Entries Tagged "borders"

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Are Computer-Security Export Controls Back?

I thought U.S. export regulations were finally over and done with, at least for software. Maybe not:

Unfortunately, due to strict US Government export regulations Symantec is only able to fulfill new LC5 orders or offer technical support directly with end-users located in the United States and commercial entities in Canada, provided all screening is successful.

Commodities, technology or software is subject to U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security control if exported or electronically transferred outside of the USA. Commodities, technology or software are controlled under ECCN 5A002.c.1, cryptanalytic.

You can also access further information on our web site at the following address: http://www.symantec.com/region/reg_eu/techsupp/enterprise/index.html

The software in question is the password breaking and auditing tool called LC5, better known as L0phtCrack.

Anyone have any ideas what’s going on, because I sure don’t.

Posted on December 28, 2005 at 7:08 AMView Comments

U.S. Immigration Database Security

In September, the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security published a report on the security of the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) databases. It’s called: “Security Weaknesses Increase Risks to Critical United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Database,” and a redacted version (.pdf) is on the DHS website.

This is from the Executive Summary:

Although USCIS has not established adequate or effective database security controls for the Central Index System, it has implemented many essential security controls such as procedures for controlling temporary or emergency system access, a configuration management plan, and procedures for implementing routine and emergency changes. Further, we did not identify any significant configuration weaknesses during our technical tests of the Central Index System. However, additional work remains to implement the access controls, configuration management procedures, and continuity of operations safeguards necessary to protect sensitive Central Index System data effectively. Specifically, USCIS has not: 1) implemented effective user administration procedures; 2) reviewed and retained [REDACTED] effectively, 3) ensured that system changes are properly controlled; 4) developed and tested an adequate Information technology (IT) contingency plan; 5) implemented [REDACTED]; or 6) monitored system security functions sufficiently. These database security exposures increase the risk that unauthorized individuals could gain access to critical USCIS database resources and compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive Central Index System data. [REDACTED]

Posted on December 8, 2005 at 7:38 AMView Comments

Chinese Cryptographers Denied U.S. Visas

Chinese cryptographer Xiaoyun Wang, the woman who broke SHA-1 last year, was unable to attend the Crypto conference to present her paper on Monday. The U.S. government didn’t give her a visa in time:

On Monday, she was scheduled to explain her discovery in a keynote address to an international group of researchers meeting in California.

But a stand-in had to take her place, because she was not able to enter the country. Indeed, only one of nine Chinese researchers who sought to enter the country for the conference received a visa in time to attend.

Sadly, this is now common:

Although none of the scientists were officially denied visas by the United States Consulate, officials at the State Department and National Academy of Sciences said this week that the situation was not uncommon.

Lengthy delays in issuing visas are now routine, they said, particularly for those involved in sensitive scientific and technical fields.

These delays can make it impossible for some foreign researchers to attend U.S. conferences. There are researchers who need to have their paper accepted before they can apply for a visa. But the paper review and selection process, done by the program committee in the months before the conference, doesn’t finish early enough. Conferences can move the submission and selection deadlines earlier, but that just makes the conference less current.

In Wang’s case, she applied for her visa in early July. So did her student. Dingyi Pei, another Chinese researcher who is organizing Asiacrypt this year, applied for his in early June. (I don’t know about the others.) Wang has not received her visa, and Pei got his just yesterday.

This kind of thing hurts cryptography, and hurts national security. The visa restrictions were designed to protect American advanced technologies from foreigners, but in this case they’re having the opposite effect. We are all more secure because there is a vibrant cryptography research community in the U.S. and the world. By prohibiting Chinese cryptographers from attending U.S. conferences, we’re only hurting ourselves.

NIST is sponsoring a workshop on hash functions (sadly, it’s being referred to as a “hash bash”) in October. I hope Wang gets a visa for that.

