Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Mac Command Line: Turning Apps into Commands

I moved to MacOS X because it offers both a unix command line and graphical interfaces, and I almost exclusively use the command line as I switch between tasks. If you use a terminal and aren’t familiar with the open command, I urge you to take a look. I tend to open documents with open […]


Diagrams in Threat Modeling

When I think about how to threat model well, one of the elements that is most important is how much people need to keep in their heads, the cognitive load if you will. In reading Charlie Stross’s blog post, “Writer, Interrupted” this paragraph really jumped out at me: One thing that coding and writing fiction […]


Phishing and Clearances

Apparently, the CISO of US Homeland Security, a Paul Beckman, said that: “Someone who fails every single phishing campaign in the world should not be holding a TS SCI [top secret, sensitive compartmentalized information—the highest level of security clearance] with the federal government” (Paul Beckman, quoted in Ars technica) Now, I’m sure being in the […]


Towards a model of web browser security

One of the values of models is they can help us engage in areas where otherwise the detail is overwhelming. For example, C is a model of how a CPU works that allows engineers to defer certain details to the compiler, rather than writing in assembler. It empowers software developers to write for many CPU […]


On Language

I was irked to see a tweet “Learned a new word! Pseudoarboricity: the number of pseudoforests needed to cover a graph. Yes, it is actually a word and so is pseudoforest.” The idea that some letter combinations are “actual words” implies that others are “not actual words,” and thus, that there is some authority who […]


Conference Etiquette: What’s New?

So Bill Brenner has a great article on “How to survive security conferences: 4 tips for the socially anxious .” I’d like to stand by my 2010 guide to “Black Hat Best Practices,” and augment it with something new: a word on etiquette. Etiquette is not about what fork you use (start from the outside, […]


IOS Subject Key Identifier?

I’m having a problem where the “key identifier” displayed on my ios device does not match the key fingerprint on my server. In particular, I run: % openssl x509 -in keyfile.pem -fingerprint -sha1 and I get a 20 byte hash. I also have a 20 byte hash in my phone, but it is not that […]


Think Like An Attacker? Flip that advice!

For many years, I have been saying that “think like an attacker” is bad advice for most people. For example: Here’s what’s wrong with think like an attacker: most people have no clue how to do it. They don’t know what matters to an attacker. They don’t know how an attacker spends their day. They […]


What to do for randomness today?

In light of recent news, such as “FreeBSD washing Intel-chip randomness” and “alleged NSA-RSA scheming,” what advice should we give engineers who want to use randomness in their designs? My advice for software engineers building things used to be to rely on the OS to get it right. That defers the problem to a small […]


A Quintet of Facebook Privacy Stories

It’s common to hear that Facebook use means that privacy is over, or no longer matters. I think that perception is deeply wrong. It’s based in the superficial notion that people making different or perhaps surprising privacy tradeoffs are never aware of what they’re doing, or that they have no regrets. Some recent stories that […]


The Psychology of Password Managers

As I think more about the way people are likely to use a password manager, I think there’s real problems with the way master passwords are set up. As I write this, I’m deeply aware that I’m risking going into a space of “it’s logical that” without proper evidence. Let’s start from the way most […]


1Password & Hashcat

The folks at Hashcat have some interesting observations about 1Password. The folks at 1Password have a response, and I think there’s all sorts of fascinating lessons here. The crypto conversations are interesting, but at the end of the day, a lot of security is unavoidably contributed by the master password strength. I’d like to offer […]


Gamifying Driving

…the new points system rates the driver’s ability to pilot the MINI with a sporty yet steady hand. Praise is given to particularly sprightly sprints, precise gear changes, controlled braking, smooth cornering and U-turns executed at well-judged speeds. For example, the system awards maximum Experience Points for upshifts carried out within the ideal rev range […]


Happy Data Privacy Day! Go check out PrivacyFix

It’s Data Privacy Day, and there may be a profusion of platitudes. But I think what we need on data privacy day are more tools to let people take control of their privacy. One way to do that is to check your privacy settings. Of course, the way settings are arranged changes over time, and […]


Can Science Improvise?

My friend Raquell Holmes is doing some really interesting work at using improv to unlock creativity. There’s some really interesting ties between the use of games and the use of improv to get people to approach problems in a new light, and I’m bummed that I won’t be able to make this event: Monday Dec […]


When an interrupt is important

So it’s cool that this “S.M.A.R.T” stuff tells the computer when the hard drive is failing. The next step in user interface is to take the message out of /Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility and into an interruptive UI, so that I don’t discover this problem when I happen to get an extra drive for backup. I know […]


Does 1Password Store Passwords Securely?

In ““Secure Password Managers” and “Military-Grade Encryption” on Smartphones: Oh, Really?” Andrey Belenko and Dmitry Sklyarov write quite a bit about a lot of password management tools. This is admirable work, and I’m glad BlackHat provided a forum for it. However, as a user of 1Password, I was concerned to read the following about that […]


Threat Modeling and Risk Assessment

Yesterday, I got into a bit of a back and forth with Wendy Nather on threat modeling and the role of risk management, and I wanted to respond more fully. So first, what was said: (Wendy) As much as I love Elevation of Privilege, I don’t think any threat modeling is complete without considering probability […]


Emergent Map: Streets of the US

This is really cool. All Streets is a map of the United States made of nothing but roads. A surprisingly accurate map of the country emerges from the chaos of our roads: All Streets consists of 240 million individual road segments. No other features — no outlines, cities, or types of terrain — are marked, […]


The 1st Software And Usable Security Aligned for Good Engineering (SAUSAGE) Workshop

National Institute of Standards and Technology Gaithersburg, MD USA April 5-6, 2011 Call for Participation The field of usable security has gained significant traction in recent years, evidenced by the annual presentation of usability papers at the top security conferences, and security papers at the top human-computer interaction (HCI) conferences. Evidence is growing that significant […]


"Towards Better Usability, Security and Privacy of Information Technology"

“Towards Better Usability, Security and Privacy of Information Technology” is a great survey of the state of usable security and privacy: Usability has emerged as a significant issue in ensuring the security and privacy of computer systems. More-usable security can help avoid the inadvertent (or even deliberate) undermining of security by users. Indeed, without sufficient […]


Dear AT&T

You never cease to amaze me with your specialness. You’ve defined a way to send MMS on a network you own, with message content you control, and there’s no way to see the full message: In particular, I can’t see the password that I need to see the message.


Black Hat Slides

My talk at Black Hat this year was “Elevation of Privilege, the Easy Way to Get Started Threat Modeling.” I covered the game, why it works and where games work. The link will take you to the PPTX deck.


SOUPS Keynote & Slides

This week, the annual Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) is being held on the Microsoft campus. I delivered a keynote, entitled “Engineers Are People Too:” In “Engineers Are People, Too” Adam Shostack will address an often invisible link in the chain between research on usable security and privacy and delivering that usability: the […]


Facebook Links

Some worthwhile reads on Facebook and privacy: Facebook’s Privacy Reboot: Is That all You’ve Got for Us? “The devil is in the defaults” Entire Facebook Staff Laughs As Man Tightens Privacy Settings


It's Hard to Nudge

There’s a notion that government can ‘nudge’ people to do the right thing. Big examples include letting people opt-out of organ donorship, rather than opting in (rates of organ donorship go from 10-20% to 80-90%, which is pretty clearly a better thing than putting those organs in the ground or crematoria). Another classic example was […]


The Liquids ban is a worse idea than you thought

According to new research at Duke University, identifying an easy-to-spot prohibited item such as a water bottle may hinder the discovery of other, harder-to-spot items in the same scan. Missing items in a complex visual search is not a new idea: in the medical field, it has been known since the 1960s that radiologists tend […]


Can I see some ID?

