CAT | Stupidity
The Internet is on fire with outrage right now about the security warnings in the Facebook Messenger app. The furor is based on the viral spread of a post on the Huffington Post back in December of last year. The issue has come to the fore because Facebook is taking the messaging capability out of the main Facebook app, so users will have to install the Messenger app if they want to continue to use the capability.
The particular problem is with the warnings presented to users when they install the app on Android. Many articles are describing this as the “terms of service” but the warning are the standard text displayed by Android based on the specific permissions the app is requesting.
Here are the warnings as listed in that original the Huffington Post article:
- Allows the app to change the state of network connectivity
- Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention. This may result in unexpected charges or calls. Malicious apps may cost you money by making calls without your confirmation.
- Allows the app to send SMS messages. This may result in unexpected charges. Malicious apps may cost you money by sending messages without your confirmation.
- Allows the app to record audio with microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation.
- Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.
- Allows the app to read you phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls. This permission allows apps to save your call log data, and malicious apps may share call log data without your knowledge.
- Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.
- Allows the app to read personal profile information stored on your device, such as your name and contact information. This means the app can identify you and may send your profile information to others.
- Allows the app to access the phone features of the device. This permission allows the app to determine the phone number and device IDs, whether a call is active, and the remote number connected by a call.
- Allows the app to get a list of accounts known by the phone. This may include any accounts created by applications you have installed.
This strikes me as more an inditement of the over broad requests for permissions by apps in Android than any particular evil intent on Facebook’s part. Obviously many of these things would be very bad indeed, if Facebook actually did them. After significant searching I have not seen any suggestion at all that Facebook is or is likely to do any of these things without your knowledge.
Many articles are ranting about the possibility that Facebook might turn on your camera or microphone without warning and capture embarrassing sounds or images. Doing so would be disastrous for Facebook, so it seems very unlikely.
After reviewing the actual Facebook privacy policies and terms of service in the Messenger app, I don’t see any sign that these actions would be permitted but of course Facebook does have the right to change the policies, basically at will.
Don’t take from this that I am a Facebook apologist. Anyone looking back through this blog will see many cases where I have criticized them and their actions (here, here, here, here for example). There are major problems with the amount of data Facebook collects, how they collect it from almost everywhere on the Internet (not just their website or apps), and their privacy policies. I have turned off location tracking for the Messenger app on my iPhone because I don’t want Facebook tracking that.
However….. Facebook is not going to start turning on your camera at night to take naked pictures of you! There is a lot about privacy on the Internet to worry about, lets stay focused on the real stuff rather than these fantasies.
Courthouse News Service reports that a virginia judge has ruled Facebook “Likes” are not protected speech.
The case was related to employees of the Hampton VA sheriff’s office who “Liked” the current sheriff’s opponent in the last election. After he was re-elected, he fired many of the people who had supported his opponent.
The judge ruled that posts on Facebook would have been protected, but not simple Likes.
The FBI in conjunction with the Bureau of Justice Assistance and Joint Regional Intelligence Center have produced a number of fliers to help the public identify possible terrorists. While some of the points have merit, it is very likely that this will generate an extremely high proportion of false alerts based on perfectly reasonable and legal behaviors.
A big red flag for me were the fliers for cyber cafes and electronics stores. These suggest that the use of privacy protecting services, like Anonymizer, should be deemed suspicious. They also call out Encryption, VoIP, and communicating through video games.
In almost all of the fliers they suggest that wanting to pay cash (legal tender for all debts public and private) is suspicious.
Thanks to Public Intelligence for pulling together PDFs of the documents.
The NYTimes.com reports that Kapil Sibal, the acting telecommunications minister for India is pushing Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook to more actively and effectively screen their content for disparaging, inflammatory and defamatory content.
Specifically Mr. Sibal is telling these companies that automated screening is insufficient and that they should have humans read and approve allmessages before they are posted.
This demand is both absurd and offensive.
- It is obviously impossible for these companies to have a human review the volume of messages they receive, the numbers are staggering.
- The demand for human review is either evidence that Mr. Sibal is completely ignorant of the technical realities involved, or this is an attempt to kill social media and their associated free wheeling exchanges of information and opinion.
- There is no clear objective standard for “disparaging, inflammatory, and defamatory” content, so the companies are assured of getting it wrong in many cases putting them at risk.
- The example of unacceptable content sighted by Mr. Sibal is a Facebook page that maligned Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi suggesting that this is more about preventing criticism than actually protecting maligned citizens.
Thanks to a PrivacyBlog reader for pointing me to this article: Blackhat SEO – Esrun » Youtube privacy failure
It looks like it is easy to find thumbnail images from YouTube videos that have been marked private.
If you have any such videos, go back and check that you are comfortable with the information in the thumbnails being public, or delete the video completely.
Brian Krebs has an interesting blog post on how all of the credit card information was stolen by a hacker from a website that sells stolen credit cards.
This is in the “don’t know whether to laugh or cry” department.
CNET’s Declan McCullagh reports on Microsoft restricting access to their Wi-Fi geolocation database shortly after this CNET article describing how to track devices using such databases. I have written about these databases before here, here, and here. Specifically Microsoft is preventing users from querying for the location of a single Wi-Fi device by specifying just one MAC addresses. Prior to the change it was possible to track an individual phone or laptop by querying for the location of that device’s MAC address.
CNET describes a test where they were able to track a device as it moved around Columbus Ohio. This would indicate that the underlying database is updated in near real time, and that it is collecting on mobile devices as well as on the fixed Wi-Fi base stations it is supposed to catalog for enhanced location services.
Tracking mobile devices can only harm the accuracy of enhanced GPS location services because they move around and could potentially give misleading information. It would be easy to eliminate such devices from the database because the type of device is discoverable from the MAC address they are collecting.
While there is no reason to track mobile devices for enhanced GPS, there are all kinds of less savory reasons to gather and track this kind of information. I note that Microsoft’s solution is to prevent access to this individualized tracking information about mobile devices rather than to stop collecting it…..
Declan McCullagh of CNET is reporting on a bill to require ISPs to maintain massive records on their users. According to the article this bill requires commercial Internet providers to retain “customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses”.
They are calling it the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011” in a flagrent attempt to make it politically difficult to vote against it even though the bill has noting directly to do with Internet pornography or protecting children.
Were this bill to become law, it might cause real problems for the growth of public Wi-Fi where there is no user authentication. That would be a huge leap backwards for a very possitive trend of late.
Of course, criminals will continue to be trivially able to circumvent such tracking efforts making this primarily a mechanism for gathering information on innocent persons without any hint of suspicion or probably cause.
It is absolutely un-American to require every citizen to submit to continuous tracking and monitoring on the possibility that some tiny fraction of us will commit a crime. Law enforcement always lobbies hard for such provisions. Make sure your voice is heard that you value your privacy and your rights.
I have been avoiding talking about the TSA airport screening insanity, but wanted to post a link to this excellent essay.
1 Comment · Posted by lance in Computer Security, Cryptography, Email Security, Internet, legal, Legislation, National Security, Online Privacy, Personal Privacy, Security Breaches, Stupidity, Surveillance
This NYTimes article discusses a bill which the Obama administration is proposing to submit to congress. The general background of the bill is that evolving technology has made it more difficult for law enforcement to conduct effective wiretaps and other intercepts because much of the targeted communication now takes place on the Internet and is often encrypted.
The actual text of the proposed bill does not appear to be available, but the article lists the following likely requirements.
- Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.
- Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.
- Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.
The first of these is similar to the CALEA law which requires telecommunications carriers to design their services to enable automated real time intercepts. While this generally sounds reasonable when “we” say it, the idea is more ominous when coming from some other governments.
The third proposal is completely outrageous. In effect it says that I may not speak in a way which is unintelligible to the wire tappers. As a colleague quipped “I am hiring Navajo code talkers.” This would require a back door be inserted in to cryptography tools. Experience shows that any crypto system with such a back door will be breached and then left vulnerable to the enormous number of criminal hackers on the Internet today.
In 1993 the US Government proposed a system called the “Clipper Chip” which would provide all encryption for personal computers, but to which the US Government would have back door access. This was a terrible idea then, it was widely ridiculed, and suffered a well justified death by 1996. This third proposal would be much worse. It is asking huge numbers of non-crypto experts to build back doors in to their systems. Frankly, the cryptography in most software is already badly broken in many cases. Something as subtle and complex as a secure and effective law enforcement back door would be far beyond their abilities and render currently poor security completely untrustworthy.
All this is not to mention the potential abuse by oppressive regimes, who will pounce on the capability to further crush dissent within their countries. Finally, it will be largely ineffective against serious threats. Very strong and easy to use cryptography is already available world wide, for free (GPG, ZPhone, TrueCrypt, etc.). This is a classic case of damaging the innocent while leaving the guilty and dangerous unaffected.
It seems to me that there is a pendulum swing to these things. Technology cuts both ways. Some times it favors the interceptor and some times it favors the communicator. In most ways the Internet has been a fantastic boon to law enforcement. Cloud computing, email hosts, social networking, open WiFi, and huge hard drive that encourage people to save everything all provide law enforcement with enormous amounts of information they could never have collected in the past.
It may not be shocking to anyone that there is no federal push to make that more difficult to access while pushing to enhance their ability to intercept encrypted communications.
All this is argument about a bill we have not seen yet. Let us hope that the furor that has swirled around it will cause it to be retraced or modified significantly before it is actually delivered to congress.