back to article Sysadmin cracked military PC’s security by reading the manual

Welcome once more to On-Call, The Register’s attempt to make Fridays tolerable by bringing you fellow readers’ tales of terrifying tech support jobs they somehow survived. This week, meet “Guy”, who told On-Call he grew up in the golden age of the microcomputer, meaning that by the time he joined his local Army National Guard …

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  1. Paul Mitchell 1

    This article could benefit from some proof reading.

    This article could benefit from some proof reading.

  2. Giovani Tapini

    Only cracking I have done is

    with combination padlocks. A worryingly large number can have the combination guessed by the "feel". Required to do this for holiday trip where partner had forgotten combinations of the padlock stash.

    1. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Only cracking I have done is

      When I was younger I did the same with padlocks. The cheaper ones I remember could be opened by just turning one way almost 360 degrees then the other way the same before going back to a final stopping position. Before TSA locks came in I opened the padlock on a friends case when they forgot the code. Betting me £100 I couldn't do it in under a minute was a mistake. You just had to put tension on the lock and turn the dials.

      1. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: Only cracking I have done is

        A long time ago the team I was in was moved to a new building (by new I mean old but vacant)

        Every desk had a metal drawer cabinet by its side but every single one of those cabinets (built like tanks) was locked and we were provided no keys.

        I started fiddling with mine and got around the lock by picking the lever system inside it that connected the lock to the locking mechanism of each drawer (it was just accessible from the bottom of the cabinet).

        After seeing I'd opened my own cabinet, my boss instructed me to open the rest of the 60+ cabinets. Fun times.

        1. Mage Silver badge

          Re: Only cracking I have done is

          Keys lost during move.

          I asked secretary if filing cabinets needed locking?

          "No, we lock the room."

          -- So the workshop portable electric drill on the lock barrels.

          I suspect some rechargeable ones would be adequate now.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Only cracking I have done is

          Before I started to pick locks on locked filing cabinets with lost keys, colleagues would turn them upside down and shake them to trip the lock.

          What I want to know is how they worked that out as opposed to just picking a basic lock.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Only cracking I have done is

            "What I want to know is how they worked that out as opposed to just picking a basic lock."

            Two obvious ways:

            1) You can save a good deal of money by purchasing filing cabinets without locks, but with the capability for locking hardware to be installed. As you install it yourself, you note that the locking bar is held in place by gravity, not by the lock itself. The lock only prevents a lever from moving, and thus moving the the locking bar. The bar itself is free to move if you tip the cabinet.

            2) You are the poor bastard selected by the Boss to move filing cabinets from one office to another. Naturally, the Boss insists that they be moved fully loaded, and locks the drawers "so they don't shift on you". Inevitably, one of the cabinets is top-heavy & manages to discover it's center of gravity at an inopportune moment. As it hits the ground, one or all of the "locked" drawers pop open.

            1. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

              Re: Only cracking I have done is

              "Inevitably, one of the cabinets is top-heavy & manages to discover it's center of gravity at an inopportune moment. As it hits the ground, one or all of the "locked" drawers pop open."

              Murphy's Law in action.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Only cracking I have done is

                Murphy was an optimist. Besides, in this august forum I would have thought Sod's Law would have been more appropriate. Or perhaps a reference to Finagle ...

                1. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

                  Re: Only cracking I have done is

                  I very nearly used "Sod's Law" but I've been corresponding with folks from the US for so long it's become a matter of getting the meaning across efficiently.

      2. ICPurvis47

        Re: Only cracking I have done is

        Whilst on the Isle of Skye, I took my disabled wife to visit a seal watching hide overlooking the estuary. The road from the car park was barred by a gate with a combination padlock, and Blue badge holders were invited to phone an Edinburgh number to get the combination to allow them to open the gate and drive about half a mile nearer to the hide. I looked at my mobile phone - no signal. No land line anywhere in sight, so I looked at the four digit rotary barrel lock. Applied a bit of tension and twiddled the barrels until each went slack, and opened the gate. I don't know how the RSPB expected anyone to contact them from a signal deadspot, unless one was expected to return to civilisation to get the combination, but by then, the moment would probably have passed.