Posted on August 17, 2005 at 11:53 AMView Comments

UK Border Security

The Register comments on the government using a border-security failure to push for national ID cards:

The Government spokesman the media could get hold of last weekend, leader of the House of Commons Geoff Hoon, said that the Government was looking into whether there should be “additional” passport checks on Eurostar, and added that the matter showed the need for identity cards because “it’s vitally important that we know who is coming in as well as going out.” Meanwhile the Observer reported plans by ministers to accelerate the introduction of the e-borders system in order to increase border security.

So shall we just sum that up? A terror suspect appears to have fled the country by the simple expedient of walking past an empty desk, and the Government’s reaction is not to put somebody at the desk, or to find out why, during one of the biggest manhunts London has ever seen, it was empty in the first place. No, the Government’s reaction is to explain its abject failure to play with the toys it’s got by calling for bigger, more expensive toys sooner. Asked about passport checks at Waterloo on Monday of this week, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said we do have passport checks — which actually we do, sort of. But, as we’ll explain shortly, we also have empty desks to go with them.

Posted on August 11, 2005 at 1:28 PMView Comments

RFID Passport Security Revisited

I’ve written previously (including this op ed in the International Herald Tribune) about RFID chips in passports. An article in today’s USA Today (the paper version has a really good graphic) summarizes the latest State Department proposal, and it looks pretty good. They’re addressing privacy concerns, and they’re doing it right.

The most important feature they’ve included is an access-control system for the RFID chip. The data on the chip is encrypted, and the key is printed on the passport. The officer swipes the passport through an optical reader to get the key, and then the RFID reader uses the key to communicate with the RFID chip. This means that the passport-holder can control who has access to the information on the chip; someone cannot skim information from the passport without first opening it up and reading the information inside. Good security.

The new design also includes a thin radio shield in the cover, protecting the chip when the passport is closed. More good security.

Assuming that the RFID passport works as advertised (a big “if,” I grant you), then I am no longer opposed to the idea. And, more importantly, we have an example of an RFID identification system with good privacy safeguards. We should demand that any other RFID identification cards have similar privacy safeguards.

EDITED TO ADD: There’s more information in a Wired story:

The 64-KB chips store a copy of the information from a passport’s data page, including name, date of birth and a digitized version of the passport photo. To prevent counterfeiting or alterations, the chips are digitally signed….

“We are seriously considering the adoption of basic access control,” [Frank] Moss [the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for passport services] said, referring to a process where chips remain locked until a code on the data page is first read by an optical scanner. The chip would then also transmit only encrypted data in order to prevent eavesdropping.

So it sounds like this access-control mechanism is not definite. In any case, I believe the system described in the USA Today article is a good one.

Posted on August 9, 2005 at 1:27 PMView Comments

U.S. Crypto Export Controls

Rules on exporting cryptography outside the United States have been renewed:

President Bush this week declared a national emergency based on an “extraordinary threat to the national security.”

This might sound like a code-red, call-out-the-national-guard, we-lost-a-suitcase-nuke type of alarm, but in reality it’s just a bureaucratic way of ensuring that the Feds can continue to control the export of things like computer hardware and encryption products.

And it happens every year or so.

If Bush didn’t sign that “national emergency” paperwork, then the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security would lose some of its regulatory power. That’s because Congress never extended the Export Administration Act after it lapsed (it’s complicated).

President Clinton did the same thing. Here’s a longer version of his “national emergency” executive order from 1994.

As a side note, encryption export rules have been dramatically relaxed since the oppressive early days of Janet “Evil PCs” Reno, Al “Clipper Chip” Gore, and Louis “ban crypto” Freeh. But they still exist. Here’s a summary.

To be honest, I don’t know what the rules are these days. I think there is a blanket exemption for mass-market software products, but I’m not sure. I haven’t a clue what the hardware requirements are. But certainly something is working right; we’re seeing more strong encryption in more software — and not just encryption software.

Posted on August 5, 2005 at 7:17 AMView Comments

RFID Cards for U.S. Visitors

The Department of Homeland Security is testing a program to issue RFID identity cards to visitors entering the U.S.

