Entries Tagged "privacy"

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Telephone Monitoring While on Hold

When we telephone a customer support line, we all hear the recording saying that the call may be monitored. What we don’t realize is that we may be monitored even when we’re on hold.

Monitoring is intended to track the performance of call center operators, but the professional snoops are inadvertently monitoring callers, too. Most callers do not
realize that they may be taped even while they are on hold.

It is at these times that monitors hear husbands arguing with their wives, mothers yelling at their children, and dog owners throwing fits at disobedient pets, all when they think no one is listening. Most times, the only way a customer can avoid being recorded is to hang up.

There’s an easy defense for those in offices and with full-featured phones: the “mute” button. But people believe their calls are being monitored “for quality or training purposes,” and assume that it’s only the part of the call where they’re actually talking to someone. Even easy defenses don’t work if people don’t know that they have to implement them.

Posted on January 25, 2005 at 8:00 AMView Comments

FBI Retires Carnivore

According to SecurityFocus:

FBI surveillance experts have put their once-controversial Carnivore Internet surveillance tool out to pasture, preferring instead to use commercial products to eavesdrop on network traffic, according to documents released Friday.

Of course, they’re not giving up on Internet surveillance. They’ve just realized that commercial tools are better, cheaper, or both.

Posted on January 24, 2005 at 8:00 AMView Comments

American Airlines Data Collection

From BoingBoing:

Last week on a trip from London to the US, American Airlines demanded that I write out a list of the names and addresses of all the friends I would be staying with in the USA. They claimed that this was due to a TSA regulation, but refused to state which regulation required them to gather this information, nor what they would do with it once they’d gathered it. I raised a stink, and was eventually told that I wouldn’t have to give them the requested dossier because I was a Platinum AAdvantage Card holder (i.e., because I fly frequently with AA).

The whole story is worth reading. It’s hard to know what’s really going on, because there’s so much information I don’t have. But it’s chilling nonetheless.

Posted on January 20, 2005 at 9:28 AMView Comments

Microsoft RC4 Flaw

One of the most important rules of stream ciphers is to never use the same keystream to encrypt two different documents. If someone does, you can break the encryption by XORing the two ciphertext streams together. The keystream drops out, and you end up with plaintext XORed with plaintext — and you can easily recover the two plaintexts using letter frequency analysis and other basic techniques.

It’s an amateur crypto mistake. The easy way to prevent this attack is to use a unique initialization vector (IV) in addition to the key whenever you encrypt a document.

Microsoft uses the RC4 stream cipher in both Word and Excel. And they make this mistake. Hongjun Wu has details (link is a PDF).

In this report, we point out a serious security flaw in Microsoft Word and Excel. The stream cipher RC4 [9] with key length up to 128 bits is used in Microsoft Word and Excel to protect the documents. But when an encrypted document gets modified and saved, the initialization vector remains the same and thus the same keystream generated from RC4 is applied to encrypt the different versions of that document. The consequence is disastrous since a lot of information of the document could be recovered easily.

This isn’t new. Microsoft made the same mistake in 1999 with RC4 in WinNT Syskey. Five years later, Microsoft has the same flaw in other products.

Posted on January 18, 2005 at 9:00 AMView Comments

Secure Flight Privacy/IT Working Group

I am participating in a working group to help evaluate the effectiveness and privacy implications of the TSA’s Secure Flight program. We’ve had one meeting so far, and it looks like it will be an interesting exercise.

For those who have not been following along, Secure Flight is the follow-on to CAPPS-I. (CAPPS stands for Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening.) CAPPS-I has been in place since 1997, and is a simple system to match airplane passengers to a terrorist watch list. A follow-on system, CAPPS-II, was proposed last year. That complicated system would have given every traveler a risk score based on information in government and commercial databases. There was a huge public outcry over the invasiveness of the system, and it was cancelled over the summer. Secure Flight is the new follow-on system to CAPPS-I.

Many of us believe that Secure Flight is just CAPPS-II with a new name. I hope to learn whether or not that is true.

I hope to learn a lot of things about Secure Flight and airline passenger profiling in general, but I probably won’t be able to write about it. In order to be a member of this working group, I was required to apply for a U.S. government SECRET security clearance and sign an NDA, promising that I would not disclose something called “Sensitive Security Information.”

SSI is one of three new categories of secret information, all of I think have no reason to exist. There is already a classification scheme — CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET, TOP SECRET, etc. — and information should either fit into that scheme or be public. A new scheme is just confusing. The NDA we were supposed to sign was very general, and included such provisions as allowing the government to conduct warrantless searches of our residences. (Two federal unions have threatened to sue the government over several provisions in that NDA, which applies to many DHS employees. And just recently, the DHS backed down.)

After push-back by myself and several others, we were given a much less onerous NDA to sign.

I am not happy about the secrecy surrounding the working group. NDAs and classified briefings raise serious ethical issues for government oversight committees. My suspicion is that I will be wowed with secret, unverifiable assertions that I will either have to accept or (more likely) question, but not be able to discuss with others. In general, secret deliberations favor the interests of those who impose the rules. They really run against the spirit of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

Moreover, I’m not sure why this working group is not in violation of FACA. FACA is a 1972 law intended to govern how the Executive branch uses groups of advisors outside the federal government. Among other rules, it requires that advisory committees announce their meetings, hold them in public, and take minutes that are available to the public. The DHS was given a specific exemption from FACA when it was established: the Secretary of Homeland Security has the authority to exempt any advisory committee from FACA; the only requirement is that the Secretary publish notice of the committee in the Federal Register. I looked, and have not seen any such announcement.

