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Email Security Flaw Found in the Wild

Google’s Threat Analysis Group announced a zero-day against the Zimbra Collaboration email server that has been used against governments around the world.

TAG has observed four different groups exploiting the same bug to steal email data, user credentials, and authentication tokens. Most of this activity occurred after the initial fix became public on Github. To ensure protection against these types of exploits, TAG urges users and organizations to keep software fully up-to-date and apply security updates as soon as they become available.

The vulnerability was discovered in June. It has been patched.

Posted on November 21, 2023 at 7:05 AMView Comments

Ransomware Gang Files SEC Complaint

A ransomware gang, annoyed at not being paid, filed an SEC complaint against its victim for not disclosing its security breach within the required four days.

This is over the top, but is just another example of the extreme pressure ransomware gangs put on companies after seizing their data. Gangs are now going through the data, looking for particularly important or embarrassing pieces of data to threaten executives with exposing. I have heard stories of executives’ families being threatened, of consensual porn being identified (people regularly mix work and personal email) and exposed, and of victims’ customers and partners being directly contacted. Ransoms are in the millions, and gangs do their best to ensure that the pressure to pay is intense.

Posted on November 17, 2023 at 11:31 AMView Comments

Leaving Authentication Credentials in Public Code

Interesting article about a surprisingly common vulnerability: programmers leaving authentication credentials and other secrets in publicly accessible software code:

Researchers from security firm GitGuardian this week reported finding almost 4,000 unique secrets stashed inside a total of 450,000 projects submitted to PyPI, the official code repository for the Python programming language. Nearly 3,000 projects contained at least one unique secret. Many secrets were leaked more than once, bringing the total number of exposed secrets to almost 57,000.


The credentials exposed provided access to a range of resources, including Microsoft Active Directory servers that provision and manage accounts in enterprise networks, OAuth servers allowing single sign-on, SSH servers, and third-party services for customer communications and cryptocurrencies. Examples included:

  • Azure Active Directory API Keys
  • GitHub OAuth App Keys
  • Database credentials for providers such as MongoDB, MySQL, and PostgreSQL
  • Dropbox Key
  • Auth0 Keys
  • SSH Credentials
  • Coinbase Credentials
  • Twilio Master Credentials.

Posted on November 16, 2023 at 7:10 AMView Comments

New SSH Vulnerability

This is interesting:

For the first time, researchers have demonstrated that a large portion of cryptographic keys used to protect data in computer-to-server SSH traffic are vulnerable to complete compromise when naturally occurring computational errors occur while the connection is being established.


The vulnerability occurs when there are errors during the signature generation that takes place when a client and server are establishing a connection. It affects only keys using the RSA cryptographic algorithm, which the researchers found in roughly a third of the SSH signatures they examined. That translates to roughly 1 billion signatures out of the 3.2 billion signatures examined. Of the roughly 1 billion RSA signatures, about one in a million exposed the private key of the host.

Research paper:

Passive SSH Key Compromise via Lattices

Abstract: We demonstrate that a passive network attacker can opportunistically obtain private RSA host keys from an SSH server that experiences a naturally arising fault during signature computation. In prior work, this was not believed to be possible for the SSH protocol because the signature included information like the shared Diffie-Hellman secret that would not be available to a passive network observer. We show that for the signature parameters commonly in use for SSH, there is an efficient lattice attack to recover the private key in case of a signature fault. We provide a security analysis of the SSH, IKEv1, and IKEv2 protocols in this scenario, and use our attack to discover hundreds of compromised keys in the wild from several independently vulnerable implementations.

Posted on November 15, 2023 at 12:51 PMView Comments

Ten Ways AI Will Change Democracy

Artificial intelligence will change so many aspects of society, largely in ways that we cannot conceive of yet. Democracy, and the systems of governance that surround it, will be no exception. In this short essay, I want to move beyond the “AI-generated disinformation” trope and speculate on some of the ways AI will change how democracy functions—in both large and small ways.

When I survey how artificial intelligence might upend different aspects of modern society, democracy included, I look at four different dimensions of change: speed, scale, scope, and sophistication. Look for places where changes in degree result in changes of kind. Those are where the societal upheavals will happen.

Some items on my list are still speculative, but none require science-fictional levels of technological advance. And we can see the first stages of many of them today. When reading about the successes and failures of AI systems, it’s important to differentiate between the fundamental limitations of AI as a technology, and the practical limitations of AI systems in the fall of 2023. Advances are happening quickly, and the impossible is becoming the routine. We don’t know how long this will continue, but my bet is on continued major technological advances in the coming years. Which means it’s going to be a wild ride.

