or at least, we think so

Dumb computer virus story

I really don’t know who is more ignorant here, the city authorities “protecting” the computers, or the journalist writing up the story

If you know anything about the technology, this is howlingly funny (or, it would be, if it weren’t so sadly representative …)

“Officials at Nanaimo city hall are desperately working to find out how a virus attacked their computer system Wednesday afternoon.”


“Per Kristensen, director of information and technology, said he was shocked by how quickly the virus infected the system.

“The first time anyone anywhere in the world noticed this new virus was on [March 15] and then it hit us on the 16th,” he said Thursday.”

(How many new viruses are “created” every day, these days?)

“People can be assured that all their information is secure. Protection of their personal information is a priority. The city’s system won’t be turned on until we are confident we have this solved,” he said.

(Ummm, how are you going to clean up the computers if they are turned off?)

“Kristensen said the virus is so new, it has no signature that security devices can recognize.”

(Let me guess: a certain antivirus in a yellow box couldn’t recognize it, so you figure that nobody can, right?)

“We’ve got multiple levels of protection and firewalls, but nothing recognizes this.”

(Yeah, firewalls do a GREAT job against viruses …)

“We may have to shut down throughout the weekend and we won’t put the system back up until we know we have this under control. And right now, we don’t know how long that will be.”

(Based on this, I’m not holding my breath …)

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Crowdsourced Christmas Cwestions

This has nothing to do with security.  But, since it’s the day ofter Epiphany, we are now officially out of the Christmas season, so one last hit before next year.

Then again, maybe it does have to do with security.  Integrity and all that.  The dangers of getting your answers from socnets and Wikipedia.

So, today I’m getting my hair cut.  Our hair stylist (yes, I’ve had to switch from a barber, that endangered species, to a hair stylist.  Who is really good) has become a good friend, and saves up questions to ask me while I’m in the chair.  Today it was why red is a Christmas colour.  (We discussed Clement Clark Moore, and persistent berries in northern climates, etc.)

I mentioned this to Gloria when I got home, and she said that the girls would have just googled “why is red a Christmas colour?”  So, I did that.

Oi, such nonsense I find!  There are lots of non-answers, such as the Christian significance of red and green, but there is Christian significance in other colours, too, so why those? was one of the sites that promulgated that one.

But then I hit yet another answer from, and this one just blew me away!  So herewith the answer they gave to it, and my response to the various parts (by the way, I haven’t corrected any spelling, punctuation or grammer within the quotes):

“This has always been the case.”

Oh, thanks awfully!  So helpful!  (This is the “turtles all the way down” answer.)

“Possibly the holly and wreaths,”

OK, I can accept that …

“or contrasting stop and go images-Red and Green lights.”

Of course!  The famous sixteenth-century Tudor traffic lights!  It’s obvious!

“One interesting angle is the Running lights of ships”

Uh, you’ll have to explain that one to me a bit more …

“-and Christmas is transportation oriented,”

Ummmm, are we talking about the three kings, here?

“are , from port to starboard, Red, White(overhead masthead lights) and Green.”

Yes, yes, I see!  The Magi must have travelled on the Orient Cruise Line (the Pacific not having been discovered yet).

“it was said this may have been chosen tohonor Columbus as these are the colors of the Itallian Flag.”

Of course.  Columbus must have been the fourth wise man, and ended up as the Wondering … Wop?

“it is interesting to know the term Christmas tree for the control panel on a submarine”

Yes, clearly this came from early Judean submarines!

“refers directly to the red (hazard, no go) and Green (safe, clear) lights.”

And, clearly, Christmas is something to avoid, as hazardous.

“similar devices have other applications.”

And similar holidays have other colours?

“oddly phone switchboards are usually red and white-busy and clear.”

And this colour scheme has come down to us from the earliest Roman switchboards?

“I hope this is some help!”

No, not really.  (But it was somewhat amusing.)

    SecuriTeam Secure Disclosure

    SecuriTeam Secure Disclosure (SSD) helps researchers turn their vulnerability discovery skills into a highly paid career. Contact SSD to get the most for your hard work.

