Emergent Map: Streets of the US

This is really cool. All Streets is a map of the United States made of nothing but roads. A surprisingly accurate map of the country emerges from the chaos of our roads:

Allstreets poster

All Streets consists of 240 million individual road segments. No other features — no outlines, cities, or types of terrain — are marked, yet canyons and mountains emerge as the roads course around them, and sparser webs of road mark less populated areas. More details can be found here, with additional discussion of the previous version here.

In the discussion page, “Fry” writes:

The result is a map made of 240 million segments of road. It’s very difficult to say exactly how many individual streets are involved — since a winding road might consist of dozens or even hundreds of segments — but I’m sure there’s someone deep inside the Census Bureau who knows the exact number.

Which raises a fascinating question: is there a Platonic definition of “a road”? Is the question answerable in the sort of concrete way that I can say “there are 2 pens in my hand”? We tend to believe that things are countable, but as you try to count them in larger scales, the question of what is a discrete thing grows in importance. We see this when map software tells us to “continue on Foo Street.” Most drivers don’t care about such instructions; the road is the same road, insofar as you can drive in a straight line and be on what seems the same “stretch of pavement.” All that differs is the signs (if there are signs). There’s a story that when Bostonians named Washington Street after our first President, they changed the names of all the streets as they cross Washington Street, to draw attention to the great man. Are those different streets? They are likely different segments, but I think that for someone to know the number of streets in the US requires not an ontological analysis of the nature of street, but rather a purpose-driven one. Who needs to know how many individual streets are in the US? What would they do with that knowledge? Will they count gravel roads? What about new roads, under construction, or roads in the process of being torn up? This weekend of “carmageddeon” closing of 405 in LA, does 405 count as a road?

Only with these questions answered could someone answer the question of “how many streets are there?” People often steam-roller over such issues to get to answers when they need them, and that may be ok, depending on what details are flattened. Me, I’ll stick with “a great many,” since it is accurate enough for all my purposes.

So the takeaway for you? Well, there’s two. First, even with the seemingly most concrete of questions, definitions matter a lot. When someone gives you big numbers and the influence behavior, be sure to understand what they measured and how, and what decisions they made along the way. In information security, a great many people announce seemingly precise and often scary-sounding numbers that, on investigation, mean far different things than they seem to. (Or, more often, far less.)

And second, despite what I wrote above, it’s not the whole country that emerges. It’s the contiguous 48. Again, watch those definitions, especially for what’s not there.

Previously on Emergent Chaos: Steve Coast’s “Map of London” and “Map of Where Tourists Take Pictures.”

Is iTunes 10.3.1 a security update?

Dear Apple,

In the software update, you tell us that we should see http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1222 for the security content of this update:

Itunes10 3 1

However, on visiting http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1222, and searching for “10.3”, the phrase doesn’t appear. Does that imply that there’s no security content? Does it mean there is security content but you’re not telling us about it?

Really, I don’t feel like thinking about the latest terms of service today if I don’t have to. I’d prefer not to get your latest features which let you sell more and bundle in your latest ideas about what a music player ought to do. But I’m scared. And so I’d like to ask: Is there security content in iTunes 10.3.1?

Elevation of Privilege (Web Edition) Question

Someone wrote to me to ask:

A few cards are not straightforward to apply to a webapp situation (some seem assume a proprietary client) – do you recommend discarding them or perhaps you thought of a way to rephrase them somehow?

For example:

“An attacker can make a client unavailable or unusable but the problem goes away when the attacker stops”

I don’t have a great answer, but I’m thinking someone else might have taken it on.

For Denial of Service attacks in the Microsoft SDL bug bar, we roughly to break things down to a matrix of (server, client, persistent/temporary). That doesn’t seem right for web apps. Is there a better approach, and perhaps even one that can translate into some good threat cards?

AT&T, Voice Encryption and Trust

Yesterday, AT&T announced an Encrypted Mobile Voice. As CNet summarizes:

AT&T is using One Vault Voice to provide users with an application to control their security. The app integrates into a device’s address book and “standard operation” to give users the option to encrypt any call. AT&T said that when encryption is used, the call is protected from end to end.