So, here’s my list:

  1. AI as educator. We are already seeing AI serving the role of teacher. It’s much more effective for a student to learn a topic from an interactive AI chatbot than from a textbook. This has applications for democracy. We can imagine chatbots teaching citizens about different issues, such as climate change or tax policy. We can imagine candidates deploying chatbots of themselves, allowing voters to directly engage with them on various issues. A more general chatbot could know the positions of all the candidates, and help voters decide which best represents their position. There are a lot of possibilities here.
  2. AI as sense maker. There are many areas of society where accurate summarization is important. Today, when constituents write to their legislator, those letters get put into two piles—one for and another against—and someone compares the height of those piles. AI can do much better. It can provide a rich summary of the comments. It can help figure out which are unique and which are form letters. It can highlight unique perspectives. This same system can also work for comments to different government agencies on rulemaking processes—and on documents generated during the discovery process in lawsuits.
  3. AI as moderator, mediator, and consensus builder. Imagine online conversations in which AIs serve the role of moderator. This could ensure that all voices are heard. It could block hateful—or even just off-topic—comments. It could highlight areas of agreement and disagreement. It could help the group reach a decision. This is nothing that a human moderator can’t do, but there aren’t enough human moderators to go around. AI can give this capability to every decision-making group. At the extreme, an AI could be an arbiter—a judge—weighing evidence and making a decision. These capabilities don’t exist yet, but they are not far off.
  4. AI as lawmaker. We have already seen proposed legislation written by AI, albeit more as a stunt than anything else. But in the future AIs will help craft legislation, dealing with the complex ways laws interact with each other. More importantly, AIs will eventually be able to craft loopholes in legislation, ones potentially too complicated for people to easily notice. On the other side of that, AIs could be used to find loopholes in legislation—for both existing and pending laws. And more generally, AIs could be used to help develop policy positions.
  5. AI as political strategist. Right now, you can ask your favorite chatbot questions about political strategy: what legislation would further your political goals, what positions to publicly take, what campaign slogans to use. The answers you get won’t be very good, but that’ll improve with time. In the future we should expect politicians to make use of this AI expertise: not to follow blindly, but as another source of ideas. And as AIs become more capable at using tools, they can automatically conduct polls and focus groups to test out political ideas. There are a lot of possibilities here. AIs could also engage in fundraising campaigns, directly soliciting contributions from people.
  6. AI as lawyer. We don’t yet know which aspects of the legal profession can be done by AIs, but many routine tasks that are now handled by attorneys will soon be able to be completed by an AI. Early attempts at having AIs write legal briefs haven’t worked, but this will change as the systems get better at accuracy. Additionally, AIs can help people navigate government systems: filling out forms, applying for services, contesting bureaucratic actions. And future AIs will be much better at writing legalese, reducing the cost of legal counsel.
  7. AI as cheap reasoning generator. More generally, AI chatbots are really good at generating persuasive arguments. Today, writing out a persuasive argument takes time and effort, and our systems reflect that. We can easily imagine AIs conducting lobbying campaigns, generating and submitting comments on legislation and rulemaking. This also has applications for the legal system. For example: if it is suddenly easy to file thousands of court cases, this will overwhelm the courts. Solutions for this are hard. We could increase the cost of filing a court case, but that becomes a burden on the poor. The only solution might be another AI working for the court, dealing with the deluge of AI-filed cases—which doesn’t sound like a great idea.
  8. AI as law enforcer. Automated systems already act as law enforcement in some areas: speed trap cameras are an obvious example. AI can take this kind of thing much further, automatically identifying people who cheat on tax returns or when applying for government services. This has the obvious problem of false positives, which could be hard to contest if the courts believe that “the computer is always right.” Separately, future laws might be so complicated that only AIs are able to decide whether or not they are being broken. And, like breathalyzers, defendants might not be allowed to know how they work.
  9. AI as propagandist. AIs can produce and distribute propaganda faster than humans can. This is an obvious risk, but we don’t know how effective any of it will be. It makes disinformation campaigns easier, which means that more people will take advantage of them. But people will be more inured against the risks. More importantly, AI’s ability to summarize and understand text can enable much more effective censorship.
  10. AI as political proxy. Finally, we can imagine an AI voting on behalf of individuals. A voter could feed an AI their social, economic, and political preferences; or it can infer them by listening to them talk and watching their actions. And then it could be empowered to vote on their behalf, either for others who would represent them, or directly on ballot initiatives. On the one hand, this would greatly increase voter participation. On the other hand, it would further disengage people from the act of understanding politics and engaging in democracy.

When I teach AI policy at HKS, I stress the importance of separating the specific AI chatbot technologies in November of 2023 with AI’s technological possibilities in general. Some of the items on my list will soon be possible; others will remain fiction for many years. Similarly, our acceptance of these technologies will change. Items on that list that we would never accept today might feel routine in a few years. A judgeless courtroom seems crazy today, but so did a driverless car a few years ago. Don’t underestimate our ability to normalize new technologies. My bet is that we’re in for a wild ride.

This essay previously appeared on the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center’s website.

Posted on November 13, 2023 at 7:09 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.