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“Circumventing” Encryption Is Different than “Weakening” or “Altering” It

I’m still catching up to the Questions for the Record that ODNI submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee after its June hearing on 702. So I’d like to look more closely at something from the QFRs first reported by Zack Whittaker on encryption.

It has to do with a response to a Ron Wyden question about whether 702 provides authority to “circumvent or weaken” encryption.

Whittaker notes what I pointed out here — because of the way 702 works, “the court is never going to review the individual directives which is where the specific technical assistance gets laid out (unless a provider is permitted to challenge those directives).” That’s the headline point of his piece, one I agree with.

The US government does not need the approval of its secret surveillance court to ask a tech company to build an encryption backdoor.

Whittaker also notes that this language falls far short of denying (or confirming) whether it has asked for a back door. Meaning, it’s possible they asked a provider for a back door, and the provider complied without being forced to.

That said, I wanted to point out the limits to this claim from Whittaker.

In its answers, the government said it has “not to date” needed to ask the FISC to issue an order to compel a company to backdoor or weaken its encryption.

It is true that the government says it has not asked an ECSP to “alter the encryption provided by a service or product it offers.”

But that answer is non-responsive to the totality of Wyden’s question, which asks if the government ordered a provider to “circumvent or weaken” encryption. The government only addresses the latter question, whether the government has altered (presumably by weakening) encryption. It hasn’t answered, at all, whether it has ordered a provider to “circumvent” encryption.

That’s an important point regardless. These QFRs are always carefully crafted, particularly in responses to Wyden (or the few other people who actually exercise oversight).

I think it’s particularly important given something that happened with iOS in the last year: rather than just answering, yes or no, before a phone trusts a computer (meaning it will share its contents with iTunes and therefore potentially with Apple), iOS 11 now requires you to enter your password before a phone will trust a computer.

A different and more significant change is requiring the passcode to “trust” a new computer. Currently, when the police wish to search a phone, they unlock it either with the fingerprint reader, by convincing the suspect to unlock the phone (e.g. to look up a phone number), or they simply seize the phone while it is unlocked. None of these avenues directly implicate suspects’ constitutional rights. Once the unlocked phone is obtained, officials connect the device to a computer running forensics software, or even just iTunes, direct the device to “trust” the new computer when prompted, and download a backup that contains almost all of the relevant information stored on the phone. Requiring the passcode in order to sync the device with a new machine means that, even with an unlocked device, a party that wants access is now limited to searching the phone manually for visible items and can only perform that search while the phone remains unlocked.

I had already been thinking trusted backups provided a way the government could, through Apple, obtain contents from phones that would otherwise be hard to decrypt (I believe it would require altering iTunes, not the encryption itself). Such an approach would be particularly useful for NatSec investigations, where collecting contents wasn’t so much about solving an already committed crime (which is what all the iPhones the government hasn’t been able to break into were collected for), but to prevent one or otherwise collect prospective data.

I don’t even know if this is technically feasible. Nor do I know whether someone would be better sticking with iOS 10 and just rigorously refusing to trust a given computer or upgrading to iOS 11 and never entering that password.

But I do know this passage on encryption is — with respect to whether the government has ever ordered a company to circumvent encryption — a non-denial.

And I have learned that non-denials, especially in response to Wyden, generally should be closely scrutinized.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Yup: The Government Is Secretly Hiding Its Crypto Battles in the Secret FISA Court

When I analyzed the Wyden-Paul Section 702 reform bill, I noted language that suggested Wyden was concerned about the government using the secrecy of FISA Court proceedings to demand technical assistance from providers they otherwise couldn’t get. Wyden’s bill makes it clear he’s concerned that the government would (or is) making technical demands without even telling the FISC it is doing so. His bill would explicitly require review of any technical demands by the court.

(B) LIMITATIONS.—The Attorney General or the Director of National Intelligence may not request assistance from an electronic communication service provider under subparagraph (A) without demonstrating, to the satisfaction of the Court, that the assistance sought—

(i) is necessary;

(ii) is narrowly tailored to the surveillance at issue; and

(iii) would not pose an undue burden on the electronic communication service provider or its customers who are not an intended target of the surveillance.

(C) COMPLIANCE.—An electronic communication service provider is not obligated to comply with a directive to provide assistance under this paragraph unless

(i) such assistance is a manner or method that has been explicitly approved by the Court; and

(ii) the Court issues an order, which has been delivered to the provider, explicitly describing the assistance to be furnished by the provider that has been approved by the Court.

I suggested the most likely use of such a “technical assistance” demand would be requiring a company (cough, Apple) to back door its encryption.

The most obvious such application would involve asking Apple to back door its iPhone encryption.

As a reminder, national security requests to Apple doubled in the second half of last year.

The number of national security orders issued to Apple by US law enforcement doubled to about 6,000 in the second half of 2016, compared with the first half of the year, Apple disclosed in its biannual transparency report. Those requests included orders received under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as national security letters, the latter of which are issued by the FBI and don’t require a judge’s sign-off.

We would expect such a jump if the government were making a slew of new requests of Apple related to breaking encryption on their phones.

