Entries Tagged "Canada"

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Movie Plot Threat in Vancouver

The idiocy of this is impressive:

A Vancouver Police computer crime investigator has warned the city that plans for a citywide wireless Internet system put the city at risk of terrorist attack during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

The problem? Well, the problem seems to be that terrorists might attend the Olympic games and use the Internet while they’re there.

“If you have an open wireless system across the city, as a bad guy I could sit on a bus with a laptop and do global crime,” Fenton explained. “It would be virtually impossible to find me.”

There’s also some scary stuff about SCADA systems, and the city putting some of its own service on the Internet. Clearly this guy has thought about the risks a lot, just not with any sense. He’s overestimating cyberterrorism. He’s overestimating how important this one particular method of wireless Internet access is. He’s overestimating how important the 2010 Winter Olympics is.

But the newspaper was happy to play along and spread the fear. The photograph accompanying the article is captioned: “Anyone with a laptop and wireless access could commit a terrorist act, police warn.”

Posted on February 21, 2007 at 6:51 AMView Comments

Excessive Secrecy and Security Helps Terrorists

I’ve said it, and now so has the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service:

Canada’s spy master, of all people, is warning that excessive government secrecy and draconian counterterrorism measures will only play into the hands of terrorists.

“The response to the terrorist threat, whether now or in the future, should follow the long-standing principle of ‘in all things moderation,'” Jim Judd, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said in a recent Toronto speech.

Posted on February 2, 2007 at 7:25 AMView Comments

Canadian "Guidelines for Identification and Authentication"

These guidelines were released by the Canadian Privacy Comissioner, is a good document discussing both privacy risks and security threats:

Authentication processes can contribute to the protection of privacy by reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures, but only if they are appropriately designed given the sensitivity of the information and the risks associated with the information. Overly rigorous authentication process, or requiring individuals to authenticate themselves unnecessarily, can be privacy intrusive.

And here’s a longer document published in 2004 by Industry Canada: “Principles for Electronic Authentication.”

Posted on October 27, 2006 at 7:29 AMView Comments

Faulty Data and the Arar Case

Maher Arar is a Syrian-born Canadian citizen. On September 26, 2002, he tried to fly from Switzerland to Toronto. Changing planes in New York, he was detained by the U.S. authorities, and eventually shipped to Syria where he was tortured. He’s 100% innocent. (Background here.)

The Canadian government has completed its “Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar,” the results of which are public. From their press release:

On Maher Arar, the Commissioner comes to one important conclusion: “I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada.”

Certainly something that everyone who supports the U.S.’s right to detain and torture people without having to demonstrate their guilt should think about. But what’s more interesting to readers of this blog is the role that inaccurate data played in the deportation and ultimately torture of an innocent man.

Privacy International summarizes the report. These are among their bullet points:

  • The RCMP provided the U.S. with an entire database of information relating to a terrorism investigation (three CDs of information), in a way that did not comply with RCMP policies that require screening for relevance, reliability, and personal information. In fact, this action was without precedent.
  • The RCMP provided the U.S. with inaccurate information about Arar that portrayed him in an infairly negative fashion and overstated his importance to a RCMP investigation. They included some “erroneous notes.”
  • While he was detained in the U.S., the RCMP provided information regarding him to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), “some of which portrayed him in an inaccurate and unfair way.” The RCMP provided inaccurate information to the U.S. authorities that tended to link Arar to other terrorist suspects; and told the U.S. authorities that Arar had previously refused to be interviewed, which was also incorrect; and the RCMP also said that soon after refusing the interview he suddenly left Canada for Tunisia. “The statement about the refusal to be interviewed had the potential to arouse suspicion, especially among law enforcement officers, that Mr. Arar had something to hide.” The RCMP’s information to the U.S. authorities also placed Arar in the vicinity of Washington DC on September 11, 2001 when he was instead in California.

Judicial oversight is a security mechanism. It prevents the police from incarcerating the wrong person. The point of habeas corpus is that the police need to present their evidence in front of a neutral third party, and not indefinitely detain or torture people just because they believe they’re guilty. We are all less secure if we water down these security measures.

Posted on September 29, 2006 at 7:06 AMView Comments

Annual Report from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Excellent reading.

It is my duty, in this Annual Report, to present a solemn and urgent warning to every Member of Parliament and Senator, and indeed to every Canadian:

The fundamental human right of privacy in Canada is under assault as never before. Unless the Government of Canada is quickly dissuaded from its present course by Parliamentary action and public insistence, we are on a path that may well lead to the permanent loss not only of privacy rights that we take for granted but also of important elements of freedom as we now know it.

We face this risk because of the implications, both individual and cumulative, of a series of initiatives that the Government has mounted or is actively moving toward. These initiatives are set against the backdrop of September 11, and anti-terrorism is their purported rationale. But the aspects that present the greatest threat to privacy either have nothing at all to do with anti-terrorism, or they present no credible promise of effectively enhancing security.

The Government is, quite simply, using September 11 as an excuse for new collections and uses of personal information about all of us Canadians that cannot be justified by the requirements of anti-terrorism and that, indeed, have no place in a free and democratic society.

Why doesn’t the United States have a Privacy Commissioner?

And this:

A popular response is: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

By that reasoning, of course, we shouldn’t mind if the police were free to come into our homes at any time just to look around, if all our telephone conversations were monitored, if all our mail were read, if all the protections developed over centuries were swept away. It’s only a difference of degree from the intrusions already being implemented or considered.

