On 11/24/2014, the Guardians of Peace (#GOP) announced on Reddit that they had hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment’s network, alleging that #GOP had stolen 100 terabytes of data. The stolen data laid out for public consumption in various data dumps around the Internet included both employee information—social security numbers, dates of birth, medical records, salary information—and corporate information—spreadsheets containing Sony layoff information, business plans, their network architecture, movie scripts, and even actual movies—and other confidential information. Then the attackers destroyed data to emphasize that their demands were serious.

While Sony has not commented much publicly except to yank The Interview (formerly scheduled to be released on Christmas Day), there has been considerable speculation on the person or groups responsible. The story—as we know it at this moment—sounds like a movie plot. (Are you listening Sony? When ya gonna make this movie?) There’s spies, hacking, extortion … all the elements of a great plot … except a hero/heroine.

Sony you get to play the whimpering coward sniveling in the corner. Who’s going to step up to be the hero? That’s the question.

As I see it there are four possible hacker group combinations:

  • The North Koreans hacked Sony because of the movie Sony produced called The Interview. It’s a comedy, and probably not a very good one.
  • One or more disgruntled Sony employees took the data. How many people has Sony laid-off?
  • The North Koreans and the disgruntled employee group separately hacked Sony.
  • The North Koreans managed to get someone inside Sony.

In my opinion, in order to steal this much data, someone inside Sony had to help. Also, the data sounds like it’s very organized. Whoever stole it knew where to look and what to take and what to post first to make it hurt. And it has a personal feel to it. No, it’s more than the North Koreans.

For a more in-depth analysis of the hackers, read Why the Sony hack is unlikely to be the work of North Korea.

North Korea: if you’re reading this, it’s just a movie. There have been several movies made about US presidents getting assassinated; here’s a few:

And of course, Wag the Dog cannot be left out of any movie list that discusses the death of a president’s political life.

I agree with President Obama that pulling the movie was a mistake.

However, there are some lessons we can all learn here:

  • Email is not private. Before you send any email, decide how you would feel if it ended up on the front page of the New York Times.
  • This is not the first time Sony has been publicly hacked. Remember the PlayStation Network debacle in April 2011, which affected 77 million customer accounts? This was followed by an attack May 2, 2011, on 24.5 million accounts at Sony Online Entertainment. Did Sony learn anything from those two incidents? Apparently not.
  • Compliance is not security! Doing the minimum necessary to comply with a law or laws is not enough to keep your information safe.
  • Just because you have a security breach doesn’t mean you have to lose a 100 terabytes of data.
  • If the company you work for does not take information security and privacy seriously, find someplace else to work. According to com, Sony has had 195 security breaches from September 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014, according to leaked emails. However, it’s hard to determine the seriousness of the incidents from the information presented.

How can you tell if your employer is taking security and privacy seriously? Do they say “security is important” but cut the budget? Do they train employees on security and privacy? Do they patch their systems and keep their software updated? Have they had a breach? What did they do?

  • If the company that you buy goods or services from does not protect your information, take your business elsewhere.

Vote with your feet and your money! Protect your information; there’s no one that it matters more to than you.

Krebs.2jpgI recently had the pleasure of attending a presentation put on by Brian Krebs, where he also signed his new book, Spam Nation.

I have been reading his blog, KrebsOnSecurity.com, since I did a paper on the Russian Business Network in 2008 for a class I was taking.

His blog is fascinating, and the book is also! The book has everything you’d look for in a thriller—spies, counterspies, theft, drugs, murder, hackers—and it’s all true. Even if you’re not a techie, I highly recommend this book.

And, if you’re buying pharmaceuticals from an online pharmacy that doesn’t ask for a doctor’s prescription, I hope this book will convince you to stop. It’s a really dangerous practice because you don’t know what you’re ingesting.

You might know and follow the general rules for creating a good password. Apparently, no one else does.

The “25 Worst Passwords” is an annual press release from SplashData, which sells password management tools. They also tap into the resources provided by similar security reporting firms. Those reports from recent news stories illustrate that most people seem to be really bad at inventing new passwords. Writing about the Adobe website breach of 2013 PC World revealed that ‘adobe123′ and ‘photoshop’ were very common choices. An article from the BBC cited security researcher Per Thorsheim. He pointed out that the color schemes of Twitter, Facebook, and Google, all lead people to include the word “blue” in their passwords.

