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If The Shoe Fits: Channel Nintendo

Friday, March 10th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLast week we looked at what companies are doing about product security — which is little-to-nothing in most cases.

Unlike Nintendo.

Nintendo’s new Switch console — think Zelda — is making news, but its unique security effort should be in the limelight, too.

Unlike Tide, Nintendo realized the console’s tiny, SD-sized game cartridges would be irresistible to kids — so its designers came up with the perfect solution.

They didn’t wait for a curious kid (and the resulting lawsuit) to choke or even die from swallowing one, before addressing it.

They thought it through and spent the needed time and money to assure that kids wouldn’t eat the cartridges in the first place.

And they succeeded.

The cartridges are coated with something that makes them taste terrible.

Terrible as in spitting them out.

To avoid the possibility of accidental ingestion, keep the game card away from young children,” a Nintendo spokesperson told Kotaku. “A bittering agent (denatonium benzoate) has also been applied to the game card.” (The agent is non-toxic.)

Adults, too. Hilariously, it was an adult game reviewer who decided to lick the cartridge.

I put that Switch cart in my mouth and I’m not sure what those things are made of but I can still taste it. Do not try this at home.

— Jeff Gerstmann (@jeffgerstmann) February 25, 2017

No question, it’s a brilliant solution — the only kind that really works, since it requires absolutely no effort from consumers.

Three cheers for Nintendo.

Wouldn’t it be nice if founders and full-blown enterprises followed Nintendo’s lead before something happened?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Protect Yourself — ‘They’ Don’t Care/Won’t Bother

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/8261449212

Do you invite strangers into your home and let them to listen to your most personal conversations or view your most intimate moments?

Would you leave them alone with your kids to say what they pleased using unquotable language?

Would you stand by while they rummaged through your files copying what they pleased, leaving chaos behind and demanding payment so you could clean up the mess?

No?

Chances are you already do.

You invite them in with every connected device you buy.

Even vaunted Apple isn’t immune.

Security hasn’t been a high priority for companies around the globe, especially those running startups.

Consider the saga of a doll called Cayla from Genesis Toys; banned in Germany and under investigation in the US.

Cayla and a similar toy, i-Que, made by the same company are Internet-connected and talk and interact with children by recording their conversations.

CloudPets are stuffed animals made by Spiral Toys, which didn’t even bother to secure their database.

In addition to storing the customer databases in a publicly accessible location, Spiral Toys also used an Amazon-hosted service with no authorization required to store the recordings, customer profile pictures, children’s names, and their relationships to parents, relatives, and friends.

Samsung’s smart refrigerator was hacked yielding up G-mail logins, which, in turn, can yield up your whole on-line life.

Besides the fridge, the hackers also found 25 vulnerabilities in 14 allegedly smart devices, including scales, coffee makers, wireless cameras, locks, home automation hubs, and fingerprint readers.  

Pretty lame, considering that in January 2014 security was ranked as the top spending priority for CIOs and 75% said it would increase in 2015.

Makes you wonder what it was spent on.

European countries, such as Germany and Denmark, have strong privacy laws and simply ban these products, but I doubt our government will do more than hold hearings and wring their hands.

So it’s up to you.

Your major protection is very simple.

  1. Don‘t buy connected devices unless you really can’t live without them.

For those you do buy don’t expect anything from the manufacturer.

  1. Learn how to reset the passwords and choose strong ones.
  2. Don’t use all-purpose logins, such as those from Facebook or Google — no matter how convenient they are.

It’s called “personal responsibility.”

If you’re not familiar with the idea ask your parents — or, more likely, your grandparents.

Image credit: cea +

Ryan’s Journal: How Does Time Affect Culture?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/becosky/3304801086/

I had an interesting conversation today with a Director of IT Security from a large healthcare provider in Delaware who is a customer of mine.

The conversation was mostly to do with what his daily responsibilities were, how he balanced competing priorities and to gain a better understanding of his particular challenges.

I went into this meeting with my only desire to better understand him as a person and see how I could be of better value to him as my customer.

I did not expect to come away from the conversation with real world cases of how culture within an organization can change over time, but I have found when you keep your ears open it is surprising what people will say.