AT&T Encrypted Mobile Voice is designed specifically for major companies, government agencies, and law enforcement organizations. An AT&T spokesperson said it is not available to consumers. The technology is available to users running BlackBerry devices or Windows Mobile smartphones, and it works in 190 countries.

Organizations interested in deploying Encrypted Mobile Voice will need to pay an additional fee to do so. AT&T said that cost depends on the size of the deployment. (“AT&T improves service security with encryption

Jake Appelbaum and Chris Soghoian expressed skepticism. (“From the company that brought you NSA wire tapping, they thought you’d also like….” and “If you trust AT&T’s new voice encryption service, you are a fool.“)

What’s funny (sad) about this is that there are a number of software encrypted voice systems available. They include RedPhone, CryptoPhone and zFone. Some of these even work on pocket sized computers with integrated radios. But Apple and AT&T won’t let you install alternate voice applications.

A lot of people claim that these restrictions on what you can do with your device just don’t matter very much. That you can really get everything you need. But here’s a clear example of why that isn’t so. Voice encryption is a special app that you have to get permission to run.

Now, maybe you don’t care. You’re “not doing anything wrong.” Well, Hoder wasn’t doing anything wrong when he went to Israel and blogged about it in Farsi. But he’s serving 20 years in jail in Iran.

Now is the time we should be building security in. Systems that prevent you from doing so, or systems that reset themselves to some manufacturer designated default are simply untrustworthy. We should demand better, more trustworthy products or build them ourselves.

[Added: I’d meant to include a comment about Adam Thierer’s comment “The more interesting question here is how “closed” is the iPhone really?” I think the answer is, in part, here. There’s a function, voice privacy, for which AT&T and three other companies think is marketable. And it doesn’t exist on the iPhone OS, which is the 2nd most prevalent phone platform out there.]

[Update 2: Robert and Rob rob me of some of my argument by pointing out that AT&T now allows you to install voice apps, but none of the encrypted voice apps that I’d consider trustworthy are available. (I exlude Skype and their proprietary & secret designs from trustworthy; it’s probably better than no crypto until you trust it, then it’s probably not good enough to really protect you.) Maybe this is a result of the arbitrary rejections by the Apple app store, but when I look for zfone, redphone or cryptophone, I see a fast dial app and some games. When I search for crypto, it’s all password managers. So while I’m no longer sure of the reason, the result remains. The iPhone is missing trustworthy voice crypto, despite the market.]

Use crypto. Not too confusing. Mostly asymmetric.

A little ways back, Gunnar Peterson said “passwords are like hamburgers, taste great but kill us in long run wean off password now or colonoscopy later.” I responded: “Use crypto. Not too confusing. Mostly asymmetric.” I’d like to expand on that a little. Not quite so much as Michael Pollan, but a little.

The first sentence, “use crypto” is a simple one. It means more security requires getting away from sending strings as a way to authenticate people at a distance. This applies (obviously) to passwords, but also to SSNs, mother’s “maiden” names, your first car, and will apply to biometrics. Sending a string which represents an image of a fingerprint is no harder to fake than sending a password. Stronger authenticators will need to involve an algorithm and a key.

The second, “not too confusing” is a little more subtle, because there are layers of confusing. There’s developer confusion as the system is implemented, adding pieces, like captchas, without a threat model. There’s user confusion as to what program popped that demand for credentials, what site they’re connecting to, or what password they’re supposed to use. There’s also confusion about what makes a good password when one site demands no fewer than 10 characters and another insists on no more. But regardless, it’s essential that a a strong authentication system be understood by at least 99% of its users, and that the authentication is either mutual or resistant to replay, reflection and man-in-the-middle attacks. In this, “TOFU” is better than PKI. I prefer to call TOFO “persistence” or “key persistence” This is in keeping with Pollan’s belief that things with names are better than things with acronyms.

Finally, “mostly asymmetric.” There are three main building blocks in crypto. They are one way functions, symmetric and asymmetric ciphers. Asymmetric systems are those with two mathematically related keys, only one of which is kept secret. These are better because forgery attacks are harder; because only one party holds a given key. (Systems that use one way functions can also deliver this property.) There are a few reasons to avoid asymmetric ciphers, mostly having to do with the compute capabilities of really small devices like a smartcard or very power limited devices like pacemakers.

