Saturday, January 23, 2016

For the bored: Infosec Noir

Instead of doing productive things I’ve found a new outlet for self-entertainment, and I seem to be amusing a few others, too.

My newish Twitter account is @InfosecNoir, it is:

“The adventures of Jimmy Black. He decrements the TTLs of cybercriminals so you don't have to.

He has a drinking problem, but only when his glass is empty.”

It is pretty low volume, and is meant to entertain me.  If it entertains you, too, then maybe follow, or just check in occasionally.

Important note: While some of it is autobiographical, and some is “based on true stories”, much is pure fiction.  I’ll admit the first tweet is autobiographical,


after that, your guess is as good as mine.  And for the pedantic, it was Atorvastatin, not Lipotor™.  Yay generics.



Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Open Live Writer

Oh, hey- bloggy thing.  I know I should blog more, both here and over on my travel drinking blog, but you know…

Open Live Writer

One very nice recent development is that a team at Microsoft has created an Open Source fork of Windows Live Writer.  WLW used to be a really sweet, lightweight WYSIWYG blog tool for Windows- then it got Microsofted and bloaty, then abandoned.  Open Live Writer brings it back from the dead, updates authentication to work with modern platforms, and pulls out a lot of cruft.

It is still early in development, but so far it is working well for me and I do not miss any of the “missing” features.  I’m enjoying the speed and functionality of Open Live Writer, and I’m grateful that some folks at Microsoft have revived this great little tool.  If you are a blogger and Windows user, check it out.



Sunday, January 17, 2016

Introducing the PIVOT Project

OK kids, this is cool.  Know a hacker or computer club or school that could use some free, community-contributed labs?

Pivot Cyber Challenges


From the website (

“People who earn great jobs in cyber security have mastered both academics and hands-on skills.  But where can people with a wide variety of skill levels get hands-on practice with real-world cyber security problems?  On January 12, the PIVOT project goes live to help meet that need. PIVOT makes it possible for students and others, all over the world, to build their hands-on skills in a fun, challenging, real-world cyber environment.  PIVOT provides exciting hands-on labs and challenges for student groups and associated faculty, completely free.  Through a variety of engaging downloadable materials, participants build their hands-on skills to help them pivot from academic studies to their future cyber security careers.”

To kick things off there’s a contest to get things moving and gather feedback:

“We’re launching PIVOT with a special contest and over a dozen prizes so you can help make PIVOT even better.  Prizes include gift cards, club pizza feasts, t-shirts, and more!

To participate in the contest and help us make PIVOT even better, all you need to do is have your group work through your choice of at least two of our current labs, and then have a student leader or faculty member fill out our contest form by February 15, 2016.  The contest form gathers information about your experiences with the labs and recommendations for additional PIVOT challenges.  From all submitted entries, we’ll select the top 5 with the most useful input to receive our grand prizes.  Then, from all submitted entries, we’ll select another 10 at random to receive a prize.”

Please check out PIVOT Project and spread the word, it is off to a great start but now we need to build the community.



Saturday, January 9, 2016

A different kind of magic

Yesterday the world lost a good man, and the hacker community lost a great friend.  David Jones, better known to many as Rance, or @RevRance, ended his battle with cancer early yesterday morning, his suffering is over.

A great photo of Rance by Kevin Riggins
Throughout history we’ve called anything we don’t understand “magic”.  To those of us in technical fields we often think of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
but many things we don’t understand other than technology have been called magic as well.

Rance had a special magic.  We may not have understood how he always seemed to know who needed a kind word, or how he knew exactly what the needed word was, but he did.  In the last couple of years it was sometimes hard to understand how he remained so kind, generous, and happy in the face of his cancer battles- but he did, because he was Rance.  That is a special kind of magic, and we will miss it dearly.

While we mourn our friend we can remember him best by trying to find a little of that special Rance magic in ourselves and each other.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Recruiter and SEO response templates

I’m normally sympathetic to technology recruiters, but some are just hopeless.  These, I have no sympathy for.  An the SEO spammers, no sympathy for any of them.  Every now and then, one is so obnoxious that I feel compelled to respond, and as a community service I’m sharing templates I use for responding to the worst of them.

For the recruiters:

[Dude/Dudette], I hate to be an ass, but really- digging up an ancient resume and throwing names at the wall to see if any stick- this is why recruiters like you and your ilk are loathed.  As someone who spends a lot of time trying to help folks develop and advance their technology and security careers this shit really pisses me off.

I'm not interested in moving at this time, but not being a fool I would entertain appropriate offers.  That means a minimum of [INSERT LARGE NUMBER HERE] plus options or equity, a maximum of [SMALL AMOUNT OF TIME HERE] hours per week dedicated to direct company work, support of my [LARGE NUMBER] of hours per week for community development and engagement, plus research time.  Oh, and support of my [TRAVEL, SPEAKING, DRINKING, ETC.] schedule.

