Feeds

2008: A year of cowboys in IT security

The good, the bad and the ugly

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Security pundits are fond are characterising personalties in information security with reference to Westerns - hence hackers wear either a "black hat" or a "white hat" like their cowboy counterparts.

More recently these analogies have been replaced by comparisons with the horror genre. Security firms (usually ill-advisedly) talk about "silver-bullet" security technologies and, of course, networks of compromised PCs are called zombie botnets. Call us old fashioned but we still prefer the Westerns and, in celebration of one of the few quintessential American art forms (alongside jazz), we'd like to take a look back at 2008 in information security through the lens of classic Westerns, with a few Vulture Central casting suggestions.

Probably the biggest security story of the year was the take-down of infamous cybercrime hosting outfit McColo. The rogue ISP hosted the command and control systems for three botnets - Srizbi, Rustock and Mega-D. Junk mail levels temporarily fell to a third their normal level following the takedown of McColo in November.

A deserved tip of the hat is due to Bryan Krebs of SecurityFix and the security researchers who drew up evidence that prompted McColo's upstream providers to pull the plug. Krebs and his gang are 2008's Yul Brynner and the rest of The Magnificent Seven.

McColo's lack of scruples in the hunt for a pay-day, meanwhile, makes it something like the character Frank from Once Upon a Time in the West.

Volunteer security community CastleCops hung up its spurs in late December. This latter-day Shane aided ordinary surfers and fought fraud for six years. In particular, CastleCops was a scourge of corrupt cattle drivers phishing fraudsters. They'll be sadly missed.

Dan Kaminsky was rightly lauded as a security hero in 2008. After exposing the Sony rootkit a few years back this year he discovered a gaping flaw involving DNS cache poisoning. Crucially Kaminsky also brought together a posse of vendors to slay the flaw before the bad guys were able to take advantage of the fundamental protocol vulnerability, which became public knowledge back in July. He's our Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne).

FBI senior cybercrime agent J Keith Mularski hoodwinked cybercrooks who frequented the DarkMarket carder forums for two years by posing as a spammer. Mularski (AKA Master Splynter) got inside to take down carders, scammers and other ne'er do wells; somewhat akin to how the Man with No Name brought down the Baxters and the Rojos in a A Fistful of Dollars.

Activity surrounding the infamous Storm Worm, a pioneer in the creation of botnets, dwindled out in the latter half of 2008. Few believe that we've heard the last of the Wild Bunch behind the worm.

Interest in extra-terrestrials is not a big feature of any Westerns we know of, or can imagine, at least until Alex Cox helms a cowboy film. The US authorities dogged campaign to drag Gary McKinnon to the US for trial brings to mind the hunt for Butch and Sundance. Let's hope McKinnon doesn't wind up dying in a hail of bullets in Bolivia.

The whole long-running saga has developed elements of farce over the years so perhaps casting McKinnon as the Waco kid might be more appropriate. ®

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Jihadi terrorists DIDN'T encrypt their comms 'cos of Snowden leaks
Intel bods' analysis concludes 'no significant change' after whistle was blown
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
China hacked US Army transport orgs TWENTY TIMES in ONE YEAR
FBI et al knew of nine hacks - but didn't tell TRANSCOM
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.