Essays Tagged "Computerworld"

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The Curse of the Secret Question

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Computerworld
  • February 9, 2005

It’s happened to all of us: We sign up for some online account, choose a difficult-to-remember and hard-to-guess password, and are then presented with a “secret question” to answer. Twenty years ago, there was just one secret question: “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” Today, there are more: “What street did you grow up on?” “What’s the name of your first pet?” “What’s your favorite color?” And so on.

The point of all these questions is the same: a backup password. If you forget your password, the secret question can verify your identity so you can choose another password or have the site e-mail your current password to you. It’s a great idea from a customer service perspective—a user is less likely to forget his first pet’s name than some random password—but terrible for security. The answer to the secret question is much easier to guess than a good password, and the information is much more public. (I’ll bet the name of my family’s first pet is in some database somewhere.) And even worse, everybody seems to use the same series of secret questions…

Information Security: How Liable Should Vendors Be?

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Computerworld
  • October 28, 2004

An update to this essay was published in ENISA Quarterly in January 2007.

Information insecurity is costing us billions. We pay for it in theft: information theft, financial theft. We pay for it in productivity loss, both when networks stop working and in the dozens of minor security inconveniences we all have to endure. We pay for it when we have to buy security products and services to reduce those other two losses. We pay for security, year after year.

The problem is that all the money we spend isn’t fixing the problem. We’re paying, but we still end up with insecurities…

Cryptanalysis of MD5 and SHA: Time for a New Standard

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Computerworld
  • August 19, 2004

At the Crypto 2004 conference in Santa Barbara, Calif., this week, researchers announced several weaknesses in common hash functions. These results, while mathematically significant, aren’t cause for alarm. But even so, it’s probably time for the cryptography community to get together and create a new hash standard.

One-way hash functions are a cryptographic construct used in many applications. They are used with public-key algorithms for both encryption and digital signatures. They are used in integrity checking. They are used in authentication. They have all sorts of applications in a great many different protocols. Much more than encryption algorithms, one-way hash functions are the workhorses of modern cryptography…

The Witty Worm: A New Chapter in Malware

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Computerworld
  • June 2, 2004

If press coverage is any guide, then the Witty worm wasn’t all that successful. Blaster, SQL Slammer, Nimda, even Sasser made bigger headlines. Witty infected only about 12,000 machines, almost none of them home users. It didn’t seem like a big deal.

But Witty was a big deal (see story). It represented some scary malware firsts and is likely a harbinger of worms to come. IT professionals need to understand Witty and what it did.

Witty was the first worm to target a particular set of security products—in this case Internet Security System’s BlackICE and RealSecure. It infected and destroyed only computers that had particular versions of this software running…

Technology Was Only Part of the Florida Problem

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Computerworld
  • December 18, 2000

In the wake of the presidential election, pundits have called for more accurate voting and vote counting. To most people, this obviously means more technology. But before jumping to conclusions, let’s look at the security and reliability issues surrounding voting technology.

Most of Florida’s voting problems are a direct result of “translation” errors stemming from too much technology.

The Palm Beach County system had several translation steps: voter to ballot to punch card to card reader to vote tabulator to centralized total. Some voters were confused by the layout of the “butterfly” ballot and mistakenly voted for someone else. Others didn’t punch their ballots in such a way that the tabulating machines could read them…

Why Computers Are Insecure

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Computerworld
  • November 1999

A shortened version of this essay appeared in the November 15, 1999 issue of Computerworld as “Satan’s Computer: Why Security Products Fail Us.”

Almost every week the computer press covers another security flaw: a virus that exploits Microsoft Office, a vulnerability in Windows or UNIX, a Java problem, a security hole in a major Web site, an attack against a popular firewall. Why can’t vendors get this right, we wonder? When will it get better?

I don’t believe it ever will. Here’s why:

Security engineering is different from any other type of engineering. Most products, such as word processors or cellular phones, are useful for what they do. Security products, or security features within products, are useful precisely because of what they don’t allow to be done. Most engineering involves making things work. Think of the original definition of a hacker: someone who figured things out and made something cool happen. Security engineering involves making things not happen. It involves figuring out how things fail, and then preventing those failures…

Clipper Gives Big Brother Far Too Much Power

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Computerworld
  • May 31, 1993

In April, the Clinton administration, cleaning up business left over from the Bush administration, introduced a cryptography initiative that gives government the ability to conduct electronic surveillance. The first fruit of this initiative is Clipper, a National Security Agency (NSA)-designed, tamper-resistant VLSI chip. The stated purpose of this chip is to secure telecommunications.

Clipper uses a classified encryption algorithm. Each Clipper chip has a special key, not needed for messages, that is used only to encrypt a copy of each user’s message key. Anyone who knows the key can decrypt wiretapped communications protected with this chip. The claim is that only the government will know this key and will use it only when authorized to do so by a court…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.