Sunday Nerding: The Clock That Changed The World

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Before there was GPS, people still needed to sail the oceans of the world and know precisely where they were.

With a sextent, you could figure out your latitude, but not your longtitude. Enter the Longitude Rewards, a British government program to encourage someone – anyone – to find a accurate way to determine longitude.

Enter John Harrison, and his incredibly accurate clock.

Russian GNSS Spoofing

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A recently released report from C4ADS following a year of research, appears to confirm the hacking and/or spoofing of GNSS transmissions by Russia’s Federal Protective Service (FSO).

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CYGNSS_concept_art.jpeg

GNSS is the collective term for “global navigation satellite systems“, of which the common GPS system is one. Russia and China are known to operate their own GNSS systems, alongside the GPS system developed by the US military.

The activities of the FSO – (in which it is apparent that false signals are deliberately broadcast to confuse GPS receivers, such as those you might have in your car, or those found in commercial ships or commercial aircraft) – are reputedly designed to keep attack drones away from Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

While this might seem like a not unreasonable use of such techniques, the report presents evidence that they are also using these techniques in Syria, possibly to confuse enemy military systems. There is of course a long running military conflict in the region.

It is therefore logical to assume that such techniques can and have been used all over the world at some time – past, present and future.

These techniques could be used to disrupt navigation in all sorts of transportation systems and infrastructures.

Russia shot down a Korean Air passenger jet in 1983 after an issue with the configuration of the navigation system on that Boeing 747. While this was found to be the fault of the pilots at the time, faulty navigation data could be used to initiate similar incidents, but with plausible deniability.

Quoting the report’s Executive Summary:

In this report, we present findings from a year-long investigation ending in November 2018 on an emerging subset of EW activity: the ability to mimic, or “spoof,” legitimate GNSS signals in order to manipulate PNT data. Using publicly available data and commercial technologies, we detect and analyze patterns of GNSS spoofing in the Russian Federation, Crimea, and Syria that demonstrate the Russian Federation is growing a comparative advantage in the targeted use and development of GNSS spoofing capabilities to achieve tactical and strategic objectives at home and abroad. We profile different use cases of current Russian state activity to trace the activity back to basing locations and systems in use.

The full report can be found here.

DARPA’s Open Source eVoting Initiative

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I’ve never been a fan of the concept of electronic voting. I’m still not a fan of electronic voting.

For the most part the idea that I might cast my vote, walk away from the machine that contains my vote, and not know what happens with that machine afterwards scares me.

How do I know my vote eventually gets counted?

It could be argued that a paper ballot in a ballot box might “go missing” too. Most systems have certain kinds of vulnerabilities, whether they be electronic or otherwise.

But can eVoting be made reliable and verifiable?

With this initiative from DARPA, I’ve moved into the “maybe” column. I’m not convinced, but this is the best concept I’ve heard to date.

It’s worth discussing, and we do need to understand that DARPA is part of the US Department of Defence. How much can we trust that?

As an open source initiative, their work would be able to be closely scrutinized by any interested party. This perhaps means the eventual product they develop can be trusted.

It contains a lot of verification mechanisms to instill confidence in it.

Here is their plan as discussed on the most recent episode of Security Now!


References

Sunday Nerding: Apollo Guidance Computer

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Like many a nerd, not only do I love computers and computing, I also love space exploration.

Today I present a magnificent combination of the two, as a group of what can only be described as massive enthusiasts, work at getting an actual Apollo Guidance Computer – (which hasn’t been powered up in around 50 years) – up and running, and executing actual NASA Apollo code.

While this particular unit was never flown into space – (it is understood to be serial number 14, which was used in LTA-8) – it is basically an almost flight-ready prototype.

Is it Huawei or the Highway?

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There’s been a lot of discussion lately around whether allowing Huawei telecommunications equipment into major infrastructure is a good idea or not.

Given the company has strong and proven ties to the Chinese military, I don’t think it is even unreasonable to have an honest discussion about the security implications of using their equipment.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/11/HuaweiCanada9.jpg/1280px-HuaweiCanada9.jpg

However, if we’re going to have such a discussion about their equipment, we should have the entire discussion.

An excellent example is the common HG659 modem/router, in use all over the world, including extensively in Australian premises as part of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.

The HG659 is an extremely popular modem with ISPs, because it is an extremely versatile modem.  It supports both ADSL and VDSL connections, and FTTP connections.  For this reason it is widely deployed in Australia as part of the “multi-technology mix” hodge-podge Malcolm Turnbull turned the NBN into for political reasons, rather than for technology reasons.

