Blog: March 2020 Archives

Clarifying the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

A federal court has ruled that violating a website's terms of service is not "hacking" under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The plaintiffs wanted to investigate possible racial discrimination in online job markets by creating accounts for fake employers and job seekers. Leading job sites have terms of service prohibiting users from supplying fake information, and the researchers worried that their research could expose them to criminal liability under the CFAA, which makes it a crime to "access a computer without authorization or exceed authorized access."

So in 2016 they sued the federal government, seeking a declaration that this part of the CFAA violated the First Amendment.

But rather than addressing that constitutional issue, Judge John Bates ruled on Friday that the plaintiffs' proposed research wouldn't violate the CFAA's criminal provisions at all. Someone violates the CFAA when they bypass an access restriction like a password. But someone who logs into a website with a valid password doesn't become a hacker simply by doing something prohibited by a website's terms of service, the judge concluded.

"Criminalizing terms-of-service violations risks turning each website into its own criminal jurisdiction and each webmaster into his own legislature," Bates wrote.

Bates noted that website terms of service are often long, complex, and change frequently. While some websites require a user to read through the terms and explicitly agree to them, others merely include a link to the terms somewhere on the page. As a result, most users aren't even aware of the contractual terms that supposedly govern the site. Under those circumstances, it's not reasonable to make violation of such terms a criminal offense, Bates concluded.

This is not the first time a court has issued a ruling in this direction. It's also not the only way the courts have interpreted the frustratingly vague Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

EDITED TO ADD (4/13): The actual opinion.

Posted on March 31, 2020 at 7:51 AM10 Comments

Privacy vs. Surveillance in the Age of COVID-19

The trade-offs are changing:

As countries around the world race to contain the pandemic, many are deploying digital surveillance tools as a means to exert social control, even turning security agency technologies on their own civilians. Health and law enforcement authorities are understandably eager to employ every tool at their disposal to try to hinder the virus ­ even as the surveillance efforts threaten to alter the precarious balance between public safety and personal privacy on a global scale.

Yet ratcheting up surveillance to combat the pandemic now could permanently open the doors to more invasive forms of snooping later.

I think the effects of COVID-19 will be more drastic than the effects of the terrorist attacks of 9/11: not only with respect to surveillance, but across many aspects of our society. And while many things that would never be acceptable during normal time are reasonable things to do right now, we need to makes sure we can ratchet them back once the current pandemic is over.

Cindy Cohn at EFF wrote:

We know that this virus requires us to take steps that would be unthinkable in normal times. Staying inside, limiting public gatherings, and cooperating with medically needed attempts to track the virus are, when approached properly, reasonable and responsible things to do. But we must be as vigilant as we are thoughtful. We must be sure that measures taken in the name of responding to COVID-19 are, in the language of international human rights law, "necessary and proportionate" to the needs of society in fighting the virus. Above all, we must make sure that these measures end and that the data collected for these purposes is not re-purposed for either governmental or commercial ends.

I worry that in our haste and fear, we will fail to do any of that.

More from EFF.

Posted on March 30, 2020 at 6:32 AM47 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Can Edit Their Own Genome

Amazing:

Revealing yet another super-power in the skillful squid, scientists have discovered that squid massively edit their own genetic instructions not only within the nucleus of their neurons, but also within the axon -- the long, slender neural projections that transmit electrical impulses to other neurons. This is the first time that edits to genetic information have been observed outside of the nucleus of an animal cell.

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 27, 2020 at 4:28 PM182 Comments

Story of Gus Weiss

This is a long and fascinating article about Gus Weiss, who masterminded a long campaign to feed technical disinformation to the Soviet Union, which may or may not have caused a massive pipeline explosion somewhere in Siberia in the 1980s, if in fact there even was a massive pipeline explosion somewhere in Siberia in the 1980s.

Lots of information about the origins of US export controls laws and sabotage operations.

Posted on March 27, 2020 at 6:03 AM9 Comments

On Cyber Warranties

Interesting article discussing cyber-warranties, and whether they are an effective way to transfer risk (as envisioned by Akerlof's "market for lemons") or a marketing trick.

