Interview - Anonymous
Interview courtesy of Markt+Technik
Part I: Personal Questions Answered
1. Why did you decide to publish this anonymously?
This was, as I remember, a joint decision made by Macmillan and myself. Whilst in America, a criminal record is not particularly damaging, in many other countries, it is. Mind you, the United States convicted me of only one major crime in my lifetime. However, I have been arrested many times. Many years ago, I was a professional thief (and a good one), a gentleman swindler, a courier of contraband, and even once had half a stake in a brothel. In contrast, the majority of Macmillan's (now Pearson's) authors are good people, with good hearts, good histories, fine minds and, in many cases, good Christians, Jews, and Muslims of good standing in their respective communities. Putting my name to anything printed is tantamount to dousing it with gasoline and lighting it on fire.
2. What do you want to hide?
I have many reasons to hide, not the least of which I mentioned above. But, since you want the real dirt on me, I may as well spill it. (Your readers ought to get a thrill out of this, yes? That's what interviews are for, no?) First, my personal life is, by American standards, appalling, and largely incongruous with my public image. In many areas of concern (including law, history, and political commentary), I have what initially seems like an acceptable reputation. For example, you'll find me in both "Who's Who in the World:" and "Who's Who in America", for I support various legal organizations, I belong to many so-called conservative societies, and I have some rather unusual achievements for which I am recognized. I'm a conservative journalist (under yet another name) and so on. My private life, however, is so very different that if the two were ever set side-by-side, I would lose tremendous public status. For example, I am married (as Macmillan has described in the short bio in the books I write) to a wonderful woman. However, we also live with another woman. That is, "we" are three, not two. We eat together, live together, sleep together (in the same bed), and so forth. Perhaps in Germany, this isn't such an offense (except in the Church's eyes), but here, this is considered deviant. This is a predilection I've had for many years (long before I met my wife). I prefer the company of two women (so shoot me). Furthermore, I maintain unusual political beliefs - some of which are unlawful in Germany and many other EU nations.
3. Why didn't you use a pen name to be anonymous?
I do, but not for the Maximum Security series. I've written books on computers and several other subjects, but always under different nom de plumes (never the same one, unless it's a second or third edition). I'd love to give you the names but if I did, my sales in this or that market might plummet. (For example, I'm a romance novelist under a woman's name).
4. What are your feelings about the security situation with the expanding use of the internet as a place to go shopping?
That depends. In the particular, it's fine. In the universal, it's not safe at all. That is to say, you, as a single person, charging something at a web site, are probably safe (providing the site you buy from offers high encryption, etc). However, in the larger picture, when thefts do occur, it's hundreds of thousands of credit cards that thieves compromise, not just one or two. If yours is on the stolen list, you're in trouble. I recommend getting a credit card expressly for Internet purchases that has a set limit (say, one thousand dollars) and only use that. This way, you limit your possible exposure.
5. How old are you?
36. I was born November 24, 1964 at 12:00 am EST at 73.59.5 West and 40.45 North (for all you good German astrologers out there. Heh).
6. What was your first contact with computers?
I was defending physicians and hospitals against the government and insurance companies. My job was to prevent patients' and lawyers' claims from prevailing. This naturally entailed using computers. (I was a baddy, but good at what I did. Of 3,000 cases, I lost six. Not a bad batting average).
7. When was your first contact with the Internet or with ARPAnet?
8. I can remember the feeling of awe the first time I was in the net. Was your first time similar?
For me, the Internet represents approximately 4,000 years of human knowledge. The fact that I can reach into that mess and find whatever I want is amazing. Want to perform an appendectomy? Look it up...you'll find instructional videos, diagrams, articles, and so on. Want to build a nuclear weapon? No problem. Want to email and converse with folks who have? No problem. In this respect, yes....there is an element of awe. The Internet is the largest supercomputer in the world, but instead of circuit boards and wires, it's made of human brains, flesh, and bone. That's a lot of power. Anyone who experiences it and isn't awed by that is probably not thinking clearly.
9. Did you study computer science?
10. What are the personal reasons and interests which brought you to the field of Network security?
I wanted to build a system that would allow folks to communicate without the prying eyes of government looking over their shoulders. I'm a privacy freak. Most of my clients now are financial groups, CPA firms, and political or underworld organizations (like Neo-Nazis or organized crime groups who want to talk without the FBI listening. And believe me....the FBI does listen). As soon as I realized that SAIC controls (to some degree) the Net, I was disenchanted (just as you folks are disenchanted about Echelon). The freedom to think and speak as you wish (except in extraordinary circumstances) in private, without interference, is to me sacrosanct.
11. How often do you *really* change your passwords?
Me? Hah. About once a month. I have to. Our network gets hacked about every three months, chiefly because I'm lazy. Sometimes, after I kick them off, I give especially talented hackers shell accounts and we become good friends. One kid from Korea (who was really very good) has an account on my mail server now. His break-in was so cool.....so smooth and quiet. I was MD5-ing files for a week just to rout all his little tools. When I traced him back to his original hiding place, I could nothing but congratulate him. His website was really cool, too. PHP specialist, and a raging one. So, we hang out now. He turned me on to an AWESOME Korean eatery in Manhattan (next to the Martinique Holiday Inn in the 30s. It stays open 24 hours and has killer BBQ).
