Threat-Model Based Padlock Selection

Today I will cover some padlocks that I use and personally recommend.  Padlock selection should occur based on the threats they are likely to face.  There are two basic threat models I use when selecting padlocks.  The first is low-to-medium security applications.  These locks will be robust enough against forced entry and offer some light protection against picking and other surreptitious defeat.  The other is high security.  The cost of a high security lock is justified in several instances: if surreptitious entry is a legitimate concern.  They are also preferred for unattended containers.  This might be your luggage†, your gym locker, or a shed on a vacation property.

Continue reading “Threat-Model Based Padlock Selection”

Tor Threat Models

The Tor Browser Bundle is a terrific security tool.  Tor is a decentralized, anonymization network. To use it you need a specific internet browser, and it allows you to be as close to anonymous as one can be on the internet.  It also strongly encrypts your traffic, and best of all, it is free.  Readers have asked my opinion on Tor, and why I have not written about it.  There are some potential downsides to using Tor.  As a result, I have very mixed, very nuanced feelings about using it.  Before jumping into and using this tool you should take some time to consider these Tor threat models.  Though I typically analyze variations of the tool itself, my Tor threat models are in relation to use cases and user profiles rather than the tool.

Continue reading “Tor Threat Models”

Cloud Storage Threat Models

It is likely that readers of this blog know where I stand on cloud storage.  I have been fairly outspoken against the practice of storing personal data in the cloud.  Unfortunately, I realize this may be an untenable solution for many who desire – or even require – the ability to use and access cloud storage.  Even I had a personal experience recently that made me re-think the utility of cloud storage.  Cloud storage does offer the benefit of being a strong hedge against data loss.  Losing data can be crippling for an individual, and even more so to a small business.  With these factors in mind (and at the request of a reader) I have taken a look at some cloud providers and developed some cloud storage threat models.

Continue reading “Cloud Storage Threat Models”

Mechanical Lock Threat Models

In a continuation my suite on threat modeling, this post will discuss lock threat models.  There are many high security locks that are intended to address the vulnerabilities of the standard pin-tumbler mechanism.  There is also a spectrum between bargain-basement hardware and expensive high-security locksets.  I understand that security doesn’t exist in a vacuum: though it would probably be a more secure world if everyone had a high security lock, it would also be a very expensive one.  Deciding on the right lock for your needs should be informed by a threat model.  Continue reading “Mechanical Lock Threat Models”

Email Threat Models

In a continuation of my suite on threat modeling, this post will address email threat modeling specifically.  Selecting an email provider (or set of email providers) can be difficult if privacy and security are your chief concerns.  Gmail is abyssmal when it comes to privacy, but even paid providers struggle to match its security.  Selecting an email provider for sensitive communications should be done based on your threat model(s), and you may end up maintaining several accounts for different purposes.  It is my hope that these threat models will provide some clarity into what threat(s) each email provider defends you against.  I also hope this helps you choose a setup that you are comfortable with. Continue reading “Email Threat Models”

Threat Modeling: Profile Elevation

A couple of weeks ago I posted my introduction to threat modeling.  Several times in that post I mentioned the concept of profile elevation, and it will certainly be coming up more as I flesh out my thoughts on threat modeling.  It has occured to me that this topic should be explored more fully. Profile elevation is a fairly intuitive concept.  For our purposes we can describe it as† “the generally-undesirable condition of:

  1. becoming more visible to one’s adversary, and/or
  2. becoming more interesting to one’s adversary.”

Being either or both more visible and/or interesting to your adversary is a bad thing in nearly any adversarial situation (Murphy’s Laws of Combat: Try to look unimportant, the enemy may be low on ammunition).  If you are highly visible to an adversary your movements, whether online or in the real world, are easier to track.  If you are interesting to your adversary, he or she will be willing to invest time and money to pursue you, digitally or physically.  Targeted surveillance costs time and money, and most adversaries will be limited in some capacity on each.  In the digital collection realm this limitation is often one of analytical or language capabilities; paying competent analysts and linguists is expensive.  Fitting their findings into a bigger picture is also difficult unless you have elevated your profile to the point of being interesting.

Profile Elevation

In the “tactical” community profile elevation avoidance is referred to as being a “grey man“.  If your personal threat model(s) warrant it, you should strive for the being digitally grey.  That is, blending with the herd and being generally uninteresting to avoid becoming a target.  Once your adversary has become focused on you and your activities, defeating him or her can become extremely difficult in the short to mid-term, and next-to-impossible in the long term.  As I mentioned in threat modeling, the best way to do this is to select mitigations that are in accordance with your perceived threat model.

The next two articles in my threat modeling suite will cover specifically threat modeling different encrypted email options and virtual private networks.

†This is my made-up definition.  If you think it needs improvement, let me know.

Threat Modeling: An Introduction

I have previously written about categorizing attackers based on their levels of skill and focus.  I have also written about categorizing security measures to defeat attackers with a given level of skill or focus.  Both of these posts tie in closely with (and were early attempts at) a topic that I want to explore more fully in coming months: threat modeling.  Threat modeling is the examination of two things as they relate to each other: an adversary and a security measure.  The effectiveness of the security measure is weighed against the skill and capabilities, focus, and time available to the attacker.  Threat modeling allows you to understand what you “look like” to your opposition, understand his or her capabilities, and select effective mitigations. Continue reading “Threat Modeling: An Introduction”

Book Review: Future Crimes, Marc Goodman

In an age of almost weekly hacks on various multinational corporations, banks, Hollywood movie studios, and government agencies—each more brazen or damaging than the last—it’s no surprise that a spate of books on the subject has hit the market in recent months. After all, those hacks, along with the countless others that go unrecorded every day around the world, affect us all in one way or another.

