All posts by Robert Graham

Don Jr.: I’ll bite

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

So Don Jr. tweets the following, which is an excellent troll. So I thought I’d bite. The reason is I just got through debunk Democrat claims about NetNeutrality, so it seems like a good time to balance things out and debunk Trump nonsense.

The issue here is not which side is right. The issue here is whether you stand for truth, or whether you’ll seize any factoid that appears to support your side, regardless of the truthfulness of it. The ACLU obviously chose falsehoods, as I documented. In the following tweet, Don Jr. does the same.

It’s a preview of the hyperpartisan debates are you are likely to have across the dinner table tomorrow, which each side trying to outdo the other in the false-hoods they’ll claim.

What we see in this number is a steady trend of these statistics since the Great Recession, with no evidence in the graphs showing how Trump has influenced these numbers, one way or the other.

Stock markets at all time highs

This is true, but it’s obviously not due to Trump. The stock markers have been steadily rising since the Great Recession. Trump has done nothing substantive to change the market trajectory. Also, he hasn’t inspired the market to change it’s direction.
To be fair to Don Jr., we’ve all been crediting (or blaming) presidents for changes in the stock market despite the fact they have almost no influence over it. Presidents don’t run the economy, it’s an inappropriate conceit. The most influence they’ve had is in harming it.

Lowest jobless claims since 73

Again, let’s graph this:

As we can see, jobless claims have been on a smooth downward trajectory since the Great Recession. It’s difficult to see here how President Trump has influenced these numbers.

6 Trillion added to the economy

What he’s referring to is that assets have risen in value, like the stock market, homes, gold, and even Bitcoin.
But this is a well known fallacy known as Mercantilism, believing the “economy” is measured by the value of its assets. This was debunked by Adam Smith in his book “The Wealth of Nations“, where he showed instead the the “economy” is measured by how much it produces (GDP – Gross Domestic Product) and not assets.
GDP has grown at 3.0%, which is pretty good compared to the long term trend, and is better than Europe or Japan (though not as good as China). But Trump doesn’t deserve any credit for this — today’s rise in GDP is the result of stuff that happened years ago.
Assets have risen by $6 trillion, but that’s not a good thing. After all, when you sell your home for more money, the buyer has to pay more. So one person is better off and one is worse off, so the net effect is zero.
Actually, such asset price increase is a worrisome indicator — we are entering into bubble territory. It’s the result of a loose monetary policy, low interest rates and “quantitative easing” that was designed under the Obama administration to stimulate the economy. That’s why all assets are rising in value. Normally, a rise in one asset means a fall in another, like selling gold to pay for houses. But because of loose monetary policy, all assets are increasing in price. The amazing rise in Bitcoin over the last year is as much a result of this bubble growing in all assets as it is to an exuberant belief in Bitcoin.
When this bubble collapses, which may happen during Trump’s term, it’ll really be the Obama administration who is to blame. I mean, if Trump is willing to take credit for the asset price bubble now, I’m willing to give it to him, as long as he accepts the blame when it crashes.

1.5 million fewer people on food stamps

As you’d expect, I’m going to debunk this with a graph: the numbers have been falling since the great recession. Indeed, in the previous period under Obama, 1.9 fewer people got off food stamps, so Trump’s performance is slight ahead rather than behind Obama. Of course, neither president is really responsible.

Consumer confidence through the roof

Again we are going to graph this number:

Again we find nothing in the graph that suggests President Trump is responsible for any change — it’s been improving steadily since the Great Recession.

One thing to note is that, technically, it’s not “through the roof” — it still quite a bit below the roof set during the dot-com era.

Lowest Unemployment rate in 17 years

Again, let’s simply graph it over time and look for Trump’s contribution. as we can see, there doesn’t appear to be anything special Trump has done — unemployment has steadily been improving since the Great Recession.
But here’s the thing, the “unemployment rate” only measures those looking for work, not those who have given up. The number that concerns people more is the “labor force participation rate”. The Great Recession kicked a lot of workers out of the economy.
Mostly this is because Baby Boomer are now retiring an leaving the workforce, and some have chosen to retire early rather than look for another job. But there are still some other problems in our economy that cause this. President Trump has nothing particular in order to solve these problems.


As we see, Don Jr’s tweet is a troll. When we look at the graphs of these indicators going back to the Great Recession, we don’t see how President Trump has influenced anything. The improvements this year are in line with the improvements last year, which are in turn inline with the improvements in the previous year.
To be fair, all parties credit their President with improvements during their term. President Obama’s supporters did the same thing. But at least right now, with these numbers, we can see that there’s no merit to anything in Don Jr’s tweet.
The hyperpartisan rancor in this country is because neither side cares about the facts. We should care. We should care that these numbers suck, even if we are Republicans. Conversely, we should care that those NetNeutrality claims by Democrats suck, even if we are Democrats.

NetNeutrality vs. limiting FaceTime

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

In response to my tweets/blogs against NetNeutrality, people have asked: what about these items? In this post, I debunk the fourth item.

The issue the fourth item addresses is how AT&T restrict the use of Apple’s FaceTime on its network back in 2012. This seems a clear NetNeutrality issue.
But here’s the thing: the FCC allowed these restrictions, despite the FCC’s “Open Internet” order forbidding such things. In other words, despite the graphic’s claims it “happened without net neutrality rules”, the opposite is true, it happened with net neutrality rules.
The FCC explains why they allowed it in their own case study on the matter. The short version is this: AT&T’s network couldn’t handle the traffic, so it was appropriate to restrict it until some time in the future (the LTE rollout) until it could. The issue wasn’t that AT&T was restricting FaceTime in favor of its own video-calling service (it didn’t have one), but it was instead an issue of “bandwidth management”.
When Apple released FaceTime, they themselves restricted it’s use to WiFi, preventing its use on cell phone networks. That’s because Apple recognized mobile networks couldn’t handle it.
When Apple flipped the switch and allowed it’s use on mobile networks, because mobile networks had gotten faster, they clearly said “carrier restrictions may apply”. In other words, it said “carriers may restrict FaceTime with our blessing if they can’t handle the load”.
When Tim Wu wrote his paper defining “NetNeutrality” in 2003, he anticipated just this scenario. He wrote:

“The goal of bandwidth management is, at a general level, aligned with network neutrality.”

He doesn’t give “bandwidth management” a completely free pass. He mentions the issue frequently in his paper with a less favorable description, such as here:

Similarly, while managing bandwidth is a laudable goal, its achievement through restricting certain application types is an unfortunate solution. The result is obviously a selective disadvantage for certain application markets. The less restrictive means is, as above, the technological management of bandwidth. Application-restrictions should, at best, be a stopgap solution to the problem of competing bandwidth demands. 

And that’s what AT&T’s FaceTime limiting was: an unfortunate stopgap solution until LTE was more fully deployed, which is fully allowed under Tim Wu’s principle of NetNeutrality.

So the ACLU’s claim above is fully debunked: such things did happen even with NetNeutrality rules in place, and should happen.

NetNeutrality vs. Verizon censoring Naral

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

In response to my anti-NetNeutrality blogs/tweets, people ask what about this? In this post, I address the second question.

Firstly, it’s not a NetNeutrality issue (which applies only to the Internet), but an issue with text-messages. In other words, it’s something that will continue to happen even with NetNeutrality rules. People relate this to NetNeutrality as an analogy, not because it actually is such an issue.

Secondly, it’s an edge/content issue, not a transit issue. The details in this case is that Verizon provides a program for sending bulk messages to its customers from the edge of the network. Verizon isn’t censoring text messages in transit, but from the edge. You can send a text message to your friend on the Verizon network, and it won’t be censored. Thus the analogy is incorrect — the correct analogy would be with content providers like Twitter and Facebook, not ISPs like Comcast.

Like all cell phone vendors, Verizon polices this content, canceling accounts that abuse the system, like spammers. We all agree such censorship is a good thing, and that such censorship of content providers is not remotely a NetNeutrality issue. Content providers do this not because they disapprove of the content of spam such much as the distaste their customers have for spam.
Content providers that are political, rather than neutral to politics is indeed worrisome. It’s not a NetNeutrality issue per se, but it is a general “neutrality” issue. We free-speech activists want all content providers (Twitter, Facebook, Verizon mass-texting programs) to be free of political censorship — though we don’t want government to mandate such neutrality.
But even here, Verizon may be off the hook. They appear not be to be censoring one political view over another, but the controversial/unsavory way Naral expresses its views. Presumably, Verizon would be okay with less controversial political content.

In other words, as Verizon expresses it’s principles, it wants to block content that drivers away customers, but is otherwise neutral to the content. While this may unfairly target controversial political content, it’s at least basically neutral.

So in conclusion, while activists portray this as a NetNeutrality issue, it isn’t. It’s not even close.

NetNeutrality vs. AT&T censoring Pearl Jam

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

So in response to my anti-netneutrality tweets/blogs, Jose Pagliery asks “what about this?”

Let’s pick the first one. You can read about the details by Googling “AT&T Pearl Jam”.

First of all, this obviously isn’t a Net Neutrality case. The case isn’t about AT&T acting as an ISP transiting network traffic. Instead, this was about AT&T being a content provider, through their “Blue Room” subsidiary, whose content traveled across other ISPs. Such things will continue to happen regardless of the most stringent enforcement of NetNeutrality rules, since the FCC doesn’t regulate content providers.
Second of all, it wasn’t AT&T who censored the traffic. It wasn’t their Blue Room subsidiary who censored the traffic. It was a third party company they hired to bleep things like swear words and nipple slips. You are blaming AT&T for a decision by a third party that went against AT&T’s wishes. It was an accident, not AT&T policy.
Thirdly, and this is the funny bit, Tim Wu, the guy who defined the term “net neutrality”, recently wrote an op-ed claiming that while ISPs shouldn’t censor traffic, that content providers should. In other words, he argues that companies AT&T’s Blue Room should censor political content.
What activists like ACLU say about NetNeutrality have as little relationship to the truth as Trump’s tweets. Both pick “facts” that agree with them only so long as you don’t look into them.

The FCC has never defended Net Neutrality

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

This op-ed by a “net neutrality expert” claims the FCC has always defended “net neutrality”. It’s garbage.

This wrong on its face. It imagines decades ago that the FCC inshrined some plaque on the wall stating principles that subsequent FCC commissioners have diligently followed. The opposite is true. FCC commissioners are a chaotic bunch, with different interests, influenced (i.e. “lobbied” or “bribed”) by different telecommunications/Internet companies. Rather than following a principle, their Internet regulatory actions have been ad hoc and arbitrary — for decades.

Sure, you can cherry pick some of those regulatory actions as fitting a “net neutrality” narrative, but most actions don’t fit that narrative, and there have been gross net neutrality violations that the FCC has ignored.

There are gross violations going on right now that the FCC is allowing. Most egregiously is the “zero-rating” of video traffic on T-Mobile. This is a clear violation of the principles of net neutrality, yet the FCC is allowing it — despite official “net neutrality” rules in place.

