First Day Fail | TechSNAP 45

First Day Fail | TechSNAP 45

A first day on tech job war story, that’s as rough as they get! Plus details on recent doubt researchers have cast around the fundamental security technology behind SSL.

Plus: Microsoft was caught storing customer passwords in clear text, we’ve got the story, and some questions!

All that and more, on this week’s TechSNAP!

Thanks to: – the digital game distributor with a difference.

Get 10% off if you buy 2 or more games like Wing Commander 3 and Syndicate Use our codes TechSNAP10 to save 10% at checkout, or TechSNAP20 to save 20% on hosting!

Super special savings for TechSNAP viewers only. Get a .co domain for only $7.99 (regular $29.99, previously $17.99). Use the GoDaddy Promo Code cofeb8 before February 29, 2012 to secure your own .co domain name for the same price as a .com.

Pick your code and save:
cofeb8: .co domain for $7.99
techsnap7: $7.99 .com
techsnap10: 10% off
techsnap20: 20% off 1, 2, 3 year hosting plans
techsnap40: $10 off $40
techsnap25: 25% off new Virtual DataCenter plans
Deluxe Hosting for the Price of Economy (12+ mo plans)
Code:  hostfeb8
Dates: Feb 1-29


Direct Download Links:

HD Video | Large Video | Mobile Video | MP3 Audio | OGG Audio | YouTube


Subscribe via RSS and iTunes:

Show Notes:

Only 99.8% of the worlds PKI uses secure randomness

  • PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) is a type of encryption system known as asymmetric cryptography
  • This means there is one key used to encrypt data, and then a different key is used to decrypt the data
  • In the RSA algorithm, a public/private key pair are generated by selecting two large prime numbers and multiplying them together. This value serves as the modulus (n) for both the public and private keys
  • Then a public exponent (e) is selected, typically 65537 because it was found to provide more efficient encryption
  • The private exponent (d) is then calculated as: (d*e)mod φ(n) = 1 Euler’s totient function
  • An encrypted message (c), is calculated by turning the plaintext message (m) in to an integer, using a padding algorithm: c = m^e (mod n)
  • To decrypt the message: m = c^d (mod n)
  • This all seems relatively simple, one just has to remember the scale of the numbers being computed, in a 2048bit RSA key like the one used by your bank or, each of the prime numbers has over 300 digits, and then you multiply them together.
  • Researchers have found that some RSA keys in use on the internet had the same modulus (meaning they were using the same secret prime numbers). This means that the two parties that happen to end up using the same key, could compromise each other
  • The researchers also found some public keys where it was possible to compromise the private key
  • Overall, many of the compromisable keys appear to belong to expired certificates and old PGP keypairs, and the danger to modern properly generated RSA keys is much lower
  • Rebuttal by Dan Kaminsky
  • New York Times Coverage
  • Research Paper

Cryptome hit by blackhole exploit kit

  • Cryptome is a popular and long standing document repository for whistle blowers and others interested in secret information
  • From the site: “Cryptome welcomes documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance – open, secret and classified documents – but not limited to those. Documents are removed from this site only by order served directly by a US court having jurisdiction. No court order has ever been served; any order served will be published here – or elsewhere if gagged by order. Bluffs will be published if comical but otherwise ignored.”
  • On February 8, an attacker managed to upload some PHP code to serve an some malicious javascript that inserted an iframe and loads an attack site that exploits a vulnerability in Internet Explorer. The PHP code specifically avoids serving the exploit when the requesting IP comes from google or a number of other web scanners designed to detect malware, to avoid getting the infected sites blacklisted
  • By February 14, 16:30 UTC, all files had been restored from backup
  • Symantec has offered to help investigate the attack
  • The malware is very common and accounts for a large portion of all infected websites found on the internet
  • The exact vector that was used to infect the site is not yet known
  • Details Analysis
  • Additional Coverage
  • Official Announcement with extensive details

War Story:

This week we have another in the series of war story sent in by Irish_Darkshadow (the other other Alan)

I joined IBM in February 1999 as a tech support agent for US Thinkpad (laptop) support. The training regime in those days was 7 weeks long with the final 5 weeks each being dedicated to hands on experience with a different product family / line. The call center had two support sections – Aptiva (IBM desktops for home users) and Thinkpad (IBM laptops for business & home users). The most technical staff from Aptiva were usually moved onto Thinkpad support before too long as that was the flagship brand.

Major emphasis during the training for Thinkpad support was placed on never resorting to a reload to solve an issue. We had solid problem solving technique driven into us constantly for the 7 weeks. The only caveat was that if the support call exceeded 1 hour then we should ask a team leader for permission to escalate the case to 2nd level support. I got the distinct impression that to do so was an admission of defeat and the only exception with passing your case over to 2nd level was if there was some procedure or fix that required advanced skills or registry changes.

My first shft was coming in at 16:30 until 01:30 from Monday to Friday which was typical for supporting US based users. For my first few hours on the floor I simply call shadowed an existing agent to get a feel for the type of calls and how they were handled. Immediately prior to joining IBM I had been running my own computer shop but my partner swindled funds from the company and I shut it down and made my money doing freelance work until I got the “I’m pregnant” revelation from my girlfriend and decided a steady paycheck was a smarter option. This gave me a major ego when it came to these mere tech support calls compared to my level of experience and that bit me in the ass on my first time out of the gate.

I finished up my call shadowing and went to my own desk, set up my applications for creating the tickets. My workstation was a P166 running OS/2 Warp 4.0…awesome eh? So once I was settled in I hit the Avail button on my phone and awaiting my first US user encounter. It only took a minute or so for a call to come in then I dished out the scripted greeting “Thank you for calling the IBM PC Help Center. My name is Alan with Thinkpad support. How may I help you?”. Then you let the user give the opening details, capture anything that might be relevant….ask for computer type and serial number to assess warranty status and from there it’s just problem determination.

The user had just picked up a 3Com PCMCIA network card and the thinkpad wouldn’t detect it properly. It was a Win95 preload and the user seemed savvy enough to have installed the drivers properly but nonetheless, I made him go through the entire process again with me listening in. Nothing seemed to be at fault. I got the user to go into Device Manager (making sure the other agents around me could hear what an absolute BOSS I was being in handling this call). Once there I asked if he could see an entry for the card and he did, as suspected it had an exclamation mark beside it. In my head I started to jump forward to possible causes like memory address space conflicts, IRQ conflicts, corrupted drivers or even operating system updates that might be needed to support such a high tech card (yep, I said it…1999…it WAS high tech damn it!). I reckoned that the IRQ conflict was the most likely starting point and asked the user to check the IRQ view in Device Manager and tell me what he saw. As he described the device tree to me I got that sinking feeling. The one were you know that the next thing you are going to do is going to make you look like a complete and total tit in front of the colleagues that you have just been showboating for. The user had explained to me that every single hardware entry in the IRQ list showed the status of “In Use By Unknown Device”. There is only 1 explanation for that – corrupted registry. I had two choices….#1 was to do a user.da0 and system.da0 restore from DOS mode and #2 was admit defeat and reload the machine. #1 was not something that IBM wanted agents doing so I bit the bullet and called 2nd level support to explain. It turned out that the 2nd level support guy was floor walking near my seat and had heard EVERYTHING. He swaggered over with an evil smirk and told me to reload the system. My first call turned into the one solution that we were absolutely NOT supposed to resort to. To cap it all off the 2nd level guy finished with “I’ll be keepin’ an eye on you Elliott. A close eye.” and at that point the only phrase going through my head was “bollocks drink feck arse girls diddy wank!”. And so began my tech support career.


Question? Comments? Contact us here!