The security of pretty much every computer on the planet has just gotten a lot worse, and the only real solution—which,of course, is not a solution—is to throw them all away and buy new ones that may be available in a few years.
On Wednesday, researchers announced a series of major security vulnerabilities in the microprocessors at the heart of the world's computers for the past 15 to 20 years. They've been named Spectre and Meltdown, and they operate by manipulating different ways processors optimize performance by rearranging the order of instructions or performing different instructions in parallel. An attacker who controls one process on a system can use the vulnerabilities to steal secrets from elsewhere on the computer.
The cellphones we carry with us constantly are the most perfect surveillance device ever invented, and our laws haven't caught up to that reality. That might change soon.
This week, the Supreme Court will hear a case with profound implications for your security and privacy in the coming years. The Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unlawful search and seizure is a vital right that protects us all from police overreach, and the way the courts interpret it is increasingly nonsensical in our computerized and networked world.
Testimony and Statement for the Record of Bruce Schneier
Fellow and Lecturer, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School
Hearing on "Securing Consumers' Credit Data in the Age of Digital Commerce"
Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection
Committee on Energy and Commerce
United States House of Representatives
1 November 2017
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Mister Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today concerning the security of credit data. My name is Bruce Schneier, and I am a security technologist. For over 30 years I have studied the technologies of security and privacy. I have authored 13 books on these subjects, including Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World (Norton, 2015).
Last Thursday, Equifax reported a data breach that affects 143 million US customers, about 44% of the population. It's an extremely serious breach; hackers got access to full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver's license numbers -- exactly the sort of information criminals can use to impersonate victims to banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, and other businesses vulnerable to fraud.
Many sites posted guides to protecting yourself now that it's happened. But if you want to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, your only solution is government regulation (as unlikely as that may be at the moment).
In August, four US Senators introduced a bill designed to improve Internet of Things (IoT) security. The IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017 is a modest piece of legislation. It doesn’t regulate the IoT market. It doesn’t single out any industries for particular attention, or force any companies to do anything.
The new book from Zeynep Tufekci looks at how the web has helped demonstrations take off around the globe, but also made them harder to sustain.
There are two opposing models of how the internet has changed protest movements. The first is that the internet has made protesters mightier than ever. This comes from the successful revolutions in Tunisia (2010-11), Egypt (2011), and Ukraine (2013). The second is that it has made them more ineffectual.
The Lessons of WannaCry
There is plenty of blame to go around for the WannaCry ransomware that spread throughout the Internet earlier this month, disrupting work at hospitals, factories, businesses, and universities. First, there are the writers of the malicious software, which blocks victims' access to their computers until they pay a fee. Then there are the users who didn't install the Windows security patch that would have prevented an attack. A small portion of the blame falls on Microsoft, which wrote the insecure code in the first place.
What is—and isn’t—known about the mysterious hackers leaking National Security Agency secrets
In 2013, a mysterious group of hackers that calls itself the Shadow Brokers stole a few disks full of National Security Agency secrets. Since last summer, they've been dumping these secrets on the internet. They have publicly embarrassed the NSA and damaged its intelligence-gathering capabilities, while at the same time have put sophisticated cyberweapons in the hands of anyone who wants them. They have exposed major vulnerabilities in Cisco routers, Microsoft Windows, and Linux mail servers, forcing those companies and their customers to scramble.
As devastating as the latest widespread ransomware attacks have been, it's a problem with a solution. If your copy of Windows is relatively current and you've kept it updated, your laptop is immune. It's only older unpatched systems on your computer that are vulnerable.
Patching is how the computer industry maintains security in the face of rampant internet insecurity.
The Department of Homeland Security is rumored to be considering extending the current travel ban on large electronics for Middle Eastern flights to European ones as well. The likely reaction of airlines will be to implement new traveler programs, effectively allowing wealthier and more frequent fliers to bring their computers with them. This will only exacerbate the divide between the haves and the have-nots—all without making us any safer.
In March, both the United States and the United Kingdom required that passengers from 10 Muslim countries give up their laptop computers and larger tablets, and put them in checked baggage.
Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.
Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.