are there trolls down in that dark rift? …rift…rift…rif…

Two years ago (estimated), the security industry started making ground on the rift between management/business and the geeks in the security operations center. This rift is being reduced much to everyone’s relief.

But I wonder if this is at the expense of a rift growing between the security experts involved with the business side and the geeks in the security operations center…

This whole business about the DNS exploit smacks of a fundamental breakdown change in priorities, or a very distinct rift between two groups who used to be very much in agreement.

Profitability of crime is a result of the maturation of the malicious attacker. Is this rift a result of the maturation of the security industry?

It could be the result of a stronger focus on risk, which itself appears to be a juxtaposition of a business sense and technical background.

It could be the result of an aging (but not old) set of geeks growing into more business-side positions, similar to those hackers who fought against The Man growing up, taking a job, and becoming The Man.

Nonetheless, I’m convinced there is some rift or change that has subtly occurred that is resulting in this not-so-subtle dogmatic difference. I’m just attempting to better understand it so I won’t be so easily peeved about it. 🙂 And so I can make sure that I, as a person and a security guy, can act consistently no matter how unhyped or overhyped an incident is. (If you know my personality type, you’d understand that sentiment; or as Emerson would say, “Know thyself.”)

dvd movie playback on the cowon

The other day I talked about my new Cowon A3 and I was still trying to figure out how to get a movie from a DVD to the device to play. After a buddy did it on the first try with his Mac + Handbrake, I decided to give Handbrake a second try.

I used DVD Decrypter to rip Hackers to disc. Basically this is a one-click transfer.

I then followed these directions to use Handbrake. I chose the “Classic” preset with H.264 encoding. This resulted in 900MB file. I copied it over to the Cowon, and played it.

Everything worked like a charm, great resolution (most likely I can play it on my television with little loss, though I have yet to try), sound, and playback.

My PSP was disappointing with movies (UMD), as it just can’t keep up with anything even close to fast moving; it ghosts and blurs. The Cowon is beautiful!

Additional note that the forums on iAudiophile have a great section of the Cowon A3.

whining about whining about security researchers and exploit devel

There are way too many great points and posts and thoughts about the Dan Kaminsky/DNS/exploit release issues flying around right now. There are even plenty that really rankle my tail feathers. Hence a quick rant to throw down my opinion.

Could Dan and HD Moore/I)ruid have handled things better/differently? Sure, but that’s hindsight for us, ain’t it? Whether it could have been better or not, the reality is already upon us and done. Stop whining. Your blog isn’t going convince security researchers to play nicer. (And quite frankly, I’d rather they continue to break shit.)

We all need to keep in mind that much of our lives as security geeks is a direct result of exploits being developed and released, no matter who develops or releases them. From actually getting action from our vendors to showing our dumb users the folly of their ways to actually getting mainstream awareness so that we can improve our budgets. All of that can likely trace roots back down to some exploit or in the wild POC or a better piece of software because someone poked a stick at it hard enough and long enough.

It’s almost sickening to see security professionals tripping over each other decrying so-an-so’s disclosure or so-and-so releasing an exploit. It almost feels like several people are trying to take the high road while saying “look at me, look at me!”

Isn’t that part of our game? Isn’t that a risk we face every single day? Neither this incident nor this exploit (and others like it release publically or privately) ultimately change anything. It was readily apparent from reading the speculation and confirmation of the DNS vuln to know that writing an exploit wasn’t going to be difficult and many people could/would do it. Hell, knowing Dan accidentally discovered it and that it was a design flaw should have been clue enough that this was not going to be something only 10 hackers in the world could write. The vendor response should have been clue enough…

And before decrying the ones who developed and weaponized it, remember that whether a white hat built it or not, the risk was still there. I for one would rather have good guys (or anyone) write an exploit and get the knowledge out there, rather than sit in a corner and pretend the cyberworld is happy and filled with laughing puppies and frollicking kittens. Again, this is part of our game as security professionals…again stop whining.

By the way, saying it is greed means you don’t understand the hacker or even IT ethic, and you probably aren’t really in touch with Internet culture nearly as close as you think you are. Sure, it might have been greed, but unless you know the person personally and for a fact that it was, pipe down; you just look jealous.

couple tops stories for 2008: terry childs and dan kaminsky, et al

There are some Big Deal stories floating around this summer in the security space.

