Perimeter
6/24/2011
01:51 PM
Rob Enderle
Rob Enderle
Commentary
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Are LulzSec, Anonymous The Pissed-Off Canary In The Coal Mine?

LulzSec and Anonymous could be doing the world a favor by showcasing weak systems, and their actions suggest these systems and others like them could have been compromised for months by those wanting to do harm

I just finished a book titled "Robopocalypse," written by a Ph.D. in robotics, that I hope is far-fetched but accurately points out the problems with massive device connectivity. Those problems have to do with just how quickly hostile code can propagate -- how skills regarding how to break into systems and knowledge about poorly protected systems can spread. In the book there are obvious signs that a major problem is being ignored and, as a result, really bad things can happen.

For months prior to the Sony breach, the Web was alive with how vulnerable Sony was; given how many entities were breached after Sony, many of them government institutions, Sony was hardly alone. It makes me wonder how many breaches we don’t know about are being made by people who, rather than making a protest or a point, want to secretly steal stuff.

In short, LulzSec and Anonymous, and perhaps partially intentionally, are playing the role of a canary in a coal mine, and rubbing our face in the fact we aren’t secure enough and our stuff is being stolen.

This became crystal clear to me a few months ago when my wife and I bought a used Ford Explorer SUV. This purchase was a surprise because we had no idea we’d done it. Someone had used both of our corporate cards to buy the truck. Problem is, she almost never uses her card, which means it is likely the card company, in this case, Citibank, was hacked.

But there was no report, no notification: We just saw two big charges show up on our bill for a truck. Interestingly, when we called the firm that validated the cards, it was located in the same building as the dealership that sold the car. I’m thinking that wasn’t a coincidence.

The charges were taken off of my card, but I wondered how much of the credit card theft that is going on that the card companies are writing off is coming from breaches in their own systems that aren’t being caught.

Thieves, if they are successful (I used to be a Sheriff -- yes, who knew?), learn that it is best to steal things that folks won’t miss. That way you can fence them without concern for the fact that a law enforcement agency is looking for what was stolen. If you are stealing financial information like credit cards, the same rule applies because if people know you’ve taken the numbers and identifying information, they’ll close their accounts and you won’t have anything to sell or use.

Comparing Anonymous and LulzSec to real cybercriminals is also kind of like comparing male and female mosquitoes. I’m building a vacation home in Sanctuary Belize, and you quickly learn that the female mosquitoes that suck blood are quiet, and the male mosquitoes that don’t make lots of noise. So if you hear buzzing, you are OK, but if it gets quiet ...

Seriously, these breaches are showcasing an appalling lack of strong security and suggesting there may have been undiscovered thefts going on at these agencies and companies for years.

The coal mine canary works because toxic gasses tend to knock out the canary first, giving the miners an early warning there is a problem. It might be nice, particularly for the bird’s continued existence, if it could run around screaming “GAS!” before it died. In effect, that appears to be a lot of what LulzSec and Anonymous are effectively doing. I’d hope that miners, once they got over the fact a canary could talk, would get the warning and run for their lives rather than just shoot the pissed-off canary to shut off the noise.

With LulzSec and Anonymous, I worry that we, and particularly those running the organizations that have been hacked, aren’t that smart and don’t recognize the very real warning that lies underneath these attacks.

Or put another way, if someone came up and slugged me in the mouth to get my attention with regard to a coming tsunami, I’d hope I’d be smart enough to run first and, assuming I survived, punch the guy back later as opposed to the other way around. Since I kind of like living, my hope is that those who protect my stuff are equally as smart.

But I’m not getting the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes when my hopes and reality align.

--Rob Enderle is president and founder of The Enderle Group. Special to Dark Reading

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