Category Archives: Apple

What is YOUR Level of Paranoia?

A Houston lawyer is suing Apple alleging that Apple’s Facetime bug (still not fixed) that allowed people to eavesdrop even if you do not answer the call, allowed a private deposition to be recorded.

If you are among the geek crowd you probably know that the most paranoid person around, Edward Snowden, required reporters to put their phones in the freezer (not to keep them cold, but rather the metal box of the freezer kept radio waves out) when they were talking to him.

The lawyer is calling the bug a defective product breach and said that Apple failed to provide sufficient warnings and instructions.

I am not intimately familiar with Apple’s software license agreement, but assuming it is like every other one I have seen, it says that they are not responsible for anything and it is completely up to you to decide if the software meets your needs.

That probably conflicts with various defective product laws, but if that strategy had much promise you would think some lawyer would have tried that tactic before.

But the problem with the iPhone and the lawsuit do point out something.

We assume that every user has some level of paranoia.  Everyone’s level varies and may be different for different situations.  We call that your Adjustable Level of Paranoia of ALoP (Thanks James!)

YOU need to consider your ALoP in a particular circumstance. 

You should have a default ALoP.  Depending on who you are, that might be low or high.  You will take different actions based on that.

In this case, if the lawyer was really interested in security, he should not have allowed recorders (also known as phones and laptops) into the room.  He also should have swept for bugs.

That is a trade-off for convenience.  But, that is the way security works.  Low ALoP means high convenience.  High ALoP means lower convenience.  Ask anyone who has worked in the DoD world.   If you work in a classified environment you cannot bring your phone into the building.  They have lockers to store them in if you do.  If you ignore that rule you can lose your clearance or even get prosecuted.

Bottom line is that you need to figure out what your ALoP is for a particular situation and make adjustments accordingly.

Suing Apple will not solve this attorney’s problem.  There will be more software bugs.  I promise this was NOT the last one.

But the lawyer will get his 15 seconds of fame before the suit is settled or dismissed.

Source: ABC 13.

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Facebook 0, Apple 1; Google is Collateral Damage

You would think that in light of all of the negative publicity that Facebook has had, it would reign in some of it’s badder practices, but maybe they are just daring Congress to regulate them.

Facebook created a VPN product called Onavo Protect.  The public claim was that it was designed to protect your traffic, but in reality, it was a data collection tool since every web site that you visited, every search query you made and every link that you clicked on while using their VPN was visible and captured (and sold) by Facebook.

When the Ka-Ka hit the proverbial rotating air movement device (AKA the sh*t hit the fan) Apple banned the product from the iWorld.

Well Facebook is not easily deterred.

Unlike Android, Apple makes it difficult for developers to bypass the Apple store, in part to protect users and in part so that Apple can control developers.  But, in order to get enterprises to allow employees to use iPhones for work, Apple created an Enterprise signing certificate.  According to the rules, apps signed with those certificates can only be used inside a company.

Facebook decided that those rules did not apply to them and used that enterprise certificate to distribute an app to users age 13 to 35 where Facebook paid users up to $20 a month plus referral fees to install an app called Facebook Research.  Under the hood, it is just Onavo Protect that collects all of a user’s Internet activity so that they can better target that high value demographic.  To hide what they were doing, they offered it through several “beta testing” firms.

After Apple found out about it they REVOKED – aka invalidated – Facebook’s enterprise certificate.  Not only did this shut down the Facebook Research app, but also shut down any iPhone apps that Facebook was using internally to run it’s business.  This gave Apple a huge crowbar to swing at Facebook’s head to get them to change their ways.

As a side note, Google was also doing the same thing (with a product called Screenwise), although not quite so covertly and Apple also revoked their enterprise cert.  Of course, 99% of the people at Google likely use Google or other Android phones, so the impact on Google is likely a lot less than at Facebook.  Google shut down the service before Apple whacked them and apologized.  Facebook did neither of those.

After some behind the scenes begging, no doubt, Apple restored Facebook’s cert after a day and a half.

Facebook is saying that users should trust them.  Some Congress-people are suggesting a new law may be required.  Certainly, they are not doing a great job at building trust.

So what does all this mean to a user?

Since this was targeted, in part, at kids under 18, parents need to educate kids that they should not sell their soul for $20 a month.  Apparently both Facebook and Google think this is a good business model.

It also indicates how much your data is worth.  There were millions of copies installed and if they were paying $20 a month per user plus other perks, that means that the data was worth hundreds of millions of dollars a month to them.

If adults think that selling all of their data – every single click that they make online plus all of the data going up and down – for $20 a month, I guess that is okay, but kids are probably not in a position to make an informed decision.

By the way, because of how the software was installed, they would have the ability to see every password, your banking information and your health information, in addition to your surfing habits.

But trust them;  they wouldn’t keep that data.  Or use it.  Or sell it.

Definitely a case of buyer beware.

Information from the post came from Apple Insider, here and here.