Dan Kaminsky and our DNS security: Big vendor patching! Dan withholding details. Details leaked on accident. Exploit developed by white hats. (Note: I take little sides here, but I can say, “Get over it,” to most of the naysayers.

Terry Childs holds San Fran network hostage. And now the fiasco surrounding this whole mess. I still feel this holds some good lessons and precendent when it comes to just how far we can secure and run things before we’re mistaken for holding it hostage. Couple that with some vicious head-butting between managers and employees…

when is an exploit responsible?

I)ruid and HD Moore have released exploit code for the recent DNS vulnerability.

I see Andy ITGuy has posted about the release of this exploit code:

But I think that HD stepped over the line with releasing this exploit at this time. There is NO valid reason for it to be released… As security professionals we have to be responsible in how we practice our profession. If not then we are putting ourselves and our users at risk. We are even putting others at risk with our actions when we are irresponsible.

This caught me a bit by surprise, and since I respect Andy and know he’s a smart guy, I thought I would jump into the discussion. While I’m fully pasting my comment below, if anyone wants to react to it, I urge you to do so on Andy’s blog rather than here. 🙂

My response (with emphasis added):

With or without Druid’s exploit, our users were at risk. And rather than sit in the dark and not want exploit code, I certainly don’t mind having it around to learn from it. I’d even contend that we’re better off researching exploit code; write more, learn more, write better ones, learn yet more, and so on.

So, you would probably come back and say that HD Moore shouldn’t have released it “at this time.” But, what basis is there for when a time is appropriate to release exploit code? One year after the disclosure/patches? One month? After a committee of CISSPs gets together an votes on it? After 75% of servers are patched? Ever?

And how does exploit code differ from vulnerability details? Should we not disclose details that could lead to exploit code for 1 month, 1 year, or ever?

This set of questions simply cannot be answered, and never will. And since they can’t be answered, I’d have to err on the side of reality: Exploit code is exploit code, and when it is released it is released. And then move on. 🙂

Andy, I fear you are arguing the side that is actually indefensible. 🙂 Acting “responsibly” is far too relative to ever apply to such a set of people as security-aware geeks.

Here’s another way to tackle it. Should we manage our security posture based on whether exploit code is known or not? Yes, a vulnerability/patch does have a different value based on whether code is known or not, but when no known exploit code is in the wild, is it ok to put off the patching of your servers?

It might be argued that distributing details and exploit code will actually stimulate a more secure digital world. If your timeframe for patching DNS was a month after the patches because the vuln wasn’t known or the exploit created, but is now immediately because an exploit has been released…is that not a desirable state? Obviously the presence of code prompts action, and as such, this might be a benefit to us all…

fear the power of netadmins more than murderers!

The case of the San Francisco net admin who locked everyone out of their FiberWAN network continues to be interesting.

“This is an affront to the people of San Francisco and a miscarriage of justice,” said Crane [Childs’ attorney], who told the judge in a court filing that the city’s technology department was riddled with “mismanagement, negligence and corruption.”

This brings back memories of Kevin Mitnick: “His bail was set five times higher than a murder defendant after his July 13 arrest amid fears he could unleash a wave of system failures if freed.” So, does this mean that digital power is mightier than the sword?

Up next: The modern day Red Scare is upon us: The Hacker Scare! Hackers are infiltrating your networks remotely! Your next net admin may be aligned with a hostile national, planted to take down your network upon command!

do not move this fan!

I got passed a link to this picture which made me smile during an otherwise smile-unworthy morning.

Pictures like this can put the plight of IT operations, even security, into a fairly realistic light. There are plenty of DIY/homebrew solutions simply because Doing It Right unfortunately Costs Money. (And sometimes Doing It Smartly doesn’t work with Unsmart Admins!) Besides, few organizations are in the business of having perfect IT operations or security; it is more about Getting By.

This is really why I’m not always very surprised by most security incidents. I think our general perception of security operations is far better than the reality, even with all the media babbling about it. We have this sense that businesses are doing their best to keep systems up and secure, when in fact there is an oscillating fan keeping a critical server cool. Then again, we also have this weird sense that we’re secure in our homes, when in fact we do even less to actually provide security.

keeping life simple in a world of complicated gadgets

One caveat to progress and technology and gadgets is the way one’s habits need to change and adjust to conform to the gadget’s purpose or build. Some of my most satisfying purchases, however, are gadgets which are suited to my already-existing habits.

