Entries Tagged "trust"

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Smarter People are More Trusting

Interesting research.

Both vocabulary and question comprehension were positively correlated with generalized trust. Those with the highest vocab scores were 34 percent more likely to trust others than those with the lowest scores, and someone who had a good perceived understanding of the survey questions was 11 percent more likely to trust others than someone with a perceived poor understanding. The correlation stayed strong even when researchers controlled for socio-economic class.

This study, too, found a correlation between trust and self-reported health and happiness. The trusting were 6 percent more likely to say they were “very happy,” and 7 percent more likely to report good or excellent health.

Full study results.

Posted on March 27, 2014 at 6:52 AMView Comments

Income Inequality as a Security Issue

This is an interesting way to characterizing income inequality as a security issue:

…growing inequality menaces vigorous societies. It is a proxy for how effectively an elite has constructed institutions that extract value from the rest of society. Professor Sam Bowles, also part of the INET network, goes further. He argues that inequality pulls production away from value creation to protecting and securing the wealthy’s assets: one in five of the British workforce, for example, works as “guard labour” — in security, policing, law, surveillance and forms of IT that control and monitor. The higher inequality, the greater the proportion of a workforce deployed as guard workers, who generate little value and lower overall productivity.”

This is an expansion of my notion of security as a tax on the honest. From Liars and Outliers:

Francis Fukuyama wrote: “Widespread distrust in society…imposes a kind of tax on all forms of economic activity, a tax that high-trust societies do not have to pay.” It’s a tax on the honest. It’s a tax imposed on ourselves by ourselves, because, human nature being what it is, too many of us would otherwise become hawks and take advantage of the rest of us. And it’s an expensive tax.

The argument here is that the greater the inequality, the greater the tax. And because much of this security tax protects the wealthy from the poor, it’s a regressive tax.

Posted on January 24, 2014 at 6:51 AMView Comments

How the NSA Threatens National Security

Secret NSA eavesdropping is still in the news. Details about once secret programs continue to leak. The Director of National Intelligence has recently declassified additional information, and the President’s Review Group has just released its report and recommendations.

With all this going on, it’s easy to become inured to the breadth and depth of the NSA’s activities. But through the disclosures, we’ve learned an enormous amount about the agency’s capabilities, how it is failing to protect us, and what we need to do to regain security in the Information Age.

First and foremost, the surveillance state is robust. It is robust politically, legally, and technically. I can name three different NSA programs to collect Gmail user data. These programs are based on three different technical eavesdropping capabilities. They rely on three different legal authorities. They involve collaborations with three different companies. And this is just Gmail. The same is true for cell phone call records, Internet chats, cell-phone location data.

Second, the NSA continues to lie about its capabilities. It hides behind tortured interpretations of words like “collect,” “incidentally,” “target,” and “directed.” It cloaks programs in multiple code names to obscure their full extent and capabilities. Officials testify that a particular surveillance activity is not done under one particular program or authority, conveniently omitting that it is done under some other program or authority.

Third, US government surveillance is not just about the NSA. The Snowden documents have given us extraordinary details about the NSA’s activities, but we now know that the CIA, NRO, FBI, DEA, and local police all engage in ubiquitous surveillance using the same sorts of eavesdropping tools, and that they regularly share information with each other.

The NSA’s collect-everything mentality is largely a hold-over from the Cold War, when a voyeuristic interest in the Soviet Union was the norm. Still, it is unclear how effective targeted surveillance against “enemy” countries really is. Even when we learn actual secrets, as we did regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons earlier this year, we often can’t do anything with the information.

Ubiquitous surveillance should have died with the fall of Communism, but it got a new — and even more dangerous — life with the intelligence community’s post-9/11 “never again” terrorism mission. This quixotic goal of preventing something from happening forces us to try to know everything that does happen. This pushes the NSA to eavesdrop on online gaming worlds and on every cell phone in the world. But it’s a fool’s errand; there are simply too many ways to communicate.

We have no evidence that any of this surveillance makes us safer. NSA Director General Keith Alexander responded to these stories in June by claiming that he disrupted 54 terrorist plots. In October, he revised that number downward to 13, and then to “one or two.” At this point, the only “plot” prevented was that of a San Diego man sending $8,500 to support a Somali militant group. We have been repeatedly told that these surveillance programs would have been able to stop 9/11, yet the NSA didn’t detect the Boston bombings — even though one of the two terrorists was on the watch list and the other had a sloppy social media trail. Bulk collection of data and metadata is an ineffective counterterrorism tool.

