November 2009

Stop blaming us

Occasionally, I see articles like this.

Hackers don’t, as a rule, need to go to such lengths to crack passwords. That’s because most of us fail to follow good security habits. A recent article on PhysOrg cites a study that found people are the weak link in computer security.

This is silly. People don’t need to “follow good security habits” unless they have “security” somewhere in their title. Security is a means to an end, and not the target. The target is to get the job done (or surf the web, or read your emails).

Saying this is not just silly – it’s also dangerous. When experts say “people are the weakest link in computer security”, they remove all responsibility from the security industry to make security better, and easier, for users. Why work on preventing brute-force attacks on passwords? Instead lets force our users to choose a 10 character password including at least 1 number and 1 letter of each case. Oh, and lets prevent those walking security hazards from saving the password in the browser on their malware infested machines. Yeah, that’ll teach them. The article over at discovery.com suggests I use e$4WruX7 as a password – a most helpful advice if I ever saw one. Here’s a better suggestion for you Jonathan: have the system lock out for 24 hours after 3 failed tries.That will make guessing a simple 6 digit-only PIN take more than 450 years.

Enough with this.  Users are not the weakest link any more than drivers are the weakest link in driving accidents. Sure, if we remove users (or drivers) from the equation, that solves all our problems. But since we can’t do that, lets focus on making seat belts, and airbags, and warning systems. Or easier (not harder!) password systems, better protected servers and better user interface.

Heathrow calling

Here’s a weird spam I got last night:

Hello

The route taken through Customs is mainly determined by your point of departure and whether you are bringing into the country more duty payable goods than your free allowance. For those passengers who have flown in from outside the European Community (EC), their baggage will have a white tag and they must pass through either the Red or Green channel according to the amount of duty free goods they have. Those passengers arriving from countries within the EC should use the Blue channel, and their baggage will have green-edged tag.

As part of our routine check and based on the above, we have a consignment in your name; you are advised to come to the office address below

Customs office
Terminal 3
Heathrow Airport

You are required to come with the following:
1. Your ID
2. Diplomatic Tag either white or green-edge tag.
3. Non Inspection document

Your appointment time is 10am GMT, failure to comply; we will have over the matter to Metropolitan and the FBI. I am the officer in charge of your matter.

Thomas Smith
UK Customs
Heathrow Airport

It’s weird, because it contains no advertisement, and no links. There’s nothing “encoded” in it –  it seems to be an old version of this notice.

So why would a spammer waste valuable botnet cycles on sending me the email? The only explanation I could come up with is “a boy who cried wolf” attack. You send this email a few times, and the Baysian filtering systems train themselves that this is a good email (i.e. “ham”). Most Baysian spam filtering systems have a loopback mechanism where spam email is used to train the system further, and ham email is used to teach the system what “good” email is. If this email is seen a few times and considered ham, spam filters will accept something similar to it that contains a link. That link, can be the spam or phishing attack.

Another guess is that it’s simply used to verify email addresses – you read that a scary Customs agent from Heathrow wants you in his office first thing tomorrow morning, and you quickly reply to ask what it’s about; the spammer (whose reply-to address is different than the “From”) gets a confirmation that your email address is valid, maybe with some more details like your phone number. This is a plausible explanation but it seems like too much hard work just to get some valid email addresses.
Any other guesses?

Fuzzing anything that moves

<meta content="OpenOffice.org 3.0 (Linux)" name="GENERATOR" /><br /> <style type="text/css"> <!-- @page { margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } A:link { so-language: zxx } --></style> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">I’m in New Delhi, for the local <a href="(http://www.owasp.org/index.php/SecurityByte_and_OWASP_Asia_AppSec_Conference_2009">OWASP Conference</a>. There’s a <a href="http://www.owasp.org/index.php/SecurityByte_and_OWASP_Asia_AppSec_Conference_2009#tab=Conference">really nice lineup</a> and if you’re in the New Delhi area I highly recommend attending.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">I’ll be speaking twice. On Tuesday about blackbox testing. The abstract can be paraphrased from the immortal words of the great fuzzing master Ice-T:</p> <blockquote> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">If you’re from Mars, and you have inputs, we will fuzz you.</p> </blockquote> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">(Look up the <a href="http://www.rhapsody.com/body-count/body-count/kkk-bitch/lyrics.html">original text</a>, I guarantee it’s worth it)</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">On Wednesday I’ll be talking a bit about breaking JSON applications, relying on the great research done by Amit Klein, Blueinfy, Jeremiah Grossman, Fortify, and many others.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">If you spot any errors in either of my presentations let me know and I will buy you a beer. 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