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Comment Re:And that's why (Score 1) 103

I have wondered about different virtual machines on a phone. The retina lock might get one the VM for a workspace for personal stuff, while to access business data, it would require a fingerprint and PIN. Done right, there would be plausible deniability for this... and more importantly, it would separate business and personal stuff.

Comment Re:Why were the accounts around to begin with? (Score 2) 100

Yeah... I call bullshit.

I had an old Yahoo account that has definitely been inactive for over 5 years. I just tried to log in, and it tried to send a validation code (good?) to a Hotmail address that I haven't used in even longer than that. That Hotmail account appears to have been properly deleted and re-registered (by someone whose security questions are in a different language than I would have used).

Comment Re: Send it an email? (Score 2) 100

So... They're just like post office boxes, on which the system was modeled, or street addresses. In both of those cases, someone else can get your address after you leave and communicate in your name!

While getting your own domain is significantly easier than getting your own post office or private street, the effect is still the same. Those are the only ways to reliably use their respective addresses as identities.

Comment Re:Yes, the Cloud, but other factors too (Score 1) 118

The ironic thing is that when I interviewed at one place last summer, the CTO personally started asking me questions. When I asked them about their disaster recovery plan, as the company was 100% AWS based, the reply from the CTO was, "Asking a cloud based company about 'backups' or 'uptime' is like asking a Tesla owner about the type of buggy whip they use."

Needless to say I decided to look elsewhere for work.

Comment Re:Well, once the panels are installed (Score 5, Insightful) 415

Not really. Solar panels are becoming as tied to a construction project as roofing materials, and other basic building supplies. Even after buildings are retofitted, there are always new things coming up, new technologies that are iffish now, but are maturing (tinted windows which may run at 1/20 the wattage a normal panel, but with the sheer square footage on a south side of a building, it might be worth doing, when the price for the tint becomes that cheap.)

Solar plants will continue to expand. With HVDC transmission methods, there is a lot of desert that can be used for solar, and with roughly 3.5% transmission loss per 1000 km, this can be a viable way to provide a few GW to a city. If the transmission loss is too great, it isn't too difficult to pull CO2 from the air and make ethanol, propane, synthetic diesel (Audi has pioneered this), or something similar as a way to fuel non-electric vehicles and stay carbon negative. Heck, with enough power and a source of water, thermal depolymerization becomes possible, which is an extremely good way to dispose of plastic and have a usable resource for fuel or manufacturing.

Solar technology will only improve as well. Panels may be near maximums of energy output, but better MPPT controllers and energy storage will be the focal point eventually as the bottleneck moves from panels.

The nice thing about solar is that it is stupidly easy to set up compared to any other energy source [1], and it is relatively maintenance free, because everything is solid state on the grid, and off the grid, the only component that wears out are batteries.

[1]: A cast off car battery, a surplus panel, a $8 PWM charger from eBay, and some 12 volt light bulbs can power the lights on a detached building indefinitely. I don't know any other energy source that can sit there and do that. The Aussies go a step further and stick refrigerators with solar panels on them in the middle of nowhere so they can get a cold one even if on the back 40. I don't know any other energy source that can do that... nuclear perhaps, but with all the fear about nuclear, you will never see a basketball-sized reactor just for powering a small building.

Comment Re: What about electrical, plumbing etc? (Score 5, Interesting) 315

something you can give to an intern to do at $25/hr vs your 25 years experience $75/hr

That's a great example, since fixing interns' mistakes has made my years of experience very profitable.

Sure, an intern can write the software spec, unless he doesn't understand the difference between a Widget and a Wotsit, and doesn't even realize that there are two different things. With sufficient minimal skill, he can flub his way through a basic review (often done by other intern-quality folks) and get the spec published, then be long gone with his credit and job offer once the complaints start coming in.

Similarly, an amateur electrician can screw things up in ways that aren't obvious, like pulling wires through conduit roughly enough to strip insulation. Sure, it's working fine now, but in a few years, it could very well be a fire risk. Another particularly egregious example from my own experience is seeing a ground wire attached with an eye terminal with a nylon washer (instead of a star washer) on one side and a painted (instead of conductive) surface on the other. The connection at the terminal's edge was enough to make a connectivity meter happy, but in an emergency that poor connection could have been lethal.

[Grunt work] takes a long time, but not a job you can screw up unless...

...you don't have the experience to know that what you're doing is wrong.

Comment Re:Fighting greed with greed (Score 1, Interesting) 834

You want to import someone and pay them $40K? Go to the back of the line. You're willing to pay $200K salary because there truly aren't any Americans available with those skills? You're at the front of the line.

