Monthly Archives: September 2020

First post-quarantine industrial.

A few days ago, a momentous, landmark event took place. It was in a seaside city – a ‘regular’ one, where it gets dark of a night (unlike others I can think of:) ->

The momentous event was – drum roll, cymbal…….. our first post-quarantine conference! In sunny ~Sochi!

And here’s my first post-quarantine event badge! ->

Read on…

Murmansk: the sunny, windless resort!

The other day – finally! – I was back on the road after a six-month hiatus. It wasn’t my usual globetrotting routine, but it was a trip away – on a plane. Up to Murmansk!

It was just a short trip (over a long weekend), whose main purpose was a spot of fishing in the Barents Sea. Actually (and just as I like it), there was another reason for the trip – a spot of business (discussing certain industrial cybersecurity projects). But enough about work already (more on the work topic in an upcoming post from Sochi); today – it’s all about the fishing!…

Read on…

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The film ‘From Kurils with Love’ – much of it shot from above.

Precisely a year ago, a group of like-minded adventurers and I took few weeks to leisurely tour Russia’s far-eastern Kuril Islands on a ship. Click on the link for plenty of pics and words about the expedition, but today I’m not writing about that, I’m writing about something else.

See, the group of like-minded adventurers I was with included a group of curious American documentary makers. Among them: the famous landscape photographer Chris Burkard, the legendary traveler-photographer-climber Renan Ozturk, the documentary filmmaker and conservationist Taylor Rees, their super-professional photography-and-film crew, plus ecologist-researchers.

And they all boarded our small ship for a lengthy investigation of the unique ecosystem of the Kuril archipelago, at the same time bringing attention to the remote region’s ecological problems.

And now, as a result of the eco-expedition a documentary has been released – From Kurils with Love. The ‘star’ of the short film is Vladimir Burkanov, Kurils conservationist and leading expert-biologist of the Kamchatka branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who for more than 30 years has been studying the region’s sea mammals.

Read on…

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Cybersecurity – the new dimension of automotive quality.

Quite a lot of folks seem to think that the automobile of the 21st century is a mechanical device. Sure, it has added electronics for this and that, some more than others, but still, at the end of the day – it’s a work of mechanical engineering: chassis, engine, wheels, steering wheel, pedals… The electronics – ‘computers’ even – merely help all the mechanical stuff out. They must do – after all, dashboards these days are a sea of digital displays, with hardly any analog dials to be seen at all.

Well, let me tell you straight: it ain’t so!

A car today is basically a specialized computer – a ‘cyber-brain’, controlling the mechanics-and-electrics we traditionally associate with the word ‘car’ – the engine, the brakes, the turn indicators, the windscreen wipers, the air conditioner, and in fact everything else.

In the past, for example, the handbrake was 100% mechanical. You’d wrench it up – with your ‘hand’ (imagine?!), and it would make a kind of grating noise as you did. Today you press a button. 0% mechanics. 100% computer controlled. And it’s like that with almost everything.

Now, most folks think that a driver-less car is a computer that drives the car. But if there’s a human behind the wheel of a new car today, then it’s the human doing the driving (not a computer), ‘of course, silly!’

Here I go again…: that ain’t so either!

With most modern cars today, the only difference between those that drive themselves and those that are driven by a human is that in the latter case the human controls the onboard computers. While in the former – the computers all over the car are controlled by another, main, central, very smart computer, developed by companies like Google, Yandex, Baidu and Cognitive Technologies. This computer is given the destination, it observes all that’s going on around it, and then decides how to navigate its way to the destination, at what speed, by which route, and so on based on mega-smart algorithms, updated by the nano-second.

A short history of the digitalization of motor vehicles

So when did this move from mechanics to digital start?

Some experts in the field reckon the computerization of the auto industry began in 1955 – when Chrysler started offering a transistor radio as an optional extra on one of its models. Others, perhaps thinking that a radio isn’t really an automotive feature, reckon it was the introduction of electronic ignition, ABS, or electronic engine-control systems that ushered in automobile-computerization (by Pontiac, Chrysler and GM in 1963, 1971 and 1979, respectively).

No matter when it started, what followed was for sure more of the same: more electronics; then things started becoming more digital – and the line between the two is blurry. But I consider the start of the digital revolution in automotive technologies as February 1986, when, at the Society of Automotive Engineers convention, the company Robert Bosch GmbH presented to the world its digital network protocol for communication among the electronic components of a car – CAN (controller area network). And you have to give those Bosch guys their due: still today this protocol is fully relevant – used in practically every vehicle the world over!

