I never cease to be amazed by our politicians – they seem to be incapable of taking a stand and holding a line.
The European Commission is, we are told, furious at the surveillance programs of the National Security Agency. (They are also slightly miffed at those of GCHQ, which is just as bad, if not worse, than the NSA. But GCHQ is British, and Britain is a member of the EU, and the EU cannot, by law, interfere with the security matters of its own members. So that one’s a tad tricky; best keep a low profile.)
But back to the fury at the NSA. In a pit of fique, the EC has declared that if the US doesn’t do what it wants, it might reconsider the safe harbor agreement that allows US companies to export personal European data even though the US is not considered safe to secure it. It won’t, of course. Can you imagine the uproar if Europeans could suddenly not have their hourly fix of Facebook or Twitter or Google mail?
And apart from that, what the EU wants is not for the NSA to stop spying on Europeans, but for Europeans to be able to sue the NSA in the US if it oversteps the mark. Well, good luck with that. A US judge saying that NSA spying on foreigners (perfectly legal, in fact required by law in America) is not legal if that foreigner is European but OK if he is not European? Or perhaps US judges will have to become proficient in European law and adjudicate on EU law for EU citizens living in the EU but spied on from the US? This one will run and run until it is kicked into the long grass and quietly forgotten.
Meanwhile, the EC is keeping quiet over its genuine weapons. Will it stop negotiations on the new ACTA, called the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, not to be confused with – wait, to be totally confused with – the Trans-Pacific Partnership)? Will it hell. A threat like that might actually have an effect.
And what about the Swift agreement – the one that ships European financial data to the US for onforwarding to the NSA? Not a dicky-bird there either.
So, frankly, all this huff and puff from the EC over the NSA spying is pure froth designed to appease the voting public – after all, we’ve got elections coming up in just a few months.
That’s not to say there aren’t some good guys in Europe. An emailed statement from MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht comments, “It is, however, seriously regrettable that the Commission has completely ignored the demand of the European Parliament to suspend the EU-US agreement on the transfer of SWIFT bank transaction data and, instead, delivered a glowing endorsement of the agreement. Revelations that US authorities by-passed the provisions of the agreement, including using cyber-attacks to access SWIFT data, undermine the entire essence of the agreement and cannot be simply left unanswered. This slight by the Commission in ignoring Parliament’s demand must make MEPs more wary in the future about waiving through far-reaching international agreements.”
Sadly, the Albrechts in Europe are massively outweighed by the Camerons in Europe.
Time to rewrite the text books. We have ‘security by threat transfer’, ‘security by threat avoidance’, ‘security by threat reduction’, and ‘security by threat acceptance’.
Now I bring you the latest evolution in the theory of security risk management: security by denial…
This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have a problem.
I finally got the email I’ve been waiting for. It’s from Adobe. It starts
As we announced on 3 October 2013, we recently discovered that an attacker illegally entered our network and may have obtained access to your Adobe ID and encrypted password. We currently have no indication that there has been unauthorised activity on your account.
To prevent unauthorised access to your account, we have reset your password…
Let’s have a look at this. “We announced on 3 October 2013, we recently discovered…” What does recently mean? They announced on 3 October not because they had discovered the hack, but because Brian Krebs told the world that he had found stolen Adobe data on the internet. So when it was actually stolen (could have been months earlier) and when Adobe actually became aware of the theft (could have been months earlier) is not known.
Let’s be charitable and say Adobe knew about it by 1 October.
They said that just under 3 million usernames and encrypted passwords may have been stolen. Since I don’t have an Adobe account, and since 3 million is relatively few in the overall scheme of things, I thought no more about it.
A few weeks later Adobe admitted that the true figure is nearer 38 million. That’s getting a bit more worrying, so I checked my browser’s stored passwords and my more recently adopted password manager. Still nothing. No Adobe account. And anyway, Adobe said very clearly that the company had reset all the passwords and notified the 38 million users. I had not been notified. I had nothing to worry about.
But then, about a week later, it emerged that it wasn’t a mere 3 million, nor a more worrying 38 million, but a colossal 150 million. Adobe had notified 38 million out of 150 million – but that is by no means the worst of it. When Paul Ducklin got hold of the database of stolen data, now easily available if you know where to look, a quick analysis showed the user’s email in plaintext, an encrypted password, and the user’s password hint in plaintext.
email addresses – you can infer a lot from an address: usually the user’s name and company. For example, Ken Westin at Tripwire looked through the Adobe hack and found 89,997 military addresses. “This is in addition to the more than 6,000 accounts from defense contractors such as Raytheon, Northrup Gruman [sic], General Dynamics and BAE Systems we also found,” he wrote. “Also, on the federal side, there were 433 FBI accounts, 82 NSA accounts and 5,000 NASA accounts.” So, choose your company, guess the user’s name, look through LinkedIn and Facebook and you’ve got enough for a pretty compelling targeted phishing attack.
encrypted passwords – passwords should be hashed and salted with a slow hashing algorithm; they should not be encrypted. Hashing means 150 million passwords need to be cracked; encryption means that one key needs to be cracked and all 150 million passwords are known.
password hints in plaintext – oh, really! Why bother cracking the passwords when the hint will let you guess it? What do you think is the password when the hint is ‘57’; or ‘the bad disciple’?
