Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.
April 2012 Archives
JCS Chairman Sows Cyberwar Fears
Army General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said:
A cyber attack could stop our society in its tracks.
Gadzooks. A scared populace is much more willing to pour money into the cyberwar arms race.
Vote for Liars and Outliers
Actionable Books is having a vote to determine which of four books to summarize on their site. If you are willing, please go there and vote for Liars and Outliers. (Voting requires a Facebook ID.) Voting closes Monday at noon EST, although I presume they mean EDT.
Friday Squid Blogging: Chesapeake Bay Squid
As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.
At the RSA Conference this year, I noticed a trend of companies that have products and services designed to help victims recover from attacks. Kelly Jackson Higgins noticed the same thing: "Damage Mitigation as the New Defense."
That new reality, which has been building for several years starting in the military sector, has shifted the focus from trying to stop attackers at the door to instead trying to lessen the impact of an inevitable hack. The aim is to try to detect an attack as early in its life cycle as possible and to quickly put a stop to any damage, such as extricating the attacker from your data server -- or merely stopping him from exfiltrating sensitive information. It's more about containment now, security experts say. Relying solely on perimeter defenses is now passe -- and naively dangerous. "Organizations that are only now coming to the realization that their network perimeters have been compromised are late to the game. Malware ceased being obvious and destructive years ago," says Dave Piscitello, senior security technologist for ICANN. "The criminal application of collected/exfiltrated data is now such an enormous problem that it's impossible to avoid."
Biometric Passports Make it Harder for Undercover CIA Officers
Last year, I wrote about how social media sites are making it harder than ever for undercover police officers. This story talks about how biometric passports are making it harder than ever for undercover CIA agents.
Busy spy crossroads such as Dubai, Jordan, India and many E.U. points of entry are employing iris scanners to link eyeballs irrevocably to a particular name. Likewise, the increasing use of biometric passports, which are embedded with microchips containing a person's face, sex, fingerprints, date and place of birth, and other personal data, are increasingly replacing the old paper ones. For a clandestine field operative, flying under a false name could be a one-way ticket to a headquarters desk, since they're irrevocably chained to whatever name and passport they used.
Fear and the Attention Economy
danah boyd is thinking about -- in a draft essay, and as a recording of a presentation -- fear and the attention economy. Basically, she is making the argument that the attention economy magnifies the culture of fear because fear is a good way to get attention, and that this is being made worse by the rise of social media.
A lot of this isn't new. Fear has been used to sell products (I've written about that here) and policy ("Remember the Maine!" "Remember the Alamo! "Remember 9/11!") since forever. Newspapers have used fear to attract readers since there were readers. Long before there were child predators on the Internet, irrational panics swept society. Shark attacks in the 1970s. Marijuana in the 1950s. boyd relates a story from Glassner's The Culture of Fear about elderly women being mugged in the 1990s.
These fears have largely been driven from the top down: from political leaders, from the news media. What's new today -- and I agree this is very interesting -- is that in addition to these traditional top-down fears, we're also seeing fears come from the bottom up. Social media are allowing all of us to sow fear and, because fear gets attention, is enticing us to do so. Rather than fostering empathy and bringing us all together, social media might be pushing us further apart.
A lot of this is related to my own writing about trust. Fear causes us to mistrust a group we're fearful of, and to more strongly trust the group we're a part of. It's natural, and it can be manipulated. It can be amplified, and it can be dampened. How social media are both enabling and undermining trust is a really important thing for us to understand. As boyd says: "What we design and how we design it matters. And how our systems are used also matters, even if those uses aren't what we intended."
Amazing Round of "Split or Steal"
In Liars and Outliers, I use the metaphor of the Prisoner's Dilemma to exemplify the conflict between group interest and self-interest. There are a gazillion academic papers on the Prisoner's Dilemma from a good dozen different academic disciplines, but the weirdest dataset on real people playing the game is from a British game show called Golden Balls.
