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 ( — 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.

Angry Mom and First Principles: What is the Nature of a Broken Lock?

This won’t be a cool, calm, collected post like Marcy writes, because it’s me, the angry mom. You might even have seen me Tuesday afternoon in the school parking lot waiting to pick up a kid after sports practice. I was the one gripping the steering wheel too tightly while shouting, “BULLSHIT!” at the top of my lungs at the radio.

The cause? This quote by President Obama and the subsequent interpretation by NPR’s Ari Shapiro.

President Obama to ABC’s new Latino channel, Fusion (1:34): It’s important for us to make sure that as technology develops and expands and the capacity for intelligence gathering becomes a lot greater that we make sure that we’re doing things in the right way that are reflective of our values.

Ari Shapiro (1:46): And, Audie, I think what you’re hearing in that quote is a sense that is widespread in this administration that technological improvements have let the government do all kinds of things they weren’t able to do before. They tapped the German Chancellor’s personal cellphone and nobody really stopped to ask whether these are things they should be doing. And so that question, just because we can do something, well, does it mean we should be doing it, that’s the question that seems to be the focus of this review.

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

Here, let me spell this out in terms a school-aged kid can understand.

photo, left: shannonpatrick17-Flickr; left, Homedit

This is a doorknob with a lock; so is the second closure device on the right.

The lock technology used on the second door is very different; it’s no longer simple analog but digitally enhanced. The second lock’s technology might be more complicated and difficult to understand. But it’s still a lock; its intrinsic purpose is to keep unauthorized persons out.

If one were to pick either lock in any way, with any tools to enter a home that is not theirs and for which they do not have permission to enter, they are breaking-and-entering.

If it’s law enforcement breaching that lock, they’d better have a damned search warrant or a court order, in the absence of a clear emergency or obvious crime in progress.

The argument that information technology has advanced to the point where the NSA blindly stumbles along without asking whether they should do what they are doing, or asking whether they are acting legally is bullshit. They have actively ignored or bypassed the proverbial lock on the door. It matters not where the lock is located, inside or outside the U.S.

The Washington Post’s revelation Wednesday that the NSA cracked Yahoo’s and Google’s SSLsecure sockets layer — is equivalent to evidence of deliberately busted door locks. So is the wholesale undermining of encryption systems on computers, cellphones, and network equipment revealed in reports last month, whether by weakened standards or by willfully placed holes integrated in hardware or software.

The NSA has quite simply broken into every consumer electronic device used for communications, and their attached networks. When the NSA was forced to do offer explanations for their actions, they fudged interpretations of the Constitution and laws in order to continue what they were doing. Their arguments defending their behavior sound a lot like a child’s reasoning. Read more

NSA’s Corruption of Cryptography and Its Methods of Coercion

Just one more day to give as part of Emptywheel’s fundraising week.

I want to return to last week’s Edward Snowden related scoop (Guardian, ProPublica/NYT) that the NSA has corrupted cryptography. Remember, there are several reasons the story was important:

  • NSA lost the battle for the Clipper Chip and turned instead to achieve the same goals via means with less legal sanction
  • NSA broke some companies’ encryption by “surreptitiously stealing their encryption keys or altering their software or hardware”
  • NSA also worked to “deliberately weaken[] the international encryption standards adopted by developers”

One key result of this — as Rayne and Julian Sanchez have emphasized — is to make everyone more exposed to hackers.

This is a bit like publishing faulty medical research just to prevent a particular foreign dictator from being cured. It makes everyone on the Internet more vulnerable, increasing the chances that dissidents will be uncovered by despotic regimes and that corporations will fall victim to cybercriminals.


Bear this in mind the next time you see people on Capitol Hill wringing their hands about the threat of a possible “Digital Pearl Harbor”—especially if they think the solution is to give more data and authority to the NSA. Because the agency is apparently perfectly happy to hand weapons to criminals and hostile governments, as long as it gets to keep spying too.

And since then, the NSA has responded to rampant cyberattacks and threats of them against targets it cares about by demanding yet more access to those targets’ data, as explained by Shane Harris in a Keith Alexander profile.

Under the Defense Industrial Base initiative, also known as the DIB, the NSA provides the companies with intelligence about the cyberthreats it’s tracking. In return, the companies report back about what they see on their networks and share intelligence with each other.

Pentagon officials say the program has helped stop some cyber-espionage. But many corporate participants say Alexander’s primary motive has not been to share what the NSA knows about hackers. It’s to get intelligence from the companies — to make them the NSA’s digital scouts. What is billed as an information-sharing arrangement has sometimes seemed more like a one-way street, leading straight to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade.

“We wanted companies to be able to share information with each other,” says the former administration official, “to create a picture about the threats against them. The NSA wanted the picture.”

After the DIB was up and running, Alexander proposed going further. “He wanted to create a wall around other sensitive institutions in America, to include financial institutions, and to install equipment to monitor their networks,” says the former administration official. “He wanted this to be running in every Wall Street bank.”

That aspect of the plan has never been fully implemented, largely due to legal concerns. If a company allowed the government to install monitoring equipment on its systems, a court could decide that the company was acting as an agent of the government. And if surveillance were conducted without a warrant or legitimate connection to an investigation, the company could be accused of violating the Fourth Amendment. Warrantless surveillance can be unconstitutional regardless of whether the NSA or Google or Goldman Sachs is doing it.

“That’s a subtle point, and that subtlety was often lost on NSA,” says the former administration official. “Alexander has ignored that Fourth Amendment concern.”