Received my new toy this week, a Cowon A3 80GB portable media player (PMP). This is basically a competitor to things like the Creative Zen or iTouch. It has inferior management interfaces, playlisting, and no touchscreen, but it has a far superior ability to play a vast assortment of media formats with no fuss, and is dead simple to manage on any system capable of recognizing a USB removable drive (yay I can manage it from Linux!).

Connecting the Cowon – Umm, plug it into a powered USB slot. Wait for the OS to recognize and mount it (or mount it if your OS needs a poke). That’s it, no drivers or software needed, even on Windows. This was really by far my biggest reason to purchase the Cowon, and I’m absolutely satisfied with it.

Music Philosophy – My music needs are less mainstream these days. I’m getting old and as such I am pretty biased against DRM-related media. I am fine with throwing away tangible products (CD discs) and keeping my media digital-only, but I don’t want someone or something else managing my access to that media. Screw that! Therefore, using things like iTunes or DRM-friendly devices is really not an option for me.

Music Organization – The Cowon shows up on a computer as a removable drive with some default folders (MOVIES, MUSIC, PHOTOS…). Drag-n-drop folders/files onto the device, and that’s it! Playback either plays every music file it finds, limits itself to the top level folder the song being played shows up in, or to a subfolder. This fits with how I manage my music quite perfectly. I have about 40GB of mp3 files all categorized in just one of 6 folders based on rough genres (hard rock, lighter rock, trance, chill, etc). So basically when I listen to my music, I choose everything in folder “3” and shuffle through it. That’s it! Which basically means the simplicity of the Cowon is exactly fitted to my use. No fancy playlists or tagging or organization by year, artist, album, and so on. And to populate the device with changes, I just plug it into any of my systems, mount my mp3 share, drag-n-drop whole folders, and walk away.

There are limited playlist functions, but I have not delved into them deeply. If I want to listen to just one album, I can add the 13 files to an on-the-fly playlist in the Cowon and limit playback to that. I’ve played with managing playlists on my previous ipod but really found extremely limited need: only had playlists for workout music and car music when I want the windows down and the bass up. I’m just not too concerned with playlists and managing them. Simplify, simplify…

Movies – Initially I copied 4 different types of video files to my Cowon (avi, mpeg, divx…) and every file played immediately. I’m still trying to find a format that I can rip a DVD to that will play, but I think that is not a limitation on the Cowon so much as my limited knowledge on formats and digital ripping. 🙂 I’m using VLC to copy the stream to usable files, and will find the right combination eventually. Oddly, I had it on my first try, then decided to get cute and up the quality, at which point I then lost track of what I did initially…


  • Stop? – I haven’t figured out how to stop a movie file from playing, short of starting up something else or powering off the device. Not a big deal, but still a weird problem. You know, in thinking about it, really why would I ever want to stop a media file without starting up something else instead? Do I want the device to sit doing nothing while turned on and eating batteries? This might in fact be a curiously well thought out setup!
  • Joystick – Pressing the joystick inward gets ragged on a lot in tech reviews, but I think many people don’t realize you rarely need to actually press the joy down. If you’re on a folder, you can press it right, and it will drill down. Highlight a file, press right, and a context menu appears with Play highlighted by default. Press right again and it plays.
  • No stand – I’m only slightly annoyed there is no stand to keep the player face upright or tilted towards me during the day.
  • Bulky – It’s a bit bulky, but for 80GB I really can’t be picky. It still fits in my pocket if I want it to, but I am well aware this device is going to mostly be in my backpack, on my desk, or sitting nearby while I relax. Not when I’m walking or mobile or running. I am not one of those people who needs my own soundtrack playing through my headphones while I walk to the mailbox.


  • – When plugging the USB cable in the first time, be sure to use the correct USB slot on the Cowon. I spent 20 minutes using 3 systems before I realized my computer-to-Cowon USB connection was plugged into the wrong USB slot on the Cowon (use the one nearest the power jack). The other USB input is to plug other USB devices into the Cowon like a digital camera (an uplink).

damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Dan Kaminsky recently announced a “major weakness in DNS. Lots of “speculation ensued as Dan decided to withhold details of the weakness until his talk at “BlackHat 2007. This riled some folks. (And someone even posted the vuln details to their blog, which then got cached in many rss readers. Oops! But thank you!)