As a result, more websites require you to use a Mix of Upper and Lower Case, and also to include $pecial C#aracters and Numb3rs. The password photoshop becames !Ph0t0$hop* and that should be more secure.

However, what really makes that more secure is not the mix of characters but the two additional symbols. The ! and * at the beginning and end turn a string of 9 characters into a string of 11. The basic arithmetic of computing says that the longer something is, the harder it is to guess. Your bank transfers money with cipher strings of 200 digits. We call them “computationally difficult” to crack.

“Black hat hackers” build special computers to attack passwords. One of those homebrew boxes broke every Windows-standard 8-character password in under 6 hours. A lesser machine revealed 90% of the passwords on LinkedIn. However, if you have an 11-character password those powerful crackers would need 515 years to work through all the possible combinations. And yet, long as they are “AmericanTheBeautiful” and “ToBeOrNotToBe” are known phrases.

Those networks of multiple game processors also grind through huge databases of words and proper names in English and their many variations. . Passages from the Bible, quotations from Shakespeare, and other cultural artifacts add to the databases.  Black hat hackers have mammoth dictionaries of known passwords. Those are compiled from the revelations of each successful attack.

Password Cracking Machine

Jeremi Gosney’s High Performance Computer. The rapidly-moving graphics of games are computationally intensive. So, the central processor and parallel processors of the Xbox, PlayStation, and others rely on co-processors designed for rapid arithmetic. That makes them perfect for running billions of guesses per second.

It is also true that some websites prevent you from using special characters. You might be instructed to keep your passwords to Upper and Lower Case Letters and the numerals 0 through 9. Restricted like that, all of the possible 11-character passwords can be broken in just 4 years. Turn the computer on; let it run day and night; it churns out passwords.

The reason why you sometimes are restricted from special characters is that the Dollar $ign and <Greater-than Less-than> and @some others# are common to programming systems and languages such as SQL (pronounced “sequel”) and Java. So, in place of the password, a hacker inserts a line of computer code to open up the website to their commands. Such SQL attacks are common.

BBC Cat 2

“If you have a cat, or any other type of pet, do not use its name as part of a password.” – BBC

That brings us to the corporations and organizations that allow your data to be stolen. SQL attacks are an old, known problem. But everyone is busy. And businesses cut costs by releasing employees. So, successful attacks are inevitable. The key to security is not just to put up barriers. Victims must act quickly, decisively, and effectively when those firewalls are breached. And they will be breached. It is not a matter of “if” but of “when.” For over 20 years, even the FBI has suffered periodic intrusions.   Rather than requiring you to have a ridiculously difficult password, the system administrators should just do their jobs.

But this is the Information Age. We all have computers, phones, pads, notebooks, and networks. That puts the burden back on you.

We give out our usernames and passwords all too easily. Spam Nation is new book by Brian Krebs. Formerly a technology writer for the Washington Post, Krebs more recently investigated two Russian “businessmen” who apparently controlled the world’s largest floods of spam email. They sold fake Viagra and fake vicodin, fake Gucci and fake Rolex. Millions of people bought them. From all indications, the crooks really did deliver the goods. In doing that, they acquired millions of usernames and passwords. And people are lazy.

If you have the same log-in credentials for illegal drugs that you do for your bank account, you have only yourself to blame when a drug dealer steals your money.

Brian Krebs writes a very readable blog.

Brian Krebs writes a very readable blog.

But the same breach could come through the garden club, the library charity, your school, or work. How many log-in accounts have you had since the Worldwide Web was launched in 1991? According to Brian Krebs, it is your responsibility to keep yourself safe by keeping your identities separate.

Even Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, and Batgirl manage only two lives each, not twenty. You may need a password manager. PC Magazine, PC World, MacWorld, and InfoWorld all review and evaluate password managers. It is a start. Of course, if your home Wi-Fi network is open to the public, then you have a different problem, entirely.


