Saturday, May 26, 2018

Passwords, part one

Lets talk about passwords.
The Daily Mail ran a recent article on computer security. Lack of computer security changed the course of history via Wikileaks and the Clinton campaign's amateurish approach to security.

According to the Daily Mail, the five most common failings are:

Failure to enable two-factor authentication (2FA). Most major online services, from Amazon to Apple, today support 2FA.

Failure to encrypt your internet traffic. A virtual private network (VPN) service encrypts digital communications, making it hard for hackers to intercept them.

Failure to tighten up your password security. This is easier than it sounds, and the danger is real: Hackers often steal a login and password from one site and try to use it on others.

Failure to monitor your devices' behind-the-scenes activities. Many computer programs and mobile apps keep running even when they are not actively in use.

Opening any hyperlinks or attachments in emails that are suspicious.

So, what is a "strong" password...a really strong one?

It is long. The majority (about two-thirds) of passwords are at the minimum length. Another 20% are only one character longer.

Assuming 26 commonly used characters (lower case letters) eight characters poses 2e11 combinations. Adding two more characters increases the number of combinations that must be tried by a factor of 676. Adding three more characters increases it by a factor of 17,576. That is, it will take a computer program 17 thousand times longer to solve it.

Avoid vowels
There are five vowels and twenty-one consonances. People typically choose words or names and vowels will be grossly over-represented. Take those phrases/names/addresses and remove the vowels. It will be just as memorable and tougher to break.

Capital letters
Use some capital letters but don't use them in the lead position.

Most people are conditioned to use cap letters to start sentences or at the start of a proper noun. Programmers trying to break passwords know this. Use at least three cap letters and make none of them the first character.

Using the lead character as a capital letter only increases the number of tries from 2.0e11 to 2.2e11...hardly worth the effort. "Sprinkling" several cap letters through the password increases an eight character password from 2.2e11 to 5.3e13, a 256 fold increase.

Use some numbers. Avoid strings of 4 sequential digits or strings of two because many people use dates (eg, I was married in '87 or 1987). Use at least two numbers and sprinkle them in the password.

A mix of lower case, upper case and numbers yields an eight character "strength" of 2.2e14...slightly stronger than a 10 character password.

Special characters
The most commonly used "special" characters are used almost as much as a typical consonant. Hardly a bulletproof security measure. Avoid "!", ".", "@", and "#", "-", "$", "*" and "+". What is left?

“ % & ‘ ( ) , / : ; < > [ \ ] ^ ` { | } ~ I took the liberty of "graying out" the other special characters that appear behind numbers and are thus most likely to be high runners.

According to this article, most passwords only use a single, special character. Those that use a double typically use the same character twice and have them back-to-back. Use at least two different special characters and separate them.

So, how much does it help to use special characters?

If you use at least two more characters than the minimum, at least three upper case sprinkled through the password, three numbers, and two "low-runner" special will take a hacker a minimum of 94 million times longer to break your password. The thing is that hackers use smart programs that concentrate their search using patterns that most people use....patterns that you will now avoid. Your passwords will be lurking in the last corner they look.

As a final note, use different passwords for different sites. Yes, I know it is a pain in the butt. All of your effort can fail if a hacker drills into an unsecured site and steals your one, perfect, universal password.

Write them on a 3X5 card and lock it in your safe or put it in your Bible next to your favorite verse.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Installment 5.5: A small reserve of speed

DeTroy Williams sat in the driver’s seat of his bus.  His guts were growling but no worse than they had growled the day before.

He was lined up behind the last of the decoys that were to head west toward Maricopa, hopefully to pull defenders in that direction. The decoys were running with their lights on while the actual convoy was running "dark", except when they applied their when they were waiting.

His bus was at the vanguard of the 4000 odd vehicles that were to penetrate into downtown Los Angeles and to hook up with Cali troops that were holding the Federal buildings.  There, they would replenish ammo and receive medical attention.

As the first vehicle in the convoy he was the most likely to be targeted and killed.  He had come to accept that fact.  Bona-Brown was a spiteful man and had left DeTroy an “officer” so every person entering and leaving his bus would have to stop and salute him.  And he, in turn, would have to salute back.

 The buses were staged in four columns.  Each bus had approximately forty soldiers and an officer sitting immediately behind the driver whose job it was to hand out weapons upon disbarkment.  DeTroy’s officer was tipping into shock due to dehydration and would not survive the morning.

The convoy turned onto I-5.  At that point I-5 is a divided highway with three northbound and three southbound lanes.  The convoy drove down both the north and southbound lanes.  The center lanes were reserved for the Godzillas.  The Godzillas took the precaution of bracketing themselves between two buses to provide some shielding from the expected artillery.