So Adobe really cocked-up. They didn’t protect the data, they didn’t store it correctly, and they tried to minimise the extent of the damage. And still it gets worse; because they tried to suggest, don’t worry, most of these accounts aren’t real, they belong to people who just signed up to get promotions or freebies.
Here’s the real danger. In that great mass of one-off freebie-chasing accounts numbering anything between 38 million and 150 million are people who signed up, used a password that they can’t remember, and are completely unaware that their password is now compromised. What if these people signed up years ago before password thefts became a dime a dozen, and lazily used the same password as they use on their email address? There is no way that they can retrieve that password. They now have no way of knowing whether any or which or all of their other accounts have been compromised by Adobe’s failure to adequately protect this password.
One final point. I said at the beginning that I had been expecting the email from Adobe. That’s because I checked with LastPass (who has a little routine that will tell you whether you’re included in the hacked data) and learnt that although I couldn’t ever remember creating an Adobe account, at some point I must have done, because there I was.
So, at least six weeks after it knew of the breach, Adobe bothers to tell me that someone “may have obtained access to [my] Adobe ID and encrypted password” when the world and his dog has access to that encrypted password. I know; Ken Westin, Brian Krebs and Paul Ducklin almost certainly know; LastPass and the hackers most definitely know; and anyone who cares to look will also know. Adobe, however, doesn’t know and continues to insist that ‘an attacker… may have obtained access.”
How dare they, after all this time and all these mistakes, still try to save face at my expense?
Wonderful idea from Deutsche Telekom. Yesterday it said it would launch a clean pipe secure service for small companies that cannot afford their own security. For a fixed monthly fee small companies will be able to access the internet via DT’s own secure data centres. “Hackers will have no chance,” said management board member Reinhard Clemens. Well, we’ll just gloss over that, and accept it at face value.
“The ‘clean pipe’ project, in which Deutsche Telekom partners with RSA – part of U.S. technology firm EMC – is in a test phase and scheduled to hit the market early next year,” reports Reuters.
So, just a little due diligence required before I sign up…
OK, Deutsche Telekom owns T-Mobile. T-Mobile “operates the fourth and fifth largest wireless networks in the U.S. market with 45 million customers and annual revenues of $21.35 billion.” (Wikipedia). Slight problem; that means that T-Mobile is subject to FISA in the US – and the US gets DT more than $20 billion.
OK, RSA is a huge name in encryption. That’s got to be good (even though it is, well, yes, an American company). RSA got big and very rich on its invention of public key cryptography. Thing is, RSA didn’t invent it – it was invented by Ellis, Cocks and Williamson at GCHQ.
Now the details are rather obscure and still shrouded in secrecy, but there are suggestions that GCHQ told the NSA what it had discovered, and shortly after that, public key cryptography was (re)invented in the US.
I would not for one moment suggest anything underhand in the timing – but given what we now know about both the NSA and GCHQ there is a temptation to ask whether public key cryptography would have been allowed to develop if the very same mathematicians who produced it had not also discovered a way to unpick it.
Mathematicians and cryptographers tell us that cryptography based on the difficulty in factoring large nearly primes is valid.
And that’s the point. But.
Thank you NSA. Thank you GCHQ. You have reduced a wonderful and exciting internet into something dirty and distrustful. Thank you for removing any possibility of trust anywhere.
Blogs are different to newspapers. You can get away with greater subjectivity in a blog than you can in a newspaper. But newspapers cannot absolve themselves of their responsibility for pure objective fact by calling a particular section a blog.
So when Martha Gill wrote about Anonymous in the Telegraph blog, it was wrong. Her headline says it all: Anonymous have been exposed as hypocrites. Watch them try to wriggle out of it (6 November 2013). You can hear the glee in her voice – this is personal, not factual.
Anonymous responded with an open letter to the media in general. It accused Gill of being inaccurate in one of her two accusations (that their masks are produced in what she strongly implies is a sweatshop) and hypocritical in another (that Warner Bros benefits from every sale of a mask). On the latter, Anonymous suggests that royalties are a sad fact of life; and wonders how many Telegraph staff support Foxconn by using Apple or Dell, Sony or HP equipment. “Since 2010, at least 17 deaths occurred when employees committed suicide by jumping from the roof of the building. To use a phrase from Martha Gill’s article, these are certainly ‘unpleasant conditions.’”
