Essays in the Category "Computer and Information Security"

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Bitcoin’s Greatest Feature Is Also Its Existential Threat

The cryptocurrency depends on the integrity of the blockchain. But China’s censors, the FBI, or powerful corporations could fragment it into oblivion.

  • Barath Raghavan and Bruce Schneier
  • Wired
  • March 9, 2021

Security researchers have recently discovered a botnet with a novel defense against takedowns. Normally, authorities can disable a botnet by taking over its command-and-control server. With nowhere to go for instructions, the botnet is rendered useless. But over the years, botnet designers have come up with ways to make this counterattack harder. Now the content-delivery network Akamai has reported on a new method: a botnet that uses the Bitcoin blockchain ledger. Since the blockchain is globally accessible and hard to take down, the botnet’s operators appear to be safe…

Illuminating SolarStorm: Implications for National Strategy and Policy

  • Aspen Institute
  • March 4, 2021

This essay appeared as part of a round table on how to respond to the SolarWinds attack.

This operation was a tremendous intelligence success for the Russian government, and recovering from it is going to be much harder than people think. It might not even be possible. It requires much more than simply patching the Sunburst vulnerability. It means burning the infected networks to the ground and rebuilding them from scratch, just as you might reinstall your computer’s operating system after a bad virus. But even that won’t be enough.

The Russians were slow and deliberate, using the backdoor in the SolarWinds update to obtain initial footholds in only a few of the 18,000 vulnerable networks, and then working over months to establish persistence by creating alternative means of access that would survive discovery of the initial vulnerability…

The Government Will Guard Biden’s Peloton from Hackers. What About the Rest of Us?

The Security Threat to Worry About Is the One Facing the Public, Not the President

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Washington Post
  • February 2, 2021

President Biden wants his Peloton in the White House. For those who have missed the hype, it’s an Internet-connected stationary bicycle. It has a screen, a camera and a microphone. You can take live classes online, work out with your friends or join the exercise social network. And all of that is a security risk, especially if you are the president of the United States.

Any computer brings with it the risk of hacking. This is true of our computers and phones, and it’s also true about all of the Internet-of-Things devices that are increasingly part of our lives. These large and small appliances, cars, medical devices, toys and — yes — exercise machines are all computers at their core, and they’re all just as vulnerable. Presidents face special risks when it comes to the IoT, but Biden has the National Security Agency to help him handle them…

The Solarwinds Hack Is Stunning. Here’s What Should Be Done

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • January 5, 2021

The information that is emerging about Russia’s extensive cyberintelligence operation against the United States and other countries should be increasingly alarming to the public. The magnitude of the hacking, now believed to have affected more than 250 federal agencies and businesses—primarily through a malicious update of the SolarWinds network management software—may have slipped under most people’s radar during the holiday season, but its implications are stunning.

According to a Washington Post report, this is a massive intelligence coup by Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). And a massive security failure on the part of the United States is also to blame. Our insecure internet infrastructure has become a critical national security risk—one that we need to take seriously and spend money to reduce…

The US Has Suffered a Massive Cyberbreach. It’s Hard to Overstate How Bad It Is

This is a security failure of enormous proportions – and a wake-up call. The US must rethink its cybersecurity protocols

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Guardian
  • December 24, 2020

Recent news articles have all been talking about the massive Russian cyber-attack against the United States, but that’s wrong on two accounts. It wasn’t a cyber-attack in international relations terms, it was espionage. And the victim wasn’t just the US, it was the entire world. But it was massive, and it is dangerous.

Espionage is internationally allowed in peacetime. The problem is that both espionage and cyber-attacks require the same computer and network intrusions, and the difference is only a few keystrokes. And since this Russian operation isn’t at all targeted, the entire world is at risk—and not just from Russia. Many countries carry out these sorts of operations, none more extensively than the US. The solution is to prioritize security and defense over espionage and attack…

The Twitter Hacks Have to Stop

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • July 18, 2020

Czech translation

Twitter was hacked this week. Not a few people’s Twitter accounts, but all of Twitter. Someone compromised the entire Twitter network, probably by stealing the log-in credentials of one of Twitter’s system administrators. Those are the people trusted to ensure that Twitter functions smoothly.