In the final round of the game, called "Split or Steal," two contestants play a one-shot Prisoner's Dilemma -- technically, it's a variant -- choosing to either cooperate (and split a jackpot) or defect (and try to steal it). If one steals and the other splits, the stealer gets the whole jackpot. And, of course, if both contestants steal then both end up with nothing. There are lots of videos from the show on YouTube. (There are even two papers that analyze data from the game.) The videos are interesting to watch, not just to see how players cooperate and defect, but to watch their conversation beforehand and their reactions afterwards. I wrote a few paragraphs about this game for Liars and Outliers, but I ended up deleting them.
This is the weirdest, most surreal round of "Split or Steal" I have ever seen. The more I think about the psychology of it, the more interesting it is. I'll save my comments for the comments, because I want you to watch it before I say more. Really.
For consistency's sake in the comments, here are their names. The man on the left is Ibrahim, and the man on the right is Nick.
EDITED TO ADD (5/14): Economic analysis of the episode.
Alan Turing Cryptanalysis Papers
GCHQ, the UK government's communications headquarters, has released two new -- well, 70 years old, but new to us -- cryptanalysis documents by Alan Turing.
The papers, one entitled The Applications of Probability to Crypt, and the other entitled Paper on the Statistics of Repetitions, discuss mathematical approaches to code breaking.
Friday Squid Blogging: Extracting Squid Ink
How to extract squid ink.
As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.
Liars & Outliers Update
Liars & Outliers has been available for about two months, and is selling well both in hardcover and e-book formats. More importantly, I'm very pleased with the book's reception. The reviews I've gotten have been great, and I read a lot of tweets from people who have enjoyed the book. My goal was to give people new ways to think about trust and society -- and by extension security and society -- and it looks like I've succeeded.
I'm really proud of the book. I think it's the best thing I've written. If you haven't read the book yet, please give it a look. It's the synthesis of a lot of my security thinking to date. I really believe you will enjoy it, and that you'll think differently after you read it.
So far, though, my readership has mostly been within the security community: people who already know my writing. What I need help with is getting the word out to people outside the circles of computer security or this blog. Anyone who has read the book, I would really appreciate a review somewhere. On your blog if you have one, on Amazon, anywhere. If you know of a venue that reviews, or otherwise discusses books and authors, I would appreciate an introduction.
TSA Behavioral Detection Statistics
Interesting data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office:
But congressional auditors have questions about other efficiencies as well, like having 3,000 "behavior detection" officers assigned to question passengers. The officers sidetracked 50,000 passengers in 2010, resulting in the arrests of 300 passengers, the GAO found. None turned out to be terrorists.
I don't believe the second paragraph. We haven't had six terror plots between 2010 and today. And even if we did, how would the auditors know? But I'm sure the first paragraph is correct: the behavioral detection program is 0% effective at preventing terrorism.
The rest of the article is pretty depressing. The TSA refuses to back down on any of its security theater measures. At the same time, its budget is being cut and more people are flying. The result: longer waiting times at security.
Dance Moves As an Identifier
A burglar was identified by his dance moves, captured on security cameras:
"The 16-year-old juvenile suspect is known for his 'swag,' or signature dance move," Heyse said, "and [he] does it in the hallways at school." Presumably, although the report doesn't make it clear, a classmate or teacher saw the video, recognized the distinctive swag and notified authorities.
Smart Meter Hacks
Brian Krebs writes about smart meter hacks:
But it appears that some of these meters are smarter than others in their ability to deter hackers and block unauthorized modifications. The FBI warns that insiders and individuals with only a moderate level of computer knowledge are likely able to compromise meters with low-cost tools and software readily available on the Internet.
Password Security at Linode
Here's something good:
We have implemented sophisticated brute force protection for Linode Manager user accounts that combines a time delay on failed attempts, forced single threading of log in attempts from a given remote address, and automatic tarpitting of requests from attackers.
Some of you may have noticed a few changes to the Linode Manger over the past few weeks, most notably that accessing your "My Profile" and the "Account -> Users & Permissions" subtab now require password re-authentication.