They’ll have to carry the wireless devices as a way for border guards to access the electronic information stored inside a document about the size of a large index card.

Visitors to the U.S. will get the card the first time they cross the border and will be required the carry the document on subsequent crossings to and from the States.

Border guards will be able to access the information electronically from 12 metres away to enable those carrying the devices to be processed more quickly.

According to the DHS:

The technology will be tested at a simulated port this spring. By July 31, 2005, the testing will begin at the ports of Nogales East and Nogales West in Arizona; Alexandria Bay in New York; and, Pacific Highway and Peace Arch in Washington. The testing or “proof of concept” phase is expected to continue through the spring of 2006.

I know nothing about the details of this program or about the security of the cards. Even so, the long-term implications of this kind of thing are very chilling.

Posted on August 2, 2005 at 6:39 AMView Comments

Profiling

There is a great discussion about profiling going on in the comments to the previous post. To help, here is what I wrote on the subject in Beyond Fear (pp. 133-7):

Good security has people in charge. People are resilient. People can improvise. People can be creative. People can develop on-the-spot solutions. People can detect attackers who cheat, and can attempt to maintain security despite the cheating. People can detect passive failures and attempt to recover. People are the strongest point in a security process. When a security system succeeds in the face of a new or coordinated or devastating attack, it’s usually due to the efforts of people.

On 14 December 1999, Ahmed Ressam tried to enter the U.S. by ferryboat from Victoria Island, British Columbia. In the trunk of his car, he had a suitcase bomb. His plan was to drive to Los Angeles International Airport, put his suitcase on a luggage cart in the terminal, set the timer, and then leave. The plan would have worked had someone not been vigilant.

Ressam had to clear customs before boarding the ferry. He had fake ID, in the name of Benni Antoine Noris, and the computer cleared him based on this ID. He was allowed to go through after a routine check of his car’s trunk, even though he was wanted by the Canadian police. On the other side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, at Port Angeles, Washington, Ressam was approached by U.S. customs agent Diana Dean, who asked some routine questions and then decided that he looked suspicious. He was fidgeting, sweaty, and jittery. He avoided eye contact. In Dean’s own words, he was acting “hinky.” More questioning — there was no one else crossing the border, so two other agents got involved — and more hinky behavior. Ressam’s car was eventually searched, and he was finally discovered and captured. It wasn’t any one thing that tipped Dean off; it was everything encompassed in the slang term “hinky.” But the system worked. The reason there wasn’t a bombing at LAX around Christmas in 1999 was because a knowledgeable person was in charge of security and paying attention.

There’s a dirty word for what Dean did that chilly afternoon in December, and it’s profiling. Everyone does it all the time. When you see someone lurking in a dark alley and change your direction to avoid him, you’re profiling. When a storeowner sees someone furtively looking around as she fiddles inside her jacket, that storeowner is profiling. People profile based on someone’s dress, mannerisms, tone of voice … and yes, also on their race and ethnicity. When you see someone running toward you on the street with a bloody ax, you don’t know for sure that he’s a crazed ax murderer. Perhaps he’s a butcher who’s actually running after the person next to you to give her the change she forgot. But you’re going to make a guess one way or another. That guess is an example of profiling.

To profile is to generalize. It’s taking characteristics of a population and applying them to an individual. People naturally have an intuition about other people based on different characteristics. Sometimes that intuition is right and sometimes it’s wrong, but it’s still a person’s first reaction. How good this intuition is as a countermeasure depends on two things: how accurate the intuition is and how effective it is when it becomes institutionalized or when the profile characteristics become commonplace.

One of the ways profiling becomes institutionalized is through computerization. Instead of Diana Dean looking someone over, a computer looks the profile over and gives it some sort of rating. Generally profiles with high ratings are further evaluated by people, although sometimes countermeasures kick in based on the computerized profile alone. This is, of course, more brittle. The computer can profile based only on simple, easy-to-assign characteristics: age, race, credit history, job history, et cetera. Computers don’t get hinky feelings. Computers also can’t adapt the way people can.

