Entries Tagged "Apple"

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DMCA and the Internet of Things

In theory, the Internet of Things—the connected network of tiny computers inside home appliances, household objects, even clothing—promises to make your life easier and your work more efficient. These computers will communicate with each other and the Internet in homes and public spaces, collecting data about their environment and making changes based on the information they receive. In theory, connected sensors will anticipate your needs, saving you time, money, and energy.

Except when the companies that make these connected objects act in a way that runs counter to the consumer’s best interests—as the technology company Philips did recently with its smart ambient-lighting system, Hue, which consists of a central controller that can remotely communicate with light bulbs. In mid-December, the company pushed out a software update that made the system incompatible with some other manufacturers’ light bulbs, including bulbs that had previously been supported.

The complaints began rolling in almost immediately. The Hue system was supposed to be compatible with an industry standard called ZigBee, but the bulbs that Philips cut off were ZigBee-compliant. Philips backed down and restored compatibility a few days later.

But the story of the Hue debacle—the story of a company using copy protection technology to lock out competitors—isn’t a new one. Plenty of companies set up proprietary standards to ensure that their customers don’t use someone else’s products with theirs. Keurig, for example, puts codes on its single-cup coffee pods, and engineers its coffeemakers to work only with those codes. HP has done the same thing with its printers and ink cartridges.

To stop competitors just reverse-engineering the proprietary standard and making compatible peripherals (for example, another coffee manufacturer putting Keurig’s codes on its own pods), these companies rely on a 1998 law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). The law was originally passed to prevent people from pirating music and movies; while it hasn’t done a lot of good in that regard (as anyone who uses BitTorrent can attest), it has done a lot to inhibit security and compatibility research.

Specifically, the DMCA includes an anti-circumvention provision, which prohibits companies from circumventing “technological protection measures” that “effectively control access” to copyrighted works. That means it’s illegal for someone to create a Hue-compatible light bulb without Philips’ permission, a K-cup-compatible coffee pod without Keurigs’, or an HP-printer compatible cartridge without HP’s.

By now, we’re used to this in the computer world. In the 1990s, Microsoft used a strategy it called “embrace, extend, extinguish,” in which it gradually added proprietary capabilities to products that already adhered to widely used standards. Some more recent examples: Amazon’s e-book format doesn’t work on other companies’ readers, music purchased from Apple’s iTunes store doesn’t work with other music players, and every game console has its own proprietary game cartridge format.

Because companies can enforce anti-competitive behavior this way, there’s a litany of things that just don’t exist, even though they would make life easier for consumers in significant ways. You can’t have custom software for your cochlear implant, or your programmable thermostat, or your computer-enabled Barbie doll. An auto repair shop can’t design a better diagnostic system that interfaces with a car’s computers. And John Deere has claimed that it owns the software on all of its tractors, meaning the farmers that purchase them are prohibited from repairing or modifying their property.

As the Internet of Things becomes more prevalent, so too will this kind of anti-competitive behavior—which undercuts the purpose of having smart objects in the first place. We’ll want our light bulbs to communicate with a central controller, regardless of manufacturer. We’ll want our clothes to communicate with our washing machines and our cars to communicate with traffic signs.

We can’t have this when companies can cut off compatible products, or use the law to prevent competitors from reverse-engineering their products to ensure compatibility across brands. For the Internet of Things to provide any value, what we need is a world that looks like the automotive industry, where you can go to a store and buy replacement parts made by a wide variety of different manufacturers. Instead, the Internet of Things is on track to become a battleground of competing standards, as companies try to build monopolies by locking each other out.

This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

Slashdot thread.

EDITED TO ADD (1/5): Interesting commentary.

Posted on December 29, 2015 at 5:58 AMView Comments

$1M Bounty for iPhone Hack

I don’t know whether to believe this story. Supposedly the startup Zerodium paid someone $1M for an iOS 9.1 and 9.2b hack.

Bekrar and Zerodium, as well as its predecessor VUPEN, have a different business model. They offer higher rewards than what tech companies usually pay out, and keep the vulnerabilities secret, revealing them only to certain government customers, such as the NSA.

I know startups like publicity, but certainly an exploit like this is more valuable if it’s not talked about.

