Fresh Thoughts #13: Communicating With Certifications & Fingerprinting Vulnerabilities

fulham football stadium

Certificates Are a Communication Tool

Which is easier to say?

As a company we:

  • deployed firewalls on our laptops, servers, and network boundary
  • deployed 2FA on our cloud services and remote access
  • use good password standards and actively manage the use of passwords
  • manage new team members joining and departing
  • separate administrative roles from everyday roles
  • use anti-malware techniques
  • only use licensed and supported software
  • apply security patches to systems within 14 days


“We're Cyber Essentials certified.”

Certification is a communication tool.

...and still not a destination

Accents, Dialects and Fingerprinting Vulnerabilities

Some servers are like football supporters on a Saturday afternoon - advertising their presence. A Fulham shirt can narrow down where someone lives to a small part of West London. Similarly, connecting to a website, the server neatly responds with the software name, version, and the features it supports.

But there is a more subtle way to identify where someone's from - to listen. In England, "there is an accent shift every 25 miles", according to David Crystal, the author of You Say Potato: The Story of English Accents. Geordie, Scouse, Yorkshire, Brummie, West Country, Essex, Cockney - to name a few. Not to mention the numerous colloquial names for a humble "bread roll".

With servers - there's a parallel in the protocols they speak. You see, network protocols aren't perfectly defined. As long as 90% is the same - that's good enough. This means there are parts left up to the developer. Need to start a counter at a 'random value'? How about starting with a zero... always?

Over time, as the protocols evolve - and backwards compatibility is required - there are aspects of protocols that are no longer used. If a computer doesn't need to use a particular field… leave it blank. But how? Fill it with 000 or FFF or "   " - you choose.

These tiny details become a signature. An accent. And with effort, it's possible to spot the accent and know which application created the message. From there, it's a simple search to find the vulnerabilities.

Simply by listening, it's possible to spot that the old forgotten server hasn't been supported for 8 years... as one of our customers recently discovered.

May 3, 2022
2 Minutes Read

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