The methods of securing data are robust. Your financial transactions, health records and other sensitive information are safeguarded by strong mathematical processes. You can use these same tools yourself to keep your emails private. It is not much harder than learning a new phone and installing an app.

Usually, when your personal data is exposed by organized gangs of Russian “businessmen” or the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, it because of failures in computer security allowed by weaknesses in the programs. The cell phone companies deliver records to the NSA. The NSA does not break your ciphers. As far as we know, no one has ever cracked one of the public key methods developed since 1975. Some theoretical weaknesses have been suggested. Brute force attacks by the NSA have been hinted at, but never demonstrated. The mathematics is as immutable as the Law of Identity: A is A.  It is absolutely true that 1 + 1 = 2, always and forever.

A Crazy Idea

In the early to mid-1970s, independent researchers Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman at Stanford, Ralph Merkle at Berkeley, and Ronald Rivest at MIT, along with his doctoral candidates Adi Shamir and Lenard Adelman, all sought and found ways to encrypt information that were not based on any of the historically known methods. As a result, when Ralph Merkle submitted his papers to the Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, they were rejected for denying the established wisdom of 2000 years. Working on his doctorate at Berkeley, he was told by his professors that he obviously did not know the basics of cryptography.

Codes and Ciphers

A code is a secret translation of one set of symbols for another. If we let
Handkerchief = Train
Scarf = Bus
Blouse = Plane
Red = 2:00PM
Blue = 3:00PM
Green = 3:45 PM
Then, “Thank you for the red scarf “ or “Thank you for the green blouse” could be sent via email or on a post card and the real meaning would be hidden. The weakness is in exchanging the key. Someone has to pass the translation table. However, given the security of the key table, the code is unbreakable.

A cipher is an orderly substitution. Taking the alphabet backwards, A=Z, B=Y, C=X,… turns BARACK OBAMA into YZIZCP LYZNZ. Another kind of cipher just takes the letters in turn say, every third in rotation so that HILLARY CLINTON becomes LRLTHLYIOIACNN.

Ciphers often can be broken with applied arithmetic. In English, e is the most common letter, followed by t a o i n s h r d l u… Among the complicated ciphers was the Vigenere in which a table of letter keys allowed shifting substitutions. During World War II, the Germans employed their “Engima” machine with its shifting and changeable wheels. It fell to the first of the computers, the “Bombe” of Bletchley Park and “Ultra” Project. In The Jefferson Key by Steve Berry (Ballantine Books, 2011), a supposedly unbreakable cipher finally falls to a modern-day sleuth. As constructed, it involved writing the letters vertically, then inserting random letters, then writing the letters horizontally. However, again, common arithmetic allows you to use the fact that any English word with a Q must have that letter followed by a U; and no English words have DK as a digraph. (Until DKNY, of course.) So, the cipher was broken.

Speaking to LASCON in Austin, October 23, 2014, Martin Hellman said that he and his co-workers were considered “insane” for suggesting that an encryption method could be devised in which the formulas were public. In fact, this idea had old roots.

The 19th century founder of mathematical economics, William Stanley Jevons, suggested that certain mathematical functions that were “asymmetric” could be the basis for a new kind of cryptography. Just because A=Z does not mean that Z=A. His idea did not bear fruit. However, Martin Hellman asked his colleagues in the mathematics department if they knew of any such asymmetric functions. Indeed, many exist.  They can be called “trapdoor functions” because they are easy to do in one direction, but computationally difficult in the other.  In other words, they are are unlike the four common arithmetic operations.

The Diffie-Hellman system employs modulo arithmetic.  RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) uses the totient function discovered by Leonhard Euler in 1763. In 1974, Ralph Merkle, then at Berkeley, thought of using a set of puzzles, where each one is moderately hard, but the full set of 15 becomes computationally difficult. Working together, Merkel and Hellman created a “knapsack” function in which the challenge is to put the “most important objects” (numbers) with the smallest weights (numbers) into a bag (solution set).

You can get the papers online. If you loved high school algebra, and get a kick out of crossword puzzles (especially acrostics) this will be fun. If not, just accept the fact that they work.

