   2012
%G   978-1-118-14330-8 1-118-14330-2
%I   John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
%O   U$24.95/C$29.95 416-236-4433 fax: 416-236-4448 www.wiley.com
%O  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1118143302/robsladesinterne
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1118143302/robsladesinte-21
%O   http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/1118143302/robsladesin03-20
%O   Audience n+ Tech 2 Writing 3 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   365 p.
%T   “Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to
Thrive”

Chapter one is what would ordinarily constitute an introduction or preface to the book.  Schneier states that the book is about trust: the trust that we need to operate as a society.  In these terms, trust is the confidence we can have that other people will reliably behave in certain ways, and not in others.  In any group, there is a desire in having people cooperate and act in the interest of all the members of the group.  In all individuals, there is a possibility that they will defect and act against the interests of the group, either for their own competing interest, or simply in opposition to the group.  (The author notes that defection is not always negative: positive social change is generally driven by defectors.)  Actually, the text may be more about social engineering, because Schneier does a very comprehensive job of exploring how confident we can be about trust, and they ways we can increase (and sometimes inadvertantly decrease) that reliability.

Part I explores the background of trust, in both the hard and soft sciences.  Chapter two looks at biology and game theory for the basics.  Chapter three will be familiar to those who have studied sociobiology, or other evolutionary perspectives on behaviour.  A historical view of sociology and scaling makes up chapter four.  Chapter five returns to game theory to examine conflict and societal dilemmas.

Schneier says that part II develops a model of trust.  This may not be evident at a cursory reading: the model consists of moral pressures, reputational pressures, institutional pressures, and security systems, and the author is very careful to explain each part in chapters seven through ten: so careful that it is sometimes hard to follow the structure of the arguments.

Part III applies the model to the real world, examining competing interests, organizations, corporations, and institutions.  The relative utility of the four parts of the model is analyzed in respect to different scales (sizes and complexities) of society.  The author also notes, in a number of places, that distrust, and therefore excessive institutional pressures or security systems, is very expensive for individuals and society as a whole.

Part IV reviews the ways societal pressures fail, with particular emphasis on technology, and information technology.  Schneier discusses situations where carelessly chosen institutional pressures can create the opposite of the effect intended.

The author lists, and proposes, a number of additional models.  There are Ostrom’s rules for managing commons (a model for self-regulating societies), Dunbar’s numbers, and other existing structures.  But Schneier has also created a categorization of reasons for defection, a new set of security control types, a set of principles for designing effective societal pressures, and an array of the relation between these control types and his trust model.  Not all of them are perfect.  His list of control types has gaps and ambiguities (but then, so does the existing military/governmental catalogue).  In his figure of the feedback loops in societal pressures, it is difficult to find a distinction between “side effects” and “unintended consequences.”  However, despite minor problems, all of these paradigms can be useful in reviewing both the human factors in security systems, and in public policy.

Schneier writes as well as he always does, and his research is extensive.  In part one, possibly too extensive.  A great many studies and results are mentioned, but few are examined in any depth.  This does not help the central thrust of the book.  After all, eventually Schneier wants to talk about the technology of trust, what works, and what doesn’t.  In laying the basic foundation, the question of the far historical origin of altruism may be of academic philosophical interest, but that does not necessarily translate into an
understanding of current moral mechanisms.  It may be that God intended us to be altruistic, and therefore gave us an ethical code to shape our behaviour.  Or, it may be that random mutation produced entities that acted altruistically and more of them survived than did others, so the population created expectations and laws to encourage that behaviour, and God to explain and enforce it.  But trying to explore which of those (and many other variant) options might be right only muddies the understanding of what options actually help us form a secure society today.