...So what if I want to hire an Indian tech writer who understands all dialects of Hindi, so he can write manuals for my product being exported overseas? Is that application going to be competing with every American tech writer? Will it compete with every H-1B application? Will it compete with every Indian?

Right now, there is an easily-understood process. Employers submit applications, and a limited number of H-1B visas are granted, regardless of industry, skillset, or salary. Basically, beyond initial review, there is nothing anyone can do to game the system. If Trump introduces more "competition", however, that also means that the selection process becomes either industry favoritism or a game of picking buckets.

If all applicants are in the same pool, and judgement is purely on salary, then the H-1B system becomes reduced to a tool for Silicon Valley at the expense of the rest of the country. Industries and locations with high expenses (and therefore already-inflated salaries) get preferential acceptance, while low-paying visa applications are rejected. In short, that accomplishes the exact opposite of what is promised: Americans get the lower-paid jobs, while high-salary tech jobs get more of the H-1B allocation, and even more American salary money goes overseas.

Alternatively, with more criteria for judgement, the system becomes more open to abuse. To use my hypothetical tech writer, I could claim on his visa application that he also has an in-depth understanding of Elbonian custom that Americans simply do not have, so he should be considered his own special case, separate from other tech writers. Without a thorough investigation, the fraud (or misrepresentation, or careful planning, however you want to call it) would be unnoticeable, and my candidate would be the highest salary in his field.

If a company truly can't find American workers with the required skills, if the imported labor actually has special skills, the company will be willing to *pay* for those skills.

More often, the company will just pay less for someone without those special skills, then expect their existing staff to train the newbie to have the skills. That inevitably fails, so the company has to hire more inadequate staff to get the job done, raising costs further, but at least it creates jobs.

Of course, that only works until management starts seeing the higher costs and lower productivity, and realizes they can move the whole operation overseas. Why pay for an American office full of H-1B staff when you can just pay for a foreign office with a few key American personnel? Unlike the days of James Madison, communication between offices is no longer a significant issue. For the cost of gambling on a handful of H-1B hires, a large company can set up shop in a whole new labor pool, often getting a nice tax break to boot. The only downside is that they lose some of the comforts of an American office, but those amenities can be rebuilt overseas cheaply enough. It's just the cost of doing business in Trump's America!

This is yet another populist measure being run with no understanding of the underlying system. Trump is giving the people exactly what they asked for, but he isn't paying attention to the people who understand the systems already in place. He thinks his ideas are the best ideas, regardless of their actual effects.

Comment Re: Yay, connectivity and IoT (Score 2) 203

Torts will do little to nothing. Every IoT device has a EULA or ToS with it forcing arbitration and absolving the device maker of all blame should something happen with the item. Even with torts, the IoT company likely has a good number of lawyers who will just steamroll over anyone bringing lawsuits, or just stall the lawsuit until the plaintiff has to drop it due to lack of funds.

For the little guy, the civil system only will bankrupt them, so it is no real check.

Because IoT makers view security as having no ROI, we will keep seeing this over and over. In fact, having devices that are unable to be updated brings more money, because it forces consumers to buy the 1.1 or 2.0 version of the same IoT device.

This is why government has to step in. There is no mechanism to make IoT makers give a rat's ass about security whatsoever. The same exact thing is why we have UL listings. Companies don't make money by spending extra to have appliances that don't electrocute the end user, so government mandates UL listings in order to have a safe standard. Perhaps the same should be done with regards to security, since security mandates will not be coming from the private sector, as it does not benefit them. "A lock makes no money for anyone other than the lock maker and the locksmith."

I applaud the hotel for moving back to keys. Ideally, the system for the card readers should be a closed, air-gapped system that has zero network connectivity (almost all hotels had exactly this in the 80s and early 90s so it isn't a must have for door locks to be connected to the Internet), but moving back to a completely mechanical system isn't a bad thing either. Even with a high security locks like Abloy or Evva MKS, the cost of cutting a new key and repinning a hotel cylinder can likely far cheaper than having to maintain/update/replace a keycard system anyway.

Comment Re:Squirrels spread their attacks conveniently (Score 1) 150

At the nation state level, I don't think it operates the same way. That is, I don't think they rely on a few dumb operators. Looking at what the NSA does, they're able to attack the supply lines and send you pre-compromised hardware. They have advanced exfiltration systems that don't need to touch your network at all. They have malware that cannot be decrypted by any machine other than the target that makes you think there's nothing wrong. It's also custom, just for you, so AV programs aren't going to see it.

