A Quick Note…

A quick note to all the Republican partisans complaining about possible voter fraud: where were you in 2000 and 2004? Chickens come home to roost in politics. Remember how the GOP leaders said that Diebold voting machines being made by a strong GOP backer wasn’t an issue? Remember how the GOP leaders said that the claims of black voters being incorrectly identified as felons was overstated? Remember when a few Florida ballot boxes turned up with plenty of Republican votes, sometimes more than were registered in the precinct? Chickens coming home to roost.

Sure, this election is on track to be pretty much handed to Clinton, maybe even in a big way – Texas might go purple, if not blue. A lot of that is Trump’s fault, plain and simple. He’s highly offensive to a majority of Americans, more so than Clinton. But if the Democrats do anything shady or even illegal to slant the results in their favor, don’t come crying to me about it. The way 2000 and 2004 played out basically condoned mild to moderate voter fraud from the top on down.

I’m an independent voter that has been hugely disappointed with both major parties since the 1990s, and it sickens me how they have allowed the political process to be increasingly criminalized and the politicians to be telemarketers selling their votes to the biggest donors. I’ll agree that Clinton’s campaign has been doing some awfully sleazy things, but to any Republican – you have met the enemy, and she is y’all.

America’s Awful Nightmare

Watching the debate last night, I was chilled when I heard Trump say that if he was president, Clinton would be in jail. Trump has set off a number of fascist alarms, and this was his newest one. But to make such threats openly and then to have them resonate with a significant population of Americans is what bothers me the most.

While I do believe that Clinton escaped prosecution because of her position and influence, as have a large number of other rich and powerful Americans, I do not believe that making naked threats about jailing political opponents is the right way of dealing with that issue. I’ve spoken out against the quiet jailing of political prisoners in the USA, but this is a new one. For a major political party’s candidate to call for the pitchforks and torches to go after his opponent is an appeal to mob rule. That is most certainly not the American way.

I don’t care how big a threat one may think Clinton is, America will survive. It always has. We made it through the constitutional end-runs of Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton I, Bush II, and Obama, we can survive a Clinton II. At least all those people gave lip service to the ideals of the Constitution. Trump does not. He makes open appeals to white supremacists and fascists and he does not apologize for them. I truly hope that he loses, but that does not solve the problem of his supporters.

There are people who support Trump precisely because of his sexism, racism, and fascism. There are people who support Trump precisely because of his strong-man views and the hope that he may very well sweep aside the constitutional framework of our government and change the USA into something more on the lines of what Mussolini wanted in Italy or Vargas in Brazil or Peron in Argentina. If Trump fades from view, these people will seek out another flashy personality with no love of any truth that stands in his path to power. They will seek out that man and put him forward, and they will recruit.

And this is what concerns me about a Clinton presidency: that it will do little to still the currents that are drawing Americans towards fascism. FDR was able to offer an alternative to extremism with his New Deal. LBJ and Reagan also offered up big ideas in big packages and gave presidential turns that appealed to a wide range of Americans. Clinton I was the last of the big-tent presidents. Starting with Bush II, we have had presidents that have ruled without reaching out to the opposition, and that is a bad precedent for a president.

The resulting legislative gridlock and rule by executive order plays into the hands of fascists. If they like an executive order, it shows to them the promise of a more powerful leader. If they do not like an executive order, they howl murderously about how they have no more rights – but they will gleefully toss all those rights aside to get someone in office that will put their opponents in their places, no matter what. A Clinton II presidency will only make the fascists look for a more presentable proponent of their ideas. What we need is another FDR, LBJ, or even a Reagan to bring all of America back together to the negotiating table. Failing to do that will only strengthen the ranks of the fascists.

Open for Business

Vernon Washington punched the call button for a fleet car. Per regulations, he set his watch for atmospheric sampling. Planes were on fire, fuel dumps had been hit, who knows what else was fouling up the air? External drives in the pockets, camera in the contact lens, radio in the earpiece, everything else was ready for gathering information.

Vernon stepped out of Terminal D and into the waiting fleet car. “Datacenter, evasive.” Debris everywhere, smoke hovering over the eastern terminals, psyops staff walking around with man-portable loudspeakers, alarms sounding, fire and emergency crews everywhere… the only thing missing from the scene were the screams of the mourners. Vernon wasn’t in that response crew, though. Those sights were for someone else’s nightmares.

The car made its way deliberately to the datacenter building. It was almost totally new, shining in its energy-efficient, up-do-date architecture. Vernon made a silent bet with himself about how many old problems were simply moved from the old DC into the new that were involved in this breach. He was pretty sure there were thousands of problems, but how many were involved in today’s disaster? Vernon counted on his fingers… five.

The car pulled up to the curb. Vernon got out and the car went to go park itself. A guy with a DFW staff badge was there to greet Vernon. “You the guy with [REDACTED]?”

Vernon tapped the badge above his left shirt pocket. “I’m a federal agent. Are you my escort?”

The guy went from cocky to sheepish in a flash. His name badge read “Edwin Lu”. He badged in and held the door for Vernon. Vernon rolled his shoulders and walked up to the reception desk. “Do you need me to sign in?”