The op-ed above claims that “this [net neutrality] principle was built into the architecture of the Internet”. The opposite is true. Traffic discrimination was built into the architecture since the beginning. If you don’t believe me, read RFC 791 and the “precedence” field.

More concretely, from the beginning of the Internet as we know it (the 1990s), CDNs (content delivery networks) have provided a fast-lane for customers willing to pay for it. These CDNs are so important that the Internet wouldn’t work without them.

I just traced the route of my CNN live stream. It comes from a server 5 miles away, instead of CNN’s headquarters 2500 miles away. That server is located inside Comcast’s network, because CNN pays Comcast a lot of money to get a fast-lane to Comcast’s customers.

The reason these egregious net net violations exist is because it’s in the interests of customers. Moving content closer to customers helps. Re-prioritizing (and charging less for) high-bandwidth video over cell networks helps customers.

You might say it’s okay that the FCC bends net neutrality rules when it benefits consumers, but that’s garbage. Net neutrality claims these principles are sacred and should never be violated. Obviously, that’s not true — they should be violated when it benefits consumers. This means what net neutrality is really saying is that ISPs can’t be trusted to allows act to benefit consumers, and therefore need government oversight. Well, if that’s your principle, then what you are really saying is that you are a left-winger, not that you believe in net neutrality.

Anyway, my point is that the above op-ed cherry picks a few data points in order to build a narrative that the FCC has always regulated net neutrality. A larger view is that the FCC has never defended this on principle, and is indeed, not defending it right now, even with “net neutrality” rules officially in place.

Your Holiday Cybersecurity Guide

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

Many of us are visiting parents/relatives this Thanksgiving/Christmas, and will have an opportunity to help our them with cybersecurity issues. I thought I’d write up a quick guide of the most important things.

1. Stop them from reusing passwords

By far the biggest threat to average people is that they re-use the same password across many websites, so that when one website gets hacked, all their accounts get hacked.
To demonstrate the problem, go to and enter the email address of your relatives. This will show them a number of sites where their password has already been stolen, like LinkedIn, Adobe, etc. That should convince them of the severity of the problem.

They don’t need a separate password for every site. You don’t care about the majority of website whether you get hacked. Use a common password for all the meaningless sites. You only need unique passwords for important accounts, like email, Facebook, and Twitter.

Write down passwords and store them in a safe place. Sure, it’s a common joke that people in offices write passwords on Post-It notes stuck on their monitors or under their keyboards. This is a common security mistake, but that’s only because the office environment is widely accessible. Your home isn’t, and there’s plenty of places to store written passwords securely, such as in a home safe. Even if it’s just a desk drawer, such passwords are safe from hackers, because they aren’t on a computer.

Write them down, with pen and paper. Don’t put them in a MyPasswords.doc, because when a hacker breaks in, they’ll easily find that document and easily hack your accounts.

You might help them out with getting a password manager, or two-factor authentication (2FA). Good 2FA like YubiKey will stop a lot of phishing threats. But this is difficult technology to learn, and of course, you’ll be on the hook for support issues, such as when they lose the device. Thus, while 2FA is best, I’m only recommending pen-and-paper to store passwords. (AccessNow has a guide, though I think YubiKey/U2F keys for Facebook and GMail are the best).

2. Lock their phone (passcode, fingerprint, faceprint)
You’ll lose your phone at some point. It has the keys all all your accounts, like email and so on. With your email, phones thieves can then reset passwords on all your other accounts. Thus, it’s incredibly important to lock the phone.

Apple has made this especially easy with fingerprints (and now faceprints), so there’s little excuse not to lock the phone.

Note that Apple iPhones are the most secure. I give my mother my old iPhones so that they will have something secure.

My mom demonstrates a problem you’ll have with the older generation: she doesn’t reliably have her phone with her, and charged. She’s the opposite of my dad who religiously slaved to his phone. Even a small change to make her lock her phone means it’ll be even more likely she won’t have it with her when you need to call her.

3. WiFi (WPA)
Make sure their home WiFi is WPA encrypted. It probably already is, but it’s worthwhile checking.

The password should be written down on the same piece of paper as all the other passwords. This is importance. My parents just moved, Comcast installed a WiFi access point for them, and they promptly lost the piece of paper. When I wanted to debug some thing on their network today, they didn’t know the password, and couldn’t find the paper. Get that password written down in a place it won’t get lost!

Discourage them from extra security features like “SSID hiding” and/or “MAC address filtering”. They provide no security benefit, and actually make security worse. It means a phone has to advertise the SSID when away from home, and it makes MAC address randomization harder, both of which allows your privacy to be tracked.

If they have a really old home router, you should probably replace it, or at least update the firmware. A lot of old routers have hacks that allow hackers (like me masscaning the Internet) to easily break in.

4. Ad blockers or Brave

Most of the online tricks that will confuse your older parents will come via advertising, such as popups claiming “You are infected with a virus, click here to clean it”. Installing an ad blocker in the browser, such as uBlock Origin, stops most all this nonsense.

For example, here’s a screenshot of going to the “Speedtest” website to test the speed of my connection (I took this on the plane on the way home for Thanksgiving). Ignore the error (plane’s firewall Speedtest) — but instead look at the advertising banner across the top of the page insisting you need to download a browser extension. This is tricking you into installing malware — the ad appears as if it’s a message from Speedtest, it’s not. Speedtest is just selling advertising and has no clue what the banner says. This sort of thing needs to be blocked — it fools even the technologically competent.

uBlock Origin for Chrome is the one I use. Another option is to replace their browser with Brave, a browser that blocks ads, but at the same time, allows micropayments to support websites you want to support. I use Brave on my iPhone.
A side benefit of ad blockers or Brave is that web surfing becomes much faster, since you aren’t downloading all this advertising. The smallest NYtimes story is 15 megabytes in size due to all the advertisements, for example.

5. Cloud Backups
Do backups, in the cloud. It’s a good idea in general, especially with the threat of ransomware these days.

In particular, consider your photos. Over time, they will be lost, because people make no effort to keep track of them. All hard drives will eventually crash, deleting your photos. Sure, a few key ones are backed up on Facebook for life, but the rest aren’t.
There are so many excellent online backup services out there, like DropBox and Backblaze. Or, you can use the iCloud feature that Apple provides. My favorite is Microsoft’s: I already pay $99 a year for Office 365 subscription, and it comes with 1-terabyte of online storage.

6. Separate email accounts
You should have three email accounts: work, personal, and financial.

First, you really need to separate your work account from personal. The IT department is already getting misdirected emails with your spouse/lover that they don’t want to see. Any conflict with your work, such as getting fired, gives your private correspondence to their lawyers.

Second, you need a wholly separate account for financial stuff, like, your bank, PayPal, and so on. That prevents confusion with phishing attacks.

Consider this warning today:

If you had split accounts, you could safely ignore this. The USPS would only your financial email account, which gets no phishing attacks, because it’s not widely known. When your receive the phishing attack on your personal email, you ignore it, because you know the USPS doesn’t know your personal email account.

Phishing emails are so sophisticated that even experts can’t tell the difference. Splitting financial from personal emails makes it so you don’t have to tell the difference — anything financial sent to personal email can safely be ignored.

7. Deauth those apps!

Twitter user @tompcoleman comments that we also need deauth apps.
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google encourage you to enable “apps” that work their platforms, often demanding privileges to generate messages on your behalf. The typical scenario is that you use them only once or twice and forget about them.
A lot of them are hostile. For example, my niece’s twitter account would occasional send out advertisements, and she didn’t know why. It’s because a long time ago, she enabled an app with the permission to send tweets for her. I had to sit down and get rid of most of her apps.
Now would be a good time to go through your relatives Facebook, Twitter, and Google/GMail and disable those apps. Don’t be a afraid to be ruthless — they probably weren’t using them anyway. Some will still be necessary. For example, Twitter for iPhone shows up in the list of Twitter apps. The URL for editing these apps for Twitter is Google link is here (thanks @spextr). I don’t know of simple URLs for Facebook, but you should find it somewhere under privacy/security settings.
Update: Here’s a more complete guide for a even more social media services.

8. Up-to-date software? maybe

I put this last because it can be so much work.

You should install the latest OS (Windows 10, macOS High Sierra), and also turn on automatic patching.

But remember it may not be worth the huge effort involved. I want my parents to be secure — but no so secure I have to deal with issues.

For example, when my parents updated their HP Print software, the icon on the desktop my mom usually uses to scan things in from the printer disappeared, and needed me to spend 15 minutes with her helping find the new way to access the software.
However, I did get my mom a new netbook to travel with instead of the old WinXP one. I want to get her a Chromebook, but she doesn’t want one.
For iOS, you can probably make sure their phones have the latest version without having these usability problems.


You can’t solve every problem for your relatives, but these are the more critical ones.

Why Linus is right (as usual)

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

People are debating this email from Linus Torvalds (maintainer of the Linux kernel). It has strong language, like:

Some security people have scoffed at me when I say that security
problems are primarily “just bugs”.
Those security people are f*cking morons.
Because honestly, the kind of security person who doesn’t accept that
security problems are primarily just bugs, I don’t want to work with.

I thought I’d explain why Linus is right.
Linus has an unwritten manifesto of how the Linux kernel should be maintained. It’s not written down in one place, instead we are supposed to reverse engineer it from his scathing emails, where he calls people morons for not understanding it. This is one such scathing email. The rules he’s expressing here are:
  • Large changes to the kernel should happen in small iterative steps, each one thoroughly debugged.
  • Minor security concerns aren’t major emergencies; they don’t allow bypassing the rules more than any other bug/feature.
Last year, some security “hardening” code was added to the kernel to prevent a class of buffer-overflow/out-of-bounds issues. This code didn’t address any particular 0day vulnerability, but was designed to prevent a class of future potential exploits from being exploited. This is reasonable.
This code had bugs, but that’s no sin. All code has bugs.
The sin, from Linus’s point of view, is that when an overflow/out-of-bounds access was detected, the code would kill the user-mode process or kernel. Linus thinks it should have only generated warnings, and let the offending code continue to run.
Of course, that would in theory make the change of little benefit, because it would no longer prevent 0days from being exploited.
But warnings would only be temporary, the first step. There’s likely to be be bugs in the large code change, and it would probably uncover bugs in other code. While bounds-checking is a security issue, it’s first implementation will always find existing code having latent bounds bugs. Or, it’ll have “false-positives” triggering on things that aren’t actually the flaws its looking for. Killing things made these bugs worse, causing catastrophic failures in the latest kernel that didn’t exist before. Warnings, however, would have equally highlighted the bugs, but without causing catastrophic failures. My car runs multiple copies of Linux — such catastrophic failures would risk my life.
Only after a year, when the bugs have been fixed, would the default behavior of the code be changed to kill buggy code, thus preventing exploitation.
In other words, large changes to the kernel should happen in small, manageable steps. This hardening hasn’t existed for 25 years of the Linux kernel, so there’s no emergency requiring it be added immediately rather than conservatively, no reason to bypass Linus’s development processes. There’s no reason it couldn’t have been warnings for a year while working out problems, followed by killing buggy code later.
Linus was correct here. No vuln has appeared in the last year that this code would’ve stopped, so the fact that it killed processes/kernels rather than generated warnings was unnecessary. Conversely, because it killed things, bugs in the kernel code were costly, and required emergency patches.
Despite his unreasonable tone, Linus is a hugely reasonable person. He’s not trying to stop changes to the kernel. He’s not trying to stop security improvements. He’s not even trying to stop processes from getting killed That’s not why people are moronic. Instead, they are moronic for not understanding that large changes need to made conservatively, and security issues are no more important than any other feature/bug.

