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Preview: Beau's Computer Security Blog

Beau's Cybersecurity Blog

doing what I love; loving what I do

Updated: 2017-10-11T08:05:00.156-04:00


Hacking And Politics


I've got a short definition for hacking that I like. It's independent of technology and doesn't have many of the nasty implications of many of the mental models people have. This is not as succinct and elegant as the definition Richard Stallman gives, where hacking is "clever playfulness" but I think it is much better as a functional definition.Hacking is a method of circumventing an accepted expectation or system to achieve a goal faster, more efficiently or more effectively than would otherwise result.Here a system can be described as a set of processes. Therefore a computer system is a set of computer processes. Software code defines these processes and the computer executes them with or without human interaction. So computer hacking is merely circumventing these codified processes. The process owner must protect against such circumventions which lead to undesirable outcomes. Failure to do so can be called a security flaw. A person who circumvents processes, then, can be called a hacker. They didn't make the flaw, only found and used it.This definition also works for other types of hackers. There are popular communities and labels of travel hacker, life hacker, social hacker, growth hacker, etc. I've even seen articles about garden hacking. Can you even find an activity or thing that doesn't return any results for a Google search when you append hacker to it?Laws are another example of accepted expectations and processes. Hackers - and I include social, political and business hackers like entrepreneurs - see the loopholes in laws that were created, either intentionally or otherwise. And that makes them potentially threatening to the governments that created these laws. But not necessarily. A government that seeks to codify accepted expectations and processes should seek out feedback from hackers if they wish to ensure they are creating better laws.Most of these flaws are not discovered before laws formally codify them. Like in computer hacking, some seek to discover and use these flaws for their own benefit. And some seek to discover and publish them so that they can be fixed. A government's response to this publication is telling about its willingness to make laws with minimal flaws.Some see a heavy-handed response to quash public knowledge of flaws in the policy and legal code as indications that the flaws were created intentionally. I am not one of those people. I think it instead better resembles the reaction that software makers have when researchers point out flaws in their code. They go through Katie Mousourris' five-stages of vulnerability response grief. (It's a good 7 minute watch.)I would say these political, economic and other systems must be tested for flaws so they can be addressed. Think of this as hardening politics, the economy and the social order. If we don't help to harden it we are helping those who seek to gain personal advantage from the flaws. We can use structures and frameworks for security testing as blueprints until better ones are available. Or maybe they already are and I've just missed them.What are your thoughts? [...]

My Infosec Origin Story


Everybody likes a good origin story. Especially these days with comic book heroes and villains getting origin story movies and TV shows. It explains a lot about the character that you've come to know well and helps you understand motivations and brain wiring.

The other day I was talking to someone about how I got into infosec and I realized I could sum it up pretty quickly. So here's my own personal infosec origin story:

  • Always been a technology guy. But then it started to get boring.
  • Started breaking technology - hacking. Then that got boring.
  • Protected technology and information from the breakers. Boring.
  • Now making and breaking business plans, models and ideas. Disruptive entrepreneurialism. It's not boring yet, but we'll see.

Eliminating Ostrich Effect In CEOs


NPR reports on a new study that demonstrates the Ostrich effect in people. That's where the ostrich buries his head in the ground to avoid danger. The ostriches who do this and then don't die go on to have babies. And the gene for this behavior gets passed on. I don't know if ostriches really do that or not. Still, it's a staple of cartoon humor. Silly birds.

The results of the study indicate that people will pay money to avoid learning health news that might be negative. Specifically, subjects paid $10 to NOT have their blood tested for Herpes Simplex 2 (that's the worse one). Ever have a relative or friend who avoided going to the doctor even though there was clearly a problem? Ostrich effect. Silly birds.

That's a very interesting study. If you think about it, this makes sense:
  • Touching a hot stove hurts. So we avoid touching it by using an oven mitt or simply keeping hands away.
  • Bad news is painful. So potential of bad news makes us avoid information altogether.
This can be generalized to partially explain why many leaders throughout history (and today) have surrounded themselves with toadies. They don't want to hear the bad news so they gradually insulate their mind with the functional equivalent of oven mitts. 

Look at CEOs with cybersecurity. The CISO tends to always bring bad news so they just stop inviting him, or putting him under someone else who can oven mitt him off. Ostrich effect. Silly birds. Silly environmental threats.

Knowing that a CISO can change his content or delivery to reduce this effect. For instance putting today's report in context. "Yes we're not great, but we're doing much better." Or bringing good news along with any bad news, such as "We saved over $300K last year in employee downtime from reducing malware infections. Also we still had lots of malware infections." Or keep smiling throughout the conversation, maybe telling a joke or two to improve the mood. Every little helps. Or bring donuts. Executives love donuts don't they?

Are We Magicians?


Computerized technology pervades every aspect of our life, from cars, to medical devices, and increasingly every electronic thing around us. Only a select few people understand this technology well, meaning for most people it is well in advance of what they know how to use and manipulate effectively. As Arthur C. Clarke said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." For most people the world around us is indistinguishable from magic.

So then people who can bend this technology to their will are indistinguishable from magicians. And that is just what hackers do - use our techniques, tactics and processes to bend this technology to our will. This mastery gives us the power to manipulate and control the world around us. And with great power comes great responsibility. It is time for hackers to assess the way we use our power - or don't use it - and ask whether what we are doing is responsible.

This year at Black Hat and DEF CON, two of the premier hacker conferences, the theme seemed to be hacking altruism. For the past few years I've noticed a trend of information security people advocating for fixing problems, not just finding them. Over the past year or two I think the community has realized that our ability and responsibility to impact the world reaches far beyond the technical.

For years now the community has been helping each other. Community members with problems get help, from money to marrow. Now we have begun looking outward to others who need our knowledge and experience if they are to get any help.

I like this recent development and so do most in the community. So look for more impact from hackers coming soon to a problem space near you! 

