Apple is fighting its own battle against leakers, using people and tactics from the NSA.
According to the hour-long presentation, Apple's Global Security team employs an undisclosed number of investigators around the world to prevent information from reaching competitors, counterfeiters, and the press, as well as hunt down the source when leaks do occur. Some of these investigators have previously worked at U.S. intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA), law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service, and in the U.S. military.
The information is from an internal briefing, which was leaked.
Sad story of someone whose computer became owned by a griefer:
The trouble began last year when he noticed strange things happening: files went missing from his computer; his Facebook picture was changed; and texts from his daughter didn't reach him or arrived changed.
"Nobody believed me," says Gary. "My wife and my brother thought I had lost my mind. They scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist for me."
But he built up a body of evidence and called in a professional cybersecurity firm. It found that his email addresses had been compromised, his phone records hacked and altered, and an entire virtual internet interface created.
"All my communications were going through a man-in-the-middle unauthorised server," he explains.
It's the "psychiatrist" quote that got me. I regularly get e-mails from people explaining in graphic detail how their whole lives have been hacked. Most of them are just paranoid. But a few of them are probably legitimate. And I have no way of telling them apart.
This problem isn't going away. As computers permeate even more aspects of our lives, it's going to get even more debilitating. And we don't have any way, other than hiring a "professional cybersecurity firm," of telling the paranoids from the victims.
In a proposed rule by the FAA, it argues that software in an Embraer S.A. Model ERJ 190-300 airplane is secure because it's proprietary:
In addition, the operating systems for current airplane systems are usually and historically proprietary. Therefore, they are not as susceptible to corruption from worms, viruses, and other malicious actions as are more-widely used commercial operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, because access to the design details of these proprietary operating systems is limited to the system developer and airplane integrator. Some systems installed on the Embraer Model ERJ 190-300 airplane will use operating systems that are widely used and commercially available from third-party software suppliers. The security vulnerabilities of these operating systems may be more widely known than are the vulnerabilities of proprietary operating systems that the avionics manufacturers currently use.
Longtime readers will immediately recognize the "security by obscurity" argument. Its main problem is that it's fragile. The information is likely less obscure than you think, and even if it is truly obscure, once it's published you've just lost all your security.
The comment period for this proposed rule is ongoing. If you comment, please be polite -- they're more likely to listen to you.
As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.
Read my blog posting guidelines here.
As codes go, Potter's wasn't inordinately complicated. As Wiltshire explains, it was a "mono-alphabetic substitution cipher code," in which each letter of the alphabet was replaced by a symbol -- the kind of thing they teach you in Cub Scouts. The real trouble was Potter's own fluency with it. She quickly learned to write the code so fast that each sheet looked, even to Linder's trained eye, like a maze of scribbles.
Amazon has been issued a patent on security measures that prevents people from comparison shopping while in the store. It's not a particularly sophisticated patent -- it basically detects when you're using the in-store Wi-Fi to visit a competitor's site and then blocks access -- but it is an indication of how retail has changed in recent years.
What's interesting is that Amazon is on the other side of this arms race. As an on-line retailer, it wants people to walk into stores and then comparison shop on its site. Yes, I know it's buying Whole Foods, but it's still predominantly an online retailer. Maybe it patented this to prevent stores from implementing the technology.
It's probably not nearly that strategic. It's hard to build a business strategy around a security measure that can be defeated with cellular access.
The N.S.A. failed to consistently lock racks of servers storing highly classified data and to secure data center machine rooms, according to the report, an investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general completed in 2016.
The agency also failed to meaningfully reduce the number of officials and contractors who were empowered to download and transfer data classified as top secret, as well as the number of "privileged" users, who have greater power to access the N.S.A.'s most sensitive computer systems. And it did not fully implement software to monitor what those users were doing.
In all, the report concluded, while the post-Snowden initiative -- called "Secure the Net" by the N.S.A. -- had some successes, it "did not fully meet the intent of decreasing the risk of insider threats to N.S.A. operations and the ability of insiders to exfiltrate data."