Visibility was poor but adequate.  The moon was nearly full and was just starting to descend.  The pale rock was bare of vegetation and reflected the moonlight onto the pavement.

The California Central Valley is alluvial in origin.  It is the bottom of ancient lake beds and is notable for its flatness.  As one heads south on I-5, the landscape changes from flat to folded.

Flatlands are ideal for armored movement.  Defenders are not able to predict enemy movement and cannot concentrate their fire.  Flatlands favor the offensive.

Hills favor the defender.  The steep slopes and the valleys that fold back on themselves funnel invaders.  The multiply wrinkled landscape provides a multitude of firing positions that are shielded from direct counterbattery.

DeTroy knew that the shit was going to hit the fan as soon as I-5 left the flatlands.

He had a panoramic view through his windshield.  Time passed in slow motion for him.  His bus was slaved to the convoy via WIFI and the convoy was traveling at a precise 80 klicks per hour.  He could see the twinkle of shells detonating above I-5 as they approached the cut south of Grapevine.  Clearly, the crews were tuning in their positions.  And then the twinkling stopped.

DeTroy thought he had escaped unscathed when nothing had happened for the first ten minutes.  But then, six klicks south of Grapevine, just after rounding a bend that prevented the rest of the convoy from seeing him, the sky lit up with aerial mortar bursts.  One of the shells detonated 150 feet above his bus and slightly in front of it such that he could see it through his windshield.

Lest you forget, DeTroy’s formative years had been shaped by the game of football.  DeTroy was a wide receiver which is one of the most exposed positions in the violent game of football.

A skilled quarterback will throw the ball so the receiver must stretch out and catch the ball with just his fingertips.  Stretched out, the receiver is vulnerable to injuries due to violent tackles.  Even after catching the ball the receiver is vulnerable as every defender in the backfield vectors toward him.

DeTroy learned early on that the best defense was to not be there when the tackler intended to impact.  He held back a small reserve of speed for that very situation.  The difference between getting slammed to the ground and a glancing tackle and a possible first down was a matter of six inches.

Blogging will be light this weekend

I will be away from my computer this weekend.  Kubota's laptop no longer does WIFI.

The plan is for me to travel to Charlotte, North Carolina and spend the weekend.
Weather in Ohio when I went to watch Bella earlier this month.  Dwarf tossing is often held near college stadiums due to the close proximity of restaurants serving adult beverages.  Dwarves are notoriously thirst.

Belladonna was invited to a dwarf tossing tournament in Charlotte over Memorial Day weekend.  She invited me to watch.  Bella has not had a great dwarf tossing season.  The weather sucked which makes them slippery.  The dwarfs had been drinking.  Many of them were mouthy.

Still, Bella kept her chin up and kept throwing.  She threw well enough to be noticed and was invited to this event in Charlotte.

I think she is hoping for rain and 47 degree weather so she can feel at home.  Looking at the weather I think she will get half of what she wants.

This trip meshed nicely with the need to transport Southern Belle's new pup.  SB plans to drive up from Miami, FL after work.  Bella is not wild about having a pup around.  This is her time.

The truck is gassed up.  I topped off the diffy fluid and radiator fluid. The extra key wired to the truck frame where I can get to it when I do something stupid.  The iced tea is mixed.

My current plan is flexible.  Mrs ERJ advised me to stop every two hours and walk the pooch.  I would love to get as far as Western Virginia and then have a quick two or three hour run down, into Charlotte.
Burke's Garden is a karst feature.  It is a sinkhole created when caverns, 4 miles by 8 miles in dimension, collapsed.  Unfortunately, it is a little bit out-of-the-way.

I would love to have a chance to go walking around Appalachia.  

Pictures will be taken.  If I cannot report on the fly I will post an after-action report.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Installment 5.4: EMP...the life of the party

Walt retransmitted “Repeat: I have six columns approaching.Estimated speed is fifty miles per hour.  They must have removed the governors.  I got a laser on them and the data says they are moving at fifty miles an hour.”

“Holy shit!” Chad exclaimed off-mic.

“Do you have a firing interval figured?” Chad asked.

“According to my calculator, in total, we need to drop a round on them every four seconds if we want a round ‘shingled’ every 300 feet.” Walt said.  He was something of a whiz at math.  "Or we can salvo every fifteen seconds or so an paint a quarter mile of pavement."

"I direct the teams to salvo.  Team alpha sets the cadence, everybody else tweak time in flight to match." Chad said.

