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Are your passwords strong enough to resist a brute force attack?

Passwords are just about dead. Many systems now offer “two factor identification.” You give them your cell phone number and you have to use both a password and a code number sent to  the phone for your log in.  But passwords continue. They are easy for administrators. They are part of the common culture.

Steve Gibson has the engineer’s “knack.” (See the Dilbert video here.) His company, Gibson Research Corporation (here), sells a wide range of computer security products and services. He also offers many for free. Among the freebies is Haystack: How Big is Your Haystack – and how well is your needle hidden? (here)  This utility provides a metric for measuring password security.

It is pretty easy to do yourself, if you like arithmetic. 26 upper case letters, 26 lower case, 10 digits, 33 characters (with the space) for 95 printable ASCII characters in the common set.  So, if you have an 8-character password that is 95 to the 8th power possible combinations: 6.634 times 10 to the 15th power or over 6-and-a-half quadrillion. If you could try a million guesses a second, it would take 6.5 billion seconds or just over 200 years. (60 seconds/minute * 60 minutes/hour * 24 hours/day * 365.25 days / year* 200 years =6.3 billion .)

Gibson Research makes all of that automatic. Just key in your password, and it tells you how long it would take to crack.

Cracking passwords is a “routine activity” for a hacker. They have tools.  At one meet-up for hackers, the speaker told us, “If you have to use brute force, you are not thinking.”  They do not type in a million guesses per second, of course. They have programs to do that. Also, most websites just do not allow that kind of traffic: you cannot do a million guesses per second. What the hackers do is break in to a site, such as Target, Home Depot, LinkedIn, or eHarmony, download all of the log files, and then, on their own time, let their software attack the data offline.

Also, hackers do not use the same computers that you and I do. They start with gaming machines because the processors in those are built for high-speed calculation. They then gang those multiple processors to create massively parallel computers.  The calculators from GRC show the likely outcome for brute force by both a “regular” computer and a “massive cracking array.”

If someone got hired today at a typical midrange American corporation, their password might just be January2016. If, like most of us, they think that are really clever, it ends with an exclamation point: January2016! Hackers have databases of these. They start with standard dictionaries, and add to them all of the known passwords that they discover.

One common recommendation is to take the first letters of a phrase known only to you and personal only to you. My mother had naturally red hair for most of her life. She was born in 1929 and passed in 2012. So, “My mother’s red hair came from a bottle” becomes mmrhcfab19292012. According to Gibson Research, brute force guessing with a massive cracking array would take over 26 centuries.

Gioachino Rossini premiered his opera, William Tell, in 1829. “William & Tell = 1829” would take a massive parallel cracking machine about 1 million trillion centuries to guess. On the other hand, a “false phrase” such as Five + One = 27 could not be done in under 1.5 million centuries.

TMAR Four 3c3c

Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment non-commissioned officers at leadership training.  Only the one on your far right is a real Marine.

Remember, however, that a dictionary attack will crack any common phrase.  With over 1.7 million veterans of the United States Marine Corp, someone—probably several hundred someones—has “Semper Fi” for a password. Don’t let that be you. A brute force attack would need only 39 minutes, but that is not necessary: a cracker’s dictionary should have “Semper Fi” in it already.

(Above, I said that cracking passwords is a “routine activity” for a hacker. “Routine activities” is the name of theory of crime.  Attributed to sociologists Marcus Felson and Lawrence E. Cohen, routine activities theory says that crime is what criminals do, independent of such “social causes” as poverty. (See Routine Activity Theory on Wikipedia here.) That certainly applies to password crackers. Like other white collar criminals, they are socially-advantaged sociopaths.  They are planfully competent, calculating their efforts against a selfish return.)

Your cell phone can be taken over by hackers who will view through your camera and watch you enter your passwords and other information.  Here in Austin at the IEEE “Globecom” conference on global communication last December, I attended a presentation from Temple University researchers who compromised an Android cell phone. 

Doctoral candidate Longfei Wu and five colleagues from Temple University, the University of Massachusetts, and Beijing University exploited vulnerabilities in the Android cell phone to seize control of the camera.

Having done that – and having reduced their footprint to one pixel – they then watched finger touches to the keyboard in order to guess passwords.  Some sequences were more secure than others.  1459 and 1479 were easy to identify.  1359 and 1471 were harder to guess.  The fundamental fact remains: They took control of the camera without the cell phone owner being aware of it.

