Networking

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.

CyberSec Tips: E-Commerce – tip details 2 – fake sites

Following on with some more of the tips from an earlier post, originally published here:

The next three tips are pretty straightforward, and should be followed:
Don’t click on offers in email.
If it sounds too good to be true, don’t fall for it.
Don’t fall for fake eBay or PayPal sites.

Good advice all around.  In terms of fake eBay or PayPal sites, check the URLs, if you can see them, or the places you end up.  Often fraudsters will try and register sites with odd variations on the name, such as replacing the lower case letter l in PayPal with a digit 1, which can look similar: paypal.com vs paypa1.com.  Or they will send you to a subdirectory on either a legitimate site (for example, googledocs.com/paypal) or on a straight scam site (frauds.ru/paypal).  Or sometimes the URL is simply a mess of characters.  If the site isn’t pretty clearly the one you want, get out of there.

CyberSec Tips: Email – Spam – Phishing – example 3 – credit checks

A lot of online security and anti-fraud checklists will tell you to check your credit rating with the credit rating reporting companies.  This is a good idea, and, under certain conditions, you can often get such reports free of charge from the ratings companies.

However, you should never get involved with the promises of credit reports that come via spam.

Oddly, these credit report spam messages have very little content, other than a URL, or possibly a URL and some extra text (which usually doesn’t display) meant only to confuse the matter and get by spam filters.  There are lots of these messages: today I got five in only one of my accounts.

I checked one out, very carefully.  The reason to be careful is that you have no idea what is at the end of that URL.  It could be a sales pitch.  It could be an attempt to defraud you.  It could be “drive-by” malware.  In the case I tested, it redirected through four different sites before finally displaying something.  Those four different sites could simply be there to make it harder to trace the spammers and fraudsters, but more likely they were each trying something: registering the fact that my email address was valid (and that there was a live “sucker” attached to it, worth attempting to defraud), installing malware, checking the software and services installed on my computer, and so forth.

It ended up at a site listing a number of financial services.  The domain was “simply-finances.com.”  One indication that this is fraudulent is that the ownership of this domain name is deeply buried.  It appears to be registered through GoDaddy, which makes it hard to check out with a normal “whois” request: you have to go to GoDaddy themselves to get any information.  Once there you find that it is registered through another company called Domains By Proxy, who exist solely to hide the ownership of domains.  Highly suspicious, and no reputable financial company would operate in such a fashion.

The credit rating link sent me to a domain called “transunion.ca.”  The .ca would indicate that this was for credit reporting in Canada, which makes sense, as that is where I live.  (One of the redirection sites probably figured that out, and passed the information along.)  However, that domain is registered to someone in Chicago.  Therefore, it’s probably fraud: why would someone in Chicago have any insight on contacts for credit reporting for Canadians?

It’s probably fraudulent in any case.  What I landed on was an offer to set me up for a service which, for $17 per month, would generate credit ratings reports.  And, of course, it’s asking for lots of information about me, definitely enough to start identity theft.  There is no way I am signing up for this service.

Again, checking out your own credit rating is probably a good idea, although it has to be done regularly, and it only really detects fraud after the fact.  But going through offers via spam is an incredibly bad idea.

Review of “cloud drives” – Younited – pt 3

Yesterday I received an update for the Younited client–on the Win7 machine.  The XP machine didn’t update, nor was there any option to do so.

This morning Younited won’t accept the password on the Win7 machine: it won’t log on.  Actually, it seems to be randomly forgetting parts of the password.  As with most programs, it doesn’t show the password (nor is there any option to show it), the password is represented by dots for the characters.  But I’ll have seven characters entered (with seven dots showing), and, all of a sudden, only three dots will be showing.  Or I’ll have entered ten, and suddenly there are only two.

Review of “cloud drives” – Younited – pt 2

My major test of the Younited drive took a few days, but it finally seems to have completed.  In a less than satisfactory manner.

I “synched” a directory on my machine with the Younited drive.  As noted, the synching ran for at least two days.  (My mail and Web access was noticeably slow during that time.)  The original directory, with subdirectories, contained slightly under 7 Gigs of material (the quota for basic Younited drives is said to be 10 G) in slightly under 2,800 files.  The transfer progress now shows 5,899 files transferred, and I’m out of space.

A quick check shows that not all files are on the Younited drive.

