Essays: 2017 Archives

How the Supreme Court Could Keep Police From Using Your Cellphone to Spy on You

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Washington Post
  • November 27, 2017

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. The Supreme Court can either update current law to reflect the world, or it can further solidify an unnecessary and dangerous police power…

Testimony Before the House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection

  • Bruce Schneier
  • November 1, 2017

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”

Before the

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 …

Don't Waste Your Breath Complaining to Equifax about Data Breach

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • September 11, 2017

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 …

IoT Security: What’s Plan B?

  • Bruce Schneier
  • IEEE Security & Privacy
  • September/October 2017

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. It doesn’t even modify the liability laws for embedded software. Companies can continue to sell IoT devices with whatever lousy security they want.

What the bill does do is leverage the government’s buying power to nudge the market: any IoT product that the government buys must meet minimum security standards. It requires vendors to ensure that devices can not only be patched but are patched in an authenticated and timely manner, don’t have unchangeable default passwords, and are free from known vulnerabilities. It’s about as low a security bar as you can set, and that it will considerably improve security speaks volumes about the current state of IoT security. (Full disclosure: I helped draft some of the bill’s security requirements.)…

‘Twitter and Tear Gas’ Looks at How Protest Is Fueled and Crushed by the Internet

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.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Motherboard
  • July 11, 2017

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. Derided as “slacktivism” or “clicktivism,” the ease of action without commitment can result in movements like Occupy petering out in the US without any obvious effects. Of course, the reality is more nuanced, and Zeynep Tufekci teases that out in her new book …

Russia's Attempt to Hack Voting Systems Shows That Our Elections Need Better Security

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Washington Post
  • June 6, 2017

This week brought new public evidence about Russian interference in the 2016 election. On Monday, the Intercept published a top-secret National Security Agency document describing Russian hacking attempts against the U.S. election system. While the attacks seem more exploratory than operational — and there’s no evidence that they had any actual effect — they further illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions.

The document describes how the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, attacked a company called VR Systems that, according to its …

Why the NSA Makes Us More Vulnerable to Cyberattacks

The Lessons of WannaCry

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Foreign Affairs
  • May 30, 2017

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. One could certainly condemn the Shadow Brokers, a group of hackers with links to Russia who …

Who Are the Shadow Brokers?

What is—and isn’t—known about the mysterious hackers leaking National Security Agency secrets

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • May 23, 2017

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. And they gave the authors of the WannaCry ransomware the …

What Happens When Your Car Gets Hacked?

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The New York Times
  • May 19, 2017

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. Microsoft, Apple and Google have teams of engineers who quickly write, test and distribute these patches, updates to the codes that fix vulnerabilities in software. Most people have set up their computers and phones to automatically apply these patches, and the whole thing works seamlessly. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s the best we have…

Why Extending Laptop Ban Makes No Sense

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • May 16, 2017

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. The new measure was based on reports that terrorists would try to smuggle bombs onto planes concealed in these larger electronic devices…

The Next Ransomware Attack Will Be Worse than WannaCry

We'll need new security standards when hackers go after the Internet of Things.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Washington Post
  • May 16, 2017

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. The price is designed to be cheap enough for people to pay instead of giving up: a few hundred dollars in many cases. Those who design these systems know their market, and it’s a profitable one…

Three Lines of Defense against Ransomware Attacks

  • Bruce Schneier
  • New York Daily News
  • May 15, 2017

Criminals go where the money is, and cybercriminals are no exception.

And right now, the money is in ransomware.

It’s a simple scam. Encrypt the victim’s hard drive, then extract a fee to decrypt it. The scammers can’t charge too much, because they want the victim to pay rather than give up on the data. But they can charge individuals a few hundred dollars, and they can charge institutions like hospitals a few thousand. Do it at scale, and it’s a profitable business.

And scale is how ransomware works. Computers are infected automatically, with viruses that spread over the internet. Payment is no more difficult than buying something online — and payable in untraceable bitcoin — with some ransomware makers offering tech support to those unsure of how to buy or transfer bitcoin. Customer service is important; people need to know they’ll get their files back once they pay…

Online Voting Won’t Save Democracy

But letting people use the internet to register to vote is a start.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • May 10, 2017

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. People should be able to register online, just as they can register for other government services. The voter rolls need to be protected from tampering, as that’s one of the major ways hackers can disrupt the election.

Second, the voting process can be significantly improved. Voting machines need to be made more secure. There are a lot of technical details best left to the …

Who Is Publishing NSA and CIA Secrets, and Why?