The one I use for SEO is specific to Security BSides, but feel free to adapt as appropriate for your needs:

I'm sorry [SEO SCUMBAG'S NAME HERE], but we're a global community of technology and security experts, many of us have been in the field since pre-Web days... and none of us has ever heard of you or your firm.  We have a globally recognized and respected brand and have drawn several thousand participants to hundreds of events around the world without your help.

In fact, perhaps you would be interested in contracting with some of our technology, social media, and marketing experts to help build your brand- at competitive consulting rates, of course.  If not, please remove this, and every other Security BSides affiliated email from your lists.

Yes, I can be a bit of an ass, but it is occasionally justified.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

SWAMP, the Software Assurance Marketplace


I recently took a fresh look at the “SWAMP”, the Software Assurance Marketplace- it is a great idea and a valuable resource.  The short and incomplete story is that SWAMP is a suite of software analysis tools integrated into a centralized, cloud-based software testing environment- and it is available to software developers, software tool developers, and researchers- for free.

From their website:

“Software is a crucial component of daily living, affecting worldwide economic structures and the services we depend on every day. With the increasing rate of security breaches, it is clear that conventional network security solutions are no longer able to defend our privacy, corporate data, and critical banking information. Today’s applications need to be built more securely at the code level, and that code needs to be tested regularly.

The SWAMP was developed to make it much easier to regularly test the security of these applications and to provide an online laboratory for software assessment tool inventors to build stronger tools. Testing is often complicated and challenging, because comprehensive testing requires the use of several disparate tools with no central means of managing the process. The SWAMP is a no-cost, high-performance, centralized cloud computing platform that includes an array of  open-source and commercial software security testing tools, as well as a comprehensive results viewer to simplify vulnerability remediation. A first in the industry, the SWAMP also offers a library of applications with known vulnerabilities, enabling tool developers to improve the effectiveness of their own static and dynamic testing tools. Created to advance the state of cybersecurity, protect critical infrastructures, and improve the resilience of open-source software, the SWAMP integrates security into the software development life cycle and keeps all user activities completely confidential.”

The current test environment is able to test software written in C/C++, Java (including Java on Android), Ruby and Python- with JavaScript and PHP in development.  SWAMP will support eight languages by the end of the year.  There are currently sixteen tools in the suite with more being added, and numerous commercial companies are participating- including Veracode, CodeDX, Goanna, GrammaTech, and Parasoft.

The Marketplace team includes some serious academic centers for technology, the Morgridge Institute and the Department of Computer Sciences at U of Wisconsin-Madison, the Pervasive Technology Institute at Indiana University, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at U of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  In my conversation with Bart Miller and Miron Livny of SWAMP it was clear that this project was built for practical use in the real-world, it is not an academic exercise- this is immensely practical and useful stuff.

There are many more details on their background page, including some impressive tech specs (at least I consider 700 cores, 5 TB of RAM, and 104 TB of HDD impressive).

We are going to try to get folks from SWAMP on the Security Weekly Podcast to discuss the marketplace in depth.  Stay tuned for more on that.



Monday, September 14, 2015

A long overdue note of thanks

It has been way too long since I stopped and thanked folks to whom I owe a debt of gratitude, today I would like to start to remedy that. I have been incredibly fortunate to have had a series of great jobs with outstanding employers over the past several years, without the support of my employers I would not have achieved what I have, and I couldn’t have contributed near as much to the many communities and causes I’ve been able to support over the years.

Almost eight years ago I joined Astaro, a German UTM company. I started in the support team, but ended up in the role of Community Development Manager or something like that. Astaro was where I really started expanding my engagement with the hacker and security communities beyond my home turf of Boston and Providence; at first they tolerated it, then they encouraged it, and eventually encouraged it and supported many community events. (BSides Trivia: Astaro was the first company to put up sponsorship money for Security BSides).

The team at Astaro was great, and I think that was a reflection on the founders, three college friends, very smart, but different people. Jan Hichert, Markus Hennig, and Gert Hansen built a strong team, and a great company. Sophos agreed, and acquired Astaro in 2011. Jan, Markus, and Gert have a new company now, Ocedo, and it looks like they’re putting together another solid company. I owe Jan, Markus, Gert, and the entire Astaro team thanks for all of their support and encouragement- and I wish them the best of fortunes in their latest and future ventures.