Review of “cloud drives” – Younited – pt 1

I’m trying out various “cloud drives”–or “file transmission services” as my little brother likes to call them, so as not to sully the name of cloud storage–and thought I’d mention a few things about F-Secure’s Younited first.

The reasons it is first are because a) F-Secure is a highly respected antivirus firm and based beyond the reach of the NSA in Finland, b) they are promoting the heck out of the new service by making it practically invitation only and asking that people tweet and blog about it, and c) it is really starting to annoy me.

Supposedly you can access it via the Web or through apps you install on your computer or device.  I have been able to upload a few individual files onto it, and access them on other devices.  Except for the MacBook.  The app seemed to install fine, but then it wouldn’t open anymore.  On the theory that, like SkyDrive, it wouldn’t install on my copy of Snow Leopard (and at least SkyDrive had the decency to tell me that), I upgraded to Maverick (which has created its own problems).  That hasn’t fixed it.  Next step is probably to throw it in the trash and reinstall.

I decided to give it a bit of an acid test tonight, and upload a set of directories.  First off, it seemed to load everything, willy-nilly, into a standard set of folders for “Pictures,” “Videos,” “Music,” etc, regardless of the directories they came from.  At least, that what the app showed.  The Web browser, if you accidentally hit the right button (and I’m darned if I can find out how to get it back) showed the directories–but they were all empty.  A web browser on another machine shows nothing at all.

(A gauge of progress for uploads has been saying “Transferring 635/6475” for the last several hours, regardless of what else has gone on.)

I thought maybe I might have to create and populate a directory at a time.  That’s when I realized that I can’t make directories.  If you get past the initial level of “Help” FAQs (which don’t have a lot of helpful detail) you can find the “community.”  Do a search on “folders,” and a number of listings come up, included an article on how to organize your files.  This says that, in order

“To create a folder

  1. Go to the younited_folder.PNG younited folder.
  2. Select Create_folder.PNG Create folder.
  3. Type a name for the older and select OK.”

Only problem is, when you click on the younited icon, the “create folder” option or icon never appears.  Other entries are equally “helpful.”  (What is the icon for sarcasm?)

I will, undoubtedly, learn more about the system and how to use it, but, at the moment, it is frustrating in the extreme.

A virus too big to fail?

Once upon a time, many years ago, a school refused to take my advice (mediated through my brother) as to what to do about a very simple computer virus infection.  The infection in question was Stoned, which was a boot sector infector.   BSIs generally do not affect data, and (and this is the important point) are not eliminated by deleting files on the computer, and often not even by reformatting the hard disk.  (At the time there were at least a dozen simple utilities for removing Stoned, most of them free.)

The school decided to cleanse it’s entire computer network by boxing it up, shipping it back to the store, and having the store reformat everything.  Which the store did.  The school lost it’s entire database of student records, and all databases for the library.  Everything had to be re-entered.  By hand.

I’ve always thought this was the height of computer virus stupidity, and that the days when anyone would be so foolish were long gone.

I was wrong.  On both counts.

“In December 2011 the Economic Development Administration (an agency under the US Department of Commerce) was notified by the Department of Homeland Security that it had a malware infection spreading around its network.

“They isolated their department’s hardware from other government networks, cut off employee email, hired an outside security contractor, and started systematically destroying $170,000 worth of computers, cameras, mice, etc.”

The only reason they *stopped* destroying computer equipment and devices was because they ran out of money.  For the destruction process.

Malware is my field, and so I often sound like a bit of a nut, pointing out issues that most people consider minor.  However, malware, while now recognized as a threat, is a field that extremely few people, even in the information security field, study in any depth.  Most general security texts (and, believe me, I know almost all of them) touch on it only tangentially, and often provide advice that is long out of date.

With that sort of background, I can, unfortunately, see this sort of thing happening again.

 

Lest you think I exaggerate any of this, you can read the actual report.

Fuzzing Samsung Kies

Android fuzzing is always fun – seems that whenever we fuzz an android app it crashes within seconds.

Samsung Kies was no different. With the help of the talented Juan Yacubian (who built the Kies module in no time) we launched beSTORM against Kies… And saw it crash in record 23 seconds (just over 1,100 attack combinations).

Next on the agenda: install gdb for Android and build the proper payload.

Samsung Kies Crash