Entries Tagged "borders"

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Identity Theft and Methamphetamines

New trend or scary rumor?

When methamphetamine proliferated more recently, the police and prosecutors at first did not associate it with a rise in other crimes. There were break-ins at mailboxes and people stealing documents from garbage, Mr. Morales said, but those were handled by different parts of the Police Department.

But finally they connected the two. Meth users — awake for days at a time and able to fixate on small details — were looking for checks or credit card numbers, then converting the stolen identities to money, drugs or ingredients to make more methamphetamine. For these drug users, Mr. Morales said, identity theft was the perfect support system.

Supposedly meth users are ideally suited to be computer hackers:

For example, crack cocaine or heroin dealers usually set up in well-defined urban strips run by armed gangs, which stimulates gun traffic and crimes that are suited to densely populated neighborhoods, including mugging, prostitution, carjacking and robbery. Because cocaine creates a rapid craving for more, addicts commit crimes that pay off instantly, even at high risk.

Methamphetamine, by contrast, can be manufactured in small laboratories that move about suburban or rural areas, where addicts are more likely to steal mail from unlocked boxes. Small manufacturers, in turn, use stolen identities to buy ingredients or pay rent without arousing suspicion. And because the drug has a long high, addicts have patience and energy for crimes that take several steps to pay off.

[…]

“Crack users and heroin users are so disorganized and get in these frantic binges, they’re not going to sit still and do anything in an organized way for very long,” Dr. Rawson said. “Meth users, on the other hand, that’s all they have, is time. The drug stimulates the part of the brain that perseverates on things. So you get people perseverating on things, and if you sit down at a computer terminal you can go for hours and hours.”

And there’s the illegal alien tie-in:

“Look at the states that have the highest rates of identity theft — Arizona, Nevada, California, Texas and Colorado,’’ Mr. Morales said. “The two things they all have in common are illegal immigration and meth.”

I have no idea if any of this is actually true. But I do know if the drug user-identity thief connection story has legs, Congress is likely to start paying much closer attention.

Posted on July 12, 2006 at 1:32 PMView Comments

Border Security and the DHS

Surreal story about a person coming into the U.S. from Iraq who is held up at the border because he used to sell copyrighted images on T-shirts:

Homeland Security, the $40-billion-a-year agency set up to combat terrorism after 9/11, has been given universal jurisdiction and can hold anyone on Earth for crimes unrelated to national security — even me for a court date I missed while I was in Iraq helping America deter terror — without asking what I had been doing in Pakistan among Islamic extremists the agency is designated to stop. Instead, some of its actions are erasing the lines of jurisdiction between local police and the federal state, scarily bringing the words “police” and “state” closer together. As long as we allow Homeland Security to act like a Keystone Stasi, terrorism will continue to win in destroying our freedom.

Kevin Drum mentions it, too.

Posted on June 16, 2006 at 9:31 AMView Comments

U.S./Mexican Security Barrier

Great article comparing the barrier Israel is erecting to protect itself from the West Bank with the hypothetical barrier the U.S. would build to protect itself from Mexico:

The Israeli West Bank barrier, when finished, will run for more than 400 miles and will consist of trenches, security roads, electronic fences, and concrete walls. Its main goal is to stop terrorists from detonating themselves in restaurants and cafes and buses in the cities and towns of central Israel. So, planners set the bar very high: It is intended to prevent every single attempt to cross it. The rules of engagement were written accordingly. If someone trying to cross the fence in the middle of the night is presumed to be a terrorist, there’s no need to hesitate before shooting. To kill.

As such, the Israeli fence is very efficient. The number of fatalities from terror attacks within Israel dropped from more than 130 in 2003 to fewer than 25 in 2005. The number of bombings fell from dozens to fewer than 10. The cost for Israel is in money and personnel; the cost for Palestinians is in unemployment, health, frustration, and blood. The demographic benefit — keeping out the Palestinians — is just another positive side effect for the Israelis.

No wonder the fence is considered a good deal by those living on its western side. But applying this model to the U.S.-Mexico border will not be easy. U.S. citizens will find it hard to justify such tough measures when their only goal is to stop people coming in for work — rather than preventing them from trying to commit murder. And the cost will be more important. It’s much easier to open your wallet when someone is threatening to blow up your local cafe.

Posted on June 13, 2006 at 6:50 AMView Comments

RFID Cards and Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Recent articles about a proposed US-Canada and US-Mexico travel document (kind of like a passport, but less useful), with an embedded RFID chip that can be read up to 25 feet away, have once again made RFID security newsworthy.

My views have not changed. The most secure solution is a smart card that only works in contact with a reader; RFID is much more risky. But if we’re stuck with RFID, the combination of shielding for the chip, basic access control security measures, and some positive action by the user to get the chip to operate is a good one. The devil is in the details, of course, but those are good starting points.

And when you start proposing chips with a 25-foot read range, you need to worry about man-in-the-middle attacks. An attacker could potentially impersonate the card of a nearby person to an official reader, just by relaying messages to and from that nearby person’s card.