Or, Security and Privacy are Complimentary, Part MCVII: Later, I met one executive who told me that at the same time of my incident at another restaurant owned by the corporation, a server was using stolen credit card numbers by wearing a small camera on him. He would always check ID’s and would quickly flash […]


Pay for your own dog food

At Microsoft, there’s a very long history of ‘eating your own dogfood’ or using the latest and greatest daily builds. Although today, people seem to use the term “self-host,” which seems evidence that they don’t do either. Eating your own dogfood gives you a decent idea of when it starts to taste ok, which is […]


Toyota Stalks Woman, Claims She Consented

In a lawsuit filed Sept. 28 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Amber Duick claims she had difficulty eating, sleeping and going to work during March and April of last year after she received e-mails for five days from a fictitious man called Sebastian Bowler, from England, who said he was on the run from the […]


Rebuilding the internet?

Once apon a time, I was uunet!harvard!bwnmr4!adam. Oh, harvard was probably enough, it was a pretty well known host in the uucp network which carried our email before snmp. I was also harvard!bwnmr4!postmaster which meant that at the end of an era, I moved the lab from copied hosts files to dns, when I became […]


Perfecter than Perfect

So I’m having a conversation with a friend about caller ID blocking. And it occurs to me that my old phone with AT&T, before Cingular bought them, had this nifty feature, “show my caller-ID to people in my phone book.” Unfortunately, my current phone doesn’t have that, because Steve Jobs has declared that “Apple’s goal […]


Twitter Bankruptcy and Twitterfail

If you’re not familiar with the term email bankruptcy, it’s admitting publicly that you can’t handle your email, and people should just send it to you again. A few weeks ago, I had to declare twitter bankruptcy. It just became too, too much. I’ve been meaning to blog about it since, but things have just […]


My Wolfram Alpha Demo

I got the opportunity a couple days ago to get a demo of Wolfram Alpha from Stephen Wolfram himself. It’s an impressive thing, and I can sympathize a bit with them on the overblown publicity. Wolfram said that they didn’t expect the press reaction, which I both empathize with and cast a raised eyebrow at. […]


Mr Laurie – Don’t do that

Ben Laurie has a nice little post up “More Banking Stupidity: Phished by Visa:” Not content with destroying the world’s economies, the banking industry is also bent on ruining us individually, it seems. Take a look at Verified By Visa. Allegedly this protects cardholders – by training them to expect a process in which there’s […]


Joseph Ratzinger and Information Security

Joseph Ratzinger (a/k/a Benedict XVI) made some comments recently made some comments that got some press. In particular, as Reuters reports: “Pope in Africa reaffirms ‘no condoms’ against AIDS.” Quoting the story, “The Church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop AIDS.” Many of you are likely […]


Understanding Users

Paul Graham has a great article in “Startups in 13 Sentences:” Having gotten it down to 13 sentences, I asked myself which I’d choose if I could only keep one. Understand your users. That’s the key. The essential task in a startup is to create wealth; the dimension of wealth you have most control over […]


The New Openness?

This photograph was taken at 11:19 AM on January 20th. It’s very cool that we can get 1 meter resolution photographs from space. What really struck me about this photo was.. well, take a look as you scroll down… What really struck me about this is the open space. What’s up with that? Reports were […]


Cryptol Language for Cryptography

Galois has announced “” Cryptol is a domain specific language for the design, implementation and verification of cryptographic algorithms, developed over the past decade by Galois for the United States National Security Agency. It has been used successfully in a number of projects, and is also in use at Rockwell Collins, Inc. … Cryptol allows […]


As easy as dialing a phone

People often make the claim that something is “as intuitive as dialing the phone.” As I was listening to “Dave Birch interviewing Ben Laurie,” I was reminded of this 1927 silent film: Ben commented on people having difficulty with the CardSpace user interface, and it not being as intuitive as having your email address being […]


Working Through Screens

Jacob Burghardt has a very interesting new ebook, “Working Through Screens.” If one was to summarize the status quo, it might sound something like this: when it comes to interactive applications for knowledge work, products that are considered essential are not always satisfactory. In fact, they may be deeply flawed in ways that we commonly […]


Virgin America

I flew Virgin Atlantic for the first time recently, for a day trip to San Francisco. I enjoyed it. I can’t remember the last time I actually enjoyed getting on a plane. The first really standout bit was when the Seattle ground folks put on music and a name that song contest. They handed out […]


SDL Announcements

I’m in Barcelona, where my employer has made three announcements about our Security Development Lifecycle, which you can read about here: “SDL Announcements at TechEd EMEA.” I’m really excited about all three announcements: they represent an important step forward in helping organizations develop more secure code. But I’m most excited about the public availability of […]


Blaming the Victim, Yet Again

John Timmer of Ars Technica writes about how we ignore dialog boxes in, “Fake popup study sadly confirms most users are idiots.” The article reports that researchers at the Psychology Department of North Carolina State University created a number of fake dialog boxes had varying sorts of clues that they were not real dialog boxes, […]


The Discipline of "think like an attacker"

John Kelsey had some great things to say a comment on “Think Like An Attacker.” I’ve excerpted some key bits to respond to them here. Perhaps the most important is to get the designer to stop looking for reasons attacks are impossible, and start looking for reasons they’re possible. That’s a pattern I’ve seen over […]


Think Like An Attacker?

One of the problems with being quoted in the press is that even your mom writes to you with questions like “And what’s wrong with “think like an attacker?” I think it’s good advice!” Thanks for the confidence, mom! Here’s what’s wrong with think like an attacker: most people have no clue how to do […]


Hans Monderman and Risk

Zimran links to an excellent long article on Hans Monderman and then says: When thinking about human behavior, it makes sense to understand what people perceive, which may be different from how things are, and will almost certainly be very different from how a removed third party thinks them to be. Traffic accidents are predominantly […]


Lessons for security from "Social Networks"

There are a couple of blog posts that I’ve read lately that link together for me, and I’m still working through the reasons why. I’d love your feedback or thoughts. A blogger by the name of Lhooqtius ov Borg has a long screed on why he doesn’t like the “Social Futilities.” Tyler Cowan has a […]


I’m Certifiably Wrong

So there’s some great discussion going on in the comments to “Certifiably Silly,” and I’d urge you to read them all. I wanted to respond to several, and I’ll start with Frank Hecker: Could we take the cost issue out of this equation please … [Adam: I’m willing to set it aside, because the conversation […]


Silver Bullet podcast transcript

I know there’s a lot of people who prefer text to audio. You can skim text much faster. But there are also places where paper or screens are a pain (like on a bus, or while driving). So I’m excited that the Silver Bullet Podcast does both. It’s a huge investment in addressing a variety […]


Jonathan Ive's Sharia Style

I was on a business commuter flight the other day, which was also the maiden voyage of my MacBook Air. I had it out before takeoff. This was an international flight and I was in bulkhead. On international flights, they’re not as strict about not having your laptop on your lap during takeoff. This flight […]


Visualizing Risk

I really like this picture from Jack Jones, “Communicating about risk – part 2:” Using frequency, we can account for events that occur many times within the defined timeframe as well as those that occur fewer than once in the timeframe (e.g., .01 times per year, or once in one hundred years). Of course, this […]


Uncle Harold and Open Source

Uncle Harold (not his real name, not our real relationship, and I never even called him “Uncle”) was a cool guy who always fixed his own cars. Most of my life, Uncle Harold has been complaining. It used to be you could actually fix a car. You could put things in, take them out, adjust […]


Context, please!

