Thursday, March 18, 2010

Using Laser To Fingerprint Paper

I like it when old technologies and known scientific facts are used in a new way that makes them pure genius.

A discovery of old, which will change the future.
Ingenia Technology Limited today launches an exciting breakthrough proprietary technology, developed by Imperial College London and Durham University - the Laser Surface Authentication system (LSA). The LSA system recognises the inherent 'fingerprint' within all materials such as paper, plastic, metal and ceramics.

The LSA system is a whole new approach to security and could prove valuable in the war against terrorism through its ability to make secure the authenticity of passports, ID cards and other documents such as birth certificates.

This technological breakthrough has been masterminded by Professor Russell Cowburn, Professor of Nanotechnology in the Department of Physics at Imperial College London.

Every paper, plastic, metal and ceramic surface is microscopically different and has its own 'fingerprint'. Professor Cowburn's LSA system uses a laser to read this naturally occurring 'fingerprint'. The accuracy of measurement is often greater than that of DNA with a reliability of at least one million trillion.

The inherent 'fingerprint' is impossible to replicate and can be easily read using a low-cost portable laser scanner. This applies to almost all paper and plastic documents, including passports, credit cards and product packaging.
More on the science behind this:
"A unique 'fingerprint' is formed by microscopic surface imperfections on almost all paper documents, plastic cards and product packaging. That is what makes it possible to develop a much cheaper system to combat fraud. This inherent identity code is virtually impossible to modify. It can easily be read using a low-cost portable laser scanner.

"Since all non-reflective surfaces have naturally occurring roughness that is a source of physical randomness, our technology can provide in-built security for a range of objects such as passports, ID and credit cards and pharmaceutical packaging. It can be cheaper and more reliable than current methods such as holograms and security ink.

"Our research team used the optical phenomenon of 'laser speckle' to examine the fine structure of different surfaces using a focused laser.

"We tried the technique on a variety of materials including matt-finish plastic cards, identity cards and coated paperboard packaging. The result was a clear recognition between the samples. This continued even after they were subjected to rough handling, including submersion in water, scorching, scrubbing with an abrasive cleaning pad and being scribbled on with thick black marker.

"The beauty of this system is that we do not need to modify the item being protected in any way with tags, chips or ink - it is as if documents and packaging had their own unique DNA. This makes protection secret, simple to integrate into the manufacturing process and immune to attack.

"It can be applied retrospectively and is no threat to personal privacy."
Look for this at the immigration desk verifying your passport, five years from now.

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

An interesting day in information security

A Mafia boss was caught because of his using Facebook, while unrelated to that the EFF released the result of their Freedom of Information request for material on how law enforcement uses social networking to investigate suspects. "under cover".

The SEC moved to freeze portfolios and accounts following attacks by a Russian hacker, who manipulated stocks.

InfoSecurity magazine has a story on espionage in sport, mentioning how where there's a motive, cyber-crime follows.

And of course, the leading story (which I discovered thanks to a post on Facebook by Dave Aitel) is how an hacker (if that is a descriptive word in this case) broke into 100 cars to cause inconvenience, such as honking, or immobilizing customer the cars.

He hijacked the remote control system ("web-based vehicle-immobilization system normally used to get the attention of consumers delinquent in their auto payments") by logging on with an account of an employee. He used to be an employee himself, until fired later on.

Also, check out this extremely interesting paper from Cormac Herley at Microsoft Research on why people reject security advice:
So Long, And No Thanks for the Externalities:
The Rational Rejection of Security Advice by Users

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

Monday, February 22, 2010

Email Portability Approved by Knesset Committee

The email portability bill has just been approved by the Knesset's committee for legislation, sending it on its way for the full legislation process of the Israeli parliament.

While many users own a free email account, many in Israel still make use of their ISP's email service.

According to this proposed bill, when a client transfers to a different ISP the email address will optionally be his to take along, "just like" mobile providers do today with phone numbers.

This new legislation makes little technological sense, and will certainly be a mess to handle operationally as well as beurocratically, but it certainly is interesting, and at least the notion is beautiful.

The proposed bill can be found here [Doc, Hebrew]:
http://my.ynet.co.il/pic/computers/22022010/mail.doc

Linked to from this ynet (leading Israeli news site) story, here:
http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3852744,00.html

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

Chuck Norris Botnet and Broadband Routers

Last week Czech researchers released information on a new worm which exploits CPE devices (broadband routers) by means such as default passwords, constructing a large DDoS botnet. Today this story hit international news.

