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Security UPDATE--Security Through Obscurity--June 1, 2005

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Converting a Microsoft Access Application to Oracle HTML DB

Anti-Spam product not working? What more companies are switching to... and why.


1. In Focus: Security Through Obscurity

2. Security News and Features

- Recent Security Vulnerabilities

- How Hotmail Filters Junk Mail

- Netcraft's New Anti-Phishing Tools

- IIS 6.0 Enhancements in Windows 2003 SP1

3. Security Toolkit

- Security Matters Blog


- Security Forum

4. New and Improved

- Detect and Stop Network Intrusions


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==== 1. In Focus: Security Through Obscurity ====

by Mark Joseph Edwards, News Editor, mark at ntsecurity / net

Suddenly, I realized that if there's no such thing as security through obscurity (as some people claim), then maybe there's no such thing as strong security at all. This thought was brought on by reading an entry by George Ou in his blog at ZDNet. Ou writes about what he considers to be "the six dumbest ways to secure a wireless LAN." Although I agree with Ou that the items he lists don't offer much in the way of security, I think he's wrong that using the cited methods is dumb.

First on Ou's list of dumb wireless security measures is MAC address filtering. His reasoning is that anybody with a sniffer can grab MAC addresses, therefore filtering connectivity to a wireless Access Point (AP) based on MAC addresses is useless. Second on the list is hiding Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs). Ou states that there are five ways that SSIDs are transmitted, only one of which can be shut off through simple configuration settings. The other ways can't be shut off, thus there's no such thing as hiding an SSID. Third on the list is Lightweight Extensible Authentication Protocol (LEAP) authentication. Ou thinks that LEAP is useless because it requires the use of strong passwords to be effective and it's impossible for humans to manage strong passwords. Also, LEAP is a proprietary Cisco Systems protocol.

Next on the list is disabling DHCP. Ou's idea here is that anybody with a sniffer can determine what addresses are in use and manually assign themselves an address from the same network block. Fifth on the list is antenna placement. Some people recommend placing antennas in the center of a building and running APs at minimum power to limit their wireless network's reach. This doesn't work because hackers use strong antennas. Last on the list is the use of 802.11a or Bluetooth, neither of which actually offers added security.

A basic tenet of information security is that no security mechanism is 100 percent effective. Another alleged tenet is that there is no security through obscurity. The first tenet might be true, but the second must be false because it seems to me that all forms of security are forms of obscurity with varying degrees of effectiveness. Here's a proof: Any form of strong encryption is extremely hard to crack, but somebody with enough time and computing power can eventually break even the strongest encryption. Strong encryption provides a barrier that significantly narrows the field of potential intruders but doesn't eliminate all possible intrusion. Therefore, strong encryption is a form of obscurity, and it certainly provides a good measure of security.

By obscuring a wireless network as much as possible, you can prevent a significant number of intrusions because some potential intruders will lack the resources needed to get past the obstacles. So even the most trivial measures, such as not broadcasting SSIDs, will in fact prevent some intruders from gaining access to a wireless network.

That said, I want to mention something about strong passwords, particularly since Ou claims they are impossible for humans to manage. It can be difficult at first to memorize a strong password, but it's certainly not impossible. One creative technique for forming a difficult-to-crack password is to assemble a passphrase that includes words from different languages. Why not pick one or more words in other languages that use the same character set (even if you don't speak the language), memorize those words, and use them in some way to create strong passwords and passphrases? After all, how many intruders will guess that your strong passwords comprise a dozen different words from a dozen different languages? And how many will collect dozens of dictionaries in an effort to attempt to crack your passwords and passphrases?


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==== 2. Security News and Features ====

Recent Security Vulnerabilities

If you subscribe to this newsletter, you also receive Security Alerts, which inform you about recently discovered security vulnerabilities. You can also find information about these discoveries at

How Hotmail Filters Junk Mail

Microsoft launched a new MSN Postmaster Web site at which the company released details about how it filters junk email messages destined for Hotmail accounts. The company also launched a Web site to let companies view how much junk mail destined for Hotmail inboxes originates from their networks.

Netcraft's New Anti-Phishing Tools

The Netcraft Toolbar helps prevent you from accidentally accessing phishing Web sites. The toolbar has been available for Microsoft Internet Explorer for quite some time and now is available for Mozilla Firefox.

IIS 6.0 Enhancements in Windows 2003 SP1

Although most of the major Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) changes are in the core OS, SP1 doesn't neglect Microsoft IIS. The service pack contains several significant IIS enhancements, including Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) support in kernel mode. Michael Otey outlines those changes in this article on our Web site.


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PCII 2005 - Monday 6th June 2005, QEII Conference Centre, London

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==== 3. Security Toolkit ====

Security Matters Blog: .NET Security Toolkit

by Mark Joseph Edwards,

Foundstone released its new .NET Security Toolkit, which can help developers create applications that are more secure. The free toolkit includes three tools: Validator.NET, .NETMon, and SecureUML.


by John Savill,

Q: From which servers can you restore databases into Recovery Storage Groups?

Find the answer at

Security Forum: Instant Messaging Security

An administrator for a network with 70 users writes that the network experiences a lot of virus attacks and worms through Instant Messaging (IM) clients. He doesn't want to prevent the use of IM, but he does want to secure messages, block messages that have certain keywords, block files with certain extensions, and so on. Offer a suggestion at


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==== 4. New and Improved ====

by Renee Munshi, [email protected]

Detect and Stop Network Intrusions

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Editor's note: Share Your Security Discoveries and Get $100

Share your security-related discoveries, comments, or problems and solutions in the Windows IT Security print newsletter's Reader to Reader column. Email your contributions (500 words or less) to [email protected]. If we print your submission, you'll get $100. We edit submissions for style, grammar, and length.


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