Tag Archives: banking

Securing Elections

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/securing_electi_1.html

Elections serve two purposes. The first, and obvious, purpose is to accurately choose the winner. But the second is equally important: to convince the loser. To the extent that an election system is not transparently and auditably accurate, it fails in that second purpose. Our election systems are failing, and we need to fix them.

Today, we conduct our elections on computers. Our registration lists are in computer databases. We vote on computerized voting machines. And our tabulation and reporting is done on computers. We do this for a lot of good reasons, but a side effect is that elections now have all the insecurities inherent in computers. The only way to reliably protect elections from both malice and accident is to use something that is not hackable or unreliable at scale; the best way to do that is to back up as much of the system as possible with paper.

Recently, there have been two graphic demonstrations of how bad our computerized voting system is. In 2007, the states of California and Ohio conducted audits of their electronic voting machines. Expert review teams found exploitable vulnerabilities in almost every component they examined. The researchers were able to undetectably alter vote tallies, erase audit logs, and load malware on to the systems. Some of their attacks could be implemented by a single individual with no greater access than a normal poll worker; others could be done remotely.

Last year, the Defcon hackers’ conference sponsored a Voting Village. Organizers collected 25 pieces of voting equipment, including voting machines and electronic poll books. By the end of the weekend, conference attendees had found ways to compromise every piece of test equipment: to load malicious software, compromise vote tallies and audit logs, or cause equipment to fail.

It’s important to understand that these were not well-funded nation-state attackers. These were not even academics who had been studying the problem for weeks. These were bored hackers, with no experience with voting machines, playing around between parties one weekend.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that voting equipment, including voting machines, voter registration databases, and vote tabulation systems, are that hackable. They’re computers — often ancient computers running operating systems no longer supported by the manufacturers — and they don’t have any magical security technology that the rest of the industry isn’t privy to. If anything, they’re less secure than the computers we generally use, because their manufacturers hide any flaws behind the proprietary nature of their equipment.

We’re not just worried about altering the vote. Sometimes causing widespread failures, or even just sowing mistrust in the system, is enough. And an election whose results are not trusted or believed is a failed election.

Voting systems have another requirement that makes security even harder to achieve: the requirement for a secret ballot. Because we have to securely separate the election-roll system that determines who can vote from the system that collects and tabulates the votes, we can’t use the security systems available to banking and other high-value applications.

We can securely bank online, but can’t securely vote online. If we could do away with anonymity — if everyone could check that their vote was counted correctly — then it would be easy to secure the vote. But that would lead to other problems. Before the US had the secret ballot, voter coercion and vote-buying were widespread.

We can’t, so we need to accept that our voting systems are insecure. We need an election system that is resilient to the threats. And for many parts of the system, that means paper.

Let’s start with the voter rolls. We know they’ve already been targeted. In 2016, someone changed the party affiliation of hundreds of voters before the Republican primary. That’s just one possibility. A well-executed attack that deletes, for example, one in five voters at random — or changes their addresses — would cause chaos on election day.

Yes, we need to shore up the security of these systems. We need better computer, network, and database security for the various state voter organizations. We also need to better secure the voter registration websites, with better design and better internet security. We need better security for the companies that build and sell all this equipment.

Multiple, unchangeable backups are essential. A record of every addition, deletion, and change needs to be stored on a separate system, on write-only media like a DVD. Copies of that DVD, or — even better — a paper printout of the voter rolls, should be available at every polling place on election day. We need to be ready for anything.

Next, the voting machines themselves. Security researchers agree that the gold standard is a voter-verified paper ballot. The easiest (and cheapest) way to achieve this is through optical-scan voting. Voters mark paper ballots by hand; they are fed into a machine and counted automatically. That paper ballot is saved, and serves as a final true record in a recount in case of problems. Touch-screen machines that print a paper ballot to drop in a ballot box can also work for voters with disabilities, as long as the ballot can be easily read and verified by the voter.

Finally, the tabulation and reporting systems. Here again we need more security in the process, but we must always use those paper ballots as checks on the computers. A manual, post-election, risk-limiting audit varies the number of ballots examined according to the margin of victory. Conducting this audit after every election, before the results are certified, gives us confidence that the election outcome is correct, even if the voting machines and tabulation computers have been tampered with. Additionally, we need better coordination and communications when incidents occur.

It’s vital to agree on these procedures and policies before an election. Before the fact, when anyone can win and no one knows whose votes might be changed, it’s easy to agree on strong security. But after the vote, someone is the presumptive winner — and then everything changes. Half of the country wants the result to stand, and half wants it reversed. At that point, it’s too late to agree on anything.

The politicians running in the election shouldn’t have to argue their challenges in court. Getting elections right is in the interest of all citizens. Many countries have independent election commissions that are charged with conducting elections and ensuring their security. We don’t do that in the US.

Instead, we have representatives from each of our two parties in the room, keeping an eye on each other. That provided acceptable security against 20th-century threats, but is totally inadequate to secure our elections in the 21st century. And the belief that the diversity of voting systems in the US provides a measure of security is a dangerous myth, because few districts can be decisive and there are so few voting-machine vendors.

We can do better. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security declared elections to be critical infrastructure, allowing the department to focus on securing them. On 23 March, Congress allocated $380m to states to upgrade election security.

These are good starts, but don’t go nearly far enough. The constitution delegates elections to the states but allows Congress to “make or alter such Regulations”. In 1845, Congress set a nationwide election day. Today, we need it to set uniform and strict election standards.

This essay originally appeared in the Guardian.

Securing messages published to Amazon SNS with AWS PrivateLink

Post Syndicated from Otavio Ferreira original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/securing-messages-published-to-amazon-sns-with-aws-privatelink/

Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) now supports VPC Endpoints (VPCE) via AWS PrivateLink. You can use VPC Endpoints to privately publish messages to SNS topics, from an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), without traversing the public internet. When you use AWS PrivateLink, you don’t need to set up an Internet Gateway (IGW), Network Address Translation (NAT) device, or Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection. You don’t need to use public IP addresses, either.

VPC Endpoints doesn’t require code changes and can bring additional security to Pub/Sub Messaging use cases that rely on SNS. VPC Endpoints helps promote data privacy and is aligned with assurance programs, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), FedRAMP, and others discussed below.

VPC Endpoints for SNS in action

Here’s how VPC Endpoints for SNS works. The following example is based on a banking system that processes mortgage applications. This banking system, which has been deployed to a VPC, publishes each mortgage application to an SNS topic. The SNS topic then fans out the mortgage application message to two subscribing AWS Lambda functions:

  • Save-Mortgage-Application stores the application in an Amazon DynamoDB table. As the mortgage application contains personally identifiable information (PII), the message must not traverse the public internet.
  • Save-Credit-Report checks the applicant’s credit history against an external Credit Reporting Agency (CRA), then stores the final credit report in an Amazon S3 bucket.

The following diagram depicts the underlying architecture for this banking system:
 
Diagram depicting the architecture for the example banking system
 
To protect applicants’ data, the financial institution responsible for developing this banking system needed a mechanism to prevent PII data from traversing the internet when publishing mortgage applications from their VPC to the SNS topic. Therefore, they created a VPC endpoint to enable their publisher Amazon EC2 instance to privately connect to the SNS API. As shown in the diagram, when the VPC endpoint is created, an Elastic Network Interface (ENI) is automatically placed in the same VPC subnet as the publisher EC2 instance. This ENI exposes a private IP address that is used as the entry point for traffic destined to SNS. This ensures that traffic between the VPC and SNS doesn’t leave the Amazon network.

Set up VPC Endpoints for SNS

The process for creating a VPC endpoint to privately connect to SNS doesn’t require code changes: access the VPC Management Console, navigate to the Endpoints section, and create a new Endpoint. Three attributes are required:

  • The SNS service name.
  • The VPC and Availability Zones (AZs) from which you’ll publish your messages.
  • The Security Group (SG) to be associated with the endpoint network interface. The Security Group controls the traffic to the endpoint network interface from resources in your VPC. If you don’t specify a Security Group, the default Security Group for your VPC will be associated.

Help ensure your security and compliance

SNS can support messaging use cases in regulated market segments, such as healthcare provider systems subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and financial systems subject to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and is also in-scope with the following Assurance Programs:

The SNS API is served through HTTP Secure (HTTPS), and encrypts all messages in transit with Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificates issued by Amazon Trust Services (ATS). The certificates verify the identity of the SNS API server when encrypted connections are established. The certificates help establish proof that your SNS API client (SDK, CLI) is communicating securely with the SNS API server. A Certificate Authority (CA) issues the certificate to a specific domain. Hence, when a domain presents a certificate that’s issued by a trusted CA, the SNS API client knows it’s safe to make the connection.

Summary

VPC Endpoints can increase the security of your pub/sub messaging use cases by allowing you to publish messages to SNS topics, from instances in your VPC, without traversing the internet. Setting up VPC Endpoints for SNS doesn’t require any code changes because the SNS API address remains the same.

VPC Endpoints for SNS is now available in all AWS Regions where AWS PrivateLink is available. For information on pricing and regional availability, visit the VPC pricing page.
For more information and on-boarding, see Publishing to Amazon SNS Topics from Amazon Virtual Private Cloud in the SNS documentation.

If you have comments about this post, submit them in the Comments section below. If you have questions about anything in this post, start a new thread on the Amazon SNS forum or contact AWS Support.

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Pirate Site Visits Lead to More Malware, Research Finds

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/pirate-site-visits-lead-to-more-malware-research-finds-180318/

In recent years copyright holders have been rather concerned with the health of pirates’ computers.

They regularly highlight reports which show that pirate sites are rife with malware and even alert potential pirates-to-be about the dangers of these sites.

The recent “Meet The Malwares” campaign, targeted at small children, went as far as claiming that pirate sites are the number one way through which this malicious software is spread. We debunked this claim, but it’s hard to deny that pirate sites have their downsides.

While the operators of pirate sites are usually unaware, advertisers and malicious uploaders sometimes use their sites to distribute adware or malware. But does that put people at significant risk? Research from Carnegie Mellon University Professor Rahul Telang provides some further insight.

For a year, Telang observed the browsing and other computer habits of 253 people who took part in the Security Behavior Observatory. The results, published in a paper titled “Does Online Piracy make Computers Insecure?” show that there is a link between pirate site visits and malware.

“We find that more visits to infringing sites does lead to more number of malware files being downloaded on user machines. In particular doubling the amount of time spent on infringing sites cause a 20 percent increase in malware count,” Telang writes.

This effect was only visible for pirate sites, and not for other categories such as banking, gambling, gaming, shopping, social networking, and even adult websites.

Through the Security Behavior Observatory, all files on the respondents’ computers were scanned and checked against reports from Virustotal.com. This also includes adware, but even without this category, the results remain intact.

“Even after we classify malware files into adware and remove them from analysis, our results still suggest that there is a 20 percent increase in malware count due to visits to infringing sites. These results are robust to various controls and specifications.”