When I raised this issue before in 2007 on the NANOG mailing list, some other vetted mailing lists and on CircleID here and here, the consensus was that the vendors will not change their position on default settings unless "something happens", I guess this is it, but I am not optimistic on seeing activity from vendors on this now, either.

The spread of insecure broadband modems (DSL and Cable) is extremely wide-spread, with numerous ISPs, large and small, whose entire (read significant portions of) broadband population is vulnerable. In tests Prof. Randy Vaughn and I conducted with some ISPs in 2007-8 the results have not been promising.

Further, many of these devices world wide serve as infection mechanisms for the computers behind them, with hijacked DNS that points end-users to malicious web sites.

On the ISPs end, much like in the early days of botnets, many service providers did not see these devices as their responsibility -- even though in many cases they are the providers of the systems, and these posed a potential DDoS threat to their networks. As a mind-set, operationally taking responsibility for devices located at the homes of end users made no sense, and therefore the stance ISPs took on this issue was understandable, if irresponsible.

As we can't rely on the vendors, ISPs should step up, and at the very least ensure that devices they provide to their end users are properly set up (a significant number of iSPs already pre-configure them for support purposes).

The Czech researchers have done a good job and I'd like to thank them for sharing their research with us.

In this article by Robert McMillan, some details are shared in English:
Discovered by Czech researchers, the botnet has been spreading by taking advantage of poorly configured routers and DSL modems, according to Jan Vykopal, the head of the network security department with Masaryk University's Institute of Computer Science in Brno, Czech Republic.

The malware got the Chuck Norris moniker from a programmer's Italian comment in its source code: "in nome di Chuck Norris," which means "in the name of Chuck Norris." Norris is a U.S. actor best known for his martial arts films such as "The Way of the Dragon" and "Missing in Action."

Security experts say that various types of botnets have infected millions of computers worldwide to date, but Chuck Norris is unusual in that it infects DSL modems and routers rather than PCs.

It installs itself on routers and modems by guessing default administrative passwords and taking advantage of the fact that many devices are configured to allow remote access. It also exploits a known vulnerability in D-Link Systems devices, Vykopal said in an e-mail interview.

A D-Link spokesman said he was not aware of the botnet, and the company did not immediately have any comment on the issue.

Like an earlier router-infecting botnet called Psyb0t, Chuck Norris can infect an MIPS-based device running the Linux operating system if its administration interface has a weak username and password, he said. This MIPS/Linux combination is widely used in routers and DSL modems, but the botnet also attacks satellite TV receivers.
Read more, here.

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mozilla Add-on Policies and Spyware Surprises

Following up on my previous post, I wrote a full accounting of how I discovered FlashGot illegitimate behavior, as well as how Mozilla's policies work on such issues:
http://www.darkreading.com/blog/archives/2010/02/mozillas_addon.html

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Flashgot Firefox Plugin Now Spyware

FlashGot Firefox plugin, a long-time download assistant, now acts like spyware.

It gives you recommendations IN Google search to another search site, according to your searches.

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Personal Story, Tactical Communication and Conversation Manipulation

[syndicated from my personal blog, here]

Going back home from meeting friends for a beer, I was excited. It's not often that I encounter something cool to do which also appeals to my youth's old tactical nature. When I do, I jump it! This is a story of how someone tried to manipulate me, and how I countered.

The two friends with me discussed a fascinating topic I didn't even know existed, and simply because I saw that I could do so, I decided to bring this topic to a larger audience, creating a mini-conference on the subject.

First on my list was to find a location, so I sent an email to a local academic who could be a good partner for this, and called a couple of other friends to get them on board, arranged for speakers, PR and other necessities.

The next day I received an answer with a phone number, and within a few hours had the academic in question on my cell phone. He asked me to call his land line, and I did. Our conversation was very easy-going and friendly in tone. Smiles splattered on our faces.

I told him I am excited to speak with him, as he obviously has more experience on this particular subject. I was differential as academic ego demands, showing him the respect he deserves, but in tone -- I remained an equal.

I made my case, and he cut in, asking "Can you explain what you have in mind? We ran a conference on this four years ago. Do you have something new to warrant an event?"

"No," I answered honestly in an interrupt of my own. He apparently didn't expect that, so I asked to continue my pitch, and then did.

A lot changed in the last four years, and even if not, in a university environment four years ia an eternity -- with many new students who would appreciate this event. I had better arguments than these, and as my purpose was cooperation rather than confrontation, I preferred to move on.

