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SETI@Home A Security Threat, Says TVA 213

Posted by timothy
from the good-news-from-my-new-hometown dept.
evenprime writes: "Richard Chambers, the Inspector General of the Tennessee Valley Authority, has declared that employee use of SETI@Home on TVA computers compromises computer security. I'm wondering why using SETI@Home on PCs with access to the internet would be a problem. As cheap as PCs are, you'd think that TVA would have separate internet/email PCs on every desktop, and so no form of malware could affect their machines used for power generation and/or managment."
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SETI@Home A Security Threat, Says TVA

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  • "Job satisfaction is the same as stealing from the company". - From a Dilbert cartoon.

    Programming jobs at your company better have some aspect of fun to it or you will go bankrupt. No human is capable of being creative on demand for 8 hours per day. Creativity happens in bursts. And some game playing or net surfing when your in a mind-block can get the creative juices flowing again.

    They might row faster if you *stop* cracking the whip so often.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Two PCs on every desk?
    Great, two Bill Gates.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    > YOU won't fire me if I don't let you download WebShots, but when you download a screensaver that was uploaded to a silently cracked web site by evil hackers and which transferred the contents of C:\My Documents\ to (insert cracker URL here), resulting in massive litigation against the firm for violation of attorney-client privilege, THEN I'm going to get fired.

    Nice to know for the next time one of us get a threatening letter over some software of our site. It should be very easy to put a couple of ActiveX'es on our website which make positively sure attorney-client privilege is thoroughly violated if ever an access or download happens from a *.*-law.com address. Hopefully, this will teach lawyer's IT departments to discourage lawyers to litigate against hackers: it's bad for security!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The security threat is the operating system your running Seti on. Especially if it begins with a W.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    But when the sysadmin kicks your teeth in for garbaging up a stable system it costs the company in insurance premiums. So there.
  • I'm not entirely certain why you think that having your air-separated email-specific PC 0wn3d doesn't present a massive security risk..? Or maybe there should be a third PC, for email that's not work related?

  • by Trepidity (597)
    I assume you meant "set up us."
  • .. how DARE they not open their source to you! They're plotting even now to take over the universe! They even ADMIT it! No, world domination is NOT enuf!

    Here's a clue as to what it does: it crunches data. Gotta degree in astrophyics? I'm sure you could figure it out.

    Geez, give it a break man.
  • exactly...earnings are important. besides the cost of the pc itself, there is a kvm switch (or a seperate monitor); plus you have to make sure you have enough network drops for each additional computer...and then supporting all these extra "for fun" computers.

    run seti at home if you like. f* aliens.
  • Did you ever think of turning them OFF? No security risk, and saves plenty of power! ;-)
  • I've got an interesting situation. I work on my personal machine at my job. I don't work from home, I just took my machine to work with me. My machine, both monitors, speakers, the whole set. I leave my machine on 24/7 (mind you, I tend to be working on it about 16/6 of that).

    Am I stealing from the company? Technically, I guess I am. Am I security risk? Probably. I'm not as anal as I should be about my system. Hell, I'm such a power user that I get the pleasure of being outside the firewall, and I get to run my OS of choice instead of w2kpro.

    If you were my employer, how would you feel? Happy, that I saved you the cost of another PC? Or mad that I don't fit nicely into the cookie cutter for employees?
  • Actually the aliens use PPC - that was a Mac laptop the virus was getting uploaded from.

    Though thinking back I vaguely recall the screenshot looking like java.
  • Except that you can't stop breathing (without dying :). TVA employees can avoid installing SETI without ill effects. As a matter of fact, it will (minimally) increase the TVA's bottom line due to lower electricity usage.

    It's a completely controllable risk (by not installing SETI), and well within their rights since they own the computers.

    I don't know what you do for a living, but I'm a Network Admin and for myself and all the people I know who do PC support, one of the most annoying things is users thinking they can install whatever they want on their computers.

    Not trolling, not flaming, just my 2 cents.......
  • by pudge (3605)
    So as long as there is a legtimate business interest in being provably, significantly, insecure, that's better than no business interest in something that has not been proven to be insecure at all? Um, OK.
  • by pudge (3605) <slashdot@ p u dge.net> on Monday June 18, 2001 @06:08PM (#142487) Homepage Journal
    If this dweeb wants to investigate and remove the use of programs that pose potential security risks, how about starting with Explorer and Outlook. What a complete waste of time and money.
  • the importance of downloading your code from a "mainstream" high-use site
    Hence the common use of FTP sites. That way, you can get the code from "Joe Stranger's Fly-by-night FTP Site" and be fairly certain that your code matches the versions available from the main FTP sites.

    The main thing is that most people are fairly near (in net terms) a major FTP site (eg, I tend to use sunsite.doc.ic.ac.uk), so there's really very little need to go outside those channels.
    --

  • *sigh* I'm not thinking straight; I meant to say "the common use of MD5 Sums".

    Blame it on the fact I've just had win2k inflicted on me....
    --

  • It is actually the title of the book, published in 1965, and yes several times but like the above guy mentions I transposed the final scene of the movie with that of the book, and yes even though I remember it being short it is in fact a novel....

    http://www.umich.edu/~engb415/literature/cyberza ch /Dick/elecsheep.html
  • by Archfeld (6757) <treboreel@live.com> on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:58PM (#142491) Journal
    Even SETI states, make sure your employer is OK with this before installing any software.

    Seems very straight forward to me, security breach or not.
  • "press article: Aliens hack user pc's on planet Earth.

    Seti@home provided data to the terminal of a user PC running on the background as a screensaver.

    the radiosignals decoded to binary sent by Seti to the userpc's where in fact all code that formed one evil alien-trojan even more powerful than the known trojans netbus etc..."

    -or-

    "Press article: Spooks where able to put a program inside a lot of administrative pc's of different companies (including but not limited to TVA, PWA, USER PC's, OSDN and MICROSOFT).

    This way people where thinking running a screensaver to find alien babes, but in real life they where exploiting your PC by sending all your precious private data to the spooks at the "so called seti" while showing up as a screensaver with random numbers".

    Guess they really have distributed computing to their power then :) aliens will be using our pc's as their puppets or spooks are using our computing resources :))

    the irony of it all ...

    If it's alien, it could modify your processor so it bakes out alien lifeform in microbacterialminiscoulous forms and they are going to eat-you-alive! ...

    ... that's the security risk! there it is ...

    .. the horror

    (i'm just being in a boring mood at a boring time looking to a matrix screensaver after 15 minutes of no-typing) ...


    Freaker / TuC
  • Good point, they should charge for the spare cpu cycles. Goverment should be looking for every way to save/make money.
  • Anthony Smith, a senior manager of TVA's computer system, said the inspector general's office first detected the SETI programs on TVA computers, and managers made sure all were deleted.

    The use of the SETI program on 17 TVA computers presented "some kind of risk," Smith said.
    snip..
    But SETI uses a high level of protective encryption, he found, so there was "a relatively low risk" to TVA.
    Still, he said, the incident prompted managers to conduct a massive computer security awareness campaign.

    Very freaking trival matter. They just found out about SETI@HOME over a year on some production boxes? If security was thier main concern, why didn't they use network security management software? There seems to be alot of personal Crusades by management on very trival matters. With companies understaffed and overworked, Some Senior Mangement opens his mouth and makes lame ass policy that has no bearing on the subject.

    Security means more than banning some software to look like your on the ball. (Your not). How about getting off your fat ass, and fix your damn firewalls with decent ACLS, patch your damn DNS servers, and proxy your Internet connections.