In 2011 as Astaro was being acquired by Sophos I had a conversation with Ron Gula about joining Tenable Network Security. I had chatted with Ron and also with Jack Huffard about joining Tenable in the past, but this time it seemed like it was time for me to make the next step in my career. Tenable was founded by three very smart, but very different people, Ron Gula, Jack Huffard, and Renaud Deraison (I see a pattern here). I have evolved through a variety of roles at Tenable, all the time getting the support that has enabled me to continue to engage with various communities and projects that I have supported through the years. At Tenable I’ve had the amazing fortune to work not only with the founders, but also with people like Marcus Ranum, Cris Thomas (better known as Space Rogue to most folks), Carlos Perez, Paul Asadoorian, and many others. As with Astaro, I owe Ron, Jack, Renaud and the team they’ve built at Tenable many thanks for opportunities I’ve been given and the support I’ve received.

So when I’m whining on Twitter or wherever, remember that I have been fortunate enough to work for and with some brilliant people, and not just brilliant, but genuinely good people.

Can you imagine how much of a bitter old man I’d be if it weren’t for having awesome jobs?


If you’re going to be upset with me, please do it for the right reasons.

First- I’m speaking personally here, I am not speaking for anyone else, or for any organization, just for me.

Second, please remember that BSides Las Vegas is not Security BSides. Each Security BSides event is organized and operated separately. Although there are familiar faces at some BSides (and also at many other non-BSides events) they are separate events and organizations. As of this writing there have been 202 Security BSides events across 83 cities which were not BSidesLV. Please do not let any frustration you have with Security BSides Las Vegas damage the work of thousands of people building communities around the globe.

I doubt I’ll change any minds, but I want people to understand my perspective on what happened between Security BSides Las Vegas, Inc. and Adrian Crenshaw, better known as Irongeek to many. Adrian has been a huge asset to the security and hacker communities for many years, providing videography and other services to a myriad of events- generally for free or for token assistance with expenses. Until recently I considered Adrian a friend, and I still do- although I doubt he feels the same towards me; I can’t blame him if he no longer considers me a friend and this truly saddens me. I still have a great deal of respect for Adrian and for what he does and has done for the communities he serves. Adrian’s website, is an amazing resource, it houses a phenomenal archive of presentations from a multitude of conferences.

If you are unaware of the situation, it might be good to see Rob Graham’s post at Errata Security, Rob has a detailed and independent view, and also see the official statement from the BSides Las Vegas Board of Directors. Or maybe you’ll want to ignore it altogether, many do.

Some folks mistakenly think this was about Adrian’s views on women and is some kind of politically correct attempt to silence him; that is absolutely wrong. We (I and other members of the BSidesLV board) have defended Adrian’s right to voice his opinions; even when BSidesLV was challenged for having someone with some of his views on staff we defended his right to express himself and we continued to embrace Adrian as part of the BSides Las Vegas team.

We are a diverse community, and we have diverse opinions. Security BSides Las Vegas has encouraged diverse voices from the beginning, including content some found offensive. From Val Smith’s brilliant social and political rant at the first event through John McAfee last year, from topics like 3-D printed sex toys to prostitution on Craigslist, we have never been shy about hosting and encouraging challenging ideas. Some will remember that BSidesLV’s response to an unfortunate situation with Violet Blue at another event was to invite Violet to keynote BSidesLV 2013 to make sure her voice was heard.

I do not want to silence Adrian. I have defended his right to voice his opinions, including those I strongly disagree with, and I will continue to do so. I’m no Voltaire, but the quote from Evelyn Beatrice (often misattributed to Voltaire himself)

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”

applies here. OK, maybe not all the way to death, but you get the idea.

So what happened?  Adrian inserted offensive popups between content hosted on his site and anyone accessing the site from Mississippi State University, apparently because of a long-running disagreement with Wesley McGrew, an associate professor at MSU.  Wesley has had disagreements with others in the past, but that isn’t really relevant here. Regardless of what Wesley said or did to Adrian, part of Adrian’s response used content donated to the community and entrusted to BSidesLV to advance his personal agenda without the consent or even knowledge of those whose videos were hosted on Adrian’s site. BSides Las Vegas was notified and called out publicly and privately for the offensive material and once it became public, the response had to be public. Sadly, the appropriate response was terminating our relationship with Adrian and stating it publicly.

Although not part of my decision to support the board’s actions, I feel the issue was compounded because the few who saw the offending messages were students; the next generation of our industry was exposed while trying to learn from community contributed content.

I regret the action we had to take, but I stand with the board. Could we have handled it better? Of course- but I’m not sure exactly how. Maybe the wording of the statement could have been better, but the entire board was involved in drafting the statement. If you have genuinely constructive suggestions or criticisms, I welcome them.