How to Get Started in Information Security


I've seen a lot of people lately asking how to get started in the Information Security industry. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what you need, like expertise with tools, certifications, experience in a role, etc. Those help, but I don't think that's the number one thing that gets you into the industry. I think the biggest things are curiosity and dedication. Those two things will ensure that the rest follows. And if you don't have those drives for an Infosec career then you haven't found what you want to be doing for the rest of your life, so keep looking.But there's more to it that you'll pick up along the way. Rather than tell you what I think you should do I'll tell you how I got into the industry then try to distill the lessons and skillsets that I think have been most important for me. The story will hopefully tell you why I think the skillsets are important so you can understand for yourself what's the best path for you.I started out working break-fix PC support. Someone would call the help desk and if they couldn't work it out over the phone I'd go out and fix it. I got good at malware cases - spyware, popups, network worms, etc. because I was curious about how to get rid of the malware, not just reimage the system. That doesn't always cure the issue, as I learned, but it was typically quicker to fix and less work on my part because I didn't have to copy the data, reinstall software, etc. On larger-scale malware incidents then I was on the front lines to help. And whatever I learned I wrote up for others so they didn't have to learn the same thing.I also made sure to take care of the whole problem before leaving. Again, mainly because I was trying to be more efficient (some might say lazy). If I didn't I'd have to come back out to solve the original problem. And that often meant walking through some basic awareness information so that the system didn't become reinfected. I wasn't great at that, but the people appreciated it. It was this bedside manner that meant I was assigned to the higher profile cases with the folks who were more important in the organization.When a security role opened up I applied for it. I researched for the interview and conversations, looked over what I'd been working on most and how I'd solved those problems. Then all of the questions were about appsec rather than anything I'd been doing. Oops. I guess I still did OK because I got an offer. It was lower than I knew it should be so I asked for industry average. I didn't get it, but I did get about 5% more than the original offer.I started reading all the blogs and magazine articles I could, in between doing security things. I figured I'd start writing too. I started my own blog to pass on lessons learned in plain English (go back to the early days of Beau's Cybersecurity Blog and see how raw that stuff was). And comment on other peoples' blogs and stories. People started to notice and comment back, email me, etc. and that encouraged me and keep up my momentum.When I told my boss I was hitting the ceiling she said she understood and was glad - it meant I was growing and thriving. There wasn't room for me to move up so I let her know I was going to start looking at other organizations. She said that was a good idea - it's always easier to turn down an offer than to get one in the first place.So I took stock - what was my passion, how could I best monetize my skills and why was I doing this? My passion was helping people fix problems. My most in-demand skillset was my communications and problem solving skillset, as well as my familiarity (not expertise) with security tools. My why (this is always the most important one) was so I could travel the world and work from anywhere, which meant I needed to improve my network connections and ability to make them more than anything.So I began a low-intensity search - I still had a job so I could afford to wait for the right opportunity. Trawling job boards, Craigslist, companie[...]

Some Thoughts on Malicious Software Prevention and Protection


Today I got a message from a business associate of mine apologizing for a delay in the work, because he'd been hit by malicious software (malware). As it turned out, I replied, computer security is what passes for a day job for me. So I came up with some instructions for him to help improve his security. These should be fairly easy for a non-technical person to use, though a moderately technical person may need to set things up.Leave feedback in the comments if you agree, disagree or have any additions. Here's the list, in order of what I'm calling Return on PITA (ROP) - or, most benefit for the least pain wins.Preventing malware infectionMake your account a "Limited User" instead of "Administrator". This prevents the malware from running on your system without you first entering your password.If you are running Windows, make sure you are on 7 or higher. Windows 7 provides lots more security controls that balance protection with usability. One key feature is AppLocker which prevents unknown software from running without entering your password. The downloadable tool EMET enhances protections and Windows Defender is excellent, free anti-virus software.Keep all your software updated. Windows does a nice job of updating itself, but other software isn't always as good. I don't generally like to recommend specific software, but in this case it's hard to find if I don't: Secunia PSI is free for personal use and keeps you updated about...well updates.Be skeptical before opening email attachments or links. This takes some practice, but it's as easy as stopping and asking whether something makes sense or not. Many of the email scams today look real, unless you apply some skepticism. Why would a) this person/company be b) sending me this information c) through email and d) how can I see if it's legit?Reducing fallout from malwareWork with your financial institution to increase account security. Many people erroneously assume that banks reimburse for financial loss from malware, but that's only for personal accounts. Banks differ in what they offer and can help you figure out what works best for you. Use online backup storage. You can store your documents on the Internet securely, so if something happens to your computer you can still get your documents back. Several companies offer a small amount of storage for personal use for free. Also store software licenses so you can rebuild.Use password safe technology. This is software that will track your passwords and store them protected on your computer and the Internet, as well as generate strong passwords. This means you can have a strong, unique password for each website which reduces the likelihood of having multiple accounts compromised at once.Cleaning up after malware infectionNotify financial institutions immediately. They will put more scrutiny on your transactions and can work with you to add security measures to your account.Even the best cleaning may leave malware behind. It's best to wipe everything and start over. Download applications from their legitimate website. Stored copies and third-party sites could have malware embedded in the legitimate software.Change passwords from a known-clean system. Start first with the websites that could cause the most damage, such as financial institutions or where you could have fraudulent charges against accounts (for example, iTunes and Skype).Busting some common misconceptions about malwareAnti-virus and a firewall are NOT very effective. Your firewall is designed prevent random computers on the Internet from starting to talk to yours. But most malware is spread through the web and email, which means you start to talk with the computer with the malware. That means your firewall is largely useless.Anti-virus software works by trying to know all of the malware out there and blocking it. The problem is that malware is generated faster tha[...]

