REVIEW: "The Information Security Dictionary", Urs E. Gattiker

From: Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Trevor (rslade_at_sprint.ca)
Date: 03/14/05

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    BKINSCDI.RVW 20041222

    "The Information Security Dictionary", Urs E. Gattiker, 2004,
    1-4020-7889-7, U$145.00/C$203.50
    %A Urs E. Gattiker dictionary@weburb.com
    %C 233 Spring St., New York, NY 10013
    %D 2004
    %G 1-4020-7889-7
    %I Springer-Verlag/Kluwer
    %O U$145.00/C$203.50 212-460-1500 800-777-4643
    %O http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1402078897/robsladesinterne
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1402078897/robsladesinte-21
    %O http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/1402078897/robsladesin03-20
    %O tl n rl 1 tc 0 ta 2 tv 1 wq 0
    %P 411 p.
    %T "The Information Security Dictionary"

    A good dictionary of information security terms is seriously needed by
    the security community, and by the computer and communications
    industry as a whole. The "Internet Security Dictionary" (cf.
    BKINSCDC.RVW), by Phoha, was a good start, but needs to be expanded
    and updated.

    I have been working on a security glossary myself, so this might be
    yet another case of bias or conflict of interest. I should also note
    that, although it is widely believed that I enjoy trashing books, I am
    actively looking for works that I can recommend. Oh, it's easier to
    point out flaws in a work than it is to say why someone writes well.
    However, I take no particular pleasure in having to savage a work as
    thoroughly as this one requires.

    Far too many of the definitions contain misleading, incomplete, or
    outright false information. Anomaly-Based Intrusion Detection Systems
    are said to discover known attacks, which might be true, but
    signature-based systems would normally be considered better for that
    purpose: you want anomaly-based detection to discover previously
    unknown attacks. The entry for Authentication does not list the
    standard factors of something you know, have, or are. The definition
    for the Bell-La Padula security model doesn't provide any details of
    the pattern itself, does not mention confidentiality (a central
    concept), and does not refer to the Trusted Computer System Evaluation
    Criteria and other outcomes of the paradigm. The Biba integrity model
    is listed as "Bibra."

    Patent mentions the ability of the patent holder to restrict use, but
    doesn't mention that patent is only applicable to devices and that the
    device must be novel, useful, and non-obvious. Reference is made to
    copyright (the definition of which is equally flawed) and to Tables
    16A and B, neither of which alludes to intellectual property laws. No
    listing is given for trade secrets or trade marks. Both the entry for
    patent and the account of copyright state that patents protect ideas,
    which is specifically untrue.

    There is a listing for Illegal Software (software used without a
    licence), although there isn't one for piracy. There is one for
    Software Piracy, but neither of the two cross-references points to
    Illegal Software. There is an entry for Cable, as in cable TV, but
    nothing for cabling as in network media, which has much greater
    importance in terms of information security. Challenge Handshake
    points to Handshake (there is no listing for challenge/response) and,
    for some completely inexplicable reason, also to Circuit-Level
    Gateway.

    The sub-listing for Content Filtering (which comes under filtering,
    rather than content) makes no mention of the origin of the practice in
    restricting access to objectionable material.

    "DoS on the 13 Internet Root Servers" is not the title of a famous
    Cultural Revolution artwork, but a reference to the October, 2002
    attack against the top-level DNS servers. Almost no details of the
    event are provided (and this was actually a *distributed* denial of
    service attack).

    Digital Versatile Disk (generally used as an update to Digital Video
    Disk, the original expansion of the DVD acronym) is defined as using
    both sides of the disk (almost unknown in commercial DVDs) and also
    notes a capacity of 17 gigabytes, which would actually require both
    sides and both depths.

    One of the sub-entries under Disinfection is Generic Scan String,
    which has nothing to do with disinfection of computer viruses.

    "Activity monitor" is defined solely in terms of employee
    surveillance, and ignores the specialized use in malware detection.

    The entry for Cookies states (incorrectly) that they can only be used
    by the originating site. However, there is a cross-reference to table
    18A (a mere 140 pages from the entry). Table 18A has no mention of
    the term. Table 18B does have a listing for Java Cookies--which
    contradicts the earlier assertion, and says that other parties can
    read cookies. Defence-In-Depth has a reference to Table 6A. There is
    no 6A, although there is a 6. Table 6 contains no reference to
    defence-in-depth.

    Urs isn't always certain of his definitions: an Application Level
    Gateway "could" be a type of firewall. However, in that case, he is
    certain that it re-addresses traffic--which is actually the function
    of network address translation (NAT), generally considered a type of
    circuit-level proxy firewall. Phishing is equated with "carding"
    (obtaining or trading in credit card numbers for fraudulent use) while
    the more definitive practice of obtaining banking information is
    ignored. (We are told that avoiding the running of attachments
    prevents phishing. Phishing scams seldom make use of attachments or
    executable code.)

    Cross references are not always accurate. On page 12 the listing for
    "Anti-Virus Researcher" points to the entry for "Research." There is
    no material for Anti-Virus Researcher in that entry, but there is in
    the later entry for "Researcher." Ethics points to Justice, which
    doesn't say anything about ethics.

    Some of the terms included are rather odd. "Binders" are supposed to
    be utilities that bind multiple code modules together. Most people
    refer to these utilities as linkers. "Derf" was used as a term for
    hijacking sessions on logged in terminals, but in a limited setting
    and quite a while back: the term is pretty much unknown today.

    The definitions given for some entries don't seem to have any real
    meaning. For example, "Virus Algorithm means a set of operations or a
    procedure designed to create a virus problem." Many long definitions
    appear to have been patched together from disparate and unrelated
    sources, not listing additional meanings, just appending disjointed
    verbiage.