Now, my opinion as an admin and sec geek is that Dan shouldn’t have waited to personally capitalize on this issue at BH2007, and instead should have disclosed the information necessary for me to make an informed security decision. I feel that I’m smart enough to be able to question and understand patches and vulnerabilties rather than be spoonfed vague, incomplete information about some mysterious weakness I should avoid with an unmarked pill. I am likely a minority in this regard, however. (Besides, doesn’t the hacker ethic sympathize with free disclosure [that kinda sounds better than ‘full disclosure…’] of information, especially as information tends towards being free anyway?)

But, I will never actually fault Dan for the decision he made. In fact, had it been me, I might have made the same decision. This is his decision (though this is arguable) and it likely earns him some deep cred in the DNS community and especially amongst the vendors. Instead of “black hat” cred with kids on the streets, he gets cred which could actually pay some bills. And in the middle are people like me who appreciate the work, don’t appreciate the half-disclosure, but in the end still benefit from his findings and work. A year from now, any misgivings about the approach will be gone, but the benefits to security will remain.

In the past few years, it is popular to say that black hat actions have become commercialized and criminal. Well, on the other hand white hat activities have also been commercialized.

On a side note, the whole “put up or shut up” mentality that Dan mentions is a two-edge sword (at least). On one hand, yes, it’s about security-minded people being paranoid and asking for the real details and questioning things. But on the other hand, it is the same tactic that children will use to get you to tell a secret, for instance…

san francisco’s rogue network admin

InfoWorld has posted some more information which casts a different light on the situation in San Francisco where a “rogue” network admin is currently in jail for, well, something to do with holding the keys to the city’s FiberWAN and not letting them go. I think this article lends a hell of a lot of food for thought to both managers and engineers in enterprises, even if it is not fully accurate.

Picked this up from HardOCP of all places.

the leading cause of stress with net and sys admins

IT Stress. Every techie knows the feeling, or at least is subconsciously familiar with it if they don’t explore it directly. That feeling of impending stress or anxiety that is so very common in an IT job. More specifically on the network/systems side as opposed to programmers, managers, and analysts.

There is a pretty common cause for this sort of stress. In fact, the cause can help explain several differences between the systems/network side of IT versus the programming side. It explains why project management for programmers can be easy compared to trying to project manage a group of administrators, for instance.

USERS! Users are the leading cause of str…err…that’s cliche now. Let’s try something new…

New Technology Stress/Syndrome!

New Technology Stress/Syndrome (NTS) is the stress and anxiety felt by admins who are implementing or supporting new technologies that they are not otherwise familiar with, often with impending deadlines or expectations on ultimate correctness.

NTS appears in two forms. First, when an admin has to implement something new in his or her environment (replacing analog phones with VOIP; setting up a new IDS…). Second, when an admin has to support or troubleshoot or learn an already-implemented technology they don’t know about (John is on vacation and the system he is the expert on is broken and needs up now; John just quit leaving the other admins to cover his work duties…).

Now, it is really not enough to say that unknown technology causes the stress. It is more accurate to say that new technology coupled with impending deadlines is the real combination that causes stress. Most techies like learning new things, but typically in their own time. Being forced to learn something new, and have it learned and correct in *VAR_PROJECT_LENGTH* is really where the pressure sets in.

You know you have an admin lined up to fall victim to NTS when a project manager-type person asks them how long task 23B will take, and they respond with what amounts to, “I really don’t know.” That means they’ve never done it before, this is new technology, and estimating time is about as fun and accurate as predicting how many clouds are in the sky right now. That’s an admin feeling NTS! Regularly hearing your admin muttering to himself, “This is never gonna work…” is another good sign of NTS.

Consultants are not immune to NTS either! In fact, consultants likely constantly have to deal with learning new environments built by Jim-Bob and Cochese in the back room using bailing wire, 25 flashlights, and a box of extra-large condoms. Thankfully, consultants have an easy escape from the effects of long-term NTS exposure: contract expirations! Survive the gauntlet, then walk away and let the next sap live with it!

