What an experience – Aggression and Racism in the DC Metro Station

Yesterday I travelled to Washington DC to attend the Gartner Security Summit. This is not my first time in DC but I had never been to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and since I had some to time to myself on this Sunday I decided to head over. I was going to Uber over, but the hotel receptionist mentioned that it was a quick trip on the Yellow Line Metro to L’Enfant Plaza and a short walk to the National Mall. I decided to take the Metro. I like new experiences.

First, I found a wallet on a bench at the Metro stop. It had $83 in cash and a bunch of credit cards and such. I turned it in the lady in the booth. It took a while, but we inventoried the contents and she logged the find, etc. I missed a couple of trains during this, but that was OK, I did the right thing.

I caught the next train there at the Eisenhower station and headed along the path of the beam to downtown DC (Blaine is a pain*). About 15 minutes later I arrived at L’Enfant station where I happily disembarked, looking forward to my trip to the museum. At this point, it was about 1:00pm and since I had not had lunch after arriving, I decided to find something to eat on my way. Now, L’Enfant station is huge. It’s a transfer point for several other lines and is not easy to navigate. It’s also underground at this point. I managed to find the exit after a few minutes and headed out the gates. There was not much in the way of foot traffic actually leaving the station, so I was alone.

Just about the time I exited the little podium gates, I was approached by guy. He was about 6’1″, tall and skinny, had short dreadlocks, and was black. I wouldn’t normally mention his race, but it plays in to things a little later. His approach was aggressive and unexpected, however I do keep an eye on my surroundings (*cough* *cough* *paranoid* *cough*).

He said something to me, but I had my earbuds in, so I pulled one out while continuing to walk. I said, “huh?” and he repeated himself. He said he wanted me to give him a dollar for the bus. Mind you, he told me he wanted me to give him a dollar, he did not ask. I told him I didn’t have any cash (true) and he get even closer asking me for the dollar. I told him again that I had no cash. At this point he called me some pretty rude things and walked ahead of me quickly. There are some long escalators heading to the plaza, 2 of the 3 were going up, one going down. He got on the right escalator going up about 10 yards ahead of me, and I got on the left. He glared at me the entire way up the escalator, then at the top,  he proceeded to block the escalator he was on pestering the next 2 people trying to get off the escalator.

The folks just walked by and ignored him and he repeated his action of talking smack to them as they walked away. I kept going and found a place for lunch where I got in the line. There were only a couple of people ahead of me at this time, and the same guy walks up to the older people who were at the register, gets in their face and demands a dollar from them. One of the 2 people told him no, and they guy reached over and pointed at his wallet and said, “You have it there!”. The 2nd guy at the register gave him a dollar, probably hoping he would go away, but the guy turned around and started cussing at them all the same. As he was leaving, I told the older folks that he had been demanding money and cussing people out from the exit booth.

He heard me, turned around and got about 2 inches from my face and started talking a lot of smack, cussing me out and asking me if I had a problem. At this point something sort of odd happened, I found myself very detached and calm. That surprised me. I just looked him straight in the eyes and said, “You have some issues man.” and continued to stare back. He broke eye contact and turned around like he was going to walk away, then turned around quickly and got in my face again. He started calling me names again, pretty much everything was about being white. I’ve never really experienced a racial tirade like that before, but I just stared him down and started to smile. I couldn’t help it, it reminded me of Full Metal Jacket and I could just feel that he was just blustering a bunch of hot air. I can’t say how I knew he was all show, maybe it was because his eyes showed some confusion and actually looked a bit scared. I don’t think he expected me to stand my ground and start smiling, because he backed away quickly, then walked away quickly while continuing to hurl racial insults. He really didn’t like the fact that I was white.

It was easily one of the more interesting experiences I have had. Fact is, he would have been easy to put down as he was trying to make himself look big by holding his arms out at shoulder height, looking like a chicken while exposing his whole midsection. He was open for a knee to the groin, the gut or a headbutt before he could have done anything to prevent it.

