Internet shut off switch?

Reports are saying cell phones and Internet connections are off in egypt at the moment. Can a country really shut off its Internet connection?

China, who has placed restrictions on its Internet infrastructure from day 1 (meaning, the whole infrastructure for connecting to the Internet was built with government control in mind) and that develops a lot of its own networking equipment, is unable to really block users. When I’m in China, twitter and facebook are blocked in the hotel and in the office, but not on the blackberry. Most anonymizers work, and some twitter-over-instant messenger bots work as well. Most of the time, I can find the new list of working anonymizers on google, while I’m there – so there’s no special preparation involved. On my last visit I was introduced to a free VPN service that enables unrestricted access to facebook, twitter and other blocked sites, that seems to be quite popular in the country.

Egypt is not as big and certainly not as advanced as China, but is fairly big. As anyone who worked for a large company knows – it’s difficult if not impossible to track all incoming and outgoing connections. We know the DNS servers are refusing to resolve .eg domains – but what if we go into the inner-works. Are some of the IP’s inside Egypt reachable?

One glaring example is the Egyptian stock exchange. Its IP rotates, but at least some connections point to, which belongs to the ISP “the Noor group”, in Cairo. Other times it points to that belongs to “Misr Information Services and Trading” in down-town Cairo. Both are clearly reachable and pingable; is every router on the way configured to route communication only to those IPs? Are there other routers, IP’s or servers that are still open for communication? I would imagine that some emergency lines run on IP-based infrastructure that must be kept on; some devices – military ones perhaps – might rely on IP infrastructure. Dial-ups might still exist. Speaking of which: can one dial from Egypt into a modem in Germany?
Also, one has to wonder about internal communication. Blocking the country’s gateways is one thing; but blocking all internal communication is extremely hard to do. If internal communication is available, is there a way to piggyback into those few holes in the dam to get external communication? Taking the example: if the perimeter routers only allow communication to/from the Noor network, can I route my connection through them?

We all know the Internet was designed to be resilient; and forty years after its initial deployment, it’s proving to be very hard to kill, even by those who believe they have their hand on the cut-off switch.

Back on the AMTSO wheel

The next AMTSO members’ meeting is at San Mateo, California, on the 10th-11th February, just before RSA.

I’m not sure how many supporters of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization there are reading this blog, as opposed to those who regard AMTSO as a club with which to beat the anti-virus industry. However, I’m pretty sure that even those who find the generation of testing guidelines documents (which constitutes most of the work at AMTSO meetings) excruciatingly boring will find some interesting material coming out of the organization in the next few weeks.

There’s more information on this year’s AMTSO meetings on the AMTSO meetings page at, including a preliminary agenda.

Small Blue-Green World

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Further information:

REVIEW: “Computer Viruses and Other Malicious Software”, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

BKCVAOMS.RVW   20100607

“Computer Viruses and Other Malicious Software”, Organization for
Economic Co-operation and Development, 2009, 978-92-64-05650-3
%A   Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
%C   2 rue Andre Pascal, 75775 Paris Cedex 16, France
%D   2009
%G   978-92-64-05650-3 92-64-05650-5
%I   OECD Publishing
%O   Audience i- Tech 1 Writing 1 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   244 p.
%T   “Computer Viruses and Other Malicious Software”

The executive summary doesn’t tell us much except that malware is bad, and that this report is seen as a first step in addressing the issue in a global, comprehensive manner.

Part one, entitled “The Scope of Malware,” is intended to provide background to the problem.  Chapter one, as an overview, is a random collection of technical issues, with poor explanations.  Although it is good to see that the malware situation is defined in terms that are more up-to-date than those in all too many security texts, the lack of foundational material provided by the authors will necessarily limit the perception of the issue for those readers who have not done serious research themselves.  Various stories of attacks and payloads (not all related to malware) are listed in an equally disjointed manner in chapter two.  There are numerous errors, including in simple aspects like arithmetic.  (20 million is not “5 times” one million.)   The explanation of why we should be concerned, in chapter three, boils down to the fact that the net is important, and malware imposes costs.

Part two turns to the economics of malware.  Chapter four, while it promises to deal with cybersecurity and economic incentives, merely states that security is hard.  Chapter five does deal with economic factors influencing decisions of key players on the Internet, but does so only on the basis of an opinion survey, rather than any measured costs or benefits.  Descriptions of different types of economic situations are given in chapter six, but a final set of “findings” doesn’t seem to have much background support.

Part three is supposed to contain recommendations about actions to take, or policies to follow, to address the malware issue.

Unfortunately, this work does not have sufficient technical depth on areas of malware to contribute to the literature.  The concept of addressing the economic aspects is interesting, but is not sufficiently fulfilled.  Overall, this text has nothing to add to existing information.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2010     BKCVAOMS.RVW   20100607