Archive for the 'Risk' Category

Apr 05 2014

Hack my ride

Published by under Hacking,Risk,Security Advisories

Important:  Read the stuff at the end of this post.  I got a lot of feedback and I’ve added it there.  Unlike some people, I actually want to be told when I’m wrong and learn from the experience.

I don’t own a Tesla S and probably never will.  They’re beautiful cars, they’re (sort of) ecologically friendly, and they show that you have more money than common sense.  I use a car to get my family from point A to point B and showing off my wealth (or lack there of) has never actually been part of the equation in buying a car.  And one more reason I don’t think I’ll ever buy a Tesla is that I’m beginning to think they’re as insecure as all get out, at least from the network perspective.

Last week hacker* Nitesh Dhanjani wrote his experience with exploring the remote control possibilities of the Tesla Model S P85+.  It starts with being able to unlock the doors, check the location, etc.  And it ends with a total lack of security for the site and tools needed to control the car.  The web site for controling your new Tesla has minimal password complexity controls, six characters with at least one letter and one number.  I have no idea if it’ll even let you use symbols, but I’m guessing that’s either not supported or only a minimal subset of symbols are available.  Which means password complexity is very low by almost any standard.  Then there’s the fact that Tesla doesn’t have rudimentary controls around the web site, such as rate limits on password guesses or account lock out, which they’ve hopefully changed by now.  Which gives you an easily guessed password combined with a site that allows unlimited guesses, making the possibility of brute forcing the password very real.  That’s not even including the fact that so many people reuse account names and passwords, so there’s a good chance you can find a compromised account database with the owner’s details if you search for a little while.

That’s great so far.  Now let’s add to this the fact that your Tesla S has wifi/4G wireless access.  And there’s also a 4-pin connector in the dashboard that leads to the network inside your car.  It’s running all sorts of wonderful things in that network too, none of which could possibly be vulnerable to outside attacks, right?  SSH? Check.  DNS? Check.  Web Server? Check. Telnet?  Check.  Wait, telnet?  Seriously?  Oh, and “1050/tcp open java or OTGfileshare”.  Yes, I really want either java or an open file share running in my car.  At least one person was able to get Firefox running on the console of their Tesla, [Correction: x-11 forwarding misconfiguration, not running on the Tesla]  even if was flipped on its head for some odd reason.  Any or all of these services running on the car’s internal network could have vulnerabilities that allow configuration change, remote code execution or even full root access to the system.  Or maybe they just allow for the systems to be rebooted, not something you really want when your driving on the winding coastal roads of California. [I've been told it's just the displays that would be affected, none of the handling characteristics would change. Still disconcerting]

So now we’ve got two fairly egregious methods of connecting to your Tesla with minimal security standards.  The first is remote and allows for control of doors, sunroofs, braking and suspension profiles.  The last two should concern everyone.  While there are probably physical controls in place to keep the profiles of brakes and suspension from getting too far outside of the range of acceptable usage, I wouldn’t be willing to bet on it, given the otherwise lax security measures on the remote controls for the car.  The second method of connecting to the Tesla does require physical access, but it sounds like this is built for the engineers and technicians who work on Teslas [Correction:  The connection only allows for access to the entertainment system and there is an airgap between that and the CANBUS systems.  However, I don't trust airgaps], and is likely to allow much greater control of the car and the various parameters of its design.  Even less technologically advanced cars have the ability to make fairly advanced modification of the functioning of a car once you have access to the software, so Tesla probably has extremely advanced configuration capabilities.  Meaning everything from how the car charges when plugged in to what shows up on the dash as you’re driving to manipulating acceleration and braking are within the realm of possibility.

As the Internet of Things becomes our daily reality, this sort of lax security on something as potentially deadly as an automobile is inexcusable.   It wouldn’t take much of a tweak to the normal operation of a car to make it uncontrollable in the wrong situation.  We haven’t seen anyone killed by having their car hacked yet, but it’s only a matter of time if companies aren’t willing to take the time to properly secure the systems that go into making the car run.  While it’s important in the current marketing environment to make every device as configurable from you phone as possible, there have to be sufficient controls in place to make that configurability safe and secure as well.  Yes, it might mean that you, Tesla, have to make your users go through two or three more steps in order to set up their systems for control, but it’s worth the effort.  After all, who will be liable, who will be in the courts for years when the first person claims that their car was hacked, which is what caused the accident?  Even if having a car hacked isn’t the cause of an accident, it can’t be too long before someone uses that as their defense and still costs the company millions in legal defense.

