(Greek: κρυπτεία / krupteía, from κρυπτός / kruptós, “hidden, secret things”)

Archive for the ‘Infopocalypse’ Category

The Digital Posse Comitatus: Or How Generals Obfuscate and Inveigle To Congress

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Posse Comitatus

NSA, Black Chambers, and MAE’s with NARUS STA-6400’s

The recent article on about the Senate hearing with General Alexander (NSA) was an amusing. In it, they link to a video of the testimony before congress by Alexander on the issue of interception and surveillance of digital traffic in the US by the NSA and thusly, the DoD by way of alleged hardware and processes by NSA. This ability to do so has been around for some time in the digital age we live in now and really came out when Mark Klein came out of the closet on the NARUS system at the MAE he worked at.  However, way before this, the CIA and other agencies had such things as “Black Chambers” to open your mail or to look at your faxes/cable traffic via back door deals with the companies that made those technologies available. So this is nothing new in theory, just the actual practice of it has changed through the nature of technologies.

So, when I see the General hemming and hawing, obfuscating and inveigling about “how” things are done with the FBI as the internal acting body for surveillance and investigation after filling out paperwork, I have to snort and say “Liar” Or at the very least “obfuscator” The truth of the matter is that the NSA has the capabilities and the hardware but there is supposed to be a firewall against all of this happening (though there have been other whistleblowers from NSA who say otherwise) but, post 9/11 the lines have blurred considerably at the order of GWB.

Post 9/11: Bush Opens The Floodgates

There are stories of a room full of alphabet agency heads with GW when he told them all of the old rules applied no more. Domestic surveillance and all of the old rules were being thrown out the window and from what I heard, they were all kinda aghast at hearing it. What GWB was open the floodgates to the world of warrantless wiretaps and surveillance culture we now have and diminished the lines between military and civilian agencies collection and alleged sharing of data. In the case of the NSA though, the abilities were always there to monitor the traffic of the US, remember, how much of the infrastructure is indeed here? No, the only firewall was a rule set that said “thou shalt not listen to these people” and that was it. Post 9/11 though, because the 19 hijackers were here, they decided that the needs of securing the nation, rested on that firewall being turned off.

So it was that it steadily has become easier for the FBI and others domestic and military, to use the technologies at the hand of NSA and others to monitor the digital infrastructure. Ostensibly at first there were to be FISA courts and warrants, but, over the years as you have seen in the news, such things have become less and less used and the system negated. In the case of FISA, the FBI used it less and less, and in the case of the NSA, well, they never needed it because there weren’t “technically” allowed to monitor US Citizens right? This is not to say that they are always doing such things, but, you know that some have and it depends on the cases that they are making.

Remember, all of this is ostensibly to protect the nation from another 9/11.. And that the masses today are more often than not, oblivious to the precedents being set. This does not mean too that the NSA is just abusing these capabilities all of the time, nor is the FBI, in asking NSA for such intercepts.. But… Who watches the watchers really? Oversight committees only see so much and for those of you who say it is inconceivable I shall point to earlier history with Nixon and others as proof that it is not. So, if you wish to believe that it is all for our own good, and that terrorists like you see on NCIS are all being caught by these means legally and with honor, so be it.

Just know that people are fallible and the processes are so loose now with secrecy levels as never before to make things that do happen, never see the light of day whether they were right or wrong in the end.

NSL Letters and Warrantless Wiretaps

Today we have Anonymous making the waters muddier than ever before as well as a myriad of other security nightmares going on. Much of what goes on that requires the FBI to look into it is indeed illegal actions on the part of individuals and groups. On the terrorism side for instance there are many alleged “lone wolves” out there, jihobbyists really, who are mentally unhinged enough to want to plan and act out that require surveillance. These types of activities require the laws we have in place and the NSL letters and FISA warrants  kinda eventually went out the window because they were too slow for the feds allegedly. Just as well, there were issues with the warrants filled out being overly broad and not having sustainable reasons for their being sworn out. Was it just laziness on the part of the feds or did they just want to obfuscate because they “wanted” them to go through because had they filled them out right or at all, they would have been denied?