“No, we’re just coming up to my office.”

Wrong answer, Edwin. Vernon stayed by the desk. “I wasn’t really asking. Where’s the visitor ledger?”

Edwin smirked in puzzlement as he produced a ledger. “You’re not auditing us, are you?”

“No, I’m not. But you probably should expect one very soon in light of today’s events. Security is all the rules, all the time, documenting when they’re bent or broken.”

Edwin’s expression indicated that the business culture here hadn’t been stressing security for at least some time…

As they approached Edwin’s cube, Edwin grabbed a chair out of a conference room. “This is more comfortable.” Vernon was thankful for the comfy chair, but felt a little uneasy about how the “Do not remove chairs from conference rooms” sign was ignored. Still, he only expected five problems for this breach.

“OK, Edwin, do you use a RADIUS server for authenticating your wireless devices?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s take a look at the configurations. See if there are any new entries on the MAC bypass list.”

“OK…” Edwin started up a console to look at the RADIUS server. “Uhm… how will I be able to tell if the entries are new? They’re all sorted alphabetically.”

“How about a change log?”

“Um, OK…” Edwin clicked on Tools > Security > Admin Log.

The screen filled up with times, dates, usernames, and changes. Edwin and Vernon leaned forward and squinted. As they read, another log entry popped up at the top of the screen. Vernon asked, “Do you have circular logging enabled?”

“Ah… well, I dunno.”

Vernon assumed that meant yes. “Copy all the admin log files to a backup directory. Now.”

“Well, we do backups every night at 3 AM.”

“This is different. Copy them now. As in now.” Vernon didn’t want to say NOW: it was better for the working relationship if he didn’t go all caps on the guy. “It’s for forensics.” Vernon felt better when he added the why.

“OK then, just a sec.” Edwin went to the directory on the RADIUS server where the logfiles were kept and did a CTRL+A CTRL+C move and then did a CTRL+V to copy them to his local PC. “Yeesh. This is gonna be a while.”

“True. But now we have a copy of them from this time.” Vernon looked at the three newest entries in the logfile. They were identical, each 90 seconds apart. Unable to reach device at 10.9.177.12. Most likely a switch or wireless controller that had been deactivated long, long ago and nobody bothered to tell the RADIUS server. “Edwin, any way we can filter those out?”

“Well… I only know how to find stuff in this interface, not unfind them.”

“All right then, page down. We gotta read this over until we know what we’re looking for.”

“Why not check the SOC for unauthorized access events?”

“Because I’m betting dollars to donuts this is authorized access.”

“What, one of us did it?”

“Keep it down, Edwin. I’m not accusing anyone. I have no data, for starters.”

Page down. Page down. Page down. Page down. Those 90-second intervals really pile up, don’t they?

Hang on… “OK, highlight that.” Vernon pointed at a line on the screen that had nothing to do with 10.9.177.12. Edwin clicked on it, putting a nice blue tint on the text. The text noted that WANNA.SAMUE added a few addresses to the MAC bypass list.

The voice said in Vernon’s ear, “We’re getting it just fine. Maintain distance.” Good, the camera was working.

Edwin asked, “Sam did this?”

“Who’s Sam?”

“One of the security admins. Sam Wannamaker. That’s his account.”

“OK, noted. But let’s not jump to conclusions. That’s his account, probably wasn’t him. Look at the timestamps on those events.” Those addresses were added around 6:15 AM, last Saturday. “This guy Sam, when does he usually work?”

“9 to 6, like most of us. We didn’t have any changes scheduled for Saturday.”

“Is he in today?”

“Yeah, you want him?”

“Not yet, what’s the IP of where Sam logged in from?”

Edwin scrolled to the right on the logfile display. 10.1.1.15. “That’s our jump box for DC access.”

“OK, we need to check the event log on that box for where someone logged in with Sam’s account.”

“You want to do that now?”

“Yes, now. Can you hit that box from here?”

“Sure, just a sec.” Edwin fired up an RDP session to 10.1.1.15. A little while later, he had the event viewer up and filtered for logon events. 6:15 on Saturday showed that WANNA.SAMUE logged in from 84.246.99.90.

“Hold the screen there, sir.” Vernon awaited the voice in his receiver.

“That’s the University of Zagreb Computing Center.” Thank you, voice.

Chances were, Sam wasn’t in Croatia over the weekend. And whoever was in Zagreb or connected to a device in Zagreb, that was for the people next to the voice in the earpiece to resolve. Vernon was here to document what had gone on at DFW. For that, he asked Edwin, “Do you guys remote in to this jump box normally?”

“Yeah. Makes it easy for us.”

“Do you VPN in for it?”

“Well, no, not always. Our VPN’s been really unstable for the last, like, year… and we don’t always want to have to drive in to do work.”

“So…?”

“So it’s opened up on the firewall.”

That was one. Sam’s account was two, dollars to donuts. “Let’s go see Sam. He sit near here?”

