Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Urban mobility - harmonising platforms and infrastructure

Y’know, watching government regulators trying to keep up with the world is my favorite sport.”
Neil Stephenson, Snow Crash, 1992.
Technology metals and new materials offer the promise of a 'Cambrian explosion' in forms of urban mobility. Too many examples to list, but see the options at the end of this , or this. If we can co-develop infrastructure and mobility platforms in a functional way, then we may achieve remarkable levels of Quality In Use [1]. I have been unable to find any signs of work towards this aim, so this post has been written in haste  as a call for someone to point me in the right direction. It must be happening, surely?
Decent bicycle infrastructure was achieved in Denmark and the Netherlands only with a struggle; still to happen in the UK by and large.  Innovative approaches to bicycle infrastructure seem the right place to start, e.g. by expanding this, this and this.
The UK history of regulating innovative platforms is pretty patchy e.g. this or this on Segways and hoverboards, and this or this on microcars. Ebikes and pedelecs already seem a bit of a regulatory mess e.g. see this, this, this or this. Note also that speed is an important determinant of Quality In Use, and current standards may not be right, as discussed by Copenhagenize here.
For Système Panhard vehicles and their 20th Century derivatives, the Silicon Valley obsession with technology may not be a cost-effective approach (there are folk who claim a moral imperative to use AI to reduce accident rates - such folk are dangerous). Simple speed limiters might be better (though less popular).
Much of the current regulation seems arbitrary and appear to be based on (unstated) assumptions that are (or will become) very questionable, and use their own specialist language (invalid carriages, pedelecs etc.). They don't seem exoskeleton-ready. Modern platforms offer the potential to meet multiple regulatory categories at the press of a button or automatically. New types of platform need appropriate places in the infrastructure. At the time of writing, San Fransisco is considering a ban on delivery robots on the pavement (sidewalk there). Functional regulation is required to spare us from inappropriate regulations such as the urban myth of London taxis needing a bale of hay in the boot for the horse. This project between MIT,  the National University of Singapore, and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) is worth a look. They converted a mobility scooter to operate autonomously. In two months.


Walkable urbanism


  • Accept that an integrated approach to platforms and infrastructure is the best route to safety, low cost access, and innovation. There is currently some very limited acceptance of multi-mode platforms for both invalid carriages and pedelecs/e-bikes, but way short of what is desirable. The potential for innovation may be best implemented with a major extension of multi-mode platforms operating according to the lane they are in.
  • Human Centred Design [2], prototyping inc. VR, AR, and consultation (Holmston Rd, Ayr I'm looking at you). Accept that designing for difficult use cases (disability, elderly etc.) benefits everyone else, and benefits difficult use cases by reducing costs. This code of practice may help (I have not examined it yet).
  • Regulatory capture [3] (e.g. Uber in London) to be treated with extreme prejudice. The public highway is to remain a public commons, and not to be privatised. Data and algorithms relating to the safe use of roads and pavements ditto.
  • Functional allocation of streets, and speed related lanes should lead to new opportunities for platforms with light regulation of design and operation for low speed platforms.
  • Accept that the US is an outlier in terms of urban design and public transport provision, and 'solutions' from the US should be treated with considerable caution, including their fascination with putting electric propulsion and advanced computing in 20th Century cars.
The approach to design implementation would seem to start with functional street categories, giving combinations of lanes. The potential use of new platforms needs to be aligned with an evolution of types of lane. A suggested arrangement is as follows:

Lane 1 - Pavement updated (UK pavement = US sidewalk); design speed 4 mph

Pedestrians, unpowered prams, buggies, trollies, carts, wheelchairs etc. Platforms up to two feet wide (legged, wheeled, hover - whatever) with a mode that limits speed (no licence, lights, horn etc required, but enough visibility and audible warning of approach, minimal regulation and liability), inc. autonomous PLatforms with or without people. Platforms without people need to behave appropriately e.g. for blind pedestrians. Platforms that can also operate in other lanes are fine here when in the Lane 1 mode.

Lane 2 - Cycle lane updated; design speed 10 mph

This is an average urban cycling speed and doesn't surprise other people. Having lanes 1 and 2 next to each other with just visible distinction seems to offer the most flexibility. Platforms with and without human assistance, with and without people. Platforms with no people will need some sort of official safety approval.

Lane 3 - Urban street updated; design speed 20 mph

If the functional design of the street has this as the upper speed limit, then lanes 1, 2, and 3  can be combined with no separation (cf. this), but platforms that travel at speeds higher than Lane 2 speed will need proper Type Approval, licencing etc.Lane 3 only platforms can be two people wide.