The truth is that we all do have something to hide, not because it’s criminal or even shameful, but simply because it’s private. We carefully calibrate what we reveal about ourselves to others. Most of us are only willing to have a few things known about us by a stranger, more by an acquaintance, and the most by a very close friend or a romantic partner. The right not to be known against our will – indeed, the right to be anonymous except when we choose to identify ourselves – is at the very core of human dignity, autonomy and freedom.

If we allow the state to sweep away the normal walls of privacy that protect the details of our lives, we will consign ourselves psychologically to living in a fishbowl. Even if we suffered no other specific harm as a result, that alone would profoundly change how we feel. Anyone who has lived in a totalitarian society can attest that what often felt most oppressive was precisely the lack of privacy.

Great stuff.

EDITED TO ADD (7/6): That’s the 2001-2002 report. This is the latest report.

Posted on July 6, 2006 at 7:49 AMView Comments

Class Break of Citibank ATM Cards

There seems to be some massive class break against Citibank ATM cards in Canada, the UK, and Russia. I don’t know any details, but the story is interesting. More info here.

EDITED TO ADD (3/6): More info here, here, here, and here.

EDITED TO ADD (3/7): Another news article.

From Jake Appelbaum: “The one unanswered question in all of this seems to be: Why is the new card going to have any issues in any of the affected countries? No one from Citibank was able to provide me with a promise my new card wouldn’t be locked yet again. Pretty amazing. I guess when I get my new card, I’ll find out.

EDITED TO ADD (3/8): Some more news.

Posted on March 6, 2006 at 2:44 PMView Comments

Fraud and Western Union

Western Union has been the conduit of a lot of fraud. But since they’re not the victim, they don’t care much about security. It’s an externality to them. It took a lawsuit to convince them to take security seriously.

Western Union, one of the world’s most frequently used money transfer services, will begin warning its customers against possible fraud in their transactions.

Persuading consumers to send wire transfers, particularly to Canada, has been a popular method for con artists. Recent scams include offering consumers counterfeit cashier’s checks, advance-fee loans and phony lottery winnings.

More than $113 million was swindled in 2002 from U.S. residents through wire transfer fraud to Canada alone, according to a survey conducted by investigators in seven states.

Washington was one of 10 states that negotiated an $8.5 million settlement with Western Union. Most of the settlement would fund a national program to counsel consumers against telemarketing fraud.

In addition to the money, the company has agreed to increase fraud awareness at more than 50,000 locations, develop a computer program that would spot likely fraud-induced transfers before they are completed and block transfers from specific consumers to specific recipients when the company receives fraud information from state authorities.

Posted on November 18, 2005 at 11:06 AM

U.S. Compromises Canadian Privacy

A Canadian reporter was able to get phone records for the personal and professional accounts held by Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart through an American data broker, locatecell.com. The security concerns are obvious.

Canada has an exception in the privacy laws that allows newspapers to do this type of investigative reporting. My guess is that’s the only reason we haven’t seen an American reporter pull phone records on one of our government officials.

Posted on November 17, 2005 at 2:32 PMView Comments

Canadian Airport Security Loses Uniforms

From CBC News:

1,127 uniform items belonging to Canadian airport screeners were lost or stolen in a nine-month period.

I’m not sure if this is an interesting story or not. We know that a uniform isn’t necessarily a reliable authentication tool, yet we use them anyway.

Losing 1,127 uniforms is bad, because they can be used to impersonate officials. But even if the 1,127 uniforms are found, they can be faked. Can you tell the difference between a legitimate uniform and a decent fake? I can’t.

The real story is the informal nature of most of our real-world authentication systems, and how they can be exploited.

I wrote about this in Beyond Fear (page 199):

Many authentication systems are even more informal. When someone knocks on your door wearing an electric company uniform, you assume she’s there to read the meter. Similarly with deliverymen, service workers, and parking lot attendants. When I return my rental car, I don’t think twice about giving the keys to someone wearing the correct color uniform. And how often do people inspect a police officer’s badge? The potential for intimidation makes this security system even less effective.

Uniforms are easy to fake. In the wee hours of the morning on 18 March 1990, two men entered the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston disguised as policemen. They duped the guards, tied them up, and proceeded to steal a dozen paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and Degas, valued at $300 million. (Thirteen years later, the crime is still unsolved and the art is still missing.) During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, groups of German commandos operated behind American lines. Dressed as American troops, they tried to deliver false orders to units in an effort to disrupt American plans. Hannibal used the same trick–to greater success–dressing up soldiers who were fluent in Latin in the uniforms of Roman officials and using them to open city gates.

Spies actually take advantage of this authentication problem when recruiting agents. They sometimes recruit a spy by pretending to be working for some third country. For example, a Russian agent working in the U.S. might not be able to convince an American to spy for Russia, but he can pretend to be working for France and might be able to convince the person to spy for that country. This is called “false flag recruitment.” How’s the recruit going to authenticate the nationality of the person he’s spying for?

There’s some fascinating psychology involved in this story. We all authenticate using visual cues, and official uniforms are a big part of that. (When a policeman, or an employee from the local electric company, comes to your door and asks to come in, how to you authenticate him? His uniform and his badge or ID.)

Posted on December 29, 2004 at 8:37 AMView Comments

Canada and the USA PATRIOT Act

The Information & Privacy Commissioner for the Province of British Columbia, Canada, has just published an extensive report titled “Privacy and the USA Patriot Act – Implications for British Columbia Public Sector Outsourcing.”

It’s an interesting trend. It’s one thing for countries to complain about U.S. counterterrorism policies, but it’s quite another for countries to reduce their commerce with the U.S. The latter will get noticed in Washington far quicker than the former.

Posted on December 10, 2004 at 8:48 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.