Two things caught my eye over the last few days. Firstly, a paper produced by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and published in Scientific Reports on 15 December 2011: The Dynamics of Protest Recruitment through an Online Network. And secondly, an article by Clay Claiborne: The Year in Review: They should have left that street vendor alone!
The first is an academic study on the role of social media (specifically Twitter) in the dynamics of an evolving social protest – specifically in this case the Spanish riots of May 2011.
We study recruitment patterns in the Twitter network and find evidence of social influence and complex contagion… We find that early participants cannot be characterized by a typical topological position but spreaders tend to be more central in the network. These findings shed light on the connection between online networks, social contagion, and collective dynamics, and offer an empirical test to the recruitment mechanisms theorized in formal models of collective action.
Key to the spread of social contagion would seem to be the involvement of central figures in each network, and that the speed of contagion is linked to the number of different exposures received:
The existence of recruitment bursts indicates that the effects of complex contagion are boosted by accelerated exposure, that is, by multiple stimuli received from different sources that take place within a small time window… [providing] empirical evidence of what scholars of social movements have called, metaphorically, collective effervescence.
One interesting conclusion is that traditional media publicity has little effect on the spread of unrest. Depending upon personal prejudice, of course, this could be a good or bad thing: either that traditional media merely reports the news without exhortations one way or the other, or that traditional media is in the pocket of the Establishment.
But the paper does conclude with the rider that recent “events, like the riots in London in August 2011, suggest that different online platforms are being used to mobilize different populations. The question that future research should consider is if the same recruitment patterns apply regardless of the technology being used, or if the affordances of the technology (i.e. public/private by default) shape the collective dynamics that they help coordinate.”
I can’t help wondering, however, if we are already moving beyond the study of individual social networks. The growth of social media apps that automatically post your tweet to Facebook and LinkedIn and all the other social networks you inhabit would suggest that all networks need to be considered together.
Which brings us to the second article, which I simply recommend as an excellent read on the evolution of the Arab Spring, involving Twitter, Anonymous, Wikileaks and more. For example, it highlights Google stepping in to bypass Mubarrak’s block on Twitter by providing the Speech-to-Tweet service. “We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone there,” said Google on 31 January 2011.
Social evolution, or revolution if you like, is already a complex issue involving all aspects of the internet. It’s another reason for not letting our own governments get control of our internet via the pretence of doing so to protect intellectual property and copyright.
Moving swiftly on from Stefan Viehböck’s published WPS vulnerability (see Vulnerability in WiFi’s WPS is likely to affect the majority of home users), Tactical Network Solutions has already released a WPS cracking tool called Reaver. Reaver, says the company,
is a capability that we at TNS have been testing, perfecting and using for nearly a year. But now that this vulnerability has been discussed publicly we have decided to announce and release Reaver, our WPS attack tool, to the open source community. Reaver is capable of breaking WPS pins and recovering the plain text WPA/WPA2 passphrase of the target access point in approximately 4-10 hours (attack time varies based on the access point).
According to TNS, attacking WPS is much faster than attacking WPA directly yet gets you the same results: the WPA passphrase. The disadvantage is that WPS can be disabled. “However,” says Tactical,”in our experience even security experts with otherwise secure configurations neglect to disable WPS; further, some access points don’t provide an option to disable WPS, or don’t actually disable WPS when the owner tells it to.”
On 27 December Stefan Viehböck disclosed a WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) vulnerability. WPS was developed by the WiFi Alliance in 2007. Its purpose is to provide easy WiFi security for home users. “I noticed a few really bad design decisions,” wrote Stefan, “which enable an efficient brute force attack, thus effectively breaking the security of pretty much all WPS-enabled Wi-Fi routers. As all of the more recent router models come with WPS enabled by default, this affects millions of devices worldwide.”
More details are provided in his paper Brute forcing Wi-Fi Protected Setup. He notes two basic design flaws in WPS.
As the External Registrar option does not require any kind of authentication apart from providing the PIN, it is potentially vulnerable to brute force attacks.
An attacker can derive information about the correctness of parts the PIN from the AP ́s responses.
The latter ‘flaw’ effectively reduces the length of the PIN, allowing an attacker to try all possibilities within a short period of time. Stefan wrote a ‘proof of concept’ brute force attack. This is usually circumvented by a ‘lock-down’ facility; that is, further log-in attempts are automatically blocked after, say, three failures. But, he writes,
Some vendors did not implement any kind of blocking mechanism to prevent brute force attacks. This allows an attacker to try all possible PIN combinations in less than four hours (at 1.3 seconds/attempt).
On average an attack will succeed in half the time.
Stefan’s vulnerability has now been accepted by CERT. CERT’s advisory comments
We are currently unaware of a practical solution to this problem.
Although the following will not mitigate this specific vulnerability, best practices also recommend only using WPA2 encryption with a strong password, disabling UPnP, and enabling MAC address filtering so only trusted computers and devices can connect to the wireless network.
Ironic, isn’t it? The ‘official’ security solution often provided by default for non-technical home users requires a technical capability beyond the average home user in order to stop it being a weakness… But irony or no irony, the simple fact is that the majority of home users everywhere are likely to be vulnerable.