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Posts Tagged ‘NSA’

What’s with the TrueCrypt warning?

June 1, 2014 1 comment

TrueCrypt, the free open source full disk encryption program favoured by many security-savvy people, including apparently Edward Snowden, is no more. Its website now redirects to its SourceForge page which starts with this message:

WARNING: Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues

This page exists only to help migrate existing data encrypted by TrueCrypt.

The development of TrueCrypt was ended in 5/2014 after Microsoft terminated support of Windows XP. Windows 8/7/Vista and later offer integrated support for encrypted disks and virtual disk images. Such integrated support is also available on other platforms (click here for more information). You should migrate any data encrypted by TrueCrypt to encrypted disks or virtual disk images supported on your platform.

This statement is so full of problems it is difficult to know where to start.

Is it a canary?
Canaries are warnings by a different method (if a canary died in a mine, the likelihood was that poison gas, otherwise yet undetected, was present). So one suggestion is that this message indicates government interference, and like Levison and Lavabit, it has been shut down to protect the users. (Levison said, “I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.”) Some have gone so far as to suggest a more explicit warning in TrueCrypt’s first paragraph: “not secure as”.

BitLocker

Microsoft’s BitLocker disk encryption

But for me the strongest suggestion that this might be a canary warning is the recommendation for Microsoft’s BitLocker. The message says “You should migrate any data encrypted by TrueCrypt to encrypted disks or virtual disk images supported on your platform.” It then proceeds to give a step-by-step how-to for migrating to BitLocker.

My problem is two-fold. Firstly, I find it difficult to believe that the developers of open-source cryptography would voluntarily recommend placing faith in a closed-source solution — and one from Microsoft to boot. Secondly, BitLocker gives up the ground won with such difficulty during the First Crypto Wars against Clinton’s Clipper chip and key escrow demands — BitLocker escrows the keys either with the IT department or with Microsoft’s cloud services. From both locations, using the PATRIOT Act, government agencies can retrieve those keys effectively on demand. This recommendation doesn’t make sense from a purely ‘security’ viewpoint.

Against this, however, we should note that ‘David’ (apparently a or the TrueCrypt developer) has told @stevebarnhart that there has been no government contact except one time inquiring about a ‘support contract’; that “BitLocker is ‘good enough’ and Windows was original ‘goal of the project’;” and that “There is no longer interest.” But whether ‘David’ is who he says he is, or whether what he says is true is anyone’s guess.

I find myself conflicted. This time my heart says, don’t think conspiracy; but my head says, this isn’t right.

What next?
For whatever reason, TrueCrypt can no longer be trusted. If we take David at face value, he has simply lost interest in the project and bowed out in a most unsatisfactory manner. That would imply that you can carry on using TrueCrypt; but that like XP, any future issues will not be resolved. So it’s probably best not to wait for them.

But if you were savvy enough to install TrueCrypt you will be savvy enough to migrate to an alternative without being persuaded into using BitLocker. BitLocker works with the Trusted Platform Module (TPM), a motherboard chip that to my mind turns Windows 8 into an NSA trojan. (See Is Windows 8 an NSA trojan?) This latest development merely reinforces my opinion.

It would be tempting to say it is time to migrate away from Windows altogether — perhaps to Linux. The reality, however, is that nothing is secure. What can be made by software can be unmade by software; that which can be built by computer power can be demolished by computer power. The unmakers have a thousand times the resources of the makers.

The solution is political, not technological. We the people have to reassert our role over the politicians. They are our servants. We pay them to do our bidding. And we have to make it absolutely clear that government interference and surveillance is unacceptable and must stop.

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

FBI indicts five members of the Chinese military for hacking US companies

May 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Eric Holder yesterday announced: “Today, we are announcing an indictment against five officers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for serious cybersecurity breaches against six American victim entities.”

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The five Chinese military men wanted by the FBI

The five Chinese military men wanted by the FBI

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The five officers are known by the aliases UglyGorilla, Jack Sun, Lao Wen, hzy_1hx and KandyGoo. They are members of the PLA’s military unit 61398 (you may recall that this is the unit accused by Mandiant last year as being the source of the APT1 hacking group). They stand accused of using spearphishing to penetrate six US companies (Westinghouse Electric, Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, U.S. Steel, the United Steelworkers Union and SolarWorld) to conduct economic espionage.