Not only is ubiquitous surveillance ineffective, it is extraordinarily costly. I don’t mean just the budgets, which will continue to skyrocket. Or the diplomatic costs, as country after country learns of our surveillance programs against their citizens. I’m also talking about the cost to our society. It breaks so much of what our society has built. It breaks our political systems, as Congress is unable to provide any meaningful oversight and citizens are kept in the dark about what government does. It breaks our legal systems, as laws are ignored or reinterpreted, and people are unable to challenge government actions in court. It breaks our commercial systems, as US computer products and services are no longer trusted worldwide. It breaks our technical systems, as the very protocols of the Internet become untrusted. And it breaks our social systems; the loss of privacy, freedom, and liberty is much more damaging to our society than the occasional act of random violence.

And finally, these systems are susceptible to abuse. This is not just a hypothetical problem. Recent history illustrates many episodes where this information was, or would have been, abused: Hoover and his FBI spying, McCarthy, Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, anti-war Vietnam protesters, and — more recently — the Occupy movement. Outside the US, there are even more extreme examples. Building the surveillance state makes it too easy for people and organizations to slip over the line into abuse.

It’s not just domestic abuse we have to worry about; it’s the rest of the world, too. The more we choose to eavesdrop on the Internet and other communications technologies, the less we are secure from eavesdropping by others. Our choice isn’t between a digital world where the NSA can eavesdrop and one where the NSA is prevented from eavesdropping; it’s between a digital world that is vulnerable to all attackers, and one that is secure for all users.

Fixing this problem is going to be hard. We are long past the point where simple legal interventions can help. The bill in Congress to limit NSA surveillance won’t actually do much to limit NSA surveillance. Maybe the NSA will figure out an interpretation of the law that will allow it to do what it wants anyway. Maybe it’ll do it another way, using another justification. Maybe the FBI will do it and give it a copy. And when asked, it’ll lie about it.

NSA-level surveillance is like the Maginot Line was in the years before World War II: ineffective and wasteful. We need to openly disclose what surveillance we have been doing, and the known insecurities that make it possible. We need to work toward security, even if other countries like China continue to use the Internet as a giant surveillance platform. We need to build a coalition of free-world nations dedicated to a secure global Internet, and we need to continually push back against bad actors — both state and non-state — that work against that goal.

Securing the Internet requires both laws and technology. It requires Internet technology that secures data wherever it is and however it travels. It requires broad laws that put security ahead of both domestic and international surveillance. It requires additional technology to enforce those laws, and a worldwide enforcement regime to deal with bad actors. It’s not easy, and has all the problems that other international issues have: nuclear, chemical, and biological weapon non-proliferation; small arms trafficking; human trafficking; money laundering; intellectual property. Global information security and anti-surveillance needs to join those difficult global problems, so we can start making progress.

The President’s Review Group recommendations are largely positive, but they don’t go nearly far enough. We need to recognize that security is more important than surveillance, and work towards that goal.

This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

Posted on January 13, 2014 at 6:28 AMView Comments

Joseph Stiglitz on Trust

Joseph Stiglitz has an excellent essay on the value of trust, and the lack of it in today’s society.

Trust is what makes contracts, plans and everyday transactions possible; it facilitates the democratic process, from voting to law creation, and is necessary for social stability. It is essential for our lives. It is trust, more than money, that makes the world go round.

At the end, he discusses a bit about the security mechanisms necessary to restore it:

I suspect there is only one way to really get trust back. We need to pass strong regulations, embodying norms of good behavior, and appoint bold regulators to enforce them. We did just that after the roaring ’20s crashed; our efforts since 2007 have been sputtering and incomplete. Firms also need to do better than skirt the edges of regulations. We need higher norms for what constitutes acceptable behavior, like those embodied in the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. But we also need regulations to enforce these norms ­ a new version of trust but verify. No rules will be strong enough to prevent every abuse, yet good, strong regulations can stop the worst of it.

This, of course, is what my book Liars and Outliers is about.

Posted on December 30, 2013 at 9:55 AMView Comments

NSA Spying: Whom Do You Believe?

On Friday, Reuters reported that RSA entered into a secret contract to make DUAL_EC_PRNG the default random number generator in the BSAFE toolkit. DUA_EC_PRNG is now known to have been backdoored by the NSA.

Yesterday, RSA denied it:

Recent press coverage has asserted that RSA entered into a “secret contract” with the NSA to incorporate a known flawed random number generator into its BSAFE encryption libraries. We categorically deny this allegation.