Update: Also, since most security people aren’t developers, they are also a bit clueless how things actually work. Bounds-checking, which they define as purely a security feature to stop buffer-overflows is actually overwhelmingly a debugging feature. When you turn on bounds-checking for the first time, it’ll trigger on a lot of latent bugs in the code — things that never caused a problem in the past (like reading past ends of buffers) but cause trouble now. Developers know this, security “experts” tend not to. These kernel changes were made by security people who failed to understand this, who failed to realize that their changes would uncover lots of bugs in existing code, and that killing buggy code was hugely inappropriate.

Update: Another flaw developers are intimately familiar with is how “hardening” code can cause false-positives, triggering on non-buggy code. A good example is where the BIND9 code crashed on an improper assert(). This hardening code designed to prevent exploitation made things worse by triggering on valid input/code.

Update: No, it’s probably not okay to call people “morons” as Linus does. They may be wrong, but they usually are reasonable people. On the other hand, security people tend to be sanctimonious bastards with rigid thinking, so after he as dealt with that minority, I can see why Linus treats all security people that way.

How to read newspapers

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

News articles don’t contain the information you think. Instead, they are written according to a formula, and that formula is as much about distorting/hiding information as it is about revealing it.

A good example is the following. I claimed hate-crimes aren’t increasing. The tweet below tries to disprove me, by citing a news article that claims the opposite:

But the data behind this article tells a very different story than the words.
Every November, the FBI releases its hate-crime statistics for the previous year. They’ve been doing this every year for a long time. When they do so, various news organizations grab the data and write a quick story around it.
By “story” I mean a story. Raw numbers don’t interest people, so the writer instead has to wrap it in a narrative that does interest people. That’s what the writer has done in the above story, leading with the fact that hate crimes have increased.
But is this increase meaningful? What do the numbers actually say?
To answer this, I went to the FBI’s website, the source of this data, and grabbed the numbers for the last 20 years, and graphed them in Excel, producing the following graph:
As you can see, there is no significant rise in hate-crimes. Indeed, the latest numbers are about 20% below the average for the last two decades, despite a tiny increase in the last couple years. Statistically/scientifically, there is no change, but you’ll never read that in a news article, because it’s boring and readers won’t pay attention. You’ll only get a “news story” that weaves a narrative that interests the reader.
So back to the original tweet exchange. The person used the news story to disprove my claim, but going to the underlying data, it only supports my claim that the hate-crimes are going down, not up — the small increases of the past couple years are insignificant to the larger decreases of the last two decades.
So that’s the point of this post: news stories are deceptive. You have to double-check the data they are based upon, and pay less attention to the narrative they weave, and even less attention to the title designed to grab your attention.
Anyway, as a side-note, I’d like to apologize for being human. The snark/sarcasm of the tweet above gives me extra pleasure in proving them wrong :).

Some notes about the Kaspersky affair

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

I thought I’d write up some notes about Kaspersky, the Russian anti-virus vendor that many believe has ties to Russian intelligence.

There’s two angles to this story. One is whether the accusations are true. The second is the poor way the press has handled the story, with mainstream outlets like the New York Times more intent on pushing government propaganda than informing us what’s going on.

The press

Before we address Kaspersky, we need to talk about how the press covers this.
The mainstream media’s stories have been pure government propaganda, like this one from the New York Times. It garbles the facts of what happened, and relies primarily on anonymous government sources that cannot be held accountable. It’s so messed up that we can’t easily challenge it because we aren’t even sure exactly what it’s claiming.
The Society of Professional Journalists have a name for this abuse of anonymous sources, the “Washington Game“. Journalists can identify this as bad journalism, but the big newspapers like The New York Times continues to do it anyway, because how dare anybody criticize them?
For all that I hate the anti-American bias of The Intercept, at least they’ve had stories that de-garble what’s going on, that explain things so that we can challenge them.

Our Government

Our government can’t tell us everything, of course. But at the same time, they need to tell us something, to at least being clear what their accusations are. These vague insinuations through the media hurt their credibility, not help it. The obvious craptitude is making us in the cybersecurity community come to Kaspersky’s defense, which is not the government’s aim at all.
There are lots of issues involved here, but let’s consider the major one insinuated by the NYTimes story, that Kaspersky was getting “data” files along with copies of suspected malware. This is troublesome if true.
But, as Kaspersky claims today, it’s because they had detected malware within a zip file, and uploaded the entire zip — including the data files within the zip.
This is reasonable. This is indeed how anti-virus generally works. It completely defeats the NYTimes insinuations.
This isn’t to say Kaspersky is telling the truth, of course, but that’s not the point. The point is that we are getting vague propaganda from the government further garbled by the press, making Kaspersky’s clear defense the credible party in the affair.
It’s certainly possible for Kaspersky to write signatures to look for strings like “TS//SI/OC/REL TO USA” that appear in secret US documents, then upload them to Russia. If that’s what our government believes is happening, they need to come out and be explicit about it. They can easily setup honeypots, in the way described in today’s story, to confirm it. However, it seems the government’s description of honeypots is that Kaspersky only upload files that were clearly viruses, not data.


I believe Kaspersky is guilty, that the company and Eugene himself, works directly with Russian intelligence.
That’s because on a personal basis, people in government have given me specific, credible stories — the sort of thing they should be making public. And these stories are wholly unrelated to stories that have been made public so far.
You shouldn’t believe me, of course, because I won’t go into details you can challenge. I’m not trying to convince you, I’m just disclosing my point of view.
But there are some public reasons to doubt Kaspersky. For example, when trying to sell to our government, they’ve claimed they can help us against terrorists. The translation of this is that they could help our intelligence services. Well, if they are willing to help our intelligence services against customers who are terrorists, then why wouldn’t they likewise help Russian intelligence services against their adversaries?
Then there is how Russia works. It’s a violent country. Most of the people mentioned in that “Steele Dossier” have died. In the hacker community, hackers are often coerced to help the government. Many have simply gone missing.
Being rich doesn’t make Kaspersky immune from this — it makes him more of a target. Russian intelligence knows he’s getting all sorts of good intelligence, such as malware written by foreign intelligence services. It’s unbelievable they wouldn’t put the screws on him to get this sort of thing.
Russia is our adversary. It’d be foolish of our government to buy anti-virus from Russian companies. Likewise, the Russian government won’t buy such products from American companies.


I have enormous disrespect for mainstream outlets like The New York Times and the way they’ve handled the story. It makes me want to come to Kaspersky’s defense.

I have enormous respect for Kaspersky technology. They do good work.

But I hear stories. I don’t think our government should be trusting Kaspersky at all. For that matter, our government shouldn’t trust any cybersecurity products from Russia, China, Iran, etc.

Some notes on the KRACK attack

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

This is my interpretation of the KRACK attacks paper that describes a way of decrypting encrypted WiFi traffic with an active attack.

tl;dr: Wow. Everyone needs to be afraid. (Well, worried — not panicked.) It means in practice, attackers can decrypt a lot of wifi traffic, with varying levels of difficulty depending on your precise network setup. My post last July about the DEF CON network being safe was in error.


This is not a crypto bug but a protocol bug (a pretty obvious and trivial protocol bug).
When a client connects to the network, the access-point will at some point send a random “key” data to use for encryption. Because this packet may be lost in transmission, it can be repeated many times.
What the hacker does is just repeatedly sends this packet, potentially hours later. Each time it does so, it resets the “keystream” back to the starting conditions. The obvious patch that device vendors will make is to only accept the first such packet it receives, ignore all the duplicates.
At this point, the protocol bug becomes a crypto bug. We know how to break crypto when we have two keystreams from the same starting position. It’s not always reliable, but reliable enough that people need to be afraid.
Android, though, is the biggest danger. Rather than simply replaying the packet, a packet with key data of all zeroes can be sent. This allows attackers to setup a fake WiFi access-point and man-in-the-middle all traffic.
In a related case, the access-point/base-station can sometimes also be attacked, affecting the stream sent to the client.
Not only is sniffing possible, but in some limited cases, injection. This allows the traditional attack of adding bad code to the end of HTML pages in order to trick users into installing a virus.

This is an active attack, not a passive attack, so in theory, it’s detectable.

Who is vulnerable?

Everyone, pretty much.
The hacker only needs to be within range of your WiFi. Your neighbor’s teenage kid is going to be downloading and running the tool in order to eavesdrop on your packets.
The hacker doesn’t need to be logged into your network.
It affects all WPA1/WPA2, the personal one with passwords that we use in home, and the enterprise version with certificates we use in enterprises.
It can’t defeat SSL/TLS or VPNs. Thus, if you feel your laptop is safe surfing the public WiFi at airports, then your laptop is still safe from this attack. With Android, it does allow running tools like sslstrip, which can fool many users.
Your home network is vulnerable. Many devices will be using SSL/TLS, so are fine, like your Amazon echo, which you can continue to use without worrying about this attack. Other devices, like your Phillips lightbulbs, may not be so protected.

How can I defend myself?

More to the point, measure your current vendors by how long it takes them to patch. Throw away gear by those vendors that took a long time to patch and replace it with vendors that took a short time.
High-end access-points that contains “WIPS” (WiFi Intrusion Prevention Systems) features should be able to detect this and block vulnerable clients from connecting to the network (once the vendor upgrades the systems, of course). Even low-end access-points, like the $30 ones you get for home, can easily be updated to prevent packet sequence numbers from going back to the start (i.e. from the keystream resetting back to the start).
At some point, you’ll need to run the attack against yourself, to make sure all your devices are secure. Since you’ll be constantly allowing random phones to connect to your network, you’ll need to check their vulnerability status before connecting them. You’ll need to continue doing this for several years.
Of course, if you are using SSL/TLS for everything, then your danger is mitigated. This is yet another reason why you should be using SSL/TLS for internal communications.
Most security vendors will add things to their products/services to defend you. While valuable in some cases, it’s not a defense. The defense is patching the devices you know about, and preventing vulnerable devices from attaching to your network.
If I remember correctly, DEF CON uses Aruba. Aruba contains WIPS functionality, which means by the time DEF CON roles around again next year, they should have the feature to deny vulnerable devices from connecting, and specifically to detect an attack in progress and prevent further communication.
However, for an attacker near an Android device using a low-powered WiFi, it’s likely they will be able to conduct man-in-the-middle without any WIPS preventing them.