With all that as background, I want to return to a post I did months ago, laying out the methods the Presidential Policy Directive on Cyberwar envisioned for getting cooperation from private companies. It defines four kinds of access to private computer networks:

  • Network defense, which is what network owners do or USG (or contractors) do at their behest to protect key networks. I assume this like anti-virus software on steroids.
  • Cyber collection that, regardless of where it occurs, is done in secret. This is basically intelligence gathering about networks.
  • Nonintrusive Defensive Countermeausres, which is more active defensive attacks, but ones that can or are done with the permission of the network owners. This appears to be the subset of Defensive Cybereffects Operations that, because they don’t require non-consensual network access, present fewer concerns about blowback and legality.
  • Defensive Cybereffects Operations, which are the entire category of more active defensive attacks, though the use of the acronym DCEO appears to be limited to those defensive attacks that require non-consensual access to networks and therefore might cause problems. The implication is they’re generally targeted outside of the US, but if there is an imminent threat (that phrase again!) they can be targeted in the US.

In the area of cyberdefense or offense (remember, this is an overlapping part of NSA’s mission with cryptography) the government envisions collecting information (because cryptography overlaps with this mission, this might be included in that secret data collection) without a network owner’s consent, conducting defensive measures with a network owner’s consent, or conducting defensive measures without a network owner’s consent (the latter is only supposed to happen in the US with the President’s authorization).

Read more

Stupid Smartphones and Their Lying Lies

[Apple iPhone 5s via]

[Apple iPhone 5c via]

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My Twitter timelines across multiple accounts are buzzing with Apple iPhone 5s announcement news. Pardon me if I can’t get excited about the marvel that is iPhone’s new fingerprint-based biometric security.

Let’s reset all the hype:

There is no smartphone security available on the market we can trust absolutely to keep out the National Security Agency. No password or biometric security can assure the encryption contained in today’s smartphones as long as they are built on current National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards and/or the Trusted Computing Platform. The NSA has compromised these standards and TCP in several ways, weakening their effectiveness and ultimately allowing a backdoor through them for NSA use, bypassing any superficial security system.

There is nothing keeping the NSA from sharing whatever information they are gleaning from smartphones with other government agencies. Citizens may believe that information gleaned by the NSA ostensibly for counterterrorism may not be legally shared with other government agencies, but legality/illegality of such sharing does not mean it hasn’t and isn’t done. (Remember fusion centers, where government agencies were supposed to be able to share antiterrorism information? Perhaps these are merely window dressing on much broader sharing.)

There is no exception across the best known mobile operating systems to the vulnerability of smartphones to NSA’s domestic spying. Although Der Spiegel’s recent article specifically calls out iOS, Android, and Blackberry smartphones, Windows mobile OS is just as exposed. Think about it: if your desktop, laptop, and your netbook are all running the same Windows OS versions needing patches every month to fix vulnerabilities, the smartphone is equally wide open as these devices all use the same underlying code, and hardware built to the same NIST standards. Additionally, all Windows OS will contain the same Microsoft CryptoAPI believed to be weakened by the NSA.

If any of the smartphone manufacturers selling into the U.S. market say they are secure against NSA domestic spying, ask them to prove it. Go ahead and demand it — though it’s sure to be an exercise in futility. These firms will likely offer some non-denial denials and sputtering in place of a firm, “Yes, here’s proof” with a validated demonstration.

Oh, and the Touch ID fingerprint biometrics Apple announced today? You might think it protects not against the NSA but the crook on the street. But until Apple demonstrates they pass a gummy bear hackability test, don’t believe them.

And watch for smartphone thieves carrying tin snips.

NSA and Compromised Encryption: The Sword Cuts Both Ways

[Snapshot, Ralph Langner presentation re: Stuxnet, outlining payload extraction (c. 2012 via YouTube)]

[Snapshot, Ralph Langner presentation re: Stuxnet, outlining payload extraction (c. 2012 via YouTube)]

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A friendly handshake is offered;
Names are swapped after entry;
The entrant delivers a present;
The present is unboxed with a secret key…

And * BOOM *

Payload delivered.

This is cyber weapon Stuxnet‘s operations sequence. At two points in the sequence its identity is masked — at the initial step, when identity is faked by a certificate, and at the third step, when the contents are revealed as something other than expected.

The toxic payload is encrypted and cannot be read until after the handshake, the name swap, and then decrypted when already deep inside the computer.

In the wake of the co-reported story on the National Security Agency’s efforts to crack computer and network encryption systems, the NSA claims they are only doing what they must to protect the country from terrorists, criminals, and cyber attacks generated by individuals, groups, and nation-state actors.

Defense, though, is but one side of the NSA’s sword; it has two lethal edges.

While use of encryption tools may prevent unauthorized access to communications, or allow malicious code to be blocked, the same tools can be used to obstruct legitimate users or shut down entire communications systems.

Encryption APIs (ex: Microsoft CryptoAPI embedded in Windows operating systems) are often used by higher level applications — for example, a random number generator within the API used to create unique keys for access can also be used to create random names or select random event outcomes like a roll of the dice.

In Stuxnet alone we have evidence of encryption-decryption used as cyber warfare, the application planned/written/supported in some way by our own government. This use was Pandora’s Box opened without real forethought to the long-term repercussions, including unintended consequences.

We know with certainty that the repercussions weren’t fully considered, given the idiocy with which members of Congress have bewailed leaks about Stuxnet, in spite of the fact the weapon uncloaked itself and pointed fingers in doing so.

One of the unconsidered/ignored/unintended consequences of using weaponry requiring encryption-decryption is that the blade can cut in the other direction.

Imagine someone within the intelligence community “detonating” a cyber weapon built in the very same fashion as Stuxnet.

A knock at the door with a handshake;
Door open, package shoved in, treated as expected goods;
Encrypted content decrypted.

And then every single desktop computer, laptop, netbook, tablet, and smartphone relying on the same standardized, industry-wide encryption tools “detonates,” obstructing all useful information activities from personal and business work to telecommunications. Read more