In his statement on the bill, Wyden made it clear that that’s precisely what he is concerned about.

It leaves in place current statutory authority to compel companies to provide assistance, potentially opening the door to government mandated de-encryption without FISA Court oversight. [my emphasis]

And note: he is saying that the government will (that is, has already, most likely) done this without asking the FISC to review whether its technical demands are narrowly tailored and necessary.

Update: This post has been updated in response to comments to clarify that Wyden is not concerned about technical demands per se, but about technical demands with no FISC review.

Update: One more point to make clear: for “individual” orders, the court will review every facility, which will involve some review of what kinds of access the government will get (such as when, in 2015, the government ordered Yahoo to scan all its users for some kind of signature).

But under 702, the “assistance” language that the government could use to obligate back doors (or whatever else) is not tied to anything the court reviews. Annual certifications have to affirm that the collection requires domestic provider assistance (but does not require a description of what that assistance entails).

vi) the acquisition involves obtaining foreign intelligence information from or with the assistance of an electronic communication service provider; and

But then once that certificate is signed, the government can work at the level of directives, demanding, compensating, and indemnifying the provider for that assistance all without any court review.

(h) Directives and judicial review of directives

(1) Authority: With respect to an acquisition authorized under subsection (a), the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence may direct, in writing, an electronic communication service provider to—

(A) immediately provide the Government with all information, facilities, or assistance necessary to accomplish the acquisition in a manner that will protect the secrecy of the acquisition and produce a minimum of interference with the services that such electronic communication service provider is providing to the target of the acquisition; and

(B) maintain under security procedures approved by the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence any records concerning the acquisition or the aid furnished that such electronic communication service provider wishes to maintain.

(2) Compensation

The Government shall compensate, at the prevailing rate, an electronic communication service provider for providing information, facilities, or assistance in accordance with a directive issued pursuant to paragraph (1).

(3) Release from liability
No cause of action shall lie in any court against any electronic communication service provider for providing any information, facilities, or assistance in accordance with a directive issued pursuant to paragraph (1).

That’s why the risk is that much greater for 702: because the court is never going to review the individual directives which is where the specific technical assistance gets laid out (unless a provider is permitted to challenge those directives).

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Why Did Google Miss a Lot of Users Affected by FISA?

There’s been some bad news in the transparency reports issued by America’s tech companies thus far. First, Apple revealed a huge spike in FISA requests.

the number of national security orders, including secret rulings from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, spiked during the period.

The company received between 13,250 and 13,499 national security orders, affecting between 9,000 and 9,249 accounts.

That’s a threefold increase compared to the year earlier, which saw up to 2,999 orders for the period.

It’s the largest number of national security orders that Apple has ever reported in five years of publishing transparency reports.

My guess is this reflects increasing reliance on requests to Apple to obtain information that would otherwise be encrypted (it might even suggest Apple was forced to put a back door into their phones, though there has been no declassified FISC opinion that would reflect that, so I doubt that’s it). I’m wondering, because of the change Apple just made in iOS 11 that requires passwords before a phone trusts a computer, whether Apple has been asked to turn over backups of iPhones shared to iTunes, but that’s admittedly a wildarseguess.

Then, in addition to an new high in standard government information requests, Google also revised its previously issued national security request numbers to reflect (on the most part) significantly more users and/or accounts affected (CNet reported this here).

At first I thought this might reflect either the two-year delayed reporting on new services being requested or delayed collection off an original target (which might happen if someone commented, four years later, on a YouTube video posted by an account being tasked).  And while some combination of those might be involved, Google claims this was an inadvertent undercounting

We’ve also posted updated figures for the number of users/accounts impacted by Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests for content in previous reporting periods. While the total number of FISA content requests was reported accurately, we inadvertently under-reported the user/account figures in some reporting periods and over-reported the user/account figures in the second half of 2010. The corrected figures are in the latest report and reflected on our visible changes page. [my emphasis]

Which suggests it may instead pertain to uncertainty — on the part of the government, especially — of which selectors relate to a natural person.

As I have noted, in the government’s own transparency reporting, they provide estimated numbers of targets for both 702 and traditional FISA. The reason they can only provide estimates is almost certainly because for both authorities (and for much of NSA’s 12333 targeting) they’re targeting selectors of interest, only some of which they’ve tied to a known person’s identity. And it’s likely they have selectors that are interesting because of their contacts and other behaviors that belong to already known targets using other selectors.

I provided some background on why this is the case in this post on changes in the reporting provisions the 2015 version of USA Freedom Act.

First, the reporting provisions as a whole move from tracking “individuals whose communications were collected” to “unique identifiers used to communicate information.” They probably did that because they don’t really have a handle on which of the identifiers all represent the same natural person (and some aren’t natural persons), and don’t plan on ever getting a handle on that number. Under last year’s bill, ONDI could certify to Congress that he couldn’t count that number (and then as an interim measure I understand they were going to let them do that, but require a deadline on when they would be able to count it). Now, they’ve eliminated such certification for all but 702 metadata back door searches (that certification will apply exclusively to CIA, since FBI is exempted). In other words, part of this is just an admission that ODNI does not know and does not planning on knowing how many of the identifiers they target actually fit together to individual targets.