A Light Look at Cyberwar Capabilities


There has been lots of news for several months about military-grade offensive security capabilities. Within the past couple of weeks this focus has ratcheted up. The tipping point, in my mind was when Mandiant[1] released a report on Chinese hackers that they were tracking. The report claimed a lot of things, among them that the individuals mentioned in the report were carrying out offensive attacks for the Chinese military, against the US military, military contractors and other companies. That's pretty scary stuff! But keep in mind that this report was heavily hyped and coincided with one of the biggest security conferences, so maybe pure altruism wasn't at the heart of the report, maybe it was also in large part driven by PR value.So now there are lots of people at high levels in the government talking more openly about cybersecurity threats. Generals are testifying in front of congress, the president is meeting with CEOs (I guess they're security experts?), everybody in the government seems to be saying the US is under attack and needs to defend itself. The rhetoric is building to a fever pitch and I'm a bit concerned about what this means for the future. But for now let's look at what the current situation is like.What a lot of the talk comes down to is one thing: we're being spied on. Well hey that's no surprise is it? Isn't that what the whole Cold War was about? "But" we hear "spying is a lot easier with computers because..." and then they go off and spout a lot of nonsense that comes down to "...we got caught off guard and didn't protect ourselves early enough." OK well that's too bad and we need to fix that problem so let's go do that.But then if it's so easy for other people to spy on us, isn't it easy for us to spy on them too? Aren't we already doing that? That's a side of the conversation that not a lot of mainstream media talks about, but that a lot of people in the security industry are laughing about. Just within the last couple of years there have been reports of Iranian nuclear facilities being targeted by sophisticated malicious software and most of the evidence points to the US or US contractors as having created it. Ironically about a year before it was officially-unofficially reported that the Iranian cyberattacks were authorized by the President, he declared that cyberattacks against the US would be considered acts of war. Whoops.So let's look at what we know about the US cyberwar capabilities. The first thing I'll do is to look at where these US capabilities come from. There's several different angles so I'll take a shot at enumerating them for discussion but I'm sure I haven't gotten them all called out so leave comments if you know of others.US Civilian Government Cybersecurity groups like those run in the NSA.US Militarty Cyberwarriors.US Government contractors.US allies like Israel who supposedly has a pretty potent force.Alright, so let's see if we can take a guess about what resources we have to bring to bear.US Civilian Government Cybersecurity - I mentioned the NSA. The CIA probably also has some people. Maybe FBI. Maybe some others. I haven't run across much information here, but if you know of where some of that could come from I'd love to look at it. The White House wants a lot more of these people and I'm sure Congress is going to fund that. Now it's an interesting thought experiment to ask whether CIA analysts and traditional spies are actually cyberspies. They probably use computers as well as other techniques to carry out their jobs, but does that put them in the cyber arena? US Military Cyberwarriors - There's a great article over at Foreign Policy magazine came up with 53,000-58,000 Cyber troops. That's the ones that you can count and I've got to suspect that there's more. Also important to note that these are just troops with an offensive mission, not a defensive one. Now to put that into perspective, this i[...]

Lessons from Journalism in Threat Intelligence


Seth Godin has a great blog post that is relevant to information security professionals. He discusses the problem that the closer to the event, the more expensive and less reliable the information is. This problem directly correlates to issues we face in trying to get reliable information about threats, vulnerabilities or other news. That's because as time goes on the story gets shaped and influenced by multiple accounts, investigations and analysis.

Try this experiment. Find all of the Twitter messages about China and Hacking from the last 6 months and read them, as well as the linked articles. I'll wait. Ha - just kidding that'd take you years to take in (if you did exactly what I said I apologize - don't follow every instruction you read on the internet)! Now go take a look at a few articles on China and Hacking in a reputable business periodical like The Economist, Time, etc. In 45 minutes you're up to date on everything from 6 months of twitter feeds. 45 minutes versus 1+ years. That's a huge difference in terms of cost.

And reliability also suffers. In going through the Twitter exercise (again, really sorry about that lost year) you probably found that lots of the info was bogus, misleading, bad conclusions, duplicated, etc. Acting on that bad information costs money too (unless you spend lots of money to try and eliminate the bad information, but that again costs money).

Most companies have figured out that it's expensive to stay up to date on information. That's why there's a big business in Threat Intelligence services. Companies outsource that function. But it's still important to keep in mind that you'll never have a perfect picture of the news just after it's happened. Think of it like a Polaroid picture. No matter how much you blow on it or shake it, it still develops at the same speed.

Simple Way to Increase Security and Privacy and Reduce Spam


A few years ago I came up with a technique to reduce my spam messages. I'm sure I wasn't the first to think it up, but it's worked very well for years and I've never missed a real message or wasted too much time on spam. After IOActive released some privacy research they've done this week I realized this can help with that too. If you haven't followed the story, IOActive did some automated scanning of popular web services for high-profile executives. They were looking to find out whether people like Steve Ballmer use Dropbox, or if the CEO of Zappos uses (yes in both cases). This was accomplished by attempting to register for these sites using the executives' official corporate email address. Their approach was a pretty clever way to get the information. There may be a perfectly valid reason for some of the findings. For example, if an executive publicly announces his and his company's support for another service. But the number of results - 930 accounts across 840 executives - suggests that at least some of these are for personal use.My TechniqueI use a different email address for each new account I set up. But I don't have to create tons of new free accounts at Gmail or Hotmail. I own several domain names, one of which is just for creating throw-away email addresses. Any email to that domain gets redirected to my primary email account. Once it's there, it is put into a folder without ever hitting my inbox. Sounds like it might be tricky to remember all these addresses, but it's not really. I just use a consistent formula for coming up with the address. For example, "". To remember your account name just look in the browser bar. And ever since I started using a password manager it's gotten even easier and more secure. I just create a random name and password and store it all away. The software figures out my username and password, I just have to click a couple of buttons.Fighting Grey-MailIf you're not familiar with grey-mail, it's the emails you get that come from accounts you've signed up for on the Internet. Now these aren't quite spam, because they come from known senders to accounts you provided, but then they're also not something you want to wade through constantly. I woke up this morning to about a half-dozen new pieces of grey-mail in my email. But I didn't have to look at any of it, I only know the number because I clicked on the folder I have that collects it automatically. The system I use works perfectly because it's automated, I have total control and it never misjudges an email. I simply dump all the messages that come in but aren't addressed to me directly over to a folder. I check that every once in a while and try unsubscribing from the biggest offenders. It usually works, but sometimes it doesn't. And of course if I'm expecting anything then I go check that folder.Increasing Security and PrivacyAnd this also adds a little more security to your accounts. But it's the security-through-obscurity kind of system, so don't rely on it solely. If you're the kind of person who reuses passwords - and just about everybody does this to some extent - then you have some additional protection against password reuse attacks. If a hacker has the account emails and passwords for one of your accounts, they can't then get into other accounts without a little extra work. That won't stop a determined attacker, but it will protect you against somebody just running a list.The ResultI still get spam emails. Even with this system every day I get a handful of messages that show up in my spam folder. But it's not many - in fact, far less than the grey-mail number. In the last month I have gotten 9 spam messages, but over 150 grey-mail. The only people who have the email address I use are my friends. So either my friends' accounts have bee[...]

Wall of Creeps


Lately there's been a lot of conversation about how to curb creepy behavior at Defcon. Last year women and goons had "red" and "yellow" cards that they gave to guys who were acting like asses. This plan backfired, as the cards became sought-after swag leading to high demand. The idea was floated this year and has been nearly universally shot down as ineffective, counter-productive and immature.

