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Category Archives for "Errata Security"

The RISC Deprogrammer

I should write up a larger technical document on this, but in the meanwhile is this short (-ish) blogpost. Everything you know about RISC is wrong. It's some weird nerd cult. Techies frequently mention RISC in conversation, with other techies nodding their head in agreement, but it's all wrong. Somehow everyone has been mind controlled to believe in wrong concepts.

An example is this recent blogpost which starts out saying that "RISC is a set of design principles". No, it wasn't. Let's start from this sort of viewpoint to discuss this odd cult.

What is RISC?

Because of the march of Moore's Law, every year, more and more parts of a computer could be included onto a single chip. When chip densities reached the point where we could almost fit an entire computer on a chip, designers made tradeoffs, discarding unimportant stuff to make the fit happen. They made tradeoffs, deciding what needed to be included, what needed to change, and what needed to be discarded.

RISC is a set of creative tradeoffs, meaningful at the time (early 1980s), but which were meaningless by the late 1990s.

The interesting parts of CPU evolution are the three decades from 1964 with Continue reading

DS620slim tiny home server

In this blogpost, I describe the Synology DS620slim. Mostly these are notes for myself, so when I need to replace something in the future, I can remember how I built the system. It's a "NAS" (network attached storage) server that has six hot-swappable bays for 2.5 inch laptop drives.

That's right, laptop 2.5 inch drives. It makes this a tiny server that you can hold in your hand.

The purpose of a NAS is reliable storage. All disk drives eventually fail. If you stick a USB external drive on your desktop for backups, it'll eventually crash, losing any data on it. A failure is unlikely tomorrow, but a spinning disk will almost certainly fail some time in the next 10 years. If you want to keep things, like photos, for the rest of your life, you need to do something different.

The solution is RAID, an array of redundant disks such that when one fails (or even two), you don't lose any data. You simply buy a new disk to replace the failed one and keep going. With occasional replacements (as failures happen) it can last decades. My older NAS is 10 years old and I've replaced all Continue reading

No, a researcher didn’t find Olympics app spying on you

For the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, the Chinese government requires everyone to download an app onto their phone. It has many security/privacy concerns, as CitizenLab documents. However, another researcher goes further, claiming his analysis proves the app is recording all audio all the time. His analysis is fraudulent. He shows a lot of technical content that looks plausible, but nowhere does he show anything that substantiates his claims.

Average techies may not be able to see this. It all looks technical. Therefore, I thought I'd describe one example of the problems with this data -- something the average techie can recognize.

His "evidence" consists screenshots from reverse-engineering tools, with red arrows pointing to the suspicious bits. An example of one of these screenshots is this on:


This screenshot is that of a reverse-engineering tool (Hopper, I think) that takes code and "disassembles" it. When you dump something into a reverse-engineering tool, it'll make a few assumptions about what it sees. These assumptions are usually wrong. There's a process where the human user looks at the analyzed output, does a "sniff-test" on whether it looks reasonable, and works with the tool until it gets the assumptions correct.

That's the red flag Continue reading

Journalists: stop selling NFTs that you don’t understand

The reason you don't really understand NFTs is because the journalists describing them to you don't understand them, either. We can see that when they attempt to sell an NFT as part of their stories (e.g. AP and NYTimes). They get important details wrong.

The latest is Reason.com magazine selling an NFT. As libertarians, you'd think at least they'd get the technical details right. But they didn't. Instead of selling an NFT of the artwork, it's just an NFT of a URL. The URL points to OpenSea, which is known to remove artwork from its site (such as in response to DMCA takedown requests).

If you buy that Reason.com NFT, what you'll actually get is a token pointing to:

https://api.opensea.io/api/v1/metadata/0x495f947276749Ce646f68AC8c248420045cb7b5e/0x1F907774A05F9CD08975EBF7BF56BB4FF0A4EAF0000000000000060000000001

This is just the metadata, which in turn contains a link to the claimed artwork:

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/8Q2OGcPuODtCxbTmlf3epFGOqbfCbs4fXZ2RcIMnLpRdTaYHgqKArk7uETRdSZmpRAFsNE8KB4sFJx6czKE5cBKB1pa7ovc4wBUdqQ

If either OpenSea or Google removes the linked content, then any connection between the NFT and the artwork disappears.

