On The Banishment Of Cash (part1)

I am failing to understand four simple things:
why do people always fail to know the limits of their individual reach?
why do people always believe everything authorities say?
why do people always think «it won't happen to us»?
why do people always prefer to lose everything in order to save a part?

All these four shine and glitter as they intricately weave into the topic of «cash vs plastic» (keep them in mind while reading).

It has become a popular fad to use «plastic» instead of cash… as usual people are completely unaware of the dangers of this fad. And for some reason they think that «plastic» is somewhat equivalent to cash — NOT EVEN REMOTELY!

The most important issue is (as usual) the simplest one and (as usual) the most ignored one — WHO COMMITS A TRANSACTION? You come to a store for a loaf of bread, you pay for it and take it away. Are you sure it was you who payed for it? I am sure, because I always use cash. When I give a banknote to a cashier I physically commit the transaction — this is MY FINAL SAY. When you type your PIN, you MERELY ASK a bank to commit the transaction for you. In the end of the day it is the bank's decision whether you gonna have this loaf of bread or not. Think about it for once! The bread you are having now is not a result of a free trade between you and a backer, it is a free will of an (undoubtedly honest) 3rd-party. The bank decided on their own volition to allow you to have this bread, and they can as easily decide to starve you at any time.

And when I am speaking about bread, I literally mean bread. It is a common practice in Ukraine and Russia to arrest bank accounts of family members of political dissidents, thus rendering them incapable of engaging in any trade, i.e. buying bread. When you are under a police investigation for political reasons, you are offered a choice: your family will starve unless you confess that you were digging a tunnel under Kremlin with a premeditated goal to assassinate the dear comrade Stalin. The most famous implementation of this tactics is the Ruslan Kotsaba case, his wife and kids have only survived thanks to the public campaign (launched by the defence attorney) encouraging people to trade with the wife for cash (she is a pastry chief).

But, of course! It can not happen to you! No way! (Ask The Lighthouse Project what methods do courts and prosecutors employ in USA and Canada to exert pressure on falsely accused.)

The banks do not bother with breaching your security, they took away your agency altogether.

(to be continued)

What Makes Your Password YOURS?

Simple questions are usually the most difficult ones to answer. And the most important among them are traditionally labeled stupid and dismissed. The modern days InfoSec is based upon unanswered questions. The lack of theoretical basis allows InfoSec gurus to produce teachings and «best practices» without a limit.

Today I want to address two very basic questions about passwords:

What are characteristic properties of a password? and what makes your password yours?

By answering these questions you achieve understanding of the utter malevolence of the password abandonment movements, that are so frighteningly popular today. There is a particularly dangerous movement to replace passwords with bio-metric attributes that can reliably identify your body (e.g. voice, fingerprints, and such). Although these attributes are successfully used in forensic practice for centuries, it does not make them good authentication tokens. Why? Because your password's job is NOT to identify your body.

I hear you screaming: «WHAT?!?!?!» That means you are ready to investigate what IS a password, what is its job, and what properties do you want your password to possess.
Read more →

Password Strength Explained

This is a scheme of how we define password strength in a strict scientific manner without bullshit and lyrics:

1. we clarify what is a guessing attack and set aside all other types of attacks;

2. we prove the theorem: any two guessing attacks differ ONLY by the ORDER in which they try candidate-passwords;

3. we demonstrate that password strength (in any practical sense) is a function of an attack;

4. the strength of a given password is the position of this password in the attacker's dictionary;

5. the defender's strategy is an approximation of the attack dictionary order;

6. an approximate order is equivalent to a specific set of orders (i.e. different attacks);

7. thus, the defender's password strength is an expected value for the password strength over the given set of attacks.

You can read the implementation of this scheme in my paper: "A Canonical Password Strength Measure". It gives us a feasible meaningful unambiguous measure that everyone can implement.

It is also worth noticing that Shannon's entropy is entirely irrelevant to the password strength problem. Entropy is based on the ASSUMPTION of possible outcomes. This set is well defined in the context of measuring a memory size, and not defined at all in the context of password creation/guessing.

In contrast to my work, the «password strength» discourse is extraordinarily rich on bullshit. Take a look at this masterpiece. This is a great example of how to write some 35K of text without answering the question, and even without understanding the subject. Let me quote the key paragraph:

Password strength is a measure of the effectiveness of a password in resisting guessing and brute-force attacks. In its usual form, it estimates how many trials an attacker who does not have direct access to the password would need, on average, to guess it correctly. The strength of a password is a function of length, complexity, and unpredictability.

This is one of the best non-answers I have ever seen, and a very succinct one too. No wonder it originates from the government officials! It obscures the matter it addresses in almost every word — «effectiveness», «resisting», «complexity», «unpredictability» — what are they? So, essentially the quoted paragraph reads:

Password strength is a function of something unknown to us.

It is time for us to do some trivial maths and terminate the «password strength» nonsense.

Android's Security Policy Is: "All Or Nothing"

This is the essay about the biggest and the most successful infosec profanation campaign in the world. It undermines the very idea of security awareness in each and every aspect, and it does so very subtly too. Initially I wanted to tell you how this profanation works and why it would be successful at cleansing users' minds from any security related thoughts; today I have upgraded my test-bunny Android device and realized that my «prediction» is getting late — Android has entered the final stage of the campaign: after the applications succeeded at damaging users' security awareness, the core system itself openly stepped into the battle, to commit the final blow.
Read more →

Each Security Hole Is Created By Someone Deliberately.

Naked Security reports another (not very special) piece of malware for Android. It is quite sophisticated and effective, it has fooled almost 200K users.

I want to talk about one particular detail, quote:

The apps were installed directly onto unwitting Android devices as the extension bypassed the operating system’s permissions process.

Once again my question is how is it even possible in a mentally sane world??? Who created this bypass and why? No questions asked to Android, everybody is throwing feces at «evil-evil-evil» developers of malware. I believe that the idea of infosec related media is to channel the users' wrath into a safe direction, away from those who made malware possible in the first place, and suppress real inconvenient questions to the «trusted» developers and «respected» vendors.

Within the next few days I will explain you all evils of the android quasi-security — today I am too angry.

A Trap Hidden Deep Within Apache Cordova

During the development of the Cordova application «Siberian Dice» for Android I have encountered a particularly nasty trouble, so very tiny yet absolutely devastating. It was a very well hidden trap, and the experience of falling into this trap was so spectacular and puzzling that I was moved to create a stackoverflow.com account — imagine my frustration! It is a terrible feeling when you find out that the problem you just faced is not googleable, and even stackoverflow has no answer, not even a stupid one. So, I had to investigate it myself. I succeeded and (because I did not want anybody else to lose any more time on investigating the bug I already investigated) posted the solution on stackoverflow. And then I forgot the issue.
Read more →

This magic word "Cryptography"

This is a real life story. We were building an enterprise with micro-payments involved and stuff. We needed a terminal/kiosk network, and this task was bound to be outsourced. So my boss had found a company XYZ that offers ready-made solutions, and he asked me to investigate their offer. I returned to him with my verdict:
— we can't use this XYZ service, because they require our users to submit their passwords to XYZ and then XYZ logs into our system on user's behalf. This is plain out wrong, and should not be implemented ever.
He argued on the basis «a well established company can not possibly sell us junk» — so stunningly true! yeah! So he decided to carry out his own investigation.

A few days later he informed me of his decision:
— I have presented the XYZ's offer to a computer security specialist N. He advised us against using the XYZ's services because they do not employ cryptography.

So the story has ended quite happily. Thanks to the magic of the «cryptography».