Entries Tagged "movie-plot threats"

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Child Arrested Because Adults Are Stupid

A Texas 9th-grader makes an electronic clock and brings it to school. Teachers immediately become stupid and call the police:

The bell rang at least twice, he said, while the officers searched his belongings and questioned his intentions. The principal threatened to expel him if he didn’t make a written statement, he said.

“They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?'” Ahmed said.

“I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”

“He said, It looks like a movie bomb to me.'”

The student’s name is Ahmed Mohamed, which certainly didn’t help.

I am reminded of the 2007 story of an MIT student getting arrested for bringing a piece of wearable electronic art to the airport. And I wrote about the “war on the unexpected” back in 2007, too.

We simply have to stop terrorizing ourselves. We just look stupid when we do it.

EDITED TO ADD: New York Times article. Glenn Greenwald commentary.

EDITED TO ADD (9/21): There’s more to the story. He’s been invited to the White House, Google, MIT, and Facebook, and offered internships by Reddit and Twitter. On the other hand, Sarah Palin doesn’t believe it was just a clock. And he’s changing schools.

EDITED TO ADD (10/13): Two more essays.

Posted on September 16, 2015 at 10:09 AMView Comments

Mickens on Security

James Mickens, for your amusement. A somewhat random sample:

My point is that security people need to get their priorities straight. The “threat model” section of a security paper resembles the script for a telenovela that was written by a paranoid schizophrenic: there are elaborate narratives and grand conspiracy theories, and there are heroes and villains with fantastic (yet oddly constrained) powers that necessitate a grinding battle of emotional and technical attrition. In the real world, threat models are much simpler (see Figure 1). Basically, you’re either dealing with Mossad or not-Mossad. If your adversary is not-Mossad, then you’ll probably be fine if you pick a good password and don’t respond to emails from ChEaPestPAiNPi11s@virus-basket.biz.ru. If your adversary is the Mossad, YOU’RE GONNA DIE AND THERE’S NOTHING THAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. The Mossad is not intimidated by the fact that you employ https://. If the Mossad wants your data, they’re going to use a drone to replace your cellphone with a piece of uranium that’s shaped like a cellphone, and when you die of tumors filled with tumors, they’re going to hold a press conference and say “It wasn’t us” as they wear t-shirts that say “IT WAS DEFINITELY US,” and then they’re going to buy all of your stuff at your estate sale so that they can directly look at the photos of your vacation instead of reading your insipid emails about them. In summary, https:// and two dollars will get you a bus ticket to nowhere. Also, SANTA CLAUS ISN’T REAL. When it rains, it pours.

Posted on August 28, 2015 at 3:58 PMView Comments

Movie Plot Threat: Terrorists Attacking US Prisons

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts wins an award for his movie-plot threat: terrorists attacking the maximum-security federal prison at Ft. Leavenworth:

In an Aug. 14 letter to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, Roberts stressed that Kansas in general — and Leavenworth, in particular — are not ideal for a domestic detention facility.

“Fort Leavenworth is neither the ideal nor right location for moving Guantánamo detainees,” Roberts wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter. “The installation lies right on the Missouri River, providing terrorists with the possibility of covert travel underwater and attempting access to the detention facility.”

Not just terrorists, but terrorists with a submarine! This is why Ft. Leavenworth, a prison from which no one has ever escaped, is unsuitable for housing Guantanamo detainees.

I’ve never understood the argument that terrorists are too dangerous to house in US prisons. They’re just terrorists, it’s not like they’re Magneto.

Posted on August 25, 2015 at 2:19 PMView Comments

Eighth Movie-Plot Threat Contest Winner

On April 1, I announced the Eighth Movie-Plot Threat Contest:

I want a movie-plot threat that shows the evils of encryption. (For those who don’t know, a movie-plot threat is a scary-threat story that would make a great movie, but is much too specific to build security policies around. Contest history here.) We’ve long heard about the evils of the Four Horsemen of the Internet Apocalypse — terrorists, drug dealers, kidnappers, and child pornographers. (Or maybe they’re terrorists, pedophiles, drug dealers, and money launderers; I can never remember.) Try to be more original than that. And nothing too science fictional; today’s technology or presumed technology only.

On May 14, I announced the five semifinalists. The votes are in, and the winner is TonyK:

November 6 2020, the morning of the presidential election. This will be the first election where votes can be cast from smart phones and laptops. A record turnout is expected.