It doesn't have to be this way. The correct way to do NFT artwork is to point to a "hash" instead which uniquely identifies the work regardless of where it's located. That $69 million Beeple piece was Continue reading

Example: forensicating the Mesa County system image

Tina Peters, the election clerk in Mesa County (Colorado) went rogue and dumped disk images of an election computer on the Internet. They are available on the Internet via BitTorrent [Mesa1][Mesa2], The Colorado Secretary of State is now suing her over the incident.

The lawsuit describes the facts of the case, how she entered the building with an accomplice on Sunday, May 23, 2021. I thought I'd do some forensics on the image to get more details.

Specifically, I see from the Mesa1 image that she logged on at 4:24pm and was done acquiring the image by 4:30pm, in and (presumably) out in under 7 minutes.

In this blogpost, I go into more detail about how to get that information.


The image

To download the Mesa1 image, you need a program that can access BitTorrent, such as the Brave web browser or a BitTorrent client like qBittorrent. Either click on the "magnet" link or copy/paste into the program you'll use to download. It takes a minute to gather all the "metadata" associated with the link, but it'll soon start the download:

What you get is file named EMSSERVER.E01. This is a container file that contains Continue reading

Debunking: that Jones Alfa-Trump report

The Alfa-Trump conspiracy-theory has gotten a new life. Among the new things is a report done by Democrat operative Daniel Jones [*]. In this blogpost, I debunk that report.

If you'll recall, the conspiracy-theory comes from anomalous DNS traffic captured by cybersecurity researchers. In the summer of 2016, while Trump was denying involvement with Russian banks, the Alfa Bank in Russia was doing lookups on the name "mail1.trump-email.com". During this time,  additional lookups were also coming from two other organizations with suspicious ties to Trump, Spectrum Health and Heartland Payments.

This is certainly suspicious, but people have taken it further. They have crafted a conspiracy-theory to explain the anomaly, namely that these organizations were secretly connecting to a Trump server.

We know this explanation to be false. There is no Trump server, no real server at all, and no connections. Instead, the name was created and controlled by Cendyn. The server the name points to for transmitting bulk email and isn't really configured to accept connections. It's built for outgoing spam, not incoming connections. The Trump Org had no control over the name or the server. As Cendyn explains, the contract with the Trump Org ended in Continue reading

Review: Dune (2021)

One of the most important classic sci-fi stories is the book "Dune" from Frank Herbert. It was recently made into a movie. I thought I'd write a quick review.

The summary is this: just read the book. It's a classic for a good reason, and you'll be missing a lot by not reading it.

But the movie Dune (2021) movie is very good. The most important thing to know is see it in IMAX. IMAX is this huge screen technology that partly wraps around the viewer, and accompanied by huge speakers that overwhelm you with sound. If you watch it in some other format, what was visually stunning becomes merely very pretty.

This is Villeneuve's trademark, which you can see in his other works, like his sequel to Bladerunner. The purpose is to marvel at the visuals in every scene. The story telling is just enough to hold the visuals together. I mean, he also seems to do a good job with the story telling, but it's just not the reason to go see the movie. (I can't tell -- I've read the book, so see the story differently than those of you who haven't).

Beyond the story Continue reading

Fact check: that “forensics” of the Mesa image is crazy

Tina Peters, the elections clerk from Mesa County (Colorado) went rogue, creating a "disk-image" of the election server, and posting that image to the public Internet. Conspiracy theorists have been analyzing the disk-image trying to find anomalies supporting their conspiracy-theories. A recent example is this "forensics" report. In this blogpost, I debunk that report.

I suppose calling somebody a "conspiracy theorist" is insulting, but there's three objective ways we can identify them as such.

