Archive for the 'Apple/Mac' Category

Oct 05 2014

Understanding Apple’s new encryption model

I understand enough about encryption to get myself in trouble, but not much more.  I can talk about it intelligently in most cases, but when we get down to the nitty gritty, bit by bit discussion of how encryption works, I want to have someone who’s really an expert explain it to me.  Which is why I’m glad that Matthew Green sat down to explain Apple’s claims of new encryption that they can’t open for law enforcement in great detail.

The Too Long; Didn’t Read (I often forget what tl;dr means) version of it is that there is a unique ID that’s hidden deep in the hardware encryption chips on your phone that software doesn’t have access to.  This UID is made part of your encryption key through complex algorithms and can’t be pulled out locally or remotely and makes for a strong encryption key that protects your encrypted data.  Do keep in mind that not all of the interesting data on your phone is encrypted, there are still nooks and crannies that can be looked at by someone with physical access to the phone.  And that some of the most interesting stuff on your phone isn’t what’s on it in many cases; it’s the list of who you’ve called, where you’ve been and the like that they can get from the carrier.  That metadata is often at least as important as what’s on your phone, and much easier to get without ever having to even see your phone.

I’m personally very glad that Apple (and Android as well) have begun encrypting phones by default.   Yes, police need to the ability to get into phones and see what people have been doing on them, but the last two years have shown that this ability has been abused for quite some time.  Various governmental officials in the US have decried the move saying they need the ability to catch pedophiles and terrorists.  Yet so far the count of cases where the information needed to catch anyone from either of those categories couldn’t be gotten by other means is still in the single digits.  At the same time the number of  lawsuits against police in the US abusing their ability to get into phones numbers in the hundreds.  Do the math and figure out for yourself if it’s worth law enforcement having easy access.

We’ll be seeing more organizations of all types moving encryption, partially to protect users and partially to defend themselves from the negative publicity being open to the police brings.  There will be a number of missteps, of poor encryption methodology and cases where people realize they can’t just get their backup from the cloud because they used serious encryption and lost the key.  There will be growing pains and there will be examples of guilty people escaping because law enforcement doesn’t have easy access to phone data.  But we need to have strong encryption to protect the privacy of average citizens who’ve done nothing more than catch the attention of the wrong person at the wrong time as well.  Our privacy is much more delicate and deserving of protection than many in power believe it is.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

One response so far

Nov 08 2011

Open Tabs 11/08/11

I had a great time at BSides DFW this weekend!  Michelle Klinger, Joseph Sokoly and the whole crew of volunteers who made the event happen did such an awesome job of putting it together and the Microsoft tech center was the perfect place to have it.  Not that Jayson Street didn’t make a few of the security guards nervous from time to time.  And the rest of us nervous when he thought no one was watching where he was thinking of getting into.  I gave the closing key note speech, which went well despite the fact I was as nervous as I think it’s possible for me to be.  It’s worth giving the talk again some time, after I’ve tightened it up and loosened up a bit myself.  Just remember to challenge all our current security wisdom.

Saturday was November 5th, Guy Faulkes day, and despite it being a high holiday for Anonymous, nothing much seems to have happened.  They did pop Adidas last week, but that was supposedly a prequel to their main event this weekend.  On a more positive note, Brad Smith is doing slightly better, though he is still comatose and has pnemonia.  If you can, spare a few dollars to help Brad and his wife pay for medical bills; if you can’t, keep him in your prayers.  Brad has helped a lot of people in the security community and it’s time to help him in return.

Open Tabs 11/08/11

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Comments Off on Open Tabs 11/08/11

May 18 2011

Network security Podcast, Episode 241

Published by under Apple/Mac,Podcast

While Martin and Rich are away, Zach will pla^Wrecord an interview. I managed to snag Aldo Cortesi for a bit to discuss his research into de-anonymizing Apple UDIDs, as well as his work on mitmproxy, a man-in-the-middle proxy tool.

Network Security Podcast, Episode 241
Time:  30:24

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

One response so far

Aug 08 2010

Would you let your wife track your movement? I will

Published by under Apple/Mac,Family,Privacy

I make no secret of how much I value privacy.  Which is weird coming from someone like myself who spends so much time on social networking, blogging and generally shouting my activities to the world.  But I control most of that information, which is what privacy is all about in the digital age.  So why am I talking about letting my wife track my every move?  Because I received a press release about the Family Tracker application for the iPhone and iPad, and rather than just go on a diatribe about how such a system could be misused, I have decided that for the next few weeks I will voluntarily give my wife the ability to track the location of my iPhone anywhere it goes.  And since I’m almost never without my iPhone, it means she’ll be able to track my movement at all times.  Besides, she just gave me “the Look” when I asked if it was okay for me to track her movements; allowing her to track me was obviously a healthier choice.