Let’s end this with a little thought experiment.  The four pin connector in the Tesla has a full TCP stack and runs on a known set of IP’s, 192.168.90.100-102.  Say I grabbed a Teensy 3.1, with built in wi-fi capabilities, and added an ethernet shield.  With the current arduino libraries, I can create a wi-fi receiver that takes my traffic and routes it to the wired network, which just happens to have an accessible network inside the Tesla.  Now I have a device that’s a small portal directly into your car that I can connect to from several hundred feet away, farther if I want to make myself a high gain pringles can yagi antenna.  We’re not talking high technology spy gear, we’re talking about a weekend project I could do with my kids that would result in a package no bigger than a pack of cards.  I could put this in the glove box with a single cable leading to the car’s ethernet port.  Anything a Tesla engineer could control on the car, I could control remotely.  Suddenly I have the biggest remote control car on the block, which just happens to be the Tesla you’re sitting in.

This is why we have to secure the Internet of things.  If I can imagine it, you better believe there’s already someone else out there working on it.

* Hacker == someone who makes technology do things the engineers who designed it didn’t intend it to do.

Added, 9:15 GMT:  So I got some feedback very quickly after posting this.  And I admit a lot of what I’m saying here is based on guesswork, assumptions and third party statements.  It’s my blog, I get to do that.  Both Beau and the Kos have a lot more to say about why many of my assumptions are wrong.  And they probably know more about cars than I do.  So teach me.  There will be follow up.

Thanks to @chriseng for basic spell checking.  I do indeed know the difference between ‘break’ and ‘brake’, just not before breakfast.

@beauwoods: “Infotainment network and CANBUS are separate. The other issue is the equivalent threat model of a big rock to a window.” In other words, there’s a very real airgap between the two systems and it’d be impossible to control one from the other.

@theKos called my statement about the password limitations silly, stated that running Firefox on the system was a x-forward misconfiguration, that rebooting the displays won’t affect the running of the car, and that all products have vulnerabilities.  I really have to challenge the last statement as a fallacy: knowing that all products have vulnerabilities doesn’t make them more acceptable in any way.

2 responses so far

Mar 20 2014

NSP Microcast – RSAC2014 – Denim Group

Published by under Podcast,Risk

I caught up with John Dickson and Dan Cornell from the Denim Group to talk about creating secure coding environments within companies, the importance of having trainers who are themselves coders and, of course, a little bit about spying.  Which turned into a lot of bit about spying.  I should have asked them where the name ‘Denim Group’ comes from.

NSP Microcast – RSAC2014 – Denim Group

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Mar 09 2014

Mt. Gox Doxed

I’ve never owned a bitcoin, I’ve never mined a bitcoin, in fact I’ve never really talked to anyone who’s used them extensively.  I have kept half an eye on the larger bitcoin stories though, and the recent disclosures that bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox was victim of hackers who stole the entire of the content in their vault, worth hundreds of millions of dollars (or pounds) have kept my interest.  I know I’m not the only one who’s smelled something more than a little off about the whole story and I’m sure I’m not the only one.  Apparently a hacker, or hackers, who also felt something wasn’t right on the mountain decided to do something about it: they doxed* Mt. Gox and it’s CEO, Mark Karpeles.

We don’t know yet if the files that hackers exposed to the internet were actually legitimate files from Mt. Gox and Mr. Karpeles yet, but this isn’t the only disclosure the company is potentially facing.  Another hacker has claimed to have about 20Gigs of information about the company, their users and plenty of interesting documents.  Between the two, if even a little of the data is valid, it’ll spell out a lot of trouble for Mt. Gox and it’s users.  If I were a prosecutor who had any remote possiblity of being involved in this case, I’d be collecting every piece of information and disclosed file I could, with big plans for using them in court at a later date.  

In any case, I occasionally read articles that say the Mt. Gox experience shows that bitcoins are an unusable and ultimately doomed form of currency because they’re a digital only medium and that they’ll always be open to fraud and theft because of it.  I laugh at those people.  Have they looked at our modern banking system and realized that 99% of the money in the world now only exists in digital format somewhere, sometimes with hard copy, but generally not?  Yes, we’ve had more time to figure out how to secure the banking systems, but they’re still mostly digital.  And eventually someone will do the same to a bank as was done to Mt. Gox.

