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Can Consumers’ Online Data Be Protected?

Everything online is hackable. This is true for Equifax’s data and the federal Office of Personal Management’s data, which was hacked in 2015. If information is on a computer connected to the Internet, it is vulnerable.

But just because everything is hackable doesn’t mean everything will be hacked. The difference between the two is complex, and filled with defensive technologies, security best practices, consumer awareness, the motivation and skill of the hacker and the desirability of the data. The risks will be different if an attacker is a criminal who just wants credit card details ­ and doesn’t care where he gets them from ­ or the Chinese military looking for specific data from a specific place.

The proper question isn’t whether it’s possible to protect consumer data, but whether a particular site protects our data well enough for the benefits provided by that site. And here, again, there are complications.

In most cases, it’s impossible for consumers to make informed decisions about whether their data is protected. We have no idea what sorts of security measures Google uses to protect our highly intimate Web search data or our personal e-mails. We have no idea what sorts of security measures Facebook uses to protect our posts and conversations.

We have a feeling that these big companies do better than smaller ones. But we’re also surprised when a lone individual publishes personal data hacked from the infidelity site AshleyMadison.com, or when the North Korean government does the same with personal information in Sony’s network.

Think about all the companies collecting personal data about you ­ the websites you visit, your smartphone and its apps, your Internet-connected car — and how little you know about their security practices. Even worse, credit bureaus and data brokers like Equifax collect your personal information without your knowledge or consent.

So while it might be possible for companies to do a better job of protecting our data, you as a consumer are in no position to demand such protection.

Government policy is the missing ingredient. We need standards and a method for enforcement. We need liabilities and the ability to sue companies that poorly secure our data. The biggest reason companies don’t protect our data online is that it’s cheaper not to. Government policy is how we change that.

This essay appeared as half of a point/counterpoint with Priscilla Regan, in a CQ Researcher report titled “Privacy and the Internet.”

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Daniel Miessler on My Writings about IoT Security

Daniel Miessler criticizes my writings about IoT security:

I know it’s super cool to scream about how IoT is insecure, how it’s dumb to hook up everyday objects like houses and cars and locks to the internet, how bad things can get, and I know it’s fun to be invited to talk about how everything is doom and gloom.

I absolutely respect Bruce Schneier a lot for what he’s contributed to InfoSec, which makes me that much more disappointed with this kind of position from him.

InfoSec is full of those people, and it’s beneath people like Bruce to add their voices to theirs. Everyone paying attention already knows it’s going to be a soup sandwich — a carnival of horrors — a tragedy of mistakes and abuses of trust.

It’s obvious. Not interesting. Not novel. Obvious. But obvious or not, all these things are still going to happen.

I actually agree with everything in his essay. “We should obviously try to minimize the risks, but we don’t do that by trying to shout down the entire enterprise.” Yes, definitely.

I don’t think the IoT must be stopped. I do think that the risks are considerable, and will increase as these systems become more pervasive and susceptible to class breaks. And I’m trying to write a book that will help navigate this. I don’t think I’m the prophet of doom, and don’t want to come across that way. I’ll give the manuscript another read with that in mind.

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Google Login Security for High-Risk Users

Google has a new login service for high-risk users. it’s good, but unforgiving.

Logging in from a desktop will require a special USB key, while accessing your data from a mobile device will similarly require a Bluetooth dongle. All non-Google services and apps will be exiled from reaching into your Gmail or Google Drive. Google’s malware scanners will use a more intensive process to quarantine and analyze incoming documents. And if you forget your password, or lose your hardware login keys, you’ll have to jump through more hoops than ever to regain access, the better to foil any intruders who would abuse that process to circumvent all of Google’s other safeguards.

It’s called Advanced Protection.

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Security Flaw in Infineon Smart Cards and TPMs

A security flaw in Infineon smart cards and TPMs allows an attacker to recover private keys from the public keys. Basically, the key generation algorithm sometimes creates public keys that are vulnerable to Coppersmith’s attack:

While all keys generated with the library are much weaker than they should be, it’s not currently practical to factorize all of them. For example, 3072-bit and 4096-bit keys aren’t practically factorable. But oddly enough, the theoretically stronger, longer 4096-bit key is much weaker than the 3072-bit key and may fall within the reach of a practical (although costly) factorization if the researchers’ method improves.

To spare time and cost, attackers can first test a public key to see if it’s vulnerable to the attack. The test is inexpensive, requires less than 1 millisecond, and its creators believe it produces practically zero false positives and zero false negatives. The fingerprinting allows attackers to expend effort only on keys that are practically factorizable.

This is the flaw in the Estonian national ID card we learned about last month.

The paper isn’t online yet. I’ll post it when it is.

Ouch. This is a bad vulnerability, and it’s in systems — like the Estonian national ID card — that are critical.

