Category Archives: History

Preston Padden @ TPRC 41

Not your typical TPRC speaker. His heroes include “risk takers” Rupert Murdoch and Pat Buchanan, but not Ted Turner. Netflix was not mentioned. I was the first (but not the last) to stand up to question what he said.

His heroes include risk takers Rupert Murdoch and Pat Buchanan, but not Ted Turner. Netflix was not mentioned.
Picture by John S. Quarterman, 27 September 2013.


Detection is much more important than prevention –Bruce Schneier

Reviewing Bruce Schneier’s 2004 book Secrets and Lies, much of which was written in 2000, reminds us of something really basic. You can’t just fix security. Security is a process, most of which is about knowing what’s going on. Detection is more important than prevention. To which I add that for detection we need comparable Internet-wide metrics on security performance so every organization can see what’s going on and will have incentive to do something about it because its customers and competitors can see, too. Sound familiar? That’s what is about.

Joe Zack posted in on Bastille Day, 14 July 2013, Secrets and Lies: Nine Years Later,

2. “Detection is much more important than prevention”

Schneier keeps coming back to this point. He had this epiphany in 1999 that “it is fundamentally impossible to prevent attacks” and “preventative countermeasures fail all the time.” Security is “about risk management, that the process of security was paramount, that detection and response was the real way to improve security.” (emphasis mine)

I had formerly thought of security as largely being about prevention. A year ago, if you have asked me about “InfoSec” I might have prattled on about firewalls, injection attacks, encryption and good passwords. That’s still important, but now I know that there’s a lot more to it.

Zack says he thinks Schneier was like Nostradamus for having such insight before NSA PRISM and even before Facebook. Sure, Bruce has always been ahead of his time. But that basic insight was not unique to him, and Continue reading

Syria and Yemen: 29 November 2012

At 10:30 AM GMT yesterday, 29 November 2012, routing to Yemen suddenly changed from London to Dubai through FLAG to New York to Dubai through ETISALAT, as shown in the animation here and detailed in the PerilWatch from InternetPerils. That timing closely matched the 10:26 AM GMT Syrian disconnect time reported by Renesys. This is very reminiscent of Mubarak disconnecting Egypt 22:30 GMT 20 January 2011. This tactic didn’t help Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, and it probably won’t help Assad’s regime in Syria; rather the opposite: people don’t like their Internet being turned off. And it tends to cause the international community to rally around the rebels.


eHealth Ontario tops worldwide medical spammers

Joining the festival of the Festi botnet, eHealth Ontario’s AS 21992 SSHA-ONE-ASN made #1 in the July 2012 worldwide medical spam from CBL data, the first Canadian organization to do that. The same ASN did make #2 back in November 2011 and #5 in June 2011.

Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec 2012
Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul
9 7 41 5 6 41 6 5 2 7 41 43 42 41 41 6 1

The blue dotted line indicates spam from Festi, which, as you can see, tracks pretty closely with total spam seen from AS 21992.

eHealth Ontario infested by Festi botnet

Is it a Festi epidemic?


World PM2.5 Map as reputation

NASA posted 22 October 2009, New Map Offers a Global View of Health-Sapping Air Pollution
In many developing countries, the absence of surface-based air pollution sensors makes it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to get even a rough estimate of the abundance of a subcategory of airborne particles that epidemiologists suspect contributes to millions of premature deaths each year. The problematic particles, called fine particulate matter (PM2.5), are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, about a tenth the fraction of human hair. These small particles can get past the body’s normal defenses and penetrate deep into the lungs.
Even satellite measurements are difficult (clouds, snow, sand, elevation, etc.). But not impossible:

Continue reading

Air reputation in Beijing

Measuring something as basic as air quality and posting it frequently can have reputational effects, demonstrated by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

France24 posted today, Beijing air goes from ‘hazardous’ to off the charts, literally,

Two years ago, Chinese officials asked the US Embassy to stop tweeting about pollution in Beijing on the grounds that the information was “confusing” and could have “social consequences”, according to a confidential US State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks.
Hm, so measurement can affect reputation and have social consequences….