Lane 4 and above

Platforms capable of appropriate minimum speed, with suitable visibility, audible warning, protection.

Question - Folk must be working on harmonising platforms and infrastructure. Who is?


[1] Quality In Use is defined as:The degree to which a product or system can be used by specific users to meet their needs to achieve specific goals with effectiveness, efficiency, freedom from risk and satisfaction in specific contexts of use. ISO 25010 (2011)
[2] Principles of Human-Centred Design:
  • A clear and explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments
  • The involvement of users throughout design and development
  • Iteration
  • Designing for the user experience
  • User centred evaluation
  • Multi- disciplinary skills and perspectives
[3]  "When you try to regulate markets the first thing to get bought and sold are the regulators"  P.J. O'Rourke

Friday, 2 June 2017

Some reflections on 'Sully'

The movie 'Sully' received some criticism for taking artistic licence with the NTSB inquiry, and the NTSB complained about how they were portrayed. Additionally, some of the cockpit actions were criticised as incorrect - not according to procedure. This note rebuts such complaints and criticisms.
When I hear 'failed to follow procedures' this is the picture that comes to mind.

It is as important to examine appropriateness of the procedures as it is to examine the appropriateness of the crew behaviour.
There were no procedures for the situation they faced (See Airbus report here), so criticism of flap selection seems more than niggardly hindsight. This article has the following:
"The NTSB recommended changing the location of the rafts to ensure capacity for all passengers, since it's unlikely the rear rafts would be available. The FAA rejected that, saying that if Sullenberger had followed Airbus' directions on descent speeds for ditching, the rear rafts would have been usable. The NTSB said the ability of pilots to achieve those descent speeds has never been tested and can't be relied on. "
There are also questions as to the extent the investigation recommendations have been acted on.
As regards the NTSB moaning about being seen as adversarial, this from the scriptwriter has the ring of truth to it.
The key was, I had to do three layers of research," he says. "One was everything about the NTSB investigation, two was Sully's book...but then really the third level was memorizing Sully and Sully's willingness to share the stuff that he had not shared before - what he went through that was behind the scenes, that's was the wrenching and crushing investigation, the attempt, not out of ill will, but the honest attempt to try and find something that would affix blame. That’s really what they were looking for. You know, you look at 99 percent of these cases, the investigation, it always says at end, ‘pilot error.’ That’s the expectation even if someone is not going to speak that that's somewhere in the bloodstream of the investigation - pilot error. There was no pilot error to find. But it didn’t keep them from looking.”
Recall the press release for the incident report on Flight 447; it put 'human error' on the front pages of newspapers round the world (or at best 'pilot and technical error'). If you read this compelling analysis of the incident, a different picture emerges:
  • Two co-pilots flying rather than pilot/co-pilot, with #3 pilot as Flying Pilot.
  • The Air Data System froze (a known problem). Type Approval for Air Data Systems had not changed since the days of propellor aircraft flying at half the height and half the speed. This caused the Flight Computer to go into some sort of emergency mode.
  • None of this had been in the training and simulation for the pilots.
  • The Flying Pilot held the joystick right back; the other pilot would not have been aware of this, since the joysticks weren't coupled.
  • The hindsight interpretation of the stall warning appears to be controversial. It would appear that the manufacturer was keen to state that the situation facing the pilots was straightforward (i.e. human error) "The situation was not ambiguous and the stall was obvious,". The BEA investigators did not think matters were so straightforward, see here and here. Not surprisingly, there were 66 pages of discussion at PPRuNe
A remarkable incident of pilots vs. automation, where the pilots survived to tell their side of the story, can be found here.
To quote Sidney Deker 'Human error is a symptom of trouble deeper inside a system' - a consequence not a cause of accidents.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Getting started with a password manager and 2 Factor Authentication (2FA)

BLUF;A password manager offers some potentially useful/ essential functionality. It is a technical tool, not a solution, and certainly not a panacea. It is impossible for the user to estimate the risks associated with its use, making comparisons with other approaches difficult. Yubikey U2F as an approach to 2FA has some way to go before it can be considered a usable tool for the individual. There are no particular grounds for believing the necessary progress will be made. More generally, will automation bring us usable security in the near future? Probably not; the forces against it are too big, and there is a pretty complete lack of good tools and guidance that start with the context of use.
I picked Dashlane. Why Dashlane? U2F with Yubikey got high praise from people I respect on security. Dashlane has an edge over its competition in this regard, and it has good reviews for being a usable password manager.
The first interaction with Dashlane is fraught with problems; it asks you to create a strong password. "WTF, I thought that was your job". It does NOT tell you that you are creating your Master Password (capital M capital P). Given that 'creating a strong password' is an extremely difficult thing (and the reason for buying a password manager), and this is the one password to rule them all, there needs to be considerable user support here.
As reported here "It's worth noting, however, that just like any software, password managers are vulnerable to security breaches. In 2011, LastPass experienced a security breach, but users with strong master passwords were not affected."