I don’t know if he was on drugs, but I don’t feel like he was. His eyes were focused and appeared to be aware. I could actually see the change in them when I wouldn’t back down. Honestly, I think he is just a punk that uses extreme aggression to try to bully things out of people. I wonder if this works better in places like DC where the general population is almost guaranteed to be unarmed.

One thing is for sure, I won’t be doing much more walking around without some sort of defense available. I usually take my camera monopod, a large aluminum tube that could double as a seal club, along when I walk strange cities alone. This time I did not. I can tell you that I won’t be caught off guard like that again.

Stay safe out there.

 

*Obligatory Dark Tower reference when I ride a train.

Wow, What a Couple of Weeks. Road Trips and Webinars Galore!

April and the beginning of May have been the busiest since working at KnowBe4. I’ve flown around 15-16k miles in the last month or so and been super busy at conferences and with webinars. It’s been awesome but has left little time for blogging. I’ll recap a little bit of what I’ve been up to here.

GMIS Conference in Brandon Mississippi –

This was a fun conference where I actually got to set up a tabletop and talk to folks about social engineering, ransomware and compliance issues.

InfoSec World 2017 in Chapions Gate, Florida-

I had to make a run for the airport at the end of the GMIS conference to get here on time. I landed in Tampa after midnight and still had to drive to Champions Gate, Fl. It was about an hour drive in the middle of the night, only to get up for an early presentation the next morning. I was surprised at the size of the crowd that early on the last day, but they were very interactive and we had a good session. I kinda messed up on the time (I blame the sleep deprivation) and ended a little early, but spent the time afterword chatting with some folks from the preso and answering questions while the hotel staff cleared the room. I’ve got to tell you, those folks were in the room and stacking chairs quicker than I could have imagined after I stopped speaking. I reasonably sure everyone was allowed to stand before they took their chair and stacked it, but I could be wrong. 🙂

ISSW (InfoSec Southwest) in Austin – 

This was a really fun show and was VERY well-organized. As a speaker it is wonderful when the organizers keep in touch as you get close to the event. The ISSW staff was awesome here! I got to sit in some great sessions before and after mine. The quality was certainly there. This was more of a “hacker” convention than some of the more corporate ones, and it was great. I had an impromptu laughable moment as while presenting, my youngest made a purchase request from iTunes. This is a family account, so it popped up on the screen. Not the screen with the speaker notes of course, but rather THE screen. The big one. With my full-screen preso going in all it’s glory. Did you know that if this happens, you can’t just mouse over and click the notification to close it? Nope. It seems you have to stop the presentation to do it. I wasn’t going to do that so the audience and I had a quick laugh about my daughters desire to purchase the Hamilton soundtrack (which we already own) and moved on with the presentation, purchase request hovering in the corner.

It made for a laugh and was memorable. I also did something here I don’t usually do. I added audio to my presentation. If you have never checked out “Lenny” on YouTube, I recommend it for a laugh. “Lenny” is a series of automated voice prompts meant to mess with telemarketers and/or scammers. It’s simply brilliant. It is.

IP Vision Conference in St. Louis –

pwn-o-matic

From ISSW, I had to head to the airport in hurry to make a flight to St. Louis for the IP Vision conference which was a neat twist on the education angle. There were 60 session attendees at 6 tables and 2 people representing a different topic. The attendees were from rural telcos and myself an a coworker, Ray, had the security topics. We sat at each table for about 30 minutes and answered questions on our topic, then moved to another table. It was pretty cool how it all went. At the end, we did a summary presentation of the questions and hot issues. Very cool indeed for the attendees. My only issue was the Pwn-o-matic station set up for the conference, but I see these more and more often. Folks, don’t plug your phone in to random USB ports. Really, just don’t.

IAMCP meeting in Tampa – 

Once again I found myself making a beeline for the airport and arriving back in Tampa at about midnight, only to speak the next day. This time it was a an IAMCP (International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners) meeting in Tampa. It was a small group and I spoke about ransomware. This was very interactive and although we went a little over on time, everyone was OK with that because it was heavy on discussion and they were learning.

