An open letter to Apple – a change of heart

overcome-regretDear Apple,

I wrote to you back in 2012, deriding your decision to remove the lock lead security hole on your laptops. I may even have been a little rude.

An epiphany of sorts has happened to me at some point over the last few years though, and I think it stemmed from your decision to remove the security hole. Back then, I argued that physical loss of an asset was still bad, even with encryption enabled, because of downtime, replacement costs etc.. It also, I argued, helped to instill a culture of security in people as the physical act of locking their laptop would also remind them of their other security obligations, a constant reminder pif you will.

I was wrong.

The lock lead has been seen as barrier to productivity as our workplaces have changed and our people have become more mobile. People have avoided using them, or evened cursed them because their offices didn’t take the relevant logical step of ensuring there were adequate anchor points to be used. People were moving from one room to another on a regular basis for their meetings, and locking and unlocking their laptop reminded them of how out of touch security was with the realities of daily life.

I even did a back of a napkin calculation; a company with 10,000 laptops would spend (roughly) about $500k USD every three years on lock leads. That same company may experience thefts that could have been prevented by a lock lead that would total less that $10k a year. Financially this no longer makes sense. My inner chimp was scared that laptops would simply be stolen regularly from our offices and if I didn’t do anything about it I would get fired. In fact, decisions like this are costing our companies hundreds of thousands of dollars off the bottom line. So much being a “business enabler”.

So I take it back, all of it, and I want to thank you for setting me on the right path (and saving us all lots of money).

Your sincerely,

Thom “with regret” Langford

Probably not a serious breach, but definitely a serious failure

The Twitterverse, online and traditional media worlds were if not alight then certainly smouldering with the news of a security breach as a result of pictures being published showing the Prince in a normal day at the office. At first I couldn’t work out why the press was saying that username and passwords were at risk, especially as the main photograph showed the Prince at a computer screen. Surely passwords are always obscured at a login prompt? Even the MOD can’t have such bespoke systems that they clearly show passwords on a screen? I even Tweeted that surely this must have been, therefore, a Post It fail rather than technology fail. Thankfully there were further Tweets and further analysis of the situation, and it was the Naked Software blog that finally made sense of it all.

Unbelievably it was a Post It fail… or at least a piece of A4 taped to the wall fail. 

My personal analysis of this may be a little different from most infosec professionals, in that what was exposed was probably not that serious. A username and password was effectively leaked for what was probably an unclassified part of the MOD network (or whatever the correct terminology is). This physical network is probably behind fences and locks and soldiers with guns (or heaven forbid, the MOD Police), and probably didn’t even have anything interesting on it. I do of course think those in charge were right to change the password and username though, as that is obviously  sensible precaution, but after that point, so what?

That said, what i think this does highlight is a dreadful failure of the security “attitude test” by the personnel and leadership of that base. How on earth it could have been deemed as acceptable to have a username and password, of any description, taped to a wall, no matter how secure the environment, is beyond me. Firstly, this means that a generic account is in use, a fundamental no-no in anyone’s book, but also it indicates that it is acceptable to do other things born of convenience. Share files on a USB between here and home – no problems! Carry printed flight rosters and contact details in your manilla envelope out of the base – of course! The mere act of allowing this to happen means there are already shoddy security practises at work in this base and their head of security should investigate immediately (and be slightly ashamed. As an aside I was also surprised at the Prince to be honest; here is someone who must have had security training to the nth degree given his position, and he is stood, smiling, right next to the picture.

It reminds me of why I make such a big deal of using lock leads in the office. The actual risk of having a laptop stolen from your own office in the middle of the day is fairly low (overnight the risk rises of course, but we don’t leave laptops out overnight do we?!). I often cite the example of a fire alarm and subsequent evacuation, and laptops being removed/stolen by the last person on the floor, but again, this is an unlikely event. my main driver for the lock lead is because the very physical act of attaching your laptop to a lock lead first thing in the morning is a strong reminder of the need for security, and puts that person into a more security aware frame of mind. If they take their laptop into a meeting room, again the act of unlocking it is a reminder again. I have argued before that security awareness training does not interact with people often enough to influence their behaviour in any measurable way, but if we can encourage the use of lock leads throughout the organisation much of the battle is won.

Really, if the MOD gets this wrong, what hope is there for the rest of us?



Open Letter to Apple – Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Dear Apple,

Your new MacBook Pro’s rock… the screen alone is just like moving from black and white to colour, and with the Air-like instant on, solid state disk and all round grooviness I nearly sold a kidney there and then (thank goodness the market in kidneys crashed; this could have been a very different letter).

And then, I saw it. Or more accurately I didn’t. The lozenge shaped hole of hope, that sliver of sanity, the goddam lock lead hole… It wasn’t there; in fact I looked again and it still isn’t there!

WTF Apple? What kind of insane douchebaggery is this?

You have strived and toiled and driven to be accepted into the enterprise. You have integrated with Microsoft Exchange, AD and even licensed ActiveSync for the iPhone. You have built in full disk encryption into your OS(X), allowed corporate Microsoft into your walled garden and introduced Employee Purchase Programs. In fact, you sounded like my hip godfather; all grown up and wise and everything, and yet still somewhat cool and groovy.

