Thursday, April 10, 2014

SECURITY - Heartbleed Hacks SSL Security Servers

Heartbleed hacks into the SSL protocol that protects HTTPS sites.

"Security bug Heartbleed could have provided key that unlocks personal online data" PBS NewsHour 4/9/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  You may have heard headlines today about a major lapse in Internet security and the possibility that millions of passwords, credit card numbers, bank information, and commonly used Web sites could have been exposed.

It involves a bug or security leak called Heartbleed, which can be used to read encrypted information.

Hari Sreenivasan gets a breakdown on what you need to know.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Essentially, Heartbleed can be used to read the memory of computer servers, the places behind a Web site that store your information, including the lock and key system which protects your usernames and passwords.

You probably see this encryption in the form of a green lock when you conduct a transaction and exchange information.  The breach was revealed this week, but apparently has existed for a long time.

Russell Brandom of The Verge, an online site covering tech news, is here to help explain.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

WINDOWS XP - The Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET)

Now that SECURITY support for ordinary users of Windows XP is ended, here's an alternative way to protect WinXP.

Note that Microsoft Updates (which you should be using instead of Windows Updates) will still update some Microsoft software, like the "Malicious Software Removal Tool."  What stops is security updates to WinXP itself.

The alternative protection is Microsoft's The Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET)

WARNING:  The EMET is NOT for amateurs.  If used incorrectly it can cause problems with WinXP.  But if you use Recommended Settings on installation, and the Quick Profile Name [Recommended Security settings] it should be safe.

Note that EMET is for all versions of Windows and some features are not available in WinXP.

Here's a screenshot of my EMET GUI:



With WinXP SEHOP & ASLR are not available.


There Software Profiles you can [Import].  I imported Popular Software.



From the support page in above link:

What is the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit?

The Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) is a utility that helps prevent vulnerabilities in software from being successfully exploited.  EMET achieves this goal by using security mitigation technologies.  These technologies function as special protections and obstacles that an exploit author must defeat to exploit software vulnerabilities.  These security mitigation technologies do not guarantee that vulnerabilities cannot be exploited.  However, they work to make exploitation as difficult as possible to perform.

EMET 4.0 and newer versions also provide a configurable SSL/TLS certificate pinning feature that is called Certificate Trust.  This feature is intended to detect man-in-the-middle attacks that are leveraging the public key infrastructure (PKI).

Are there restrictions as to the software that EMET can protect?

EMET can work together with any software, regardless of when it was written or by whom it was written.  This includes software that is developed by Microsoft and software that is developed by other vendors.  However, you should be aware that some software may not be compatible with EMET.  For more information about compatibility, see the "Are there any risks in using EMET?" section.

What are the requirements for using EMET?

EMET 3.0 requires the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0.
EMET 4.0 and 4.1 require the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0. Additionally, for EMET to work with Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8, KB2790907 must be installed.

The Microsoft Download page for EMET.  You should download both the Setup and Guide.

Note that EMET is just a GUI that makes setting various Windows options easier.

Also, I did try with DEP [Always On] (Maximum protection settings) but that prevented 2 of my boot-time apps from running, like MiniMinder.  So I changed back to the settings you see in my GUI screenshot.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Microsoft makes source code for MS-DOS and Word for Windows available to public" by Roy Levin (Microsoft Research), Official Microsoft Blog 3/25/2014

On Tuesday, we dusted off the source code for early versions of MS-DOS and Word for Windows.  With the help of the Computer History Museum, we are making this code available to the public for the first time.

The museum has done an excellent job of curating some of the most significant historical software programs in computing history.  As part of this ongoing project, the museum will make available two of the most widely used software programs of the 1980’s, MS DOS 1.1 and 2.0 and Microsoft Word for Windows 1.1a, to help future generations of technologists better understand the roots of personal computing.

In 1980, IBM approached Microsoft to work on a project code-named “Chess.”  What followed was a significant milestone in the history of the personal computer.  Microsoft, at the time, provided the BASIC language interpreter for IBM.  However, they had other plans and asked Microsoft to create an operating system.  Without their own on hand, Microsoft licensed an operating system from Seattle Computer Products which would become the foundation for PC-DOS and MS-DOS.

IBM and Microsoft developed a unique relationship that paved the way for advancements in the nascent personal computer industry, and subsequent advancements in personal computing.