The conclusion:

Warranties must transfer non-negligible amounts of liability to vendors in order to meaningfully overcome the market for lemons. Our preliminary analysis suggests the majority of cyber warranties cover the cost of repairing the device alone. Only cyber-incident warranties cover first-party costs from cyber-attacks -- why all such warranties were offered by firms selling intangible products is an open question. Consumers should question whether warranties can function as a costly signal when narrow coverage means vendors accept little risk.

Worse still, buyers cannot compare across cyber-incident warranty contracts due to the diversity of obligations and exclusions. Ambiguous definitions of the buyer's obligations and excluded events create uncertainty over what is covered. Moving toward standardized terms and conditions may help consumers, as has been pursued in cyber insurance, but this is in tension with innovation and product diversity.

[..]

Theoretical work suggests both the breadth of the warranty and the price of a product determine whether the warranty functions as a quality signal. Our analysis has not touched upon the price of these products. It could be that firms with ineffective products pass the cost of the warranty on to buyers via higher prices. Future studies could analyze warranties and price together to probe this issue.

In conclusion, cyber warranties -- particularly cyber-product warranties -- do not transfer enough risk to be a market fix as imagined in Woods. But this does not mean they are pure marketing tricks either. The most valuable feature of warranties is in preventing vendors from exaggerating what their products can do. Consumers who read the fine print can place greater trust in marketing claims so long as the functionality is covered by a cyber-incident warranty.


Posted on March 26, 2020 at 6:27 AM1 Comments

Facial Recognition for People Wearing Masks

The Chinese facial recognition company Hanwang claims it can recognize people wearing masks:

The company now says its masked facial recognition program has reached 95 percent accuracy in lab tests, and even claims that it is more accurate in real life, where its cameras take multiple photos of a person if the first attempt to identify them fails.

[...]

Counter-intuitively, training facial recognition algorithms to recognize masked faces involves throwing data away. A team at the University of Bradford published a study last year showing they could train a facial recognition program to accurately recognize half-faces by deleting parts of the photos they used to train the software.

When a facial recognition program tries to recognize a person, it takes a photo of the person to be identified, and reduces it down to a bundle, or vector, of numbers that describes the relative positions of features on the face.

[...]

Hanwang's system works for masked faces by trying to guess what all the faces in its existing database of photographs would look like if they were masked.


Posted on March 25, 2020 at 6:33 AM11 Comments

Internet Voting in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is considered allowing for Internet voting. I have joined a group of security experts in a letter opposing the bill.

Cybersecurity experts agree that under current technology, no practically proven method exists to securely, verifiably, or privately return voted materials over the internet. That means that votes could be manipulated or deleted on the voter's computer without the voter's knowledge, local elections officials cannot verify that the voter's ballot reflects the voter's intent, and the voter's selections could be traceable back to the individual voter. Such a system could violate protections guaranteeing a secret ballot, as outlined in Section 2, Article II of the Puerto Rico Constitution.

The ACLU agrees.

Posted on March 24, 2020 at 6:01 AM18 Comments

Hacking Voice Assistants with Ultrasonic Waves

I previously wrote about hacking voice assistants with lasers. Turns you can do much the same thing with ultrasonic waves:

Voice assistants -- the demo targeted Siri, Google Assistant, and Bixby -- are designed to respond when they detect the owner's voice after noticing a trigger phrase such as 'Ok, Google'.

Ultimately, commands are just sound waves, which other researchers have already shown can be emulated using ultrasonic waves which humans can't hear, providing an attacker has a line of sight on the device and the distance is short.

What SurfingAttack adds to this is the ability to send the ultrasonic commands through a solid glass or wood table on which the smartphone was sitting using a circular piezoelectric disc connected to its underside.

Although the distance was only 43cm (17 inches), hiding the disc under a surface represents a more plausible, easier-to-conceal attack method than previous techniques.

Research paper. Demonstration video.

Posted on March 23, 2020 at 6:19 AM18 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Orders Down in Italy

COVID-19 is depressing the demand for squid in Italy. The article is a week old, and already seems almost comically quaint.