Chess masters will sometimes play chess against a dozen or more competitors at once, walking from board to board and making a move. The way they do this isn’t to remember the games, but to look at the board, and make a decent (to a master) move each time. They look at the board, get […]


Working on the Traveling Band

If you travel a lot, you’re used to dealing with many network difficulties. For a while now, I’ve been traveling with an Airport Express, which has made life a lot easier. I set it up to use DHCP, plug it into the hotel Ethernet, and go. At the very least, it means I can work […]


How to Blog a Talk

Blogging about your own presentations is tough. Some people post their slides, but slides are not essays, and often make little sense without the speaker. I really like what Chris Hoff did in his blog post, “Security and Disruptive Innovation Part I: The Setup.” I did something similar after “Security Breaches Are Good for You: […]


Ceremony Design and Analysis

Carl Ellison has been doing some really interesting work on what he calls Ceremonies: The concept of ceremony is introduced as an extension of the concept of network protocol, with human nodes alongside computer nodes and with communication links that include UI, human-to-human communication and transfers of physical objects that carry data. What is out-of-band […]


Family Guy Does Usability

A funny clip for Saturday. I can’t figure out how to embed the video here, so click on the picture to be taken to Gizmodo.


The Visual Display of Quantitative Lawsuits

So the Boston Globe has this chart of who’s suing whom over failures in the “Big Dig:” (Click for a bigger version) What I find most fascinating is that it’s both pretty and pretty useless. Since just about everyone is suing everyone else, what would be perhaps more interesting is a representation of who’s not […]


Investment Opportunity of the Year

El Reg reports that Microsoft claims to be sticking to its timetable for shutting down XP. No fewer than three people told me yesterday, “This means I have to buy that Mac Book Pro this year. They can’t be alone. I have several co-workers running Vista running on laptops, and even without the overhead of […]


Phriday Phish Blogging: Randomly Flagged

One of the things I really appreciate about phishing is that we pay people to discover the zeitgeist and share it with us. There’s little spam advertising fallout shelters or other ways to deal with the Red Menace. I rarely see advocacy about bimetallism in the currency in my inbox. We see what we see […]


More On Secure Banking

Continuing our tradition of bringing you the news before it’s fit to print, Chris covered “The Emperor’s New Security Indicators” in “Why Johnny Can’t Bank Safely.” Don’t miss Andrew Patrick’s “Commentary on Research on New Security Indicators,” Alan Schiffman’s “Not The Emperor’s New Security Studies,” or Alex’s “Bad Studies, Bad!” As an aside, Chris used […]


Advances in Conference Usability

A little bird reports that at the Usable Security Conference they handed out conference proceedings in PDF form on a flash drive. I’m told that the flash drive was cheaper than printing on paper. I hope this trend spreads, as I’m always lugging back paper from conferences along with the inevitable bag or t-shirt. Flash […]


Let’s Stop Cutesy Names for Attacks

Orwell said it best in “Politics and the English Language,” and if you haven’t read him recently, you should. Abuse of the language has adverse effects on thought, and it’s true in security as well as politics. He gives some wretched examples and says of them: Each of these passages has faults of its own, […]


Why Johnny Can’t Bank Safely

Stuart E. Schechter, Rachna Dhamija, Andy Ozment, and Ian Fischer have written a paper which examines the behavior of persons doing on-line banking under various experimentally-manipulated conditions. The paper is getting some attention, for example in the New York Times and at Slashdot. What Schechter, et. al. find is that despite increasingly alarming indicators that […]


Friday Phish Blogging: Bank of America

Today’s Friday Phish blogging comes to you pretending to be from Bank of America: It appears here in our system that you or a wrong person is usually trying to log into your account, in nine differnt occasions have you or (person) provided us a nearly correct answer to your site-key challenging question, of which […]


Dave Molnar, Call Matt Blaze

Dave Molnar has some good comments on ‘Stolen ID Search.’ He writes, starting with a quote from “ben:” “I can’t believe you are advocating typing your ssn or credit card into a mystery box.” That’s “ben”, commenting at TechCrunch on Stolen ID Search, a service from Trusted ID that will tell you if your social […]


There are three types of authentication

They are: Something you’ve lost, Something you’ve forgotten, and Something you used to be. Here is a sad tale of a man who has a failure on (3), realizes he’s done (2), and his solution to the problem. It’s a classic tale of how more is often less when it comes to security. Lest you […]


More on Godin and Tufte

There’s another good article on Juice Analytics, “Godin, Tufte, and Types of Infographics:” (hey, guys, where are the author names? Author names only show in RSS, not the web page?) Tufte frustrates on a number of levels. He is enormously influential in business. Businesses send people to his seminars and they come back energized with […]


The Two Minute Rule for Email and Slides?

So I’ve been discomfited by the thoughts expressed by Tom Ptacek and the Juice Analytics guys over what presentations are for, and a post over at Eric Mack’s blog, “A New Two Minute Rule for Email.” The thing that annoys me is the implicit assumption that all issues should be broken down into two minute […]


Tufte, Godin, Juice Analytics

Juice Analytics comments on “Godin’s take on Tufte:” (Godin) I think this is one of the worst graphs ever made. He’s very happy because it shows five different pieces of information on three axes and if you study it for 15 minutes it really is worth 1000 words. I don’t think that is what graphs […]


One Graph, Zero Credibility

Let’s see..we’ve got shadows, random colors, and the colors are graduated, and so is the background. Displaying 13 digits takes 109,341 bytes (in the original), for a remarkable data density of .0001 digit per byte. Anti-phishing working group? You can, I hope, do better. Via the F-Secure blog, who don’t have per-post links.


A Very Silly Idea: #privacy, and

With recent data leaks at AOL, governments seeking information from Google on its users, and no simple user privacy solutions available, a standard for empowering user search privacy has finally been proposed. is spearheading a search privacy revolution with its proposed #privacy standard. Our proposal is that the #privacy flag could be added to […]


One For The Money, Two For The Show, Three For The Ballot

Ping over at Useable Security has a great analysis of Rivest’s ThreeBallot voting system. The delightful thing about ThreeBallot is that it should be incredibly easy to implement on a small scale and not much harder on a large scale and has in built in provisions to prevent voter error, counter fraud and vote buying. […]


Several On MS Software

First, don’t miss the great series of posts on the “Excel 2007 Trust Center.” There’s some really good thought on security and usability in there. (While I’m at it, after two months of using ribbons, the idea of going back pains me. It really does. I had that “WTF did you do to my screen […]


Usable Security: SOUPS Blog posts

There are about twenty good posts talking about the Symposium on Usable Security and Privacy (SOUPS) over at Ka-Ping Yee’s Usable Security blog. If you’re reading this in the archives, start here and go forward, or here and go back. Some favorites: How will the scourge really be killed? (Panel) Decision Strategies and Susceptibility to […]


SMS to Email?

I’m looking for a service that will give me a US phone number capable of accepting SMS messages, and forwarding those messages to an email account. I’m happy to pay for the service, but my searches have come up blank. I don’t want a service where the user has to add the destination email manually. […]


gcc -Wall -WeReallyMeanIt

Following up on a problem I mentioned long ago, (“Ranum on the Root of the Problem“) that gcc’s -Wall doesn’t actually run all the analysis it could. Apple has a great page “Improving Your Software With Xcode and Static Analysis Techniques” (I believe that this is a mirror of that page, see section 5) that […]


Dear News Media,

Recently, you had a very interesting story on your web site. I left a browser tab open, so I could read it on the plane. But your very interesting story meta-refreshed itself so you could serve me more ads. Then the airport’s wireless portal showed up, and it stopped refreshing. And I couldn’t read your […]


Sign Design

I came across this sign while I was attending a software design methodology course at an IBM building in London. After wondering several times why each time I tried to go to the toilets I ended up in the restaurant, I looked carefully at the sign. Which way would you go at a glance? Which […]


High Assurance Certificates and the Fake NEC

So I’ve seen the story in a bunch of places, but something about Bruce Schneier’s posting on “Counterfeiting an Entire Company” made me think about certificates, and the green URL bar. In the name of NEC, the pirates copied NEC products, and went as far as developing their own range of consumer electronic products – […]


