Inside Cyber Warfare, 2nd Edition – You’re at the front line & you can’t retreat – #bookreview

Inside Cyber Warfare (2nd Edition)
By Jeffery Carr
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $39.99; Kindle edition, list price $31.99)

A global war for survival is in full battle, and you — or at least one or more of your computers — may now be right at the front line, already in the fight.

Actually, in cyber warfare, there is no “front line.”  As this important book makes unnervingly clear, attacks on business and military data, on financial systems, and on personal information now can — and do — come at any time from anywhere on the planet.

The attackers can be governments, military units, criminal groups, terrorist organizations, hacker gangs, lone-wolf thieves and even mischief makers with little or no agenda except chaos. And what seems to be a damaging infiltration from one nation actually may be controlled by, and coming from, computers in several other nations.

Indeed, some recently successful and damaging attacks against supposedly well-secured systems have been launched from sites very difficult to identify, using networks of infected computers scattered across several continents, including the United States. And the owners of the infected computers had no idea their machines were involved.

Jeffrey Carr’s updated book is aimed at political and military leaders, policy makers,  and corporate executives responsible for securing data systems and sensitive information. Yet everyday computer users need to read it, too, to have a clearer sense of what we are all up against now. We must understand the risks well enough to help pressure lawmakers, corporate leaders and others to make good choices regarding data security and protecting intellectual property.

The author is a cyber intelligence expert and consultant whose specialty is investigating “cyber attacks against governments and infrastructures by state and non-state hackers.”

Carr’s well-written second edition covers such topics as: the cyber-warfare capabilities of a wide range of nation-states, from Australia and Nigeria to China, the Russian Federation and the United States; how organized crime operates and profits in cyberspace; the difficulty of responding to international cyber attacks as acts of war; and national and international legal issues that affect cyber warfare.

Some foreign governments, Carr points out, are believed to condone and even sponsor cyber attacks. Others are well aware of the digital lawbreakers operating within their borders, yet prosecute only a selected few cases. For example, Carr notes, “in the Russian Federation, the police are interested only in arresting hackers for financial crimes against Russian companies. Hacking attacks cloaked in nationalism are not only not prosecuted by Russian authorities, but they are encouraged…” through a variety of proxies.

Against technically savvy, well-funded and government-coddled hackers, your outdated virus protection software and your dogs’-names passwords are very thin, very porus shields, indeed. 

Carr offers a number of recommendations to American policymakers who must wrestle with Internet and data security issues, plus protection of intellectual property. One of his strongest recommendations is a call for the Department of Defense to throw Windows out the Pentagon’s windows and replace it with Red Hat Linux.

“Red Hat Linux,” he writes, “is a proven secure OS with less than 90% of the bugs found per 1,000 lines of code than in Windows. Many decision makers don’t know that it is the most certified operating system in the world, and it’s already in use by some of the US government’s most secretive agencies.” He adds: “Linux certainly has its vulnerabilities, but the math speaks for itself. Shoot Windows and eliminate the majority of the malware threat with one stroke.”

He also wants sharp crackdowns on “US companies that provide Internet services to individuals and companies who engage in illegal activities, provide false WHOIS information, and other indicators that they are potential platforms for cyber attacks.”

But anyone who connects a computer to the Internet and is active on social media needs to be aware of the risks and high stakes involved in the cyber warfare now being fought between and among governments, criminal groups, terrorist organizations, hacker gangs and lone-wolf troublemakers.

Even as you read this, your personal computer or your company’s servers may be secretly helping North Korea, Iran, China, a drug cartel or a lone, bored hacker launch a cyber attack somewhere else in the world.

You may not be a high-value data target. Yet, even with just one laptop computer, you can become an unwilling and unknowing foot soldier for the wrong side.

These are scary thoughts, and you can’t wish them away. Read this important book to get the big, unnerving picture.