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 20, 2020 at 4:18 PM192 Comments

Emergency Surveillance During COVID-19 Crisis

Israel is using emergency surveillance powers to track people who may have COVID-19, joining China and Iran in using mass surveillance in this way. I believe pressure will increase to leverage existing corporate surveillance infrastructure for these purposes in the US and other countries. With that in mind, the EFF has some good thinking on how to balance public safety with civil liberties:

Thus, any data collection and digital monitoring of potential carriers of COVID-19 should take into consideration and commit to these principles:

  • Privacy intrusions must be necessary and proportionate. A program that collects, en masse, identifiable information about people must be scientifically justified and deemed necessary by public health experts for the purpose of containment. And that data processing must be proportionate to the need. For example, maintenance of 10 years of travel history of all people would not be proportionate to the need to contain a disease like COVID-19, which has a two-week incubation period.

  • Data collection based on science, not bias. Given the global scope of communicable diseases, there is historical precedent for improper government containment efforts driven by bias based on nationality, ethnicity, religion, and race­ -- rather than facts about a particular individual's actual likelihood of contracting the virus, such as their travel history or contact with potentially infected people. Today, we must ensure that any automated data systems used to contain COVID-19 do not erroneously identify members of specific demographic groups as particularly susceptible to infection.

  • Expiration. As in other major emergencies in the past, there is a hazard that the data surveillance infrastructure we build to contain COVID-19 may long outlive the crisis it was intended to address. The government and its corporate cooperators must roll back any invasive programs created in the name of public health after crisis has been contained.

  • Transparency. Any government use of "big data" to track virus spread must be clearly and quickly explained to the public. This includes publication of detailed information about the information being gathered, the retention period for the information, the tools used to process that information, the ways these tools guide public health decisions, and whether these tools have had any positive or negative outcomes.

  • Due Process. If the government seeks to limit a person's rights based on this "big data" surveillance (for example, to quarantine them based on the system's conclusions about their relationships or travel), then the person must have the opportunity to timely and fairly challenge these conclusions and limits.

Posted on March 20, 2020 at 6:25 AM47 Comments

Work-from-Home Security Advice

SANS has made freely available its "Work-from-Home Awareness Kit."

When I think about how COVID-19's security measures are affecting organizational networks, I see several interrelated problems:

One, employees are working from their home networks and sometimes from their home computers. These systems are more likely to be out of date, unpatched, and unprotected. They are more vulnerable to attack simply because they are less secure.

Two, sensitive organizational data will likely migrate outside of the network. Employees working from home are going to save data on their own computers, where they aren't protected by the organization's security systems. This makes the data more likely to be hacked and stolen.

Three, employees are more likely to access their organizational networks insecurely. If the organization is lucky, they will have already set up a VPN for remote access. If not, they're either trying to get one quickly or not bothering at all. Handing people VPN software to install and use with zero training is a recipe for security mistakes, but not using a VPN is even worse.

Four, employees are being asked to use new and unfamiliar tools like Zoom to replace face-to-face meetings. Again, these hastily set-up systems are likely to be insecure.

Five, the general chaos of "doing things differently" is an opening for attack. Tricks like business email compromise, where an employee gets a fake email from a senior executive asking him to transfer money to some account, will be more successful when the employee can't walk down the hall to confirm the email's validity -- and when everyone is distracted and so many other things are being done differently.

Worrying about network security seems almost quaint in the face of the massive health risks from COVID-19, but attacks on infrastructure can have effects far greater than the infrastructure itself. Stay safe, everyone, and help keep your networks safe as well.

Posted on March 19, 2020 at 6:49 AM23 Comments

The Insecurity of WordPress and Apache Struts

Interesting data:

A study that analyzed all the vulnerability disclosures between 2010 and 2019 found that around 55% of all the security bugs that have been weaponized and exploited in the wild were for two major application frameworks, namely WordPress and Apache Struts.

The Drupal content management system ranked third, followed by Ruby on Rails and Laravel, according to a report published this week by risk analysis firm RiskSense.

The full report is here.

Posted on March 18, 2020 at 7:45 AM19 Comments

TSA Admits Liquid Ban Is Security Theater

The TSA is allowing people to bring larger bottles of hand sanitizer with them on airplanes:

Passengers will now be allowed to travel with containers of liquid hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces. However, the agency cautioned that the shift could mean slightly longer waits at checkpoint because the containers may have to be screened separately when going through security.

Won't airplanes blow up as a result? Of course not.

Would they have blown up last week were the restrictions lifted back then? Of course not.

It's always been security theater.

