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.

Not-So-Trusted Computing: German Government Worried About Windows 8 Risks

Microsoft’s “trusted computing platform.”

Microsoft’s “secure boot” technology.

The doublespeak almost writes itself these days. Whose “trusted computing”? Whose “platform”? And whose “secure boot”?

At least one government has expressed concerns in internal documents, buttressed by an unusual public statement in response to reports about the leaked documents.

According to German news outlet Die Zeit, internal documents from the Bundesamt fur Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (Germany’s Federal Office for information Security – BSI) warn that Microsoft Windows 8’s Trusted Computing Platform poses a security risk.

The BSI issued a response, the first paragraph of which acknowledges the news reports; it also refers to an internal paper by the Bundeswirtschaftsministeriums (Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology – BMWi) advising caution in using the Trusted Computing Platform. This may not be the first cautionary communication by the BMWi as it is not clear whether the paper referenced by the BSI today is the same internal paper issued on the subject in early 2012.

In the second paragraph, BSI denies it has issued any warning to private or public sector users, though this announcement doesn’t deny a warning might be warranted since government agencies are warning each other internally.

The third paragraph says that the Win 8 TCP (using Trusted Platform Module TPM 2.0) might offer improved security for some groups, though transparency should be offered by the manufacturer.

But the kicker is the fourth paragraph:

“From the BSI’s perspective, the use of Windows 8 combined with TPM 2.0 is accompanied by a loss of control over the operating system and the hardware used. As a result, new risks arise for the user, especially for the federal government and for those providing critical infrastructure. In particular, on hardware running Windows 8 that employs TPM 2.0, unintentional errors of hardware or the operating system, but also errors made by the owner of the IT system, could create conditions that prevent further operation of the system. This can even lead to both the operating system and the hardware employed becoming permanently unusable. Such a situation would not be acceptable for either the federal authorities or for other users. In addition, the newly-established mechanisms can also be used for sabotage by third parties. These risks must to be addressed.”[1]

“Loss of control over the operating system” isn’t a minor trifle. This suggests that any and all computers with this “feature” could go rogue and operate in contravention to the owners’ instructions, at the direction of some unseen entity on a network or by injection of an application through thumb drive, disk drive, CD, etc.

This also suggests that a Win 8 system using TPM 2.0 might well reject any attempts to use an alternative operating system — a so-called “secure boot” might cut off any application other than Win 8. For all intents and purposes, a machine with Win 8 and TPM 2.0 will operate to Microsoft’s orders and to the orders of whomever is ordering Microsoft these days. It’s not out of the question that Win 8 systems lacking valid TPM 2.0 might be prevented from accessing the internet or any other network.

Which begs the question: if Windows 8 and TPM 2.0 are installed, whose computer is it? Read more