Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Hopelessly Naïve

172 words

Ars technica on the danger of USB sticks and iPods as seen by corporations.

While I haven’t done anything like this myself, my experiences from playing with Linux suggest that this is a fairly trivial thing. IIRC you could simply say that certain devices be mounted read only by normal users. Or not at all. Shouldn’t that solve the problem of USB drives or iPods?

For CD-Rs – which the article mentions at the very end – the problem seems to be more tricky as there are usually extra drivers involved and the whole mount/filesystem thing doesn’t help. But I’m sure these drivers could be removed or be given restricted privileges if security is an issue.

Then, in the middle, the article asserts that it’s fairly easy to introduce malware once you have physical access to the machine. Is this really the case once network storage and even network booting comes into play? How would physical access to the hardware give you an advantage to to introduce malware in such a system?

September 9, 2004, 23:37


Comment by d.w.: User icon

First law of computer security — once an attacker has physical access to a machine, all bets are off.

On most computers, Mac and PC, there are magic keystroke combos / firmware configuration menus to change the boot device, unless you’ve locked the firmware (and how many people do that?)

Unless the filesystem is encrypted, a person booting from their own boot device (floppy, CD, USB, etc) has full access to all the raw devices (including disks) attached to the machine.

The person who wants to mount another CD on your linux machine powers it off and boots from their own Knoppix (or similar) disk.

These are the reasons that fileservers are usually in rooms with controlled access. :)

(server admin in another life)

September 10, 2004, 17:28

Comment by d.w.: User icon

addendum: and if they just want, say, your financial data, they can just open the computer case and pop out the hard drive…

September 10, 2004, 17:29

Comment by ssp: User icon

Hm, when you’re booting of the network, you’re surely storing your data on the network as well. Basically this makes the local hard drive superfluous. How much danger will there be from a machine like that with people being able to access the hardware.

In other words: Tell me how to hack our department’s computer system from my diskless client ;)

How does access to the hardware itself give me more power than access to the network cable in that case?

September 11, 2004, 10:45

Comment by d.w.: User icon

I can install any software I like on that machine I physically have access to, including keyloggers, packet sniffers, backdoors, and the like. Passwords and any sensitive unencrypted data on your subnet is mine, MUHAHAHA. :)

September 11, 2004, 12:40

Comment by ssp: User icon

Hm, I guess everyone is screwed then. Basically having a network connection with a separate cable or an external or otherwise accessible screen or an external keyboard will leave too many possible ways for the hardware to be manipulated.

If we go down that road we’ll undoubtedly end up having to have hardware that authentifies itself - as suggested by the Beast and its friends – or we could have computers sealed into handy kiosk style terminals with no chance of manipulating the hardware.


September 12, 2004, 21:07

Comment by d.w.: User icon

The only completely secure box is one sealed in a chunk of concrete, with no network connection. It’s also useless.

September 12, 2004, 22:32

Comment by ssp: User icon

It’s also useless.

Hey, another feature!

Almost sounds like a business idea – in a very Dilbert-esque way.

September 13, 2004, 0:06

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