Wednesday Morning: Quelle couleur est-ce?

I think vestigially there’s a synesthete in me, but not like a real one who immediately knows what colour Wednesday is. — A. S. Byatt

A lot of people will ask what day it is today, but few will ask what color.

Ed Walker put up a great post late last evening, one that deserves more oxygen. Do check it out.

Hospital held hostage for millions by ransomware
Hey Hollywood! A hospital in your backyard has been “infected” with ransomware, their enterprise system tied up until administration coughs up $3.6 million.* Didn’t see that coming, huh? Law enforcement is involved, though if they haven’t managed to resolve other smaller ransomware attacks, they won’t solve this before it critically affects patients’ care.

This is a pretty good (if unfortunate) example of business continuity crisis. Remember Y2K and all the hullaballoo about drills and testing for enterprise failure? We still need that kind of effort on a regular basis; how do you run your biz if all electronics go dark, for any reason?

(* US articles say $3.6M; CAN article linked says $5M. Currency difference, or an increase in the demand?)

Google found critical vulnerability in GNU C Library
CVE-2015-7547: glibc getaddrinfo stack-based buffer overflow” Huh? What? If you read Google’s blog post about this yesterday, you were probably scratching your head. Some Googlers struggle with writing in plain English. Here’s what tech news outlets interpreted from that google-degook:

Ars Technica: “Extremely severe bug leaves dizzying number of software and devices vulnerable
BBC: “Glibc: Mega bug may hit thousands of devices
Threatpost: “Critical glibc Vulnerability Puts All Linux Machines at Risk

In a nutshell, if you’re running Linux, patch your systems, stat.

Petroleum’s still a problem

  • Iran’s not going along with Saudi-Russia-OPEC agreement on oil production limits. Iran wants to return to pre-sanction production levels before it makes any concessions.
  • Oil glut and tanked prices creates secondary challenges. Saudi’s youth now have entirely different prospects for employment now that oil cannot guarantee national wealth or careers with good pay. Will this cause political volatility in RSA? Wonder what will happen in smaller oil-producing countries like Venezuela and Ecuador?
  • Weird outliers buck trend: Indian oil producer Chennai had a strong Q3, and First American Bank more than doubled its stake in oil development firm Anadarko. Neither of these stories make sense when oil prices have and are plummeting and show no solid sign of improvement in the next year-plus.

TBTF is still too TBTF
Neel Kashkari, Minneapolis Fed Reserve president, called for the breakup of Too-Big-to-Fail banks yesterday, as they are still a risk to the economy. Didn’t see that coming from a fed president, especially Kashkari.

Biggest tech story today: Judge ordered Apple to help hack San Bernadino gunman’s phone
Apple’s been fighting government pressure on backdoors to its products. The fight intensified after federal judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to cooperate with the FBI to unlock encryption on a county-owned phone used by San Bernadino gunman Syed Farook. Begs the question why any government agency — local, state, or federal — would ever issue a phone with encryption the government could not crack in the first place. Seems like one answer is a government- and/or business-specific encryption patch to iOS: [IF phone = government-issued, THEN unlock with government-issued key]. Same for business-issued phones. Your own personal phone, not issued by a government agency or business? No key, period.

Phew. That’s enough for a Wednesday. Hope we can coast downhill from here.

Thursday Morning: Trouble, We Haz It

[screensnap: José James at AllSaints Basement Session (video not available for embed)]

[screensnap: Jose James at AllSaints Basement Session (video not available for embed)]

Quite literally I went looking for Trouble, and I found this video by José James from the AllSaints Basement Sessions. Might be the first time looking for trouble paid off.

Drug makers struggle with ‘supply and demand’ concept
Speaking of trouble, the World Economic Forum meets at Davos, Switzerland this week to engage in its annual circus of the wealthy. Big Pharma piped up and said it wants money to develop antibiotics to replace/augment their current lineup to which bugs have become resistant. Extortion, much?

Hello? Your drugs don’t work any longer, which means sales will go down. They don’t work because you oversold them, jackasses. You don’t get to change ‘supply and demand’. Your incentive is and always has been profits, which only happen if you sell a working product. Too bad you screwed your golden goose — and us.

Here’s an idea: in the meantime, the U.S. government should fund a competing government-owned drug research and manufacturing facility the way it funds DARPA. The public will benefit directly from the research it bought, and if private drug companies can do better, even using freely available public research, they can knock themselves out.

Still want incentives? Sure. We get a chunk of the company in exchange for a handout, just like General Motors. Now beat it and get back to research or bean counting, whatever it is you really do.