*Doxed:  to have your personal information discovered or stolen and published on the Internet.

3 responses so far

Mar 07 2014

You have been identified as a latent criminal!

This afternoon, while I ate lunch, I watched a new-to-me anime called Pscho-Pass.  The TL:DR summary of the show is a future where everyone is chipped and constantly monitored.  If their Criminal Coefficient becomes to high, they are arrested for the good of society.  It doesn’t matter whether they’ve commited a crime or not, if the potential that they will commit a crime exceeds the threshold set by the computer, they’re arrested, or killed if they resist arrest. Like many anime, it sounds like a dystopian future that could never happen.  Except when I got back to my desk, I saw Bruce Schneier’s post, Surveillance by Algorithm.  And once again what I thought was an impossible dystopian future seems like a probable dystopian present.  

As Bruce points out, we already have Google and Amazon suggesting search results and purchases based on our prior behaviours online.  With every search I make online, they build up a more detailed and accurate profile of what I like, what I’ll buy and, by extension, what sort of person I am.  They aren’t using people to do this, there’s an extensive and thoroughly thought out algorithm that measures my every action to create a statistically accurate profile of my likes and dislikes in order to offer up what I might like to buy next based on their experience of what I’ve purchased in the past.  Or there would be if I didn’t purposefully share and account with my wife in order to confuse the profiling software Amazon uses.

Google is a lot harder to fool and they have access to a lot more of the data that reveals the true nature of who I am, what I’ve done and what I’m planning to do.  They have every personal email, my calendar, my searches, in fact, about 90% of what I do online is either directly through Google or indexed by Google in some way or shape.  Even my own family and friends probably don’t have as accurate an indicator of who I really am behind the mask as Google does, if they choose to create a psychological profile of me.  You can cloud the judgement of people, since they’re applying their own filters that interfere with a valid assessment of others, but a well written computer algorithm takes the biases of numerous coders and tries to even them out to create an evaluation that’s closer to reality than that of most people.

It wouldn’t take much for a government, the US, the UK or any other government, to start pushing to have an algorithm that evaluates the mental health and criminal index of every user on the planet and alerts the authorities when something bad is being planned.  Another point Bruce makes is that this isn’t considered ‘collection’ by the NSA, since they wouldn’t necessarilly have any of the data until an alert had been raised and a human began to review the data.  It would begin as something seemingly innoccuous, probably similar to the logical fallacies that governments already use to create ‘protection mechanisms’: “We just want to catch the peodophiles and terrorists; if you’re not a peodophile or terrorist, you have nothing to fear.”  After all, these are the exact phrases that have been used numerous times to create any number of organizations and mechanisms, including the TSA and the NSA itself.  And they’re all that much more powerful because there is a strong core of truth to them.

But what they don’t address is a few of the fatal flaws to any such system based on a behavioural algorithm.  First of all, inclination, or even intent, doesn’t equal action.  Our society has long ago established that the thought of doing something isn’t the same as doing the action, whether it’s well-intentioned or malign.  If I mean to call my mother back in the US every Sunday, the thought doesn’t count unless I actually follow through and do so.  And if I want to run over a cyclist who’s slowing down traffic, it really doesn’t matter unless I nudge the steering wheel to the left and hit them.  Intent to commit a crime is not the same as the crime itself, until I start taking the steps necessary to perform the crime, such as purchasing explosives or writing a plan to blow something up.  If we were ever to start allowing the use of algoritms to denote who ‘s a potential criminal and treat them as such before they’ve commited a crime, we’ll have lost something essential to the human condition.

A second problem is that the algorithms are going to be created by people.  People who are fallable and biased.  Even if the individual biases are compensated for, the biases of the cultures are going to be evident in any tool that’s used to detect thought crimes.  This might not seem like much of a problem if you’re an American who agrees with the mainstream American values, but what if you’re not?  What if you’re GLBT?  What if you have an open relationship?  Or like pain?  What if there’s some aspect of your life that falls outside what is considered acceptable by the mainstream of our society?  Almost everyone has some aspect of their life they keep private because it doesn’t meet with societal norms on some level.  It’s a natural part of being human and fallable.  Additionally, actions and thoughts that are perfectly innocuous in the US can become serious crimes if you travel to the Middle East, Asia or Africa and the other way as well.  Back to the issue of sexual orientation, we only have to look at the recent Olympics and how several laws were passed in Russia to make non-heterosexual orientation a crime.  We have numerous examples of laws that have passed in the US only later to be thought to be unfair by more modern standards, with Prohibition being one of the most prominent examples.  Using computer algorithms to uncover people’s hidden inclinations would have a disastrous effect on both individuals and society as a whole.