"The automation's fine when it works" Margareta Lützhöft.
After trying some unimportant passwords, I tried to use Password Changer; it turns out this is a utility that only works with some websites and none of the ones I had tried. For password managers (and 2FA) to work effectively, there needs to be some standardisation in the infrastructure, which is unlikely to happen quickly. To a novice user, "credentials not supported" is a meaningless message.
Once you have passwords generated by Dashlane, there is a sense of complete dependency on the machine. Quite a wrench. The other scary thing is the loss of physical security at the computer; get distracted and the kids are into Amazon, the flatmates are watching your pr0n etc. On a Windows machine, there is no visible status indication of whether Dashlane is active or not. There are settings to simplify logging out, and to adjust the inactivity time before it switches off, but there are contexts of use where it may still be a risk. Logging out regularly and logging in with secure passwords is a feature of working on secure networks, but is probably not a habit most folk have.
There are some quirks. On a finance website where I had what I thought was a strong password, this seemed to confuse Dashlane, and it didn't add the password. On a shopping site with a weak password, I went to the 'change password' dialogue on the site. Dashlane didn't offer me the option for it to create a strong password. There is no generic function to generate a strong password on request.
When putting in a wrong password that a site rejects; Dashlane offers to save it. On subsequently entering the right password, Dashlane doesn't re-offer. It does, of course, provide distracting alerts just at a time of anxiety and uncertainty.
Dashlane auto-fill opts to 'stay signed in' on say Ebay, which I don't want.
I went to change my Google password; successfully (I think) got Dashlane to enter a strong password. Dashlane then offered 'replace' and 'save as new' as options, with the latter as default. I took the default option, which was wrong. Why might I want 2 Google passwords for the same account?
Sometimes Dashlane would appear at a PayPal checkout, and sometimes not. Workarounds when it doesn't are a) log in to PayPal separately or b) use the Dashlane control panel to save the password.
There have been some anomalies that might be me or Dashlane.
Dashlane runs in the background when not logged in (using 224MB) and offers to save passwords entered manually. I don't see any risk from this, but I'm not an expert.
Finance sites with customer numbers and arrangements where you enter specified parts of the password seem to defeat Dashlane, not surprisingly.
The assessment of password strength by Dashlane is a black box to the user. My suspicion is that it is aimed at brute force attacks. Changes to a password that don't add much entropy can make a big difference in estimated strength, speaking as a complete beginner.
The Dashlane website offers: " Get security alerts sent straight to your device when any of your accounts may be compromised. Update your old password & stop hackers in their tracks." I don't know where they are going to get their data from, but I am not optimistic. It sounds like an invitation to sue them when they miss one.
As regards backups, Dashlane offer this "If you disabled Sync in Dashlane and would like to back up your data – to be sure not to lose anything in case your computer stops working – , we recommend using the Dashlane secure archive format. When using this format, all your Dashlane data are saved into one simple archive file protected by your master password. Keep this file in a safe place (on a USB key or on an external hard drive) and make regular backups. Note that you will have to use Dashlane again to import and restore your data from this file. Keep in mind that Dashlane will always remain free to use, so it should not be a problem!"  It is possible to avoid complete machine dependency by exporting and/or printing the passwords and other data stored in Dashlane. Dashlane offer this advice: "Excel and CSV exports are unsecured and that it is not a safe way to keep a back-up of your data. We strongly recommend that you delete these exports as soon as you are done with them....If you prefer to print it to keep a hard copy of your data, you can also export it in Excel or CSV format. Remember to keep this in a safe place!"
Starting to use a password manager after some years of internet use does not produce instant security, but it does provide the means for making steady improvement.