Interestingly, one would expect that people who frequently visit pirate sites are more likely to have anti-virus software installed. However, this was not the case.

“We also find that users who visit infringing sites do not take any more precautions than other users. In particular, we find no evidence that such users are more likely to install anti-virus software. If anything, we find that infringing users are more risk taking,” the paper reads.

A 20 percent increase in malware sounds dramatic, and while we don’t want to downplay these results or the risks involved, it’s worth highlighting the absolute numbers.

The research estimates that, when someone doubles the amount of traffic spent on a pirate site, this person adds an extra 0.05 of a piece of malware per month, with the average being 0.24. So, most people encounter no malware in a typical month. This means that pirate sites are an increased a risk, but it’s not as extreme as sometimes portrayed.

There is also no evidence that malware is predominantly spread through pirate sites. Looking at the total sample, the average number of malware files found on a pirate’s machine is 1.5, compared to 1.4 for those who never visit any pirate sites at all.

While there’s certainly some risk involved, it’s doubtful that the results will deter many people. Previous research revealed that the majority of all pirates are fully aware of the malware risks, but that they continue nonetheless.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

What John Oliver gets wrong about Bitcoin

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2018/03/what-john-oliver-gets-wrong-about.html

John Oliver covered bitcoin/cryptocurrencies last night. I thought I’d describe a bunch of things he gets wrong.

How Bitcoin works

Nowhere in the show does it describe what Bitcoin is and how it works.
Discussions should always start with Satoshi Nakamoto’s original paper. The thing Satoshi points out is that there is an important cost to normal transactions, namely, the entire legal system designed to protect you against fraud, such as the way you can reverse the transactions on your credit card if it gets stolen. The point of Bitcoin is that there is no way to reverse a charge. A transaction is done via cryptography: to transfer money to me, you decrypt it with your secret key and encrypt it with mine, handing ownership over to me with no third party involved that can reverse the transaction, and essentially no overhead.
All the rest of the stuff, like the decentralized blockchain and mining, is all about making that work.
Bitcoin crazies forget about the original genesis of Bitcoin. For example, they talk about adding features to stop fraud, reversing transactions, and having a central authority that manages that. This misses the point, because the existing electronic banking system already does that, and does a better job at it than cryptocurrencies ever can. If you want to mock cryptocurrencies, talk about the “DAO”, which did exactly that — and collapsed in a big fraudulent scheme where insiders made money and outsiders didn’t.
Sticking to Satoshi’s original ideas are a lot better than trying to repeat how the crazy fringe activists define Bitcoin.

How does any money have value?

Oliver’s answer is currencies have value because people agree that they have value, like how they agree a Beanie Baby is worth $15,000.
This is wrong. A better way of asking the question why the value of money changes. The dollar has been losing roughly 2% of its value each year for decades. This is called “inflation”, as the dollar loses value, it takes more dollars to buy things, which means the price of things (in dollars) goes up, and employers have to pay us more dollars so that we can buy the same amount of things.
The reason the value of the dollar changes is largely because the Federal Reserve manages the supply of dollars, using the same law of Supply and Demand. As you know, if a supply decreases (like oil), then the price goes up, or if the supply of something increases, the price goes down. The Fed manages money the same way: when prices rise (the dollar is worth less), the Fed reduces the supply of dollars, causing it to be worth more. Conversely, if prices fall (or don’t rise fast enough), the Fed increases supply, so that the dollar is worth less.
The reason money follows the law of Supply and Demand is because people use money, they consume it like they do other goods and services, like gasoline, tax preparation, food, dance lessons, and so forth. It’s not like a fine art painting, a stamp collection or a Beanie Baby — money is a product. It’s just that people have a hard time thinking of it as a consumer product since, in their experience, money is what they use to buy consumer products. But it’s a symmetric operation: when you buy gasoline with dollars, you are actually selling dollars in exchange for gasoline. That you call one side in this transaction “money” and the other “goods” is purely arbitrary, you call gasoline money and dollars the good that is being bought and sold for gasoline.
The reason dollars is a product is because trying to use gasoline as money is a pain in the neck. Storing it and exchanging it is difficult. Goods like this do become money, such as famously how prisons often use cigarettes as a medium of exchange, even for non-smokers, but it has to be a good that is fungible, storable, and easily exchanged. Dollars are the most fungible, the most storable, and the easiest exchanged, so has the most value as “money”. Sure, the mechanic can fix the farmers car for three chickens instead, but most of the time, both parties in the transaction would rather exchange the same value using dollars than chickens.
So the value of dollars is not like the value of Beanie Babies, which people might buy for $15,000, which changes purely on the whims of investors. Instead, a dollar is like gasoline, which obey the law of Supply and Demand.
This brings us back to the question of where Bitcoin gets its value. While Bitcoin is indeed used like dollars to buy things, that’s only a tiny use of the currency, so therefore it’s value isn’t determined by Supply and Demand. Instead, the value of Bitcoin is a lot like Beanie Babies, obeying the laws of investments. So in this respect, Oliver is right about where the value of Bitcoin comes, but wrong about where the value of dollars comes from.

Why Bitcoin conference didn’t take Bitcoin

John Oliver points out the irony of a Bitcoin conference that stopped accepting payments in Bitcoin for tickets.
The biggest reason for this is because Bitcoin has become so popular that transaction fees have gone up. Instead of being proof of failure, it’s proof of popularity. What John Oliver is saying is the old joke that nobody goes to that popular restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded and you can’t get a reservation.
Moreover, the point of Bitcoin is not to replace everyday currencies for everyday transactions. If you read Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper, it’s only goal is to replace certain types of transactions, like purely electronic transactions where electronic goods and services are being exchanged. Where real-life goods/services are being exchanged, existing currencies work just fine. It’s only the crazy activists who claim Bitcoin will eventually replace real world currencies — the saner people see it co-existing with real-world currencies, each with a different value to consumers.

Turning a McNugget back into a chicken

John Oliver uses the metaphor of turning a that while you can process a chicken into McNuggets, you can’t reverse the process. It’s a funny metaphor.
But it’s not clear what the heck this metaphor is trying explain. That’s not a metaphor for the blockchain, but a metaphor for a “cryptographic hash”, where each block is a chicken, and the McNugget is the signature for the block (well, the block plus the signature of the last block, forming a chain).
Even then that metaphor as problems. The McNugget produced from each chicken must be unique to that chicken, for the metaphor to accurately describe a cryptographic hash. You can therefore identify the original chicken simply by looking at the McNugget. A slight change in the original chicken, like losing a feather, results in a completely different McNugget. Thus, nuggets can be used to tell if the original chicken has changed.
This then leads to the key property of the blockchain, it is unalterable. You can’t go back and change any of the blocks of data, because the fingerprints, the nuggets, will also change, and break the nugget chain.
The point is that while John Oliver is laughing at a silly metaphor to explain the blockchain becuase he totally misses the point of the metaphor.
Oliver rightly says “don’t worry if you don’t understand it — most people don’t”, but that includes the big companies that John Oliver name. Some companies do get it, and are producing reasonable things (like JP Morgan, by all accounts), but some don’t. IBM and other big consultancies are charging companies millions of dollars to consult with them on block chain products where nobody involved, the customer or the consultancy, actually understand any of it. That doesn’t stop them from happily charging customers on one side and happily spending money on the other.
Thus, rather than Oliver explaining the problem, he’s just being part of the problem. His explanation of blockchain left you dumber than before.

ICO’s

John Oliver mocks the Brave ICO ($35 million in 30 seconds), claiming it’s all driven by YouTube personalities and people who aren’t looking at the fundamentals.
And while this is true, most ICOs are bunk, the  Brave ICO actually had a business model behind it. Brave is a Chrome-like web-browser whose distinguishing feature is that it protects your privacy from advertisers. If you don’t use Brave or a browser with an ad block extension, you have no idea how bad things are for you. However, this presents a problem for websites that fund themselves via advertisements, which is most of them, because visitors no longer see ads. Brave has a fix for this. Most people wouldn’t mind supporting the websites they visit often, like the New York Times. That’s where the Brave ICO “token” comes in: it’s not simply stock in Brave, but a token for micropayments to websites. Users buy tokens, then use them for micropayments to websites like New York Times. The New York Times then sells the tokens back to the market for dollars. The buying and selling of tokens happens without a centralized middleman.
This is still all speculative, of course, and it remains to be seen how successful Brave will be, but it’s a serious effort. It has well respected VC behind the company, a well-respected founder (despite the fact he invented JavaScript), and well-respected employees. It’s not a scam, it’s a legitimate venture.

How to you make money from Bitcoin?

The last part of the show is dedicated to describing all the scam out there, advising people to be careful, and to be “responsible”. This is garbage.
It’s like my simple two step process to making lots of money via Bitcoin: (1) buy when the price is low, and (2) sell when the price is high. My advice is correct, of course, but useless. Same as “be careful” and “invest responsibly”.
The truth about investing in cryptocurrencies is “don’t”. The only responsible way to invest is to buy low-overhead market index funds and hold for retirement. No, you won’t get super rich doing this, but anything other than this is irresponsible gambling.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, because everyone is telling you the opposite. The entire channel CNBC is devoted to day traders, who buy and sell stocks at a high rate based on the same principle as a ponzi scheme, basing their judgment not on the fundamentals (like long term dividends) but animal spirits of whatever stock is hot or cold at the moment. This is the same reason people buy or sell Bitcoin, not because they can describe the fundamental value, but because they believe in a bigger fool down the road who will buy it for even more.
For things like Bitcoin, the trick to making money is to have bought it over 7 years ago when it was essentially worthless, except to nerds who were into that sort of thing. It’s the same tick to making a lot of money in Magic: The Gathering trading cards, which nerds bought decades ago which are worth a ton of money now. Or, to have bought Apple stock back in 2009 when the iPhone was new, when nerds could understand the potential of real Internet access and apps that Wall Street could not.
That was my strategy: be a nerd, who gets into things. I’ve made a good amount of money on all these things because as a nerd, I was into Magic: The Gathering, Bitcoin, and the iPhone before anybody else was, and bought in at the point where these things were essentially valueless.
At this point with cryptocurrencies, with the non-nerds now flooding the market, there little chance of making it rich. The lottery is probably a better bet. Instead, if you want to make money, become a nerd, obsess about a thing, understand a thing when its new, and cash out once the rest of the market figures it out. That might be Brave, for example, but buy into it because you’ve spent the last year studying the browser advertisement ecosystem, the market’s willingness to pay for content, and how their Basic Attention Token delivers value to websites — not because you want in on the ICO craze.

Conclusion

John Oliver spends 25 minutes explaining Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies, and the Blockchain to you. Sure, it’s funny, but it leaves you worse off than when it started. It admits they “simplify” the explanation, but they simplified it so much to the point where they removed all useful information.