So this might be real, or it might be a PR stunt. But companies selling exploits to governments is certainly real.

Another news article.

Posted on November 3, 2015 at 2:31 PMView Comments

Nicholas Weaver on iPhone Security

Excellent essay:

Yes, an iPhone configured with a proper password has enough protection that, turned off, I’d be willing to hand mine over to the DGSE, NSA, or Chinese. But many (perhaps most) users don’t configure their phones right. Beyond just waiting for the suspect to unlock his phone, most people either use a weak 4-digit passcode (that can be brute-forced) or use the fingerprint reader (which the officer has a day to force the subject to use).

Furthermore, most iPhones have a lurking security landmine enabled by default: iCloud backup. A simple warrant to Apple can obtain this backup, which includes all photographs (so there is the selfie) and all undeleted iMessages! About the only information of value not included in this backup are the known WiFi networks and the suspect’s email, but a suspect’s email is a different warrant away anyway.

Finally, there is iMessage, whose “end-to-end” nature, despite FBI complaints, contains some significant weaknesses and deserves scare-quotes. To start with, iMessage’s encryption does not obscure any metadata, and as the saying goes, “the Metadata is the Message”. So with a warrant to Apple, the FBI can obtain all the information about every message sent and received except the message contents, including time, IP addresses, recipients, and the presence and size of attachments. Apple can’t hide this metadata, because Apple needs to use this metadata to deliver messages.

He explains how Apple could enable surveillance on iMessage and FaceTime:

So to tap Alice, it is straightforward to modify the keyserver to present an additional FBI key for Alice to everyone but Alice. Now the FBI (but not Apple) can decrypt all iMessages sent to Alice in the future. A similar modification, adding an FBI key to every request Alice makes for any keys other than her own, enables tapping all messages sent by Alice. There are similar architectural vulnerabilities which enable tapping of “end-to-end secure” FaceTime calls.

There’s a persistent rumor going around that Apple is in the secret FISA Court, fighting a government order to make its platform more surveillance-friendly—and they’re losing. This might explain Apple CEO Tim Cook’s somewhat sudden vehemence about privacy. I have not found any confirmation of the rumor.

Posted on August 6, 2015 at 6:09 AMView Comments

How an Amazon Worker Stole iPads

A worker in Amazon’s packaging department in India figured out how to deliver electronics to himself:

Since he was employed with the packaging department, he had easy access to order numbers. Using the order numbers, he packed his order himself; but instead of putting pressure cookers in the box, he stuffed it with iPhones, iPads, watches, cameras, and other expensive electronics in the pressure cooker box. Before dispatching the order, the godown also has a mechanism to weigh the package. To dodge this, Bhamble stuffed equipment of equivalent weight,” an officer from Vithalwadi police station said. Bhamble confessed to the cops that he had ordered pressure cookers thrice in the last 15 days. After he placed the order, instead of, say, packing a five-kg pressure cooker, he would stuff gadgets of equivalent weight. After receiving delivery clearance, he would then deliver the goods himself and store it at his house. Speaking to mid-day, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone IV) Vasant Jadhav said, “Bhamble’s job profile was of goods packaging at Amazon.com’s warehouse in Bhiwandi.

Posted on July 24, 2015 at 12:49 PMView Comments

More about the NSA's XKEYSCORE

I’ve been reading through the 48 classified documents about the NSA’s XKEYSCORE system released by the Intercept last week. From the article:

The NSA’s XKEYSCORE program, first revealed by The Guardian, sweeps up countless people’s Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords, and other private communications. XKEYSCORE is fed a constant flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world’s communication network, among other sources, for processing. As of 2008, the surveillance system boasted approximately 150 field sites in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, as well as many other countries, consisting of over 700 servers.

These servers store “full-take data” at the collection sites—meaning that they captured all of the traffic collected—and, as of 2009, stored content for 3 to 5 days and metadata for 30 to 45 days. NSA documents indicate that tens of billions of records are stored in its database. “It is a fully distributed processing and query system that runs on machines around the world,” an NSA briefing on XKEYSCORE says. “At field sites, XKEYSCORE can run on multiple computers that gives it the ability to scale in both processing power and storage.”