But since they’re breaking things out into identifiers now, I suspect they’re unwilling to give that number because for each of the 93,000 targets they’re currently collecting on, they’re probably collecting on at least 10 unique identifiers and probably usually far, far more.

Just as an example (this is an inapt case because Hassanshahi, as a US person, could not be a PRISM target, but it does show the bare minimum of what a PRISM target would get), the two reports Google provided in response to administrative subpoenas for information on Shantia Hassanshahi, the guy caught using the DEA phone dragnet (these were subpoenas almost certainly used to parallel construct data obtained from the DEA phone dragnet and PRISM targeted at the Iranian, “Sheikhi,” they found him through), included:

  • a primary gmail account
  • two secondary gmail accounts
  • a second name tied to one of those gmail accounts
  • a backup email (Yahoo) address
  • a backup phone (unknown provider) account
  • Google phone number
  • Google SMS number
  • a primary login IP
  • 4 other IP logins they were tracking
  • 3 credit card accounts
  • Respectively 40, 5, and 11 Google services tied to the primary and two secondary Google accounts, much of which would be treated as separate, correlated identifiers

So just for this person who might be targeted under the new phone dragnet (though they’d have to play the same game of treating Iran as a terrorist organization that they currently do, but I assume they will), you’d have upwards of 15 unique identifiers obtained just from Google. And that doesn’t include a single cookie, which I’ve seen other subpoenas to Google return.

In other words, one likely reason the IC has decided, now that they’re going to report in terms of unique identifiers, they can’t report the number of identifiers targeted under PRISM is because it would make it clear that those 93,000 targets represent, very conservatively, over a million identifiers — and once you add in cookies, maybe a billion identifiers — targeted. And reporting that would make it clear what kind of identifier soup the IC is swimming in.

Here’s another list of the kinds of identifiers the government seeks with just a 2703(d) order (remember, under PRISM, the government would get both this list of the identifiers, as well as the content or other activity, including location data, tied to the identifiers).

A. The following information about the customers or subscribers of the Account:
1. Names (including subscriber names, user names, and screen names);
2. Addresses (including mailing addresses, residential addresses, business addresses, and e-mail addresses);
3. Local and long distance telephone connection records;
4. Records of session times and durations, and the temporarily assigned network addresses (such as Internet Protocol (“IP”) addresses) associated with those sessions;
5. Length of service (including start date) and types of service utilized;
6. Telephone or instrument numbers (including MAC addresses);
7. Other subscriber numbers or identities (including temporarily assigned network addresses and registration Internet Protocol (“IP”) addresses (including carrier grade natting addresses or ports)); and
8. Means and source of payment for such service (including any credit card or bank account number) and billing records.

B. All records and other information (not including the contents of communications) relating to the Account, including:
1. Records of user activity for each connection made to or from the Account, including log files; messaging logs; the date, time, length, and method of connections; data transfer volume; user names; and source and destination Internet Protocol addresses;
2. Information about each communication sent or received by the Account, including the date and time of the communication, the method of communication, and the source and destination of the communication (such as source and destination email addresses, IP addresses, and telephone numbers);
3. Records of any accounts registered with the same email address, phone number(s), method(s) of payment, or IP address as either of the accounts listed in Part 1; and Records of any accounts that are linked to either of the accounts listed in Part 1 by machine cookies (meaning all Google user IDs that logged into any Google account by the same machine as either of the accounts in Part A).

But for PRISM requests (as opposed to the new phone dragnet implemented in 2006), this works in reverse, with the government providing long lists of identifiers it wants to task, which may or may not reflect groupings using NSA’s own correlation process into identifiable targets. While the government surely asks for all Google content knowingly tied to all accounts of a known identifier (so, for example, if the government tasked “emptywheel” they also might get random Google accounts I set up under different names years ago, as well as accounts they connect by common use of the same cookie), it’s possible the government submits selectors believing they belong to the same person when in fact they are separate individuals.

Particularly once you’re tying collection to an IP address, it’s likely you’ll get multiple people off the same selector. And it may take Google some time to sort all that out. So that’s my guess of what’s going on: the change in numbers reflects the degree of uncertainty — even for Google! — regarding how many people are actually being targeted here.

 

That said, given the obviously different methodologies in counting these numbers, it may also work the other way. That is, Google may at first believe it has just turned over the data for, say, 10 of a user’s Google services, only to later realize it has also provided content or ad profile or Google map location data or Google pay.

Whatever it is, it is telling that even Google (!!!) can’t track how many targets FISA collection involves in real time.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Wednesday: Time Travel

In this roundup: A short film about a mother’s time travel adventure, the Internet of Stupid Things, and more.

