Category Archives: Commentary

General ideas about the world of security

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 …

Cyberbullying, anonymity, and censorship

Michael Den Tandt’s recent column in the Vancouver Sun is rather a melange, and deserves to have a number of points addressed separately.

First, it is true that the behaviours the “cyberbullying” bill address, those of spreading malicious and false information widely, generally using anonymous or misleading identities, do sound suspiciously close to those behaviours in which politicians engage themselves.  It might be ironic if the politicians got charged under the act.

Secondly, whether bill C-13 is just a thinly veiled re-introduction of the reviled C-30 is an open question.  (As one who works with forensic linguistics, I’d tend to side with those who say that the changes in the bill are primarily cosmetic: minimal changes intended to address the most vociferous objections, without seriously modifying the underlying intent.)

However, Den Tandt closes with an insistence that we need to address the issue of online anonymity.  Removing anonymity from the net has both good points and bad, and it may be that the evil consequences would outweigh the benefits.  (I would have thought that a journalist would have been aware of the importance of anonymous sources of reporting.)

More importantly, this appeal for the banning of anonymity betrays an ignorance of the inherent nature of networked communitcation.  The Internet, and related technologies, have so great an influence on our lives that it is important to know what can, and can’t, be done with it.

The Internet is not a telephone company, where the central office installs all the wires and knows at least where (and therefore likely who) a call came from.  The net is based on technology whish is designed, from the ground up, in such a way that anyone, with any device, can connect to the nearest available source, and have the network, automatically, pass information to or from the relevant person or site.

The fundamental technology that connects the Internet, the Web, social media, and pretty much everything else that is seen as “digital” these days, is not a simple lookup table at a central office.  It is a complex interrelationship of prototcols, servers, and programs that are built to allow anyone to communicate with anyone, without needing to prove your identity or authorization.  Therefore, nobody has the ability to prevent any communication.

There are, currently, a number of proposals to “require” all communications to be identified, or all users to have an identity, or prevent anyone without an authenticated identity from using the Internet.  Any such proposals will ultimately fail, since they ignore the inherent foundational nature of the net.  People can voluntarily participate in such programs–but those people probably wouldn’t have engaged in cyberbullying in any case.

John Gilmore, one of the people who built the basics of the Internet, famously stated that “the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”  This fact allows those under oppressive regimes to communicate with the rest of the world–but it also means that pornography and hate speech can’t be prevented.  The price of reasonable commuincations is constant vigilance and taking the time to build awareness.  A wish for a technical or legal shortcut that will be a magic pill and “fix” everything is doomed to fail.


BananaGlee. I just love saying that word 😉

So, was reading up on the NSA backdoors for Cisco and other OSes,, and got to thinking about how the NSA might exfiltrate their data or run updates…It’s gotta be pretty stealthy, and I’m sure they have means of reflecting data to/from their Remote Operations Center (ROC) in such a way that you can’t merely look at odd destination IPs from your network.

This got me thinking about how I would find such data on a network. First off, obviously, I’d have to tap the firewall between firewall and edge router. I’d also want to tap the firewall for all internal connections. Each of these taps would be duplicated to a separate network card on a passive device.

1) eliminate all traffic that originated from one interface and went out another interface. This has to be an exact match. I would think any changes outside of TTL would be something that would have to be looked at.

2) what is left after (1) would have to be traffic originating from the firewall (although not necessarily using the firewalls IP or MAC). That’s gotta be a much smaller set of data.

3) With the data set from (2), you’ve gotta just start tracing through each one.

This would, no doubt, be tons of fun. I don’t know how often the device phones home to the ROC, what protocol they might use , etc…

If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them. I find this extremely fascinating.