But in reality, this incident is just a small local battle in a much larger war. Anonymous – and it’s not alone – believes that much of the media has been bought and usurped by government and big business; and supports the agenda of government and big business to the exclusion of truth. It is no coincidence that there is a nationwide (US) march against corporate media planned for next Saturday:
We are planning a march and rally in Washington DC to raise awareness of the privatization, corporatization, and monopolization of the mainstream media and the corruption of our fifth estate. The failure of the corporate networks to adequately cover critical social issues has allowed for the rampant corruption of our political and economic system to go unquestioned and unchallenged.
March against mainstream media
If you have already thought about this, it cannot be denied. A few (very few) newspapers have kicked back in recent months with the Snowden revelations (notably the Guardian, Washington Post and Der Spiegel); but it’s also noticeable that the Guardian is under threat of prosecution in the UK for doing so.
And if you want a specific current example of this media betrayal, consider an EFF blog from Thursday: How Can the New York Times Endorse an Agreement the Public Can’t Read?
The New York Times’ editorial board has made a disappointing endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), even as the actual text of the agreement remains secret. That raises two distressing possibilities: either in an act of extraordinary subservience, the Times has endorsed an agreement that neither the public nor its editors have the ability to read. Or, in an act of extraordinary cowardice, it has obtained a copy of the secret text and hasn’t yet fulfilled its duty to the public interest to publish it.
TPP is the successor to ACTA. ACTA was defeated by European activism. It is dead. TPP allows the same provisions to be established everywhere else without European involvement. Once this is achieved, the new discussions on an EU/US trade agreement will be dragged into the same agreements – it will be inevitable.
But where is the mainstream media’s concern over either? In defeating ACTA, the people made it very clear that they do not want ACTA – more specifically the internet-controlling, copyright-enforcing aspects of it. To understand the great Battle of ACTA, read Monica Horten’s new book, A Copyright Masquerade.
Rather than accept the will of the people, big business and government withdrew, regrouped, renamed and returned from a different direction, calling it TPP and being equally if not more secretive.
The problem is that the mainstream media is not on the side of its readers, but on the side of its owners.
Quite simply, the majority of US news outlets are owned by the same media companies that are lobbying in favour of trade agreements that will take over control of what appears on the internet, who can see what, and who goes where. Quite frankly, we can no longer believe what we read in the press any more than we can believe what government tells us.
On 25 September I posed the question: Is the anti-virus industry in bed with the NSA? Now Bits of Freedom, a Dutch digital rights group, has asked the same question in a letter signed by more than 25 civil rights groups and individuals (including Bruce Schneier, EDRi and EFF).
On 25 October it wrote to more than a dozen of the world’s leading anti-virus companies asking four specific questions:
1. Have you ever detected the use of software by any government (or state actor) for the purpose of surveillance?
2. Have you ever been approached with a request by a government, requesting that the presence of specific software is not detected, or if detected, not notified to the user of your software? And if so, could you provide information on the legal basis of this request, the specific kind of software you were supposed to allow and the period of time which you were supposed to allow this use?
3. Have you ever granted such a request? If so, could you provide the same information as in the point mentioned above and the considerations which led to the decision to comply with the request from the government?
4. Could you clarify how you would respond to such a request in the future?
With the greatest respect, this is a pointless exercise; the companies will deny any collusion with law enforcement to subvert their products whether they have or not. And they may have, or they may not.
I have no idea whether there is collusion between AV and law enforcement. Every single member of the AV industry I have spoken to denies it absolutely – and I believe them. There really are some great, learned, honest and honourable guys in the AV industry. But the NSA says it doesn’t break the law; and I absolutely do not believe them.
We know that the NSA hacks into third-party computers and installs malware. We know that it is the AV industry’s job to detect and neutralise such malware. We therefore know that the NSA will not want the AV industry to do that to their own malware.
It would be easy enough to defeat AV engines to get onto a computer; but it is less easy to stay hidden for any length of time after that. But we know that state-sponsored malware remains undetected for years. How does it do that? The easiest way would be to subvert the seek and destroy software that hunts it.
So, given the amount of time and resources that the NSA has spent on subverting what gets in its way – such as encryption – is it reasonable to believe that it hasn’t spent similar effort on neutralizing the AV industry?
I don’t know the answer; and it doesn’t matter who in the AV industry tells me, nor in what regard I hold them, nor how many times they tell me, I still will not know.
And that, perhaps, is the very worst thing that the NSA has done. It has destroyed trust in the internet, and has destroyed trust in anything to do with the internet. For that the NSA cannot – and must not – ever be forgiven.