Category Archives: Privacy

From Unsecure to Less Unsecure

Text messages, as many people know are not very secure.  If you are asking where we are meeting for lunch, you probably don’t care.  But many banks use text messages (technically known as SMS or Short Message Service) as a second factor to enhance login security.  While it does help some, it would be  a lot better if SMS messages were secure.

Add to that the limited character length allowed in SMS (only a bit longer than the original Twitter at 162 characters, but that is sometimes masked by phone makers text messaging applications), the fact that photos sent by SMS have to be compressed down to be barely identifiable and the fact that it can be hijacked, we have been needing a replacement.

Enter RCS or Rich Communications Services.  RCS eliminates a lot of these shortcomings.  Supposedly the big four (soon to be three) US carriers say it is coming in 2020, even though the standard has been around for 10 years.

But the way the carriers are implementing it is not very secure as researchers are starting to point out.

While you can pick a different text messaging app like iMessage, Whatsapp or Signal, for example, for talking to your friends and have enhanced privacy with them, you don’t have any control over which text messaging service your bank uses, leaving you more vulnerable than alternative solutions such as Google Authenticator or Authy, generically known as Time based One Time Passwords or TOTP.

So what are the carriers doing wrong?

SRSLabs researchers are going to talk about the holes that they have found at Black Hat Europe in December.  Hopefully the carriers get embarrassed and fix some of these bugs before the systems go live next year.

The issue SRSLabs seems to have a problem with is the way the standard for RCS is being implemented, rather than the standard itself.  This is actually good news because it means that a software patch can improve security and it doesn’t require changes to the standard.  Even with these fixes, RCS is **NOT** encrypted end to end like iMessage or Whatsapp.

One issue is security around how RCS configuration files, which contain the userid and password for your text messages are secured.  In that case, there is no security, meaning any app can request the configuration and have access to your text messages.

Another one sends a six digit code to identify you are who you say you are but lets you have unlimited guesses.  To try all the possible numbers takes about five minutes.

The carriers, of course, are completely defensive, but I suspect after Black Hat makes their sloppiness public, many of the carriers will clean up their acts.

Which is good for users.

Bottom line though, if you want more private text messages, use something like iMessage or Signal – RCS is not going to solve that problem.  Even if the carriers fix their implementation bugs in RCS, it will just be less unsecure.  Source:  Vice

 

 

 

 

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmailby feather

Security News for the Week Ending December 6, 2019

Caller Poses as CISA Rep in Extortion Scam

Homeland Security’s CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) says that they are aware of a scam where a caller pretends to be a CISA rep and claims to have knowledge of the potential victim’s questionable behavior.  The caller then attempts to extort the potential victim.

CISA says not to fall for the scam, do not pay the extortion and contact the FBI.  Source: Homeland Security.

Senate Committee Approves $250 Mil for Utility Security

The PROTECT  program would provide grants for utilities to improve their security.  Given that a carefully distributed government report says that the Russians (and not the Chinese) have compromised a number of US utilities already, improving security is probably a smart idea. The nice part is that it is a grant.  The important part is that the money would be spread out over 5 years, so in reality, we are talking about spending $50 million a year.  It also seems to be focused on electric and doesn’t seem to consider water or other utilities.  There are around 3,300 electric utilities alone in the US.  If we ignore everything but electric and spread the money equally (which of course, they won’t), every utility would get $15,000.  That will definitely get the job done.  NOT!  Source: Nextgov

Smith & Wesson’s online Store Hacked by Magecart

Lawrence Abrams of Bleeping Computer fame tried to warn Smith & Wesson that their online store had been compromised by the famous Magecart malware.  The join the likes of British Airways (183 million Euro fine) and thousands of others.  Abrams did not hear back from them by publication time.  Source: Bleeping Computer

Another MSP Hit by Ransomware Attack

CyrusOne, one of the larger MSPs was hit by a ransomware attack which affected some of their customers.  As I said in my blog post earlier this week, attacks against MSPs are up because they are juicier targets.

In CyrusOne’s case, they said the victims were primarily in a data center in New York (which hopefully means that they have segmented their network), it did not affect their colo customers, only their managed customers (because in a colo, the provider does not have credentials to their customer’s servers) and they are investigating.

This just is one more reminder that you can outsource responsibility to a service provider, but the buck still stops with you when the provider is hacked.  Source: MSSP Alert

Reuters Says Census Test Run in 2018 Was Attacked By Russia

Commerce outsourced the first digital census to Pegasystems and at last check the cost has doubled to $167 million.  More importantly, in a 2018 test, Russian hackers (not China) were able to penetrate a firewall and get into places where they should not have been.  In addition, the test was hit with DNS attacks.

