Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lots of FUD out there at the moment

That'd be Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Although I do prefer this type of FUD :
Philospher Kitteh asks the right questions.

So this Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt ? There's two fairly high profile technology related worries (and a bunch more that aren't so critical) out there at the moment.

First up - anyone with an Android phone (or tablet that can pick up text messages) should be very concerned right now about their device being hijacked. Here's the Register story about it. Basically, there is a critical bug in one of the core bits of software on Android that makes the phone vulnerable to Nasties delivered via text message. The attacker only needs to know the phone number to attack (and our telecoms companies have obliged by leaking all those numbers) and the payload automatically executes from the text message.

This is something that could have been done for years, from the preview pane in your email client. That client is usually actually running something like Internet Explorer code, which is subject to all of the vulnerabilities that has.

The difference this time is that it cannot be readily patched like what you can do with an internet browser. My old Sony Xperia X10i mini was so locked down by the original equipment manufacturer that I couldn't update to later versions of the software. It would have been riddled with security holes.

What can you do about it ? Very little. The attack can be executed to leave no trace, the offending text with the Nastie can be set to self delete.

We'll have to see what the tech companies come up with on this one. I hear that Google's Nexus is already patched, haven't a clue about the other companies. It could be time to give in to that upgrade temptation to get something with newer, fixed software. (Although I'd hold off a month or two for the fix to happen).

The other big one is attacks on the software in cars.
Not that car. Although it is a rather pretty car. Curves are awesome on anything.

Nah. You look at my car and compare it to my first, the only transistors in my first car were in the radio. My current car has a tonne of technology, some of which interconnects :

Drive by wire - throttle and brake all go through a computer. Steering is happily independent, although it is power assisted.
Infotainment suite - radio, satnav, car monitoring Stuff. Loads of technology. It has a DAB radio which sends traffic info to the satnav. It can connect to the internet via a suitable device like my phone.
Electronic instruments - this isn't so bad. Because if they all go dark, you can tell how fast you're going by just keeping those eyes on the road.
Networks in the car to handle lights and all the other bits n pieces.

The scary news from last week was the possibility of using DAB to attack a car's electronic systems. So someone would set up a DAB broadcaster and use it to inject the attack code into a car's systems.

Am I worried about that one ? Should you be worried ?

I don't think so. Cars are designed to fail safe. The possibility of a stuck throttle is a problem that exists on all things with an engine. It's a story from before I was born but my dad gave up motorbikes due to nearly being killed by a bike where the throttle stuck open. That could happen to the Cobra replica above, which could only be fixed by turning the engine off at which point you're in a missile with no power steering, no power brakes and a lot of kinetic energy which promise Ouch.

Different vector of Bad Things Happening, same result. And the drive by wire systems should not be vulnerable to external attack. "Should".

Jeep with their Cherokee are the ones being fingered at the moment and they're already sending out patch fixes. If you have an affected car, the recall notice will be out soon which will offer a free fix.

There's danger in pretty much everything in this world, despite the efforts of many to wrap us all up in cotton wool and mittens and fuzzy things. Hell, the stress of having all that danger on your mind might kill you.

Don't think about the bad things. Cars are far safer now than when I started driving. I borrowed a Rover Metro (while my horrid 420 was being fixed) which I thought of as a tin coffin. If anything had tapped me on the road, I had the feeling it would fold itself into a bloody Sleepy Sausage. Cars these days have all sorts of impact protection, airbags, other stuff to keep them running right and to allow you to walk away in an accident. Not sure if you'd walk away from an accident in that Cobra.

Our world is becoming a safer place. Believe that. Hold that thought close.

Oh and spare a thought for the engineers and other design people who try to make it that way !
Go on ! Give your pet engineer a hug. And then try to avoid tripping them up when they run away screaming. Or ... give them something shiny to distract them. They'll like that.
Which is pretty much what I think when I jump into a new star system in Elite and see that big glowing ball of fire in front of me which is the new system's star.
Pretty baubles.

Stay safe, think of shiny things and try not to dwell too much on the bad stuff.

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