Why Won’t Dell Stop Sucking?!

For some reason people keep buying Dells.

I remember a couple of years ago all the small form factor optiplex’s I had suffered from a bad cap on the motherboard.  Eventually all of them just die.

My whole team at work have the same model workstation and the PSU went on each of them, one by one.

I have a service tag – the “serial number” unique to each computer – and type it into their site looking for drivers.  You would think, being that this tag is unique, that they could look up your computer and give you your network card drivers, your video driver etc.  NO!  Instead they give you the choice to download every driver for every chipset that was ever used on that given model.  Why do I have this service tag?!  Why don’t I just type in the model?!  Its the same results!

After all that people still buy these pieces of crap.  They never even question why that is.

A Very Righteous Hack

A roadside traffic sign in Austin, Texas was hacked into so that it displayed a message warning passing motorists of zombies ahead. Police are investigating the incident, and if they are caught, the perpetrators could face misdemeanor road sign tampering charges.  The vandals broke a lock on the sign and then managed to gain access to the computer that controls its readout because it was using a default password.  They also changed the password, so city employees had to wait for the manufacturer to reset the password before the sign could be changed.  A city spokesperson acknowledged that while “the sign’s content was humorous, … the act of changing it wasn’t.”

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/transportation/stories/013009dnmetzombies.1595f453.html

I have an issue of 2600 magazine from about 5 years ago that contains that default password.  I had always thought it would be funny if did something like this.  They even changed the default password.  How perfect.

DISCLAIMER: I do no endorse the “hacking” of morons who don’t change default passwords.

Take THAT IE Fan Boy

Bruce Schneier just posted an interesting article on his blog entitled “Interview with an Adware Developer“.

This article reinforces many of the things I have been telling people for a very long time, but for whatever reason never sinks in.

I should probably first speak about how adware works. Most adware targets Internet Explorer (IE) users because obviously they’re the biggest share of the market. In addition, they tend to be the less-savvy chunk of the market. If you’re using IE, then either you don’t care or you don’t know about all the vulnerabilities that IE has.

IE has a mechanism called a Browser Helper Object (BHO) which is basically a gob of executable code that gets informed of web requests as they’re going. It runs in the actual browser process, which means it can do anything the browser can do—which means basically anything.

Aside from reinforcing that Internet Explorer is a poor choice to use for web browsing (unless you enjoy collecting and cleaning malware… you know, for practice), it also outlines an interesting new technique that I recently witnessed as I was cleaning a machine.

If you also have an installer, a little executable, you can make a Registry entry and every time this thing reboots, the installer will check to make sure the BHO is there. If it is, great. If it isn’t, then it will install it. That’s fine until somebody goes and deletes the executable.

The next thing that Direct Revenue did—actually I should say what I did, because I was pretty heavily involved in this—was make a poller which continuously polls about every 10 seconds or so to see if the BHO was there and alive. If it was, great. If it wasn’t, [ the poller would ] install it.

During my live analysis of this machine I used the ms/sysinternals filemon program to watch for a bit and noticed explorer.exe doing something similar to what the author describes.

34139    6:32:11 PM    explorer.exe:2916    OPEN    C:\NTDETECT.COM:QebiesnrMkudrfcoIbamtykdDa.exe:$DATA    NOT FOUND    Options: Open  Access: Read

The article explains how they will create a seemingly random named file (a hash of the mac address) and use that as the installer.  This one appears to be a variant on the technique that takes it a step further and uses hidden data streams (or alternate data streams). These are data streams that I had previously detected and removed.

The article also has an interesting point about evasion.

Next we made a function shuffler, which would go into an executable, take the functions and randomly shuffle them. Once you do that, then of course the signature’s all messed up. [ We also shuffled ] a lot of the pointers within each actual function. It completely changed the shape of the executable.

In the virology and malware world this is known as polymorphism, and is a very effective technique for evading most anti-virus/spyware programs.

Now the truly frightening part mentions using interrupt handlers instead of executables and states that they decided not to do it.  Because the concept is written, someone will run with it.

There was one further step that we were going to take but didn’t end up doing, and that is we were going to get rid of threads entirely, and just use interrupt handlers. It turns out that in Windows, you can get access to the interrupt handler pretty easily. In fact, you can register with the OS a chunk of code to handle a given interrupt. Then all you have to do is arrange for an interrupt to happen, and every time that interrupt happens, you wake up, do your stuff and go away. We never got to actually do that, but it was something we were thinking we’d do.

What this all boils down to is that the malware authors once again have leap frogged the anti-virus industry.  Microsoft also needs to take a more proactive role in securing IE and Windows against these sorts of threats.

The days of recycling the old code as variants is over and its time that we prepare ourselves for a whole new world of malware threats.

More on Heartland

Dark Reading posted an article entitle “Report: Law Enforcement Closing In On Heartland Breach Perpetrator

“Many experts continue to speculate on why it took so long for Heartland to identify and disclose the breach. According to the Storefront Backtalk report, the payment processor revealed the breach was first discovered in late October or early November, whereas previous statements indicated that it was only in the fall. The company has had two outside forensics teams and the Secret Service working on the problem for more than two months, and yet the “sniffer” software used to collect the data was located only last week.”

If this turns out to be true, heads should roll.

Heartland Breach

Heartland Payment Systems acts as a payment gateway for credit card transactions for over 250,000 businesses.  At some point a sniffer was installed in their data center intercepting all transactions.  Some media outlets are calling this the “largest data breach ever”.  They process “100 million credit card payments a month and more than 4 billion transactions per year” but currently have no idea when the malicious software was installed.