Australian ISPs using the HG659 therefore only have to stock one type of modem, and you as the end user just plug it into whatever NBN technology is serving your premises, and the modem self-configures to suit.

Done!

A great number of Australian ISPs use it – (and brand it with their own logos) – see a selection below:

ISPs in other countries also use it:

The use of the HG659 modem is widespread worldwide – including in jurisdictions where the lawmakers are seeking to ban the use of Huawei equipment in telecommunications systems, such as Australia and the United States.

I’ve even read of instances where one Australian ISP appears to have an active backdoor into their private customer’s networks, using the custom firmware in their supplied HG659 modems.

But why ban Huawei in the implementation of 5G networks, but happily welcome them into other significant network infrastructure?

One might argue that having a footprint inside millions of homes is a bigger concern than having them in mobile phone towers – (which can be and are actively monitored by the carriers operating them, and suspicious activity might be detected) – as the vast majority of home users get the modem from their ISP, plug it into the wall and never think about it again.

Monitoring?  Yeah, right.

I think the politicians are clearly – (as is often the case) – trying to make a political point without having any real understanding of what they are talking about.

Huawei may or may not present information or national security issues, but if you’re going to take a stand against them, you cannot and should not be so selective.

Ban them or don’t ban them – but just don’t half-ass your decision.

Further Reading:

C64 Resurrection: Project Update 3

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Carrying on from Part 2, during my time off work last week, I also did the teardown of my Commodore 64 in preparation for cleaning and restoration of the case and keyboard, which will be covered in Part 4.

Check out Part 3 here!

Also, check out this amazing two-part restoration of a Commodore 64C, left outside in a field for more than a decade!

Sunday Nerding: Resurrect Your Old C64

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Hands up if your first computer was a Commodore 64?

Mine certainly was, but like many examples of this popular computer, it has seen better days. I’m not sure if it even works anymore. The last time I tried it – (about 10 years ago) – the sound chip had failed but otherwise seemed okay.

I would love to get the old beast up and running, but my electronics repair skills are basic at best. Parts for a Commodore 64 are also going to be hard to find.

I don’t even want to think about the state of the mechanical disk drive or tape unit.

Never fear – with the help of modern technology, you can retrofit your old C64 – and it is easier than you might think.

And you know what? I’m going to do it!

Tesla Key Fob Hack – Are We Too Clever?

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The recently revealed vulnerability enabling hackers to trivially duplicate Tesla Model S key fobs, in my mind prompts an interesting technology question.

The Hack in a Nutshell

This does not apply to all Model S vehicles, but in simple terms, using a few hundred dollars of off-the-shelf radio and computer hardware, malicious actors can intercept transmissions from your key fob when nearby.

Using the intercepted data and about two seconds of computational power, they are able to duplicate your key fob.

This allows them to open your Tesla Model S, start your Tesla Model S, and drive your Tesla Model S away.

Noting that the cryptographic keys in use are only 40-bit keys, quoting from the Wired article:

The researchers found that once they gained two codes from any given key fob, they could simply try every possible cryptographic key until they found the one that unlocked the car. They then computed all the possible keys for any combination of code pairs to create a massive, 6-terabyte table of pre-computed keys. With that table and those two codes, the hackers say they can look up the correct cryptographic key to spoof any key fob in just 1.6 seconds.

The High-Tech Solution

To solve this vulnerability, Tesla are recommending a firmware update to the security systems in the Model S.

After unlocking the car and disabling the immobiliser system with the key fob, drivers would now need to enter a PIN on the console of the car before they can start it.

This provides rudimentary two-factor authentication, and is probably a reasonable solution to the problem, albeit lowering convenience for the owner.

Until the hackers figure out how to bypass the PIN code – and if the carrot is dangled, they will try.

Hackers are typically highly intelligent people who crave the challenge.

So, what else could we do?

The Lower-Tech Solution

As humans, how did we cope with unlocking our cars and starting them up before remote key fobs?

We coped, and we coped very well.

People walked up to their cars, and put the key in the door. They got inside and put the key in the ignition, and were on their way.

Why aren’t we still doing this?

Key systems without radio transmitters can still contain security codes, which could be read by the car when the key comes into physical contact with it.

All without broadcasting the security codes for hackers to scan and potentially use against you.

It would be harder to steal your car – and would our lives be that much more difficult if we stepped back to something like this?

Sometimes simple proven ideas are far better for us than fancy new ideas that haven’t been completely thought through.