Software Testing – The Art of Proving The Presence Of Bugs, Not the Absence

Microsoft just published a critical patch for a 19 year old bug that dates back to Windows 95 and Internet Explorer 3.0.

First the obvious – since it was still there after 19 years, all the testing that Microsoft and users have done on every version of windows back to and including Windows 95 did not detect this bug – hence the title of the post.

But you might ask WHY was this bug not detected and Network World published an item that discussed that, but here are a couple of reasons –

  • The person that wrote that hunk of code is no longer with the project or company and no one else understands it, so lets leave it alone.  It ain’t broke
  • Supposedly, it is a subtle bug and hard to exploit, so you might have to look real hard to find it (not any more, of course)
  • Didn’t all that old code base go away with Vista/Win7/Win8?  It was 16 bit code and we moved to a 32 bit code base?  Nope, it wasn’t broke, so we just recompiled it.

The article gives some other reasons too, but this doesn’t mean that you should not test.  In fact, if anything, you need to expend more resources, automate the testing, pay bug bounties, etc.  It just means that testing is hard.

What this also means is that since this bug is now in the wild and Microsoft did not issue a patch for Windows XP, if you are still running XP, here is another reason to migrate – the bad guyss now have bug, they know what Microsoft did to fix it in newer OSes and all they need to do is figure out a way to exploit it in XP.

Mitch Tanenbaum

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Uber God View

Following up on today’s Uber theme, There is an article on tonight that says that Uber has something they call “God View” that allows Uber employees to stalk VIP users (and apparently track the movements of any Uber user) – including journalists who are writing articles negative to Uber.

My guess is that this is no different than what a lot of tech companies can do – they have a lot of data about us and we have no choice but to trust how they use the data or not use the service.

The challenge is that we don’t really know what companies that have our data can do, cannot do or claim that they should not do even though they can.

Obviously, transparency is important and to the degree that companies fess up to what they are doing, that makes the decisions that we make more valid.

For example, Amazon knows everything that I purchase (and if I am logged in, everything that I look at) and Netflix knows every movie that I watch.  My cable or satellite provider knows every show that I watch and every commercial that I TIVO over.

I make a decision based on that knowledge whether I want to use those services based on the facts that I know about.

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Uber Safe ? Maybe!

I am sure that many of you have used the Uber and Lyft ride sharing services, but have you thought about what would happen if the driver was in an accident.  You might want to.

Insurance Networking News recently reported about a new coverage that one insurance company (Erie) is offering to provide coverage to people who use their personal vehicles as taxis and have an accident.  They don’t exactly call it Uber Insurance, but that is what it is.

Most likely, your personal auto insurance will not cover an accident if you are using your auto to drive for dollars – meaning it won’t cover damage to your vehicle or the vehicle you hit.  This is important to the Uber driver and not so much to the Uber passenger.

It also won’t cover costs for YOUR (as a passenger) medical care if you are injured.  This is the part that affects you the most immediately.  If it is the other guy’s fault and he or she admits it and he or she has insurance and you can get that company to accept liability, then you can get paid for your medical care.

Otherwise, you may be left to suing everybody involved, likely waiting years, and maybe getting some money.  But, all may not be lost, keep reading.

All that is from the Uber driver’s personal insurance company’s point of view.

Now from Uber’s point of view:

According to a blog post at Uber,  Uber provides $1 million of liability coverage per incident, which, they claim, is primary coverage, from the moment the driver accepts the trip to it’s conclusion.

Uber also claims to provide $1 million of uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury insurance.

Uber also provides $50,000 of contingent (secondary) comprehensive and collision insurance, ONLY IF the Uber driver has their own comprehensive and collision policy.

Lyft claims to offer similar coverage with slightly different rules/limits.

Hopefully nothing happens when you take that next taxi ride, but ….

Maybe this is much ado about nothing, but I suspect that there may well be kinks in the system yet to be worked out.  AND, you being knowledgeable about where your coverage is coming from (I would look to Uber or Lyft right away — the deep pockets idea), is probably very useful.

Certainly things to think about from both you as a Uber or Lyft passenger as well as a driver.

Mitch Tanenbaum

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There was an interesting article in Wired that “outed” Verizon’s use of perma-cookies.

Simply explained, perma-cookies are cookies that identify the user that are added by the carrier between the user’s browser and the receiving web site.  The effect of this is an ID that will follow the user, potentially across devices, silently, with no way for the user to even know this is being done.  Verizon calls it a Unique ID Header or UIDH.  Verizon, of course, sells this to advertisers under the marketing name PrecisionID.  They claim it provides ads that are more relevant to consumers, but more relevantly, it provides a way to ID the user in a way the user can’t easily opt out of.  Technically, if you knew that Verizon was doing this you could go to some web site and opt, but since you weren’t even aware they were doing this, that seems unlikely to occur.  And, according to the article, it doesn’t stop Verizon from using this UIDH, but only asks Verizon not to sell the data.

Curiously, Wired ran a new article last week that said that AT&T’s use of perma-cookies mentioned in the original article was only a “test” and that they have stopped doing it.  However, they reserve the right to start it again.  They called their program Relevant Advertising.  My suspicion is that as long as the program was a secret to the public, they were fine making money from it, but as soon as it was no longer a secret, they could not take the heat.

Interestingly, Sprint and T-Mobile were not mentioned – although that does not mean that they don’t have similar programs.

I think the interesting question is whether this is legal or not and you should stay tuned to see if Verizon caves or they are sued.

Privacy – it used to exist.

Mitch Tanenbaum



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Microsoft Releases Out Of Band Kerberos Patch

Microsoft released an out of band patch today for all supported versions of Windows.  The patch fixes a privately reported bug in the Kerberos Key Distribution Center (KDC) protoccol.  If unpatched, it would allow an unauthorized user to execute an elevation of privilege attack.

“The problem stems from a failure to properly validate cryptographic signatures which allows certain aspects of a Kerberos service ticket to be forged,”

Microsoft says that limited attacks on Windows servers are already in the wild – hence the very unusual situation of releasing a patch out of band.

Assuming that the domain is infected, the only solution is to rebuild the domain from scratch.

Mitch Tanenbaum

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US Spy Programs Targeting Americans’ Mobile Phones

According to the Wall Street Journal (pay link), the  government (US Marshals Service) is flying “dirtboxes” in small airplanes to capture the signals from your cell phone.  Basically, a dirtbox is a self contained cell tower with a strong signal.  Since your cell phone will connect to the strongest signal, if the dirtbox winds up being that signal, your phone will connect to that.

Once connected, the feds can grab the ID of that phone (possibly the ESN, IMSI, MIN or similar ID) and the position of that signal and see if it is associated with a bad guy.

In the grand scheme of things, they are not (we don’t think) collecting a lot of data, tracking phone calls or eavesdropping and supposedly once they get this far, they need to get a warrant (according to an article in SC Magazine that references the WSJ article).

Since it appears that the dirtbox is not acting as a real cell phone tower, when you connect to it and try to make a call, that call won’t go through.  That would include 911 calls, although the report says that they have taken measures to prevent that – whatever that means.

Since the program is secret (or at least was), we really don’t know the details of the program.  Likely, the government would have liked to keep it secret, and they were successful at keeping it secret for 7 years (supposedly it has been running since 2007), but it is hard to keep a secret like that.

One assumes that criminals that watch TV use either burner phones (ones that you can buy at 7-11 or Walmart that are cheap and disposable), but I am sure that some do not.

I am sure more details will emerge.

Mitch Tanenbaum

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