Physical Security

Fences, alarms, but also TEMPEST and side channels

Easy login into Korean Point-of-Sale device

Some things are cross-culture it seems. Especially when it comes to trivial security mishaps.
So I’m at a PoS terminal in a large department store in Seoul and while I’m waiting for the register to ring up my order, I look at the touchscreen where I will be asked for my signature in a moment. I notice a little icon that looks like ‘settings’. How can I not click on it?

Initial PoS screen
Oh, it needs a password. Must be this PCI compliance thing everybody is raving about. And no, wiseass, 1-2-3-4-5 doesn’t work.

Asking for password

…But 1-2-3-4 does.


Yup. Unlocked.
Now I need to polish up my Korean to figure out what to do next. Suggestions?

Menu Screen

Sorry for the full disclosure guys. And that includes all of you that now need to change your luggage combination.

Get trained for emergencies

I’ve mentioned this before.

We seem to have had a number of disasters this year: earthquakes, tsunami, a few hurricanes (with one currently sweeping Japan, and another building right now off the east coast of the US), wildfires, you name it.  In the US, this is National Preparedness Month.

So this is a good time to get trained.  It gets you CPEs, usually for free.

And, in a disaster, it makes you part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The “Immutable Laws” revisited

Once upon a time, somebody at Microsoft wrote an article on the “10 Immutable Laws of Security.”  (I can’t recall how long ago: it’s now listed as “Archived content.”  And I like the disclaimer that “No warranty is made as to technical accuracy.”)  Now these “laws” are all true, and they are helpful reminders.  But I’m not sure they deserve the iconic status they have achieved.

In terms of significance to security, you have to remember that security depends on situation.  As it is frequently put, one (security) size does not fit all.  Therefore, these laws (which lean heavily towards malware) may not be the most important for all users (or companies).

In terms of coverage, there is little or nothing about management, risk management, classification, continuity, secure development, architecture, telecom and networking, personnel, incidents, or a whole host of other topics.

As a quick recap, the laws are:

Law #1: If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it’s not your computer anymore

(Avoid malware.)

Law #2: If a bad guy can alter the operating system on your computer, it’s not your computer anymore

(Avoid malware, same as #1.)

Law #3: If a bad guy has unrestricted physical access to your computer, it’s not your computer anymore

(Quite true, and often ignored.  As I tell my students, I don’t care what technical protections you put on your systems, if I have physical access, I’ve got you.)

Law #4: If you allow a bad guy to upload programs to your website, it’s not your website any more

(Sort of a mix of access control and avoiding malware, same as #1.)

Law #5: Weak passwords trump strong security

(You’d think this relates to access control, like #4, but the more important point is that you need to view security holistically.  Security is like a bridge, not a road.  A road halfway is still partly useful.  A bridge half-built is a joke.  In security, any shortcoming can void the whole system.)

Law #6: A computer is only as secure as the administrator is trustworthy

(OK, there’s a little bit about people.  But it’s not just administrators.  Security is a people problem: never forget that.)

Law #7: Encrypted data is only as secure as the decryption key

(This is known as “Kerckhoffs’ Law.”  It’s been known for 130 years.  More significantly, it is a special case of the fact that security-by-obscurity [SBO] does not work.)

Law #8: An out of date virus scanner is only marginally better than no virus scanner at all

(I’m not sure that I’d even go along with “marginally.”  As a malware expert, I frequently run without a virus scanner: a lot of scanners [including MSE] impede my work.  But, if I were worried, I’d never rely on an out-of-date scanner, or one that I considered questionable in terms of accuracy [and there are lots of those around].)

Law #9: Absolute anonymity isn’t practical, in real life or on the Web

(True.  But risk management is a little more complex than that.)

Law #10: Technology is not a panacea

(Or, as (ISC)2 says, security transcends technology.  And, as #5 implies, management is the basic foundation of security, not any specific technology.)

Calm acceptance vs self-help

As an emergency services volunteer, I’ve been looking for stories about how the Japanese have been handling displacements, evacuations, and those left homeless following the quake and tsunami.  Oddly, despite having all kinds of video and pictures coming from various areas of Japan, these stories seem to be missing (possibly pushed out of the news-stream by boats running over cars, and a steaming reactor).

Yesterday I started to see a few, some noting that the Japanese culture of calm acceptance was contributing to orderly lines and a lack of panic.  (And then saw some reports that a lack of action by the government was starting to wear on the calm acceptance.  Six days after the quake, food and water aren’t getting through to areas which are only as far apart as Ottawa is from Toronto, or Boston from Baltimore.)

So I was intrigued to find, this morning, this report of someone running counter to his own culture.

(And, once again, I’ll take the opportunity to promote the idea that all security professionals should consider getting training as emergency services volunteers.  You’ll know what to do in or for an emergency, you’ll be a help intead of a drain, and, in the meantime, you can probably apply it to BCP, and get CPE credits for your training.)

Great new security tech, or fraud?

While at CanSecWest, I was noting a news story about how somebody had, yet again, defrauded the US government and military by selling them a terribly sophisticated computer algorithm that promised to find secret information about enemies and/or terrorists, but actually didn’t work.  I suspect that this will be a complex case, since the vendor will undoubtedly claim that his work is so sophisticated and complicated that it does work, it’s just that the users didn’t understand it.

In view of this, I found it really interesting to note a very similar case, just a few days later.  Computerized Voice Stress Analyzers (CVSAs) have been promoted and sold for a least 25 years now.  This despite the fact that, four years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice did a study and concluded that “VSA programs show poor validity -neither program efficiently determined who was being deceptive about recent drug use. The programs were not able to detect deception at a rate any better than chance … The data also suggest poor reliability for both VSA products when we compared expert and novice interpretations of the output.”

In a sense the CVSA case is much worse, because, since it is a private company selling to private companies, there is nobody to say that these people are a) wasting money, and b) making poor hiring decisions based on what is essentially a coin flip.

Bring on the cyberwar

There is something special about Berlin. Just a feeling that can’t be fully explained, that the cold and snowy weather enhances well. But I also can’t help thinking about the Len Deighton cold-war-espionage books, checkpoint Charlie, east and west clashing in this city that was like an explosive tip of a gun powder barrel.

When I grew up, Sting sang “I hope the Russians love their children too” and what he meant was love them enough to not annihilate the entire planet. War was serious, and war between world powers was scary. Remember War Games? You’d think people will be afraid of Kevin Mitnick’s hacking skills, but what they were more afraid of was him starting world war III that would potentially wipe out hundreds of millions of people.

So I must admit I’m slightly amused by the threats of ‘cyberwar’. Lets assume for a minute John Lennon was wrong and there will never be ‘peace on earth’. Lets assume that whether it’s because of testosterone, ego, or some other reason taught in psychology 101, nations will continue to fight each other. If that’s the case, what better way to do that than on the Internet? Have them hack each other Ad Nauseam; bring down computers or networks, plant Trojan Horses and steal sensitive data. Assuming the current superpowers are China and the US, isn’t cyberwar the perfect way to ventilate mutual aggression without human casualties?

Of course, there’s a worse case scenario where that stops being funny: if cyberwar can be used to shut down critical infrastructure, people will get killed. But that doesn’t seem to be the direction this “war” is going. Nations fighting on the Internet? I say bring it on.

On a related note, check out Richard Stiennon’s new book about Cyberwar. And if you are in DC, go hear him speak on Thursday about Google Aurora, Stuxnet, and the wikileaks DoS attacks. Really fascinating stuff.

Close the Washington Monument

Bruce Schneier suggests closing the Washington Monument:

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They’re afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as “soft on terror.”

Damn right.