Entries Tagged "borders"

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Change Your Name and Avoid the TSA Watchlist

Shhhh. Don’t tell the terrorists:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wrote a letter to Labb&eacute in 2004, saying he had been placed on their watch list after falling victim to identity theft. At the time, the department said there was no way for his name to be removed.

Although Labbé wrote letters to the U.S. department, his efforts were in vain, prompting him to legally change his name.

“So now, my official name is François Mario Labbé,” he said.

“Then you have to change everything: driver’s license, social insurance, medicare, credit card — everything.”

Although it’s not a big change from Mario Labbé, he said it’s been enough to foil the U.S. customs computers.

Posted on September 15, 2008 at 1:25 PMView Comments

U.S. Government Policy for Seizing Laptops at Borders

Amazing. The U.S. government has published its policy: they can take your laptop anywhere they want, for as long as they want, and share the information with anyone they want:

Federal agents may take a traveler’s laptop or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed. Also, officials may share copies of the laptop’s contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption, or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, US Customs and Border Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

[…]

DHS officials said that the newly disclosed policies — which apply to anyone entering the country, including US citizens — are reasonable and necessary to prevent terrorism.

[…]

The policies cover ‘any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form,’ including hard drives, flash drives, cell phones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes. They also cover ‘all papers and other written documentation,’ including books, pamphlets and ‘written materials commonly referred to as “pocket trash…”

It’s not the policy that’s amazing; it’s the fact that the government has actually made it public.

Here’s the actual policy.

Slashdot thread. My previous essay on crossing borders with laptops, and how to protect yourself.

Although honestly, the best thing is probably to keep your encrypted archives on some network drive somewhere, and download what you need after you cross the border.

Posted on August 1, 2008 at 12:21 PMView Comments

Using a File Erasure Tool Considered Suspicious

By a California court:

The designer, Carter Bryant, has been accused by Mattel of using Evidence Eliminator on his laptop computer just two days before investigators were due to copy its hard drive.

Carter hasn’t denied that the program was run on his computer, but he said it wasn’t to destroy evidence. He said he had legitimate reasons to use the software.

[…]

But the wiper programs don’t ensure a clean getaway. They leave behind a kind of digital calling card.

“Not only do these programs leave a trace that they were used, they each have a distinctive fingerprint,” Kessler said. “Evidence Eliminator leaves one that’s different from Window Washer, and so on.”

It’s the kind of information that can be brought up in court. And if the digital calling card was left by Evidence Eliminator, it could raise some eyebrows, even if the wiper was used for the most innocent of reasons.

I have often recommended that people use file erasure tools regularly, especially when crossing international borders with their computers. Now we have one more reason to use them regularly: plausible deniability if you’re accused of erasing data to keep it from the police.

Posted on July 15, 2008 at 1:36 PMView Comments

Automatic Profiling Is Useless

No surprise:

Automated passenger profiling is rubbish, the Home Office has conceded in an amusing — and we presume inadvertent — blurt. “Attempts at automated profiling have been used in trial operations [at UK ports of entry] and has proved [sic] that the systems and technology available are of limited use,” says home secretary Jacqui Smith in her response to Lord Carlile’s latest terror legislation review.

The U.S. wants to do it anyway:

The Justice Department is considering letting the FBI investigate Americans without any evidence of wrongdoing, relying instead on a terrorist profile that could single out Muslims, Arabs or other racial or ethnic groups.

I’ve written about profiling before.

Posted on July 7, 2008 at 1:37 PMView Comments

Crossing Borders with Laptops and PDAs

Last month a US court ruled that border agents can search your laptop, or any other electronic device, when you’re entering the country. They can take your computer and download its entire contents, or keep it for several days. Customs and Border Patrol has not published any rules regarding this practice, and I and others have written a letter to Congress urging it to investigate and regulate this practice.

But the US is not alone. British customs agents search laptops for pornography. And there are reports on the internet of this sort of thing happening at other borders, too. You might not like it, but it’s a fact. So how do you protect yourself?

Encrypting your entire hard drive, something you should certainly do for security in case your computer is lost or stolen, won’t work here. The border agent is likely to start this whole process with a “please type in your password”. Of course you can refuse, but the agent can search you further, detain you longer, refuse you entry into the country and otherwise ruin your day.

You’re going to have to hide your data. Set a portion of your hard drive to be encrypted with a different key – even if you also encrypt your entire hard drive – and keep your sensitive data there. Lots of programs allow you to do this. I use PGP Disk . TrueCrypt is also good, and free.

While customs agents might poke around on your laptop, they’re unlikely to find the encrypted partition. (You can make the icon invisible, for some added protection.) And if they download the contents of your hard drive to examine later, you won’t care.

Be sure to choose a strong encryption password. Details are too complicated for a quick tip, but basically anything easy to remember is easy to guess. (My advice is here.) Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect solution. Your computer might have left a copy of the password on the disk somewhere, and (as I also describe at the above link) smart forensic software will find it.