Readability of Financial Privacy Notices

Federal regulators today released Evolution of a Prototype Financial Privacy Notice… The report’s release concludes the first phase of an interagency project […] to explore alternatives for financial privacy notices that would be easier for consumers to read, understand, and use than many of the notices consumers currently receive from financial institutions. These six agencies […]


Security Flaws and The Public Conciousness

In “Duped Bride Gets No Sympathy,” Kim Cameron writes about an Ebay scam. What’s interesting to me is some of the language that the scammer used to justify their requests: “Her attacker convinced her to use Western Union due to “a security breach at Paypal”.” (Kim Cameron, summarizing video)…. “Another red flag was the wire-transfer […]


I’m Sure I Don’t Want to Continue

When I try to drop files in the Trash, the Finder gives me this awful[1] dialog box. I really don’t want to delete files immediately, and am not sure why it wants to. Does anyone know what I do to fix this? [1] It’s awful for two reasons: First, it gives me no advice on […]


Security & Usability, Workshops

This was supposed to be a part of my book review post, but early user testing showed us confusion and a desire for a more tightly focused blog post experience… It may also help to attend events like the “Security User Studies Workshop at SOUPS 2006” or the “Workshop on Psychological Acceptability and How to […]


Security and Usability

Simson Garfinkel sent me a copy of “Security and Usability: Designing Secure Systems that People Can Use,” which he co-edited with Lorrie Faith Cranor. [Updated spelling of Lorrie’s name. Sorry!] I was really hesitant when I got it because I tend to hate collections of academic papers. They’re often hard to read, heavily redundant, and […]


Worth Reading, 2.0

The news that one of “Saturn’s moons is spewing water vapor” is worth reading because the universe is cool, Enceladus will have life found on it, and life will get more interesting. “Fix My Settings in IE7” is worth reading for user interface designers. I hope to see the idea exposed to some user testing […]


Identity is Hard, Let’s go Shopping.

Kim Cameron, in the course of saying nice things about us (thanks, Kim!) says: “In my view, the identity problem is one of the hardest problems computer science has ever faced.” I think this is true, and I’d like to tackle why that is. I’m going to do that in a couple of blog posts, […]


Dear Lazyweb

I’m looking for code that will parse the emails sent by online travel agencies and airlines. Ideally, it would be Python code that allows me invoke something like itinerary.get_next_flight(msg) and get a dictionary of (to, from, airline, flight #, date), etc. Does such a library exist?


Branded Security

For quite some time, Ian Grigg has been calling for security branding for certificate authorities. When making a reservation for a Joie de Vivre hotel, I got the attached Javascript pop-up. (You reach it before the providing a credit card number.) I am FORCED to ask, HOWEVER , what the average consumer is supposed to […]


The 4th Amendment is Nice to Have

Cities can require stores to send customers’ identification to an electronic database for police to monitor, judges in two [Canadian] provinces have ruled this week. Cash Converters Canada Inc. and British Columbia’s largest pawn shop have each failed to persuade judges that a new generation of city bylaws is trampling customers’ legal rights. From “Courts […]


Ka-Ping Yee on Phishing

In “How to Manage Passwords and Prevent Phishing,” Ping writes: So, right up front, here is the key property of this proposal: using it is more convenient than not using it. This property makes this proposal unique (as far as I am aware). All the other proposals I have seen require the user, on each […]


Lockpick Business Card

A hacker, entrepreneur, and all around mischief maker, Melvin wanted something he could give to peers and prospective clients that spoke of this nature. Talk about a card that opens doors! Via Boingboing.


Pro-User Zealot!

Get the bumper sticker! The background is that a Canadian MP, Sam Bulte, referred to people other than her film and music business corporate backers as “pro-user zealots” at an all candidates meeting. (Michael Geist has a good summary in “The Bulte Video, Boingboing has covered it extensively, and Technorati can help you find lots […]


What Software Do I Like?

In a comment on “Software Usability Thoughts: Some Advice For Movable Type,” Beau Smith asks “What Mac software do you like?” That’s a tough question for three reasons: First, there’s enough decent software (consistent, attractive, discoverable) that the bad stuff can generally be avoided. Secondly, I’d like to choose examples which are either free or […]


Reacting to Web Pages

Researchers led by Dr. Gitte Lindgaard at Carleton University in Ontario wanted to find out how fast people formed first impressions. They tested users by flashing web pages for 500 msec and 50 msec onto the screen, and had participants rate the pages on various scales. The results at both time intervals were consistent between […]



At the Windows Mobile team blog, Mike Calligaro releases a bunch of cool freeware, including a simple Bluetooth toggler. This will make demo’ing the Smurf Bluetooth logger sooo much easier. Thanks Mike!


"High Assurance" Certificates

Following up on previous posts on the concept of high assurance certificates (“Web Certificate Economics“), I’d like to draw attention to a CSOOnline blog post, “Phishers Now Targetting SSL:” The spoofing has taken a number of forms, which appear to be becoming highly sophisticated. They vary from exploiting browser flaws, to hacking legitimate sites or […]


How to Blog for Your Company

Here at SiteAdvisor, we strongly believe in the importance of this feature. But we admit that so far we’ve done a mediocre job explaining our motivation and our initial implementation. So writes Chris Dixon in “The Role of Affiliates in Spyware, Adware, and Spam.” Chris is using the Siteadvisor blog as an extended discussion of […]


Beautiful Evidence, by Edward Tufte

After 9 years, I have completed Beautiful Evidence, except for the index and a few loose ends. We are currently proofing some difficult images on press, negotiating with printers, planning the order for paper and binding, and working through other production issues. Probably the major threats to breaking the schedule will be in color-correcting images […]


Software Usability Thoughts: Some Advice For Movable Type

I’d like to talk a bit about usability as it intersects with software design. I’m motivated by three things: Firstly, my own attempts to be comprehensible and understandable, not only in this blog, but also in software whose design I participate in. Years ago, Steve Karkula provided me the phrase “design from interface” while doing […]


More on What Not To Get Me, Or Anyone

Bob Sullivan has a good post, “Gift card fees still playing Scrooge:” How much is that $50 gift card really worth? Well, it’s hard to say. The art of irritating and sneaky fees has reached new heights in this 21st century version of gift certificates. There are sign-up fees, transaction fees, dormancy fees and outright […]


Netgear WGPS606 and Mac Printing

I recently bought a Netgear WGPS606 ‘print server.’ It’s a nifty little device with a 4 port 100mbs ethernet switch, a wireless bridge, and an LPD print service. I needed each of those as part of reconfiguring my office space, and here it was in one little package. It turned out to be something of […]


Meet The New Browser Security, Same as the Old Browser Security?

There’s a thread developing in several blogs about web browser security, and I think it is dangerously mis-framed, and may involve lots of effort going down some wrong paths. At the IE Blog, Franco writes about “Better Website Identification and Extended Validation Certificates in IE7 and Other Browsers.” It’s a long, well-thought out post, which […]


Don't Tell People What Not To Do!