“He’s two rows over.” Edwin led the way. When they arrived, “Hey, Sam, this is…”

“Vernon Washington.” Let Edwin give the rest of the info.

“Vernon Washington, a federal agent. He’s here investigating, the, uh, thing today.”

Vernon smiled. “Hi Sam. I want to get directly to the point. Can we take a look in your email?”

Sam was too confused to be scared about that question. “Umm, OK.” Sam brought up his email client. “What do you want to look for?”

“Can you search for emails with links in them?”

“Ummmmmm… yeeaaaaaah… yeah. Here we go.” Sam typed the filter into the search box. Tons of marketing emails popped up in the results.

“We need to look at all of these, from before this last Saturday morning. Say before 7am.

“OK.” Sam’s cooperation was pretty natural, not typical for a suspect. Which made sense, since Vernon didn’t suspect Sam the man. Just Sam the account.

The procedure was straightforward: look at the link in the email. Ask Sam if he clicked on it. Hover over the link and see if it goes to where the email claimed it would go. If nothing noteworthy came up, move on to the next email. As it turned out, Sam ignored almost all of the marketing stuff. Lots of looking, lots of scrolling…

Then there was the email from Rhonda, the group coordinator. Sam had clicked on the link and the hovering mouse said it was to an IP address that was nowhere inside the company.

The voice in the earpiece said, “Nothing there now, but it was in Argentina.”

Vernon counted the third problem. No spear phishing training. Or if there had been training, Sam here was in the 1% of computer users that training had no effect on. Sam had clicked on the link, provided a credential, someone used it to try the RDP box open to the Internet, got in and set up the MAC addresses of the grenade launchers to be permitted on the wireless network… and this jump box would also be a likely point of origin for the signals sent to the passenger vans and grenade launchers alike.

Two more openings to find.

First, Vernon collected pertinent files on his external drive. As he made the copies, he asked, “Who’s in charge of the passenger vans?”

Sam and Edwin looked at each other. Sam said, “Facilities?”

That wasn’t going to get anywhere. “How about the IP range for the vans?”

Sam clicked around and brought up the IP management interface. A few more clicks and he had the answer. “10.100.100.0/24.”

Vernon asked, “How about doing an SSH to an address in that range?”

Sam tried. He got a connection refused error message.

Vernon groaned inside. “Try telnet.”

When that made a connection, Vernon asked Sam, “Do you know the username and password to use?”

“No.”

“Try admin/admin.”

Sam typed and got in. Everyone felt ashamed that it had worked, and on the insecure telnet protocol, to boot. Vernon figured whoever was able to send commands to the vans didn’t even have to try – just being in the area would allow anyone to get an unsecured copy of everything sent to the vans. Not just the default, unchanged username and password, but also the commands used to maneuver the vehicles. Pretty darn handy.

And that default credential set was problem number four. One more to go, and that would be no limitation on what devices could send commands to the vans. Obviously, that was wide open.

There wasn’t much more Vernon could do. He made some small talk with Sam and Edwin, handed out cards, asked them to contact him if they had any more informa- say, the lights were flickering.

Then they went out. The air conditioning also cut out. But the computers and monitors didn’t. Vernon made a guess that the power wasn’t cut – something else was getting messed up.

Edwin asked, “What the hell’s going on?”

Vernon made a guess. Given the state of security there, it was a pretty good guess to make. “You guys got licensed hardware?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, check your licenses. Betcha someone’s zeroed them out. You really need to change those default admin passwords.” Vernon figured he’d gather some more data while he was here. It wasn’t his first license blasting case to investigate, that was for sure…

Copypasta

The man opened his laptop and entered his password. His hard drive spun and programs flicked back on. The laptop re-established its network connection – wired only, the man didn’t trust wireless – and packets began to flow between his PC and the rest of the world. One consequence of that traffic was a notification that he had new email. The man noted that, while he had 12 new emails in his inbox, he had 2 in his “Action Items” folder.

As he was about to open the folder, he heard a crash of dishes from the kitchen. Without getting up, he demanded, “What is going on in there? Is anything broken?”

“Maddie opened the dishwasher too hard!”

“Nu-uh!”

“Uh-huh!”

The girls continued to argue as the man minimized his email and went into the kitchen. His voice was probably too stern for the occasion, but the man was under pressure. He had action items to address. “Get the dishes done, and get them done quietly. I am very busy and I don’t want any noise. Maddie, be more careful when you open the dishwasher. Laney, you are the older sister, so you should keep a better eye on Maddie and help her more.” The girls were about to cry. The man’s heart softened. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled like that. I love you all. Let’s hug.”

And so, they hugged. Maddie, Laney, and the man resolved their issues through reassuring human contact and then went back to work. The girls on their dishes, and the man on his action items.

He first opened a text file. Then he opened the action item emails. In turn, he copied the contents of the emails and pasted them into the text file. Then he deleted the emails. Then he emptied out his deleted items folder. The man knew that this wasn’t a complete deletion of that information, since a digital ghost of it existed on his local hard drive, in addition to whatever the [REDACTED] picked up in its [REDACTED] program. And, since the emails came from Minsk, there were other agencies besides [REDACTED] that would have their copies.

