Physical Security

Fences, alarms, but also TEMPEST and side channels

Social Engineering and Body Language

Social engineering is defined by Wikipedia as “the act of manipulating people into performing actions or divulging confidential information, rather than by breaking in or using technical cracking techniques; essentially a fancier, more technical way of lying. While similar to a confidence trick or simple fraud, the term typically applies to trickery or deception for the purpose of information gathering, fraud, or computer system access; in most cases the attacker never comes face-to-face with the victim.”

Over the years I’ve done my fair share of social engineering, and the one thing that I have always found to come in handy is being able to read people’s body language. Being able to notice when someone is pacifying themselves, when you ask certain questions, and knowing where to hone in on for example, has helped me countless times in the past. Being able to notice the little things like when people are extremely nervous when you mention things like “Well, I’m not too sure Mr Jones, you manager would be too happy about me not being able to gain access to this room, as he’s paying me to have a look around in your data hall.” When they’re blatantly telling you, that they can’t allow you access under company policy, etc, etc.

I would encourage anyone that performs penetration testing that includes social engineering exercises, to really take the time to read up on body language and how you can make it work for you, it will help your social engineering skills, and this will also help you to help your clients.

There are countless books on this topic that you can get from most decent bookstores to help you along your way, and the good news is that some of these are really not expensive at all.

Another thing that you may want to look into is reading micro expressions, although I would recommend that you start with learning basic body language first, and then progressing on to micro expressions.

Reflections on Trusting Trust goes hardware

A recent Scientific American article does point out that is is getting increasingly difficult to keep our Trusted Computing Base sufficiently small.

For further information on this scenario, see:  [1]

We actually discussed this in the early days of virus research, and sporadically since.  The random aspect (see Dell problems with bad chips) (the stories about malware on the boards is overblown, since the malware was simply stored in unused memory, rather than being in the BIOS or other boot ROM) is definitely a problem, but a deliberate attack is problematic.  The issue lies with hundreds of thousands of hobbyists (as well as some of the hackers) who poke and prod at everything.  True, the chance of discovering the attack is random, but so is the chance of keeping the attack undetected.  It isn’t something that an attacker could rely upon.

Yes, these days there are thousands of components, being manufactured by hundreds of vendors.  However, note various factors that need to be considered.

First of all, somebody has to make it.  Most major chips, like CPUs, are a combined effort.  Nobody would be able to make and manufacture a major chip all by themselves.  And, in these days of tight margins and using every available scrap of chip “real estate,” someone would be bound to notice a section of the chip labeled “this space intentionally left blank.”  The more people who are involved, the more likely someone is going to spill the beans, at the very least about an anomaly on the chip, whether or not they knew what it did.  (Once the word is out that there is an anomaly, the lifespan of that secret is probably about three weeks.)

Secondly, there is the issue of the payload.  What can you make it do?  Remember, we are talking components, here.  This means that, in order to make it do anything, you are generally going to have to rely on whatever else is in the device or system in which your chip has been embedded.  You cannot assume that you will have access to communications, memory, disk space, or pretty much anything else, unless you are on the CPU.  Even if you are on the CPU, you are going to be limited.  Do you know what you are?  Are you a computer? Smartphone?  iPod?  (If the last, you are out of luck, unless you want to try and drive the user slowly insane by refusing to play anything except Barry Manilow.)  If you are a computer, do you know what operating system you are running?  Do you know the format of any disk connected to you?  The more you have to know how to deal with, the more programming has to be built into you, and remember that real estate limitation.  Even if all you are going to do is shut down, you have to have access to communications, and you have to a) be able to watch all the traffic, and b) watch all the traffic, without degrading performance while doing so.  (OK, true, it could just be a timer.  That doesn’t allow the attacker a lot of control.)

Next, you have to get people to use your chips.  That means that your chips have to be as cheap as, or cheaper than, the competition.  And remember, you have to use up chip real estate in order to have your payload on the chip.  That means that, for every 1% of chip space you use up for your programming, you lose 1% of manufacturing capacity.  So you have to have deep pockets to fund this.  Your chip also has to be at least as capable as the competition.  It also has to be as reliable as the competition.  You have to test that the payload you’ve put in place does not adversely affect performance, until you tell it to.  And you have to test it in a variety of situations and applications.  All the while making sure nobody finds out your little secret.