Today we have cases of warrant-less wiretapping going on as well as the recent warrant-less GPS issue that was overturned by the courts and thus the FBI had to turn off some number of GPS units in the field. But hell, really. what’s the point when your cell phone does all the GPS tracking for you huh? Everyone today pretty much has one that does it and it’s likely on because you are not thinking about the fact that you are tracking yourself every 8 seconds by just owning the damn thing and having it on. So, once again, it comes down to the grey areas here where privacy is really only what you make for yourselves. In the case of an NSL letter or a warrantless wiretap, well, you won’t know about it until you are van&d right?

Generally though, I do not believe that people are being unjustly convicted yet or being watched en mass.. However, the environment is ripe if you tweet something that gets someone’s attention right? It’s when I say this or think about this, is when I think of Nixon and the odious things he was doing with Hoover and the FBI as well as his CIA plumbers. Some may feel that this is the same feeling today that they are having where all of this is concerned.

Watching Alexander Dance Reminds Me Of That Scene In “Clear and Present Danger”

Going back to the testimony by General Alexander I find it particularly interesting that the senator brings up Posse Comitatus and Alexanders reaction to that. I had generally thought that Posse Comitatus was kinda dead anyway, but, it is an important question to ask now about the digital domain today. NSA has it’s civilian portion but generally it is a military arm run by a general. By asking about domestic surveillance, the senator is breaching an important question about how the military wants in on the digital battlespace and just where that will be fought. Can one, in the digital age insure that battles by the military will only be carried out in servers outside the continental United States? The short answer is no, and one has to argue then that the military could very well be fighting battles within the US (networks) and would this in fact contravene the Posse Comitatus act?

It’s an interesting puzzle to look at and I am thinking perhaps the Senate is beginning to have a light bulb go on over their collective heads about it. Though, it is my thinking that the general was not being as literal minded or truthful about the intricacies of what they were asking for an answer about. In my opinon he sidestepped it a bit and I am sure others out there will differ with my opinion. In my mind though, the crossing of the Posse Comitatus line where this type of intercepts are concerned was long ago broken by the administrations desire for “security”

Don’t get me wrong though, I agree, that there are times when this is quite necessary, but, there should be rules and processes.. Unfortunately in the case of the FISA court and FBI, we have seen where it was contravened repeatedly, so who’s to say that the NSA is any different? Overall though, the scene reminded me of “Clear and Present Danger” where Jack Ryan is asking for “training money” when in fact he has been set up and is actually getting money for Operation RECIPROCITY. It was at that time that the senator asks him if he’s telling the truth and that they had heard this all before during Viet Nam.

Where does the truth of it really lie? Will we ever know?


In the end, it was an interesting little video and I really wished that the players could even get the little details right. For your edification Senators and General Alexander, the writer’s name is James BAMFORD I am pretty sure that Alexander has heard the name before and I think he kinda just got a giggle out of the cluelessness of the senator asking the question. Bamford though, does his research and he knows his shit, so, I will lean toward believing him over the testimony in this particular video. So NSA is building a new facility and some have pointed out that it could in fact enhance their abilities to surveil domestic actors or, just suck up the internet traffic as a whole. The likelihood is that the capability is there, but once again, the laws and the rules say that they cannot “use” such data.

Read between the lines on the testimony.. The tech is there.. It’s the rules that say they cannot use it.

Your mileage may vary on what you choose to believe the intent and the follow through is.


INFOPOCALYPSE: You Can Lead The World To The Security Trough.. But You Can’t Make Them Think.

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“Dark, profound it was, and cloudy, so that though I fixed my sight on the bottom I did not discern anything there”

(Dante Alighieri; The Inferno)

The current state of the Security “Industry”

It seems that once again people who I have acquaintance with in the security industry are wondering just how to interface with corporations and governments in order to build a base of comprehension about the need for information security. The problems though are myriad with these questions and the task to reach people can be a daunting one, never mind when you have groups of them in hierarchies that comprise some of the worst group think in the world (AKA corporations)

Added issues for the “industry” also surround the fact that it is one at all. Once something moves from an avocation to a profession, you have the high chance of it becoming industrialised. By saying something has been made industrialised, implies to many, the cookie cutter Henry Ford model really. In the security world, we have seen this from the perspective of magic boxes that promise to negate security vulnerabilities as well as teams of consultants who will “securitize” the company that is hiring them with magic tools and wizardry. The net effect here is that those paying for and buying into such products and services may as well be buying a handful of magic beans instead.