I even use a MacBook Pro at work for goodness sake! You make ME look cool and hipster like, and THAT is hard work I can tell you…

I tell people about how much more stable OSX is, how much more consistent the hardware is and how much more intuitive the interface is. Sure, your enterprise hardware support isn’t as good as say HP’s and Lenovo, but it is good enough, and at a pinch I just wander up to Oxford Street and chat to a Genius and they fix it anyway.
And then you announce the retina display, and all the other coolness that goes along with the new MacBooks; everyone in the office is talking about how they need one, my work and productivity depend on it, and you know what?… I ignored them because I needed one and my productivity suddenly depended on one as well…

And when I didn’t see that hole of hope, I think I died a little inside, and not just because I couldn’t lock my laptop up now, but because I will never be able to lock it in the future. This is obviously a design decision, one that was actually thought out, not just forgotten.

I have fought and fought to get my people to understand the importance of basic DLP, that is, lock your frickin laptop up, and your data will not literally walk out of the door. And in one fell swoop, you have told all of my MacBook users that it’s OK not to have a laptop lock. “If Apple don’t think it is important, why should I listen to you?”.


I now have to fight for extra budget for a case that screws into the chassis of the laptop that I can lock a lead to (ugly) or pieces of metal to slip between the hinge for the lock lead to attach to (screen crunchingly efficient) to get a basic security control in place. And I bet the answer will be “no” – these new Macs are expensive enough, we have encryption, why bother? Ummm, downtime, productivity, overhead of security incident reporting, cost of hardware replacement and just generally lax security practises (or “risk homeostasis” – a topic of a forthcoming presentation).

You have two choices; either reintroduce said hole, or introduce the most amazingly designed and fabulous looking security device for these laptops that I will spill £50 of my own money to buy one.

Do you dare to “think different” in this regard…

Yours sincerely,

Thom “lockless” Langford

The Simple Things Part One – The Lock Lead

ImageWhy is the humble lock lead the first item in my top ten? Many people would complain it is a pain in the backside to use day after day, that it can’t provide that much protection given the tiny connection to the laptop in the small rounded rectangular hole, and the cable must be pretty easy to curt through, so why bother?

Let us look at the two main aspects of lock leads, namely the physical aspect (how strong, reliable etc) and also the deterrent aspect (will it put people off?).

1. The Physical

There are good quality, well made lock leads and there are bad quality, poorly made lock leads. Make sure you choose the right one. How do you choose? Look for recommendations, and also purchase range of them and try them out yourself. Some can be opened with a rolled up business card, and some can be snapped off with a sharp turn of the barrel using a pair of pliers. My current favourite is the Compu-Lock lead, (I have no business or personal interest in the success of this company but the lead they produce meets many of there criteria I lay out in this article). You of course may fall to one of the other major manufacturers.

The cable itself (at least in a good one) is made of stranded hardened steel (allowing flexibility with strength) and covered in a durable plastic coating that also provides initial protection from cutting (such as with pliers). The construction is very similar to a bike lock albeit thinner, and although it can be cut it takes some considerable effort with hand tools. I have tested this with a lower specification cable, cutting through it in just under two minutes with a pair of snips; it took a considerable amount of effort and grunting to do so, and I was still left with a “tail” attached to the laptop. The better specification cables will take significantly longer.

The lock itself is also important. Kensington came under fire some years ago (somewhat unfairly) when many of their locks were shown to be susceptible to Bic biro barrels and rolled up business cards being forced into the key hole to take the shape of the key and subsequently open the lock in a matter of seconds. This problem went beyond laptop locks and affected other barrel lock manufacturers for bikes etc.. Although the problem has been solved, I still feel wary of these types of lock, albeit without foundation! As an enterprise you will want a lock that provides master keys specific to your organization, something that is not always easy to find, especially in the lower end of the market.

Finally, the fit is important. Many locks will connect with the laptop but then be loose. Some try and overcome this with rubber flanges which is ultimately useless. the problem a loose lock poses is that if the gap is big enough to get a hacksaw into you can attack the pin(s) that lock it, or even worse get a good grip and twist the barrel to break the pins. The better locks will have an adjustment mechanism that ensures the barrel is tight against the laptop meaning there is significantly less leverage and no gap to cut through.

2. The Deterrent

So you have the Rolls-Royce of locks in your possession… there are a numbers of things to bear in mind to ensure its effectiveness.

Firstly, you have to use it! Time after time I see them looped into a desk and then not connected to the laptop. FAIL on all counts. Use it all day, every day; in the office, hotel room, client site, even in the boot of your car if you have to leave it in there for whatever reason (avoid this last one at all costs though!).

Secondly, given it will not put off a determined attack, it should not be left overnight in your office for instance. Their primary use is as a casual theft deterrence; any thief in a time pressured situation (perhaps during a fire evacuation drill?) will not bother with the laptop that is locked and move very quickly onto the one that isn’t. If somebody has the luxury of thirty, undisturbed, minutes in the middle of the night they may think differently as well as be equipped for it! Always take your laptop home; if nothing else it is a very effective contributor to your company’s BCP initiative!

Finally, having the lock leads helps keep you in a security mindset (hopefully without becoming paranoid!). It is a constant visual reminder of the need for security, and if it reminds you to lock your screen every time you step away for a coffee then you have doubled the value of the lead straight away.

In conclusion, the lock lead has to be one of the most simple, best value and effective data loss prevention tools available. It’s use will significantly reduce the potential for theft of not only the physical device, but the cost of replacing the laptop, the data, the time in getting everything back and potentially a front page spread in a national newspaper;” Company X loses One Million Public Records“.

Surely £25 is worth avoiding that?