Then start thinking–fast–of ways to better protect your computers, data, intellectual property and personal information.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer, and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.

The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications – #programming #bookreview

The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications
By Michal Zalewski
(No Starch Press, paperback, list price $49.95 ; Kindle edition, list price $31.95)

When Michal Zalewski writes, people listen. And many software programmers pay — or should pay — very close attention to what he recommends.

Zalewski is an internationally respected information security expert who has uncovered hundreds of major Internet security vulnerabilities

“The dream of inventing a brand-new browser security model,” he states in The Tangled Web, “is strong within the community, but it is always followed by the realization that it would require rebuilding the entire Web. Therefore, much of the practical work focuses on more humble extensions to the existing approach, necessarily increasing the complexity of the security-critical sections of the browser codebase.”

Today’s Web indeed is a mess, a complex morass of “design flaws and implementation shortcomings” within a technology “that never aspired to its current status and never had a chance to pause and look back at previous mistakes,” he says. And: “The resulting issues have emerged as some of the most significant and prevalent threats to data security today….”

In his well-written new “Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications,” Zalewski states that “a substantial dose of patience, creativity, and real technical expertise is required from all the information security staff.”

Anyone who works with the Web application stack needs to clearly understand its built-in security vulnerabilities and the consequences that can occur when unwanted penetrations occur.

Zalewski’s 299-page book is structured into three parts – Anatomy of the Web, Browser Security Features, and A Glimpse of Things to Come — and 18 chapters:

  1. Security in the World of Web Applications
  2. It Starts with a URL
  3. Hypertext Transfer Protocol
  4. Hypertext Markup Language
  5. Cascading Style Sheets
  6. Browser-Side Scripts
  7. Non-HTML Document Types
  8. Content Rendering with Browser Plug-ins
  9. Content Isolation Logic
  10. Origin Inheritance
  11. Life Outside Same-Origin Rules
  12. Other Security Boundaries
  13. Content Recognition Mechanisms
  14. Dealing with Rogue Scripts
  15. Extrinsic Site Privileges
  16. New and Upcoming Security Features
  17. Other Browser Mechanisms of Note
  18. Common Web Vulnerabilities

Zalewski’s other published works include Silence on the Wire and Google’s Browser Security Handbook.

Despite the software industry’s many efforts to find security “silver bullets,” Zalewski contends that “[a]ll signs point to security being largely a nonalgorithmic problem for now.” What still works best, he says are three “rudimentary, empirical recipes”:

  1. Learning from (preferably other people’s) mistakes
  2. Developing tools to detect and correct problems
  3. Planning to have everything compromised.

“These recipes are deeply incompatible with many business management models,” he warns, “but they are all that have really worked for us so far.”

Zalewski’s book puts a bright, uncomfortable spotlight on the fundamental insecurities of Web browsers, but it also shows you how to improve the security of Web applications.

Whether you program Web apps, or manage Web app programmers, or are studying to become a Web app programmer, you likely need this book.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, all available on Kindle. He is a freelance book reviewer for the Dallas Morning News and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA tester.

A Bug Hunter’s Diary: A Guided Tour through the Wilds of Software Security – #programming #bookreview

A Bug Hunter’s Diary: A Guided Tour through the Wilds of Software Security
By Tobias Klein
(No Starch Press, paperback, list price $39.95; Kindle edition, list price $31.95)

If your passion or desire is to find and kill software bugs and fight hackers, you should check out this well-written how-to book.

Tobias Klein, an information security specialist, has tracked down many difficult bugs and identified security vulnerabilities in some of the world’s best-known software, including Apple’s iOS, the Mac OS X kernel, web browsers, and the VLC media player, among others.

Using a diary approach, plus code examples and illustrations, Klein describes a bug he has just discovered in a software package. Then he illustrates how it creates a security vulnerability that a hacker could exploit, and he describes how to fix or at least reduce its risks.

