TECHNOLOGY YOU By Stephen H. Wildstrom
THE SECRETS LIES OF CYBER-SECURITY
A computer virus shuts down your corporate e-mail for a day. Hackers deface your Web site with pornography. The need to share data with customers and vendors exposes critical corporate information to online theft. With your business ever more dependent on safe use of the Internet, security savvy has become as important as understanding marketing or finance.
Such savvy, however, has been hard for non-techie executives to acquire. Books and articles on security generally came in two equally useless varieties: incomprehensible or sensationalized. Remember all those books on how the Y2K bug would end civilization as we knew it? Now, Bruce Schneier, a highly respected security expert, has stepped into the breach with Secrets Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World (John Wiley Sons, $29.99). The book is of value to anyone whose business depends on safe use of e-mail, the Web, or other networked communications. If that's not yet everybody, it soon will be.
Schneier brings strong credentials to the job. His book Applied Cryptography is a classic in the field, and he is one of t he creators of the Twofish algorithm, a finalist in the U.S. government's competition for the Advanced Encryption Standard. Schneier serves as chief technology officer of Counterpane Internet Security (www.counterpane.com), which manages computer security for corporations.
Although this is a book for the general reader, it's not always easy going. But Secrets Lies requires no prior knowledge of computer or security technology and should be accessible to anyone who is willing to put in a little effort. For example, Schneier explains encryption, essentially a mathematical process, without resorting to a single equation. While Schneier is not an elegant writer, he has a nice ability to use analogies to make the obscure understandable.
The book has two main thrusts. First is Schneier's mantra: "Security is a process, not a product." Anyone who promises you a hacker-proof system or offers to provide "unbreakable" encryption is selling you snake oil. There is simply no way to wave a magic wand over a system to make it -and keep it- secure. Second, Schneier says, getting security right is hard, and small mistakes can be deadly.
Risk Management. Schneier backs his opinions with real-world examples. For instance, Hollywood was terrified of piracy and worked hard on a scheme to encrypt digital videodisks so that only authorized players could read the disks. The encryption would have been hard to break, but hackers didn't have to do it. A design flaw made it easy to steal the decryption keys from the software players supplied with PC's. Similarly, most e-commerce sites use a technology called SSL to protect transaction data from online snoopers. SSL works fine, but some e-tailers left customers' credit card information in files where hackers could swipe it.
The last third of the book is most valuable to managers. In it, Schneier discusses the process by which people should assess security vulnerabilities and decide what to do about them. His central point: Computer security is basically risk management. Banks and credit-card companies can tolerate a considerable amount of credit risk and fraud because they know how to anticipate losses and price their services accordingly. That's good, since zero tolerance would put them out of business. Similarly, seeking perfect security would make a system useless because anything worth doing carries some risk.
Unfortunately, the art of computer security has not progressed to the point where Underwriters Labs can certify that a firewall can protect you against attack for two hours, as can be done for safes and fire doors. But with the crude tools that are available, managers have to decide what they are trying to protect and how much they are willing to spend, both in cost and convenience, to defend it. This is a business issue, not a technical one, and executives can no longer leave such decisions to techies. That's why Secrets and Lies belongs in every manager's library. (Business Week, September 18, 2000)
As an editor at a computer publication in the early 1990s, I hired a freelance security expert to evaluate anti-virus software. After extensive testing he faxed the results; unfortunately, the fax went to one of my publication's direct competitors. His gaffe demonstrated why we will never see fail-safe computer security: human error.
That premise emerged as a central theme of a new book written by the same freelancer, now a leading security expert. "Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World" (John Wiley Sons, 2000, $29.99), by Bruce Schneier, is a compelling brief on the industry's most obsessive anxiety.
It's not a story for the faint of heart. Schneier's scary world makes the Wild Westto which the Internet is often comparedlook like kindergarten. (For every gory detail on computer crime, check out "Tangled Web," by Richard Power; Que, 2000, $25.)
"Secrets and Lies" is well-timed on the heels of an apparently unstoppable wave of security foul-ups, hacks and government surveillance revelations. The best-known attackssuch as the breach of Microsoft's corporate network revealed last week, disruptions of Yahoo, EBay and other top Web sites early this year, and the "Love Bug" virus, which infected millions of computersmade headlines.