Now, not every company will be efficacious in their assessments nor live up to the promises they make for their hardware/software solutions. Many practitioners out there and companies really try to do the right thing and do so pretty well. However, just as in any other business, there are charlatans and a wide range of skilled and unskilled plying their arts as well. Frankly, all that can be said on this issue is “Caveat Emptor”  It’s a crap shoot really when it comes to goods and services for security solutions. The key is though, to be able to secure yourselves as a company/entity from the standpoint of BASIC security tenets up.

Often its the simple things that allow for complete compromise.. Not just some exotic 0day.

So we have a cacophony of companies out there vying for people’s dollars as well as a news cycle filled with FUD that, in some cases are directly lifted from the white papers or interviews with key players from those said same companies seeking dollars. It is all this white noise that some now, are lamenting and wondering just how do we reign things in and get a stable base to work from in an ethical way to protect companies and individuals from information security meltdowns. More so it seems lately, the question has been how do we reach these people in the first place? How do we actually get a meaningful dialogue with the corporate masters and have them come away with the fundamentals of security as being “important”

Unfortunately, I think that there are some major psychological and sociological hurdles to overcome to reach that point where we can evince the response we all would like to see out of those C level execs. I have written about them before, but I will touch on them again later in this piece. Suffice to say, we all have a tough row to hoe where this is concerned, so, I expect there to be no easy answer… Nor really, any satisfactory conclusions either.

“It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing”

(Shakespeare; MacBeth)

Security Joan of Arc’s and their Security Crusade:

Joan De Arc was a woman ahead of her time. She wore men’s clothing and lead the French in battle against the English and to victory, all as a teen girl. She later was burned at the steak for heresy and just recently made a saint many years later. I give you this little history lesson (link included) to give you an idea of who you all are in the security industry lamenting over not being listened to. You too may be ahead of your time, but, just as she was, you too will not be listened to because your ideas (to the listeners) are “radical”

Now, radical is a term I am using to denote how the corporate types are seeing it. We, the security advocates, do not see these concepts as radical, but instead as common everyday things that should be practices (complex passwords, patching effectively, etc) They (the client) see these things as impediments to their daily lives, their bottom lines, and their agenda’s both personal and corporate. There are many players here, and all of them have agenda’s of their own. This is a truism that you must accept and understand before you rail against the system that is not listening to your advice.

Here’s a bit of a secret for you.. The more ardent you seem, the more likely you will be branded a “Joan” The perception will be that you are a heretic and should not be listened to. Instead you should be marginalised in favour of the status quo.. After all, they have gone about their business every day for years and they are just fine! The more you rail, or warn with dire tones, the more you will be placed at the back of the mind.

Think Richard Clarke (I heard that chuckle out there)

Though Joan inspired the French forces to battle on and win more than a few battles, she eventually was burned at the steak. Much of this was because of her unique nature and fervour. Much as yours may do the same to you… Without of course literally being burned at the steak and you all must learn this. I think you have to take a page from the hackers playbook really and use the axiom of being a “Ninja”

The subtle knife wins the battle.


“If the Apocalypse comes, beep me”

(Joss Whedon;Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

What’s the worst that could happen really?

The quote above really made me chuckle in thinking about this article and the problems surrounding the premise. This I think, is the epitome of some people’s attitudes on security. Most folks just go along their days oblivious to the basic security measures that we would like them to practice as security evangelists. The simple fact is that like other apocalypse scenarios, people just have not lived through them and been affected by them to change their behaviours accordingly. What solidified this for me recently was the snow storm last October here in New England that caught so many people flat footed. They simply had not ever really had to rely on their wits and whatever they had on hand before like this. When the government and the corporations (CL&P) failed to provide their services to the populace, the populace began to freak out.