    Some of the definitions given are correct. Heck, some are copied
    straight out of government documents. But Gattiker has included a
    number of terms which are either generic, or have only the most
    tenuous of connections to security. There is an entry for Computer
    Mouse. There is a listing for the fictional cyberpunks, but no
    mention of the real-world cypherpunk community. The definition for
    Virology deals only with biology. The entry for Virus is only
    relevant to (pretty much obsolete) file infectors.

    As could be expected with a work of this calibre, a number of terms
    are simply missing. There are entries for false positive and false
    negative, but none for false acceptance or false rejection (the more
    widely known terms for similar concepts).

    It is difficult to give a complete picture of the unreliability of
    this text. It would be easy for me to simply do an exhaustive search
    of every minor error, and in a few pages collect all that might be
    wrong with an otherwise great work. But in this volume we have
    spurious listings, missing entries, definitions that make no sense to
    the reader, explanations that are erroneous, and even opinion stated
    as fact. (The man, or manual, pages of the UNIX system, incorrectly
    identified as "main" pages, are said to be technobabble, presumably
    because Urs doesn't understand their cryptic nature.) Slang is
    included and technical terms are left out.

    Probably the best way to give a flavour of the quality of this work is
    to reproduce some listings. (I have tried to be as careful as
    possible in copying the exact writing and punctuation of the entries
    as they appear in the book.)

    A listing that sounds good but makes no sense (as well as being a non-
    sequitur) provides a good feel for the quality of language and logic
    representative of the work as a whole:

        Homomorphic Encryption is a cryptographic technique in which
        the sum of two encrypted values is equal to the encrypted sum
        of the values. The signature operation in public key
        cryptography is an exponentiation operation using the private
        key as the exponent.

    According to "Algebraic Aspects of Cryptography" by Neal Koblitz (cf.
    BKALASCR.RVW), and a number of other references, homomorphism refers
    to groups or sets rather than express algorithms or techniques.
    Homomorphic encryption can be useful for signature or authentication
    systems where anonymity is important (such as in voting procedures)
    but it probably isn't necessary to specify exponentiation.

    The sub-entry for "Anti-Virus Researcher or Security Assurance
    Researcher" on page 270 is lengthier, and requires a bit more
    dissection:

        Anti-Virus Researcher or Security Assurance Researcher may
        conduct his or her research in many ways. An example might be
        a lawyer searching among old court cases for legal precedents
        regarding Privacy and Hacking.

        An epidemiologist studying age groups or cohorts and hip-
        fracture incidents to an Anti-Virus Researcher studying
        malicious code to discover programming patterns and
        characteristics (see Theory).

        Often Anti-Virus Researcher is used synonymously with "product
        development." Sometimes, a "bonafide antivirus researcher's"
        role within his or her organization might be documented by
        independent examination (see also Appendix 3 and badguys
        website).

    It should be reasonably obvious that the specialized activity of
    antivirus research and the more general undertaking of security
    assurance research are not exactly synonymous. In addition, very
    little antivirus research involves case law. If you are confused by
    the meaning of the sentence about an epidemiologist, you are not
    alone. Again, very little antivirus research involves hip-fractures.
    Some AV researchers are also product developers, but the two
    activities are hardly identical. The reference to "badguys website"
    is to the "Bad Guys" Website (www.badguys.org) run by Sarah Gordon,
    which does have some information about legitimate virus research, in
    opposition to the blackhats who write viruses and call themselves
    researchers.

    If, following the cross reference to Theory, we flip to page 324, we
    find a sub-entry for "Anti-Virus Theory":

        Anti-Virus Theory if it would exist would be based on
        Inductive or Deductive Research outline phenomena and their
        relationship to other issues. Hence, investigation of the
        subject aimed at uncovering new information in a systematic
        way, while permitting a group of statements about how some
        part of the world works, in this case Computer Viruses. A
        good Anti-Virus Theory would allow us to generalize from one
        virus to the next (see Tables 19A and 19B).

    The wording here would seem to imply that Anti-Virus Theory does not
    exist, which raises the immediate question of why you would include an
    entry for a non-existent entity. Induction and deduction are fairly
    broad tools: the first sentence doesn't really appear to say anything
    useful about the type of theory or research. Tables 19A and B are
    nowhere near that entry. In fact, you will find them on pages 207 and
    209-11. Neither do the tables have anything to do with viruses: they
    talk about the costs and prevalence of various forms of Internet
    access. In any case, that entry doesn't appear to say anything about
    any theory to do with computer viruses, beyond the definition of a
    theory in general.

    (If we follow the further cross-reference to "Methodology," we find no
    allusion to antivirus research at all.)

    Errors in formatting (particularly indenting) are rife, and make it
    difficult to follow the structure of entries, or the book as a whole.
    Bold text sometimes means that the term is another entry, but
    sometimes it doesn't seem to mean anything. Sometimes the formatting
    problem might explain entries that appear to be out of place, but I'm
    not sure that they explain the sequential listings of Autopsy,
    Authorization, and Auto Dial-Back.

    There are numerous typographical errors, mistakes in spelling and
    grammar, and tremendous inconsistencies in capitalization. Even the
    most cursory copy and style edit would have improved things
    enormously.

    The security community and industry deserves better than this.
    Students of security need more accurate information than is provided
    in this work. Society as a whole is relying on information security
    and requires more credible content than this book contains.

    copyright Robert M. Slade, 2004 BKINSCDI.RVW 20041222

    -- 
    ====================== 
    rslade@vcn.bc.ca      slade@victoria.tc.ca      rslade@sun.soci.niu.edu
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