There seems to be no access controls at all restricting how analysts can use XKEYSCORE. Standing queries—called “workflows”—and new fingerprints have an approval process, presumably for load issues, but individual queries are not approved beforehand but may be audited after the fact. These are things which are supposed to be low latency, and you can’t have an approval process for low latency analyst queries. Since a query can get at the recorded raw data, a single query is effectively a retrospective wiretap.

All this means that the Intercept is correct when it writes:

These facts bolster one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by The Guardian on June 9, 2013. “I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge to even the president, if I had a personal email.”

You’ll only get the data if it’s in the NSA’s databases, but if it is there you’ll get it.

Honestly, there’s not much in these documents that’s a surprise to anyone who studied the 2013 XKEYSCORE leaks and knows what can be done with a highly customizable Intrusion Detection System. But it’s always interesting to read the details.

One document—”Intro to Context Sensitive Scanning with X-KEYSCORE Fingerprints (2010)—talks about some of the queries an analyst can run. A sample scenario: “I want to look for people using Mojahedeen Secrets encryption from an iPhone” (page 6).

Mujahedeen Secrets is an encryption program written by al Qaeda supporters. It has been around since 2007. Last year, Stuart Baker cited its increased use as evidence that Snowden harmed America. I thought the opposite, that the NSA benefits from al Qaeda using this program. I wrote: “There’s nothing that screams ‘hack me’ more than using specially designed al Qaeda encryption software.”

And now we see how it’s done. In the document, we read about the specific XKEYSCORE queries an analyst can use to search for traffic encrypted by Mujahedeen Secrets. Here are some of the program’s fingerprints (page 10):


So if you want to search for all iPhone users of Mujahedeen Secrets (page 33):


fingerprint(‘encryption/mojahdeen2’ and fingerprint(‘browser/cellphone/iphone’)

Or you can search for the program’s use in the encrypted text, because (page 37): “…many of the CT Targets are now smart enough not to leave the Mojahedeen Secrets header in the E-mails they send. How can we detect that the E-mail (which looks like junk) is in fact Mojahedeen Secrets encrypted text.” Summary of the answer: there are lots of ways to detect the use of this program that users can’t detect. And you can combine the use of Mujahedeen Secrets with other identifiers to find targets. For example, you can specifically search for the program’s use in extremist forums (page 9). (Note that the NSA wrote that comment about Mujahedeen Secrets users increasing their opsec in 2010, two years before Snowden supposedly told them that the NSA was listening on their communications. Honestly, I would not be surprised if the program turned out to have been a US operation to get Islamic radicals to make their traffic stand out more easily.)

It’s not just Mujahedeen Secrets. Nicholas Weaver explains how you can use XKEYSCORE to identify co-conspirators who are all using PGP.

And these searches are just one example. Other examples from the documents include:

  • “Targets using mail.ru from a behind a large Iranian proxy” (here, page 7).
  • Usernames and passwords of people visiting gov.ir (here, page 26 and following).
  • People in Pakistan visiting certain German-language message boards (here, page 1).
  • HTTP POST traffic from Russia in the middle of the night—useful for finding people trying to steal our data (here, page 16).
  • People doing web searches on jihadist topics from Kabul (here).

E-mails, chats, web-browsing traffic, pictures, documents, voice calls, webcam photos, web searches, advertising analytics traffic, social media traffic, botnet traffic, logged keystrokes, file uploads to online services, Skype sessions and more: if you can figure out how to form the query, you can ask XKEYSCORE for it. For an example of how complex the searches can be, look at this XKEYSCORE query published in March, showing how New Zealand used the system to spy on the World Trade Organization: automatically track any email body with any particular WTO-related content for the upcoming election. (Good new documents to read include this, this, and this.)

I always read these NSA documents with an assumption that other countries are doing the same thing. The NSA is not made of magic, and XKEYSCORE is not some super-advanced NSA-only technology. It is the same sort of thing that every other country would use with its surveillance data. For example, Russia explicitly requires ISPs to install similar monitors as part of its SORM Internet surveillance system. As a home user, you can build your own XKEYSCORE using the public-domain Bro Security Monitor and the related Network Time Machine attached to a back-end data-storage system. (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory uses this system to store three months’ worth of Internet traffic for retrospective surveillance—it used the data to study Heartbleed.) The primary advantage the NSA has is that it sees more of the Internet than anyone else, and spends more money to store the data it intercepts for longer than anyone else. And if these documents explain XKEYSCORE in 2009 and 2010, expect that it’s much more powerful now.