The Effects of the Spectre and Meltdown Vulnerabilities

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/01/the_effects_of_3.html

On January 3, the world learned about a series of major security vulnerabilities in modern microprocessors. Called Spectre and Meltdown, these vulnerabilities were discovered by several different researchers last summer, disclosed to the microprocessors’ manufacturers, and patched­ — at least to the extent possible.

This news isn’t really any different from the usual endless stream of security vulnerabilities and patches, but it’s also a harbinger of the sorts of security problems we’re going to be seeing in the coming years. These are vulnerabilities in computer hardware, not software. They affect virtually all high-end microprocessors produced in the last 20 years. Patching them requires large-scale coordination across the industry, and in some cases drastically affects the performance of the computers. And sometimes patching isn’t possible; the vulnerability will remain until the computer is discarded.

Spectre and Meltdown aren’t anomalies. They represent a new area to look for vulnerabilities and a new avenue of attack. They’re the future of security­ — and it doesn’t look good for the defenders.

Modern computers do lots of things at the same time. Your computer and your phone simultaneously run several applications — ­or apps. Your browser has several windows open. A cloud computer runs applications for many different computers. All of those applications need to be isolated from each other. For security, one application isn’t supposed to be able to peek at what another one is doing, except in very controlled circumstances. Otherwise, a malicious advertisement on a website you’re visiting could eavesdrop on your banking details, or the cloud service purchased by some foreign intelligence organization could eavesdrop on every other cloud customer, and so on. The companies that write browsers, operating systems, and cloud infrastructure spend a lot of time making sure this isolation works.

Both Spectre and Meltdown break that isolation, deep down at the microprocessor level, by exploiting performance optimizations that have been implemented for the past decade or so. Basically, microprocessors have become so fast that they spend a lot of time waiting for data to move in and out of memory. To increase performance, these processors guess what data they’re going to receive and execute instructions based on that. If the guess turns out to be correct, it’s a performance win. If it’s wrong, the microprocessors throw away what they’ve done without losing any time. This feature is called speculative execution.

Spectre and Meltdown attack speculative execution in different ways. Meltdown is more of a conventional vulnerability; the designers of the speculative-execution process made a mistake, so they just needed to fix it. Spectre is worse; it’s a flaw in the very concept of speculative execution. There’s no way to patch that vulnerability; the chips need to be redesigned in such a way as to eliminate it.

Since the announcement, manufacturers have been rolling out patches to these vulnerabilities to the extent possible. Operating systems have been patched so that attackers can’t make use of the vulnerabilities. Web browsers have been patched. Chips have been patched. From the user’s perspective, these are routine fixes. But several aspects of these vulnerabilities illustrate the sorts of security problems we’re only going to be seeing more of.

First, attacks against hardware, as opposed to software, will become more common. Last fall, vulnerabilities were discovered in Intel’s Management Engine, a remote-administration feature on its microprocessors. Like Spectre and Meltdown, they affected how the chips operate. Looking for vulnerabilities on computer chips is new. Now that researchers know this is a fruitful area to explore, security researchers, foreign intelligence agencies, and criminals will be on the hunt.

Second, because microprocessors are fundamental parts of computers, patching requires coordination between many companies. Even when manufacturers like Intel and AMD can write a patch for a vulnerability, computer makers and application vendors still have to customize and push the patch out to the users. This makes it much harder to keep vulnerabilities secret while patches are being written. Spectre and Meltdown were announced prematurely because details were leaking and rumors were swirling. Situations like this give malicious actors more opportunity to attack systems before they’re guarded.

Third, these vulnerabilities will affect computers’ functionality. In some cases, the patches for Spectre and Meltdown result in significant reductions in speed. The press initially reported 30%, but that only seems true for certain servers running in the cloud. For your personal computer or phone, the performance hit from the patch is minimal. But as more vulnerabilities are discovered in hardware, patches will affect performance in noticeable ways.

And then there are the unpatchable vulnerabilities. For decades, the computer industry has kept things secure by finding vulnerabilities in fielded products and quickly patching them. Now there are cases where that doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s because computers are in cheap products that don’t have a patch mechanism, like many of the DVRs and webcams that are vulnerable to the Mirai (and other) botnets — ­groups of Internet-connected devices sabotaged for coordinated digital attacks. Sometimes it’s because a computer chip’s functionality is so core to a computer’s design that patching it effectively means turning the computer off. This, too, is becoming more common.

Increasingly, everything is a computer: not just your laptop and phone, but your car, your appliances, your medical devices, and global infrastructure. These computers are and always will be vulnerable, but Spectre and Meltdown represent a new class of vulnerability. Unpatchable vulnerabilities in the deepest recesses of the world’s computer hardware is the new normal. It’s going to leave us all much more vulnerable in the future.

This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

e-paper pocket money tracker using Monzo pots

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/monzo-money-tracker/

Jason Barnett used the pots feature of the Monzo banking API to create a simple e-paper display so that his kids can keep track of their pocket money.

Monzo ePaper Pot Jason Barnett Raspberry Pi

Monzo

For those outside the UK: Monzo is a smartphone-based bank that allows costumers to manage their money and payment cards via an app, removing the bank clerk middleman.

In the Monzo banking app, users can set up pots, which allow them to organise their money into various, you guessed it, pots. You want to put aside holiday funds, budget your food shopping, or, like Jason, manage your kids’ pocket money? Using pots is an easy way to do it.

Jason’s Monzo Pot ePaper tracker

After failed attempts at keeping track of his sons’ pocket money via a scrap of paper stuck to the fridge, Jason decided to try a new approach.

He started his build by installing Stretch Lite to the SD card of his Raspberry Pi Zero W. “The Pi will be running headless (without screen, mouse or keyboard)”, he explains on his blog, “so there is no need for a full-fat Raspbian image.” While Stretch Lite was downloading, he set up the Waveshare ePaper HAT on his Zero W. He notes that Pimoroni’s “Inky pHAT would be easiest,” but his tutorial is specific to the Waveshare device.

Monzo ePaper Pot Jason Barnett Raspberry Pi

Before ejecting the SD card, Jason updated the boot partition to allow him to access the Pi via SSH. He talks makers through that process here.

Among the libraries he installed for the project is pyMonzo, a Python wrapper for the Monzo API created by Paweł Adamczak. Monzo is still in its infancy, and the API is partly under construction. Until it’s completed, Paweł’s wrapper offers a more stable way to use it.

After installing the software, it was time to set up the e-paper screen for the tracker. Jason adjusted the code for the API so that the screen reloads information every 15 minutes, displaying the up-to-date amount of pocket money in both kids’ pots.

Here is how Jason describes going to the supermarket with his sons, now that he has completed the tracker:

“Daddy, I want (insert first thing picked up here), I’ve always wanted one of these my whole life!” […] Even though you have never seen that (insert thing here) before, I can quickly open my Monzo app, flick to Account, and say “You have £3.50 in your money box”. If my boy wants it, a 2-second withdrawal is made whilst queueing, and done — he walks away with a new (again, insert whatever he wanted his whole life here) and is happy!

Jason’s blog offers a full breakdown of his project, including all necessary code and the specs for the physical build. Be sure to head over and check it out.

Have you used an API in your projects? What would you build with one?

The post e-paper pocket money tracker using Monzo pots appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Scale Your Web Application — One Step at a Time

Post Syndicated from Saurabh Shrivastava original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/architecture/scale-your-web-application-one-step-at-a-time/

I often encounter people experiencing frustration as they attempt to scale their e-commerce or WordPress site—particularly around the cost and complexity related to scaling. When I talk to customers about their scaling plans, they often mention phrases such as horizontal scaling and microservices, but usually people aren’t sure about how to dive in and effectively scale their sites.

Now let’s talk about different scaling options. For instance if your current workload is in a traditional data center, you can leverage the cloud for your on-premises solution. This way you can scale to achieve greater efficiency with less cost. It’s not necessary to set up a whole powerhouse to light a few bulbs. If your workload is already in the cloud, you can use one of the available out-of-the-box options.

Designing your API in microservices and adding horizontal scaling might seem like the best choice, unless your web application is already running in an on-premises environment and you’ll need to quickly scale it because of unexpected large spikes in web traffic.

So how to handle this situation? Take things one step at a time when scaling and you may find horizontal scaling isn’t the right choice, after all.

For example, assume you have a tech news website where you did an early-look review of an upcoming—and highly-anticipated—smartphone launch, which went viral. The review, a blog post on your website, includes both video and pictures. Comments are enabled for the post and readers can also rate it. For example, if your website is hosted on a traditional Linux with a LAMP stack, you may find yourself with immediate scaling problems.

Let’s get more details on the current scenario and dig out more:

  • Where are images and videos stored?
  • How many read/write requests are received per second? Per minute?
  • What is the level of security required?
  • Are these synchronous or asynchronous requests?

We’ll also want to consider the following if your website has a transactional load like e-commerce or banking:

How is the website handling sessions?

  • Do you have any compliance requests—like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS compliance) —if your website is using its own payment gateway?
  • How are you recording customer behavior data and fulfilling your analytics needs?
  • What are your loading balancing considerations (scaling, caching, session maintenance, etc.)?

So, if we take this one step at a time:

Step 1: Ease server load. We need to quickly handle spikes in traffic, generated by activity on the blog post, so let’s reduce server load by moving image and video to some third -party content delivery network (CDN). AWS provides Amazon CloudFront as a CDN solution, which is highly scalable with built-in security to verify origin access identity and handle any DDoS attacks. CloudFront can direct traffic to your on-premises or cloud-hosted server with its 113 Points of Presence (102 Edge Locations and 11 Regional Edge Caches) in 56 cities across 24 countries, which provides efficient caching.
Step 2: Reduce read load by adding more read replicas. MySQL provides a nice mirror replication for databases. Oracle has its own Oracle plug for replication and AWS RDS provide up to five read replicas, which can span across the region and even the Amazon database Amazon Aurora can have 15 read replicas with Amazon Aurora autoscaling support. If a workload is highly variable, you should consider Amazon Aurora Serverless database  to achieve high efficiency and reduced cost. While most mirror technologies do asynchronous replication, AWS RDS can provide synchronous multi-AZ replication, which is good for disaster recovery but not for scalability. Asynchronous replication to mirror instance means replication data can sometimes be stale if network bandwidth is low, so you need to plan and design your application accordingly.

I recommend that you always use a read replica for any reporting needs and try to move non-critical GET services to read replica and reduce the load on the master database. In this case, loading comments associated with a blog can be fetched from a read replica—as it can handle some delay—in case there is any issue with asynchronous reflection.

Step 3: Reduce write requests. This can be achieved by introducing queue to process the asynchronous message. Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) is a highly-scalable queue, which can handle any kind of work-message load. You can process data, like rating and review; or calculate Deal Quality Score (DQS) using batch processing via an SQS queue. If your workload is in AWS, I recommend using a job-observer pattern by setting up Auto Scaling to automatically increase or decrease the number of batch servers, using the number of SQS messages, with Amazon CloudWatch, as the trigger.  For on-premises workloads, you can use SQS SDK to create an Amazon SQS queue that holds messages until they’re processed by your stack. Or you can use Amazon SNS  to fan out your message processing in parallel for different purposes like adding a watermark in an image, generating a thumbnail, etc.

