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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s Cell Phone was Tapped

Politico reports that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s cell phone was compromised back in December.

I know this is news because of who he is, but I hope every major government official of any country assumes that their commercial off-the-shelf cell phone is compromised. Even allies spy on allies; remember the reports that the NSA tapped the cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel?

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A Hardware Privacy Monitor for iPhones

Andrew “bunnie” Huang and Edward Snowden have designed a hardware device that attaches to an iPhone and monitors it for malicious surveillance activities, even in instances where the phone’s operating system has been compromised. They call it an Introspection Engine, and their use model is a journalist who is concerned about government surveillance:

Our introspection engine is designed with the following goals in mind:

  1. Completely open source and user-inspectable (“You don’t have to trust us”)

  2. Introspection operations are performed by an execution domain completely separated from the phone”s CPU (“don’t rely on those with impaired judgment to fairly judge their state”)

  3. Proper operation of introspection system can be field-verified (guard against “evil maid” attacks and hardware failures)

  4. Difficult to trigger a false positive (users ignore or disable security alerts when there are too many positives)

  5. Difficult to induce a false negative, even with signed firmware updates (“don’t trust the system vendor” — state-level adversaries with full cooperation of system vendors should not be able to craft signed firmware updates that spoof or bypass the introspection engine)

  6. As much as possible, the introspection system should be passive and difficult to detect by the phone’s operating system (prevent black-listing/targeting of users based on introspection engine signatures)

  7. Simple, intuitive user interface requiring no specialized knowledge to interpret or operate (avoid user error leading to false negatives; “journalists shouldn’t have to be cryptographers to be safe”)

  8. Final solution should be usable on a daily basis, with minimal impact on workflow (avoid forcing field reporters into the choice between their personal security and being an effective journalist)

This looks like fantastic work, and they have a working prototype.

Of course, this does nothing to stop all the legitimate surveillance that happens over a cell phone: location tracking, records of who you talk to, and so on.

BoingBoing post.

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Do the Police Need a Search Warrant to Access Cell Phone Location Data?

The US Supreme Court is deciding a case that will establish whether the police need a warrant to access cell phone location data. This week I signed on to an amicus brief from a wide array of security technologists outlining the technical arguments as why the answer should be yes. Susan Landau summarized our arguments.

A bunch of tech companies also submitted a brief.

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Amazon Patents Measures to Prevent In-Store Comparison Shopping

Amazon has been issued a patent on security measures that prevents people from comparison shopping while in the store. It’s not a particularly sophisticated patent — it basically detects when you’re using the in-store Wi-Fi to visit a competitor’s site and then blocks access — but it is an indication of how retail has changed in recent years.

What’s interesting is that Amazon is on the other of this arms race. As an on-line retailer, it wants people to walk into stores and then comparison shop on its site. Yes, I know it’s buying Whole Foods, but it’s still predominantly an online retailer. Maybe it patented this to prevent stores from implementing the technology.

It’s probably not nearly that strategic. It’s hard to build a business strategy around a security measure that can be defeated with cellular access.

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Security Vulnerabilities in Mobile MAC Randomization

Interesting research: “A Study of MAC Address Randomization in Mobile Devices When it Fails“:

Abstract: Media Access Control (MAC) address randomization is a privacy technique whereby mobile devices rotate through random hardware addresses in order to prevent observers from singling out their traffic or physical location from other nearby devices. Adoption of this technology, however, has been sporadic and varied across device manufacturers. In this paper, we present the first wide-scale study of MAC address randomization in the wild, including a detailed breakdown of different randomization techniques by operating system, manufacturer, and model of device. We then identify multiple flaws in these implementations which can be exploited to defeat randomization as performed by existing devices. First, we show that devices commonly make improper use of randomization by sending wireless frames with the true, global address when they should be using a randomized address. We move on to extend the passive identification techniques of Vanhoef et al. to effectively defeat randomization in 96% of Android phones. Finally, we show a method that can be used to track 100% of devices using randomization, regardless of manufacturer, by exploiting a previously unknown flaw in the way existing wireless chipsets handle low-level control frames.

Basically, iOS and Android phones are not very good at randomizing their MAC addresses. And tricks with level-2 control frames can exploit weaknesses in their chipsets.

Slashdot post.

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Duress Codes for Fingerprint Access Control

Mike Specter has an interesting idea on how to make biometric access-control systems more secure: add a duress code. For example, you might configure your iPhone so that either thumb or forefinger unlocks the device, but your left middle finger disables the fingerprint mechanism (useful in the US where being compelled to divulge your password is a 5th Amendment violation but being forced to place your finger on the fingerprint reader is not) and the right middle finger permanently wipes the phone (useful in other countries where coercion techniques are much more severe).

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Security Risks of the President's Android Phone

Reports are that President Trump is still using his old Android phone. There are security risks here, but they are not the obvious ones.

I’m not concerned about the data. Anything he reads on that screen is coming from the insecure network that we all use, and any e-mails, texts, Tweets, and whatever are going out to that same network. But this is a consumer device, and it’s going to have security vulnerabilities. He’s at risk from everybody, ranging from lone hackers to the better-funded intelligence agencies of the world. And while the risk of a forged e-mail is real — it could easily move the stock market — the bigger risk is eavesdropping. That Android has a microphone, which means that it can be turned into a room bug without anyone’s knowledge. That’s my real fear.

I commented in this story.

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