Entries Tagged "data collection"

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Differences in App Security/Privacy Based on Country

Depending on where you are when you download your Android apps, it might collect more or less data about you.

The apps we downloaded from Google Play also showed differences based on country in their security and privacy capabilities. One hundred twenty-seven apps varied in what the apps were allowed to access on users’ mobile phones, 49 of which had additional permissions deemed “dangerous” by Google. Apps in Bahrain, Tunisia and Canada requested the most additional dangerous permissions.

Three VPN apps enable clear text communication in some countries, which allows unauthorized access to users’ communications. One hundred and eighteen apps varied in the number of ad trackers included in an app in some countries, with the categories Games, Entertainment and Social, with Iran and Ukraine having the most increases in the number of ad trackers compared to the baseline number common to all countries.

One hundred and three apps have differences based on country in their privacy policies. Users in countries not covered by data protection regulations, such as GDPR in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act in the U.S., are at higher privacy risk. For instance, 71 apps available from Google Play have clauses to comply with GDPR only in the EU and CCPA only in the U.S. Twenty-eight apps that use dangerous permissions make no mention of it, despite Google’s policy requiring them to do so.

Research paper: “A Large-scale Investigation into Geodifferences in Mobile Apps“:

Abstract: Recent studies on the web ecosystem have been raising alarms on the increasing geodifferences in access to Internet content and services due to Internet censorship and geoblocking. However, geodifferences in the mobile app ecosystem have received limited attention, even though apps are central to how mobile users communicate and consume Internet content. We present the first large-scale measurement study of geodifferences in the mobile app ecosystem. We design a semi-automatic, parallel measurement testbed that we use to collect 5,684 popular apps from Google Play in 26 countries. In all, we collected 117,233 apk files and 112,607 privacy policies for those apps. Our results show high amounts of geoblocking with 3,672 apps geoblocked in at least one of our countries. While our data corroborates anecdotal evidence of takedowns due to government requests, unlike common perception, we find that blocking by developers is significantly higher than takedowns in all our countries, and has the most influence on geoblocking in the mobile app ecosystem. We also find instances of developers releasing different app versions to different countries, some with weaker security settings or privacy disclosures that expose users to higher security and privacy risks. We provide recommendations for app market proprietors to address the issues discovered.

Posted on September 29, 2022 at 6:14 AMView Comments

Facebook Has No Idea What Data It Has

This is from a court deposition:

Facebook’s stonewalling has been revealing on its own, providing variations on the same theme: It has amassed so much data on so many billions of people and organized it so confusingly that full transparency is impossible on a technical level. In the March 2022 hearing, Zarashaw and Steven Elia, a software engineering manager, described Facebook as a data-processing apparatus so complex that it defies understanding from within. The hearing amounted to two high-ranking engineers at one of the most powerful and resource-flush engineering outfits in history describing their product as an unknowable machine.

The special master at times seemed in disbelief, as when he questioned the engineers over whether any documentation existed for a particular Facebook subsystem. “Someone must have a diagram that says this is where this data is stored,” he said, according to the transcript. Zarashaw responded: “We have a somewhat strange engineering culture compared to most where we don’t generate a lot of artifacts during the engineering process. Effectively the code is its own design document often.” He quickly added, “For what it’s worth, this is terrifying to me when I first joined as well.”

[…]

Facebook’s inability to comprehend its own functioning took the hearing up to the edge of the metaphysical. At one point, the court-appointed special master noted that the “Download Your Information” file provided to the suit’s plaintiffs must not have included everything the company had stored on those individuals because it appears to have no idea what it truly stores on anyone. Can it be that Facebook’s designated tool for comprehensively downloading your information might not actually download all your information? This, again, is outside the boundaries of knowledge.

“The solution to this is unfortunately exactly the work that was done to create the DYI file itself,” noted Zarashaw. “And the thing I struggle with here is in order to find gaps in what may not be in DYI file, you would by definition need to do even more work than was done to generate the DYI files in the first place.”

The systemic fogginess of Facebook’s data storage made answering even the most basic question futile. At another point, the special master asked how one could find out which systems actually contain user data that was created through machine inference.

“I don’t know,” answered Zarashaw. “It’s a rather difficult conundrum.”

I’m not surprised. These systems are so complex that no humans understand them anymore. That allows us to do things we couldn’t do otherwise, but it’s also a problem.

EDITED TO ADD: Another article.

Posted on September 8, 2022 at 10:14 AMView Comments

Surveillance of Your Car

TheMarkup has an extensive analysis of connected vehicle data and the companies that are collecting it.

The Markup has identified 37 companies that are part of the rapidly growing connected vehicle data industry that seeks to monetize such data in an environment with few regulations governing its sale or use.

While many of these companies stress they are using aggregated or anonymized data, the unique nature of location and movement data increases the potential for violations of user privacy.

Posted on August 2, 2022 at 6:49 AMView Comments

Websites that Collect Your Data as You Type

A surprising number of websites include JavaScript keyloggers that collect everything you type as you type it, not just when you submit a form.

Researchers from KU Leuven, Radboud University, and University of Lausanne crawled and analyzed the top 100,000 websites, looking at scenarios in which a user is visiting a site while in the European Union and visiting a site from the United States. They found that 1,844 websites gathered an EU user’s email address without their consent, and a staggering 2,950 logged a US user’s email in some form. Many of the sites seemingly do not intend to conduct the data-logging but incorporate third-party marketing and analytics services that cause the behavior.

After specifically crawling sites for password leaks in May 2021, the researchers also found 52 websites in which third parties, including the Russian tech giant Yandex, were incidentally collecting password data before submission. The group disclosed their findings to these sites, and all 52 instances have since been resolved.