“This is a tactic that the U.S. government categorically denounces,” said Holder. “As President Obama has said on numerous occasions, we do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies, or U.S. commercial sectors.” This is from the man who lied to Congress.

It is also inaccurate. The Snowden files have shown that the NSA has bugged trade negotiations; and trade negotiations are quite plainly ‘economic’ – with US industry likely to benefit. And of course the NSA’s hacking of Chinese servers, and excluding Huawei over fears that it might be backdoored while it proceeded to backdoor Cisco equipment has sort of ceded the moral high ground.

I asked FireEye, which now owns Mandiant, if it had supplied any of the information used by the FBI in its indictment. A spokesperson told me, “The US government just used information from the APT1 report which was published. We did not actively provide information. We believe this was a natural escalation after the revelation – the PLA group went quiet but now are very active again so was only a matter of time.”

But there may be another reason for the delay between Mandiant’s initial report and this indictment… Generally speaking, law enforcement needs a victim complaint over intelligence of a crime before it can take action against the suspected criminal; so it has had to wait for the hacked companies to investigate and complain before it could commence the indictment proceedings.

Luis Corrons, PandaLabs

Luis Corrons

Luis Corrons, technical director at PandaLabs, finds this a frequent problem. “This year I have handed LEA information about 3 different criminal cases; and all 3 of them have real evidence of who is behind them. But if there is no official complaint from the victims, nothing happens. One of the cases is multinational – the local LE tried to convince a Spanish company who was victim to present a complaint, but it didn’t want to. Now the LEA is trying in different countries trying to convince victims to present a complaint.

“But this is not the only problem,” he continued.” Some investigations are really complex, and while for me it can be ‘easy’ to gather evidences, for an LEA to do it in the proper and legal way can take months or even years.”

If that’s the case here, this indictment is actually quite speedy.

But is it wise?

Much of the security industry is in favour of the US action. “This really could be a landmark moment that has the potential to change the way in which we respond to the growing threat presented by digital criminality,” said Martin Sutherland, managing director of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, in an emailed statement. “This current case is encouraging and sets an interesting precedent for other countries combating digital crime.”

“The US government is toughening up its language against nation-state and industrial cyber-espionage,” said Bob West, chief trust officer at CipherCloud in another email. “We’re calling out the Chinese government for its role fostering theft of American intellectual property and doing it by naming specific hackers with military ties.”

“While I doubt that foreign military commanders who are prosecuted by the Department of Justice will be successfully apprehended and brought to justice,” said Tom Cross, director of security research at Lancope, “these prosecutions do send a clear message regarding what sort of behavior the United States views as unacceptable.”

In each case I asked a few questions. Most pertinent was this:

Is it not pure hypocrisy? We know from the Snowden files that the NSA has hacked Chinese servers. Holder says ‘we do not do it for economic advantage’. Leaving aside any cynicism over such a statement, isn’t it irrelevant? Holder is saying that the accused have broken US laws; but the US breaks Chinese laws. So what is the legal difference?

I have not had a reply. In fairness, it probably has as much to do with trans-Atlantic time zones as a disinclination to respond; and I will update this post with any replies that I get.

However, it is the problem I have with the US action. It is a nation that claims to uphold the rule of law – but only the rule of US law. This action says to the world, you must all abide by our laws, but our laws are the only ones that we need abide by.

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

The Heartbleed bug and SSL implementations

April 9, 2014 1 comment

heartbleedlogoLike the tree falling in the forest, we simply do not know if the Heartbleed bug was ever exploited. The problem is that exploiting it makes no sound.

The Heartbleed bug is a fault in the implementation of the Heartbeat extension to OpenSSL. The effect is to expose up to 64kb of supposedly encrypted traffic in plaintext. That plaintext would likely include the encryption keys, user credentials (ID and password) and message content. But exploiting the bug leaves no trace in the logs, so in theory it could have been used by hackers at any time or ever since the flaw was introduced several years ago.