Schneier has, as with “Beyond Fear” (cf. BKBYNDFR.RVW) and “Secrets and Lies” (cf. BKSECLIE.RVW), not only made a useful addition to the security literature, but created something of value to those involved with public policy, and a fascinating philosophical tome for the general public.  Security professionals can use a number of the models to assess controls in security systems, with a view to what will work, what won’t (and what areas are just too expensive to protect).  Public policy will benefit from examination of which formal structures are likely to have a desired effect.  (As I am finishing this review the debate over SOPA and PIPA is going on: measures unlikely to protect intellectual property in any meaningful way, and guaranteed to have enormous adverse effects.)  And Schneier has brought together a wealth of ideas and research in the fields of trust and society, with his usual clarity and readability.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2011     BKLRSOTL.RVW   20120104

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Forcing your users to write down their passwords

This sums up everything that is wrong with the “password policy” theme. From the t-mobile web site:

T-Mobile Password Policy

There is no way any reasonable person can choose a password that fits this policy AND can be remembered (note how they are telling you that you CANNOT use special characters. So users now have to bend according to the lowest common denominator of their bad back-end database routine and their bad password policy).

I’m sure some high-paid consultant convinced the T-MO CSO that stricter password policy is the answer to all their security problems. Reminds me of a story about an air-force security chief that claimed 25% increase in security by making mandatory password length 10 characters instead of 8, but I digress.

Yes, I know my habitat. No security executive ever got fired for making the user’s experience more difficult. All in the name of security. Except it’s both bad security and bad usability (which, incidentally, correlate more often than not, despite what lazy security ‘experts’ might let you believe.

I’ve ranted about this before.

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Certified security awareness

A vendor speaking at a conference (is there any other kind of presentation at conferences these days?) has made a call for a new standard for information security awareness training.

” … the way to do this is via a new infosecurity standard that solely focuses on training and awareness and is delivered in the work environment”

Now, I’m all for security awareness.  I’m all for more security awareness.  I’m all for better security awareness.  I’m all for infosec departments to actually TRY security awareness (since they say often say, “well, if it was gonna have worked, it woulda worked by now” and never try it).

But, come on.  A new “standard”?

As the man[1] said, the wonderful thing about computer “standards” is that there are so many to choose from.

What are we going to certify?  Users?  “Sorry, you have been found to be too stupid to use a computer at work.  You are hereby issued this non-jailbroken iPad.”

No, undoubtedly he thinks we are going to “certify” the awareness materials themselves.  Good luck with that.

I’ve been a teacher for a lot of years.  I’ve also been a book reviewer for a lot of years.  And I’ve published books.  Trust me on this: a variant of Gresham’s Law is very active in the textbook and educational materials field.  Bad textbooks drive out good.  As a matter of fact, it’s even closer to Gresham: money drives out good textbooks and materials.  Publishers know there is a lot of money to be made in textbooks and training materials.  Publishers with a lot of money are going to use that money to advertise, create “exclusive” contracts, and otherwise ensure that they have the biggest share of the market.  The easiest way to do that is to publish as many titles as you can, as cheaply as you can.  “Cheaply” means you use contract writers, who can turn out 2-300 pages on anything, whether they know about it or not.

So, do you really think that, if someone starts making noise about a security awareness standard, the publishers won’t make absolutely certain that they’ve got control of the certification process?  That if someone comes up with an independent standard that they can withstand the financial pressures that large publishers can bring to bear?  That if someone creates an independent cert, and firmly holds to principles and standards, that the publishers won’t just create a competing cert, and advertise it much more than the independent cert can ever hope to?

After all, none of us can possibly think of any lousy security product with a lot of money behind it that can command a larger market share than a good, but independent, product, now can we?

[1] Well, maybe it was Andrew Tanenbaum, but maybe it was Grace Hopper.  Or Patricia Seybold.  Or Ken Olsen.

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Who’s Who phish

And here, I thought I was finally famous.  It’s so disappointing.

I got a “Weekly Follow-up from the National Academic Association.”  I suppose it doesn’t really matter that I’d never heard of them, let alone weekly, because it came from the “Academic Association.”

“Hello Candidate,” it starts, and goes on to tell me that “As the school year opens, the Who’s Who Among Executives and Professionals begin a global search for accomplished individuals in both faculty and administrative roles at post-secondary institutions of learning.”

Could this possibly be a job offer?  They apparently need me to “verify your contact information so that we can properly publish your updated credentials alongside 30,000 of your prestigious peers. Such a listing can only bring you increased visibility and networking opportunities within the scholastic community.”  Only 30,000!  Such a select group!