The measurements postings didn’t stop, and the pollution got worse: Continue reading

Egypt Returns

Egypt returned to the Internet about 09:30 GMT today (2 February 2011). This sudden return after being as suddenly disconnected one week ago (27 January 2011) is obviously not due to ordinary causes such as congestion, cable cut, or router failure. This political disconnection of an entire country does not seem to have helped the regime responsible for it; quite the opposite.


Our Friend Unfairly Maligned in London’s Court

Many of you are concerned as am I about our friend who has been hauled into court in London and unfairly maligned for the “crime” of distributing some government communications that he got from an anonymous source. I know our friend also has been a bit playful out of wedlock, and even had a son that way, but I don’t see what that has to do with the matter at hand.

Our friend represented his agency in the matter of procuring and forwarding the communications “as a public act, dealing with the public correspondence of public men.” His accusers were having none of it:

Into what companies will the fabricator of this iniquity hereafter go with an unembarrassed face, or with any semblance of the honest intrepidity of virtue? Men will watch him with a jealous eye &em; they will hide their papers from him, and lock up their escritoires. Having hitherto aspired after fame by his writings, he will henceforth esteem it a libel to be called a man of letters
His accusers made him out to be a vindictive destroyer of public confidence. He had “forfeited all the respect of societies and of men” and was not a gentleman, rather a common thief.

I am happy to hear our friend has been released by the court in London, although two days later he was fired from his job as deputy postmaster general of North America. Continue reading

Data, Reputation, and Certification Against Spam

I’m giving a talk today at the Internet2 workshop on Collaborative Data-Driven Security for High Performance Networks at WUSTL, St. Louis, MO. You can follow along with the PDF.

There may be some twittering on #DDCSW.


Medical Metrics Considered Overrated

One of the presenters at Metricon 5.0 was comparing IT security to other fields in various aspects of metrics and monitoring. I mentioned I thought she was giving far too much green for good to the field of medicine. This provoked repeated back and forth later.

My point was that 150 years after the invention of epidemiology and 100 years after the discovery of bacterial transmission of disease, in medicine application of known preventive measures is so low that Atul Gawande of Harvard has gotten large (on the order of 30%) reductions in deaths from complications of surgery in many hospitals simply by getting them to use checklists for things like washing hands before surgery.

I have an elderly relative in a nursing home who can’t take pills whole due to some damage to nerves in her neck. Again and again visitors sent by the family discover nursing home staff trying to give her pills whole without grinding them up. Why? They don’t read instructions about her, and previous shifts don’t remind later shifts. This kind of communication problem is epidemic not only in nursing homes but in hospitals. I found my father in a diabetic coma because nurses hadn’t paid any attention to him being a diabetic and needing to eat frequently. Fortunately, a bit of honey brought him out of it. Even nurses readily acknowledge this problem, but it persists. I can rattle off many other examples.

To which someone responded, yes, but medicine has epidemiology, and Edward Tufte demonstrated in one of his books that that goes well beyond checklists in to actual analysis, as in a physician’s discovery of a well in London being he source of cholera. I responded, yes, John Snow, in 1854: that was the first thing I said when I stood up to address this. But who now applies what he learned? One-shot longitudinal studies are not the same as ongoing monitoring with comparable metrics to show how well one group is doing compared to both the known science and to other groups.

Many people still didn’t get it, and kept referring to checklists as rudimentary.

So I tried again. If John Snow were alive today, he wouldn’t be prescribing statins for life to people with high blood pressure. He would be compiling data on who has high blood pressure and what they have been doing and eating before they got it. He would follow this evidence back to discover that one of the main contributors to high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes in the U.S. is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Then he would mount a political campaign to ban high fructose corn syrup, which would be the modern equivalent of his removal of the handle from the pump of the well that stopped the cholera.

To which someone replied, but there are political forces who would oppose that. And I said, yes, of course. Permit me to elaborate.