So there you have it: Use crypto. Not too confusing. Mostly asymmetric.

Quantum Crypto is Quantum Backdoored, But It’s Not a Problem

Nature reports that Quantum Cryptography has been completely broken in “Hackers blind quantum cryptographers.” Researcher Vadim Makarov of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology

constructed an attack on a quantum cryptography system that “gave 100% knowledge of the key, with zero disturbance to the system,” as Makarov put it.

There have been other attacks on quantum cryptography, but this is the first in which there is no indication that the key has been stolen. In those attacks, the operator of the system would see the transmission error rate go up, but in Makarov’s attack, the operator sees nothing. In short, they are completely, utterly defeated. The attacker gets everything with impunity.

As usual, the quantum crypto crowd doesn’t see that a 100% loss of key with no inkling of the loss is a problem. Makarov himself said to Nature, “If you want state-of-the-art security, quantum cryptography is still the best place to go.”

Perhaps the kicker is this in Nature’s article:

Ribordy [CEO of ID Quantique] and Zavriyev [Director of R&D at MagiQ] stress that the open versions of their systems that are sold to university researchers are not the same as those sold for security purposes, which contain extra layers of protection. For instance, the fully commercial versions of IDQ’s system also use classical cryptographic techniques as a safety net, says Ribordy.

Huh? We can trust commercial versions of quantum crypto because it uses classical crypto as a safety net? That’s saying that the quantum coolness is really just icing over a VPN. Isn’t it? Am I missing something?

Now it’s time for a rant. Quantum cryptography is really, really cool technology, but the whole point of it is, well, security, and if the state of the art is that the system is breakable, then the art is in a sorry state. It’s a state of being a research toy, not a real security system.

The whole point of quantum crypto is that it isn’t even really crypto. It’s communications that can’t be eavesdropped on. It’s a magical tour-de-force of science and technology. But if it can be silently thwarted, it’s no good. If there is no way that it can be tested to be good, it’s no good. Moreover, the latter is more important than anything else.

For quantum crypto to be viable and trusted, we have to have some way that we know that the boxes were designed and manufactured in such a way that we can be confident that there’s no silent quantum backdoor in the box, then it has no value. You might as well just get a VPN router from the usual suspects and be done with it. If you’re really paranoid, just lay down some glass fiber and put it in a conduit.

Quantum information science as a discipline needs to start taking security seriously. It can’t just brush off a break of this magnitude, and remain credible. Come on, at least admit this is serious and has to be reflected in the manufacturing and testing. Come up with countermeasures, something.

Jon Callas on Comedies, Tragedy and PKI

Prompted by Peter Gutmann:

[0] I’ve never understood why this is a comedy of errors, it seems more like a tragedy of errors to me.

Jon Callas of PGP fame wrote the following for the cryptography mail list, which I’m posting in full with his permission:

That is because a tragedy involves someone dying. Strictly speaking, a tragedy involves a Great Person who is brought to their undoing and death because of some small fatal flaw in their otherwise sterling character.

In contrast, comedies involve no one dying, but the entertaining exploits of flawed people in flawed circumstances.

PKI is not a tragedy, it’s comedy. No one dies in PKI. They may get embarrassed or lose money, but that happens in comedy. It’s the basis of many timeless comedies.

Specifically, PKI is a farce. In the same strict definition of dramatic types, a farce is a comedy in which small silly things are compounded on top of each other, over and over. The term farce itself comes from the French “to stuff” and is comedically like stuffing more and more feathers into a pillow until the thing explodes.

So farces involve ludicrous situations, buffoonery, wildly improbable/implausible situations, and crude characterizations of well-known comedic types. Farces typically also involve mistaken identity, disguises, verbal humor including sexual innuendo all in a fast-paced plot that doesn’t let up piling things on top of each other until the whole thing bursts at the seams.

