March 15, 2015
by Bruce Schneier
CTO, Resilient Systems, Inc.
A free monthly newsletter providing summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries on security: computer and otherwise.
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You can read this issue on the web at <https://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram/archives/2015/…>. These same essays and news items appear in the “Schneier on Security” blog at <http://www.schneier.com/>, along with a lively and intelligent comment section. An RSS feed is available.
In this issue:
- “Data and Goliath”‘s Big Idea
- “Data and Goliath” News
- Everyone Wants You To Have Security, But Not from Them
- The Democratization of Cyberattack
- The Equation Group’s Sophisticated Hacking and Exploitation Tools
- Ford Proud that “Mustang” Is a Common Password
- Attack Attribution and Cyber Conflict
- Co3 Systems Changes Its Name to Resilient Systems
- Schneier News
- FREAK: Security Rollback Attack Against SSL
- Can the NSA Break Microsoft’s BitLocker?
- Hardware Bit-Flipping Attack
“Data and Goliath” is a book about surveillance, both government and corporate. It’s an exploration in three parts: what’s happening, why it matters, and what to do about it. This is a big and important issue, and one that I’ve been working on for decades now. We’ve been on a headlong path of more and more surveillance, fueled by fear—of terrorism mostly—on the government side, and convenience on the corporate side. My goal was to step back and say “wait a minute; does any of this make sense?” I’m proud of the book, and hope it will contribute to the debate.
But there’s a big idea here too, and that’s the balance between group interest and self-interest. Data about us is individually private, and at the same time valuable to all us collectively. How do we decide between the two? If President Obama tells us that we have to sacrifice the privacy of our data to keep our society safe from terrorism, how do we decide if that’s a good trade-off? If Google and Facebook offer us free services in exchange for allowing them to build intimate dossiers on us, how do we know whether to take the deal?
There are a lot of these sorts of deals on offer. Waze gives us real-time traffic information, but does it by collecting the location data of everyone using the service. The medical community wants our detailed health data to perform all sorts of health studies and to get early warning of pandemics. The government wants to know all about you to better deliver social services. Google wants to know everything about you for marketing purposes, but will “pay” you with free search, free e-mail, and the like.
Here’s another one I describe in the book: “Social media researcher Reynol Junco analyzes the study habits of his students. Many textbooks are online, and the textbook websites collect an enormous amount of data about how—and how often—students interact with the course material. Junco augments that information with surveillance of his students’ other computer activities. This is incredibly invasive research, but its duration is limited and he is gaining new understanding about how both good and bad students study—and has developed interventions aimed at improving how students learn. Did the group benefit of this study outweigh the individual privacy interest of the subjects who took part in it?”
Again and again, it’s the same trade-off: individual value versus group value.
I believe this is the fundamental issue of the information age, and solving it means careful thinking about the specific issues and a moral analysis of how they affect our core values.
You can see that in some of the debate today. I know hardened privacy advocates who think it should be a crime for people to withhold their medical data from the pool of information. I know people who are fine with pretty much any corporate surveillance but want to prohibit all government surveillance, and others who advocate the exact opposite.
When possible, we need to figure out how to get the best of both: how to design systems that make use of our data collectively to benefit society as a whole, while at the same time protecting people individually.
The world isn’t waiting; decisions about surveillance are being made for us—often in secret. If we don’t figure this out for ourselves, others will decide what they want to do with us and our data. And we don’t want that. I say: “We don’t want the FBI and NSA to secretly decide what levels of government surveillance are the default on our cell phones; we want Congress to decide matters like these in an open and public debate. We don’t want the governments of China and Russia to decide what censorship capabilities are built into the Internet; we want an international standards body to make those decisions. We don’t want Facebook to decide the extent of privacy we enjoy amongst our friends; we want to decide for ourselves.”
In my last chapter, I write: “Data is the pollution problem of the information age, and protecting privacy is the environmental challenge. Almost all computers produce personal information. It stays around, festering. How we deal with it—how we contain it and how we dispose of it—is central to the health of our information economy. Just as we look back today at the early decades of the industrial age and wonder how our ancestors could have ignored pollution in their rush to build an industrial world, our grandchildren will look back at us during these early decades of the information age and judge us on how we addressed the challenge of data collection and misuse.”
That’s it; that’s our big challenge. Some of our data is best shared with others. Some of it can be “processed”—anonymized, maybe—before reuse. Some of it needs to be disposed of properly, either immediately or after a time. And some of it should be saved forever. Knowing what data goes where is a balancing act between group and self-interest, a trade-off that will continually change as technology changes, and one that we will be debating for decades to come.
This essay previously appeared on John Scalzi’s blog “Whatever.”