    2. Nick Kew Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: Only cracking I have done is

      Many years ago I had a friend at college who, for a kind of party trick, would easily pick the padlocks on student trunks. Took just a few seconds and you'd have to be watching quite closely to see he didn't have a key.

      He never abused his ability, but he would pick a lock, then put it through a piece of paper on which he'd written "Get a better lock!".

      I don't recollect witnessing it, but I think he also did that to bikes, and was dismissive of big heavy expensive D-locks that were really secure against being broken but could be quietly picked in a few seconds.

      1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

        Re: Only cracking I have done is

        Many years ago I had a friend at college who, for a kind of party trick, would easily pick the padlocks on student trunks.

        Did this. There was a group of us (>45) going overseas. All our luggages were piled in our room while waiting for the hotel to come and pick them up in one go.

        I had a metal wire and a heavy door jam. About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

        We arrived at our destination hotel and within 2 hours of check-in there was a huge commotion (some of the rich kids called home to daddy) while my side-kick was, literally, rolling on the floor laughing.

        When the owners of the locks managed to open up their luggages, the next thing they did was march down the hotel reception and asked where the nearest hardware store is so they can buy a sturdy lock, particularly one I can't pick.

        What I didn't tell them was I could still open their luggages without touching the locks (via the zippers).

        No, they weren't offended of the stunt I putted.

        Yes, during the trip I was able to use the same "pick" to open a room door and the door to the bus. Fun times, that was.

        1. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

          About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

          "Yes, during the trip I was able to use the same "pick" to open a room door and the door to the bus. Fun times, that was."

          I had a friend at college who always carried a screwdriver and would unscrew tables, chairs, anything held together by screws.

          I kept very quiet about my lock picking abilities when he was around in case he picked up on that idea. There was nothing worse than having to unpick a bike lock when you were cutting it fine getting to a lecture on time.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

            "I had a friend at college who always carried a screwdriver and would unscrew tables, chairs, anything held together by screws."

            A few of us paid a visit to the NUU in Coleraine not long after it opened. The bit we were in was constructed out of a sort of oversized Meccano. I wondered how much of it could be dismantled overnight by a determined squad of students armed with the right size spanners.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

              I wondered how much of it could be dismantled overnight by a determined squad of students armed with the right size spanners.

              There are stories of students taking a car apart and reassembling it in the owner's room. Usually a kit car like a Lotus 7.

              1. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

                Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                There are stories of students taking a car apart and reassembling it in the owner's room. Usually a kit car like a Lotus 7.

                The times I've heard that one it was a Mini or a VW Beetle.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                  And before that the Austin 7. As soon as the car was invented, students started putting them in odd places - like on top of the roof in Cambridge.

                  1. Gobhicks

                    Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                    One roof in Cambridge

                    There's only one roof in Cambridge

                    One roof in Caaaa-aambridge

                    There's only one roof in Cambridge...

                    ad infinitum/nauseum, whichever comes first...

                    1. davenewman

                      Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                      It was actually the Sentate House. The fire brigade had to cut it apart to get it down.

                2. onefang Silver badge

                  Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                  "The times I've heard that one it was a Mini or a VW Beetle."

                  It's been done many times. I've seen a Mini somehow attached to the side of a building, like it was just casually driving up the wall.

                  1. Gnomalarta

                    Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                    Bevois Valley, Southampton?

                    1. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

                      Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                      "Bevois Valley, Southampton?"

                      No, but I see I'm not alone in my frustration.

                3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                  Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                  "The times I've heard that one it was a Mini or a VW Beetle."

