Entries Tagged "courts"

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More Erosion of Police Oversight in the U.S.

From EPIC:

Documents obtained by EPIC in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit reveal FBI agents expressing frustration that the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, an office that reviews FBI search requests, had not approved applications for orders under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. A subsequent memo refers to “recent changes” allowing the FBI to “bypass”; the office. EPIC is expecting to receive further information about this matter.

Some background:

Under Section 215, the FBI must show only “relevance” to a foreign intelligence or terrorism investigation to obtain vast amounts of personal information. It is unclear why the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review did not approve these applications. The FBI has not revealed this information, nor did it explain whether other search methods had failed.

Remember, the issue here is not whether or not the FBI can engage in counterterrorism. The issue is the erosion of judicial oversight—the only check we have on police power. And this power grab is dangerous regardless of which party is in the White House at the moment.

Posted on December 16, 2005 at 10:03 AMView Comments

The Sony Rootkit Saga Continues

I’m just not able to keep up with all the twists and turns in this story. (My previous posts are here, here, here, and here, but a way better summary of the events is on BoingBoing: here, here, and here. Actually, you should just read every post on the topic in Freedom to Tinker. This is also worth reading.)

Many readers pointed out to me that the DMCA is one of the reasons antivirus companies aren’t able to disable invasive copy-protection systems like Sony’s rootkit: it may very well be illegal for them to do so. (Adam Shostack made this point.)

Here are two posts about the rootkit before Russinovich posted about it.

And it turns out you can easily defeat the rootkit:

With a small bit of tape on the outer edge of the CD, the PC then treats the disc as an ordinary single-session music CD and the commonly used music “rip” programs continue to work as usual.

(Original here.)

The fallout from this has been simply amazing. I’ve heard from many sources that the anti-copy-protection forces in Sony and other companies have newly found power, and that copy-protection has been set back years. Let’s hope that the entertainment industry realizes that digital copy protection is a losing game here, and starts trying to make money by embracing the characteristics of digital technology instead of fighting against them. I’ve written about that here and here (both from 2001).

Even Foxtrot has a cartoon on the topic.

I think I’m done here. Others are covering this much more extensively than I am. Unless there’s a new twist that I simply have to comment on….

EDITED TO ADD (11/21): The EFF is suing Sony. (The page is a good summary of the whole saga.)

EDITED TO ADD (11/22): Here’s a great idea; Sony can use a feature of the rootkit to inform infected users that they’re infected.

As it turns out, there’s a clear solution: A self-updating messaging system already built into Sony’s XCP player. Every time a user plays a XCP-affected CD, the XCP player checks in with Sony’s server. As Russinovich explained, usually Sony’s server sends back a null response. But with small adjustments on Sony’s end—just changing the output of a single script on a Sony web server—the XCP player can automatically inform users of the software improperly installed on their hard drives, and of their resulting rights and choices.

This is so obviously the right thing to do. My guess is that it’ll never happen.

Texas is suing Sony. According to the official statement:

The suit is also the first filed under the state’s spyware law of 2005. It alleges the company surreptitiously installed the spyware on millions of compact music discs (CDs) that consumers inserted into their computers when they play the CDs, which can compromise the systems.

And here’s something I didn’t know: the rootkit consumes 1% – 2% of CPU time, whether or not you’re playing a Sony CD. You’d think there would be a “theft of services” lawsuit in there somewhere.

EDITED TO ADD (11/30): Business Week has a good article on the topic.

Posted on November 21, 2005 at 4:34 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

Sony's DRM Rootkit: The Real Story

This is my sixth column for Wired.com:

It’s a David and Goliath story of the tech blogs defeating a mega-corporation.

On Oct. 31, Mark Russinovich broke the story in his blog: Sony BMG Music Entertainment distributed a copy-protection scheme with music CDs that secretly installed a rootkit on computers. This software tool is run without your knowledge or consent—if it’s loaded on your computer with a CD, a hacker can gain and maintain access to your system and you wouldn’t know it.

The Sony code modifies Windows so you can’t tell it’s there, a process called “cloaking” in the hacker world. It acts as spyware, surreptitiously sending information about you to Sony. And it can’t be removed; trying to get rid of it damages Windows.

This story was picked up by other blogs (including mine), followed by the computer press. Finally, the mainstream media took it up.