I am #6 on the “New York Times” best-seller list for hardcover non-fiction. This is the list dated March 22nd, which covers sales from the first week of March.
The book tour was a success:
There are a bunch of excerpts, reviews, and videos of me talking about the book on the book’s website.
In December, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was interviewed at the CATO Institute Surveillance Conference. One of the things he said, after talking about some of the security measures his company has put in place post-Snowden, was: “If you have important information, the safest place to keep it is in Google. And I can assure you that the safest place to not keep it is anywhere else.”
The surprised me, because Google collects all of your information to show you more targeted advertising. Surveillance is the business model of the Internet, and Google is one of the most successful companies at that. To claim that Google protects your privacy better than anyone else is to profoundly misunderstand why Google stores your data for free in the first place.
I was reminded of this last week when I appeared on Glenn Beck’s show along with cryptography pioneer Whitfield Diffie. Diffie said:
You can’t have privacy without security, and I think we have glaring failures in computer security in problems that we’ve been working on for 40 years. You really should not live in fear of opening an attachment to a message. It ought to be confined; your computer ought to be able to handle it. And the fact that we have persisted for decades without solving these problems is partly because they’re very difficult, but partly because there are lots of people who want you to be secure against everyone but them. And that includes all of the major computer manufacturers who, roughly speaking, want to manage your computer for you. The trouble is, I’m not sure of any practical alternative.
That neatly explains Google. Eric Schmidt does want your data to be secure. He wants Google to be the safest place for your data—as long as you don’t mind the fact that Google has access to your data. Facebook wants the same thing: to protect your data from everyone except Facebook. Hardware companies are no different. Last week, we learned that Lenovo computers shipped with a piece of adware called Superfish that broke users’ security to spy on them for advertising purposes.
Governments are no different. The FBI wants people to have strong encryption, but it wants backdoor access so it can get at your data. UK Prime Minister David Cameron wants you to have good security, just as long as it’s not so strong as to keep the UK government out. And, of course, the NSA spends a lot of money ensuring that there’s no security it can’t break.
Corporations want access to your data for profit; governments want it for security purposes, be they benevolent or malevolent. But Diffie makes an even stronger point: we give lots of companies access to our data because it makes our lives easier.
I wrote about this in my latest book, “Data and Goliath”:
Convenience is the other reason we willingly give highly personal data to corporate interests, and put up with becoming objects of their surveillance. As I keep saying, surveillance-based services are useful and valuable. We like it when we can access our address book, calendar, photographs, documents, and everything else on any device we happen to be near. We like services like Siri and Google Now, which work best when they know tons about you. Social networking apps make it easier to hang out with our friends. Cell phone apps like Google Maps, Yelp, Weather, and Uber work better and faster when they know our location. Letting apps like Pocket or Instapaper know what we’re reading feels like a small price to pay for getting everything we want to read in one convenient place. We even like it when ads are targeted to exactly what we’re interested in. The benefits of surveillance in these and other applications are real, and significant.
Like Diffie, I’m not sure there is any practical alternative. The reason the Internet is a worldwide mass-market phenomenon is that all the technological details are hidden from view. Someone else is taking care of it. We want strong security, but we also want companies to have access to our computers, smart devices, and data. We want someone else to manage our computers and smart phones, organize our e-mail and photos, and help us move data between our various devices.
Those “someones” will necessarily be able to violate our privacy, either by deliberately peeking at our data or by having such lax security that they’re vulnerable to national intelligence agencies, cybercriminals, or both. Last week, we learned that the NSA broke into the Dutch company Gemalto and stole the encryption keys for billions—yes, billions—of cell phones worldwide. That was possible because we consumers don’t want to do the work of securely generating those keys and setting up our own security when we get our phones; we want it done automatically by the phone manufacturers. We want our data to be secure, but we want someone to be able to recover it all when we forget our password.
We’ll never solve these security problems as long as we’re our own worst enemy. That’s why I believe that any long-term security solution will not only be technological, but political as well. We need laws that will protect our privacy from those who obey the laws, and to punish those who break the laws. We need laws that require those entrusted with our data to protect our data. Yes, we need better security technologies, but we also need laws mandating the use of those technologies.
This essay previously appeared on Forbes.com.
Me on The Blaze:
NSA breaks encryption standards:
The thing about infrastructure is that everyone uses it. If it’s secure, it’s secure for everyone. And if it’s insecure, it’s insecure for everyone. This forces some hard policy choices.
When I was working with the Guardian on the Snowden documents, the one top-secret program the NSA desperately did not want us to expose was QUANTUM. This is the NSA’s program for what is called packet injection—basically, a technology that allows the agency to hack into computers.
Turns out, though, that the NSA was not alone in its use of this technology. The Chinese government uses packet injection to attack computers. The cyberweapons manufacturer Hacking Team sells packet injection technology to any government willing to pay for it. Criminals use it. And there are hacker tools that give the capability to individuals as well.
