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September 29, 2006

Maynor Pulled from Toorcon; Ellch "Rants"

The two researchers, David Maynor and Jon Ellch, who allege to have documented flaws in Apple's Wi-Fi security no longer speaking at Toorcon: The description is still up, but Securiosis notes that SecureWorks has released a statement that the firm, Maynor's employer, is working with the CERT Coordination Center and Apple. Neither firm will release more statements until CERT and the two firms agree, SecureWorks states. (Ellch ("Johnny Cache") doesn't work for SecureWorks, but has deferred to them because of his partner in research. I have been told that Ellch recently completed graduate school and took a job with another firm, although his Web page reveals little.) Update: Ellch told that he wouldn't deliver the talk without Maynor, and also confirmed with Apple that it is working with SecureWorks. Later update (see below): Ellch gives a rant at Toorcon.

I won't rehash the entire issue here, but Maynor and Ellch have been prevented from actually speaking about this issue in a direct manner since they spoke to Washington Post online Security Fix columnist Brian Krebs. As a result, most information is secondhand, incomplete, incoherent, or off the record. I have piles of information received from many sources that I can not share in any fashion.

Where it stands now is that SecureWorks can effectively prevent the full disclosure of information that would either reclaim Maynor and Ellch's reputation, or demonstrate that Maynor and Ellch provided precisely what Apple has previously at length said that they did not. (See George Ou's publication of a very on-point response from Apple on the specifics of what Maynor and Ellch and SecureWorks provided.)

What's left at stake now with Apple having released patches that apparently include anything that Maynor and Ellch allege that they discovered is the reputation of those two individuals.

Saturday update: reports that Ellch got up on stage and read a statement. (eWeek reproduces the rant here.) For some reason, Ellch and the reporters covering this are fixated on the "Mac community," as if that's a monolithic entity. On SecureWorks, Apple, and CERT working together, Ellch is quoted stating: "That's funny...I thought there was no bug, and I thought SecureWorks provided no useful information to Apple...If SecureWorks provided them with virtually nothing useful, then what...could they have to coordinate with CERT?" writes, "The two researchers had put pressure [sic] Apple by saying they would do a live presentation at ToorCon, Ellch said." That's a paraphrase, and I don't see this precise text in his reproduced rant, so I don't know if Ellch said words that match the rephrasing. However, "put pressure [on] Apple" could be better stated as, "violated the basic tenets of security reporting in which companies or projects are given advance word of flaws in their products and given reasonable amounts of time to respond and release patches." Just by the way.

Ellch also noted, "A few weeks later, one week before ToorCon, they patch it, and say we had nothing to do with it," reports. Of course, "it" isn't just out of context in this quote, but lacks context in the sense that Maynor and Ellch have apparently not been allowed to release the documentation that would prove Ellch's point. There is no way except by taking Maynor and Ellch on faith to accept Ellch's assertion.

Some folks following this issue believe that such documentation doesn't exist, or that, if release, it would prove Apple's contention. In any of those three cases (pro, con, or non-existent), SecureWorks is the linchpin here. Ellch wrote in his rant, "One day before [our ToorCon] talk, SecureWorks and Apple get together and manage to stop Dave from coming." Apple isn't Maynor's employer; this is called displacement.

The reporter summarizes, "While some in the Mac community see the cancellation of Saturday's talk as prove that Maynor and Ellch are frauds..." Yes, that would be Artie MacStrawman. Damn that hayseed!



I repect your decision NOT to report any more inaccurate facts. As a purveyer of sleaze, it's nice to see people behaving in a responsible fashion.

I'l ask you the same question I asked Rich Mogull: You alluded earlier this week to "interesting developments" - is SecureWorks pulling the plug on the Toorcon demo the interesting development?

[Editor's note: I try to not report inaccurate facts, as they would then not be facts, n'est c'est pas? The interesting developments I alluded to were not the Toorcon demo being pulled. I believe there are documents that SecureWorks will not allow to be released that would shed light on what actually happened. But as I note, what's at stake here now isn't security; it's two men's reputations.--gf]

Can you at least reveal whether or not your info shows that one side (be it Apple or Maynor/Ellch, you don't need to say which) is being untruthful?

[Editor's note: Great question. The main problem is that I have not seen documents that are alleged to prove that Maynor and Ellch sent material to Apple that Apple claims to not have seen. I haven't heard from M and E directly that these documents exist. SecureWorks hasn't released them, either. So there's no way to know, still, whether M and E are actually directly alleging what other people say they are! --gf]

So I was right - the whole thing can be blamed on an overzealous spam email filter?!

This whole situation smacks of something fishy, ya know? I am inclined to believe that there were problems found by the researchers, but they have been very heavily stiff-armed about being able to be open about it. It is just an unfortunate situation that this involved Apple's wireless/drivers (probably) and thus enflamed Apple defenders.

Combine that with very sensationalistic and sometimes inaccurate reporting on the "blogosphere" and many others news sites which distroted everything. Emotion + bad reporting = a really bad situation for everyone.

But despite all the speculations and possible problems with ethics by individuals or corporations and reputations, you're right. The real issue at the core of this is the full disclosure debate and how to handle divulging or handling of security issues found by third parties. This is not a new debate, but it is a very important one.