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Security Vulnerabilities in AT&T Routers

They’re actually Arris routers, sold or given away by AT&T. There are several security vulnerabilities, some of them very serious. They can be fixed, but because these are routers it takes some skill. We don’t know how many routers are affected, and estimates range from thousands to 138,000.

Among the vulnerabilities are hardcoded credentials, which can allow “root” remote access to an affected device, giving an attacker full control over the router. An attacker can connect to an affected router and log-in with a publicly-disclosed username and password, granting access to the modem’s menu-driven shell. An attacker can view and change the Wi-Fi router name and password, and alter the network’s setup, such as rerouting internet traffic to a malicious server.

The shell also allows the attacker to control a module that’s dedicated to injecting advertisements into unencrypted web traffic, a common tactic used by internet providers and other web companies. Hutchins said that there was “no clear evidence” to suggest the module was running but noted that it was still vulnerable, allowing an attacker to inject their own money-making ad campaigns or malware.

I have written about router vulnerabilities, and why the economics of their production makes them inevitable.

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Security Flaw in Estonian National ID Card

We have no idea how bad this really is:

On 30 August, an international team of researchers informed the Estonian Information System Authority (RIA) of a vulnerability potentially affecting the digital use of Estonian ID cards. The possible vulnerability affects a total of almost 750,000 ID-cards issued starting from October 2014, including cards issued to e-residents. The ID-cards issued before 16 October 2014 use a different chip and are not affected. Mobile-IDs are also not impacted.

My guess is that it’s worse than the politicians are saying:

According to Peterkop, the current data shows this risk to be theoretical and there is no evidence of anyone’s digital identity being misused. “All ID-card operations are still valid and we will take appropriate actions to secure the functioning of our national digital-ID infrastructure. For example, we have restricted the access to Estonian ID-card public key database to prevent illegal use.”

And because this system is so important in local politics, the effects are significant:

In the light of current events, some Estonian politicians called to postpone the upcoming local elections, due to take place on 16 October. In Estonia, approximately 35% of the voters use digital identity to vote online.

But the Estonian prime minister, Jüri Ratas, said at a press conference on 5 September that “this incident will not affect the course of the Estonian e-state.” Ratas also recommended to use Mobile-IDs where possible. The prime minister said that the State Electoral Office will decide whether it will allow the usage of ID cards at the upcoming local elections.

The Estonian Police and Border Guard estimates it will take approximately two months to fix the issue with faulty cards. The authority will involve as many Estonian experts as possible in the process.

This is exactly the sort of thing I worry about as ID systems become more prevalent and more centralized. Anyone want to place bets on whether a foreign country is going to try to hack the next Estonian election?

Another article.

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Commentary on US Election Security

Good commentaries from Ed Felten and Matt Blaze.

Both make a point that I have also been saying: hacks can undermine the legitimacy of an election, even if there is no actual voter or vote manipulation.

Felten:

The second lesson is that we should be paying more attention to attacks that aim to undermine the legitimacy of an election rather than changing the election’s result. Election-stealing attacks have gotten most of the attention up to now — ­and we are still vulnerable to them in some places — ­but it appears that external threat actors may be more interested in attacking legitimacy.

Attacks on legitimacy could take several forms. An attacker could disrupt the operation of the election, for example, by corrupting voter registration databases so there is uncertainty about whether the correct people were allowed to vote. They could interfere with post-election tallying processes, so that incorrect results were reported­ an attack that might have the intended effect even if the results were eventually corrected. Or the attacker might fabricate evidence of an attack, and release the false evidence after the election.

Legitimacy attacks could be easier to carry out than election-stealing attacks, as well. For one thing, a legitimacy attacker will typically want the attack to be discovered, although they might want to avoid having the culprit identified. By contrast, an election-stealing attack must avoid detection in order to succeed. (If detected, it might function as a legitimacy attack.)

Blaze:

A hostile state actor who can compromise a handful of county networks might not even need to alter any actual votes to create considerable uncertainty about an election’s legitimacy. It may be sufficient to simply plant some suspicious software on back end networks, create some suspicious audit files, or add some obviously bogus names to to the voter rolls. If the preferred candidate wins, they can quietly do nothing (or, ideally, restore the compromised networks to their original states). If the “wrong” candidate wins, however, they could covertly reveal evidence that county election systems had been compromised, creating public doubt about whether the election had been “rigged”. This could easily impair the ability of the true winner to effectively govern, at least for a while.

In other words, a hostile state actor interested in disruption may actually have an easier task than someone who wants to undetectably steal even a small local office. And a simple phishing and trojan horse email campaign like the one in the NSA report is potentially all that would be needed to carry this out.

Me:

Democratic elections serve two purposes. The first is to elect the winner. But the second is to convince the loser. After the votes are all counted, everyone needs to trust that the election was fair and the results accurate. Attacks against our election system, even if they are ultimately ineffective, undermine that trust and ­ by extension ­ our democracy.

And, finally, a report from the Brennan Center for Justice on how to secure elections.

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