Entries Tagged "theft"

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Insider Identity Theft

Banks are spending millions preventing outsiders from stealing their customers’ identities, but there is a growing insider threat:

Widespread outsourcing of data management and other services has exposed some weaknesses and made it harder to prevent identity theft by insiders.

“There are lots of weak links,” said Oveissi Field. “Back-up tapes are being sent to offsite storage sites or being mailed and getting into the wrong hands or are lost through carelessness.”

In what many regard as the biggest wake-up call in recent memory for financial institutions, thieves disguised as cleaning staff last year nearly stole the equivalent of more than $400 million from the London branch of Sumitomo Mitsui.

Posted on December 8, 2006 at 8:39 AMView Comments

Separating Data Ownership and Device Ownership

Consider two different security problems. In the first, you store your valuables in a safe in your basement. The threat is burglars, of course. But the safe is yours, and the house is yours, too. You control access to the safe, and probably have an alarm system.

The second security problem is similar, but you store your valuables in someone else’s safe. Even worse, it’s someone you don’t trust. He doesn’t know the combination, but he controls access to the safe. He can try to break in at his leisure. He can transport the safe anyplace he needs to. He can use whatever tools he wants. In the first case, the safe needs to be secure, but it’s still just a part of your overall home security. In the second case, the safe is the only security device you have.

This second security problem might seem contrived, but it happens regularly in our information society: Data controlled by one person is stored on a device controlled by another. Think of a stored-value smart card: If the person owning the card can break the security, he can add money to the card. Think of a DRM system: Its security depends on the person owning the computer not being able to get at the insides of the DRM security. Think of the RFID chip on a passport. Or a postage meter. Or SSL traffic being sent over a public network.

These systems are difficult to secure, and not just because you give your attacker the device and let him utilize whatever time, equipment and expertise he needs to break it. It’s difficult to secure because breaks are generally “class breaks.” The expert who figures out how to do it can build hardware—or write software—to do it automatically. Only one person needs to break a given DRM system; the software can break every other device in the same class.

This means that the security needs to be secure not against the average attacker, but against the smartest, most motivated and best funded attacker.

I was reminded of this problem earlier this month, when researchers announced a new attack (.pdf) against implementations of the RSA cryptosystem. The attack exploits the fact that different operations take different times on modern CPUs. By closely monitoring—and actually affecting—the CPU during an RSA operation, an attacker can recover the key. The most obvious applications for this attack are DRM systems that try to use a protected partition in the CPU to prevent the computer’s owner from learning the DRM system’s cryptographic keys.

These sorts of attacks are not new. In 1995, researchers discovered they could recover cryptographic keys by comparing relative timings on chips. In later years, both power and radiation were used to break cryptosystems. I called these “side-channel attacks,” because they made use of information other than the plaintext and ciphertext. And where are they most useful? To recover secrets from smart cards.

Whenever I see security systems with this data/device separation, I try to solve the security problem by removing the separation. This means completely redesigning the system and the security assumptions behind it.

Compare a stored-value card with a debit card. In the former case, the card owner can create money by changing the value on the card. For this system to be secure, the card needs to be protected by a variety of security countermeasures. In the latter case, there aren’t any secrets on the card. Your bank doesn’t care that you can read the account number off the front of the card, or the data off the magnetic stripe off the back—the real data, and the security, are in the bank’s databases.

Or compare a DRM system with a financial model that doesn’t care about copying. The former is impossible to secure, the latter easy.

While common in digital systems, this kind of security problem isn’t limited to them. Last month, the province of Ontario started investigating insider fraud in their scratch-and-win lottery systems, after the CBC aired allegations that people selling the tickets are able to figure out which tickets are winners, and not sell them. It’s the same problem: the owners of the data on the tickets—the lottery commission—tried to keep that data secret from those who had physical control of the tickets. And they failed.

Compare that with a traditional drawing-at-the-end-of-the-week lottery system. The attack isn’t possible, because there are no secrets on the tickets for an attacker to learn.