I don’t like the idea of tracking of people, especially if they don’t know about it.  The potential for abuse far outweighs the benefits in most cases.  Whether it’s a spouse or parent abusing the tracking, someone abusing access to the vendor or law enforcement legally tracking someone, I get very nervous about what CAN happen.  So when I got the press release for Family Tracker and an offer for promotional codes, I decided it was time to bite the bullet that is my paranoia and see how a tracking program like this is used in real life. 

I travel.  A lot.  In the next few weeks I’ll be crossing the country several times and I’ll be gone from home more than I’ll be there.  I post my travel schedule on several calendars around my office, so which city I’m in is rarely a question and I use FourSquare enough that my location has never really been a mystery anyway.  But I’ve always been in control of both of these methods of tracking and giving my family a tool to tell where I am almost every moment of the day is new and interesting experience for me.  I suspect that my wife will look me up once or twice and then ignore the application 99% of the time.  But she has surprised me before.

I’ve set it up so I can track myself and my iPhone from my iPad, so even if my wife doesn’t want to track me, I can still find out more about what the program is capable off.  And unless I do something stupid that involves the police, I doubt anyone else will want to track me.  If anyone really wants to know my whereabouts, there’s more than enough information already on the Internet to find me if someone takes the time.  This will just make it a little easier.

So through the end of the month my little social experiment will be running. After that, we’ll see.  It may be that my wife likes being able to track me.  Or she may just say, “Meh.  If I want to know where you are, I’ll just call.”  I’m almost as interested in seeing how she uses Family Tracker as I am in seeing if she thinks being able to track me is worthwhile.  I honestly don’t know which way she’ll decide.

After the break is the information the folks at LogSat sent me when I expressed interest in their product, which covers several important questions about how Family Tracker works.
Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jun 11 2010

Testing the Apple wireless keyboard

Published by under Apple/Mac

The one thing I’ve hated doing since I picked up the iPad was anything involving typing. The concept of touching icons with a fingertip works in a wonderfully intuitive manner. But when you have to type out a password or anything longer than a tweet, it’ frustrating an slow. So I got the Boss’s (aka wife’s) permission to pick up the Apple wireless keyboard.

I’ve only had the keyboard for an hour and this is the first serious typing I’ve done on it, but in this short test it seems to be at least as responsive and tactile as any of the much larger keyboards I use on a daily basis. It’s incredibly thin and light, but it holds it’s place on the table, no skittering across the surface if I type too aggressively. Overall the feel is good and the slightly small keys don’t seem to inhibit my typing at all, despite my large hands.

I’ll be flying to the FIRST conference tomorrow and hope to live blog some of the presentations while I’m there. Between the iPad itself, a Verizon Mifi 2200 and the keyboard, I think I have a winning combination of easily packable blogging gear. Now to see if my suppositions match the reality at all.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

5 responses so far

Feb 24 2010

LMSD should have used due process

I make no secret about being a privacy advocate, however many people misunderstand what I’m against when I talk about our government spying on us.  I firmly believe that having the ability to monitor communications, search people’s houses and generally stick their noses in anywhere are all abilities that local and federal law enforcement agencies need to have.  But there’s one caveat I believe must be in place: for any sort of monitoring and spying there has to be oversight by a third party and a way to redress problems when someone abuses this power.  This oversight is one of the primary reasons cops have to go to judges to get a search warrant and we have many of the freedoms we do in the US.  Without oversight, we’d descend into a police state that matches the worst of our criticisms against countries such as China and Iran.  This is a lesson the administrators at the the Lower Merion School District forgot in their rush to use camera’s on student laptops to spy on the kids and prove wrong-doing that may or may not have been there.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last week, you know about this case; quick recap is that a Vice Principal used a picture captured using LANRev on school provided laptops to accuse a student of taking drugs.  This prompted a class action suit and a potential criminal investigation into the district’s use of LANRev to illegally spy on students.  There’s a lot of damning evidence available on the Internet and it’s looking likely that a number of people will be facing criminal charges.  And it’s all because these people believed they were doing the right thing in tracking their laptops and their students without some form of oversight to tell them they were being complete and utter idiots.

