Entries Tagged "Internet"

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What is the DoD's Position on Backdoors in Security Systems?

In May, Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave an address at the Joint Service Academies Cyber Security Summit at West Point. After he spoke for twenty minutes on the importance of Internet security and a good national defense, I was able to ask him a question (32:42 mark) about security versus surveillance:

Bruce Schneier: I’d like to hear you talk about this need to get beyond signatures and the more robust cyber defense and ask the industry to provide these technologies to make the infrastructure more secure. My question is, the only definition of “us” that makes sense is the world, is everybody. Any technologies that we’ve developed and built will be used by everyone — nation-state and non-nation-state. So anything we do to increase our resilience, infrastructure, and security will naturally make Admiral Rogers’s both intelligence and attack jobs much harder. Are you okay with that?

Admiral James A. Winnefeld: Yes. I think Mike’s okay with that, also. That’s a really, really good question. We call that IGL. Anyone know what IGL stands for? Intel gain-loss. And there’s this constant tension between the operational community and the intelligence community when a military action could cause the loss of a critical intelligence node. We live this every day. In fact, in ancient times, when we were collecting actual signals in the air, we would be on the operational side, “I want to take down that emitter so it’ll make it safer for my airplanes to penetrate the airspace,” and they’re saying, “No, you’ve got to keep that emitter up, because I’m getting all kinds of intelligence from it.” So this is a familiar problem. But I think we all win if our networks are more secure. And I think I would rather live on the side of secure networks and a harder problem for Mike on the intelligence side than very vulnerable networks and an easy problem for Mike. And part of that — it’s not only the right thing do, but part of that goes to the fact that we are more vulnerable than any other country in the world, on our dependence on cyber. I’m also very confident that Mike has some very clever people working for him. He might actually still be able to get some work done. But it’s an excellent question. It really is.

It’s a good answer, and one firmly on the side of not introducing security vulnerabilities, backdoors, key-escrow systems, or anything that weakens Internet systems. It speaks to what I have seen as a split in the Second Crypto War, between the NSA and the FBI on building secure systems versus building systems with surveillance capabilities.

I have written about this before:

But here’s the problem: technological capabilities cannot distinguish based on morality, nationality, or legality; if the US government is able to use a backdoor in a communications system to spy on its enemies, the Chinese government can use the same backdoor to spy on its dissidents.

Even worse, modern computer technology is inherently democratizing. Today’s NSA secrets become tomorrow’s PhD theses and the next day’s hacker tools. As long as we’re all using the same computers, phones, social networking platforms, and computer networks, a vulnerability that allows us to spy also allows us to be spied upon.

We can’t choose a world where the US gets to spy but China doesn’t, or even a world where governments get to spy and criminals don’t. We need to choose, as a matter of policy, communications systems that are secure for all users, or ones that are vulnerable to all attackers. It’s security or surveillance.

NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers was in the audience (he spoke earlier), and I saw him nodding at Winnefeld’s answer. Two weeks later, at CyCon in Tallinn, Rogers gave the opening keynote, and he seemed to be saying the opposite.

“Can we create some mechanism where within this legal framework there’s a means to access information that directly relates to the security of our respective nations, even as at the same time we are mindful we have got to protect the rights of our individual citizens?”

[…]

Rogers said a framework to allow law enforcement agencies to gain access to communications is in place within the phone system in the United States and other areas, so “why can’t we create a similar kind of framework within the internet and the digital age?”

He added: “I certainly have great respect for those that would argue that they most important thing is to ensure the privacy of our citizens and we shouldn’t allow any means for the government to access information. I would argue that’s not in the nation’s best long term interest, that we’ve got to create some structure that should enable us to do that mindful that it has to be done in a legal way and mindful that it shouldn’t be something arbitrary.”

Does Winnefeld know that Rogers is contradicting him? Can someone ask JCS about this?

Posted on June 24, 2015 at 7:42 AMView Comments

Hacking Drug Pumps

When you connect hospital drug pumps to the Internet, they’re hackable. This is only surprising to people who aren’t paying attention.

Rios says when he first told Hospira a year ago that hackers could update the firmware on its pumps, the company “didn’t believe it could be done.” Hospira insisted there was “separation” between the communications module and the circuit board that would make this impossible. Rios says technically there is physical separation between the two. But the serial cable provides a bridge to jump from one to the other.

