Notes from a cyber criminal


After a couple of recent high profile data thefts,   I put the question to myself,  how does a cyber thief convert a large amount of credit cards into a financial windfall?

I did some research, and then momentarily put on the shoes of a cyber thief, here are my notes and thoughts:

I am the greatest hacker in the world and I just got a-hold of twenty million  Home Depot debit cards and account numbers. What is my next move. Well I guess I could just start shopping at Home Depot every day and maxing out all my stolen account cards with a bunch of Lawn Mowers , Garden Hoses, and other items. How many times could I do this before I got caught ?  Probably not that many, I am sure the buying patterns would be flagged even before the consumer realized their card was stolen , especially if I was nowhere near the home area code of my victim(s).  And then I’d have to fence all those items to turn it into cash. But let’s assume I acted quickly and went on a home depot shopping spree with my twenty million cards.  Since I am a big time crook I am looking for a haul I can retire on, and so I’d want to buy and fence at least a few hundred thousand dollars worth of stuff out the gate. Now that is going to be quite a few craig(s) list advertisements, and one logistical nightmare to move those goods, and also I am leaving a trail back to me because at some point I have to exchange the goods with the buyer and they are going to want to pay by check . Let me re-think this…

Okay so I am getting smarter, forget the conventional method , what if I find some Russian portal where I can just sell the Home Depot cards and have the funds paid in Bitcoin to some third-party account that is untraceable.  How many people actually have Bitcoin accounts, and how many are interested in buying stolen credit cards on the black market, and then how to insure that the numbers have not been deactivated ? Suppose I sell to some Mafia type and the cards are not valid anymore ? Will they track me down and kill me ? Forget the Bitcoin,  I’ll have to use Paypal , again leaving a trail of some kind.  So now how do I market my credit card fencing site, I have 20 million cards to move and no customers.  A television advertisement , an underworld blog post ?  I need customers to buy these cards and I need them fast , once I start selling them Home Depot will only take a few days to shut down their cards . Maybe I can just have an agent hawk them in Thailand for $3 each , that way I stay anonymous, yeh that’s what I’ll do whew , I’ll be happy if I can net a few thousand dollars.

Conclusion: Although the theft of a data makes a great headline and is certainly not to be taken lightly , the ability for the crook(s) to convert bounty into a financial windfall, although possible is most likely a far more difficult task than the data theft . Stealing the data is one thing, but profiting from it on anything but the smallest scale is very difficult if not impossible.

The real problem for the hacked commercial institution is not the covering the loss of revenue from the theft, but the loss of company value from loss of public trust which can mount into the billions.

Although my main business is Bandwidth Control I do spend a good deal of thought cycles on Security as on occasion the two go hand in hand. For example some of the utilities we use on our NetEqualizer are used to thwart DOS attacks.  We also have our NetGladiator product which is simply the best and smartest tool out there for preventing an attack through your Website.

Surviving iOS updates


The birds outside my office window are restless. I can see the strain in the Comcast cable wires as they droop, heavy with the burden of additional bits, weighting them down like a freak ice storm.   It is time, once again, for Apple to update every device in the Universe with their latest IOS update.

Assuming you are responsible for a Network with a limited Internet pipe, and you are staring down 100 or more users, about to hit the accept button for their update, what can you do to prevent your user network from being gridlocked?

The most obvious option to gravitate to is caching. I found this nice article (thanks Luke) on the Squid settings used for a previous iOS update in 2013.  Having worked with Squid quite a bit helping our customers, I was not surprised on the amount of tuning required to get this to work, and I suspect there will be additional changes to make it work in 2014.

If you have a Squid caching solution already up and running it is worth a try, but I am on the fence of recommending a Squid install from scratch.  Why? Because we are seeing diminishing returns from Squid caching each year due to the amount of dynamic content.  Translation: Very few things on the Internet come from the same place with the same filename anymore, and for many content providers they are marking much of their content as non-cacheable.

If you have a NetEqualizer in place you can easily blunt the effects of the data crunch with a standard default set-up. The NetEqualizer will automatically push the updates out further into time, especially during peak hours when there is contention. This will allow other applications on your network to function normally during the day. I doubt anybody doing the update will notice the difference.

Finally if you are desperate, you might be able to block access to anything IOS update on your firewall.  This might seem a bit harsh, but then again Apple did not consult with you, and besides isn’t that what the free Internet at Starbucks is for?

Here is a snippet pulled from a forum on how to block it.

iOS devices check for new versions by polling the server mesu.apple.com. This is done via HTTP, port 80. Specifically, the URL is:

http://mesu.apple.com/assets/com_apple_MobileAsset_SoftwareUpdate/com_apple_MobileAsset_SoftwareUpdate.xml

If you block or redirect mesu.apple.com, you will inhibit the check for software updates. If you are really ambitious, you could redirect the query to a cached copy of the XML, but I haven’t tried that. Please remove the block soon; you wouldn’t want to prevent those security updates, would you?

Your Critical Business Needs Two Sources for Internet


Time Warner’s Nationwide outage got my wheels turning again about how we perceive risk when it comes to network outages.

