Saturday, May 30, 2015

Tech: What is Data Encryption and Why it is Important!

As those of you who are regular readers know, I have a number of projects "in the hopper".  One of which is a text book on learning the basics of digital forensics.  While I was working on it last night a bit (instead of working on my final paper on how Hitler achieved control of Germany legally in the 1930's -- which is going to be fantastic by the way) I decided to take some of the encryption info that I was working into the book and craft a BLOG post about what data encryption is, and why it is important to everyone.  This is that post...

Encryption can be used to provide both confidentiality and integrity. Confidentiality comes when the file is encrypted in such a way that only authorized users have access to the key. Integrity comes from hashing the file so any change, no matter how minute, can be instantly detected. We can apply both concepts to data in transit or at rest. But what do those phrases mean? 

Data In Transit
Data in transit is defined as any data being accessed over the network, and therefore could be intercepted by someone else on the network or with access to the physical media the network uses. I will be writing up a little piece on physical security of your data soon.  Be sure to check back on that!  On an ethernet network, that could be someone with the ability to access your cabled infrastructure, configure a switch to mirror traffic, or fool your client or a router into directing traffic to them before it moves on to the final destination. On a wireless network, all they need is to be within range. Wireless networks can and should be protected from unauthorized snooping by encrypting all traffic. Strong enterprise networks can use WPA2 Enterprise, but weaker networks may have to use pre-shared keys to establish session keys, like in WPA Personal, or worse, shared keys among all clients as in WEP. For purposes of this post, consider an open network to be like the one you’d use at a coffee shop or hotel.

When you use a clear text protocol like TELNET, HTTP, FTP, SMTP, POP, IMAP, or LDAP, that traffic is referred to as “in the clear”.  Anyone that has access to your network traffic and a readily available tool like Wireshark, they can intercept your traffic, giving them access to read your email, copy your credentials, or even make copies of your files. You need to protect your data’s confidentiality and your own privacy by encrypting this traffic using SSL/TLS, or switching to another encrypted equivalent protocol. TELNET can be replaced by SSH. FTP can be replaced by SFTP. The rest can use encrypted transport with SSL or TLS. When data is encrypted in transit, it can only be compromised if the session key can be compromised.  It is worth mentioning that this is where keeping your network infrastructure up-to-date.  Many older models of switches, routers and network appliances may not support SFTP or SSH for connectivity.

Even though some encryption in transit will use symmetric encryption and a set session key, most will use a certificate and asymmetric encryption to securely exchange a session key and then use that session key for symmetric encryption to provide the fastest encryption/decryption. Any protocol that uses either SSL or TLS, uses certificates to exchange Public Keys, and then the Public Keys are used to securely exchange Private Keys, it becomes very difficult for an attacker to defeat. Most encrypted protocols include a hashing algorithm to ensure no data was altered in transit. This can also help defeat “Man in the Middle” attacks.  It defeats MitM attacks by decrypting and re-encrypting data, which forces the attacker to alter the signature even if they don’t change any of the key data.

If an attacker can fool you into using them as your proxy, or can convince you to click past the certificate warning dialogue box so that you will trust their certificates, this will enable them to run a MitM attack.  The attacker will establish an encrypted session with you, and another with your destination, and be able to intercept your traffic as it passes through their system. That is why it is critical to always use certificates from a third-party Certificate Authority, to never accept a certificate when your client software warns you about an untrusted certificate. Even though it is a big challenge, your users should be trained to never accept certificates that fail and show a warning in their browser. Encryption in transit should be mandatory for any network traffic that requires authentication, or includes data that is not publicly accessible. You don’t need to encrypt your public facing website, but if you want customers to logon to view things, then it is imperative that you use encryption to protect both the logon data, and their privacy while they access your site.

Data At Rest
Encryption of data stored on media is used to protect the data from unauthorized access should the media ever be stolen. Physical access can get past file system permissions, but if the data is stored in encrypted form and the attacker does not have the decryption key, they have no more than a useful paperweight or a drive they can format and use for something else.

Most encryption at rest uses a symmetric algorithm so that data can be very quickly encrypted and decrypted. You don’t want encryption to slow down system performance. However, since the symmetric key itself needs to be protected, they can use a PIN, password, or even a PKI certificate on a smart card to secure the symmetric key, making it very difficult for an attacker to compromise.