The salient facts remain: the cipher system is clearly described, yet stands cryptographically secure.   That is a mandate called “Kerckhoffs Law” named for Auguste Kerckhoffs, a 19th century Dutch linguist. A cryptographic system should remain secure, even if everything about it is known, except the key. Thus, in our time, you can find the mathematical theorems and computer code for public key systems. You can download almost instantly clickable applications to secure your email.

Pretty Good Privacy
A hundred years ago, codes and ciphers and the study of cryptography all were controlled by the secret services of governments. In our time, academic theoreticians publish papers. To be patented, a device must be published. And so, Phil Zimmermann took the mathematical theorems and processes of the RSA encryption algorithm and recoded them from scratch to create a new system, just as powerful, but available to anyone without need for a license. Zimmermann was threatened with lawsuits and such, but he prevailed. Today, PGP is a free product offered by software sales giant Symantec on their website here. It is something a “loss leader” for Symantec. You can get PGP from other places as well, see here.

With it, you can encrypt your emails. Know, however, that (1) you would need to be “approved” by another PGP user (easy enough) and that (2) anyone you send emails to with this also needs it to read your emails to them. Be that as it may, it is no harder than setting up a really cool Facebook page, just a bit of work and some close focus.

If you have a late model car, someone could disable the brakes, command the steering wheel, set the speed, open the doors, disable the airbags, or explode them, all from a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Perhaps the modern icon is the General Motors OnStar system. Everyone knows it; it shows up in movies and TV as commonly as orange juice or dogs. OnStar was launched in 1995 and went from analog to completely digital in 2006. (Wikipedia here.)  Now, such radio systems are a standard feature on common makes and models. The radios are called “transceivers” for “transmitter and receiver”, that is, a “walkie-talkie” or two-way radio, in other words, a cell phone that is always on. With that link someone can take control of your car.

Computers in cars go back to the 1978 Cadillac Seville. The chip was a Motorola 6800, used also in early personal computers. It ran the car’s onboard display that provided eleven outputs such as fuel economy, estimated time of arrival, and engine speed. By the turn of the Millennium, upscale BMWs and Mercedes boasted 100 processors. Even the low-tech Volvo now has 50. (Automotive Mileposts website here and Embedded website here. Note that “embedded” systems are computer controllers that built into other machines for control or diagnostics. Embedded systems is a branch of computing.)

However, the older your car, the safer you are. A vehicle from the 1980s or 1990s will have electronic controls, but they will be less open to attack from the outside.  Without a radio link such as OnStar, there is no way to control the car from the outside. Also, the older processors were more often dedicated to reporting things such as gas mileage or fuel economy. Electronic fuel ignition replaced carburetors, but, again, was a simple, stand-alone controller that could not be compromised from the outside.

Over the past few years, two different security projects have been reported in which “white hat hackers” (good guys) investigated ways to take control of different models of automobile.


The little antenna on the Prius is not just for the FM radio.

 In 2011, Car and Driver told about the work of the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security, a collaboration between academics from the University of Washington and California State University at San Diego. First, they plugged their own device under the dashboard to compromise the on-board diagnostic computer. (Anyone who can get to your car could do that the next time you take in for an oil change or other routine service.) In the second phase, they figured out how to do that remotely.

According to Car and Driver: “Such breaches are possible because the dozens of  independently operating computers on modern vehicles are all connected through an in-car communications network known as a controller-area-network bus, or CAN bus.  Even though vital systems such as the throttle, brakes, and steering are on a separate part of the network that’s not directly connected to less secure infotainment and diagnostic systems, the two networks are so entwined that an entire car can be hacked if any single component is breached.”  (“Hack to the Future” Car and Driver July 2011 by Keith Barry here.)  The original research from the academics is posted online as PDFs.  (See below).