It's nice to see some companies implementing these sorts of security measures.
Stolen Phone Database
This article talks about a database of stolen cell phone IDs that will be used to deny service. While I think this is a good idea, I don't know how much it would deter cell phone theft. As long as there are countries that don't implement blocking based on the IDs in the databases -- and surely there will always be -- there will be a market for stolen cell phones.
Plus, think of the possibilities for a denial-of-service attack. Can I report your cell phone as stolen and have it turned off? Surely no political party will think of doing that to the phones of all the leaders of a rival party the weekend before a major election.
That's a nice turn of phrase:
Forever day is a play on "zero day," a phrase used to classify vulnerabilities that come under attack before the responsible manufacturer has issued a patch. Also called iDays, or "infinite days" by some researchers, forever days refer to bugs that never get fixed--even when they're acknowledged by the company that developed the software. In some cases, rather than issuing a patch that plugs the hole, the software maker simply adds advice to user manuals showing how to work around the threat.
The article is about bugs in industrial control systems, many of which don't have a patching mechanism.
Outliers in Intelligence Analysis
From the CIA journal Studies in Intelligence: "Capturing the Potential of Outlier Ideas in the Intelligence Community."
In war you will generally find that the enemy has at any time three courses of action open to him. Of those three, he will invariably choose the fourth.
Hawley Channels His Inner Schneier
Kip Hawley wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal on airport security. In it, he says so many sensible things that people have been forwarding it to me with comments like "did you ghostwrite this?" and "it looks like you won an argument" and "how did you convince him?"
(Sadly, the essay was published in the Journal, which means it won't be freely available on the Internet forever. Because of that, I'm going to quote from it liberally. And if anyone finds a permanent URL for this, I'll add it here.)
Any effort to rebuild TSA and get airport security right in the U.S. has to start with two basic principles:
This sounds a lot like me (2005):
Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11: reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back.
I'm less into sky marshals than he is.
Second, the TSA's job is to manage risk, not to enforce regulations. Terrorists are adaptive, and we need to be adaptive, too. Regulations are always playing catch-up, because terrorists design their plots around the loopholes.
Me in 2008:
It's this fetish-like focus on tactics that results in the security follies at airports. We ban guns and knives, and terrorists use box-cutters. We take away box-cutters and corkscrews, so they put explosives in their shoes. We screen shoes, so they use liquids. We take away liquids, and they're going to do something else. Or they'll ignore airplanes entirely and attack a school, church, theatre, stadium, shopping mall, airport terminal outside the security area, or any of the other places where people pack together tightly.
He disses Trusted Traveler programs, where known people are allowed bypass some security measures:
I had hoped to advance the idea of a Registered Traveler program, but the second that you create a population of travelers who are considered "trusted," that category of fliers moves to the top of al Qaeda's training list, whether they are old, young, white, Asian, military, civilian, male or female. The men who bombed the London Underground in July 2005 would all have been eligible for the Registered Traveler cards we were developing at the time. No realistic amount of prescreening can alleviate this threat when al Qaeda is working to recruit "clean" agents. TSA dropped the idea on my watch -- though new versions of it continue to pop up.
Me in 2004:
What the Trusted Traveler program does is create two different access paths into the airport: high security and low security. The intent is that only good guys will take the low-security path, and the bad guys will be forced to take the high-security path, but it rarely works out that way. You have to assume that the bad guys will find a way to take the low-security path.
Hawley's essay ends with a list of recommendations for change, and they are mostly good:
What would a better system look like? If politicians gave the TSA some political cover, the agency could institute the following changes before the start of the summer travel season:
Me in 2009:
Return passenger screening to pre-9/11 levels.
2. Allow all liquids: Simple checkpoint signage, a small software update and some traffic management are all that stand between you and bringing all your liquids on every U.S. flight. Really.