Profiling works better if the characteristics profiled are accurate. If erratic driving is a good indication that the driver is intoxicated, then that’s a good characteristic for a police officer to use to determine who he’s going to pull over. If furtively looking around a store or wearing a coat on a hot day is a good indication that the person is a shoplifter, then those are good characteristics for a store owner to pay attention to. But if wearing baggy trousers isn’t a good indication that the person is a shoplifter, then the store owner is going to spend a lot of time paying undue attention to honest people with lousy fashion sense.

In common parlance, the term “profiling” doesn’t refer to these characteristics. It refers to profiling based on characteristics like race and ethnicity, and institutionalized profiling based on those characteristics alone. During World War II, the U.S. rounded up over 100,000 people of Japanese origin who lived on the West Coast and locked them in camps (prisons, really). That was an example of profiling. Israeli border guards spend a lot more time scrutinizing Arab men than Israeli women; that’s another example of profiling. In many U.S. communities, police have been known to stop and question people of color driving around in wealthy white neighborhoods (commonly referred to as “DWB” — Driving While Black). In all of these cases you might possibly be able to argue some security benefit, but the trade-offs are enormous: Honest people who fit the profile can get annoyed, or harassed, or arrested, when they’re assumed to be attackers.

For democratic governments, this is a major problem. It’s just wrong to segregate people into “more likely to be attackers” and “less likely to be attackers” based on race or ethnicity. It’s wrong for the police to pull a car over just because its black occupants are driving in a rich white neighborhood. It’s discrimination.

But people make bad security trade-offs when they’re scared, which is why we saw Japanese internment camps during World War II, and why there is so much discrimination against Arabs in the U.S. going on today. That doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t make it effective security. Writing about the Japanese internment, for example, a 1983 commission reported that the causes of the incarceration were rooted in “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” But just because something is wrong doesn’t mean that people won’t continue to do it.

Ethics aside, institutionalized profiling fails because real attackers are so rare: Active failures will be much more common than passive failures. The great majority of people who fit the profile will be innocent. At the same time, some real attackers are going to deliberately try to sneak past the profile. During World War II, a Japanese American saboteur could try to evade imprisonment by pretending to be Chinese. Similarly, an Arab terrorist could dye his hair blond, practice an American accent, and so on.

Profiling can also blind you to threats outside the profile. If U.S. border guards stop and search everyone who’s young, Arab, and male, they’re not going to have the time to stop and search all sorts of other people, no matter how hinky they might be acting. On the other hand, if the attackers are of a single race or ethnicity, profiling is more likely to work (although the ethics are still questionable). It makes real security sense for El Al to spend more time investigating young Arab males than it does for them to investigate Israeli families. In Vietnam, American soldiers never knew which local civilians were really combatants; sometimes killing all of them was the security solution they chose.

If a lot of this discussion is abhorrent, as it probably should be, it’s the trade-offs in your head talking. It’s perfectly reasonable to decide not to implement a countermeasure not because it doesn’t work, but because the trade-offs are too great. Locking up every Arab-looking person will reduce the potential for Muslim terrorism, but no reasonable person would suggest it. (It’s an example of “winning the battle but losing the war.”) In the U.S., there are laws that prohibit police profiling by characteristics like ethnicity, because we believe that such security measures are wrong (and not simply because we believe them to be ineffective).

Still, no matter how much a government makes it illegal, profiling does occur. It occurs at an individual level, at the level of Diana Dean deciding which cars to wave through and which ones to investigate further. She profiled Ressam based on his mannerisms and his answers to her questions. He was Algerian, and she certainly noticed that. However, this was before 9/11, and the reports of the incident clearly indicate that she thought he was a drug smuggler; ethnicity probably wasn’t a key profiling factor in this case. In fact, this is one of the most interesting aspects of the story. That intuitive sense that something was amiss worked beautifully, even though everybody made a wrong assumption about what was wrong. Human intuition detected a completely unexpected kind of attack. Humans will beat computers at hinkiness-detection for many decades to come.