Yubico don't do usability.This Amazon review captures the heart of the matter qute well. This getting started article illustrates the required level of geekiness.
My hopes for Dashlane with Yubikey were dashed.
The video here and accompanying text make it all look so easy and effective. Alas, Dashlane was not telling me very much of the truth - the video is a lie, basically. If Dashlane and Yubikey want my trust, then they need to become trustworthy. To get started with Yubikey as 2FA for Dashlane, you first install an app such as Authy on your phone (this requires SMS 2FA) and then show the Dashlane QR code to the phone and enter the resulting code. All do-able given time, but I had to ask Dashlane support several times to have this explained as it is not on the website. The loss of trust was considerable. The expansion in security related infrastructure was unwelcome and cannot be good. No explanation or rationale was offered.  This page assumes that Yubikey is being added to a 2FA app - weird.
Before you start, you need to decide whether to use 2FA only when using your Dashlane account on a new device, or every time you log in. If you change your mind, you have to go through the exercise again. The logic for 2FA on a new device is presumably to counter the risk of someone gaining your Master Password and logging in from somewhere else. The logic for using it every time you log in is less clear. Dashlane say "Use 2-Factor Authentication for maximum protection. 2-Factor authentication is the ultimate security mechanism as it requires you to validate, or authenticate, your identity on a 2nd device before being granted account access."I am not sure in what contexts that matters. I had expected to use it for every password use, to remove the problem of password theft. Not an option as things stand. The pervasive lack of risk-driven information on computer security includes that supplied by Dashlane. Doesn't the computer security community understand how to use risks? Apparently not.
I hadn't expected Yubikey to be a replacement for the little keypads supplied by banks, and sure enough it isn't. I see HSBC is now offering the nightmare of speaker recognition as an option. The reviews of Authy on Play Store were sad to read; lots of folk wanting it to use fingerprints.

In summary, U2F looks like a busted flush and will join PGP as a niche interest. Shame, it could have been a contender. Password managers seem unavoidable as a partial solution, and can be an aid to containing the risks of computer security. Their vulnerability to keylogging is bound to make keylogging a bigger threat; I don't know what we do then to stay one step ahead. For many contexts of use, countering the increased physical risks need more support than Dashlane provides.
For sites offering Yubikey as a form of 2FA (Google, Facebook), I have not been prompted by Dashlane to add 2FA. I haven't investigated using Yubikey separately from Dashlane as yet. I find it hard to do the risk assessment if I now have an 'unhackable' password.

Update: Dashlane now using 36% CPU of an i5 laptop and no longer working on Firefox.

Passwords and usable security

Some notes on my exploration of password usability, password managers and Two Factor Authentication (2FA).
It appears we have a problem.
"Passwords are the most prevalent form of authentication in the digital age, and are the first line of defense against unauthorized access in most systems. Even if you are using some other form of authentication for a particular service, there’s still a password in the chain somewhere — it all comes back to relying on something somewhere being password-protected. But after 50 years of computing evolution, 123456 and password still top the list of most frequently used passwords. More than a billion passwords have been compromised in 2016, and we’ve seen breaches from companies such as Adobe, Twitter, Forbes, LinkedIn, Yahoo, LivingSocial, and Ashley Madison over the past years. Clearly, we have a systemic problem with password authentication – and it’s not going away any time soon."
We could Just give up: 123456 is still the world's most popular password.
We could: Follow the money -  Ross Anderson:
"Systems are often insecure because the people who guard them, or who could fix them, have insufficient incentives Bank customers suffer when poorly-designed bank systems make fraud and phishing easier. Casino websites suffer when infected PCs run DDoS attacks on them. Insecurity is often what economists call an ‘externality’ – a side-effect, like environmental pollution"
We should start with Bruce Schneier. Why are we trying to fix the user instead of solving the underlying security problem? "We must stop trying to fix the user to achieve security. We'll never get there, and research toward those goals just obscures the real problems. Usable security does not mean "getting people to do what we want." It means creating security that works, given (or despite) what people do." John Podesta could not have used 'password' for his google email account because google won't let folk do it.

The threats

What are the threats to passwords? UK government guidance has the following:
Approaches to discovering passwords include:
  • social engineering eg phishing; coercion
  • manual password guessing, perhaps using personal information ‘cribs’ such as name, date of birth, or pet names
  • intercepting a password as it is transmitted over a network
  • ‘shoulder surfing’, observing someone typing in their password at their desk
  • installing a keylogger to intercept passwords when they are entered into a device
  • searching an enterprise’s IT infrastructure for electronically stored password information
  • brute-force attacks; the automated guessing of large numbers of passwords until the correct one is found
  • finding passwords which have been stored insecurely, such as handwritten on paper and hidden close to a device
  • compromising databases containing large numbers of user passwords, then using this information to attack other systems where users have re-used these passwords.
It has been pointed out that this does not include " data breaches. No matter how good a password if the attackers bypass it by stealing personal data from poorly-protected databases the technology becomes powerless. It is ridiculous that passwords and credit card numbers are encrypted but people’s personal data usually isn’t. Passwords are only one part of the issue."
Good real-world advice on threats for ordinary folk is to be found here:
There are a few ways your account passwords can be compromised.