But the data in motion on the Internet and the data at rest was encrypted, so the man knew that nobody would try to break into it unless it was on somebody’s radar, and that wouldn’t be until someone put the pieces together to a very difficult puzzle. After all, it wasn’t against the law to receive emails from Minsk.

That was the fun part about the United States legal system. The whole thing was built around either catching someone in the act of committing a crime, or amassing enough evidence to prove that a criminal act had been committed by a particular criminal. Just as corporations were more efficient at doing business than single proprietors or partnerships, they were also more efficient at committing crimes: no single person did anything that, of itself, was a crime. Instead, the actions of dozens of people had to be connected in order to demonstrate a pattern of behaviors that produced criminal activities. But could the law catch those people? Or did it want to keep to the easier crimes?

The man laughed to himself. Wall Street got the King’s Pass to perpetrate financial crimes on a grand scale, while those mom-and-pop operations, be they corner grocers or corner meth labs, got crushed by legal regulations and the big boys alike.

The man knew he was part of a big operation. He just didn’t know what it was. He liked doing the work. Criminal operations tended to be very libertarian and very agile. He felt empowered to make decisions, was glad his compensation was 100% salary, and had access to the best tools money could buy. The man didn’t need to submit expense reports but did so, anyway, as part of his cover story. The best part was that the cover story was no cover at all – he really [i]was[/i] an IT security consultant that worked from home.

There was the matter of who, exactly, the employer was. The man did not know and did not care. It was like the Algerian FLN. The man got messages from one source and sent his messages to another source. Given the level of obfuscation between the sources, the man felt it highly unlikely that he would meet the same fate as the FLN in Algiers after the French forces broke into the movement’s structure and methodically tracked down each cell.

Time was money. The girls had finished their post-lunch chore and were watching purple dinosaurs engaging in situational ethical discourses with red furry monsters or something like that. The man returned to his task.

The text file showed a list of IP addresses with notations beside them, a handy comma in between the addresses and the comments, in case he needed to view the information as a spreadsheet. The man just liked the text file because it loaded faster.

The information came from the boys in Minsk that scanned and probed IP address ranges. They asked no questions and desired no answers. They just ran their NMAP scans and followed up where they found interesting things, like open RDP ports or SMTP relays, both of which were of interest to the people that had employed the man to use that information.

The man was involved because some people were interested in employing someone with very good English language skills to send emails to some native English speakers. Since the man was both a native English speaker and in possession of an email client, he was a perfect fit for the job. The man also knew a thing or three about how to customize search strings and gathering intel from social media networks.

The man started to scroll through faces and resumes of men and women that worked at the two airports mentioned in the action items. Open RDP ports at DFW and LAX meant his employers would gain remote access to IT systems at those airports if they knew the accounts and passwords to use. Brute force attacks would fail, generate alerts, and generally lead to undesired consequences. The man disparaged such methods, as his were far more elegant and productive.

And that’s where the SMTP relay came into play. Thanks to small businesses constantly starting up, there was an infinitely regenerating supply of unsecured email servers that would allow anyone accessing them to impersonate anyone else with only a minimal knowledge of how to configure an email client. Yes, it could also be done from a command-line interface, but the man needed to send rich content with links and documents – it was a total pain to try and cobble those together in a command-line environment. The man hated programming and wanted to be as far from it as possible, preferring to send his carefully-worded emails from a GUI. It was simply more elegant that way.

As the girls shifted from animated philosophy to that damn game with the irritating soundtrack, the man tried to block the annoying tune from his consciousness as he looked over org charts for DFW staff assignments. The link to those PDFs had been deleted, but not before Google found it, indexed it, and indexed the document so linked, which was still open to the Internet even if the page that once linked it was now a 404 page not found…

And there she was! The man had the name he needed. He highlighted it, pressed CTRL+C, went back to the text document and –

– he saw his wife pulling into the carport. She was back from the grocery store, so the man knew he only had seconds. He clicked at the end of the text block, hit CTRL+V, then comma, and then “admin asst dfw”. CTRL+S saved the info and Windows+L locked his laptop.

The man got up to open the door for his wife, who had two handfuls of plastic bags. She said, “There’s ice cream on the back seat. And milk. Get that first.”

Once the groceries were in, the man went back to his PC while his wife put away groceries and got the girls started on sorting laundry. A password later, and he was ready to get started on his background research for his first email. Rhonda Emerson had a number of promising interests, wine tasting the most promising of them all. It was most promising because the man already had a bogus wine tasting club website set up, along with websites that dealt with beers, cigars, whiskeys, chocolates, travel, running, golf – all the vices. Funny thing was, a username and password to get into one would get into all of them, since they all had the same database driving them. The man didn’t mind. They were only there to gather usernames and passwords.

The best part was the follow-up email. That potentially gave him one of the most important pieces of information: the business email signature of his target. If the target didn’t put a sig on replies, he had another ruse to get the target to send a new email, but most people had a sig on every email.