Paranoids have delighted in recent revelations about "Echelon," the government's once super-secret system for monitoring worldwide voice and data communications, and the FBI's "Carnivore" technology, which sniffs millions of supposedly private e-mail messages.
A burgeoning underground of Internet vandals, network nihilists, data thieves and those who probe vulnerabilities as an intellectual exercise begs a scorecard to distinguish "hackers" from "crackers," "white hats" from "black hats."
"Script kiddies"wannabes who use turnkey hacking tools they find posted on the Webmay be emerging as the biggest threat.
Schneier explains the reasons for this grim scenario in simple truths:
• In the hacking wars, technology favors offense over defense.
• Complexity is the enemy of security, and the Internet is the mother of all complex systems.
• Software is buggy. Experts suggest that every 1,000 lines of computer programming code contains between five and 15 mistakes, some of which inevitably open security holes. Consider that Windows 2000 shipped with some 63,000 known bugs and incompatibilities.
• People are often foolish. Early this month the National Institute of Standards and Technology adopted an encryption algorithm (a mathematical formula used to scramble digital data) that it said would take more than 149 trillion years to crack. Then again, if you use your name or the word
"password" as a decoding keytypical among lazy computer usersa neophyte hacker would need about five minutes.
Any security scheme can and will be subverted. Little wonder that software licensing agreements specifically disclaim responsibility for the product working as advertised.
It's not hard to imagine why security software developers would be short on confidencetheir products are nearly always developed in a vacuum.
"A common joke from my college physics class was to 'assume a spherical cow of uniform density,' " Schneier writes. "We could only make calculations on idealized systems; the real world was much too complicated for the theory. Digital system security is the same way"probably reliable in the lab, always vulnerable in the wild. Part of the problem is that conventional thinking about Internet security is drawn from the physical world, where some kinds of security are "good enough."
"If you had a great scam to pick someone's pocket, but it only worked once every hundred thousand tries, you'd starve before you robbed anyone," Schneier writes. "In cyberspace, you can set your computer to look for the one-in-a-hundred-thousand chance. You'd probably find a couple dozen every day."
A big part of the solution, he writes, is to recognize that "security is a process, not a product." Virus-protection software and "firewalls" designed to guard private networks can be effective only as part of a comprehensive strategy about security. This means that network usersas individuals or employeesmust understand their role in protecting informationinstead of naively relying on software tools to work without human vigilance.
So how to reach people with this geeky material? Schneier, founder of Counterpane Internet Security Inc. in San Jose, peppers the book with lively anecdotes and aphorisms, making it unusually accessible. But I still wouldn't have judged it suitable for the average reader. So I wasstonished to find "Secrets and Lies" recently ranked 68th on Amazon.com's sales list. Unless all the buyers are hackers, that's a hopeful sign.
So take Schneier's good advice, but don't panic: Like security, fear-mongering is a process. Exploiting that fear has become a growth industry. Hundreds of security companies shamelessly hype every new virus or hacking to pump up business. Consider that while it's theoretically possible to bring down much of the Internet with a single orchestrated hack, the most damaging episodes so far have affected only a few sites out of millions. The worst ones, such as Love Bug, though genuinely harmful,
fade in a couple of weeks.
Dopey business plans are a bigger threat to the "dot-com" world, and the sale of personal data by marketers a bigger threat to individuals,than hackers will ever be.
Monday, October 30, 2000, 'Lies' Propagates One Truth: No One Can Get a Lock on Net Security
Los Angeles Times by Charles Piller
A Security State of Mind
It's not encryption. It's not a password. It's not connecting through a VPN or an anonymizing service. Security means vastly different things to a national government, an e-commerce site, or a home user.
Governments are rightly paranoid about little things like their military preparedness, new weapons systems, communications codes, and sensitive information about other governments. E-commerce sites amass records for millions of consumers; a break-in could net huge numbers of credit cards. Businesses are constantly evolving, and your chief competitor would love to know what you're up to.
On the personal level, most of us don't have anything quite so vital as state secrets to protect, but theft of numbers and information that we use every day can make our lives a living hell. You only have to talk to one victim of identity theft to understand the excruciating-agony of suddenly being victimized by technology, as computers reject your bank and credit cards, and credit reports repeatedly reflect some crook's misadventures with your name and money.