Absolute Software, the makers of LANRev, understand that giving customers unrestricted access to spy using their computers is a major problem; they require that a police report be filed prior to the spying capabilities of their other, similar products such as LoJack are activated.  First of all, this creates the oversight advocates such as I crave.  Not too many people are going to report a laptop stolen so they can spy on their significant other.  Secondly it creates a paper trail that lays out when and why the spying capabilities were activated.  Even after these capabilities are up and running, it’s under the control of Absolute, not the end user.  In their own words this prevents “potential vigilantism” and other abuses of power. 

If what the families in the Lower Merion School District are claiming is true, and it appears more and more likely it is, then folks like the Vice Principal at Harrington High are definitely vigilantes, someone who illegally tries to mete out punishment to a criminal.  There’s a reason we have due process and the administrators of LMSD forgot all of them in their fervor to catch students doing things they shouldn’t at home.  They also forgot that the responsibility of schools and teachers is to teach, not law enforcement.  If they truly believed there was wrong doing going on, the police should have been called in and proper procedures should have been followed.  There’s still a good probability that using LANRev without a search warrant would have been considered an invasion of privacy, but if it was done with police involvement, there’s a lot lower chance they’d be in the hot water they’re in now.  And maybe someone with a little knowledge of the law would have said, “Hey, that’s one monumentally stupid idea you’ve got there.”

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

3 responses so far

Feb 20 2010

Interview in the LMSD case

Here’s an interview with the family of the student who is at the center of the Lower Meridion School District.  I’m glad I didn’t see the interview before I’d written my previous post on the situation.  If what the family says is true, almost every statement that the school has made so far is false, from claiming that the spyware was only used 42 times to the statement that it was only activated when a laptop was reported stolen.  The Vice Principal accused Blake Robbins of trying to sell drugs online with proof of a picture taken from the laptop.  What Blake says he was really holding up weren’t drugs but candy.  And the Father hits the nail on the head in saying that his biggest concern is his 18 year old daughter who also has a school provided laptop with the same software installed.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I believe that the majority of the administration at the Lower Merion School District needs to be at least suspended pending investigation if not summarily fired!  The utter lack of moral and ethical compass that was required for this situation to come about is staggering.  I can understand wanting to protect an investment, but the slide from that to spying on school children should be obvious to anyone with a shred of common sense.  Lacking that much common sense tells me these people are unworthy of being in the school system and of teaching our children basic knowledge.  The LMSD is going to have to do serious damage control and their first step has to be keeping the people involved in this mess away from children.

This situation is going to have far ranging consequences and will hopefully change the way school administrators feel about monitoring students.  If you’re school district provides computers for your children, you need to make them aware of this situation and ask them if they’re doing anything similar.  If they answer yes, demand a full audit of the system and who accessed it immediately!  Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer; get a lawyer involved if you have to.  If you’re a teacher or an administrator who has similar software installed on laptops you’ve provided to your students, disable the program immediately and begin an audit of your systems and who accessed it.  It’s better to be proactive and discover that your system was abused than find out because you’re being hit with a lawsuit.

I’m putting down the keyboard now because I can barely express the outrage I feel at this situation. 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

3 responses so far

Feb 20 2010

Don’t spy on my children!

I am amazed that the administration at Lower Merion School District (LMSD) couldn’t figure out something my eight year old son realized in just a few minutes, “Spying on people in their own home is wrong.  And really creepy.”  But they obviously couldn’t, so when they supplied 18oo students with Apple laptops 18 months ago, they included software with the laptops that would allow them to track stolen laptops and remotely turn on the iSight cameras on the Macs and take pictures of the thief.  Or pictures of a student doing something unnamed and naughty in his own home.  And then use that picture as evidence to prove that a student was doing something inappropriate in his own home.  After all, who’d ever think a teenager with a laptop would do something inappropriate when home, alone, with access to the Internet and all the sites that are normally forbidden to him?