I propose a different tact - a Wall of Creeps. Creeps - men, women or otherwise - would have their photo on a physical or virtual wall, outing them. The idea is that public shame would act as a deterrent to keep people who are clearly over the line, more under control without forcing conformity. This tactic removes the incentive (scarcity and perceived exclusivity of the cards) and mixes in a strong social disincentive. It won't stop all acts of creephood, but should help cut down on the truly aberrant behavior.

The photo would be a mug shot taken by a goon, which means somebody has to be creepy enough to get dragged to a goon and have the goon stop what they're doing long enough to take the photo. That reduces false positives. Also there should be some criterion for redemption, such as a donation to a cause or a handwritten note or whatever else would make the offendee forgive. Maybe a TTL or a minimum sentence too. After 3 infractions though the creep's photo would be posted for the rest of the con.

Con-goers would be invited to heckle and deride offenders for as long as their face is up there, but not physical violence, doxing, harassment, or generally being a creep/ass, etc. The board could also be used for party organizers to blacklist certain people, etc. I'd love to hear feedback - what do you think?

Interesting Conversation from Gold Farmer


I saw this interesting conversation posted on a Diablo III fansite today and it has a lot of relevance to Information Security. The interview is around the act of gold farming, or using automated bots to find massive amounts of in-game gold and items that can then be sold for cash. But at one point the conversation goes into how online game accounts are compromised.The gold farmer claims that most game account compromises come from one source - forums. Attackers compromise a fan forum site and get the username, email and passwords (or hashes). These credentials are then used to attempt to log into the game, as well as email accounts, PayPal, banks, credit cards and other online services. The entire process of checking accounts is automated through tools. These accounts can then be either used by the original criminals or sold to other criminals.See below for the relevant text or see the entire interview with a Diablo III gold farmer.MeD: Do you have any information on the account hacking that people are reporting even with having the authenticator?Farmer: Yeah, I know everything about that.MeD: Would you be willing to share that information with us?Farmer: They don’t hack the computers, the passwords.MeD: When you say they don’t hack the computers, they don’t have the player’s computers or they don’t hack Blizzard’s computers?Farmer: They hack forums and such and take the same email and password and test it on Blizzard.MeD: That’s what I thought. And that is testament to all of you guys out there who are using the same email and password for forums and such for your game.Farmer: If they have 1 million stolen emails and passwords they might get 1% to 10%MeD: What type of websites are targets for this?Farmer: Diablo websites or Blizzard in general.MeD: So you are talking about Diablo fansites that have forums that you know have been succesfully hacked these and get the log ins and passwords.Farmer: Yeah, correct, it’s easy.MeD: And in the forums of BLizzard are you able to get anything out of there?Farmer: No. Blizzard is bullet proof, logically.MeD: I ran forums quite a while ago and we had 130k+ members and we had issues with hack attempts at our forum accounts quite often. We were very puzzled about it. There was one time when they got everyone’s log in and password but they didn’t log into anyone’s forum account. Do you suppose that when they got into our forums do you think they were just looking to match upFarmer: Yeah. They used it to try on people, mail and Blizzard and such. It’s called combo.MeD: Is that a mispronunciation of your program or is that what it’s actually called?Farmer: Nah. It’s made to make combo lists.MeD: We reset everyone’s password, we did that for them. We were worried they were trying to hack into the forum accounts. This was many years ago by the way. What I didn’t realise then but I’m realising now is that this was all about accessing the game accounts and it had nothing to do with our forums. I bet that alot of these forums that are getting compromised are getting compromised over and over again. Would you say that is correct?Farmer: Yeah and Paypal and banks, Facebook and so forth and small percent Russian spammers.MeD: They are testing this against multiple things, they are not just testing this against Diablo account they also test against Paypal and their bank log ins.Farmer: They test it against everything and sell it.MeD: How much do they sell these for?Farmer: It depends on what’s on them.MeD: 10c an account, $10 an account? Do you know the range there?Farmer: ??? Doesn’t sell. [...]

LinkedIn Password Hash Redux


This LinkedIn password hash leak has become a real storm of activity today. This post might not have much longevity, but I hope to quickly recap and summarize what we know, what we don't, what we guess and what we recommend. Everything here comes from correspondance on Twitter, blogs and what have you, so it should all be taken with a grain of salt (pun not intended).What we know:6.5 Million password hashes were posted on a password cracking website. The author said they were from LinkedIn and that they were unsalted SHA-1 format. Some of the hashes had several digits zeroed out. No account names were included with the post, meaning it's not possible to link the passwords to accounts with the data found.LinkedIn has been investigating whether there was an internal breach, but has not yet publicly acknowledged anything they have found.LinkedIn has said that "some of the passwords that were compromised correspond to LinkedIn accounts." However, this statement is sufficiently vague that it could mean nothing more than common passwords are used for LinkedIn and found in the compromised data.Many security researchers who use unique passwords for LinkedIn and no other site have found those passwords in the leaked data. These passwords are said to be highly unlikely to be used by anyone else.An Android app update occurred shortly after the breach was discovered. However, it's unclear if the two events are related.A security vulnerability in the LinkedIn iOS app reported today does not call out password security as an issue.What we don't:We don't know whether there was a breach at LinkedIn or not. Likely they haven't yet completed their internal investigation.We don't yet know if more information was leaked, such as account names, credit card numbers or other private information.We don't know if more accounts have been exposed than those found in the original source.We don't know if there is an active vulnerability that could be exploited again to gain access to more password hashes.What we guess:Mikko Hypponen has suggested that the list may have come from a LinkedIn web interface vulnerability, but was simply speculation based on past breaches.Researchers have speculated that passwords that have digits zeroed out have already been compromised, or that they are used for banned passwords.There has been speculation that some password hashes are not from LinkedIn, though it's hard to find evidence either way.There has been speculation that the 6.5 Million passwords may cover all accounts on LinkedIn, due to some passwords being used by many different people. However, a number of people have reported that their password was not found among those leaked.Some reports suggest the leaked passwords may be 6 months old.What we recommend:If you have a LinkedIn account, change your password soon. Make it something strong. LinkedIn published some very generic account and password security suggestions, but I prefer the excellent xkcd panel on passwords.Many security professionals have called for LinkedIn to begin adding a salt value in their password hashing process, in order to strengthen security. Other security professionals have mentioned specific password storage mechanisms built into programming languages which represent the latest techniques in thwarting password cracking, such as bcrypt, scrypt and PBKDF2. This has the added benefit of reducing the risk of an improper implementation which could itself lead to security issues.Two sites have been set up to check your password against the list. The sites appear to be safe, in that they won't steal your password, but for the paranoid you can also submit the password hash. I don't personally recommend that anyone do this, unless you have already changed your LinkedIn p[...]

