Sunday, October 14, 2012

Review of Super Scratch Programming Adventure! Posted

Amazon.com just posted a joint review by myself and my daughter of No Starch's new book Super Scratch Programming Adventure!. From the five star review:

I asked my almost-8-year-old to share her thoughts on Super Scratch Programming Adventure! She chose five stars and wrote the following:

"I think it's a very great book. I love the storyline, but my main concern is that I could not find a trace of the Super Scratch folder.

How hard is it to draw the Mona Lisa? I have Scratch version 1.4, and I found it difficult drawing Le Louvre.

On the flip side, I learned a lot. Who knew you could make Scratchy move with 1) arrow keys and 2) a medium sized Script?

I enjoyed watching the Magic Star Web change colors.

Overall, I think it's a very great book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in programming."

I agree that this is a great book. My daughter wanted to learn how to program a video game, and I thought it would be a lot more difficult. Shortly after starting to read and apply this book, she coded a video game!

I'd like to thank No Starch for sending us a review copy.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Washington National Guard: Model for Cyber Defense?

My friend Russ McRee pointed me to an article recently: WA National Guard focusing on cyber security. From the article:

The Washington National Guard is leveraging a decade of investment in cyber security at Camp Murray in Lakewood into projects that could protect state and local governments, utilities and private industry from network attacks.

The aim is to bring to the digital world the kind of disaster response the National Guard already lends to fighting wildfires and floods, said Lt. Col. Gent Welsh of the Washington Air National Guard.

“Just as ‘Business X’ needs the National Guard to come in and fill sand bags, ‘Business X’ might need to call the National Guard if it’s overwhelmed on the cyber side,” Welsh said.

The new task plays to a growing strength in the state’s National Guard, which draws on employees from companies including Microsoft and Amazon to provide special expertise in its network warfare units.

I first learned of this initiative when Russ Tweeted about it in June. In an email exchange he described his role in the Washington State Guard (WSG):

"The WSG is an all volunteer force that is a state defense force, with what is typically an emergency management mission. See Title 38 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). WSG is also authorized by Federal law, Title 32 of the United States Code.

We most often serve as liaison officers in support of the Emergency Support Function (ESF) 20 (defense support for civilian authorities) function per Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Incident Management System (NIMS) / Incident Command System (ICS) guidance during major events (disasters, natural or human caused).

WSG remains a place where extremely experienced soldiers who have exceeded age requirements for active/reserve service can continue to serve as well as folks like me with no prior service who can't get the federal services to consider them for age reasons.

We can be called to active duty but in-state only. I was on active duty with orders for two days in June for a major statewide exercise. When we're called up for such activity we become peer in rank and responsibility to our National Guard counterparts.

I'll also be seeing some active duty time again in the immediate future in support of the initiatives mentioned in the article."

I think this is a great start on a journey towards applying private sector expertise to national digital security problems, but on a local scale. The News Tribune article mentions that the Guard (in all its forms) is working to figure out how it can provide help to besieged companies, from a legal and logistical perspective.

I think this line from the news article summarizes a key theme in this discussion:

"We're not going to wait for the feds to hand us everything," Welsh said.

In our Federal system, we should allow the States (per the 10th Amendment) the freedom to innovate, and thereby invent multiple approaches to fighting digital threats.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Inside Saudi Aramco with 60 Minutes

I just watched a recent episode of 60 Minutes on CNBC and enjoyed the segment on oil production in Saudi Arabia. It featured a story from late 2008 on Saudi Aramco. You may recall this name from recent news, namely data destruction affecting 30,000 computers. A recent Reuters article said the following:

Saudi Aramco has said that only office PCs running Microsoft Windows were damaged. Its oil exploration, production, export, sales and database systems all remained intact as they ran on isolated and heavily protected systems.

"All our core operations continued smoothly," CEO Khalid Al-Falih told Saudi government and business officials at a security workshop on Wednesday.

"Not a single drop of oil was lost. No critical service or business transaction was directly impacted by the virus."

It is standard industry practice to shield plant operating networks from hackers by running them on separate operating systems that are protected from the Internet.

While watching the video I was struck by the following comments by the CEO of Saudi Aramco, giving Leslie Stahl a tour of their 21st century operations center (pictured here). From the transcript:

Abdallah Jum'ah, Saudi Aramco's president and CEO... gave 60 Minutes a tour of the company's command center, where engineers scrutinize and analyze every aspect of the company's operations on a 220-foot digital screen.

"Every facility in the kingdom, every drop of oil that comes from the ground is monitored in real time in this room," Jum'ah explained. "And we have control of each and every facility, each and every pipeline, each and every valve on the pipeline. And therefore, we know exactly what is happening in the system from A to Z."

Aramco engineers are making sure that not one drop of oil is overlooked: computers are receiving data, via satellite, from sensors mounted on drill bits that are burrowing deep into the oil fields all over Saudi Arabia. Engineers are sending instant messages that actually guide the drill bits.

"He is now directing that drill bit to go into the best areas of the reservoirs. And suck that oil from it, and not leave any oil behind," Jum'ah explained.

He says the drill bit is a bit like a snake, going down and following where the oil is. "And mind you, this is happening 400 to 500 miles from here geographically. And we are sending that drill bit also two or three miles in the ground."

The screen capture at right appears to show this control process in action on a Windows XP computer. (Remember, this show was filmed in late 2008.)

You can watch the segment (in two parts) for more details, if you like.

Now, it's entirely possible that the sorts of systems depicted in the video were not affected by the malicious code that allegedly struck 30,000 systems. Then again, it's not unheard of for malicious code to propagate from one enclave to another.

Hopefully we will hear more details on what happened, either to Saudi Aramco or apparently other companies. Again, from Reuters:

Qatar's natural gas firm Rasgas was also hit by a cyber attack last week, although it has not said how much damage was caused or whether Shamoon was the virus involved. Qatar, also a Sunni Gulf kingdom, has similar foes to Saudi Arabia.

Its parent firm Qatar Petroleum, which also owns Qatar's other main natural gas firm Qatargas, said it was unaffected but implied that other companies had been hit.

"Qatar Petroleum has not been affected by the computer virus that hit several oil and gas firms. All QP operations are continuing as normal," it said in an official tweet on Monday.