An attacker wouldn’t need physical access to the pump because the communication modules are connected to hospital networks, which are in turn connected to the Internet.

“From an architecture standpoint, it looks like these two modules are separated,” he says. “But when you open the device up, you can see they’re actually connected with a serial cable, and they”re connected in a way that you can actually change the core software on the pump.”

An attacker wouldn’t need physical access to the pump. The communication modules are connected to hospital networks, which are in turn connected to the Internet. “You can talk to that communication module over the network or over a wireless network,” Rios warns.

Hospira knows this, he says, because this is how it delivers firmware updates to its pumps. Yet despite this, he says, the company insists that “the separation makes it so you can’t hurt someone. So we’re going to develop a proof-of-concept that proves that’s not true.”

One of the biggest conceptual problems we have is that something is believed secure until demonstrated otherwise. We need to reverse that: everything should be believed insecure until demonstrated otherwise.

Posted on June 17, 2015 at 2:02 PMView Comments

NSA Running a Massive IDS on the Internet Backbone

The latest story from the Snowden documents, co-published by the New York Times and ProPublica, shows that the NSA is operating a signature-based intrusion detection system on the Internet backbone:

In mid-2012, Justice Department lawyers wrote two secret memos permitting the spy agency to begin hunting on Internet cables, without a warrant and on American soil, for data linked to computer intrusions originating abroad — including traffic that flows to suspicious Internet addresses or contains malware, the documents show.

The Justice Department allowed the agency to monitor only addresses and “cybersignatures” ­– patterns associated with computer intrusions — that it could tie to foreign governments. But the documents also note that the N.S.A. sought to target hackers even when it could not establish any links to foreign powers.

To me, the big deal here is 1) the NSA is doing this without a warrant, and 2) that the policy change happened in secret, without any public policy debate.

The effort is the latest known expansion of the N.S.A.’s warrantless surveillance program, which allows the government to intercept Americans’ cross-border communications if the target is a foreigner abroad. While the N.S.A. has long searched for specific email addresses and phone numbers of foreign intelligence targets, the Obama administration three years ago started allowing the agency to search its communications streams for less-identifying Internet protocol addresses or strings of harmful computer code.

[…]

To carry out the orders, the F.B.I. negotiated in 2012 to use the N.S.A.’s system for monitoring Internet traffic crossing “chokepoints operated by U.S. providers through which international communications enter and leave the United States,” according to a 2012 N.S.A. document. The N.S.A. would send the intercepted traffic to the bureau’s “cyberdata repository” in Quantico, Virginia.

Ninety pages of NSA documents accompany the article. Here is a single OCRed PDF of them all.

Jonathan Mayer was consulted on the article. He gives more details on his blog, which I recommend you all read.

In my view, the key takeaway is this: for over a decade, there has been a public policy debate about what role the NSA should play in domestic cybersecurity. The debate has largely presupposed that the NSA’s domestic authority is narrowly circumscribed, and that DHS and DOJ play a far greater role. Today, we learn that assumption is incorrect. The NSA already asserts broad domestic cybersecurity powers. Recognizing the scope of the NSA’s authority is particularly critical for pending legislation.

This is especially important for pending information sharing legislation, which Mayer explains.

The other big news is that ProPublica’s Julia Angwin is working with Laura Poitras on the Snowden documents. I expect that this isn’t the last artcile we’re going to see.

EDITED TO ADD: Others are writing about these documents. Shane Harris explains how the NSA and FBI are working together on Internet surveillance. Benjamin Wittes says that the story is wrong, that “combating overseas cybersecurity threats from foreign governments” is exactly what the NSA is supposed to be doing, and that they don’t need a warrant for any of that. And Marcy Wheeler points out that she has been saying for years that the NSA has been using Section 702 to justify Internet surveillance.

EDITED TO ADD (6/5): Charlie Savage responds to Ben Wittes.