Interesting context:

The TSA can declare this rule change because the limit was always arbitrary, just one of the countless rituals of security theater to which air passengers are subjected every day. Flights are no more dangerous today, with the hand sanitizer, than yesterday, and if the TSA allowed you to bring 12 ounces of shampoo on a flight tomorrow, flights would be no more dangerous then. The limit was bullshit. The ease with which the TSA can toss it aside makes that clear.

All over America, the coronavirus is revealing, or at least reminding us, just how much of contemporary American life is bullshit, with power structures built on punishment and fear as opposed to our best interest. Whenever the government or a corporation benevolently withdraws some punitive threat because of the coronavirus, it's a signal that there was never any good reason for that threat to exist in the first place.

Posted on March 16, 2020 at 9:31 AM35 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: New Report on Squid Markets

This report costs $2,000. (Please don't buy it for me.)

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 13, 2020 at 4:02 PM212 Comments

The EARN-IT Act

Prepare for another attack on encryption in the U.S. The EARN-IT Act purports to be about protecting children from predation, but it's really about forcing the tech companies to break their encryption schemes:

The EARN IT Act would create a "National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention" tasked with developing "best practices" for owners of Internet platforms to "prevent, reduce, and respond" to child exploitation. But far from mere recommendations, those "best practices" would be approved by Congress as legal requirements: if a platform failed to adhere to them, it would lose essential legal protections for free speech.

It's easy to predict how Attorney General William Barr would use that power: to break encryption. He's said over and over that he thinks the "best practice" is to force encrypted messaging systems to give law enforcement access to our private conversations. The Graham-Blumenthal bill would finally give Barr the power to demand that tech companies obey him or face serious repercussions, including both civil and criminal liability. Such a demand would put encryption providers like WhatsApp and Signal in an awful conundrum: either face the possibility of losing everything in a single lawsuit or knowingly undermine their users' security, making all of us more vulnerable to online criminals.

Matthew Green has a long explanation of the bill and its effects:

The new bill, out of Lindsey Graham's Judiciary committee, is designed to force providers to either solve the encryption-while-scanning problem, or stop using encryption entirely. And given that we don't yet know how to solve the problem -- and the techniques to do it are basically at the research stage of R&D -- it's likely that "stop using encryption" is really the preferred goal.

EARN IT works by revoking a type of liability called Section 230 that makes it possible for providers to operate on the Internet, by preventing the provider for being held responsible for what their customers do on a platform like Facebook. The new bill would make it financially impossible for providers like WhatsApp and Apple to operate services unless they conduct "best practices" for scanning their systems for CSAM.

Since there are no "best practices" in existence, and the techniques for doing this while preserving privacy are completely unknown, the bill creates a government-appointed committee that will tell technology providers what technology they have to use. The specific nature of the committee is byzantine and described within the bill itself. Needless to say, the makeup of the committee, which can include as few as zero data security experts, ensures that end-to-end encryption will almost certainly not be considered a best practice.

So in short: this bill is a backdoor way to allow the government to ban encryption on commercial services. And even more beautifully: it doesn't come out and actually ban the use of encryption, it just makes encryption commercially infeasible for major providers to deploy, ensuring that they'll go bankrupt if they try to disobey this committee's recommendations.

It's the kind of bill you'd come up with if you knew the thing you wanted to do was unconstitutional and highly unpopular, and you basically didn't care.

Another criticism of the bill. Commentary by EPIC. Kinder analysis.

Sign a petition against this act.

Posted on March 13, 2020 at 6:20 AM55 Comments

The Whisper Secret-Sharing App Exposed Locations

This is a big deal:

Whisper, the secret-sharing app that called itself the "safest place on the Internet," left years of users' most intimate confessions exposed on the Web tied to their age, location and other details, raising alarm among cybersecurity researchers that users could have been unmasked or blackmailed.

[...]

The records were viewable on a non-password-protected database open to the public Web. A Post reporter was able to freely browse and search through the records, many of which involved children: A search of users who had listed their age as 15 returned 1.3 million results.

[...]

The exposed records did not include real names but did include a user's stated age, ethnicity, gender, hometown, nickname and any membership in groups, many of which are devoted to sexual confessions and discussion of sexual orientation and desires.

The data also included the location coordinates of the users' last submitted post, many of which pointed back to specific schools, workplaces and residential neighborhoods.

Or homes. I hope people didn't confess things from their bedrooms.

