Respect and the Internet

Perhaps my lowest moment as a user of the Internet came years ago.  Until recently if you searched for me by name on Google and used the keyword ‘Firewall’ you’d see at the top of the search list a reference to an email exchange I had with some anonymous Internet user back in the early 2000’s.  This person was on a Firewall mailing list and making assertions about the Cisco PIX Firewall.  At that time I worked for Cisco and worked closely with the PIX team. This person made the statement that ‘the PIX ran Linux’.   I responded that it did not.  This person then went on to tell everyone that it did and stated some incorrect reason.  I reasserted that it did not.  This went on for several messages.  Finally in a moment that I wish I could take back I wrote that this person “did not know what they were talking about”.

While that may not sound harsh; I escalated the level of confrontation in this conversation.  The other party didn’t just have the facts wrong about the PIX.  They didn’t know what they were talking about.

As I write this; what I did doesn’t sound so bad.  It was.  At that time the Firewall community was smaller and the list this appeared on was important.  What I did was step down to a level lower than I was comfortable with.  I wouldn’t have said this if the person was in front of me or even on a conference call.   I didn’t hide behind a false pseudonym; I had attached my up until that point good name to this message.  Other people saw this and commented back to me that I should not have ‘lost it’.

This was ages ago in Internet time.  Since then my son has grown up on the Internet and I’ve heard way, way worse coming from the speakers attached to our Playstations and xBoxen.  I rarely read the comments associated with news articles for the same reason.  Because we allow anonymity in many forums and don’t require people to attach their real name to their comments; we are left with often vile filed and worthless comments and diatribes.

What I learned from that exchange was an important lesson about respect.  Both respect for other’s and self respect.  I had stooped low.  I should ‘t have.  I’ve learned that on the Internet it’s better to be silent than disrespect another user whether they are anonymous or not.  I now know better that these type of exchanges are too often meaningless in that they don’t change anyone’s mind and only serve to lower other’s opinions.  I learned that I have more self respect than that.


Surveillance Law from Standford University via Coursera

In the past week I completed the work for the first MOOC (Massive Open online Course) that I’ve ever taken.  The course was Surveillance Law which I completed via Coursera. Let me start by saying that this course was fantastic.  The presenter, Jonathan Mayer from Stanford did a great job delivering a series of short lectures that introduced and discussed US surveillance laws from technical and legal perspectives.  The readings were great on that Mayer and the course team choose great materials but also advised participants when to read and when to skim.  The lectures and materials covered topics and news that happened just weeks and months ago; so the overall course was tremendously relevant and informative.

The discussion forums in a MOOC can be pretty daunting.  There were many, many people participating.  I read a number of messages and threads that I felt were off topic and became less interested in participating there.  I regret that now as I later learned that a number of regional, online (Google hangouts?), and over the phone study groups formed.  I would have liked to participate in one of those.  The constant “we’re screwed’, ‘the government is watching us’ attitudes expressed and off topic back and forth in some (many) of the discussions had turned me off.  I realize now they turned me off too soon.

Among what I thought were the highlights of the course:

How to Read a Legal Opinion, A Guide for New Law Students by Orin Kerr was a fantastic read.  Thank you.

Liberty and Security in a Changing World, Report and Recommendations of The President’s  Review group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies. I had seen and read this document before but i reading it again in contect with the lectures i got so much more out of it.

– Jonathan’s great red t-shirt

– An archive of all of the course lectures appears on Youtube!

I would highly recommend this course to anyone interested in criminal justice or surveillance law.  I’d also highly recommend Jonathan Mayer as a course instructor.



Security Via Fingerprint Versus Pass Code

A topic of much discussion of late has been reporting about a Virgina court ruling involving access to a data stored on a phone.  In this case a man was charged with assaulting a woman and evidence of the crime was believed to have been recorded.  A video of the assault was suspected of being stored on the man’s phone.  Prosecutors sought a court order to force the defendant to unlock his phone so they could search it for that video.

The judge in the case ruled that the defendant providing a pass code would be divulging knowledge that could incriminate themselves.  The defendant giving investigators that pass code would provide access to data on the phone that could incriminate the defendant.  The judge ruled that defendant did not have to provide the pass code given their right against self incrimination as described in the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  But the judges ruling didn’t end there.

The judge ruled that giving police a fingerprint is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample or an actual key, which the law permits.  The FBI description states:

Fingerprints vary from person to person (even identical twins have different prints) and don’t change over time. As a result, they are an effective way of identifying fugitives and helping to prove both guilt and innocence.

The US Marshals Service maintain a page dedicated to the history of fingerprints noting that the first systemic use of the technology was the NY State Prison System in 1903.

It is interesting that as fingerprints are ‘something you are’ like other identifying characteristics such as skin, eye, or hair color; and unlike a pass code (or social security or drivers license number) or ‘something you know’ you cannot withhold your fingerprint from law enforcement personal seeking to determine your identity.


New Apple Guidelines Explain What Data the Company Will Provide to Law Enforcement

ars technica has a great article that explains recently published Apple guidelines regarding what customer data the company will provide to law enforcement.  Reviewing and understanding Apple’s position is important as the companies consumer devices such as the iPhone, the iPad, and Mac computers running OS/X readily provide users the capability to use both local and cloud storage for data.

The guidelines that are referenced in the ars article were posted by Apple under the heading “Legal Process Guidelines for U.S. Law Enforcement” and were released on May 7th, 2014.