  • Someone's out to get you. There are many people who might want to take a peek into your personal life. If these people know you well, they might be able to guess your e-mail password and use password recovery options to access your other accounts.
  • You become the victim of a brute-force attack. Whether a hacker attempts to access a group of user accounts or just yours, brute-force attacks are the go-to strategy for cracking passwords. These attacks work by systematically checking all possible passphrases until the correct one is found. If the hacker already has an idea of the guidelines used to create the password, this process becomes easier to execute.
  • There's a data breach. Every few months it seems another huge company reports a hacking resulting in millions of people's account information being compromised. And with the recent Heartbleed bug, many popular websites were affected directly.
The risks to the user clearly depend on the context of use. This does not seem to be considered in the literature. Possible use cases could include:
  • A US Secretary of State who steps out of the SCIF to use her personal Blackberry.
  • A bitcoin miner whose mobile phone account is hijacked to exploit SMS 2FA.
  • A Cambridge Professor of Security Engineering who refuses to use online banking with good reason
"...if you fall victim to an online fraud the chances are you will never see your money again...one of the banks’ most extraordinary feats of recent years has been their ability to shift liability away from themselves and on to the customer – aided by a Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) that they claim rarely challenges the banks following a fraud."
  • A journalist talking to dissidents in a dangerous country.
  • Grandma logging into Facebook while staying with her daughter.
  • Grandma wanting to put her online affairs in order for her estate.
  • A student wanting to prevent his flatmates using his pr0n account when he is out.
  • A businessman going to the toilet while doing online business with the free wi-fi in a coffee shop.
  • A Civil Servant wanting to do home banking while at the office.
  • An agency ICU nurse called in at short notice needing to look up patient records.
  • A homeless person using a mobile phone to claim benefits and pay bills.
  • Someone on a list entering the USA and being asked to provide their passwords.
The threat is clearly feasible. How I became a password cracker shows this.
"At the beginning of a sunny Monday morning earlier this month, I had never cracked a password. By the end of the day, I had cracked 8,000. Even though I knew password cracking was easy, I didn't know it was ridiculously easy—well, ridiculously easy once I overcame the urge to bash my laptop with a sledgehammer and finally figured out what I was doing."
For cracking experts, it is frighteningly easy:
The ease these three crackers had converting hashes into their underlying plaintext contrasts sharply with the assurances many websites issue when their password databases are breached. ...The prowess of these three crackers also underscores the need for end users to come up with better password hygiene. Many Fortune 500 companies tightly control the types of passwords employees are allowed to use to access e-mail and company networks, and they go a long way to dampen crackers' success.

"On the corporate side, its so different," radix said. "When I'm doing a password audit for a firm to make sure password policies are properly enforced, it's madness. You could go three days finding absolutely nothing."... As Ars explained recently, the problem with password strength meters found on many websites is they use the total number of combinations required in a brute-force crack to gauge a password's strength. What the meters fail to account for is that the patterns people employ to make their passwords memorable frequently lead to passcodes that are highly susceptible to much more efficient types of attacks.

"You can see here that we have cracked 82 percent [of the passwords] in one hour," Steube said. "That means we have 13,000 humans who did not choose a good password." When academics and some websites gauge susceptibility to cracking, "they always assume the best possible passwords, when it's exactly the opposite. They choose the worst."

The state of guidance

I looked around for guidance that ordinary non-geeky folk might find and use. The state of guidance is Hmmm. A critical issue is lecturing folk about 'strong passwords'. Given the material above, what would a strong password look like? Some serious explaining is required. From my beginner situation, this and this from Good Housekeeping aren't great, and neither is this from Saga.
This looks good from CNET - but would folk find it?
This from Money Saving Expert has some interesting points, but it is hard for the lay person to evaluate the differences from other experts. The material from GetSafeOnline makes some assumptions about strong passwords, but has good points. This from the BBC has advice from Angela Sasse but is likely to be filed under "too difficult". All in all, the CNET advice looks good to me, but there is a real paucity of well-informed actionable advice (apart from what folk might find by Bruce Schneier).
I leave the last words to Eleanor Saitta ‏@Dymaxion "... Increasingly believe teaching security tools without a comprehensive systems literacy foundation is harm reduction at best, maybe harmful".

Update: Good material from Google here