On the Recent Blizzard and Diablo 3 Account Compromises


As an avid Diablo fan, I eagerly watched and waited for Blizzard to create Diablo 3. My first impression is that they did a masterful job creating it. Yes, there are some initial frustrations, but it definitely has that Diablo feel to it and despite the running jokes about Error 37 as a new prime evil, I've found that the most powerful boss enchantment has been Time Thief - the ability to suck hours off the clock without me realizing it. Bravo, Blizzard, Diablo 3 is a triumph!But recently there has been a lot of controversy around compromised accounts in Diablo 3. Many players have found that their characters have been stripped of gold and high-level gear. That's as much a tragedy as being robbed in the physical world - the possessions you've worked for so long and felt so happy to acquire are taken from you by an unknown assailant. People feel violated and angry, which is understandable and which is our nature. Many have lashed out at the closest target. The most common and convenient target of anger has been Blizzard's security and practices. Many accusations have sprung up that Blizzard, its servers, the game or other technology has been "hacked" and that essentially any player or account could be compromised because of that. In an interesting parallel, this is commonly the first thing people assume when their bank account has been compromised.   The banking world has long confronted security challenges for online services. For as long as online banking has been a reality, malicious individuals have been hoping to compromise accounts and steal money from them. And so banking has come a long way in combating those threats. I've performed dozens of audits for financial institutions around their information security practices, including a component dealing with authentication in online banking (FIL-103-2005, FIL-77-2006 and FIL-50-2011 if you want to look it up). Today, banking is one of the safest activities you can engage in online, although it is also one of the most targeted. Cybercriminals from around the world target banks, banking sites and accounts and it has become every bit as disciplined and efficient as any business. The complexity and innovation is staggering. Yet excellent security measures taken by banks effectively thwart almost any attack out there, when used as intended on both the bank's side and on the account holder's side. Most bank account compromises in the last decade or so haven't happened because the bank was hacked - they've happened with legitimate account credentials. It used to be that most online banking accounts were compromised by the victim giving away their username and password or other sensitive information after clicking on links in fake emails. But banks improved the security and attackers responded by becoming more sophisticated. Now most of the time compromises happen because the account holder logs into their account from a computer that has malicious software installed. And it's highly likely that this is what has happened with most of the Diablo 3 account compromises. So how does this relate to Blizzard and to Diablo 3? Blizzard has, in fact, said that malware has been the root cause in nearly all of their compromise investigations. Today's cybercriminals have become very sophisticated in their methods. As Blizzard has also pointed out, there is no one way that they get the information and access necessary to compromise accounts. Essentially they use whatever means they need to, in order to get what they want. In practice, this means there are likely multiple groups, each using many different types of attacks to get as many accounts as they can. As with bank account holders, gamers have gotten more savvy about giving awa[...]

New Research Published on Mobile Malware


Researchers at NCSU have started the Android Malware Genome Project, which is designed to identify and classify known malware samples for study. The researchers' results were recently presented and published at the Proceedings of the 33rd IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy in San Francisco, California. The paper, entitled Dissecting Android Malware: Characterization and Evolution (PDF link), analyzes the 1,200 samples collected between August, 2010 and October, 2011. The research analyzes the samples to attempt to determine how it is installed (infection vector), how it updates and its primary activities on the mobile device, as well as the sample's relation to other samples. The research groups infection vectors into several categories. Far and away the largest infection vector is through repackaging and redistributing modified versions of legitimate applications. The second group is spying applications - that is, software for one person to watch another person's activities. Some malicious software purports to do something (which it may or may not), but installs malware in addition - these are so-called Trojan Horses.There were also several primary types of activity that the samples performed. Many of the samples attempted to elevate privileges on the device by taking advantage of a flaw in the Android operating system. The goal with this action is to allow the application to have greater access to the functionality of the device. Nearly all of the samples attempted to connect the device to a larger group of compromised devices controlled by the malware authors - a so-called Botnet. Researchers found that another common activity was contacting premium services, such as SMS text messaging. Many of the malware samples also collected information, such as user accounts, text messages and phone numbers.The researchers also looked at the evolution of the malware samples and families over time. Specifically they looked in depth at two malware families to illustrate the rest, DroidKungFu and AnServer Bot. These two malware families show that authors have incorporated many sophisticated features to help circumvent detection and frustrate researchers attempting to study the samples, among other things. And their analysis showed that mobile malware is rapidly maturing. Some other interesting analysis was performed on the samples. The researchers ran all the collected samples against four mobile anti-virus packages Detection rates ranged from 20-80% effectiveness, with a big name A/V company firmly at the back of the pack. Unknown malware is likely much more successful than these results indicate, meaning anti-virus software really needs to catch up. [...]