[…]

We made the decision to use Dual EC DRBG as the default in BSAFE toolkits in 2004, in the context of an industry-wide effort to develop newer, stronger methods of encryption. At that time, the NSA had a trusted role in the community-wide effort to strengthen, not weaken, encryption.

We know from both Mark Klein and Edward Snowden — and pretty much everything else about the NSA — that the NSA directly taps the trunk lines of AT&T (and pretty much every other telcom carrier). On Friday, AT&T denied that:

In its statement, AT&T sought to push back against the notion that it provides the government with such access. “We do not allow any government agency to connect directly to our network to gather, review or retrieve our customers’ information,” said Watts.

I’ve written before about how the NSA has corroded our trust in the Internet and communications technologies. The debates over these companies’ statements, and about exactly how they are using and abusing individual words to lie while claiming they are not lying, is a manifestation of that.

Me again:

This sort of thing can destroy our country. Trust is essential in our society. And if we can’t trust either our government or the corporations that have intimate access into so much of our lives, society suffers. Study after study demonstrates the value of living in a high-trust society and the costs of living in a low-trust one.

Rebuilding trust is not easy, as anyone who has betrayed or been betrayed by a friend or lover knows, but the path involves transparency, oversight and accountability. Transparency first involves coming clean. Not a little bit at a time, not only when you have to, but complete disclosure about everything. Then it involves continuing disclosure. No more secret rulings by secret courts about secret laws. No more secret programs whose costs and benefits remain hidden.

Oversight involves meaningful constraints on the NSA, the FBI and others. This will be a combination of things: a court system that acts as a third-party advocate for the rule of law rather than a rubber-stamp organization, a legislature that understands what these organizations are doing and regularly debates requests for increased power, and vibrant public-sector watchdog groups that analyze and debate the government’s actions.

Accountability means that those who break the law, lie to Congress or deceive the American people are held accountable. The NSA has gone rogue, and while it’s probably not possible to prosecute people for what they did under the enormous veil of secrecy it currently enjoys, we need to make it clear that this behavior will not be tolerated in the future. Accountability also means voting, which means voters need to know what our leaders are doing in our name.

This is the only way we can restore trust. A market economy doesn’t work unless consumers can make intelligent buying decisions based on accurate product information. That’s why we have agencies like the FDA, truth-in-packaging laws and prohibitions against false advertising.

We no longer know whom to trust. This is the greatest damage the NSA has done to the Internet, and will be the hardest to fix.

EDITED TO ADD (12/23): The requested removal of an NSA employee from an IETF group co-chairmanship is another manifestation of this mistrust.

Posted on December 23, 2013 at 6:26 AMView Comments

World War II Anecdote about Trust and Security

This is an interesting story from World War II about trust:

Jones notes that the Germans doubted their system because they knew the British could radio false orders to the German bombers with no trouble. As Jones recalls, “In fact we did not do this, but it seemed such an easy countermeasure that the German crews thought that we might, and they therefore began to be suspicious about the instructions that they received.”

The implications of this are perhaps obvious but worth stating nonetheless: a lack of trust can exist even if an adversary fails to exploit a weakness in the system. More importantly, this doubt can become a shadow adversary. According to Jones, “…it was not long before the crews found substance to their theory [that is, their doubt].” In support of this, he offers the anecdote of a German pilot who, returning to base after wandering off course, grumbled that “the British had given him a false order.”

I think about this all the time with respect to our IT systems and the NSA. Even though we don’t know which companies the NSA has compromised — or by what means — knowing that they could have compromised any of them is enough to make us mistrustful of all of them. This is going to make it hard for large companies like Google and Microsoft to get back the trust they lost. Even if they succeed in limiting government surveillance. Even if they succeed in improving their own internal security. The best they’ll be able to say is: “We have secured ourselves from the NSA, except for the parts that we either don’t know about or can’t talk about.”

Posted on December 13, 2013 at 11:20 AMView Comments

Can I Be Trusted?

Slashdot asks the question:

I’m a big fan of Bruce Schneier, but just to play devil’s advocate, let’s say, hypothetically, that Schneier is actually in cahoots with the NSA. Who better to reinstate public trust in weakened cryptosystems? As an exercise in security that Schneier himself may find interesting, what methods are available for proving (or at least affirming) that we can trust Bruce Schneier?

So far, I haven’t seen the good reasons why I might be untrustworthy. I’d help, but that seems unfair.

Posted on October 22, 2013 at 11:32 AMView Comments

Will Keccak = SHA-3?