The first is when they use the logic "everything we can't explain is proof of the conspiracy". In other words, since there's no other rational explanation, the only remaining explanation is the conspiracy-theory. But there can be other possible explanations -- just ones unknown to the person because they aren't smart enough to understand them. We see that here: the person writing this report doesn't understand some basic concepts, like "airgapped" networks.

This leads to the second way to recognize a conspiracy-theory, when it demands this one thing that'll clear things up. Here, it's demanding that a manual audit/recount of Mesa County be performed. But it won't satisfy them. The Maricopa audit in neighboring Colorado, whose recount found no fraud, didn't clear anything up Continue reading

100 terabyte home NAS

So, as a nerd, let's say you need 100 terabytes of home storage. What do you do?

My solution would be a commercial NAS RAID, like from Synology, QNAP, or Asustor. I'm a nerd, and I have setup my own Linux systems with RAID, but I'd rather get a commercial product. When a disk fails, and a disk will always eventually fail, then I want something that will loudly beep at me and make it easy to replace the drive and repair the RAID.

Some choices you have are:

  • vendor (Synology, QNAP, and Asustor are the vendors I know and trust the most)
  • number of bays (you want 8 to 12)
  • redundancy (you want at least 2 if not 3 disks)
  • filesystem (btrfs or ZFS) [not btrfs-raid builtin, but btrfs on top of RAID]
  • drives (NAS optimized between $20/tb and $30/tb)
  • networking (at least 2-gbps bonded, but box probably can't use all of 10gbps)
  • backup (big external USB drives)

The products I link above all have at least 8 drive bays. When you google "NAS", you'll get a list of smaller products. You don't want them. You want somewhere between 8 and 12 drives.

The reason is that Continue reading

Check: that Republican audit of Maricopa

Author: Robert Graham (@erratarob)

Later today (Friday, September 24, 2021), Republican auditors release their final report on the found with elections in Maricopa county. Draft copies have circulated online. In this blogpost, I write up my comments on the cybersecurity portions of their draft.

https://arizonaagenda.substack.com/p/we-got-the-senate-audit-report

The three main problems are:

  • They misapply cybersecurity principles that are meaningful for normal networks, but which don’t really apply to the air gapped networks we see here.
  • They make some errors about technology, especially networking.
  • They are overstretching themselves to find dirt, claiming the things they don't understand are evidence of something bad.

In the parts below, I pick apart individual pieces from that document to demonstrate these criticisms. I focus on section 7, the cybersecurity section, and ignore the other parts of the document, where others are more qualified than I to opine.

In short, when corrected, section 7 is nearly empty of any content.

7.5.2.1.1 Software and Patch Management, part 1

They claim Dominion is defective at one of the best-known cyber-security issues: applying patches.

It’s not true. The systems are “air gapped”, disconnected from the typical sort of threat that exploits unpatched systems. The primary Continue reading

That Alfa-Trump Sussman indictment

Five years ago, online magazine Slate broke a story about how DNS packets showed secret communications between Alfa Bank in Russia and the Trump Organization, proving a link that Trump denied. I was the only prominent tech expert that debunked this as just a conspiracy-theory[*][*][*].

Last week, I was vindicated by the indictment of a lawyer involved, a Michael Sussman. It tells a story of where this data came from, and some problems with it.

But we should first avoid reading too much into this indictment. It cherry picks data supporting its argument while excluding anything that disagrees with it. We see chat messages expressing doubt in the DNS data. If chat messages existed expressing confidence in the data, we wouldn't see them in the indictment.

In addition, the indictment tries to make strong ties to the Hillary campaign and the Steele Dossier, but ultimately, it's weak. It looks to me like an outsider trying to ingratiated themselves with the Hillary campaign rather than there being part of a grand Clinton-lead conspiracy against Trump.

With these caveats, we do see some important things about where the data came from.

We see how Tech-Executive-1 used Continue reading

How not to get caught in law-enforcement geofence requests

I thought I'd write up a response to this question from well-known 4th Amendment and CFAA lawyer Orin Kerr:

First, let me address the second part of his tweet, whether I'm technically qualified to answer this. I'm not sure, I have only 80% confidence that I am. Hence, I'm writing this answer as blogpost hoping people will correct me if I'm wrong.