Finally, there’s the twin ideas of false positives and false negatives.  If you’ve ever run an IDS, WAF or any other type of detection and blocking mechanism, you’re intimately familiar with the concepts.  A false positive is an alert that erroneously tags something as being malicious when it’s not.  It might be that a coder used a string that you’ve written into your detection algorithms and it’s caught by your IDS as an attack.  Or it might be a horror writer looking up some horrible technique that the bad guy in his latest novel is going to use to kill his victims.  In either case, it’s relatively easy to identify a false positive, though a false positive by the a behavioural algorithm has the potential to ruin a persons life before everything is said and done. 

Much more pernicous are false negatives.  This is when your detection mechanism has failed to catch an indicator and therefore not alerted you.  It’s much harder to find and understand false negatives because you don’t know if you’re failing to detect a legitimate attack or if there are simply no malicous attacks to catch.  It’s hard enough when dealing with network traffic to understand and detect false negatives, but when you’re dealing with people who are consciously trying to avoid displaying any of the triggers that would raise alerts, false negatives become much harder to detect and the consequences become much greater.  A large part of spycraft is to avoid any behaviour that will alert other spies to what you are; the same ideas apply to terrorists or criminals of any stripe who have a certain level of intelligence.  The most successful criminals are the ones who make every attempt to blend into society and appear to be just like every other successful businessman around them.  The consequences of believing your computer algorithms have identified every potential terrorist are that you stop looking for the people that might be off the grid for whatever reasons.  You learn to rely to heavily on the algorithm to the exclusion of everything else, a consequence we’ve already seen.

So much of what goes on society is a pendulum that swings back and forth as we adjust to the changes in our reality.  Currently, we have a massive change in technologies that allow for surveillance that far exceeds anything that’s ever been available in the past.  The thought that it might swing to the point of having chips in every persons head that tells the authorities when we start thinking thoughts that are a little too nasty is a far fetched scenario, I’ll admit.  But the thought that the NSA might have a secret data center in the desert that runs a complex algorithm on every packet and phone call that is made in the US and the world to detect potential terrorists or criminal isn’t.  However well intentioned the idea might be, the failings of the technology, the failings of the people implementing the technology and the impacts of this technology on basic human rights and freedoms are something that not only should be considered, they’re all issues that are facing us right now and must be discussed.  I, for one, don’t want to live in a world of “thought police” and “Minority Report“, but that is where this slippery slope leads.  Rather than our Oracle being a group of psychics, it might be a computer program written by … wait for it … Oracle.  And if you’ve ever used Oracle software, that should scare you as much as anything else I’ve written.

 

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Mar 05 2014

DDoS becoming a bigger pain in the …

Published by under Cloud,General,Hacking,Risk

I’m in the middle of writing the DDoS section of the 2013 State of the Internet Report, which is something that makes me spend a lot of time thinking about how DDoS is affecting the Internet (Wouldn’t be all that valuable if I didn’t put some thought into it, now would it?).  Plus I just got back from RSA where I intereviewed DOSarrest’s Jag Bains and talked to our competitors at the show. Akamai finally closed the deal on Prolexic about three weeks ago, so my new co-workers are starting to get more involved and being more available.  All of which means that there’s a ton of DDoS information available at my fingertips right now and the story it tells doesn’t look good.  From what I’m seeing, things are only going to get worse as 2014 progresses.

This Reuters story captures the majority of my concerns with DDoS.  As a tool, it’s becoming cheaper and easier to use almost daily.  The recent NTP reflection attacks show that the sheer volume of traffic is becoming a major issue.  And even if volumetric attacks weren’t growing, the attack surface for application layer attacks grows daily, since more applications come on line every day and there’s no evidence anywhere I’ve ever looked that developers are becoming at securing them (yes, a small subset of developers are, but they’re the exception).  Meetup.com is only the latest victim of a DDoS extortion scam, and while they didn’t pay, I’m sure there are plenty of other companies who’ve paid simply to make the problem go away without a fuss.  After all, $300 is almost nothing compared to the cost of a sustained DDoS on your infrastructure, not to mention the reputational cost when you’re offline.