Here’s how the attack would work. In this scenario, customs Agent Alice has the official card reader. Bob is the innocent traveler, in line at some border crossing. Mallory is the malicious attacker, ahead of Bob in line at the same border crossing, who is going to impersonate Bob to Alice. Mallory’s equipment includes an RFID reader and transmitter.

Assume that the card has to be activated in some way. Maybe the cover has to be opened, or the card taken out of a sleeve. Maybe the card has a button to push in order to activate it. Also assume the card has come challenge-reply security protocol and an encrypted key exchange protocol of some sort.

  1. Alice’s reader sends a message to Mallory’s RFID chip.
  2. Mallory’s reader/transmitter receives the message, and rebroadcasts it to Bob’s chip.
  3. Bob’s chip responds normally to a valid message from Alice’s reader. He has no way of knowing that Mallory relayed the message.
  4. Mallory’s reader transmitter receives Bob’s message and rebroadcasts it to Alice. Alice has no way of knowing that the message was relayed.
  5. Mallory continues to relay messages back and forth between Alice and Bob.

Defending against this attack is hard. (I talk more about the attack in Applied Cryptography, Second Edition, page 109.) Time stamps don’t help. Encryption doesn’t help. It works because Mallory is simply acting as an amplifier. Mallory might not be able to read the messages. He might not even know who Bob is. But he doesn’t care. All he knows is that Alice thinks he’s Bob.

Precise timing can catch this attack, because of the extra delay that Mallory’s relay introduces. But I don’t think this is part of the spec.

The attack can be easily countered if Alice looks at Mallory’s card and compares the information printed on it with what she’s receiving over the RFID link. But near as I can tell, the point of the 25-foot read distance is so cards can be authenticated in bulk, from a distance.

From the News.com article:

Homeland Security has said, in a government procurement notice posted in September, that “read ranges shall extend to a minimum of 25 feet” in RFID-equipped identification cards used for border crossings. For people crossing on a bus, the proposal says, “the solution must sense up to 55 tokens.”

If Mallory is on that bus, he can impersonate any nearby Bob who activates his RFID card early. And at a crowded border crossing, the odds of some Bob doing that are pretty good.

More detail here:

If that were done, the PASS system would automatically screen the cardbearers against criminal watch lists and put the information on the border guard’s screen by the time the vehicle got to the station, Williams said.

And would predispose the guard to think that everything’s okay, even if it isn’t.

I don’t think people are thinking this one through.

Posted on April 25, 2006 at 7:32 AMView Comments

DHS Releases RFP for Secure Border Initiative

The Department of Homeland Security has released a Request for Proposal — that’s the document asking industry if anyone can do what it wants — for the Secure Border Initiative. Washington Technology has the story:

The long-awaited request for proposals for Secure Border Initiative-Net was released today by the Homeland Security Department, which is calling the project the “most comprehensive effort in the nation’s history” to gain control of the borders.

The 144-page document outlines the purpose and scope of the border surveillance technology program, which supplements other efforts to control the border and enforce immigration laws.

Posted on April 19, 2006 at 7:12 AMView Comments

Document Verification

According to The New York Times:

Undercover Congressional investigators successfully smuggled into the United States enough radioactive material to make two dirty bombs, even after it set off alarms on radiation detectors installed at border checkpoints, a new report says.

The reason is interesting:

The alarms went off in both locations, and the investigators were pulled aside for questioning. In both cases, they showed the agents from the Customs and Border Protection agency forged import licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, based on an image of the real document they found on the Internet.

The problem, the report says, is that the border agents have no routine way to confirm the validity of import licenses.

I’ve written about this problem before, and it’s one I think will get worse in the future. Verification systems are often the weakest link of authentication. Improving authentication tokens won’t improve security unless the verification systems improve as well.

Posted on April 5, 2006 at 8:43 AMView Comments

The Failure of US-VISIT

US-VISIT is the program to program to fingerprint and otherwise keep tabs on foriegn visitors to the U.S. This article talks about how the program is being rolled out, but the last paragraph is the most interesting:

Since January 2004, US-VISIT has processed more than 44 million visitors. It has spotted and apprehended nearly 1,000 people with criminal or immigration violations, according to a DHS press release.

I wrote about US-VISIT in 2004, and back then I said that it was too expensive and a bad trade-off. The price tag for “the next phase” was $15B; I’m sure the total cost is much higher.

But take that $15B number. One thousand bad guys, most of them not very bad, caught through US-VISIT. That’s $15M per bad guy caught.

Surely there’s a more cost-effective way to catch bad guys?

Posted on January 31, 2006 at 4:07 PMView Comments

Reading RFID Cards at Yards Away

This article talks about a not-a-passport ID card that U.S. citizens could use to go back and forth between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico. Pretty basic stuff, but this paragraph jumped out:

Officials said the card would be about the size of a credit card, carry a picture of the holder and cost about $50, about half the price of a passport. It will be equipped with radio frequency identification, allowing it to be read from several yards away at border crossings.

“Several yards away”? What about inches?

Note: My previous entries on RFID passports are here, here, here, and here.

Posted on January 23, 2006 at 12:27 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.