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Researcher, author, communications guy, teacher, security maven, management consultant, and general loudmouth Rob Slade. Also

REVIEW – “The Florentine Deception”, Carey Nachenberg

BKFLODEC.RVW   20150609

“The Florentine Deception”, Carey Nachenberg, 2015, 978-1-5040-0924-9,
%A   Carey Nachenberg
%C   345 Hudson Street, New York, NY   10014
%D   2015
%G   978-1-5040-0924-9 150400924X
%I   Open Road Distribution
%O   U$13.49/C$18.91
%O   Audience n+ Tech 3 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   321 p.
%T   “The Florentine Deception”

It gets depressing, after a while.  When you review a bunch of books on the basis of the quality of the technical information, books of fiction are disappointing.  No author seems interested in making sure that the technology is in any way realistic.  For every John Camp, who pays attention to the facts, there are a dozen Dan Browns who just make it up as they go along.  For every Toni Dwiggins, who knows what she is talking about, there are a hundred who don’t.

So, when someone like Carey Nachenberg, who actually works in malware research, decides to write a story using malicious software as a major plot device, you have to be interested.  (And besides, both Mikko Hypponen and Eugene Spafford, who know what they are talking about, say it is technically accurate.)

I will definitely grant that the overall “attack” is technically sound.  The forensics and anti-forensics makes sense.  I can even see young geeks with more dollars than sense continuing to play “Nancy Drew” in the face of mounting odds and attackers.  That a vulnerability can continue to go undetected for more than a decade would ordinarily raise a red flag, but Nachenberg’s premise is realistic (especially since I know of a vulnerability at that very company that went unfixed for seven years after they had been warned about it).  That a geek goes rock-climbing with a supermodel we can put down to poetic licence (although it may increase the licence rates).  I can’t find any flaws in the denouement.

But.  I *cannot* believe that, in this day and age, *anyone* with a background in malware research would knowingly stick a thumb/jump/flash/USB drive labelled “Florentine Controller” into his, her, or its computer.  (This really isn’t an objection: it would only take a couple of pages to have someone run up a test to make sure the thing was safe, but …)

Other than that, it’s a joy to read.  It’s a decent thriller, with some breaks to make it relaxing rather than exhausting (too much “one damn thing after another” gets tiring), good dialogue, and sympathetic characters.  The fact that you can trust the technology aids in the “willing suspension of disbelief.”

While it doesn’t make any difference to the quality of the book, I should mention that Carey is donating all author profits from sales of the book to charity:

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2015   BKFLODEC.RVW   20150609

REVIEW: “Security for Service Oriented Architectures”, Walter Williams


“Security for Service Oriented Architectures”, Walter Williams, 2014,
978-1466584020, U$61.97
%A Walter Williams
%C #300 – 6000 Broken Sound Parkway NW, Boca Raton, FL 33487-2742
%D 2014
%G 978-1466584020 1466584025
%I CRC Press
%O U$61.97 800-272-7737
%O Audience i+ Tech 2 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P 329 p.
%T “Security for Service Oriented Architectures”

Walt Williams is one of the sporadic, but thoughtful, posting members of the international CISSP Forum. He has come up with a significant text on an important topic.

After some preface and introduction, the book starts in chapter two, defining the four kinds of architecture in computer systems: infrastructure, software, data, and security. This chapter covers foundational concepts, as well as service oriented architecture SOA), and is, alone, worth the price of the book.

Chapter three, on implementation, comprises the bulk of the space in the work, and is primarily of interest to those dealing with development, although it does have a number of points and observations of use to the manager or security practitioner. “Web 2.0” (chapter four) has some brief points on those advanced usages. A variety of additional SOA platforms are examined in chapter five. Chapter six, on the auditing of SOA applications, covers not only the how, but also notes specific types of attacks, and the most appropriate auditing tools for each case. Much the same is done, in terms of more general protection, in chapter seven. Chapter eight, simply entitled “Architecture,” finishes off with sample cases.

It is an unfortunate truism that most security professionals do not know enough about programming, and most programmers don’t care anything about security. This is nowhere truer than in service oriented architecture and “the cloud,” where speed of release and bolt-on functionality trumps every other consideration. Williams’ work is almost alone in a badly under-served field. Despite a lack of competition, it is a worthy introduction. I can recommend this book to anyone involved in either security or development, particularly those working in that nebulous concept known as “the cloud.”

copyright, Robert M. Slade 2015 BKSECSOA.RVW 20150130

REVIEW: “The Social Life of Information”, John Seely Brown/Paul Duguid

BKSCLFIN.RVW   20130124

“The Social Life of Information”, John Seely Brown/Paul Duguid, 2000,
0-87584-762-5, U$24.95
%A   John Seely Brown
%A   Paul Duguid
%C   60 Harvard Way, Boston MA   02163
%D   2000
%G   0-87584-762-5
%I   Harvard Business School Press
%O   U$25.95 617-495-6947 617-495-6700 617-495-6117 800-545-7685
%O   Audience n+ Tech 2 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   320 p.
%T   “The Social Life of Information”

The introduction is vague, but basically notes that those who approach information in a strictly technical or business sense risk failure by ignoring the social context in which information resides.  Information does not exist of itself, but is produced and consumed by people, and thus is a construct and artifact of our social environment.