This potential problem is huge. “Just one application that uses OpenSSL, Apache, is used to run 346 million public websites or about 47 percent of the Internet today” explains Kevin Bocek, Vice President, Security Strategy & Threat Intelligence at Venafi. “And the problem is even larger since this doesn’t include the tens of millions of behind-the-firewall applications, devices and appliances that run Apache and use OpenSSL.”

An update to OpenSSL has been released, and hopefully the faulty implementations are being fixed. The encryption keys are being changed and all should be well soon. But will it?

Once the SSL keys are known, then all previous messages could be decrypted. So if any attacker has been sniffing and storing messages, and has at any time obtained those keys, then those stored messages could be decrypted (unless forward secrecy – which provides new keys for each message – was being used). Forward secrecy is only now becoming more popular for precisely such a concern.

The elephant, of course, is the NSA and GCHQ (and to a lesser extent probably every other national intelligence agency in the world). On the plus side, there is no indication in the Snowden files released so far to suggest that the NSA knew about or used this bug. The downside is that unless they wrote about it, we would probably never know.

Meanwhile, researchers have been trying to discover which services use vulnerable versions of OpenSSL and have put their users at risk. Filippo Valsorda produced a test site to check whether particular sites are vulnerable. “Very quickly, it became clear that popular sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, were not affected, but other sites (for instance, dating site OKCupid, Imgur, Flickr, Stackoverflow and Eventbrite) were at risk,” commented Graham Cluley this morning.

More worrying, however, is that Yahoo was affected (although it has been fixed now). The problem with Yahoo is that we know that GCHQ had been intercepting and storing Yahoo traffic.

Qualys has also added Heartbleed detection to its SSL test site. The advantage of this site is that it provides a detailed analysis of a website’s overall SSL implementation. The two graphics show summary the results from Yahoo (after fixing Heartbleed: A) and a site operated by a major security company (which should really do better: F).

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YahooSSL

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otherSSL

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Although Yahoo has now fixed the Heartbleed bug, Yahoo users should all consider changing their passwords – just in case.

Categories: All, Security Issues

United States Trade Representative threatens the EU

April 7, 2014 Leave a comment

UsvsEUThe United States is accustomed to getting its way internationally through trade threats. One method is the Special 301 Report Watch List, which is an annual list of countries which the US believes are failing in their duties towards copyright protection (specifically, US copyright protection). Once included in the Priority Watch List, a foreign country is liable for legal and/or trade sanctions. The Special 301 Report is compiled by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), and is seen as a method of bullying recalcitrant nations into conformity with US preferences.

This is not the only annual report from the USTR. It also produces the Section 1377 Review which examines international compliance with telecommunications trade agreements. This too, perhaps because it has become entrenched in the USTR way of doing business, can take a bullying tone. The latest report was released on Friday – but I would suggest that it thinks again if it believes it can bully the European Union at this stage of EU/US relations.

Background
Following the Snowden revelations on NSA/GCHQ spying, the now former head of Deutsche Telekom, René Obermann, proposed in November 2013 that Europe should establish a Schengen-routing and Schengen-cloud. The idea was that any communication from one point in Europe to another point in Europe should never leave Europe; and that personal European data should remain within Europe. This latter would effectively remove the existing safe harbour agreement with the US.

‘Schengen’ was chosen specifically as a mechanism for excluding the UK. The Schengen Area comprises 26 European countries that have abolished border control for Europeans between common borders – the UK has always remained outside of this agreement. As Die Welt described in March, the ‘Schengen-routing’ is intended to be “a defensive measure against the encroachments of the Anglo-Saxon intelligence on European internet users.”

Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s François Hollande (that is, the central axis of the European Union) have declared support for the idea.

USTR’s Section 1377 Review
At the end of last week the USTR released its 2014 Section 1377 Review. On cross-border data flows it has two concerns: Turkey and the EU.

In Turkey, in the run-up to the recent local elections (‘won’ by Prime Minister Erdogan’s AKP party) and ahead of the presidential elections in August, the government has been tightening its grip on and control over the internet. USTR is concerned over restrictions on data flows and will seek “to ensure that data flows supporting legitimate trade can expand unimpeded.”