All of these existed before I wrote about QUANTUM. By using its knowledge to attack others rather than to build up the internet’s defenses, the NSA has worked to ensure that anyone can use packet injection to hack into computers.
This isn’t the only example of once-top-secret US government attack capabilities being used against US government interests. StingRay is a particular brand of IMSI catcher, and is used to intercept cell phone calls and metadata. This technology was once the FBI’s secret, but not anymore. There are dozens of these devices scattered around Washington, DC, as well as the rest of the country, run by who-knows-what government or organization. By accepting the vulnerabilities in these devices so the FBI can use them to solve crimes, we necessarily allow foreign governments and criminals to use them against us.
Similarly, vulnerabilities in phone switches—SS7 switches, for those who like jargon—have been long used by the NSA to locate cell phones. This same technology is sold by the US company Verint and the UK company Cobham to third-world governments, and hackers have demonstrated the same capabilities at conferences. An eavesdropping capability that was built into phone switches to enable lawful intercepts was used by still-unidentified unlawful intercepters in Greece between 2004 and 2005.
These are the stories you need to keep in mind when thinking about proposals to ensure that all communications systems can be eavesdropped on by government. Both the FBI’s James Comey and UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently proposed limiting secure cryptography in favor of cryptography they can have access to.
But here’s the problem: technological capabilities cannot distinguish based on morality, nationality, or legality; if the US government is able to use a backdoor in a communications system to spy on its enemies, the Chinese government can use the same backdoor to spy on its dissidents.
Even worse, modern computer technology is inherently democratizing. Today’s NSA secrets become tomorrow’s PhD theses and the next day’s hacker tools. As long as we’re all using the same computers, phones, social networking platforms, and computer networks, a vulnerability that allows us to spy also allows us to be spied upon.
We can’t choose a world where the US gets to spy but China doesn’t, or even a world where governments get to spy and criminals don’t. We need to choose, as a matter of policy, communications systems that are secure for all users, or ones that are vulnerable to all attackers. It’s security or surveillance.
As long as criminals are breaking into corporate networks and stealing our data, as long as totalitarian governments are spying on their citizens, as long as cyberterrorism and cyberwar remain a threat, and as long as the beneficial uses of computer technology outweighs the harmful uses, we have to choose security. Anything else is just too dangerous.
This essay previously appeared on Vice Motherboard.
I’m not sure what to make of this, or even what it means. The IRS has a standard called IDES: International Data Exchange Service: “The International Data Exchange Service (IDES) is an electronic delivery point where Financial Institutions (FI) and Host Country Tax Authorities (HCTA) can transmit and exchange FATCA data with the United States.” It’s like IRS data submission, but for other governments and foreign banks. Buried in one of the documents are the rules for encryption. And it recommends AES in ECB mode.
Interesting article on the submarine arms race between remaining hidden and detection. It seems that it is much more expensive for a submarine to hide than it is to detect it. And this changing balance will affect the long-term viability of submarines.
Earlier this month, Mark Burnett released a database of ten million usernames and passwords. He collected this data from already-public dumps from hackers who had stolen the information; hopefully everyone affected has changed their passwords by now.
“The Intercept” has an extraordinary story: the NSA and/or GCHQ hacked into the Dutch SIM card manufacturer Gemalto, stealing the encryption keys for billions of cell phones. People are still trying to figure out exactly what this means, but it seems to mean that the intelligence agencies have access to both voice and data from all phones using those cards.
Me in The Register: “We always knew that they would occasionally steal SIM keys. But *all* of them? The odds that they just attacked this one firm are extraordinarily low and we know the NSA does like to steal keys where it can.”
It’s not just national intelligence agencies that break your https security through man-in-the-middle attacks. Corporations do it, too. For the past few months, Lenovo PCs have shipped with an adware app called Superfish that man-in-the-middles TLS connections.
New research on tracking the location of smart phone users by monitoring power consumption. I’m not sure how practical this is, but it’s certainly interesting.
AT&T is charging a premium for gigabit Internet service without surveillance. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, AT&T is forgoing revenue by not spying on its customers, and it’s reasonable to charge them for that lost revenue. On the other hand, this sort of thing means that privacy becomes a luxury good. In general, I prefer to conceptualize privacy as a right to be respected and not a commodity to be bought and sold.
Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Edward Snowden did an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit.
And note that Snowden mentioned my new book: “One of the arguments in a book I read recently (Bruce Schneier, ‘Data and Goliath’), is that perfect enforcement of the law sounds like a good thing, but that may not always be the case.”