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Lawfare
  • April 27, 2017

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.

Three: in March, NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett described how the NSA penetrated the computer networks of a Russian intelligence agency and was able to monitor them as they attacked the U.S. State Department in 2014. Even more explicitly, a U.S. ally—my guess is the U.K.—was not only hacking the Russian intelligence agency’s computers, but also the surveillance cameras inside their building. “They [the U.S. ally] monitored the [Russian] hackers as they maneuvered inside the U.S. systems and as they walked in and out of the workspace, and were able to see faces, the officials said.”…

The Quick vs the Strong: Commentary on Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Crooked Timber
  • April 26, 2017

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. The Internet decades have been a never-ending series of these upendings. We’ve seen existing industries fall and new industries rise. We’ve seen governments become more powerful in some areas and less in others. We’ve seen the rise of a new form of governance: a multi-stakeholder model where skilled individuals can have more power than multinational corporations or major governments…

Infrastructure Vulnerabilities Make Surveillance Easy

Weakness in digital communications systems allows security to be bypassed, leaving users at risk of being spied on.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Al Jazeera
  • April 11, 2017

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.

Many countries spy on the citizens of other countries: for reasons of national security, for advantages in trade negotiations, or to steal intellectual property.

None of this is new. What is new, however, is how easy it has all become. Computers naturally produce data about their activities, which means they’re constantly producing surveillance data about us as we interact with them…

Snoops May Soon Be Able to Buy Your Browsing History. Thank the US Congress

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Guardian
  • March 30, 2017

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. Not only have they voted to repeal a rule that protects your privacy, they are also trying to make it illegal for the Federal Communications Commission to enact other rules to protect your privacy online…

Puzzling out TSA's Laptop Travel Ban

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • March 22, 2017

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.

It’s difficult to make sense of this as a security measure, particularly at a time when many people question the veracity of government orders, but other explanations are either unsatisfying or damning…

Security Orchestration for an Uncertain World

  • Bruce Schneier
  • SecurityIntelligence
  • March 21, 2017

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. Automation has its place in incident response, but the focus needs to be on making the people effective, not on replacing them—security orchestration, not automation…

How to Keep Your Private Conversations Private for Real

Don't get doxed.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Washington Post
  • March 8, 2017

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. A permanent communication was something different and special; we called it correspondence.

The Internet changed this. We now chat by text message and email, on Facebook and on Instagram. These conversations — with friends, lovers, colleagues, fellow employees — all leave electronic trails. And while we know this intellectually, we haven’t truly internalized it. We still think of conversation as ephemeral, forgetting that we’re being recorded and what we say has the permanence of correspondence…

The Internet of Things Will Upend Our Industry

  • Bruce Schneier
  • IEEE Security & Privacy
  • March/April 2017

Everything is becoming a computer. Your microwave is a computer that makes things hot. Your refrigerator is a computer that keeps things cold. Your smartphone is a portable computer that makes phone calls. Your car is a distributed system with more than 100 computers plus four wheels and an engine. More alarmingly, a nuclear power plant is a computer that produces energy. This is happening at all levels of our lives and all over the world.

As everything turns into a computer, computer security becomes everything security. This will upend the IT security industry, because our knowledge and experience with computer security will be much more broadly applicable, and the restrictions and regulations from the physical world will be applied to the computer world. The beachhead for all of this is the Internet of Things (IoT), which I liken to a world-sized robot—one that can kill people and destroy property…

Botnets of Things

The relentless push to add connectivity to home gadgets is creating dangerous side effects that figure to get even worse.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • MIT Technology Review
  • March/April 2017

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. And that makes it easier than ever to build huge botnets that take down much more than one site at a time…

Click Here to Kill Everyone

With the Internet of Things, we’re building a world-size robot. How are we going to control it?

  • Bruce Schneier
  • New York Magazine
  • January 27, 2017

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.

All computers are hackable. This has as much to do with the computer market as it does with the technologies. We prefer our software full of features and inexpensive, at the expense of security and reliability. That your computer can affect the security of Twitter is a market failure. The industry is filled with market failures that, until now, have been largely ignorable. As computers continue to permeate our homes, cars, businesses, these market failures will no longer be tolerable. Our only solution will be regulation, and that regulation will be foisted on us by a government desperate to “do something” in the face of disaster…

Why Proving the Source of a Cyberattack is So Damn Difficult

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • January 5, 2017

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…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.