When LMSD purchase 1800 Mac laptops for their student body, they made what was obviously a legitimate decision in their eyes: place software on the laptops that would allow the district to track their investment if it was lost or stolen.  These are laptops we’re talking about, they’re highly mobile and cost approximately $2000 each, so it’s understandable that the district might want to protect their investment.  But they never told the students or their parents that the software came as part of accepting the laptops.  As far as I can tell, the software installed was most likely one of the following:  LoJack, Undercover, MacTrak, BigFix or Hidden.  All of these systems are meant to be used to track stolen laptops, have the ability to turn on the camera remotely and can take screen captures and pictures through the Mac’s iSight camera.  There maybe several other solutions, and with the exception of BigFix, these are all consumer level products that are meant for one user to track one laptop and aren’t really meant for tracking a large number of users.  This is important because an enterprise version of this spyware is going to have significant logging capabilities, where as a consumer version might be utterly lacking in logging.  Allegedly, only two administrators had access to the systems for turning on the tracking and camera capabilities of the software.  What we’ll have to see now is what sort of logging the use of the software generated.  If it’s a consumer level product, I don’t have much hope for an accurate count, unless the tracking service itself keeps a log of how often the tracking of each laptop is turned on.  LMSD maintains that they “only” used the software 42 times or less than 50, their stories are conflicting.

I’ve been working in IT for a long time and a lot of my friends and acquaintances are people who would loosely be called ‘hackers’ by the public.  I don’t mean the people who are trying to break into your computer, I mean the people who test the limits of any system they come in contact with, just to see what it can do.  Most of the people I know who are good at their IT and computer security jobs are like this; they want to push the envelope so that they know what their systems can and cannot do.  Which is why having tracking and spying software on student laptops scares the snot out of me!  I know from personal experience that one of the first things the administrators of this system probably did was test it to see what they could and could not see from using the spying software, see if they’d be detected when it was turned on and see how they’d be tracked when they did turn on the spy software.  In and of itself, this attitude isn’t a bad thing, it’s part of the nature of the business we work in and the people it attracts.  But given the sensitive nature of who and where these laptops were going to be, unless there’s a complete, unmodifiable log of everything that was done using the spyware, I’m all but certain it was abused at least once during the time it was enabled on student laptops.

Another potential for abuse is exactly what happened to crack this whole issue wide open; a well meaning, if ignorant, Vice Principal used the capability of the spyware to take a picture of a student doing something he wasn’t supposed to.  It’s not clear yet exactly what the nature of the student’s abuse was, if his laptop had been reported stolen, if the software was activated for some other reason or if this was part of a systematic spying on the students.  What is known is that the Vice Principal used pictures taken from the iSight camera with the spying software to confront a student and his family with evidence of wrongdoing in a misguided attempt by the Vice Principal to do what she considered to be the right thing.  Unluckily for her, when it comes to spying on students at home, it’s much less of a slippery slope and more of a sudden drop off into the abyss of ‘1984‘.  I guess the whole school district skipped the ethics class when they were earning their teaching credentials.

The scariest potential abuses of this system both involve people who’d purposefully and knowingly break the rules the school set around this spying system.  Imagine if one of the administrators of the spyware was a closet pedophile or simply thought one of the students was much more mature than his or her years.  Students probably had their laptops sitting on their desks and undressed in front of them fairly often; after all, normal people don’t think their laptop is going to spy on them, so why bother turning it off or closing it before getting ready for bed.  Even worse is the thought that some student or malicious outsider (the classic media definition of ‘hacker’) found out that LMSD had this software installed and was able to break into the spyware system and use it at will.  These are merely suppositions, worse-case scenarios, but they are some of the factors that LMSD should have thought of before implementing spyware on student laptops.  A system such that has this much potential for abuse should have a similarly appropriate level of tracking, alerting and logging to prevent the curious and malicious from doing unethical, illegal and immoral.  Don’t be surprised if at some point in the near future pictures of LMSD students start showing up on the Internet.