Posted on June 5, 2015 at 7:42 AMView Comments

The Further Democratization of QUANTUM

From my book Data and Goliath:

…when I was working with the Guardian on the Snowden documents, the one top-secret program the NSA desperately did not want us to expose was QUANTUM. This is the NSA’s program for what is called packet injection­ — basically, a technology that allows the agency to hack into computers. Turns out, though, that the NSA was not alone in its use of this technology. The Chinese government uses packet injection to attack computers. The cyberweapons manufacturer Hacking Team sells packet injection technology to any government willing to pay for it. Criminals use it. And there are hacker tools that give the capability to individuals as well. All of these existed before I wrote about QUANTUM. By using its knowledge to attack others rather than to build up the Internet’s defenses, the NSA has worked to ensure that anyone can use packet injection to hack into computers.

And that’s true. China’s Great Cannon uses QUANTUM. The ability to inject packets into the backbone is a powerful attack technology, and one that is increasingly being used by different attackers.

I continued:

Even when technologies are developed inside the NSA, they don’t remain exclusive for long. Today’s top-secret programs become tomorrow’s PhD theses and the next day’s hacker tools.

I could have continued with “and the next day’s homework assignment,” because Michalis Polychronakis at Stony Book University has just assigned building a rudimentary QUANTUM tool as a homework assignment. It’s basically sniff, regexp match, swap sip/sport/dip/dport/syn/ack, set ack and push flags, and add the payload to create the malicious reply. Shouldn’t take more than a few hours to get it working. Of course, it would take a lot more to make it as sophisticated and robust as what the NSA and China have at their disposal, but the moral is that the tool is now in the hands of anyone who wants it. We need to make the Internet secure against this kind of attack instead of pretending that only the “good guys” can use it effectively.

End-to-end encryption is the solution. Nicholas Weaver wrote:

The only self defense from all of the above is universal encryption. Universal encryption is difficult and expensive, but unfortunately necessary.

Encryption doesn’t just keep our traffic safe from eavesdroppers, it protects us from attack. DNSSEC validation protects DNS from tampering, while SSL armors both email and web traffic.

There are many engineering and logistic difficulties involved in encrypting all traffic on the internet, but its one we must overcome if we are to defend ourselves from the entities that have weaponized the backbone.

Yes.

And this is true in general. We have one network in the world today. Either we build our communications infrastructure for surveillance, or we build it for security. Either everyone gets to spy, or no one gets to spy. That’s our choice, with the Internet, with cell phone networks, with everything.

Posted on April 24, 2015 at 8:55 AMView Comments

QUANTUM Technology Sold by Cyberweapons Arms Manufacturers

Last October, I broke the story about the NSA’s top secret program to inject packets into the Internet backbone: QUANTUM. Specifically, I wrote about how QUANTUMINSERT injects packets into existing Internet connections to redirect a user to an NSA web server codenamed FOXACID to infect the user’s computer. Since then, we’ve learned a lot more about how QUANTUM works, and general details of many other QUANTUM programs.

These techniques make use of the NSA’s privileged position on the Internet backbone. It has TURMOIL computers directly monitoring the Internet infrastructure at providers in the US and around the world, and a system called TURBINE that allows it to perform real-time packet injection into the backbone. Still, there’s nothing about QUANTUM that anyone else with similar access can’t do. There’s a hacker tool called AirPwn that basically performs a QUANTUMINSERT attack on computers on a wireless network.

A new report from Citizen Lab shows that cyberweapons arms manufacturers are selling this type of technology to governments around the world: the US DoD contractor CloudShield Technologies, Italy’s Hacking Team, and Germany’s and the UK’s Gamma International. These programs intercept web connections to sites like Microsoft and Google — YouTube is specially mentioned — and inject malware into users’ computers.

Turkmenistan paid a Swiss company, Dreamlab Technologies — somehow related to the cyberweapons arms manufacturer Gamma International — just under $1M for this capability. Dreamlab also installed the software in Oman. We don’t know what other countries have this capability, but the companies here routinely sell hacking software to totalitarian countries around the world.

There’s some more information in this Washington Post article, and this essay on the Intercept.

In talking about the NSA’s capabilities, I have repeatedly said that today’s secret NSA programs are tomorrow’s PhD dissertations and the next day’s hacker tools. This is exactly what we’re seeing here. By developing these technologies instead of helping defend against them, the NSA — and GCHQ and CSEC — are contributing to the ongoing insecurity of the Internet.

Related: here is an open letter from Citizen Lab’s Ron Deibert to Hacking Team about the nature of Citizen Lab’s research and the misleading defense of Hacking Team’s products.

Posted on August 18, 2014 at 11:14 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.