    --
    the osi is missing a layer - layer 8 = politics

  • I would recommend supporting the Folding@Home or Genome@Home project.

    More info can be found here [arstechnica.com].


    Greetings Pointwood
  • The statements imply a significant amount of risk based on running Seti@Home.

    No, it doesn't. It implies that the amount of risk is too great compared to the possible benefit.

    Even though the risk is trivial, and possibly close to zero, the "benefit" to the TVA for running the software is most certainly zero, seeing as how the only purpose the sotware serves is to suck up system resources.


    ---------------------------------------------
  • by NMerriam (15122) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:26PM (#142497) Homepage
    As cheap as PCs are, you'd think that TVA would have separate internet/email PCs on every desktop

    Sure, why not? It's only our tax dollars...

    ---------------------------------------------
  • Now, speaking as the owner of a company, I can understand what they're doing, and the policy statement behind the "why". But they _damn_ well better go sanitize the rest of the TVA for unauthorized software (that cutesy screen saver someone bought, or the bootleg copy of Photoshop your graphic artist is using to maintain your marcomm because you're too stingy to buy a license), or they're going to look like a really hypocritical mob. Just my two cents.


    Umnh.. To whom are they going to look hypocritical? To me, perhaps, but I doubt that they care much about my opinion. To their workers, perhaps, but I doubt that many of them would contradict management by saying so. (That's dangerous to your job.)

    But how will they look to the public? "We are taking proactive steps to secure our system!" Think of this as a message directed at both the employees and the public, with slightly different messages. To the employees it says "We control "your" computer. It's ours." To the public it says, "We are protecting our computer resources." It may be mainly PR rather than actual, but that may be what they are after.

    What's bad about it is that they singled out a particular program that is relatively innocous, and charged it with villiany. And, practically speaking, there's no reasonable defense. There are a lot of other packages that could have more reasonably have been choosen, but that's not what they did.

    If I worked there I would be quite upset with them. They may have damaged morale severely. The words arbitrary, and capricious, and arrogant come to mind. This despite that the intention may have been quite reasonable (it's hard to tell). If the statement had been, "Don't run any software we haven't approved. It's dangerous. We know you have been doing this, because we have detected SETI@Home." Then I would have few problems with it. But that doesn't seem to be what's been reported. (Then again, how trustworthy is the report? [Well, it sounds trustworthy, for what that's worth. I don't care enough to dig further.])


    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • To an extent, this is the result of living in a large country. Nearly everyone we meet is a "local". So someone from outside is much more foreign here then in, e.g., Holland.

    OTOH, I wonder how Canadians feel about folk from outside? But then they've a smaller local population, and ...

    Maybe all cases are special cases?

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • by Alfred (16073) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:00PM (#142500) Homepage
    Not only where they breaching security, they were stealing from their employer. Idle CPU time is not free, when SETI is running the CPU can't shutdown into low power mode...

  • Oak Ridge is parially related to TVA, they do some very sensitive stuff there (like building THE bomb). I remember when I went in to one of their centers they give you a work over with the metal detectors and everything.
  • what about windows NT guarding the security of our most powerful weapons? ;->

    not that I'm an expert on ORNL, but I met with a sysadmin in Oak Ridge briefly years ago when they decided to switch from Solaris to NT.
  • This is just a case of a clueless, dictatorial management. Unfortunately, the comment here that is legit so far is that they *are* the employers machines, and if they want to be clueless and dictatorial about how they're used, they have that right. But they don't have any justification.
    Yes and no. While there are myriads of clueful setiathome users (your humble servant included), the fact remains that these managers - possibly Men in Black - dictated that it shouldn't be used. Speaking as a sysadmin, there's nothing worse than some asshole installing Outl^H^H^H^H something despite dire warnings. The management may have been wrong about the reasons for their decision, but once that decision was made the workers had no right - legal or moral - to run the software.
    Of course, the users might have been more clueful than the sysadmins, but in my experience this never happens.
  • ok, so they broke the company rules, but..

    1) If the company has rules like that, then they're invoking procedure as being worth more than the intelligence of their employees. This can be filed under the "anal" category. (quit guys)

    2) Man, if this guy thinks something as simple as seti can possibly create a security risk where outlook wouldn't, then I can only wonder how he expects to be able to reproduce.
  • by dillon_rinker (17944) on Monday June 18, 2001 @07:23PM (#142505) Homepage
    (1) You are absolutely right and don't need me to explain why.

    Also,

    (2) You are completely wrong and I'm about to tell you why. My job is to GUARANTEE to a group of $250/hr attorneys that their computers will work when they want to use them. I am paid good money to see to it that they don't break. One of the limitations of my job is that I don't have the time to make you happy. Sorry, I really am, because I understand completely, but I cannot risk anything, and I don't have the time to analyze everything. You don't have to agree that I'm right, but at least try to understand. See, the thing of it is that it's not my job to guarantee that YOU can do whatever you want with your computer, but that the bosses can do whatever THEY want with their computers. YOU won't fire me if I don't let you download WebShots, but when you download a screensaver that was uploaded to a silently cracked web site by evil hackers and which transferred the contents of C:\My Documents\ to (insert cracker URL here), resulting in massive litigation against the firm for violation of attorney-client privilege, THEN I'm going to get fired.

    You do the math.
  • Also Motice that it was from a little local paper, not the New York Times or the Washington Post. Even timothy's comments on the header were as clueless as a local reporter, "you'd think that TVA would have separate internet/email PCs on every desktop, and so no form of malware could affect their machines used for power generation and/or managment". Where did that conclusion come from? Nobody in the article mentioned control computers anywhere. These were the desktop PCs of office workers. I work at a wastewater treatment plant where the office network isn't even connected to the control network at all. The people in Purchasing don't need to be changing pump flow setpoints.

  • by NitsujTPU (19263)
    Part of this is that many companies allow ONLY authorized software to be installed. The company computers are for work, not for play. If one guy is downloading seti next door, the guy next to him might not think that it's a problem to download something from a less qualified site. There are a lot of viruses and such out on the net, and when you have a couple thousand people, someone is bound to get something nasty on your network if you let them run wild. The reason why companies are so worried about giving everyone a full internet condom is because most peoples' experience of browsing the net seems to be equivalent to sleeping around with prostitutes, they might get lucky, they might get... uhh, something else. I can remember a problem at work with people downloading a program that downloaded a whole STACK of backgrounds every day according to a timer. The program wasn't terribly efficient, and the bottom dropped out of the network twice a day when people's computers started downloading desktops. Unauthorized modems are one of the leading causes of breakins in corporate networks. It's all related. I'm sure that there isn't a rule that says "don't download SETI" rather, theres a rule that says that what runs on your computer is the business of the IT department, and it SHOULD be that way.
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:18PM (#142508)
    > God, this would just be hilarious if it wasn't so pathetic.

    Actually, it's real simple. SETI@home is closed source. Neither the employee running it nor TVA management has the faintest idea what it really does. Therefore the TVA can reasonably be paranoid about it.

    Of course, the same logic applies equally to any other CSS software that they may be running. I think the world at large is slowly maturing to an understanding of the CSS risk, though management types will see it in "toys" like SETI@home before they see it in their precious COTS applications.

    --
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Monday June 18, 2001 @05:54PM (#142509)
    > The same goes for open source software.

    [In addition to what MWright already said...]

