Risk Management and Car Talk

I was driving around listening to Car Talk on NPR this weekend, and it was an incredibly insightful lesson on risk tolerance and risk perception. I tend to do a lot of errands over the weekend around that time, so I usually catch 20-40 minutes of it every week as I’m in and out of stores. Pretty much every week you’ll hear things like: Caller: My car’s making this grinding noise when I accelerate. CT: How long has this been going on? Caller: About a year or so. CT: And why didn’t you take it in? Caller: I’m worried it will be too expensive to fix. Gee, that sounds familiar. Or these calls: Caller: My engine feels like it’s running slow or something. CT: Is the check engine light on? Caller: Why yes, how did you know? CT: And let me guess, it’s been on for three months? Caller: Okay, who called and told you? CT: No one [Click and Clack laugh]. So why didn’t you check the engine? Caller: I’m scared it will be expensive. Then there are these calls: [long discussion figuring out the problem] Caller: So I just need to take it in and get it fixed? CT: Yep, that’s it. Caller: Will it be expensive? CT: Maybe, about [x dollars], but it will be a lot more expensive later if you don’t. Caller: Oh, that’s a lot. Do you think I’ll be okay if I don’t get it fixed? CT: As long as you don’t need a car, you’ll be fine. Think about all those cavities you could have avoided by going to the dentist on a regular basis, or that big air conditioning repair you could have skipped if you just performed the annual maintenance on time. Then stop complaining that your users “just don’t get it,” or stop whining about the business ignoring you. Share:

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iPhone Security Tip: Never Memorize Wireless Networks

Update: See Update To The iPhone Security Tip. Encrypted networks are safe to remember. The other day I was wandering around San Francisco on a work trip, and I freaked out when I noticed the WiFi indicator on my iPhone was showing an active connection to some random network. I never have my phone set to connect to unknown networks, so I quickly jumped into the settings to see what the heck was going on. Turns out I was connected to “tsunami” which is a common default name on Cisco wireless gear. Like the Cisco gear in our community center, which just a week or so before I was playing with. And that got me thinking. Many of you probably connect to wireless networks with common names- like Linksys, 2WIRExx, tsunami, or whatever. In other words, either default networks, or names (like those used at conferences and airports) that are in common use or easy to find. But when you remember those on your iPhone (or computer for that sake), it only remembers the network ID (SSID), not that actual network! Your iPhone doesn’t know the difference between “tsunami” in your community center, “tsunami” in an office building, and “tsunami” running on some bad guy’s laptop to see what naive fools will connect to it. When you trust a network you’re just trusting a name anyone can use, not something really unique to that network. Your iPhone will then connect to any network using that name. Why is that bad? Go read this article I wrote at Dark Reading. An attacker can set up his or her laptop to broadcast that name, then perform a man in the middle attack to anyone who connects. They can sniff and modify any traffic going to your iPhone. Why is this more serious on an iPhone than your laptop? Because you walk around with your phone all the time, often checking things like email in the background. Another problem with the iPhone is that its VPN doesn’t automatically reconnect if the connection drops. Thus, even if you connect via a secure VPN, you might find your connection got dropped and your phone happily continues, sending all your traffic unencrypted. Here are my best practices for iPhone wireless security: Turn on “Ask to join networks”. If you have a home wireless network, use an obscure name with some random numbers in it. This reduces the odds you’ll ever hit another one with the same name unless someone specifically targets you. On your home network, don’t broadcast the SSID (sure, easy to figure out, but we’re just trying to reduce our risks). If you need to connect to a public wireless network, use a VPN to protect your traffic. In the VPN settings, after you configure your connection, turn on the “Send all traffic” option. When you’re done with the network, click on the “Forget this network” button in your WiFi settings. On my phone I only have it set to connect at home (a weird name), and I use AT&T EDGE when I’m out of my house. I have a VPN server set up at home for those rare occasions I connect from a conference network. The good news is that your iPhone doesn’t send out “probes” for known networks. This would be an easy way for a bad guy to know even those obscure SSIDs you use at home. Good move on Apple’s part- now I just want them to make the VPN connections persistent. Share:

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Just Because You’re An Expert Doesn’t Make You An Expert

Had another one of those real world experiences today that was just begging for a blog post. A couple hours ago I was driving down the highway on my way to my physical therapy appointment when I saw a rollover car accident on the side of the road near an on-ramp. There were a bunch of bystanders, but the first police officer was just pulling up and there was no fire or ambulance in sight. There is some good news and some bad news if you get in an accident by that particular on-ramp. The good news is it’s right down the road from the Mayo clinic. The bad news is a lot of doctors drive on and off that ramp at any given moment. Very few of them work in the emergency department. I first became an EMT in 1990, went on to become a full-time paramedic, and have dabbled in everything from ski patrol to mountain rescue to HAZMAT over the years. I’m still an EMT, although not doing much with it since moving to Phoenix. If I’d knocked someone up when I got certified they’d be getting ready for college right about now. That is, to be honest, a little scary. Since no responders were on scene yet I identified myself and asked if they needed help. The other bystanders, including the first doctor, stepped back (she was calling the patient’s parents). The patient was looking okay, but not great, crying and complaining about neck and head pain. She did not remember the accident. The next bit went like this: DAD (Dumb Ass Doctor): Here, let’s put this under her head [holding rolled-up jacket] Me: Sir, we don’t want to do that. DAD: I’m a doctor. It’s fine, she was walking around [Note, most patients who scramble out of their overturned car through the missing windshield wander around a little bit until someone sits them down.] Me: What kind of doctor? DAD: Anesthesiologist. Trauma anesthesiologist. It’s fine. [Note, that means he puts trauma patients to sleep in an operating room so a surgeon can fix them.] Me: Sir, we have a patient complaining of head and neck pain with a loss of consciousness; you do NOT want to manipulate her head. DAD: I’m a doctor [inserts pillow, as patient cries out from the pain]. Gee [other doc’s name] don’t you remember that emergency training and the chain of command? Me: You’re the doctor, can you gossip with your friends and stand over there now while I make sure she can still move? For the record, I’ve never met an ER doctor in the world that will clear a patient’s c-spine in the field with that mechanism (a rollover) and pain on touch and movement. I would never pretend to be able to anesthetize a patient, but this bozo, like many doctors, thinks he’s fully capable of directing field treatment completely outside his experience. Here’s the thing;as professionals we train hard at becoming experts in a particular domain. This doesn’t make us experts in adjacent domains. For example, I may be a security expert, but despite some broad knowledge I’ve specialized in certain areas, like information-centric security. If, for example, you needed me to read your IDS logs or deploy your UTM I’d send you to someone with practical network security knowledge. When doing risk assessments or practical, on-the-ground security, make sure you engage the right domain experts before you break something. You may have kung-fu, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a total freaking idiot. Share:

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