Alas, when I actually went to the site http://www.wittersphere.info/YM40/53/1338/710177.1/4/13295/1600293/3O80?gy=?qqu06/vc/ld-99505.g78 (tested with a safe browser, but it doesn’t actually seem to be feeding malware) it turned out to be the “International Association of Successful Individuals.”  Therefore, I don’t qualify, but no doubt a number of you do, so I’m letting you know  :-)

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PC Support Sites: Scams and Credibility

Just as 419-ers seem to have been permanently renamed in some quarters as “the Lads from Lagos”, I wonder if we should refer to those irritating individuals who persist in ringing us to offer us help (for a not particularly small fee) with non-existent malware as the “Krooks from Kolkata” (or more recently, the Ne’erdowells from New Delhi). It would be a pity to slur an entire nation with the misdeeds of a few individuals, but the network of such scammers does seem to be expanding across the Indian continent.

Be that as it may, I’ve recently been doing a little work (in association with Martijn Grooten of Virus Bulletin) on some of the ways that PC support sites that may be associated with cold-call scams are bolstering their own credibility by questionable means. Of course, legitimate businesses are also fond of Facebook likes, testimonials and so on, but we’ve found that some of these sites are not playing altogether nicely.

I’ve posted a fairly lengthy joint blog on the topic here: Facebook Likes and cold-call scams

David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP
ESET Senior Research Fellow

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Security awareness

A recent Twitter post by Team Cymru pointed at a (very brief) debate about the value of security awareness training.  It’s an issue that has concerned me for a long time.

I got interested in security starting with research into viruses and malware.  Early on, I did a lot of work reviewing the various available products.  In the responses I got to my efforts, one point was abundantly clear: everyone, almost without exception, was looking for the “perfect” antivirus.  Even though Fred Cohen had proven that such an animal could not possibly exist, everybody wanted something they could “set and forget.”

Notice two things.  The first is that perfect security doesn’t exist.  As (ISC)2‘s marketing phrase has it, security transcends technology.  The second point is that people aren’t particularly keen on learning about security.  They fight against it.  They have to be motivated into it.  And that motivation tends to be individual and personal.

Which means security awareness training is hard, and individual, and therefore expensive.  Expensive means that companies are loath to try it, in any significant way.  Hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars can be spent on a raft of security technologies, but security awareness programs can only get a budget of a few thousand a year.  Which means they can’t be individual, which means they won’t work very well, which means companies aren’t willing to try them.

The default position people take is to resist security awareness.  They don’t want to know extraneous stuff.  They just want to get on with their jobs.  So, even if you were to produce a really good security awareness program, there would undoubtedly still be some who would resist to the end, and not learn.  They wouldn’t benefit from the program, and they would still make mistakes.  So security awareness training won’t be perfect, either.  Sorry about that.

However, I’ve noticed something over the years.  I get asked, by all my friends and acquaintances, for advice about virus protection, and home computer protection.  Some learn the ins and outs, the dangerous activities, the marks of a phishing email message.  They never ask me to clean their machines.  Some just ask about the “best” antiviral software.  Usually after they’ve asked me to clean off a computer.  I identify what they’ve got, and tell them how they got it.  You shouldn’t [do music sharing|do instant messaging|go to all those weird Websites|open attachments you receive] I tell them.  They always have reasons why they must do those things.  (Not very good reasons, mind you, just reasons.)

You know that old medical joke about “Doctor, it hurts when I do this” “Well, do do that”?  It’s not funny.

People ask me what antivirus program I use at home.  Very often I don’t use one, unless I’m testing something.  (At the moment I’m testing two, and I’m about ready to take both of them off, since both of them can be real nuisances at times.)  There are long periods where I run without any “protection.”  I know what not to do.  My wife knows what not to do.  (After all, she read my first book seven times over, while she was editing it.)  We don’t get infected.  Not even by “zero days” or “advanced persistent threats.”

Security technology isn’t perfect.  Security awareness training isn’t perfect.  However, at present, and for as long as I can remember, the emphasis has been on security technology.  We need to give awareness more of a try.