Step 4: Introduce a more robust caching engine. You can use Amazon Elastic Cache for Memcached or Redis to reduce write requests. Memcached and Redis have different use cases so if you can afford to lose and recover your cache from your database, use Memcached. If you are looking for more robust data persistence and complex data structure, use Redis. In AWS, these are managed services, which means AWS takes care of the workload for you and you can also deploy them in your on-premises instances or use a hybrid approach.

Step 5: Scale your server. If there are still issues, it’s time to scale your server.  For the greatest cost-effectiveness and unlimited scalability, I suggest always using horizontal scaling. However, use cases like database vertical scaling may be a better choice until you are good with sharding; or use Amazon Aurora Serverless for variable workloads. It will be wise to use Auto Scaling to manage your workload effectively for horizontal scaling. Also, to achieve that, you need to persist the session. Amazon DynamoDB can handle session persistence across instances.

If your server is on premises, consider creating a multisite architecture, which will help you achieve quick scalability as required and provide a good disaster recovery solution.  You can pick and choose individual services like Amazon Route 53, AWS CloudFormation, Amazon SQS, Amazon SNS, Amazon RDS, etc. depending on your needs.

Your multisite architecture will look like the following diagram:

In this architecture, you can run your regular workload on premises, and use your AWS workload as required for scalability and disaster recovery. Using Route 53, you can direct a precise percentage of users to an AWS workload.

If you decide to move all of your workloads to AWS, the recommended multi-AZ architecture would look like the following:

In this architecture, you are using a multi-AZ distributed workload for high availability. You can have a multi-region setup and use Route53 to distribute your workload between AWS Regions. CloudFront helps you to scale and distribute static content via an S3 bucket and DynamoDB, maintaining your application state so that Auto Scaling can apply horizontal scaling without loss of session data. At the database layer, RDS with multi-AZ standby provides high availability and read replica helps achieve scalability.

This is a high-level strategy to help you think through the scalability of your workload by using AWS even if your workload in on premises and not in the cloud…yet.

I highly recommend creating a hybrid, multisite model by placing your on-premises environment replica in the public cloud like AWS Cloud, and using Amazon Route53 DNS Service and Elastic Load Balancing to route traffic between on-premises and cloud environments. AWS now supports load balancing between AWS and on-premises environments to help you scale your cloud environment quickly, whenever required, and reduce it further by applying Amazon auto-scaling and placing a threshold on your on-premises traffic using Route 53.

A New Guide to Banking Regulations and Guidelines in India

Post Syndicated from Oliver Bell original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/a-new-guide-to-banking-regulations-and-guidelines-in-india/

Indian flag

The AWS User Guide to Banking Regulations and Guidelines in India was published in December 2017 and includes information that can help banks regulated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) assess how to implement an appropriate information security, risk management, and governance program in the AWS Cloud.

The guide focuses on the following key considerations:

  • Outsourcing guidelines – Guidance for banks entering an outsourcing arrangement, including risk-management practices such as conducting due diligence and maintaining effective oversight. Learn how to conduct an assessment of AWS services and align your governance requirements with the AWS Shared Responsibility Model.
  • Information security – Detailed requirements to help banks identify and manage information security in the cloud.

This guide joins the existing Financial Services guides for other jurisdictions, such as Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong. AWS will publish additional guides in 2018 to help you understand regulatory requirements in other markets around the world.

– Oliver

The deal with Bitcoin

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-deal-with-bitcoin.html

♪ Used to have a little now I have a lot
I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block
          chain ♪

For all that has been written about Bitcoin and its ilk, it is curious that the focus is almost solely what the cryptocurrencies are supposed to be. Technologists wax lyrical about the potential for blockchains to change almost every aspect of our lives. Libertarians and paleoconservatives ache for the return to “sound money” that can’t be conjured up at the whim of a bureaucrat. Mainstream economists wag their fingers, proclaiming that a proper currency can’t be deflationary, that it must maintain a particular velocity, or that the government must be able to nip crises of confidence in the bud. And so on.

Much of this may be true, but the proponents of cryptocurrencies should recognize that an appeal to consequences is not a guarantee of good results. The critics, on the other hand, would be best served to remember that they are drawing far-reaching conclusions about the effects of modern monetary policies based on a very short and tumultuous period in history.

In this post, my goal is to ditch most of the dogma, talk a bit about the origins of money – and then see how “crypto” fits the bill.

1. The prehistory of currencies

The emergence of money is usually explained in a very straightforward way. You know the story: a farmer raised a pig, a cobbler made a shoe. The cobbler needed to feed his family while the farmer wanted to keep his feet warm – and so they met to exchange the goods on mutually beneficial terms. But as the tale goes, the barter system had a fatal flaw: sometimes, a farmer wanted a cooking pot, a potter wanted a knife, and a blacksmith wanted a pair of pants. To facilitate increasingly complex, multi-step exchanges without requiring dozens of people to meet face to face, we came up with an abstract way to represent value – a shiny coin guaranteed to be accepted by every tradesman.

It is a nice parable, but it probably isn’t very true. It seems far more plausible that early societies relied on the concept of debt long before the advent of currencies: an informal tally or a formal ledger would be used to keep track of who owes what to whom. The concept of debt, closely associated with one’s trustworthiness and standing in the community, would have enabled a wide range of economic activities: debts could be paid back over time, transferred, renegotiated, or forgotten – all without having to engage in spot barter or to mint a single coin. In fact, such non-monetary, trust-based, reciprocal economies are still common in closely-knit communities: among families, neighbors, coworkers, or friends.

In such a setting, primitive currencies probably emerged simply as a consequence of having a system of prices: a cow being worth a particular number of chickens, a chicken being worth a particular number of beaver pelts, and so forth. Formalizing such relationships by settling on a single, widely-known unit of account – say, one chicken – would make it more convenient to transfer, combine, or split debts; or to settle them in alternative goods.

Contrary to popular belief, for communal ledgers, the unit of account probably did not have to be particularly desirable, durable, or easy to carry; it was simply an accounting tool. And indeed, we sometimes run into fairly unusual units of account even in modern times: for example, cigarettes can be the basis of a bustling prison economy even when most inmates don’t smoke and there are not that many packs to go around.

2. The age of commodity money

In the end, the development of coinage might have had relatively little to do with communal trade – and far more with the desire to exchange goods with strangers. When dealing with a unfamiliar or hostile tribe, the concept of a chicken-denominated ledger does not hold up: the other side might be disinclined to honor its obligations – and get away with it, too. To settle such problematic trades, we needed a “spot” medium of exchange that would be easy to carry and authenticate, had a well-defined value, and a near-universal appeal. Throughout much of the recorded history, precious metals – predominantly gold and silver – proved to fit the bill.

In the most basic sense, such commodities could be seen as a tool to reconcile debts across societal boundaries, without necessarily replacing any local units of account. An obligation, denominated in some local currency, would be created on buyer’s side in order to procure the metal for the trade. The proceeds of the completed transaction would in turn allow the seller to settle their own local obligations that arose from having to source the traded goods. In other words, our wondrous chicken-denominated ledgers could coexist peacefully with gold – and when commodity coinage finally took hold, it’s likely that in everyday trade, precious metals served more as a useful abstraction than a precise store of value. A “silver chicken” of sorts.

Still, the emergence of commodity money had one interesting side effect: it decoupled the unit of debt – a “claim on the society”, in a sense – from any moral judgment about its origin. A piece of silver would buy the same amount of food, whether earned through hard labor or won in a drunken bet. This disconnect remains a central theme in many of the debates about social justice and unfairly earned wealth.

3. The State enters the game

If there is one advantage of chicken ledgers over precious metals, it’s that all chickens look and cluck roughly the same – something that can’t be said of every nugget of silver or gold. To cope with this problem, we needed to shape raw commodities into pieces of a more predictable shape and weight; a trusted party could then stamp them with a mark to indicate the value and the quality of the coin.

At first, the task of standardizing coinage rested with private parties – but the responsibility was soon assumed by the State. The advantages of this transition seemed clear: a single, widely-accepted and easily-recognizable currency could be now used to settle virtually all private and official debts.

Alas, in what deserves the dubious distinction of being one of the earliest examples of monetary tomfoolery, some States succumbed to the temptation of fiddling with the coinage to accomplish anything from feeding the poor to waging wars. In particular, it would be common to stamp coins with the same face value but a progressively lower content of silver and gold. Perhaps surprisingly, the strategy worked remarkably well; at least in the times of peace, most people cared about the value stamped on the coin, not its precise composition or weight.

And so, over time, representative money was born: sooner or later, most States opted to mint coins from nearly-worthless metals, or print banknotes on paper and cloth. This radically new currency was accompanied with a simple pledge: the State offered to redeem it at any time for its nominal value in gold.

Of course, the promise was largely illusory: the State did not have enough gold to honor all the promises it had made. Still, as long as people had faith in their rulers and the redemption requests stayed low, the fundamental mechanics of this new representative currency remained roughly the same as before – and in some ways, were an improvement in that they lessened the insatiable demand for a rare commodity. Just as importantly, the new money still enabled international trade – using the underlying gold exchange rate as a reference point.

4. Fractional reserve banking and fiat money

For much of the recorded history, banking was an exceptionally dull affair, not much different from running a communal chicken
ledger of the old. But then, something truly marvelous happened in the 17th century: around that time, many European countries have witnessed
the emergence of fractional-reserve banks.

These private ventures operated according to a simple scheme: they accepted people’s coin
for safekeeping, promising to pay a premium on every deposit made. To meet these obligations and to make a profit, the banks then
used the pooled deposits to make high-interest loans to other folks. The financiers figured out that under normal circumstances
and when operating at a sufficient scale, they needed only a very modest reserve – well under 10% of all deposited money – to be
able to service the usual volume and size of withdrawals requested by their customers. The rest could be loaned out.

The very curious consequence of fractional-reserve banking was that it pulled new money out of thin air.
The funds were simultaneously accounted for in the statements shown to the depositor, evidently available for withdrawal or
transfer at any time; and given to third-party borrowers, who could spend them on just about anything. Heck, the borrowers could
deposit the proceeds in another bank, creating even more money along the way! Whatever they did, the sum of all funds in the monetary
system now appeared much higher than the value of all coins and banknotes issued by the government – let alone the amount of gold
sitting in any vault.

Of course, no new money was being created in any physical sense: all that banks were doing was engaging in a bit of creative accounting – the sort of which would probably land you in jail if you attempted it today in any other comparably vital field of enterprise. If too many depositors were to ask for their money back, or if too many loans were to go bad, the banking system would fold. Fortunes would evaporate in a puff of accounting smoke, and with the disappearance of vast quantities of quasi-fictitious (“broad”) money, the wealth of the entire nation would shrink.