Those statements are mostly true, but only to a certain extent.

The APT teams aren't operating at a nation-state level. They are nation-state funded, but they're still operating more like an experiment, mostly due to the lack of available expertise in the field. Think more along the lines of the Manhattan Project. A very small number of people are doing the real work, and a lot of people figuring out how to apply this new weapon strategically.

Yes, the intelligence agencies have lots of fancy tools, and they're shared among the APT teams as needed, but usually the attacks are boring script-kiddy stuff. Most of the time, pass-the-hash and Word macros will get the job done, so there's no reason to risk exposing the elite tools and zero-day vulnerabilities.

I know they labeled the DNC hack as an APT, but it appears to be an ordinary criminal gang. It simply doesn't match the profile of nation state level attacks. They want long-term access without getting caught. Sending an email like the one to Podesta got someone ~2 days of access, as best we can tell. Enough to download a few emails, only to end up locked out. When nation states do spear phishing, they have a custom written piece of malware disguised as a legitimate attachment. It won't be noticed by any AV programs. They will use that to make sure they have long-term access to your systems.

The Podesta hack and the DNC hacks were separate events, by related teams. They used different tactics, but shared some (but not all) infrastructure. Both teams were involved in the DNC hack, but apparently weren't aware of each other's presence, since they'd attack servers that the other team had already penetrated.

In the DNC hack, they did have long-term access. One group had been active on the network for over a year, and the other was sloppier, and was detected after only a month of activity.

The Podesta attack wasn't particularly specialized. It was a wide attack using automated tools. There was no attachment, just a link to a bit.ly-shortened URL that wouldn't be caught by the spam filter. There was nothing downloaded from the phishing site, either. It just decrypted the Base64-encoded parameter in the emailed URL, and displayed that. Again, don't fall into the mental trap that nation-state attacks must be highly-sophisticated next-generation hacks. In hacking, if it's stupid and it works, then it isn't stupid.

They just don't operate the same way because they don't have the same goals. It's not like Russia is the only possible culprit here, either.

Russia isn't the only possible culprit, but they are the only likely culprit. Their same infrastructure (bit.ly account, phishing site host, and mail-sending botnet) had previously been used to attack 1800 accounts in 2015. Those accounts were overwhelmingly non-Russian military personnel. There's a great analysis of the hack by pwnallthethings on Twitter. I highly recommend expanding the thread and reading.

As for goals, the goal is simple: Gather any useful access. Hacking Podesta's email was probably a lucky stroke for the attackers, but they were more likely looking for anything useful. If not Podesta, then someone else might have made a good victim. If they got someone's account, but it wasn't particularly useful at the time, they don't care. The automated tool is cheap and easy to run. In fact, the campaign that hit Podesta targeted around 4,000 GMail accounts over the course of eight months.

I wouldn't be surprised if they had hacked such a soft, juicy target like this--no doubt along with many other countries--but it seems like a crazy risk. There was nothing in there that looked like it would sway the election. So why risk all those state sanctions on a long-shot like Trump?

The sanctions are an interesting development, as they're the most severe repercussions we've seen yet for a hack. I expect the same phishing emails went out to hundreds or thousands of government officials, and Podesta happened to be the one that took the bait. No, none of his leaked messages were particularly damaging, but it's probably the best that the attackers got. To use their information to possibly get an ally in the White House is worth a risk, especially if they didn't expect the sanctions. Without the sanctions on the table, if their favored candidate lost the race, it didn't really cost them anything to try.

Comment Re:I'M OUTRAGED!! Oh wait, no I'm not. (Score 2) 502

This is Slashdot. We light hair on fire every time anybody sneezes in a way we don't like. Of course, you could always read the bill itself.

It actually does look pretty bad for renewable fuel efforts. I don't see any obvious loopholes, and it effectively imposes a tax on renewable energy by 1 cent per kWh, that the utilities can't pass on to customers. Pretty much, the only way to run a renewable energy installation in Wyoming is to pay for a nonrenewable energy facility somewhere outside the state, or make sure all of your energy is going out of the state.

Comment Re:Squirrels spread their attacks conveniently (Score 1) 150

I apologize for the length of these posts... Weekends get boring, and I tend to ramble about these things.

It doesn't really take much. For a nation-state attacker, it takes almost no resources in comparison to a foreign-based physical operation.