Securely Deleting Data Before Donating or Recycling Your Devices


Katherine Boehret has a good article over on All Things D about recycling your technology. But it overlooks one crucial point - you need to make sure your information is deleted before you hand it over. If you don't, your information, including financial data, could wind up in someone else's hands. A recent case-in-point was made when many refurbished Motorola Xoom devices were sold with their old owners' data still on them. When that happens it can lead to embarrassment (think private photos, videos), identity theft, financial fraud or other unpleasant things.To avoid any of these calamities, you'll want to take steps to wipe out your data. You should do this regardless of what the company or person you're giving it to tells you. But don't worry, securely erasing your information has never been easier! Many devices have mechanisms built in to do just that. And there are some good tools out there for your desktops and laptops. Securely Erasing your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPadApple's website has simple instructions on how to securely erase an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. Here are the steps from Apple's support site:You can remove all settings and information from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch using "Erase All Content and Settings" in Settings > General > Reset. For even more security, plug your device into your laptop and use iTunes to restore the device to its factory settings (but do not restore from a previous backup) before using the Erase All Content and Settings feature. Here are the steps from Apple's support site:Verify that you are using the latest version of iTunes before attempting to update.Connect your device to your computer.Select your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch when it appears in iTunes under Devices.Select the Summary tab.Select the Restore option.When prompted to back up your settings before restoring, select the Back Up option (see in the image below). If you have just backed up the device, it is not necessary to create another. Select the Restore option when iTunes prompts you (as long as you've backed up, you should not have to worry about restoring your iOS device). When the restore process has completed, the device restarts and displays the Apple logo while starting up: After a restore, the iOS device displays the "Connect to iTunes" screen. For updating to iOS 5 or later, follow the steps in the iOS Setup Assistant. For earlier versions of iOS, keep your device connected until the "Connect to iTunes" screen goes away or you see "iPhone is activated." Securely Erasing your Android DeviceIf you have an Android phone or tablet, you also have an easy option to securely erase the data. Though it's not quite as simple as with Apple devices, since Android has many versions and many devices that it supports. On Android, within the Privacy Settings dialog there is an option to delete all the data. The Google online manual for Android describes the option this way: Opens a dialog where you can erase all of your personal data from internal tablet storage, including information about your Google Account, any other accounts, your system and application settings, any downloaded applications, as well as your music, photos, videos, and other files.You should make sure that you have selected the options to delete internal memory and any memory on a SD card. If you don't have that option, the easiest thing to do would be to simply remove the SD card before donating, recycling, selling or giving it away. Securely Erasing your Blackberry DeviceResearch In Motion's Blackberry devices differ in the steps to wipe them. Instead of trying to mention all versions and model[...]

Off Topic: Traveling with Technology


There was a Twitter conversation with Martin McKeay and Jerry Gamblin today talking about how geeks handle traveling with all our technology. Jerry suggested that Martin write a blog post, but I decided to beat him to the punch. ;) This is part of an upcoming series of posts to my travel blog under the heading of Traveling Skills: The Art of Packing. In this post I describe how and what I pack as a geek who travels with technology, as well as why. Even though it's a bit off topic, I'm mentioning it here since so many of the folks who read this blog travel a lot.

I hope you enjoy it! Tips for Traveling with Technology

Detecting DNS Changer Infection with CloudFlare and OpenDNS


If you're using CloudFlare to enhance speed and security (it's a great, free service, by the way!), you'll want to check out one of their latest apps, created in conjunction with OpenDNS. The app will notify your website visitors if they are infected with the DNS Changer malware. If you're not familiar with the DNS Changer malware, it modifies settings of the victim computers, rerouting traffic to banks and other sites of interests through the hands of the bot masters. This means sensitive information could be compromised. Last year the FBI was able to legally take over the DNS Changer rerouting systems, protecting the victims to some degree. However, the FBI has to relinquish control in July, meaning victim systems which have not been fixed will be unable to access websites as normal. The FBI has an in-depth writeup on the DNS Changer malware (PDF link), along with information on how to find out if you're infected and how to fix the problem. Enter the CloudFlare application. If you enable this application, CloudFlare will notify DNS Changer infected visitors to your website that are compromised. They also provide a link with instructions on how to fix the problem. Here's what the notification looks like: [...]

Firewalls and Anti-Virus Aren't Dead - Should They Be?


Over the last several years, firewalls and anti-virus have been losing effectiveness. Many in the information security community have recognized this. Unfortunately many of the business and operations people haven't. The threats that these technologies (tools to assist in a solution, not the solution themselves) were designed to solve have changed. That's not to say that they do nothing - they can still be useful - but your organization needs to know what they're meant to counter and how to use them properly. I was inspired to finally write this down by a story Wendy Nather contributed to Infosec Island, entitled Why We Still Need Firewalls and AV. While I agree with her general premise, I think the article doesn't get to the real heart of the issue. When firewalls and anti-virus were all we had and effectively countered the threats we faced, they tended to be used more as they were designed. But now, firewalls and anti-virus don't counter the majority of the threats and aren't used very well.Firewalls were invented a couple of decades ago to keep Internet-borne threats out. The firewall has its roots in the early 1990s, a time when commerce was prohibited on the Internet and most companies didn't have any presence there. As computer networking grew in popularity, connecting to the Internet was a way to share information across organizations, as well as internally. However, within a decade, Internet attacks were prevalent and organizations needed a way to protect the devices on their network. The firewall was popularized as a way to enforce a hard separation between the outside and the inside. The major advantage to this approach was that it was much cheaper than securing every single device. And at the time just as effective, since most devices had no need to communicate over the Internet and so a small set of connections were allowed to pass through the firewall.The Internet landscape has changed drastically since then. And with it, the Internet threats. Modern business processes are highly dependent upon and thoroughly integrated with the Internet. Organizations invite masses of Internet devices into their network to deliver web pages, email content, support mobile devices and dozens of other reasons. At the same time, devices within the network routinely initiate communications to the Internet and pass data back and forth. Firewalls have gotten better, but they simply can't handle the new ways in which organizations work on the Internet, nor the more sophisticated threats. They still have a use as a tool to protect networks, but more tools are needed.Similarly, anti-virus was first developed to detect, prevent and remove individual viruses. These software packages were simplistic, identifying malicious programs and files by looking for indicators or "signatures" that were unique to each virus. This was, again, before the Internet was widely used and most virus transmission was very slow. The anti-virus industry was easily able to keep up with new viruses and forms of existing viruses. This was a time when the number of specimens was very small and they didn't change very often. Updating the signatures was a task done once a year or so, and in fact when the subscription-based licensing model for anti-virus was initially launched it was widely viewed as somewhat of a betrayal of trust - paying continually for the same software. It was a different time.But today's situation is vastly different from what anti-virus was designed to deal with. Because of the proliferation of Internet connectivity, malicious software spreads very quickly. Instead of taking months t[...]