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Now (Some) (Important) Meta Data Can Be Encrypted

Worried about the NSA capturing all that metadata about you?  That is the stuff about you that the government says it can collect without a warrant (and courtesy of the Patriot Act) because you send it unencrypted over the Internet and so you have no expectation of privacy.

A big part of the data (besides the Internet address that identifies you) is the DNS queries that you make.

DNS is the phone book that the Internet uses to map that friendly name like www,foxnews.com to an IP address  like 23.36.10.215 that the Internet can route.

This week Google announced that it’s DNS service (the one at 8.8.8.8) can now handle DNS over TLS (meaning that your queries are encrypted) blinding not only the NSA but also making it more difficult for your ISP to sell your data as well.

Since DNS is used so much, there was a lot of work done to make sure that DNS over TLS was fast, including using TCP fast open, pipelining and supporting out of order responses.

You can use DNS over TLS in one of two ways and the distinction is important.  The first is opportunistic, meaning it will encrypt your data if it can.  The other is called strict, which means that if the receiving server won’t accept encryption, the transmission will fail.

Google made support for it available for Android 9 (Pie) users Yesterday.  Android 9 users will have to make some settings changes to use it.  Users of older phones will have to upgrade.

Cloudflare also supports DNS over TLS and also DNS over HTTPS, an older variant of it, but until the phones support it, it is unimportant what services support.

Apparently iPhone users can do this to, but Apple does not support it natively; you have to do some significant shenanigans to get it to work.

Information for this post came from the Hacker News.

 

 

 

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Apple Didn’t Get It Quite Right – Again

Parental controls are generally a good thing.

Except when it blocks the wrong sites and lets the bad sites  through.

So what is Apple doing in this case?

Sites that are blocked: Scarleteen and O.school, which are sex education sites and Teen Vogue.

Sites that are OK: The Daily Stormer, a neo-nazi site that publishes articles about how women secretly like to be raped.

Web searches like “how to say no to sex”, “sex assault hotline” and “sex education” were all blocked.

But “how to poison my mom”, “how to join isis” and “how to make a bomb” were all okay.

Suffice it to say, Apple has a bit of work to do.

Apple did not respond to Motherboard’s request to explain what is going on.

This is a new feature in iOS 12 and if you remember what happened when Apple released it’s mapping program (like telling people to drive into the ocean), it takes some work to get this right.

There are lots more examples in the article, some rated a little less PG so I am not including them here.

My recommendation – if you want to block content, you should probably discuss that with your kids.  The Internet is a bit of a cesspool and for young kids, some protection is probably in order.  You should find a paid product (that has support available) that has been around for a while and has good reviews.  Apple, apparently, doesn’t fit into that category.  YET.

Information for this post came from Motherboard.

 

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Security News Bites for the Week Ending September 14, 2018

How, Exactly, Would the Government Keep a Crypto Backdoor Secret?

The Five Eyes (US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain) countries issued a statement last week saying that if software makers did not voluntarily give them a back door into encrypted apps they may pursue forcing them to do that by law.  Australia and the UK already have bills or laws in place trying to mandate that (Source: Silicon Republic).

First, parental control/spyware app Family Orbit stored their private access key in a way that hackers were able to access 281 gigabytes of spied on photos in over 3,000 Amazon storage buckets.  This means that tens of millions of photos taken by kids and of kids are now on the loose.  All because parents wanted to keep tabs on what their kids were doing.  Now the hackers can keep tabs on their kids too (Source: Hackread).   Family Orbit shut down all services until they can fix the problem, but that won’t help recover the 281 gigabytes of data already stolen.

And, for the second time in three years, spyware maker mSpy leaked the data from a million customers including passwords, call logs, text messages, contact, notes and location data, among other information (Source: Brian Krebs).

So here, in one week, two companies who’s very existence is threatened by these leaks were hacked.  Somehow, hundreds of backdoors on major apps will be kept secret by the government.

Sure.  I believe that.  Not.

This is also a word of advice to parents who either are using spyware on their kids or are thinking about it.  The odds of that data getting hacked is higher than you might like.  Would it be a problem for you or your kids if all of their pictures, texts, contacts and passwords were made public?  Consider that before you give all of that data to ANY third party.

Popular Mac App Store App Has Been Sending User Data to China for Years

In a situation that you very rarely hear about, researchers have discovered that the 4th most popular paid app in the Mac app store, Adware Doctor, has been sending user browsing history to China for years.  Apparently, when you click on CLEAN, they take a very liberal view of the request, zip up your browsing history and send it to China. They are able to do this based on the permissions that the user gives it, reasonable permissions given the app.  In other words, they abused the trust that users gave them.

This was reported to Apple a month ago and Apple did nothing about it, but within hours of the news hitting the media, Apple yanked this very popular app from the store.  That, of course, does not protect anyone who has already downloaded it, but at least it will stop new people from becoming victims.

The power of the media!  Source: (Motherboard).