Posted on March 12, 2020 at 6:30 AM23 Comments

LA Covers Up Bad Cybersecurity

This is bad in several dimensions.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has been accused of deliberately keeping widespread gaps in its cybersecurity a secret from regulators in a large-scale coverup involving the city's mayor.

Posted on March 11, 2020 at 10:52 AM11 Comments

CIA Dirty Laundry Aired

Joshua Schulte, the CIA employee standing trial for leaking the Wikileaks Vault 7 CIA hacking tools, maintains his innocence. And during the trial, a lot of shoddy security and sysadmin practices are coming out:

All this raises a question, though: just how bad is the CIA's security that it wasn't able to keep Schulte out, even accounting for the fact that he is a hacking and computer specialist? And the answer is: absolutely terrible.

The password for the Confluence virtual machine that held all the hacking tools that were stolen and leaked? That'll be 123ABCdef. And the root login for the main DevLAN server? mysweetsummer.

It actually gets worse than that. Those passwords were shared by the entire team and posted on the group's intranet. IRC chats published during the trial even revealed team members talking about how terrible their infosec practices were, and joked that CIA internal security would go nuts if they knew. Their justification? The intranet was restricted to members of the Operational Support Branch (OSB): the elite programming unit that makes the CIA's hacking tools.

The jury returned no verdict on the serious charges. He was convicted of contempt and lying to the FBI; a mistrial on everything else.

Posted on March 10, 2020 at 6:18 AM34 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: The Effect of Noise on Squid

Two articles.

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 6, 2020 at 4:06 PM125 Comments

More on Crypto AG

One follow-on to the story of Crypto AG being owned by the CIA: this interview with a Washington Post reporter. The whole thing is worth reading or listening to, but I was struck by these two quotes at the end:

...in South America, for instance, many of the governments that were using Crypto machines were engaged in assassination campaigns. Thousands of people were being disappeared, killed. And I mean, they're using Crypto machines, which suggests that the United States intelligence had a lot of insight into what was happening. And it's hard to look back at that history now and see a lot of evidence of the United States going to any real effort to stop it or at least or even expose it.

[...]

To me, the history of the Crypto operation helps to explain how U.S. spy agencies became accustomed to, if not addicted to, global surveillance. This program went on for more than 50 years, monitoring the communications of more than 100 countries. I mean, the United States came to expect that kind of penetration, that kind of global surveillance capability. And as Crypto became less able to deliver it, the United States turned to other ways to replace that. And the Snowden documents tell us a lot about how they did that.

Posted on March 6, 2020 at 7:48 AM17 Comments

Security of Health Information

The world is racing to contain the new COVID-19 virus that is spreading around the globe with alarming speed. Right now, pandemic disease experts at the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other public-health agencies are gathering information to learn how and where the virus is spreading. To do so, they are using a variety of digital communications and surveillance systems. Like much of the medical infrastructure, these systems are highly vulnerable to hacking and interference.

That vulnerability should be deeply concerning. Governments and intelligence agencies have long had an interest in manipulating health information, both in their own countries and abroad. They might do so to prevent mass panic, avert damage to their economies, or avoid public discontent (if officials made grave mistakes in containing an outbreak, for example). Outside their borders, states might use disinformation to undermine their adversaries or disrupt an alliance between other nations. A sudden epidemic­ -- when countries struggle to manage not just the outbreak but its social, economic, and political fallout­ -- is especially tempting for interference.

In the case of COVID-19, such interference is already well underway. That fact should not come as a surprise. States hostile to the West have a long track record of manipulating information about health issues to sow distrust. In the 1980s, for example, the Soviet Union spread the false story that the US Department of Defense bioengineered HIV in order to kill African Americans. This propaganda was effective: some 20 years after the original Soviet disinformation campaign, a 2005 survey found that 48 percent of African Americans believed HIV was concocted in a laboratory, and 15 percent thought it was a tool of genocide aimed at their communities.

More recently, in 2018, Russia undertook an extensive disinformation campaign to amplify the anti-vaccination movement using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Researchers have confirmed that Russian trolls and bots tweeted anti-vaccination messages at up to 22 times the rate of average users. Exposure to these messages, other researchers found, significantly decreased vaccine uptake, endangering individual lives and public health.