Security expert Bruce Schneier's new book, Secrets and Lies, details the challenges of maintaining security in a networked world. Time and again, he makes the depressing point that security ultimately depends on human nature. The person who doesn't follow procedure, the careless user who leaves a password on a sticky note, and the one who attaches a modem connected to an outside line to a machine behind the firewall are all committing security breaches. And those are the ones without malfeasance.
Schneier's book is an excellent read. Although he's a mathematician and security expert, the book is largely nontechnical-and even amusing, once you get past some of the horror stories. Unlike some other nontechnical security resources, Schneier's book is authoritative because he's been there and done that, having invented-and cracked-a couple of equally important algorithms. He understands the issues and the issues behind the issues.
If you're not a hacker, or if you're new to the scene, you'll gain an appreciation for why designers of security systems and inventors of encryption algorithms put their documentation into public view and invite attacks. Basically, if someone can point out a flaw in your logic or a vulnerability in the system, then you can eliminate the weakness. And if attackers can't break in with full knowledge of the mechanism you're using to keep them out, that's good security.
The book also shows you why formerly secure algorithms are no longer secure. In many cases it's simply that machines have gotten so fast that previously impossible numbers of calculations are now possible. Or that hundreds or thousands of machines working in concert over network can outperform some of the largest supercomputers in decryption.
But in his introduction, Schneier says, "I have written this book...to correct a mistake." The mistake was his earlier contention that cryptography would keep all our information safe and be the key to a sophisticated digital world. As things have turned out, cryptography is a small but necessary ingredient in the much more complex recipe for security and privacy.
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY?
I regard privacy as a special instance of security. It's information security on the personal level: Your phone number. Your purchasing habits. Your bookmarked Web sites. Your credit card numbers. Your e-mail address. Your bank account number. Your vices. Your IP address.
We have different levels of sensitivity. My phone number is listed; perhaps yours isn't. I shop online with credit cards; maybe you don't. You browse without much thought to where you've been; I purge cookies and anonymize.
Schneier's book will give you a firm foundation in what it takes to establish and maintain network security, but you should also think afresh about personal security. I recently found an uncharacteristically useful government-issued document in the form of a booklet, "Know the Ruls; Use the Tools," from Senator Orrin Hatch's Judiciary Committee, available online at http://judiciary.senate.gov/Drivacv.htm. Download it. Read it. Use it. (PC Magazine, November 21, 2000, p. 91)
Think You're Safe Online? Think Again!
Let's assume for a moment that you are not a techie or a hacker. You're browsing in a bookstore and happen to pick up a copy of Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World (John Wiley Sons, $29.99). As you idly flip through it, all you see are dense paragraphs on arcana: the role of symmetric algorithms in encryption systems, the relative merits of code signing and access control at the interfaces, and what a one-way hash function does. Whoa! This is way over your head, you think, as you sheepishly put the book down and look for the latest Grisham thriller.
Not so fast. Despite big chunks of esoteric techspeak, Secrets and Lies is a thriller of subtler sort. Author Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer at counterpane Internet Security in San Jose, wrote a 1994 book called Applied Cryptography that became the bible of the field. Since then, while consulting for clients like Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Merrill Lynch, he has done some deep and imaginative thinking on whether digital security is in fact an oxymoron. (As he says in the preface, if you think technology can solve your security problems, then you don't understand the problems and you don't understand the technology.) The result is a startlingly lively treatise on, among many other things, why our basic decency, trust, and willingness to help others will always allow "social engineers" (a hacker term for con artists) to leapfrog even the most elaborate firewall. There are, however, ways to minimize the damage, which Schneier spells out in user-friendly language, with lots of colorful asides: In a discussion of page-jacking, he mentions that the dial telephone was invented in 1887 by a Kansas City funeral director named Almon Strowger, who suspected that operators were routing his phone calls to rival undertakers.
