University: Anti-phishing not really a “policy”

Bogus Citibank login from phishing emailThe University of Minnesota’s HR department send me an email in January telling me that I had to submit to a background check. The good news: I do them all the time.

The bad news: the background check company can only complete the check if you follow a URL embedded in an email.

This is how phishing emails work. The email comes from a convincing-sounding source, like the University’s HR department, or some third-party on their behalf. You respond to it, only to find that it really wasn’t the HR department collecting the information.

Bottom line: you can’t trust email. No matter how many times it says “This isn’t a spam email,” or “This isn’t a phishing email,” you can’t trust email.

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The Apple case isn’t “privacy” versus “safety”

The current fight is about whether we will impose a technological infrastructure which will be exceptionally vulnerable to attackers in order to provide nothing more useful than some very, very short-term advantages to people investigating crimes.

Let me say it differently: We put everyone in danger if we weaken cybersecurity. We only help a few detectives in a few investigations.

I don’t want hackers playing with my home thermostats, my car’s computer, my water or electric utility systems, or financial computers. If we make it convenient for police to reach into our computers, we also make it easy for hackers. This threatens peoples lives directly.

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Backing Up OS X with Mirrored Encrypted RAID

BombComputing technology is insanely reliable when you look at statistical error rates. Hard drives read and write trillions of bits while rarely producing a reportable error. But when you want some data to live forever (like family photos or critical business records), even an occasional error is a problem.

I’ve been using OS X and Time Machine for at least a decade now. I rely on RAID 1 “mirrored” backups. In other words, my Time Machine storage contains 2 separate hard drives. Everything is written to both of them. If one fails, I replace it with a new one, and rebuild from the good drive.

I also like to encrypt my hard drives. OS X provides convenient and capable hard drive encryption, but it doesn’t play well with the OS X RAID service. I’ve found it best to use an external RAID enclosure which handles the mirroring. I let OS X handle the crypto.

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Threat Agents

Anonymous Guy Fawkes mask

A threat agent is an active entity motivated to attack our mobile devices and activities. We may identify threat agents as specific organizations or individuals, like Anonymous, or we may classify them by goals or methods of operation (MOs). For example, shoplifters are a class of threat agent that attacks retail stores.

[This post is another piece of text I’m writing as part of a mobile security writing project. It was originally part of another post, but it can stand on its own.]

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Communication is Hard

[This post contains text I’m trying out for a new writing project on cybersecurity in the mobile age. I might be posting more such stuff in the future]

In an ideal world, we share with other people directly. We speak quietly face-to-face, gesture, and draw occasional images.

In the real world, most people are too far away to hear our words. We use cell phones and other mobile devices to carry our words farther.

Today’s mobile devices try to solve the deceptively simple problem of sharing text, images, and words. The natural world restricts the power of our voices and the range of our messages. Misunderstandings that already happen face-to-face are multiplied when we restrict our messages to text, images, and sounds.

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NSA re-releases Boak’s Lectures

Boak's History of US COMSECI’m a fan of Boak’s Lectures – they cover the fundamentals of military cryptography just before the information revolution.David Boak developed the lectures for the National Security Agency’s Cryptologic School.

Even though the lectures are from the ’60s and ’70s, they remain relevant to today’s cybersecurity threats. Cryptographic techniques that were classified Secret in Boak’s work are prominent in modern commercial cryptosystems. A sanitized version of Boak’s Lectures (Vol 1, Vol 2) was released in 2008.

I’m happy to report that the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel has released a more complete (less redacted) version. It’s available from the Government Attic.

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Recycling an iPhone – not a picnic

iPhone and erasersI’m upgrading my iPhone and trading in the old one. I had to erase the old one completely and unhook “Find my iPhone” from it.

I’d seen headlines hinting that recycled iPhones aren’t often erased. Some headlines suggest that the erasing operation itself doesn’t really work.

It works. It’s just time consuming. I turned off TouchID and the lock code. I disabled “Find my iPhone” and all the iCloud connections. Then I went on line and made sure the old phone wasn’t listed on my Apple account. Finally, I hit the “Erase All Contents and Settings” option.

The phone restarted with the Hello setup screen. I went through guided setup without hooking up iCloud or anything personal. I looked through the phone to make sure nothing was there. It was clean. I looked on Find My iPhone, and the old phone didn’t appear.

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Encrypt All Hard Drives!

Hard drive showing plattersIf you have the technical interest to read this, you probably do a lot of your finances with your personal computer. Taxes, monthly budgets, check printing (on those rare occasions), and tracking numerous accounts – computers are far better than people at handling such details. A typical personal computer, or smart phone for that matter, contains company names, account numbers, login credentials, and everything else an identity thief might need. This is reasonably safe as long as you don’t lose your device and/or its hard drive.

But when you replace your computer or hard drive, or (God forbid) someone steals it, your intimate financial details are “out there” unless your drive is encrypted.

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Clinton’s Email Server Isn’t Her Scandal

Hierarchical security levelsEarly last month, Edward Snowden criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for obviously and intentionally mishandling classified information by using a private email server. A recent Huffington post argues that, if true, Snowden’s comments could cost Clinton the Democratic Presidential nomination.

This rests on technical questions of security and classified information. Based on the information I have seen, Clinton committed no crime. Her security mistakes are typical of politicians of her (my) generation. She was exercising the authority and discretion (or lack thereof) belonging to her role as Secretary of State. I will explain why.

DISCLAIMER: I personally neither support nor oppose Hillary Clinton’s bid for a Presidential nomination.

UPDATE (March 22, 16): Richard Lempert, a professor of law and sociology, has posted a more detailed parsing of the laws and regulations to come to the same conclusion.

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Adieu, Online School

NSTISSI Training BadgeI have shut down my online school. It was an interesting experience, but not a cost-effective one. Aside from not getting rich from this, it was really boring to administer a testing program.

On the other hand, I now know an incredible amount about Moodle, the internationally-popular web service for education. I also know how to host an online testing program for much less that commercial vendors charge.

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