PKI has figured in tragedy, most notably when Polonius asked Hamlet, “What are you signing, milord?” and he answered, “OIDs, OIDs, OIDs,” but that was considered comic relief. Farcical use of PKI is far more common.

We all know the words to Gilbert’s patter-song, “I Am the Very Model of a Certificate Authority,” and Wilde’s genius shows throughout “The Importance of Being Trusted.” Lady Bracknell’s snarky comment, “To lose one HSM, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune, but lose your backup smacks of carelessness,” is pretty much the basis of the WebTrust audit practice even to this day.

More to the point, not only did Cyrano issue bogus short-lived certificates to help woo Roxane, but Mozart and Da Ponte wrote an entire farcical opera on the subject of abuse of issuance, “EV Fan Tutti.” There are some who assert that he did this under the control of the Freemasons, who were then trying to gain control of the Austro-Hungarian authentication systems. These were each farcical social commentary on the identity trust policies of the day.

Mozart touched upon this again (libretto by Bretzner this time) in “The Revocation of the Seraglio,” but this was comic veneer over the discontent that the so-called Aluminum Bavariati had with the trade certifications in siding sales throughout the German states, as well as export control policies since Aluminum was an expensive strategic metal of the time. People suspected the Freemasons were behind it all yet again. Nonetheless, it was all farce.

Most of us would like to forget some of the more grotesque twentieth-century farces, like the thirties short where Moe, Larry, and Shemp start the “Daddy-O” DNS registration company and CA or the “23 Skidoo” DNA-sequencing firm as a way out of the Great Depression. But S.J. Perleman’s “Three Shares in a Boat” shows a real-world use of a threshold scheme. I don’t think anyone said it better than W.C. Fields did in “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break” and “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.”

I think you’ll have to agree that unlike history, which starts out as tragedy and replays itself as farce, PKI has always been farce over the centuries. It might actually end up as tragedy, but so far so good. I’m sure that if we look further, the Athenians had the same issues with it that we do today, and that Sophocles had his own farcical commentary.

Cyberdeterrence Papers

This just came past my inbox:

The National Research Council (NRC) is undertaking a project entitled “Deterring Cyberattacks: Informing Strategies and Developing Options for U.S. Policy.” The project is aimed at fostering a broad, multidisciplinary examination of strategies for deterring cyberattacks on the United States and the possible utility of these strategies for the U.S. government.

To stimulate work in this area, the NRC is offering one or more monetary prizes for excellent contributed papers that address one or more of the questions of interest found in its call for papers, which can be found at

Abstracts of less than 500 words are due April 1, 2010. First drafts are due May 21, 2010, final drafts July 9, 2010. For more information, see the call for papers.

The broad themes of interest include

  1. Theoretical Models for Cyberdeterrence
  2. Cyberdeterrence and Declaratory Policy
  3. Operational Considerations in Cyberdeterrence
  4. Regimes of Reciprocal/Consensual Limitations Regarding Cyberattack
  5. Cyberdeterrence in a Larger Context
  6. The Dynamics of Action/Reaction in Cyber Conflict
  7. Escalation Dynamics of Cyber Conflict

Readers with questions can contact Herb Lin, 202-334-3191, hlin at nas … edu

Me, I’m glad to see the administration moving towards more contests and open solicitations as a way of tapping into different ideas from a broader set of contributors.

I saw something that an abstract is not required to submit a fill paper, but would encourage checking in on the rules for yourself.

Logging practices

Via a tweet from @WeldPond, I was led to a Daily Mail article which discusses allegations that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg “hacked into the accounts of [Harvard] Crimson staff”. Now, I have no idea what happened or didn’t, and I will never have a FB account thanks to my concerns about their approach to privacy, but I was curious about the form of this alleged hacking.

My curiosity was rewarded:

“he allegedly examined a report of failed logins to see if any of the Crimson members had ever entered an incorrect password into TheFacebook.com.

In the instances where they had, Business Insider claimed that Zuckerberg said he tried using those incorrect passwords to access the Crimson members’ Harvard email accounts.”

dailymail.co.uk, 2010-03-06

So, it looks like the allegation is that actual passwords entered for failed logins were routinely logged.