Future Crimes: Everything is Connected, Everyone is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It, by Marc Goodman is one of those books that addresses the growing chasm between our Internet-woven lives and the security necessary to protect us from the people who would exploit our reliance on it.

And it’s an eye-opener. Goodman, a former police officer, current cyber security expert and founder of the Future Crimes Institute, makes his living studying cyber threats and the people and organizations who perpetuate them. He’s one of the leading experts in the field, having worked with the FBI and Interpol, among others. Given his credentials, Future Crimes is exactly what you might expect it to be: a well-researched tome of extremely detailed case studies covering everything from hacks and cyber attacks committed against private individuals and organizations to the methods used to gain access to some of the most protected security systems in the world.

As it turns out, according to Goodman, hacking is no longer solely relegated to the realm of lone teenagers working out of their parents’ basements. Instead, hacking has become a multi-billion dollar industry, with operations as sophisticated and well-funded as some of their targets. Singletons, terrorists, organized crime syndicates, state sponsored hackers, and “hacktivists” (groups of hackers who do what they do for what they perceive to be good causes) all have staked a claim in the digital gold mine that is the Internet. They work full-time, attempting—and usually succeeding—to access and steal data that can be used to turn a profit or, in some cases, wreak unimaginable havoc.Future Crimes

In one of his more eye-opening chapters, Goodman discusses how terrorist groups have upped their game when it comes to harnessing technology to achieve their goals. Describing in minute detail how the terrorists in the 2008 Mumbai attacks used Google Earth, BlackBerrys, and real-time social media updates to plan and conduct their attacks (the same technology we use to plan a date), Goodman lays bare the terrorists’ tactics, techniques and procedures. The actual operatives on the ground, he writes, had constant, direct communications with an operations center in Pakistan staffed by commanders who were watching events unfold on major news networks, allowing them to monitor their operatives’ progress and the Indian government’s response.

Goodman also discusses the darker side of the internet, or the Dark Net, a digital underworld built specifically for illicit use that most of us don’t know even exists. He tells the story of Silk Road, the “eBay of drugs and vice,” where, if you’re savvy enough to gain access and speak the language, you can hire assassins, buy or sell child pornography freely and without fear of law enforcement interference, and even trade in human organs.

Setting aside the more nefarious aspects of the cyber world to discuss the legitimate, day-to-day aspects of the Internet doesn’t do the reader’s nerves any good. Future Crimes also details the easy and legitimate access we all either freely give away or inadvertently leak to data brokers every time we use our computers or smart phones.  The staggering net worth of this raw data—ages, genders, browsing habits, sexual preferences, medical conditions, personal networks and the like—collected about tens of millions of people around the world, every day, climbs into tens of billions of dollars each year. This information is not only attractive to criminals, but to legitimate companies “across all industries, whether retail, transportation, or pharmaceuticals” as well. The World Economic Forum regards our personal data as “the new oil” when it comes to overall value.

Despite being well-written, Future Crimes is a veritable train wreck of a book, brutal in its detail, with case studies piling on top of each other like so many derailed freight cars. The never-ending string of crimes related in the book becomes so mind-numbingly messy that it eventually exhausts the reader. This, unfortunately, begins around the halfway point and dilutes the overall effectiveness of the message Goodman is trying to impart. He knows the ultimate effect his book will have on the reader, though, stating in the prologue that “if you proceed in reading the pages that follow, you will never look at your car, smart phone, or vacuum cleaner the same way again.”

While heavy on the “crimes” portion of the world in which we now live, Future Crimes unfortunately offers very little in the way of solutions for the current state of affairs. The few fixes under our control are consigned to a short appendix at the end of the book that Goodman promises, if followed, can help the reader avoid 85 percent of current threats. Beyond that, though, it’s apparent that our inexorable link to all things digital now and forever makes being hacked just a matter of time.

If you’re interested in security, cyber security, or how the details of your life can be probed, stolen or affected by accessing the Internet, this book is a must-read. If you’d rather not know, exactly, how almost every pixel of your online existence is accessed, mined, and sold or stolen over and over again, take a pass.

FUTURE CRIMES: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It

By Marc Goodman

Anchor Books, 512 pp.

Thom Nezbeda is a journalist focusing on global conflict, crisis, and security issues. He writes about Middle Eastern and European affairs, military affairs, counterterrorism, national security the growing refugee crisis, and religious persecution. A former on-air radio personality and general assignment reporter after college, Thom put his journalism career on hold to join the military, where he spent nine and-a-half years as a Marine Corps Infantry Squad Leader and team leader in the Army, with combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a graduate of the Defense Language Institute’s Arabic Basic Course, speaks French, and has extensive experience in Europe and the Middle East. Thom has written for The Georgia Guardian, Blue Force Tracker, The CP Journal, and The Soufan Group among others.  For more information or to follow Thom visit http://www.thomnezbeda.com/.