Hashing algorithms can be used on files at rest to calculate their value and compare it later to quickly and easily detect any changes to the data. Checksums or hashes are commonly run to validate that a file you have downloaded from the Internet is in fact the authentic file the creator intended, but investigators can hash entire hard drives to validate that any copies made are exact.

Encryption at rest should be mandatory for any media that can possibly leave the physical boundaries of your infrastructure. USB keys, external drives, backup tapes, and the hard drives of all laptops that hold any organizational data should be encrypted without exception. To further enhance the security of your servers and to protect against malicious users or vendors, you should encrypt the hard drives of all your servers too. That way, even if a failed drive is replaced, you don’t have to worry about ensuring its physical destruction to ensure your customers’ and company’s data is secure.

Examples of encryption at rest include the AES-encrypted portable media, some of which include a fingerprint reader for two-factor authentication, and Vault in OS X or Bitlocker in Windows operating systems to secure both the system drives and external media. With encryption in use both in transit and at rest, data can be protected from prying eyes, and users are assured that the data has not been modified in any way. With the prevalence of unencrypted Internet access, and the loss and theft of IT assets today, using encryption should be mandatory for all users and all businesses.

For more information on my upcoming digital forensics textbook, Learn the Basics of Digital Forensics, visit my website --

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working a Master Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

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Be sure to check out Bruce's Allentown Education Examiner Page, his Twitter and his Facebook!

Monday, May 25, 2015

American History 101: The United States Navy African Squadron

The United States Navy.

The most powerful naval force the world has ever seen.  One of only six blue water naval forces on the planet, and when the U.S. Navy shows up, you know things just got serious.  But the United States Navy hasn't always been the super power it is today.  In fact, it wasn't until the 1830's that the U.S. Navy could be considered a blue water navy and it wasn't until the early twentieth century that it was truly a world class navy.  Today's Memorial Day post is about a period of time in which the U.S. Navy was in a great period of expansion and learning how to flex the few muscles that it had.  And one of the first times that the United States Navy took part in a "world police" action that the United States government simply phoned in the effort.   Today's post is on the United States Navy African Squadron.  

The USS Jamestown 1820 - part of the African Squadron
The African Squadron was formed in order to prevent the passage of slave ships from Africa to North America.  The squadron was deployed and active from 1819 through 1861, with a large portion of that time doing other duty.  The African Squadron was tasked with working with western arm of the British Royal Navy based out of Sierra Leon.  In spite of this connection between the American and British navies, they operated independently and without any communication.

While the United States gave lip service to Great Britain and the rest of the world regarding ending the slave trade, the government wasn't that straight forward.  First, the United States only signed to try and stop slave trading -- but never made any pronouncements about actually ending slavery.  The government's official stance on slavery remained in-line with the expectations of the founding fathers.  They thought that if left on its own, that slavery would simply die out and go away without any government intervention.  However, by the time the War of 1812 has ended in 1815, slavery was as strong as ever in the south.  And because of this, the American government suffered from a large backlash voiced by slave owners and those who supported the institution of slavery.  They felt that the American government had no business in stopping slave ships in international waters.  Plus, there was the issue of Abel Parker Upsher.  Upsher was the Secretary of the Navy and a staunch supporter of slavery and states rights.  Because of this, the Navy itself did not fully support the deployment of the African Squadron, sending a small fleet with only a total of 80 guns at the ready.

If that were the end of the issues with the African Squadron, that might be enough.  However, the issue of piracy in the Caribbean reared its ugly head into the business of the African Squadron.  In spite of the United States Navy having almost eradicated the piracy in the region by the 1823, the Secretary of the Navy ordered the entire African Squadron into the Caribbean in order to assist with the pirate problem.  The African Squadron did not resume its duties in the waters of Africa until 1842 as a part of the Webster-Ashburton treaty.  The Webster-Ashburton treaty largely had nothing to do with the U.S. Navy.  It dealt mainly with the borders in the north along Canada and the west pre-Mexican War.  But there was a section of the treaty that insisted that both sides of the conflict make an effort to stop the slave trade in international waters.  So, the United States Navy sent the African Squadron back to Africa at about half of the strength required by the treaty.