Last year, NIST selected Keccak as the winner of the SHA-3 hash function competition. Yes, I would have rather my own Skein had won, but it was a good choice.

But last August, John Kelsey announced some changes to Keccak in a talk (slides 44-48 are relevant). Basically, the security levels were reduced and some internal changes to the algorithm were made, all in the name of software performance.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But in light of the Snowden documents that reveal that the NSA has attempted to intentionally weaken cryptographic standards, this is a huge deal. There is too much mistrust in the air. NIST risks publishing an algorithm that no one will trust and no one (except those forced) will use.

At this point, they simply have to standardize on Keccak as submitted and as selected.

CDT has a great post about this.

Also this Slashdot thread.

EDITED TO ADD (10/5): It’s worth reading the response from the Keccak team on this issue.

I misspoke when I wrote that NIST made “internal changes” to the algorithm. That was sloppy of me. The Keccak permutation remains unchanged. What NIST proposed was reducing the hash function’s capacity in the name of performance. One of Keccak’s nice features is that it’s highly tunable.

I do not believe that the NIST changes were suggested by the NSA. Nor do I believe that the changes make the algorithm easier to break by the NSA. I believe NIST made the changes in good faith, and the result is a better security/performance trade-off. My problem with the changes isn’t cryptographic, it’s perceptual. There is so little trust in the NSA right now, and that mistrust is reflecting on NIST. I worry that the changed algorithm won’t be accepted by an understandably skeptical security community, and that no one will use SHA-3 as a result.

This is a lousy outcome. NIST has done a great job with cryptographic competitions: both a decade ago with AES and now with SHA-3. This is just another effect of the NSA’s actions draining the trust out of the Internet.

Posted on October 1, 2013 at 10:50 AMView Comments

Take Back the Internet

Government and industry have betrayed the Internet, and us.

By subverting the Internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. The companies that build and manage our Internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: we can no longer trust them to be ethical Internet stewards.

This is not the Internet the world needs, or the Internet its creators envisioned. We need to take it back.

And by we, I mean the engineering community.

Yes, this is primarily a political problem, a policy matter that requires political intervention.

But this is also an engineering problem, and there are several things engineers can — and should — do.

One, we should expose. If you do not have a security clearance, and if you have not received a National Security Letter, you are not bound by a federal confidentially requirements or a gag order. If you have been contacted by the NSA to subvert a product or protocol, you need to come forward with your story. Your employer obligations don’t cover illegal or unethical activity. If you work with classified data and are truly brave, expose what you know. We need whistleblowers.

We need to know how exactly how the NSA and other agencies are subverting routers, switches, the Internet backbone, encryption technologies and cloud systems. I already have five stories from people like you, and I’ve just started collecting. I want 50. There’s safety in numbers, and this form of civil disobedience is the moral thing to do.

Two, we can design. We need to figure out how to re-engineer the Internet to prevent this kind of wholesale spying. We need new techniques to prevent communications intermediaries from leaking private information.

We can make surveillance expensive again. In particular, we need open protocols, open implementations, open systems — these will be harder for the NSA to subvert.

The Internet Engineering Task Force, the group that defines the standards that make the internet run, has a meeting planned for early November in Vancouver. This group needs to dedicate its next meeting to this task. This is an emergency, and demands an emergency response.

Three, we can influence governance. I have resisted saying this up to now, and I am saddened to say it, but the US has proved to be an unethical steward of the Internet. The UK is no better. The NSA’s actions are legitimizing the internet abuses by China, Russia, Iran and others. We need to figure out new means of internet governance, ones that makes it harder for powerful tech countries to monitor everything. For example, we need to demand transparency, oversight, and accountability from our governments and corporations.

Unfortunately, this is going play directly into the hands of totalitarian governments that want to control their country’s Internet for even more extreme forms of surveillance. We need to figure out how to prevent that, too. We need to avoid the mistakes of the International Telecommunications Union, which has become a forum to legitimize bad government behavior, and create truly international governance that can’t be dominated or abused by any one country.

Generations from now, when people look back on these early decades of the Internet, I hope they will not be disappointed in us. We can ensure that they don’t only if each of us makes this a priority, and engages in the debate. We have a moral duty to do this, and we have no time to lose.

Dismantling the surveillance state won’t be easy. Has any country that engaged in mass surveillance of its own citizens voluntarily given up that capability? Has any mass surveillance country avoided becoming totalitarian? Whatever happens, we’re going to be breaking new ground.