Its the same thing for information security. Whether it is the government or the corporations that supply us all, both are comprised of people who all pretty much lack this perspective of being without, or having really bad things happen to them. 9/11 comes the closest, but, that only affected NYC and DC directly (i.e. explosions and nightmarish scenarios with high casualties) In the case of corporations, you have lawyers and layers of people to blame, so really, what are the risk evaluations here when it is easy to deflect blame or responsibility? For that matter, it was inconceivable to many in the government (lookin at you Condi) that terrorists would use planes as missiles… Even though a month before a report was handed out with that very scenario on the cover.

The core of the idea is this. Human nature on average, and a certain kind of psychology (normative) that says “This can’t happen to us” We all have it, just some of us are forward thinking and see the potentials. Those forward thinkers are likely security conscious and willing to go out of their way to carry out actions to insure their security. Things like storing extra food and water as well as other things that they might need in case of emergency. These can be life of death deal breakers.. Not so much for information security at your local Acme Widget Corp. In the corporate model, they have the luxury of “It’s somebody else’s problem” So, these things are usually not too important to them unless that person making the decision is cognisant of the issues AND responsible for them. Unfortunately, as we have learned these last 10 years or so, responsibility is not their strong suit.

So, on they go.. About their business after you, the security curmudgeon has told them that they need to store food for the winter..

But the grasshoppers, they don’t listen… Until they are at your door in the snow begging for food.


“More has been screwed up on the battlefield and misunderstood in the Pentagon because of a lack of understanding of the English language than any other single factor.

(John W. Vessey, Jr.)

How do we communicate and manipulate our elephants?

Back to the issue of how to communicate the things we feel important. This has been a huge issue for the security community for a couple of reasons.

  1. The whole Joan of Arc thing above
  2. The languages we speak are.. Well.. like Tamarian and theirs are corporate speak.

We, the security practitioners, often speak in metaphor and exotic language to the average corporate manager. You have all seen it before, when their eyes glaze over and they are elsewhere. We can go on and on about technical issues but we never really seem to get them to that trough in the title. Sometimes you can get them to the trough easily enough by hacking them (pentesting) but then they think;

“Well this guy is a hacker… No one else could do this! What are the chances this is going to really happen? Naaahhh forget it, it’s not likely”

So there is a bias already against doing the things that we recommend. Then comes the money, the time, and the pain points of having to practice due diligence. This is where they turn off completely and the rubric of it is that unless they are FORCED to carry out due diligence by law or mandate, they won’t. We all have seen it.. Admit it.. It’s human nature to be lazy about things and it is also human nature to not conceive that the bad things could happen to them, so it would be best to prepare and fight against them.

So, how do we communicate with these people and get them on the same page?

I have no answers save this;

“Some get it.. Some don’t”

That’s the crux.. You have to accept that you as the security practitioner will NEVER reach everyone. Some will just say thank you and good day… And you have to accept that and walk away. As long as you have performed the due diligence and told them of their problems.. You have done all you can. You can try and persuade or cajole them… But, in the end, only those who get it or have been burned before will actually listen and act on the recommendations you make.

“The greater our knowledge increases the more our ignorance unfolds”

(John F. Kennedy)

The Eternal Struggle

There you have it. This will always be the case and it will always be the one thing that others seeking to compromise corporations and governments will rely on. The foolishness of those who do not plan ahead will be their undoing..


All you can do sage security wonk, is calmly and professionally explain to them the issues and leave it to them to drink.


China’s cyber-warfare capabilities are ‘fairly rudimentary’… What is it with these crazy Australians?

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Chinese strategists are quite aware of their own deficiencies and
vulnerabilities with respect to cyber-warfare. In June 2000, “a series of high-
technology combat exercises” being conducted by the PLA “had to be
92 suspended” when they were attacked by “a computer hacker”.