    That is correct. And in fact I habitually download pre-compiled binaries to run on my Linux system.

    But remember that there is an almost zero-sum tradeoff between convenience and security. For my Linux system at home, getting 0wned would have a small cost, so I only expend a small effort preventing it. If I operated the TVA, a business, a space shuttle, or a government or military computer system, then I would invest a lot more trouble in security.

    If the quoted guy doesn't want the TVA 0wned, then he needs to invest an appropriate amount of effort in making sure he doesn't let any trojan horses in the gate. If that means having his staff read code, it's a real simple calculation of the cost of reading the code vs the cost of getting 0wned. And I would estimate that the cost associated with having the TVA get 0wned is pretty darn high.

    Even for my ultra-low-security home system, I don't download a precompiled binary from just anywhere. Every time I do it I make a very conscious decision of "how much do I trust this site?" vs "how much trouble would it be to go another route, such as compiling it myself?" vs "what are the consequences of getting 0wned?". Even for my ultra-low-security site, I just get the source if the only binary kit I can find is made by Joe Stranger.

    As for reading the code, no, I don't audit the code for everything I run on the system. However, I'm pretty much a middle-of-the-crowd OSS user (not at all a guru), and in spite of that I do read quite a bit of code over a year's time, because I like to submit fixes and enhancements for the OSS that I use. And I know that there are thousands, probably tens of thousands, of people just like me doing the same thing. Trojans will be found, and the news will spread like wildfire on the internet. The very threat of that will inhibit trojaneers to some extent, because of the risk of getting caught, and the consequences (permanent anathema, no one ever using your software or your download site again, etc).

    [Insert note here re the importance of downloading your code from a "mainstream" high-use site, to make sure your code is actually the same code that those thousands of other eyes are looking at. If you download code from Joe Stranger's Fly-by-Night FTP Site, then you may be getting a trojan that your friends aren't looking at, because you didn't get the same code.]

    Using OSS doesn't guarantee security, but it seems to me that it is a creditable threat-reduction strategy. I think in the future you will start seeing critical installations like the TVA switch over to OSS as a matter of policy (or if they do stick with COTS software, they will arrange a source agreement with the vendor, and run copies that they compiled themselves to ensure that what they saw is what they really got). We have already seen several non-US governments making noises in that direction, and I think it will become a near-universal reality as the world gets used to the idea of OSS as a quality solution, and becomes aware of the security implications of "trust" vs "knowlege". You just have to look at the number of spyware vendors that got caught in the last 18 months to realize that corporate/governmental paranoia about this kind of thing is not only justified, but perhaps even a moral imperative.

    As a side note, the strategy mentioned above about getting the source to CSS directly from the vendor and compiling it is probably less safe than using OSS, because the CSS vendor will never distribute its software as widely as OSS is distributed, so there will never be as many eyes looking at it. I would agree that catching a trojan due to a many-eyes approach is probabilistic, but more eyes slant the odds in your favor.

    Also, a dishonest vendor could give you code with an obfuscated trojan, and give trojan-free code to all its other customers that it didn't feel any need to spy on, with the result that the only eyes actually looking at the trojanized code would be the people on your own staff that you assign to it. Bad odds there, unless you spend a lot of money paying a big staff to read code.

    As the world becomes more aware of the risks of spyware and trojanized software, and more aware of the viability of OSS for many uses, institutions that absolutely must have security will start adopting OSS, even without reference to the other benefits of sharing source code. This will probably happen sooner rather than later.

    The day we see a shareholder suit against a company that lost its ass due to spyware or trojanware will also be the day we start seeing a mass migration of lower-security sites, too.

    In our contract-minded society I'm sure lots of suits will try vendor indemnification rather than OSS,but when you start thinking about the dollar cost you would have to assign to having the TVA 0wned by a hostile party (terrorist, extortionist, prankster with no sense of consequences, etc.), then you'll realize that vendor indemnification would be completly meaningless. Which is why I say that society needs to run its computers on "knowlege" rather than "trust". Hopefully the world's suits and lawmakers will figure this out without having to have a incident to elucidate it for them first.

    Just my opinion, as always.

    --
  • by mindstrm (20013)
    Life isn't fair. Of *course* he doesn't lock the CEO out of his computer. I never made MY manager or anyone higher up my immediate food chain do this either. I instead paid personal attention to make sure they were secure.
    But you can't do that to everyone, and you have to keep things secure.

    It's my job to audit new software to be run on the network, and if it access the network in some way, and you don't need it, it's not going to be approved, plain and simple.
  • And I don't tend to have rules this strict, but they are an ideal to keep in mind.
    Ideally, nobody would ever install anything. Realistically, that is often difficult to enforce.
    The point is, if you are in a situation where that IS the rule, and people DO follow it, why break it?

    As for distraction... distraction is need? That MUST happen on the computer? No, I don't think so.

  • Just curious. Because it sounds like you don't know what you are talking about.

    Lazy IT people? Not.

    The plumber analogy is not correct;a plummer is like an outsourced IT guy; you bring him in when something is wrong, perhaps listen to his advice, pay him, and send him on his way.
    I, on the other hand, am told that ensuring the security and integrity of the company network is my responsibility. And contrary to what you believe, it's not because I don't want to fix it that I don't want people to break it; it's beacuse the Company wants those people working, and when they break their computer, the time spent fixing it is time they aren't working.
    As for security.. who said anything about not using the network? This is about running an untrusted and UNNEEDED app. I'm sorry, they don't need to run seti@home by any stretch of the imagination. It's not helping them get any work done any easier, and it's not entertaining.
    Also, doing a bunch of extra work to support running somethign that has nothing to do with company business is a waste of the company's resources, because we IT types are busy, and actually have stuff to do. At least, I do.

    And contrary to what you think, I *DO* have the responsibility to stop workers from using the computers in unapproved ways, *WHENEVER* I wish, just as the CFO has the responsbility to stop finance payments when he sees something amiss. Installing set@home is NOT doing your job. And they aren't telling me how to type my memos because they aren't my boss.
  • by mindstrm (20013) on Monday June 18, 2001 @04:27PM (#142513)
    What they are saying, as I've said in past jobs...
    1) Your computer is not your computer, it is the company's computer.
    2) Your computer is to assist you in doing your job.
    3) Security is important
    4) So you don't run anything we don't approve of.

    The security audit of a new app can be fairly simple.
    Question #1: Do employees need to run this? NO. Jump to DENY

    Anything running that access the network, unattended, is a *potential* security threat. running the most secure of secure ftp servers is still a threat if *you don't need one in the first place*.

  • The external web server is NOT part of the internal network, said network includes over 11,000 desktops.
  • Oh nonsense. Someone "steals" more from the company by spacing out for a few minutes a day. And its clear the whole lot of them were clueless if they're talking about "letting outsiders in" --- the data seti downloads isn't executable. The only real risk is if they downloaded a hacked binary in the first place. This is just a case of a clueless, dictatorial management. Unfortunately, the comment here that is legit so far is that they *are* the employers machines, and if they want to be clueless and dictatorial about how they're used, they have that right. But they don't have any justification.
  • /*My objection is to banning S@H, and _not_ sanitizing the rest of the organization for other unauthorized software. Is a little consistency too much to ask?*/

    Considering it's really none of your business, yes.

  • http://www.tva.gov/abouttva/keyfacts.htm#howfunded

    read and be enlightened.

    BTW, my father is retired TVA, so I get my information first hand.