In the early 20th century, the world kept witnessing just that; a series of bank runs and economic contractions forced the governments around the globe to act. At that stage, outlawing fractional-reserve banking was no longer politically or economically tenable; a simpler alternative was to let go of gold and move to fiat money – a currency implemented as an abstract social construct, with no predefined connection to the physical realm. A new breed of economists saw the role of the government not in trying to peg the value of money to an inflexible commodity, but in manipulating its supply to smooth out economic hiccups or to stimulate growth.

(Contrary to popular beliefs, such manipulation is usually not done by printing new banknotes; more sophisticated methods, such as lowering reserve requirements for bank deposits or enticing banks to invest its deposits into government-issued securities, are the preferred route.)

The obvious peril of fiat money is that in the long haul, its value is determined strictly by people’s willingness to accept a piece of paper in exchange for their trouble; that willingness, in turn, is conditioned solely on their belief that the same piece of paper would buy them something nice a week, a month, or a year from now. It follows that a simple crisis of confidence could make a currency nearly worthless overnight. A prolonged period of hyperinflation and subsequent austerity in Germany and Austria was one of the precipitating factors that led to World War II. In more recent times, dramatic episodes of hyperinflation plagued the fiat currencies of Israel (1984), Mexico (1988), Poland (1990), Yugoslavia (1994), Bulgaria (1996), Turkey (2002), Zimbabwe (2009), Venezuela (2016), and several other nations around the globe.

For the United States, the switch to fiat money came relatively late, in 1971. To stop the dollar from plunging like a rock, the Nixon administration employed a clever trick: they ordered the freeze of wages and prices for the 90 days that immediately followed the move. People went on about their lives and paid the usual for eggs or milk – and by the time the freeze ended, they were accustomed to the idea that the “new”, free-floating dollar is worth about the same as the old, gold-backed one. A robust economy and favorable geopolitics did the rest, and so far, the American adventure with fiat currency has been rather uneventful – perhaps except for the fact that the price of gold itself skyrocketed from $35 per troy ounce in 1971 to $850 in 1980 (or, from $210 to $2,500 in today’s dollars).

Well, one thing did change: now better positioned to freely tamper with the supply of money, the regulators in accord with the bankers adopted a policy of creating it at a rate that slightly outstripped the organic growth in economic activity. They did this to induce a small, steady degree of inflation, believing that doing so would discourage people from hoarding cash and force them to reinvest it for the betterment of the society. Some critics like to point out that such a policy functions as a “backdoor” tax on savings that happens to align with the regulators’ less noble interests; still, either way: in the US and most other developed nations, the purchasing power of any money kept under a mattress will drop at a rate of somewhere between 2 to 10% a year.

5. So what’s up with Bitcoin?

Well… countless tomes have been written about the nature and the optimal characteristics of government-issued fiat currencies. Some heterodox economists, notably including Murray Rothbard, have also explored the topic of privately-issued, decentralized, commodity-backed currencies. But Bitcoin is a wholly different animal.

In essence, BTC is a global, decentralized fiat currency: it has no (recoverable) intrinsic value, no central authority to issue it or define its exchange rate, and it has no anchoring to any historical reference point – a combination that until recently seemed nonsensical and escaped any serious scrutiny. It does the unthinkable by employing three clever tricks:

  1. It allows anyone to create new coins, but only by solving brute-force computational challenges that get more difficult as the time goes by,

  2. It prevents unauthorized transfer of coins by employing public key cryptography to sign off transactions, with only the authorized holder of a coin knowing the correct key,

  3. It prevents double-spending by using a distributed public ledger (“blockchain”), recording the chain of custody for coins in a tamper-proof way.

The blockchain is often described as the most important feature of Bitcoin, but in some ways, its importance is overstated. The idea of a currency that does not rely on a centralized transaction clearinghouse is what helped propel the platform into the limelight – mostly because of its novelty and the perception that it is less vulnerable to government meddling (although the government is still free to track down, tax, fine, or arrest any participants). On the flip side, the everyday mechanics of BTC would not be fundamentally different if all the transactions had to go through Bitcoin Bank, LLC.

A more striking feature of the new currency is the incentive structure surrounding the creation of new coins. The underlying design democratized the creation of new coins early on: all you had to do is leave your computer running for a while to acquire a number of tokens. The tokens had no practical value, but obtaining them involved no substantial expense or risk. Just as importantly, because the difficulty of the puzzles would only increase over time, the hope was that if Bitcoin caught on, latecomers would find it easier to purchase BTC on a secondary market than mine their own – paying with a more established currency at a mutually beneficial exchange rate.

The persistent publicity surrounding Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies did the rest – and today, with the growing scarcity of coins and the rapidly increasing demand, the price of a single token hovers somewhere south of $15,000.

6. So… is it bad money?

Predicting is hard – especially the future. In some sense, a coin that represents a cryptographic proof of wasted CPU cycles is no better or worse than a currency that relies on cotton decorated with pictures of dead presidents. It is true that Bitcoin suffers from many implementation problems – long transaction processing times, high fees, frequent security breaches of major exchanges – but in principle, such problems can be overcome.

That said, currencies live and die by the lasting willingness of others to accept them in exchange for services or goods – and in that sense, the jury is still out. The use of Bitcoin to settle bona fide purchases is negligible, both in absolute terms and in function of the overall volume of transactions. In fact, because of the technical challenges and limited practical utility, some companies that embraced the currency early on are now backing out.

When the value of an asset is derived almost entirely from its appeal as an ever-appreciating investment vehicle, the situation has all the telltale signs of a speculative bubble. But that does not prove that the asset is destined to collapse, or that a collapse would be its end. Still, the built-in deflationary mechanism of Bitcoin – the increasing difficulty of producing new coins – is probably both a blessing and a curse.

It’s going to go one way or the other; and when it’s all said and done, we’re going to celebrate the people who made the right guess. Because future is actually pretty darn easy to predict — in retrospect.

Potential impact of the Intel ME vulnerability

Post Syndicated from Matthew Garrett original https://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/49611.html

(Note: this is my personal opinion based on public knowledge around this issue. I have no knowledge of any non-public details of these vulnerabilities, and this should not be interpreted as the position or opinion of my employer)

Intel’s Management Engine (ME) is a small coprocessor built into the majority of Intel CPUs[0]. Older versions were based on the ARC architecture[1] running an embedded realtime operating system, but from version 11 onwards they’ve been small x86 cores running Minix. The precise capabilities of the ME have not been publicly disclosed, but it is at minimum capable of interacting with the network[2], display[3], USB, input devices and system flash. In other words, software running on the ME is capable of doing a lot, without requiring any OS permission in the process.

Back in May, Intel announced a vulnerability in the Advanced Management Technology (AMT) that runs on the ME. AMT offers functionality like providing a remote console to the system (so IT support can connect to your system and interact with it as if they were physically present), remote disk support (so IT support can reinstall your machine over the network) and various other bits of system management. The vulnerability meant that it was possible to log into systems with enabled AMT with an empty authentication token, making it possible to log in without knowing the configured password.

This vulnerability was less serious than it could have been for a couple of reasons – the first is that “consumer”[4] systems don’t ship with AMT, and the second is that AMT is almost always disabled (Shodan found only a few thousand systems on the public internet with AMT enabled, out of many millions of laptops). I wrote more about it here at the time.

How does this compare to the newly announced vulnerabilities? Good question. Two of the announced vulnerabilities are in AMT. The previous AMT vulnerability allowed you to bypass authentication, but restricted you to doing what AMT was designed to let you do. While AMT gives an authenticated user a great deal of power, it’s also designed with some degree of privacy protection in mind – for instance, when the remote console is enabled, an animated warning border is drawn on the user’s screen to alert them.

This vulnerability is different in that it allows an authenticated attacker to execute arbitrary code within the AMT process. This means that the attacker shouldn’t have any capabilities that AMT doesn’t, but it’s unclear where various aspects of the privacy protection are implemented – for instance, if the warning border is implemented in AMT rather than in hardware, an attacker could duplicate that functionality without drawing the warning. If the USB storage emulation for remote booting is implemented as a generic USB passthrough, the attacker could pretend to be an arbitrary USB device and potentially exploit the operating system through bugs in USB device drivers. Unfortunately we don’t currently know.

Note that this exploit still requires two things – first, AMT has to be enabled, and second, the attacker has to be able to log into AMT. If the attacker has physical access to your system and you don’t have a BIOS password set, they will be able to enable it – however, if AMT isn’t enabled and the attacker isn’t physically present, you’re probably safe. But if AMT is enabled and you haven’t patched the previous vulnerability, the attacker will be able to access AMT over the network without a password and then proceed with the exploit. This is bad, so you should probably (1) ensure that you’ve updated your BIOS and (2) ensure that AMT is disabled unless you have a really good reason to use it.

The AMT vulnerability applies to a wide range of versions, everything from version 6 (which shipped around 2008) and later. The other vulnerability that Intel describe is restricted to version 11 of the ME, which only applies to much more recent systems. This vulnerability allows an attacker to execute arbitrary code on the ME, which means they can do literally anything the ME is able to do. This probably also means that they are able to interfere with any other code running on the ME. While AMT has been the most frequently discussed part of this, various other Intel technologies are tied to ME functionality.

Intel’s Platform Trust Technology (PTT) is a software implementation of a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) that runs on the ME. TPMs are intended to protect access to secrets and encryption keys and record the state of the system as it boots, making it possible to determine whether a system has had part of its boot process modified and denying access to the secrets as a result. The most common usage of TPMs is to protect disk encryption keys – Microsoft Bitlocker defaults to storing its encryption key in the TPM, automatically unlocking the drive if the boot process is unmodified. In addition, TPMs support something called Remote Attestation (I wrote about that here), which allows the TPM to provide a signed copy of information about what the system booted to a remote site. This can be used for various purposes, such as not allowing a compute node to join a cloud unless it’s booted the correct version of the OS and is running the latest firmware version. Remote Attestation depends on the TPM having a unique cryptographic identity that is tied to the TPM and inaccessible to the OS.

PTT allows manufacturers to simply license some additional code from Intel and run it on the ME rather than having to pay for an additional chip on the system motherboard. This seems great, but if an attacker is able to run code on the ME then they potentially have the ability to tamper with PTT, which means they can obtain access to disk encryption secrets and circumvent Bitlocker. It also means that they can tamper with Remote Attestation, “attesting” that the system booted a set of software that it didn’t or copying the keys to another system and allowing that to impersonate the first. This is, uh, bad.

Intel also recently announced Intel Online Connect, a mechanism for providing the functionality of security keys directly in the operating system. Components of this are run on the ME in order to avoid scenarios where a compromised OS could be used to steal the identity secrets – if the ME is compromised, this may make it possible for an attacker to obtain those secrets and duplicate the keys.

It’s also not entirely clear how much of Intel’s Secure Guard Extensions (SGX) functionality depends on the ME. The ME does appear to be required for SGX Remote Attestation (which allows an application using SGX to prove to a remote site that it’s the SGX app rather than something pretending to be it), and again if those secrets can be extracted from a compromised ME it may be possible to compromise some of the security assumptions around SGX. Again, it’s not clear how serious this is because it’s not publicly documented.

