Saturday, July 3, 2010

Protecting Physical Documents


The above picture is of my Subaru Baja. Sometime last night, someone broke my back window, and stole almost everything from my car, (they apparently did not like my music; btw Punk is not dead). Normally this would be a costly annoyance, but in this case I'm in the process of moving and finding a new job. While most of my stuff is sitting safely in a storage locker, I still had several boxes of various items stored in my back seat, including unfortunately my "to-go" bag.

My to-go bag contained all of my important possessions that I planned on grabbing if my house was in the process of burning down. For example, it contained two thumb drives with backups of all of my work plus assorted other documents. I'm not worried about them though since I used TrueCrypt. Good luck cracking those, which BTW, is the reason I love TrueCrypt. What I am concerned about though is that my social security card, my passport, my birth certificate, my extra banking checks, and a whole lot of other important paper documents were also taken. Visualize everything you don't want to be stolen and you have a pretty good idea of what was in that bag.

Of course the next question is "Why the Hell did you leave such important documents in your car?" My response is, laziness and a poor threat model. I needed several of those documents when getting a job. A drivers license by itself doesn't cut it, as you need at least two other forms of ID. Rather than grab those two documents out of my bag and leave the rest in the storage locker I grabbed the whole thing in case there was anything else I needed. Normally I also wouldn't leave it in my truck if I was planning on going somewhere sketchy, but I was parking in a well lit hotel parking lot, and quite simply I had my hands full hauling my bag of clothes, my suit and my computer bag into my room. Darned if I wanted to make a second trip back down to my car. What's worse though is I rationalized it away by saying that at least my car was locked, unlike my hotel room where any of the housekeeping staff could access it during my stay; Plus my car's never been broken into before... The reason that's worse is because I didn't simply forget my bag; I realized it might be a problem and then actively convinced myself that, "No, everything really is ok".

I have to confess that this is a difficult post for me to write. I was counseled by several friends never to mention this incident to anyone, (besides the cops and other officials of course). Their comments were along the lines of "You're looking for a security job, and you just had your life stolen because you left it in the back of a car. Even I wouldn't hire you now!" Of course that was said in jest, but the concern is real.

I'm willing to take that risk though for several reasons. First of all I'm really angry, both at the person who did this and myself. Actually mostly at myself which is seriously messed up. By talking about this incident hopefully I can gain a bit more control over the situation. Second, I'm a big fan of disclosure. If the above description doesn't sound like a typical computer attack, let me rewrite it for you:
The attacker performed an SQL injection attack against subaru_bajas_rule.com. After gaining access to the database they downloaded the user's social security number, banking information, and other personally identifiable information. Afterwards the attacker performed a 'drop table users' destroying the local copy of the data. When the site administrator was asked about this, he responded that knew SQL injection attacks were common, but he never expected to be targeted by one. As for the reason why the user data was accessible, the administrator admitted the site was in the process of transitioning to a new forum software, and that if the attack happened a week later when the new forum software was in place, this wouldn't have been a problem.
I've always felt that security incidents can happen to anyone, and what's important is to focus on the remediation, and use them as a learning tool to make sure the same attack doesn't happen again. That's one nice thing about having a blog, I'm on record on saying much the same thing when talking about the ZF0 attack, so at least this isn't a new found belief I came to after finding myself completely 0wned ;)