There is a simple answer and it's this: just disable "Location" tracking in the settings on the phone. Both iPhone and Android have a one-click button to tap that disables everything.

The trick is knowing which thing Continue reading

Of course you can’t trust scientists on politics

Many people make the same claim as this tweet. It's obviously wrong. Yes,, the right-wing has a problem with science, but this isn't it.

First of all, people trust airplanes because of their long track record of safety, not because of any claims made by scientists. Secondly, people distrust "scientists" when politics is involved because of course scientists are human and can get corrupted by their political (or religious) beliefs.

And thirdly, the concept of "trusting scientific authority" is wrong, since the bedrock principle of science is distrusting authority. What defines sciences is how often prevailing scientific beliefs are challenged.

Carl Sagan has many quotes along these lines that eloquently expresses this:

A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, Continue reading

Risk analysis for DEF CON 2021

It's the second year of the pandemic and the DEF CON hacker conference wasn't canceled. However, the Delta variant is spreading. I thought I'd do a little bit of risk analysis. TL;DR: I'm not canceling my ticket, but changing my plans what I do in Vegas during the convention.

First, a note about risk analysis. For many people, "risk" means something to avoid. They work in a binary world, labeling things as either "risky" (to be avoided) or "not risky". But real risk analysis is about shades of gray, trying to quantify things.

The Delta variant is a mutation out of India that, at the moment, is particularly affecting the UK. Cases are nearly up to their pre-vaccination peaks in that country.



Note that the UK has already vaccinated nearly 70% of their population -- more than the United States. In both the UK and US there are few preventive measures in place (no lockdowns, no masks) other than vaccines.

 


Thus, the UK graph is somewhat predictive of what will happen in the United States. If we time things from when the latest wave hit the same levels as peak of the first wave, then it looks like the Continue reading

Ransomware: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes

Many claim that "ransomware" is due to cybersecurity failures. It's not really true. We are adequately protecting users and computers. The failure is in the inability of cybersecurity guardians to protect themselves. Ransomware doesn't make the news when it only accesses the files normal users have access to. The big ransomware news events happened because ransomware elevated itself to that of an "administrator" over the network, giving it access to all files, including online backups.

Generic improvements in cybersecurity will help only a little, because they don't specifically address this problem. Likewise, blaming ransomware on how it breached perimeter defenses (phishing, patches, password reuse) will only produce marginal improvements. Ransomware solutions need to instead focus on looking at the typical human-operated ransomware killchain, identify how they typically achieve "administrator" credentials, and fix those problems. In particular, large organizations need to redesign how they handle Windows "domains" and "segment" networks.

I read a lot of lazy op-eds on ransomware. Most of them claim that the problem is due to some sort of moral weakness (laziness, stupidity, greed, slovenliness, lust). They suggest things like "taking cybersecurity more seriously" or "do better at basic cyber hygiene". These are "unfalsifiable" -- things that nobody Continue reading

Some quick notes on SDR

I'm trying to create perfect screen captures of SDR to explain the world of radio around us. In this blogpost, I'm going to discuss some of the imperfect captures I'm getting, specifically, some notes about WiFi and Bluetooth.

An SDR is a "software defined radio" which digitally samples radio waves and uses number crunching to decode the signal into data. Among the simplest thing an SDR can do is look at a chunk of spectrum and see signal strength. This is shown below, where I'm monitoring part of the famous 2.4 GHz pectrum used by WiFi/Bluetooth/microwave-ovens:


There are two panes. The top shows the current signal strength as graph. The bottom pane is the "waterfall" graph showing signal strength over time, display strength as colors: black means almost no signal, blue means some, and yellow means a strong signal.

The signal strength graph is a bowl shape, because we are actually sampling at a specific frequency of 2.42 GHz, and the further away from this "center", the less accurate the analysis. Thus, the algorithms think there is more signal the further away from the center we are.