Marcy Wheeler comments:
The IG report examined seven of the most important out of 40 "Secure the Net" initiatives rolled out since Snowden began leaking classified information. Two of the initiatives aspired to reduce the number of people who had the kind of access Snowden did: those who have privileged access to maintain, configure, and operate the NSA's computer systems (what the report calls PRIVACs), and those who are authorized to use removable media to transfer data to or from an NSA system (what the report calls DTAs).
But when DOD's inspectors went to assess whether NSA had succeeded in doing this, they found something disturbing. In both cases, the NSA did not have solid documentation about how many such users existed at the time of the Snowden leak. With respect to PRIVACs, in June 2013 (the start of the Snowden leak), "NSA officials stated that they used a manually kept spreadsheet, which they no longer had, to identify the initial number of privileged users." The report offered no explanation for how NSA came to no longer have that spreadsheet just as an investigation into the biggest breach thus far at NSA started. With respect to DTAs, "NSA did not know how many DTAs it had because the manually kept list was corrupted during the months leading up to the security breach."
There seem to be two possible explanations for the fact that the NSA couldn't track who had the same kind of access that Snowden exploited to steal so many documents. Either the dog ate their homework: Someone at NSA made the documents unavailable (or they never really existed). Or someone fed the dog their homework: Some adversary made these lists unusable. The former would suggest the NSA had something to hide as it prepared to explain why Snowden had been able to walk away with NSA's crown jewels. The latter would suggest that someone deliberately obscured who else in the building might walk away with the crown jewels. Obscuring that list would be of particular value if you were a foreign adversary planning on walking away with a bunch of files, such as the set of hacking tools the Shadow Brokers have since released, which are believed to have originated at NSA.
Read the whole thing. Securing against insiders, especially those with technical access, is difficult, but I had assumed the NSA did more post-Snowden.
Last week, Microsoft issued a security patch for Windows XP, a 16-year-old operating system that Microsoft officially no longer supports. Last month, Microsoft issued a Windows XP patch for the vulnerability used in WannaCry.
Is this a good idea? This 2014 essay argues that it's not:
The zero-day flaw and its exploitation is unfortunate, and Microsoft is likely smarting from government calls for people to stop using Internet Explorer. The company had three ways it could respond. It could have done nothing -- stuck to its guns, maintained that the end of support means the end of support, and encouraged people to move to a different platform. It could also have relented entirely, extended Windows XP's support life cycle for another few years and waited for attrition to shrink Windows XP's userbase to irrelevant levels. Or it could have claimed that this case is somehow "special," releasing a patch while still claiming that Windows XP isn't supported.
None of these options is perfect. A hard-line approach to the end-of-life means that there are people being exploited that Microsoft refuses to help. A complete about-turn means that Windows XP will take even longer to flush out of the market, making it a continued headache for developers and administrators alike.
But the option Microsoft took is the worst of all worlds. It undermines efforts by IT staff to ditch the ancient operating system and undermines Microsoft's assertion that Windows XP isn't supported, while doing nothing to meaningfully improve the security of Windows XP users. The upside? It buys those users at best a few extra days of improved security. It's hard to say how that was possibly worth it.
This is a hard trade-off, and it's going to get much worse with the Internet of Things. Here's me:
The security of our computers and phones also comes from the fact that we replace them regularly. We buy new laptops every few years. We get new phones even more frequently. This isn't true for all of the embedded IoT systems. They last for years, even decades. We might buy a new DVR every five or ten years. We replace our refrigerator every 25 years. We replace our thermostat approximately never. Already the banking industry is dealing with the security problems of Windows 95 embedded in ATMs. This same problem is going to occur all over the Internet of Things.
At least Microsoft has security engineers on staff that can write a patch for Windows XP. There will be no one able to write patches for your 16-year-old thermostat and refrigerator, even assuming those devices can accept security patches.
Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.
Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.