"Responsible encryption" fallacies

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave a speech recently calling for “Responsible Encryption” (aka. “Crypto Backdoors”). It’s full of dangerous ideas that need to be debunked.

The importance of law enforcement

The first third of the speech talks about the importance of law enforcement, as if it’s the only thing standing between us and chaos. It cites the 2016 Mirai attacks as an example of the chaos that will only get worse without stricter law enforcement.

But the Mira case demonstrated the opposite, how law enforcement is not needed. They made no arrests in the case. A year later, they still haven’t a clue who did it.

Conversely, we technologists have fixed the major infrastructure issues. Specifically, those affected by the DNS outage have moved to multiple DNS providers, including a high-capacity DNS provider like Google and Amazon who can handle such large attacks easily.

In other words, we the people fixed the major Mirai problem, and law-enforcement didn’t.

Moreover, instead being a solution to cyber threats, law enforcement has become a threat itself. The DNC didn’t have the FBI investigate the attacks from Russia likely because they didn’t want the FBI reading all their files, finding wrongdoing by the DNC. It’s not that they did anything actually wrong, but it’s more like that famous quote from Richelieu “Give me six words written by the most honest of men and I’ll find something to hang him by”. Give all your internal emails over to the FBI and I’m certain they’ll find something to hang you by, if they want.
Or consider the case of Andrew Auernheimer. He found AT&T’s website made public user accounts of the first iPad, so he copied some down and posted them to a news site. AT&T had denied the problem, so making the problem public was the only way to force them to fix it. Such access to the website was legal, because AT&T had made the data public. However, prosecutors disagreed. In order to protect the powerful, they twisted and perverted the law to put Auernheimer in jail.

It’s not that law enforcement is bad, it’s that it’s not the unalloyed good Rosenstein imagines. When law enforcement becomes the thing Rosenstein describes, it means we live in a police state.

Where law enforcement can’t go

Rosenstein repeats the frequent claim in the encryption debate:

Our society has never had a system where evidence of criminal wrongdoing was totally impervious to detection

Of course our society has places “impervious to detection”, protected by both legal and natural barriers.

An example of a legal barrier is how spouses can’t be forced to testify against each other. This barrier is impervious.

A better example, though, is how so much of government, intelligence, the military, and law enforcement itself is impervious. If prosecutors could gather evidence everywhere, then why isn’t Rosenstein prosecuting those guilty of CIA torture?

Oh, you say, government is a special exception. If that were the case, then why did Rosenstein dedicate a precious third of his speech discussing the “rule of law” and how it applies to everyone, “protecting people from abuse by the government”. It obviously doesn’t, there’s one rule of government and a different rule for the people, and the rule for government means there’s lots of places law enforcement can’t go to gather evidence.

Likewise, the crypto backdoor Rosenstein is demanding for citizens doesn’t apply to the President, Congress, the NSA, the Army, or Rosenstein himself.

Then there are the natural barriers. The police can’t read your mind. They can only get the evidence that is there, like partial fingerprints, which are far less reliable than full fingerprints. They can’t go backwards in time.

I mention this because encryption is a natural barrier. It’s their job to overcome this barrier if they can, to crack crypto and so forth. It’s not our job to do it for them.

It’s like the camera that increasingly comes with TVs for video conferencing, or the microphone on Alexa-style devices that are always recording. This suddenly creates evidence that the police want our help in gathering, such as having the camera turned on all the time, recording to disk, in case the police later gets a warrant, to peer backward in time what happened in our living rooms. The “nothing is impervious” argument applies here as well. And it’s equally bogus here. By not helping police by not recording our activities, we aren’t somehow breaking some long standing tradit

And this is the scary part. It’s not that we are breaking some ancient tradition that there’s no place the police can’t go (with a warrant). Instead, crypto backdoors breaking the tradition that never before have I been forced to help them eavesdrop on me, even before I’m a suspect, even before any crime has been committed. Sure, laws like CALEA force the phone companies to help the police against wrongdoers — but here Rosenstein is insisting I help the police against myself.

Balance between privacy and public safety

Rosenstein repeats the frequent claim that encryption upsets the balance between privacy/safety:

Warrant-proof encryption defeats the constitutional balance by elevating privacy above public safety.

This is laughable, because technology has swung the balance alarmingly in favor of law enforcement. Far from “Going Dark” as his side claims, the problem we are confronted with is “Going Light”, where the police state monitors our every action.

You are surrounded by recording devices. If you walk down the street in town, outdoor surveillance cameras feed police facial recognition systems. If you drive, automated license plate readers can track your route. If you make a phone call or use a credit card, the police get a record of the transaction. If you stay in a hotel, they demand your ID, for law enforcement purposes.

And that’s their stuff, which is nothing compared to your stuff. You are never far from a recording device you own, such as your mobile phone, TV, Alexa/Siri/OkGoogle device, laptop. Modern cars from the last few years increasingly have always-on cell connections and data recorders that record your every action (and location).

Even if you hike out into the country, when you get back, the FBI can subpoena your GPS device to track down your hidden weapon’s cache, or grab the photos from your camera.

And this is all offline. So much of what we do is now online. Of the photographs you own, fewer than 1% are printed out, the rest are on your computer or backed up to the cloud.

Your phone is also a GPS recorder of your exact position all the time, which if the government wins the Carpenter case, they police can grab without a warrant. Tagging all citizens with a recording device of their position is not “balance” but the premise for a novel more dystopic than 1984.

If suspected of a crime, which would you rather the police searched? Your person, houses, papers, and physical effects? Or your mobile phone, computer, email, and online/cloud accounts?

The balance of privacy and safety has swung so far in favor of law enforcement that rather than debating whether they should have crypto backdoors, we should be debating how to add more privacy protections.

“But it’s not conclusive”

Rosenstein defends the “going light” (“Golden Age of Surveillance”) by pointing out it’s not always enough for conviction. Nothing gives a conviction better than a person’s own words admitting to the crime that were captured by surveillance. This other data, while copious, often fails to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
This is nonsense. Police got along well enough before the digital age, before such widespread messaging. They solved terrorist and child abduction cases just fine in the 1980s. Sure, somebody’s GPS location isn’t by itself enough — until you go there and find all the buried bodies, which leads to a conviction. “Going dark” imagines that somehow, the evidence they’ve been gathering for centuries is going away. It isn’t. It’s still here, and matches up with even more digital evidence.
Conversely, a person’s own words are not as conclusive as you think. There’s always missing context. We quickly get back to the Richelieu “six words” problem, where captured communications are twisted to convict people, with defense lawyers trying to untwist them.

Rosenstein’s claim may be true, that a lot of criminals will go free because the other electronic data isn’t convincing enough. But I’d need to see that claim backed up with hard studies, not thrown out for emotional impact.

Terrorists and child molesters

You can always tell the lack of seriousness of law enforcement when they bring up terrorists and child molesters.
To be fair, sometimes we do need to talk about terrorists. There are things unique to terrorism where me may need to give government explicit powers to address those unique concerns. For example, the NSA buys mobile phone 0day exploits in order to hack terrorist leaders in tribal areas. This is a good thing.
But when terrorists use encryption the same way everyone else does, then it’s not a unique reason to sacrifice our freedoms to give the police extra powers. Either it’s a good idea for all crimes or no crimes — there’s nothing particular about terrorism that makes it an exceptional crime. Dead people are dead. Any rational view of the problem relegates terrorism to be a minor problem. More citizens have died since September 8, 2001 from their own furniture than from terrorism. According to studies, the hot water from the tap is more of a threat to you than terrorists.
Yes, government should do what they can to protect us from terrorists, but no, it’s not so bad of a threat that requires the imposition of a military/police state. When people use terrorism to justify their actions, it’s because they trying to form a military/police state.
A similar argument works with child porn. Here’s the thing: the pervs aren’t exchanging child porn using the services Rosenstein wants to backdoor, like Apple’s Facetime or Facebook’s WhatsApp. Instead, they are exchanging child porn using custom services they build themselves.
Again, I’m (mostly) on the side of the FBI. I support their idea of buying 0day exploits in order to hack the web browsers of visitors to the secret “PlayPen” site. This is something that’s narrow to this problem and doesn’t endanger the innocent. On the other hand, their calls for crypto backdoors endangers the innocent while doing effectively nothing to address child porn.
Terrorists and child molesters are a clichéd, non-serious excuse to appeal to our emotions to give up our rights. We should not give in to such emotions.

Definition of “backdoor”

Rosenstein claims that we shouldn’t call backdoors “backdoors”:

No one calls any of those functions [like key recovery] a “back door.”  In fact, those capabilities are marketed and sought out by many users.

He’s partly right in that we rarely refer to PGP’s key escrow feature as a “backdoor”.

But that’s because the term “backdoor” refers less to how it’s done and more to who is doing it. If I set up a recovery password with Apple, I’m the one doing it to myself, so we don’t call it a backdoor. If it’s the police, spies, hackers, or criminals, then we call it a “backdoor” — even it’s identical technology.

Wikipedia uses the key escrow feature of the 1990s Clipper Chip as a prime example of what everyone means by “backdoor“. By “no one”, Rosenstein is including Wikipedia, which is obviously incorrect.

Though in truth, it’s not going to be the same technology. The needs of law enforcement are different than my personal key escrow/backup needs. In particular, there are unsolvable problems, such as a backdoor that works for the “legitimate” law enforcement in the United States but not for the “illegitimate” police states like Russia and China.

I feel for Rosenstein, because the term “backdoor” does have a pejorative connotation, which can be considered unfair. But that’s like saying the word “murder” is a pejorative term for killing people, or “torture” is a pejorative term for torture. The bad connotation exists because we don’t like government surveillance. I mean, honestly calling this feature “government surveillance feature” is likewise pejorative, and likewise exactly what it is that we are talking about.


Rosenstein focuses his arguments on “providers”, like Snapchat or Apple. But this isn’t the question.

The question is whether a “provider” like Telegram, a Russian company beyond US law, provides this feature. Or, by extension, whether individuals should be free to install whatever software they want, regardless of provider.

Telegram is a Russian company that provides end-to-end encryption. Anybody can download their software in order to communicate so that American law enforcement can’t eavesdrop. They aren’t going to put in a backdoor for the U.S. If we succeed in putting backdoors in Apple and WhatsApp, all this means is that criminals are going to install Telegram.

If the, for some reason, the US is able to convince all such providers (including Telegram) to install a backdoor, then it still doesn’t solve the problem, as uses can just build their own end-to-end encryption app that has no provider. It’s like email: some use the major providers like GMail, others setup their own email server.

Ultimately, this means that any law mandating “crypto backdoors” is going to target users not providers. Rosenstein tries to make a comparison with what plain-old telephone companies have to do under old laws like CALEA, but that’s not what’s happening here. Instead, for such rules to have any effect, they have to punish users for what they install, not providers.