Sources say this raises concerns whether T-Rex Solutions, the Commerce Department’s main security contractor, can keep the Russians out when the site actually goes live.  Or the Chinese. Or other countries that would like to embarrass us.

Census said (a) no comment, (b) no data was stolen (this was likely a reconnaissance test by the Russians, so no surprise) and (c) the system worked as designed (i.e. the Russians got in and we panicked).

Clearly if the Russians are able to compromise the Census, that would be a HUGE black eye for this President and the Executive Branch.

They can hide things during a test, but cannot hide them when it goes live, so lets hope they are able to fix it.  Source: Reuters

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmailby feather

Senate Republican Proposes Federal Privacy Bill

In an interesting turn of events, Republican US Senator Roger Wicker’s staff has written a draft federal privacy bill.   It’s main goal is to overturn California’s privacy law that goes into effect in January.

Of course, there are only 28 days between now and January 1, so I would be really surprised if the bill made it through the House and Senate and gets signed by the President.  Still it is interesting.

Wicker, who heads the Senate Commerce Committee, says it offers more detailed consumer protections, covers more companies, and has more explicit requirements that companies collect the minimum amount of personal data needed for their purpose.

*IF* that is true, I can’t imagine that Facebook, Google and the like will sign on to supported it, but who knows.

I have not seen a copy of the draft, although the Senator has given Reuters a copy.

One challenge is this:  The Democrats won’t support a bill that preempts state law and the Republicans won’t support one that doesn’t preempt state law.  I am not sure how you resolve that.

Reuters says the draft covers any company doing business across state lines (a one person company?  Non-profits?), expands the definition of sensitive information to include biometrics, requires companies to have clear and conspicuous privacy policies (that no one reads) and would allow consumers to request to have inaccurate information corrected.

What I don’t see, from the Reuters article, is that consumers have any rights in their data.  No right to get a copy of their data, no right to stop companies from selling their data, no right to have their data deleted, etc.  BUT, I have not seen the actual draft bill.

If those rights are not there, I can’t see how Wicker can say with a straight face that the bill is better than California’s current law, unless he means better for Google, Facebook and others.

There also does not appear to be any right for consumers to sue.

If the consumers don’t have any rights from under this law and if it preempts state law, then I think that the Facebooks and Googles of the world will support it, even if it isn’t perfect.

Wicker’s committee is holding a hearing Wednesday which will include lawyers from Microsoft and Walmart.

Wicker said “If there is something weak here, if there are other protections that need to be added, let’s add them, but let’s make it a nationwide standard.”

If he is serious, that is great, but I think that companies that earn all of their money by selling your data are not very interested in giving consumers rights to their data or the right to sue.

I said months ago that I doubted that a federal law would be passed and signed anytime soon.  The two sides are still far apart.  However, I could be wrong.

Stay tuned!  Source: Reuters

 

 

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmailby feather

Advertisers Still Want to Know Who You Are, What You Are Doing

As more users install ad blocking software and browsers such as Firefox and Safari start blocking some ad trackers by default, advertisers decided to come up with a new solution to track everything you do.

This new technique is a bit technical, but I will try to keep it high level.

Typically, the company tracking you is a separate company from the company who’s website you are visiting because not only do people want to know what you are doing on their website, but also what you are doing on every other website in the world.  This logic is what created the third party ad tracking business.

But browsers can tell, if you are visiting ABC.COM, if that web page makes a request for some data from XYZ.COM – a third party.

Those requests come in many forms.  It could directly load data from or save data to that third party.

Or it could save a “cookie” from that third party with information associated with the site you are visiting so the ad tracking company can track you everywhere.

As people have become smart to this and taken anti-tracking measures, advertisers tried Adobe Flash cookies.  That didn’t work well because many people (like me) think Flash is insecure and even Adobe is killing it in December 2020.

So the ad trackers came up with a new idea.

If ABC.COM wants to track you, the ad tracking company asks ABC to create a new subdomain, say trackyou.abc.com and point that subdomain to the tracking service.  Since the core part of trackyou.abc.com is still abc.com, it doesn’t look to the browser like there are any third parties.  But since the tracking company runs trackyou.abc.com, they can collect whatever data they want.

It turns out that it is possible, with some work, to block this if you use Firefox, but not with any other browser.  Most browser makers are in the business of selling your data, so they are a bit conflicted.