Some of you may have experience with healthcare providers, either as a patient or perhaps in a business relationship. I am sure that one thing we can all agree upon is that as a rule they can be slow to adopt, adapt and mature.

This may be hardwired into the DNA of the organization. I know that when I break my leg a doctor will put a cast in it because that has been proven to work through millions of previous experiences.

This can be the desired outcome versus the doctor that decides to try a different remedy for every broken leg. 

As I was speaking with my customer he said one thing that struck me. He said, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

He was saying this in reference to his desire to shape the culture to be more security conscience. However, he understood that if radical changes were made overnight he would lose the support of the organization. Instead he was implementing incremental changes over time to affect change.

Isn’t this the desired outcome?

As I think through this, there are times when radical change is needed, but typically it’s at the personal level that it is achieved.

Obvious examples being taking up exercise, limiting the amount of alcohol or taking up a new routine.

Try and push that on your friends or family overnight and good luck!

It takes time and buy-in from the group to effect lasting change.

That leaves us with a question that I do not yet have the answer to.

How do we achieve the change that is desired?

Image credit: becosky

Ducks in a Row: Anything—As Long As It Pays…

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pimkie_fotos/2673197411/Edward Snowden’s revelations made people hyper-conscious of government snooping, while the proliferation of mobile and connected devices has made snooping easier, not to mention very profitable.

And profit is what’s behind the rise of global cyber-arms dealers that sell human suffering and death as surely as their real-world counterparts sell weapons.

Last summer, Bill Marczak stumbled across a program that could spy on your iPhone’s contact list and messages—and even record your calls. Illuminating shadowy firms that sell spyware to corrupt governments across the globe, Marczak’s story reveals the new arena of cyber-warfare.

Marczak’s stumble revealed three zero-day exploits (“Zero days” refers to the amount of time—i.e., none—a target has to fix an entirely new kind of hack before damage can be done.).

It’s called a jailbreak and the ability to do it remotely is every hacker’s dream.

… the ability to hack remotely into the digital brains of the world’s most popular hardware—the desktops, laptops, tablets, and especially the mobile phones made by Apple. And not just break into Apple devices but actually take control of them. It was a hacker’s dream: the ability to monitor a user’s communications in real time and also to turn on his microphone and record his conversations.

In a superhuman effort, Apple patched all three exploits in just 10 days.

It’s an uplifting story, but the fact is Apple and other computer-makers are fighting a losing battle. As long as there are hackers, they will continue to find ways to hack any device that interfaces with them. These dangers were highlighted this fall when a New England company found itself the target of a mass denial-of-service attack from millions of non-computer “zombie devices” connected to the Internet—most notably baby monitors.

“What these cyber-arms dealers have done is democratize digital surveillance,” says the A.C.L.U.’s Chris Soghoian. “The surveillance tools once only used by big governments are now available to anyone with a couple hundred grand to spend.” In fact, they may be coming to your iPhone sometime soon.

Hat tip to KG for sharing the Vanity Fair article about Marczak.

Flickr image credit: Pimkie

If the Shoe Fits: Regulations and George Hotz

Friday, November 4th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mStartups love to rail against regulations, claiming they stifle innovation.

Uber and Airbnb are two of the most aggressive fighting them, not to mention the loudest.

What do you think?

Do you believe that eliminating/diluting regulations would provide the necessary boost to bring innovations to fruition?

Uber and Airbnb brazenly ignored regulations and, when that didn’t work, took their fight to the court of public opinion, lobbied for legal change and sued.

Would eliminating regulations have made Theranos’ blood tests work and produced a better outcome for its customers?

Autonomous and semi-autonomous cars are another battlefield.

And for all its high-profile supporters, millions of people around the globe are concerned with safety —  with good reason.

Obviously, regulations aren’t all bad, especially when when the cost of ignoring or eliminating them could be measured in lives lost.

Regulations are something that startup CEOs need to deal with and most do.

Most, but not George Hotz.

When he received a letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found a third option — turn tail and run.

Comma.AI, a startup run by famous hacker George Hotz, has shut down its project dedicated to building a Tesla-like semi-autonomous driving system after a warning from the federal government. (…)  The cancellation was prompted by a letter Comma.AI received from the , which asked the startup to provide information to ensure the product’s safety or face civil penalties of up to $21,000 a day.

