More on Hacking Team

Read this:

Hacking Team asked its customers to shut down operations, but according to one of the leaked files, as part of Hacking Team's "crisis procedure," it could have killed their operations remotely. The company, in fact, has "a backdoor" into every customer's software, giving it ability to suspend it or shut it down­ -- something that even customers aren't told about.

To make matters worse, every copy of Hacking Team's Galileo software is watermarked, according to the source, which means Hacking Team, and now everyone with access to this data dump, can find out who operates it and who they're targeting with it.

It's one thing to have dissatisfied customers. It's another to have dissatisfied customers with death squads. I don't think the company is going to survive this.

Posted on July 7, 2015 at 5:30 PM16 Comments

More about the NSA's XKEYSCORE

I've been reading through the 48 classified documents about the NSA's XKEYSCORE system released by the Intercept last week. From the article:

The NSA's XKEYSCORE program, first revealed by The Guardian, sweeps up countless people's Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords, and other private communications. XKEYSCORE is fed a constant flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world's communication network, among other sources, for processing. As of 2008, the surveillance system boasted approximately 150 field sites in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, as well as many other countries, consisting of over 700 servers.

These servers store "full-take data" at the collection sites -- meaning that they captured all of the traffic collected -- and, as of 2009, stored content for 3 to 5 days and metadata for 30 to 45 days. NSA documents indicate that tens of billions of records are stored in its database. "It is a fully distributed processing and query system that runs on machines around the world," an NSA briefing on XKEYSCORE says. "At field sites, XKEYSCORE can run on multiple computers that gives it the ability to scale in both processing power and storage."

There seems to be no access controls at all restricting how analysts can use XKEYSCORE. Standing queries -- called "workflows" -- and new fingerprints have an approval process, presumably for load issues, but individual queries are not approved beforehand but may be audited after the fact. These are things which are supposed to be low latency, and you can't have an approval process for low latency analyst queries. Since a query can get at the recorded raw data, a single query is effectively a retrospective wiretap.

All this means that the Intercept is correct when it writes:

These facts bolster one of Snowden's most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by The Guardian on June 9, 2013. "I, sitting at my desk," said Snowden, could "wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge to even the president, if I had a personal email."

You'll only get the data if it's in the NSA's databases, but if it is there you'll get it.

Honestly, there's not much in these documents that's a surprise to anyone who studied the 2013 XKEYSCORE leaks and knows what can be done with a highly customizable Intrusion Detection System. But it's always interesting to read the details.

One document -- "Intro to Context Sensitive Scanning with X-KEYSCORE Fingerprints (2010) -- talks about some of the queries an analyst can run. A sample scenario: "I want to look for people using Mojahedeen Secrets encryption from an iPhone" (page 6).

Mujahedeen Secrets is an encryption program written by al Qaeda supporters. It has been around since 2007. Last year, Stuart Baker cited its increased use as evidence that Snowden harmed America. I thought the opposite, that the NSA benefits from al Qaeda using this program. I wrote: "There's nothing that screams 'hack me' more than using specially designed al Qaeda encryption software."

And now we see how it's done. In the document, we read about the specific XKEYSCORE queries an analyst can use to search for traffic encrypted by Mujahedeen Secrets. Here are some of the program's fingerprints (page 10):

encryption/mojahaden2
encryption/mojahaden2/encodedheader
encryption/mojahaden2/hidden
encryption/mojahaden2/hidden2
encryption/mojahaden2/hidden44
encryption/mojahaden2/secure_file_cendode
encryption/mojahaden2/securefile

So if you want to search for all iPhone users of Mujahedeen Secrets (page 33):

fingerprint('demo/scenario4')=

fingerprint('encryption/mojahdeen2' and fingerprint('browser/cellphone/iphone')

Or you can search for the program's use in the encrypted text, because (page 37): "...many of the CT Targets are now smart enough not to leave the Mojahedeen Secrets header in the E-mails they send. How can we detect that the E-mail (which looks like junk) is in fact Mojahedeen Secrets encrypted text." Summary of the answer: there are lots of ways to detect the use of this program that users can't detect. And you can combine the use of Mujahedeen Secrets with other identifiers to find targets. For example, you can specifically search for the program's use in extremist forums (page 9). (Note that the NSA wrote that comment about Mujahedeen Secrets users increasing their opsec in 2010, two years before Snowden supposedly told them that the NSA was listening on their communications. Honestly, I would not be surprised if the program turned out to have been a US operation to get Islamic radicals to make their traffic stand out more easily.)

It's not just Mujahedeen Secrets. Nicholas Weaver explains how you can use XKEYSCORE to identify co-conspirators who are all using PGP.

And these searches are just one example. Other examples from the documents include:

  • "Targets using mail.ru from a behind a large Iranian proxy" (here, page 7).