Bill Gates was interviewed by David Bunnell just after the launch of the IBM PC in the early 1980s for PC Magazine’s inaugural issue, and provided the backstory:  “For more than a year, 35 of Microsoft's staff of 100 worked fulltime (and plenty of overtime) on the IBM project.  Bulky packages containing computer gear and other goodies were air-expressed almost daily between the Boca Raton [IBM] laboratory and Seattle [Microsoft].  An electronic message system was established and there was almost always someone flying the arduous 4,000 mile commute.”

Following closely on the heels of MS DOS, Microsoft released the first DOS-based version of Microsoft Word in 1983, which was designed to be used with a mouse.  However, it was the 1989 release of Word for Windows that became a blockbuster for the company and within four years it was generating over half the revenue of the worldwide word-processing market.  Word for Windows was a remarkable engineering and marketing achievement, and we are happy to provide its source code to the museum.

It’s mind-boggling to think of the growth from those days when Microsoft had under 100 employees and a Microsoft product (MS-DOS) had less than 300KB (yes, kilobytes) of source code.  From those roots we’ve grown in a few short decades to become a company that has sold more than 200 million licenses of Windows 8 and has over 1 billion people using Microsoft Office.  Great things come from modest beginnings, and the great Microsoft devices and services of the future will probably start small, just as MS-DOS and Word for Windows did.

Thanks to the Computer History Museum, these important pieces of source code will be preserved and made available to the community for historical and technical scholarship.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

THE WEB - Who Should Oversee It

The title of this article is slightly misleading to non-techies.  NO single entity controls the WEB.  The issue is who assigns the Internet Protocol (IP) Addressing and assigning of Domain Names to IPs.

"As the U.S. government relinquishes control, who should oversee the Web?" PBS NewsHour 3/24/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The Commerce Department recently announced it would give up oversight of ICANN, the California nonprofit that manages the unique domains of the world's websites and email servers.  There's been international pressure to make the change, especially in light of revelations about NSA surveillance.  Vint Cerf of Google and Randolph May of the Free State Foundation join Judy Woodruff to offer debate.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Who controls the World Wide Web, and how is it overseen and governed?  These are the questions that most of us don’t really know the answers to, but the Obama administration announced a change in the role played by the United States, one that’s stirring up concerns about the Internet’s future and freedom from censorship.

FADI CHEHADE, CEO, ICANN:  To become the world’s ICANN, we have to go to the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Change was in the wind as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, kicked off a meeting in Singapore this weekend, its purpose, to start crafting a transition from U.S. control of administration of the Internet.

Since 1998, the California nonprofit has had a federal contract to manage the unique identifiers of the world’s Web sites and e-mail servers, regulating domain names such as dot-com and dot-gov.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

WINXP - Updates to Continue for Big Business For a Fee

More proof that Microdunce does not care about peon customers.  They are just another greedy company who cares only about profits and not serving customers who bought their product.  I would be willing to pay $50/year for continued WinXP Updates.

This strategy is recently confirmed by several banks making the Updates For Fee deal with Microdunce to protect their ATMs running WinXP.

"Microsoft will still patch Windows XP for a select group" by Gregg Keizer, PCWorld 9/1/2013

Excerpt

Just because Microsoft doesn't plan on giving Windows XP patches to the public after April 8, 2014, doesn't mean it's going to stop making those patches.

In fact, Microsoft will be creating security updates for Windows XP for months—years, even—after it halts their delivery to the general public.

Some will pay big for support

Those patches will come from a program called "Custom Support," an after-retirement contract designed for very large customers who have not, for whatever reason, moved on from an older OS.

As part of Custom Support—which according to analysts, costs about $200 per PC for the first year and more each succeeding year—participants receive patches for vulnerabilities rated "critical" by Microsoft.  Bugs ranked as "important," the next step down in Microsoft's four-level threat scoring system, are not automatically patched.  Instead, Custom Support contract holders must pay extra for those.  Flaws pegged as "moderate" or "low" are not patched at all.

"Legacy products or out-of-support service packs covered under Custom Support will continue to receive security hotfixes for vulnerabilities labeled as 'Critical' by the MSRC [Microsoft Security Response Center]," Microsoft said in a Custom Support data sheet.  "Customers with Custom Support that need security patches defined as 'Important' by MSRC can purchase these for an additional fee.