    • Don Hickman, a senior manager in the TVA inspector general's office, said the staff knew the SETI program could allow hackers into a computer system and pointed to a news story showing at least one successful infiltration of SETI's Web site. (emphasis mine)
    So an incident on the webserver means that the SETI@home (spell it right, ppl) is insecure? I read that and laughed my ASS off.
    _______
    Scott Jones
    Newscast Director / ABC19 WKPT
  • Well you can control alot of that stuff fairly well. With unathorized software you've just taken some of those controls out of the picture. Ad and flash can be stopped in a number of ways, proxy, client side security controls, etc etc...
  • by lomion (33716) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:14PM (#142523) Homepage
    Not only that, but any network is only secure as its weakest link. Often times a network is broken into not from that hardened server but from a wokrstation or unsecured box on the lan.

    It is a ssecurity risk when you have unauthorized software installed especially one that access the internet in some way. What happens if a trojaned version of Seti@home were installed and some ppl used that to get into the internal LAN?
  • by lomion (33716) on Monday June 18, 2001 @04:46PM (#142524) Homepage
    That is why you control what can and cannot be installed and only let authorized copies be used. If its unauthorized software then this could happen easily. Installing Eudora from a cd is alot safer in this case or using a created disk image for the entire pc with Eudora installed as well.
  • by Sierra Charlie (37047) on Monday June 18, 2001 @04:27PM (#142527)
    It all comes down to employers simply not understanding what the application is for and using it as a scape goat for any problem that comes. It happens at my university.

    It may seem odd to those who have never had to administrate a network, but the TVA happens to be absolutely correct.

    It's not SETI software in particular that is a problem; it's having your users downloading random, useless software from the internet and running it on company (and likely priveleged) machines.

    Every time that program starts running, it can do whatever it wants. It could be detecting aliens in the vicinity of Betelgeuse or it could be streaming your password file the SETI server so that it can pass it around for decryption. You can't tell; you didn't compile it...you don't even have the source. Even if you did, the admins don't have time to check the code just so you can have a pretty E.T. phonin' screensaver.

    "But we trust SETI", you say. Why? You can't speak personally for the competence and/or ethics of the SETI programmers. If you could, you still wouldn't be able to tell if the binary had been modified after it left their hands. The program is also executing around arbitrary data downloaded from the internet...could it be made to misbehave with bad data from a man-in-the-middle? I dunno.

    Maybe all of that seems unlikely, but this is the same policy that guards against the Marketing department's "Dog of the day" screensavers and Trojan Horse emails. As recently evidenced, it's true that you can have backdoors in production software, but at least there's a business return in exchange for the risk.

    It's too easy to scoff at this as "employers not understanding" when you don't understand big picture.
  • "Notepad compromised our security." It all comes down to employers simply not understanding what the application is for and using it as a scape goat for any problem that comes. It happens at my university. Everytime something goes wrong the network is blamed. I can't check my email. The network must be down. I can't stream my local radio station. The network is "full". I can't play my Flash games. The network in my building sucks. We're out of coffee. The network needs to be replace; we need a router in every building. Literally. I hear that shit all day long, not just from users but from co-workers within our IT department! ARGH! The agony.....

    --

  • Each environment has its needs

    Couldn't be said better. I contract admin for an ISP as well and different needs apply there. I can filter more in some respects and less in others. Since it is a very rural ISP I can filter more. Since it's an ISP, I really can only filter less than here at the university. Different places have different needs. I'm writing a modular ipchains-based firewall system. The default settings are extremely anal. All priveleged ports are blocked by default. You have to explicitly open the ones you want to allow access to. It's like a ALL: ALL TCP wrapper statement in your hosts.deny. Then you explicitly open what you want services to be accessed and from where. Banks and large corporations all have their needs as well. No one department in a large corporation will have the same needs as another coporation. No matter what way it boils down to, each department should be its own little entity and have its own set of ACLs, possibly even a dedicated firewall (see the other comments I posted in this thread about that).

    99 times out of 100 management is much more ignorant than the users they are supposed to be thinking of. Sometimes it's technical incompetence. Other times they try to make it political when it doesn't have to be. Still other times they want to slap a pretty PR face on something and delay or bump up schedules on it to fit their PR whims. Pour management causes that. Managment that doesn't listen to their own employees cause that. Management that is only looking for self advancement causes that. This isn't to say that all management is bad. I've been fortunate enough to have a couple good managers in my time. Usually my super is quite good as well. I can only think of one place where the top of the stack was a knowledgable, technically competent person. What would be ideal is if management could be grown from within. Take a senior sysadmin/netadmin that everyone likes to work with and give them management training. Then give them a shot at the top. Other times the department is already so screwed up that the ultimate top of the heap of the entire business or university would have to be on crack to hire from within. I've seen that as well.

    --

  • by macdaddy (38372) on Monday June 18, 2001 @04:37PM (#142530) Homepage Journal
    It may seem odd to those who have never had to administrate a network...

    Odd you mention that because that's exactly what I do. I'm the Network & Systems Manager at one of the 6 Regents universities here in the State of Kansas, which will remain nameless. I also recommend distributed.net and SETI to the users of this university and have a lab cracking on the RC5 challenge. Source? What do we care about source? Better put, are we allowed to care about the security problems found in the source of the software our users download? No. We're a university. We don't have that luxury. If we as a 4-year university could say what you can and can't install for security reasons, the first things to go would be Outlook, IE, Irix, and Windows. Do we trust MSN Messanger? AIM? ICQ? What about all the various IRC clients? MUDs? Local sploits should always be a concern? Can we say what our users can and can't install? Not a chance in hell. As a net & sysadmin you have to remember one thing. Never trust your own network. Period.

    Given my placement in the arena you think I'm not in, I can very easily and with great authority comment on "employers not understanding" small parts of the big picture.

    --

  • by macdaddy (38372) on Monday June 18, 2001 @08:39PM (#142531) Homepage Journal
    Thanks. I try to write the most productive responses I can. I think that in the larger campuses (even most smaller ones) you can segment users and user types by the building they come from. For example, I know that the only non-dormite user in my dorms is the Residents Hall Director. The front desk is dormites as are all the other users. The basement labs in the dorms are again dormites. The Res Hall Dir wouldn't loose much of anything from being treated like a dormy. Give dorm drops private IPs for security reasons. This greatly inhibits the amount of damage a single student can do with a warez server. It also keeps a passive DDoS client at bay because the master can't contact the slave if it has a non-routed address. It won't do much for active DDoS clients that actively report in and listen for commands for the master, such as one using IRC to communicate. Now mind you, I would have been really upset if this had been done to me when I was in the dorms. After some reflection though I quickly realized how easy of a target my systems were at that time and how much I could have compromised security. A private IP (routed across the campus but no where else) could have prevented anything but a local sploit. This private IP business is part of that "trust level" thing you were talking about. Time and time again a few dorm residents prove that they can't be trusted. It's not all of them but you can't treat just one or two of them. You have to treat them as a whole for whatever reason (usually political). Private IPs will still easily meet the education goals of our charter while increasing MTBF and MTBH's (or MTBCS). Private IPs for printers is also a very very good thing. Printer manufacturers are very bad about embedding an *nix OS to control their printers while not actively taking a role in securing them in the present or future.