  • Usernames and passwords of people visiting gov.ir (here, page 26 and following).

  • People in Pakistan visiting certain German-language message boards (here, page 1).

  • HTTP POST traffic from Russia in the middle of the night -- useful for finding people trying to steal our data (here, page 16).

  • People doing web searches on jihadist topics from Kabul (here).

E-mails, chats, web-browsing traffic, pictures, documents, voice calls, webcam photos, web searches, advertising analytics traffic, social media traffic, botnet traffic, logged keystrokes, file uploads to online services, Skype sessions and more: if you can figure out how to form the query, you can ask XKEYSCORE for it. For an example of how complex the searches can be, look at this XKEYSCORE query published in March, showing how New Zealand used the system to spy on the World Trade Organization: automatically track any email body with any particular WTO-related content for the upcoming election. (Good new documents to read include this, this, and this.)

I always read these NSA documents with an assumption that other countries are doing the same thing. The NSA is not made of magic, and XKEYSCORE is not some super-advanced NSA-only technology. It is the same sort of thing that every other country would use with its surveillance data. For example, Russia explicitly requires ISPs to install similar monitors as part of its SORM Internet surveillance system. As a home user, you can build your own XKEYSCORE using the public-domain Bro Security Monitor and the related Network Time Machine attached to a back-end data-storage system. (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory uses this system to store three months' worth of Internet traffic for retrospective surveillance -- it used the data to study Heartbleed.) The primary advantage the NSA has is that it sees more of the Internet than anyone else, and spends more money to store the data it intercepts for longer than anyone else. And if these documents explain XKEYSCORE in 2009 and 2010, expect that it's much more powerful now.

Back to encryption and Mujahedeen Secrets. If you want to stay secure, whether you're trying to evade surveillance by Russia, China, the NSA, criminals intercepting large amounts of traffic, or anyone else, try not to stand out. Don't use some homemade specialized cryptography that can be easily identified by a system like this. Use reasonably strong encryption software on a reasonably secure device. If you trust Apple's claims (pages 35-6), use iMessage and Facetime on your iPhone. I really like Moxie Marlinspike's Signal for both text and voice, but worry that it's too obvious because it's still rare. Ubiquitous encryption is the bane of listeners worldwide, and it's the best thing we can deploy to make the world safer.

Posted on July 7, 2015 at 6:38 AM43 Comments

Hacking Team Is Hacked

Someone hacked the cyberweapons arms manufacturer Hacking Team and posted 400 GB of internal company data.

Hacking Team is a pretty sleazy company, selling surveillance software to all sorts of authoritarian governments around the world. Reporters Without Borders calls it one of the enemies of the Internet. Citizen Lab has published many reports about their activities.

It's a huge trove of data, including a spreadsheet listing every government client, when they first bought the surveillance software, and how much money they have paid the company to date. Not surprising, the company has been lying about who its customers are. Chris Soghoian has been going through the data and tweeting about it. More Twitter comments on the data here. Here are articles from Wired and The Guardian.

Here's the torrent, if you want to look at the data yourself. (Here's another mirror.) The source code is up on Github.

I expect we'll be sifting through all the data for a while.

Slashdot thread. Hacker News thread.

EDITED TO ADD: The Hacking Team CEO, David Vincenzetti, doesn't like me:

In another [e-mail], the Hacking Team CEO on 15 May claimed renowned cryptographer Bruce Schneier was "exploiting the Big Brother is Watching You FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) phenomenon in order to sell his books, write quite self-promoting essays, give interviews, do consulting etc. and earn his hefty money."

Meanwhile, Hacking Team has told all of its customers to shut down all uses of its software. They are in "full on emergency mode," which is perfectly understandable.

EDITED TO ADD: Hacking Team had no exploits for an un-jail-broken iPhone. Seems like the platform of choice if you want to stay secure.

Posted on July 6, 2015 at 12:53 PM68 Comments

NSA German Intercepts

On Friday, WikiLeaks published three summaries of NSA intercepts of German government communications. To me, the most interesting thing is not the intercept analyses, but this spreadsheet of intelligence targets. Here we learn the specific telephone numbers being targeted, who owns those phone numbers, the office within the NSA that processes the raw communications received, why the target is being spied on (in this case, all are designated as "Germany: Political Affairs"), and when we started spying using this particular justification. It's one of the few glimpses we have into the bureaucracy of surveillance.

Presumably this is from the same leaker who gave WikiLeaks the French intercepts they published a week ago. (And you can read the intelligence target spreadsheet for France, too. And another for Brazil that WikiLeaks published on Saturday; Intercept commentary here.) Now that we've seen a few top secret summaries of eavesdropping on German, French, and Brazilian communications, and given what I know of Julian Assange's tactics, my guess is that there is a lot more where this came from.