And done correctly, this intuition-based sort of profiling can be an excellent security countermeasure. Dean needed to have the training and the experience to profile accurately and properly, without stepping over the line and profiling illegally. The trick here is to make sure perceptions of risk match the actual risks. If those responsible for security profile based on superstition and wrong-headed intuition, or by blindly following a computerized profiling system, profiling won’t work at all. And even worse, it actually can reduce security by blinding people to the real threats. Institutionalized profiling can ossify a mind, and a person’s mind is the most important security countermeasure we have.

A couple of other points (not from the book):

  • Whenever you design a security system with two ways through — an easy way and a hard way — you invite the attacker to take the easy way. Profile for young Arab males, and you’ll get terrorists that are old non-Arab females. This paper looks at the security effectiveness of profiling versus random searching.
  • If we are going to increase security against terrorism, the young Arab males living in our country are precisely the people we want on our side. Discriminating against them in the name of security is not going to make them more likely to help.
  • Despite what many people think, terrorism is not confined to young Arab males. Shoe-bomber Richard Reid was British. Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 London bombers, was Afro-Caribbean. Here are some more examples:

    In 1986, a 32-year-old Irish woman, pregnant at the time, was about to board an El Al flight from London to Tel Aviv when El Al security agents discovered an explosive device hidden in the false bottom of her bag. The woman’s boyfriend — the father of her unborn child — had hidden the bomb.

    In 1987, a 70-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman — neither of whom were Middle Eastern — posed as father and daughter and brought a bomb aboard a Korean Air flight from Baghdad to Thailand. En route to Bangkok, the bomb exploded, killing all on board.

    In 1999, men dressed as businessmen (and one dressed as a Catholic priest) turned out to be terrorist hijackers, who forced an Avianca flight to divert to an airstrip in Colombia, where some passengers were held as hostages for more than a year-and-half.

    The 2002 Bali terrorists were Indonesian. The Chechnyan terrorists who downed the Russian planes were women. Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber were Americans. The Basque terrorists are Basque, and Irish terrorists are Irish. Tha Tamil Tigers are Sri Lankan.

    And many Muslims are not Arabs. Even worse, almost everyone who is Arab is not a terrorist — many people who look Arab are not even Muslims. So not only are there an large number of false negatives — terrorists who don’t meet the profile — but there an enormous number of false positives: innocents that do meet the profile.

Posted on July 22, 2005 at 3:12 PMView Comments

Processing Exit Visas

From Federal Computer Week:

The Homeland Security Department will choose in the next 60 days which of three procedures it will use to track international visitors leaving the United States, department officials said today.

A report evaluating the three methods under consideration is due in the next few weeks, said Anna Hinken, spokeswoman for US-VISIT, the program that screens foreign nationals entering and exiting the country to weed out potential terrorists.

The first process uses kiosks located throughout an airport or seaport. An “exit attendant” — who would be a contract worker, Hinken said — checks the traveler’s documents. The traveler then steps to the station, scans both index fingers and has a digital photo taken. The station prints out a receipt that verifies the passenger has checked out.

The second method requires the passenger to present the receipt when reaching the departure gate. An exit attendant will scan the receipt and one of the passenger’s index fingers using a wireless handheld device. If the passenger’s fingerprint matches the identity on the receipt, the attendant returns the receipt and the passenger can board.

The third procedure uses just the wireless device at the gate. The screening officer scans the traveler’s fingerprints and takes a picture with the device, which is similar in size to tools that car-rental companies use, Hinken said. The device wirelessly checks the US-VISIT database. Once the traveler’s identity is confirmed as safe, the officer prints out a receipt and the visitor can pass.

Properly evaluating this trade-off would look at the relative ease of attacking the three systems, the relative costs of the three systems, and the relative speed and convenience — to the traveller — of the three systems. My guess is that the system that requires the least amount of interaction with a person when boarding the plane is best.

Posted on April 20, 2005 at 8:16 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.