This continues the argument I made above. Government backdoors is not something that forces Internet services to eavesdrop on us — it forces us to help the government spy on ourselves.
Rosenstein tries to address this by pointing out that it’s still a win if major providers like Apple and Facetime are forced to add backdoors, because they are the most popular, and some terrorists/criminals won’t move to alternate platforms. This is false. People with good intentions, who are unfairly targeted by a police state, the ones where police abuse is rampant, are the ones who use the backdoored products. Those with bad intentions, who know they are guilty, will move to the safe products. Indeed, Telegram is already popular among terrorists because they believe American services are already all backdoored. 
Rosenstein is essentially demanding the innocent get backdoored while the guilty don’t. This seems backwards. This is backwards.

Apple is morally weak

The reason I’m writing this post is because Rosenstein makes a few claims that cannot be ignored. One of them is how he describes Apple’s response to government insistence on weakening encryption doing the opposite, strengthening encryption. He reasons this happens because:

Of course they [Apple] do. They are in the business of selling products and making money. 

We [the DoJ] use a different measure of success. We are in the business of preventing crime and saving lives. 

He swells in importance. His condescending tone ennobles himself while debasing others. But this isn’t how things work. He’s not some white knight above the peasantry, protecting us. He’s a beat cop, a civil servant, who serves us.

A better phrasing would have been:

They are in the business of giving customers what they want.

We are in the business of giving voters what they want.

Both sides are doing the same, giving people what they want. Yes, voters want safety, but they also want privacy. Rosenstein imagines that he’s free to ignore our demands for privacy as long has he’s fulfilling his duty to protect us. He has explicitly rejected what people want, “we use a different measure of success”. He imagines it’s his job to tell us where the balance between privacy and safety lies. That’s not his job, that’s our job. We, the people (and our representatives), make that decision, and it’s his job is to do what he’s told. His measure of success is how well he fulfills our wishes, not how well he satisfies his imagined criteria.

That’s why those of us on this side of the debate doubt the good intentions of those like Rosenstein. He criticizes Apple for wanting to protect our rights/freedoms, and declare they measure success differently.

They are willing to be vile

Rosenstein makes this argument:

Companies are willing to make accommodations when required by the government. Recent media reports suggest that a major American technology company developed a tool to suppress online posts in certain geographic areas in order to embrace a foreign government’s censorship policies. 

Let me translate this for you:

Companies are willing to acquiesce to vile requests made by police-states. Therefore, they should acquiesce to our vile police-state requests.

It’s Rosenstein who is admitting here is that his requests are those of a police-state.

Constitutional Rights

Rosenstein says:

There is no constitutional right to sell warrant-proof encryption.

Maybe. It’s something the courts will have to decide. There are many 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Amendment issues here.
The reason we have the Bill of Rights is because of the abuses of the British Government. For example, they quartered troops in our homes, as a way of punishing us, and as a way of forcing us to help in our own oppression. The troops weren’t there to defend us against the French, but to defend us against ourselves, to shoot us if we got out of line.

And that’s what crypto backdoors do. We are forced to be agents of our own oppression. The principles enumerated by Rosenstein apply to a wide range of even additional surveillance. With little change to his speech, it can equally argue why the constant TV video surveillance from 1984 should be made law.

Let’s go back and look at Apple. It is not some base company exploiting consumers for profit. Apple doesn’t have guns, they cannot make people buy their product. If Apple doesn’t provide customers what they want, then customers vote with their feet, and go buy an Android phone. Apple isn’t providing encryption/security in order to make a profit — it’s giving customers what they want in order to stay in business.
Conversely, if we citizens don’t like what the government does, tough luck, they’ve got the guns to enforce their edicts. We can’t easily vote with our feet and walk to another country. A “democracy” is far less democratic than capitalism. Apple is a minority, selling phones to 45% of the population, and that’s fine, the minority get the phones they want. In a Democracy, where citizens vote on the issue, those 45% are screwed, as the 55% impose their will unwanted onto the remainder.

That’s why we have the Bill of Rights, to protect the 49% against abuse by the 51%. Regardless whether the Supreme Court agrees the current Constitution, it is the sort right that might exist regardless of what the Constitution says. 

Obliged to speak the truth

Here is the another part of his speech that I feel cannot be ignored. We have to discuss this:

Those of us who swear to protect the rule of law have a different motivation.  We are obliged to speak the truth.

The truth is that “going dark” threatens to disable law enforcement and enable criminals and terrorists to operate with impunity.

This is not true. Sure, he’s obliged to say the absolute truth, in court. He’s also obliged to be truthful in general about facts in his personal life, such as not lying on his tax return (the sort of thing that can get lawyers disbarred).

But he’s not obliged to tell his spouse his honest opinion whether that new outfit makes them look fat. Likewise, Rosenstein knows his opinion on public policy doesn’t fall into this category. He can say with impunity that either global warming doesn’t exist, or that it’ll cause a biblical deluge within 5 years. Both are factually untrue, but it’s not going to get him fired.

And this particular claim is also exaggerated bunk. While everyone agrees encryption makes law enforcement’s job harder than with backdoors, nobody honestly believes it can “disable” law enforcement. While everyone agrees that encryption helps terrorists, nobody believes it can enable them to act with “impunity”.

I feel bad here. It’s a terrible thing to question your opponent’s character this way. But Rosenstein made this unavoidable when he clearly, with no ambiguity, put his integrity as Deputy Attorney General on the line behind the statement that “going dark threatens to disable law enforcement and enable criminals and terrorists to operate with impunity”. I feel it’s a bald face lie, but you don’t need to take my word for it. Read his own words yourself and judge his integrity.


Rosenstein’s speech includes repeated references to ideas like “oath”, “honor”, and “duty”. It reminds me of Col. Jessup’s speech in the movie “A Few Good Men”.

If you’ll recall, it was rousing speech, “you want me on that wall” and “you use words like honor as a punchline”. Of course, since he was violating his oath and sending two privates to death row in order to avoid being held accountable, it was Jessup himself who was crapping on the concepts of “honor”, “oath”, and “duty”.

And so is Rosenstein. He imagines himself on that wall, doing albeit terrible things, justified by his duty to protect citizens. He imagines that it’s he who is honorable, while the rest of us not, even has he utters bald faced lies to further his own power and authority.

We activists oppose crypto backdoors not because we lack honor, or because we are criminals, or because we support terrorists and child molesters. It’s because we value privacy and government officials who get corrupted by power. It’s not that we fear Trump becoming a dictator, it’s that we fear bureaucrats at Rosenstein’s level becoming drunk on authority — which Rosenstein demonstrably has. His speech is a long train of corrupt ideas pursuing the same object of despotism — a despotism we oppose.

In other words, we oppose crypto backdoors because it’s not a tool of law enforcement, but a tool of despotism.

Microcell through a mobile hotspot

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

I accidentally acquired a tree farm 20 minutes outside of town. For utilities, it gets electricity and basic phone. It doesn’t get water, sewer, cable, or DSL (i.e. no Internet). Also, it doesn’t really get cell phone service. While you can get SMS messages up there, you usually can’t get a call connected, or hold a conversation if it does.

We have found a solution — an evil solution. We connect an AT&T “Microcell“, which provides home cell phone service through your Internet connection, to an AT&T Mobile Hotspot, which provides an Internet connection through your cell phone service.

Now, you may be laughing at this, because it’s a circular connection. It’s like trying to make a sailboat go by blowing on the sails, or lifting up a barrel to lighten the load in the boat.

But it actually works.

Since we get some, but not enough, cellular signal, we setup a mast 20 feet high with a directional antenna pointed to the cell tower 7.5 miles to the southwest, connected to a signal amplifier. It’s still an imperfect solution, as we are still getting terrain distortions in the signal, but it provides a good enough signal-to-noise ratio to get a solid connection.

We then connect that directional antenna directly to a high-end Mobile Hotspot. This gives us a solid 2mbps connection with a latency under 30milliseconds. This is far lower than the 50mbps you can get right next to a 4G/LTE tower, but it’s still pretty good for our purposes.

We then connect the AT&T Microcell to the Mobile Hotspot, via WiFi.

To avoid the circular connection, we lock the frequencies for the Mobile Hotspot to 4G/LTE, and to 3G for the Microcell. This prevents the Mobile Hotspot locking onto the strong 3G signal from the Microcell. It also prevents the two from causing noise to the other.

This works really great. We now get a strong cell signal on our phones even 400 feet from the house through some trees. We can be all over the property, out in the lake, down by the garden, and so on, and have our phones work as normal. It’s only AT&T, but that’s what the whole family uses.

You might be asking why we didn’t just use a normal signal amplifier, like they use on corporate campus. It boosts all the analog frequencies, making any cell phone service works.

We’ve tried this, and it works a bit, allowing cell phones to work inside the house pretty well. But they don’t work outside the house, which is where we spend a lot of time. In addition, while our newer phones work, my sister’s iPhone 5 doesn’t. We have no idea what’s going on. Presumably, we could hire professional installers and stuff to get everything working, but nobody would quote us a price lower than $25,000 to even come look at the property.

Another possible solution is satellite Internet. There are two satellites in orbit that cover the United States with small “spot beams” delivering high-speed service (25mbps downloads). However, the latency is 500milliseconds, which makes it impractical for low-latency applications like phone calls.

While I know a lot about the technology in theory, I find myself hopelessly clueless in practice. I’ve been playing with SDR (“software defined radio”) to try to figure out exactly where to locate and point the directional antenna, but I’m not sure I’ve come up with anything useful. In casual tests, it seems rotating the antenna from vertical to horizontal increases the signal-to-noise ratio a bit, which seems counter intuitive, and should not happen. So I’m completely lost.

Anyway, I thought I’d write this up as a blogpost, in case anybody has better suggestion. Or, instead of signals, suggestions to get wired connectivity. Properties a half mile away get DSL, I wish I knew who to talk to at the local phone company to pay them money to extend Internet to our property.

Phone works in all this area now

Browser hacking for 280 character tweets

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

Twitter has raised the limit to 280 characters for a select number of people. However, they left open a hole, allowing anybody to make large tweets with a little bit of hacking. The hacking skills needed are basic hacking skills, which I thought I’d write up in a blog post.

Specifically, the skills you will exercise are:

  • basic command-line shell
  • basic HTTP requests
  • basic browser DOM editing

The short instructions

The basic instructions were found in tweets like the following:
These instructions are clear to the average hacker, but of course, a bit difficult for those learning hacking, hence this post.