"These security hotfixes will be issued through a secure process that makes the information available only to customers with Custom Support," the data sheet promised.

Because Microsoft sells Custom Support agreements, it's obligated to come up with patches for critical and important vulnerabilities.  And it may be required to do so for years: The company sells Custom Support for up to three years after it retires an operating system.

Custom Support and the XP security updates that result have been one reason why some experts have held out hope that Microsoft will backtrack from retiring XP next April.  Their reasoning is straightforward: Microsoft will have patches available—its engineers won't have to do any more work than they already committed to doing—so handing them out to all would be a simple matter.

Or not.  Most experts have said that the chance Microsoft will prolong Windows XP's life run between slim and none.  And giving away patches to everyone risks a revolt by those big customers who have paid millions for Custom Support.

But Microsoft does have options.  Here are our suggestions:

Continue patching for free

If Windows XP remains a major presence, as it appears likely, with projections as high as 33.5 percent of all personal computers at the end of April 2014, Microsoft could decide to continue patching the aged OS with free fixes for critical vulnerabilities, maybe even those rated important.

Such a move would be unpalatable to Custom Support customers, but Microsoft could renegotiate the fees—unlikely—or remind those companies of the program's other benefits, which include access to support representatives, as well as to prior patches and hotfixes.

Patch critical vulnerabilities under attack

Microsoft could selectively patch only the critical bugs that are being exploited by hackers.  Presumably, that would be a subset of the complete XP patch collection assembled each month.

Some analysts have picked this option as a possibility.  Last December, Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft posed just such a situation.

"Suppose ... a security problem with XP suddenly causes massive problems on the Internet, such as a massive [denial-of-service] problem?" asked Cherry at the time.  "It is not just harming Windows XP users, it is bringing the entire Internet to its knees.  At this time there are still significant numbers of Windows XP in use, and the problem is definitely due to a problem in Windows XP.  In this scenario, I believe Microsoft would have to do the right thing and issue a fix ... without regard to where it is in the support lifecycle."

Charge users for XP patches

Although Microsoft would much rather book revenue from the sale of a newer OS, it may realize that some will refuse to upgrade, and try to make money rather than give away fixes.

It's unlikely that Microsoft would be able to charge $200 annually for post-retirement patches, as it does with Custom Support customers, but it may be able to get away with $50 a year for individuals and small businesses, perhaps with a maximum machine cap at, say, five PCs per customer.

Traditionally, Microsoft's not charged for support, but it could cast this as a special situation caused by the longevity of XP, which was due to the delay of Vista and secondarily, that OS's subsequent flop.  In late 2007, when Microsoft extended XP availability to OEMs by several months, it cited Vista's delayed launch for the unusual move.  (It added another extension in 2008 that kept XP alive on new "netbook" PCs, the then-popular class of cheap laptops, until mid-2010.)

And Microsoft has talked up a transformation to a "devices-and-services" company; a pay-for-support plan would mesh nicely with the latter half of that strategy.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

WORLD WIDE WEB - 25th Birthday

"25 years on, still adapting to life tangled up in the Web" PBS NewsHour 3/12/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The World Wide Web turns 25 years old today.  The date marks the publication of a paper that originally laid out the concept, which eventually led to the vast system of Internet sites we now use.

Jeffrey Brown looks at how it’s changed the world we live in.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  One way to do that is to look at how individual Americans think about the Internet and its impact on their lives.

The Pew Research Internet Project did that in a survey just out.  Among much else, it finds that 87 percent of American adults now use the Internet, and the number goes up to 97 percent for young adults from 18 to 29.  Ninety percent of Internet users say the Internet has been a good thing for them personally, though the number drops to 76 percent when asked if the Internet has been a good thing for society generally, with 15 percent saying it’s been bad for society.

And 53 percent of Internet users say the Internet would be, at minimum, very hard to give up.

We’re joined by three people who’ve watched the growth of the Internet from different angles.  Xeni Jardin is a journalist and editor at the Web blog Boing Boing, which covers technology and culture.  Catherine Steiner-Adair is a clinical and consulting psychologist at Harvard Medical School, and author of “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.”  And Daniel Weitzner teaches computer science and Internet public policy in at MIT.  From 2011 to 2012, he was U.S. deputy chief technology officer in the White House.

