Tag Archive for security

First Recorded Breach of Security

A standard first dictionary definition of security is freedom from danger. Danger or threat, as it is often labeled, has to be present or assumed to be present otherwise there is no need for security. In recent years, threat has conventionally been defined by security professionals as the sum of the opposition’s capability, intent (will), and opportunity, and can be expressed thus:

Threat = Capability + Intent (will) + Opportunity

Indeed, without a capability, an attack cannot take place. An
attacker must possess a specific capability for a specific attack. For instance, the Afghan Taliban cannot carry out a nuclear missile attack on the United States even if they have full intent and an opportunity. Intent or will is also a necessary ingredient. North Korea has the capability for a nuclear strike on South Korea, but many factors keep their will in check. Similarly, Iran may have a capability to attack a defenseless American recreational sailboat in its territorial waters, and be perfectly
willing to do so, but American recreational sailors just do not go there, providing no opportunity.

Furthermore, applying this formula usually does not produce precise results since ingredients such as capability and opportunity are usually not known exactly and often are just assumed. A classic example of this is the infamous case of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as justification of the last Iraq war.

The first recorded breach of security occurred in the Garden of
Eden. Apparently, there was a sense of threat, and Cherubim guarding it with flaming swords were the security measures taken. However, the security measures were insufficient, and that allowed the serpent to infiltrate the Garden of Eden and do his ungodly deed.
In fact, there is no perfect security. We can only provide degrees of protection (i.e., if there is a threat, risk is always present, though its level may vary. Often this is reflected in the statement that risk is a combination of threat and vulnerability:

Risk = Threat + Vulnerability

This looks logical since vulnerability means exposure to a certain
threat. This also leads to the assertion that:
Vulnerability is a deficiency of protection against a specific
A reasonably comprehensive definition of security would probably
be something like:
A set of measures that eliminate, or at least alleviate the
probability of destruction, theft, or damage to a being, an object, a process, or data, including the revelation of a process, or of the
content of information.

The Government wants our encryption keys. Are home keys next?

The just released report by 13 well known cryptographers opposing the US and British governments’ sweeping demand for encryption keys has directly addressed the increasing threat of government’s insatiable thirst for power. Any government objection to this report is bound to be disingenuous.
However, there’s one more angle that begs for further exposure. The overall issue is not a scientific or technical question; it’s an ideological one. The frequently heard loud claim that inevitably we have to give up our privacy so the government can protect us is flatly untrue and hypocritical. It is indeed technologically feasible today to build a system where everyone of us would wear an irremovable collar equipped with cameras, microphones, and GPS that would communicate our location and immediate surroundings every instant “totally securely” to some highly trusted government agency. The government may argue that a) it would only access this information upon some court order; and b) it would solve a lot of crimes and save a lot of lives. True, such a system would make the police’s job very easy, would solve a lot of crimes, and save a lot of lives. But the real question is: do we want to live in that kind of society? In the American spirit the politest answer would be, “Hell, no!” And as always with this kind of hypothetical system criminals would quickly find a solution to neutralize it, leaving us with the situation that only-law abiding citizens would be subject to this massive electronic prison.
Even as we see deeper and deeper assaults on our civil rights and liberty in the manner described above, the government is more than a little shy talking about other intelligence-gathering techniques that require more skill than a slightly trained operator just pushing a few computer keys. These methods are well known among professionals, they have existed for a long time, and can be applied to any target. The drawback of course is that they are less convenient for the operators, require greater skills, and do not include a global bulk collection of information on everyone.
Well, maybe this is just what we, the people, need and want.

Kaspersky’s Intelligent Move

The latest move by Kaspersky Lab is definitely intelligent, perhaps a little too intelligent.

Computer security vendors are beginning to offer integrated cross-platform security for Windows, Mac and Android devices, with Kaspersky Lab leading the pack with its Internet Security—Multi Device 2015. At first glance it looks like déjà vu, as good or as bad malware protection as any other on the market. However, Kaspersky’s has a new feature — it protects all the devices you own, up to five of them. Convenient.