Separating data ownership and device ownership doesn’t mean that security is impossible, only much more difficult. You can buy a safe so strong that you can lock your valuables in it and give it to your attacker—with confidence. I’m not so sure you can design a smart card that keeps secrets from its owner, or a DRM system that works on a general-purpose computer—especially because of the problem of class breaks. But in all cases, the best way to solve the security problem is not to have it in the first place.

This essay originally appeared on Wired.com.

EDITED TO ADD (12/1): I completely misunderstood the lottery problem in Ontario. The frauds reported were perpetrated by lottery machine operators at convenience stores and the like stealing end-of-week draw tickets from unsuspecting customers. The customer would hand their ticket over the counter to be scanned to see if it was a winner. The clerk (knowing what the winning numbers actually were) would palm a non-winning ticket into the machine, inform the customer “sorry better luck next time” and claim the prize on their own at a later date.

Nice scam, but nothing to do with the point of this essay.

Posted on November 30, 2006 at 6:36 AMView Comments

Real-World Social Engineering Crime


Late on Monday, two thieves used a swipe card to drive a van up to Easynet’s Brick Lane headquarters. Once inside they began loading equipment into their van. They were watched by two security guards—one was doing his rounds and the other watched by CCTV—but both assumed the thieves, with their legitimate swipe cards also had a legitimate reason to take the kit, according to our sources.

EDITED TO ADD (11/25): Here’s another story (link in Turkish). The police receive an anonymous emergency call from someone claiming to have planted an explosive in the Haydarpasa Numune Hospital. They evaculate the hospital (100 patients plus doctors, staff, visitors, etc.) and search the place for two hours. They find nothing. When patients and visitors return, they realize that their valuables were stolen.

Posted on October 24, 2006 at 2:13 PMView Comments

Lousy Home Security Installation

Impressively bad. (Yes, it’s an advertisement. But there are still important security lessons in the blog post.)

1. The keypad is actually the control panel. This particular model is called a Lynx and is manufactured by Honeywell. However, most of the major manufacturers have their own version of an “all-in-one” control panel, siren & keypad (Here is a link to GE’s version). These all-in-one models were designed to simplify installation and are typically part of “free” or low-cost alarm systems. They are all equally useless.

The most important problem with systems like this is the fact that you need to have a delay time in order to open your door and get to the keypad each time you enter your home. So, when a crook breaks in, they also have the same amount of time. If the crook follows the sound of the beeping keypad they will be standing in front of not only the keypad, but the brains of the alarm system. So, rather than punching in a valid code, the crook could simply rip the entire unit off of the wall.

Provided that they rip the panel off of the wall before the alarm sends its first signal, it will never be able to send a signal.

2. If point #1 wasn’t bad enough (or maybe because the installer who put the ‘system’ in realized how useless it was going to be) the power supply for the system is located right beside the keypad/control panel. Unplug the transformer (which is just barely able to stay plugged in as it is) and the alarm loses power. This provides a really convenient way for someone to either accidentally or intentionally unplug the system and wait for the back-up battery to die.

3. Even worse, the phone jack has also been located beside the power supply. The phone jack is the alarm systems only connection to the outside world. If it gets unplugged, the system cannot communicate and a crook would not have to go through the hassle of ripping the panel off of the wall.

Posted on October 19, 2006 at 9:46 AMView Comments

Please Stop My Car

Residents of Prescott Valley are being invited to register their car if they don’t drive in the middle of the night. Police will then stop those cars if they are on the road at that time, under the assumption that they’re stolen.

The Watch Your Car decal program is a voluntary program whereby vehicle owners enroll their vehicles with the AATA. The vehicle is then entered into a special database, developed and maintained by the AATA, which is directly linked to the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD).

Participants then display the Watch Your Car decals in the front and rear windows of their vehicle. By displaying the decals, vehicle owners convey to law enforcement officials that their vehicle is not usually in use between the hours of 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM, when the majority of thefts occur.

If a police officer witnesses the vehicle in operation between these hours, they have the authority to pull it over and question the driver. With access to the MVD database, the officer will be able to determine if the vehicle has been stolen, or not. The program also allows law enforcement officials to notify the vehicle’s owner immediately upon determination that it is being illegally operated.