The good news is that in addition to the civil suit the Lower Merion School District has been hit with, the FBI has started an investigation into the allegations of wrong doing.  The lawsuit alone is going to cost LMSD more than losing every last laptop would have, possibly by several orders of magnitude.  The business decision to track the laptops therefore turns out to be an utter failure.  Hopefully the FBI will be able to poke around the LMSD systems deeply enough that they’ll find any abuse of the system or confirm the districts assertion that the system was only used 42 times.  This is where all the logging capabilities of the spyware will be tested and the software vendor should expect a subpoena and visit from the FBI soon.  My suggestion to the FBI would be to pay special attention to any system administrator or school official that has had their computer recently re-imaged; while not proof of guilt, given the severity of the potential crimes that could be committed with the schools spyware, it’d be worth sending out the hard drives for recovery of the previous file system.
I truly hope that the FBI finds that the LMSD number of 42 times the spyware was used is accurate.  That would mean that most of my worst case scenarios haven’t happened.  But I suspect that even if the system wasn’t purposefully abused, 42 only represents the number of times that the spyware was used while going through the proper processes and procedures at the school district; it might have been used or abused many more times by the people who had access to it by design or by flaw.  And even if 42 is accurate, it will be up to a jury to decide if each of those uses were justifiable and legal.  In a civil court it’s going to be much harder for the school district to defend itself than it will be when the criminal charges are brought against the people responsible for the installation of the spyware.  And I’m confident that at least one person will be brought up on charges unless the whole school district is run and managed by people who are perfect angels.  Given that the system has already been abused, I’m pretty sure that supposition has been disproven.

I’m a parent of two pre-teen boys.  I probably wouldn’t have accepted a laptop from the school for either of them personally; I have more than enough computing power at home that I don’t need to bring someone else’s computer into the house.  And if this had happened in my school district, I’d be screaming for blood.  The school administrators who instigated and ran this program need to lose their jobs; they obviously don’t have enough of a moral compass to understand the difference between right and wrong and have no right to be working with children and teaching the next generation.  That may sound harsh, but these are people who thought that the security and safety of a few laptops was more important than the privacy and safety of the students who were using the same laptops.  A piece of hardware may be expensive, but it’s infinitely less important than my children and the children who live in the Lower Merion School District.  The inability to see that fact is proof of their utter lack of suitability to be working with children in the first place.

It may be that we find out that the spyware LMSD installed was never abused and that every instance of it’s use was justifiable.  But the installation and use of the system in the first place without notifying the parents and students was a utter and complete violation of these families civil liberties and right to privacy, not to mention the administrator’s ethical responsibility.  It shows that the school district placed more value on the laptops than the Constitutional rights of these families.  I find that unacceptable and hope that between the civil suit and the FBI investigation a strong message is sent to schools around the country that this sort of spying on students is not and never will be acceptable in any way, shape or form.  I hate to think about what I’d do if I ever found out my sons’ school district was spying on them in this way; there’s a reason I earned the nickname “Captain Privacy”. 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

6 responses so far

Nov 08 2009

Simple worm RickRolls jailbroken iPhones

I knew it had to be just a matter of time before someone took advantage all of the jailbroken iPhones and created another malicious tool to pwn them.  This time the attacker has been RickRolling iPhone users, changing the background on the phones to a picture of Rick Astley.  The worm is fairly simple and uses the default password set up on the SSH daemon when you jailbreak your iPhone, so if you’ve taken the 5 minutes required to change the password, you’re perfectly safe from the effects of the worm.  Of course, it’s written by someone in Australia going by the name of ‘ikee’ and generally has only been hitting phones down under, but given that the ikee code was released, along with an interview, it’s only a matter of time before someone else creates a new version that does something much nastier than putting up a picture of an 80’s pop icon.  I can think of a couple of people I know who’d be willing to put pictures of goats or lemons or things with spelling close to that on your iPhone.  And those are just the people who are there to be playful.

I’ve said it a number of times in the last week, but it bears saying again:  If you’ve jailbroken your iPhone, change your iPhone’s root password immediately!

By the way, I don’t know anyone who’s jailbroken their iPhone in order to access pirated software, everyone I’ve talked to did it so they could install software that unlocks capabilities that Apple doesn’t want us to have in existing apps, for example tools like xGPS and SBSettings.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

2 responses so far

Nov 07 2009

How to change the SSH passsword on your iPhone

I mentioned a couple of days ago that once you jailbreak your iPhone, you’ve bypassed many of the security protections Apple put in place.  One of the biggest concerns once you do this is the SSH service running on the iPhone, since it’s relatively easy to find the default password for the phone (it’s ‘alpine’).  My solution is to use SBSettings and simply turn off SSH on the iPhone all together.  But if you have reason to leave SSH running, you need to at least change the password, especially if you’re going to any security conventions or will be traveling through target rich environments that might draw the attention of malicious elements (aka, hackers).  You know, places like airports, train stations, Las Vegas, New York, etc.

How to Change the iPhone’s Root Password

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Comments Off on How to change the SSH passsword on your iPhone

Next »