                  A Citroen 2CV is piss easy too, they are designed that way. Or at least the older ones were. Not sure about later generations.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                    "A Citroen 2CV is piss easy too"

                    The Mini and Beetle have monocoque bodies that would not go through standard room door widths? The Lotus 7 was a shallow sports car. Not sure if the 2CV body could be easily taken apart?

                    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                      Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                      "Not sure if the 2CV body could be easily taken apart?"

                      It was originally designed for rural French farmers, hence the narrow tyres, long play suspension and extreme ease of removing and replacing the body panels. ISTR seeing a video many years ago where one was stripped down in a TV studio with little more than a single spanner and screwdriver. Not so sure about the chassis though.

                      Here's an example, 5 minute video speeded up, but a complete strip down to the chassis in probably 15 minutes. I'd estimate that the chassis with or without wheels would probably fit through a door on it's side.

                4. itzman

                  Re: About 10 minutes later I was "cracking" some of the locks and interchanging them around.

                  Morris minor

              2. Mark 85 Silver badge

                Putting cars in weird places..

                We used to pick up a neighbor's VW Beetle and set it in his pool. It would float and he'd wonder how drunk was he to park it there.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Putting cars in weird places..

                  "We used to pick up a neighbor's VW Beetle and set it in his pool. "

                  An IT colleague used to compete in international motorcar rallies. One day they arrived in a town and couldn't find anywhere on the street to park. They rolled out their wheeled jack - and "tidied" the cars that were already parked until there was enough room for them.

            2. Stevie Silver badge

              Re: a sort of oversized Meccano.

              Or what real engineers call "Dexian".

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: a sort of oversized Meccano.

                Or what real engineers call "Dexian".

                OK, oversized Dexion.

                There used to be a Dexion shop in N London, long gone, of course. It's right what they say: the variety has gone out of the High Street these days.

                1. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge
                  Unhappy

                  Re: a sort of oversized Meccano.

                  "There used to be a Dexion shop in N London, long gone, of course. It's right what they say: the variety has gone out of the High Street these days"

                  Twenty years ago I moved to a small town in which all the non-food shops were devoted to ladies clothes. Seemingly nothing at all for the blokes, at least not at the weekend.

                  Then I discovered a small corner of a department store devoted to car accessories (not needed once my banger days were over) and more exotic things like Dremel drills. Ah Bliss.

                  Unfortunately that place was eventually taken over by a large chain and the blokes' options diminished significantly.

                2. tim 13

                  Re: a sort of oversized Meccano.

                  I worked for a while as a student temp in the Dexion factory in Hemel. It was 'interesting'

              2. dajames Silver badge
                Headmaster

                Re: a sort of oversized Meccano.

                Or what real engineers call "Dexian".

                Only engineers that can't spell "Dexion" do that.

      2. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge

        Re: Only cracking I have done is

        Old-style D-locks had a type of circular lock that was very vulnerable to being picked using a circle of plastic like, say, the cap of a Bic ballpoint pen. I'm not giving any trade secrets away here, since this quick pick system has been around for decades.

        Masterlock however is something of a concern. They have an unenviable reputation as the absolute easiest-to-pick padlock makers in the world, barring some of the cheap and useless Chinese brands. Masterlock use no security pins, and even go so far as to include a vulnerability in some padlocks that leads to them being easily bypassed.

        Their latest outing into the world of security done wrong is a Bluetooth padlock with the key hardcoded into the device MAC address...

      3. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: easily pick the padlocks on student trunks.

        A real padlock, or the security hasp that is fitted to the trunk?

        Because anyone can pick those with little more than a plastic comb. They are only intended to keep the lid shut in transit.

      4. CommanderGalaxian

        Re: Only cracking I have done is

        A quick google will find How-To videos of picking bike D-Locks with a biro pen.