This is referring to a point he makes earlier in his essay:
I was initially against a ban on liquids as well, because I thought that, with proper briefing, TSA officers could stop al Qaeda's new liquid bombs. Unfortunately, al Qaeda's advancing skill with hydrogen-peroxide-based bombs made a total liquid ban necessary for a brief period and a restriction on the amount of liquid one could carry on a plane necessary thereafter.
I have been complaining about the liquids ban for years, but Hawley's comment confuses me. He says that hydrogen-peroxide based bombs -- these are the bombs that are too dangerous to bring on board in 4-oz. bottles, but perfectly fine in four 1-oz bottles combined after the checkpoints -- can be detected with existing scanners, not with new scanners using new technology. Does anyone know what he's talking about?
3. Give TSA officers more flexibility and rewards for initiative, and hold them accountable: No security agency on earth has the experience and pattern-recognition skills of TSA officers. We need to leverage that ability. TSA officers should have more discretion to interact with passengers and to work in looser teams throughout airports. And TSA's leaders must be prepared to support initiative even when officers make mistakes. Currently, independence on the ground is more likely to lead to discipline than reward.
This is a great idea, but it's going to cost money. Being a TSA screener is a pretty lousy job. Morale is poor: "In surveys on employee morale and job satisfaction, TSA often performs poorly compared to other government agencies. In 2010 TSA ranked 220 out of 224 government agency subcomponents for employee satisfaction." Pay is low: "The men and women at the front lines of the battle to keep the skies safe are among the lowest paid of all federal employees, and they have one of the highest injury rates." And there is traditionally a high turnover: 20% in 2008. The 2011 decision allowing TSA workers to unionize will help this somewhat, but for it to really work, the rules can't be this limiting: "the paper outlining his decision precludes negotiations on security policies, pay, pensions and compensation, proficiency testing, job qualifications and discipline standards. It also will prohibit screeners from striking or engaging in work slowdowns."
TSA workers who are smart, flexible, and show initiative will cost money, and that'll be difficult when the TSA's budget is being cut.
4. Eliminate baggage fees: Much of the pain at TSA checkpoints these days can be attributed to passengers overstuffing their carry-on luggage to avoid baggage fees. The airlines had their reasons for implementing these fees, but the result has been a checkpoint nightmare. Airlines might increase ticket prices slightly to compensate for the lost revenue, but the main impact would be that checkpoint screening for everybody will be faster and safer.
Another great idea, but I don't see how we can do it without passing a law forbidding airlines to charge those fees. Over the past few years, airlines have drastically increased fees as a revenue source. Sneaking in extra charges allows them to advertise lower prices, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
5. Randomize security: Predictability is deadly. Banned-item lists, rigid protocols -- if terrorists know what to expect at the airport, they have a greater chance of evading our system.
This would be a disaster. Actually, I'm surprised Hawley even mentions it, given that he wrote this a few paragraphs earlier:
One brilliant bit of streamlining from the consultants: It turned out that if the outline of two footprints was drawn on a mat in the area for using metal-detecting wands, most people stepped on the feet with no prompting and spread their legs in the most efficient stance. Every second counts when you're processing thousands of passengers a day.
Randomization would slow checkpoints down to a crawl, as well as anger passengers. Do I have to take my shoes off or not? Does my computer go in the bin or not? (Even the weird but mostly consistent rules about laptops vs. iPads is annoying people.) Yesterday, liquids were allowed -- today they're banned. But at this airport, the TSA is confiscating anything with more than two ounces of aluminum and questioning people carrying Tom Clancy novels.
I'm not even convinced this would be a hardship for the terrorists. I've gotten really good at avoiding lanes with full-body scanners, and presumably the terrorists will simply assume that all security regulations are in force at all times. I'd like to see a cost-benefit analysis of this sort of thing first.
Hawley's concluding paragraph:
In America, any successful attack -- no matter how small -- is likely to lead to a series of public recriminations and witch hunts. But security is a series of trade-offs. We've made it through the 10 years after 9/11 without another attack, something that was not a given. But no security system can be maintained over the long term without public support and cooperation. If Americans are ready to embrace risk, it is time to strike a new balance.
