Color-Changing Cats

Looking for something festive, holiday-like and chaotic for the blog, I came across color-changing cats. The history of color-changing cats is a fascinating one, involving Carl Sagan and accurate predictions of unfathomable chaos over the next ten thousand years. Because while we don’t know what life will be like that far in the future, consider how much the world has changed in the last hundred, and square that.

Color changing cats

Of course, 10,000 years matters because it’s both substantially longer than meaningfully recorded history (or even a meaning for meaningful recording of history), and because it’s a good approximation for how long certain radioactive isotopes will remain dangerous.

So the US government, producer of said isotopes in its nuclear weapons programs, has convened panels of the great and clever to consider how to ensure that those isotopes are protected. Solutions were proposed including a skull and crossbones and giant spikes surrounding the site.

Read or listen to “Ten Thousand Years ” on 99% Invisible to see why those won’t work. One fascinating solution involves the creation of both color-changing cats and songs about them, such as:

One of the few things that’s for certain, over the next ten thousand years, assuming people are around, some will continue to ache for control they cannot achieve, and produce crap like a DRM-enabled litter box.

A few credits: The music is from 10,000 year earmworm. The photo: 12 bizarre examples of genetic engineering

P0wned! Don’t make the same mistake I did

I fell victim to an interesting attack, which I am recounting here so that others may avoid it.

In a nutshell, I fell victim to a trojan, which the malefactor was able to place in a trusted location in my search path. A wrapper obscured the malicious payload. Additionally, a second line of defense did not catch the substitution. I believe the attackers were not out to harm me, but that this trojan was put in place partially for lulz, and partially to allow a more-important attack on the systems RBAC mechanisms to succeed.

Attack Details

I was attempting to purchase a six pack of New Belgium Rampant IPA, shown immediately below.

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I obtained the six pack from the canonical location in the system – a reach-in refrigerator in the supermarket’s liquor aisle. I proceeded to the cashier, who rang up my purchase, bagged it, and accepted payment.

I realized upon arrival home, that this was a trojan six pack, as seen below:

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Clearly, the attacker to care to make his payload look legitimate. What I noticed later, was the subtle difference I zoom in on below

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:

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Yes, the attacker had substituted root beer for real beer.

Needless to say, this was a devious denial of service, which the perpetrators undoubtedly laughed about. However, this was likely not just “for the lulz”. I think this was the work of juvenile attackers, whose motives were to defeat the RBAC (real beer access control) system. Knowing that a purchase of real beer would be scrutinized closely, I believe they exfiltrated the target beer by hiding it in a root beer package.

Mitigations put in place by the system did not catch this error – the cashier/reference monitor allowed the purchase (and likely, the offsetting real beer as root beer purchase).

Possible Countermeasures

The keys to this attack were that the trojan was in the right place in the search path, and that it appeared legitimate. Obviously, this location must be readable by all, since items need to be fetched from it. However, allowing items to be placed in it by untrusted users is a definite risk. Technical constraints make the obvious countermeasure — allowing only privileged stocking, while permitting “world” fetching — presents serious usability concerns, and increases system cost, since the privileged stocker must be paid.

Nonetheless, such countermeasures are in place for certain other items, notably where the cost to the system — as opposed to the user — of an illicit item substitution is quite high.

Lessons learned

Ultimately, system usability and cost tradeoffs put the onus on the end-user. Before taking a non-idempotent step, inspect the objects closely!

Why the Star Wars Prequels Sucked

It is a truism that the Star Wars prequels sucked. (Elsewhere, I’ve commented that the franchise being sold to Disney means someone can finally tell the tragic story of Anakin Skywalker’s seduction by the dark side.)

But the issue of exactly why they sucked is complex and layered, and most of us prefer not to consider it too deeply. Fortunately, you no longer have to. You can simply get “Why the Star Wars Prequels Sucked, and Why It Matters,” a short “Polemic on Aesthetics, Ethics and Politics. With Lightsabers.”

Really, what else do you need to know?

An example? Ok, the diner scene, and how it compares to the cantina scene. The cantina exudes otherness and menace. The diner looks like it was filmed in 1950s and then had a few weird things ‘shopped in. The scene undercuts the world which Star Wars established. Or the casual tossing in that Anakin was a virgin birth, and how after tying to one of the most enduring stories in western culture, the subject is then never referred to again.

Or the utter lack of consequence of anything in the stories, since we already know how they’ll come out, and how, by focusing on characters whose fates we know, Lucas drains any dramatic tension of of the story. The list goes on and on, and if you want to know why you hated the prequels so much, this is a short and easy read, and highly worthwhile.

Oh, and you’ll learn how Lando Calrissian is Faust. So go buy it already.

One last thing. Delano Lopez? That’s a name I hadn’t heard in a very long time. But he and I went to school together.

The Gavle Goat is Getting Ready to Burn!

The Telegraph reports that the Gavle Goat for 2012 is up, and surrounded by guards, cameras, flame retardants, and arsonists.

Emergent Chaos has reporters on the ground internet, ready to report on this holiday story of a town, a goat, and an international conspiracy of drunken arsonists. Stay tuned!

This years goat is shown in its pre-fire state. Note the pre-positioned fire extinguishers surrounding it, along with what one might describe as an altogether insufficient fence.
Gavle Goat 2012

[Update: It turns out that the goat is blogging this year. Mixed English and Swedish.]

Now Available: Control Alt Hack!

Amazon now has copies of Control Alt Hack, the card game that I helped Tammy Denning and Yoshi Kohno create. Complimentary copies for academics and those who won copies at Blackhat are en route.

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From the website:

Control-Alt-Hack™ is a tabletop card game about white hat hacking, based on game mechanics by gaming powerhouse Steve Jackson Games (Munchkin and GURPS).

Age: 14+ years
Players: 3-6
Game Time: Approximately 1 hour

You and your fellow players work for Hackers, Inc.: a small, elite computer security company of ethical (a.k.a., white hat) hackers who perform security audits and provide consultation services. Their motto? “You Pay Us to Hack You.”

Your job is centered around Missions – tasks that require you to apply your hacker skills (and a bit of luck) in order to succeed. Use your Social Engineering and Network Ninja skills to break the Pacific Northwest’s power grid, or apply a bit of Hardware Hacking and Software Wizardry to convert your robotic vacuum cleaner into an interactive pet toy…no two jobs are the same. So pick up the dice, and get hacking!