Last week, US officials accused Russia of spreading disinformation about COVID-19 in yet another coordinated campaign. Beginning around the middle of January, thousands of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts­ -- many of which had previously been tied to Russia­ -- had been seen posting nearly identical messages in English, German, French, and other languages, blaming the United States for the outbreak. Some of the messages claimed that the virus is part of a US effort to wage economic war on China, others that it is a biological weapon engineered by the CIA.

As much as this disinformation can sow discord and undermine public trust, the far greater vulnerability lies in the United States' poorly protected emergency-response infrastructure, including the health surveillance systems used to monitor and track the epidemic. By hacking these systems and corrupting medical data, states with formidable cybercapabilities can change and manipulate data right at the source.

Here is how it would work, and why we should be so concerned. Numerous health surveillance systems are monitoring the spread of COVID-19 cases, including the CDC's influenza surveillance network. Almost all testing is done at a local or regional level, with public-health agencies like the CDC only compiling and analyzing the data. Only rarely is an actual biological sample sent to a high-level government lab. Many of the clinics and labs providing results to the CDC no longer file reports as in the past, but have several layers of software to store and transmit the data.

Potential vulnerabilities in these systems are legion: hackers exploiting bugs in the software, unauthorized access to a lab's servers by some other route, or interference with the digital communications between the labs and the CDC. That the software involved in disease tracking sometimes has access to electronic medical records is particularly concerning, because those records are often integrated into a clinic or hospital's network of digital devices. One such device connected to a single hospital's network could, in theory, be used to hack into the CDC's entire COVID-19 database.

In practice, hacking deep into a hospital's systems can be shockingly easy. As part of a cybersecurity study, Israeli researchers at Ben-Gurion University were able to hack into a hospital's network via the public Wi-Fi system. Once inside, they could move through most of the hospital's databases and diagnostic systems. Gaining control of the hospital's unencrypted image database, the researchers inserted malware that altered healthy patients' CT scans to show nonexistent tumors. Radiologists reading these images could only distinguish real from altered CTs 60 percent of the time­ -- and only after being alerted that some of the CTs had been manipulated.

Another study directly relevant to public-health emergencies showed that a critical US biosecurity initiative, the Department of Homeland Security's BioWatch program, had been left vulnerable to cyberattackers for over a decade. This program monitors more than 30 US jurisdictions and allows health officials to rapidly detect a bioweapons attack. Hacking this program could cover up an attack, or fool authorities into believing one has occurred.

Fortunately, no case of healthcare sabotage by intelligence agencies or hackers has come to light (the closest has been a series of ransomware attacks extorting money from hospitals, causing significant data breaches and interruptions in medical services). But other critical infrastructure has often been a target. The Russians have repeatedly hacked Ukraine's national power grid, and have been probing US power plants and grid infrastructure as well. The United States and Israel hacked the Iranian nuclear program, while Iran has targeted Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure. There is no reason to believe that public-health infrastructure is in any way off limits.

Despite these precedents and proven risks, a detailed assessment of the vulnerability of US health surveillance systems to infiltration and manipulation has yet to be made. With COVID-19 on the verge of becoming a pandemic, the United States is at risk of not having trustworthy data, which in turn could cripple our country's ability to respond.

Under normal conditions, there is plenty of time for health officials to notice unusual patterns in the data and track down wrong information­ -- if necessary, using the old-fashioned method of giving the lab a call. But during an epidemic, when there are tens of thousands of cases to track and analyze, it would be easy for exhausted disease experts and public-health officials to be misled by corrupted data. The resulting confusion could lead to misdirected resources, give false reassurance that case numbers are falling, or waste precious time as decision makers try to validate inconsistent data.

In the face of a possible global pandemic, US and international public-health leaders must lose no time assessing and strengthening the security of the country's digital health systems. They also have an important role to play in the broader debate over cybersecurity. Making America's health infrastructure safe requires a fundamental reorientation of cybersecurity away from offense and toward defense. The position of many governments, including the United States', that Internet infrastructure must be kept vulnerable so they can better spy on others, is no longer tenable. A digital arms race, in which more countries acquire ever more sophisticated cyberattack capabilities, only increases US vulnerability in critical areas such as pandemic control. By highlighting the importance of protecting digital health infrastructure, public-health leaders can and should call for a well-defended and peaceful Internet as a foundation for a healthy and secure world.

