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The Secunia Personal Software Inspector

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So you have all the patches from Microsoft applied automatically, Firefox updates itself as well as its extensions... But do you still have vulnerable, outdated software? Last weekend I decided to try the Secunia Personal Software Inspector, which is free for personal use, on my home gaming computer. The Secunia PSI helps find software that falls through the cracks of the auto-update capabilities. I was pleasantly surprised. It has a polished normal interface as well as an informative advanced interface. It ran quickly and found obsolete versions of Adobe Flash installed concurrently with newer ones, and pointed out that Firefox wasn't quite up-to-date as the latest patch hadn't been applied.

When I made the Cassandra system years ago, I was also dreaming of something like this. It is limited to finding vulnerable software by version, not configuration, and giving links to fixes; so it doesn't help hardening a system to the point that some computer security benchmarks can. However, those security benchmarks can decrease the convenience of using a computer, so they require judgment. It can also be time consuming and moderately complex to figure out what you need to do to improve the benchmark results. By contrast, the SPI is so easy to install and use that it should be considered by anyone capable of installing software updates, or anyone managing a family member's computer. The advanced interface also pointed out that there were still issues with Internet Explorer and with Firefox for which no fixes were available. I may use Opera instead until these issues get fixed. It is unfortunate that it runs only on Windows, though.

The Secunia Personal Software Inspector is not endorsed by Purdue University CERIAS; the above are my personal opinions. I do not own any shares or interests in Secunia.
Edit: fixed the link, thanks Brett!

Odds & Ends

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Cyber Leap Year Summit

I've heard from many, many people who read my blog post about this. So far, everyone who attended and was not involved with the planning of the Summit has basically agreed with my comments.

Here is an interesting post by Russ Thomas that explores the NCLY in depth from a different point of view.

Cybersecurity Legislation

There has been considerable press coverage and discussion on the intertubes about the provision in S. 773 (see my earlier post) that would allow the President to shut down critical infrastructure networks in the event of a national emergency. The people worried about the black helicopters are sure this, coupled with attempts to pass health care, are a sure sign of the Apocalypse -- or the approach of the end of the world in 2012, whichever comes first. Far less attention has been paid to other troubling aspects of the bill, such as the troubling requirement for professional certification of cyber security personnel.

According to some of the experts I have talked with, the President already has this general authority from other legislation. This simply makes it explicit. Furthermore, if we're in a declared national emergency wouldn't a centralized, coordinated response make sense? If not centered at the White House, then where else?

The bill is still in revision, although a draft of an amended version has been circulated to some groups for comment. I have been told that it is unlikely to move forward until after health care reform has been resuscitated or pronounced dead, and after the annual Federal budget appropriations process is finished. So, there may be additional issues betwixt now and then.

9/11 Comments

I wrote something in my personal blog about my 9/11 memories. It isn't really related to cyber security or Purdue, but some of my comments might be interesting to some people.

Other blog

In addition to my personal blog cited above, I also maintain a Tumbler blog with pointers to recent news items that relate to security, privacy and cyber law. It is available as <http://blog.spaf.us> (my part of the overall CERIAS blog (here) can be accessed as <http://cblog.spaf.us>). I generally post links there every day.

A Snapshot

I spent several days this week in DC, visiting officials and agencies related to cyber security. I get the sense that there is little expectation of more funding or attention in the coming fiscal year. The administration has been undergoing a bruising battle over health care, there is yet to be debate on policy for Afghanistan, and there are background engagements in constant play on issues related to the deficit. Cyber is not likely to be viewed as critical because things seem to have been going "okay" so far, and addressing cyber will be costly and require political capital. So, unless there is some splashy disaster, we might not see much progress.

ReAssure 1.20 Release

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A new version of the ReAssure testbed software, 1.20, is now available on the project web site. This version features a rewritten reservation manager that is multi-threaded, object-oriented, better commented, tested with PyLint, and responds to more queries from the web interface. The supporting serial switch communication library (soobml) was rewritten to be thread-safe, object-oriented and now supports multiple switches. Experiments are also started and stopped with much greater time precision. One small comment on PyLint: we allowed line lengths of 100. Lines of 80 characters are cramped when trying to provide meaningful error messages and referencing objects and invoking methods that have long, meaningful names. Our plans for the next release are to support user control of whether experimental PCs are allowed internet access. Currently only a specifically designated experimental PC is allowed access, for containment reasons. Thanks to Ed Cates (CERIAS staff) for providing system administration services and helping with ReAssure. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0420906. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.