Various other things also run on the ME, including stuff like video DRM (ensuring that high resolution video streams can’t be intercepted by the OS). It may be possible to obtain encryption keys from a compromised ME that allow things like Netflix streams to be decoded and dumped. From a user privacy or security perspective, these things seem less serious.

The big problem at the moment is that we have no idea what the actual process of compromise is. Intel state that it requires local access, but don’t describe what kind. Local access in this case could simply require the ability to send commands to the ME (possible on any system that has the ME drivers installed), could require direct hardware access to the exposed ME (which would require either kernel access or the ability to install a custom driver) or even the ability to modify system flash (possible only if the attacker has physical access and enough time and skill to take the system apart and modify the flash contents with an SPI programmer). The other thing we don’t know is whether it’s possible for an attacker to modify the system such that the ME is persistently compromised or whether it needs to be re-compromised every time the ME reboots. Note that even the latter is more serious than you might think – the ME may only be rebooted if the system loses power completely, so even a “temporary” compromise could affect a system for a long period of time.

It’s also almost impossible to determine if a system is compromised. If the ME is compromised then it’s probably possible for it to roll back any firmware updates but still report that it’s been updated, giving admins a false sense of security. The only way to determine for sure would be to dump the system flash and compare it to a known good image. This is impractical to do at scale.

So, overall, given what we know right now it’s hard to say how serious this is in terms of real world impact. It’s unlikely that this is the kind of vulnerability that would be used to attack individual end users – anyone able to compromise a system like this could just backdoor your browser instead with much less effort, and that already gives them your banking details. The people who have the most to worry about here are potential targets of skilled attackers, which means activists, dissidents and companies with interesting personal or business data. It’s hard to make strong recommendations about what to do here without more insight into what the vulnerability actually is, and we may not know that until this presentation next month.

Summary: Worst case here is terrible, but unlikely to be relevant to the vast majority of users.

[0] Earlier versions of the ME were built into the motherboard chipset, but as portions of that were incorporated onto the CPU package the ME followed
[1] A descendent of the SuperFX chip used in Super Nintendo cartridges such as Starfox, because why not
[2] Without any OS involvement for wired ethernet and for wireless networks in the system firmware, but requires OS support for wireless access once the OS drivers have loaded
[3] Assuming you’re using integrated Intel graphics
[4] “Consumer” is a bit of a misnomer here – “enterprise” laptops like Thinkpads ship with AMT, but are often bought by consumers.

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Say Hello To Our Newest AWS Community Heroes (Fall 2017 Edition)

Post Syndicated from Sara Rodas original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/say-hello-to-our-newest-aws-community-heroes-fall-2017-edition/

The AWS Community Heroes program helps shine a spotlight on some of the innovative work being done by rockstar AWS developers around the globe. Marrying cloud expertise with a passion for community building and education, these heroes share their time and knowledge across social media and through in-person events. Heroes also actively help drive community-led tracks at conferences. At this year’s re:Invent, many Heroes will be speaking during the Monday Community Day track.

This November, we are thrilled to have four Heroes joining our network of cloud innovators. Without further ado, meet to our newest AWS Community Heroes!

 

Anh Ho Viet

Anh Ho Viet is the founder of AWS Vietnam User Group, Co-founder & CEO of OSAM, an AWS Consulting Partner in Vietnam, an AWS Certified Solutions Architect, and a cloud lover.

At OSAM, Anh and his enthusiastic team have helped many companies, from SMBs to Enterprises, move to the cloud with AWS. They offer a wide range of services, including migration, consultation, architecture, and solution design on AWS. Anh’s vision for OSAM is beyond a cloud service provider; the company will take part in building a complete AWS ecosystem in Vietnam, where other companies are encouraged to become AWS partners through training and collaboration activities.

In 2016, Anh founded the AWS Vietnam User Group as a channel to share knowledge and hands-on experience among cloud practitioners. Since then, the community has reached more than 4,800 members and is still expanding. The group holds monthly meetups, connects many SMEs to AWS experts, and provides real-time, free-of-charge consultancy to startups. In August 2017, Anh joined as lead content creator of a program called “Cloud Computing Lectures for Universities” which includes translating AWS documentation & news into Vietnamese, providing students with fundamental, up-to-date knowledge of AWS cloud computing, and supporting students’ career paths.

 

Thorsten Höger

Thorsten Höger is CEO and Cloud consultant at Taimos, where he is advising customers on how to use AWS. Being a developer, he focuses on improving development processes and automating everything to build efficient deployment pipelines for customers of all sizes.

Before being self-employed, Thorsten worked as a developer and CTO of Germany’s first private bank running on AWS. With his colleagues, he migrated the core banking system to the AWS platform in 2013. Since then he organizes the AWS user group in Stuttgart and is a frequent speaker at Meetups, BarCamps, and other community events.

As a supporter of open source software, Thorsten is maintaining or contributing to several projects on Github, like test frameworks for AWS Lambda, Amazon Alexa, or developer tools for CloudFormation. He is also the maintainer of the Jenkins AWS Pipeline plugin.

In his spare time, he enjoys indoor climbing and cooking.

 

Becky Zhang

Yu Zhang (Becky Zhang) is COO of BootDev, which focuses on Big Data solutions on AWS and high concurrency web architecture. Before she helped run BootDev, she was working at Yubis IT Solutions as an operations manager.

Becky plays a key role in the AWS User Group Shanghai (AWSUGSH), regularly organizing AWS UG events including AWS Tech Meetups and happy hours, gathering AWS talent together to communicate the latest technology and AWS services. As a female in technology industry, Becky is keen on promoting Women in Tech and encourages more woman to get involved in the community.

Becky also connects the China AWS User Group with user groups in other regions, including Korea, Japan, and Thailand. She was invited as a panelist at AWS re:Invent 2016 and spoke at the Seoul AWS Summit this April to introduce AWS User Group Shanghai and communicate with other AWS User Groups around the world.

Besides events, Becky also promotes the Shanghai AWS User Group by posting AWS-related tech articles, event forecasts, and event reports to Weibo, Twitter, Meetup.com, and WeChat (which now has over 2000 official account followers).

 

Nilesh Vaghela

Nilesh Vaghela is the founder of ElectroMech Corporation, an AWS Cloud and open source focused company (the company started as an open source motto). Nilesh has been very active in the Linux community since 1998. He started working with AWS Cloud technologies in 2013 and in 2014 he trained a dedicated cloud team and started full support of AWS cloud services as an AWS Standard Consulting Partner. He always works to establish and encourage cloud and open source communities.

He started the AWS Meetup community in Ahmedabad in 2014 and as of now 12 Meetups have been conducted, focusing on various AWS technologies. The Meetup has quickly grown to include over 2000 members. Nilesh also created a Facebook group for AWS enthusiasts in Ahmedabad, with over 1500 members.

Apart from the AWS Meetup, Nilesh has delivered a number of seminars, workshops, and talks around AWS introduction and awareness, at various organizations, as well as at colleges and universities. He has also been active in working with startups, presenting AWS services overviews and discussing how startups can benefit the most from using AWS services.

Nilesh is Red Hat Linux Technologies and AWS Cloud Technologies trainer as well.

 

To learn more about the AWS Community Heroes Program and how to get involved with your local AWS community, click here.

AWS Hot Startups – September 2017

Post Syndicated from Tina Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/aws-hot-startups-september-2017/

As consumers continue to demand faster, simpler, and more on-the-go services, FinTech companies are responding with ever more innovative solutions to fit everyone’s needs and to improve customer experience. This month, we are excited to feature the following startups—all of whom are disrupting traditional financial services in unique ways:

  • Acorns – allowing customers to invest spare change automatically.
  • Bondlinc – improving the bond trading experience for clients, financial institutions, and private banks.
  • Lenda – reimagining homeownership with a secure and streamlined online service.

Acorns (Irvine, CA)

Driven by the belief that anyone can grow wealth, Acorns is relentlessly pursuing ways to help make that happen. Currently the fastest-growing micro-investing app in the U.S., Acorns takes mere minutes to get started and is currently helping over 2.2 million people grow their wealth. And unlike other FinTech apps, Acorns is focused on helping America’s middle class – namely the 182 million citizens who make less than $100,000 per year – and looking after their financial best interests.

Acorns is able to help their customers effortlessly invest their money, little by little, by offering ETF portfolios put together by Dr. Harry Markowitz, a Nobel Laureate in economic sciences. They also offer a range of services, including “Round-Ups,” whereby customers can automatically invest spare change from every day purchases, and “Recurring Investments,” through which customers can set up automatic transfers of just $5 per week into their portfolio. Additionally, Found Money, Acorns’ earning platform, can help anyone spend smarter as the company connects customers to brands like Lyft, Airbnb, and Skillshare, who then automatically invest in customers’ Acorns account.

The Acorns platform runs entirely on AWS, allowing them to deliver a secure and scalable cloud-based experience. By utilizing AWS, Acorns is able to offer an exceptional customer experience and fulfill its core mission. Acorns uses Terraform to manage services such as Amazon EC2 Container Service, Amazon CloudFront, and Amazon S3. They also use Amazon RDS and Amazon Redshift for data storage, and Amazon Glacier to manage document retention.

Acorns is hiring! Be sure to check out their careers page if you are interested.

Bondlinc (Singapore)

Eng Keong, Founder and CEO of Bondlinc, has long wanted to standardize, improve, and automate the traditional workflows that revolve around bond trading. As a former trader at BNP Paribas and Jefferies & Company, E.K. – as Keong is known – had personally seen how manual processes led to information bottlenecks in over-the-counter practices. This drove him, along with future Bondlinc CTO Vincent Caldeira, to start a new service that maximizes efficiency, information distribution, and accessibility for both clients and bankers in the bond market.

Currently, bond trading requires banks to spend a significant amount of resources retrieving data from expensive and restricted institutional sources, performing suitability checks, and attaching required documentation before presenting all relevant information to clients – usually by email. Bankers are often overwhelmed by these time-consuming tasks, which means clients don’t always get proper access to time-sensitive bond information and pricing. Bondlinc bridges this gap between banks and clients by providing a variety of solutions, including easy access to basic bond information and analytics, updates of new issues and relevant news, consolidated management of your portfolio, and a chat function between banker and client. By making the bond market much more accessible to clients, Bondlinc is taking private banking to the next level, while improving efficiency of the banks as well.

As a startup running on AWS since inception, Bondlinc has built and operated its SaaS product by leveraging Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, Elastic Load Balancing, and Amazon RDS across multiple Availability Zones to provide its customers (namely, financial institutions) a highly available and seamlessly scalable product distribution platform. Bondlinc also makes extensive use of Amazon CloudWatch, AWS CloudTrail, and Amazon SNS to meet the stringent operational monitoring, auditing, compliance, and governance requirements of its customers. Bondlinc is currently experimenting with Amazon Lex to build a conversational interface into its mobile application via a chat-bot that provides trading assistance services.