Read more

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Thursday: Only You

Sometimes when I go exploring for music I find something I like but it’s a complete mystery how it came to be. I can’t tell you much of anything about this artist — only that he’s German, he’s repped by a company in the Netherlands, and his genre is house/electronica. And that’s it, apart from the fact he’s got more tracks you can listen to on SoundCloud. My favorites so far are this faintly retro piece embedded here (on SoundCloud at Only You) and Fade — both make fairly mellow listening. His more popular works are a little more aggressive, like Gunshots and HWAH.

Caught a late summer bug, not firing on all cylinders. Here’s some assorted odds and ends that caught my eye between much-needed naps.

  • Infosec firm approached investment firm to play short on buggy medical devices (Bloomberg) — Jeebus. Bloomberg calls this “highly unorthodox,” but it’s just grossly unethical. Why didn’t this bunch of hackers at MedSec go to the FDA and the SEC? This is a shakedown where they get the market to pay them first instead of ensuring patients are protected and shareholders of St. Jude medical device manufacturer’s stock are appropriately informed. I call bullshit here — they’re trying to game the system for profit and don’t give a shit about the patients at risk. You know when the maximum payout would be? When patient deaths occurred and were reported to the media.
  • Apple iPhone users, update your devices to iOS 9.3.5 stat: serious malware designed to spy and gain control of iPhone found (Motherboard) — Hey look, a backdoor applied after the fact by a “ghost” government spyware company. The malware has been around since iPhone 5/iOS 7; it could take control of an iPhone and allow a remote jailbreak of the device. Interesting this Israeli spyware firm received a big chunk of cash from U.S. investor(s).
  • Apple filed for patent on unauthorized user biometric data collection system (AppleInsider) — If an “unauthorized user” (read: thief) uses an iPhone equipped with this technology, the device could capture a photo and fingerprint of the user for use by law enforcement. Not exactly rocket science to understand how this might be used by law enforcement remotely to assure a particular contact (read: target) is in possession of an iPhone, either. Keep an eye on this stuff.
  • India-France submarine construction program hacked (NDTV) — The Indian Navy contracted construction of (6) Scorpene-class submarines from French shipbuilder DCNS. Tens of thousands of pages of information from this classified project were leaked; the source of the documents appears to be DCNS, not India. The French government as well as India is investigating the hack, which is believed to be a casualty in “economic war.”
  • Hacking of Ghostbusters’ star Leslie Jones under investigation (Guardian) — Jones’ website and iCloud accounts were breached; initial reports indicated the FBI was investigating the matter, but this report says Homeland Security is handlng the case. Does this mean an overseas attacker has already been identified?
  • Taiwanese White hat hacker and open government activist named to digital policy role (HKFP) — Audrey Tang, programmer and consultant for Apple, will shift gears from private to public sector now that she’s been appointed an executive councillor for digital policy by Taiwan. Tang has been part of the Sunflower Student Movement which has demanded greater transparency and accountability on Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with China while resisting Chinese reunification.
  • Oops! Recent Google Apps outage caused by…Google? (Google Cloud) — Change management boo-boo borked an update; apparently engineers working on an App Engine update didn’t know software updates on routers was in progress while they performed some maintenance. Not good.
  • Gyroscope made of tiny atomic chamber could replace GPS navigation (NIST.gov) — A miniature cloud of atoms held in suspension between two states of energy could be used as a highly accurate mini-gyroscope. National Institute of Standards and Technology has been working a mini-gyro for years to provide alternate navigation in case GPS is hacked or jammed.
  • Tim Berners-Lee wants to decentralize the internet (Digital Trends) — The internet has centralized into corporate-owned silos of storage and activities like Facebook, Google and eBay. Berners-Lee, who is responsible for the development of browsing hyperlinked documents over a network, wants the internet to be spread out again and your data in your own control.

That’s enough to chew on for now. Hope to check in Friday if I shake off this bug.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Wednesday: Wandering

All that is gold does not glitter; not all those who wander are lost.

— excerpt, The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

It’s a lovely summer day here, cool and dry. Perfect to go walkabout, which I will do straight away after this post.

Hackety-hack-hack, Jack

  • Spearphishing method used on HRC and DNC revealed by security firm (SecureWorks) — Here’s their report, but read this Twitter thread if you don’t think you can handle the more detailed version. In short, best practice: DON’T CLICK ON SHORTENED LINKS using services like Bitly, which mask the underlying URL.
  • Researchers show speakerless computers can be hacked by listening to fans (arXiv.org) — Air-gapping a computer may not be enough if hackers can listen to fan operation to obtain information. I’ll have to check, but this may be the second such study.
  • Another massive U.S. voter database breached (Naked Security) — This time 154 million voters’ data exposed, revealing all manner of details. 154M is larger than the number of voters in the 2012 general election, though smaller than the 191M voters’ records breached in December. At least this time the database owner slammed the breach shut once they were notified of the hole by researcher Chris Vickery. Nobody’s fessed up to owning the database involved in the the December breach yet.
  • Speaking of Vickery: Terrorism databased leaked (Reddit) — Thomson-Reuters’ database used by governments and banks to identify and monitor terrorism suspects was leaked (left open?) by a third party. Vickery contacted Thomson-Reuters which responded promptly and closed the leak. Maybe some folks need to put Vickery on retainer…
  • Different kind of hack: Trump campaign hitting up overseas MPs for cash? Or is he? (Scotsman) — There are reports that Trump’s campaign sent fundraising emails received by elected representatives in the UK and Iceland. Based on what we know now about the spearphishing of HRC and DNC, has anybody thought to do forensics on these emails, especially since government officials are so willing to share them widely? Using these kinds of emails would be a particularly productive method to spearphish government and media at the same time, as well as map relationships. Oh, and sow dissension inside the Trump family, urm, campaign. On the other hand, lack of response from Trump and team suggests it’s all Trump.

