Personal Data Left on Used Laptops

A recent experiment found all sorts of personal data left on used laptops and smartphones.

This should come as no surprise. Simson Garfinkel performed the same experiment in 2003, with similar results.

Posted on March 26, 2019 at 6:24 AM7 Comments

Mail Fishing

Not email, paper mail:

Thieves, often at night, use string to lower glue-covered rodent traps or bottles coated with an adhesive down the chute of a sidewalk mailbox. This bait attaches to the envelopes inside, and the fish in this case -- mail containing gift cards, money orders or checks, which can be altered with chemicals and cashed -- are reeled out slowly.

In response, the US Post Office is introducing a more secure mailbox:

The mail slots are only large enough for letters, meaning sending even small packages will require a trip to the post office. The opening is also equipped with a mechanism that grabs at a letter once inserted, making it difficult to retract.

The crime has become more common in the past few years.

Posted on March 25, 2019 at 9:39 AM19 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: New Research on Squid Camouflage

From the New York Times:

Now, a paper published last week in Nature Communications suggests that their chromatophores, previously thought to be mainly pockets of pigment embedded in their skin, are also equipped with tiny reflectors made of proteins. These reflectors aid the squid to produce such a wide array of colors, including iridescent greens and blues, within a second of passing in front of a new background. The research reveals that by using tricks found in other parts of the animal kingdom -- like shimmering butterflies and peacocks -- squid are able to combine multiple approaches to produce their vivid camouflage.

Researchers studied Doryteuthis pealeii, or the longfin squid.

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

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

Posted on March 22, 2019 at 4:45 PM60 Comments

First Look Media Shutting Down Access to Snowden NSA Archives

The Daily Beast is reporting that First Look Media -- home of The Intercept and Glenn Greenwald -- is shutting down access to the Snowden archives.

The Intercept was the home for Greenwald's subset of Snowden's NSA documents since 2014, after he parted ways with the Guardian the year before. I don't know the details of how the archive was stored, but it was offline and well secured -- and it was available to journalists for research purposes. Many stories were published based on those archives over the years, albeit fewer in recent years.

The article doesn't say what "shutting down access" means, but my guess is that it means that First Look Media will no longer make the archive available to outside journalists, and probably not to staff journalists, either. Reading between the lines, I think they will delete what they have.

This doesn't mean that we're done with the documents. Glenn Greenwald tweeted:

Both Laura & I have full copies of the archives, as do others. The Intercept has given full access to multiple media orgs, reporters & researchers. I've been looking for the right partner -- an academic institution or research facility -- that has the funds to robustly publish.

I'm sure there are still stories in those NSA documents, but with many of them a decade or more old, they are increasingly history and decreasingly current events. Every capability discussed in the documents needs to be read with a "and then they had ten years to improve this" mentality.

Eventually it'll all become public, but not before it is 100% history and 0% current events.

Posted on March 21, 2019 at 5:52 AM16 Comments

Zipcar Disruption

This isn't a security story, but it easily could have been. Last Saturday, Zipcar had a system outage: "an outage experienced by a third party telecommunications vendor disrupted connections between the company's vehicles and its reservation software."

That didn't just mean people couldn't get cars they reserved. Sometimes is meant they couldn't get the cars they were already driving to work:

Andrew Jones of Roxbury was stuck on hold with customer service for at least a half-hour while he and his wife waited inside a Zipcar that would not turn back on after they stopped to fill it up with gas.

"We were just waiting and waiting for the call back," he said.

Customers in other states, including New York, California, and Oregon, reported a similar problem. One user who tweeted about issues with a Zipcar vehicle listed his location as Toronto.

Some, like Jones, stayed with the inoperative cars. Others, including Tina Penman in Portland, Ore., and Heather Reid in Cambridge, abandoned their Zipcar. Penman took an Uber home, while Reid walked from the grocery store back to her apartment.

This is a reliability issue that turns into a safety issue. Systems that touch the direct physical world like this need better fail-safe defaults.

Posted on March 20, 2019 at 12:38 PM14 Comments

An Argument that Cybersecurity Is Basically Okay

Andrew Odlyzko's new essay is worth reading -- "Cybersecurity is not very important":

Abstract: There is a rising tide of security breaches. There is an even faster rising tide of hysteria over the ostensible reason for these breaches, namely the deficient state of our information infrastructure. Yet the world is doing remarkably well overall, and has not suffered any of the oft-threatened giant digital catastrophes. This continuing general progress of society suggests that cyber security is not very important. Adaptations to cyberspace of techniques that worked to protect the traditional physical world have been the main means of mitigating the problems that occurred. This "chewing gum and baling wire"approach is likely to continue to be the basic method of handling problems that arise, and to provide adequate levels of security.

I am reminded of these two essays. And, as I said in the blog post about those two essays:

This is true, and is something I worry will change in a world of physically capable computers. Automation, autonomy, and physical agency will make computer security a matter of life and death, and not just a matter of data.

Posted on March 20, 2019 at 6:03 AM46 Comments

CAs Reissue Over One Million Weak Certificates

Turns out that the software a bunch of CAs used to generate public-key certificates was flawed: they created random serial numbers with only 63 bits instead of the required 64. That may not seem like a big deal to the layman, but that one bit change means that the serial numbers only have half the required entropy. This really isn't a security problem; the serial numbers are to protect against attacks that involve weak hash functions, and we don't allow those weak hash functions anymore. Still, it's a good thing that the CAs are reissuing the certificates. The point of a standard is that it's to be followed.

Posted on March 18, 2019 at 6:23 AM25 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: A Squid-Related Vacation Tour in Hawaii

You can hunt for the Hawaiian bobtail squid.

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

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

Posted on March 15, 2019 at 4:24 PM56 Comments

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

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