[Update: If I’d been able to find the page which Arthur provided in a comment, I wouldn’t have written this quite like this.] It’s rare to see a substantial usability mistake at Google, and so this jumped out at me. Saar Drimer has a post on the new “Gmail password strength check,” in which he […]


Make Mine Sony-Free

As the holiday and gift-shopping season arrives, I’d like to talk about what not to get me (or really, anyone on your list). A bad gift is really painful to receive. You have to put on a fake smile and pretend to be happy, and then go return the thing at the first opportunity. My […]


More on "Freedom To Tinker, Freedom to Learn"

In “Freedom To Tinker, Freedom to Learn,” I made some assumptions about the user interface for the $100 laptop. In “Alan Kay at WSIS,” Ethan Zukerman explains that Alan Kay will be doing much of the user interface design work: Kay began by explaining that most people aren’t using computers to do the most important […]


Industry to Customers: "You're Reckless and Apathetic"

It’s a long standing “joke” that only drug dealers and the computer industry call their customers “users.” But at least drug dealers pretend that your behavior is ok. Not so the Universities educating our next generation of programmers, such as Carnegie Mellon. Their student news source, the Tartan, reports in “Study shows students cause computer […]


What I Want From A Log Analyzer

I’m becoming less and less satisfied with AWStats as a log analyzer. There are some things that it does reasonably well. But I’d really like a lot more. I’d like to be able to see how things have changed day to day (for example, how many new unique visitors did I get today?) I’d like […]


Freedom To Tinker, Freedom to Learn

In “The $100 Laptop Moves Closer to Reality,” the Wall St Journal discusses a project to provide very inexpensive laptops to millions of poor children around the world. I think its a great idea, and wish them the best of luck. Delivering internet connectivity to millions of poor children will be a world-altering project. One […]



The sad passing of Peter Drucker, and Paul Kedrosky’s post on it brought something into sharp focus for me. It’s the value of working hard to make yourself understood, as opposed to making your audience work hard to understand you. One of my goals in blogging here is to learn to be understandable to the […]


How Not To Train Users

To provide the fastest access to our home page for all of our millions of customers and other visitors, we have made signing in to Online Banking secure without making the entire page secure. Again, please be assured that your ID and passcode are secure and that only Bank of America has access to them. […]


Map of London

OpenStreetMap is a project aimed squarely at providing free geographic data such as street maps to anyone who wants them. This is because most maps you might think of as free actually have legal or technical restrictions on their use, holding back people from all walks of life who would like to use a map […]


Dangerous Meme

If you have to educate people to not use the tools you have given them in a certain way to remain secure you have failed. Relying on security awareness training is an admission of failure. This meme must be eradicated from the gene pool. So writes Rich Stiennon in “Dangerous meme.” He’s absolutely right. Training […]


What Is Phishing

In conversation with a friend, I realized that my essay, “Preserving the Internet Channel Against Phishers” didn’t actually explain the problem. I made the assumption that everyone had the same perception of what it was. (Why didn’t anyone point that out?) So I’ve added the following (after the break), and I think the resultant essay […]


Apple Security Update 2005-08

There’s a new security update from Apple, for both 10.3.9 and 10.4.2. If you browse the internet, or read email, you need it. I’m getting really annoyed at Apple’s update mechanisms. Not only the agreeing to a new license as part of the update, but the awful way in which they’re arranged. The technical data […]


Command-Q Getting Me Down

The Mac’s is way too easy to quit; it seems to absorb any command-Q typed near it, even if the menubar is showing you that you’re in another app. (This may be an interaction with the preference FocusFollowsMouse.) Anyway, having just lost a bunch of terminals with useful data in them, I went and […]


Small Bits on Usability

Thomas Barnett comments that “The U.S. is pushing a secret PowerPoint briefing to allies on Iran, trying to convince them that the WMD question is drawing to a head there.” Maybe they’ve read “The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint,” and would prefer data to being pitched? I’ll (ahem) pitch my lesser-known Hamlet in Powerpoint. Jacob Nielsen […]


Small Bits: Clearance, Security Legislation, Schneier Pointers, Get Me An Operator

Richard Bejtlich comments on a Federal Computer Week article, “Security clearance delays still a problem” in “Feds Hurry, Slow Down.” “ITAA officials said 27 member companies that responded to a survey are coping with the backlog by hiring cleared employees from one another, sometimes paying premiums of up to 25 percent.” I’m glad to see […]


Tor GUI Contest Update

I’m very excited to say we’ve added two more outstanding judges to the Tor GUI contest: Edward Tufte and Bruce Schneier. I’m honored and excited to be working with both. As a reminder, you have at least until October 31 for submissions, and all qualifying entrants will receive a t-shirt.


More on Opera

It has a lot to recommend it, but there are a number of niggling annoyances: Saved pages are poorly named. (Safari gives the page a name based on its title; Opera uses the filename, often “index.html.”) Since I save a lot of web pages, this is an issue. Cookie management doesn’t seem as good as […]


Impressions of Opera

Having taken advantage of Opera’s offer (still valid for a few hours!) I must say, I’m impressed. Opera is snappy in a way that Safari (with all the plugins I’ve added) is not. There’s some small bits of things not working as I expect, things that should be controlled differently*, as I move, but there […]


Companies Helping Phishers

Daniel Solove has a good post on “How Companies Help Phishers and Fraudsters.” Companies have trouble being consistent in what they send, and that’s to the advantage of fraudsters. They also have a hard time taking security information from outsiders, however well meaning. I had an experience with Citi Mastercard. After some problems, I was […]


"Preserving the Internet Channel Against Phishers"

I’ve updated the concepts first presented in “Don’t Use Email Like a Stupid Person” and “More on Using Email Like A Stupid Person,” to make them more palatable to readers. The new short essay is “Preserving the Internet Channel Against Phishers,” and is designed to be shared with marketing folks without insulting them. Alternate title: […]


Tor GUI Contest

The announcement says: Tor is a decentralized network of computers on the Internet that increases privacy in Web browsing, instant messaging, and other applications. We estimate there are some 50,000 Tor users currently, routing their traffic through about 250 volunteer Tor servers on five continents. However, Tor’s current user interface approach — running as a […]


Small Bits: Privacy for Infringers, IEEE Cipher, Oracle, Footnotes, and a Mug

Michael Geist continues to take the Privacy Commissioner’s office to task for protecting the privacy of infringers: Moreover, the Commissioner canvassed other banks and found that at least two others did allow their customers to opt-out of such marketing. Now if only the Commissioner would reveal which banks respected their customers’ privacy and which decided […]


Dear Adium People…

You make a very nice client. But the “Remove Contact” menu item in the Contact menu is fucking broken. It is not clear that “Remove Contact” means “Blow away this entire group of contacts.” How about (1) making the item name plural, and (2) adding the list of contacts to be deleted to the warning […]


On Phishing

Item: OCC Guidance on Phishing Websites, Ethan Preston writes about The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency provided guidance for banks on appropriate countermeasures against phishing websites. The guidance provides fairly common sense advice: designate employees to respond to phishing threats, cultivate contacts with the FBI to expedite law enforcement’s response, prepare to identify […]


Dear Gmail

Thank you so much for your recent letter, telling me that We’ve noticed that you haven’t used your Gmail account,, for quite some time. In order to make Gmail better for our users, we’ve added a lot of things in the last few months and we hope you’ll want to start using your account […]


Spaceman Bicycle Flask Holster

Because no one’s ever said “Is that a hip flask in your bike shorts, or are you happy to see me?” Available from Aherne Cycles.