Makers making, takers taking

  • Apple granted a patent to block photo-taking (9to5Mac) — The technology relies on detecting infrared signals emitted when cameras are used. There’s another use for the technology: content can be triggered to play when infrared signal is detected.
  • Government suppressing inventions as military secrets (Bloomberg) — There’s merit to this, preventing development of products which may undermine national security. But like bug bounties, it might be worth paying folks who identify methods to breach security; it’s a lot cheaper than an actual breach, and a bargain compared to research detecting the same.
  • Google wants to make its own smartphone (Telegraph-UK) — This is an effort apart from development of the modular Ara device, and an odd move after ditching Motorola. Some tech industry folks say this doesn’t make sense. IMO, there’s one big reason why it’d be worth building a new smartphone from the ground up: security. Google can’t buy an existing manufacturer without a security risk.
  • Phonemaker ZTE’s spanking for Iran sanction violations deferred (Reuters) — This seems kind of odd; U.S. Commerce department agreed to a reprieve if ZTE cooperated with the government. But then think about the issue of security in phone manufacturing and it makes some sense.

A-brisket, a Brexit

  • EU health commissioner Andriukaitis’ response to Nigel Farage’s insulting remarks (European Commission) — Farage prefaced his speech to European Commissioners yesterday by saying “Most of you have never done a proper day’s work in your life.” Nice way to win friends and influence people, huh? Dr. Vytenis Andriukaitis is kinder than racist wanker Farage deserves.
  • Analysis of next couple years post-Brexit (Twitter) — Alex White, Director of Country Analysis at the Economist Intelligence Unit, offers what he says is “a moderate/constructive call” with “Risks definitely to the downside not to the upside.” It’s very ugly, hate to see what a more extreme view would look like. A pity so many Leave voters will never read him.

Follow-up: Facebook effery
Looks like Facebook’s thrown in the towel on users’ privacy altogether, opening personal profiles in a way that precludes anonymous browsing. Makes the flip-flop on users’ location look even more sketchy. (I can’t tell you anymore about this from personal experience because I gave up on Facebook several years ago.)

Happy hump day!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Monday: Buckle up, Buttercup

After my Go-Team-Yay-Space post yesterday, it’s time for a Monday morning reality check. Going to Mars will not be a panacea to our ills, as this darkly humorous animated short, Fired on Mars by Nick and Nate, shows. On the other hand, SpaceX’s Elon Musk offers an upside while acknowledging the inherent risk of space travel and colonization: “If you’re going to choose a place to die, then Mars is probably not a bad choice.”

Certainly beats an undiginified extinction by drowning on earth, eh?

We may not be leaving the planet today, but you’d best buckle up anyhow. This week’s going to be a doozy.

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit
Say that in your best Jan Brady voice — Brexit will suck all the oxygen out of this week’s market news. I’m afraid to look at the stock market at all because of it. Euronews has a roundup on the topic (though I warn you, it’s poorly formatted — keep scrolling down the page and increase print size). I’m not posting any other UK-based links here now because it’s quite obvious each media outlet has a position and their coverage reflects it. Most blatantly obvious are those owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Newsgroup, which has prompted some angry murmurs about an Aussie living in the U.S. telling the UK what to do.

Disturbing: Mexico’s federal police fire on teachers’ protest rally
I say disturbing for two reasons: first, that a democratic government’s federal would fire on protesters supporting the CNTE teachers’ union and actively deny it happened is appalling, and second, that its neighbor’s media would ignore that it happened. Teachers and supporters have been rallying in the state of Oaxaca, protesting the government’s education reform plan, characterized by some as neoliberal. It was clear from the outset that the government was in no mood to listen, given the number of riot police in place. The protests followed the detention/disappearance days earlier by police of CNTE union leaders Francisco Manuel Villalobos Ricardez and Ruben Nuñez. Conditions degraded over the course of the day, with federal police firing upon protesters. Early accounts claimed six were killed, of which one may have been a journalist and two teacher trainees. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government at first denied there was any violence, and then later claimed the Associated Press’ photos of the violence were false. There were enough social media reports documenting the violence on the ground to neutralize the government’s claim — and thank goodness for social media, or the U.S. would have heard very little if anything about this conflict. Not exactly the fiesta of democracy President Nieto promised when he took office in 2012. For more current information about the conflict, follow hashtags #Nochixtlan (district) and #Oaxaca in Twitter; already the death count is disputed as some claim more than eight died after yesterday’s attack by police on protesters.