And welcome to all of you.

And, Daniel Weitzner, I will start with you, because you worked with Tim Berners-Lee, who — one of the main people that started all this 25 years ago.  What has — what surprises you now, sitting here 25 years later, about where we’re at?

DANIEL WEITZNER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology:  Well, it does surprise me how tremendously the Internet and the Web has grown into every aspect of our lives.

I think that a lot of us who were involved in the early days of the Internet and the Web had hoped that it could really reach the whole world.  And there’s no question that Tim Berners-Lee, who — whose architecture for the World Wide Web really helped it to grow, had the ambition that it in fact cover the whole world — represent everything in the world.  But I think it’s amazing how far we have actually come in that direction.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

MICROSOFT - New CEO

"Nadella to head Microsoft; Gates leaves chair role" by AP, Washington Post 2/4/2014

Microsoft has named Satya Nadella, an executive in charge of the company’s small but growing business of delivering software and services over the Internet, as its new CEO.  Company founder Bill Gates is leaving the chairman role for a new role as technology adviser.

The software company announced Tuesday that Nadella will replace Steve Ballmer, who said in August that he would leave the company within 12 months.  Nadella will become only the third leader in the software giant’s 38-year history, after Gates and Ballmer.  Board member John Thompson will serve as Microsoft’s new chairman.

Nadella, who is 46 and has worked at Microsoft for 22 years, has been an executive in some of the company’s fastest-growing and most-profitable businesses, including its Office and server and tools business.

For the past seven months, he was the executive vice president who led Microsoft’s cloud computing offerings.  That’s a new area for Microsoft, which has traditionally focused on software installed on personal computers rather than on remote servers connected to the Internet.  Nadella’s group has been growing strongly, although it remains a small part of Microsoft’s current business.

“Satya is a proven leader with hard-core engineering skills, business vision and the ability to bring people together,” Gates said in a statement.  “His vision for how technology will be used and experienced around the world is exactly what Microsoft needs as the company enters its next chapter of expanded product innovation and growth.”

The company said that Gates, in his new role as founder and technology adviser, “will devote more time to the company, supporting Nadella in shaping technology and product direction.”

Gates will also remain a member of Microsoft’s board.

Analysts hope that Nadella can maintain the company’s momentum in the rapidly expanding field of cloud computing while minimizing the negative impact from Microsoft’s unprofitable forays into consumer hardware.  Major rivals in cloud computing include Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Salesforce.com Inc. and IBM Corp.

FBR Capital Markets analyst Daniel Ives said he views Nadella as a “safe pick.”

Ives said investors are worried that rivals “from social, enterprise, mobile, and the tablet segments continue to easily speed by the company.”  In a note to investors, he said the company’s main need now is “innovation and a set of fresh new strategies to drive the next leg of growth.”

Microsoft shares rose 8 cents to $36.56 in morning trading Tuesday.

Nadella’s appointment comes at a time of turmoil for Microsoft.

Founded in April 1975 by Gates and Paul Allen, the company has always made software that powered computers made by others — first with its MS-DOS system, then with Windows and its Office productivity suite starting in the late 1980s.  Microsoft’s coffers swelled as more individuals and businesses bought personal computers.

But Microsoft has been late adapting to developments in the technology industry.  It allowed Google to dominate in online search and advertising, and it watched as iPhones, iPads and Android devices grew to siphon sales from the company’s strengths in personal computers.  Its attempt to manufacture its own devices has been littered with problems, from its quickly aborted Kin line of phones to its still-unprofitable line of Surface tablets.

Analysts see hope in some of the businesses Nadella had a key role in creating.

Microsoft’s cloud computing offering, Azure, and its push to have consumers buy Office software as a $100-a-year Office 365 subscription are seen as the biggest drivers of Microsoft’s growth in the next couple of years.  Both businesses saw the number of customers more than double in the last three months of the year, compared with a year earlier.

Those businesses, along with other back-end offerings aimed at corporate customers, are the main reason why investment fund ValueAct Capital invested $1.6 billion in Microsoft shares last year.

Last April, the fund urged investors to ignore the declining PC market — which hurts Microsoft’s Windows business — and to focus on the so-called “plumbing” that Microsoft provides to help companies analyze massive amounts of data and run applications essential to their businesses on Microsoft’s servers or their own.