Most states (and federal and industry regulations) strictly mandate how breaches are reported to consumers and how quickly.  Unfortunately this incident falls into a bit of a gray area in that consumers are 2 steps removed from the breach.  As best I can tell, heartland simply has to notify their customers (mostly restaurants and other businesses) and then its the responsibility of these 250,000 or so businesses to inform their customers.  I assure you that some will slip through the cracks or intentionally not be notified by small businesses fearing bad PR.

Heartland just launched a site to provide some positive PR and is sending it to their customers (not end consumers).  They did not distribute this URL to the general public.  The reason this entirely new domain (that does not contain “heartland” at all) was launched is because Heartland’s main site makes no mention of the breach at all.

After reading the heartland statement by Robert O. Carr, CEO it becomes abundantly clear where their loyalty and concerns lie.  With statements like:

“In fact, since our disclosure of the breach on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, more than 400 new merchants, new payroll clients and new check management clients have demonstrated their continued trust in our services by joining as new customers.”

This is clearly damage control.  It’s in poor taste to mix marketing with breach notifications.

“As a cardholder, you will not be held financially responsible for any unauthorized transactions. You should regularly monitor your card and bank statements and report all suspicious activity to your issuing bank (the bank that issued the card, not the card brand).”

That last statement is the only thing that even makes reference to the end consumers whose data was compromised.  Most breach laws require that the responsible party (Heartland) purchase credit card monitoring services for a year for each effected person.   This statement indicates that “you will not be held financially responsible” but does not provide the why or how.  This statement does not indicate that Heartland will reimburse you as a consumer nor does it say they will purchase credit monitoring services for you.

This is just another example of how we, as modern consumers, need to take responsibility for our own safety and proactively monitor our own accounts.  We are obviously in this alone.

Dark Horse 4 – Sweet Stout

I have made a number of stout recipes since I started home brewing.  I beleive I have finaly refined my recipe down to perfectly suite my tastes.  This one falls under the BJCP category of 13b. Sweet Stout.  This is sometimes called a milk stout, cream stout or breakfast stout.

My base recipe I beleive is sound, but I’m not 100% sure what I want to do with it after I transfer it to the secondary firmentation vessel.  Because of this I will be transfering into 5 x 1gal secondaries instead of 1 5gal.  At that point I can do whatever additives I like and compare.  So far I beleive this is the plan.

1. Control.  Leave it as is with no additives
2. Cherry Extract (Organic)
3. Hazelnut Extract (Organic)
4. Chocolate Bar or Extract (Organic)
5. Either dry hopped with American Cascade hops or float oak chips for the “oak barrel aged” flavor.

I will let everyone know how it turns out. 🙂

I cant speel or gramer to good.

I cant speel or gramer to good.

People poke me with pointy stiks wen I spel bad, but still I sucks.

Seriously though, I have never been able to spell and get silly words mixed up (like then and than or there, their and they’re).  Attending school in a time before computers were common made this more problimatic.  Spell and grammer check have helped me a great deal but have become dependant on them.

My thinking and research are sound, and I enjoy publishing my work, but if I only had a secretary. 🙂

Homebrewing with Honey

Missy and I brewed up our first Mead the other day.  I have been using The Complete MeadMaker by Ken Schramm and Making Wild Wines & Meads by Pattie Vargas & Rich Gulling as my resources.

We decided to make a braggot instead of a straight up mead.  That is a very honey heavy beer.  Mead with malt, carbonation and sometimes hops.

Normally a beer with honey contains about 1lb of honey… this braggot contains 15 lbs.  We are calling it the “+1 Braggot of Drunkening”.

Leafing through these two books brought question to how I have always brewed with honey.

On page 41 of The Complete Meadmaker I read:

“Dr. Johnathan White of United States Department of Agriculture (retired) did a tremendous amount of research on honey and concluded that the amount of heat exposure needed to kill off the wild yeast in honey is as little as fine minutes at 150 F (66 C), or about 22 minutes at 140 F (60 C).”

In making previous batches of beer we added the honey at the beginning of the boil so the honey is exposed to 60-90 minutes of boiling temperatures.  According to this research that will kill a great deal of the aroma and flavor that honey contributes.

Brewing with honey, according to this research can be difficult.  We heated the honey in a seperate brew kettle (140 F for 22 minutes) and timed it so that its cook time ended about 10 minutes after the wort boil.

I have a brewmometer on my kettle so I waited till my wort chiller brought the wort to 140 F and then added the honey.

Our braggot is about 1-2 days from being transfered to the secondary.  I will let everyone know how it turns out.  If you know me, maybe you will be lucky enough to score a bottle or two. 🙂

Conn. Teacher Cleared of Felony Endangerment in Pop-Up Case

The case against Connecticut substitute teacher Julie Amero has finally
come to a close.  Prosecutors dropped the felony charges against her,
but the agreement called for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of
disorderly conduct and surrender of her state teaching credential.
Amero had previously been convicted of endangering minors and faced 40
years in prison.  Prosecutors alleged that in 2004 she had surfed to
dubious websites that displayed pornographic pop-ups on a computer in
the classroom; when security specialists caught wind of the case, they
pushed to examine the computer in question and found that the school
district had inadequate anti-malware protection on that computer and the
pop-ups were not Amero’s fault.

This is easily one of the most frustrating InfoSec stories of recent years.  In case you are unaware, some poor substitute teacher in Conn was using a computer in a classroom when a flood of pornographic pop-ups (induced by malware) came on the screen.  She found herself in court facing Child Endangerment charges and up to 40 years in prison.

This highlights how scary our legal system can get.  If you have no idea what a case is about do not try to render a verdict.  Defer it to another judge, a jury or call in some experts.  For gods sake, don’t sentence someone for not doing anything wrong.