Usability Testing

Nat Friedman has a good post on usability testing: Over the last several months we at Novell have sent a team of people around the world with a portable usability testing lab… It is amazing to watch the ways that people fall on their face. We’ve all read about the benefits of usability testing, but […]


More on Bridge Blogging

Recently, I discussed bridge bloggers, folks who make an effort to make their posts comprehensible to those outside their country. In that post I mentioned a few information security bridge bloggers; folks who try to make our profession understandable to those outside. Something that I wanted to mention, if only it had fit into an […]


Emergent Bits: Iranian Blogger, Economics, Security myths

Iranian blogger Mojtaba Saminejad has declared a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. The Committee to Protect Bloggers has asked that we observe a media fast next Thursday, May 26th and not blog. There are also email addresses to write to to ask that Mojtaba be released. Ethan Zuckerman has some fascinating comments on the […]


Small Bits of Chaos: Airports, Junk Mail and Employment Law (Context-free)

Scared Monkeys asks “Could Iris Scanning be Coming To an Airport Near You?” (As if the TSA hadn’t wasted enough money on machines that don’t work, or seizing zippo lighter cameras.) Maybe the camera in their iris scanner was busted? New blog “The Dunning Letter” claims to be from a long-time junk mailer, now repentant. […]


On Being Fully Present

Right before Mark Glasser started his talk on protecting bloggers (which Nashville files covers really well), Mark asked to borrow my laptop (picture by Nashville Files.) [Update, May 11, Mark’s column about BlogNashville is now online, and he mentions this as his pet peeve.] We got into a discussion of me having just attempted to […]


Copyright, Aggregators, and Readership

I’ve been thinking lately about licensing my content under a Creative Commons license, maybe non-commercial, attribution. As I think about such things, I look for scenarios where I’d be sad I’d done such a thing. While I haven’t come up with any, I’ve been noticing lately that more and more of my readership comes via […]


SHIFT Bicycle

Scott S. Shim, an assistant professor in the Purdue College of Liberal Arts, along with students Ryan Lightbody and Matt Grossman have won the 9th International Bicycle Design Competition in Taiwan, according to this press release. (Unfortunately, the web site isn’t going to win any design awards.) “None of us had ever designed a bicycle […]


Usability as a Security Concern

Building new technologies involves making tradeoffs. A programmer can only develop so many features in a day. These tradeoffs are particularly hard in building privacy enhancing technologies. As we work to make them more secure, we often want to show the user more information to help them make better decisions. This impacts usability. The security […]



After a recent hard drive failure on my Mac, I realized just how much I hate the web. No, that’s not really true. I don’t hate the web. I think the web is great. Advertising on the web, that drives me to distraction. And so I realized how much I appreciate Mike Solomon’s PithHelmet plug-in […]


Trackbacks vs. Technorati?

Kip Esquire points to WILLisms, who wants to “Save the trackback.” I think I’m running about 10-to-1 spam trackbacks to real ones. It’s clearly because I talk about nothing but poker and viagra. I have to say, I love getting real trackbacks. I like it when people take what I’ve said and expand on it. […]


Relentless Navel Gazing, in the blogger syle

I’ve made a couple of CSS changes. (CSS is the Content Style Sheet which controls how this page looks in your browser.) Mostly making the CSS fully valid, and adding some padding around list items so they don’t scrunch together quite as much. Aren’t you thrilled? Do let me know if it looks messed up, […]


Dear Canon

Dear Canon, Why do you make it harder for me to download the software for my camera than to download a brochure? Is it because I’m stuck and have already bought your camera? Do you hope I’ll forget this experience? Because I can’t figure out how to make either of my web browsers suck enough […]


Small Bits: Digitizing Art, Making Sense, Wages of Sin, Pookmail

Capturing the Unicorn is an article at the New Yorker about the hubris of technologists trying to capture art. (The technologists win, but the archivist in me asks: CDs?) 13 things that do not make sense is a New Scientist article about, well, 13 things that don’t make sense. Some foolish people might look at […]


How Many Home Pages?

I was trying to enter someone’s web address into Apple’s Address book recently. Unfortunately, Apple believes that you have a home page. This is at odds with almost all the other fields in Address Book. You can have lots of phone numbers. A profusion of email addresses. And one home page. Me? I have a […]


Small Bits: Caller-ID, FBI Lies, Intel Reform, and GCC

Wired is carrying a Reuters story blaming VOIP systems for security flaws. The claim is that VOIP, by allowing everyone to set their caller id string, is causing security problems. This is false. These security problems have existed and have been exploited for a long time. For banks, or anyone else to rely on caller […]


Chris Allen and Socializing

Chris Allen has been doing a series of posts on the sizes of social groups, what factors can make groups work and not work, and related bits, like the use of software to help manage groups of friends. His latest post is Dunbar, Altruistic Punishment, and Meta-Moderation. It concludes: In summary this research offers me […]


Google Makes It Look Easy

Google Labs has done an OSX Dock style home page. It’s pretty cool. What makes it cool is not the graphical style it presents, but the brilliance of the icon design. If you know what services Google offers, the icon makes sense. (I had to mouse over local, video and options to see what they […]


My Categories Suck

The categories I’ve set for this blog are non-functional. I have 16 categories, of which maybe 4 are ever exclusive. Do you look at my categorization of posts? Do you look at the category archives? Should I create a new set of categories? If so, what? (mmm, Choicepoint! Not.) Should I abandon categories and go […]


500th Post

In the 195 days since I started this blog, I’ve posted 499 times: This is the 500th. I’d planned, when I started, for about one long post a day. It hasn’t always worked that way. I’m posting slightly more than 2.5 posts a day. I’m think I’m now getting more comments than I post, but […]


Good Folks Looking for Help

A group that wants to assist free speech in authoritarian nations is looking for a technically savvy person — a CTO or lead engineer type — who can do a short term study, possibly leading to a longer-term job. This is a paying gig for the right person. The project is intended, in its intitial […]


What's with this Dialog?

This dialog box is modal. It has no “take me there” button. Even having taken notes, I couldn’t figure out how to follow the instructions. You can “clear formatting” and make spell checking work again. A double-feh at Redmond. I take back all the mean things I said about Firefox this morning.


Oh, there it is.

Back in October, I asked, “where’s the 8-in-1 media reader to take photos directly from your camera.” From today’s Apple press release: The new iPod Camera Connector is an optional accessory that enables customers to connect their digital camera to iPod photo and import their photos into the iPod. By simply connecting the iPod Camera […]


Security So Good, No One Could Login

One of the ironic bits about the RSA conference was the wireless network. Your username was your email and the password was on your badge. However, I had trouble logging in, so they gave me this username and password. I’m pretty sure that they didn’t record who I was as they did it. Even once […]


What do Apple's Common Criteria Tools Do?

Apple has made available a set of “Common Criteria” tools. The “evaluation” page is here. The evaluation criteria is “EAL 3, CAPP, version 1.d, October 8, 1999.” (The README is a bit better.) If anyone would care to explain to me what I’ve just said, or, really, what the tools package does, I’d be much […]


Small Bits: T-Mobile, Google, Passports, Terrorism

Jack Koziol has a long post on security issues with T-Mobile’s web site. (Via /.) Did you know that Google’s “Dissatisfied? Help us improve” link only appears on the first page of a search? That’s fascinating–they expect their search to be so good that they get what you want on page 1, and you’ll complain […]


Small Bits of Chaos: How to Present, ID Theft Victims List

higB at secureme has good advice for presenters at security cons. Ian G has a good post explaining that government only illegally links their databases when they want to, not when it could help the citizenry. No privacy story is ever truly complete without a tool of the man talking out both sides of their […]


Eating Your Own Dogfood?

Two posts this morning grabbed my attention. They are “Hide Your Ipod, Here Comes Bill,” (at Wired) and “Sanyo asks workers to buy goods to ease loss” (Hindustan Times via BoingBoing.) In a presentation at, Chet Richards applies Boyd to business. One of his suggestions, which isn’t new, is to get inside the mind […]


New York Times Links

Aaron Swartz has produced a link generator for the New York Times. It takes a URL and makes it archival, so that it doesn’t expire, and you should be able to visit it after two weeks are up. Its a lazy Saturday afternoon; Atlanta is shut down by the half inch of snow that fell […]


Folksonomies, Tested

I’ve just stumbled across this abstract comparing full-test searching to controlled vocabulary searching. The relevance to Clay’s posts on controlled vocabularies is that our intuitive belief that controlled vocabulary helps searching may be wrong. Unfortunately, the full paper is $30–perhaps someone with an academic library can comment. …In this paper, we focus on an experiment […]


Patterns of Conflict, Easier on the Eyes

I’ve been posting a fair bit about Boyd. Boyd’s wrote very little. Most of his communication was in the form of briefs. At least two of you have publicly admitted to getting the slides, and, if you’re like me, struggled with the form of the presentation: A scan of a typed, hand-annotated presentation book. There’s […]


Mac Software: Memento

Memento is an application that helps you find web pages you’ve stumbled across and forgotten where the site is. It does this by searching the cache (copies that Safari keeps locally). Very cool, and free.