The command-line

The basics of most hacking start with knowledge of the command-line. This is the “Terminal” app under macOS or cmd.exe under Windows. Almost always when you see hacking dramatized in the movies, they are using the command-line.
In the beginning, the command-line is all computers had. To do anything on a computer, you had to type a “command” telling it what to do. What we see as the modern graphical screen is a layer on top of the command-line, one that translates clicks of the mouse into the raw commands.
On most systems, the command-line is known as “bash”. This is what you’ll find on Linux and macOS. Windows historically has had a different command-line that uses slightly different syntax, though in the last couple years, they’ve also supported “bash”. You’ll have to install it first, such as by following these instructions.
You’ll see me use command that may not be yet installed on your “bash” command-line, like nc and curl. You’ll need to run a command to install them, such as:
sudo apt-get install nc curl
The thing to remember about the command-line is that the mouse doesn’t work. You can’t click to move the cursor as you normally do in applications. That’s because the command-line predates the mouse by decades. Instead, you have to use arrow keys.
I’m not going to spend much effort discussing the command-line, as a complete explanation is beyond the scope of this document. Instead, I’m assuming the reader either already knows it, or will learn-from-example as we go along.

Web requests

The basics of how the web works are really simple. A request to a web server is just a small packet of text, such as the following, which does a search on Google for the search-term “penguin” (presumably, you are interested in knowing more about penguins):
GET /search?q=penguin HTTP/1.0
User-Agent: human
The command we are sending to the server is GET, meaning get a page. We are accessing the URL /search, which on Google’s website, is how you do a search. We are then sending the parameter q with the value penguin. We also declare that we are using version 1.0 of the HTTP (hyper-text transfer protocol).
Following the first line there are a number of additional headers. In one header, we declare the Host name that we are accessing. Web servers can contain many different websites, with different names, so this header is usually imporant.
We also add the User-Agent header. The “user-agent” means the “browser” that you use, like Edge, Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. It allows servers to send content optimized for different browsers. Since we are sending web requests without a browser here, we are joking around saying human.
Here’s what happens when we use the nc program to send this to a google web server:
The first part is us typing, until we hit the [enter] key to create a blank line. After that point is the response from the Google server. We get back a result code (OK), followed by more headers from the server, and finally the contents of the webpage, which goes on from many screens. (We’ll talk about what web pages look like below).
Note that a lot of HTTP headers are optional and really have little influence on what’s going on. They are just junk added to web requests. For example, we see Google report a P3P header is some relic of 2002 that nobody uses anymore, as far as I can tell. Indeed, if you follow the URL in the P3P header, Google pretty much says exactly that.
I point this out because the request I show above is a simplified one. In practice, most requests contain a lot more headers, especially Cookie headers. We’ll see that later when making requests.

Using cURL instead

Sending the raw HTTP request to the server, and getting raw HTTP/HTML back, is annoying. The better way of doing this is with the tool known as cURL, or plainly, just curl. You may be familiar with the older command-line tools wget. cURL is similar, but more flexible.
To use curl for the experiment above, we’d do something like the following. We are saving the web page to “penguin.html” instead of just spewing it on the screen.
Underneath, cURL builds an HTTP header just like the one we showed above, and sends it to the server, getting the response back.


Now let’s talk about web pages. When you look at the web page we got back from Google while searching for “penguin”, you’ll see that it’s intimidatingly complex. I mean, it intimidates me. But it all starts from some basic principles, so we’ll look at some simpler examples.
The following is text of a simple web page:
<p>This is a simple web page</p>
This is HTML, “hyper-text markup language”. As it’s name implies, we “markup” text, such as declaring the first text as a level-1 header (H1), and the following text as a paragraph (P).
In a web browser, this gets rendered as something that looks like the following. Notice how a header is formatted differently from a paragraph. Also notice that web browsers can use local files as well as make remote requests to web servers:
You can right-mouse click on the page and do a “View Source”. This will show the raw source behind the web page:
Web pages don’t just contain marked-up text. They contain two other important features, style information that dictates how things appear, and script that does all the live things that web pages do, from which we build web apps.
So let’s add a little bit of style and scripting to our web page. First, let’s view the source we’ll be adding:
In our header (H1) field, we’ve added the attribute to the markup giving this an id of mytitle. In the style section above, we give that element a color of blue, and tell it to align to the center.
Then, in our script section, we’ve told it that when somebody clicks on the element “mytitle”, it should send an “alert” message of “hello”.
This is what our web page now looks like, with the center blue title:
When we click on the title, we get a popup alert:
Thus, we see an example of the three components of a webpage: markup, style, and scripting.

Chrome developer tools

Now we go off the deep end. Right-mouse click on “Test” (not normal click, but right-button click, to pull up a menu). Select “Inspect”.
You should now get a window that looks something like the following. Chrome splits the screen in half, showing the web page on the left, and it’s debug tools on the right.
This looks similar to what “View Source” shows, but it isn’t. Instead, it’s showing how Chrome interpreted the source HTML. For example, our style/script tags should’ve been marked up with a head (header) tag. We forgot it, but Chrome adds it in anyway.
What Google is showing us is called the DOM, or document object model. It shows us all the objects that make up a web page, and how they fit together.
For example, it shows us how the style information for #mytitle is created. It first starts with the default style information for an h1 tag, and then how we’ve changed it with our style specifications.
We can edit the DOM manually. Just double click on things you want to change. For example, in this screen shot, I’ve changed the style spec from blue to red, and I’ve changed the header and paragraph test. The original file on disk hasn’t changed, but I’ve changed the DOM in memory.
This is a classic hacking technique. If you don’t like things like paywalls, for example, just right-click on the element blocking your view of the text, “Inspect” it, then delete it. (This works for some paywalls).
This edits the markup and style info, but changing the scripting stuff is a bit more complicated. To do that, click on the [Console] tab. This is the scripting console, and allows you to run code directly as part of the webpage. We are going to run code that resets what happens when we click on the title. In this case, we are simply going to change the message to “goodbye”.
Now when we click on the title, we indeed get the message:
Again, a common way to get around paywalls is to run some code like that that change which functions will be called.

Putting it all together

Now let’s put this all together in order to hack Twitter to allow us (the non-chosen) to tweet 280 characters. Review Dildog’s instructions above.
The first step is to get to Chrome Developer Tools. Dildog suggests F12. I suggest right-clicking on the Tweet button (or Reply button, as I use in my example) and doing “Inspect”, as I describe above.
You’ll now see your screen split in half, with the DOM toward the right, similar to how I describe above. However, Twitter’s app is really complex. Well, not really complex, it’s all basic stuff when you come right down to it. It’s just so much stuff — it’s a large web app with lots of parts. So we have to dive in without understanding everything that’s going on.
The Tweet/Reply button we are inspecting is going to look like this in the DOM:
The Tweet/Reply button is currently greyed out because it has the “disabled” attribute. You need to double click on it and remove that attribute. Also, in the class attribute, there is also a “disabled” part. Double-click, then click on that and removed just that disabled as well, without impacting the stuff around it. This should change the button from disabled to enabled. It won’t be greyed out, and it’ll respond when you click on it.
Now click on it. You’ll get an error message, as shown below:
What we’ve done here is bypass what’s known as client-side validation. The script in the web page prevented sending Tweets longer than 140 characters. Our editing of the DOM changed that, allowing us to send a bad request to the server. Bypassing client-side validation this way is the source of a lot of hacking.
But Twitter still does server-side validation as well. They know any client-side validation can be bypassed, and are in on the joke. They tell us hackers “You’ll have to be more clever”. So let’s be more clever.
In order to make longer 280 characters tweets work for select customers, they had to change something on the server-side. The thing they added was adding a “weighted_character_count=true” to the HTTP request. We just need to repeat the request we generated above, adding this parameter.
In theory, we can do this by fiddling with the scripting. The way Dildog describes does it a different way. He copies the request out of the browser, edits it, then send it via the command-line using curl.
We’ve used the [Elements] and [Console] tabs in Chrome’s DevTools. Now we are going to use the [Network] tab. This lists all the requests the web page has made to the server. The twitter app is constantly making requests to refresh the content of the web page. The request we made trying to do a long tweet is called “create”, and is red, because it failed.
Google Chrome gives us a number of ways to duplicate the request. The most useful is that it copies it as a full cURL command we can just paste onto the command-line. We don’t even need to know cURL, it takes care of everything for us. On Windows, since you have two command-lines, it gives you a choice to use the older Windows cmd.exe, or the newer bash.exe. I use the bash version, since I don’t know where to get the Windows command-line version of cURL.exe.
There’s a lot of going on here. The first thing to notice is the long xxxxxx strings. That’s actually not in the original screenshot. I edited the picture. That’s because these are session-cookies. If inserted them into your browser, you’d hijack my Twitter session, and be able to tweet as me (such as making Carlos Danger style tweets). Therefore, I have to remove them from the example.
At the top of the screen is the URL that we are accessing, which is Much of the rest of the screen uses the cURL -H option to add a header. These are all the HTTP headers that I describe above. Finally, at the bottom, is the –data section, which contains the data bits related to the tweet, especially the tweet itself.
We need to edit either the URL above to read, or we need to add &weighted_character_count=true to the –data section at the bottom (either works). Remember: mouse doesn’t work on command-line, so you have to use the cursor-keys to navigate backwards in the line. Also, since the line is larger than the screen, it’s on several visual lines, even though it’s all a single line as far as the command-line is concerned.
Now just hit [return] on your keyboard, and the tweet will be sent to the server, which at the moment, works. Presto!
Twitter will either enable or disable the feature for everyone in a few weeks, at which point, this post won’t work. But the reason I’m writing this is to demonstrate the basic hacking skills. We manipulate the web pages we receive from servers, and we manipulate what’s sent back from our browser back to the server.

Easier: hack the scripting

Instead of messing with the DOM and editing the HTTP request, the better solution would be to change the scripting that does both DOM client-side validation and HTTP request generation. The only reason Dildog above didn’t do that is that it’s a lot more work trying to find where all this happens.
Others have, though. @Zemnmez did just that, though his technique works for the alternate TweetDeck client ( instead of the default client. Go copy his code from here, then paste it into the DevTools scripting [Console]. It’ll go in an replace some scripting functions, such like my simpler example above.
The console is showing a stream of error messages, because TweetDeck has bugs, ignore those.
Now you can effortlessly do long tweets as normal, without all the messing around I’ve spent so much text in this blog post describing.
Now, as I’ve mentioned this before, you are only editing what’s going on in the current web page. If you refresh this page, or close it, everything will be lost. You’ll have to re-open the DevTools scripting console and repaste the code. The easier way of doing this is to use the [Sources] tab instead of [Console] and use the “Snippets” feature to save this bit of code in your browser, to make it easier next time.
The even easier way is to use Chrome extensions like TamperMonkey and GreaseMonkey that’ll take care of this for you. They’ll save the script, and automatically run it when they see you open the TweetDeck webpage again.
An even easier way is to use one of the several Chrome extensions written in the past day specifically designed to bypass the 140 character limit. Since the purpose of this blog post is to show you how to tamper with your browser yourself, rather than help you with Twitter, I won’t list them.