Again, the politics of this is a bigger task than the engineering, but the engineering is critical. We need to demand that real technologists be involved in any key government decision making on these issues. We’ve had enough of lawyers and politicians not fully understanding technology; we need technologists at the table when we build tech policy.

To the engineers, I say this: we built the Internet, and some of us have helped to subvert it. Now, those of us who love liberty have to fix it.

This essay previously appeared in the Guardian.

EDITED TO ADD: Slashdot thread. An opposing view to my call to action. And I agree with this, even though the author presents this as an opposing view to mine.

EDITED TO ADD: This essay has been translated into German.

Posted on September 15, 2013 at 11:53 AMView Comments

Conspiracy Theories and the NSA

I’ve recently seen two articles speculating on the NSA’s capability, and practice, of spying on members of Congress and other elected officials. The evidence is all circumstantial and smacks of conspiracy thinking — and I have no idea whether any of it is true or not — but it’s a good illustration of what happens when trust in a public institution fails.

The NSA has repeatedly lied about the extent of its spying program. James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has lied about it to Congress. Top-secret documents provided by Edward Snowden, and reported on by the Guardian and other newspapers, repeatedly show that the NSA’s surveillance systems are monitoring the communications of American citizens. The DEA has used this information to apprehend drug smugglers, then lied about it in court. The IRS has used this information to find tax cheats, then lied about it. It’s even been used to arrest a copyright violator. It seems that every time there is an allegation against the NSA, no matter how outlandish, it turns out to be true.

Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald has been playing this well, dribbling the information out one scandal at a time. It’s looking more and more as if the NSA doesn’t know what Snowden took. It’s hard for someone to lie convincingly if he doesn’t know what the opposition actually knows.

All of this denying and lying results in us not trusting anything the NSA says, anything the president says about the NSA, or anything companies say about their involvement with the NSA. We know secrecy corrupts, and we see that corruption. There’s simply no credibility, and — the real problem — no way for us to verify anything these people might say.

It’s a perfect environment for conspiracy theories to take root: no trust, assuming the worst, no way to verify the facts. Think JFK assassination theories. Think 9/11 conspiracies. Think UFOs. For all we know, the NSA might be spying on elected officials. Edward Snowden said that he had the ability to spy on anyone in the U.S., in real time, from his desk. His remarks were belittled, but it turns out he was right.

This is not going to improve anytime soon. Greenwald and other reporters are still poring over Snowden’s documents, and will continue to report stories about NSA overreach, lawbreaking, abuses, and privacy violations well into next year. The “independent” review that Obama promised of these surveillance programs will not help, because it will lack both the power to discover everything the NSA is doing and the ability to relay that information to the public.

It’s time to start cleaning up this mess. We need a special prosecutor, one not tied to the military, the corporations complicit in these programs, or the current political leadership, whether Democrat or Republican. This prosecutor needs free rein to go through the NSA’s files and discover the full extent of what the agency is doing, as well as enough technical staff who have the capability to understand it. He needs the power to subpoena government officials and take their sworn testimony. He needs the ability to bring criminal indictments where appropriate. And, of course, he needs the requisite security clearance to see it all.

We also need something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where both government and corporate employees can come forward and tell their stories about NSA eavesdropping without fear of reprisal.

Yes, this will overturn the paradigm of keeping everything the NSA does secret, but Snowden and the reporters he’s shared documents with have already done that. The secrets are going to come out, and the journalists doing the outing are not going to be sympathetic to the NSA. If the agency were smart, it’d realize that the best thing it could do would be to get ahead of the leaks.

The result needs to be a public report about the NSA’s abuses, detailed enough that public watchdog groups can be convinced that everything is known. Only then can our country go about cleaning up the mess: shutting down programs, reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act system, and reforming surveillance law to make it absolutely clear that even the NSA cannot eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant.

Comparisons are springing up between today’s NSA and the FBI of the 1950s and 1960s, and between NSA Director Keith Alexander and J. Edgar Hoover. We never managed to rein in Hoover’s FBI — it took his death for change to occur. I don’t think we’ll get so lucky with the NSA. While Alexander has enormous personal power, much of his power comes from the institution he leads. When he is replaced, that institution will remain.

Trust is essential for society to function. Without it, conspiracy theories naturally take hold. Even worse, without it we fail as a country and as a culture. It’s time to reinstitute the ideals of democracy: The government works for the people, open government is the best way to protect against government abuse, and a government keeping secrets from its people is a rare exception, not the norm.

This essay originally appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

Posted on September 6, 2013 at 11:08 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.