Posts byp1

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

“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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“Identity Theft” of time

I really should know better.

Last night, hoping that, in two hours, Hollywood might provide *some* information on an important topic, even if limited, I watched “Identity Thief,” a movie put out by Universal in 2013, starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy.

It is important to point out to people that, if someone phones you up and offers you a free service to protect you from identity theft, it is probably not a good idea to give them your name, date of birth, social security/insurance number, credit card and bank account numbers, and basically everything else about you.  This tip is provided in the first thirty seconds of the film.  After that (except for the point that the help law enforcement might be able to give you is limited) it’s all downhill.  The plot is ridiculous (even for a comedy), the characters somewhat uneven, the situations crude, the relationship unlikely, the language profane, and the legalities extremely questionable.

(The best line in the entire movie is: Sandy – “Do you know what a sociopath is?” Diane – “Do they like ribs?”  I know this may not seem funny, but trust me: it gives you a very good idea of how humorous this movie really is.)

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Bank of Montreal online banking insecurity

I’ve had an account with the Bank of Montreal for almost 50 years.

I’m thinking that I may have to give it up.

BMO’s online banking is horrendously insecure.  The password is restricted to six characters.  It is tied to telephone banking, which means that the password is actually the telephone pad numeric equivalent of your password.  You can use that numeric equivalent or any password you like that fits the same numeric equivalent.  (Case is, of course, completely irrelevant.)

My online access to the accounts has suddenly stopped working.  At various times, over the years, I have had problems with the access and had to go to the bank to find out why.  The reasons have always been weird, and the process of getting access again convoluted.  At present I am using, for access, the number of a bank debit card that I never use as a debit card.  (Or even an ATM card.)  The card remains in the file with the printed account statements.

Today when I called about the latest problem, I had to run through the usual series of inane questions.  Yes, I knew how long my password had to be.  Yes, I knew my password.  Yes, it was working until recently.  No, it didn’t work on online banking.  No, it didn’t work on telephone banking.

The agent (no, sorry, “service manager,” these days) was careful to point out that he was *not* going to ask me for my password.  Then he set up a conference call with the online banking system, and had me key in my password over the phone.

(OK, it’s unlikely that even a trained musician could catch all six digits from the DTMF tones on one try.  But a machine could do it easily.)

After all that, the apparent reason for the online banking not working is that the government has mandated that all bank cards now be chipped.  So, without informing me, and without sending me a new card, the bank has cancelled my access.  ( I suppose that is secure.  If you are not counting on availability, or access to audit information.)

(I also wonder, if that was the reason, why the “service manager” couldn’t just look up the card number and determine that the access had been cancelled, rather than having me try to sign in.)

I’ll probably go and close my account this afternoon.

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YASCCL (Yet Another Stupid Computer Crime Law)

Over the years I have seen numerous attempts at addressing the serious problems in computer crime with new laws.  Well-intentioned, I know, but all too many of these attempts are flawed.  The latest is from Nova Scotia:

Bill 61

“The definition of cyberbullying, in this particular bill, includes “any electronic communication” that ”ought reasonably be expected” to “humiliate” another person, or harm their “emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation.””

Well, all I can say is that everyone in this forum better be really careful what they say about anybody else.

(Oh, $#!+.  Did I just impugn the reputation of the Nova Scotia legislature?)

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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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Has your email been “hacked?”

I got two suspicious messages today.  They were identical, and supposedly “From” two members of my extended family, and to my most often used account, rather than the one I use as a spam trap.  I’ve had some others recently, and thought it a good opportunity to write up something on the general topic of email account phishing.

The headers are no particular help: the messages supposedly related to a Google Docs document, and do seem to come from or through Google.  (Somewhat ironically, at the time the two people listed in these messages might have been sharing information with the rest of us in the family in this manner.  Be suspicious of anything you receive over the Internet, even if you think it might relate to something you are expecting.)

The URLs/links in the message are from TinyURL (which Google wouldn’t use) and, when resolved, do not actually go to Google.  They seem to end up on a phishing site intended to steal email addresses.  It had a Google logo at the top, and asked the user to “sign in” with email addresses (and passwords) from Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and a few other similar sites.  (The number of possible Webmail sites should be a giveaway in itself: Google would only be interested in your Google account.)

