Repeat after me:
A ‘backdoor’ for law enforcement is a deliberately introduced security vulnerability, a form of architected breach.
Or, if you’d like the more sophisticated version
It requires a system to be designed to permit access to a user’s data against the user’s wishes, and such a system is necessarily less secure than one designed without such a feature. As computer scientist Matthew Green explains in a recent Slate column (and, with several eminent colleagues, in a longer 2013 paper) it is damn near impossible to create a security vulnerability that can only be exploited by “the good guys.” Activist Eva Galperin puts the point pithily: “Once you build a back door, you rarely get to decide who walks through it.” Even if your noble intention is only to make criminals more vulnerable to police, the unavoidable cost of doing so in practice is making the overwhelming majority of law-abiding users more vulnerable to criminals.
Title: Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World
Publisher: WW Norton
Publication date: March 9, 2015
Table of Contents
Part 1: The World We’re Creating
Chapter 1: Data as a By-Product of Computing
Chapter 2: Data as Surveillance
Chapter 3: Analyzing our Data
Chapter 4: The Business of Surveillance
Chapter 5: Government Surveillance and Control
Chapter 6: Consolidation of Institutional Surveillance
Part 2: What’s at Stake
Chapter 7: Political Liberty and Justice
Chapter 8: Commercial Fairness and Equality
Chapter 9: Business Competitiveness
Chapter 10: Privacy
Chapter 11: Security
Part 3: What to Do About It
Chapter 12: Principles
Chapter 13: Solutions for Government
Chapter 14: Solutions for Corporations
Chapter 15: Solutions for the Rest of Us
Chapter 16: Social Norms and the Big Data Trade-Off
Something to be pre-ordered, methinks.
Well, guess what? The former Head of the NSA has found a lucrative retirement deal.
As the four-star general in charge of U.S. digital defenses, Keith Alexander warned repeatedly that the financial industry was among the likely targets of a major attack. Now he’s selling the message directly to the banks.
Joining a crowded field of cyber-consultants, the former National Security Agency chief is pitching his services for as much as $1 million a month. The audience is receptive: Under pressure from regulators, lawmakers and their customers, financial firms are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into barriers against digital assaults.
Alexander, who retired in March from his dual role as head of the NSA and the U.S. Cyber Command, has since met with the largest banking trade groups, stressing the threat from state-sponsored attacks bent on data destruction as well as hackers interested in stealing information or money.
“It would be devastating if one of our major banks was hit, because they’re so interconnected,” Alexander said in an interview.
Nice work if you can get it. First of all you use your position in the state bureaucracy to scare the shit out of banks. Then you pitch your services as the guy who can help them escape Nemesis.
This morning’s Observer column.
At a remarkable conference held at the Aspen Institute in 2011, General Michael Hayden, a former head of both the NSA and the CIA, said something very interesting. In a discussion of how to secure the “critical infrastructure” of the United States he described the phenomenon of compromised computer hardware – namely, chips that have hidden “back doors” inserted into them at the design or manufacturing stage – as “the problem from hell”. And, he went on, “frankly, it’s not a problem that can be solved”.
Now General Hayden is an engaging, voluble, likable fellow. He’s popular with the hacking crowd because he doesn’t talk like a government suit. But sometimes one wonders if his agreeable persona is actually a front for something a bit more disingenuous. Earlier in the Aspen discussion, for example, he talked about the Stuxnet worm – which was used to destroy centrifuges in the Iranian nuclear programme – as something that was obviously created by a nation-state, but affected not to know that the US was one of the nation-states involved.
Given Hayden’s background and level of security clearance, it seems inconceivable that he didn’t know who built Stuxnet. So already one had begun to take his contributions with a modicum of salt. Nevertheless, his observation about the intractability of the problem of compromised hardware seemed incontrovertible…
LATER: I come on this amazing piece of detective work which uncovers a backdoor installed in some D-Link routers.
Well, well. Alongside the discovery that the iPhone 5s fingerprint system isn’t quite as secure as advertised comes this.
If you have an iPhone 5 or older and have updated your operating system to Apple’s new iOS 7 version, you should be aware that the password (or “passcode”) required on your phone’s lock screen no longer prevents strangers from accessing your phone.
They can use Siri, the voice-command software, to bypass the password screen and access your phone, instead.
The good news is that distressed iPhone 5S owners can apparently foil this workaround by controlling access to Siri in the phone’s settings menu. The trail is: Settings –> General –> Passcode Lock [enter passcode] –> Allow access when locked > Siri > switch from green to white.
This morning’s Observer column.
Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make credulous. In the case of technology, especially technology involving computers, that’s pretty easy to do. Quite why people are so overawed by computers when they are blase about, say, truly miraculous technologies such as high-speed trains, is a mystery that we will have to leave for another day. The only thing we need to remember is that when important people, for example government ministers, are confronted with what a sceptical friend of mine calls “computery” then they check in their brains at the door of the meeting room. From then on, credulity is their default setting.
In which state, they are easy meat for technological visionaries, evangelists and purveyors of snake oil. This would be touching if it weren’t serious. Exhibit A in this regard is the government’s plan for “smart meters”…
This morning’s Observer column.
Do you think that, as a society, the United States has become a basket case? Well, join the club. I’m not just thinking of the country’s dysfunctional Congress, pathological infatuation with firearms, addiction to litigation, crazy healthcare arrangements, engorged prison system, chronic inequality, 50-year-old military-industrial complex and out-of-control security services. There is also its strange irrationality about the use and abuse of computers.
Two events last week provided case studies of this…
Simple. Just do three-hop analysis.
Deputy Director John C. Inglis told Congress last week that the agency conducts “three-hop” analysis.
Three-hop (also known as “three degree”) analysis means:
The government can look at the phone data of a suspected terrorist, plus the data of all of the contacts, then all of those peoples contacts, and all of those peoples contacts.
This means that a lot of people could be caught up in the dragnet:
If the average person calls 40 unique people, three-hop analysis could allow the government to mine the records of 2.5 million Americans when investigating one suspected terrorist.
Given that there are now approximately 875,000 people in the government database of suspected terrorists – including many thousands of Americans – every single American living on U.S. soil could easily be caught up in the dragnet.
For example, 350 million Americans divided by 2.5 million Americans caught up in dragnet for each suspected terrorist, means that a mere 140 potential terrorists could lead to spying on all Americans. There are tens of thousands of Americans listed as suspected terrorists … including just about anyone who protests anything that the government or big banks do.
Some interesting fallout from revelations about NSA’s XKeyscore.
The Wikimedia Foundation has announced it will soon be switching its services over to the secure–i.e., unsnoopable–HTTPS protocol. It’s a move that’s been planned for a while, but the foundation has been pushed to implement it now because of the revelations about the NSA’s global Internet surveillance system. The foundation notes that it is being “specifically targeted by XKeyscore.”
In a statement, the foundation says it “believes strongly in protecting the privacy of its readers and editors. Recent leaks of the NSA’s XKeyscore program have prompted our community members to push for the use of HTTPS by default for the Wikimedia projects.” Starting from August 21st the HTTPS protocol will be turned on for all logged-in users. The site also outlined six further technical steps it has to take to protect all its user data and activities from surveillance, although it acknowledges that it can’t predict a timescale for the moves to be completed. Instead the foundation urges its users to use other secure browsing services.