I agree with this. Sadly, I'm not optimistic for change anytime soon. There's one point Hawley makes, but I don't think he makes it strongly enough. He says:
I wanted to reduce the amount of time that officers spent searching for low-risk objects, but politics intervened at every turn. Lighters were untouchable, having been banned by an act of Congress. And despite the radically reduced risk that knives and box cutters presented in the post-9/11 world, allowing them back on board was considered too emotionally charged for the American public.
This is the fundamental political problem of airport security: it's in nobody's self-interest to take a stand for what might appear to be reduced security. Imagine that the TSA management announces a new rule that box cutters are now okay, and that they respond to critics by explaining that the current risks to airplanes don't warrant prohibiting them. Even if they're right, they're open to attacks from political opponents that they're not taking terrorism seriously enough. And if they're wrong, their careers are over.
It's even worse when it's elected officials who have to make the decision. Which congressman is going to jeopardize his political career by standing up and saying that the cigarette lighter ban is stupid and should be repealed? It's all political risk, and no political gain.
We have the same problem with the no-fly list: Congress mandates that the TSA match passengers against these lists. Rolling this back is politically difficult at the best of times, and impossible in today's climate, even if the TSA decided it wanted to do so.
I am very impressed with Hawley's essay. I do wonder where it came from. This wasn't the same argument Hawley made when I debated him last month on the Economist website. This definitely wasn't the same argument he made when I interviewed him in 2007, when he was still head of the TSA. But it's great to read today.
Hopefully, someone is listening. And hopefully, our social climate will change so that these sorts of changes become politically possible.
ETA (4/16): Slashdot thread.
How Information Warfare Changes Warfare
Really interesting paper on the moral and ethical implications of cyberwar, and the use of information technology in war (drones, for example):
"Information Warfare: A Philosophical Perspective," by Mariarosaria Taddeo, Philosophy and Technology, 2012.
Abstract: This paper focuses on Information Warfare -- the warfare characterised by the use of information and communication technologies. This is a fast growing phenomenon, which poses a number of issues ranging from the military use of such technologies to its political and ethical implications. The paper presents a conceptual analysis of this phenomenon with the goal of investigating its nature. Such an analysis is deemed to be necessary in order to lay the groundwork for future investigations into this topic, addressing the ethical problems engendered by this kind of warfare. The conceptual analysis is developed in three parts. First, it delineates the relation between Information Warfare and the Information revolution. It then focuses attention on the effects that the diffusion of this phenomenon has on the concepts of war. On the basis of this analysis, a definition of Information Warfare is provided as a phenomenon not necessarily sanguinary and violent, and rather transversal concerning the environment in which it is waged, the way it is waged and the ontological and social status of its agents. The paper concludes by taking into consideration the Just War Theory and the problems arising from its application to the case of Information Warfare.
Here's an interview with the author.
Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Fiction
Great short story in Nature.
As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.
Me at RSA 2012
This is not a video of my talk at the RSA Conference earlier this year. This is a 16-minute version of that talk -- TED-like -- that the conference filmed the day after for the purpose of putting it on the Internet.
Today's Internet threats are not technical; they're social and political. They aren't criminals, hackers, or terrorists. They're the government and corporate attempts to mold the Internet into what they want it to be, either to bolster their business models or facilitate social control. Right now, these two goals coincide, making it harder than ever to keep the Internet free and open.
Disguising Tor Traffic as Skype Video Calls
To prevent the Tor traffic from being recognized by anyone analyzing the network flow, SkypeMorph uses what's known as traffic shaping to convert Tor packets into User Datagram Protocol packets, as used by Skype. The traffic shaping also mimics the sizes and timings of packets produced by normal Skype video conversations. As a result, outsiders observing the traffic between the end user and the bridge see data that looks identical to a Skype video conversation.