There were political forces in John Snow’s time, too, and he dealt with them:

Dr Snow took a sample of water from the pump, and, on examining it under a microscope, found that it contained “white, flocculent particles.” By 7 September, he was convinced that these were the source of infection, and he took his findings to the Board of Guardians of St James’s Parish, in whose parish the pump fell.

Though they were reluctant to believe him, they agreed to remove the pump handle as an experiment. When they did so, the spread of cholera dramatically stopped. [actually the outbreak had already lessened for several days]

Snow also investigated several outliers, all of which turned out to involve people actually travelling to the Soho well to get water.
Still no one believed Snow. A report by the Board of Health a few months later dismissed his “suggestions” that “the real cause of whatever was peculiar in the case lay in the general use of one particular well, situate [sic] at Broad Street in the middle of the district, and having (it was imagined) its waters contaminated by the rice-water evacuations of cholera patients. After careful inquiry,” the report concluded, “we see no reason to adopt this belief.”

So what had caused the cholera outbreak? The Reverend Henry Whitehead, vicar of St Luke’s church, Berwick Street, believed that it had been caused by divine intervention, and he undertook his own report on the epidemic in order to prove his point. However, his findings merely confirmed what Snow had claimed, a fact that he was honest enough to own up to. Furthermore, Whitehead helped Snow to isolate a single probable cause of the whole infection: just before the Soho epidemic had occurred, a child living at number 40 Broad Street had been taken ill with cholera symptoms, and its nappies had been steeped in water which was subsequently tipped into a leaking cesspool situated only three feet from the Broad Street well.

Whitehead’s findings were published in The Builder a year later, along with a report on living conditions in Soho, undertaken by the magazine itself. They found that no improvements at all had been made during the intervening year. “Even in Broad-street it would appear that little has since been done… In St Anne’s-Place, and St Anne’s-Court, the open cesspools are still to be seen; in the court, so far as we could learn, no change has been made; so that here, in spite of the late numerous deaths, we have all the materials for a fresh epidemic… In some [houses] the water-butts were in deep cellars, close to the undrained cesspool… The overcrowding appears to increase…” The Builder went on to recommend “the immediate abandonment and clearing away of all cesspools — not the disguise of them, but their complete removal.”

Nothing much was done about it. Soho was to remain a dangerous place for some time to come.

John Snow didn’t shy away from politics. He was successful in getting the local politicians to agree to his first experiment, which was successful in helping end that outbreak of cholera. He even drew his biggest opponent into doing research, which ended up confirming Snow’s epidemiological diagnosis and extending it further to find the original probable source of infection of the well. But even that didn’t suffice for motivating enough political will to fix the problem.

From which I draw two conclusions:

  1. Even John Snow is over-rated. Sure, he found the problem, but he didn’t get it fixed longterm.

  2. Why not? Because that would require ongoing monitoring of likely sources of infection (which sort of happened) compared to actual incidents of disease (which does not appear to have happened), together with eliminating the known likely sources.
Eliminating likely known sources is what Dr. Gawande’s checklist is about, 150 years later, which was my original point. And the ongoing monitoring and comparisons appear not to be happening, even yet.

As someone at Metricon said, who will watch the watchers? I responded, yes, that’s it!

One-shot longitudinal studies can create great information. That’s what John Snow did. That’s what much of scientific experiment is about. But even when you repeat the experiment to confirm it, that’s not the same as ongoing monitoring. And it’s not the same as checklists to ensure application of what was learned in the experiment.

What is really needed is longitudinal experiments combined checklists, plus ongoing monitoring, plus new analysis derived from the monitoring data. That’s at least four levels. All of them are needed. Modern medicine often only manages the first. And in the case of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), until recently even the first was lacking, and most of the experiments that have happened until very recently have not come from the country with the biggest HFCS health problem, namely the U.S. A third of the entire U.S. population is obese, and another third is overweight, with concomittant epidemics of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. And the medical profession prescribes statins for life instead of getting to the root of the problem and fixing it.

Yes, I think the field of medicine gets rated too much green for good.

And if IT security wants to improve its own act, it also needs all four levels, not just the first or the second.