    A DMZ is also a must. The larger the network the more grand it becomes. DMZ != demilitarized either. If anything it's just as secure as you local server farm, if not more secure. You just allow services from the outside to that subnet that you don't want to allow elsewhere. Once you separate your public services (DNS, SMTP relay, www) from you local services (LDAP, RADIUS, HEC machines, etc..) you can then isolate the local services and beef up security even more internally. I wouldn't say to separate the desktop and server networks although that really what you are doing in a way. In my ideal network, each building is a 3 subnets, 1 public and 2 private. The public is general use for all faculty/staff. One of the private is for our networking hardware (non-packet rewriting things like switches, wireless access points, and repeaters). The other private is broken down more for printers, labs, special machines that only need local access, etc.. Each building is an entity. Each entity is multiple subnets. Each entity is also an interface on a core router (or trunked interfaces if need be). The server farm is also an entity independent of the building it resides in. The same goes for the administrative workstations. That's an entity as well. Each entity becomes a subnet or more and an interface on the/a core router(s). Firewalling from that point on is a breeze because of the ease of which identifying nodes on a subnet has become. The entire subnet is DMZ. This subnet is dorms. This subnet is administrative workstations/personal servers. This subnet is all server farm. Breaking it down from there and applying rules just got a lot easier. :-) Now you can identify users and types of users by subnets and actual physical interfaces (even VLANs if you want to get even more fine grained). The physical distinction makes it a breeze to place the dorms behind a Packeteer or the like.

    I also contract admin at my old ISP. At that place I get very anal about my host-based security. In fact all of my machines at all my places of employment and home utilize host-based packet filtering on top of heavily TCP wrapped services. Everything is up-to-date and everything is configured with security in each daemons config file. The TCP wrappers are basically a backup for my ipchains filtering . Redundancy never hurt anyone. Beyond my server farms sit a Linux Router/Firewall. That box provides even more protection. Box A is our web server and does nothing but HTTP, FTP, and SSH) so that's all you can connect to. Box B provides no external services so you can't see squat on it. Host C is a RADIUS machine. Only local subnets have access to it and more specifically only terminal servers. Being very anal about security can be a good and bad thing. Some people are so anal that they won't allow you to SSH in to your desktop machine from home. That's unreasonably anal. I'm anal enough to prohibit RPC, Netbios, direct SMTP (as in server running on desktop machine, and DNS from home to a work machine. That's much more reasonable. The anal retentive firewalling has gotten me one very good thing. I've never been hacked. Not yet anyhow. It will happen; that's garunteed. It just hasn't happened yet. I like to think that some of my measures have helped. If they haven't, it's sure been fun learning how to do what I do. Cheers

    PS==> Switching switching switching....

    --

  • by marcsiry (38594) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:34PM (#142532) Homepage
    THEY just don't want you to know what sort of traffic is REALLY moving between the TVA and the Greys.

    TVA=MIB?!?!
  • At one point, foreign government spies checked out the number of pizzas being ordered by the White House to determine if there was something up at the White House. It is now policy that employees of the White House are not allowed to order food from anywhere but the White House kitchen.
  • by M-G (44998) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:34PM (#142534)
    Yep....it makes me wonder just how concerned they are about security if people have been running SETI for over a year before they discovered it. Why didn't they find the application sooner? Why didn't they see the processes running sooner? Why didn't they notice the freakin' traffic to and from berkeley.edu?

    The security risk here isn't SETI, but rather TVA's seeming inability to notice violations of their security policies. Maybe I can pick up a Y2K surplus generator on the cheap, since now that we know how much attention they pay to their network, it's going to be a big cracking target...
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:34PM (#142537)
    > > Richard Chambers, TVA's inspector general, said: "If you're allowing others to tap into your computer, you have got some additional risk there."
    >
    > This sounds suspiciously like a comment from someone who has no idea what SETI@Home does, and is condemning a random program that happened to access the Internet.

    1) You're right. There's probably a much greater security thread from spyware that comes with things like RealPlayer, and/or users installing stuff like AudioGalaxy or Comet Cursor, etc. on their machines.

    2) He's also right. Maybe for the TVA, this is a little paranoid, but a keyword search on "covert channels" provides some insight.

    Suppose you were a KGB agent assigned to find out when the TVA was most worried about blackouts. You'd be very interested in knowing when large numbers of TVA employees were working overtime at the head office.

    Rather than hax0r the head office's computers (exposing yourself to risk), or have an agent staking out the head office (exposing the agent to risk), you'd just eyeball SETI@Home's publicly-accessible stats.

    You could then deduce that something was FUBAR in Tennesee when "Team TVA", which was churning out one unit every 70 minutes from 5:00pm to 9:00am, dropped their stats precipitously - say, damn near nothing getting done until 11:00 pm, one unit every 120 minutes from 11:00 pm to 1:00am, and only going to the "regular" 70 minutes per unit from 1:00 am to 9:00am.

    In fact, in the simplified case I've specified above, you could not only make an educated guess as to how many employees were working overtime, and for how long, you could even make an educated guess as to what hardware platform was being used by The Guy Who Stayed Until 1:00 In The Morning.

    Like I said, for the TVA, this is probably paranoia. But for other agencies, information leaked by covert channels can be deadly serious.

    (In business too -- at a small enough company, suppose you saw similar data patterns and you knew what CPU power the CFO's PC had. If the CFO's up all night, every night, on the last week of the quarter, maybe he's desperately trying to make up the numbers. Such information could be worth millions of dollars, and it wouldn't even be insider trading, because you're only making an educated guess based on the working hours of the CFO.)

    I hate to side with an ignorant bureaucrat, but in this case, he's right. (Even if, in all likelihood, he hasn't the faintest clue as to why he's right ;-)

  • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Monday June 18, 2001 @04:04PM (#142542)
    I don't believe any MS OS gives HLT instructions to cool or "power down" the processor. I'm draining 70+ watts regardless if SETI is on or off. Unix is a whole other story.

    If anything, the constant disk accesses will keep the HDs from shutting down and might affect auto stand-by or hibernation setups. I don't know of any business that knocks anything but laptops into a real hibernation state. As long as that space heater, err Monitor is shutting down after 10 or 15 mins of idle you're sitting pretty. The rest is pretty trivial.

    You're stretching the definition of stealing more than I can tolerate. What has been taken exactly and where is it stored? Whats the *real* loss? Its one thing to go against policy its another to defent policy with accusations of criminal intent. "He knew he was stealing from the company, sir!" Might as well start charging employees who fire up the browser for bandwidth costs if you're serious about "stealing."

  • by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:35PM (#142543) Homepage
    When you click on the original news story, a pop-up appears with a `Task Bar Update' that downloads an application that puts `live temperature and storm warnings next to your PC clock along with live news updates'.

    It also says these are `100% safe and completely free.' This program is just as dangerous as Seti@HOME could be.

    TVA is right -- Seti@HOME is a risk. It's probably a small risk, but for all we know, the client could have code in it that allows Seti@HOME to take control of your box at will, for example.

    It also will cause your computer to use more power, and to run slower (ok, just a tiny bit slower, but still.) All this, and it offers the company *nothing* (after all, it's not TVA's job to help SETI.)

    And the boxes belong to TVA. Therefore, they're completely in their rights to ban Seti@HOME, and they're doing the right thing.

  • by alispguru (72689) <bane AT gst DOT com> on Monday June 18, 2001 @04:28PM (#142545) Journal
    There might be a legitimate reason for keeping SETI@Home (or any random application) off of a major organization's computers. Go look at this issue of Risks digest [ncl.ac.uk]. The problem described here is not a security issue, but a feature of the SETI software that can cause a few copies of it to wedge a net connection if it can't reliably get to its server.
  • It's probably a small risk, but for all we know, the client could have code in it that allows Seti@HOME to take control of your box at will, for example.