ISPs Try Hail Mary in Bid to Derail California’s Net Neutrality Bill

The California legislature is on a roll.  First the California Consumer Privacy Act (AB 375) – now law, then  the Security of Connected Devices Act (SB 327)- on the Governor’s desk and now The Internet Neutrality Act (SB 822) which would implement many of the requirements of the now repealed FCC Net Neutrality policy.  ISPs such as Frontier, have asked employees to contact the governor and tell him to veto the bill.  This was after AT&T bribed, err, technically “lobbied” an Assembly committee to gut the bill.  The industry then targeted robocalls at seniors saying the bill would cause their cell phone bill to go up by $30 a month and for their data to slow down (neither is true).  It is still on Governor Brown’s desk.  (Source: Motherboard).

Facebook is in the middle of an Apple-esque Fight Over Encryption with the Feds

While this case is under seal, a few details have surfaced.  In this case the feds are asking Facebook to comply with the wiretap act, a law passed in the 1960s, long before the Internet, which requires a phone company to tap a phone conversation after receiving a warrant.

In this case is Facebook Messenger even a phone call as defined in the Act?  Facebook, apparently, says that they do not have the means to do it;  that they do not have the keys.   Can the government force Facebook to rewrite it’s code to provide the keys to the government on request?  Even if they do, the conversations themselves do not go through Facebook’s network, so they could not capture the actual traffic, even if they wanted to.  The NSA could do that, but that is between the NSA and the FBI, not Facebook.

Can they force Facebook to completely rearchitect their system, at Facebook’s cost, to comply?  Even if they do, how long would that take?  What would be the operational impact to Facebook?

Since this is all under seal, we don’t really know and may, possibly, never know.

At this point it is not at all clear what will happen.  It is possible that the court will hold Facebook in contempt, at which point, I assume, Facebook will appeal, possibly all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Think San Bernadino all over again.  Source:  The Verge.

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25 Android Phones Vulnerable

No big surprise here really, but still disappointing.

Researchers at Def Con last week reported that they had found 47 vulnerabilities in the firmware and default apps of 25 Android phones.

When they talk firmware, I don’t think they really mean firmware.  Rather, they mean the operating system like Android Oreo or Nougat, although it is possible that they mean the software that lives below the operating system and controls things like the radio hardware or camera hardware.  That stuff is buggy too.

The good news is that the bugs are not serious.  All they allow a hacker to do is:

  • Send or receive text messages
  • Take screenshots of whatever you are looking at
  • Record videos of your screen
  • Steal your contacts
  • Install malware and crimeware without your approval
  • Wipe your data

Other than that, not really a big deal.

Just kidding.  Holy cow!  That pretty much means they can do whatever they want.

Part of the problem are those apps that come preinstalled on your phone because the manufacturer or carrier gets paid to put them there.  Affectionately, that software is called crapware.  Those are the apps that they will not let you remove.  But some of them are vulnerable to attack.

Android phone vendors affected include:

  • ZTE
  • Sony
  • Nokia
  • LG
  • Asus
  • and a host of smaller players

This does not mean all models were tested or all models were affected.

IT ALSO DOESN’T MEAN THAT BECAUSE YOUR VENDOR ISN’T LISTED IT IS SAFE.  THE RESEARCHERS ONLY HAD A LIMITED AMOUNT OF TIME AND MONEY.

Part of the problem is that many of the companies that manufacture phones are used to selling washing machines and headphones – stuff that you do not have to patch.  As a result, they are not really culturally ready to deal with a product that releases hundreds of patches a year.

But they need to.

So what should you do?

Some people say “but my phone is not broke, why do I need to get a new one”? That is because, even though it works, after a while, it doesn’t get any patches.  That doesn’t mean that researchers won’t find new security holes for the Chinese to exploit to steal your data and try to get you to pay them to give it back.  In fact, old phones are the most likely to get attacked because they are the least likely to get patched.

BEFORE you buy any phone, look for the manufacturer’s guarantee of patches.  For example, Google is about to release the Pixel 3, but they say they will be issuing patches for the Pixel 2 Until October 2020 – at least.  If the manufacturer is cagey about patches and support, choose a different one.  Apple calls their unsupported products “Vintage”, but that just is just a cute term for “You are on your own, buddy”.  iPhone 4 and older are vintage.  Reports indicate that due to less than exciting sales, the iPhone X might see the end of its life as early as this year.  That doesn’t mean that they won’t patch it however.  They just won’t sell it.  The iPhone 5s is the oldest phone that supports iOS 12.  Apple does a very nice job of supporting older phones.

See how often your chosen vendor releases software patches.  Google and Apple release patches monthly.  Some vendors don’t ever release patches and others release them quarterly or less frequently.  Long wait for a patch?  Find a different vendor.

It is not just the manufacturer you have to worry about, but also all of the apps that you have installed.  Less apps is better.  Maybe not as much fun, but definitely more secure.  Uninstall anything you are not using any more.  Really. 

I know this is a pain in the tush, but, sorry, you just have to deal with it.  iPhones and Google Pixel phones are definitely the best when it comes to timely patches.

Remember that all it takes to get infected is to receive a well crafted malicious email (you don’t have to click on anything), a malicious text or visit a malicious web site.  NO. CLICKING. REQUIRED!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Information for this post came from Bleeping Computer.

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