There is much excitement as live results are being displayed all over the place. Twitter, television, apps and websites are all displaying the vote counts. It is a close race between the leading candidates until about 9 am when a third candidate starts to rapidly close the gap. He was an unknown independent that had suspected ties to multiple terrorist organizations. There was outrage when he got on to the ballot, but it had quickly died down when he put forth no campaign effort.

By 11 am the independent was predicted to win, and the software called it for him at 3:22 pm.

At 4 the CEO of the software maker was being interviewed on CNN. There were accusations of everything from bribery to bugs to hackers being responsible for the results. Demands were made for audits and recounts. Some were even asking for the data to be made publicly available. The CEO calmly explained that there could be no audit or recount. The system was encrypted end to end and all the votes were cryptographically anonymized.

The interviewer was stunned and sat there in silence. When he eventually spoke, he said “We just elected a terrorist as the President of the United States.”

For the record, Nick P was a close runner-up.

Congratulations, TonyK. Contact me by e-mail, and I’ll send you your fabulous prizes.

Previous contests.

EDITED TO ADD (6/14): Slashdot thread.

Posted on June 13, 2015 at 12:11 PMView Comments

Eighth Movie-Plot Threat Contest Semifinalists

On April 1, I announced the Eighth Movie Plot Threat Contest: demonstrate the evils of encryption.

Not a whole lot of good submissions this year. Possibly this contest has run its course, and there’s not a whole lot of interest left. On the other hand, it’s heartening to know that there aren’t a lot of encryption movie-plot threats out there.

Anyway, here are the semifinalists.

  1. Child pornographers.
  2. Bombing the NSA.
  3. Torture.
  4. Terrorists and a vaccine.
  5. Election systems.

Cast your vote by number here; voting closes at the end of the month.

Contest.

Previous contests.

Posted on May 14, 2015 at 11:26 PMView Comments

Hacking Airplanes

Imagine this: A terrorist hacks into a commercial airplane from the ground, takes over the controls from the pilots and flies the plane into the ground. It sounds like the plot of some “Die Hard” reboot, but it’s actually one of the possible scenarios outlined in a new Government Accountability Office report on security vulnerabilities in modern airplanes.

It’s certainly possible, but in the scheme of Internet risks I worry about, it’s not very high. I’m more worried about the more pedestrian attacks against more common Internet-connected devices. I’m more worried, for example, about a multination cyber arms race that stockpiles capabilities such as this, and prioritizes attack over defense in an effort to gain relative advantage. I worry about the democratization of cyberattack techniques, and who might have the capabilities currently reserved for nation-states. And I worry about a future a decade from now if these problems aren’t addressed.

First, the airplanes. The problem the GAO identifies is one computer security experts have talked about for years. Newer planes such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 and A380 have a single network that is used both by pilots to fly the plane and passengers for their Wi-Fi connections. The risk is that a hacker sitting in the back of the plane, or even one on the ground, could use the Wi-Fi connection to hack into the avionics and then remotely fly the plane.

The report doesn’t explain how someone could do this, and there are currently no known vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit. But all systems are vulnerable–we simply don’t have the engineering expertise to design and build perfectly secure computers and networks–so of course we believe this kind of attack is theoretically possible.

Previous planes had separate networks, which is much more secure.

As terrifying as this movie-plot threat is–and it has been the plot of several recent works of fiction–this is just one example of an increasingly critical problem: As the computers already critical to running our infrastructure become connected, our vulnerability to cyberattack grows. We’ve already seen vulnerabilities in baby monitors, cars, medical equipment and all sorts of other Internet-connected devices. In February, Toyota recalled 1.9 million Prius cars because of a software vulnerability. Expect similar vulnerabilities in our smart thermostats, smart light bulbs and everything else connected to the smart power grid. The Internet of Things will bring computers into every aspect of our life and society. Those computers will be on the network and will be vulnerable to attack.

And because they’ll all be networked together, a vulnerability in one device will affect the security of everything else. Right now, a vulnerability in your home router can compromise the security of your entire home network. A vulnerability in your Internet-enabled refrigerator can reportedly be used as a launching pad for further attacks.

Future attacks will be exactly like what’s happening on the Internet today with your computer and smartphones, only they will be with everything. It’s all one network, and it’s all critical infrastructure.