Ways to combat NTS:
– peering admins together. NTS can really set in when an admin feels like they are on an island with no help or support or colleagues to bring in and receive help from. Sometimes it’s enough to just have someone else to talk to. An admin alone is an admin that has to fight with his own thoughts or despair the longer NTS sets in. However, the lone admin who prevails in this fashion will emerge a battle-worn veteran, stepping out of the bonds of adolescence and into the confident world of adulthood; he might even find his power animal in between the monitor-glow-and-red-bull-induced hallucinations. Such touched admins should be revered in the workplace!

– befriend your support contracts – NTS is rooted in an admin tackling something they don’t know already. Having available and friendly support from a vendor or consultant can not only save time, but also dramatically reduce NTS. Admins should be readily encouraged to begin interfacing with vendor support early on. Most often, it just takes someone at hand who has done the task before and knows the end result is not impossible, to comfort the admin and massage away NTS!

– training – Again, nothing like giving the admin knowledge so that NTS doesn’t actually become an issue.

– proper time allocation – While NTS is about not knowing a technology, it is coupled with deadline expectations. Trying to learn a VOIP solution in 3 weeks when never having dealt with it before can be a sure way to lose your admin to the deep depravity that NTS can conjure! While an admin may not be able to estimate the time needed, give him or her plenty of leeway to help reduce NTS.

– less rigid time tracking requirements – Some companies or managers request that admins track their time spent on various tasks or projects through the day. While this has some value to managers in supporting their stafffing decisions, when taken too rigidly, this can add to the effects of NTS. It acts as a constant time-based reminder to admins, and can become an unnecessary guilt-trip if a task that should have taken 30 minutes takes 3 hours because of a misjudgement.

– be less rigid with project deadlines – Some projects simply have to be done by a certain date, but many are not quite so rigid. Yeah, project managers are notorious for trying to hit rigid deadlines, excuses bedamned! But they do have to realize that the admin side of IT are typically strong-willed enough to push back, or if not, know that the failed infrastructure will do the pushing for them once deadlines hit. Keep deadlines in mind to make sure the project will complete, but be considerate of NTS when dealing with lapsing deadlines that won’t necessarily kill any babies or cause gas price hikes.

– allow alcohol in the workplace, and LAN parties – Few things help an NTS-afflicted admin unwind more than being able to drink beer and LAN in the workplace, even if just after-hours. Besides, too often NTS-laden admins are spending after-hours time in the workspace anyway, so one may as well provide some accomodations to make the time less stressful and more comfortable.

– MAME cabinet in the server room – Again, a nice way to unwind for the NTS-afflicted. Keep it in the server room where it will be less used by unauthorized persons. The blips and beeps can be explained away as server noises. And admins won’t work up an unsightly sweat when conquering arcade-level game challenges.

Thankfully, rest assured that good admins will eventually learn their new technology challenges and become old hands at supporting it, answering questions about it, and even exhibit accuracy in time-estimates for various tasks! This might not be without several painful lessons, but the end result should be worth the adventure with as little NTS affliction as possible. Hoo-ray!

security value cannot be properly inferred from popular mass media

Over time I’ve been putting together a list or laws or rules that govern our industry, or affect us. I’m adding a new one:
Security is the new darling of mass media. Since security is not absolutely and will always be broken and security at some point has to trust something else without assurances, then security will always be potentially broken (no matter how insane or movie-script-like the scenario is). Likewise, security will always ultimately depend on fallible people. Thus, the media will forever have something to wave around when it comes to security, or insecurity incidents. And thus, the media should not be our guideline or focus when it comes to evaluating our security stances. The media only provides for measurements of security theater (which itself is important to keep in mind, but does itself not convey much real security value).*

* If I were to play devil’s advocate here, I would say that many things like even our police department does not convey as much security value as it does value through security theater. What prevents us from looting and pillaging and ravaging in the streets? Most often our collective moral compass; our knowledge of right and wrong and not wanting to be seen doing the wrong thing. This is why once a criminal steps over that moral line, it is forever easy to continue to step over it. The internets don’t and never will (and never would have!) that same moral inhibition, no matter how much we try to strip away anonymity (we can’t)…