I’d hate to say anything like “2014 is the Year of DDoS!”  I’ll leave that sort of hyperbole to the marketing departments, whether it’s mine or someone else’s.  But we’ve seen a definite trend that the number of attacks are growing year over year at an alarming rate.  And it’s not only the number of attacks that are growing, it’s the size of the volumetric attacks and the complexity of the application layer attacks.  Sure, the majority of them are still relatively small and simple, but the outliers are getting better and better at attacking, Those of us building out infrastructure to defend against these attacks are also getting better, but the majority of companies still have little or no defense against such attacks and they’re not the sort of defenses you can put in quickly or easily without a lot of help.

I need to get back to other writing, but I am concerned about this trend.  My data agrees with most of my competitors; DDoS is going to continue to be a growing problem.  Yes, that’s good for business, but as a security professional, I don’t like to see trends like this.  I think the biggest reason this will continue to grow is that it’s an incredibly difficult crime to track back to the source; law enforcement generally doesn’t have the time or skills needed to find the attackers and no business I know of has the authority or inclination to do the same.  Which means the attackers can continue to DDoS with impunity.  At least the one’s who’re smart enough to not attack directly from their own home network, that is.

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Jan 05 2014

Much needed vacation

Published by under General,Personal,Risk

I’m back after a two week self-inforced haitus from all things security and work related.  For the last 14 days, I haven’t checked emails, I haven’t been on twitter, I haven’t checked the news, I haven’t read the news sites.  I’ve simply spent time with my family, played Minecraft, watched anime and eaten my way through the Christmas holidays.  And there was gifts in there somewhere as well.  Vacation started as a weekend in Munich, but the vast majority of it was spent at home near London with no deadlines, except a couple of shopping trips with the wife and kids.  All in all, it was one of the most relaxing times I’ve had in years.  And it was sorely needed.

All jobs are stressful to one degree or another, it’s just a fact of life.  But security is a more stressful job then most.  I’ve done a few panels with other security professionals talking about the stress we face, and we’ve done (okay, mainly folks like Jack Daniel and K.C. Yerrid have done) some research into it and found that our high stress is an actual fact, not just something we say to make ourselves feel more important.  Our chosen career is difficult to be good at, we’re constantly under multiple conflicting demands and it almost never slows down.  Is it any wonder that we feel stressed?

It’s almost a joke when you talk to security professionals about substance abuse in our industry.  It’s nearly expected of people to get stupid at conferences.  But it’s not a joke at all, something that was graphically illustrated by the loss of Barnaby Jack last year.  Substance abuse may not be an industry wide problem, but it’s definitely something that we need to be aware of.  I can think of at least half a dozen people who I’ve jokingly made comments about in the last couple of years who might be in real danger.  Most of them know they can come to me if they need support, but I know that’s the best I can do if they don’t want to change.  How many people do you know in a similar position?  Have you expressed concern or at least let them know you will help if they ask?

It’s not my place to get preachy or say I’m any better than anyone else, but I do think we need to be aware and check our own stress levels from time to time.  Let your friends in the industry know you’ll support them if they need help, but more importantly, know when you need to take a break and get away from the  whole scene once in a while.  We do important work, but we can’t do it if we’re too wrapped up in our own problems to function properly.  

Now to get caught up on two weeks of work emails.  Luckily, most of my co-workers took the Christmas holidays off, at least in part, so it won’t be quite as bad as it could be.

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Dec 01 2013

Security in popular culture

One of the shows I’ve started watching since coming to the UK is called “QI XL“.  It’s a quiz show/comedy hour hosted by Stephen Fry where he asks trivia questions of people who I assume are celebrities here in Britain.  As often as not I have no clue who these people are.  It’s fun because rather than simply asking his questions one after another, the group of them riff off one another and sound a little bit like my friends do when we get together for drinks.  I wouldn’t say it’s a show for kids though, since the topics and the conversation can get a little risque, occasionally straying into territory you don’t want to explain to anyone under 18.