By 1860, when the African Squadron was decommissioned, it had little impact on the slave trade.  One could say that was by design.  In the roughly 20 years that it operated in the region, United States ships only captured 423 vessels carrying only 27,000 slaves.  The small amount of success that was achieved in this venture only proved that the United States had no real interest in ending or curbing the long standing institution of slavery.  If you are being optimistic, you could say that by 1860 the country was torn on the subject which would serve to fuel the flames of the impending Civil War.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Be sure to check out Bruce's Allentown Education Examiner Page, his Twitter and his Facebook!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

American History 101: Profile of a Black Slave Owner - William Ellison, Jr.


It has been called an abomination... a blight on the American historical landscape... the white man's oppression of the black man...  but did you know that there were black slave owners?  It is true.  Just like the blacks in Africa sold their own people to the white Europeans and Americans, blacks in America owned slaves and plantations.  Of the approximately 2,000,000 slaves in America, approximately 12,900 slaves were owned by over 3,700 black slave owners.  This blog post is about one of them...  William Ellison, Jr.

William Ellison, Jr was born under the name April Ellison sometime in April 1790 (it was not unusual for there to be no concrete birth records of slaves).  He died on December 5th, 1861 and lived a unique life for a black man in South Carolina.  He was born a slave, owned by William Ellison, but granted his freedom by Ellison on June 8, 1816.  Although it is unknown whether or not William or his father, Robert, fathered William, Jr -- after he was given his freedom, he changed his name from April to William, Jr.  William went on to be a cotton plantation and slave owner.  And while the American Antebellum period saw many blacks begin to gain their freedom, he and his sons were the only black freemen in Sumter County, South Carolina.

William Ellison, Jr took the skills he'd picked up as a slave and put them to work, and by the the time he was in his late twenties he was a master cotton gin builder and repairer.  Within two years, business was booming and Ellison purchased two artisan slaves to work in his shop, and by 1830 he owned four slaves.  Because cotton prices were high, there was a great demand for Ellison's services and by the 1850's Ellison's slave count had risen to eight and he started a blacksmith business with additional slave labor.  He was even taking out print advertisements in the Sumter Southern Whig and Camden Gazette.

Within two years, Ellison had amassed enough capital to purchase a fifty acre cotton plantation -- and within two more years his plantation had grown to 386 acres.  Before the end of the 1850's, he would purchase the Hickory Hill plantation, boosting his plantation to over 1,000 acres and own 32 slaves.  Also, by the end of the 1850's, Ellison's slaves had children.  He believed that children should not work in the field, so all mothers and their children worked in the house.  His slave count was over 100 by this time.

During the Civil War, Ellison and his sons supported the Confederacy, believing that slavery was a profitable economic need for the country.  Ellison even went so far as to offer up 53 of his own slaves to the Confederate Army.  Additionally, Ellison converted a portion of his farm from cotton to differing foodstuffs that were grown and given to the army.

At age 21, Ellison chose Matilda as his consort, she was only 16 at the time.  In slavery marriage was not recognized -- so she was considered his consort.  After he was granted his freedom, he attempted to secure her freedom.  But it took several years for Ellison to buy his wife and children out of slavery because of South Carolina's restrictive manumission laws.  These laws created extremely restrictive guidelines about how slaves could be freed.  Ellison's priority was to free his wife first, then their children.  This was because all children born to a slave-mother were considered property of the slave owner, and thusly slaves.  Ellison wanted to ensure that all his future children would be born free.  Ellison ended up simply buying his family as slaves, and then granting them their freedom.

For regular readers of my BLOG I want to say thank you for reading.  But, the regulars know I post a lot of different things on this blog.  Moving forward, I will continue my posts on American History -- trying to highlight things that are a little unusual, or discussed less in the classrooms of America -- like the subject of black slave owners.  In the coming weeks I will be posting a BLOG about the first woman in America to become an millionaire.  If you don't already know who it is, I promise you'll be surprised!  And also, I'm working on an extended post about the causality of the biggest wars in history.  This is a bit of a departure from my usual posts because it does not deal primarily with American history (although I'll talk about the big American wars), and it is specifically designed to dispel the notion that the majority of the war throughout history is caused by religion.  I'll give you the ending now: it isn't.

So stay tuned -- if you like my educational technology blog postings, check out my Examiner Page.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Be sure to check out Bruce's Allentown Education Examiner Page, his Twitter and his Facebook!