In the words of the researchers:  “We demonstrate that an attacker who is able to infiltrate virtually any Electronic Control Unit (ECU) can leverage this ability to completely circumvent a broad array of safety-critical systems. Over a range of experiments, both in the lab and in road tests, we demonstrate the ability to adversarially control a wide range of automotive functions and completely ignore driver input—including disabling the brakes, selectively braking individual wheels on demand, stopping the engine, and so on.”  (Published as “Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile” by

Karl Koscher, Alexei Czeskis, Franziska Roesner, Shwetak Patel, Tadayoshi Kohno, Stephen Checkoway, Damon McCoy, Brian Kantor, Danny Anderson, Hovav Shacham, Stefan Savage.
 IEEE Symposium on Security andPrivacy, Oakland, CA, May 16–19, 2010. Available as a PDF from the authors here.)

Then, having figured out how to install their own controller into a car under the dashboard, they turned to the problem of remote control.

“Modern automobiles are pervasively computerized, and hence potentially vulnerable to attack. However, while previous research has shown that the internal networks within some modern cars are insecure, the associated threat model—requiring prior physical access—has justifiably been viewed as unrealistic. Thus, it remains an open question if automobiles can also be susceptible to remote compromise. Our work seeks to put this question to rest by systematically analyzing the external attack surface of a modern automobile. We discover that remote exploitation is feasible via a broad range of attack vectors (including mechanics tools, CD players, Bluetooth and cellular radio), and further, that wireless communications channels allow long distance vehicle control, location tracking, in-cabin audio exfiltration and theft. Finally, we discuss the structural characteristics of the automotive ecosystem that give rise to such problems and highlight the practical challenges in mitigating them.”  (Published as “Comprehensive Experimental Analyses of Automotive Attack Surfaces” by Stephen Checkoway, Damon McCoy, Brian Kantor, Danny Anderson, Hovav Shacham, and Stefan Savage (University of California, San Diego) and Karl Koscher, Alexei Czeskis, Franziska Roesner, and Tadayoshi Kohno (University of Washington). Available as a PDF from the authors here.)

Two years later, Andy Greenberg, who reports on technology for Forbes, filed a story about Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek who carried out their own car hacking research with a government grant.

“Miller, a 40-year-old security engineer at Twitter, and Valasek, the 31-year-old director of security intelligence at the Seattle consultancy IOActive, received an $80,000-plus grant last fall from the mad-scientist research arm of the Pentagon known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to root out security vulnerabilities in automobiles.” (Forbes, August 12, 2013 here. This story includes a video of the event. They took Greenberg for a ride that ended in a crash despite everything he could do to fight for control of the car. The 5 mph roll out finally stopped in some high grass. )



Information Leakage …

Posted: September 29, 2014 by IntentionalPrivacy in Identity theft, Tips, Vulnerabilities
Tags: , ,

Information leakage: what is it? It’s the unauthorized flow of information from a source to a recipient. Although unauthorized, it is not necessarily malicious, but it can still be detrimental.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Our credit union is, in most cases, very accommodating. However, when it comes to paying bills online either through Bill Pay or the creditor’s site, I argued with them about printing my social security number on my account statement when I paid my Sally Mae loan.When I paid my credit card online, they printed my entire credit card number on my account statement. I called and talked to a  credit union customer service rep and could not convince her how bad using these numbers was. I wrote a letter to the credit union, the credit card company, and Sallie Mae, and Sallie Mae changed my account number (which they should have done in the first place). However, I could not convince the credit union to only print the last four digits of the card number.

Think about how many people could possibly see those numbers: database analysts, print and fold operators, customer service reps, postal clerks if the envelope rips … and if the credit union gets hacked, well, who knows?

I finally wrote letters to each member of the credit union board of directors, and voilà! The number displayed on my account statement is now only the last four digits.

Be persistent when this type of thing happens! It’s your information, and nobody else will care as much as you when your identity gets stolen. And other people’s information will be safer also.

Next up: our insurance company, who thinks it’s safe to use my social security number as our account number, as long as they add a three-digit number to it. Now my number is available to doctors, nurses, receptionists, technicians, customer service reps … the list goes on and on. Nobody will guess. Yup. The thinly-disguised-number-is-secure trick.

Shellshock (CVE-2014-6271 and CVE-2014-7169) is the name of a bug affecting the Gnu Bash (Bourne-again shell) command-line shell, which can be used on many Linux and UNIX operating systems, as well as Mac OS X. It does not affect Windows computers unless you’ve installed Bash with something like Cygwin. While it’s unlikely that most consumer computers will be targeted, it’s a good idea to watch for updates for operating systems, firewalls, routers, switches, modems, printers, and household items that can be assessed over the Internet–TVs, thermostats, IP cameras, and other items.