For example:

We have close to 10,000 NetEqualizer systems in the field, of which, we get about 10 failures a year. If you further break down those failures  to root cause, about 80 percent are due to some external event:

  •  lightning
  • flood
  • heat
  • blunt trauma

Given that breakdown, the chances of a NetEqualizer failure for a well-maintained system in a properly vented environment is far less than 1 percent a year. I would also assume that for a simple router or firewall the failure rate is about the same.

Now compare those odds with the chances that your Internet provider is going to crash and burn for some extended outage during the business day  over the course of a full year?

I would say the odds of this happening approach 100 percent.

And yet, the perception often is that, you need a fail-over switch on your in house equipment. Perhaps you do, but if you are truly trying to mitigate risk in order of precedence, you should address the potential outages from your provider before investing in redundant hardware.

Here again, our top 5 reasons for an Internet Outage.

An Easy Way to Get Rid of Wireless Dead Spots and Get Whole Home Music


By Steve Wagor, Co-Founder APconnections

Wireless dead spots are a common problem in homes and offices that expand beyond the range of single wireless access point. For example in my home office, my little Linksys Access point works great on my main floor , but down in my basement the signal just does not reach very well. The problem with a simple access point is if you need to expand your area you must mesh a new one, and off the shelf they do not know how to talk to each other.

For those of you have tried to expand your home network into a mesh with multiple access points there are howto’s out there for rigging them up

Many use wireless access points that are homemade, or the commercial style made for long range. With these solutions you will most likely need a rubber ducky antenna and either some old computers or at least small board computers with attached wireless cards. You will also need to know a bit of networking and setup most of these types of things via what some people would consider complex commands to link them all up into the mesh.

Well its a lot easier than that if you don’t need miles and miles of coverage using off the shelf Apple products. These are small devices with no external antennas.

First you need to install an Apple Extreme access point:
http://www.apple.com/airport-extreme
– at the time of this being written it is $199 and has been at that price for at least a couple of years now.

Now for every dead spot you just need the Apple Express:
http://www.apple.com/airport-express/
– at the time of this being written it is $99 and has been at that price for at least a couple of years now too.

So for every dead spot you have you can solve the problem for $99 after the Apple Extreme is installed. And Apple has very good install instructions on the product line so you don’t need to be a network professional to configure it. Most of it is simple point and click and all done via a GUI and without having to go to a command line ever.

For whole home music fairly effortlessly you can use the Analog/Optical Audio Jack on the back of the Airport Express and plug into your stereo or externally powered speakers. Now connect your iPhone or Mac product up to the same wireless network provided by your Airport Extreme and you can use Airplay to toggle on all or any of the stereos that your network has access to. So if you let your guests access your wireless network and they have an iPhone with Airplay then they could let you listen to anything they are playing by using Airplay to play it on your stereo for example while you are working out together in your home gym.

The Internet, Free to the Highest Bidder.


It looks like the FCC has  caved,

“The Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday that it would propose new rules that allow companies like Disney, Google or Netflix to pay Internet service providers.”

- WSJ article April 2014

Compare today’s statements to those made back in  January and February, when  the FCC was posturing  like a fluffed up Tom Turkey for Net Neutrality.

“I am committed to maintaining our networks as engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services and products, and channels for all forms of speech protected by the First Amendment”

- Tom Wheeler FCC chairman Jan 2014

“The FCC could use that broad authority to punish Internet providers that engage in flagrant net-neutrality violations, Wheeler suggested. The agency can bring actions with the goal of promoting broadband deployment, protecting consumers, or ensuring competition, for example.”

-Tom Wheeler Jan 2014

As I eluded to back then, I did not give their white night rhetoric much credence.

“The only hope in this case is for the FCC to step in and take back the Internet. Give it back to the peasants. However, I suspect their initial statements are just grandstanding politics.  This is, after all, the same FCC that auctions off the airwaves to the highest bidder.”

- Art Reisman  Feb 2014

It seems to me the FCC is now a puppet agency of regulation. How can you  start by talking about regulating abuses threatening free access to the Internet, and then without blinking an eye, offer up a statement that Rich Guys can  now pay for privileged access to the Internet ?

I don’t know whether to cry or be cynical at this point. Perhaps I should just go down to my nearest public library , and pay somebody to stock their shelves with promotional NetEqualizer Material?

“The court said that because the Internet is not considered a utility under federal law, it was not subject to that sort of regulation.”

Quotes Referenced from New York Times article FCC in shift backs fast lanes for Web Traffic

Stuck on Desert Island, Do You Take Your Caching Server or Your Netequalizer ?


Caching is a great idea and works well, but I’ll take my NetEqualizer with me if forced to choose between the two on my remote island with a satellite link.

Yes there are  a few circumstances where a caching server might have a nice impact. Our most successful deployments are in educational environments where the same video is watched repeatedly as an assignment;  but for most wide open installations  ,expectations of performance far outweigh reality.   Lets  have at look at what works and also drill down on expectations that are based on marginal assumptions.

From my personal archive of experience here are some of the expectations attributed to caching that perhaps are a bit too optimistic.