Considering the product was a $1000 DIY semi-autonomous kit the market would likely be huge.

It seems reasonable to me to ask for proof it was safe, just as Theranos was asked for proof.

However, unlike Theranos’ CEO, Hotz didn’t dance, blow smoke or wave mirrors — he turned tail and claimed a pivot.

Would much rather spend my life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers. It isn’t worth it. -GH 2/3

— comma ai (@comma_ai) October 28, 2016

Maybe when you’re 27 and best known for hacking an iPhone as a teen and a PlayStation 3 a few years later that’s what you do when faced with authority.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Golden Oldie: Free, scary costume

Monday, October 31st, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back at more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

I wrote this Halloween post exactly 10 years ago and the costume is even scarier today. The character described has added to their tricks list, including hospitals, connected cars, IoT devices and ransomware, to name just a few.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Happy Halloween! In case you’ve got party plans and want to be a really scary character sans blood and guts.

The costume is almost anything handy, but ratty jeans, well-worn black t-shirt, preferably with an anti-social message, worn sneakers, scruffy hair, and red-rimmed eyes is the norm; or you can go all the way over to pure designer if that’s your thing. The only necessary accessory is a laptop (or facsimile if you think you might party hard enough to lose it). That’s it, the generic (feel free to customize it) costume of one of the scariest folks cruising along today.

Your character plays with water systems, steals from online accounts, rips off Second Lives, messes with elections, and shakes down the online gambling industry.

Figured it out yet?

Good. So, grab your (metaphorical) black hat and let’s party! And may you enjoy an evening of great treats and no tricks.

Entrepreneurs: Tesla Hack

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/30998987@N03/16642738584I’ve been writing (ranting?) about the security dangers of IoT and the connected world in general.

Security seems to be an afterthought— mostly after a public debacle, as Chrysler showed when Jeep was hacked.

GM took nearly five years to fully protect its vehicles from the hacking technique, which the researchers privately disclosed to the auto giant and to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the spring of 2010.

Pity the half million at-risk OnStar owners.

A few days ago Tesla was hacked by Chinese white hat Keen Team.

“With several months of in-depth research on Tesla Cars, we have discovered multiple security vulnerabilities and successfully implemented remote control on Tesla Model S in both Parking and Driving Mode.”

They hacked the firmware and could activate the brakes, unlock the doors and hide the rear view mirrors.

Tesla is the darling of the Silicon Valley tech set and Elon Musk is one of the Valley gods, but it still got hacked. And the excuse of being new to connected tech just doesn’t fly.

And if connected car security is full of holes, imagine the hacking opportunities with self-driving cars.

The possibilities are endless. I can easily see hackers, or bored kids, taking over a couple of cars to play chicken on the freeway at rush hour.

Nice girls don’t say, ‘I told you so’, but I’m not nice, so — I told you so.

Image credit: mariordo59

URGENT: In Case You aren’t Aware…

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Goggle may be phishing paradise

A security researcher found a problem in Google’s own login page that could allow a hacker to easily steal people’s passwords — and the company apparently isn’t too worried about fixing it.

Whereas Apple fixed an iOS security flaw in hours

Security firm Lookout announced on Thursday that it discovered a major security flaw that exploits iOS and can give a third party complete control over your iPhone.

But 86% of users haven’t applied the patch.

If you are one of them fix it at Settings > General > Software Update.

Self-driving Tech Not Ready for Primetime

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Tech loves to brag that it is “data driven.”

But contrary to tech lore, data isn’t black and white. It can be massaged and manipulated to support or contradict opposite sides of the same argument.

Take self-driving cars. Google claims the data proves them safer than human drivers.

But is that what the data really shows or is it being stage-managed?

I’m aware that my opinion doesn’t carry much (any) weight, so let’s consider instead the view of Etsy CTO John Allspaw.

“You can’t just extrapolate Google cars driving ~1.5 million miles under specific conditions (weather, topology, construction, traffic, accidents around it, etc.) to usurping the ~3 trillion miles/year under all conditions in the US. 1.09 fatalities per 100 million miles is the current non-self-driving numbers.