The outcry was so great that on Nov. 11, Sony announced it was temporarily halting production of that copy-protection scheme. That still wasn’t enough—on Nov. 14 the company announced it was pulling copy-protected CDs from store shelves and offered to replace customers’ infected CDs for free.

But that’s not the real story here.

It’s a tale of extreme hubris. Sony rolled out this incredibly invasive copy-protection scheme without ever publicly discussing its details, confident that its profits were worth modifying its customers’ computers. When its actions were first discovered, Sony offered a “fix” that didn’t remove the rootkit, just the cloaking.

Sony claimed the rootkit didn’t phone home when it did. On Nov. 4, Thomas Hesse, Sony BMG’s president of global digital business, demonstrated the company’s disdain for its customers when he said, “Most people don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?” in an NPR interview. Even Sony’s apology only admits that its rootkit “includes a feature that may make a user’s computer susceptible to a virus written specifically to target the software.”

However, imperious corporate behavior is not the real story either.

This drama is also about incompetence. Sony’s latest rootkit-removal tool actually leaves a gaping vulnerability. And Sony’s rootkit—designed to stop copyright infringement—itself may have infringed on copyright. As amazing as it might seem, the code seems to include an open-source MP3 encoder in violation of that library’s license agreement. But even that is not the real story.

It’s an epic of class-action lawsuits in California and elsewhere, and the focus of criminal investigations. The rootkit has even been found on computers run by the Department of Defense, to the Department of Homeland Security’s displeasure. While Sony could be prosecuted under U.S. cybercrime law, no one thinks it will be. And lawsuits are never the whole story.

This saga is full of weird twists. Some pointed out how this sort of software would degrade the reliability of Windows. Someone created malicious code that used the rootkit to hide itself. A hacker used the rootkit to avoid the spyware of a popular game. And there were even calls for a worldwide Sony boycott. After all, if you can’t trust Sony not to infect your computer when you buy its music CDs, can you trust it to sell you an uninfected computer in the first place? That’s a good question, but—again—not the real story.

It’s yet another situation where Macintosh users can watch, amused (well, mostly) from the sidelines, wondering why anyone still uses Microsoft Windows. But certainly, even that is not the real story.

The story to pay attention to here is the collusion between big media companies who try to control what we do on our computers and computer-security companies who are supposed to be protecting us.

Initial estimates are that more than half a million computers worldwide are infected with this Sony rootkit. Those are amazing infection numbers, making this one of the most serious internet epidemics of all time—on a par with worms like Blaster, Slammer, Code Red and Nimda.

What do you think of your antivirus company, the one that didn’t notice Sony’s rootkit as it infected half a million computers? And this isn’t one of those lightning-fast internet worms; this one has been spreading since mid-2004. Because it spread through infected CDs, not through internet connections, they didn’t notice? This is exactly the kind of thing we’re paying those companies to detect—especially because the rootkit was phoning home.

But much worse than not detecting it before Russinovich’s discovery was the deafening silence that followed. When a new piece of malware is found, security companies fall over themselves to clean our computers and inoculate our networks. Not in this case.

McAfee didn’t add detection code until Nov. 9, and as of Nov. 15 it doesn’t remove the rootkit, only the cloaking device. The company admits on its web page that this is a lousy compromise. “McAfee detects, removes and prevents reinstallation of XCP.” That’s the cloaking code. “Please note that removal will not impair the copyright-protection mechanisms installed from the CD. There have been reports of system crashes possibly resulting from uninstalling XCP.” Thanks for the warning.

Symantec’s response to the rootkit has, to put it kindly, evolved. At first the company didn’t consider XCP malware at all. It wasn’t until Nov. 11 that Symantec posted a tool to remove the cloaking. As of Nov. 15, it is still wishy-washy about it, explaining that “this rootkit was designed to hide a legitimate application, but it can be used to hide other objects, including malicious software.”

The only thing that makes this rootkit legitimate is that a multinational corporation put it on your computer, not a criminal organization.

You might expect Microsoft to be the first company to condemn this rootkit. After all, XCP corrupts Windows’ internals in a pretty nasty way. It’s the sort of behavior that could easily lead to system crashes—crashes that customers would blame on Microsoft. But it wasn’t until Nov. 13, when public pressure was just too great to ignore, that Microsoft announced it would update its security tools to detect and remove the cloaking portion of the rootkit.