Beware of any messages you receive that look like this:

——- Forwarded message follows ——-
Subject:            Important Documents
Date sent:          Mon, 5 Aug 2013 08:54:26 -0700
From:               [a friend or relative]

How are you doing today? Kindly view the documents i uploaded for you using
Google Docs CLICK HERE <hxxp://>.
——- End of forwarded message ——-

That particular site was only up briefly: 48 hours later it was gone.  This tends to be the case: these sites change very quickly.  Incidentally, when I initially tested it with a few Web reputation systems, it was pronounced clean by all.

This is certainly not the only type of email phishing message: a few years ago there were rafts of messages warning you about virus, spam, or security problems with your email account.  Those are still around: I just got one today:

——- Forwarded message follows ——-
From:               “Microsoft HelpDesk” <>
Subject:            Helpdesk Mail Box Warning!!!
Date sent:          Wed, 7 Aug 2013 15:56:35 -0200

Helpdesk Mail Support require you to re-validate your Microsoft outlook mail immediately by clicking: hxxp://

This Message is From Helpdesk. Due to our latest IP Security upgrades we have reason to believe that your Microsoft outlook mail account was accessed by a third party. Protecting the security of your Microsoft outlook mail account is our primary concern, we have limited access to sensitive Microsoft outlook mail account features.

Failure to re-validate, your e-mail will be blocked in 24 hours.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Help Desk
Microsoft outlook Team
——- End of forwarded message ——-

Do you really think that Microsoft wouldn’t capitalize its own Outlook product?

(Another giveaway on that particular one is that it didn’t come to my Outlook account, mostly because I don’t have an Outlook account.)

(That site was down less than three hours after I received the email.

OK, so far I have only been talking about things that should make you suspicious when you receive them.  But what happens if and when you actually follow through, and get hit by these tricks?  Well, to explain that, we have to ask why the bad guys would want to phish for your email account.  After all, we usually think of phishing in terms of bank accounts, and money.

The blackhats phishing for email accounts might be looking for a number of things.  First, they can use your account to send out spam, and possibly malicious spam, at that.  Second, they can harvest email addresses from your account (and, in particular, people who would not be suspicious of a message when it comes “From:” you).  Third, they might be looking for a way to infect or otherwise get into your computer, using your computer in a botnet or for some other purpose, or stealing additional information (like banking information) you might have saved.  A fourth possibility, depending upon the type of Webmail you have, is to use your account to modify or create malicious Web pages, to serve malware, or do various types of phishing.

What you have to do depends on what it was the bad guys were after in getting into your account.

If they were after email addresses, it’s probably too late.  They have already harvested the addresses.  But you should still change your password on that account, so they won’t be able to get back in.  And be less trusting in future.

The most probable thing is that they were after your account in order to use it to send spam.  Change your password so that they won’t be able to send any more.  (In a recent event, with another relative, the phishers had actually changed the password themselves.  This is unusual, but it happens.  In that case, you have to contact the Webmail provider, and get them to reset your password for you.)  The phishers have probably also sent email to all of your friends (and everyone in your contacts or address list), so you’d better send a message around, ‘fess up to the fact that you’ve been had, and tell your friends what they should do.  (You can point them at this posting.)  Possibly in an attempt to prevent you from finding out that your account has been hacked, the attackers often forward your email somewhere else.  As well as changing your password, check to see if there is any forwarding on your account, and also check to see if associated email addresses have been changed.

It’s becoming less likely that the blackhats want to infect your computer, but it’s still possible.  In that case, you need to get cleaned up.  If you are running Windows, Microsoft’s (free!) program Microsoft Security Essentials (or MSE) does a very good job.  If you aren’t, or want something different, then Avast, Avira, Eset, and Sophos have products available for free download, and for Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Android.  (If you already have some kind of antivirus program running on your machine, you might want to get these anyway, because yours isn’t working, now is it?)

(By the way, in the recent incident, both family members told me that they had clicked on the link “and by then it was too late.”  They were obviously thinking of infection, but, in fact, that particular site wasn’t set up to try and infect the computer.  When they saw the page asked for their email addresses and password, it wasn’t too late.  if they had stopped at that point, and not entered their email addresses and passwords, nothing would have happened!  Be aware, and a bit suspicious.  It’ll keep you safer.)

When changing your password, or checking to see if your Web page has been modified, be very careful, and maybe use a computer that is protected a bit better than your is.  (Avast is very good at telling you if a Web page is trying to send you something malicious, and most of the others do as well.  MSE doesn’t work as well in this regard.)  Possibly use a computer that uses a different operating system: if your computer uses Windows, then use a Mac: if your computer is a Mac, use an Android tablet or something like that.  Usually (though not always) those who set up malware pages are only after one type of computer.

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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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