Lollipop device encryption by default is still in the future. No conspiracy here; it seems like they don’t have the appropriate drivers yet. But while relaxing the requirement might make sense technically, it’s not a good public relations move.
One of the problems with our current discourse about terrorism and terrorist policies is that the people entrusted with counterterrorism—those whose job it is to surveil, study, or defend against terrorism—become so consumed with their role that they literally start seeing terrorists *everywhere*. So it comes as no surprise that if you ask Tom Ridge, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, about potential terrorism risks at a new LA football stadium, of course he finds them everywhere. I’m sure he can’t help himself.
I am reminded of Glenn Greenwald’s essay on the “terrorist expert” industry.
I am also reminded of this story about a father taking pictures of his daughters.
On the plus side, now we all have a convincing argument against development. “You can’t possibly build that shopping mall near my home, because OMG! terrorism.”
The marketing firm Adnear is using drones to track cell phone users.
Does anyone except this company believe that device ID is not personally identifiable information?
New law journal article: “A Slow March Towards Thought Crime: How the Department of Homeland Security’s FAST Program Violates the Fourth Amendment,” by Christopher A. Rogers.
Here’s an interesting technique to detect Remote Access Trojans, or RATS: differences in how local and remote users use the keyboard and mouse.
New research: Geotagging One Hundred Million Twitter Accounts with Total Variation Minimization,” by Ryan Compton, David Jurgens, and David Allen.
Cory Doctorow examines the changing economics of surveillance and what it means:
I am reminded of this paper on the changing economics of surveillance.
Every year, the Director of National Intelligence publishes an unclassified “Worldwide Threat Assessment.” This year’s report was published two weeks ago. “Cyber” is the first threat listed, and includes most of what you’d expect from a report like this. Most interesting, though, was this comment on integrity: ” Most of the public discussion regarding cyber threats has focused on the confidentiality and availability of information; cyber espionage undermines confidentiality, whereas denial-of-service operations and data-deletion attacks undermine availability. In the future, however, we might also see more cyber operations that will change or manipulate electronic information in order to compromise its integrity (i.e. accuracy and reliability) instead of deleting it or disrupting access to it. Decisionmaking by senior government officials (civilian and military), corporate executives, investors, or others will be impaired if they cannot trust the information they are receiving.” This speaks directly to the need for strong cryptography to protect the integrity of information.
This month, Kaspersky Labs published detailed information on what it calls the Equation Group—almost certainly the NSA—and its abilities to embed spyware deep inside computers, gaining pretty much total control of those computers while maintaining persistence in the face of reboots, operating system reinstalls, and commercial anti-virus products. The details are impressive, and I urge anyone interested to read the Kaspersky documents, or the very detailed article from Ars Technica.
Kaspersky doesn’t explicitly name the NSA, but talks about similarities between these techniques and Stuxnet, and points to NSA-like codenames. A related Reuters story provides more confirmation: “A former NSA employee told Reuters that Kaspersky’s analysis was correct, and that people still in the intelligence agency valued these spying programs as highly as Stuxnet. Another former intelligence operative confirmed that the NSA had developed the prized technique of concealing spyware in hard drives, but said he did not know which spy efforts relied on it.”
In some ways, this isn’t news. We saw examples of these techniques in 2013, when “Der Spiegel” published details of the NSA’s 2008 catalog of implants. (Aside: I don’t believe the person who leaked that catalog is Edward Snowden.) In those pages, we saw examples of malware that embedded itself in computers’ BIOS and disk drive firmware. We already know about the NSA’s infection methods using packet injection and hardware interception.
This is targeted surveillance. There’s nothing here that implies the NSA is doing this sort of thing to *every* computer, router, or hard drive. It’s doing it only to networks it wants to monitor. Reuters again: “Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.” A map of the infections Kaspersky found bears this out.
On one hand, it’s the sort of thing we *want* the NSA to do. It’s targeted. It’s exploiting existing vulnerabilities. In the overall scheme of things, this is much less disruptive to Internet security than deliberately inserting vulnerabilities that leave everyone insecure.
On the other hand, the NSA’s definition of “targeted” can be pretty broad. We know that it’s hacked the Belgian telephone company and the Brazilian oil company. We know it’s collected every phone call in the Bahamas and Afghanistan. It hacks system administrators worldwide.
On the other other hand—can I even have three hands?—I remember a line from my latest book: “Today’s top-secret programs become tomorrow’s PhD theses and the next day’s hacker tools.” Today, the Equation Group is “probably the most sophisticated computer attack group in the world,” but these techniques aren’t magically exclusive to the NSA. We know China uses similar techniques. Companies like Gamma Group sell less sophisticated versions of the same things to Third World governments worldwide. We need to figure out how to maintain security in the face of these sorts of attacks, because we’re all going to be subjected to the criminal versions of them in three to five years.