I explained how this topic is exciting, how it has direct impact on both higher education as well as real implications for daily life, governance, and the economy. I used two anecdotal examples to illustrate this, and my excitement probably dripped all over him, even over the phone.

"Well," he responded, "let me tell you about an idea I had."

DING DING DING DING DING
Warning bells sounded in my head. "Happily, what's your idea?

He told me about an event he thought of, which sounded interesting. As he spoke I got about three ideas running in my head on the subject, but I listened quietly. "I would like to work with you, and if you can take some time to think of ideas for what we can do at this event, I'd appreciate us talking about them."

Stay on message

"Of course," I said, "I'd be more than happy to." And I was. "However", I continued with the same breath, "this conversation is about the first idea, so while I'd definitely like to discuss this with you further later, let's stick to the first one for now."

"Alright." he said, and we discussed a bit further, at which point he said "well, last year we ran a small event on this topic, and there was real innovation there which we could showcase. What will be new here?"

I explained a bit more on why I am excited, and why the topic is relevant, and how such an event can be beneficial. Then I decided to change tactics to show my resolve.

Stay on message, clarify position

"As you know, I am a security professional."

"Yes, that is where I know you from. Security, Internet, Cyber Warfare... Why does this subject interest you?"

"Truth be told," I happily jumped in, "I am excited. I learned to be a strategic person, but at heart, I am a tactical person, energized by excitement. I am excited about this topic, and I am willing to put the time into making this event happen. I will make it happen, but as I know of your vast expertise, I decided I must approach you first."

After more deliberation he asked me "What do you think of my event idea? I'd appreciate your opinion on ideas for it, and we can get back together on this after you think about it."

DING DING DING DING DING
Alarm bells rang again.

"I already thought about it, and have three ideas so far."

"Oh, great! What are your ideas?"

I shared two, as my short-term memory had already erased the third. I told him as much, and I think he believed me, but it could be seen as a lure or a trick. We were extremely friendly. He asked me to email him the third one if I remember it. I promised to do so.

Stay on message

"I'd like however, to finish our discussion of my idea for now, as there is a time constraint."

When he heard I want to get it done within a month rather than a year, he was shocked. I told him how excited I am about the specific speakers I want to bring, and how one of them is leaving the country to join his new wife, and he is a major source of my energy for this. I mentioned how I understand if his events schedule is already closed for the coming year, but wanted to make sure and contact him first.

It wasn't my intention to go cold on him or play "girl negotiation" by appearing not interested, but rather to give him way out. But whether it was my excitement or the "girl tactic", or even the ego massage, it seemed to work.

He got excited about this speaker as well, and asked about getting him on video before he leaves. Then....

BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG

A trick I've never seen before, which unlike the ones used up to now, is purely manipulative from whatever perspective you may look at it.

"How about we both take a couple of days to think of our two ideas, then get back together and pick one?"

This is wrong on so many levels. To begin with, his idea is not on the agenda. Second, he assumes I am willing to give up on my idea. Third, he assumes it's one or the other, this is a false choice logical fallacy.

More importantly, with this trick he can potentially achieve four immediately obvious things. First, wipe the slate clean to run his arguments by me again. Second, put distance between the chats so that I have time to move from my strong position, and consider his, perhaps feeling uncomfortable turning him down again. Third, it puts the subject on the agenda. And fourth, potentially try to wear me down, as most people won't call again in two days, or in two months.

I didn't miss a beat.

"I would be happy to discuss your idea separately, it sounds very interesting and I'd be happy to work with you on it. However, my resources are limited and at this time I am only interested in working on this one."

I added my winning argument: "I believe that I can get very good PR coverage for this mini-event, and get cooperation with Famous-Non-Profit which will also be happy to cover a part of the costs."

He lighted up at the mention of PR. We spoke for a bit and he asked me for a few days to speak with his boss. A few days when I have only a month to get things going are critical, so I wasn't happy about it. But the request was reasonable. He threw the ball into my court though, so when I got off the phone, I sent him an email.

I detailed five good ideas for his event, mentioned I was happy to talk with him, and was looking forward to hear from him soon. I also attached my phone number.

As I said when I started this post, he really is a good guy, and very friendly. But he is also a politician. He is an expert communicator who interviewed people live for a decade as a journalist. So while I dislike manipulative behavior I recognize that for some, such behavior is more than acceptable. In fact, it is regular m.o. and needs to be expected as part of the game.