    3. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

      Re: Only cracking I have done is

      I have a photo that reminds me how security works in the minds of many, and which illustrates this story perfectly. The picture is of a boat on a loch, secured by a large and imposing padlock one wouldn't dream of trying to pick. But above and below the padlock are two conventional shackles, easily removed with a pair of pliers, or maybe a bit of wire. Most people, except miscreants, concentrate on the padlock. So it's excellent security for keeping out people who wouldn't steal the boat anyway. Not sure whether links are acceptable on ElReg but the pic is here:- http://www.tinslave.co.uk/vrp/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/TinSlave-175624-05102012.jpg

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Only cracking I have done is

        security by rust!

      2. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: Only cracking I have done is

        "I have a photo that reminds me how security works in the minds of many, and which illustrates this story perfectly."

        Someone recently came to visit us at home. I had to go outside for some reason and came back in.

        "Is that your bike out there?"

        "Yes, why?"

        "We should put it round the back, it's safer."

        "OK, I'll just be there in a second."

        She came out of the house and I was holding the bike in front of her. She had locked it to our gate post, so I had just lifted the bike, and lock, over the gate post and wheeled it down the drive.

        1. Pete 2 Silver badge

          Re: Only cracking I have done is

          > I had just lifted the bike, and lock, over the gate post and wheeled it down the drive

          One of my neighbours has a chain-link fence around the property, with double gates at the front which they are obsessive about locking.

          Come the inevitable "I've lost the key to my gates" knock on my door, I followed them back with a box full of tools to try and force / break / cut a way in. Apart from the obvious (chain-link fence that would be easily cut through) it turned out that their gates simply lifted off the hinges.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Only cracking I have done is

            "it turned out that their gates simply lifted off the hinges."

            The comms team had a big cabling job to do at the warehouse over a weekend. The warehouse was near a football ground. When they got there they found some local wide boys had lifted the locked gates off the hinges and were selling car parking to match goers.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Only cracking I have done is

          Didn't David Cameron do the same except it was a bollard not a gate post.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Only cracking I have done is

        "But above and below the padlock are two conventional shackles, easily removed with a pair of pliers, or maybe a bit of wire."

        Hmm. If you were to undo the shackles and reconnect them to each other you could leave the boat still tied up and steal the padlock.

        1. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

          Re: Only cracking I have done is

          "Hmm. If you were to undo the shackles and reconnect them to each other you could leave the boat still tied up and steal the padlock."

          Now that one really does appeal to the latent BOFH in me.

    4. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Only cracking I have done is

      There's the (in)famous example of Richard Feynman breaking into locked filling cabinets at Los Alamos. This YouTube video gives the details of how Feynman managed it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Only cracking I have done is

        I had my department buy me a fire safe for floppies. During a re-organisation it was decided that such things would be a group resource - rather than "belonging" to an individual. After a few years it came back into my sole possession - unlocked but without the key.

        There was a manufacturer's piece of card still inside that had some cryptic numbers. The manufacturer's UK branch insisted there was no way to find a key for the safe. Took the information to our high street independent key maker - a week later he supplied a key that worked.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Only cracking I have done is

          Took the information to our high street independent key maker - a week later he supplied a key that worked

          We recently had our front door replaced and the new one had uprated "security" locks - for which the supplier wanted £35 per duplicate key (it only came with two keys) and assured us that we couldn't get them anywhere else.

          One swift trip to our local independant key cutter and we had 6 extra keys - for the princely sum of £10. All of which worked.

      2. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: Only cracking I have done is

        Get a settling torch. Cut a hole with it in the top of the safe. Pump a load of water into it until it's full. Put a charge in it to cause a small explosion. Set it off. The pressure inside and shock wave from the water will blow the doors off.*

        Obviously only useful if full of gold or silver. Money would kinda get wet.

        *Yes I've stolen that from The Score (sorry if that now ruins the movie. Still a great movie and still not fully ruined the plot for you).

        1. eionmac

          Re: Only cracking I have done is

          Using a thermal lance on safe is easier. This was part of my military training. Problem is heavy stuff in bottles and such like for thermal lance.

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