Rhonda Emerson must have been thinking about the weekend, because that email and account info showed up awfully fast. The man copied and pasted the sig into a draft email that was going to bounce off the relay and into the inbox of one of the people that she served as an administrative assistant/coordinator to.

Hello Ryan,
Harvey Wright would like us to update his SharePoint with all the accounts we use for access to jump boxes, network gear, servers, etc. This is part of the Integrated Account Management initiative. The link to the SharePoint is here.

Kind regards,
Rhonda Emerson
IT Group Coordinator
214-555-1212

The man had composed this email in a second email client. In it, he specified the SMTP relay as his server and Rhonda’s address as the “to”. The man didn’t care about the replies. He just wanted the info to be sent to the SharePoint that was set up on a typosquatting website, and hoped that the admin would fall victim to the spear phishing.

Just to make sure, the man copied and pasted the email body to several other emails, each going to a member of the team that Rhonda supported – taking care to edit the name after “Hello”. The first one to submit the info would be the winner.

As things turned out, Samuel Wannamaker was the most prompt at supplying the information. He just posted the spreadsheet that he kept with all the system names, IP addresses, and shared accounts for getting into them. Thank you, Samuel.

The man got that info at 4:23. The wife leaned into the open doorframe and asked, “You almost done in there?”

“Just wrapping up a few things, hon.”

“You want to pick up something for supper? I’m tired.”

“Sure, what do you want?”

“Food. I don’t care. I’m going to go lay down for a while.”

“OK, I’d like to snooze a little myself before going out.”

“How about Chinese?”

“Sounds good.” The man started to drift back to work.

The wife moved into the foyer. “I’ll go ask Laney and Maddie what they want.”

As the wife asked the kids, the man already knew the answer. Chicken fried rice for Laney and beef lo mein for Maddie. He copied and pasted Samuel Wannamaker’s spreadsheet into an email from his first email client and sent it to someone who was interested in usernames and passwords for systems at DFW airport. The man didn’t know what exactly what was going to happen with that information, or the information he’d already collected for Atlanta or for the information he was about to collect for LAX. The man just planned on not flying anywhere for any reason for a few months.

The man responded to a few more emails and then watched a cat video on YouTube. Life was good, working for people that liked to collect usernames and passwords.

Interrogating Captives

It was a busy day at [REDACTED]. Any day that four major airports experienced coordinated attacks would be a busy day at [REDACTED], given how it handled [REDACTED] for the entire [REDACTED] in the US of A. Shuttle van mortar attacks at LAX, DFW, and Atlanta; taxi car bombs at Reagan International. It was going to be a busy day for many, many days at [REDACTED]…

Dinah White left the briefing room and glanced at her tablet. Cube FR-227C. She was going to work with whoever was in that cube on DFW intel. Full network packet captures, courtesy of [REDACTED].

OK, FR-227C… that was on this floor… a check of cube numbers… and they’re going that way, so the cube is on the left. She turned left and walked past five rows, then turned right and went all the way to the last cube on the right, just before the wall.

The nameplate said “Chandni Kapoor.” Cool, another woman. Dinah did not spend much time contemplating this victory for women in the IT workplace because she had a job to do. So she knocked on the metal on top of the cube wall. Chandni finished the last two words of her email, sent it, and swiveled in her chair to face Dinah.

Dinah smiled. “You ready for this?”

Chandni nodded. “There’s nobody in the cube behind you, so you can grab that chair.” Dinah grabbed said chair and moved it into Chandni’s cube. Chandni fired up her Wireshark and loaded the capture file from the DFW Airport shuttle van SSID. It was a beast-size file, six hours of capture, 137 MB of TCP, UDP, EAPOL, ICMP, and beacon frames. This was no teevee show dealing with h4xx0rz. This was reality, all 137 MB of it.

And Chandni knew how to deal with it. “How do you want to slice this up? Hour by hour?”

Dinah had another thought. “I’d like to filter on a MAC address of one of the vans, see if we can find suspicious traffic, and then see if it matches on other van MACs.”

Chandni inspected her screen. She highlighted frame number 20. No particular reason. It just looked like a good frame to start with. “Start with this one?”

“Sure.”

Chandni right-clicked the destination MAC address and selected to filter on it. “OK, let’s get lunch.” They both laughed a little. This was going to take a while. Chandni didn’t like dead air. “Who do you think did this?”

Dinah shook her head. It didn’t pay to speculate at [REDACTED]. “No idea. I like to keep my mind clear. We don’t want a preconceived notion to color our results. We deal with the evidence that’s here, not the evidence we want to be here to prove our hunch right.”

Chandni looked a little beat-down. Dinah immediately regretted coming down like a hardass. “It could have been anyone, really. You know how these vans run, so you’ll tell me who did it, when you know. I’m just here to be another pair of eyes for management.”

Chandni smirked a tiny smirk. Dinah went for a closer. “And, hey, if you really want to find something in a mess, send two women, am I right?” That got Chandni to laugh and the working relationship on better footing.