“Satya was really one of the people who helped build up the commercial muscle,” said Kirk Materne, an analyst with Evercore Partners.  “He has a great understanding of what’s going on in the cloud and the importance of delivering more technology as a service.”

Nadella is a technologist, fulfilling the requirement that Gates set out at the company’s November shareholder meeting, where the Microsoft chairman said the company’s new leader must have “a lot of comfort in leading a highly technical organization.”

Born in Hyderabad, India, in 1967, Nadella received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Mangalore University, a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and a master’s of business administration from the University of Chicago.

He joined Microsoft in 1992 after being a member of the technology staff at Sun Microsystems.

One of his first tasks will be integrating Nokia’s money-losing phone and services business.  Microsoft agreed in September to buy that and various phone patent rights for 5.4 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in one of Ballmer’s last major acts as CEO.  That deal is expected to be completed by the end of March.

Partly because of Nadella’s insider status and the fact that both Gates and Ballmer will remain Microsoft’s largest shareholders and for now, company directors, analysts aren’t expecting a quick pivot in the strategy of making its own tablets and mobile devices.

Some hope, however, that he will make big changes that will help lift Microsoft stock, which has been stuck in the doldrums for more than a decade.  Since Ballmer took office in Jan. 13, 2000, Microsoft shares are down a split-adjusted 32 percent, compared with a 20 percent gain in the S&P 500.

“We do not want to see a continuation of the existing direction for the business, so it will be important that Mr. Nadella be free to make changes,” Nomura analyst Rick Sherlund wrote in a note Friday.

Friday, January 31, 2014

UTILITIES - A Better System Information for Windows

I've posted about this utility a long while back but they just came out with a 2014 version.  In my opinion this utility is worth the price.

SIW or System Information for Windows

SIW is an advanced System Information for Windows tool that analyzes your computer and gathers detailed information about system properties and settings and displays it in an extremely comprehensible manner.

SIW can create a report file (CSV, HTML, TXT or XML), and you can run it in batch mode (for PC Inventory - Software and Hardware Inventory, Asset Inventory, Software License Management, Security Audit, Server Configuration Management).

The System Information is divided into few major categories:

  • Software Information:  Operating System, Software Licenses (Product Keys / Serial Numbers / CD Key), Installed Software and Hotfixes, Processes, Services, Users, Open Files, System Uptime, Installed Codecs, Passwords Recovery, Server Configuration.
  • Hardware Information:  Motherboard, CPU, Sensors, BIOS, chipset, PCI/AGP, USB and ISA/PnP Devices, Memory, Video Card, Monitor, Disk Drives, CD/DVD Devices, SCSI Devices, S.M.A.R.T., Ports, Printers.
  • Network Information:  Network Cards, Network Shares, currently active Network Connections, Open Ports.
  • Network Tools:  MAC Address Changer, Neighborhood Scan, Ping, Trace, Statistics, Broadband Speed Test
  • Miscellaneous Tools:  Eureka! (Reveal lost passwords hidden behind asterisks), Monitor Test, Shutdown / Restart.
  • Real-time monitors:  CPU, Memory, Page File usage and Network Traffic.
SIW (Technician's Version) is a standalone utility that does not require installation (Portable) - one less installed program on your PC as well the fact that you can run the program directly from an USB flash drive, from a network drive or from a domain login script.

Client Platform:  Windows 8.1 / Windows 8 / Windows 7 / Vista / Windows XP / 2000 / Media Center / Tablet PC / WinRE / BartPE / Winternals ERD Commander

Server Platform:  Windows 2012 (R2) / Windows SBS 2011 / Windows Server 2008 (R2) / Windows Server 2003 (R2) / Windows Server 2000

NOTE:  This is not freeware.

Screenshot of my home desktop rig (click for larger view)

I have the Technician's version, yearly subscription.

You only get SIW.exe which is the entire utility (NOT an installer).  When you first launch it you get a dialog to enter your registered name and license key, it then generates a siw.key file which must be in the same directory as SIW.exe for it to run.  This means you just copy both files to a USB stick and you can run it from there.  Of course, to run it on your system you create a folder and move the files there then create a shortcut (I used the System Tools category) to run it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

HARDWARE - My New ThinkPad Ubuntu Laptop

UPGRADE  TIME....