That’s the real problem. Steve Bellovin wrote about this:
For more than 50 years, all computer security has been based on the separation between the trusted portion and the untrusted portion of the system. Once it was “kernel” (or “supervisor”) versus “user” mode, on a single computer. The Orange Book recognized that the concept had to be broader, since there were all sorts of files executed or relied on by privileged portions of the system. Their newer, larger category was dubbed the “Trusted Computing Base” (TCB). When networking came along, we adopted firewalls; the TCB still existed on single computers, but we trusted “inside” computers and networks more than external ones.
There was a danger sign there, though few people recognized it: our networked systems depended on other systems for critical files….
The National Academies report Trust in Cyberspace recognized that the old TCB concept no longer made sense. (Disclaimer: I was on the committee.) Too many threats, such as Word macro viruses, lived purely at user level. Obviously, one could have arbitrarily classified word processors, spreadsheets, etc., as part of the TCB, but that would have been worse than useless; these things were too large and had no need for privileges.
In the 15+ years since then, no satisfactory replacement for the TCB model has been proposed.
We have a serious computer security problem. Everything depends on everything else, and security vulnerabilities in anything affects the security of everything. We simply don’t have the ability to maintain security in a world where we can’t trust the hardware and software we use.
This article was originally published at the Lawfare blog.
A map of infections world-wide:
NSA hacks the Belgian telephone company:
NSA hacks the Brazilian oil company:
NSA hacks system administrators:
Trust in Cyberspace:
This is what happens when a PR person gets hold of information he really doesn’t understand.
“Mustang” is the 16th most common password on the Internet according to a recent study by SplashData, besting both “superman” in 21st place and “batman” in 24th
Mustang is the only car to appear in the top 25 most common Internet passwords
That’s not bad. If you’re a PR person, that’s good.
Here are a few suggestions for strengthening your “mustang” password:
* Add numbers to your password (favorite Mustang model year, year you bought your Mustang or year you sold the car)
* Incorporate Mustang option codes, paint codes, engine codes or digits from your VIN
* Create acronyms for modifications made to your Mustang (FRSC, for Ford Racing SuperCharger, for example)
* Include your favorite driving road or road trip destination
Keep in mind that using the same password on all websites is not recommended; a password manager can help keep multiple Mustang-related passwords organized and easy-to-access.
At least they didn’t sue users for copyright infringement.
The vigorous debate after the Sony Pictures breach pitted the Obama administration against many of us in the cybersecurity community who didn’t buy Washington’s claim that North Korea was the culprit.
What’s both amazing—and perhaps a bit frightening—about that dispute over who hacked Sony is that it happened in the first place.
But what it highlights is the fact that we’re living in a world where we can’t easily tell the difference between a couple of guys in a basement apartment and the North Korean government with an estimated $10 billion military budget. And that ambiguity has profound implications for how countries will conduct foreign policy in the Internet age.
Clandestine military operations aren’t new. Terrorism can be hard to attribute, especially the murky edges of state-sponsored terrorism. What’s different in cyberspace is how easy it is for an attacker to mask his identity—and the wide variety of people and institutions that can attack anonymously.
In the real world, you can often identify the attacker by the weaponry. In 2006, Israel attacked a Syrian nuclear facility. It was a conventional attack—military airplanes flew over Syria and bombed the plant—and there was never any doubt who did it. That shorthand doesn’t work in cyberspace.
When the US and Israel attacked an Iranian nuclear facility in 2010, they used a cyberweapon and their involvement was a secret for years. On the Internet, technology broadly disseminates capability. Everyone from lone hackers to criminals to hypothetical cyberterrorists to nations’ spies and soldiers are using the same tools and the same tactics. Internet traffic doesn’t come with a return address, and it’s easy for an attacker to obscure his tracks by routing his attacks through some innocent third party.
And while it now seems that North Korea did indeed attack Sony, the attack it most resembles was conducted by members of the hacker group Anonymous against a company called HBGary Federal in 2011. In the same year, other members of Anonymous threatened NATO, and in 2014, still others announced that they were going to attack ISIS. Regardless of what you think of the group’s capabilities, it’s a new world when a bunch of hackers can threaten an international military alliance.
Even when a victim does manage to attribute a cyberattack, the process can take a long time. It took the US weeks to publicly blame North Korea for the Sony attacks. That was relatively fast; most of that time was probably spent trying to figure out how to respond. Attacks by China against US companies have taken much longer to attribute.
This delay makes defense policy difficult. Microsoft’s Scott Charney makes this point: When you’re being physically attacked, you can call on a variety of organizations to defend you—the police, the military, whoever does antiterrorism security in your country, your lawyers. The legal structure justifying that defense depends on knowing two things: who’s attacking you, and why. Unfortunately, when you’re being attacked in cyberspace, the two things you often don’t know are who’s attacking you, and why.