Next, you have to trigger your attack.  The trigger can’t be something that could just happen randomly.  And remember, traffic on the Internet, particularly with people streaming videos out there, can be pretty random.  Also remember that there are hundreds of thousands of kids out there with nothing better to do than try to use their computers, smartphones, music players, radio controlled cars, and blenders in exactly the way they aren’t supposed to.  And several thousand who, as soon as something odd happens, start trying to figure out why.

Bad hardware definitely is a threat.  But the largest part of that threat is simply the fact that cheap manufacturers are taking shortcuts and building unreliable components.  If I was an attacker, I would definitely be able to find easier ways to mess up the infrastructure than by trying to create attack chips.

[1] Get it some night when you can borrow it, for free, from your local library DVD collection.  On an evening when you don’t want to think too much.  Or at all.  WARNING: contains jokes that six year olds, and most guys, find funny.

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?

And the winners of the oldest incident contest are…

Open Security Foundation’s DataLossDB has announced the winners of oldest incident contest.

One of the oldest documented issue is TRW incident from 1984, when the database of credit history of 90 million American citizen was breached.
Link here.

Update: The winner is an incident from August 1953, when SSN’s were lost.

The oldest vulnerability is known – let’s find the oldest data loss incident

The oldest documented vulnerability in computer security world is password file disclosure vulnerability from 1965, found by Mr. Ryan Russell.

Open Security Foundation – an organization behind OSVDB and DataLossDB has launched a competition to find the oldest documented data loss incident.

The last day to make a submission is next Friday – 15th May.
The link is easy to remember –

Give me your fingerprints, I’ll sell you a mobile phone

There will be a new national register of mobile phone users in Mexico.

Under a new law published on Monday and due to be in force in April, mobile phone companies will have a year to build up a database of their clients, complete with fingerprints. The idea would be to match calls and messages to the phones’ owners.

(underlining added)

Mexico has a very strong culture of using prepaid phones.

Snow and security

I live in Vancouver.  Despite the fact that this is in Canada, we do not live in igloos, nor do we have to get around by dogsled.  Most of the time.  At the moment, we are having an unusual spell of snowy weather.  It’s here, for one thing.  It’s been here for more than two weeks, for another.  It’s also much deeper than usual: more than 30 cm (a foot, US) is on level areas in many places, and the piles where the snow has been shovelled are getting pretty high.

That’s not unusual in many places, but in Vancouver it is practically unheard of.

The weather in Vancouver is very similar to the weather in Seattle, so Seattle is snowed in, too.  And I was discussing this with a much younger friend in that area.  I was complaining that nobody around here was shovelling their sidewalks.  He was complaining that people in his area were.

Those of you who live in the deep snow areas will probably not understand his complaint.  You see, in this region, when we do get snow, the temperatures tend to hover around the freezing point.  So, some days the snow will start to melt.  And at nights, or on other days, it freezes again.  So if you don’t shovel the sidewalk properly, you create a bit of skating rink.

The key is to shovel properly.  There are a few factors involved in this, but the primary one is to shovel right to the edge of the sidewalk.  If you can see even one blade of grass as the edge, then, when the snow starts to melt, the meltwater does into the ground.  Leave even a centimetre of snow on the edge of the walk, and the meltwater runs all over the sidewalk, and, when it freezes, you’ve got the slickest, most treacherous footing imaginable.

Which brings me to security.  For a number of years, many of us in the field have been faced with the extreme frustration of preparing security architectures, designs, and plans to fit the particular business and environment in which we find ourselves.  Finely tuned, appropriate to the assets and risks involved, and complete.  Only to have some bean-counter come along and say that this is great, but a bit too expensive: couldn’t we get half the security for half the cost.

The answer, as we know, is no.  Security is not something you buy by the kilogram.  Security is not like a blanket, where the more you have, the warmer you are: it’s like a roof or tent, where you’ve either got one up or not.  Security is not like a road, where, no matter how long it is, it is of some use: it’s like a bridge, where, if it’s even a little bit too short it is no use at all.

So, here’s another illustation for you.  Security is like clearing the snow in Vancouver.  Do it right, out to the very edge, and you’re golden.  Do it quick and dirty and cheap, with one shovel width down the middle, and you’re creating a problem for yourself.  And others.

Disasters cost money?

A BBC story notes that a German re-insurance concern has raised the issue of increasing natural disasters, and a possible tie to climate change/global warming.

Now that the money/finance people are getting scared, will we finally do something?

Now that the money/finance people are getting scared, will we finally do something about business continuity and disaster planning?

(Likely answer: nah.)