Sound good?

By the way, in non-Sonne-erous G8/20 news, our government(s) have spent a billions dollars on security for a couple of days of meetings.  Even given the degraded value of the American billion, that’s a lot of money.

Part of it was used to buy sound cannons.  (The police don’t like you saying that: they prefer the term “long range sonic control devices.”)  These sound cannons generate noise at 130 decibels, which the civil liberties folks are concerned will damage human hearing.

That’s the same level of noise a vuvuzela makes.

So, look, why didn’t we save the billion dollars, go down to Canadian Tire, and, for a hundred bucks (possibly in Canadian Tire money) equip the entire riot squad with vuvuzelas?

    SecuriTeam Secure Disclosure

    SecuriTeam Secure Disclosure (SSD) helps researchers turn their vulnerability discovery skills into a highly paid career. Contact SSD to get the most for your hard work.

He’s eight, OK?

So I’m in the store with my grandson, preparatory to taking him (and his sister) for ice cream.  We’re buying cheese.  One of the varieties of the cheese we want to buy is wasabi.

“We should get some of that for Grama,” he says.

(His father gave him a wasabi pea, once, and he has never forgotten it.)

“Ha!” says I, “Maybe we should forget this ice cream idea.  We shouldn’t get you ice cream, for you are an evil child!”

Most children of eight would object.  Both to the potential loss of ice cream, and to any insinuation that they are evil.  “I’m not bad!” they would whine.

But not my grandson.  He doesn’t batt an eye.  Without a second’s pause, he fires back with “Ah!  But you haven’t yet heard my plan for taking over the world!”

Maybe he takes after his grandfather too much …

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Sometimes it’s just Windows …

As well as the complexity issue I spoke about earlier, computers can do some weird things.

A couple of days ago, Gloria was doing some work that involved comparing two photographs.  She asked me to have a look at the first, then showed me the second, and then wanted to show me the first again.  Which, of course, wasn’t there any more.  Windows Picture and Fax (why fax, in this day and age?) Viewer, I explained, almost uniquely among Windows programs, doesn’t let you have more than one window open at a time.  Why not, she asked.  No reason I can think of.

In some frustration she closed the picture viewer window, preparatory to finding the other picture in the other directory.  She clicked the little red square with the white x in it, up in the top right hand corner.  The Viewer window disappeared.

So did some other stuff.

Windows chose to interpret this action as a command to delete the directory in which she had been working, and from whence came the image she had been showing me.

Why does closing a window get interpretted as a command to delete anything?

Which was rather important, since it was her email directory.  With all her email.  (No, not Outlook.  Of course not Outlook.  This is a security blog, after all.)  And various files that came as attachments.

Normally, when you ask to delete a file (from the Windows Explorer window), you get asked if you really want to delete that file.  Actually, usually you get asked if you want to send that file to the Recycle Bin, which is why I have learned to use Shift-Delete almost as a matter of course, but we’ll let that go for the moment.  In either case, you get asked something.  Not this time.  This time the first indication we got of anything happening was the dialogue box telling us that it couldn’t delete the directory, since the directory was in use.  Windows had, of course, deleted all the files already.  (Maybe Windows randomly deletes your email directory if you don’t use Outlook …)

Why, all of a sudden, no confirmation of intention to delete?

Well, regardless of the fact that we hadn’t asked Windows to delete anything, this is exactly the reason that the Recycle Bin was created in the first place.  So, I opened up the Recycle Bin, sorted the files by place of origin, and found the directory, and files, that had been deleted.  As well as other files, of course, since it had been a while since my wife last “emptied” the Recycle Bin.  No problem: retrieve them all, and then sort them out.  So, we retrieved them all, and Gloria went to work on getting rid of what she didn’t want.

When she finished, she opened a new Windows Explorer window to check and make sure that everything was OK.  It wasn’t.  The directory was still empty.  I got involved again, checking this and that.  Shut down program.  Click on the shortcut on the desktop to start up the email program.  Email comes up just fine, and all the messages are there.  How on earth did it do that, when the message files, and even the email program, didn’t exist, as far as Windows Explorer was concerned.