Some of these attacks will require sufficient budget and organization to limit them to nation-state aggressors. But that’s hardly comforting. North Korea is last year believed to have launched a massive cyberattack against Sony Pictures. Last month, China used a cyberweapon called the “Great Cannon” against the website GitHub. In 2010, the U.S. and Israeli governments launched a sophisticated cyberweapon called Stuxnet against the Iranian Natanz nuclear power plant; it used a series of vulnerabilities to cripple centrifuges critical for separating nuclear material. In fact, the United States has done more to weaponize the Internet than any other country.

Governments only have a fleeting advantage over everyone else, though. Today’s top-secret National Security Agency programs become tomorrow’s Ph.D. theses and the next day’s hacker’s tools. So while remotely hacking the 787 Dreamliner’s avionics might be well beyond the capabilities of anyone except Boeing engineers today, that’s not going to be true forever.

What this all means is that we have to start thinking about the security of the Internet of Things–whether the issue in question is today’s airplanes or tomorrow’s smart clothing. We can’t repeat the mistakes of the early days of the PC and then the Internet, where we initially ignored security and then spent years playing catch-up. We have to build security into everything that is going to be connected to the Internet.

This is going to require both significant research and major commitments by companies. It’s also going to require legislation mandating certain levels of security on devices connecting to the Internet, and at network providers that make the Internet work. This isn’t something the market can solve on its own, because there are just too many incentives to ignore security and hope that someone else will solve it.

As a nation, we need to prioritize defense over offense. Right now, the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command have a strong interest in keeping the Internet insecure so they can better eavesdrop on and attack our enemies. But this prioritization cuts both ways: We can’t leave others’ networks vulnerable without also leaving our own vulnerable. And as one of the most networked countries on the planet, we are highly vulnerable to attack. It would be better to focus the NSA’s mission on defense and harden our infrastructure against attack.

Remember the GAO’s nightmare scenario: A hacker on the ground exploits a vulnerability in the airplane’s Wi-Fi system to gain access to the airplane’s network. Then he exploits a vulnerability in the firewall that separates the passengers’ network from the avionics to gain access to the flight controls. Then he uses other vulnerabilities both to lock the pilots out of the cockpit controls and take control of the plane himself.

It’s a scenario made possible by insecure computers and insecure networks. And while it might take a government-led secret project on the order of Stuxnet to pull it off today, that won’t always be true.

Of course, this particular movie-plot threat might never become a real one. But it is almost certain that some equally unlikely scenario will. I just hope we have enough security expertise to deal with whatever it ends up being.

This essay originally appeared on CNN.com.

EDITED TO ADD: News articles.

Posted on April 21, 2015 at 1:40 PMView Comments

The Eighth Movie-Plot Threat Contest

It’s April 1, and time for another Movie-Plot Threat Contest. This year, the theme is Crypto Wars II. Strong encryption is evil, because it prevents the police from solving crimes. (No, really — that’s the argument.) FBI Director James Comey is going to be hard to beat with his heartfelt litany of movie-plot threats:

“We’re drifting toward a place where a whole lot of people are going to be looking at us with tears in their eyes,” Comey argued, “and say ‘What do you mean you can’t? My daughter is missing. You have her phone. What do you mean you can’t tell me who she was texting with before she disappeared?”

[…]

“I’ve heard tech executives say privacy should be the paramount virtue,” Comey said. “When I hear that, I close my eyes and say, ‘Try to imagine what that world looks like where pedophiles can’t be seen, kidnappers can’t be seen, drug dealers can’t be seen.'”

(More Comey here.)

Come on, Comey. You might be able to scare noobs like Rep. John Carter with that talk, but you’re going to have to do better if you want to win this contest. We heard this same sort of stuff out of then-FBI director Louis Freeh in 1996 and 1997.

This is the contest: I want a movie-plot threat that shows the evils of encryption. (For those who don’t know, a movie-plot threat is a scary-threat story that would make a great movie, but is much too specific to build security policies around. Contest history here.) We’ve long heard about the evils of the Four Horsemen of the Internet Apocalypse — terrorists, drug dealers, kidnappers, and child pornographers. (Or maybe they’re terrorists, pedophiles, drug dealers, and money launderers; I can never remember.) Try to be more original than that. And nothing too science fictional; today’s technology or presumed technology only.