Wireshark finished its work and then Chandni went to the filter field and typed in the || to add the condition to also filter on that MAC address as a source. Wireshark thrashed accordingly. Once the filters were complete, she exported the packets – about 2% of the total capture – to a new PCAP file. She closed the original file and opened up the much more manageable 3 MB capture.

There were still over 100000 packets, but that was much more preferable than what was packed into the original capture. Chandni started paging down through the packets, focused on source and destination addresses. It wasn’t three pages before she noticed something. “It’s all coming and going from that address there.” She pointed at the address in question. “What is that, the main control station or something?”

Dinah scrolled through her briefing materials on her tablet. “What are the last four letters in that address?”

“45CB.”

Dinah found an address that ended with those letters and squinted back and forth from Chandni’s screen to her tablet to confirm that, yes, it was a wireless tower. “Go ahead and cut that from the capture. Both source and destination. See if there’s an outside source sending instructions.”

Chandni filtered and then they both went through the remaining packets, filtering further on conversations with legitimate DFW towers. They got to the last 2300 packets, and they were all to and from the tower in Terminal D, where the van’s movement had been halted by an agent with an EMP gun that had happened to be on the scene. Chandni let go of her mouse and leaned back in her chair. “All the traffic was from the towers. Nothing outside.”

Dinah didn’t like that, either. Outside source of transmissions would have made things easier. She did not relish trying to sort commands from authentication and keepalive traffic in this stream and then seeing if there was a matching pattern in the other vans’ traffic. Ugh.

“Umm… what about the grenade launchers in the vans? When did they start firing?” Chandni had a great idea.

“Load up the main capture, and let’s take a look at the moment everything started firing. Better, chop off the last 20 minutes and look there. If the things weren’t integrated in the van systems, and I’ll bet they weren’t, I’ll say you’re right in about half an hour, when we see the commands.”

Chandni never loaded a massive capture file with more enthusiasm than she did at that moment. She went to the end of the capture, scrolled up to 1200 seconds before the time of the last packet, highlighted a frame, hit SHIFT CTRL END and became crestfallen when her keyboard shortcut-fu failed to highlight the packets she wanted to export.

She left the last packet highlighted, scrolled up to the packet 1200 seconds before the last one, SHIFT-clicked and got the right packets selected. Stupid Wireshark. Deep down, she knew the program wasn’t to blame, but, like everyone in IT, felt better about things when she cursed the computer.

Dinah read off known MAC addresses of the passenger vans and Chandni filtered them out, one by one, until only a few hundred packets remained. Communications to and from the grenade launchers. Chandni exulted, “High five!”

Dinah returned the gesture, taking special care to look at Chandni’s elbow, so as to not mess up the celebrations. But, in that moment of analytical-mindedness, she had a realization. “Hang on, how did the grenade launchers get on the shuttle van SSID?”

Chandni and Dinah pored over the re-authentication traffic that happened as the weapons moved between tower coverage areas. That traffic was more fascinating to them than the commands sent over the wireless to activate them. These things were getting RADIUS-Accept packets from the wireless controller, like they were supposed to be on that network. Who set them up with that kind of access? And the command and control IP address – that was somewhere on the inside of DFW sending the commands.

Filtering on the C&C IP address, Chandni showed it was the source of all the communications, vans and weapons alike. How did that get set up?

For all the network captures at [REDACTED], Dinah figured that not one of them would answer that question or any of the others that came up after the high-five. Someone was going to have to get into DFW’s RADIUS server setup and look over its settings. Hopefully, whoever permitted the weapons on the network didn’t erase the admin logs. And then, there was the matter of the C&C server embedded in DFW’s infrastructure…

But that was for someone else to dig into. Dinah kept focus. “Get the capture of the C&C traffic off to [REDACTED] and let them see if it’s a pattern anywhere else in [REDACTED] or anywhere else we’re [REDACTED] the routers.”

“Is it usable? I mean, it’s encrypted and there’s no guarantee the guy sending it didn’t use Tor or a randomizer on the order the packets were sent. Or stuff like that.”

“Oh, it’s usable. Have you had a class in side-channel traffic analysis?”

“No.”

Dinah smiled. “You should sign up for one. Amazing stuff. Everyone at [REDACTED] should take it. Be sure to get [REDACTED] as your instructor. I had him, and he’s [REDACTED].”

Chandni, thankful for the career advice nodded and said, “[REDACTED]” And then, she emailed the C&C traffic to [REDACTED] while Dinah placed a call to the lead agent on the scene at DFW.

Ranking Seinfeld

Before going to sleep, I like to watch an episode or two of Seinfeld to unwind. I like that series in general because there’s very little in it that gets me in trouble. Shows about married guys making mistakes can be way too stressful, as my wife may transfer the mistake on teevee to me. Not good. No, the guys in Seinfeld are different enough from me that I can count on them to do stuff I’d never do. Hence, it’s great to unwind to.

