Essays: 2017 Archives
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.
We'll need new security standards when hackers go after the Internet of Things.
Ransomware isn't new, but it's increasingly popular and profitable.
The concept is simple: Your computer gets infected with a virus that encrypts your files until you pay a ransom. It's extortion taken to its networked extreme. The criminals provide step-by-step instructions on how to pay, sometimes even offering a help line for victims unsure how to buy bitcoin.
But letting people use the internet to register to vote is a start.
Technology can do a lot more to make our elections more secure and reliable, and to ensure that participation in the democratic process is available to all. There are three parts to this process.
First, the voter registration process can be improved. The whole process can be streamlined.
There's something going on inside the intelligence communities in at least two countries, and we have no idea what it is.
Consider these three data points. One: someone, probably a country's intelligence organization, is dumping massive amounts of cyberattack tools belonging to the NSA onto the Internet. Two: someone else, or maybe the same someone, is doing the same thing to the CIA.
Technological advances change the world. That's partly because of what they are, but even more because of the social changes they enable. New technologies upend power balances. They give groups new capabilities, increased effectiveness, and new defenses.
Weakness in digital communications systems allows security to be bypassed, leaving users at risk of being spied on.
Governments want to spy on their citizens for all sorts of reasons. Some countries do it to help solve crimes or to try to find "terrorists" before they act.
Others do it to find and arrest reporters or dissidents. Some only target individuals, others attempt to spy on everyone all the time.
Think about all of the websites you visit every day. Now imagine if the likes of Time Warner, AT&T and Verizon collected all of your browsing history and sold it on to the highest bidder. That's what will probably happen if Congress has its way.
This week, lawmakers voted to allow internet service providers to violate your privacy for their own profit.
On Monday, the TSA announced a peculiar new security measure to take effect within 96 hours. Passengers flying into the US on foreign airlines from eight Muslim countries would be prohibited from carrying aboard any electronics larger than a smartphone. They would have to be checked and put into the cargo hold. And now the UK is following suit.
Last month at the RSA Conference, I saw a lot of companies selling security incident response automation. Their promise was to replace people with computers—sometimes with the addition of machine learning or other artificial intelligence (AI) techniques—and to respond to attacks at computer speeds.
While this is a laudable goal, there's a fundamental problem with doing this in the short term. You can only automate what you're certain about, and there is still an enormous amount of uncertainty in cybersecurity.
Don't get doxed.
This essay also appeared in The Age.
A decade ago, I wrote about the death of ephemeral conversation. As computers were becoming ubiquitous, some unintended changes happened, too: Before computers, what we said disappeared once we'd said it. Neither face-to-face conversations nor telephone conversations were routinely recorded.
The relentless push to add connectivity to home gadgets is creating dangerous side effects that figure to get even worse.
Botnets have existed for at least a decade. As early as 2000, hackers were breaking into computers over the Internet and controlling them en masse from centralized systems. Among other things, the hackers used the combined computing power of these botnets to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks, which flood websites with traffic to take them down.
But now the problem is getting worse, thanks to a flood of cheap webcams, digital video recorders, and other gadgets in the "Internet of things." Because these devices typically have little or no security, hackers can take them over with little effort.
With the Internet of Things, we’re building a world-size robot. How are we going to control it?
Last year, on October 21, your digital video recorder — or at least a DVR like yours — knocked Twitter off the internet. Someone used your DVR, along with millions of insecure webcams, routers, and other connected devices, to launch an attack that started a chain reaction, resulting in Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, and many sites going off the internet. You probably didn't realize that your DVR had that kind of power. But it does.
President Barack Obama's public accusation of Russia as the source of the hacks in the US presidential election and the leaking of sensitive emails through WikiLeaks and other sources has opened up a debate on what constitutes sufficient evidence to attribute an attack in cyberspace. The answer is both complicated and inherently tied up in political considerations.
The administration is balancing political considerations and the inherent secrecy of electronic espionage with the need to justify its actions to the public. These issues will continue to plague us as more international conflict plays out in cyberspace.
Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.
Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.