Last night I watched a show with someone I definitely recognized: Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear.  A question came up about passwords and securing them, which Clarkson was surprisingly adept at answering, with the whole “upper case, lower case, numbers and symbols” mantra that we do so love in security.  He even knew he wasn’t supposed to write them down.  Except he was wrong on that last part.  As Stephen Fry pointed out, “No one can remember all those complex passwords!  At least no one you’d want to have a conversation with.”

Telling people not to write down their passwords is a disservice we as a community have been pushing for far too long.  Mr. Fry is absolutely correct that no one can remember all the passwords we need to get by in our daily life.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ll probably have to enter at least a dozen passwords before the end of today, each one different, with different levels of security and confidentiality needed.  I can’t remember that many passwords, and luckily I don’t have to since I use 1Password to record them for me.  

But lets think about the average user for a moment; even as easy as 1Password or LastPass are to use, they’re probably still too complex for many users.  I’m not trying to belittle users, but many people don’t have the time or interest to learn how to use a new tool, no matter how easy.  So why can’t they use something they’re intimately familiar with, the pen and paper?  The answer is, they can, they just have to learn to keep those secrets safe, rather than taping the password on a note under their keyboard.

We have a secret every one of us carry with us every day, our keys.  You can consider it a physical token as well, but really it’s the shape of your keys in particular that are the secret.  If someone else knows the shape of your keys, they can create their own and open anything your keys will open.  This is a paradigm every user is familiar with and they know how to secure their keys.  So why aren’t more of us teaching our users to write down their passwords in a small booklet and treat it with the same care and attention they give their keys?  Other than the fact it’s not what we were taught by our mentors from the beginning, that is.

A user who can write down their passwords is more likely to choose a long, complex passsword, something they’d probably have a hard time remembering otherwise.  And as long as they are going to treat that written password as what it is, a key to their accounts, then we’ll all end up with a little more security on the whole.  So next time your preparing to teach a security awareness class, go back to the stationary store and pick up one of those little password notebooks we’ve all made fun of and hand them out to your users, but rememind them they need to keep the booklet as safe as they do their other keys.  If you’re smart, you’ll also include a note with a link to LastPass or 1Password as well; might as well give them a chance to have even a little better security.

3 responses so far

Nov 25 2013

Two more years of Snowden leaks

Published by under Cloud,Government,Privacy,Risk

I’ve been trying to avoid NSA stories since this summer, really I have.  I get so worked up when I start reading and writing about these stories and I assume no one wants to read my realistic/paranoid ranting when I get like that.  Or at least that’s what my cohosts on the podcast have told me.  But one of the things I’ve been pointing out to people since this started is that there were reportedly at least 2000 documents contained in the systems Edward Snowden took to Hong Kong with him.  There could easily be many, many more, but the important point is that we’ve only seen stories concerning a very small number of these documents so far.

One of the points I’ve been making to friends and coworkers is that given how many documents we’ve seen release, we have at least a year more of revelations ahead of us, more likely two or more.  And apparently people who know agree with me: “Some Obama Administration officials have said privately that Snowden downloaded enought material to fuel two more years of news stories.”  This probably isn’t what many businesses in the US who are trying to sell overseas, whether they’re Cloud-based or not.  

These revelations have done enormous damage to the reputation of the US and American companies; according to Forrester, the damage could be as much as $35 billion over the next three years in lost revenue.  You can blame Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald for releasing the documents, but I prefer to blame our government (not just the current administration) for letting their need to provide safety to the populace no matter what the cost.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this and don’t care if they do.  It was a cost calculation that numerous people in power made, and I think they chose poorly.

Don’t expect this whole issue to blow over any time soon.  Greenwald has a cache of data that any reporter would love to make a career out of.  He’s doing what reporters are supposed to do and researching each piece of data and then exposing it to the world.  Don’t blame him for doing the sort of investigative reporting that he was educated and trained to do.  This is part of what makes a great democracy, the ability of reporters (and bloggers) to expose secrets to the world.  Democracy thrives on transparency.

As always, these are my opinions and don’t reflect upon my employer.  So, if you don’t like them, come to me directly.

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Nov 04 2013

Attacking the weakest link

Published by under Cloud,Government,Hacking,Privacy,Risk

I spend far too much time reading about governmental spying on citizens, both US and abroad.  It’s a job hazard, since it impacts my role at work, but it’s also what I would be researching and reading about even if it wasn’t.  The natural paranoia that makes me a good security professional also feeds the desire to know as much as possible about the people who really are spying on us.  You could almost say it’s a healthy paranoia, since even things I never would have guessed have come to pass.  