What Infosec Can Learn from Enron


Enron's financial auditors and management conspired against their investors. The system that was supposed to protect against this kind of fraud, instead worked against the people it was supposed to protect. And there was hell to pay when the organizations collapsed and when the fraud was exposed. The Harvard Business Review today makes the point that just because an auditor approves something, that doesn't always mean its right.Information security professionals, take a lesson from Enron: auditors aren't the sole authoritative voice, and they can be fooled or coerced just like anyone else. Too often internal and external auditors are trusted as the arbiters of what's right and wrong. But this can fail an organization if the executives don't understand what role the auditors should be playing.Auditors serve as an important check on the system by assessing against a known framework. But there is always room for interpretation in any standard. That's especially true in areas where standards are evolving quickly or where a new field is opening up. That was the case for Enron with the "mark to market" strategy, and that is true today in Infosec.How do auditors fail the organizations they serve? Let's use the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) as an example. The PCI-DSS has done a lot of good over the years it has been around. But as IT, payment systems and threats have changed, it has had a hard time keeping up. As an instructor famously said in a class I attended, the DSS only changes once every two years; but the Security Standards Council (SSC) can change the meaning of the words they use at any time.The PCI-DSS has also heavily misinterpreted. The standard is meant to be flexible so organizations can find the right security controls, rather than blindly following what's written. However, many auditors stick staunchly to the standard, verbatim. That means the company either has to jump through hoops to get their official compliance stamp, or can game the system to fit within the narrow definitions. Other auditors are so easily influenced or coerced by their client that virtually any control is deemed adequate. And there's room for abuse of the standards, as well. Some audit companies are well-known for providing "clean" or "green" reports to their clients (sometimes those who spend above a certain dollar level), regardless of what the actual security looks like. Breaches have left several organizations wondering why they paid high fees to auditors who didn't find the security flaws.So it's important to know how much to trust your auditors and what role they serve. You can't give them authority to make your decisions for you, but you can use them as advisers. In the Enron case, their auditors had huge amounts of business in other areas, meaning there was a conflict. In your organization the auditor may be trying to get a big contract, unseat a competitor, make a name for himself or whatever. In these cases the bad advice is almost always unintentional, but still present.Probably once every month or two I speak with a high-level executive looking to hire someone to check behind their auditor. It's usually because the executive suspects of one of the failures above. In reviewing the work done by the auditor I usually find that the executive's instinct is right.How can you help your audit succeed?Choose your auditors carefully and use the right process. I helped write the SANS whitepaper How to Choose a Qualified Security Assessor (PDF link) and there's other good questions to ask for choosing an auditor elsewhere. Bu[...]

What Biosecurity Can Learn From Infosec


IntroductionRecently there has been been debate over research on the H1N1 strain of influenza. This is the strain sometimes called avian flu or bird flu. Many researchers have been studying all they can about the disease, while many researchers, institutes and governments are trying to prevent more research. The arguments on both sides are complex and nuanced, and each side has many valid points.While I don't want to recap the entire argument, I'll try to summarize each position in a sentence or two. The pro- side believes that legitimate research will help us deal with any eventual version of the virus that can spread from human-to-human. The con- side belives that research makes it more likely that a very deadly strain might make its way out of the lab, or that terrorists or governments will be able to more quickly have a weaponized strain. Current SituationWhile public science on H1N1 may cease, the virus itself will keep evolving. Life will always experiment with new forms. Eventually one of these may be a variant of H1N1 that is successful in spreading human-to-human. That is, it finds a new evolutionary niche it can exploit.And certainly it's to be expected that organizations currently researching biotechnology for warfare would continue. What we saw with chemical weapons in the first World War was private research done by corporations being co-opted for use by the military. Bioweapons research groups may even reduce or discontinue their work in the presence of public research, because any effective weapon is likely to be much less effective if it is well understood and can be effectively combated.Comparison to InfosecThere has always been a lot of research on finding security vulnerabilities in software. Some researchers look for vulnerabilities so issues can be fixed. Some researchers look for vulnerabilities so they can break into systems. And so in the Infosec community we used to have similar discussions as those going on in the Biotechnology and Biosecurity community now.  That debate always used to remind me of a bad movie chase scene. When the person fleeing sees a big rock coming up quickly, he stays calm and turns at just the right angle - a near miss. When the person chasing sees it he panics and throws his arms in front of his face - a gratuitous explosion ensues.Fortunately in the Infosec industry we have mostly moved toward the first course - staying calm and taking just the right angle. But for a while we, too, had lots of people who tried to make the rock go away by hiding from it. Many times this was software developers who reacted more violently to the legitimate research than to the criminal research! And the software developers have benefited by having much more robust and secure products. Benefits of research and publicationResearch helps in that:identifies potential issues before they are found in the wildallows us to prepare for likely strains before we see themable to refine methods of doing this kind of researchgives us a better idea of the actual threat level - more or less severe than imaginedshows us indicators of what an outbreak might look likeshows us indicators of what an attacker might need to create a bioweaponPublication helps in that:publicizes the fact that these risks exist and are being studiedattracts more scientistsattracts more fundingallows results to be peer reviewedidentifies those working in the field to facilitate collaborationAlleviating fearsOne fear is that the research may be co-opted by a nation state for biowarfare. But I would argue t[...]

Cybercrime Does(n't) Pay?


Earlier in the week a couple of Microsoft researchers released a study of cybercrime financial loss statistics (Sex, Lies and Cybercrime Surveys - PDF link). Effectively their research indicated that bad sampling, survey and statistical methods have led to a number of dubious results. I think most of us who are involved in the industry have known this intuitively for a while. Any time you have metrics purportedly for the same thing that vary by factors of 10-1000, that says something isn't quite right.  The conclusion of the paper is essentially that estimates of the cybercrime economy are grossly exaggerated. And they make the point well enough that I won't belabor it here. Go read the actual article (linked above). I'm more interested in how this applies to other areas and studies. Here are a couple of points I think are particularly relevant, as well as a couple of others. Heavy Tails. Means (averages) are most useful when all the data are clustered closely around that number. When the distribution is very wide, you're going to have a problem getting people to understand what the results mean. For example, if I said that the average cost of a DVD player is $100 it doesn't tell you anything meaningful about the market for DVD players. That's because the costs range broadly, so the mean is almost arbitrarily in the middle somewhere.Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO). Since the data in these studies is typically collected by sending surveys, it's impossible to verify its integrity. In some cases people outright lie, but in others they simply don't know true costs and are just guessing. They may be higher or lower than the actual, but since there are never negative values, the overall trend almost necessarily has to push the number higher than the true value. But by how much it's impossible to know.Attribution. It's not easy to know where fraud came from. How do you know that somebody stole your credit card number from an online database, versus going through your trash or copying it at the restaurant down the street? This kind of attribution is especially hard for consumers who often can only know about an incident after actual fraud or if they are issued a new credit card. If both things happen within a year or so, the consumer is likely to think one caused the other, though as we know correlation does not imply causation.Self-Selecting Population. The people who respond have at least one thing in common - they return surveys. They may have other things in common, like a tendency to overestimate numbers, to be particularly susceptible to cybercrime, or any number of dozens of things that could influence the validity of these studies.This isn't just a problem that affects cybercrime statistics, though. The Ponemon institute annually puts out a similar report on losses due to breaches (as well as a report on cybercrime). Their methodology is similar to the ones discussed in the Microsoft paper, and therefore suffers from some of the same flaws. To get consistent results over time that show a trend consistent with expectation, I suspect that some data manipulation goes on, which would add yet another layer of bad science (if true - I only have my gut instinct to go on, not any facts). One group that tries obsessively to get the science right is Verizon Business who puts out an annual breach report. This uses much better science and statistics and can be counted on to have some rigor. Results can vary wildly year-over-year because they are always introducing new data popu[...]