Whose job was it to defend Sony? Was it the US military’s, because it believed the attack to have come from North Korea? Was it the FBI, because this wasn’t an act of war? Was it Sony’s own problem, because it’s a private company? What about during those first weeks, when no one knew who the attacker was? These are just a few of the policy questions that we don’t have good answers for.
Certainly Sony needs enough security to protect itself regardless of who the attacker was, as do all of us. For the victim of a cyberattack, who the attacker is can be academic. The damage is the same, whether it’s a couple of hackers or a nation-state.
In the geopolitical realm, though, attribution is vital. And not only is attribution hard, providing evidence of any attribution is even harder. Because so much of the FBI’s evidence was classified—and probably provided by the National Security Agency—it was not able to explain why it was so sure North Korea did it. As I recently wrote: “The agency might have intelligence on the planning process for the hack. It might, say, have phone calls discussing the project, weekly PowerPoint status reports, or even Kim Jong-un’s sign-off on the plan.” Making any of this public would reveal the NSA’s “sources and methods,” something it regards as a very important secret.
Different types of attribution require different levels of evidence. In the Sony case, we saw the US government was able to generate enough evidence to convince itself. Perhaps it had the additional evidence required to convince North Korea it was sure, and provided that over diplomatic channels. But if the public is expected to support any government retaliatory action, they are going to need sufficient evidence made public to convince them. Today, trust in US intelligence agencies is low, especially after the 2003 Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction debacle.
What all of this means is that we are in the middle of an arms race between attackers and those that want to identify them: deception and deception detection. It’s an arms race in which the US—and, by extension, its allies—has a singular advantage. We spend more money on electronic eavesdropping than the rest of the world combined, we have more technology companies than any other country, and the architecture of the Internet ensures that most of the world’s traffic passes through networks the NSA can eavesdrop on.
In 2012, then US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said publicly that the US—presumably the NSA—has “made significant advances in … identifying the origins” of cyberattacks. We don’t know if this means they have made some fundamental technological advance, or that their espionage is so good that they’re monitoring the planning processes. Other US government officials have privately said that they’ve solved the attribution problem.
We don’t know how much of that is real and how much is bluster. It’s actually in America’s best interest to confidently accuse North Korea, even if it isn’t sure, because it sends a strong message to the rest of the world: “Don’t think you can hide in cyberspace. If you try anything, we’ll know it’s you.”
Strong attribution leads to deterrence. The detailed NSA capabilities leaked by Edward Snowden help with this, because they bolster an image of an almost-omniscient NSA.
It’s not, though—which brings us back to the arms race. A world where hackers and governments have the same capabilities, where governments can masquerade as hackers or as other governments, and where much of the attribution evidence intelligence agencies collect remains secret, is a dangerous place.
So is a world where countries have secret capabilities for deception and detection deception, and are constantly trying to get the best of each other. This is the world of today, though, and we need to be prepared for it.
This essay previously appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.
NSA’s North Korean implants:
Anonymous threatened NATO:
Anonymous threatened ISIS:
US officials on attribution:
Last month, my company, Co3 Systems, changed its name to Resilient Systems. The new name better reflects who we are and what we do. Plus, the old name was kind of dumb.
I have long liked the term “resilience.” If you look around, you’ll see it a lot. It’s used in human psychology, in organizational theory, in disaster recovery, in ecological systems, in materials science, and in systems engineering. Here’s a definition from 1991, in a book by Aaron Wildavsky called “Searching for Safety”: “Resilience is the capacity to cope with unanticipated dangers after they have become manifest, learning to bounce back.”
The concept of resilience has been used in IT systems for a long time.
I have been talking about resilience in IT security—and security in general—for at least 15 years. I gave a talk at an ICANN meeting in 2001 titled “Resilient Security and the Internet.” At the 2001 Black Hat, I said: “Strong countermeasures combine protection, detection, and response. The way to build resilient security is with vigilant, adaptive, relentless defense by experts (people, not products). There are no magic preventive countermeasures against crime in the real world, yet we are all reasonably safe, nevertheless. We need to bring that same thinking to the Internet.”
In “Beyond Fear” (2003), I spend pages on resilience: “Good security systems are resilient. They can withstand failures; a single failure doesn’t cause a cascade of other failures. They can withstand attacks, including attackers who cheat. They can withstand new advances in technology. They can fail and recover from failure.” We can defend against some attacks, but we have to detect and respond to the rest of them. That process is how we achieve resilience. It was true fifteen years ago and, if anything, it is even more true today.