My Clevo Ubuntu (Linux) Notebook was getting long-in-the-tooth, and having sound problems.

So I got an upgrade from the fine people at Linux Certified.  The same people who shipped me the Clevo.

Here are the main specs:

  • Intel Quad-Core i5-3230M, 2.6 GHz, 3MB L3 Cache 64bit
  • Hard Drive 500 GB SATA
  • 3gb RAM
  • Display 15.6" HD at 1366 x 768 (aka Widescreen)
  • DVD Writer Dual Layer 
  • Built-in 10/100/1000 LAN
  • Integrated Mini-PCI 802.11 WiFi Card
  • Smart Li-Ion 6 cell battery
  • Had it pre-loaded with Ubuntu 13.10

Need I say, it's fast, and with that memory everything runs in memory.

This time I went with the Ubuntu (aka Unity) Desktop.

(click for larger view)


I had said in the past that I didn't like Unity, but now that I understand it, it's not that bad.  Also has less problems with some apps running GNOME Desktop.

The Unity Launcher (aka Strip) to the left is a combination Taskbar and Quick Launcher.  When you launch an app the app's icon will appear in the Strip marked with a white arrow that indicates its window is open.  If you minimize a window/app the Strip icon acts just like the button in the Windoz Taskbar, you click it to re-open the window

The addition is you can 'lock' an app's icon to the Strip, making it a quick-launch icon.  Every icon on my Strip shown above are quick-launch.

The main complaint I had against Unity is not having a treed-menu.  That is why I used GNOME Desktop on my old Clevo.  GNOME has a menu.

But there is a plug-in that puts a Classic Menu Button (Global Bar, top right) for Ubuntu.


You click this button and you get a classic tree menu, nice.








Here's a link to Lenovo's spec page.

Note that I have Steam installed.  Now I have a rig that can play games without a hitch.

Monday, January 20, 2014

CYBERCRIME - Who Orchestrated the Target Breach

"Were criminal gangs involved in the Target security breach?" PBS Newshour 1/18/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Another story that we wanted to follow up on tonight is the state of credit card security, or lack of it.  This following discourse is about major security breaches at big retailers, including Target and Neiman Marcus.  Now new details are emerging about who was behind it, and how it was accomplished.  For more we are joined now, from Washington, by Mike Riley with Bloomberg News.  So, there was a big report out - it started to layout the details.  How do these hackers get all the credit card numbers?

MIKE RILEY, Bloomberg News:  So, they have a pretty sophisticated piece of malware that goes on the point of sales system itself, so that is the terminal that sits in front the the cash register that we all swipe our cards on.  So, the malware goes there and it takes advantage of a quirk, where within that machine, all that information that is taken off that card is sent from one memory chip to another.  It is not encrypted in that process, and they grab it right there.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And so, who is writing this malware?

MIKE RILEY:  It looks like it is Eastern European or Russian criminal gangs.  Some of the most sophisticated hackers in the world are Russian or Eastern European.  What they have done is they have gotten really good systems.  It is like a supply chain that you can buy pieces of malware.  If you are good enough, as in this case - they have bought a specific piece of malware, called Black POS.  It is a pretty good piece of malware to begin with, but then they customized it.  They made it better.  They made it harder to find, and then they figured out a scheme to get into Target's computers, and stuck it on the point of sales system.  It is also pretty clear that the same gang, or a group of different hackers using the same malware, are targeting other retailers.  We have not seen the end of this.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

INTERNET - FCC Net Neutrality Rules

"Will end of net neutrality rules impact future innovation?" PBS Newshour 1/15/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Net neutrality is the idea that broadband Internet service providers, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and others, should treat everything that flows across the Internet equally.  That means preventing service providers from creating fast lanes for sites they have business ties with, such as streaming video services like Hulu or Netflix, and slowing access to others, like Amazon.

It also means not charging more for YouTube and other sites based on their heavier bandwidth use or in exchange for faster speeds, all of which could affect what consumers see online, how fast, and at what price.  The principles were set out by the Federal Communications Commission nearly a decade ago.

The agency enshrined them in its Open Internet Order adopted in 2010.  But Verizon sued to challenge the agency's authority, and, yesterday, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found the FCC acted improperly.  The 81-page ruling said the agency is wrong to classify Internet service providers as information services, but at the same time regulate them as common carriers, meaning as it does telephone and utility companies.