Thing is, even just a few years ago I would have gotten stuck after his first interrupt, and either ended up working on his event without realizing it -- or by being too friendly. Worse still, I could have mishandled the communication in a potentially offensive fashion. Some years ago more, and I wouldn't have been able to play the game, and would have taken offense.

Being able to switch gears into "I'm being manipulated", think fast on my feet with my responses, and keep the conversation on track for my purposes (also the stated agenda of the call) -- all while keeping the rapport going without losing one heart beat, got me very excited. The content of the call was suddenly secondary.

While I am extremely straight-forward and honest in my communication style to a point of bluntness, I am a work in progress and am always learning. And I must admit, when two professionals meet, the conversation is happening on a completely different level. I am just surprised he didn't read through me that I was on to every single trick, when I was able to deflect them all. Or maybe he did and kept throwing them at me anyway to try and outwit me?

The cynic in me may in retrospect reconsider the first thing he ever said to me, to call him back on land line, as a manipulative gesture to get me in a compliant mood. But that would be too paranoid -- wouldn't it?

There are a few issues to consider about this encounter:

1. What was his motive? Perhaps he confused me for a hungry young hot shot, and wanted to use my excitement for his own ends. Perhaps a clear-cut switch-a-roo to get me to work on his event, "stealing" me from mine. Thus, bringing the conversation to where he wants it.

Then again, maybe he was just trying to end the conversation non-confrontationally.

2. His main tricks, in order were: change subject, switch-a-roo, get back together in 2 days.

3. What can you do to counter such tricks? After all, you may not always have a quick wit about you, or know the specific tricks.

The answer is similar to holding your own in politics: Stay on message. Know what your message is and stick to it. Others may try to confuse you, throw you off, and introduce a red-herring such as sending it for discussion in committee. Stay on message.

4. More importantly, the conversation made it clear it is quite possible he has no political power on this front, and thus can't give me what I want anyway.

Which brings us to...

5. What is your goal?
I kept going as I wanted to convince him, and after a fashion, I did get the best possible alternative result. But why keep at it if it won't achieve my goal?

Two tricks such as he used can be excuses as part of natural discussion, at the third, why keep at it? By this time it is clear to both sides what's going on and no positive result can come out of it.

More importantly, my purpose is to achieve a goal, and if I am not going to, why stay on a call that is probably uncomfortable for at least one of the sides, and as sure as the sky is blue, wastes my time?

If my purpose is not adversarial, why treat the situation as a battle? Cooperative discussion is a much better approach. As no cooperation was likely to happen, keeping the discussion going was pointless.

In summary, it didn't work out. But you should not get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for the guy. But it was one of the more fascinating five minutes in my life these past few months.

Here are some articles I wrote on similar experiences I had:
I'm interested, but in you
Snap! Jazz music and mass hypnosis
WTF! Or, wow, this never happened to me before!

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

Case study: undetected malware


In this case study from The George Washington University, researchers Sara Laughlin and Matthew Wollenweber released their work on previously undetected malware they discovered via their IDS system. Unknown to most anti virus products, and proceeded to analyze it:
On January 7th, 2010 GWU ISS Security identified a potential threat by a signature alert on a network sensor. Later analysis confirmed a security threat not currently detected by most antivirus products. This report details how the malware was detected and the analysis of the threat. Additionally, we hope this informs readers of a current threat.
This report underscores how anti virus products while a critical part of any computer's security, are insufficient by themselves, and inherently incomplete as a reactive solution.

I applaud the good work from the researchers, and even more, the fact they took the time to write and to release this report. These are barely ever public, and they earned my respect.

You can read the complete article here:
http://www.cyberwart.com/blog/2010/01/09/undetected-malware-case-study-jan2010-01/

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

Monday, February 08, 2010

Security PR: Article Series

In a five-part article series on Dark Reading, I explored how tech and security companies can be more successful with PR, and build their brand by discovering the wealth of resources they already have.

Many companies I contract with ask me one of the following questions: What is a good PR strategy for releasing a security vulnerability? What if we have nothing to say to reporters? Many people speak of social networking, what's real? How do we get our name out there?

A previous series on articles I wrote was on Lessons I Learned from Cybercrime.

I started this series on PR almost by accident, when discussing why some security blogs are more successful than others, and continued with articles trying to answer some of the other questions.