Bomb Threats As a Denial-of-Service Attack
The University of Pittsburgh has been the recipient of 50 bomb threats in the past two months (over 30 during the last week). Each time, the university evacuates the threatened building, searches it top to bottom -- one of the threatened buildings is the 42-story Cathedral of Learning -- finds nothing, and eventually resumes classes. This seems to be nothing more than a very effective denial-of-service attack.
Police have no leads. The threats started out as handwritten messages on bathroom walls, but are now being sent via e-mail and anonymous remailers. (Here is a blog and a
The University is implementing some pretty annoying security theater in response:
To enter secured buildings, we all will need to present a University of Pittsburgh ID card. It is important to understand that book bags, backpacks and packages will not be allowed. There will be single entrances to buildings so there will be longer waiting times to get into the buildings. In addition, non-University of Pittsburgh residents will not be allowed in the residence halls.
I can't see how this will help, but what else can the University do? Their incentives are such that they're stuck overreacting. If they ignore the threats and they're wrong, people will be fired. If they overreact to the threats and they're wrong, they'll be forgiven. There's no incentive to do an actual cost-benefit analysis of the security measures.
For the attacker, though, the cost-benefit payoff is enormous. E-mails are cheap, and the response they induce is very expensive.
If you have any information about the bomb threatener, contact the FBI. There's a $50,000 reward waiting for you. For the university, paying that would be a bargain.
Brian Snow on Cybersecurity
Interesting video of Brian Snow speaking from last November. (Brian used to be the Technical Director of NSA's Information Assurance Directorate.) About a year and a half ago, I complained that his words were being used to sow cyber-fear. This talk -- about 30 minutes -- is a better reflection of what he really thinks.
"Raise the Crime Rate"
I read this a couple of months ago, and I'm still not sure what I think about it. It's definitely one of the most thought-provoking essays I've read this year.
According to government statistics, Americans are safer today than at any time in the last forty years. In 1990, there were 2,245 homicides in New York City. In 2010, there were 536, only 123 of which involved people who didn't already know each other. The fear, once common, that walking around city parks late at night could get you mugged or murdered has been relegated to grandmothers; random murders, with few exceptions, simply don't happen anymore.
The author argues that the only moral thing for the U.S. to do is to accept a slight rise in the crime rate while vastly reducing the number of people incarcerated.
While I might not agree with his conclusion -- as I said above, I'm not sure whether I do or I don't -- it's very much the sort of trade-off I talk about in Liars and Outliers. And Steven Pinker has an extensive argument about violent crime in modern society that he makes in The Better Angels of our Nature.
A Heathrow Airport Story about Trousers
Usually I don't bother posting random stories about dumb or inconsistent airport security measures. But this one is particularly interesting:
"Sir, your trousers."
As I said in my Economist essay, "At this point, we don't trust America's TSA, Britain's Department for Transport, or airport security in general." We don't trust that, when they tell us to do something and claim it's essential for security, they're tellling the truth.
Teenagers and Privacy
Good article debunking the myth that young people don't care about privacy on the Intenet.
Most kids are well aware of risks, and make "fairly sophisticated" decisions about privacy settings based on advice and information from their parents, teachers, and friends. They differentiate between people they don't know out in the world (distant strangers) and those they don't know in the community, such as high school students in their hometown (near strangers). Marisa, for example, a 10-year-old interviewed in the study (who technically is not allowed to use Facebook), "enjoys participating in virtual worlds and using instant messenger and Facebook to socialize with her friends"; is keenly aware of the risks -- especially those related to privacy; and she doesn't share highly sensitive personal information on her Facebook profile and actively blocks certain people.
Laptops and the TSA
The New York Times tries to make sense of the TSA's policies on computers. Why do you have to take your tiny laptop out of your bag, but not your iPad? Their conclusion: security theater.
Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Art
A Systems Framework for Catastrophic Disaster Response
The National Academies Press has published Crisis Standards of Care: A Systems Framework for Catastrophic Disaster Response.