“If there’s a Submit button on a form, the reasonable expectation is that it does something—that it will submit your data when you click it,” says Güneş Acar, a professor and researcher in Radboud University’s digital security group and one of the leaders of the study. “We were super surprised by these results. We thought maybe we were going to find a few hundred websites where your email is collected before you submit, but this exceeded our expectations by far.”

Research paper.

Posted on May 19, 2022 at 6:23 AMView Comments

Interview with the Head of the NSA’s Research Directorate

MIT Technology Review published an interview with Gil Herrera, the new head of the NSA’s Research Directorate. There’s a lot of talk about quantum computing, monitoring 5G networks, and the problems of big data:

The math department, often in conjunction with the computer science department, helps tackle one of NSA’s most interesting problems: big data. Despite public reckoning over mass surveillance, NSA famously faces the challenge of collecting such extreme quantities of data that, on top of legal and ethical problems, it can be nearly impossible to sift through all of it to find everything of value. NSA views the kind of “vast access and collection” that it talks about internally as both an achievement and its own set of problems. The field of data science aims to solve them.

“Everyone thinks their data is the messiest in the world, and mine maybe is because it’s taken from people who don’t want us to have it, frankly,” said Herrera’s immediate predecessor at the NSA, the computer scientist Deborah Frincke, during a 2017 talk at Stanford. “The adversary does not speak clearly in English with nice statements into a mic and, if we can’t understand it, send us a clearer statement.”

Making sense of vast stores of unclear, often stolen data in hundreds of languages and even more technical formats remains one of the directorate’s enduring tasks.

Posted on February 3, 2022 at 6:01 AMView Comments

China’s Olympics App Is Horribly Insecure

China is mandating that athletes download and use a health and travel app when they attend the Winter Olympics next month. Citizen Lab examined the app and found it riddled with security holes.

Key Findings:

  • MY2022, an app mandated for use by all attendees of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, has a simple but devastating flaw where encryption protecting users’ voice audio and file transfers can be trivially sidestepped. Health customs forms which transmit passport details, demographic information, and medical and travel history are also vulnerable. Server responses can also be spoofed, allowing an attacker to display fake instructions to users.
  • MY2022 is fairly straightforward about the types of data it collects from users in its public-facing documents. However, as the app collects a range of highly sensitive medical information, it is unclear with whom or which organization(s) it shares this information.
  • MY2022 includes features that allow users to report “politically sensitive” content. The app also includes a censorship keyword list, which, while presently inactive, targets a variety of political topics including domestic issues such as Xinjiang and Tibet as well as references to Chinese government agencies.
  • While the vendor did not respond to our security disclosure, we find that the app’s security deficits may not only violate Google’s Unwanted Software Policy and Apple’s App Store guidelines but also China’s own laws and national standards pertaining to privacy protection, providing potential avenues for future redress.

News article:

It’s not clear whether the security flaws were intentional or not, but the report speculated that proper encryption might interfere with some of China’s ubiquitous online surveillance tools, especially systems that allow local authorities to snoop on phones using public wireless networks or internet cafes. Still, the researchers added that the flaws were probably unintentional, because the government will already be receiving data from the app, so there wouldn’t be a need to intercept the data as it was being transferred.

[…]

The app also included a list of 2,422 political keywords, described within the code as “illegalwords.txt,” that worked as a keyword censorship list, according to Citizen Lab. The researchers said the list appeared to be a latent function that the app’s chat and file transfer function was not actively using.

The US government has already advised athletes to leave their personal phones and laptops home and bring burners.

Posted on January 21, 2022 at 6:06 AMView Comments

Are Fake COVID Testing Sites Harvesting Data?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a bunch of writing about what seems to be fake COVID-19 testing sites. They take your name and info, and do a nose swab, but you never get test results. Speculation centered around data harvesting, but that didn’t make sense because it was far too labor intensive for that and—sorry to break it to you—your data isn’t worth all that much.

It seems to be multilevel marketing fraud instead:

The Center for COVID Control is a management company to Doctors Clinical Laboratory. It provides tests and testing supplies, software, personal protective equipment and marketing services—online and printed—to testing sites, said a person who was formerly associated with the Center for COVID Control. Some of the sites are owned independently but operate in partnership with the chain under its name and with its guidance.

[…]

Doctors Clinical Lab, the lab Center for COVID Control uses to process tests, makes money by billing patients’ insurance companies or seeking reimbursement from the federal government for testing. Insurance statements reviewed by Block Club show the lab has, in multiple instances, billed insurance companies $325 for a PCR test, $50 for a rapid test, $50 for collecting a person’s sample and $80 for a “supplemental fee.”

In turn, the testing sites are paid for providing samples to the lab to be processed, said a person formerly associated with the Center for COVID Control.

In a January video talking to testing site operators, Syed said the Center for COVID Control will no longer provide them with PCR tests, but it will continue supplying them with rapid tests at a cost of $5 per test. The companies will keep making money for the rapid tests they collect, he said.

“You guys will continue making the $28.50 you’re making for the rapid test,” Syed said in the video.

Read the article for the messy details. Or take a job and see for yourself.

EDITED TO ADD (2/13): More coverage about the fake testing sites.

Posted on January 19, 2022 at 6:10 AMView Comments

ProtonMail Now Keeps IP Logs

After being compelled by a Swiss court to monitor IP logs for a particular user, ProtonMail no longer claims that “we do not keep any IP logs.”

EDITED TO ADD (9/14): This seems to be more complicated. ProtonMail is not yet saying that they keep logs. Their privacy policy still states that they do not keep logs except in certain circumstances, and outlines those circumstances. And ProtonMail’s warrant canary has an interesting list of data orders they have received from various authorities, whether they complied, and why or why not.

Posted on September 10, 2021 at 6:10 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.