While the FCC decides whether to appeal, Amazon and others are watching to see if the broadband networks impose their own rules, favoring some content companies over others.

For its part, Verizon issued a statement yesterday that said, in part:  "Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet.  This will not change in light of the court's decision."

The ruling doesn't apply to wireless services accessed through mobile devices, which represent a growing share of the market.

SECURITY - Hacking By Radio

Public release of this information is a direct threat to U.S. national security.  We have just let our new enemies know what to look for.

"N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers" by DAVID E. SANGER and THOM SHANKER, New York Times 1/14/2014

Excerpt

The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks.

While most of the software is inserted by gaining access to computer networks, the N.S.A. has increasingly made use of a secret technology that enables it to enter and alter data in computers even if they are not connected to the Internet, according to N.S.A. documents, computer experts and American officials.

The technology, which the agency has used since at least 2008, relies on a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into the computers.  In some cases, they are sent to a briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target.

The radio frequency technology has helped solve one of the biggest problems facing American intelligence agencies for years: getting into computers that adversaries, and some American partners, have tried to make impervious to spying or cyberattack.  In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user.

The N.S.A. calls its efforts more an act of “active defense” against foreign cyberattacks than a tool to go on the offensive.  But when Chinese attackers place similar software on the computer systems of American companies or government agencies, American officials have protested, often at the presidential level.

Among the most frequent targets of the N.S.A. and its Pentagon partner, United States Cyber Command, have been units of the Chinese Army, which the United States has accused of launching regular digital probes and attacks on American industrial and military targets, usually to steal secrets or intellectual property.  But the program, code-named Quantum, has also been successful in inserting software into Russian military networks and systems used by the Mexican police and drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and sometime partners against terrorism like Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, according to officials and an N.S.A. map that indicates sites of what the agency calls “computer network exploitation.”

“What’s new here is the scale and the sophistication of the intelligence agency’s ability to get into computers and networks to which no one has ever had access before,” said James Andrew Lewis, the cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.  “Some of these capabilities have been around for a while, but the combination of learning how to penetrate systems to insert software and learning how to do that using radio frequencies has given the U.S. a window it’s never had before.”

No Domestic Use Seen

There is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States.  While refusing to comment on the scope of the Quantum program, the N.S.A. said its actions were not comparable to China’s.

“N.S.A.'s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement.  “We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

CYBERTHEFT - Target Inc. Gets Hacked

"U.S. consumers have many protections but no guarantees against credit card fraud" PBS Newshour 12/19/2013

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  The retail chain Target confirmed that hackers breached tens of millions of credit card and debit accounts at the height of the shopping season, just before Thanksgiving and right up until Dec. 15.

The theft occurred when people swiped their cards in store, not online.  The retailer confirmed that customers' names, credit card and debit card numbers and security codes were stolen.  It's the latest in a series of major breaches in recent years.

We explore them with Steve Surdu of Mandiant, a cyber-security firm.

How did 40 million accounts get compromised?

STEVE SURDU, Mandiant:  Well, we don't know the details at this point in time.  They're still investigating.

But, obviously, information had to be siphoned off from the organization.  Attackers almost certainly came in from outside, put software in place that allowed them to aggregate the information over time and then remove it, so that they could use it.

RE:  Hackers installed a Trojan virus that allowed external access to Target systems.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

COMPUTER GAMING - Financing 'Oculus Rift' Gaming Goggles

"Tricking the brain with transformative virtual reality" PBS Newshour 12/18/2013

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Correspondent Paul Solman takes a look at a technology that allows adventurous users to explore the latest developments in the world of video gaming.

It's part of his ongoing coverage Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour):  It was a 20-year-old named Palmer Luckey who would finally make science fiction dreams come true.

Working in his parents garage, he cobbled together a headset out of ski goggles, smartphone and tablet parts to create a just-like-real-life gaming experience.  Then, hoping to raise $250,000 to take his invention to market, he turned to the crowd-funding Web site Kickstarter.

PALMER LUCKEY, Oculus Rift:  So join the revolution.  Make a pledge.  And help up change gaming forever.

PAUL SOLMAN:  Within days, he had 10 times what he needed, as gamers went gaga over the goggles.

Monday, November 25, 2013