Initial reviews are good: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2459156/kaspersky-internet-security-2015-multi-device-review-new-interface-same-excellent-protection.html

From a business standpoint this makes perfect sense – uncluttering  the security arrangements of your devices and bringing security to one simple point. This should upend the competition that is selling long lines of unrelated programs.

However, there‘s another angle here. The simple truth is that a security system for your computer takes over your computer, whether you like it or not. So when you have a bunch of different security products, each one of them controls only the device for which it is intended.

One of the most reliable means of accessing all data in a computer is via its security system. But, with some technical exceptions, the ultimate targets of most security or intelligence organizations are people, not their computers per se. This means that if someone wants all your data on all your devices, and chooses to do so via your security system, he has to have control of all your security systems. Not too difficult, but certainly cumbersome in a large-scale outfit. Inconvenient.

Here comes a great innovation: one-stop shopping for  all your data – an integrated security system for all your devices. All your data can be obtained via a single security system. Convenient.

It’s not a big secret that Kaspersky Lab has cozy relations with the Russian Government and thus is a valuable resource for the latter. There was a lot of debate related to Kaspersky Lab and their relations to the Russian Government, someone even suggested once that they have a lot of customers and just one client.

I’d prefer to leave that to the reader’s judgment, but simply caution that in any case integrating all your devices via one security system makes you an easier cyber prey, and may be unwise, Kaspersky or not.


Utilities Hacking Paradigm Shift


With the pleasant long weekend over, now is a good time to check up on recent cyber history. It’s a common Government practice to release potential “hot potatoes” just before a holiday in the hope that they will pass generally unnoticed. So it’s useful to review the pre-holiday week’s releases right after the holiday. There is something there that caught my eye that I would like to address.

Interesting questions were raised by the following article, oddly published by an Australian publication on May 22: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/05/hackers-broke-into-a-public-utility-control-room-by-guessing-a-password   (“Hackers Broke Into A Public Utility Control Room By Guessing A Password.”) In short, the story is commenting on the DHS announcement of the discovery and fixing of a hackers’ break-in into an unspecified public utility’s controls. This raises at least two questions.The first question is why the announcement was made at all. Everybody who is anybody in cybersecurity knows that within the US-Russia-China triangle practically all internet-connected utilities have been penetrated for decades. Malware representing electronic bombs have been mutually installed by these countries and have gone through several generations of upgrades; they are ready to use, and extremely difficult to detect. Obviously, the most vulnerable side of the triangle is the US, since it has the most advanced and most connected network of utilities. The existing status quo in the triangle is somewhat similar to the famous MAD – Mutually Assure Destruction– of the Cold War, and the situation is pretty stable. So, if it’s not news, why announce it? This question can probably be answered by the second question.

The second question is: what has been left unsaid in the announcement? This is probably the key to the whole thing. The announcement mentioned “hackers,” with no hints as to their identity. But the interesting detail is that the attack was performed by a very unsophisticated “brute force” approach, which any hacker with a  modern computer can do that easily. So, the only plausible explanation for the whole announcement is to tacitly acknowledge that some rogue hackers were able to penetrate a public utility, and to suggest that more such attacks may be coming. Obviously, rogue hackers of many denominations do not have the mutual restraints of the US-Russia-China triangle, and without such restraints they can do real damage.

Overall, it looks like the DHS is laying down the proposition that when some real damage is done, they can say that now anybody can take control of our utilities, as we warned you.

Don’t Bother Changing Your Password

The news of the day is the Heartbleed bug. The mainstream media is full of the headline “Change your password. Hurry”.

Don’t. Just don’t bother. This is one of the daily occurrences of “major” cybersecurity breaches. The reality is that with this bug or the next one, the issue is not the bug, the issue is the password, as a concept. Any password can be hacked by a serious hacker with a decent computer in minutes if not seconds. How many times do we have to be hacked to get the message across  that we need to develop an effective cybersecurity technology instead of stitching patches on the constantly punctured bubble of the firewall?

Doing the same thing and hoping for a different result is not exactly the definition of intelligence. We’ve been doing that every day for a quarter century and calling ourselves cybersecurity experts. It doesn’t  seem that qualification is deserved.