Moreover, the Android operating system does not provide you with a log file of usage.  There is no way for you to review what your phone has been doing. However, the researchers fixed that. 

“We make changes to the CheckPermission() function ofActicityManagerService, and write a lightweight defense app such that whenever the camera is being called by apps with CAMERA permission, the defense app will be informed along with the caller’s Application Package Name.


There are three parts of warnings in our defense scheme. First, an alert dialog including the name of the suspicious app is displayed. In case the warning message cannot be seen immediately by the user (e.g., the user is not using the phone), the defense app will also make sound and vibration to warn the user of spy camera attacks. Besides, the detailed activity pattern of suspected apps are logged so that the user can check back.” — from “Security Threats to Mobile Multimedia Applications: Camera-based Attacks on Mobile Phones”,IEEE Communications Magazine, March 2014.”

If you want to protect your phone, you have to figure out how for yourself.  Very few ready-made defense apps exist for Android, or iPhone.  You could join a local hacker club such as DefCon.  (For Ann Arbor, it is DefCon 734; for Minneapolis it is DC612.)  That brings up the problem of trust.  When I go to computer security conferences, I never take a computer; and I do not answer my phone.  I do trust the organizers of our local groups, LASCON, ISSA, OWASP,  and B-Sides; but I do not trust everyone who comes to every meeting.  If you want someone to “jailbreak” your phone, and program something on it for you, then you really need strong trust.  It is best to do it for yourself.

“Unfortunately, it’s not uploaded online. To support the defense scheme, I modified the Android system and generate new image files. This means if someone want to use the defense function, he/she must flash the phone. As a result, all the installed stuff may get lost. I think people wouldn’t like that to happen. Besides, the Android version I used for testing is 4.1-4.3, while the most recent release is 5.0.” – Longfei Wu, reply to email.

As “the Internet of Things” connects your washing machine and your car to your home thermostat and puts them all online along with your coffee-maker and alarm clock, all of them connected to the television box that never shuts off and always listens, you will be increasingly exposed to harm.

Crime in the Workplace

Posted: January 20, 2015 by uszik11 in Security Breach, Vulnerabilities

Your need to protect yourself from your co-workers is an unspoken truth. In criminology, we say “crime knows no neighborhood.”  In other words, crime is everywhere, not just in one bad place. People are people everywhere.   At work, we steal inventory and information from our employers.  We steal money and other tangibles from our colleagues.  Of course, I do not do those. Of course, you do not, either.  But other people do.  Here in America, about 20% of us are habitual perpetrators.

If you work in a small shop, you probably are among people you know well enough.  Nonetheless, your company is still in a shared space of some kind, a building, a strip mall, a street. Everyone there is in your world. You cannot know them all.

If you are in a large enterprise, the statistical facts are warnings.  If you have 1000 people in your building, then you meet 200 perpetrators every day.  Background checks only reveal the habitual, compulsive, or genetic predators who have been caught.  But many aggressors are opportunistic and competent. Routine offenders get away with harming others because no one speaks up.  And it is not easy to confront a bully or report a thief.  So, the harms and crimes continue.

Generally, security falls under the control of the facilities manager.  Rarely does an organization have a chief security officer at the same level as the chief financial officer or chief information officer. Facilities managers are concerned only with keeping costs down. Facilities managers seldom have professional training in security. As a result, most buildings have too few guards, posted in the wrong places, at the wrong times, assigned to futile activities.  Security is reactive, not proactive.

Badging and other controls for identity and access tend to be minimal and ineffective. You have no idea who is in your building with you.  Vagrants know all the ways to get in.  Professional thieves have no problem getting through the front door.

Professional thieves work large office buildings with public traffic. They look just like everyone else in our casual dress society.  They walk the halls peeking into offices, and trying doors.  Laptops are an easy grab.

Engineers and programmers are a special problem.  They enjoy getting around locks; and they are good at it.  The statistics apply to them as well. People who make a lot of money steal and bully just like poor people. Crime knows no neighborhood.  Even the 80% of them who are nice, still leave us vulnerable when they gimmick, jimmy, or shim a lock.  They have no control over who the next person will be to come through that door.

Protecting yourself at work begins with a few simple rules.  Lock your desk and your computer when you leave the area.  Always take your purse or wallet with you.  Never leave your laptop, phone, or pad unattended in the cafeteria or restroom.

Generally, if you have a problem with someone, you have six choices.