To see how Bondlinc works, request a demo at Bondlinc.com.

Lenda (San Francisco, CA)

Lenda is a digital mortgage company founded by seasoned FinTech entrepreneur Jason van den Brand. Jason wanted to create a smarter, simpler, and more streamlined system for people to either get a mortgage or refinance their homes. With Lenda, customers can find out if they are pre-approved for loans, and receive accurate, real-time mortgage rate quotes from industry-experienced home loan advisors. Lenda’s advisors support customers through the loan process by providing financial advice and guidance for a seamless experience.

Lenda’s innovative platform allows borrowers to complete their home loans online from start to finish. Through a savvy combination of being a direct lender with proprietary technology, Lenda has simplified the mortgage application process to save customers time and money. With an interactive dashboard, customers know exactly where they are in the mortgage process and can manage all of their documents in one place. The company recently received its Series A funding of $5.25 million, and van den Brand shared that most of the capital investment will be used to improve Lenda’s technology and fulfill the company’s mission, which is to reimagine homeownership, starting with home loans.

AWS allows Lenda to scale its business while providing a secure, easy-to-use system for a faster home loan approval process. Currently, Lenda uses Amazon S3, Amazon EC2, Amazon CloudFront, Amazon Redshift, and Amazon WorkSpaces.

Visit Lenda.com to find out more.

Thanks for reading and see you in October for another round of hot startups!

-Tina

Bank Robbery Tactic

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/08/bank_robbery_ta.html

This video purports to be a bank robbery in Kiev. He first threatens a teller, who basically ignores him because she’s behind bullet-proof glass. But then the robber threatens one of her co-workers, who is on his side of the glass. Interesting example of a security system failing for an unexpected reason.

The video is weird, though. The robber seems very unsure of himself, and never really points the gun at anyone or even holds it properly.

Piracy Narrative Isn’t About Ethics Anymore, It’s About “Danger”

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/piracy-narrative-isnt-about-ethics-anymore-its-about-danger-170812/

Over the years there have been almost endless attempts to stop people from accessing copyright-infringing content online. Campaigns have come and gone and almost two decades later the battle is still ongoing.

Early on, when panic enveloped the music industry, the campaigns centered around people getting sued. Grabbing music online for free could be costly, the industry warned, while parading the heads of a few victims on pikes for the world to see.

Periodically, however, the aim has been to appeal to the public’s better nature. The idea is that people essentially want to do the ‘right thing’, so once they understand that largely hard-working Americans are losing their livelihoods, people will stop downloading from The Pirate Bay. For some, this probably had the desired effect but millions of people are still getting their fixes for free, so the job isn’t finished yet.

In more recent years, notably since the MPAA and RIAA had their eyes blacked in the wake of SOPA, the tone has shifted. In addition to educating the public, torrent and streaming sites are increasingly being painted as enemies of the public they claim to serve.

Several studies, largely carried out on behalf of the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA), have claimed that pirate sites are hotbeds of malware, baiting consumers in with tasty pirate booty only to offload trojans, viruses, and God-knows-what. These reports have been ostensibly published as independent public interest documents but this week an advisor to the DCA suggested a deeper interest for the industry.

Hemanshu Nigam is a former federal prosecutor, ex-Chief Security Officer for News Corp and Fox Interactive Media, and former VP Worldwide Internet Enforcement at the MPAA. In an interview with Deadline this week, he spoke about alleged links between pirate sites and malware distributors. He also indicated that warning people about the dangers of pirate sites has become Hollywood’s latest anti-piracy strategy.

“The industry narrative has changed. When I was at the MPAA, we would tell people that stealing content is wrong and young people would say, yeah, whatever, you guys make a lot of money, too bad,” he told the publication.

“It has gone from an ethical discussion to a dangerous one. Now, your parents’ bank account can be raided, your teenage daughter can be spied on in her bedroom and extorted with the footage, or your computer can be locked up along with everything in it and held for ransom.”

Nigam’s stance isn’t really a surprise since he’s currently working for the Digital Citizens Alliance as an advisor. In turn, the Alliance is at least partly financed by the MPAA. There’s no suggestion whatsoever that Nigam is involved in any propaganda effort, but recent signs suggest that the DCA’s work in malware awareness is more about directing people away from pirate sites than protecting them from the alleged dangers within.

That being said and despite the bias, it’s still worth giving experts like Nigam an opportunity to speak. Largely thanks to industry efforts with brands, pirate sites are increasingly being forced to display lower-tier ads, which can be problematic. On top, some sites’ policies mean they don’t deserve any visitors at all.

In the Deadline piece, however, Nigam alleges that hackers have previously reached out to pirate websites offering $200 to $5000 per day “depending on the size of the pirate website” to have the site infect users with malware. If true, that’s a serious situation and people who would ordinarily use ‘pirate’ sites would definitely appreciate the details.

For example, to which sites did hackers make this offer and, crucially, which sites turned down the offer and which ones accepted?

It’s important to remember that pirates are just another type of consumer and they would boycott sites in a heartbeat if they discovered they’d been paid to infect them with malware. But, as usual, the claims are extremely light in detail. Instead, there’s simply a blanket warning to stay away from all unauthorized sites, which isn’t particularly helpful.

In some cases, of course, operational security will prevent some details coming to light but without these, people who don’t get infected on a ‘pirate’ site (the vast majority) simply won’t believe the allegations. As the author of the Deadline piece pointed out, it’s a bit like Reefer Madness all over again.

The point here is that without hard independent evidence to back up these claims, with reports listing sites alongside the malware they’ve supposed to have spread and when, few people will respond to perceived scaremongering. Free content trumps a few distant worries almost every time, whether that involves malware or the threat of a lawsuit.

It’ll be up to the DCA and their MPAA paymasters to consider whether the approach is working but thus far, not even having government heavyweights on board has helped.

Earlier this year the DCA launched a video campaign, enrolling 15 attorney generals to publish their own anti-piracy PSAs on YouTube. Thus far, interest has been minimal, to say the least.

At the time of writing the 15 PSAs have 3,986 views in total, with 2,441 of those contributed by a single video contributed by Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel. Despite the relative success, even that got slammed with 2 upvotes and 127 downvotes.

A few of the other videos have a couple of hundred views each but more than half have less than 70. Perhaps most worryingly for the DCA, apart from the Schimel PSA, none have any upvotes at all, only down. It’s unclear who the viewers were but it seems reasonable to conclude they weren’t entertained.

The bottom line is nobody likes malware or having their banking details stolen but yet again, people who claim to have the public interest at heart aren’t actually making a difference on the ground. It could be argued that groups advocating online safety should be publishing guides on how to stay protected on the Internet period, not merely advising people to stay away from certain sites.

But of course, that wouldn’t achieve the goals of the MPAA Digital Citizens Alliance.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

ESET Tries to Scare People Away From Using Torrents

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/eset-tries-to-scare-people-away-from-using-torrents-170805/

Any company in the security game can be expected to play up threats among its customer base in order to get sales.

Sellers of CCTV equipment, for example, would have us believe that criminals don’t want to be photographed and will often go elsewhere in the face of that. Car alarm companies warn us that since X thousand cars are stolen every minute, an expensive Immobilizer is an anti-theft must.

Of course, they’re absolutely right to point these things out. People want to know about these offline risks since they affect our quality of life. The same can be said of those that occur in the online world too.

We ARE all at risk of horrible malware that will trash our computers and steal our banking information so we should all be running adequate protection. That being said, how many times do our anti-virus programs actually trap a piece of nasty-ware in a year? Once? Twice? Ten times? Almost never?

The truth is we all need to be informed but it should be done in a measured way. That’s why an article just published by security firm ESET on the subject of torrents strikes a couple of bad chords, particularly with people who like torrents. It’s titled “Why you should view torrents as a threat” and predictably proceeds to outline why.

“Despite their popularity among users, torrents are very risky ‘business’,” it begins.

“Apart from the obvious legal trouble you could face for violating the copyright of musicians, filmmakers or software developers, there are security issues linked to downloading them that could put you or your computer in the crosshairs of the black hats.”

Aside from the use of the phrase “very risky” (‘some risk’ is a better description), there’s probably very little to complain about in this opening shot. However, things soon go downhill.

“Merely downloading the newest version of BitTorrent clients – software necessary for any user who wants to download or seed files from this ‘ecosystem’ – could infect your machine and irreversibly damage your files,” ESET writes.

Following that scary statement, some readers will have already vowed never to use a torrent again and moved on without reading any more, but the details are really important.

To support its claim, ESET points to two incidents in 2016 (which to its great credit the company actually discovered) which involved the Transmission torrent client. Both involved deliberate third-party infection and in the latter hackers attacked Transmission’s servers and embedded malware in its OSX client before distribution to the public.

No doubt these were both miserable incidents (to which the Transmission team quickly responded) but to characterize this as a torrent client problem seems somewhat unfair.

People intent on spreading viruses and malware do not discriminate and will happily infect ANY piece of computer software they can. Sadly, many non-technical people reading the ESET post won’t read beyond the claim that installing torrent clients can “infect your machine and irreversibly damage your files.”

That’s a huge disservice to the hundreds of millions of torrent client installations that have taken place over a decade and a half and were absolutely trouble free. On a similar basis, we could argue that installing Windows is the main initial problem for people getting viruses from the Internet. It’s true but it’s also not the full picture.

Finally, the piece goes on to detail other incidents over the years where torrents have been found to contain malware. The several cases highlighted by ESET are both real and pretty unpleasant for victims but the important thing to note here is torrent users are no different to any other online user, no matter how they use the Internet.

People who download files from the Internet, from ALL untrusted sources, are putting themselves at risk of getting a virus or other malware. Whether that content is obtained from a website or a P2P network, the risks are ever-present and only a foolish person would do so without decent security software (such as ESET’s) protecting them.

The take home point here is to be aware of security risks and put them into perspective. It’s hard to put a percentage on these things but of the hundreds of millions of torrent and torrent client downloads that have taken place since their inception 15 years ago, the overwhelming majority have been absolutely fine.

Security situations do arise and we need to be aware of them, but presenting things in a way that spreads unnecessary concern in a particular sector isn’t necessary to sell products.

The AV-TEST Institute registers around 390,000 new malicious programs every day that don’t involve torrents, plenty for any anti-virus firm to deal with.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

TVAddons Returns, But in Ugly War With Canadian Telcos Over Kodi Addons

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/tvaddons-returns-ugly-war-canadian-telcos-kodi-addons-170801/

After Dish Network filed a lawsuit against TVAddons in Texas, several high-profile Kodi addons took the decision to shut down. Soon after, TVAddons itself went offline.

In the weeks that followed, several TVAddons-related domains were signed over (1,2) to a Canadian law firm, a mysterious situation that didn’t dovetail well with the US-based legal action.