It’s also one of the best comedy series ever done. Nine seasons of classic comedy. Well, more or less…

See, that’s why I’m ranking them. I have seen other people’s lists and they don’t ring true. They pick episodes because of a cultural impact or because they remember some aspect vividly. I don’t see any criteria used for judging. Without criteria, any system of ranking is flawed. My system is based upon awarding up to 30 points per episode. Here’s how it breaks down:

MAJOR CHARACTERS: Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine can each score up to 3 points per episode, one point per third of the episode as a general rule. Truly exceptional blow-ups, outbursts, etc. can warrant a 4th point – so far, I’ve only awarded that 4th major character point in two episodes, one for Kramer dumping cement into a washing machine (exceptional physical comedy) and one for Elaine’s attempted eviction of a do-nothing boyfriend, culminating in her celebrated “Van Wyck” monologue. That’s it. Everything else can top out at three. To earn a point, the major character basically has to have a decent chunk of lines. If all the character does is play straight man, no point for that third.

In the first season, there are episodes in which a major character appears and has nothing but dud lines. That’s the low end of the scale, for sure.

OTHER CHARACTERS: When other characters make life difficult for Jerry and the gang, the show powers ahead with comedy gold. When the other characters just go on dates with Jerry and the gang, the show tanks. This isn’t a relationship comedy. It may be a show about nothing, but we need to see how even crazy, colorful, larger-than-life characters can get sucked into the nothingness. When the others show up and crack wise, the show is richer for it. Up to five points per episode can go towards what other characters do.

DIALOGUE: When we get those extra zingers, the episode scores dialogue points. This is more than just a great scene: this is a great line, that we want to repeat over and over in order to relish. Up to five points per episode go towards the “No soup for you!”-type lines.

SITUATIONS: For a show about nothing, we still need great situations for the characters to not learn from or to grow personally from. These are the situations that become cautionary fables, the plots to collect cans in New York and drive them to Michigan, the plan to buy back the Cadillac from Jack Klompus, the need to bring Mr. Steinbrenner a calzone. Each major character can score a point for a great situation that they fall into: if all the situations tie into each other, or one goes over the top, situation point number 5 can be scored.

PERVERSE ENDING: Season one tied things up by the end of the show and we were left with nothing to talk about during the closing credits. Later seasons realized the potential for having fate deal one last blow to the characters. They would not learn a moral lesson from these things, but they would potentially sharpen their animal instincts in knowing what to avoid in the future. Up to three points can go towards George showing up in the coffee shop wearing a sheet, Susan licking the envelopes, or an Ohio farmgirl pledging her love to Norman…

ENOUGH ALREADY: Penalty points, no limit on them. When I’m watching an episode and going, “Enough already with this” over a scene or a bit, I take a point off. Season one is loaded with these moments of pain as we endure Jerry or George having a normal date with a normal person that’s just going bad by a little bit. We need things going off the rails. We need explosions on the launch pad. We need avalanches and landslides, not rainy weekends in Vermont.

That’s my rubric. It is somewhat subjective, true. However, it allows me to justify my rankings for the shows and to let me see what’s needed to make a show truly epic instead of just good. I’ll write more about my rankings in the coming days, since I’ve got this spreadsheet of numbers and totals and I might as well get into the science of comedy with this data I’m collecting.

Travel Advisory

Najib Khan saw it happen with his own eyes and still didn’t completely believe that it had happened. Not one, not two, not three or even four… at least ten… autonomous passenger vans with holes in their roofs, firing off a full magazine of grenades. He’d used a Mk19 grenade launcher before, fighting the Naxalites, so he didn’t have to count how many grenades each van fired off. It was either 32 or 48, most likely 48, given where he stood.

He didn’t stand long in his room in the DFW Airport Hyatt Regency, with its view of the gritty service roads and the parkway that ran through the middle of the airport. He was already in the hallway when he heard the first screams of horror and in the elevator before anyone hit the fire alarm. Let the others take the stairs.

It was obvious, so obvious… automatic grenade launchers in passenger vans. Nobody checks the shuttle vans as they go back and forth from the terminals to the remote lots. They’re so boring, so predictable, so beneath the contempt of the CISOs and security architects. When hackers hit, they figure, they’re going to come at us right through the firewall, you can bet your boots on that. Trouble is, when physical security is compromised, those vans are the weakest link in the security chain.

The elevator opened out to the lobby where there were people milling around, wondering if it was just a drill or the real thing. Most of the staff were disoriented, not expecting alarms to go off in the middle of the day. Nobody expects alarms. They’re either showing up once in a million years or so often they’re ignored. Najib made his way to the parking lot entrance, hoping to get out before somebody noticed the Muslim from India at the scene of a terrorist attack. If he took time to flash his badge, it would possibly mean the difference between life and death for some innocent.

Najib did a little math in his head as he jogged towards his rental car. If those vans were cruising at normal speed, they would have fired all their grenades over a length of 2 kilometers – two terminals, one grenade per 40 meters or so from each van. Ten vans meant a grenade every 5 or 6 meters, spread out over the length of the airport.