“I should have asked this earlier.  Does anybody know how many rounds of EMP we have?” Chad asked.  He could tell that he was handicapped by his lack of sleep.

“Our team has two pallets of EMP ammo.  I counted out one pallet and it had sixty rounds. So that means we have 120 rounds.” Team alpha responded.

The other teams concurred.  They all had two pallets of EMP ammo.

Walt chimed in, “Works out to 720 rounds or about fifty minutes worth of firing.  Do you want us to try to stretch it out?”
The "Kill zone" the Cali attack force must travel through.
“Nope.” Chad said.  “I want to give the defenders down the line a clear break point.  Start firing just before they enter the ‘kill zone’ and drop one round every four seconds on them.  Walt, you have the ping-pong paddles.  Everybody else, light them up when Walt gives you the word.”

Chad switched channels.  ““Izzo-to-Pitoitua.  Izzo-to-Pitoitua.  Come in.” Chad transmitted.

“Pitoitua here.”

“Cali columns proceeding south at fifty miles per hour.  I repeat, five-zero miles per hour, measured with laser.  Traveling in four columns and running without lights.  Anticipate arrival at highway 138 at 2:40 AM.”

“Are you under fire?” Pitoitua asked.

“Negative.  We can see artillery mixed in with personnel carriers.  They are all making fifty mph.  No return fire.  No drones.  We just about to start painting column with the EMP weapons.  No confirmation regarding effectiveness.” Chad transmitted.

The radio transmissions became uneven, even behind two ridges.  The squelch was fighting the bursts of static each time four EMP shell went off.

Walt and Kenny would have been a good musical conductors.  Kenny directed the teams to where the shells were coming in 100 yards apart and Walt tuned up the time-to-targets so they were bursting nearly simultaneously.

Each team had two loaders.  The first one picked it off the pallet and put it on the charging cradle.  The charging cradle was a capacitor with the size and appearance of a very large beer cooler.  A black box converted the 120V AC that into 30,000V DC was plugged into the generator and pumped up the capacitor banks in the charging cradle.  The charging cradle, in turn, charged the small capacitor bank in the EMP shell just prior to firing. 

Capacitor-to-capacitor charging is instantaneous.  The only complication when using high capacity capacitors is that instantaneous charging vaporizes the charging lugs.  Consequently, the process has to be de-tuned.  As it was, the charging was nearly instantaneous by human standards and accompanied with a loud “SNAP!” that stood everybody's hair on end.

The small capacitor bank on the EMP shell were the most expensive part of the system and comprised the rear 2/3s of the shell.  They combined reliability, capacity and compactness.  The electrical charge carried by the on-board capacitor was the primer for the EMP.

The front third of the shell was comprised of a drawn aluminum can wrapped with heavy gauge wire.  The can assembly was nested within a surprisingly thin shell of high explosive.  Protruding out of the can assembly was patch antenna that was made of pure silver and supported with carbon fiber scaffolding.

The shell detonated when the angle of descent pass the specified level.  A copper BB rolled down a "straw" and closed a contact which energized a relay.  The relay dumped the energy in the capacitor into the heavy gauge wire.  The copper sphere also initiated a timing circuit which fired the high explosive shell just as the coil was fully energized.  The explosive crushed the can-coil assembly and generated a very short, very intense power surge.  The explosive charge also severed the “return” leg of the coil.  Having nowhere else to go, the power surge energized the patch antenna in the nose of the shell.

The explosions three hundred feet above the pavement were less than impressive to mortar crew who were used to shells made by 24 ounces of TNT.

What they could not see was the havoc the EMP pulse did to the electronics on-board the vehicles.

Every electronic device that was connected to an antenna or was powered by exposed wiring was damaged.  Fuses melted, then vaporized as the pulse leapt the gap created by the fusible links.  The surge flooded into integrated circuits.  It arced across capacitors leaving carbon traces of charred shellac that turned the capacitors into conductors.  It broke down diode and transistor junctions and the thermal shock cratered the silicon substrate.

The problem was exacerbated by the recent upgrades the Cali technical people made to the electronics package.  They had looked at the military grade electronics and scoffed at the ferrite beads and abundance of chokes.  They laughed at the heavy wire, and in the case of the fire control package in the old Soviet self-propelled artillery, the vacuum tubes.

They replaced all of the military grade electronics with state-of-the-art commercial electronic; electronics that ran 50 times faster, consumed 5% of the electricity, occupied 20% of the space and in audio applications did not clip the high frequency content.  The Cali tech people did not have a very high opinion of their military counterparts.