Passwords And Encryption

The old native state of stored data (and even data nowadays on unencrypted drives) was creating a sensitive situation for government computers.  This is where the boost of encryption really got underway as more and more connectivity was gained between computer systems and more security was needed to prevent hacking situations.

It’s a very interesting thing to read about, and as you’ll be able to tell, we’ve certainly come a long way in terms of computer security.  Check out this excerpt from the 1980’s and how encryption was just starting to get used on a larger basis.


“Password Weaknesses

The principal difficulty with that type of system control is that once access to a user’s password combination has been gained, all the information stored under that indentification is available. There are no intermediate firewalls of protection for storing particularly valuable information or for storing each valuable piece separately.

Present means for securing communications between systems are either non-existent or involve point-to-point link level encryption. While the Data Encryption Standard (DES) can encrypt and decrypt data on a point-to-point basis, the native state of stored data is plain text and not cypher text.

The integrity of the system’s administration must be trusted to present plain text to the link-level communication wire where encryption can be performed.

That communication has the drawback of requiring absolute identification of the transmitter.

At certain times in a point-to-point communication, it is possible for an intruder to masquerade as the transmitting authority, implicitly validating the transmitted data while preserving the opportunity to copy or modify what is to be sent.

Encrypted Storage

The only practical solution is to encrypt data as it is initially stored. Using different encryption keys allows a user to subdivide information in a finer granularity, so that access to one piece of data does not mean access to all pieces.

Data is transmitted in cypher text in all of its local forms and when sent to remote locations. Only through the use of a decryption key under the explicit control of the original encryptor of the data does clear text become available to anyone.

Public key encryption offers additional benefits that make end-to-end encryption attractive. In public key systems, two keys are created, one of which is kept secret and the other made publicly available. Either key may encrypt or decrypt data.

If one key is used to encrypt data, only the corresponding opposite key may be used to decrypt the data. By encrypting data with the private key in the first place, the data is digitally “signed.” Because only the corresponding public key can decrypt the data, the original encryption operator can be precisely identified.

Service industries such as financial, legal and medical institutions where confidentiality of data is a top priority have found the public key encryption process advantageous. Because different service elements can encrypt different data for different users by their public keys, only the private keys available to each user can successfully produce plain text.

No systems in general use provide that kind of integrated data encrypt/decrypt tools. Public key systems suffer from a large computation requirement to encrypt or decrypt data. A tool with large computation capabilities needs to be made available on a variety of different vendors’ equipment.

It is the system designer’s responsibility to provide the tools to secure data within a system. One way is with end-to-end encryption. The designer must face its processing overheads, particularly with public key methods.”

Holmgren, Steven F. “Combined effort is needed to combat data tampering.” Government Computer News 17 July 1987: 76+.

Bill Gordon of We Hate Malware has written at length about spyware, malware, and other computer threats.  He believes that a quantum state of data storage is what is next for the next level of security, especially as quantum computers of the future will be able to break present-day encryption standards in a matter of seconds.

It’s a very interesting field and one where the security arms race is just heating up!


Combat Animals Of The Future?

If you’re into the tech sphere you may know about the different mechs that the US Army is putting together for the army of the future.


Zoo Security Came A Long Way

zoosecurityIn terms of zoo security, things are only just now reaching new highs.  It was an antiquated system at best that contained even the most vicious animals.  It’s interesting to look back in terms of how computer security evolved in order to ensure that nobody was able to reach into the minds of these computers and extract the data which governments were so carefully trying to protect.

Tempest is one response to what is slowly being recognized as a technological time bomb: loss of security in computer processing and information transmission systems.

The federal government, especially the military services, recognized more than two decades ago the danger of signal emanations from electronic equipment and the subsequent compromise of potentially sensitive data. Only in the last year or two, however, has private industry begun to look carefully at this explosive topic.

Consider that for less than $300 a reasonably clever technician can put together components bought from a popular electronics chain and be able to read computer screens within a mile or so, from almost any vantage point.

The intrusion device could be placed in a van, trailer or some other unobtrusive conveyance. It could monitor screen messages at random by successively scanning its targets. There would be no need for the device to decode anything, because it would be viewing, with no threat of detection, the same English-like messages the legitimate operator sees. This operator would not know screen images were being intercepted because the entire procedure relies on a simple fact: computers and their related peripherals indiscriminately disseminate information over radio frequencies.

There is no way to change the natural emission of radiation by computing components, but something can be done to stifle the emanations.

That something is Tempest technology. Tempest products constitute one of the hotter niche enterprises today. They include documentation, procedures, monitoring and systems that block potentially revealing emanations. Due to the sensitive nature of the Tempest program, many implementation details cannot be divulged. But there is enough general information and unclassified data to reveal its growing importance both in and outside the federal government.

Reducing and Shielding Signals

Control of compromising electromagnetic or acoustic emanations can be accomplished either by reducing signal levels or by shielding the radiation they produce.

In earlier years, the teletype was one of the prime emanators. Eventually a low-level signal teletype was developed. Today, power lines and signal lines carrying clear, unencrypted text are protected by means of shielding. Lines entering and exiting a “red” (unencrypted, but still classified) area are filtered or isolated to prevent clear text from being transmitted to the outside. Clear text is encrypted before external transmission. Fiber optics often are used to isolate signal lines between adjacent cabinets.

In data processing, Tempest devices traditionally have included peripherals, communications equipment and, more recently, personal computers. Large-scale computers are protected by shielded enclosures for economic reasons. It is simply too expensive to Tempest-certify large mainframes.

Equipment must be installed properly to ensure Tempest integrity. NACSIM 5203, Guidelines for Facility Design and Red/ Black installation, addresses this requirement for the Defense Department.

After installation, a facility is “swept.” Tempest teams visit a facility to measure emanation levels. Only after levels are sufficiently low is the facility approved for operation.

Ergonomics, or human engineering, also affects Tempest equipment. Source-suppression techniques are preferable to shielded enclosures so that switches, buttons, keys and other controls can remain unencumbered by boxes.”

Cashin, Jerry. “Focus on Tempest products.” Government Computer News 16 Jan. 1987: 21+.


In other words, shielding signals was one of the biggest ways that computer security advanced in the 1980’s.  Included in that were zoos and other containment facilities.  Imagine a Jurassic Park esque breakout because of a hacker such as Dennis Nedry.