First, understand that there are two different kinds of attacks being discussed here. The DNC hack was a general APT penetration, while attacks on SCADA systems (like Stuxnet) are usually more targeted and require more expert knowledge. Since they work hand-in-hand, I'll describe a mix of the two in a major hypothetical attack.

Let's suppose Strong Badia wants to attack Elbonia. Strong Badia first launches a campaign against several technology companies in Lower Slobbovia, with phishing bait emails trying to get internal credentials. They use those credentials to compromise public-facing servers, and use those servers to launch more attacks against Elbonian companies. That second round of attacks looks like it comes from Lower Slobbovia, so it's more difficult to investigate. This multi-stage effort relies on automated tools (available for a few thousand dollars) to exploit common software. Since the phishing mails are sent in bulk and do indeed rely on luck to get hits, they're automated for scale. They can be run by one social engineer working part time, who usually just needs to wait until he gets a few particularly useful credentials.

With credentials in hand, Strong Badia turns to making their presence persistent. A small number of experts (two or three, even) establish more permanent access credentials, and plant malware that they can use to restore access if it's ever disrupted. This effort is targeted to a specific network infrastructure, but again most of the tools are automated. This time, they aren't automated for scale, but rather to hide their presence better. Attack packages can be uploaded and held, hiding their traffic from monitoring systems. Again, this is only a couple of people to decide which servers (and users) are worth attacking and map out the Elbonian network.

In the case of the DNC hack, that was about all that happened. The attackers gained access to the DNC, became persistent, and copied out documents. As I recall, there is evidence (in writing style, level of expertise, and preferred attack patterns) that the DNC hack had up to a dozen operatives. Other attacks get more complicated.

If a target is "special", it might need a more customized approach. For the sake of analogy, this is the point in the heist movie where the crew realizes that the bank's security is something new, and they need to recruit that quirky specialist to get the job done. They'll go out and buy a copy of the bank's vault, posing as a wealthy individual who just has to have the best protection for their widgets. Similarly, in out hypothetical attack, this is where Strong Badia claims they need the latest and greatest in Elbonian technology, and purchases a SCADA system just like what their target has. While the purchase of such equipment does indeed take some effort, I don't count it as part of the attacking force. The purchasers would likely think they're actually purchasing equipment for a legitimate construction project, so it's a little unfair to count them against the trained spies.

With equipment, an expert in that system (our fourth Strong Badian team member) can begin reverse-engineering it to find new zero-day vulnerabilities, and perhaps with the aid of another Strong Badian, he can turn it into a malware package for that target.

That malware can then be handed back to the APT team, who have the understanding of the Elbonian bureaucracy. They can create fake problem reports that require a call to tech support, and the social engineer can assist in making it seem legitimate. To jump an airgap, they might need a participant in Elbonia, but that could be a simple matter of attacking the Elbonian support subcontractor in a similar manner, and such an attack could be executed by the very same five-man band.

What's sarcastically great about APTs is that they can wait. Unlike saboteur employees, they don't have to show up to work every day. While their SCADA expert is working on the malware kit, the social engineer is phishing the technician contractor, and the persistence guys are establishing a presence in another Elbonian company. Meanwhile, the malware in their primary target sits and waits for their next instruction.

The team can repeat this process over and over again. As the Elbonian support tech gets calls from around his country, he installs system updates as they appear in his Elbonian-SCADA-R-Us.com FTP site. They look legitimate to him, and he's happy to be getting calls from so many different customers.

Eventually, a critical number of systems are infected. At the predetermined time, the logic bomb goes off, and the systems shut down. In a grid sytem like the electrical supply, other systems would normally take over, but they've all been timed to shut down at once. The remaining systems can't handle the load, and they shut down out of preservation.

It took Strong Badia a few years, but Elbonia goes dark, because of the work of five people. The subsequent investigation stops at the technician, because his computer has been nicely loaded up with documents declaring anti-Elbonian sentiment and expressing a strong desire to move to Lower Slobbovia. Meanwhile, the Strong Badians are celebrating (quietly) a job well done, and they're ready to apply their talents to the next target on the list.

In contrast, consider the cost of this attack being done with a more hands-on approach. First, Strong Badia would have to have some kind of Elbonian presence to recruit Elbonian spies. While recruiting could be done online, the Strong Badian recruiters wouldn't have any way to tell if their conversations were being played right in front of a room full of Elbonian investigators. Having a physical presence also means Elbonia knows exactly who to watch.