The Secret Sauce For Security Blogging
About how some security blogs manage to engage their audience better than others and make their readers feel more in touch with what's happening -- on top of earning credibility.
Security PR: How To Talk To Reporters
Here are some tips for security professionals and security public relations representatives on how to pitch reporters when you have something new and exciting to share.
Security PR: How To Disclose A Vulnerability
When your team discovers a new security vulnerability in a third-party product, there are ways to handle it correctly to achieve maximum visibility.
We Have Nothing To Say -- Or Do We?
The first rule of appearing smart, they say, is to keep quiet, but keeping quiet doesn't help your PR. What are you to do?
'Brand' Your Employees
You might want your product to be in the news every day, and for your PR to create miracles for you. But if you want attention, then your company must speak out on big security issues and news. But there are challenges, and your employees may be the answer.
Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Corporate espionage in the news: Hilton and the Oil industry

Is anyone calling espionage by means of computers cyber-espionage yet? I hope not. At least they shouldn't call it cyber war.

Two news stories of computerized espionage reached me today.

The first, regarding the Oil industry, was sent by Marc Sachs to a SCADA security mailing list we both read. The second, about the hotel industry, was sent by Deb Geisler to science fiction convention runners (SMOFS) mailing list we both read.

US oil industry hit by cyberattacks: Was China involved?
http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0125/US-oil-industry-hit-by-cyberattacks-Was-China-involved
At least three US oil companies were the target of a series of previously undisclosed cyberattacks that may have originated in China and that experts say highlight a new level of sophistication in the growing global war of Internet espionage.
Starwood Charges That Top Hilton Execs Abetted Espionage
http://www.meetings-conventions.com/article_ektid31918.aspx
Starwood's claim points to a "mountain of undisputed evidence," including e-mails among Hilton senior management, that Klein and Lalvani worked with others within Starwood to steal sensitive documents by sending them via personal e-mail accounts, among other methods, and that such information was shared and used by all of Hilton's luxury and lifestyle brands, as well as in the development of Hilton's now-shelved Denizen brand. In the new filing, Starwood says, "This case is extraordinary, and presents the clearest imaginable case of corporate espionage, theft of trade secrets, unfair competition and computer fraud...Hilton's conduct is outrageous."
As to whether China is involved, maybe. But the automatic blaming has got to stop. Many other countries have been known to be conducting corporate espionage, such as France, and as the second story above shows, so do corporations themselves.

But.. here are a few questions:

- My dog barked, was China involved?
- The traffic light turned red, was China involved?
- I am tired. Is China involved?

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bill Brenner Joe Jobbed by a Facebook App

My friend Bill Brenner, editor of CSO Magazine, just warned friends in his Facebook status message that someone may be trying to get them to add an application to their wall by using his name.

Bill Brenner: Some cyber-dope is apparently trying to use my name to infect your machine with the message "Bill Brenner has posted something on your wall." Do not click on it. It's a trick. Repeat: If you get a bunch of messages from me saying I posted something called "news feed" on your wall, do not allow the app access.

I don't know if this is targeted against Bill (if so, congratulations Bill! Your made it!) or if a malicious app is using names of friends to get people to add it. But this is certainly an interesting development.

Bill, stay strong and ignore. I passed it over to Facebook security. And people, remember to be careful of what you click on!

This is why I like Bill, he immediately warned everybody.

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Perhaps it's time to regulate Microsoft as critical infrastructure?

Microsoft has put a lot into securing its code, and is very good at doing so. However, is it doing enough?

My main argument is about the policy of handling vulnerabilities for 6 months without patching (such as the Google attacks 0day apparently was) and the policy of waiting a whole month before patching this very same vulnerability when it first became an in-the-wild 0day exploit (it has now been patched, ahead of schedule).

Microsoft is the main proponent of responsible disclosure, and has shown it is a responsible vendor. Also, patching vulnerabilities is far from easy, and Microsoft has done a tremendous job at getting it done. I simply call on it to stay responsible and amend its faulty and dangerous policies. A whole month as the default response to patching a 0day? Really?

With their practical monopoly, and the resulting monoculture, perhaps their policies ought to be examined for regulation as critical infrastructure, if they can't bring themselves to be more responsible on their own.

This is the first time in a long while that I find it fit to criticize Microsoft on security. Perhaps they have grown complacent with the PR nightmare of full disclosure a decade behind them, with most vulnerabilities now "sold" to them directly or indirectly by the security industry.

Gadi Evron,
ge@linuxbox.org.

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/gadievron