// Quick nerdy post-CAN-introduction digi-automoto backgrounder: 

The Bosch boys gave us various types of CAN buses (low-speed, high-speed, FD-CAN), while today there’s FlexRay (transmission), LIN (low-speed bus), optical MOST (multimedia), and finally, on-board Ethernet (today – 100mbps; in the future – up to 1gbps). When cars are designed these days various communications protocols are applied. There’s drive by wire (electrical systems instead of mechanical linkages), which has brought us: electronic gas pedals, electronic brake pedals (used by Toyota, Ford and GM in their hybrid and electro-mobiles since 1998), electronic handbrakes, electronic gearboxes, and electronic steering (first used by Infinity in its Q50 in 2014).

BMW buses and interfaces

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The Catcher in the YARA – predicting black swans.

It’s been a long, long time since humanity has had a year like this one. I don’t think I’ve known a year with such a high concentration of black swans of various types and forms in it. And I don’t mean the kind with feathers. I’m talking about unexpected events with far-reaching consequences, as per the theory of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, published in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable in 2007. One of the main tenets of the theory is that, with hindsight, surprising events that have occurred seem so ‘obvious’ and predictable; however, before they occur – no one does indeed predict them.

Cybersecurity experts have ways of dealing with ambiguity and predicting black swans with YARA

Example: this ghastly virus that’s had the world in lockdown since March. It turns out there’s a whole extended family of such viruses – several dozen coronaviridae, and new ones are found regularly. Cats, dogs, birds, bats all get them. Humans get them; some cause common colds; others… So surely vaccines need to be developed against them as they have been for other deadly viruses like smallpox, polio, whatever. Sure, but that doesn’t always help a great deal. Look at flu – still no vaccine that inoculates folks after how many centuries? And anyway, to even start to develop a vaccine you need to know what you’re looking for, and that is more art than science, apparently.

So, why am I telling you this? What’s the connection to… it’s inevitably gonna be either cybersecurity or exotic travel, right?! Today – the former ).

Now, one of the most dangerous cyberthreats in existence are zero-days – rare, unknown (to cybersecurity folks et al.) vulnerabilities in software, which can do oh-my-grotesque large-scale awfulness and damage – but they often remain undiscovered up until the moment when (sometimes after) they’re exploited to inflict the awfulness.

However, cybersecurity experts have ways of dealing with unknown-cyber-quantities and predicting black swans. And in this post I want to talk about one such way: YARA.

GReAT’s Costin Raiu examined Hacking Team’s emails and put together out of practically nothing a YARA rule, which detected a zero-day exploit

Briefly, YARA helps malware research and detection by identifying files that meet certain conditions and providing a rule-based approach to creating descriptions of malware families based on textual or binary patterns. (Ooh, that sounds complicated. See the rest of this post for clarification.:) Thus, it’s used to search for similar malware by identifying patterns. The aim: to be able to say: ‘it looks like these malicious programs have been made by the same folks, with similar objectives’.

Ok, let’s take another metaphor: like a black swan, another water-based one; this time – the sea…

Let’s say a network you (as a cyber-sleuth) are studying (= examining for the presence of suspicious files/directories) is the ocean, which is full of thousands of different kinds of fish, and you’re an industrial fisherman out on the ocean in your ship casting off huge drift nets to catch the fish – but only certain breeds of fish (= malware created by particular hacker groups) are interesting to you. Now, the drift net is special: it has special ‘compartments’ into which fish only get into as per their particular breed (= malware characteristics). Then, at the end of the shift, what you have is a lot of caught fish all compartmentalized, and some of those fish will be relatively new, unseen before fish (new malware samples) about which you know practically nothing, but they’re in certain compartments labeled, say, ‘Looks like Breed X’ (hacker group X) and ‘Looks like Breed Y’ (hacker group Y).

We have a case that fits the fish/fishing metaphor perfectly. In 2015, our YARA guru and head of GReAT, Costin Raiu, went full-on cyber-Sherlock mode to find an exploit for Microsoft’s Silverlight software. You really need to read that article on the end of the ‘case’ link there but, if very briefly, what Costin did was carefully examine certain hacker-leaked email correspondence (of ‘Hacking Team’: hackers hacking hackers; go figure!) published in a detailed news article to put together out of practically nothing a YARA rule, which went on to help find the exploit and thus protect the world from all sorts of mega-trouble.

So, about these YARA rules…

Graduates receive a certificate confirming their new status as a YARA ninja. Previous graduates say it really does help in their professional career

We’ve been teaching the art of creating YARA rules for years. And since the cyberthreats YARA helps uncover are rather complex, we always ran the courses in person – offline – and only for a narrow group of top cyber-researchers. Of course, since March, offline training have been tricky due to lockdown; however, the need for education has hardly gone away, and indeed we’ve seen no dip in interest in our courses. This is only natural: the cyber-baddies continue to think up ever more sophisticated attacks – even more so under lockdown. Accordingly, keeping our special know-how about YARA to ourselves during lockdown looked just plain wrong. Therefore, we’ve (i) transferred the training format from offline to online, and (ii) made it accessible to anyone who wants to do it. For sure it’s paid, but the price for such a course at such a level (the very highest:) is very competitive and market-level.

Introducing! ->

Read on…