Chapters 2 through 8 each focus on separate bugs, and Klein includes a list of “lessons learned” for programmers who want to avoid creating similar problems.

Klein’s well-illustrated book is organized as follows:

  • Chapter 1: Bug Hunting – (a brief overview.)
  • Chapter 2: Back to the ‘90s – (shows how he discovered a bug and vulnerability in a Tivo movie file that allowed him to crash a VLC media player and gain control of the instruction pointer.)
  • Chapter 3: Escape from the WWW Zone – (illustrates how and where he found a bug in the Solaris kernel and the “exciting challenge” of demonstrating how it could be exploited for arbitrary code execution.)
  • Chapter 4: Null Pointer FTW – (describes “a really beautiful bug” that opened a vulnerability into “the FFmpeg multimedia library that is used by many popular software projects, including Google Chrome, VLC media player, MPlayer, and Xine to name just a few.”)
  • Chapter 5: Browse and You’re Owned – (discusses how he found an exploitable bug in an ActiveX control for Internet Explorer.)
  • Chapter 6: One Kernel to Rule Them All – (focuses on how he decided to search for bugs in some third-party Microsoft Windows drivers and found one in an antivirus software package.)
  • Chapter 7: A Bug Older than 4.4BSD – (how he found an exploitable bug in the XNU kernel OS X.)
  • Chapter 8: The Ringtone Massacre – (how he found an exploitable bug in an early version of the iPhone’s MobileSafari browser that enabled him to modify ringtone files and access the program counter.)
  • Appendix A: Hints for Hunting – (“…some vulnerability classes, exploitation techniques, and common issues that can lead to bugs.”)
  • Appendix B: Debugging – (about debuggers and the debugging process.)
  • Appendix C: Mitigation – (discusses mitigation techniques.)

Tobias Klein is the author of two previous information security books that were published in Germany. Because hackers use many of the same tools as those seeking to keep them out, there is an important limit on how much detail Klein is able to impart in this book.

As he notes in a disclaimer: “The goal of this book is to teach readers how to identify, protect against, and mitigate software security vulnerabilities. Understanding the techniques used to find and exploit vulnerabilities is necessary to thoroughly grasp the underlying problems and appropriate mitigation techniques. Since 2007, it is no longer legal to create or distribute “hacking tools” in Germany, my home country. Therefore, to comply with the law, no full working exploit code is provided in this book. The examples simply show the steps used to gain control of the execution flow (the instruction pointer or program counter control) of a vulnerable program.”

Si Dunn

Here’s the book scaring me this Halloween: America the Vulnerable – #bookreview #data #security

Subtitled “Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare,” America the Vulnerable is written by Joel Brenner, former inspector general at the National Security Agency.

Brenner has recent experience at the highest levels in national intelligence, counterintelligence and data security. And he has studied firsthand many of the threats and attacks against our national, corporate and personal interests.

“During my tenure in government,” he writes, “I came to understand how steeply new technology has tipped the balance in favor of those–from freelance hackers to Russian mobsters to terrorists to states like China and Iran–who want to learn the secrets we keep, whether for national, corporate, or personal security.” He adds: “The truth I saw was brutal and intense: Electronic thieves are stripping us blind.”

Everything from Social Security numbers to technological secrets that cost billions to develop are being taken — stolen from military and corporate data networks and individual computers, possibly including yours.

His book will leave you wide-eyed and wondering who is surreptitiously poking around inside your computer right at this moment and what they are taking or “borrowing” for sinister purposes.

 Likely the Chinese and the Iranians and Russian mobsters and others, including hackers, are in there or have been there recently.

And Brenner explains how you may be unknowingly helping them find and transfer sensitive and vital information, even when you do something seemingly innocuous as plugging in a thumb drive to your laptop.

You won’t need to watch any monster movies to get scared this Halloween. Brenner’s book or its Kindle version can give you a very serious case of chills and frights. 

Si Dunn