Saturday, 22 April 2006

Stacked boats - Warehouse marinaI thought this was just about the coolest thing ever when I saw it a couple weeks ago in Florida.

Many people park their boats in the water at a marina. But at the place where my aunt and uncle keep theirs in Florida, the boats are all stacked in these huge racks in a warehouse and are moved around by great big fork-lifts. Want to take your boat out on the water? No problem, they'll get it for ya. They drop it right in the water alongside the dock and pick it up from the same place. High, dry, and presumably safer from storms than if it was stored outside in the water. Sure keeps the boats nice and clean and secure. Pretty cool.

A couple weeks ago I visited my aunt and uncle, Gail and Scott, in St. Pete while I was in Florida for a work conference. We went out on the boat and hung out for a while on the beach. It was a great weekend.

Scott pilots the boat:

Uncle Scott

... and cleans it afterward:

Scott and his boat

Me and my aunt Gail on the beach - you can tell I'm not from Florida eh? I didn't pack any shorts.

Aunt Gail



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Personal Stories | Random Stuff
Saturday, 22 April 2006 13:26:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Back before the iPod was in anyone's hands, Steve Jobs introduced the new product to the world. It's interesting to look back at his introductory speech, which was presented back in 2001, in the context of what's happened between then and now.

View the video here.

I'm glad we've been able to switch from FireWire to USB 2.0 though.

Apple had a powerful vision back then, and made it came true. It's returned them to the true center of the stage. The company is three times the size it was just a few years back  (and they're building a whole new campus in Cupertino - click for video) and - of course - it's once again the major household name it used to be back in the 80's. It will be interesting to see what else they come up with next in order to completely define an industry. And I mean define an industry and a market that does not exist yet, much like they did with the iPod.

(via Presentation Zen)



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Random Stuff | Tech
Saturday, 22 April 2006 09:47:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 20 April 2006

Chris Corio, a program manager on the Windows Security team, has put together an article for the May/June 2006 issue of TechNet Magazine that takes a first look at the new security features that will be included in Windows Vista. Items covered in the article are:

  • User Account Control
  • Consent and Credentials
  • Code Integrity
  • Data Encryption
  • Application Isolation
  • Data Redirection
  • Cryptography
  • Credential Providers
  • Service Hardening
  • Windows Defender
  • Rights Management Services

It's a good summary all in one place of many of the security improvements that will be built into or will ship with the new OS. From reduced privileges to improved use of strong cryptography and other new features, Vista looks like it will be a major step forward in the Windows security world - a welcome set of core changes.

Read the article here.



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IT Security | Tech
Thursday, 20 April 2006 21:07:05 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 19 April 2006

If you run Firefox (or other Mozilla software based on the same codebase like Thunderbird) and have not upgraded it to the latest version (the latest Firefox - 1.5.0.2 - was released just last week), CERT says you really really need to.

From ZDNET:

"CERT advises people who use Mozilla's e-mail software, Thunderbird, and the Internet application suite Seamonkey to also upgrade to the latest versions (Thunderbird 1.5 and Seamonkey 1.0.1). CERT warned that any other products based on older Mozilla components, particularly the Gecko rendering engine, may also be affected.

"Firefox has traditionally been seen as being more secure than other Web browsers such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer. This is thought to be the first time that multiple vulnerabilities have been reported in Firefox and the Mozilla suite.

"Secunia warned that hackers could exploit the security holes to gain control of computer systems, conduct phishing attacks, and bypass security restrictions.

"One error that occurs in Firefox would allow arbitrary JavaScript code to be injected into Web pages as they load."

FireFoxUpdateUsers of Firefox can typically just click on the Firefox "Help" drop-down menu and then choose the "Check for Updates" option to see if they are running the latest version. If your version of Firefox does not have this option, you know you're way out of date and you should visit http://getfirefox.com right now and download the newest version ASAP.

Also, of use to corporate IT people is the Firefox Community Edition package from FrontMotion that includes features to do MSI installs and leverage associated Active Directory ADM files to manage Group Policy security functionality in Windows domains. Companies using this package can apply the patched versions in an automated, simpler and reliable fashion. Larger organizations that don't use such a package have to deal with either a more complicated update process or reliance on end users to perform the updates - which is never 100% successful, even in the smallest shops. Version-wise, it's important to note that FrontMotion's MSI installers tend to lag a bit behind the Firefox official releases (when a new FireFox release is issued, the FrontMotion crew uses it to create the new MSI installers and ADM files), so keep this in mind when deciding how to deploy.



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IT Security | Safe Computing | Tech
Wednesday, 19 April 2006 17:22:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 12 April 2006

I work in the security field (we build anti-fraud and authentication software and services for financial services and electronic commerce companies like banks, etc). Recently I've been asked by a significant number of people why certain banks are being phished in such large volumes. Now, while I don't write about specific financial institutions or security events (that would not be appropriate), I can tell you that any given bank has little to no control over whether or not it is made a target in the first place. All the big banks (and many tiny ones) get hit hard at some point. What they do have control over is their chosen prevention, mitigation and response plans and methodologies.