Is security awareness “worth it”?  Is security awareness “cost effective”?  Well, we’ve been spending quite a lot on security technologies (sometimes just piecemeal, unmanaged security technologies), and we haven’t got good security.  Three arguments in favour of at least trying security awareness spending:

1)  When you’ve got two areas of benefit, and you are reaching the limits of “diminishing returns” in one area, the place to put your further money is on the one you haven’t stressed.

2)  Security awareness is mostly about risk management.  Business management is mostly about risk management.  Security awareness can give you advantages in more than just security.

3)  Remember that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.

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Help Desk Scams and Microsoft

Apparently when the coldcalling species of scamming maggot claims to be Microsoft or partnered with Microsoft, there really is sometimes a relationship of sorts lurking behind the scenes there, though that doesn’t mean that Microsoft are at all a party to the scam, of course.

I’ve been gnawing at that particular bone for quite a while now – see, for instance, http://blog.eset.com/?s=Harley+%2B+support+scam and http://go.eset.com/us/resources/white-papers/Hanging-On-The-Telephone.pdf and http://www.scmagazineus.com/supporters-club/article/199459/ – and the name Comantra has turned up time and time again in the context of site registrations, though I haven’t had the resources to confirm links with the company in terms of individual scam calls.

But somehow I’d never realized the company really was a Microsoft Gold Partner. Apparently Microsoft took some time to make the connection too. But they have, and Comantra is no longer a Gold Partner. According to PC Pro, a Microsoft spokesman said:

“We were made aware of a matter involving one of the members of the Microsoft Partner Network acting in a manner that caused us to raise concerns about this member’s business practices.Following an investigation, the allegations were confirmed and we took action to terminate our relationship with the partner in question and revoke their Gold status.”

Somehow, though, I doubt if this means the end of coldcall scams. There were lots of sites and lots of names registered for sites that were associated with individual scammers, and there seems to be no real pressure from law-enforcement in the regions where the calls are actually originating. And Comantra is claiming that it’s all to do with negative marketing from their competitors. Gosh, never heard that one before…

On the other hand, since I moved house a few weeks ago, I haven’t had a single support scam call, though there’ve been a few “we can help you sue your mortgage lender” calls with a reassuringly Indian accent. Still, I miss being told I’m leaking viruses all over Surrey. How long do you suppose it will take them to catch up with me?

David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP. And stuff.
Small Blue-Green World

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If you don’t want people to know, then shut up.

The CIA is complaining that news media and other entities are giving away information about it’s agents and operations.

Trouble is, the information being analysed has been provided by the CIA.

If the CIA is being too eager to promote themselves, or careless in censoring the material they do provide, is that the fault of the media?

In doing the CISSP seminars, I use lots of security war stories.  Some of them are from my own work.  Some of them I’ve collected from the attendees over the years.  It’s not hard to use the story to make a point, but leave absolutely no clues as to the company involved, let alone individuals.

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Fake Online Reviews

We’ve had means of expressing our opinions on various things for a long time.  Amazon has had reviews of the books pretty much since the beginning.  But how do we know that the reviews are real?  Virus writers took the opportunity presented by Amazon to trash my books when they were published.  (Even though they used different names, it only took a very simple form of forensic linguistics to figure out the identities.)

More recently, review spam has become more important, since many people are relying on the online reviews when buying items or booking services.  A number of “companies” have determined that it is more cost effective to have bots or other entities flood the review systems with fake positive reviews than it is to make quality products or services.  So, some nice people from Cornell university produced and tested some software to determine the fakes.

Note that, from these slides, there is not a lot of detail about exactly how they determine the fakes.  However, there is enough to indicate that sophisticated algorithms are less accurate than some fairly simple metrics.  When I teach about software forensics (aspects of which are similar to forensic lingusitics, or stylistic forensics), this seems counterintuitive and surprises a lot of students.  Generally they object that, if you know about the metircs, you should be able to avoid them.  In practice, this doesn’t seem to be the case.  Simple metrics do seem to be very effective in both forensic linguistics, and in software forensics.

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