So in the spirit of full disclosure I wanted to talk about this attack in a public forum where hopefully it will benefit other people, and if someone doesn't want to hire me because I'm not perfect, well at least they found out now. So on to a more detailed analysis of the attack:
  1. Only items in the back seat were stolen. Since there was so much stuff it looks like the attacker grabbed what they could, and then left without doing a full search of the car. I just was really unlucky that everything I cared about was in the back seat.
  2. When this happened, my car was parked at the far end of the parking lot, since I'd rather walk than squeeze into a small spot. This was a serious mistake considering all of the stuff I had in my car.
  3. While there was a night watchman, he did not notice the attack. Likewise there were no sensors collecting forensically useful data, (aka cameras, and the thief did not leave any useable fingerprints).
  4. I'm much too focused on digital issues. The fact that I bothered to encrypt my electronic documents and the store them with paper documents that are way more valuable to an attacker shows a serious lack of priorities and/or threat modeling. I'm not saying don't encrypt your files, but simply that I should have taken the same care with my other documents and locked them up in my hotel room safe.
  5. The mindset, "Just because something bad hasn't happened to me in the past means it won't happen to me in the future" is very hard to avoid.
  6. I really hope all that is happening right now is some 16 year old kid is trying to use my passport to buy booze. That being said, I need to plan for much more serious scenarios, hence closing my old bank account rather than just canceling my checks, signing up to a credit check service, etc.
  7. Dealing with issues like this on a holiday weekend is extremely difficult. Canceling my old bank account and moving it to a new one was particularly stressful since I had a couple of hours to do it before the bank closed for the long weekend. Likewise, I will have to wait till Tuesday to have my car window replaced. Of course, cyberattacks never happen during a holiday...
  8. Security policies are important, but what's more important is enforcement of those policies. You really do need some force from on high telling people, "Yes, it is a pain to take a second trip down to your car, but you are going to do it anyway".
  9. Storing all of your valuables in one place has advantages and disadvantages. I still don't know if the idea of a to-go bag was a fundamentally bad idea, but I certainly should have "checked out" my two forms of id from it rather than taking the whole thing.
  10. What makes a fiasco is a cascade of multiple smaller mistakes/failures occurring together. Whether we are talking about the BP oil spill, or a horribly hilarious Peter Pan play, serious problems often are not the result of just one thing going wrong, but several poor decisions.
  11. Combined with my comments in the previous paragraphs, it's really easy to analyze all of the stuff that I did wrong after the fact. The problem is it all of my decisions seemed so reasonable at the time. On the other hand, you can't live a perfectly secure life. What I'm wrestling with right now is how to re-evaluate my personal threat models and learn from this incident without letting it ruin my life.
Well, that about does it for now. Hopefully I can get back to the focus of this blog, the academic study of password cracking techniques, soon. This whole real life security thing can be pretty annoying...

7 comments:

Nancy said...

Oh no!! horrid event, but a rather hysterical telling of the tale. Hope you get a job.

SriHarsha said...

sorry to hear about this. I hope the damage can be curtailed to a minimum. GOod luck

Steve said...

Ugh, sorry to hear it. My security model also incorporates laziness and a poor threat model: keeping important paper documents scattered around the house and neglecting to keep offsite data backups has worked, so far.

You still have your Virginia safety inspection sticker, but it's quite out of date. There's no EXIF data in the image. So I have to ask, are you interviewing in Florida or up north?

Jonathon said...

Thanks for sharing this. "Full disclosure" allows everyone to learn from the experience, as well as from your insights about it.

I'm sorry we have to live in a world with such dishonesty/thievery.

Finally, the bottom of your blog posts' "Response:" poll is setting off my NoScript ver 1.9.9.99's ClearClick warning.

Matt Weir said...

Hey thanks everyone. I'm trying to view this whole thing as an experimental study into the methods of identity thieves ;) It also helps to remind myself that thousands of people have been victims of 419 scams so there are some mechanisms in place to deal with identity theft.

Steve, your comment showed why I never include EXIF data in my pictures ;) To answer your question, I'm currently in the NoVa area interviewing for jobs. I still am employed at my old company, but I figured this was a good time to check out other opportunities as well.

Jonathon, the ClearClick warning is because there are a couple of options in the poll that don't show up since there wasn't enough space for them when I switched the page layout a long time ago. I probably need to just delete them.

Once again, thanks everyone.

J Bruni said...

Just watch "Faith Like Potatoes"

http://www.faithlikepotatoes.com

Ruby said...

Aww, sad to hear about that. I hope the attacker didn’t use your documents against you. Yes, it was a mistake to leave those documents in your car; they must be safely kept somewhere or in something where only you could access. I know you know that by now. You know what they say: "The best lessons are learned the hard way." Ruby @ WilliamsDataManagement.com