Friday Squid Blogging: Live Squid Washes up on North Carolina Beach

A "mysterious squid" -- big and red -- washed up on a beach in Carteret County, North Carolina. Someone found it, still alive, and set it back in the water after taking some photos of it. Squid scientists later decided it was a diamondback squid.

So, you think that O'Shea might know the identity of the squid Carey Walker found on the Portsmouth Island Beach, just by looking at an emailed photo or two? Indeed, he did. After a couple of days of back-and-forth emails -- it can be difficult to connect consistently with a world-famous man who lives now in Australia -- he reported that, while unusual to be seen on beaches in our parts, this was not a particularly unusual squid: It was a diamondback squid, known in scientific nomenclature as Thysanoteuthis rhombus.

T. rhombus, also known as the diamond squid or diamondback squid, is a large species that grows to about 100 centimeters in length, which translates to about 39 inches, and ranges in weight from 20 to 30 kilograms, which translates to 44 to 50 pounds. Which means that, if nothing else, Carey Walker is pretty good at estimating the weight and length of big red squids he picks up on remote beaches.

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 April 28, 2017 at 4:37 PM2 Comments

Jumping Airgaps with a Laser and a Scanner

Researchers have configured two computers to talk to each other using a laser and a scanner.

Scanners work by detecting reflected light on their glass pane. The light creates a charge that the scanner translates into binary, which gets converted into an image. But scanners are sensitive to any changes of light in a room­ -- even when paper is on the glass pane or when the light source is infrared -- which changes the charges that get converted to binary. This means signals can be sent through the scanner by flashing light at its glass pane using either a visible light source or an infrared laser that is invisible to human eyes.

There are a couple of caveats to the attack -- the malware to decode the signals has to already be installed on a system on the network, and the lid on the scanner has to be at least partially open to receive the light. It's not unusual for workers to leave scanner lids open after using them, however, and an attacker could also pay a cleaning crew or other worker to leave the lid open at night.

The setup is that there's malware on the computer connected to the scanner, and that computer isn't on the Internet. This technique allows an attacker to communicate with that computer. For extra coolness, the laser can be mounted on a drone.

Here's the paper. And two videos.

Posted on April 28, 2017 at 12:48 PM4 Comments

Stealing Browsing History Using Your Phone's Ambient Light Sensor

There has been a flurry of research into using the various sensors on your phone to steal data in surprising ways. Here's another: using the phone's ambient light sensor to detect what's on the screen. It's a proof of concept, but the paper's general conclusions are correct:

There is a lesson here that designing specifications and systems from a privacy engineering perspective is a complex process: decisions about exposing sensitive APIs to the web without any protections should not be taken lightly. One danger is that specification authors and browser vendors will base decisions on overly general principles and research results which don't apply to a particular new feature (similarly to how protections on gyroscope readings might not be sufficient for light sensor data).

Posted on April 28, 2017 at 6:17 AM8 Comments

Reading Analytics and Privacy

Interesting paper: "The rise of reading analytics and the emerging calculus of reading privacy in the digital world," by Clifford Lynch:

Abstract: This paper studies emerging technologies for tracking reading behaviors ("reading analytics") and their implications for reader privacy, attempting to place them in a historical context. It discusses what data is being collected, to whom it is available, and how it might be used by various interested parties (including authors). I explore means of tracking what's being read, who is doing the reading, and how readers discover what they read. The paper includes two case studies: mass-market e-books (both directly acquired by readers and mediated by libraries) and scholarly journals (usually mediated by academic libraries); in the latter case I also provide examples of the implications of various authentication, authorization and access management practices on reader privacy. While legal issues are touched upon, the focus is generally pragmatic, emphasizing technology and marketplace practices. The article illustrates the way reader privacy concerns are shifting from government to commercial surveillance, and the interactions between government and the private sector in this area. The paper emphasizes U.S.-based developments.

Posted on April 27, 2017 at 6:20 AM6 Comments

Analyzing Cyber Insurance Policies

There's a really interesting new paper analyzing over 100 different cyber insurance policies. From the abstract:

In this research paper, we seek to answer fundamental questions concerning the current state of the cyber insurance market. Specifically, by collecting over 100 full insurance policies, we examine the composition and variation across three primary components: The coverage and exclusions of first and third party losses which define what is and is not covered; The security application questionnaires which are used to help assess an applicant's security posture; and the rate schedules which define the algorithms used to compute premiums.

Overall, our research shows a much greater consistency among loss coverage and exclusions of insurance policies than is often assumed. For example, after examining only 5 policies, all coverage topics were identified, while it took only 13 policies to capture all exclusion topics. However, while each policy may include commonly covered losses or exclusions, there was often additional language further describing exceptions, conditions, or limits to the coverage. The application questionnaires provide insights into the security technologies and management practices that are (and are not) examined by carriers. For example, our analysis identified four main topic areas: Organizational, Technical, Policies and Procedures, and Legal and Compliance. Despite these sometimes lengthy questionnaires, however, there still appeared to be relevant gaps. For instance, information about the security posture of third-party service and supply chain providers and are notoriously difficult to assess properly (despite numerous breaches occurring from such compromise).

In regard to the rate schedules, we found a surprising variation in the sophistication of the equations and metrics used to price premiums. Many policies examined used a very simple, flat rate pricing (based simply on expected loss), while others incorporated more parameters such as the firm's asset value (or firm revenue), or standard insurance metrics (e.g. limits, retention, coinsurance), and industry type. More sophisticated policies also included information specific information security controls and practices as collected from the security questionnaires. By examining these components of insurance contracts, we hope to provide the first-ever insights into how insurance carriers understand and price cyber risks.

Posted on April 26, 2017 at 6:14 AM17 Comments

Advances in Ad Blocking

Ad blockers represent the largest consumer boycott in human history. They're also an arms race between the blockers and the blocker blockers. This article discusses a new ad-blocking technology that represents another advance in this arms race. I don't think it will "put an end to the ad-blocking arms race," as the title proclaims, but it will definitely give the blockers the upper hand.

The software, devised by Arvind Narayanan, Dillon Reisman, Jonathan Mayer, and Grant Storey, is novel in two major ways: First, it looks at the struggle between advertising and ad blockers as fundamentally a security problem that can be fought in much the same way antivirus programs attempt to block malware, using techniques borrowed from rootkits and built-in web browser customizability to stealthily block ads without being detected. Second, the team notes that there are regulations and laws on the books that give a fundamental advantage to consumers that cannot be easily changed, opening the door to a long-term ad-blocking solution.

Now if we could only block the data collection as well.

Posted on April 25, 2017 at 12:07 PM61 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Video of Squid Attacking Another Squid

Wow, is this cool.

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 April 21, 2017 at 5:04 PM198 Comments

The DEA Is Buying Cyberweapons from Hacking Team

The US Drug Enforcement Agency has purchased zero-day exploits from the cyberweapons arms manufacturer Hacking Team.

BoingBoing post.

Posted on April 20, 2017 at 2:21 PM28 Comments

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