Saturday, December 25, 2010

An interesting article about the Stuxnet worm

Articles about computer stuff generally catch my eye.  Because today is a "slow" day, I decided to troll some of the news sites and look for something that was interesting.  I ended up reading this article on Fox New's website found here.  Before I lose anyone (either because I'm reading something from Fox News or because this might end up being technical), if you have any interest in the Iranian enrichment program, you've really got to take a few minutes and read that Fox News article.  It is very interesting.

So, what is the Stuxnet worm?  You'll need to read the Wikipedia link for technical analysis.  (The Wikipedia link can be a bit technical, so be warned.)  Essentially it is a worm that installs itself into programmable logic controllers (PLC) and causes certain industrial equipment (as in nuclear enrichment centrifuges) to malfunction.  It will cause the centrifuges to speed up and then slow down, but masks these variances to the computers controlling the centrifuges.  When diagnostics are run, nothing abnormal shows up.  An added benefit is that the uranium that is being enriched ends up being less than optimal, and so it delays Iran's nuclear program.

According to descriptions in the article the worm is one sophisticated piece of code.  According to the article, the code is also very targeted so that it only attacks certain types of PLC equipment.  The people who wrote this were smart.  Very smart.  They used four Windows zero day exploits (zero day exploits are security holes in the code that no one knows about except for the hackers) on the worm.  They understood how people work.  They got the code where they wanted it and it took off like crazy.  And they were able to clean up after themselves.  The people involved here knew what they were doing.  And they appear to have been highly successful in their attack.

So, what does this mean for the Iranians and their nuclear ambitions?  Stuxnet is a delay and a learning lesson.  It is a delay because they have to clean up the virus and they have to repair their damaged centrifuges.  They also have to re-enrich the uranium that ended up not being as enriched as they wanted it to be.  This is a learning lesson because I am sure they are hardening their networking defenses so they are not susceptible to this kind of attack ever again.  If it does happen again, it means that they still have security and policy issues to deal with.  But I suspect they will be better prepared than they were previously.

To the authors of Stuxnet, all I've got to say is dang, you're good.  Keep up the good work.

Merry Christmas!

Friends, family, folks, and anyone else in between......


The day all my kids have been waiting for and the day I've been dreading has finally come and gone.  And yes, we all survived another Christmas.  Yehaw!  I hope that your Christmas Day was a pleasant one.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Night Before Christmas (A visit from St. Nicholas)

This is one of my favorite poems.  I think I have it practically memorized.  So here we go:

The Night Before Christmas
(A Visit From St. Nicholas)
by Clement Clarke Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, 
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the brest of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

Now, Dasher! now Dancer!  Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet!  on Cupid!  On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away!  dash away!  dash away all!

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes - - how they twinkled!  His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Christmas 2010 - The good, the bad, and the ugly

There are 10 more days (and one more weekend) before Christmas comes.  I have this love/hate relationship with Christmas......   I love to hate it!  (Just kidding.)  Some years I really get into Christmas and other years I don't.  This year is leaning towards one of those Christmases that I'm not liking a whole lot.  Why?  Because of the untimely home face lift described in this blog entry.  It ended up costing us a bunch of money and it essentially wiped us out.  I'm told that's called life and that stuff happens.  Kewel.  My house looks good.  On the bright side, I was able to pay for most of the repairs with cash, so I didn't have to take on too much debt to pay for the fixes.  In all honesty, we have been incredibly blessed this year.  It just stinks when things come and eat into your savings.

Now for "The good".  Drum roll please...

  • Christmas break:  Several companies that I've worked for will shut down during that week.  It is nice to get the time off and away from the stresses of the office.
  • Caroling:  We have a tradition of going caroling to the widows, singles (older singles), and older folks in the neighborhood.  That is a good experience and a good Christmas tradition.  We generally go with a bunch of neighbors and friends.
  • Giving presents:  Watching your children open up your gift(s) and beam with excitement and joy is something words cannot describe. 
  • Food/Chocolate:  English toffee (I love English toffee), peanut brittle, and chocolate.  "Children, get your hands off my Toblerone bar!!  Go eat your own!"
  • Charity:  In years past we have donated goods to a family in need usually anonymously.  That makes you feel good when you go and do that.
  • Kindness:  People seem to be a little bit better during the holidays.  A bit more friendly, helpful, thoughtful.
  • Snow:  This one is new this year because generally I strongly dislike snow, mostly because I have to remove it from my driveway.  I have a 4 wheeler with a plow and now pushing snow is fun!

The bad:

  • Busyness:  With all my kids involved in all their doings, work Christmas parties, church Christmas parties, friend Christmas parties, shopping, visiting, etc.  General stuff that you during this time of the year that you're just tired of being away from your house.
  • Giving presents:  I hate doing the shopping, especially when there is a lack of funds in the Christmas coffers.  This is the least enjoyable part of Christmas.
  • Mobs of people:  I used to like going to the mall.  Now I don't.  Too many people and too much noise.

The Ugly:

  • My checkbook balance:  Self explanatory.
  • January credit card bills:  Self explanatory, although this is improving
  • Returns:  Spending half of your Christmas vacation in lines waiting to return stuff.

GPSes - then and now

Nearly 10 years ago I purchased my first GPS.  I was going on a 4,000 mile round trip road trip (say that 10 times) and I wanted something to tell me where I was at when I was in the middle of no-where.  I also wanted something that had restaurants and so forth.  So I got a Garmin eMap.  Worked great.  Told me where I was at.  Life was good.

About a month ago I took a couple of trips.  One trip was to Los Angeles.  I was dreading the trip because Los Angeles (especially where I stayed) has bad traffic.  My old GPS really wasn't going to help me out.  So I ended up getting a new GPS, one that talks to you.  It has traffic, weather, maps forever (until they decide to end-of-life your GPS unit), Google, and much, much more!  It can even cut through aluminum cans!  (Just kidding.)  I took it to LA and it was absolutely fantastic.  It took me where I wanted to go.  It told me about traffic delays.  When I screwed it, it routed me another way.  I was impressed.  I took it on my next trip and it worked great.

The other day I was going to a place that I haven't been to in a really long time.  The trip was about 75 minutes long.  I was heading up the freeway when it started alerting me about delays on my route.  It finally said there was a faster route than the one that I was on and asked me if I wanted to recalculate my route.  Sure, why not?  So it did.  It continued to receive traffic updates.  Before I got to the problem area, it said that there was a faster route and asked me if I wanted to recalculate.  Sure, why not?  It left me on my original route.  I was listening to the radio and it was telling me all along there were traffic issues.  They said about where those problems were.  There was a wreck that was slowing traffic.  But I approached and passed the area and I didn't see any problems at all.  Then the radio said the problems were gone.  So the GPS was faster on the update than the radio was.

So if you're looking at purchasing or upgrading your GPS, I recommend that you do it, especially if you drive a lot.  Get one of those GPSes that will talk to you and gets live traffic updates.  How does it all work?  Well, the GPS has a cell phone chip in it and it talks to the home server and gets the updates wirelessly.  I'm not exactly sure how the server gets all the data, but it is incredibly accurate and timely.