Tampering with the web-page the server gives you, and the data you send back, is a basic hacker skill. In truth, there is a lot to this. You have to get comfortable with the command-line, using tools like cURL. You have to learn how HTTP requests work. You have to understand how web pages are built from markup, style, and scripting. You have to be comfortable using Chrome’s DevTools for messing around with web page elements, network requests, scripting console, and scripting sources.
So it’s rather a lot, actually.
My hope with this page is to show you a practical application of all this, without getting too bogged down in fully explaining how every bit works.

5 years with home NAS/RAID

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

I have lots of data-sets (packet-caps, internet-scans), so I need a large RAID system to hole it all. As I described in 2012, I bought a home “NAS” system. I thought I’d give the 5 year perspective.

Reliability. I had two drives fail, which is about to be expected. Buying a new drive, swapping it in, and rebuilding the RAID went painless, though that’s because I used RAID6 (two drive redundancy). RAID5 (one drive redundancy) is for chumps.

Speed. I’ve been unhappy with the speed, but there’s not much I can do about it. Mechanical drives access times are slow, and I don’t see any way of fixing that.

Cost. It’s been $3000 over 5 years (including the two replacement drives). That comes out to $50/month. Amazon’s “Glacier” service is $108/month. Since we all have the same hardware costs, it’s unlikely that any online cloud storage can do better than doing it yourself.

Moore’s Law. For the same price as I spent 5 years ago, I can now get three times the storage, including faster processors in the NAS box. From that perspective, I’ve only spent $33/month on storage, as the remaining third still has value.

Ease-of-use: The reason to go with a NAS is ease-of-use, so I don’t have to mess with it. Yes, I’m a Linux sysadmin, but I have more than enough Linux boxen needing my attention. The NAS has been extremely easy to use, even dealing with the two disk failures.

Battery backup. The cheap $50 CyberPower UPS I bought never worked well and completely failed recently, so I’ve ordered a $150 APC unit to replace it.

Vendor. I chose Synology, and have no reason to complain. Of course they’ve had security vulnerabilities, but then, so have all their competition.

DLNA. This is a standard for streaming music among home devices. It never worked well. I suspect partly it’s Synology’s fault that they can’t transcode well. I suspect it’s also the apps I tried on the iPad which have obvious problems. I end up streaming to the iPad by simply using the SMB protocol to serve files rather than a video protocol.

Consumer vs. enterprise drives. I chose consumer rather than enterprise drives. I think this is always the best choice (RAID means inexpensive drives). But very smart people with experience in recovering data disagree with me.

If you are in the market. If you are building your own NAS, get a 4 or 5 bay device and RAID6. Two-drive redundancy is really important.

People can’t read (Equifax edition)

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

One of these days I’m going to write a guide for journalists reporting on the cyber. One of the items I’d stress is that they often fail to read the text of what is being said, but instead read some sort of subtext that wasn’t explicitly said. This is valid sometimes — as the subtext is what the writer intended all along, even if they didn’t explicitly write it. Other times, though the imagined subtext is not what the writer intended at all.

A good example is the recent Equifax breach. The original statement says:

Equifax Inc. (NYSE: EFX) today announced a cybersecurity incident potentially impacting approximately 143 million U.S. consumers.

The word consumers was widely translated to customers, as in this Bloomberg story:

Equifax Inc. said its systems were struck by a cyberattack that may have affected about 143 million U.S. customers of the credit reporting agency

But these aren’t the same thing. Equifax is a credit rating agency, keeping data on people who are not its own customers. It’s an important difference.

Another good example is yesterday’s quote “confirming” that the “Apache Struts” vulnerability was to blame:

Equifax has been intensely investigating the scope of the intrusion with the assistance of a leading, independent cybersecurity firm to determine what information was accessed and who has been impacted. We know that criminals exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability. The vulnerability was Apache Struts CVE-2017-5638.

But it doesn’t confirm Struts was responsible. Blaming Struts is certainly the subtext of this paragraph, but it’s not the text. It mentions that criminals had exploited the Struts vulnerability, but don’t actually connect the dots to the breach we are all talking about.

There’s probably reasons for this. While it’s easy for forensics to find evidence of Struts exploitation in logfiles, it’s much harder to connect this to the breach. While they suspect Struts, they may not actually be able to confirm it. Or, maybe they are trying to cover things up, where they feel failing to patch is a lesser crime than what they really did.

It’s at this point journalists should earn their pay. Instead rewriting what they read on the Internet, they could do legwork and call up Equifax PR and ask.

The purpose of this post isn’t to discuss Equifax, but the tendency of people to “read between the lines”, to read some subtext that wasn’t actually expressed in the text. Sometimes the subtext is legitimately there, such as how Equifax clearly intends people to blame Struts thought they don’t say it outright. Sometimes the subtext isn’t there, such as how Equifax doesn’t mean it’s own customers, only “U.S. consumers”. Journalists need to be careful about making assumptions about the subtext.

Update: The Equifax CSO has a degree in music. Some people have criticized this. Most people have defended this, pointing out that almost nobody has an “infosec” degree in our industry, and many of the top people have no degree at all. Among others, @thegrugq has pointed out that infosec degrees are only a few years old — they weren’t around 20 years ago when today’s corporate officers were getting their degrees.

Again, we have the text/subtext problem, where people interpret infosec degrees as being the same as computer-science degrees, the later of which have existed for decades. Some, as in this case, consider them to be wildly different. Others consider them to be nearly the same.

State of MAC address randomization

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

tldr: I went to DragonCon, a conference of 85,000 people, so sniff WiFi packets and test how many phones now uses MAC address randomization. Almost all iPhones nowadays do, but it seems only a third of Android phones do.

Ten years ago at BlackHat, we presented the “data seepage” problem, how the broadcasts from your devices allow you to be tracked. Among the things we highlighted was how WiFi probes looking to connect to access-points expose the unique hardware address burned into the phone, the MAC address. This hardware address is unique to your phone, shared by no other device in the world. Evildoers, such as the NSA or GRU, could install passive listening devices in airports and train-stations around the world in order to track your movements. This could be done with $25 devices sprinkled around a few thousand places — within the budget of not only a police state, but also the average hacker.

In 2014, with the release of iOS 8, Apple addressed this problem by randomizing the MAC address. Every time you restart your phone, it picks a new, random, hardware address for connecting to WiFi. This causes a few problems: every time you restart your iOS devices, your home network sees a completely new device, which can fill up your router’s connection table. Since that table usually has at least 100 entries, this shouldn’t be a problem for your home, but corporations and other owners of big networks saw their connection tables suddenly get big with iOS 8.

In 2015, Google added the feature to Android as well. However, even though most Android phones today support this feature in theory, it’s usually not enabled.

Recently, I went to DragonCon in order to test out how well this works. DragonCon is a huge sci-fi/fantasy conference in Atlanta in August, second to San Diego’s ComicCon in popularity. It’s spread across several neighboring hotels in the downtown area. A lot of the traffic funnels through the Marriot Marquis hotel, which has a large open area where, from above, you can see thousands of people at a time.

And, with a laptop, see their broadcast packets.

So I went up on a higher floor and setup my laptop in order to capture “probe” broadcasts coming from phones, in order to record the hardware MAC addresses. I’ve done this in years past, before address randomization, in order to record the popularity of iPhones. The first three bytes of an old-style, non-randomized address, identifies the manufacturer. This time, I should see a lot fewer manufacturer IDs, and mostly just random addresses instead.

I recorded 9,095 unique probes over a couple hours. I’m not sure exactly how long — my laptop would go to sleep occasionally because of lack of activity on the keyboard. I should probably setup a Raspberry Pi somewhere next year to get a more consistent result.

A quick summary of the results are:

The 9,000 devices were split almost evenly between Apple and Android. Almost all of the Apple devices randomized their addresses. About a third of the Android devices randomized. (This assumes Android only randomizes the final 3 bytes of the address, and that Apple randomizes all 6 bytes — my assumption may be wrong).

A table of the major results are below. A little explanation:

  • The first item in the table is the number of phones that randomized the full 6 bytes of the MAC address. I’m guessing these are either mostly or all Apple iOS devices. They are nearly half of the total, or 4498 out of 9095 unique probes.
  • The second number is those that randomized the final 3 bytes of the MAC address, but left the first three bytes identifying themselves as Android devices. I’m guessing this represents all the Android devices that randomize. My guesses may be wrong, maybe some Androids randomize the full 6 bytes, which would get them counted in the first number.
  • The following numbers are phones from major Android manufacturers like Motorola, LG, HTC, Huawei, OnePlus, ZTE. Remember: the first 3 bytes of an un-randomized address identifies who made it. There are roughly 2500 of these devices.
  • There is a count for 309 Apple devices. These are either older iOS devices pre iOS 8, or which have turned off the feature (some corporations demand this), or which are actually MacBooks instead of phones.
  • The vendor of the access-points that Marriot uses is “Ruckus”. There have a lot of access-points in the hotel.
  • The “TCT mobile” entry is actually BlackBerry. Apparently, BlackBerry stopped making phones and instead just licenses the software/brand to other hardware makers. If you buy a BlackBerry from the phone store, it’s likely going to be a TCT phone instead.
  • I’m assuming the “Amazon” devices are Kindle ebooks.
  • Lastly, I’d like to point out the two records for “Ford”. I was capturing while walking out of the building, I think I got a few cars driving by.

(random)  4498
(Android)  1562
Samsung  646
Motorola  579
Murata  505
LG  412
Apple  309
HTC-phone  226
Huawei  66
Ruckus  60
OnePlus Tec  40
ZTE  23
TCT mobile  20
Amazon Tech  19
Nintendo  17
Intel  14
Microsoft  9
-hp-  8
BLU Product  8
Kyocera  8
AsusTek  6
Yulong Comp  6
Lite-On  4
Sony Mobile  4
Z-COM, INC.  4
ARRIS Group  2
AzureWave  2
Barnes&Nobl  2
Canon  2
Ford Motor  2
Foxconn  2
Google, Inc  2
Motorola (W  2
Sonos, Inc.  2
SparkLAN Co  2
Wi2Wi, Inc  2
Xiaomi Comm  2
Alps Electr  1
Askey  1
BlackBerry  1
Chi Mei Com  1
Clover Netw  1
CNet Techno  1
eSSys Co.,L  1
GoPro  1
InPro Comm  1
JJPlus Corp  1
Private  1
Quanta  1
Raspberry P  1
Roku, Inc.  1
Sonim Techn  1
Texas Instr  1
Vizio, Inc  1

ROI is not a cybersecurity concept

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

In the cybersecurity community, much time is spent trying to speak the language of business, in order to communicate to business leaders our problems. One way we do this is trying to adapt the concept of “return on investment” or “ROI” to explain why they need to spend more money. Stop doing this. It’s nonsense. ROI is a concept pushed by vendors in order to justify why you should pay money for their snake oil security products. Don’t play the vendor’s game.

The correct concept is simply “risk analysis”. Here’s how it works.