But every time I hear about someone who’s come up with a ‘solution’ that protects businesses and consumers from spying, I have to take it with a grain of salt.  A really big grain of salt.  The latest scheme is by Swisscom, a telecommunications company in Switzerland that wants to build a datacenter in that country to offer up cloud services in an environment that would be safe from the US and other countries’ spying.  The theory is that Swiss law offers many more protections than other countries in the EU and the rest of the world and that these legal protections would be enough to stop the data at rest (ie. while stored on a hard drive in the cloud) from being captured by spies.  The only problem is that even the Swisscom representatives admit that it’s only the data at rest that would be protected, not the data in transit.  In other words, the data would be safe while sitting still, but when it enters or leaves Swiss space, it would be open to interception.  

It was recently revealed that the NSA doesn’t need to get to the data at rest, since they simply tap into the major fiber optic cables and capture the information as it traverses the Internet.  Their counterparts here in the UK do the same thing and the two organizations are constantly sharing information in order to ‘protect us from terrorists’.  Both spy organizations have been very careful to state that they don’t get information from cloud providers without court orders, but they haven’t addressed the issue of data in motion. 

So while the idea of a Swiss datacenter built to protect your data is a bit appealing, the reality is that it wouldn’t do much to help anyone keep their data safe, unless you’re willing to move to Switzerland.  And even then, this solution wouldn’t help much; this is the Internet and you never know exactly where your data is going to route through to get to your target.  If it left Swiss ‘airspace’ for even one hop, that might be enough for spy agencies to grab it.  And history has proven that at least GCHQ is willing to compromise the data centers of their allies if it’ll help them get the data they believe they need.  

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Oct 24 2013

LinkedIn Outro

“I know!  Let’s build a man in the middle (MITM) attack into our iPhone app so that we can inject small bits of information into their email that show how useful our site and service are.  At the same time we’ll now have access to every piece of email our users send, and even if we only have the metadata, well, that’s good enough for the NSA and other national spying agencies, isn’t it?  Let’s do it!”

I have to imagine the thinking was nothing like that when LinkedIn decided to create Intro, but that’s basically what the decided to do anyway.  If you read the LinkedIn blog post, you can see that they knew that what they were doing is a MITM attack against your email, even if they are calling it a proxy.  They’ve broken the trusted, or semi-trusted, link between you and your IMAP provider in order to get access to your email so they could insert a piece of HTML code into each and every email you receive.  Additionally, they’ve figured out how to make it so that this code is executable directly in you’re email.

Basically, what LinkedIn is asking you to do is create a new profile that makes them the proxy for all your email.  This is similar to what you do for your corporate email when setting it up on a new phone, but rather than having something that’s finely tuned for that corporation, LinkedIn makes the new profile on the fly by probing your phone’s configuration and basing it on the settings it finds.  

I have a hard time believing that someone at LinkedIn didn’t wave a red flag when this was brought up.  You’re asking users to install a new profile making you their new trusted source for all email, you’re asking that they trust you with their configuration and you’re capturing, or at least having access to the stream of all authentication data for their email.  Didn’t anyone at LinkedIn see a problem with that?  I have to imagine there are plenty of corporate email administrators who’ll have a problem with it.

Given recent history and the revelations that metadata about a person’s communications, LinkedIn is  audacious to say the least.  They know what they have, or at least want to have: information similar to what Google and Facebook have about your daily contacts and habits.  This is a huge data mining operation for them, aimed at learning everything they can about their users and applying that to advertising.  But I think they have overreached in their their desire to have this information and are going to get shut down hard by Apple.  And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that they’ve already had data breaches and are being sued for reaching into consumers’ calendars and contact information.

I don’t think LinkedIn has been a good steward of the information they’ve had before, and there’s no way I’d install Intro onto one of my iDevices if I was a heavy user.  The fact is, I have an account that I mostly keep open out of habit and this is nearly enough to make me shut it down for good.  If I wanted my every move tracked, I’d just keep open a Facebook tab in my browser. And while they may not be much of an example when it comes to privacy, I guess Facebook is a great example when it comes to profitability.  Way to go LI.

 

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