It’s extremely important to remember the protesters’ anger and frustration are not merely about the ENP government’s reform plan. The 43 young men who disappeared in 2014 and are believed dead were students at a teachers’ college; the federal police have been implicated in the disappearance of these students. To date, the mass disappearance of these students has not been fully accounted for. Imagine the furor if such a mass disappearance were to happen in the U.S.

Cyber, cyber, cyber
LOL sorry, I’m on a Brady Bunch jag. Forgot to remind you last Tuesday was Patch Tuesday — make sure you’ve updated your Win-based systems if you do so manually. Can’t hurt to check all your other non-Win devices, too.

  • Adobe Flash zero day patch a higher priority than Microsoft’s monthly patch (TechTarget) — Again, if you manually patch, get to this one ASAP. I’m a manual Adobe patcher myself; I don’t automate patching because I want to know exactly how often Adobe must patch their products. It’s annoyingly often.
  • This is your brain on drugs: Too-smart identity thief busted (ABC3340-Birmingham) — Can’t tell if the drugs ate his intelligence, or if they deluded this dude. Read this, it’s like a bad episode of COPS mashed up with Monty Python.
  • SmartTVs not so smart, held ransom by Flocker (TrendLabs) — Leap of ransomware to Android smartTVs perfectly exemplifies the danger of connecting things to the internet. Interesting how this one deactivates based on select country locations. Yet another opportunity to sell protection software, too, as you’ll note in the article.

Your recommended long read: Apple’s Differential Privacy
Crytography expert Matthew Green reviews Apple’s announcement this past week regarding development of “differential privacy,” which Apple defined as:

Starting with iOS 10, Apple is using Differential Privacy technology to help discover the usage patterns of a large number of users without compromising individual privacy. To obscure an individual’s identity, Differential Privacy adds mathematical noise to a small sample of the individual’s usage pattern. As more people share the same pattern, general patterns begin to emerge, which can inform and enhance the user experience. In iOS 10, this technology will help improve QuickType and emoji suggestions, Spotlight deep link suggestions and Lookup Hints in Notes.

This is worth your time to read as differential privacy suggests new approaches to meeting the needs of marketers while preserving the privacy of consumers applying algorithmic solutions. Read it now before this stuff gets really convoluted.

Check your safety harness from time to time. Catch you tomorrow!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Wednesday Morning: Simple Past, Perfect Future

There are thirteen verb tenses in English. I couldn’t recall the thirteenth one to save my life and now after digging through my old composition texts I still can’t figure out what the thirteenth is.

If I have to guess, it’s probably a special case referring to future action. Why should our language be any more lucid than our vision?

Vision we’ve lost; we don’t elect people of vision any longer because we don’t have any ourselves. We vote for people who promise us bullshit based on illusions of a simple past. We don’t choose people who assure us the road will be hard, but there will be rewards for our efforts.

Ad astra per aspera.

Fifty-five years ago today, John F. Kennedy Jr. spoke to a join session of Congress, asking our nation to go to the moon. I was six months old at the time. This quest framed my childhood; every math and science class shaped in some way by the pursuit, arts and humanities giving voice to the fears and aspirations at the same time.

In contrast I look at my children’s experience. My son, who graduates this year from high school, has not known a single year of K-12 education when we were not at war, when terrorism was a word foreign to his day, when we didn’t worry about paying for health care because we’d already bought perma-warfare. None of this was necessary at this scale, pervading our entire culture. What kind of vision does this create across an entire society?

I will say this: these children also don’t recall a time without the internet. They are deeply skeptical people who understand how easy it is to manipulate information. What vision they have may be biased toward technology, but their vision is high definition, and they can detect bullshit within bits and pixels. They also believe we have left them no choice but to boldly go and build a Plan B as we’ve thoroughly trashed Plan A.

Sic itur ad astra. Sic itur ad futurum.

Still looking at past, present, and future…

Past

Present

Future

  • Comparing Apple to BlackBerry, developer Marco Arment frets for Apple’s future (Marco.org) — I can’t help laugh at this bit:

    …When the iPhone came out, the BlackBerry continued to do well for a little while. But the iPhone had completely changed the game…

    Not only is Arment worrying Apple hasn’t grokked AI as Google has, he’s ignored Android’s ~80% global marketshare in mobile devices. That invisible giant which hadn’t ‘completely changed the game.’

  • Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in the Mojave Desert caught fire (WIRED) — IMO, sounds like a design problem; shouldn’t there be a fail-safe on this, a trigger when temps spike at the tower in the wrong place? Anyhow, it looks like Ivanpah has other problems ahead now that photovoltaic power production is cheaper than buggy concentrated solar power systems.
  • Women, especially WOC, win a record number of Nebula awards for sci-fi (HuffPo) — Prizes for Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story and Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy works went to women, which is huge improvement given how many writers and readers are women and women of color. What does the future look like when a greater percentage of humans are represented in fiction? What does a more gender-balanced, less-white future hold for us?