Because of the NDA and the failure to follow FACA, I will not be able to fully exercise my First Amendment rights. That means that the government can stop me from saying things that may be important for the public to know. For example, if I learn that the old CAPPS program failed to identify actual terrorists, or that a lot of people who were not terrorists were wrongfully pulled off planes and the government has tried to keep this quiet — I’m just making these up — I can’t tell you. The government could prosecute me under the NDA because they might claim these facts are SSI and the public would never know this information, because there would be no open meeting obligations as there are for FACA committees.

In other words, the secrecy of this committee could have a real impact on the public understanding of whether or not air passenger screening really works.

In any case, I hope I can help make Secure Flight an effective security tool. I hope I can help minimize the privacy invasions on the program if it continues, and help kill it if it is ineffective. I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful.

I’m not hopeful that you will ever learn the results of this working group. We’re preparing our report for the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, and I very much doubt that they will release the report to the public.

Original NDA

Story about unions objecting to the NDA

And a recent development that may or may not affect this group

Posted on January 13, 2005 at 9:08 AMView Comments

Wi-Fi Shielding Paint

I have no idea how well this works, but it’s a clever idea. From Information Week:

Force Field Wireless makes three products that it says can dramatically reduce the leakage of wireless signals from a room or building.

One odd side-point from the article:

Force Field has been trying to interest the Department of Homeland Security, but discussions are ongoing, Wray says. “Ironically, we have had foreign governments contact us–from the Middle East. Kind of scary.” Wray says he won’t sell to them.

I wonder what’s so scary about selling metal paint to a Middle East government. Maybe the company thinks they will use the paint to “cover up” their misdeeds or poison political prisoners?

Posted on December 30, 2004 at 5:52 PMView Comments

Airline Passenger Profiling

From an anonymous reader who works for the airline industry in the United States:

There are two initiatives in the works, neither of which leaves me feeling very good about privacy rights.

The first is being put together by the TSA and is called the “Secure Flight Initiative.” An initial test of this program was performed recently and involved each airline listed in the document having to send in passenger information (aka PNR data) for every passenger that “completed a successful domestic trip” during June 2004. A sample of some of the fields that were required to be sent: name, address, phone (if available), itinerary, any comments in the PNR record made by airline personnel, credit card number and expiration date, and any changes made to the booking before the actual flight.

This test data was transmitted to the TSA via physical CD. The requirement was that we “encrypt” it using pkzip (or equivalent) before putting it on the CD. We were to then e-mail the password to the Secure Flight Initiative e-mail address. Although this is far from ideal, it is in fact a big step up. The original process was going to have people simply e-mail the above data to the TSA. They claim to have a secure facility where the data is stored.

As far as the TSA’s retention of the data, the only information we have been given is that as soon as the test phase is over, they will securely delete the data. We were given no choice but had to simply take their word for it.

Rollout of the Secure Flight initiative is scheduled for “next year” sometime. They’re going to start with larger carriers and work their way down to the smaller carriers. It hasn’t been formalized (as far as I know) yet as to what data will be required to be transmitted when. My suspicion is that upon flight takeoff, all PNR data for all passengers on board will be required to be sent. At this point, I still have not heard as to what method will be used for data transmission.

There is another initiative being implemented by the Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. This (unnamed) initiative is essentially the same thing as the Secure Flight program. That’s right — two government agencies are requiring us to transmit the information separately to each of them. So much for information sharing within the government.

Most larger carriers are complying with this directive by simply allowing the CBP access to their records directly within their
reservation systems (often hosted by folks like Sabre, Worldspan, Galileo, etc). Others (such as the airline I work for) are opting to
only transmit the bare requirements without giving direct access to our system. The data is transmitted over a proprietary data network that is used by the airline industry.

There are a couple of differences between the Secure Flight program and the one being instituted by the CBP. The CBP’s program requires that PNR data for all booked passengers be transmitted:

  • 72 hours before flight time
  • 24 hours before flight time
  • 8 hours before flight time
  • and then again immediately after flight departure

The other major difference is that it looks as though there will be a requirement that we operate in a way that allows them to send a request for data for any flight at any time which we must send back in an automated fashion.

Oh, and just as a kick in the pants, the airlines are expected to pay the costs for all these data transmissions (to the tune of several thousand dollars a month).

Posted on December 22, 2004 at 10:06 AMView Comments

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)

For many Americans, the end of the year is charitable contribution time. (The reasons are tax-related.) While there is no shortage of worthy causes around the world, I would like to suggest contributing at least something to EPIC.

Since its founding ten years ago, EPIC has worked to protect privacy, freedom of expression, and democratic values, and to promote the Public Voice in decisions concerning the future of the Internet. They maintain one of the most extensive websites on privacy and free speech issues on the Internet. They litigate Freedom of Information Act, First Amendment, and privacy cases. They publish books on open government and privacy. They train law school students about the Internet and the public interest. They testify frequently before Congress about emerging civil liberties issues. They provide an extensive listing of privacy resources as well as a guide to practical privacy tools.

Remember when it became public that JetBlue (and other airlines) provided passenger information to the U.S. government in violation of their own privacy policies? Or when it was revealed that the CAPPS-II airline passenger profiling system would be used for other, non-terrorism, purposes? EPIC’s FOIA work uncovered those stories.

December 15th is the 213th anniversary of the signing of the Bill of Rights. Read through it again today, and notice how the different laws protect the security of Americans. I’m proud to be a member of EPIC’s Advisory Board. They do good work, and we’re all a lot more secure because of it.

EPIC’s website

U.S. Bill of Rights

Posted on December 15, 2004 at 9:10 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.