Why I Want HTML Export (from Keynote)

Lately, I’ve been complaining that Keynote still can’t export to the web. Now, I’ve been remiss in ensuring all of my writing is in HTML. I’ve been slowly going back and converting things, as I have a few minutes, or as I want to link to something I’ve said. Today, in posting a comment to […]


Symposium on Usable Privacy And Security CFP

The Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security will be July 6-8 at CMU: The Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) will bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers and practitioners in human computer interaction, security, and privacy. The program will feature refereed papers, tutorials, a poster session, panels and invited talks, and discussion sessions.


Small Bits of Chaos

Scrivner points out a basic lack of agreement amongst the pundits: Damn that Bush, cleverly whipping up this fantasy of a threat to scare people into voting for him. … Damn that Bush, ineptly bungling America’s defense against the most dangerous threat Ian has a post about Ron Paul trying to ban the government issuance […]



The “back” button is Safari is way too close to the “close” button. Safari would be a much better browser if there was an option to not close (or confirm closing) the window if there are multiple tabs open. Bugger it!


Ban Windows, Not Cell Phones

Scrivner has another great post, this one to a study at Virginia Commonwealth University. (My link is to the study, not the press summary Scrivner links.) The press summary claims that rubbernecking accounts for 16% of accidents, looking at scenery or landmarks 10%, while cell phones account for only 5%. Clearly the answer is to […]


Presentation of Risk

The Wall Street Journal posted this table today, in an article on how risks are presented. Note the lack of a time scale. Is that a lifetime risk of a heart-attack? Are there lifetime stats for Vioxx takers? How does that risk compare to the risk of winning the lottery? Those odds are (I’m guessing) […]


Help! Mac Project Management Software

I need project management software for a small project (20-50ish tasks, 8-10 people come and go and need to be assigned tasks.) I’d like software that will assign resources to time blocks, handle dependencies, and be easy to use. I’ve spent the morning testing apps, going until I found something either I or the software […]


Quick Links

Cory points to another example of anti-consumer activity, this time Apple disabling the high quality audio-in on the ipod. How to fix it at Hack-a-day. Also via Hack-a-day is the paper Enigma machine Scrivner discovers that Uncle Sam admits to cooking the books, in a way that the SEC would never tolerate from a public […]


Cory vs DRM

Cory Doctrow posts a delicious rant against Wired’s review policy here. Unfortunately, he fails to stress what I think is the a point. Wired is writing reviews. Those reviews are supposed to be impartial. Whatever you may think about DRM, it is clearly an important mis-feature of a product which you may buy. Informed reviewers, […]


Talking is Tough

Anyone who talks to journalists to provide background or commentary says things that they wish they hadn’t. This is in contrast to when you’re making news, and can plan what you want to say, and it’s easier to stay “on message.” Kudos to Bruce for owning up to it. I’m sure I said that, but […]


Three By Froomkin

Michael Froomkin has three nice posts today. First, Inside The TSA, we learn that power tends to corrupt: This account of the goings-on at the MIA TSA branch, brought to you by the feisty local Miami New Times, is worse than not pretty. It’s pretty ugly: allegations of theft from passengers’ bags, sexual harassment (of […]


Mac toys has a nice page of software for techies switching to a Mac. Speaking of techie Mac use, I’m playing with subversion and the sweet looking SCPlugin. To make it see my ssh keys, I’ve added SSHkeychain. That required logging out and back in. After I did, I was getting lots of Keychain errors. It […]


Cool bug!

I believe this is a bug in Netnewswire, and will be reporting in there in just a second, but it’s so pretty I wanted to share it. Note the menubar has gone transparent, but is still readable. It looks way cool this way. Maybe someone will find a hook in the OS to allow us […]


Training is not the answer

Florence Olsen writes in Federal Computer Week about security training: Last year, for example, officials at a federal financial institution tested employees’ adherence to the agency’s computer security policy against opening e-mail attachments from unknown sources. About half of the employees failed the test, Coe said. [Kathy Coe, regional director of educational services at Symantec] […]


Lycos' attack spammers@home

I’d like to add one bit about Lycos’ new attack spammers screensaver. Ed Felten writes most of what needs to be said about it: This is a serious lapse of judgment by Lycos. For one thing, this kind of vigilante attack erodes the line between the good guys and the bad guys. Spammers are bad […]


Bad Security = Bad UI?

Allan Schiffman has sorted through the papers from the DIMACS Workshop on Usable Privacy and Security Software, and has summaries and recommendations in “Bad Security = Bad UI?.” [Update: Oh, the irony of a conference on usability naming all their files things like “blaze.pdf” or “garfinkel.ppt”– how about “blaze-usable-privsec.pdf,” so I can easily archive the […]


Security and diplomacy

…Mr. Bush had to wade into a group of security agents to pull his lead Secret Service agent out of a shoving match with the Chilean police. The tape showing the president assuring the Chileans that his agent could come with him played over and over on television screens in the region this weekend. By […]


What I'd like from a social software web site

There are lots of so-called ‘social software’ web sites that help you umm stay in touch with friends, or make new ones or something (Friendster, Tribe, Orkut, etc). Some are more socially oriented, others are more about business. What I’d really like is one that supports my travel habits. I fly to lots of places. […]



There’s a 3 page article in the Washington Post on phishing, the use of fake email and web sites to capture usernames and passwords. The phishers often target financial institutions. Marcus Sachs, a former White House cyber-security adviser and current director of the SANS Internet Storm Center, said marketing departments at many banks do not […]


How not to report vulnerabilities

This week Finjan announced that it has told Microsoft of 3, or 10, or maybe 19 issues with SP2. Robert Lemos at CNET writes: “We don’t want to argue with Microsoft about these things,” he said. “We found the 19 vulnerabilities, and we showed that you could take remote control of a computer.” However, Microsoft’s […]


Kaspersky Labs switches to a new naming scheme

Kapersky Labs makes some of the best anti-virus software out there, as analyzed by the Virus Test Center at the University of Hamburg. They recently announced a new naming scheme. I’ve been thinking a lot about naming schemes recently, and I think this one could be better. Let me take it apart, and explain why. […]


"Better Than Nothing Security"

Eric Rescorla has a great post reporting from the IETF on the “Better Than Nothing Security BOF.” As I see it, this boils down to an understanding that paying for digital signatures is very expensive, while we’ve known for ten years that “keys are cheap.” (Thanks, Eric!) The SSH folks got this very right: You […]


Garbage In…

There’s a post over at BoingBoing, laughing at some poor software transcription of Jabberwocky. Hello? What do you expect? The poem is full of nonsense words. If my speech recognition program starting putting brilling and slithy toves in my text, I’d be pissed off. So of course it gets this wrong. C’mon, folks, you want […]


Richard Clarke says get over 'cyberterror'

Overuse of the term ‘cyber-terrorism’ is confusing board directors and preventing much needed investment in IT security, says former White House security advisor Richard Clarke. Now if we could just get rid of the term “cyber,” we’d be all set to have a mature discussion. (From VNUnet, via InfoSecNews.)


