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ATPM 5.10
October 1999






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Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,


Ahhh, Halloween time is upon us again. Thinking back to my formative years, I used to live for this holiday. There were the non-stop oh-my-goodness-I-think-I’m-gonna-be-sick candy bingefests, the haunted hay rides, and, of course, as I got older, those Halloween parties with both boys and girls attending.

Oh, yeah, the kisses at those events weren’t just chunks of chocolate provided by Hershey, if you catch my drift.

There was just one problem every year—what do I dress up as?

For those not familiar with the whole Halloween concept, it’s a day when people are supposed to masquerade as someone—or something—they are not. As I was planning for the parties and trick-or-treating, I would think back to the previous year’s festivities and think about which costumes worked, and which didn’t.

There was always the traditional, and very easy, white sheet draped over your head with two eye holes cut out to look like a scary ghost. You could always count on at least ten girls at these parties to be dressed up as cats. And then there was the one guy who had been thinking about his costume since about mid-spring. He showed up as a perfectly crafted cardboard scale model of the space shuttle, including working cargo bay doors and rocket nozzles that spouted dry-ice fog.

I always hated that guy.

Well, after this usually fruitless thought process, I turned my thoughts to effective and easy. One year, I borrowed a hard hat and toolbelt and went as a construction worker. Another year, I managed to spirit away a disposable asbestos suit from a construction site. That, together with the hard hat I had failed to return from the previous year, was a hit.

But, the best idea which seemed to work for a number of years was to dress up like I was in the Army. I had the black boots, the camouflage pants, and the heavy field jacket. I threw on a green knit cap and put my trusty cap gun into my shoulder holster, and I was the man.

I dredge up these old childhood memories because now it seems as if the United States Army is beginning to look like a bunch of Mac fanatics.

You see, the chief weapon on the battlefields of the new millennium is information. This information needs to be collected, processed, analyzed, and distributed to the appropriate parties in a timely manner. Needless to say, if, at any point, the information stream is compromised, the security of our country could be in jeopardy. I realize this sounds a little alarmist, but when you are dealing with a military establishment that mothers over one of the largest nuclear stockpiles in the world, you want those facilities clamped down tight.

So, you can understand the Army’s concern when, this past June, a hacker from Green Bay, Wisconsin began poking around in an Army Web site, changing some of the content and altering files to prevent detection of his efforts. This guy, obviously bored because the NFL’s Green Bay Packers weren’t in season during the summer, occupied his time by co-founding a hacker group called Global Hell.

At the time of the attack, the Army was running Windows NT. The word on the street is that Windows NT is an easy system to administer, and, we’ve all heard this before, everyone is using Windows nowadays, aren’t they? So, according to Microsoft and Windows boosters, why is there an Apple Computer anyway?

Well, the reason there is an Apple Computer is to offer an alternative. In the case of the Army, the IT folks there saw it as a more secure alternative. The Army is has switched to Mac OS servers running WebSTAR Web server software to host its Web site.

Why would the Army change to this set-up? After all, aren’t all servers vulnerable?

Maybe not.

Back in 1997, a Swedish team offered an interesting challenge . They simply unpacked a standard Macintosh from the box, installed WebSTAR, connected it to the net, and placed some Web pages on it. Nothing special was done to the server—it wasn’t placed behind any firewall or any other security arrangements. The setup was done in less than 30 minutes.

For the technically advanced among us, here are the server specs:

Then, they announced a reward to the first person to crack the server and change the content on its pages. Initially, it was 10,000 Swedish kronor for the person who could breach the server. That reward was later raised to 100,000 kronor, or approximately $13,500 US.

And, guess what? In two months, no one was able to step forward to claim the prize.

Think about that for a few minutes. This gang from Sweden actually invited hackers to their site. They offered cold, hard cash for the first person who could hack into the site and change the page. And no one could do it.

Also, according to WebSTAR Product Manager Eric Zelenka, WebStar offers more security features than the NT Server. With Windows NT, “system administrators can’t know what is going on when there is a problem and have to keep up with all the security patches from Microsoft, which can create more problems.” With WebSTAR, “we could create a feature to watch for problems and alert a system administrator that action is needed, so people don’t have to monitor the server all the time.”

Of course, now that this Army site is up and running, you may see people try to hack it who have more motivation than money. Some scenarios for wars in the new millennium are based on attacks on information systems from foreign enemies. And we all know that the military has its domestic opponents as well, who would love nothing better than to bring the military to its knees—witness that person from Green Bay. So, you can count on the server being tested to its limits.

If the test run in Sweden is any gauge, you can guess that, at least for now, the Mac OS running WebSTAR is going to provide more security for our country. In fact, the word is that now other branches of the service, specifically the Navy, have begun a migration away from Windows NT towards UNIX or Mac OS to enhance their security.

So, as we approach the new millennium, isn’t it interesting that Macintosh is now becoming the standard for high-security Web servers. Imagine the bind our country would be in if Apple had simply gone away, as many Windows boosters had wished when the company was on the ropes.

Believe me, the thought of what could have happened makes me turn as white as a ghost.

apple“Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac user” is copyright © 1999 Tom Iovino,

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