Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Traveling Light in a Time of Digital Thievery

This sounds exciting, like intrigue for spy fiction:
When Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, travels to that country, he follows a routine that seems straight from a spy film.
He leaves his cellphone and laptop at home and instead brings “loaner” devices, which he erases before he leaves the United States and wipes clean the minute he returns. In China, he disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, never lets his phone out of his sight and, in meetings, not only turns off his phone but also removes the battery, for fear his microphone could be turned on remotely. He connects to the Internet only through an encrypted, password-protected channel, and copies and pastes his password from a USB thumb drive. He never types in a password directly, because, he said, “the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop.”
Never types his password in directly? News for you: if are concerned about only key stroke logging, you forget what other avenues of approach a threat can take if it's kernel resident. On-screen keyboards and even one time password tokens (e.g. RSA SecurID tokens) can and have been defeated as well. If this is your level of threat, these countermeasures aren't good enough. This should not be the extent of the threat to consider:
Both China and Russia prohibit travelers from entering the country with encrypted devices unless they have government permission.
Here's better advice:
Now, United States companies, government agencies and organizations are doing the same by imposing do-not-carry rules. Representative Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said its members could bring only “clean” devices to China and were forbidden from connecting to the government’s network while abroad. As for himself, he said he traveled “electronically naked.”
and probably the best advice:
McAfee, the security company, said that if any employee’s device was inspected at the Chinese border, it could never be plugged into McAfee’s network again. Ever. “We just wouldn’t take the risk,” said Simon Hunt, a vice president.
The cost of doing business in places like that is the cost of "burn devices". The hardware, data, and software on them, should all be thrown away upon exit. Don't risk powering it back on. Like a disposable camera. Send your data in before you leave in-country, and let go of any and all emotional attachment to the hardware.

If China & Russia can do this, so can any other country or, perhaps even a commercial organization, of any substantial size (yes, even the United States can and will snoop on your devices).

DIY Drones

Do It Yourself Surveillance Drone Aircraft. Why? Because you still can.

Adjust your one-liner: "if guns drones are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns drones".

An excerpt explains why:
It is extremely easy to build a drone now that can do not just surveillance but can carry rather large payloads. If you want to see how large some of these planes get, check out this video of a model Airbus A380. I don’t have to spell out the implications of this. I want to have my drone before the government makes them illegal. The US has been fighting such low-tech enemies lately that we haven’t thought through the nature of a world in which lots of people have sophisticated drones, not just other countries but private individuals. One somewhat worrying thing is that virtually all of this equipment comes from China or Taiwan.

Here's a flight video:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

John Nash Crypto Letters

John Nash (inspiration for A Beautiful Mind) wrote letters to the US Government in the 1950s which have recently been deLinkclassified and releasedLink to the public. Now you can read for yourself how John Nash was essentially 20 years ahead of the world around him in his plans for a cryptographic system.

The questions to ask yourself are: Did the US Government sit on this devised plan? If so, why? If not, how long were they keeping it to themselves before moving on to something better?

One thing can certainly be learned from history: powerful governments and organizations have kept tight lips on the cryptography they use, and stay far ahead of the power curve. Simon Singh covers the topic well in his book: The Code Book. (If this topic is even partially interesting to you, then you should at least read that book, if not buy a copy.) At each step along the way in recorded history, there have been parties wishing to keep their communications confidential, and significant disparities in the technology to do so. Charles Babbage's scheme for breaking the Vigenère Cipher comes to mind.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Verisign Hacked!

Verisign was breached according to an SEC report (Reuters), yet they report almost no details and act like it's no big deal!

An excerpt from Reuters (emphasis mine):

"Oh my God," said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and before that the top lawyer at the National Security Agency. "That could allow people to imitate almost any company on the Net."
I knew instantly why Baker is a former Assistant Secretary to DHS: because he understands the gravity of a real security incident. Had he not understood, he would probably still be employed at DHS, along with all of the other laughing stocks and poster children for security theater.

Back on topic: Verisign is probably the single largest peddler of SSL certificates and their Certificate Authorities (CAs) are probably used by more browsers and other applications than any other. Talk about all your eggs in one basket! Not to mention their impact on the control of DNS.

In a past life as a customer of Verisign's certificates, I did not like dealing with them. They were arrogant, acted like they had no competitors, and charged exorbitant prices for their certs. That stated, the fact that mum's the word on what could possibly be the single largest breach in internet history is much cause for concern. If their private keys for any of their CA certs, including their intermediary certs, are breached, then anybody could impersonate any site they wish on the web.

First it was RSA being tight lipped on their SecurID breach, and now it's Verisign on who knows what was breached.

In the authentication world, there really only are 2 methodologies: A) hierarchical, or B) web of trust. Public Key Infrastructure (i.e. Certificate Authorities) are hierarchical. Essentially, we all trust a self-appointed few to discern for us who is authentic and who is not. In the web of trust model, that discernment choice is distributed among all the participants. You may chose to trust a website is your bank, you may not. The most common implementation of web of trust is PGP (the protocol, not the PGP company, which is rife with their own history of issues.) The con to web of trust is that your Grandma (or maybe even you) won't know who to trust, so she'll have a hard time setting up her {computer, iPhone, whatever}. In the hierarchical model, you don't have to think, but sometimes not thinking is a bad thing.


What can be learned from this?

1) Even the largest internet security giants can fall, and when they fall they hit the ground hard. A large, recognizable brand may not necessarily improve security. Though these incidents do not conclusively prove this, there is reason to believe that these companies present themselves as a treasure trove to their adversaries. They simply house assets of far greater value than what may otherwise be understood. Aligning your business with these high valued assets might be attracting unnecessary attention from web thieves to your business.

2) It is probably time to revisit the web of trust model.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


This is a very premature response to what I believe is the single best solution to dangers like SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA: DNSCrypt.

To be fair, I don't think DNSCrypt in and of itself would be a solution to draconian "take the free out of internet" laws; however, it's going to be a very necessary component to maximize liberty in the 21st century. It's amazing the web has lasted this long without end-to-end crypto for DNS.

As stated in the link above, DNSCrypt is no replacement for DNSSEC. In fact, the ideal solution would be to rebuild DNS from the ground up using more of a web-of-trust model and completely end-to-end confidential and authenticated channels everywhere, with the ability to determine which "authority" you subscribe to for DNS and with resources listing themselves with as many authorities as they wish to be associated, ending the centralized (yet distributed for availability) control of the web. There's probably no reason to put that much power in the hands of a single entity anyway, and as governments continue on the path they appear to be on, locking down the web, isolated technical solutions will essentially create black markets for essential services like DNS.

For maximum persistence, an ideally liberated DNS solution would also need to float through filters, learning what it can from protocols designed to do so, like bittorrent, IRC, and basically any "cloud service" an enterprise IT Security team would want to block (those online drive storage services always seem to find a way through!).

And ultimately, wide-scale adoption is very necessary. It's excellent to see the inklings of that plan in DNSCrypt. Look at the choice to use ECC to preserve confidentiality. ECC requires low CPU overhead compared to other public key schemes, like RSA encryption, making it perfect for small devices like phones, wireless routers, and other embedded platforms to natively support DNSCrypt. Also important is for large scale providers like OpenDNS to support it. But like so many great technical solutions to problems, market penetration has been the deciding factor what wins out and what doesn't.

Even if DNSCrypt isn't perfect, it's a step in the right direction.