    A more likely problem is a potential buffer overflow in the code the client uses to communicate with the central SETI@HOME server. Then if someone were to spoof or break into the server, they would instantly be able to gain access to all computers running the SETI@HOME software. I don't know if such a hole is present in the SETI@HOME software, but remember when AOL intentionally exploited [slashdot.org] a similar hole in AIM?

  • I am absolutely amazed that employers do not use the power of their idle PCs THEMSELVES!

    There are so many applications out there already - SETI@home being one, others include a few at distributed.net [distributed.net], FightAids@Home.org [fightaidsathome.org], and there are others cropping up, supporting cancer research, some commercial projects, code-cracking. Many many popular (in a geeky or tear-jerky way) projects that interest us enough to donate our unused cycles.

    Now, a company such as TVA - that would rather its employees does NOT use their cycles for such tasks - would do well to provide some other diversion to occupy the screens of its employees. Hey, they could even license the software from SETI, Entropia [entropia.com], or some other vendor of distributed computing solutions, tart it up to look nice with their logo, and plug in some of their own research models. I'm sure their scientists have some energy calculations that could benefit from massively parallel computing.

    And what of the rest of the world's processors? In a large customer service department in any medium-large sized company - even one with no real scientific research needs - there will be many PCs available for many hours. It would be a simple matter for such a company to rent out its spare cycles, again using the same software, with suitable logos. Except this time it would be managed internally, with no risk of external network corruption. The information server could be housed safely with the rest of the company's servers, making a quiet buck in the background, with everyone happy.

    Ah, but that would be too sensible, wouldn't it?

    /prak
    --
    We may be human, but we're still animals.
  • That's why they call it "work"! If it was supposed to be fun, they'd call it "Happy fun time!"
  • by peterw (88369) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:34PM (#142557)
    To all the folks claiming SETI@home is safe: how many of you have thoroughly audited its source code? The rest of you can drop that claim. Adding any software to a system represents a security risk. Give TVA some credit for showing their employees some respect and not locking down the workstations so that management is a headache. Obviously TVA has a policy against installing unapproved software, and these folks broke that rule. They're at work, so they should follow the rules. [Sidenote: if TVA trusts JVMs, then seti@home might be OK as a Web applet.]

    Power consumption: TVA is very sensitive to this issue, though it seems some posters do not know this (what a shock!). TVA has many, many employees, and the power they use is not free (has anyone been following the California power crisis press coverage?). Every extra watt that TVA burns because some dufus won't let his screen go to DPMS suspend/off mode is potentially just more nuclear waste to be dealt with.

  • SETI@home is closed source. Neither the employee running it nor TVA management has the faintest idea what it really does. Therefore the TVA can reasonably be paranoid about it.

    Amen! Its those reasons that I use when I try to pursuade others not to use Windows... I get the impression MS is trying to do something sneaky when most any windows app I use tries to install the latest version of IE automagically... :-/
  • That was a pretty cool response. I was halfway in agreement with the control freaks here - I can certainly understand the fear of having trojaned boxes behind the firewall. But Universities continue to show that openness is possible.
    My question in these situations is always, "Why do all the machines have to be at the same trust level?" Or to put it differently, maybe it's time to rely more on host-based security and less on firewalls. Given a big enough site, there must always be hostiles behind the firewall. So why not put the desktops on their own network behind a different firewall from servers? Let them infect each other. Of course, even if you completely distrust the desktop machines (best way IMO) it would still be upsetting to have SS7 on them capturing every password.
    Maybe NSA's trusted linux will solve this stuff.
  • I think we all learned from ID4 that to hack into an aliens syste all we need to do is press "send virus" or some key to that effect ...

    Presumably this will work equally well for the aliens hacking our systems.

  • SETI @home is pretty much just trying to find patterns in random data. Which is pretty much what you do with TCP sequence prediction. Of course it's a security risk, its the worlds biggest connection hijacker!
  • I've had friends like that... built separate boxes out of spare parts JUST to have something to run dedicated SETI on. pretty ridiculous.
  • "Downloading the program from the University of California at Berkeley, called SETIhome (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), was both a violation of written TVA policy and computer security, and future violations could result in dismissal, managers told the guilty employees. "

    This makes it improper the the employees to do this.

    " Richard Chambers, TVA's inspector general, said: "If you're allowing others to tap into your computer, you have got some additional risk there." "

    This is a fact. It's true. Oh yes, It's true.

    However:
    It is correct that SETI@Home poses pretty much to real risk, but since it was a violation of exsisting policy, and if they are that anal about security (a good thing really).

    For those that work in large office enviroments, you know how much junk users stick on 'thier' computers (most of which is unstable 'neat-ware'.
    And that is part of the issue. Many users do feel that they practically 'own' the computer, when in fact it is the companies, and they can govern how it is to be used.
  • Here's a recent case posted on the RISKS Forum by a chap called Steve of a small company DOSing themselves. It was put down to the use of SETI@home clients on company PCs...

    There is an interesting little article on Sun's best practices site, titled, "Network Wedged by Little Green Men"

    http://dcb.sun.com/practices/devtales/network_wedg ed.jsp [sun.com]

    It covers how a small firm's network kept on slowing down to a halt. The problem was tracked down to Seti@home screen savers repeatedly trying to connect to the Seti servers, which were inaccessible due to attempted cable theft (as noted in past RISKS).

    The local firm's Internet access used NAT address translation, and each screen saver made multiple attempts to connect. Each connection attempt used a NAT assignment, an assignment which took a while to be cleaned up. Before long the company had exhausted their pool of 128 NAT addresses, even though only six people were present.

    Only through router interrogation was the problem identified.

    The article closes by saying the problem was "solved" by increasing the number of available NAT addresses, although of course that didn't fix the problem, merely caused it to 'go away'. A real solution would be to have the screen-saver software implement incremental backoff and other mechanisms designed to gracefully handle a complete loss of remote server access.

    One would hope that the authors of the next generation of distributed computation applications take heed of the lessons of the current batch.

  • If you can get onto the website, you can put up a binary. Oh, and change the MD5 checksum that's listed on the webpage. :-)
  • by coolgeek (140561) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:06PM (#142584) Homepage
    What they're really saying is that "a computer being connected to the internet is a security threat."

    I believe calling SETI a risk is going a bit far, and I also don't believe that is their point. The point is about the user's behavior. Installing unauthorized software on their computer systems _is_ a risk.

  • 1 bilion "wasted" CPU cycles
    • Cost (while in energy saving mode): $0
    • Benefit for TVA: $0

    1 bilion CPU cycles used in SETI@Home

    • Cost: a couple of dolars
    • Benefit for TVA: $0
  • I think the @home says it all. It's for home.

    Many people get the idea that "their" pc is theirs, and thus are allowed to do anything they wish. MP3's? No problem. Lotto results in e-mail, SURE! p0rno? Why the heck not? Need to make sure you don't waste all that down load time? Go ahead and copy 10 gig of MP3's to the server. Not enough space on VOL1? Heck, map over to SYS and drop it there. Server crash? Not your problem! The lazy nazi sysadmins will take care of it! Hey, those ass holes don't do anything but tell us not to do stuff. (OK, I am bitter.)

    At my employment, we have 9,000+ desktops with another 4,000 or so on the way. With this many pc's in to deal with and 14 full time techs, we have to have some ground rules. Part of those rules are what software is suppored and allowed, what is allowed, and what we will delete if we see it.