In fact, a Google search provides lots of articles on how to do this yourself.

Advertisers are just trying to make a buck, not do you in (mostly).   Source:  The Register

 

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmailby feather

Survey Says: Americans Concerned About Data Collection Practices

Well maybe not concerned enough to change their practices, but concerned.

When asked if their data is more secure, less secure or about the same as compared to five years ago, 70 percent said their data was less secure.  6 percent said it was more secure.

On the side of “gee, you mean I have to do something about it?”, 97 percent say they are asked to approve privacy policy notices, but only 9 percent say that they always read it and another 13 percent say they often read it.  That means that three-quarters of the users don’t read what they are agreeing to.  38 percent say they sometimes read the polices and 36 percent say they never read them.

Of those people who say that they at least sometimes read the privacy policies, on 22 percent say they read it to the end.

On top of that 63 percent said that they know very little or nothing about the privacy laws that protect them.

When it comes to being tracked, 72 percent said that all, almost all, or most of what they do on their phone is being tracked with an additional 19% saying that some of what they do is being tracked.  That leaves 9 percent who think that they are not being tracked. Hmm?

47 percent think the government is tracking them.

69 percent feel that their offline behavior including where they are and whom they are talking with – OFFLINE – is being tracked by the government.

84 percent say that they feel that they have little to no control over the information that the government collects and 81 percent feel the same way about information companies collect about them.

81 percent of the people think that the risks of data collection about them outweigh the benefits and 66 percent say the same thing about government data collection.

72 percent say they personally benefit very little or none from the collection of their data by companies and even ore surprisingly, 76 percent say that they don’t get much benefit from government data collection.

Certainly an interesting set of information, which could explain why there was so much support for privacy legislation in a variety of states.

You can find more information about the Pew report here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmailby feather

“Smart Cities” Need to be Secure Cities Too

For hundreds of years, government has been the domain of the quill pen and parchment or whatever followed on from that.

But now, cities want to join the digital revolution to make life easier for their citizens and save money.

However, as we have seen, that has not always worked out so well.

Atlanta recently was hit by a ransomware attack – just one example out of hundreds.  It appears that was facilitated by the city’s choice to not spend money on IT and IT security.  Now they are planning on spending about $18 million to fix the mess.  Atlanta can afford that, smaller towns cannot.

We are hearing of hundreds of towns and cities getting hit by hackers – encrypting data, shutting down services and causing mayhem.  In Atlanta, for example, the buying and selling of homes and businesses was shut down for weeks because the recorder could not reliably tell lenders how much was owed on a property being sold or record liens on property being purchased.

But what if, instead of not being able to pay your water bill, not having any telephones working in city hall or not being able to do things on the city’s web site – what if instead, the city owned water delivery system stopped working because the control system was hacked and the water was contaminated?  Or, what if, all of the traffic lights went green in all directions?  Or red?  What if the police lost access to all of the digital evidence for crimes and all of the people being charged had to be set free?  You get the general idea.

As cities and towns, big and small, go digital, they will need to upgrade their security capabilities or run the risk of being attacked.  Asking a vendor to fill out a form asking about their security and then checking the box that says its secure does not cut it.  Not testing software, both before the city buys it and periodically after they buy it to test for security bugs doesn’t work either.  We are already seeing that problem with city web sites that collect credit cards being hacked costing customers (residents) millions.  Not understanding how to configure systems for security and privacy doesn’t cut it either.

Of course the vendors don’t care because cities are not requiring vendors to warranty that their systems are secure or provide service level agreements for downtime.  I promise if the vendor is required to sign a contract that says that if their software is hacked and it costs the city $X million dollars to deal with it, then the vendor gets to pay for that, vendors will change their tune.  Or buy a lot of insurance.  In either case, the city’s taxpayers aren’t left to foot the bill, although the other issues are still a problem.  We have already seen information permanently lost.  Depending on what that information is, that could get expensive for the city.

In most states governments have some level of immunity, but that immunity isn’t complete and even if you can’t sue the government, you can vote them out of office – something politicians are not fond of.

As hackers become more experienced at hacking cities, they will likely do more damage, escalating the spiral.

For cities, the answer is simple but not free.  The price of entering the digital age includes the cost of ensuring the security AND PRIVACY of the data that their citizens entrust to them as well as the security and safety of those same citizens.

When people die because a city did not due appropriate security testing, lawsuits will happen, people will get fired and politicians will lose their jobs.   Hopefully it won’t take that to get a city’s attention.

Source: Helpnet Security

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmailby feather