So your best defence is to clean up your laptop. A customs agent can’t read what you don’t have. You don’t need five years’ worth of email and client data. You don’t need your old love letters and those photos (you know the ones I’m talking about). Delete everything you don’t absolutely need. And use a secure file erasure program to do it. While you’re at it, delete your browser’s cookies, cache and browsing history. It’s nobody’s business what websites you’ve visited. And turn your computer off – don’t just put it to sleep – before you go through customs; that deletes other things. Think of all this as the last thing to do before you stow your electronic devices for landing. Some companies now give their employees forensically clean laptops for travel, and have them download any sensitive data over a virtual private network once they’ve entered the country. They send any work back the same way, and delete everything again before crossing the border to go home. This is a good idea if you can do it.

If you can’t, consider putting your sensitive data on a USB drive or even a camera memory card: even 16GB cards are reasonably priced these days. Encrypt it, of course, because it’s easy to lose something that small. Slip it in your pocket, and it’s likely to remain unnoticed even if the customs agent pokes through your laptop. If someone does discover it, you can try saying: “I don’t know what’s on there. My boss told me to give it to the head of the New York office.” If you’ve chosen a strong encryption password, you won’t care if he confiscates it.

Lastly, don’t forget your phone and PDA. Customs agents can search those too: emails, your phone book, your calendar. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do here except delete things.

I know this all sounds like work, and that it’s easier to just ignore everything here and hope you don’t get searched. Today, the odds are in your favour. But new forensic tools are making automatic searches easier and easier, and the recent US court ruling is likely to embolden other countries. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

This essay originally appeared in The Guardian.

Some other advice here.

EDITED TO ADD (5/18): Many people have pointed out to me that I advise people to lie to a government agent. That is, of course, illegal in the U.S. and probably most other countries — and probably not the best advice for me to be on record as giving. So be sure you clear your story first with both your boss and the New York office.

Posted on May 16, 2008 at 6:10 AMView Comments

Terrorism as a Tax

Definitely a good way to look at it:

Fear, in other words, is a tax, and al-Qaeda and its ilk have done better at extracting it from Americans than the Internal Revenue Service. Think about the extra half-hour millions of airline passengers waste standing in security lines; the annual cost in lost work hours runs into the billions. Add to that the freight delays at borders, ports and airports, the cost of checking money transfers as well as goods in transit, the wages for beefed-up security forces around the world. And that doesn’t even attempt to put a price tag on the compression of civil liberties or the loss of human dignity from being groped in full public view by Transportation Security Administration personnel at the airport or from having to walk barefoot through the metal detector, holding up your beltless pants. This global transaction tax represents the most significant victory of Terror International to date.

The new fear tax falls most heavily on the United States. Last November, the Commerce Department reported a 17 percent decline in overseas travel to the United States between Sept. 11, 2001, and 2006. (There are no firm figures for 2007 yet, but there seems to have been an uptick.) That slump has cost the country $94 billion in lost tourist spending, nearly 200,000 jobs and $16 billion in forgone tax revenue — and all while the dollar has kept dropping.

Why? The journal Tourism Economics gives the predictable answer: “The perception that U.S. visa and entry policies do not welcome international visitors is the largest factor in the decline of overseas travelers.” Two-thirds of survey respondents worried about being detained for hours because of a misstatement to immigration officials. And here is the ultimate irony: “More respondents were worried about U.S. immigration officials (70 percent) than about crime or terrorism (54 percent) when considering a trip to the country.”

In Beyond Fear I wrote:

Security is a tax on the honest.

If it weren’t for attackers, our lives would be a whole lot easier. In a world where everyone was completely honorable and law-abiding all of the time, everything we bought and did would be cheaper. We wouldn’t have to pay for door locks, police departments, or militaries. There would be no security countermeasures, because people would never consider going where they were not allowed to go or doing what they were not allowed to do. Fraud would not be a problem, because no one would commit fraud. Nor would anyone commit burglary, murder, or terrorism. We wouldn’t have to modify our behavior based on security risks, because there would be none.

But that’s not the world we live in. Security permeates everything we do and supports our society in innumerable ways. It’s there when we wake up in the morning, when we eat our meals, when we’re at work, and when we’re with our families. It’s embedded in our wallets and the global financial network, in the doors of our homes and the border crossings of our countries, in our conversations and the publications we read. We constantly make security trade-offs, whether we’re conscious of them or not: large and small, personal and social. Many more security trade-offs are imposed on us from outside: by governments, by the marketplace, by technology, and by social norms. Security is a part of our world, just as it is part of the world of every other living thing. It has always been a part, and it always will be.

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 6:29 AMView Comments

Microsoft Has Developed Windows Forensic Analysis Tool for Police

Really:

The COFEE, which stands for Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor, is a USB “thumb drive” that was quietly distributed to a handful of law-enforcement agencies last June. Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith described its use to the 350 law-enforcement experts attending a company conference Monday.

The device contains 150 commands that can dramatically cut the time it takes to gather digital evidence, which is becoming more important in real-world crime, as well as cybercrime. It can decrypt passwords and analyze a computer’s Internet activity, as well as data stored in the computer.