Najib’s car had been backing out to meet him. It stopped near him and opened a door. Najib got in and said, “Terminal E. Arrival gates.” He took a chance that the vans would double back into the airport after their southbound grenade run. Whether they were programmed or under remote control, it didn’t matter. Job one with a rogue vehicle was shutting it down before it went into a crowd like a vengeful bull in Pamplona. Forensics would figure out the how after men like Najib put an end to the what, thereby limiting the how much…

Najib rolled down his window and then reached for the large suitcase next to him. Just his luck, he was in Dallas to show his wares in a training session for a local cadre of federal security agents. Time for the live demo. He pulled out an EMP gun and put a suction cup on the back of his phone and mounted it so it would have a good view of whatever he took a shot at.

It would have been ideal for the rental to be able to go against the flow of traffic, but rentals were always sticklers for traffic laws regarding that sort of thing. But there was one edge he’d have over the passenger vans. A single word, uttered by a human. “Emergency.”

Now the thing would drive faster than permissible. Najib was in for a rough ride if a pedestrian stepped in front of his vehicle, but at least the walker would live. If the pedestrian avoidance system was deactivated in those vans, the same person wouldn’t stand a chance, even at low speeds.

Najib’s car pulled up near one of the vans in the arrival level. It was making straight for a family entering the crosswalk. Just in time. Najib yelled out “Slow!” and as the rental slammed its brakes to match the speed of the van, side by side, Najib fired his EMP gun at pointblank range. Two seconds of rattling electric sounds, and the passenger van failed closed, slowing down to halt gently in front of the crosswalk. The family had halted, not knowing what to do, and Najib barked out “Terminal C, Arrivals. Emergency!” Off the rental sped.

As the rental lurched around a corner, it came up directly behind a passenger van, leaving E on its way up to C. Najib waited until the road joined with the main artery and his car could pass it and then – whammo! Directional EMP at its finest as a second van rolled off to the side, immobilized.

As the rental entered the curve for Terminal C, Najib heard a collision and the tt-cheh, tt-cheh! sound of antipersonnel rounds ahead of him. Smoke rose from the arrivals area. Najib knew he was too late for Terminal C, so he shouted, “Terminal D, Arrivals, Emergency!” and the rental swerved away from what Najib knew would be a grim scene of twisted metal and bodies both crushed by the van and then ripped into by the flechette of the explosives.

The rental sped across the overpass to D and Najib could see more smoke coming up, both near and far. Given the density of the ordnance, it was likely that multiple planes were on fire along with their gates, luggage, and anyone unfortunate enough to be onboard. Further off, what was most likely a storage tank fire belched particularly acrid and odious clouds of doom.

But there was no time to think – Najib’s rental was pulling alongside another roofless van and Najib nailed it from 50 meters. It was stone cold dead by the time the rental passed it. Najib had one more shot and he wanted to make it count. Terminal D hadn’t been hit, and it was the furthest along from where the vans had been. The rental parked at an available spot near a pickup area and Najib rolled down the other window and shifted to fire out of the left side of the car. No van appeared, so Najib took a chance and moved his camera to cover that back angle.

Luck was with Najib, no question. Not ten seconds after his camera was in place, another van of death came around the curve. Najib saw the mines mounted on its sides and bit the inside of his lip. It approached at normal speed… 100 meters… 90… 80… 70… 60… good enough.

TATATATATATATATATATATATATA, and it was all over for that van. Four for four for Najib. That was all he could do, so he took his phone down and left his rental for the nearest security station to report on what he had seen and what he had done.

Given the state of alarm, Najib held his federal badge up high, as that was the best way to reduce the chance that a supervisor would have to explain to the FNG why it was best to not shoot at fellow government employees…

The Seven Samurai

Once a week, we watch films together as a family. My wife and I want to share the culture we appreciated in our youth with our children. Next week, we plan to see Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai.

If you have not seen it, I strongly recommend it. It is an awesome experience. It’s not a film to watch with distractions around you – focus on it, and be rewarded. The acting is powerful, the cinematography masterful, and the story is compelling. Yes, it’s over 3 hours long. Plan ahead! It is worth the effort. There are lessons in the story, many lessons, but they emerge organically, not from some didactic pedant at the helm. The film is honest and even brutal at times, but it is ultimately about life and, therefore, to be honest it must be the way that it is.

The Math of the US Senate

For all the bombast of presidential candidate supporters, they fail to admit that, unless one of the major parties has fewer than 41 senators, it’ll be a cold, cold day before there’s a new Supreme Court justice. There’s no compromise there, and given that a party with 41 or more senators can just say “filibuster” to kill a bill, halt a nomination, or spoil some other plan of the majority party.

It doesn’t matter which party has the majority in the Senate. That party needs a supermajority to get anything done. I have to admit this, as well. I’d like to see what happens if a Libertarian is in the White House, maybe he could open up negotiations… but he’d only be able to get his way if the Senate agrees. Same for either major party candidate, and they have the burden of having the other major party making it its sworn duty to oppose all the way, unless a major bank needs a bill passed. Then they all come together.

Maybe that’s what I can use to defuse effusive supporters of any candidate: without that Senate, he or she will have to rule by executive order. Obama wanted stuff done, and had to resort to executive orders. So did Bush the Second. So will the next president, if he or she wants stuff done. It’s all due to the math of the Senate.