Entries are limited to 500 words — I check — and should be posted in the comments. At the end of the month, I’ll choose five or so semifinalists, and we can all vote and pick the winner.

The prize will be signed copies of the 20th Anniversary Edition of the 2nd Edition of Applied Cryptography, and the 15th Anniversary Edition of Secrets and Lies, both being published by Wiley this year in an attempt to ride the Data and Goliath bandwagon.

Good luck.

Posted on April 1, 2015 at 6:33 AMView Comments

Tom Ridge Can Find Terrorists Anywhere

One of the problems with our current discourse about terrorism and terrorist policies is that the people entrusted with counterterrorism — those whose job it is to surveil, study, or defend against terrorism — become so consumed with their role that they literally start seeing terrorists everywhere. So it comes as no surprise that if you ask Tom Ridge, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, about potential terrorism risks at a new LA football stadium, of course he finds them everywhere.

From a report he prepared — paid, I’m sure — about the location of a new football stadium:

Specifically, locating an NFL stadium at the Inglewood-Hollywood Park site needlessly increases risks for existing interests: LAX and tenant airlines, the NFL, the City of Los Angeles, law enforcement and first responders as well as the citizens and commercial enterprises in surrounding areas and across global transportation networks and supply chains. That risk would be expanded with the additional stadium and “soft target” infrastructure that would encircle the facility locally.

To be clear, total risk cannot be eliminated at any site. But basic risk management principles suggest that the proximity of these two sites creates a separate and additional set of risks that are wholly unnecessary.

In the post 9/11 world, the threat of terrorism is a permanent condition. As both a former governor and secretary of homeland security, it is my opinion that the peril of placing a National Football League stadium in the direct flight path of LAX — layering risk — outweigh any benefits over the decades-long lifespan of the facility.

If a decision is made to move forward at the Inglewood/Hollywood Park site, the NFL, state and local leaders, and those they represent, must be willing to accept the significant risk and the possible consequences that accompany a stadium at the location. This should give both public and private leaders in the area some pause. At the very least, an open, public debate should be enabled so that all interests may understand the comprehensive and interconnected security, safety and economic risks well before a shovel touches the ground.

I’m sure he can’t help himself.

I am reminded of Glenn Greenwald’s essay on the “terrorist expert” industry. I am also reminded of this story about a father taking pictures of his daughters.

On the plus side, now we all have a convincing argument against development. “You can’t possibly build that shopping mall near my home, because OMG! terrorism.”

Posted on March 4, 2015 at 6:40 AMView Comments

Seventh Movie-Plot Threat Contest Winner

On April 1, I announced the Seventh Mostly Annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest:

The NSA has won, but how did it do it? How did it use its ability to conduct ubiquitous surveillance, its massive data centers, and its advanced data analytics capabilities to come out on top? Did it take over the world overtly, or is it just pulling the strings behind everyone’s backs? Did it have to force companies to build surveillance into its products, or could it just piggy-back on market trends? How does it deal with liberal democracies and ruthless totalitarian dictatorships at the same time? Is it blackmailing Congress? How does the money flow? What’s the story?

On May 15, I announced the five semifinalists. The votes are in, and the winner is Doubleplusunlol:

The NSA, GCHQ et al actually don’t have the ability to conduct the mass surveillance that we now believe they do. Edward Snowden was in fact groomed, without his knowledge, to become a whistleblower, and the leaked documents were elaborately falsified by the NSA and GCHQ.

The encryption and security systems that ‘private’ companies are launching in the wake of theses ‘revelations’, however, are in fact being covertly funded by the NSA/GCHQ — the aim being to encourage criminals and terrorists to use these systems, which the security agencies have built massive backdoors into.

The laws that Obama is now about to pass will in fact be the laws that the NSA will abide by — and will entrench mass surveillance as a legitimate government tool before the NSA even has the capability to perform it. That the online populace believes that they are already being watched will become a self-fulfilling prophecy; the people have built their own panopticon, wherein the belief that the Government is omniscient is sufficient for the Government to control them.

“He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.” ­ Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir, 1975

For the record, Guy Macon was a close runner-up.

Congratulations, Doubleplusunlol. Contact me by e-mail, and I’ll send you your fabulous prizes.

Posted on June 13, 2014 at 6:12 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.