Tech Buzz in Tampa –

This was another really nice, small, intimate talk. I had a little tabletop set up and got to do a panel talk for a number of resellers. The irony was, it was myself, an Apple rep and a Microsoft rep. I got to sit between them on the panel. I’m still not sure if it was because I was the security guy or not, but either way, it went really well and was fun. I really do like these small event were I can talk to folks about their specific concerns afterword. Helping others is what makes my job so great!

Spiceworks Expert Round Table: Multi-Layered Security Webinar

I’m here to speak of the Cyberz!

The day after Tech Buzz, I was honored to be a part of a live video webinar with Malwarebytes, Varonis, AlienVault, and Kaspersky. It was a ton of fun and my first live video webinar. Because the room I usually do webinars in (affectionately known as “The Cave”) is not really conducive to video webinars due to the egg crate foam all over the room for sound deadening, I used an empty office. We are mostly an open floor plan, so quiet places are limited.  When we do these sorts of webinars, we dial in early to make sure everything is working and the connection is strong. I decided to mess them a bit, put on a hoodie and a printed Mr. Robot mask and that’s how I introduced myself to the group. It was all downhill from there. The ice was broken and the laughs came easy, leading to a great webinar.

One slight issue occurred during this however. When you are a participant in things like this, it is a good thing to mute yourself when you aren’t talking and communicate with the group via chat. This is done to reduce background noise and make things less distracting. About half way through, a train passed our building. You see, we are VERY close to a train track here. Like VERY, VERY close and since we are in downtown Clearwater, there are a lot of streets the train crosses. Each time it comes to a street, it blows it’s horn. That horn is loud! It doesn’t happen often, but this time it happened right in the middle of the webinar. I was furiously typing in the chatbox, while trying not to LOOK like I wasn’t typing (this was live video after all) telling them not to call on me for anything. Guess what… They called on me. I was lucky enough that the train had moved along enough that I was able to answer and re-mute before it blew it’s horn again. Fun times.

TechPulse Florida in Orlando

After the webinar, I hopped in the car and headed to Orlando for TechPulse. This was a nice conference put on by Verteks Consulting at the Orlando World Center. That resort is amazing. I spent the day hanging out with one of our reseller reps at our little booth and doing one presentation on ransomware. The booth next to us was occupied by Watchguard, which is where we first met up with Ransombear. This terrifying little fuzzball is made from the things that haunt the minds of children on dark, stormy nights. Whomever came up with these is a very disturbed soul.

 

OPTA Conference in Columbus

3 short days later I found myself in Columbus, OH for the Ohio Public Transportation Association show. I’ve never been to anything like this, but it was pretty cool seeing the various types of busses and related systems (things like camera systems) on display. Here in the Tampa area we have something called the “Jolly Trolley” and I got to see some of those in their generic form.

pwn-o-matic v2

My booth was next to a company that was a leader in seating. I learned more about bus/mass transit seating than I thought there was. I’m not sure if that will trigger a resume update with the new knowledge, but it might come in handy in some trivia some day.

On a side note, I spotted yet another one of those pwn-o-matics at this show. Ironically I had just warned folks about this in the session I spoke at. Seriously folks, if you see one of these, think twice before plugging in to it. Who knows what lurks behind the scenes. If you find yourself in situations where you are having to use things like this, invest in a power bank, or if at all possible, try something like this USB Condom.

Webinar-a-palooza

I hit the airport and headed back to Tampa after the OPTA show and spent the next few days doing a webinar-a-palooza. It was 4 webinars in 3 days. I like doing panel-type webinars that involve discussion with other folks a lot more than just presentation type webinars, both kinds serve a purpose. Again, my job satisfaction comes from teaching folks how to protect against scams and ransomware. I love doing this regardless of the format it’s presented in.