Either I start writing late the night before, or I give up the pretense this is a * morning * roundup. It’s still morning somewhere, I’ll leave this one as is for now. Catch you tomorrow morning — maybe — or early afternoon.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Tuesday Morning: Brittle, Two

Yesterday I talked about the shift toward mobile computing centered on smartphones, moving from PCs. Behind that transition, out of sight of the public, is the cloud which supports this shift. Content and applications are increasingly stored not on the user’s device but in a server (read: data farm) accessed over the internet.

One manifestation of the shift is the largest technology merger ever — computer manufacturer Dell‘s $70B acquisition of storage company EMC. Dell’s PC sales have been slowly falling over the last handful of years, not unexpected due to the maturity of the market and the shift to mobile devices. Servers have been a large part of Dell’s profits for years, but many opportunities often ended up with competitor EMC when Dell quoted storage. Mobile users need much more remote computing and storage — servers and storage in the cloud — which EMC’s storage area network (SAN) products provide. This made EMC an appetizing fit to augment Dell’s server offerings while offsetting the slowly fading desktop computer sales.

With the acquisition, Dell Technology (the new name for the merged companies) now competes more squarely against Hewlett-Packard, which also sells both desktop computers and enterprise storage.

HP, however, split into two companies late last year. One manufactures desktop and other smaller computing devices (HP), the other sells servers and storage products (HP Enterprise Business). One might wonder if HP was preparing to spin off the portion of the business that makes PCs just as its competitor IBM did in 2005 when it spun off its PC division to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo.

Media will say with the EMC acquisition that Dell is positioned for better end-to-end service — but with so much computing now done on smartphones, this is not true. Dell and its competitor HP are only offering up to the smartphone.

Speaking of smartphones…

Suspect ordered to open Apple iPhone with Touch ID
29-year-old Paystar Bkhchadzhyan, a small-time crook charged with identity theft, was ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia Rosenberg to swipe an iPhone seized from her boyfriend’s apartment in order to unlock it.

It’s not clear whether the iPhone has been identified as belonging to Bkhchadzhyan based on multiple reports, only that she may have “control over” the device. Nor is it clear — since she has already pleaded no contest to the charge against her — if the iPhone’s contents will be used against her, or against her boyfriend.

It’s also not clear why law enforcement hasn’t used the “gummy bear technique” to open the phone, which would not force Bkhchadzhyan to lift a finger but instead use fingerprints already provided as evidence, bypassing any question of Fifth Amendment violations. Is this simple technique too much effort or too complicated for today’s police force?

DISH TV techs to offer Apple iPhone repair service
Not authorized by Apple, mind you, but DISH TV will offer new service to their customers who use iPhones, including battery and screen replacements. The company anticipates offering the same limited repair services to Android users in the near future. This says something about the transition of content consumption from TV to mobile devices, and the use of mobile devices as TV and content controllers.

LuxLeakers in court this week – Luxembourg’s version of Panama Papers
Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet, former PricewaterhouseCoopers’ employees, appear in court this week on charges they stole and leaked documents on many of PwC’s corporate clients — Accenture, Burberry, Icap, Ikea, Walt Disney Co., Heinz, JP Morgan, FedEx, Microsoft Corp.’s Skype, PepsiCo Inc., Procter & Gamble, Shire Pharmaceuticals to name a few. The documents outline the tax avoidance/evasion strategies employed by these firms with PwC’s assistance and Luxembourg’s implicit or tacit approval. This case should have as much impact as the Panama Papers as the corporations involved are quite large and the Luxembourg government is implicated.

Australia: Your human rights abuses suck, but we Americans have no room to talk
If you don’t watch Australian politics, you should. Aussies have forced approximate 900 refugees to remain indefinitely on Manus Island of Papua New Guinea and the island country of Nauru, which are little more than rocks in the middle of the ocean with penal colonies masquerading as a refugee ‘welcome centers.’ The conditions have been wretched — and they must be if an outlet like Foreign Policy calls Australia’s practice ‘intolerable cruelty.’ Their captivity is now illegal according to PNG’s court, but the refugees are left without recourse. Two refugees have immolated themselves within the last week out of desperation. But Americans have not demanded Australia take the refugees because it would mean having to take some refugees here, too. Oh, and Gitmo — can’t point to island-based human holding pens without allowing other countries to point to Gitmo. Or our immigration detention and deportation processes.

That last bit — both of the immolated refugees were not offered immediate health care — is so disgusting and disheartening I can’t come up with anything more to write. Hope for a better day tomorrow, see you in the morning.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Monday Morning: Brittle

The Emperor’s Palace was the most splendid in the world, all made of priceless porcelain, but so brittle and delicate that you had to take great care how you touched it. …

— excerpt, The Nightingale from The Yellow Fair Book by Andrew Lang

Last week I’d observed that Apple’s stock value had fallen by ~7% after its financial report was released. The conventional wisdom is that the devaluation was driven by Apple’s first under-performing quarter of iPhone sales, indicating weaker demand for iPhones going forward. Commenter Ian remarked that Apple’s business model is “brittle.” This perspective ignores the meltdown across the entire stock global market caused by China’s currency devaluation, disproportionately impacting China’s consumption habits. It also ignores great untapped or under-served markets across other continents yet to be developed.