In Europe, the report notes that

DTAG [Deutsche Telekom AG] has called for statutory requirements that all data generated within the EU not be unnecessarily routed outside of the EU; and has called for revocation of the U.S.-EU “Safe Harbor” Framework, which has provided a practical mechanism for both U.S companies and their business partners in Europe to export data to the United States, while adhering to EU privacy requirements.

Well, obviously, this is a false statement. The safe harbour agreement requires that US companies holding European data do not pass that data to any third-party – but clearly they do pass it to the NSA and law enforcement. The report continues,

The United States and the EU share common interests in protecting their citizens’ privacy, but the draconian approach proposed by DTAG and others appears to be a means of providing protectionist advantage to EU-based ICT suppliers. Given the breath [sic] of legitimate services that rely on geographically-dispersed data processing and storage, a requirement to route all traffic involving EU consumers within Europe, would decrease efficiency and stifle innovation. For example, a supplier may transmit, store, and process its data outside the EU more efficiently, depending on the location of its data centers. An innovative supplier from outside of Europe may refrain from offering its services in the EU because it may find EU-based storage and processing requirements infeasible for nascent services launched from outside of Europe.

This is riddled with emotive language and inaccuracies. Draconian? Protectionist advantage? (Now I freely accept that DTAG will be looking for commercial opportunities, and that it is not a company I personally wish to use. From personal experience, I will never have dealings with T-Mobile again. But it is interesting that it seems to be willing to trade the US market for the European market.)

And the inaccuracies… Europeans would suggest that the US has shown scant regard for anyone’s privacy, while it is the US that delivers protectionist advantage (sometimes via economic espionage) to its own companies. Secondly, it completely misrepresents the proposals. European point-to-point communications should stay within Europe (that’s the ‘routing’); while personal data should not leave Europe (that’s the ‘cloud’). But the USTR is lumping the two together into some form of balkanised European intranet completely cut off from the rest of the internet. In reality, it should have little effect on legitimate trade between the EU and US.

It is not, for example, nearly as draconian as the US exclusion of Huawei from the US markets without any proof of actual threat (other than economic).

Then comes the USTR threat:

Furthermore, any mandatory intra-EU routing may raise questions with respect to compliance with the EU’s trade obligations with respect to Internet-enabled services. Accordingly, USTR will be carefully monitoring the development of any such proposals.

In reality we should not take this too seriously. It’s a form of lobbying – perhaps the first of much more to come – and we already know that USTR is not averse to lobbying on behalf of US industry. But it does show that the US is beginning to take the Schengen threat seriously. The UK should too. In the meantime, it should be said that US industry is not without its European allies. Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner in charge of the European Digital Agenda, has said: “It’s not realistic that we can keep data in the EU, and the trial could jeopardize the open Internet.” Neelie Kroes is the commissioner who recently tried to redefine ‘net neutrality’ to suit big telecoms companies, only to have her definition rejected by the European Parliament.

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

Government only pretends to rein in NSA surveillance in the Rogers/Ruppersberger bill

April 3, 2014 Leave a comment

The age-old social contract between people and governments has become corrupted. It should be that the people pay governments to protect them. But governments have decided that the best way to protect themselves is to control the people. And that is their driving motivation.

Occasionally the people fight back; and if they fight hard enough they seem to have a few victories — the first crypto wars, SOPA, ACTA, the Communications Data Bill and others. But the people never win and cannot win. Governments cannot be beaten — they can be changed, but it is always like-for-like. Compare the current UK Tory government with the previous Blair/Brown Labour government: there is no difference.

When the people seem to win a victory against government control, all that happens is that government feigns defeat and operates a tactical withdrawal. But it does not forgive and it does not forget. Later, it returns with a left hook, an uppercut or a simple sucker punch. It alters its arguments, it changes its dress, but it does not change its intent.

The first crypto wars were never won; government simply usurped the entire internet instead. ACTA was not abandoned, it was simply compartmentalised into the TPP and TTIP (both negotiated in more secrecy than ACTA) to make it easier to swallow in smaller bites. And the Data Communications Bill will simply return as the Data Communications Bill as soon as Cameron (or the next prime minister) can rid himself of or neutralize Nick Clegg.