BSides Back to Back – Austin then Knoxville

It’s not secret that I am a big supporter of the BSides conferences. I love the low cost and high quality of the events. After the insanity of April, I had some time to catch up on some things, then it was off to BSides Austin where I spoke from 3-4pm, followed the next day by BSides Knoxville where I spoke at 9am. That’s 2 sessions in 17 hours, 900 miles apart. I won’t get in to the logistics of that, but it was pretty wild and hectic, and totally worth it. Both events were awesome and demonstrated how varied they can be. Austin was in a nice learning center with lecture halls where Knoxville was in a bar… starting at 9am. Both events were AWESOME, just starkly different. It’s another reason I love supporting BSides. These were worthy of pics so you can see the difference. 🙂

Austin stage view

 

Knoxville stage view

I also want to say that, the folks in Austin did the charging station thing right! I was super happy to see these lockers that allowed you to secure whatever it was that you were charging, and the locker supplied an AC power plug as opposed to a USB cable hanging out of who-knows-where. Kudos for doing this right!

 

 

So, having written over 1800 words now, I’m going to call this update complete. I’m heading to BSides Detroit tomorrow morning and a conference in New Paltz, NY on Monday and will hopefully have some time to do some updates in between. Thanks for reading!

 

If you enjoyed this blog, please subscribe in the top-right of the page and as always, comments are welcome!

 

 

 

 

CISO Exchange West Event – Sunday Was Speaking and Eating

Having survived the night and getting some good sleep, I was ready to tackle the day. Being that I did not actually speak until 3:30pm, I had plenty of time to prepare so I decided to take a walk around and grab some breakfast.

A typical view across the table for the road warrior

San Francisco is a very beautiful place. My hotel was right beside the Moscone Center and across from the YBCA (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) which has a beautiful park setting and backs up to some shopping. I ended up eating breakfast at the iconic “Mel’s Drive-In” and continued to enjoy the area.

On my way back, I stopped by where the event was, checked in and made sure I knew how it was going to work. I like to make sure I am ready for issues, which proved to be a good idea later. I spent the next couple of hours in the hotel room checking and replying to emails while waiting.

At about 2:45 I suited up and headed down to the conference. When I got to my room, they had a laptop already set up, however the slides that were loaded were old, they were also in 4:3 format when I usually use 16:9. I’m really not sure where the deck came from (they looked like ones I used at another event for these folks a few months ago), but the race was on to correct the issue. When you do this sort of work, nothing is surprising, so you simply adapt and overcome. I had to do a high-speed rework of the slides I had in to 16:9 format since the projector and screen were 4:3. I got it done, but barely. My mad skillz in PowerPoint bailed me out. 🙂

The session went well with a lot of interactive discussion. I didn’t make it through the whole deck, but I had expected that if we had good Q&A so it was fine. I even got to meet a gentleman I recently did a webinar with. It was very cool.

Even the garlic is cooked in garlic sauce

After the session, I hung out at our booth for a bit and learned some from the sales guys. From there, it was dinner time. I suggested that we go to “The Stinking Rose” for dinner. This is another iconic SF place to eat, and the general premise is to cook everything in garlic. Even the garlic is garlic roasted. Good times and good eats with my sales brethren. At dinner I was introduced to a drink called “Grappa” which is the grape waste products from making wine. Basically, they take the dead, crushed husks of the grapes after pressing for wine and let it rot (aka ferment) and squeeze the juice out of it. It tastes just as bad as you may imagine.

From there, it was walking back to the hotel to catch some sleep (in the warm pink glow of the Buddha of course) so I could get up and get to the airport for my 8am flight.

Tampa to San Fran for the CISO Exchange West event

Yesterday was one of the longer trips I’ve had in a while. This trip was from Tampa two DFW, then To San Francisco. It’s a pretty long day of travel when you’re going across the country like that, and that just means more opportunities for interesting things.

In this case, we started out in Tampa boarding a “Super 80” aircraft. Now let me tell you, there is nothing super about a “Super 80”. It’s about 116 years old and considered a narrow-body. That means two seats on one side of the aisle and three seats on the other. This is an updated version of the DC-9 and was launched back in 1979.  Let this be a reminder to me to double-check the aircraft when I book flights.