Der Spiegel is all over this story.

Posted on July 6, 2015 at 5:13 AM28 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Fishing in the Gulf of Thailand

Long article about a very lucrative squid-fishing industry that involves bribing the Cambodian Navy.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Posted on July 3, 2015 at 4:39 PM96 Comments

Rabbit Beating Up Snake

It's the Internet, which means there must be cute animal videos on this blog. But this one is different. Watch a mother rabbit beat up a snake to protect her children. It's impressive the way she keeps attacking the snake until it is far away from her nest, but I worry that she doesn't know enough to grab the snake by the neck. Maybe there just aren't any venomous snakes around those parts.

Posted on July 3, 2015 at 12:13 PM41 Comments

Clever System of Secure Distributed Computation

This is really clever:

Enigma's technique -- what cryptographers call "secure multiparty computation" -- works by mimicking a few of the features of bitcoin's decentralized network architecture: It encrypts data by splitting it up into pieces and randomly distributing indecipherable chunks of it to hundreds of computers in the Enigma network known as "nodes." Each node performs calculations on its discrete chunk of information before the user recombines the results to derive an unencrypted answer. Thanks to some mathematical tricks the Enigma creators implemented, the nodes are able to collectively perform every kind of computation that computers normally do, but without accessing any other portion of the data except the tiny chunk they were assigned.

To keep track of who owns what data -- and where any given data's pieces have been distributed -- Enigma stores that metadata in the bitcoin blockchain, the unforgeable record of messages copied to thousands of computers to prevent counterfeit and fraud in the bitcoin economy.

It's not homomorphic encryption. But it is really clever. Paper here.

Posted on July 3, 2015 at 6:38 AM21 Comments

Details of the NSA's X-KEYSCORE

The Intercept has published a highly detailed two-part article on how the NSA's X-KEYSCORE works, including a huge number of related documents from the Snowden archive.

So much to digest. Please post anything interesting you notice in the comments.

Posted on July 2, 2015 at 11:16 AM45 Comments

Office of Personnel Management Data Hack

I don't have much to say about the recent hack of the US Office of Personnel Management, which has been attributed to China (and seems to be getting worse all the time). We know that government networks aren't any more secure than corporate networks, and might even be less secure.

I agree with Ben Wittes here (although not the imaginary double standard he talks about in the rest of the essay):

For the record, I have no problem with the Chinese going after this kind of data. Espionage is a rough business and the Chinese owe as little to the privacy rights of our citizens as our intelligence services do to the employees of the Chinese government. It's our government's job to protect this material, knowing it could be used to compromise, threaten, or injure its people­ -- not the job of the People's Liberation Army to forebear collection of material that may have real utility.

Former NSA Director Michael Hayden says much the same thing:

If Hayden had had the ability to get the equivalent Chinese records when running CIA or NSA, he says, "I would not have thought twice. I would not have asked permission. I'd have launched the star fleet. And we'd have brought those suckers home at the speed of light." The episode, he says, "is not shame on China. This is shame on us for not protecting that kind of information." The episode is "a tremendously big deal, and my deepest emotion is embarrassment."

My question is this: Has anyone thought about the possibility of the attackers manipulating data in the database? What are the potential attacks that could stem from adding, deleting, and changing data? I don't think they can add a person with a security clearance, but I'd like someone who knows more than I do to understand the risks.

Posted on July 1, 2015 at 6:32 AM53 Comments

Twitter Followers: Please Use the Correct Feed

The official Twitter feed for my blog is @schneierblog. The account @Bruce_Schneier also mirrors my blog, but it is not mine. I have nothing to do with it, and I don't know who owns it.

Normally I wouldn't mind, but the unofficial blog fails intermittently. Also, @Bruce_Schneier follows people who then think I'm following them. I'm not; I never log in to Twitter and I don't follow anyone there.

So if you want to read my blog on Twitter, please make sure you're following @schneierblog. If you are the person who runs the @Bruce_Schneier account -- if anyone is even running it anymore -- please e-mail me at the address on my Contact page.

And if anyone from the Twitter fraud department is reading this, please contact me. I know I can get the @Bruce_Schneier account deleted, but I don't want to lose the 27,300 followers on it. What I want is to consolidate them with the 67,700 followers on my real account. There's no way to explain this on the form to report Twitter impersonation. (Although maybe I should just delete the account. I didn't do it 18 months ago when there were only 16,000 followers on that account, and look what happened. It'll only be worse next year.)

EDITED TO ADD (7/2): It's done. @Bruce_Schneier is gone.

Posted on June 30, 2015 at 1:16 PM25 Comments

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Resilient Systems, Inc.