But more importantly, this “wisdom” misses a much bigger story, which chip and PC manufacturers have also reflected in their sales. The video above, now already two years old, explains very neatly that we have fully turned a corner on devices: our smartphones are and have been replacing our desktops.

Granted, most folks don’t go through the hassle of purchasing HDMI+USB connectors to attach larger displays along with keyboards. They continue to work on their phones as much as possible, passing content to and from cloud storage when they need to work from a keyboard attached to a PC. But as desktops and their attached monitors age, they are replaced in a way that supports smartphones as our main computing devices — flatscreen monitors, USB keyboards and mice, more powerful small-footprint external storage.

And ever increasing software-as-a-service (SaaS) combined with cloud storage.

Apple’s business model isn’t and hasn’t been just iPhones. Not since the debut of the iPod in October 2001 has Apple’s business model been solely focused on devices and the operating system required to drive them. Heck, not since the debut of iTunes in January 2001 has that been true.

Is there a finite limit to iPhones’ market? Yeah. Same for competing Android-driven devices. But is Apple’s business just iPhones? Not if iTunes — a SaaS application — is an indicator. As of 2014, there were ~66 million iPhones in the U.S., compared to ~800 million iTunes users. And Apple’s current SaaS offerings have exploded over time; the Apple store offers millions of apps created by more than nine million registered developers.

At least nine million registered developers. That number alone should tell you something about the real business model.

iPhones are a delivery mechanism, as are Android-based phones. The video embedded above shows just how powerful Android mobile devices can be, and the shift long underway is not based on Apple’s platform alone. If any business model is brittle right now, it’s desktop computing and any software businesses that rely solely on desktops. How does that change your worldview about the economy and cybersecurity? Did anyone even notice how little news was generated about the FBI accessing the San Bernardino shooter’s PCs? Was that simply because of the locked Apple iOS account, or was it in part because the case mirrored society’s shift to computing and communications on mobile devices?

File under ‘Stupid Michigan Legislators‘: Life sentences for automotive hackers?
Hey. Maybe you jackasses in Michigan’s state senate ought to deal with the permanent poisoning of nearly 8000 children in Flint before doing something really stupid like making one specific kind of hacking a felony worthy of a life sentence. And maybe you ought to do a little more homework on hacking — it’s incredibly stupid to charge a criminal with a life sentence for a crime as simple as entry permitted by wide-open unlocked doors. Are we going to allocate state money to chase hackers who may not even be in this country? Are we going to pony up funds for social media monitoring to catch hackers talking about breaching wide-open cars? Will this law deter citizen white hats who identify automakers’ vulnerabilities? File this mess, too, under ‘Idiotic Wastes of Taxpayers’ Money Along with Bathroom Legislation by Bigots‘. This kind of stuff makes me wonder why any smart people still live in this state.

File this, too, under ‘Stupid Michigan Legislators‘: Lansing Board of Water and Light hit by ransomware
Guess where the first ransomware attack on a U.S. utility happened? Do I need to spell it out how ridiculous it looks for the electric and water utility for the state’s capitol city to be attacked by ransomware while the state’s legislature is worrying about who’s using the right bathroom? Maybe you jackasses in Lansing ought to look at funding assessment and security improvements for ALL the state’s utilities, including both water safety and electricity continuity.

Venezuela changes clocks to reduce electricity consumption
Drought-stricken Venezuela already reduced its work week a month ago to reduce electricity demand. Now the country has bumped its clocks forward by 30 minutes to make more use of cooler early hour during daylight. The country has also instituted rolling blackouts to cutback on electricity. Cue the right-wing pundits claiming socialism has failed — except that socialism has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of rainfall to fill reservoirs.

Coca Cola suing for water as India’s drought deepens
This is a strong piece, worth a read: Whose Water Is It Anyway?

After a long battle, the UN declared in 2010 that clean water was a fundamental right of all citizens. Easier said than done. The essential, alarming question has become, ‘Who does the groundwater belong to?’ Coca Cola is still fighting a case in Kerala where the farmers rebelled against them for using groundwater for their bottling plants. The paddy fields for miles around dried up as water for Coke or the company’s branded bottled water was extracted and transported to richer urban consumers.

Who did that groundwater belong to? Who do our rivers belong to? To the rich and powerful who can afford the resources to draw water in huge quantities for their industries. Or pollute the rivers with effluent from their industries. Or transport water over huge distances at huge expense to turn it into profit in urban areas.

Justus Rosenberg: One of Hannah Arendt’s rescuers
Ed Walker brought this piece to my attention, a profile of 95-year-old Justus Rosenberg featured in this weekend’s New York Times. I love the last two grafs especially; Miriam Davenport characterized Rosenberg as “a nice, intelligent youngster with no family, no money, no influence, no hope, no fascinating past,” yet he was among those who “…were a symbol of sorts, to me, in those days […] Everyone was moving Heaven and earth to save famous men, anti-fascist intellectuals, etc.” Rosenberg was a superhero without a cape.

That’s our week started. See you tomorrow morning!

See you tomorrow morning!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.