What we do see here is two peaks, at 2.402 Continue reading

When we’ll get a 128-bit CPU

On Hacker News, this article claiming "You won't live to see a 128-bit CPU" is trending". Sadly, it was non-technical, so didn't really contain anything useful. I thought I'd write up some technical notes.

The issue isn't the CPU, but memory. It's not about the size of computations, but when CPUs will need more than 64-bits to address all the memory future computers will have. It's a simple question of math and Moore's Law.


Today, Intel's server CPUs support 48-bit addresses, which is enough to address 256-terabytes of memory -- in theory. In practice, Amazon's AWS cloud servers are offered up to 24-terabytes, or 45-bit addresses, in the year 2020.

Doing the math, it means we have 19-bits or 38-years left before we exceed the 64-bit registers in modern processors. This means that by the year 2058, we'll exceed the current address size and need to move 128-bits. Most people reading this blogpost will be alive to see that, though probably retired.

There are lots of reasons to suspect that this event will come both sooner and later.

It could come sooner if storage merges with memory. We are moving away from rotating platters of rust toward solid-state Continue reading

Anatomy of how you get pwned

Today, somebody had a problem: they kept seeing a popup on their screen, and obvious scam trying to sell them McAfee anti-virus. Where was this coming from?

In this blogpost, I follow this rabbit hole on down. It starts with "search engine optimization" links and leads to an entire industry of tricks, scams, exploiting popups, trying to infect your machine with viruses, and stealing emails or credit card numbers.

Evidence of the attack first appeared with occasional popups like the following. The popup isn't part of any webpage.




This is obviously a trick. But from where? How did it "get on the machine"?

There's lots of possible answers. But the most obvious answer (to most people), that your machine is infected with a virus, is likely wrong. Viruses are generally silent, doing evil things in the background. When you see something like this, you aren't infected ... yet.

Instead, things popping with warnings is almost entirely due to evil websites. But that's confusing, since this popup doesn't appear within a web page. It's off to one side of the screen, nowhere near the web browser.

Moreover, we spent some time diagnosing this. We restarted the webbrowser in "troubleshooting mode" with all Continue reading

Ethics: University of Minnesota’s hostile patches

The University of Minnesota (UMN) got into trouble this week for doing a study where they have submitted deliberately vulnerable patches into open-source projects, in order to test whether hostile actors can do this to hack things. After a UMN researcher submitted a crappy patch to the Linux Kernel, kernel maintainers decided to rip out all recent UMN patches.

Both things can be true:

  • Their study was an important contribution to the field of cybersecurity.
  • Their study was unethical.
It's like Nazi medical research on victims in concentration camps, or U.S. military research on unwitting soldiers. The research can simultaneously be wildly unethical but at the same time produce useful knowledge.

I'd agree that their paper is useful. I would not be able to immediately recognize their patches as adding a vulnerability -- and I'm an expert at such things.

In addition, the sorts of bugs it exploits shows a way forward in the evolution of programming languages. It's not clear that a "safe" language like Rust would be the answer. Linux kernel programming requires tracking resources in ways that Rust would consider inherently "unsafe". Instead, the C language needs to evolve with better safety features and better static Continue reading

A quick FAQ about NFTs

I thought I'd write up 4 technical questions about NFTs. They may not be the ones you ask, but they are the ones you should be asking. The questions:

  • What does the token look like?
  • How does it contain the artwork? (or, where is the artwork contained?)
  • How are tokens traded? (How do they get paid? How do they get from one account to another?)
  • What does the link from token to artwork mean? Does it give copyrights?
I'm going to use 4 sample tokens that have been sold for outrageous prices as examples.

#1 What does the token look like?

An NFT token has a unique number, analogous to:

  • your social security number (SSN#)
  • your credit card number
  • the VIN# on your car
  • the serial number on a dollar bill
  • etc.

This unique number is composed of two things:

  • the contract number, identifying the contract that manages the token
  • the unique token identifier within that contract
Here are some example tokens, listing the contract number (the long string) and token ID (short number), as well as a link to a story on how much it sold for recently.

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