 

So I got on the plane, and got to my seat. For me this is the most important part. I just want to get in my seat let everyone board and relax. As we were all loaded up and getting ready to head out, I started hearing some noises even through my Bose headphones. It was sobbing and hysterical crying from the gal two rows ahead of us.  My first reaction was to be a little annoyed, thinking that this was just a case of someone afraid to fly. However, it became fairly clear that it was more than that. I was able to discern some phrases related to somebody passing away, So I felt a bit bad for her. I felt even worse for the people sitting next her, who did not know her and were now quickly becoming a part of the drama.  I personally was in flight heaven, because the middle seat in My row was empty. Once that was clear to me, I could deal with just about anything… so I thought.

 

Mah knees!

About an hour into the three-hour flight, the person in the seat in front of me decided to recline. This was not a gentle action, this was more of the action of an angry Hun who’s decided to lay back. If I hadn’t had anything on my tray table, it would’ve been game over. Another side effect of the ”Super 80 “ is that the seats were apparently designed to recline completely into somebody’s lap. Maybe things were more friendly back in the 1930s when these planes first took to the sky, but I was practically gaining a family member here. This did not deter her however, and we spent the rest of the flight like this. I have to admit, I was a bit annoyed around landing time, as the attendance did not have her put her seat up for landing. Now for me, it seems like if the seat is even slightly reclined they’re all over me like a pack of wild hyenas when it comes time to land.
So we made it on the ground safely, and as we’re getting ready to deplane, any sympathy I had for the lady that had been crying was lost. Now I was a sailor and supported the Army for a long time, but the string of obscenities coming from her mouth, very loudly, would’ve made a 1st Sergeant blush. There was a lady about two rows ahead of her who I’m pretty sure was filing her toothbrush down to a shiv so she could shank the lady as she walked by.  If looks could’ve killed, this lady would’ve been vaporized where she stood.

 

Not a bad view at all

Having survived this flight, I was able to move onto my next connection to San Francisco. This was mostly uneventful, with exception of the boarding. What was unusual was, the TSA was at the gate in force. They did an identification recheck on everyone boarding, Then as we went down the hall toward the plane, they had a dog sniffing every person, and Johnny McBigKnuckles standing at the end of the walkway. I’ve never been so intimidated by rubber gloves. This flight was on an Airbus 321, which was a world of difference. Everything is better on those planes including the in-flight entertainment.  Over the next four hours or so flying, I did watch the Deepwater Horizon movie and thought it was pretty good. We landed without incident, And I was able to find an Uber pretty quickly. The ride into town was mostly uneventful, with the exception of the driver who thought he was in some sort of race. Let me tell you, in the hills of San Francisco, a fast driver can give you all the butterflies in your belly you ever need.

 

First hotel I’ve been to with a glowing statue in my room

I’m staying in a very nice hotel called ”The W” in downtown San Francisco. It’s a very nice hotel, but a little more upscale than I’m comfortable with. I’m a blue-collar meeting potatoes sort of guy, in these folks are all refined and whatnot. On a plus note, my hotel room is full of booze, and a very interesting glowing Buddha.  At five bucks for a bottle of water, I can’t imagine how much they get for the Patron.

 

This bed was one of the more comfortable ones I’ve been in at hotels. My sleep was therefore fantastic and my dreams were filled with happy visions filled with the soft pink light of the glowing Buddha. I was up a bit early as expected due to the time change. I’m trying not to adjust since I’m only going to be here through tomorrow.

 

Today should be a lot of fun as I’m doing a very interactive talk. I really like the sorts of events. I look forward to sharing with you how my day goes tonight or tomorrow morning. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to “Stories From The Road”

Yea though I walk through the valley of flights, I fear no evil…

Well, that’s not exactly true. You see, I do a lot public speaking and therefore travel a lot. Some things do cause me some stress, maybe not exactly fear, but definitely stress.

Mostly this revolves around the fact that I am an airline snob. Yep, I will freely admit that when I fly, I place a high value on the experience. You see, I really hate the traveling part of travel. More specifically, I hate the flying. I’m not afraid to fly, but the experience is not pleasant or exciting for me. I love interacting with the people once I reach my destination, but until that point, I could do without the travel part.