It is already being exploited by worms and other malware.

Cisco, Red Hat, Debian, and Ubuntu have already issued updates. The first patch issued did not completely fix the problem, so make sure you update to the version that addresses CVE-2014-7169 as well as CVE-2014-6271. Apple has not issued any updates as of September 28, 2014.

This bug has been around for a very long time; the latest (safe) Bash version is 3.2.53.  Brian J. Fox wrote Bash in 1987 and supported it for five years, and then Chet Ramey took over support–his unpaid hobby. Mr. Ramey thinks Shellshock was accidentally added in 1992.

We have a Macbook that was running a vulnerable version of Bash. I manually updated Bash per this article.

According to Qualys, here’s how to test for the vulnerabilities; at the command line, paste the following line (make sure this line is exact):

env var='() { ignore this;}; echo vulnerable’ bash -c /bin/true

If you have a vulnerable version of bash, the screen will display “vulnerable.” Just to be safe after updating, check the bash version by typing:

bash –version

Vulnerable versions will be before 3.2.53.

If you applied a patch before Friday, you might have a less-serious version of the error, which you can check by typing the following:

env X='(){(a)=>\’ bash -c “echo date”; cat echo; rm -f echo

This line will display the date if bash has not been completely patched.  After patching, you will get an error when running this command.

According to KrebsOnSecurity.com, Jimmy Johns aren’t the only restaurants to get caught in this breach, which lasted from June 16 through mid-September (dates vary at some locations). Many small restaurants use Signature Systems PDQPOS point-of-sale systems. A total of 216 Jimmy Johns and 108 other restaurants are affected because “an authorized person gained access to a user name and password that Signature Systems used to remotely access POS systems.” This access allowed the attacker to install malware to steal payment card data, containing the cardholder’s name, card number, expiration date, and verification code from the magnetic stripe of the card.

I wonder if Signature Systems changed their passwords on a regular basis? Probably not. Did they use two-factor authentication? Long and strong passwords? Did they conduct employee training on anti-phishing techniques?

Unfortunately, as of October 28, 2013, PDQPOS was only acceptable for pre-existing deployments. So it’s possible that some of these restaurants may receive fines if the system was installed after that date.

They’ve all had recent breaches.

How many well-known and large breaches have we had in the past year? A bazillion! Please see the page I’ve posted that shows a list of recent breaches.

What should you do if you’ve used a payment card–debit or credit–at a store with a recent breach?

  1. Check your financial statement to confirm that you used the card within the time period breached.
  2. If you have unauthorized charges, notify your financial institution immediately.
  3. Even if you don’t have unauthorized charges, ask your bank or credit union to replace your card.
  4. If the breached company is offering identity protection, sign up for it.
  5. If your identity has been stolen, this FTC site–Create an Identity Theft Report–will help you create documents for the various places you will need to contact.
  6. Don’t shop with a debit card online.
  7. Use the credit card option when shopping with a debit card.

KrebsOnSecurity stated last week that banks are seeing fraudulent ATM withdrawals from debit cards stolen in the Home Depot breach. Be vigilant!

The last thing to think about, if a company has a breach and only has a news release. Two recent examples include Dairy Queen and Jimmy John’s. There’s no additional information on their website, not even an apology! Should you continue to visit their establishment?  How do you know they’ve even cleaned up their payment systems?

I’m voting with my feet and I will never buy anything from either Jimmy Johns or Dairy Queen again.

More on the Target breach …

Posted: December 29, 2013 by IntentionalPrivacy in Security Breach
Tags: , , , ,

According to the NY Times, Target is partnering with a Verizon forensic team to investigate the breach, as well as the Secret Service and the Justice Department.

If you would like to learn more about PIN number analysis, read this article http://www.datagenetics.com/blog/september32012/. Nick Berry, the president of Datagenics, also gave a speech on July 23, 2013, on Ted Talks about how to use passwords and be safer on the Internet.