So that’s the new name, Resilient Systems. We provide an Incident Response Platform, empowering organizations to thrive in the face of cyberattacks and business crises. Our collaborative platform arms incident response teams with workflows, intelligence, and deep-data analytics to react faster, coordinate better, and respond smarter.
And that’s the deal. Our Incident Response Platform produces and manages instant incident response plans. Together with our Security and Privacy modules, it provides IR teams with best-practice action plans and flexible workflows. It’s also agile, allowing teams to modify their response to suit organizational needs, and continues to adapt in real time as incidents evolve.
Resilience is a lot bigger than IT. It’s a lot bigger than technology. In my latest book, “Data and Goliath”, I write: “I am advocating for several flavors of resilience for both our systems of surveillance and our systems that control surveillance: resilience to hardware and software failure, resilience to technological innovation, resilience to political change, and resilience to coercion. An architecture of security provides resilience to changing political whims that might legitimize political surveillance. Multiple overlapping authorities provide resilience to coercive pressures. Properly written laws provide resilience to changing technological capabilities. Liberty provides resilience to authoritarianism. Of course, full resilience against any of these things, let alone all of them, is impossible. But we must do as well as we can, even to the point of assuming imperfections in our resilience.”
I wrote those words before we even considered a name change.
Same company, new name (and new website). Check us out.
My 2001 talks on resilience:
Resilience in IT:
Resilience in the academic literature:
I am speaking at Harvard Law School, in Cambridge, MA, on March 25:
I asked Adm. Rogers a question.
The question is at 1h 40m 02s:
New paper of mine: “Surreptitiously Weakening Cryptographic Systems,” by Bruce Schneier, Matthew Fredrikson, Tadayoshi Kohno, and Thomas Ristenpart.
I am planning a study group at Harvard University (in Boston) for the Fall semester, on catastrophic risk. Click through if you want information on how to register. Everyone, not just Harvard students and not just students, welcome.
This week, we learned about an attack called “FREAK”—”Factoring Attack on RSA-EXPORT Keys”—that can break the encryption of many websites. Basically, some sites’ implementations of secure sockets layer technology, or SSL, contain both strong encryption algorithms and weak encryption algorithms. Connections are supposed to use the strong algorithms, but in many cases an attacker can force the website to use the weaker encryption algorithms and then decrypt the traffic. From Ars Technica:
In recent days, a scan of more than 14 million websites that support the secure sockets layer or transport layer security protocols found that more than 36 percent of them were vulnerable to the decryption attacks. The exploit takes about seven hours to carry out and costs as little as $100 per site.
This is a general class of attack I call “security rollback” attacks. Basically, the attacker forces the system users to revert to a less secure version of their protocol. Think about the last time you used your credit card. The verification procedure involved the retailer’s computer connecting with the credit card company. What if you snuck around to the back of the building and severed the retailer’s phone lines? Most likely, the retailer would have still accepted your card, but defaulted to making a manual impression of it and maybe looking at your signature. The result: you’ll have a much easier time using a stolen card.
In this case, the security flaw was designed in deliberately. Matthew Green writes:
Back in the early 1990s when SSL was first invented at Netscape Corporation, the United States maintained a rigorous regime of export controls for encryption systems. In order to distribute crypto outside of the U.S., companies were required to deliberately “weaken” the strength of encryption keys. For RSA encryption, this implied a maximum allowed key length of 512 bits.
The 512-bit export grade encryption was a compromise between dumb and dumber. In theory it was designed to ensure that the NSA would have the ability to “access” communications, while allegedly providing crypto that was still “good enough” for commercial use. Or if you prefer modern terms, think of it as the original “golden master key.”
The need to support export-grade ciphers led to some technical challenges. Since U.S. servers needed to support both strong *and* weak crypto, the SSL designers used a “cipher suite” negotiation mechanism to identify the best cipher both parties could support. In theory this would allow “strong” clients to negotiate “strong” ciphersuites with servers that supported them, while still providing compatibility to the broken foreign clients.
And that’s the problem. The weak algorithms are still there, and can be exploited by attackers.
Fixes are coming. Companies like Apple are quickly rolling out patches. But the vulnerability has been around for over a decade, and almost has certainly used by national intelligence agencies and criminals alike.
This is the generic problem with government-mandated backdoors, key escrow, “golden keys,” or whatever you want to call them. We don’t know how to design a third-party access system that checks for morality; once we build in such access, we then have to ensure that only the good guys can do it. And we can’t. Or, to quote the Economist: “…mathematics applies to just and unjust alike; a flaw that can be exploited by Western governments is vulnerable to anyone who finds it.”
This essay previously appeared on the Lawfare blog.
The Intercept has a new story on the CIA’s—yes, the CIA, not the NSA—efforts to break encryption. These are from the Snowden documents, and talk about a conference called the Trusted Computing Base Jamboree. There are some interesting documents associated with the article, but not a lot of hard information.