This essay was co-authored with Margaret Bourdeaux; a slightly different version appeared in Foreign Policy.

EDITED TO ADD: On last week's squid post, there was a big conversation regarding the COVID-19. Many of the comments straddled the line between what are and aren't the the core topics. Yesterday I deleted a bunch for being off-topic. Then I reconsidered and republished some of what I deleted.

Going forward, comments about the COVID-19 will be restricted to the security and risk implications of the virus. This includes cybersecurity, security, risk management, surveillance, and containment measures. Comments that stray off those topics will be removed. By clarifying this, I hope to keep the conversation on-topic while also allowing discussion of the security implications of current events.

Thank you for your patience and forbearance on this.

Posted on March 5, 2020 at 6:10 AM64 Comments

Let's Encrypt Vulnerability

The BBC is reporting a vulnerability in the Let's Encrypt certificate service:

In a notification email to its clients, the organisation said: "We recently discovered a bug in the Let's Encrypt certificate authority code.

"Unfortunately, this means we need to revoke the certificates that were affected by this bug, which includes one or more of your certificates. To avoid disruption, you'll need to renew and replace your affected certificate(s) by Wednesday, March 4, 2020. We sincerely apologise for the issue."

I am seeing nothing on the Let's Encrypt website. And no other details anywhere. I'll post more when I know more.

EDITED TO ADD: More from Ars Technica:

Let's Encrypt uses Certificate Authority software called Boulder. Typically, a Web server that services many separate domain names and uses Let's Encrypt to secure them receives a single LE certificate that covers all domain names used by the server rather than a separate cert for each individual domain.

The bug LE discovered is that, rather than checking each domain name separately for valid CAA records authorizing that domain to be renewed by that server, Boulder would check a single one of the domains on that server n times (where n is the number of LE-serviced domains on that server). Let's Encrypt typically considers domain validation results good for 30 days from the time of validation--but CAA records specifically must be checked no more than eight hours prior to certificate issuance.

The upshot is that a 30-day window is presented in which certificates might be issued to a particular Web server by Let's Encrypt despite the presence of CAA records in DNS that would prohibit that issuance.

Since Let's Encrypt finds itself in the unenviable position of possibly having issued certificates that it should not have, it is revoking all current certificates that might not have had proper CAA record checking on Wednesday, March 4. Users whose certificates are scheduled to be revoked will need to manually force-renewal before then.

And Let's Encrypt has a blog post about it.

EDITED TO ADD: Slashdot thread.

Posted on March 4, 2020 at 6:46 AM24 Comments

Wi-Fi Chip Vulnerability

There's a vulnerability in Wi-Fi hardware that breaks the encryption:

The vulnerability exists in Wi-Fi chips made by Cypress Semiconductor and Broadcom, the latter a chipmaker Cypress acquired in 2016. The affected devices include iPhones, iPads, Macs, Amazon Echos and Kindles, Android devices, and Wi-Fi routers from Asus and Huawei, as well as the Raspberry Pi 3. Eset, the security company that discovered the vulnerability, said the flaw primarily affects Cypress' and Broadcom's FullMAC WLAN chips, which are used in billions of devices. Eset has named the vulnerability Kr00k, and it is tracked as CVE-2019-15126.

Manufacturers have made patches available for most or all of the affected devices, but it's not clear how many devices have installed the patches. Of greatest concern are vulnerable wireless routers, which often go unpatched indefinitely.

That's the real problem. Many of these devices won't get patched -- ever.

Posted on March 3, 2020 at 6:43 AM20 Comments

Facebook's Download-Your-Data Tool Is Incomplete

Privacy International has the details:

Key facts:

  • Despite Facebook claim, "Download Your Information" doesn't provide users with a list of all advertisers who uploaded a list with their personal data.
  • As a user this means you can't exercise your rights under GDPR because you don't know which companies have uploaded data to Facebook.
  • Information provided about the advertisers is also very limited (just a name and no contact details), preventing users from effectively exercising their rights.
  • Recently announced Off-Facebook feature comes with similar issues, giving little insight into how advertisers collect your personal data and how to prevent such data collection.

When I teach cybersecurity tech and policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, one of the assignments is to download your Facebook and Google data and look at it. Many are surprised at what the companies know about them.

Posted on March 2, 2020 at 6:28 AM15 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.