The hacker used that access to send tweets from a variety of popular and trusted accounts, including those of Joe Biden, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, as part of a mundane scam—stealing bitcoin—but it’s easy to envision more nefarious scenarios. Imagine a government using this sort of attack against another government, coordinating a series of fake tweets from hundreds of politicians and other public figures the day before a major election, to affect the outcome. Or to escalate an …

China Isn’t the Only Problem With 5G

The network has plenty of other security weaknesses, including ones the United States doesn’t want to fix since they help its own surveillance efforts.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Foreign Policy
  • January 10, 2020

Spanish translation

The security risks inherent in Chinese-made 5G networking equipment are easy to understand. Because the companies that make the equipment are subservient to the Chinese government, they could be forced to include backdoors in the hardware or software to give Beijing remote access. Eavesdropping is also a risk, although efforts to listen in would almost certainly be detectable. More insidious is the possibility that Beijing could use its access to degrade or disrupt communications services in the event of a larger geopolitical conflict. Since the internet, especially the “internet of things,” is expected to rely heavily on 5G infrastructure, potential Chinese infiltration is a serious national security threat…

Every Part of the Supply Chain Can Be Attacked

When it comes to 5G technology, we have to build a trustworthy system out of untrustworthy parts.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The New York Times
  • September 25, 2019

The United States government’s continuing disagreement with the Chinese company Huawei underscores a much larger problem with computer technologies in general: We have no choice but to trust them completely, and it’s impossible to verify that they’re trustworthy. Solving this problem — which is increasingly a national security issue — will require us to both make major policy changes and invent new technologies.

The Huawei problem is simple to explain. The company is based in China and subject to the rules and dictates of the Chinese government. The government could require Huawei to install back doors into the 5G routers it sells abroad, allowing the government to eavesdrop on communications or — even worse — take control of the routers during wartime. Since the United States will rely on those routers for all of its communications, we become vulnerable by building our 5G backbone on Huawei equipment…

The Myth of Consumer Security

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Lawfare
  • August 26, 2019

The Department of Justice wants access to encrypted consumer devices but promises not to infiltrate business products or affect critical infrastructure. Yet that’s not possible, because there is no longer any difference between those categories of devices. Consumer devices are critical infrastructure. They affect national security. And it would be foolish to weaken them, even at the request of law enforcement.

In his keynote address at the International Conference on Cybersecurity, Attorney General William Barr argued that companies should weaken encryption systems to gain access to consumer devices for criminal investigations. Barr repeated a common fallacy about a difference between military-grade encryption and consumer encryption: “After all, we are not talking about protecting the nation’s nuclear launch codes. Nor are we necessarily talking about the customized encryption used by large business enterprises to protect their operations. We are talking about consumer products and services such as messaging, smart phones, e-mail, and voice and data applications.”…

Attorney General William Barr on Encryption Policy

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Lawfare
  • July 23, 2019

This morning, Attorney General William Barr gave a major speech on encryption policy—what is commonly known as “going dark.” Speaking at Fordham University in New York, he admitted that adding backdoors decreases security but that it is worth it.

Some hold this view dogmatically, claiming that it is technologically impossible to provide lawful access without weakening security against unlawful access. But, in the world of cybersecurity, we do not deal in absolute guarantees but in relative risks. All systems fall short of optimality and have some residual risk of vulnerability—a point which the tech community acknowledges when they propose that law enforcement can satisfy its requirements by exploiting vulnerabilities in their products. The real question is whether the residual risk of vulnerability resulting from incorporating a lawful access mechanism is materially greater than those already in the unmodified product. The Department does not believe this can be demonstrated…

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.