Speaking of drugs, Chinese caught spying on pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline
Along with four others, a senior-level manager and biotechnology expert based at Glaxo’s Pennsylvania facility was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and theft of trade secrets. An interesting spin on this story is the involvement of a twin sibling used in money laundering. Glaxo has been at the heart of a couple other corruption stories in China, including reports of bribery and industrial espionage. These Glaxo-related stories all read like telenovela scripts.

Hey, look! A leaky backdoor built into encrypted phone calls
Shocking, just SHOCKING, that a backdoor might be so flawed that a single master key could allow the holder access to ALL phone calls in an encrypted system. It’s not shocking that GCHQ is pushing this system’s security protocol it developed in-house.

Android phones used for banking may be infected with two-factor defeating malware
Wow. This is pretty creepy. You’d think your voice would be your bond in banking, but it can be used to access your account even though your voice is part of a two-factor authentication system. Android.bankosy is the bug in question; better read this article because it’s pretty complex stuff.

Internet of Things via search engine — including your Things?
You want more creepy trouble? Here you go — but I sure hope your home doesn’t appear in these webcam feeds.

That’s enough trouble for now. Make some of your own.

Stuxnet and the Poisons that Open Your Eyes

Poison_EUstdimage-Wikipedia_200px_mod2Playwright August Strindberg wrote, “…There are poisons that blind you, and poisons that open your eyes.

We’ve been blinded for decades by complacency and stupidity, as well as our trust. Most Americans still naively believe that our government acts responsibly and effectively as a whole (though not necessarily its individual parts).

By effectively, I mean Americans believed their government would not deliberately launch a military attack that could affect civilians — including Americans — as collateral damage. Such a toll would be minimized substantively. Yesterday’s celebration related to the P5+1 interim agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear development program will lull most Americans into deeper complacency. The existing system worked, right?

But U.S. cyber warfare to date proves otherwise. The government has chosen to deliberately poison the digital waters so that all are contaminated, far beyond the intended initial target.

There’s very little chance of escaping the poison, either. The ubiquity of U.S. standards in hardware and software technology has ensured this. The entire framework — the stack of computing and communications from network to user applications — has been affected.

• Network: Communications pathways have been tapped, either to obtain specific content, or obtain a mirror copy of all content traveling through it. It matters not whether telecom network, or internal enterprise networks.

• Security Layer: Gatekeeping encryption has been undermined by backdoors and weakened standards, as well as security certificates offering handshake validation
between systems.

• Operating Systems: Backdoors have been obtained, knowingly or unknowingly on the part of OS developers, using vulnerabilities and design flaws. Not even Linux can be trusted at this point (Linux progenitor Linus Torvalds has not been smart enough to offer a dead man’s switch notification.)

• User Applications: Malware has embedded itself in applications, knowingly or unknowingly on the part of app developers.

End-to-end, top-to-bottom and back again, everything digital has been touched in one layer of the framework or another, under the guise of defending us against terrorism and cyber warfare.

Further, the government watchdogs entrusted to prevent or repair damage have become part and parcel of the problem, in such a way that they cannot effectively be seen to defend the public’s interests, whether those of individual citizens or corporations. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has overseen the establishment and implementation of weak encryption standards for example; it has also taken testimony [PDF] from computing and communications framework hardware and software providers, in essence hearing where the continued weak spots will be for future compromise.

The fox is watching the hen house, in other words, asking for testimony pointing out the weakest patches installed on the hen house door.

The dispersion of cyber poison was restricted only in the most cursory fashion.

Stuxnet’s key target appears to have been Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, aiming at its SCADA equipment, but it spread far beyond and into the private sector as disclosed by Chevron. The only protection against it is the specificity of its end target, rendering the rest of the malware injected but inert. It’s still out there.

Duqu, a “sibling” cyber weapon, was intended for widespread distribution, its aims two-fold. It delivered attack payload capability, but it also delivered espionage capability.

• Ditto for Flame, yet another “sibling” cyber weapon, likewise intended for widespread distribution, with attack payload and espionage capability.

There could be more than these, waiting yet to be discovered.

In the case of both Duqu and Flame, there is a command-and-control network of servers still in operation, still communicating with instances of these two malware cyber weapons. The servers’ locations are global — yet another indicator of the planners’/developers’ intention that these weapons be dispersed widely.

Poison everything, everywhere.

But our eyes are open now. We can see the poisoners fingerprints on the work they’ve done, and the work they intend to do. Read more

Angry Mom and First Principles: What is the Nature of a Broken Lock?

This won’t be a cool, calm, collected post like Marcy writes, because it’s me, the angry mom. You might even have seen me Tuesday afternoon in the school parking lot waiting to pick up a kid after sports practice. I was the one gripping the steering wheel too tightly while shouting, “BULLSHIT!” at the top of my lungs at the radio.