In the end, the most effective solution is the fairly simple one: Make it hard enough for the fraudsters and eventually they will move on to another bank. Stopping phishing and other online fraud is really just like everyday police work - It's not actually about ending crime, it's about making it go elsewhere. In the real world, the cops just push the burglars, drunks and drug dealers to someone else's town. We don't solve these problems, we just move them somewhere else.

So, eventually the scammers' targets and victims change. The real problem with online fraud is that we can't put an end to it with infrastructure technology they way it is now. We can get way out in front of it (where I work, we write software that can help prevent most phishing attacks from being launched in the first place, as well as strong authentication software to help stop bad guys from getting in the door even if they have a key). But it's way too easy to run a phishing scam, and prosecution is not an effective solution. Prevention is the way to go, and that means diligence on the part of financial institutions, using the right kinds of technology where needed, and a implementing a whole-community effort to stop the problem before it ever gets started. Tools are out there to let the bank get in front of the problem, and but it off at the knees before the crime occurs - a lot like stopping the bank robber well before he walks into the bank's branch office. Preventing the robbery is a lot less messy than cleaning up afterwards, explaining it to everyone, and trying to convince your customers that have just been held hostage not to leave your bank for another one.

Email is, as designed, one significant part of the problem we face. It's just too easy to abuse. Without getting too far into the whole "email-limitation" debate (Sidebar: When I spoke at a security conference last week one attendee tried to lure me into taking a political position on whether charging to send each email is a good idea... Heh, no I think not...), it's clear at least that there are many problems with the medium. Educating people not to respond and not to click on links will not solve the problem, as has been proven time and time again. Email is an  insecure method of information transport, and unless access can somehow be reasonably curtailed, this problem won't go away. The real question is, can email be restricted for bad guys while still keeping it free and in the spirit of the open Internet for everyone else? If so, how? Something tells me the debate and answers have not changed much over the years.

Ah, what the heck, let's just kill email completely. Block port 25 at the backbone routers. It's a counter-productive way to communicate much of the time anyhow. Imagine all the misunderstandings we'd avoid. The tangible and intangible benefits would be many. :)

But seriously, in the real world, there are three basic approaches to tackling this problem (phishing and cyber-fraud) if you're a financial institution. I'll mention them here briefly, and will likely dive into them in more detail in another post sometime soon:

  • Option One - Purely Reactive Posture - Apologize to customers when they call and tell you there's a problem, refund their accounts, change their passwords for them, hope they don't leave you for another bank.
  • Option Two - Hybrid Reactive Posture - Watch for phishing emails and when you see them, use technology to block them and see if the sites in the emails are real, and if so try to get them taken down, either on your own or through a professional take-down service. Apologize to less customers, and hopefully change their passwords before the bad guys get into the accounts.
  • Option Three - Preemptive Approach - Prevent the fraud attack from being launched in the first place, shut down fraudulent sites before the victims receive an email, make it difficult for the attackers, and protect your customers from being victimized at all.

Which option do you think is best? Which posture do you expect your bank to adopt? For my part, I vote for leveraging all three options, with a strong primary emphasis on Option Three, where prevention is the main focus. That's the area where I spend the majority of my professional time, with a team of developers and forensic techies who build software that prevents attacks and gives banks what they need to protect customers from becoming victims. It's a worthwhile job.



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IT Security | Tech
Wednesday, 12 April 2006 22:04:33 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Microsoft's Windows Live ID team has started a blog to communicate information about the new product, which is a replacement/upgrade for the Passport service. From the inaugural post:

"Windows Live ID is the upgrade/replacement for the Microsoft Passport service and is the identity and authentication gateway service for cross-device access to Microsoft online services, such as Windows Live, MSN, Office Live and Xbox Live.  Is this the authentication service for the world?  No :-)  It's primarily designed for use with Microsoft online services and by Microsoft-affiliated close partners who integrate with Windows Live services to offer combined innovations to our mutual customers.  We will continue to support the Passport user base of 300+ Million accounts and seamlessly upgrade these accounts to Windows Live IDs.  Partners who have already implemented Passport are already compatible with Windows Live ID.
 
"Windows Live ID is being designed to be an identity provider among many within the
Identity Metasystem.  In the future, we will support Federated identity scenarios via WS-* and support InfoCards.
 
"For developers we will be providing rich programmable interfaces via server and client SDKs to give third party application developers access to authenticated
Microsoft Live services and APIs.
 
"Over the next few weeks as we complete our deployment, you will see the Windows Live ID service come alive through our respective partners sites and services.  The first thing you’ll notice as early as today is that the word Passport is being replaced by Windows Live ID.  But isn't a rebranding exercise -- there is stuff going on under the hood.  This will be more understandable in the coming weeks and months when you start seeing the new, exciting Windows Live sign-in UI.  Not only is the page load time significantly reduced, but you will see some really cool innovative features that we’re sure you’ll love :)"

I'll likely be writing here on this weblog about Infocard (which I have early some experience with), authentication and other related topics, since I have a professional connection to all of the above. Glad to see the Live ID team getting their blog start - this is the beginning of what should be a great phase of changes and improvements in the area.



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IT Security | Tech
Wednesday, 12 April 2006 10:02:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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