Perhaps the only security company that deserves praise is F-Secure, the first and the loudest critic of Sony’s actions. And Sysinternals, of course, which hosts Russinovich’s blog and brought this to light.

Bad security happens. It always has and it always will. And companies do stupid things; always have and always will. But the reason we buy security products from Symantec, McAfee and others is to protect us from bad security.

I truly believed that even in the biggest and most-corporate security company there are people with hackerish instincts, people who will do the right thing and blow the whistle. That all the big security companies, with over a year’s lead time, would fail to notice or do anything about this Sony rootkit demonstrates incompetence at best, and lousy ethics at worst.

Microsoft I can understand. The company is a fan of invasive copy protection—it’s being built into the next version of Windows. Microsoft is trying to work with media companies like Sony, hoping Windows becomes the media-distribution channel of choice. And Microsoft is known for watching out for its business interests at the expense of those of its customers.

What happens when the creators of malware collude with the very companies we hire to protect us from that malware?

We users lose, that’s what happens. A dangerous and damaging rootkit gets introduced into the wild, and half a million computers get infected before anyone does anything.

Who are the security companies really working for? It’s unlikely that this Sony rootkit is the only example of a media company using this technology. Which security company has engineers looking for the others who might be doing it? And what will they do if they find one? What will they do the next time some multinational company decides that owning your computers is a good idea?

These questions are the real story, and we all deserve answers.

EDITED TO ADD (11/17): Slashdotted.

EDITED TO ADD (11/19): Details of Sony’s buyback program. And more GPL code was stolen and used in the rootkit.

Posted on November 17, 2005 at 9:08 AM

Sony Secretly Installs Rootkit on Computers

Mark Russinovich discovered a rootkit on his system. After much analysis, he discovered that the rootkit was installed as a part of the DRM software linked with a CD he bought. The package cannot be uninstalled. Even worse, the package actively cloaks itself from process listings and the file system.

At that point I knew conclusively that the rootkit and its associated files were related to the First 4 Internet DRM software Sony ships on its CDs. Not happy having underhanded and sloppily written software on my system I looked for a way to uninstall it. However, I didn’t find any reference to it in the Control Panel’s Add or Remove Programs list, nor did I find any uninstall utility or directions on the CD or on First 4 Internet’s site. I checked the EULA and saw no mention of the fact that I was agreeing to have software put on my system that I couldn’t uninstall. Now I was mad.

Removing the rootkit kills Windows.

Could Sony have violated the the Computer Misuse Act in the UK? If this isn’t clearly in the EULA, they have exceeded their privilege on the customer’s system by installing a rootkit to hide their software.

Certainly Mark has a reasonable lawsuit against Sony in the U.S.

EDITED TO ADD: The Washington Post is covering this story.

Sony lies about their rootkit:

November 2, 2005 – This Service Pack removes the cloaking technology component that has been recently discussed in a number of articles published regarding the XCP Technology used on SONY BMG content protected CDs. This component is not malicious and does not compromise security. However to alleviate any concerns that users may have about the program posing potential security vulnerabilities, this update has been released to enable users to remove this component from their computers.

Their update does not remove the rootkit, it just gets rid of the $sys$ cloaking.

Ed Felton has a great post on the issue:

The update is more than 3.5 megabytes in size, and it appears to contain new versions of almost all the files included in the initial installation of the entire DRM system, as well as creating some new files. In short, they’re not just taking away the rootkit-like function—they’re almost certainly adding things to the system as well. And once again, they’re not disclosing what they’re doing.

No doubt they’ll ask us to just trust them. I wouldn’t. The companies still assert—falsely—that the original rootkit-like software “does not compromise security” and “[t]here should be no concern” about it. So I wouldn’t put much faith in any claim that the new update is harmless. And the companies claim to have developed “new ways of cloaking files on a hard drive”. So I wouldn’t derive much comfort from carefully worded assertions that they have removed “the … component .. that has been discussed”.

And you can use the rootkit to avoid World of Warcraft spyware.

World of Warcraft hackers have confirmed that the hiding capabilities of Sony BMG’s content protection software can make tools made for cheating in the online world impossible to detect.

.

EDITED TO ADD: F-Secure makes a good point:

A member of our IT security team pointed out quite chilling thought about what might happen if record companies continue adding rootkit based copy protection into their CDs.

