Tuesday, June 12, 2012
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This one might be as hard to extinguish as a California wildfire.
For a primer, read our Stuxnet article that appeared in the April 10th edition of GCFlash. You can find it here.
Now that you have the gist of the scope of cyber warfare, multiply it by 20. You now have the size and complexity of Flame, aka Flamer or sKyWIper.
Stuxnet's 500K of code looks like child's play compared to Flame's 20MB. Security firm Kaspersky Lab has found at least 20 modules embedded. McAfee reports that one of its smaller modules "is over 70,000 lines of C decompiled code, which contains over 170 encrypted strings."
It will take experts a long time to fully understand this beast.
But what they already know is frightening. Flame is the first malware to communicate back to its master and deliver different payloads based on the server's response. It's a live program. And because payloads are individualized, traditional heuristic virus scanning is useless. Standard keyword strings and file signatures don't exist so the malware goes undetected.
And it has for five years now. That's how long experts believe it's been in circulation in Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, Israel/Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Eight cases have recently been found in the U.S.
Like Stuxnet, Flame is spread through an autorun.inf file on a flash drive. It can remain dormant on your machine forever if it doesn't find information linking you to Middle Eastern government or working on weapons research.
So most of you reading this column have nothing to worry about. Except its capabilities. Because if Flame can exhibit this behavior, somewhere down the road another threat will do the same. One that doesn't care what industry you're involved with.
Flame can trick PCs into accepting a fake Windows Update. This allows it to circulate itself automatically without being detected, infecting virtually any system it encounters.
Microsoft identified this potential only last week, and immediately took action to counter. If you've been putting off installing the most recent Windows update, DO IT NOW!
The exploit works by forging a signature on an unauthorized security certificate. The operating system reads it as trusted and allows the fake Windows Update to automatically install. Security experts are calling this the Holy Grail of malware.
Until Flame's massive code is deciphered, we won't know just how much damage it can inflict. But we already know it's capable of reporting on network resources, stealing specific files, detecting and evading over 100 security products, capturing screens, recording audio, exploiting Bluetooth connections and much more.
Flame was developed for espionage. In fact, researchers now believe it to be Stuxnet's counterpart. Where Stuxnet was created to perform cyber sabotage, Flame is a complex cyber espionage tool.
Kaspersky Lab researchers believe the developers of both Stuxnet and Flame worked together at one point in time. Three Stuxnet variants have been discovered. The first one, Stuxnet.A, bears code almost identical to Flame.
Cyber warfare of this magnitude can only be created by a government. This is already an accepted fact. Very few countries have the knowledge and resources to develop something of this nature. And the fact that Stuxnet and Flame both target Iran's nuclear enrichment program narrows down the list of countries who have something to gain by doing so.
Both the Israeli and U.S. governments have already claimed responsibility for the act.
But is this a wise move? Why not let mystery shroud its creator? Preventing rogue nations, such as Iran, from deploying nuclear weapons is undoubtedly a noble cause.
Yet that same nation must also claim responsibility for whatever collateral damage may occur. And that may come at a price nobody wants to pay.
What has over 40 million users that don't even know it exists?
This isn't a trivia contest. There's no prize for anyone who guesses correctly.
Give up yet? It's Google Drive and you probably don't even know you're using it. This is Google's answer to services such as Dropbox, SkyDrive and Box.
The cloud-based storage service was launched April 24, 2012. But Google Docs users had a head start.
Google Drive allows you to access your files from anywhere and share them with anybody. Choose who can view, edit or comment on each file.
It can serve as a backup so your files are protected when your hard drive crashes or you accidentally overwrote something you later need. It tracks every change you make - look back as far as 30 days automatically or choose a revision to save forever.
You can view over 30 file types right in your browser and even open files in programs you don't have installed on your computer.
Choose which of your folders to sync on Google Drive.
Sounds pretty cool. But. Now for the downside.
The majority of PC users who rely on Microsoft Office will find this a bit of a hassle. Files have to be saved as Google Docs. So you'll have to export your Office document to the appropriate Google Docs version. If your file contains a lot of formatting, you'll have a lot of tweaking to do to make it look presentable once more.
Cloud based storage simply means your files are saved on your chosen Internet server rather than your local computer. You visit a web site to find them safely waiting for you, wherever you may be.
So unless you saved a local copy to your PC, you can't access the file unless you're online. Google Chrome browser users can install an extension that allows you to edit Google Docs files offline. But those using a different browser will have to find their own solution.
You're out of luck should your internet service down. You won't be able to access your docs until you're back online.
Same thing if the server where your docs are stored experiences an outage. Your files remain inaccessable. And you had better hope the service you chose has a good backup system. Files can corrupt or get lost if a server stops unexpectedly.
And it isn't just hardware failure that can wreak havoc. What if someone hacks into the system just to prove that they can? Your files are at risk.
Cloud-based storage can be a good thing. It can provide convenience, flexibility and security.
Just understand the risks and take preventative action. Keep local backup copies of valuable documents. Choose a reputable provider. Restrict access to those that have a need for any particular file.
The effort may prove worthwhile if you get a frantic call from your boss and can zip him off a file while you're relaxing on the beach.
Technically, the U.S. economy remains in recovery. However, the rate of GDP growth is so anemic that the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high - higher than during the last several recessions. Remember, it takes about 2.5 percent annual GDP growth for unemployment to remain unchanged. So growth rates would need be about 3 percent or better for unemployment to diminish. For the past four years, GDP growth rates have been lower, and in some cases much lower than that level, hence the job crisis.
So even though the economy continues to grow, albeit barely, many of the nation's jobless are simply losing hope. Some analysts state that the official U.S. unemployment rate currently above 8 percent would be nearly double that amount when those who have thrown in the towel looking for work are counted. By any estimate, this is a very bad situation.
So why doesn't the economy rebound as it has after every other recession in modern times? Huge and sustained uncertainty. Business involves risk, and taking risks is often avoided in periods of great uncertainty. I would accept as a dictum that private enterprise is the only engine of true job growth. And with Europe on the verge of collapse under a mountain of debt, and the U.S. racking up debt at rates rivaling those during World War II (both completely unsustainable situations), the risks continue to grow.
Business leaders know this, and as a result companies have amassed cash and paid off debt at astonishing rates - always a sign of uncertainty. Households have also joined the fray. Economists call this "deleveraging."
One Fortune 500 CEO was quizzed about the excessive liquidity his company had amassed on the balance sheet and he responded by explaining that his company was "keeping their powder dry." Multiply this sentiment times the nearly six million businesses and 115 million households in the US and it is no wonder why hiring has languished.
Is there a bright spot? Maybe. Like creative destruction, deleveraging is healthy, although painful in the short term. As individuals and corporations restructure their balance sheet with less debt, there are greater funds available for constructive pursuits (from funds previously reserved for interest payments). Constructive pursuits usually involve hiring. It is a pity that the government's hiring binge is greatly offsetting the new found frugality of the private sector.
Regardless, the only constituency who is harmed during deleveraging are those living off interest payments. As the demand for funds is so low, the price paid for borrowed funds also remains very low. You may have noticed this phenomeomon if you priced a CD at your local bank lately.....
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