The cause? This quote by President Obama and the subsequent interpretation by NPR’s Ari Shapiro.

President Obama to ABC’s new Latino channel, Fusion (1:34): It’s important for us to make sure that as technology develops and expands and the capacity for intelligence gathering becomes a lot greater that we make sure that we’re doing things in the right way that are reflective of our values.

Ari Shapiro (1:46): And, Audie, I think what you’re hearing in that quote is a sense that is widespread in this administration that technological improvements have let the government do all kinds of things they weren’t able to do before. They tapped the German Chancellor’s personal cellphone and nobody really stopped to ask whether these are things they should be doing. And so that question, just because we can do something, well, does it mean we should be doing it, that’s the question that seems to be the focus of this review.

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

Here, let me spell this out in terms a school-aged kid can understand.

photo, left: shannonpatrick17-Flickr; left, Homedit

This is a doorknob with a lock; so is the second closure device on the right.

The lock technology used on the second door is very different; it’s no longer simple analog but digitally enhanced. The second lock’s technology might be more complicated and difficult to understand. But it’s still a lock; its intrinsic purpose is to keep unauthorized persons out.

If one were to pick either lock in any way, with any tools to enter a home that is not theirs and for which they do not have permission to enter, they are breaking-and-entering.

If it’s law enforcement breaching that lock, they’d better have a damned search warrant or a court order, in the absence of a clear emergency or obvious crime in progress.

The argument that information technology has advanced to the point where the NSA blindly stumbles along without asking whether they should do what they are doing, or asking whether they are acting legally is bullshit. They have actively ignored or bypassed the proverbial lock on the door. It matters not where the lock is located, inside or outside the U.S.

The Washington Post’s revelation Wednesday that the NSA cracked Yahoo’s and Google’s SSLsecure sockets layer — is equivalent to evidence of deliberately busted door locks. So is the wholesale undermining of encryption systems on computers, cellphones, and network equipment revealed in reports last month, whether by weakened standards or by willfully placed holes integrated in hardware or software.

The NSA has quite simply broken into every consumer electronic device used for communications, and their attached networks. When the NSA was forced to do offer explanations for their actions, they fudged interpretations of the Constitution and laws in order to continue what they were doing. Their arguments defending their behavior sound a lot like a child’s reasoning. Read more

NSA and Compromised Encryption: The Sword Cuts Both Ways

[Snapshot, Ralph Langner presentation re: Stuxnet, outlining payload extraction (c. 2012 via YouTube)]

[Snapshot, Ralph Langner presentation re: Stuxnet, outlining payload extraction (c. 2012 via YouTube)]

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A friendly handshake is offered;
Names are swapped after entry;
The entrant delivers a present;
The present is unboxed with a secret key…

And * BOOM *

Payload delivered.

This is cyber weapon Stuxnet‘s operations sequence. At two points in the sequence its identity is masked — at the initial step, when identity is faked by a certificate, and at the third step, when the contents are revealed as something other than expected.

The toxic payload is encrypted and cannot be read until after the handshake, the name swap, and then decrypted when already deep inside the computer.

In the wake of the co-reported story on the National Security Agency’s efforts to crack computer and network encryption systems, the NSA claims they are only doing what they must to protect the country from terrorists, criminals, and cyber attacks generated by individuals, groups, and nation-state actors.

Defense, though, is but one side of the NSA’s sword; it has two lethal edges.

While use of encryption tools may prevent unauthorized access to communications, or allow malicious code to be blocked, the same tools can be used to obstruct legitimate users or shut down entire communications systems.

Encryption APIs (ex: Microsoft CryptoAPI embedded in Windows operating systems) are often used by higher level applications — for example, a random number generator within the API used to create unique keys for access can also be used to create random names or select random event outcomes like a roll of the dice.

In Stuxnet alone we have evidence of encryption-decryption used as cyber warfare, the application planned/written/supported in some way by our own government. This use was Pandora’s Box opened without real forethought to the long-term repercussions, including unintended consequences.

We know with certainty that the repercussions weren’t fully considered, given the idiocy with which members of Congress have bewailed leaks about Stuxnet, in spite of the fact the weapon uncloaked itself and pointed fingers in doing so.

One of the unconsidered/ignored/unintended consequences of using weaponry requiring encryption-decryption is that the blade can cut in the other direction.

Imagine someone within the intelligence community “detonating” a cyber weapon built in the very same fashion as Stuxnet.

A knock at the door with a handshake;
Door open, package shoved in, treated as expected goods;
Encrypted content decrypted.

And then every single desktop computer, laptop, netbook, tablet, and smartphone relying on the same standardized, industry-wide encryption tools “detonates,” obstructing all useful information activities from personal and business work to telecommunications. Read more