When a nation or region prepares for public health emergencies such as a pandemic influenza, a large-scale earthquake, or any major disaster scenario in which the health system may be destroyed or stressed to its limits, it is important to describe how standards of care would change due to shortages of critical resources. At the 17th World Congress on Disaster and Emergency Medicine, the IOM Forum on Medical and Public Health Preparedness sponsored a session that focused on the promise of and challenges to integrating crisis standards of care principles into international disaster response plans.
James Randi on Magicians and the Security Mindset
Okay, so he doesn't use that term. But he explains how a magician's inherent ability to detect deception can be useful to science.
We can't make magicians out of scientists -- we wouldn't want to -- but we can help scientists "think in the groove" -- think like a magician. And we should.
Here's my essay on the security mindset.
Helen Nissenbaum, Privacy, and the Federal Trade Commission
JetBlue Captain Clayton Osbon and Resilient Security
This is the most intelligent thing I've read about the JetBlue incident where a pilot had a mental breakdown in the cockpit:
For decades, public safety officials and those who fund them have focused on training and equipment that has a dual-use function for any hazard that may come our way. The post-9/11 focus on terrorism, with all the gizmos that were bought in its name, was a moment of frenzy, and sometimes inconsistent with sound public policy. Over time, there was a return to security measures that were adaptable (dual or multiple use) to any threat and more sustainable in a world that has its fair share of both predictable and utterly bizarre events.
The whole essay is worth reading.
The Battle for Internet Governance
Good article on the current battle for Internet governance:
The War for the Internet was inevitable -- a time bomb built into its creation. The war grows out of tensions that came to a head as the Internet grew to serve populations far beyond those for which it was designed. Originally built to supplement the analog interactions among American soldiers and scientists who knew one another off-line, the Internet was established on a bedrock of trust: trust that people were who they said they were, and trust that information would be handled according to existing social and legal norms. That foundation of trust crumbled as the Internet expanded. The system is now approaching a state of crisis on four main fronts.
Lost Smart Phones and Human Nature
Symantec deliberately "lost" a bunch of smart phones with tracking software on them, just to see what would happen:
Some 43 percent of finders clicked on an app labeled "online banking." And 53 percent clicked on a filed named "HR salaries." A file named "saved passwords" was opened by 57 percent of finders. Social networking tools and personal e-mail were checked by 60 percent. And a folder labeled "private photos" tempted 72 percent.
EDITED TO ADD (4/13): Original study.
Law Enforcement Forensics Tools Against Smart Phones
Turns out the password can be easily bypassed:
XRY works by first jailbreaking the handset. According to Micro Systemation, no ‘backdoors’ created by Apple used, but instead it makes use of security flaws in the operating system the same way that regular jailbreakers do.
One of the morals is to use an eight-digit passcode.
Computer Forensics: An Example
Paul Ceglia's lawsuit against Facebook is fascinating, but that's not the point of this blog post. As part of the case, there are allegations that documents and e-mails have been electronically forged. I found this story about the forensics done on Ceglia's computer to be interesting.
Buying Exploits on the Grey Market
This article talks about legitimate companies buying zero-day exploits, including the fact that "an undisclosed U.S. government contractor recently paid $250,000 for an iOS exploit."
The price goes up if the hack is exclusive, works on the latest version of the software, and is unknown to the developer of that particular software. Also, more popular software results in a higher payout. Sometimes, the money is paid in instalments, which keep coming as long as the hack does not get patched by the original software developer.
Yes, I know that vendors will pay bounties for exploits. And I'm sure there are a lot of government agencies around the world who want zero-day exploits for both espionage and cyber-weapons. But I just don't see that much value in buying an exploit from random hackers around the world.
These things only have value until they're patched, and a known exploit -- even if it is just known by the seller -- is much more likely to get patched. I can much more easily see a criminal organization deciding that the exploit has significant value before that happens. Government agencies are playing a much longer game.
And I would expect that most governments have their own hackers who are finding their own exploits. One, cheaper. And two, only known within that government.
Here's another story, with a price list for different exploits. But I still don't trust this story.
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