Back to encryption and Mujahedeen Secrets. If you want to stay secure, whether you’re trying to evade surveillance by Russia, China, the NSA, criminals intercepting large amounts of traffic, or anyone else, try not to stand out. Don’t use some homemade specialized cryptography that can be easily identified by a system like this. Use reasonably strong encryption software on a reasonably secure device. If you trust Apple’s claims (pages 35-6), use iMessage and FaceTime on your iPhone. I really like Moxie Marlinspike’s Signal for both text and voice, but worry that it’s too obvious because it’s still rare. Ubiquitous encryption is the bane of listeners worldwide, and it’s the best thing we can deploy to make the world safer.

Posted on July 7, 2015 at 6:38 AMView Comments

Brute-Forcing iPhone PINs

This is a clever attack, using a black box that attaches to the iPhone via USB:

As you know, an iPhone keeps a count of how many wrong PINs have been entered, in case you have turned on the Erase Data option on the Settings | Touch ID & Passcode screen.

That’s a highly-recommended option, because it wipes your device after 10 passcode mistakes.

Even if you only set a 4-digit PIN, that gives a crook who steals your phone just a 10 in 10,000 chance, or 0.1%, of guessing your unlock code in time.

But this Black Box has a trick up its cable.

Apparently, the device uses a light sensor to work out, from the change in screen intensity, when it has got the right PIN.

In other words, it also knows when it gets the PIN wrong, as it will most of the time, so it can kill the power to your iPhone when that happens.

And the power-down happens quickly enough (it seems you need to open up the iPhone and bypass the battery so you can power the device entirely via the USB cable) that your iPhone doesn’t have time to subtract one from the “PIN guesses remaining” counter stored on the device.

Because every set of wrong guesses requires a reboot, the process takes about five days. Still, a very clever attack.

More details.

Posted on March 30, 2015 at 6:47 AMView Comments

How the CIA Might Target Apple's XCode

The Intercept recently posted a story on the CIA’s attempts to hack the iOS operating system. Most interesting was the speculation that it hacked XCode, which would mean that any apps developed using that tool would be compromised.

The security researchers also claimed they had created a modified version of Apple’s proprietary software development tool, Xcode, which could sneak surveillance backdoors into any apps or programs created using the tool. Xcode, which is distributed by Apple to hundreds of thousands of developers, is used to create apps that are sold through Apple’s App Store.

The modified version of Xcode, the researchers claimed, could enable spies to steal passwords and grab messages on infected devices. Researchers also claimed the modified Xcode could “force all iOS applications to send embedded data to a listening post.” It remains unclear how intelligence agencies would get developers to use the poisoned version of Xcode.

Researchers also claimed they had successfully modified the OS X updater, a program used to deliver updates to laptop and desktop computers, to install a “keylogger.”

It’s a classic application of Ken Thompson’s classic 1984 paper, “Reflections on Trusting Trust,” and a very nasty attack. Dan Wallach speculates on how this might work.

Posted on March 16, 2015 at 7:38 AMView Comments

Apple Copies Your Files Without Your Knowledge or Consent

The latest version of Apple’s OS automatically syncs your files to iCloud Drive, even files you choose to store locally. Apple encrypts your data, both in transit and in iCloud, with a key it knows. Apple, of course, complies with all government requests: FBI warrants, subpoenas, and National Security Letters—as well as NSA PRISM and whatever-else-they-have demands.

EDITED TO ADD (10/28): See comments. This seems to be way overstated. I will look at this again when I have time, probably tomorrow.

EDITED TO ADD (10/28): This is a more nuanced discussion of this issue. At this point, it seems clear that there is a lot less here than described in the blog post below.

EDITED TO ADD (10/29): There is something here. It only affects unsaved documents, and not all applications. But the OS’s main text editor is one of them. Yes, this feature has been in the OS for a while, but that’s not a defense. It’s both dangerous and poorly documented.

Posted on October 28, 2014 at 6:21 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.