After a bit more checking, I even rebooted the computer, in case, for some weird Windows reason, it was still “remembering” that the files had been deleted.  Rebooted, and still nothing in the directory.  But the mail program, and mail, came up just fine.

So I started messing around with the shortcut properties.  And, lo and behold, come up with something weird.  It wasn’t looking at the email directory.  It was looking at a directory that didn’t exist.

Except, now it did, when we went to look at it.  And it contained all the files, and all the email.

When retrieving from the Recycle Bin, it had created a new and different directory.  And moved the files there, rather than where they had come from.  And had changed the properties on the desktop shortcut, so that they pointed to the new directory.  (And, we found later, had separately changed the properties on the shortcut calling the email program on startup.  But hadn’t, I confirmed today, changed the properties on the program listing under the Start button.)

Why, when you can’t retrieve to a location other than the original, does Windows randomly do that itself?  Why to a directory that doesn’t exist?  Why are (almost) all the properties changed?  Why aren’t all the properties changed?

Sometimes, when something very weird happens on the computer, and Gloria asks why, I shrug and says “It’s Windows.”  She says it makes me sound like a smart aleck when I say that.

Well, have you got a better explanation?

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Buy now! There is no “later”!

Somebody is selling places/reservations in/for a doomsday bunker.

Professional paranoid that I am, I immediately thought of what a great opportunity this is for a scam.  Take the deposits, sell the spaces.  Don’t spend anything on the bunker.  If there is no disaster, you’re golden.  If the world ends, what are they going to do, sue you?

(I like the “pets are free” mention.  Nice touch.  And, if you were going to build a shelter, it would extend the protein supply.)

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How not to handle a responsible XSS disclosure!

Okay, so a few days ago I found a ton of XSS vulnerabilities on various high profile web sites, and on the whole, after eventually managing to contact the relevant teams for the sites, everyone was very grateful.

When will web sites owners learn that it’s a good idea to have a security contact e-mail address on their sites!

However there was one, whose name I’m not going to mention here, that came back to me with the worst possible answer ever.

This is an online retailer, and my e-mail went to their help desk, but still!

Here’s the full e-mail trail (I’ve removed certain bits of info though so that the site or the attack vector cannot be identified.) Please also note that due the nature of what this company does they are required to be PCI DSS compliant.


—–Original Message—–
From: xyberpix []
Sent: 05 January 2010 07:53
Subject: Website enquiry: General –

Sent Date: 2010-01-05 07:52:58 (GMT/UTC)

Hi There,

I have discovered a security vulnerability on your web site, and would like to please disclose this to yourselves responsibly. Could you please either contact me with the name of someone who I should report this to, or could you please get someone to contact me at this e-mail address please. If this could please be treated as urgent.

Thank you

On 5 Jan 2010, at 16:40, XXX Support User2 wrote:

Hi Xyberpix,

Thank you for your email message.

Can I please ask you to supply the screenshot of the page so that we can look into this for you?

I look forward to your reply, upon which I will do my very best to assist you.

Kind Regards,
Alex | Customer Services Representative
Note: Please do not delete the previous correspondence if you are replying to this e-mail. This will help us to assist you better.


—–Original Message—–
From: xyberpix []
Sent: 05 January 2010 16:59
To: XXX Support User2
Subject: Re: XXX

Hi Alex,

No problem at all please find attached a screenshot.

Also the string that was used in the main search bar to prove this was the following:

‘;alert yadayadayada

Kind Regards,



Thank you for contacting us and sorry for the inconvenience caused here.

May I kindly request you to clear the cache and cookies from your internet browser and then try placing your order opening a new browser.

If you have any further queries please do let us know.

Kind Regards,
Edwin | Customer Services Representative

Note: Please do not delete the previous correspondence if you are replying to this e-mail. This will help us to assist you better.

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    SecuriTeam Secure Disclosure (SSD) helps researchers turn their vulnerability discovery skills into a highly paid career. Contact SSD to get the most for your hard work.