China‟s telecommunications technicians were impotent against the intermittent
hijacking of the Sinosat-1 national communications satellite by Falun Gong
„practitioners‟ in the early 2000s. China‟s demonstrated offensive cyber-
warfare capabilities are fairly rudimentary. Chinese hackers have been able
to easily orchestrate sufficient simultaneous „pings‟ to crash selected Web
servers (i.e., Denial-of-Service attacks). They have been able to penetrate
Web-sites and deface them, erase data from them, and post different
information on them (such as propaganda slogans). And they have
developed various fairly simple viruses for spreading by e-mails to disable
targeted computer systems, as well as Trojan Horse programs insertible by
e-mails to steal information from them. However, they have evinced little
proficiency with more sophisticated hacking techniques.

The viruses and Trojan Horses they have used have been fairly easy to detect and remove
before any damage has been done or data stolen. There is no evidence that
China‟s cyber-warriors can penetrate highly secure networks or covertly
steal or falsify critical data. They would be unable to systematically cripple
selected command and control, air defence and intelligence networks and
databases of advanced adversaries, or to conduct deception operations by
secretly manipulating the data in these networks. The gap between the
sophistication of the anti-virus and network security programs available to
China‟s cyber-warriors as compared to those of their counterparts in the
more open, advanced IT societies, is immense. China‟s cyber-warfare
authorities must despair at the breadth and depth of modern digital
information and communications systems and technical expertise available
to their adversaries.

China is condemned to inferiority in IW capabilities for probably several
decades. At best, it can employ asymmetric strategies designed to exploit
the (perhaps relatively greater) dependence on IT by their potential
adversaries—both the C ISREW elements of adversary military forces and
the vital telecommunications and computer systems in the adversary’s
homelands. In particular, attacks on US information systems relating to
military command and control, transportation and logistics could “possibly
degrade or delay U.S. force mobilisation in a time-dependent scenario”, such
as US intervention in a military conflict in the Taiwan Straits.

China‟s cyber-warfare capabilities are very destructive, but could not compete in
extended scenarios of sophisticated IW operations. In other words, they
function best when used pre-emptively, as the PLA now practices in its exercises.

In sum, the extensive Chinese IW capabilities, and the
possibilities for asymmetric strategies, are only potent if employed first.

Desmond Ball: China’s Cyber Warfare Capabilities

Oh Desmond…

Desmond, Desmond, Desmond… You spend so much time pointing out all of the Honker Union activities, the malware created by China, and all their overall IW/Espionage activities and then you say;

“Well, because there’s no real proof of their actually having done anything, they are unable to do so”

*blink blink*

Crikey! Have you been sipping what Dr. Wright has been drinking or what? Tell me Desmond, what is your classification rating? Because I think you are lacking some pertinent information that might change your hypothesis quite a bit. Either way, your contention is lacking understanding of the playing field I think, so let me enlighten you a bit ok?

Rudimentary? Really?

I personally have heard of “on the fly” coding of malware to affect pertinent systems within a defense contractor network to not only keep access within said network, but, also to exfiltrate even more interesting data. Now, that sounds rather advanced to me..

How about you?

Sure, the coders could have been just about anyone, but, the data was being exfiltrated to areas that were in the Asia Pacific and more than likely were Chinese in origin so, yeah, it likely was them and not say, Germany. However, once again, we have no real proof of it being “solely” China. Oddly enough though, when data was caught in the hands of the Chinese we pretty much had to admit it was them doing it. So, no Desmond, they are not wholly unskilled and certainly as unsophisticated as you would paint them. This is just one instance of access and hacking that allowed for the APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) activity that, well Desmond, was coined for their activities against the defense industrial base here in the US.

Simply Desmond, you can cite all the articles from the internet you want.. You still won’t have the whole picture.

PSSST… Guess What?

So, to move this further along the philosophical and technical path for you let me explain it another way for you. The Chinese, as with most of the Asiatic countries, have a different perspective on things than we in the West. Something core to the Chinese mindset on warfare are the following:

The Chinese do not have a goal of outright cyber warfare with us. In fact, they would use the subterfuge angle you speak of by leaving trap doors in software and hardware, which they have done in the past (and have been caught) However, more than likely, they would use the supply chain that we have allowed them to become the lions share of via outsourcing of cheap parts/labor to infiltrate our systems with bad chips or said same back doors. Why do you think we spend so much time (the military) checking everything that we get for the government/mil from China?
Soft power Desmond would dictate that they use the thousand grains of sand to not only steal our IP but also use the technology and our dependence on their cheap rates to insert bad data/systems/hardware into our own infrastructure for them to call up when needed to fail. This is not to say that they do not also have operators who have inserted code into other systems remotely to late be used when needed as well.
Simply Desmond, you don’t see the whole picture and its rather sad that you go on to make such defined claims. The simple truth is that the Chinese don’t need to attack us pre-emptively. They have been undermining us (US) for a very long time as we sell out to them for cheap goods. and services. THIS is soft power. They now sit in the catbird seat in many ways financially (though yes, they could lose much by us defaulting) however, from the soft power perspective, they hold the upper hand. A coup de grace would be to take down military systems were we to get uppity about Taiwan.. but really, are we in a position to do so after being wholly owned by them and their capital?
Desmond.. It’s not so much Red Dawn as it is “They Live” if you are into movie references.

網絡戰 !!!

Alrighty, now that I have gotten that off my chest, Cyberwar is to me, too hard to carry out for ANY of the countries out there now. China being only one country that might want to. The systems are too disparate and to control a single node would take great effort. So, yes, I can agree with you that they are not in a position to do us major damage from a CYBERWAR booga booga booga perspective. Frankly, no one could in my opinion. However, your contention that they could not insert bad data during a time of war is a load of crap.

ANYONE could IF they had the access and the desire. It would not need to be nation state, it could be a private citizen for that matter. What is more interesting Desmond is that you fail to understand the espionage angle here. The Chinese use their expat’s to do their bidding under threat, or, mostly under the “poor poor China” argument. Imagine an insider adding code to systems that could be triggered…

Yeah.. Soft power once again.. It could turn hard though with the right circumstances.

Once again Desmond, you think too one dimension-ally.

The Sad Truth…

Now, with all of that said, lets turn it around a bit. The saddest truth is this;

“Given all of what has happened recently with Lulzsec, it has become clear that it does not take an uber hacker to take down pretty much anyone”

The systems out there have not been protected well enough. Patching, and secure coding have not been at the fore here and thus it is trivial for the most part to hack into systems throughout the internet. So, the Chinese need not be uber haxx0rs to do the damage needed because we collectively have done a bad job at securing our own networks.


Once again, you fail to look at the problem from a more multidimensional angle.

Please go back to the drawing board Desmond because you lack the proper information and perspective to really make the claims you are making.


Escalation: Jester —> Anonymous —-> Gnosis —-> Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins?

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Jim Gordon: What about escalation?
Batman: Escalation?
Jim Gordon: We start carrying semi automatics, they buy automatics, we start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds, and *you’re* wearing a mask and jumping off rooftops. take this guy: armed robbery, double homicide. Got a taste for the theatrical, like you. Leaves a calling card.
Jim Gordon: [Gordon presents Batman with a clear plastic evidence bag containing what appears to be a single playing card; Batman turns it over to reveal a “Joker”]
Batman: I’ll look into it.

It feels more and more every day lately, like we are all trapped in a Batman graphic novel with all of these Hero’s and Villains coming out of the digital woodwork. First there was Jester (digital vigilante for “good” press) Then came Anonymous.. Well, Anonymous was around before Jester, so.. Ok first there was Anonymous and then came Jester and now as of this weekend we have “Gnosis” The hacker cabal that took down because they were too flip about “Anonymous” and Operation Payback.

It seems to me that an escalation is happening here. Now that Assange has opened the pandora’s box and become the zeitgeist for all the skiddies, we will have many more groups pop up to perform the latest mayhem that they feel they need to in order to advance their cause célèbre. So what’s next? I wonder if the more technical folks of Gnosis will then turn their attentions to something like a real news org that they feel is not reporting objectively *cough FOX cough* Or maybe they will take on a blogger for being a douche?

With each and every attack that is perpetrated without fear of punishment, I predict more people will take to the digital highway with their 2.0 version of LOIC (with proxy support) and begin to rain anarchist packet storms on us all. In cyberspace no one can hear the scream of sanity…


Written by Krypt3ia

2010/12/13 at 20:54