2014 had ~30k fatal crashes out of the 3 trillion miles traveled. We have to understand not how those crashes happened, but what makes the vast majority of them not happen. Luck is not a contributor, expertise is. Understanding human expertise is the key, not human frailty.”

Tech claims that security isn’t that big a problem and certainly not one that requires statutory approaches or regulation.

Two years ago Eddie Schwartz, vice president of global security solutions for Verizon’s enterprise subsidiary, said that self-driving cars will prove an irresistible target for hackers if they ever hit the roads.

Change if to when. Of course they’re irresistible; hacking and controlling a real car on a real road, with the potential of  doing real damage, would be catnip to a large number of naïve kids (to prove they can), not to mention angry adults (getting even) and terrorists (creating chaos).

Missy Cummings, director of Duke University’s robotics program, doesn’t believe self-driving cars are where near ready for prime-time.

The cars aren’t yet able to handle bad weather, including standing water, drizzling rain, sudden downpours and snow, let alone police instructions (…) “I am decidedly less optimistic about what I perceive to be a rush to field systems that are absolutely not ready for widespread deployment, and certainly not ready for humans to be completely taken out of the driver’s seat.”

And now being added to the thrills and threats of hackable cars comes Otto — an affordable $30K (cheap when you consider the cost of a new rig) retrofit to make big rigs self driving.

Remember the 1971 movie Duel?

Update by substituting a hacker for the original driver.

But then, tech is famous for rushing in and then loudly disclaiming any responsibility for human misuse, let alone abuse.

UPDATE: August 18: Uber just bought Otto.

Credit: Otto on YouTube

Golden Oldies: Password Help

Monday, July 11th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over a decade of writing I find posts that still impress me, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Why is it that even smart, tech-savvy people like Mark Zuckerberg use, and reuse, dumb passwords.

His password? “dadada.” (…) How did the attackers get in? It looks as if Zuck made a basic security mistake: He reused passwords [Twitter and Pinterest].

Zuck could have avoided being hacked if he just read my blog.  Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulorear/7190315846/I have to say, this article about people’s frustration with passwords made me laugh—probably not the desired reaction.

I sent it to a friend and he said he related and asked why I didn’t.

When I told him I had a simple way to handle passwords he was incredulous and demanded I explain.

I did and his response was that I should share it here, because it would make people’s lives easier.

Who am I to argue? In the interests of making your life easier here are my so-called “secrets.”

The first thing to recognize is that all sites requiring passwords are not created equal, so I divide them into three categories.

  1. Serious security for sites where being hacked has serious implications, such as your bank.
  2. Moderate security for sites where hacking means being hijacked and can cause hurt your reputation and cause embarrassment, such as social networking sites.
  3. Light security for all those informational and even subscription sites, such as NY Times where being hacked has no repercussions.

I use the same password for all the sites in the third category.

The second category depends partly on the site’s requirements, but I have a simple formula.

Let’s say it requires upper and lower case, a number, a symbol and is 11-14 characters long. “Zeusis#1god” has 11 characters and is easy to remember. Plus, you can also write it down as a word sentence and who’s going to know it’s a password?

For category one I mix up more numbers and symbols, for example, “I’m@659Park#27” has 14 characters.

No, that is not my address, but you can use a real address if it helps, just choose one that has no apparent connection to your current life, but is easy to remember; for example, your Aunt Lizzie’s home when you were a child (assuming she doesn’t live there now).

In the article people complain about the security questions, such as your first kiss, etc.

I don’t remember any stuff like that, but who says you need to? You can put any response you want as long as the question will trigger your memory.

So the answer to ‘my first love’ becomes Oreos or NY Nut Fudge. It’s not like they check your answers.

They can ask anything they want and you can interpret it any way you want. Passwords do not require honesty.

What about writing them down?

I have my Ameritrade account number and password written down, but not all together. The account number is in two pieces in two unconnected places. Same with the password.

And if you do keep a list and someone breaks into your home passwords will be the least of your worries.

I hope this helps you as much as it helped my friend.

Here’s a quick update to make passwords even easier to remember.

Use the site name in your password.

Twitter, for example. Password: Birds*tweet@6am.

Easy to remember, fairly hard to crack.

Flickr image credit: Paul O’Rear

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