  1. You can confront them.
  2. You can go to your manager.
  3. You can take it to human resources.
  4. You can report it to security.
  5. You can call the police.
  6. You can ignore them.

The bottom line is that it is better to prevent a problem than to fix one.


The new movie, The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing and his romance with Joan Clarke, already has won rave reviews across Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, Rolling Stone, and Roger Ebert.

The effort by Alan Turing and about 10,000 other people at Bletchley Park was cryptanalysis. A cryptanalyst breaks codes or ciphers.

The Enigma machine was a cryptographic device. Cryptography is the making and using of codes or ciphers. A cryptographer creates codes or ciphers.

The general study of making and breaking codes and ciphers is cryptology.

NSA Museum Front 1

The Museum of the National Security Agency is open to the public and sells memorabilia.

Encryption is putting a message into a code or cipher.

Decryption is the extraction of a message from its code or cipher. Decryption must be carried out by the intended receiver; but it might be done by anyone else who intercepts the message.


Above: Alberti cipher disk made by Louis Brion for Louis XV (Gessler collection Duke University Information Science and Information Studies)

A cipher (sometimes still spelled cypher) is an orderly substitution or rearrangement of characters. A=Z, B=Y, C=X, … is a substitution. Writing a long message out horizontally, then re-writing it vertically is a rearrangement. A cipher is an algorithm. It is easy to write a computer program that will take a message, encipher it, and print out the encrypted message.

A code is a pre-arranged system of signals that have no direct relationship to the symbols they map. In baseball, the catcher’s signs and the constant fidgeting of the third base coach are coded signals. A computer program to encode a message requires a look-up table.  A code cannot be reduced to a mathematical formula.  The “Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring” of the classic Christmas Story was actually a cipher disk.

Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) was perhaps second only to Leonardo da Vinci in his range of achievements. For 500 years, the Alberti Cipher Disk was the essential cryptographic tool, capable of creating the Vigenere Cipher, a 26×26 polyalphabetic system.  If you put “cipher disk” into a browser for images, you can find antiques and moderns.  The NSA Museum store has sold replicas of the disks used by the Confederate States secret service.  Geocaching is a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt game that includes GPS tracking and figuring out clues at each location.  Geocachers often use cipher disks (even though there’s an app for that) just because the mechanisms are cool.


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. )



Codes and Ciphers

Posted: December 23, 2013 by uszik11 in Uncategorized

Codes and ciphers are about more than sending secret messages, though there is that.  When the first public key cryptosystems were being publicized in the 1970s, authentication was a suggested application.  How do you validate a digital signature?  If you have the answer to the public key question, then you must hold the authenticating string. Although the first Diffie-Hellman knapsack system was later exposed for weaknesses, the problem itself and the algorithms for instantiating it remain as possible platforms. Others have been invented since.

Whether or not you rely on cryptography, and independent of which (if any) system(s) you choose, codes and ciphers are in and of your daily world. They make credit card transactions and cellphone handshaking possible.  They allow the efficient compression of messages. In fact, the common zip command on your computer is one way to encipher any message. It is easy to break, but the message is no longer in plaintext. Many other simple systems are available, no better or worse than the Yale or Schlage lock on your front door, they do stop all honest people and many who are not.

This week, news about more of Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed that RSA (now an EMC label) took $10 million from the NSA and installed weaknesses to allow backdoors to its encryption.

Of all the secret messages from World War II, many remain unbroken. The need is gone. A code or cipher only needs to be as good as it needs to be.  Of all the “unbreakable” codes, the one-time pad and the dictionary code remain easy and effective.

Book cover "The Code Book" gray and black. Just words with random numbers no pictures.

All About Unbreakable Codes (1983)

 In the University of Texas library stacks, looking for the early history of word processors, I was in the Zs and discovered that my book on codes and ciphers was actually checked out.  It took three editions to get it right.  The first 3000 years were easy enough to understand. I wrote programs in Basic that transposed and substituted right up through the Playfair and Vigenere ciphers.  RSA was a tough nut to crack; and I finally just cut-and-pasted one of their own graphics and quoted their own abstract.

As the IBM-PC finally overtook the TRS-80, other amateur cryptographers published more complete books of programs for personal computers.  By 1993 or so, with Phil Zimmermann’s PGP becoming common in sig lines and footers, applied personal cryptography sped light years past high school algebra in Basic. PGP is now part of the Symantec suite.

– Michael E. Marotta (