This program is entirely optional, but there’s a serious externality. If the police spend time chasing false alarms, they’re not available for other police business. If the town charged car owners a fine for each false alarm, I would have no problems with this program. It doesn’t have to be a large fine, but it has to be enough to offset the cost to the town. It’s no different than police departments charging homeowners for false burglar alarms, when the alarm systems are automatically hooked into the police stations.

Posted on October 16, 2006 at 6:30 AMView Comments

Expensive Cameras in Checked Luggage

This is a blog post about the problems of being forced to check expensive camera equipment on airplanes:

Well, having lived in Kashmir for 12+ years I am well accustomed to this type of security. We haven’t been able to have hand carries since 1990. We also cannot have batteries in any of our equipment checked or otherwise. At least we have been able to carry our laptops on and recently been able to actually use them (with the batteries). But, if things keep moving in this direction, and I’m sure it will, we need to start thinking now about checking our cameras and computers and how to do it safely.
This is a very unpleasant idea. Two years ago I ordered a Canon 20D and had it “hand carried” over to meet me in England by a friend. My friend put it in their checked bag. The bag never showed up. She did not have insurance and all I got $100 from British Airways for the camera and $500 from American Express (buyers protection) that was it. So now it looks as if we are going to have to check our cameras and our computers involuntarily. OK here are a few thoughts.

Pretty basic stuff, and we all know about the risks of putting expensive stuff in your checked luggage.

The interesting part is one of the blog comments, about halfway down. Another photographer wonders if the TSA rules for firearms could be extended to camera equipment:

Why not just have the TSA adopt the same check in rules for photographic and video equipment as they do for firearms?

All firearms must be in checked baggage, no carry on.

All firearms must be transported in a locked, hard sided case using a non-TSA approved lock. This is to prevent anyone from opening the case after its been screened.

After bringing the equipment to the airline counter and declaring and showing the contents to the airline representative, you take it over to the TSA screening area where it it checked by a screener, relocked in front of you, your key or keys returned to you (if it’s not a combination lock) and put directly on the conveyor belt for loading onto the plane.

No markings, stickers or labels identifying what’s inside are put on the outside of the case or, if packed inside something else, the bag.

Might this solve the problem? I’ve never lost a firearm when flying.

Then someone has the brilliant suggestion of putting a firearm in your camera-equipment case:

A “weapons” is defined as a rifle, shotgun, pistol, airgun, and STARTER PISTOL. Yes, starter pistols – those little guns that fire blanks at track and swim meets – are considered weapons…and do NOT have to be registered in any state in the United States.

I have a starter pistol for all my cases. All I have to do upon check-in is tell the airline ticket agent that I have a weapon to declare…I’m given a little card to sign, the card is put in the case, the case is given to a TSA official who takes my key and locks the case, and gives my key back to me.

That’s the procedure. The case is extra-tracked…TSA does not want to lose a weapons case. This reduces the chance of the case being lost to virtually zero.

It’s a great way to travel with camera gear…I’ve been doing this since Dec 2001 and have had no problems whatsoever.

I have to admit that I am impressed with this solution.

Posted on September 22, 2006 at 12:17 PMView Comments

Screaming Cell Phones

Cell phone security:

Does it pay to scream if your cell phone is stolen? Synchronica, a mobile device management company, thinks so. If you use the company’s Mobile Manager service and your handset is stolen, the company, once contacted, will remotely lockdown your phone, erase all its data and trigger it to emit a blood-curdling scream to scare the bejesus out of the thief.

The general category of this sort of security countermeasure is “benefit denial.” It’s like those dye tags on expensive clothing; if you shoplift the clothing and try to remove the tag, dye spills all over the clothes and makes them unwearable. The effectiveness of this kind of thing relies on the thief knowing that the security measure is there, or is reasonably likely to be there. It’s an effective shoplifting deterrent; my guess is that it will be less effective against cell phone thieves.

Remotely erasing data on stolen cell phones is a good idea regardless, though. And since cell phones are far more often lost than stolen, how about the phone calmly announcing that it is lost and it would like to be returned to its owner?

Posted on September 21, 2006 at 12:12 PMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.