    For example, we had one site (we have a total of 78 sites) that 80+% of the desktops had virii from marker to backoriface to hybris to you-name-it. One PC had 11 different virii.

    Now, we have anti-virus software on the servers, on our smtp, and on the desk top. So how did this happen? It all started with public free web based e-mail, a verion of anti-virus that had a problem with auto-updates, and herd stupidity. (When it did find a virus, people thought that it just HAD to be wrong. So they turned off the anti-virus.)

    We had to spend a great deal of time and effort, not to mention overtime rates, to deal with this problem.

    Now, tell me again why you simply must be able to load what ever the hell it is you want to load from what ever depths of slime you get it?

    Now, please, use your brain now and again. You can be the best power user since the woz. The problem is that the next guy/gal in line may be my grandmother, and I'm here to tell you that she can't deal with swapped mouse buttons, persistant tails, and a Degas/Seurot looking desk top. So leave it alone, ok? And no, I am NOT going to deal with unmanaged user accounts on a desk top, so don't even bring it up.

    Bottom line: When you have a lot of people and a few techs, you must give up some flexability to be able to manage that many resources. It's a case of too many eggs, not enough basket, and some joker setting fire to your foot. It can be done, but only if they don't stick an exploding cigar in your face at the same time the throw rotten fruit at you.

  • and/or users installing stuff like AudioGalaxy or Comet Cursor, etc. on their machines.

    I have made it a crusade to get rid of comet cursor on every machine I come across. It is perhaps the most evil app I have run in to.

    I spent three hours once trying to get a Windows machine to show up on a network. We went so far as to delete and reinstall all of the networking protocols on the machine. and then, we deleted comet cursor. Bingo.

    What is the obsession with flashy cursors? I used to think that sysadmins that blocked users from installing any programs were draconian, but Comet Cursor has made me re-evaluate my views..
  • And so is the company water fountain.

    And company furniture is for work only. Not for you to rest your drinks, food, and children's pictures on.

    And the company floor is not for you to stand your own furniture on, just in case you were thinking of avoiding company rules.

    Better learn how to both use the toilet and drink at the same time. And learn how to time both those urges to happen for exactly 15 minutes minus walking distance once every four hours.

    "Employee #3782372, your typing rate has been below company standards for the past 240 seconds. You have been sent an automated pink slip as a result. Your pink slip will be recalled upon your resumption of a 40 wpm typing rate, and warning sent in its place. Note employee #3782372, you already have 2 of the 3 warnings necessary before being fired. Please clean your desk out tonight."

    I have a quote from a cartoon that's appropriate here (picture a steward readying the whip for a sweatshop worker): "Nike - Do it. Or ELSE!"
  • There's a lot of over reacting going on here...

    First, look at the headline ... that pretty much says it all. Reading the article, I realized that the TVA was not complaining about security, as much as unauthorized use. They mentioned security only briefly, saying it was a potential, and cited an example. Slashdot readers like to embellish stories to make it more likely that they'll get to the front page. It's human nature. People need to look past the headline, and read the story. Yes, someone complained. No, it's not newsworthy, but the headline was sufficiently flamboyant that it made it to the front page anyway, since the editors probably never read the entire article...

  • Oops. Before someone calls me on this - if they haven't already - of course the electricity is already deductible and can't be deducted twice. So the issue is whether the donated computer usage, vs. depreciation, would be allowable and economically advantageous. I'm not an accountant or lawyer :)
  • by ortholattice (175065) on Monday June 18, 2001 @05:22PM (#142601)
    I am absolutely amazed that employers do not use the power of their idle PCs THEMSELVES!

    Could an employer deduct as a charitable donation the percent computer usage donated to such causes? That would make it a LOT more attractive. Of course, eventually the computer is deducted anyway as it depreciates, but this might effectively accelerate the deduction. Plus some of the electricity used might be deductible.

  • Richard Chambers, the Inspector General of the Tennessee Valley Authority, has declared that employee use of SETI@Home on TVA computers compromises computer security

    This guy has just gone out and blown a phat wad of $$$ on one of those new dual AMD 760MP motherboards and a pair of 1.2GHz Athlon 4 chips. There's no way he's going to let any of his employees crunch more SETI@Home work units than him...and what better way to ensure that than by banning the client in the office?

  • by darkith (183433) on Monday June 18, 2001 @04:20PM (#142608)
    False. The System Idle process isn't actually a real thread, it performs no cycles and the CPU is allowed to perform a HLT instruction.

    Many CPUs have power saving capability, it's a matter of correct configuration in the bios and OS. For example, my dual Celerons (not the FCPPGA Celeron 2s, but the original PPGA) do a very nice power saving operation under Win2K with ACPI enabled in the bios. Temperatures go down significantly...nice for hot days. I stopped running RC5 for just this reason.

  • by cprael (215426) on Monday June 18, 2001 @04:53PM (#142621)
    >> best they can come up with is, "some kind of risk"?

    And that isn't a good answer? Do you expect them to analyze the Seti@home software to determine exactly what risks are involved? Do you expect them to do the same for every piece of crapware that is out there that the user "might" install on their system?

    No, it isn't a good answer. The statements imply a significant amount of risk based on running Seti@Home. Technically, they're correct. Risk is a non-zero number in this case. HOWEVER, that doesn't mean that it also isn't a trivial number, something in the range of 10^-4 or more. Given the current data set (0 security breaches in 2 million users), it's more in the 10^-6 or -7 range _at worst_. So we're talking something over 4 orders of magnitude difference from what they've decided to imply.

    Now, speaking as the owner of a company, I can understand what they're doing, and the policy statement behind the "why". But they _damn_ well better go sanitize the rest of the TVA for unauthorized software (that cutesy screen saver someone bought, or the bootleg copy of Photoshop your graphic artist is using to maintain your marcomm because you're too stingy to buy a license), or they're going to look like a really hypocritical mob. Just my two cents.

  • But when SETI kicks in, you're not using the machine. It actually saves the company money by not wasting CPU cycles. So there.

  • How dare you think about enjoying work. Thou shalt be miserable. Get back to your slave labour.
  • by acceleriter (231439) on Monday June 18, 2001 @06:51PM (#142633)
    Just leave the "power users" to fend for themselves. The policy I adhere to is that if you don't screw up your working environment, don't ask me to fix your machine, and don't piss off your coworkers, you can do whatever you darn well please with your office PC. If I have to mess with it, however, things change immediately for the worse. This tends to separate the real "power users" from the wannabes.
  • ...hack into our computers.

    I suppose they'd do that with Macs.
  • I guess my real point is that the company shouldn't have to go to the trouble of even investigating if there is a security risk with Seti@home... it's not in their best interests to invest the time. After all, what corporate benefit would there be to running the Seti@home program on a few computers? (sure, if they ran it company wide, they could get some miles out of it, but not on an individual user basis)

    To the Sysadmin, it's "unknown" software... could be benign, could be hazardous. They shouldn't have to be put in the position to have to make that distinction. They have better things to do (well... usually...) q:]

    You and I might know enough about Seti@home specifically to be sure it won't cause a problem... but you probably spent at least 30 minutes reading up about Seti@home before coming to that conclusion. For a sysadmin that gets no benefit from it, that's 30 minutes wasted.

    playing-the-devils-advocate-ly-yours...

    MadCow

  • by MadCow42 (243108) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:20PM (#142640) Homepage
    >> best they can come up with is, "some kind of risk"?

