Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Perimeter

6/30/2009
06:22 PM
David Maynor
David Maynor
Commentary
50%
50%

'Net Parrot Effect

Iran. You remember the place? Before several celebrities died in the past week, Iran's election aftermath gripped national attention. The more I found out about the election situation, the demonstrations, and the crackdown, the more I felt as if I were reading a political thriller. That's when the ugly side of our hyper-connected society reared its ugly head.

Iran. You remember the place? Before several celebrities died in the past week, Iran's election aftermath gripped national attention. The more I found out about the election situation, the demonstrations, and the crackdown, the more I felt as if I were reading a political thriller. That's when the ugly side of our hyper-connected society reared its ugly head.People started passing information around the Twitter/blogger/Interweb superconnect highway about how to help the Iranians/bloggers/Tweeters who were being censored.

Make no mistake: The information passed around about ways to help bloggers was not helpful and, in most cases could actually aid Iran in censoring free speech. In general, this gives rise to what I call "the parrot effect," or just repeating information you hear or read without actually understanding it. In this case, high-profile technology gurus, including Tim O'Reilly, were guilty of spreading misinformation (RT @JoeTrippi: Change ur twitter time zone to GMT+3.30 (Tehran) Security search location & time. If we are all Iranians it will help 9:29 AM Jun 21st from Seesmic Desktop).

I sympathize with the Iranian citizens and think censoring speech is horrible. But to understand why the information being sent to "help" them wasn't useful at all, burn this phrase into your brain: "nation-backed resources." That means the resources of a government budget can be brought to bear. For instance, in Iran monitoring all Internet traffic in and out of the country would be as simple as a trip down to a monitoring center that has eavesdropping capabilities.

Let's look at a few of the parroted suggestions and why they would result in a visit from Iranian police. The most popular suggestion involved changing your location on your Twitter profile to say you were in Tehran and to set your time zone appropriately. At first I thought this suggestion was to show solidarity, but it turns out the friendly Internet parrots thought this would confuse the Iranian government censors since they would have to search through a wave of Twitter users claiming they are in Iran, allowing legitimate information to slip out unnoticed.

While I am sure there were noble intentions, no one seemed the vet the technological premise behind it. Silly smokescreens don't hold up when nation-backed resources can allow you to write a simple filter to show anybody going to Twitter.com from inside Iran. This would be as simple as writing a Wireshark filter to capture traffic going to cnn.com from inside your home network. With power like that, nobody looking for Twitter traffic would care about a profile location. I was accused of being antifree speech when I asked some people passing around the Tehran Twitter-location tip that if a Twitter profile location would actually help, then hy don't the people inside Iran just change their location to somewhere else?

People also suggested that the Iranians use proxies outside of Iran or Tor. While these ideas seem to have more merit, they still show a government that controls all Internet traffic in and out of the country that you are doing something suspicious and should get a visit from people with batons. I didn't see a single suggestion that would actually help free speech advocates. If I wore a tinfoil hat, then I could even go as far as to say that this disinformation was planted by the government of Iran because, in the end, all it did was show them exactly who they needed to arrest. But I don't have a tinfoil hat.

David Maynor is CTO of Errata Security. Special to Dark Reading

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
Firms Improve Threat Detection but Face Increasingly Disruptive Attacks
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  2/20/2020
Ransomware Damage Hit $11.5B in 2019
Dark Reading Staff 2/20/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
The concept of application security is well known, but application security testing and remediation processes remain unbalanced. Most organizations are confident in their approach to AppSec, although others seem to have no approach at all. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-17274
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
NetApp FAS 8300/8700 and AFF A400 Baseboard Management Controller (BMC) firmware versions 13.x prior to 13.1P1 were shipped with a default account enabled that could allow unauthorized arbitrary command execution via local access.
CVE-2019-17275
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
OnCommand Cloud Manager versions prior to 3.8.0 are susceptible to arbitrary code execution by remote attackers.
CVE-2020-3169
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
A vulnerability in the CLI of Cisco FXOS Software could allow an authenticated, local attacker to execute arbitrary commands on the underlying Linux operating system with a privilege level of root on an affected device. The vulnerability is due to insufficient validation of arguments passed to a spe...
CVE-2020-3170
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
A vulnerability in the NX-API feature of Cisco NX-OS Software could allow an unauthenticated, remote attacker to cause an NX-API system process to unexpectedly restart. The vulnerability is due to incorrect validation of the HTTP header of a request that is sent to the NX-API. An attacker could expl...
CVE-2020-3171
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
A vulnerability in the local management (local-mgmt) CLI of Cisco FXOS Software and Cisco UCS Manager Software could allow an authenticated, local attacker to execute arbitrary commands on the underlying operating system (OS) of an affected device. The vulnerability is due to insufficient input vali...