'It's common for freelancers to farm out work to cheap coders'

Plus: 'I'm supposed to release an enterprise platform on Azure?'

Quotw This was the week when Mobile World Congress was going on in Barcelona, but although the products were fun, the chat was better at RSA's conference. In the opening keynote, exec chair Art Coviello lambasted industry people for going on and on about a "Cyber Pearl Harbour" and frightening the ordinary folk of the world with their shock and awe tactics:

I absolutely hate the term 'Cyber Pearl Harbor'. I just think it's a poor metaphor to describe the state we are really in. What do I do differently once I've heard it? And I've been hearing it for ten years now.

To trigger a physically destructive event solely from the internet might not be impossible, but it is still, as of today, highly unlikely.

Unfortunately, Michael Chertoff, Bush's Secretary of Homeland Security, misunderstood Coviello's angst and just swapped out "Pearl Harbour" for "9/11". He said:

[Serious threats to cyberspace are] on a par with what this country tragically experienced on 9/11.

But since he was using his speech to try to get IT workers into jobs with the government instead of lucrative private-sector careers, perhaps the hyperbole was necessary.

Also at RSA, a Reg hack bumped into Bryan Sartin, director of investigative response on Verizon's RISK team, who mentioned that the story of the guy outsourcing his IT job to a firm in China, so that he could spend all day on Reddit, was by no means an isolated incident. Sartin explained:

When the story went out we got a bunch of phone calls with companies asking, 'Are you talking about our situation?'

It turns out this seems to be something of a trend and lots of people are doing it. It's especially common with contract workers and freelancers who sign up for jobs and then farm out that work in parts of the world where coders are cheap.

And of course, letting unauthorised outsourced workers in through the back door by giving up employee username and passwords can easily open up companies to hacks:

Our data shows that in 74 per cent of network intrusions, the initial access point is a remote worker's link. In these specific cases there doesn’t have seen to be a problem, but if the hacker's purpose is espionage rather than profit then they're going to keep a low profile.

This was also the week that Microsoft's cloud service Windows Azure crashed globally for 12 hours because Redmond had made the really schoolboy error of not updating a security certificate. One user fumed:

This is unacceptable, I'm supposed to release an enterprise app on this platform?

In security news, self-styled Anonymous intelligence agency Par:AnoIA leaked what it claimed was data lifted from insecure systems at a Bank of America contractor that showed the banking behemoth was trying to run tabs on hactivists. The group said in a statement:

We were amused by the fact that there are actually paid analysts sitting somewhere reading the vast amount garbage that scrolls by in large public channels like #anonops and #voxanon. Even more amusing is the keyword list that was found, containing trigger words like 'jihad' or 'homosexual'.

Meanwhile, that crack team of hackers from China's People's Liberation Army, codenamed advanced persistent threat one (APT1), isn't actually all it's cracked up to be. Security experts are saying that the group, also known as Comment Crew, is more prolific than particularly skilled. Jaime Blasco, labs director at security tools firm AlienVault, said:

APT1 is one of the less sophisticated groups. They commonly reuse the same infrastructure for years and their tools are more or less easy to detect. The techniques they use to gain access to the victims are more based on social engineering and most of the time they don't use zero-days exploits to gain access.

While Joe Stewart, director of malware research at Dell SecureWorks CTU added:

The Comment Crew are, in general, not terribly sophisticated. But there are some people in there who are quite skilled not just in the malware they create but in their ability to hide their tracks. You are always going to get some junior members in any hacking or security group who are less skilled.

And other experts, such as cybercrime researcher Dancho Danchev, worry that all this focus on China hackers is dangerous:

Now that everyone's obsessed with China, the Russian underground can continue 'milking' its favourite cash cow, the US. Anything launched by eastern European cyber-criminals can be described as an APT these days. It's just that go after the dollar, not the intellectual propery.

Because Linux kernel chief Linus Torvalds hasn't gone off on one recently, here's a rant he had this week at Red Hat employee David Howells over the X.509 public key management standard.

Howells suggested that the code should be accepted into the kernel so that Red Hat could "embed an X.509 certificate containing the key in a section called '.keylist' in an EFI PE binary and then get the binary signed by Microsoft”. This arrangement would be more elegant than the way the Linux kernel signs certificates today, he reckoned. Torvalds did not:

Quite frankly, I doubt that anybody will ever care, plus getting me to care about some vendor that ships external binary-only modules is going to be hard as hell.

Plus quite frankly, signing random kernel vendor modules (indirectly) with a MS key is f*cking stupid to begin with.

In other words, I really don't see why we should bend over backwards, when there really is no reason to. It's adding stupid code to the kernel only to encourage stupidities in other people.

Seriously, if somebody wants to make a binary module for Fedora 18 or whatever, they should go to Red Hat and ask whether RH is willing to sign their key. And the whole "no, we only think it makes sense to trust MS keys" argument is so f*cking stupid that if somebody really brings that up, I can only throw my hands up and say "whatever".

In other words, none of this makes me think that we should do stupid things just to perpetuate the stupidity. And I don't believe in the argument to begin with.

And that wasn't even the bit where he was going on about Red Hat deep-throating Microsoft. ®

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