Seminars at the John Jay Center for Private Security and Safety

If you are near New York City and interested in cyber security and criminal justice I suggest attending the seminars at the Center for Private Security and Safety at John Jay College in Manhattan. I attended seminars on cybersecurity and cyber espionage.  The presenters that I saw are faculty from the college.  I found the seminars to be very well prepared and presented.  The technical level of the seminars seems targeted at an undergraduate upper class person (Junior or senior) but all questions both more and less technical in nature were answered.

Good References on Securing Mac OS/X

After reading Thomas’ article on re-evaluating the safety of Mac OS/X last week I finally managed to bring most of my Apple equipment up to current.  I checked all the network devices and updated most of those.  My Windows machines are all current.  I do have that one Mac that won’t run a current OS.  I read a great tips article over at Naked Security about bringing that as close to protected as possible.

Another reason NOT to jailbreak your IOS device!

While many folks enjoy the iPhone and all of the apps that are available for the device from iTunes or Apple’s App Store; there are people out there who want to do more.  The only way to run software on your iPhone that isn’t available from iTunes is to run another operating system other than Apple’s iOS on the phone.  The process of installing and running another operating system on an iPhone is known as ‘jailbreaking’ (see this great post at for more info).

Who does this?  People who want to listen to music obtained from sources other than iTunes (DRM free).  People who want to run apps that Apple has not approved. And then there are people who obtained their iPhone through other than normal commercial channels.

The downside to jailbreaking used to be that you had to trust whoever wrote the new operating system and whatever apps you wanted to run.  That’s not Apple.  If you jailbreak you can’t take your phone to the Apple Store for help or service.  You also can’t use iTunes or the App Store to use iOS apps.

When you read about iPhone ‘hacks’ or attacks it is important to find out if they are against iOS or jailbroken devices.  Often these hacks and even research (see touch logging) into how to attack iPhones are against jailbroken devices.

Password Managers & Escrow

Five years ago I made a decision to move from PasswordSafe to AgileBits 1Password.  As someone in the security field I’ve always tried to practice what I preach and using different passwords for different sites and cycling passwords (changing passwords every N months) is important.  I looked at a number of different password management solutions.  I enthusiastically moved to 1Password as it offered everything I was looking for.  Early on I used a local database but after becoming comfortable with the product I moved to using a shared database stored at DropBox.

One of the other password managers I looked at was PasswordBox.  PasswordBox offers an application that includes the capability to sync passwords back to ‘cloud’ storage at the developers site and is available for Mac, Windows, and mobile platforms.   When I first looked at this my concern with PasswordBox was that there was no knowing how my passwords would be secured given the applications storage model (i.e stored where?).  With 1Password storage is either local or at DropBox.  The 1Password folks have been called out on encryption (Cult of Mac 2012, Lifehacker 2013TraxArmstrong 2013 ) numerous times over the past years.  I followed that controversy and think the AgileBits team handled it well so I have no reservations recommending 1Pasword with DropBox.

Using any password manager one of the harder problems seems to be keeping the browser plug-in alive.  As Firefox has marched through release after release I’ve had to update the plug-in and recently had to uninstall / reinstall the plugin after the 1Password major version change.  That’s just one browser.  I try to keep 1Password running in Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.

Something that I have been looking for as a feature of a password manager has been some way to do password escrow.  That is creating the means to pass on information in my password manager should something happen to me.  The simple way of doing this is to give someone I trust the password to my password manager.  The downside is that the act of giving that password information creates a potentially huge point of friction.  You have to ask yourself ‘Will the person I gave that password to do the right thing at the right time?’.  Giving someone the password also equates to giving them the keys to everything.  You lose the capability to purge some information you don’t want to pass on.  One way around that is the capability offered by an application such as Legacy Locker.

Legacy Locker and other apps like it (Perpetu) offer a service that passes on usernames and passwords that you select to some person or people that you designate in the event that you ‘in theory’ pass away or become permanently incapacitated.  All of these offer some form of credential or service escrow capability.  They solve a very difficult problem that is faced by virtually all Internet based service providers; how to allow someone other than the user who agreed to the terms of agreement and opened the account into an account.

My advice regarding password managers is that more people should use them.  They are an important tool to maintaining one’s individual security on the Internet.  In order to be truly useful across multiple devices a password manager needs to use some common storage point and using Internet Cloud based storage works.  The key to using Cloud based storage and keeping your passwords secure is making sure the manager supports strong encryption.

Remote Access Tool Misuse & Familial IT Support

I read an excellent article by Nate Anderson in Ars Technica, “How the FBI found Miss Teen USA’s webcam spy” about how they broke the recent Miss USA ‘sextortion’ case.  It got me thinking about how many of my friend and colleagues become temporary IT support personnel at the end or the year trying to help their parents and loved ones through their various computer problems.  While remote access tools are a tremendous help in solving these issues without having to travel to someone’s home; they do pose a risk.  Even my wife’s favorite support tool; Teamviewer has been targeted.  By their design these tools are developed to sit and listen for an incoming connection.  If you do use these tools make sure that you are using a non trivial password or pass-phrase.  Try to make sure that the tool doesn’t load upon start up and requires that someone find and execute the program before a remote connection can be created.  If possible move the link to the utility out of the normal applications folder and into a sub folder so that it is that much harder to ‘accidentally’ launch.