12. When testing the network security of your clients, what was the weirdest, funniest, strangest thing which happened?
There's a company that created a brilliant way to find suppliers and buyers. (Their system kicks UDDI's ass in my opinion). In the early stages of establishing their network, their tech team asked me to come in. They had a weird situation where huge amounts of bandwidth were showing up in their logs. They couldn't figure it out, and they were worried that insiders were sending information to a competitor. Here's what was really happening: the development team had created one of the largest pirated MP3 servers I've ever seen. We're talking about thousands of songs from 1975 to 1999. It was, in my opinion, the coolest system ever, and their graphics were outstanding. Now, what would you do? If the kids were found out, they would all be fired. Answer: I talked to the development team privately and moved their server to a big ISP I had good contacts with. Problem solved. Everybody was happy. (I used that MP3 server for about a year, until the kids finally took it down. It was great....they had a lot of B-sides that you never, ever hear on the radio anymore).
13. Based on your experience, what is the maximum size a company can be without at least a part time security expert?
About 20 people. Beyond that, you have a problem (that is, if your enterprise relies strictly or even largely on computers connected to the outside).
14. You once had problems with the law due to your ATM hack, as have groups like the Chaos Computer Club for similar stunts here in Germany. While pointing out the weaknesses in such systems, aren't you at the same time inviting criminals to attack them? Shouldn't this kind of information enjoy special legal protection?
Awww. I should clear something up, even at Pearson's expense. I wasn't pointing out a flaw. I was exploiting it. For 2 1/2 years (according to the US government), I used that flaw to obtain an unlimited supply of twenty-dollar bills. Partnered with two girls (an Austrian-English ballet dancer whose father was a rocket scientist and a pure-blooded Irish lass who was an animal activist), I roamed the US, staying in expensive hotels, eating at five-stars, chartering planes, and so on) In other words, I was no altruistic hacker. I was a common thief who knew how to hack the banking system. But to answer your more important question, no. No information (except matters of national security) should have special legal protection. Think about it. Our children's children will learn at a rate 1,000 faster than we did, merely because Berners-Lee figured out a non-linear way to traverse technical information. Forget Gutenberg. Berners-Lee did something incredible, and the press pales in comparison. Truth and technical information should always be free (except when it's trade secret, proprietary, and so on). I'm a strange guy, you see....I favor Adam Smith, I hate antitrust laws (and side with Judge Bork here), but I also believe that information should be (except in extraordinary cases) free. And no....if there's a weakness, everyone should know about it so that it can be fixed. I'm with the guys at securityfocus.com, but even more so. Only through full disclosure can we be free. Would you want your personal physician to hide information about your cancer? Hardly. So why should weaknesses not be public? Of course, I believe that the sufferer should be given adequate time to shore up his system. You don't just publish a weakness without first giving fair warning. That's not hacking, that's cracking. And cracking might be fun, but doesn't show much civic responsibility.
15. How does one judge if a network security company is good and knows what they talking about, if one does not understand a lot about computer networking? Is there a set of standards or a check list which can help company managers who have to make such judgements?
Oooh. That's a loaded question. The truth is, all the certification in the world doesn't mean a thing. Certification - at least here - is a hustle. It's a way for companies to make money. For example, take certain unnamed organizations that offer a security seal that you put on your website. Some such seals cost you 100 grand or more. In many cases, they're worthless. I know a girl who has no certification at all (but who graduated summa cum laude from a certain university). This girl doesn't dress in 1,000.00 suits, she doesn't work for the Big Five, or any other such thing. She has sky-blue hair (it's really blonde), and dresses Goth, has black fingernails, hates authority, and is one of the hottest chicks you'll ever meet. (I can call her a chick because I know her. Someone else calls her that, she might deck 'em, right then and there). I trust this girl to secure a network more than 1,000 CPAs working in concert. And if you read 2600, or if you personally know Kevin Mitnik, or Kevin Poulsen, you know who she is. Network security companies that are "good" are companies run by real hackers (like CounterPane). Tools are okay (ISS has some good ones, just like CA), but when it comes down to it, you want folks who eat, live, and breath security (fellahs like Dan Farmer. Anyone remember him? At a time when few people thought about data integrity testing - except for Yee and Spafford - Farmer was on it. He wrote the coolest little utility called FUCK. This utility checked sigs against your installation media to determine if anything had changed. It was in a share file, and is now impossible to find. Farmer loved security). Any firm that walks in with checklists (ripped from one of my books, or Hacking Exposed, or the Australian CERT folks) is probably just "okay". They do their walkthrough, bother your system administrators with a bunch of silly questions, run ISS, and charge you a fortune. Bah. You want folks that know their stuff. And every job is different. For example, some jobs require programmers, not necessarily security folks. One company (huge in Europe) asked me to figure out how to prevent outsiders from spinning bogus mail off their Domino server. Come on. That's IBM's problem, and it should have been fixed. They wanted me to write a custom wrapper. I laughed and said I'd charge them 8 grand to do it. Instead, they went with someone (on Madison Avenue) that will probably charge then 200,000.00 and sell them a bunch of irrelevant tools. That's a warning sign, by the way. If a company walks in and starts their reselling pitch without really understanding your problem, give them the boot. I've seen cases where a 30-line shell script would have done the trick and the hapless customer ended up buying 300,000.00 worth of resold security tools - that these didn't even address the original problem. You want people who know their stuff. Let your security administrators interview them. If they don't pass that hurdle in a satisfactory manner, forget 'em. If you had ever been inside a board room meeting of such security companies (as I have), you'd be appalled. Snake oil abounds.