Back: Better, Faster, Stronger


I'm back! After about a 4 year hiatus in this space, I plan on remaking my place in the security blogosphere. Not that I haven't been active since then in security - I have! And I've been involved in the community, too. But this space has been conspicuously vacant as I've tried to maintain a relatively low profile.

But now I'll be back to saying it publicly, rather than sending it through a corporate lens or self-censoring. I'll be posting as often as I find the time to cobble something together. If the past 4 years of output is anything to judge by, that will probably be a lot of stuff coming your way! And I'm going to try to play around with the content, format and delivery too. Keep it loose and entertaining, as well as informative.

One key to that, I think, will be to make better use of social media. I'm going to start off with Twitter, as that tends to be where most of my colleagues and peers gather. So if you haven't already, hit me up @beauwoods.

Health Net Loses More Patient Records


This month news came out that Health Net lost another 1.9 million patient records. This comes on the heels of a 1.5 million record loss just two years ago.A previous data loss event happened in May of 2009, but the company only informed the state Attorneys General where disclosure laws exist, and that took nearly six months. They plan to, but have not yet, informed those affected. Vermont fined Health Net $55,000 on behalf of the 525 state citizens who were affected. And Health Net paid $525,000 to settle two claims with the state of Connecticut. In the healthcare industry, the new HITECH provisions of the HIPAA rule address these data loss events. They require that an organization notify affected individuals within 60 days of a breach. Though there are provisions which would negate the obligation to notify (such as strong encryption or quick recovery), in the Health Net case these do not apply.In the May 2009 event, the company claims it took six months to identify what and whose data was lost. The information was stored unencrypted on a portable disk drive. Not to worry, they say, the data was compressed only readable using specialty software. There are at least three things wrong with these positions.Companies need to know where their sensitive information is stored. Health Net claims that it took six months of forensic investigation to determine what was lost. There may be several explanations for this. Maybe they just don't know what they store where. Or maybe those trying to figure it out weren't good or didn't spend much time doing it. Or it's possible that the right people didn't know about the drive, didn't know it was lost or didn't know it may have contained sensitive information. But in the end, it comes down to a basic lack of data and asset tracking.Portable media is at high risk of theft and loss, so sensitive data stored there should be protected. Physical protection would mean keeping the media in authorized and secured areas; logical protection would mean encryption. But Health Net failed to do this.Though the data is supposedly unreadable without special software, I doubt this is the case. I've sometimes found that proprietary formats - for which custom software is often very expensive - are nothing more than standard formats with cryptic file names. If you open the file with a text editor, document editor, image viewer or other widely available software, many times you have no problem extracting the data.But this problem isn't one that exists for Health Net alone. The DataLossDB catalogs many of the data loss events that happen. Others remain undisclosed and unknown. [...]

Beau on the Local News


Blatant self-promotion. Hey, I can't help it. Check out the video, too.

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Cyber War Against North Korea


I’ve heard people calling for retaliation against North Korea for the latest cyber attacks on the US and South Korean Internet sites. That idea is worse than bad, it’s nearly insane. The best that could be hoped for in such a move would be to saturate the attacker’s bandwidth and thus cancel out the attacks. The worst that could happen would be a virtual Armageddon of factions fighting each other on the Internet, with most of the damage being done to innocent bystanders.The first mistake that proponents of retaliation make is that they assume that North Korea’s government was behind the attack. But they don’t ask for any evidence of this other than one of the possible beneficiaries of the attacks would be the Kim Jong Il’s regime. In fact, conflicting evidence has been pointing toward the UK as one major source of the attack, and the botnet controller may reside in Florida – yet no calls have been made to attack the British or US governments.In fact, it's unlikely that there is a North Korea-UK-US connection in these cyber attacks. It’s very difficult to determine accurately and quickly who may be behind an attack. It is too easy to hide the real source behind several layers of obfuscation and the perpetrator may only be discovered after the attack has ended, if at all. The bottom line is that we just don't know who executed the attacks.Even if you have the right country as the source of attacks, that doesn’t guarantee that the government had any involvement. Looking at a different cyber-conflict, there’s no doubt that Russians were behind the Estonian cyber attacks. But much of this activity was likely individuals within the country acting on nationalist sympathy, not a government-sponsored network of attackers. As Marcus Ranum has pointed out, cyber war is unlikely (PDF link).Even if you assume that you have the right target, retaliating against them will simply escalate the level of hostilities, not calm it. The attackers will raise their level of attack and may practice asymmetric warfare, taking out not just government sites but commercial ones, as well. One of the best ways to change a government’s behavior is to hurt them financially or to turn the people against them.Now consider a different scenario: someone tries to get two other countries to fight each other. One individual can buy access to 10,000 infected computers inside one of the countries. He then uses these to launch an attack against another country’s Internet sites. The second country then retaliates against the first. Voila! Cyber-war has erupted. In the current botnet economy, this would cost $500-$1000 (according to a presentation by Lenny Zeltser I can no longer find online).Some people have questioned why North Korea has Internet connectivity at all. It would seem to be easy to find the choke points – ISPs providing service – and get them to disconnect Pyongyang. With the McColo situation, the bad guys just jumped on other ISPs and diversified. With North Korea, the people themselves are isolated from the rest of the world. But I would suspect that the benefits from a connected country outweigh the potential bad sides. It is much easier to get information out of the country via the Internet than physically. So there is a vested interest in us having an Internet connection out of North Korea – we can find out what goes on inside.So the ne[...]