But Secrets and Lies is also a jewel box of little surprises you can actually use. See, for example, Schneier's persuasive analysis of why writing down your password (in defiance of your system administrator's pleas) can make your computer, and your network, more secure rather than less. One thing's certain: This book will make you think twice about ever again using your Visa card on a secure Website. (Anne Fisher, Fortune Magazine, November 27, 2000, p. 304)
Laymen have no idea just how hard maintaining security really is. For a more readable but rather depressing look at just how tough it can be, read Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World (Wiley, $30), in which cryptographer and security consultant Bruce Schneier minces no words in describing the many ways computer systems can be compromised. The problem, it turns out, is as much human as technological. System managers often fail to install important security fixes. Users don't like systems that get in their way - like having to use passwords that are hard to remember. Miscreants may find it simpler to ask or pay someone for a password or trick them into divulging it rather than using sophisticated technical means. It can happen to you.
And you can minimize the risk. When it comes to security software, says Schneier, "Testing for all possible weaknesses is impossible." But he adds that "mediocre security now is better than perfect security never."
So keep that antivirus software updated, follow the other suggestions I offered in our June 12 issue and get yourself a firewall. I can't pretend to be able to test all the ins and outs of firewall software - Schneier makes it clear what a daunting task that is - but Zone-Alarm from Zone Labs seems to do a good job not just of fending off outsiders but also of warning you when the kind of malware that apparently bit Microsoft attempts to make mischief via the Net from inside your machine. It's free for personal and nonprofit users, $40 or less per machine for others.
Like other firewalls, ZoneAlarm will force you to make some decisions about permission that you are probably ill-equipped to make. But even if you get a few of those calls wrong, it's better than perfect security never. (Forbes Magazine, 11/27/00)
Bruce Schneier's latest book on security is a rare achievment, as it takes a highly technical and often deadly dull topic and creates a surprisingly acessible and often fascinating read for even the least techy exec. "Secrets and Lies" lays out the current landscape of network security- from the challenges presented by hackers and viruses to the often ineffectual state of corporate security systems. Schneier offers enough gritty history, cautionary tales, and colorful explinations to keep readers engrossed, whether they're new to the security field or seasoned professionals. In addition, he has managed to pepper his text (especially the latter sections) with plenty of useful tips and advice that can help companies battle their way through the dangerous and often confusing task of securing their most valued assets. —Daintry Duffy (CIO Magazine, page 58, November 15, 2000)
"The great thing about the book - the thing that makes it an essential read - is that Schneier is an excellent teacher. .... At times the book is even funny, which makes even technical chapters an easy read..."(Computing, 22nd March 2001)
"Bruce Schneier's book is a common-sense, practical guide..."(Computing, 22nd March 2001)
"As a thoughtful read, prior to planning or reviewing your business's security strategy, you could not do better...." (Unixnt, February 2001)
"...worth a read..." (The Journal, November 2000)
"...essential reading for security practitioners..." (Computer Bulletin - Book of the Month, January 2001)
"...provides a timely debunking of myths...an invaluable reference point" (Computer Business Review, November 2000)
"not only is it entertaining, but it is likely to end up on the reference shelf of thousands of CIOs worldwide." (Information Age, December 2000)
"...a good read..." "The book is interesting [and] educational..." (E-business, Jan 2001)
"...a pragmatic, stimulating and rather readable guide..." (The Bookseller, 17th November 2000)
"This book is a must for any business person with a stake in e-commerce." (EuroBusiness, December 2000)
"...a jewel box of little surprises you can actually use" "...a startlingly lively treatise..." (Fortune, 27th November 2000)
"A thoroughly practical and accessible guide..." (Webspace, November 2000)
"[It's] written like a thriller (and a good one at that)..." (Managing Information Strategies, November 2000)
"Anyone who does business online should buy this book and read it carefully." (QSDG, December 2000)
"The book is an impressive 'how to think' like a hacker." (Supply Management, 16th November 2000)
"Schneier writes with a pleasingly readable style." (MacFormat, December 2000)
"Setting himself apart, Schneier navigates rough terrain without being overly technical or sensational..." (Computer Weekly, 26th October 2000)
"...a very practical guide..." (Webspace, October 2000)
"If you only have time to read a single book on the subject, this is the one to read." "I think you owe it to yourself to take the time to read this book" "Highly recommended to all." (Overload, September 2000)
"A thoroughly practical and accessible guide to achieving security" (Webspace, August 2001)
"...if you haven't read Secrets and Lies yet, you should. If you have but it's been a while, take it along for your next plane ride..." (Technology and Society, 7 February 2003)