If they can escape scrutiny, they can start grooming a spy. Insider threats are extremely capable, since they rarely have to worry about gaining initial access, but they're also risky, partly because decades of James Bond movies have made espionage into a pick-up line. Training a good spy means a lot of one-on-one coaching to sufficiently alter their morality until they want to do the job, and moving slowly enough that they aren't so excited to be a spy that they'll go tell someone. To convince the Elbonian to even do anything against their home country requires several months. To ask them to perform major acts of sabotage like planting a bomb would require more effort.

The Strong Badian brainwashing/indoctrination/radicalization process involves having the handler be available to talk, to convert the Elbonian's loyalty. It needs (roughly) a handler for each spy, and that spy has to go to work. That means that for each targeted site, Strong Badia has to pay a handler and bribe the spy, and hope that the spy's induced disloyalty doesn't get them fired before the planned attack.

For one or two sites, having a physical attack is reasonable, but it quickly becomes more efficient to run an APT attack, instead, since such targets can be controlled and kept waiting for years with basically no upkeep. Weakly-protected targets (no airgaps, unpatched software) can be fully compromised by APTs in a matter of hours, and can be useful for years. Mid-range sites can take a few weeks, but then they're completely compromised. Airgaps make the attacks significantly more expensive, but a proper airgap is exceedingly rare. Physical presences require ongoing support, and take months or years to groom.

Comment Re:Squirrels spread their attacks conveniently (Score 5, Informative) 150

How many spies and saboteurs with well-placed bombs (or high-powered rifles) would it take to disable the power grid? Not many, I would think. There are a lot of threats besides 'the cyber.'

Far more than it takes to set a flag on a C&C server. Those spies and saboteurs also have to be physically present around the time of the coordinated attack, increasing the risk they'll be caught, and the opportunity for them to double-cross the attacker and reveal the plan to the target.

On the other hand, malware can lurk for years undetected from a single entry point. A small team of sub-sub-sub-contracted service technicians can deploy malware to an embedded system, and walk away. Sufficiently advanced threats can hide their traffic inside the normal monitoring operations of the utility, cross through the network, and even add personnel records, effectively making their actions look like legitimate employee operations until they shut everything down.

Targeting infrastructure has been a military strategy for as long as there have been militaries. Modern tactics, however, focus on efficiency. If five malware-assisted spies can take down a target country's utilities with no risk, why spend the budgeted resources to recruit and train (and possibly extract) fifty to do the same job? That budget can then go toward hiring cryptographers to decrypt the target's movement orders, so you spend less budgeted resources trying to find the enemy units. That leaves more budget to use on building better bombs and guidance systems, and so on.

Ultimately, the goal is to win the war. With modern society relying on border-crossing communications, it is no longer really important who can put supplies into what territory, as was important until around 1960. Now, it's important to convince the locals that you're protecting them from the evil oppressive enemy, and doing that means minimizing civilian deaths. Better targeted bombs, better intel, and attacks that don't involve blowing up a power plant full of civilian workers, are all ways to reduce your side's death count.

Security is something for professionals like us to think about always while we're working, but it's not something to panic about. A lot of these news stories like this one are designed to spread panic...

There's very little panic, except for a few uninformed headlines where a laptop with malware became a complete takeover of the US power grid. On the other hand, the DNC hack is a great example of how information-based warfare will be conducted, and the news article you linked explains it well. Unlike Watergate, there was never a Russian physical presence in the DNC. There's nobody in the US that can be arrested for it. After the initial breaches, there was almost no evidence of the digital presence. The reality of the situation once it was discovered was met with skeptics like you, who underestimate how useful such an attack could be.

While that holds true, the attacks won't likely escalate. As soon as an enemy attacks the American power grid, every American company will treat information attacks more seriously, and the low-hanging fruit will disappear.

...and to increase power to those who are spreading panic.

There's nobody really getting more power from this, though, except for a few hucksters who are selling fraudulent security systems. The threats have been real and the attacks have been ongoing for the past few decades, and the people who have been wise enough to care have found that there are solutions available. There are backup generators and UPSes protecting vital systems from outages of the power grid. There are airgaps and mitigations protecting secret information. There are encryption algorithms and opsec protocols protecting identities... Security is cheap, but it is very user-driven. The user has to care for security to be effective. They have to install the generators, they have to work over the airgap, and they have to follow the protocols.

The DNC hack is different in only one way from every other attack since the mid-90s: The attacker chose to make it public, exposing the shadowy world of espionage to the public eye. The people who don't know any better will panic, because it's an attack on American infrastructure. The ones who've been working in it for long enough will sigh, because it's yet another attack on American infrastructure.

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