I have decided to document my travels a bit because they can be pretty entertaining. Who knows, maybe we can even learn a thing or 2. Either way, I hope we can have some fun with this. These will be documented under the “Stories from the road” category.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss any of these future episodes, subscribe to this blog up on the top right and you can get notified of my updates via email.

Life on the Road – Cats, Cold and More

My job takes to a lot of places and I love that part of it. Seeing the country and gaining the experiences is something I love to do. There is an old saying about the journey being a big part of the fun. I cannot agree more.

Some of these travel posts are going to sound like complaining. I assure you, they are (probably) not. They are really about the funny stuff I get to see. It’s humorous story telling that may (or may not) embellish a tiny little bit. All of it is based in truth though, and only the details might be, um… “enhanced” a bit.

Having said that, let me give you a little background. I am an airline snob. I admit it. I don’t care much about the hotels I stay in, or the dinners I eat, but I do care about the airline experience. I hate being rushed, I am dismayed by the fact that people often revert to Lord of The Flies like behavior when it comes to air travel.

Take for example the carry on baggage rules. 1 personal item and 1 carry on item. The carry on item is limited in size (stuff it in this box over here and see), but the personal item seems to be magically unimpaired by size restrictions, or at least the rules are unknown and unenforced. I see folks with bags bigger than my checked bag going onboard as a “personal item”. The other thing is animals.

Get These @#&! animals off the @#&! Plane!

Yeah, there was a time when animals travelled in crates in the belly of the plane. Now, it seems, they are everywhere. Comfort dogs, pot-bellied pigs, and worst of all… CATS!

Now, I like cats, but folks, 30,000 ft and 600mph is no place for a feline. Southwest Airlines seems to gather more than it’s fair share of animals. Yesterday was a perfect example. I was going from Tampa to Columbus. I normally avoid Southwest when I can, as I hate the open seating thing, but it was the only direct flight. I get on board as part of the “A” group and take my customary window seat. This was about row 10. Now, with an entire plane full of empty seats, I am joined by a couple with a lovely blue carry-on containing a rather unhappy looking tabby. It’s eyes gleamed yellow out of the mesh on the ends of the soft-sided carrier. For some reason, it looked right at me, right in to my soul. I was scared. Terrified really. I believe my very life was being weighed by that creature (That was likely called something cute, like Fluffy, or Tom, or Mr. Tinkles). For a reason I have yet to understand, I believe the cat blamed me for its current predicament, and it wasn’t happy.

It looked meaner in person!

Why these people decided to sit beside me, in a barely filled plane is still beyond me, but I wasn’t going to move. I was trapped in my windows seat, and any chance of escape involved passing the pointy parts of the Hell-spawn in the seat beside me. I just tried to avoid eye contact.

Another thing that Southwest does well is cater to families. That means children, and children are magically attracted to my part of the plane (whatever part that happens to be), especially when they are going to act up. This was no exception. Little Tommy, (we will use that name) decided he wanted no part of the plane thing without fully exercising his well-developed lungs. When Tommy let loose, even Mr. Tinkles took notice! He was now even less thrilled than before. I began to fear for my life.

Fortunately, the rule says livestock must be stuffed under a seat for takeoff and landing. It seems nobody wants an angry, airborne murder-cat loose in the plane in the case of a rough takeoff/landing. Good idea! Mr. Tinkles got unceremoniously stuffed under the seat much to my relief, now he could only plot the destruction of my Achilles tendons rather than my throat. That was the good part.

The bad part, was that the cat decided to become… “musical” and join Tommy in a serenade of noise that no sound cancelling headphones can dampen. This continued on for most of the flight. Once the cat started, there was no “off” button. He did modulate between simple loud meows and “I’m caught in a blender” yowls, so we had that going for us.

By the time I hit Columbus, I was ready for the 5 degree weather if I could just get off the plane.

I am currently back in the airport waiting to board another tube-of-hades to return to Tampa. I ended up in a “B” boarding group, so I’m hoping for the best. I’ll let you know if the return goes off the rails.