Computer Security and The Human Factor

Nudecybot has a thoughtful post on Computer security and the human factor. He takes a discussion we had, and organizes it well. He talks about airline safety vs computer safety, and how an anonymous reporting system has helped in the airline case. I think there’s two bits that he misses that make the airline safety […]


Mac Trivia: Zero Byte resource error

You can probably skip this post. I wanted to blog it to help people with this problem solve it faster. It involves the Mac System update tool throwing up a dialog that says: A networking error has occurred: zero byte resource (-1014). Make sure you can connect to the Internet, then try again. I was […]


Corporate governance goals impossible (II)

Further quoting from that same article in the Register about the impact of new rules: Business managers becoming fed up with FUD In a separate study, more than a third of the 30 delegates to the Axis Action Forum admitted that their Board had never asked for an update on security or implications of security […]


New Software

Thanks to our industrious sysadmin, we have a new rev of MT in place. It’s much more aggressive about weeding comments, so what you say won’t show up instantly. If your real comment doesn’t show up, please drop me a note. And please, do leave comments. Even if it’s against your better judgement. (Yes, I’m […]


More maps

Bigpicture has put up 11 map links, some of which are very cool. I really like the parallel maps of 2000 vs 2004. (If you use Safari, with its transparent drag, you can produce your own overlay maps!) I also like the county-by-county maps, they’re elegant. Not so good is the chartjunk map from the […]


Obfuscated Voting Redux

No, not the elections, silly, the contest! And now the results are up, and it seems that Michal Zalewski is in the lead.


Microsoft pre-warning of patches

[Microsoft] will publish a general summary of planned security bulletin releases three business days before each regularly scheduled monthly bulletin release… The advance notifications will include the number of bulletins that might be released, the anticipated severity ratings, and the products that might be affected. This has been available to select customers for a while. […]


Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (CFP)

The Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) will be held July 6-8, 2004 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. This symposium will bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers and practitioners in human computer interaction, security, and privacy. The program will feature refereed papers, tutorials, a poster session, panels and invited talks, and […]


"Stop … Hurting … America"

Sure, the Electoral college is mostly winner-take-all, but America isn’t. The “red/blue” divide nonsense on TV is all about polarizing the country. See the map bigger here. It’s like Jon Stewart said to the boys at Crossfire: Stop hurting America. (Via BoingBoing.)


Ian Grigg on SSL

Ian Grigg has a great page on the SSL industry (really the “certification authority” industry.) Worth reading. The topic reminds me of an essay, I think from Nick Szabo, on the use of language and terminology within the security industry to distort thinking. (The bit I remember discussed the use of “certification authorities,” self-declared.) I’m […]


Amazon (3 Comments on SteveC)

Something about a post by Steve got to me… Whenever amazon comes up in conversation I tell people how particularly behind they are but I don’t think I get the point across. Who does better? I find that it always works better to say who does well, rather than who does poorly. Let people figure […]


"Getting nothing wrong is for the uninspired"

Nat has a typically insightful post inspired by Muine, a radical re-think of what a music player on your computer should do. Why would those things be there? Because every other music app has those features, and if you’re building a music tool, you’ve got to have them too. Only, somehow, you’ve got to do […]


Piscitello on Bugtraq

My frustration level with bug-traq increases in direct proportion to the frequency at which wannabes report vulnerabilities on software that has limited consumption and little business on a business network. I finally contacted some of the wannabes. I probed each for more specifics than the original bug disclosure: I think that Dave has a valid […]


Query Address

The Little Brother’s Database, an addressbook program, includes a tool, ABQuery, that allows you to look inside the Mac’s address book from the command line. (Via


IPod, so?

Apple announced a new Ipod that shows pictures. What I want to know is, where’s the 8-in-1 media reader to take photos directly from your camera?


I wonder what this means?

I’m trying to submit my comments on Secure Flight. When I try to upload my file to, I’m told: An error occured while attempting to upload your comment [Microsoft][ODBC driver for Oracle][Oracle]ORA-01401: inserted value too large for column I’ve submitted a request for help via the provided link.


Organization in the way: how decentralization hobbles …

Another interesting article from Peter Merholz closes with: Until now, user experience efforts have been focused on building teams that practice user-centered design (UCD). However, researchers at User Interface Engineering recently discovered that the size of an organization’s UCD practice is somewhat inversely proportional to the site’s usability. You read that right: Companies that invest […]


"Metadata for the masses"

In “Metadata for the masses,” Peter Merholz presents an interesting idea, which is build a classification scheme from free-form data that users apply. He points to Flikr’s “Cameraphone” category, which would probably not exist if there was only a pull-down list. He also points up problems: Many categories for one thing (nyc, NewYork, NewYorkCity), one […]


Notational Velocity

Andrew Stewart pointed me to Notational Velocity, an interesting little note taking app. Its a little disconcerting at first, because you only have one note area, and the way to create a new note is to just overwrite the old title. (There’s a menu item to rename something.) But worth checking out if you’re a […]


Powerpoint, usability

I’ve put slides and a pdf from a talk yesterday on my homepage. Making pdf is easy on the mac, making html less so. Since this is the web, I’d like to put up html of the slides, and I think that the HTML that PPT produces is poor. In particular, I’d like smaller files, […]


Google's Imperfections

The ever-entertaining Nat talks about Google’s desktop search (for Windows), and says “Google shocked the world by releasing something highly imperfect.” Really? Google’s been imperfect a lot lately. Have you tried using Gmail with Safari? It pops up three windows every time you click a link. Orkut? Bad server, no donut. (Actually, the issues seem […]


Google and "Privacy"

There’s a critique of Google’s new Desktop Search that it…wait for it…searches your computer! No, really, it does. And so it finds things that are … on your computer! Some of these things, like your email, your spouse’s email, your IM logs, are things that Microsoft hides intra-user are exposed. This is probably a bad […]



I listen to a lot of music. When I visit friends, I often invite them to drop random discs they think I’d like into iTunes for a rip. Combine that with my cd habit (“I can quit anytime!”), and I have a fair bit of music that I don’t recognize quickly. So I just found […]


Apple Security UI

I just got a fascinating email. No, not really. It was a simple little email, from someone who’s being very helpful on a project that I’ll speak of in excrutiating detail later. What was fascinating about it was that it was PKCS 7 signed, and Apple’s told me so. It told me so with […]


Editing MacOS X menus

There’s useful instructions here as to how to add a “Paste as Plaintext” option to iChat. If you’re reasonably technical, you can go off and do all sorts of neat stuff here.


Cool maps

Christopher Allen has a cool post about a map mash up, along with some analysis of what makes it work.


Ranum on the root of the problem

Marcus Ranum writes a good article for ACM Queue, in which he points out that better tools to improve languages can help. I take issue with his claim that better languages can’t help. Java, because of its string representation, is harder to mess up with than C. Its not perfect, and no useful language can […]


What's In A Name?

“BRANSON, Mo. – A Branson man has put a face to the anonymous references people often make to “they” by changing his name to just that: “They.” Not only is he making a statement about his name, but he’s messing with the entire English language,” friend Craig Erickson said. How can you argue with messing […]

So when Google Mail started up, I managed to register “” I didn’t have any particular plan for this, I just figured that it was entertaining, and a good, harmless prank could be made of it. (I specifically emailed a friend who works for Google security about it, and mentioned it in person next time […]


Shih shih…

The great linguist Chao Yuen-Ren once wrote an essay in Chinese using only words which (in Mandarin) would be transliterated as shih (using Wade-Giles; shi in pinyin). You can see the text in characters and two transliterations, read the translation (“A poet by the name of Shih Shih living in a stone den was fond […]



Over at Freedom To Tinker, Ed Felten writes about the Wikipedia quality debate. He takes a sampling of six entries where he’s competent to judge their quality, and assesses them. Two were excellent, one was slightly inaccurate, two were more in depth, but perhaps less accessible than a standard encyclopedia, and one (on the US […]


Unrecoverable Damage?

I’m reading through NIST SP-800-70 (pdf), the NIST guide to producing security configuration guides. Let me get more coffee before I continue. Thanks for waiting. “If home users and other users without deep security expertise attempt to apply High Security checklists to their systems, they would typically experience unwanted limitations on system functionality and possibly […]