There’s a paragraph about Microsoft’s BitLocker, the encryption system used to protect MS Windows computers:
Also presented at the Jamboree were successes in the targeting of Microsoft’s disk encryption technology, and the TPM chips that are used to store its encryption keys. Researchers at the CIA conference in 2010 boasted about the ability to extract the encryption keys used by BitLocker and thus decrypt private data stored on the computer. Because the TPM chip is used to protect the system from untrusted software, attacking it could allow the covert installation of malware onto the computer, which could be used to access otherwise encrypted communications and files of consumers. Microsoft declined to comment for this story.
This implies that the US intelligence community—I’m guessing the NSA here—can break BitLocker. The source document, though, is much less definitive about it.
Power analysis, a side-channel attack, can be used against secure devices to non-invasively extract protected cryptographic information such as implementation details or secret keys. We have employed a number of publically known attacks against the RSA cryptography found in TPMs from five different manufacturers. We will discuss the details of these attacks and provide insight into how private TPM key information can be obtained with power analysis. In addition to conventional wired power analysis, we will present results for extracting the key by measuring electromagnetic signals emanating from the TPM while it remains on the motherboard. We will also describe and present results for an entirely new unpublished attack against a Chinese Remainder Theorem (CRT) implementation of RSA that will yield private key information in a single trace.
The ability to obtain a private TPM key not only provides access to TPM-encrypted data, but also enables us to circumvent the root-of-trust system by modifying expected digest values in sealed data. We will describe a case study in which modifications to Microsoft’s Bitlocker encrypted metadata prevents software-level detection of changes to the BIOS.
Differential power analysis is a powerful cryptanalytic attack. Basically, it examines a chip’s power consumption while it performs encryption and decryption operations and uses that information to recover the key. What’s important here is that this is an attack to extract key information from a chip while it is running. If the chip is powered down, or if it doesn’t have the key inside, there’s no attack.
I don’t take this to mean that the NSA can take a BitLocker-encrypted hard drive and recover the key. I do take it to mean that the NSA can perform a bunch of clever hacks on a BitLocker-encrypted hard drive while it is running. So I don’t think this means that BitLocker is broken.
But who knows? We do know that the FBI pressured Microsoft to add a backdoor to BitLocker in 2005. I believe that was unsuccessful.
More than that, we don’t know.
Differential power analysis:
FBI pressured Microsoft on BitLocker:
Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft removed the Elephant Diffuser from BitLocker. I see no reason to remove it other than to make the encryption weaker.
The Project Zero team at Google has posted details of a new attack that targets a computer’s DRAM. It’s called Rowhammer. Here’s a good description:
Here’s how Rowhammer gets its name: In the Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) used in some laptops, a hacker can run a program designed to repeatedly access a certain row of transistors in the computer’s memory, “hammering” it until the charge from that row leaks into the next row of memory. That electromagnetic leakage can cause what’s known as “bit flipping,” in which transistors in the neighboring row of memory have their state reversed, turning ones into zeros or vice versa. And for the first time, the Google researchers have shown that they can use that bit flipping to actually gain unintended levels of control over a victim computer. Their Rowhammer hack can allow a “privilege escalation,” expanding the attacker’s influence beyond a certain fenced-in portion of memory to more sensitive areas.
When run on a machine vulnerable to the rowhammer problem, the process was able to induce bit flips in page table entries (PTEs). It was able to use this to gain write access to its own page table, and hence gain read-write access to all of physical memory.
The cause is simply the super dense packing of chips:
This works because DRAM cells have been getting smaller and closer together. As DRAM manufacturing scales down chip features to smaller physical dimensions, to fit more memory capacity onto a chip, it has become harder to prevent DRAM cells from interacting electrically with each other. As a result, accessing one location in memory can disturb neighbouring locations, causing charge to leak into or out of neighbouring cells. With enough accesses, this can change a cell’s value from 1 to 0 or vice versa.
Very clever, and yet another example of the security interplay between hardware and software.
This kind of thing is hard to fix, although the Google team gives some mitigation techniques at the end of its analysis.
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CRYPTO-GRAM is written by Bruce Schneier. Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist, called a “security guru” by The Economist. He is the author of 12 books—including “Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Survive”—as well as hundreds of articles, essays, and academic papers. His influential newsletter “Crypto-Gram” and his blog “Schneier on Security” are read by over 250,000 people. He has testified before Congress, is a frequent guest on television and radio, has served on several government committees, and is regularly quoted in the press. Schneier is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, a program fellow at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Advisory Board Member of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Chief Technology Officer at Co3 Systems, Inc. See <https://www.schneier.com>.
Crypto-Gram is a personal newsletter. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Bruce Schneier.