    And that isn't a good answer? Do you expect them to analyze the Seti@home software to determine exactly what risks are involved? Do you expect them to do the same for every piece of crapware that is out there that the user "might" install on their system?

    Sure, Seti@home is mentioned specifically, but it's not a problem that's specific to that code. No Sysadmin could realistically do anything but "forbid" basically all non-company-issued software, especially those that connect to the Internet.

    Now, on the other hand, if a company wanted to support Seti@home specifically, it would be feasible to test it so that they could determine the risks... but that's one out of millions of programs that the user might want to install.

    MadCow.

  • Was there any *real* cause for concern? No. Was there any chance of someone actually exploiting a SETI client to gain control? Probably not. I really don't think those in industrial espionage automatically would look for a SETI client as a means to gain entry into a system.

    Mostly because there are much more conventional ways, and the SETI client is good only for sending and receiving data.

    Of course, this is management's job. They have to look like they're constantly doing something. If its attacking harmless, albeit useless applications, or harping on people for installing screensaves, they have a job to do.

    It's true that the machines do belong to the company, and equally they can do whatever they want with them. But giving someone a computer implies a little personal freedom. I also don't like the fact that many IT departments think they are god today. The IT department and the computers are meant to support the users, not the other way around.

    If I want to install software on my work machine, and I think it's required in the slighest, I won't let anyone from IT tell me otherwise. If I want to make it as complicated as possible to troubleshoot, that's fine, because when I need troubleshooting IT is there and they're getting paid for it. I don't care about making their job easier.

    Even software which isn't really required but is more or less classified along the line of 'fun' still should be allowed, provided it is not very, very dangerous to run. This helps boost spirits and encourages employees to work together. For example, I read in that report those who used the SETI clients were in a compitition. I'm sure it was just a fun thing to do in thier freetime. But now, how has their attitude changed now that they have been investigated for installing software which looks for alien life? It will probably not only affect their performance, but their general feeling for the company as well. And for what? In the long term companies who have a no tolerance, no sense policy like this end up only hurting themselves.
  • I don't hold them in high regard because they aren't doing anything novel. Most think they are all powerful gods because they can install a network card and run cable from the wall. Some of the more experienced run fancy shell scripts, but that's about it. They come in with pompus attitudes and move my stuff around in my office without care, all to get the job done so they can go back downstairs and play Quake.

    Meanwhile, I'm the one producing a product which sells and provides the MONEY for their paycheck. Although I value their importance as a service which can be thought of as analgous to a custodian, I'm not going to walk around with plastic liners on my feet just so they will have less work to do. They're paid to clean up messes if and when they arise. Sorry if you people have to actually DO something.

    And as for a reformat, any IT who reformats my drive with the recent build and code, will be fired. Sorry. They're not important, and can easily be replaced. My boss won't care about their pathetic excuse ("I'm too lazy and don't like him enough to fix it.") -- he'll ask who lost the 6 months of work and write the pink slip.

    However, I never call them because I fix problems myself (unless the problem is network, etc.). I have heard co-workers call them and the stories of how they come in and are extremly abusive, especially to those who aren't technical users. This is ironic because the only difference is they have read "Unix For Dummies" or another associated 'cookbook'.

    So don't worry. The ones who know a little bit more than the Unix command line won't be calling you and I'm sure they run a beast of a system do to 'troubleshooting -- although if you want to call your method of reimaging troubleshooting at all.

    Remember what you were hired for -- for us. So don't bitch when you have to *actually* be challenged by your job. You still get the same wage whatever the problem is, so the company could care less either way as well.
  • I think the key here is the policy. /. is getting upset, not because the TVA is saying "no unapproved software" but because they are saying "no SETI@Home." Unapproved software doesn't seem to enter into it. And therein lies the problem. The saying goes that a chain is only as secure as its weekest link. If you ban SETI@Home because it's "some kind of risk" but don't bother to check and get rid of every other unapproved peice of software you're running, the whole thing is for naught. Furthermore, not only have you failed to protect your system, you've also managed to annoy and irritate your users (and from what I can tell a number of /.ers) for what is ultimately no realizeable gain.

    In short, what's the point in being a stickler for security on one front if you let it slide everywhere else?

    This has been another useless post from....
  • It's the Tennessee Valley Authority, a huge federally-owned power company.

    You can visit its Web site at http://www.tva.gov [tva.gov]

  • I have had far too much trouble with computers that didn't come out of stand-by mode. It's like the mfgs put in "power saving" to get a green star, but didn't feel any obligation to make it work right. At the worst, there was a box we bought as a small server in '95 where even putting the monitor in standby would take the mainframe off-line!

    Maybe it's improved on the newer models, but disabling power control in CMOS setup is already a reflexive action for me. I do let my 21" spaceheater, I mean monitor, go into standby, but unless the mainframe is running on batteries, I don't want it to go down until I shutdown the OS.
  • Aliens will be more likely to contact if we make it easier to hack into our computers. In that case maybe this is all a a good thing.
  • Some anonymous coward said: what this joker is suggesting is that each employee should have a separate PC to be used exclusively for such vital tasks as reading Slashdot and crunching SETI data.

    I'm the "joker" who submitted the article, and I didn't mean that at all. :) I mean that a critical infrastructure like the power grid should *NEVER* have a connection, not even an indirect connection, to the internet. I don't think it is smart to put a computer that can manage the grid on the same network as a PC that will be used to browse the web, or answer email, do SETI@home, look at pr0n, or what ever else lusers do that involves the internet.

    Any of that stuff - even reading business related email - should be happening on a separate network from the computers for the grid. I'm not talking about a subnet that is supposedly isolated from the rest of the network by a switch. (What if I flood your switch with so many MAC advertisements on one port that it fails open and turns into a big, fat hub?) What they need is an honest air gap to separate their grid computers from their computers that can access the internet.

    I was not trying to defend the actions of the employees who were violating TVA's computer policy when I said, "I'm wondering why using SETI@Home on PCs with access to the internet would be a problem. As cheap as PCs are, you'd think that TVA would have separate internet/email PCs on every desktop..." I was saying that a proper setup (e.g. using separate computers with an air gap) is not expensive, and it would have prevented an employee policy violation from becoming a breech of computer security.
    --
    "Weapons should be hardy rather than decorative" - Musashi

  • That's fine, but don't complain when IT reimages your disk to fix a problem. They're paid to fix problems with their installed programs, and if the bets way to do that is to restore a standard configuration. Course, if they lose some of your data in the process, then, hey, you're paid to keep backups.
  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Tuesday June 19, 2001 @03:56AM (#142676)
    While TVa may seem draconian, as a government agency, they're bound by a whole lot of rules and laws, as well as negotiated labor contracts. If they let people install some unapproved programs, they'll have a lot harder time dealing with someone who really screws up. Yes, you can argue that SETI is low risk, but the point is either they enforce their rules or lose the ability to enforce them. It may not be what /.'s want, but then that's the government for you.
  • 3) trojaned executables can be avoided by verifying PGP signatures

    Unless the trojan was already in when the PGP signature was applied. If one is properly paranoid, one has to consider the case that the original supplier of the software may have had motives other than advertised.

    In simple terms, PGP only verifies that you got what they wanted to give you, not that what they gave you was safe in any sense. It's just like the tamper-proof caps on Tylenol: they don't do a damned thing when someone inside the company slips the mickey in there.

COBOL is for morons. -- E.W. Dijkstra

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