Tag Archives: Crypto wars

Security News for the Week Ending January 31, 2020

UK Proposes Weak Security Law for IoT Devices; Calls it Strong

The UK is proposing a law similiar to California’s existing IoT law and calls it strong security.  What makes it strong is that they call it strong, maybe?

The bill requires that default passwords on IoT devices be unique (likely part of the serial number) and not resettable to a single default password.  It also requires the manufacturer to provide a public point of contact for security researchers to report bugs and finally it requires manufacturers to tell consumers the minimum length of time they will provide security updates.

It does not require that they fix reported bugs at all and it doesn’t say how over the manufacturer will provide security updates.  It also doesn’t make manufacturers liable for the damage their bugs do.

All in all, it is a pretty weak bill and even so, it has not been enacted yet.  Source: The UK Gov web site.


Business Email Compromise victim sues MSP for Professional Negligence

A Business Email Compromise victim who paid fake invoices to the tune of $1.7 million to businesses in Hong Kong and Cambodia is suing it’s managed service provider (MSP) for messing up.  The fake invoices came from the business owner’s hacked email account which the MSP was supposed to protect.  Source: Channel Futures


Travelex Says They Are Back Online

After a MONTH of downtime, Travelex says they are now back online.  They are still saying that it won’t impact their 2019 or 2020 financials.  Sources say that part of the losses will be covered by insurance.  This calls out the importance of having a tested incident response, disaster recovery and business continuity program – and the importance of having cyber insurance.  Source: Reuters


Apple Dropped Plans to Encrypt Cloud Backup After FBI Complained

Apple dropped plans to fully encrypt iCloud backups after the FBI told them that it would harm investigations according to multiple sources.  They often turn over iCloud backups to help police investigate crimes.

While Apple publicly says it protects your privacy and in many ways they do, sometimes they make business decisions that they would prefer their customers not  know about.  Source: Reuters


Extradition Hearing for Huawei’s CFO has Begun in Canada

The extradition hearings for Huawei’s CFO and daughter of its founder, Meng Wanzhou, have begun in Canada.

The U.S. says that she and her company violated the U.S. ban on selling to Iran.  China says it is a political stunt.

Currently, she is free on bail and living in one of the mansions she owns in Vancouver.  If she gets extradited to the U.S. her accommodations will not be as comfortable.

On the other hand, President Trump has indicated that all things with China are bargaining chips.  Stay tuned;  it is a long journey.  Source: The L.A. Times

Should We Compromise Security For Preventing Terrorism

After the Paris attacks, politicians have been falling all over themselves trying to be more anti-terrorist than the other.  Prior to the attacks, the odds of the CISA bill in Congress were dicey.  Now the odds are pretty high, even though that bill will do almost zero in terms of preventing terrorism.

One of the big issues is encryption.  Web site encryption (like HTTPS: or SSL/TLS) is really not an issue because the government cracked that years ago.  It takes them a little effort, but it doesn’t really stop them.

A bigger problem is encrypted phones – iPhones and android  – that Apple and Google do not have the keys to decrypt.  This means that the gov has to get a judge to issue a subpoena and then go to the owner, assuming the owner hasn’t been killed, say by a drone strike, and get them to comply.  If the owner is dead or not in the U.S., that is hard to do.  Hence, the government would like to have a secure back door.

However, secure and back door cannot exist in the same sentence.  You can have either one – just not both.  Many noted cryptographers and computer scientists signed a letter to Congress recently stating this, so it is not just me who thinks this is not possible.

Assuming the government or many private companies had a skeleton key to get in (and there would need to be tens of thousands of these keys given the number of software vendors out there) – given the number of breaches of both government systems and private company systems – do you really think that we could keep a skeleton key private for many years.  I don’t think so.  And, wherever those tens of thousands of keys are stored would be a super hot target for hackers.

Then you have the applications to deal with.  They are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of applications.  Many written by one-person companies in some country like Ukraine or China.

Assuming the government required a back door, do you really think a developer in China would really care?  I didn’t think so.  Do you really think that you could stop a terrorist from getting that software from China or some other country?  No again.

So let’s look at the real world.