That’s the short version (yeah, almost 800 words is the short version), but I’m including a few points below to address specific comments I’ve seen. There’s no prize for reading to the end, but if you want more context, please read on.

The fact that few saw the message, and that the content was available elsewhere does not change the fact that community contributed content was used to promote offensive messages in a personal disagreement.

No, it wasn’t just an “April Fools” joke, I checked my calendar and couldn’t find April 1 anywhere in September. It may have started with that, but it ran long after April 1, and the timing of hundreds of hours of new content uploaded over the summer and a new semester at the university inevitably led to the offensive messages being seen by students and reported publicly.

And to be clear, Adrian is not “banned” from BSidesLV. I would welcome him with open arms if he ever wants to attend another BSides Las Vegas.

Oh, and David Kennedy is a gentleman. Many people are only friends when it is easy to be friends- which isn’t really what I consider friendship. David, thank you for being a friend with whom I can disagree and still remain friends.

About the public response- in the past several years I have helped to mediate a number of conflicts, both public and private, within the hacker and InfoSec communities. One of the clear lessons I’ve learned is that once an issue is public any attempt to sweep it under the rug is likely to backfire. Had the BSides Las Vegas Board of Directors attempted to be silent on this issue we would have been called out for it, and the issue would have become public, but not in any way under our control.

The immediate rush by some to take sides wasn’t unexpected, but it was generally disappointing. I have received many messages of support, but some were concerning rather than comforting. There seemed to be a significant, but not universal, split along an already stressed line; those who primarily self-identify as “hackers” were more likely to attack BSidesLV, those who identify as “InfoSec” were much more likely to support BSidesLV. I guess we still have work to do bridging the gap, and those of us who straddle it continue to struggle. Statements like “there’s no room for misogynists in InfoSec” are problematic for me. I’ve had my little battles with systemic misogyny, notable the “booth babe” phenomenon; this led to my parody company Misogyny Networks and a few amusing encounters. But “there’s no room for (X)ists in (Z)” is troubling once we abstract it from the specifics. Thierry Zoller recently shared a video on “The Right to Offend”, delivered by Brendan O’Neill at Oxford, That video and by Shami Chakrabarti at the same event are powerful reminders of the importance of dissent and the freedom to offend.

A factor that some have overlooked is that BSidesLV is different than many conferences. Security BSides Las Vegas, Inc. is a Nevada Charitable and Educational Non-Profit Corporation, and a 501(c)(3). The current corporation and board were built after BSides Las Vegas reorganized after earlier struggles, it was a conscious decision to create a 501(c)(3) and create a transparent and structured entity- but that meant being a real corporation, with lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers, insurance, directors, officers, and policies. And legal and financial restrictions. It also means that we annually review and sign our conflict of interest policy and submit it to the Nevada Secretary of State; it means we have our Sarbanes-Oxley-mandated Compliance Officer, and a lot of other fun things. At our size it means our tax forms do not end in –EZ, and they aren’t completed in an afternoon. It means we act like a corporation- because we are. So if the response seemed a bit corporate, it was. On the other hand, this structure means stability and survivability. It means unusual levels of transparency for a conference, including publicly available tax records and other filings. It also means that we are able to continue to offer free, anonymous, walk-in registrations since our non-profit status helps us manage expenses.

Hopefully you now understand my perspectives, and if you’re upset with me about this at least you’re upset for the right reasons.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Packing up and moving

No, not a real blog post, just a quick note.
Yes, I feel guilty about that.

I'm changing domain registrars and will inevitably miss a simple step and knock myself  offline, but I'll be back here if I disappear.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

IEMs, In Ear Monitors

I’m old. My hearing sucks.  Years of power tools, especially air tools, a few concerts with the volume cranked to 11, and age have combined with male selective hearing to leave me with a bit of hearing loss.  Not bad mind you, but I know I’ve lost a lot of hearing range.  But I recently gambled on an inexpensive pair of IEMs, and was amazed at how much better they are than any earbuds I’ve ever tried.  Even the bottom end of the Shure IEM line lets me hear things in music that I haven’t heard in years.  I’m not likely to get much value from high-end IEMs, but I may experiment.  And properly fit earpieces block so much noise that they shut out the world as well as noise cancelling headphones- but with vastly better acoustic range.  I use them all the time now.

But now I’m walking around San Francisco (a remarkable safe city, BTW) and I’m freaked out by the sounds isolation- my loss of situational awareness makes me uncomfortable even on a gorgeous day in a nice neighborhood.  I’ve started walking around with one earpiece out, only listening to music through one ear so I can hear the world around me.  Thankfully I realized the problem in a safe environment.

Once again I’ll leave you to connect the dots to InfoSec… new toys, myopic focus, loss of big picture…