So what of US moves to reign in NSA surveillance? History tells us not to expect it. And, indeed, both the EFF and the Cato Institute tell us not to believe it.

The first bill to actually hit the table is that proposed by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) — and the first warning comes from the EFF: “The bill only needs 17 lines to stop the calling records program, but it weighs in at more than 40 pages. Why?”

Because, says the EFF, “the ‘reform’ bill tries to create an entirely new government ‘authority’ to collect other electronic data.”

Julian Sanchez, writing in the Cato Institute, explains the new authority:

In order to preserve the capabilities of the current NSA telephony program, the HPSCI bill created a new and distinct authority, §503, that authorizes rapid collection of both telephony and electronic communications metadata under a process superficially somewhat similar to §702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
Under the Hood of the House Intel Committee’s NSA Reform Bill

To sum up, says Sanchez, the HPSCI bill’s seemingly broad prohibition on bulk collection turns out to be riddled with ambiguities and potential loopholes. Seems like the NSA puts backdoors into more than just cryptography.

While this would at least presumably put an end to the current dragnet collection of telephony metadata, it is not at all clear how seriously it would constrain the government’s bulk collection of records on the whole. In some respects, there is at least a colorable argument that the new authority could expand the scope of government collection in some respects. Given the government’s track record on this front, it is probably not excessively paranoid to suspect that any such loopholes and ambiguities are likely to be exploited.

EFF agrees:

Under the bill, the government might try to argue that the order can collect any type of record created as the result of any “electronic communication” as long as the communication is of an agent of a foreign power or someone in contact with the agent or foreign power. This is an incredibly broad standard.
An NSA “Reform Bill” of the Intelligence Community, Written by the Intelligence Community, and for the Intelligence Community

In short, government is doing precisely what history tells us it would. It is pretending to bow to the will of the people while actually increasing and enshrining in statute new and more extensive control capabilities.

Categories: All, Politics

Don’t let the government or the tech giants fool you into thinking anything is changing

April 1, 2014 Leave a comment

When Bruce Schneier left the employ of BT, he finally got off the pot. His natural inclinations can now be seen. He still hasn’t criticised BT despite it being obvious that BT is no more innocent than any of the big American telecoms companies — but he told me (by email) at the time that he tried to avoid getting involved in foreign politics.

Bruce Schneier: photo by Doug Logan

Bruce Schneier — the ex-BT, anti-surveillance privacy guru

He hasn’t been 100% consistent in this. When Swedish journalists discovered Swedish involvement in the MITM NSA/GCHQ hacking program known as Quantum, he said, “Both Quantum and FoxAcid are NSA/GCHQ programs to attack computer users. The fact that Sweden is involved in these programs means that Sweden is involved in active attacks against internet users. It is not just passive monitoring. This is an active attack.”

One day we may yet hear what he knows about BT’s cooperation with GCHQ (Tempora et al).

In the meantime, he is now no longer backward in commenting on surveillance in general and the NSA in particular. An article in The Atlantic last week warns us not to listen uncritically to the protestations of either the NSA or the tech giants that now appear to be up in arms against this NSA hacking and surveillance.

The tech giants (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft etcetera) all claim to be doing what they can to prevent further snooping. But they are not doing the one thing that would work — they are not encrypting user data on servers in a way that would be impossible for governments to demand the keys. And the reason they are not doing this is simply because the vendors and the governments both want the same thing — to be able to read our data.

The best we have are caveat-laden pseudo-assurances. At SXSW earlier this month, CEO Eric Schmidt tried to reassure the audience by saying that he was “pretty sure that information within Google is now safe from any government’s prying eyes.” A more accurate statement might be, “Your data is safe from governments, except for the ways we don’t know about and the ways we cannot tell you about. And, of course, we still have complete access to it all, and can sell it at will to whomever we want.”
Don’t Listen to Google and Facebook: The Public-Private Surveillance Partnership Is Still Going Strong

The reality is that for so long as the vendors want access to our data, the governments will be able to demand it. Neither of that is changing; although both sides are trying to pretend it is.

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues