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Welcome to the 12th episode of The Privacy Blog Podcast brought to you by Anonymizer.

In September’s episode, I will talk about a court ruling against Google’s Wi-Fi snooping and the vulnerabilities in the new iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner. Then, I’ll provide some tips for securing the new iPhone/iOS 7 and discuss the results of a recent Pew privacy study.

Hope you enjoy – feel free to add questions and feedback in the comments section.

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An important decision just came down from the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals about whether Google can be sued for intercepting personal data from open WiFi networks. The intercepts happened as part of the Street View program. In addition to capturing pictures of their surroundings, the Street View vehicles also collect GPS information (to correctly place the pictures) and the MAC addresses (unique hardware identifiers), SSIDs (user assigned network names), and until 2010 they captured some actual data from those networks. The purpose of the WiFi collection is to provide enhanced location services. GPS drains phone batteries quickly, and the weak signals may be unavailable indoors, or even under and significant cover. Nearly ubiquitous WiFi base stations provide another way of finding your location. The Street View cars capture their GPS coordinates along with all of the WiFi networks they can see. Your phone can then simply look at the WiFi networks around it, and ask the database what location corresponds to what it is seeing. WiFi is often available indoors, has short range, requires much less power, and is generally turned on in any case. Google claims that capturing the actual data was an accident and a mistake.

Unfortunately that data contained usernames, passwords and other sensitive information in many cases. A lawsuit was filed accusing Google of violating the Wiretap Act when it captured the data. There is no suggestion that the data has been leaked, misused, or otherwise caused direct harm to the victims.

The ruling was on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Google’s intercepts were protected under an exemption in the Wiretap Act which states that it is OK to intercept radio communications that are “readily accessible” to the general public. The Act specifically states that encrypted or scrambled communications are NOT readily accessible, but the decision hangs on exactly what IS readily accessible. The court ruled that WiFi did not count as “radio” under the Act because several types of radio communications were enumerated, and this was not one of them. They then considered this case under the umbrella of “electronic communications”, which also has an exemption for readily accessible communications. On that, they decided that open WiFi is not readily accessible.

From a privacy perspective, this is good news. It says that people who intercept your information from your open WiFi can be punished (if you ever find out about it). This would clearly prevent someone setting up a business to automatically capture personal and marketing data from coffee shop WiFi’s around the world. It is less likely to have any impact on criminals. I am concerned that it will also lead to a sense of false confidence, and perhaps cause people to leave their WiFi open, rather than taking even minimal steps to protect themselves.

The hacker / tinkerer / libertarian in me has a real problem with this ruling. It is really trivial to intercept open WiFi. Anyone can join any open WiFi network. Once joined, all the the data on that network is available to every connected device. Easy, free, point and click software allows you to capture all of the data from connected (or even un-connected) open WiFi networks. If you are debugging your home WiFi network, you could easily find yourself capturing packets from other networks by accident. They are in the clear. There is no hacking involved. It is like saying that you can not tune your radio to a specific station, even though it is right there on the dial.

I think peeping in windows is a reasonable analogy. If I am standing on the sidewalk, look at your house, and see something through your windows that you did not want me to see, that is really your problem. If I walk across your lawn and put my face against the glass, then you have a cause to complain.

Open WiFi is like a window without curtains, or a postcard. You are putting the data out there where anyone can trivially see it. Thinking otherwise is willful ignorance. All WiFi base stations have the ability to be secured, and it is generally as simple as picking a password and checking a box. You don’t even need to pick a good password (although you really should). Any scrambling or encryption clearly moves the contents from being readily accessible, to being intentionally protected. If you want to sunbathe nude in your back yard, put up a fence. If you want to have privacy in your data, turn on security on your WiFi router.

I think that radio communications are clearly different than wired. With radio, you are putting your data on my property, or out into public spaces. There is no trespass of any kind involved to obtain it, and we have no relationship under which you would expect me to protect the information that you have inadvertently beamed to me. It would be like saying that I can’t look at your Facebook information that you made public because you accidentally forgot to restrict it. 

Similar to provisions of the DMCA, which outlaw much research on copy protection schemes, this is likely to create accidental outlaws of researchers, and the generally technical and curious.


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Welcome to The Privacy Blog Podcast for May 2013.

In this month’s episode, I’ll discuss how shared hosting is increasingly becoming a target and platform for mass phishing attacks. Also, I’ll speak about the growing threat of Chinese hackers and some of the reasons behind the increase in online criminal activity.

Towards the end of the episode, we’ll address the hot topic of Google Glass and why there’s so much chatter regarding the privacy and security implications of this technology. In related Google news, I’ll provide my take on the recent announcement that Google is upgrading the security of their public keys and certificates.

Leave any comments or questions below. Thanks for listening!

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Yesterday Google announced that it was updating its certificates to use 2048 bit public key encryption, replacing the previous 1024 bit RSA keys.

I have always found the short keys used by websites somewhat shocking. I recall back in the early 1990’s discussion about whether 1024 bits was good enough for PGP keys. Personally, I liked to go to 4096 bits although it was not really officially supported.

The fact that, 20 years later, only a fraction of websites have moved up to 2048 bits is incredible to me.

Just as a note, you often see key strengths described in bit length with RSA being 1024 or 2048 bits, and AES being 128 or 256 bits.

This might lead one to assume that RSA is much stronger that AES, but the opposite is true (at these key lengths). The problem is that the two systems are attacked in very different ways. AES is attacked by a brute force search through all possible keys until the right one is found. If the key is 256 bits long, then you need to try, on average, half of the 2^256 keys. That is about 10^77 keys (a whole lot). This attack is basically impossible for any computer that we can imagine being built, in any amount of time relevant to the human species (let alone any individual human).

By comparison, RSA is broken by factoring a 1024 or 2048 bit number in the key into its two prime factors. While very hard, it is not like brute force. It is generally thought that 1024 bit RSA is about as hard to crack as 80 bit symmetric encryption. Not all that hard. 

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Another from the “if the data exists, it will get compromised” file.

This article from the Washington Post talks about an interesting case of counter surveillance hacking.

In 2010, Google disclosed that Chinese hackers breached Google’s servers. What only recently came to light was that one of the things compromised was a database containing information about government requests for email records.

Former government officials speculate that they may have been looking for indications of which of their agents had been discovered. If there were records of US government requests for information on any of their agents, it would be evidence that those agents had been exposed. This would allow the Chinese to shut down operations to prevent further exposure and to get those agents out of the country before they could be picked up.

I had not thought about subpoenas and national security letters being a counter intelligence treasure trove, but it makes perfect sense.

Because Google / Gmail are so widely used, they present a huge and valuable target for attackers. Good information on almost any target is likely to live within their databases.

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There is a lot of buzz right now about how Google Glass will lead to some kind of universal George Orwell type surveillance state.

I think this misses the point. We are going there without Google Glass. Private surveillance is becoming ubiquitous. Any place of business is almost certain to have cameras. After the Boston bombings, we are likely to see the same proliferation of street cameras that has already happened in London any many other places.

The meteor in russia earlier this year made me aware of just how common personal dash board cameras are in Russia. It seems likely that they will be common everywhere in no too many years.

Smart phone cameras are already doing an amazing job of capturing almost any event that takes place anywhere in the world.

So, you are probably being filmed by at least one camera at almost all times any time you are away from your house.

David Brin and others have been arguing for “sousveillance”. If surveillance is those with power looking down from above, sousveillance is those without power looking back. It tends to have a leveling effect. Law enforcement officers are less likely to abuse their power if they are being recorded by private cameras. Similarly and simultaneously they are protected against false claims of abuse from citizens.

I would rather see ubiquitous private cameras than ubiquitous government cameras. If there is a major incident, the public will send in requested footage, but it would make broad drift net fishing, and facial recognition based tracking more difficult.

An interesting counter trend may be in the creation of camera free private spaces. Private clubs, restaurants, gyms, etc. may all differentiate themselves in part based on their surveillance / sousveillance policies.

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Welcome to episode 7 of The Privacy Blog Podcast.

In April’s episode, we’ll be looking at the blacklisting of SSL certificate authorities by Mozilla Firefox – Specifically, what this complex issue means and why Mozilla chose to start doing this.

In more breaking online privacy news, I will be discussing the security implications of relying on social media following the hacking of the Associated Press Twitter account earlier this week.

Next, I’ll chat about the “right to be forgotten” on the Internet, which hinges on the struggle between online privacy and free speech rights. In a closely related topic and following Google’s release of the new “Inactive Account Manager,” I will discuss what happens to our social media presence and cloud data when we die. It’s a topic none of us likes to dwell on, but it’s worth taking the time to think about our digital afterlife.

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In the March episode of The Privacy Blog Podcast, I’ll run down some of the major privacy news events of the last month. Learn how Facebook “Likes” can paint an extremely detailed and eerie picture of your real-life character traits. I’ll provide my take on Google’s Street View Wi-Fi sniffing controversy along with how “Do Not Track” flags are affecting the everyday Internet user. We’ll then touch on the implementation of the “Six Strikes” copyright alert system that was recently adopted by all five major ISP providers.

Stay tuned until the end of the episode to hear about Anonymizer’s exciting new beta program for Android and iOS devices. Thanks for listening!

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Google Transparency Report shows government surveillance, takedown requests are up.

The number of information requests coming to Google from governments around the world is growing fast. It is up 55% for the first half of 2012 vs. the first half of 2010. The linked article has some nice graphs showing the trend.

It is interesting to note that the US leads the world with over a third of the total requests, followed by India then Brazil.

The other even faster trend is in takedown requests. Since they are s search engine, not a host, this is really pure censorship. It is up 88% between the first half of 2011 and the first half of 2012. That is a true hockey stick. A lot of it appears to be trying to suppress criticism of government or government activities.

The more such information is gathered, the more important it is to take control of your own personal privacy.

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CNET has a good description of exactly how to do it.

 

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