It also eliminates the need to seize a computer itself, which typically involves disconnecting from a network, turning off the power and potentially losing data. Instead, the investigator can scan for evidence on site.

More news here. Commentary here.

How long before this device is in the hands of the hacker community? Days? Months? They had it before it was released?

EDITED TO ADD (4/30): Seems that these are not Microsoft-developed tools:

COFEE, according to forensic folk who have used it, is simply a suite of 150 bundled off-the-shelf forensic tools that run from a script. None of the tools are new or were created by Microsoft. Microsoft simply combined existing programs into a portable tool that can be used in the field before agents bring a computer back to their forensic lab.

Microsoft wouldn’t disclose which tools are in the suite other than that they’re all publicly available, but a forensic expert told me that when he tested the product last year it included standard forensic products like Windows Forensic Toolchest (WFT) and RootkitRevealer.

With COFEE, a forensic agent can select, through the interface, which of the 150 investigative tools he wants to run on a targeted machine. COFEE creates a script and copies it to the USB device which is then plugged into the targeted machine. The advantage is that instead of having to run each tool separately, a forensic investigator can run them all through the script much more quickly and can also grab information (such as data temporarily stored in RAM or network connection information) that might otherwise be lost if he had to disconnect a machine and drag it to a forensics lab before he could examine it.

And it’s certainly not a back door, as TechDirt claims.

But given that a Federal court has ruled that border guards can search laptop computers without cause, this tool might see wider use than Microsoft anticipated.

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 1:54 PMView Comments

U.S. Customs Seizing Laptops

I’ve heard many anecdotal stories about U.S. Customs and Border Protection seizing, copying data from, or otherwise accessing laptops of people entering the country. But this is very mainstream:

Today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Asian Law Caucus, two civil liberties groups in San Francisco, plan to file a lawsuit to force the government to disclose its policies on border searches, including which rules govern the seizing and copying of the contents of electronic devices. They also want to know the boundaries for asking travelers about their political views, religious practices and other activities potentially protected by the First Amendment. The question of whether border agents have a right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts.

The lawsuit was inspired by two dozen cases, 15 of which involved searches of cellphones, laptops, MP3 players and other electronics. Almost all involved travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern or South Asian background, many of whom, including Mango and the tech engineer, said they are concerned they were singled out because of racial or religious profiling.

Some of this seems pretty severe:

“I was assured that my laptop would be given back to me in 10 or 15 days,” said [Maria] Udy, who continues to fly into and out of the United States. She said the federal agent copied her log-on and password, and asked her to show him a recent document and how she gains access to Microsoft Word. She was asked to pull up her e-mail but could not because of lack of Internet access. With ACTE’s help, she pressed for relief. More than a year later, Udy has received neither her laptop nor an explanation.

[…]

Kamran Habib, a software engineer with Cisco Systems, has had his laptop and cellphone searched three times in the past year. Once, in San Francisco, an officer “went through every number and text message on my cellphone and took out my SIM card in the back,” said Habib, a permanent U.S. resident. “So now, every time I travel, I basically clean out my phone. It’s better for me to keep my colleagues and friends safe than to get them on the list as well.”

Privacy? There’s no need to worry:

Hollinger said customs officers “are trained to protect confidential information.”

I know I feel better.

I strongly recommend the two-tier encryption strategy I described here. And I even more strongly recommend cleaning out your laptop and BlackBerry regularly; if you don’t have it on your computer, no one else can get his hands on it. This defense not only works against U.S. customs, but against the much more likely threat of you losing the damn thing.

And the TSA wants you to know that it’s not them.

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 12:23 PMView Comments

Cloned Trucks

Criminals are using cloned trucks to bypass security:

Savvy criminals are using some of the country’s most credible logos, including FedEx, Wal-Mart, DirecTV and the U.S. Border Patrol, to create fake trucks to smuggle drugs, money and illegal aliens across the border, according to a report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

[…]

In August 2006, the Texas Department of Public Safety, on a routine traffic stop, found 3,058 pounds of marijuana and 204 kilograms of cocaine in a “cloned” Wal-Mart semi-trailer, driven by a man wearing a Wal-Mart uniform.

In another case, a truck painted with DirecTV and other markings was pulled over in a routine traffic stop in Mississippi and discovered to be carrying 786 pounds of cocaine.

This is the same problem as fake uniforms, and the more general problem of fake credentials. It’s very hard to solve.

EDITED TO ADD (2/6): Here’s someone who puts on a red shirt and predends to be a Target employee so he can steal stuff:

Police in North Miami Beach are looking for a man they say likes to pose as a Target employee while stealing pricey iPods, and the man allegedly knows so much about the store, he’s even helped customers who thought he was a real employee.

[…]

Investigators say McKenzie simply walks into the stores, wearing a red polo shirt, and pretends he works there. North Miami Beach police officials say he has extensive knowledge of Target procedures and has even assisted customers.

Posted on February 6, 2008 at 12:37 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.