According to police reports and the Wired article, police have found cell phones next to dead terrorists – like the ones who blew themselves up in Paris – and in trash cans.  Are these phones encrypted with impenetrable encryption?  No, they are not encrypted at all.

Sure, some terrorists are using software like Telegram that is encrypted.  What we have to be VERY careful about is which software is really secure and which software only pretends to be secure.  The article gives some examples.  If you believe the FBI or NSA is going to tell you which software fits in which category, then I have a bridge for sale, just for you, in Brooklyn.

Once the feds find a phone, they can go to the carrier and get the call log from the carrier side.  That gives you text messages, phone numbers, web sites visited, etc.  Is this perfect?  No, it is not.  They used these facts in Paris to launch the second raid – the one in Saint-Denis – where they killed the mastermind of the first attack.  And, while they have not said this publicly, this is likely how they captured the terrorists in Belgium.

All that being said would the feds love all the traffic to be unencrypted? Sure.  Does that mean they are going blind, like they have claimed?  Nope.  Not even close.

In talking with a friend who used to be high up in one of the three letter agencies, he said that he has been warning them for 10 years that this is going to be a problem and they better plan for it.  How much planning they have done is classified – and needs to remain that way.

Creating the smoke screen that they are going blind is a great way to lull terrorists into a false sense of security – right up until the moment the drone strike happens.  If you don’t think that they are doing this on purpose, I recommend you rethink your position.

In talking with another very high ranking former DHS executive about whether we should weaken the crypto, he is very emphatic that the answer is no.

This is basically a repeat of the crypto wars of the 1990s when the FBI tried to force everyone to use a compromised crypto chip (called Clipper).  The concept didn’t work then.  Now, there is software being developed in every country in the world and if the NSA or FBI thinks that they can put the genie back in the bottle, they are fooling themselves.

I recommend reading the Wired article – it will provide a different perspective on the situation.

Information for this article came from Wired.

Former Director Of The NSA Says NO! To Encryption Back Doors

Former NSA director Michael Hayden says that he would not support [FBI] Director [James] Comey’s demands for access, according to a story by Motherboard.

This goes against the “wishes” of the current FBi director and head of the NSA.  It is clear to me that if everything is transmitted unencrypted, with weak encryption or with encryption back doors it makes the life of law enforcement easier.

In documents released by Edward Snowden, it is revealed that the U.S. spied on the Greek Prime Minister using “secure” back doors baked into phone switches that the U.S. government forced manufacturers to install as part of the CALEA law.

My guess is that former NSA Director Hayden is aware of many more events where the NSA made use of supposedly secure back doors where that use has not been revealed.

The reality is that there is no such thing as a secure back door.  In fact, the only true secret is one where the person has told no one.  Even that can be de-secre-fied with non-torture such as waterboarding.

The article goes on to suggest that under Director Hayden’s watch, the NSA was able to retrieve data that they wanted even though they didn’t have a crypto back door.  Hayden remembers the failed crypto wars of the 1990s and does not want to repeat that.

Director Hayden, speaking on a panel at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York said that the U.S. is better served by stronger encryption rather than baking in weaker encryption.

My suspicion is that this is a professional opinion, not a personal one – meaning that his agency was able to get around weaker encryption used by foreign countries with relative ease.

And, that also means that if we can do that, so can many counties including China, Russia, Iran and Israel, among others.  Director Hayden is smart enough to know that we are better off making it harder for other people than making easier for both them and us.

Whether this means that encryption is easy to get around by a local rural Sheriff’s department – it probably does not.  What it probably means is that, when it comes to national security, while encryption slows down the NSA in some cases, it probably rarely stops them.

For example, if they wanted to target someone, all they would need to do is exploit one of the many zero day security holes that they know about but have not reported and use it to take over the target’s computer.  At that point, for the most part, encryption is irrelevant because the data is decrypted in the memory of the computer so that it can show it to you.

My speculation is that, as a former NSA Director as opposed to a current one, Hayden has less reasons to lie.

One simple reason for Director Comey and Admiral Rogers to complain about encryption is that even though they assume that they are not going to get a back door, it is a great excuse if they miss something – which they will.  They will say that encryption is the reason they missed it – even if that is not strictly true.

My two cents.


Information for this post came from Network World.