In order to hide from the system a rootkit must interface with the OS on very low level and in those areas theres no room for error.

It is hard enough to program something on that level, without having to worry about any other programs trying to do something with same parts of the OS.

Thus if there would be two DRM rootkits on the same system trying to hook same APIs, the results would be highly unpredictable. Or actually, a system crash is quite predictable result in such situation.

EDITED TO ADD: Declan McCullagh has a good essay on the topic. There will be lawsuits.

EDITED TO ADD: The Italian police are getting involved.

EDITED TO ADD: Here’s a Trojan that uses Sony’s rootkit to hide.

EDITED TO ADD: Sony temporarily halts production of CDs protected with this technology.

Posted on November 1, 2005 at 10:17 AMView Comments

ATM Fraud and British Banks

An absolutely great story about phantom ATM withdrawals and British banking from the early 90s. (The story is from the early 90s; it has just become public now.) Read how a very brittle security system, coupled with banks using the legal system to avoid fixing the problem, resulted in lots of innocent people losing money to phantom withdrawals. Read how lucky everyone was that the catastrophic security problem was never discovered by criminals. It’s an amazing story.

See also Ross Anderson’s page on phantom withdrawals.

Oh, and Alistair Kelman assures me that he did not charge 1,750 pounds per hour, only 450 pounds per hour.

Posted on October 24, 2005 at 7:16 AMView Comments

Liabilities and Software Vulnerabilities

My fourth column for Wired discusses liability for software vulnerabilities. Howard Schmidt argued that individual programmers should be liable for vulnerabilities in their code. (There’s a Slashdot thread on Schmidt’s comments.) I say that it should be the software vendors that should be liable, not the individual programmers.

Click on the essay for the whole argument, but here’s the critical point:

If end users can sue software manufacturers for product defects, then the cost of those defects to the software manufacturers rises. Manufacturers are now paying the true economic cost for poor software, and not just a piece of it. So when they’re balancing the cost of making their software secure versus the cost of leaving their software insecure, there are more costs on the latter side. This will provide an incentive for them to make their software more secure.

To be sure, making software more secure will cost money, and manufacturers will have to pass those costs on to users in the form of higher prices. But users are already paying extra costs for insecure software: costs of third-party security products, costs of consultants and security-services companies, direct and indirect costs of losses. Making software manufacturers liable moves those costs around, and as a byproduct causes the quality of software to improve.

This is why Schmidt’s idea won’t work. He wants individual software developers to be liable, and not the corporations. This will certainly give pissed-off users someone to sue, but it won’t reduce the externality and it won’t result in more-secure software.

EDITED TO ADD: Dan Farber has a good commentary on my essay. He says I got Schmidt wrong, that Schmidt wants programmers to be accountable but not liable. Be that as it may, I still think that making software vendors liable is a good idea.

There has been some confusion about this in the comments, that somehow this means that software vendors will be expected to achieve perfection and that they will be 100% liable for anything short of that. Clearly that’s ridiculous, and that’s not the way liabilities work. But equally ridiculous is the notion that software vendors should be 0% liable for defects. Somewhere in the middle there is a reasonable amount of liablity, and that’s what I want the courts to figure out.

EDITED TO ADD: Howard Schmidt writes: “It is unfortunate that my comments were reported inaccurately; at least Dan Farber has been trying to correct the inaccurate reports with his blog. I do not support PERSONAL LIABILITY for the developers NOR do I support liability against vendors. Vendors are nothing more then people (employees included) and anything against them hurts the very people who need to be given better tools, training and support.”

Howard wrote an essay on the topic.

Posted on October 20, 2005 at 5:19 AMView Comments

Judge Roberts, Privacy, and the Future

My second essay for Wired was published today. It’s about the future privacy rulings of the Supreme Court:

Recent advances in technology have already had profound privacy implications, and there’s every reason to believe that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. Roberts is 50 years old. If confirmed, he could be chief justice for the next 30 years. That’s a lot of future.

Privacy questions will arise from government actions in the “War on Terror”; they will arise from the actions of corporations and individuals. They will include questions of surveillance, profiling and search and seizure. And the decisions of the Supreme Court on these questions will have a profound effect on society.

Posted on September 22, 2005 at 12:28 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.