Chapter one talks about information overload.  Bots are discussed in chapter two: not the botnets (simple programs distributed over multiple computers) that everyone agrees should be eliminated, but the range of software agents that we use without thinking.  The authors note that the interactions between these bots are inherently impossible to control, and the material prophecies the recent problems in content blocking such as affected the Hugo awards and Michelle Obama.  Chapter three examines various social issues of home (or non-office) -based work.  The difference between our processes, and the way people actually work, are addressed in chapter four.  A number of interesting ideas are raised, but it is (ironically) difficult to see how to put these into practice (rather than discussion of what we should do).  Chapter five turns to learning and knowledge management.  The authors assert that learning is primarily social, and note negative effects on business if this aspect is ignored, but actually say very little about learning or information.  Chapter six explores innovation in respect to the Internet and a global economy, noting that information is difficult to control in that it is both “sticky” (resistant to change) and “leaky” (incidental disclosures of “confidential” information abound).  The “background” of information is noted in chapter seven, with the authors examining the resilience of paper in the face of a determined effort to create the “paperless” office.  They note studies showing that “printing” out email seemed to automatically give the data greater weight.  (I wonder if this might have changed in today’s marketplace: sadly, a rather large proportion of people now seem to hold that *anything* found on the Internet, regardless of how silly, must be true.)  Chapter eight, entitled “Re-education,” discusses the changing nature of universities.

There is an afterword, “Beyond Information,” touching on miscellaneous points, particularly to do with copyright.

Despite a certain lack of structure or purpose to some of the sections, the writing is both clear and entertaining.  It also has that ineffable quality of readability, meaning that the reading is enjoyable even when the authors are not delivering specifically interesting information, or making a vital point in an argument.  It’s a joy simply to consume the text.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2013   BKSCLFIN.RVW   20130124

AV is dead … again …

Antivirus software only catches 45% of malware attacks and is “dead”, according to a senior manager at Symantec.”

85.4% of statistic can be interpreted in the opposite way, and AV has been declared dead regularly since 1987.

Symantec “invented commercial antivirus software in the 1980s”?  That must come as news to the many companies, like Sophos, that I was reviewing long before Symantec bought out their first AV company.

“Dye told the Wall Street Journal that hackers increasingly use novel methods and bugs in the software of computers to perform attacks.”

There were “novel attacks” in 1986, and they got caught.  There have been novel attacks every year or so since, and they’ve been caught.  At the same time, lots of people get attacked and fail to detect it.  There’s never a horse that couldn’t be rode, and there’s never a rider that couldn’t be throwed.

“Malware has become increasingly complex in a post-Stuxnet world.”

So have computers.  Even before Stuxnet.  I think it was Grace Hopper who said that the reason it is difficult to secure complex systems is because they are complex systems.  (And she died a while back.)

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”?

Disasters in BC

The auditor general has weighed in, and, surprise, surprise, we are not ready for an earthquake.

On the one hand, I’m not entirely sure that the auditor general completely understands disaster planning, and she hasn’t read Kenneth Myers and so doesn’t know that it can be counter-productive to produce plans for every single possibility.

On the other hand, I’m definitely with Vaugh Palmer in that we definitely need more public education.  We are seeing money diverted from disaster planning to other areas, regardless of a supposed five-fold increase in emergency budget.  In the past five years, the professional association has been defunded, training is very limited in local municipalities, and even recruitment and “thank you” events for volunteers have almost disappeared.  Emergency planning funds shouldn’t be used to pay for capital projects.

(And the province should have been prepared for an audit in this area, since they got a warning shot last year.)

So, once again, and even more importantly, I’d recommend you all get emergency training.  I’ve said it beforeI keep saying itI will keep on saying it.

(Stephen Hume agrees with me, although he doesn’t know the half of it. )

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. 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.)

Card fraud and other details

A family member recently encountered credit card fraud.  That isn’t unusual, but there were some features of the whole experience that seemed odd.

First off, the person involved is certain that the fraud relates to the use of the card at a tap/RFID/proximity reader.  The card has been in use for some time, but the day before the fraudulent charges the card was used, for the first time, at a gas pump with a “tap” reader.

(I suspect this is wrong.  The card owner feels that gas pumps, left unattended all night, would be a prime target for reader tampering.  I can’t fault that logic, but the fact that an address was later associated with use of the card makes me wonder.)

At any rate, the day after the gas was purchased, two charges were made with the credit card.  One was for about $600.00, and was with, a supplier of computer parts, particularly cables, based in Ontario.  The other charge was for almost $4000.00, and was with, which specializes in hardware devices for Bitcoin mining, and operates out of Washington state.  (Given the price list, this seems consistent with about 8 Bitcoin mining cards, or about 20 USB mining devices.)  The credit card company was notified, and the card voided and re-issued.

A few days after that, two boxes arrived–at the address of the cardholder.  One came from via UPS and was addressed to John Purcer, the other was from via Fedex and was addressed to Tom Smyth.  Both were left at the door, refused and returned to the delivery companies.  (At last report, the cardholder was trying to get delivery tracking numbers to ensure that the packages were returned to the companies.)

As noted previously, this is where I sat up.  Presumably a simple theft of the card data at a reader could not provide the cardholder’s address data.  An attempt might be made to ensure that the “ship to” address is the same as the “bill to” address (one of the companies says as much on its billing page), but I further assume that a call to the credit card company with a “hey, I forgot my address” query wouldn’t fly, and I doubt the credit card company would even give that info to the vendor company.

One further note: I mentioned to the cardholder that it was fortunate that the shipment via UPS was from the Canadian company, since UPS is quite unreasonable with charges (to the deliveree) involving taking anything across a border.  (When I was doing a lot more book reviews in the old days, I had to add a standard prohibition against using UPS to all my correspondence with companies outside Canada.)  When UPS was contacted about this delivery, the agent reported that the package was shown as delivered, with a note of “saw boy,” presumably since the cardholder’s son was home, or in the vicinity of the house, at the time of delivery.  The cardholder was understandably upset and asked to have that note taken off the record, and was then told a) the record could not be changed, and b) that was a standard code, presumably built-in to the tracking devices the drivers carry.

Just a note to those of you who care anything about privacy …