List out all the risks. For each risk, calculate:

  • How often it occurs.
  • How much damage it does.
  • How to mitigate it.
  • How effective the mitigation is (reduces chance and/or cost).
  • How much the mitigation costs.

If you have risk of something that’ll happen once-per-day on average, costing $1000 each time, then a mitigation costing $500/day that reduces likelihood to once-per-week is a clear win for investment.

Now, ROI should in theory fit directly into this model. If you are paying $500/day to reduce that risk, I could use ROI to show you hypothetical products that will …

  • …reduce the remaining risk to once-per-month for an additional $10/day.
  • …replace that $500/day mitigation with a $400/day mitigation.

But this is never done. Companies don’t have a sophisticated enough risk matrix in order to plug in some ROI numbers to reduce cost/risk. Instead, ROI is a calculation is done standalone by a vendor pimping product, or a security engineer building empires within the company.

If you haven’t done risk analysis to begin with (and almost none of you have), then ROI calculations are pointless.

But there are further problems. This is risk analysis as done in industries like oil and gas, which have inanimate risk. Almost all their risks are due to accidental failures, like in the Deep Water Horizon incident. In our industry, cybersecurity, risks are animate — by hackers. Our risk models are based on trying to guess what hackers might do.

An example of this problem is when our drug company jacks up the price of an HIV drug, Anonymous hackers will break in and dump all our financial data, and our CFO will go to jail. A lot of our risks come now from the technical side, but the whims and fads of the hacker community.

Another example is when some Google researcher finds a vuln in WordPress, and our website gets hacked by that three months from now. We have to forecast not only what hackers can do now, but what they might be able to do in the future.

Finally, there is this problem with cybersecurity that we really can’t distinguish between pesky and existential threats. Take ransomware. A lot of large organizations have just gotten accustomed to just wiping a few worker’s machines every day and restoring from backups. It’s a small, pesky problem of little consequence. Then one day a ransomware gets domain admin privileges and takes down the entire business for several weeks, as happened after #nPetya. Inevitably our risk models always come down on the high side of estimates, with us claiming that all threats are existential, when in fact, most companies continue to survive major breaches.

These difficulties with risk analysis leads us to punting on the problem altogether, but that’s not the right answer. No matter how faulty our risk analysis is, we still have to go through the exercise.

One model of how to do this calculation is architecture. We know we need a certain number of toilets per building, even without doing ROI on the value of such toilets. The same is true for a lot of security engineering. We know we need firewalls, encryption, and OWASP hardening, even without specifically doing a calculation. Passwords and session cookies need to go across SSL. That’s the starting point from which we start to analysis risks and mitigations — what we need beyond SSL, for example.

So stop using “ROI”, or worse, the abomination “ROSI”. Start doing risk analysis.

On ISO standardization of blockchains

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

So ISO, the primary international standards organization, is seeking to standardize blockchain technologies. On the surface, this seems a reasonable idea, creating a common standard that everyone can interoperate with.

But it can be silly idea in practice. I mean, it should not be assumed that this is a good thing to do.

The value of official standards

You don’t need the official imprimatur of a government committee for something to be a “standard”. The Internet itself is a prime example of that.

In the 1980s, the ISO and the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) pursued competing standards for creating a world-wide “internet”. The IETF was an informal group of technologist that had essentially no official standing.

The ISO version of the Internet failed. Their process was to bring multiple stakeholders from business, government, and universities together in committees to debate competing interests. The result was something so horrible that it could never work in practice.

The IETF succeeded. It consisted of engineers just building things. Rather than officially “standardized”, these things were “described”, so that others knew enough to build their own version that interoperated. Once lots of different people built interoperating versions of something, then it became a “standard”.

In other words, the way the Internet came to be, standardization followed interoperability — it didn’t create interoperability.

In the end, the ISO gave up on their standards and adopted the IETF standards. The ISO brought no value to the development of Internet standards. Whether they ratified the Internet’s “TCP/IP” standard, ignored it, or condemned it, the Internet would exist today anyway, and a competing ISO-blessed internetwork would not.

The same question exists for blockchain technologies. Groups are off busy innovating quickly, creating their own standards. If the ISO blesses one, or creates its own, it’s unlikely to have any impact on interoperability.

Blockchain vs. chaining blocks

The excitement over blockchains is largely driven by people who don’t know the details, who don’t understand the difference between a blockchain like Bitcoin and the problem they are trying to solve.

Consider a record keeping system, especially public records. Storing them in a blockchain seems like a natural idea.

But in fact, it’s a terrible idea. A Bitcoin-style blockchain has a lot of features you don’t want, like “proof-of-work” signing. It is also missing necessary features, like bulk storage with redundancy (backups). Sure, Bitcoin has redundancy, but by brute force, storing the blockchain in thousands of places around the Internet. This is far from what a public records system would need, which would store a lot more data with far fewer backup copies (fewer than 10).

The only real overlap between Bitcoin and a public records system is a “signing chain”. But this is something that already existed before Bitcoin. It’s what Bitcoin blockchain was built on top of — it’s not the blockchain itself.

It’s like people discovering “cryptography” for the first time when they looked at Bitcoin, ignoring the thousand year history of crypto, and now every time they see a need for “crypto” they think “Bitcoin blockchain”.

Consensus and forking

The entire point of Bitcoin, the reason it was created, was as the antithesis to centralized standardization like ISO. Standardizing blockchains misses the entire point of their existence. The Bitcoin manifesto is that standardization comes from acclamation not proclamation, and that many different standards are preferable to a single one.

This is not just a theoretical idea but one built into Bitcoin’s blockchain technology. “Consensus” is achieved by the proof-of-work mechanism, so that those who do the most work are the ones that drive the consensus. When irreconcilable differences arise, the blockchain “forks”, with each side continuing on with their now non-interoperable blockchains. Such forks are not a sin, but part of the natural evolution.

We saw this with the recent fork of Bitcoin. There are now so many transactions that they exceed the size of blocks. One group chose a change to make transactions smaller. Another group chose a change to make block sizes larger.

It is this problem, of consensus, that is the innovation that Bitcoin created with blockchains, not the chain signing of public transaction records.


What “blockchain standardization” is going to mean in practice is not the blockchain itself, but trying to standardize the Ethereum version. What makes Ethereum different is the “smart contracts” programming language, which has financial institutions excited.

This is a bad idea because from a cybersecurity perspective, Ethereum’s programming language is flawed. Different bugs in “smart contracts” have led to multiple $100-million hacks, such as the infamous “DAO collapse”.

While it has interesting possibilities, we should be scared of standardizing Ethereum’s language before it works.


People who matter are too busy innovating, creating their own blockchain standards. There is little that the ISO can do to improve this. Their official imprimatur is not needed to foster innovation and interoperability — if they are consequential at anything, it’ll just be interfering.

Announcement: IPS code

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

So after 20 years, IBM is killing off my BlackICE code created in April 1998. So it’s time that I rewrite it.

BlackICE was the first “inline” intrusion-detection system, aka. an “intrusion prevention system” or IPS. ISS purchased my company in 2001 and replaced their RealSecure engine with it, and later renamed it Proventia. Then IBM purchased ISS in 2006. Now, they are formally canceling the project and moving customers onto Cisco’s products, which are based on Snort.

So now is a good time to write a replacement. The reason is that BlackICE worked fundamentally differently than Snort, using protocol analysis rather than pattern-matching. In this way, it worked more like Bro than Snort. The biggest benefit of protocol-analysis is speed, making it many times faster than Snort. The second benefit is better detection ability, as I describe in this post on Heartbleed.

So my plan is to create a new project. I’ll be checking in the starter bits into GitHub starting a couple weeks from now. I need to figure out a new name for the project, so I don’t have to rip off a name from William Gibson like I did last time :).

Some notes:

  • Yes, it’ll be GNU open source. I’m a capitalist, so I’ll earn money like snort/nmap dual-licensing it, charging companies who don’t want to open-source their addons. All capitalists GNU license their code.
  • C, not Rust. Sorry, I’m going for extreme scalability. We’ll re-visit this decision later when looking at building protocol parsers.
  • It’ll be 95% compatible with Snort signatures. Their language definition leaves so much ambiguous it’ll be hard to be 100% compatible.
  • It’ll support Snort output as well, though really, Snort’s events suck.
  • Protocol parsers in Lua, so you can use it as a replacement for Bro, writing parsers to extract data you are interested in.
  • Protocol state machine parsers in C, like you see in my Masscan project for X.509.
  • First version IDS only. These days, “inline” means also being able to MitM the SSL stack, so I’m gong to have to think harder on that.
  • Mutli-core worker threads off PF_RING/DPDK/netmap receive queues. Should handle 10gbps, tracking 10 million concurrent connections, with quad-core CPU.
So if you want to contribute to the project, here’s what I need:
  • Requirements from people who work daily with IDS/IPS today. I need you to write up what your products do well that you really like. I need to you write up what they suck at that needs to be fixed. These need to be in some detail.
  • Testing environment to play with. This means having a small server plugged into a real-world link running at a minimum of several gigabits-per-second available for the next year. I’ll sign NDAs related to the data I might see on the network.
  • Coders. I’ll be doing the basic architecture, but protocol parsers, output plugins, etc. will need work. Code will be in C and Lua for the near term. Unfortunately, since I’m going to dual-license, I’ll need waivers before accepting pull requests.
Anyway, follow me on Twitter @erratarob if you want to contribute.

Why that "file-copy" forensics of DNC hack is wrong

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original

People keep asking me about this story about how forensics “experts” have found proof the DNC hack was an inside job, because files were copied at 22-megabytes-per-second, faster than is reasonable for Internet connections.

This story is bogus.
Yes, the forensics is correct that at some point, files were copied at 22-mBps. But there’s no evidence this was the point at Internet transfer out of the DNC.
One point might from one computer to another within the DNC. Indeed, as someone experienced doing this sort of hack, it’s almost certain that at some point, such a copy happened. The computers you are able to hack into are rarely the computers that have the data you want. Instead, you have to copy the data from other computers to the hacked computer, and then exfiltrate the data out of the hacked computer.
Another point might have been from one computer to another within the hacker’s own network, after the data was stolen. As a hacker, I can tell you that I frequently do this. Indeed, as this story points out, the timestamps of the file shows that the 22-mBps copy happened months after the hack was detected.
If the 22-mBps was the copy exfiltrating data, it might not have been from inside the DNC building, but from some cloud service, as this tweet points out. Hackers usually have “staging” servers in the cloud that can talk to other cloud serves at easily 10 times the 22-mBps, even around the world. I have staging servers that will do this, and indeed, have copied files at this data rate. If the DNC had that data or backups in the cloud, this would explain it. 
My point is that while the forensic data-point is good, there’s just a zillion ways of explaining it. It’s silly to insist on only the one explanation that fits your pet theory.
As a side note, you can tell this already from the way the story is told. For example, rather than explain the evidence and let it stand on its own, the stories hype the credentials of those who believe the story, using the “appeal to authority” fallacy.