“Most of my users go to their Yahoo or Face Book home page every day when they log in and that is the bulk of all they do”

- I doubt this customer’s user base is that conformist :),   and they’ll find out once they install their caching solution.  But even if true, only some of the content on Face  Book and Yahoo is static.  A good portion of these pages are by default dynamic, and ever-changing with content.  They are marked as Dynamic in their URLs which means the bulk of the page must be reloaded each time.  For example,  in order for caching to have an impact , the users in this scenario would have to stick to their home pages , and not look at friend photo’s or other pages.

” We expect to see a 30 percent hit rate when we deploy our cache.”

You won’t see a 30 percent hit rate, unless somebody designs some specific robot army to test your cache, hitting the same pages over and over again. Perhaps, on IOS update day, you might see a bulk of your hits going to the same large file and have a significant performance boost for a day. But overall you will be  doing well if  you get a 3 or 4 percent hit rate.

” I expect the cache hits to take pressure off my Internet Link”

Assuming you want your average user to experience a fast loading Internet, this is where you really want your NetEqualizer ( or similar intelligent bandwidth controller) over your caching engine. The smart bandwidth controller can re-arrange traffic on the fly insuring Interactive hits get the best response. A caching engine does not have that intelligence.

Let’s suppose you have a 100 megabit link to the Internet ,and you install a cache engine that effectively gets a 6 percent hit rate. That would be exceptional  hit rate.

So what is the  end user experience with a 6 percent hit rate compared to pre-cache ?

-First off, it is not the hit rate that matters when looking at total bandwidth. Much of those hits will likely be smallish image  files from the Yahoo home page or common sites, that account for less than 1 percent of your actual traffic.  Most of your traffic is likely dominated by large file downloads and only a portion of those may be coming from cache.

- A 6 percent hit rate means that 94 percent miss rate , and if your Internet was slow from congestion before the caching server it will still be slow 94 percent of the time.

- Putting in a caching server  would be like upgrading your bandwidth from 100 megabits to 104 megabits to relieve congestion. That cache hits may add to the total throughput in your reports, but the 100 megabit bottleneck is still there, and to the end user, there is little or no difference in user perception at this point.  A  portion of your Internet access is still marginal or unusable during peak times, and other than the occasional web page or video loading nice and snappy , users are getting duds most of the time.

Even the largest caching server is insignificant in how much data it can store.

- The Internet is Vast and your Cache is not. Think of a tiny Ant standing on top of Mount Everest. YouTube puts up 100 hours of new content every minute of every day. A small commercial caching server can store about 1/1000 of what YouTube uploads in day, not to mention yesterday and the day before and last year. It’s just not going to be in your cache.

So why is a NetEqualizer bandwidth controller so much more superior than a caching server when changing user perception of speed?  Because the NetEqualizer is designed to keep Internet access from crashing , and this is accomplished by reducing the large file transfers and video download footprints during peak times. Yes these videos  and downloads may be slow or sporadic, but they weren’t going to work anyway, so why let them crush the interactive traffic ? In the end caching and equalizing are not perfect, but from real world trials the equalizer changes the user experience from slow to fast for all Interactive transactions, caching is hit or miss ( pun intended).

Federal Judge Orders Internet Name be Changed to CDSFBB (Content Delivery Service for Big Business)


By Art Reisman – CTO – APconnections

Okay, so I fabricated that headline, it’s not true, but I hope it goes viral and sends a message that our public Internet is being threatened by business interests and activist judges.

I’ll concede our government does serve us well in some cases;  they have produced some things that could not be done without their oversight, for example:

1) The highway system

2) The FAA does a pretty good job keeping us safe

3) The Internet. At least up until some derelict court ruling that will allow ISPs to give preferential treatment to content providers for a payment (bribe), whatever you want to call it.

The ramifications of this ruling may bring an end to the Internet as we know it. Perhaps the ball was put in motion when the Internet was privatized back in 1994. In any case, if this ruling stands up,  you can forget about the Internet as the great equalizer. A place where a small businesses can have a big web site. The Internet where a new idea on a small budget can blossom into a fortune 500 company. A place where the little guy can compete on equal footing without an entry fee to get noticed. No, the tide won’t turn right away, but at some point through a series of rationalizations, content companies and ISPs, with deep pockets, will kill anything that moves.

This ruling establishes a legal precedent. Legal precedents with suspect DNA are like cancers, they mutate into ugly variations, and replicate rapidly. There is no drug that can stop them. Obviously, the forces at work here are not the court systems themselves, but businesses with motives. The poor carriers just can’t seem to find any other solution to their congestion other than charge for access? Combine this with oblivious consumers that just want content on their devices, and you have a dangerous mixture. Ironically, these consumers already subsidize ISPs with a huge chunk of their disposable income. The hoodwink is on. Just as the public airwaves are controlled by a few large media conglomerates, so will go the Internet.

The only hope in this case is for the FCC to step in and take back the Internet. Give it back to the peasants. However, I suspect their initial statements are just grandstanding politics.  This is, after all, the same FCC that auctions off the airwaves to the highest bidder.

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