TorrentFreak can now reveal that the shutdown of TVAddons had nothing to do with the US action and everything to do with a separate lawsuit filed in Canada.

The complaint against TVAddons

Two months ago on June 2, a collection of Canadian telecoms giants including Bell Canada, Bell ExpressVu, Bell Media, Videotron, Groupe TVA, Rogers Communications and Rogers Media, filed a complaint in Federal Court against Montreal resident, Adam Lackman, the man behind TVAddons.

The 18-page complaint details the plaintiffs’ case against Lackman, claiming that he communicated copyrighted TV shows including Game of Thrones, Prison Break, The Big Bang Theory, America’s Got Talent, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and dozens more, to the public in breach of copyright.

The key claim is that Lackman achieved this by developing, hosting, distributing or promoting Kodi add-ons.

Adam Lackman, the man behind TVAddons (@adam.lackman on Instagram)

A total of 18 major add-ons are detailed in the complaint including 1Channel, Exodus, Phoenix, Stream All The Sources, SportsDevil, cCloudTV and Alluc, to name a few. Also under the spotlight is the ‘FreeTelly’ custom Kodi build distributed by TVAddons alongside its Kodi configuration tool, Indigo.

“[The defendant] has made the [TV shows] available to the public by telecommunication in a way that allows members of the public to have access to them from a place and at a time individually chosen by them…consequently infringing the Plaintiffs’ copyright…in contravention of sections 2.4(1.1), 3(1)(f) and 27(1) of the Copyright Act,” the complaint reads.

The complaint alleges that Lackman “induced and/or authorized users” of the FreeTelly and Indigo tools to carry out infringement by his handling and promotion of infringing add-ons, including through TVAddons.ag and Offshoregit.com, in contravention of sections 3(1)(f) and 27(1) of the Copyright Act.

“Approximately 40 million unique users located around the world are actively using Infringing Addons hosted by TVAddons every month, and approximately 900,000 Canadian households use Infringing Add-ons to access television content. The amount of users of Infringing add-ons hosted TVAddons is constantly increasing,” the complaint adds.

To limit the harm allegedly caused by TVAddons, the complaint asked for interim, interlocutory, and permanent injunctions restraining Lackman and associates from developing, promoting or distributing any of the allegedly infringing add-ons or software. On top, the plaintiffs requested punitive and exemplary damages, plus costs.

The interim injunction and Anton Piller Order

Following the filing of the complaint, on June 9 the Federal Court handed down a time-limited interim injunction against Lackman which restrained him from various activities in respect of TVAddons. The process took place ex parte, meaning in secret, without Lackman being able to mount a defense.

The Court also authorized a bailiff and computer forensics experts to take control of Internet domains including TVAddons.ag and Offshoregit.com plus social media and hosting provider accounts for a period of 14 days. These were transferred to Daniel Drapeau at DrapeauLex, an independent court-appointed supervising counsel.

The order also contained an Anton Piller order, a civil search warrant that grants plaintiffs no-notice permission to enter a defendant’s premises in order to secure and copy evidence to support their case, before it can be destroyed or tampered with.

The order covered not only data related to the TVAddons platform, such as operating and financial details, revenues, and banking information, but everything in Lackman’s possession.

The Court ordered the telecoms companies to inform Lackman that the case against him is a civil proceeding and that he could deny entry to his property if he wished. However, that option would put him in breach of the order and would place him at risk of being fined or even imprisoned. Catch 22 springs to mind.

The Court did, however, put limits on the number of people that could be present during the execution of the Anton Piller order (ostensibly to avoid intimidation) and ordered the plaintiffs to deposit CAD$50,000 with the Court, in case the order was improperly executed. That decision would later prove an important one.

The search and interrogation of TVAddons’ operator

On June 12, the order was executed and Lackman’s premises were searched for more than 16 hours. For nine hours he was interrogated and effectively denied his right to remain silent since non-cooperation with an Anton Piller order amounts to contempt of court. The Court’s stated aim of not intimidating Lackman failed.

The TVAddons operator informs TorrentFreak that he heard a disturbance in the hallway outside and spotted several men hiding on the other side of the door. Fearing for his life, Lackman called the police and when they arrived he opened the door. At this point, the police were told by those in attendance to leave, despite Lackman’s protests.

Once inside, Lackman was told he had an hour to find a lawyer, but couldn’t use any electronic device to get one. Throughout the entire day, Lackman says he was reminded by the plaintiffs’ lawyer that he could be held in contempt of court and jailed, even though he was always cooperating.

“I had to sit there and not leave their sight. I was denied access to medication,” Lackman told TorrentFreak. “I had a doctor’s appointment I was forced to miss. I wasn’t even allowed to call and cancel.”

In papers later filed with the court by Lackman’s team, the Anton Piller order was described as a “bombe atomique” since TVAddons had never been served with so much as a copyright takedown notice in advance of this action.

The Anton Piller controversy

Anton Piller orders are only valid when passing a three-step test: when there is a strong prima facie case against the respondent, the damage – potential or actual – is serious for the applicant, and when there is a real possibility that evidence could be destroyed.

For Bell Canada, Bell ExpressVu, Bell Media, Videotron, Groupe TVA, Rogers Communications and Rogers Media, serious problems emerged on at least two of these points after the execution of the order.

For example, TVAddons carried more than 1,500 add-ons yet only 1% of those add-ons were considered to be infringing, a tiny number in the overall picture. Then there was the not insignificant problem with the exchange that took place during the hearing to obtain the order, during which Lackman was not present.

Clearly, the securing of existing evidence wasn’t the number one priority.

Plaintiffs: We want to destroy TVAddons

And the problems continued.

No right to remain silent, no right to consult a lawyer

The Anton Piller search should have been carried out between 8am and 8pm but actually carried on until midnight. As previously mentioned, Adam Lackman was effectively denied his right to remain silent and was forbidden from getting advice from his lawyer.

None of this sat well with the Honourable B. Richard Bell during a subsequent Federal Court hearing to consider the execution of the Anton Piller order.

“It is important to note that the Defendant was not permitted to refuse to answer questions under fear of contempt proceedings, and his counsel was not permitted to clarify the answers to questions. I conclude unhesitatingly that the Defendant was subjected to an examination for discovery without any of the protections normally afforded to litigants in such circumstances,” the Judge said.

“Here, I would add that the ‘questions’ were not really questions at all. They took the form of orders or directions. For example, the Defendant was told to ‘provide to the bailiff’ or ‘disclose to the Plaintiffs’ solicitors’.”

Evidence preservation? More like a fishing trip

But shockingly, the interrogation of Lackman went much, much further. TorrentFreak understands that the TVAddons operator was given a list of 30 names of people that might be operating sites or services similar to TVAddons. He was then ordered to provide all of the information he had on those individuals.

Of course, people tend to guard their online identities so it’s possible that the information provided by Lackman will be of limited use, but Judge Bell was not happy that the Anton Piller order was abused by the plaintiffs in this way.

“I conclude that those questions, posed by Plaintiffs’ counsel, were solely made in furtherance of their investigation and constituted a hunt for further evidence, as opposed to the preservation of then existing evidence,” he wrote in a June 29 order.

But he was only just getting started.

Plaintiffs unlawfully tried to destroy TVAddons before trial

The Judge went on to note that from their own mouths, the Anton Piller order was purposely designed by the plaintiffs to completely shut down TVAddons, despite the fact that only a tiny proportion of the add-ons available on the site were allegedly used to infringe copyright.

“I am of the view that [the order’s] true purpose was to destroy the livelihood of the Defendant, deny him the financial resources to finance a defense to the claim made against him, and to provide an opportunity for discovery of the Defendant in circumstances where none of the procedural safeguards of our civil justice system could be engaged,” Judge Bell wrote.

As noted, plaintiffs must also have a “strong prima facie case” to obtain an Anton Piller order but Judge Bell says he’s not convinced that one exists. Instead, he praised the “forthright manner” of Lackman, who successfully compared the ability of Kodi addons to find content in the same way as Google search can.

So why the big turn around?

Judge Bell said that while the prima facie case may have appeared strong before the judge who heard the matter ex parte (without Lackman being present to defend himself), the subsequent adversarial hearing undermined it, to the point that it no longer met the threshold.

As a result of these failings, Judge Bell declared the Anton Piller order unlawful. Things didn’t improve for the plaintiffs on the injunction front either.

The Judge said that he believes that Lackman has “an arguable case” that he is not violating the Copyright Act by merely providing addons and that TVAddons is his only source of income. So, if an injunction to close the site was granted, the litigation would effectively be over, since the plaintiffs already admitted that their aim was to neutralize the platform.

If the platform was neutralized, Lackman could no longer earn money from the site, which would harm his ability to mount a defense.

“In considering the balance of convenience, I also repeat that the plaintiffs admit that the vast majority of add-ons are non-infringing. Whether the remaining approximately 1% are infringing is very much up for debate. For these reasons, I find the balance of convenience favors the defendant, and no interlocutory injunction will be issued,” the Judge declared.

With the Anton Piller order declared unlawful and no interlocutory injunction (one effective until the final determination of the case) handed down, things were about to get worse for the telecoms companies.

They had paid CAD$50,000 to the court in security in case things went wrong with the Anton Piller order, so TVAddons was entitled to compensation from that amount. That would be helpful, since at this point TVAddons had already run up CAD$75,000 in legal expenses.

On top, the Judge told independent counsel to give everything seized during the Anton Piller search back to Lackman.

The order to return items previously seized

But things were far from over. Within days, the telecoms companies took the decision to the Court of Appeal, asking for a stay of execution (a delay in carrying out a court order) to retain possession of items seized, including physical property, domains, and social media accounts.

Mid-July the appeal was granted and certain confidentiality clauses affecting independent counsel (including Daniel Drapeau, who holds the TVAddons’ domains) were ordered to be continued. However, considering the problems with the execution of the Anton Piller order, Bell Canada, TVA, Videotron and Rogers et al, were ordered to submit an additional security bond of CAD$140,000, on top of the CAD$50,000 already deposited.

So the battle continues, and continue it will

Speaking with TorrentFreak, Adam Lackman says that he has no choice but to fight the telcoms companies since not doing so would result in a loss by default judgment. Interestingly, both he and one of the judges involved in the case thus far believe he has an arguable case.

Lackman says that his activities are protected under the Canadian Copyright Act, specifically subparagraph 2.4(1)(b) which states as follows:

A person whose only act in respect of the communication of a work or other subject-matter to the public consists of providing the means of telecommunication necessary for another person to so communicate the work or other subject-matter does not communicate that work or other subject-matter to the public;

Of course, finding out whether that’s indeed the case will be a costly endeavor.

“It all comes down to whether we will have the financial resources necessary to mount our defense and go to trial. We won’t have ad revenue coming in, since losing our domain names means that we’ll lose the majority of our traffic for quite some time into the future,” Lackman told TF in a statement.

“We’re hoping that others will be as concerned as us about big companies manipulating the law in order to shut down what they see as competition. We desperately need help in financially supporting our legal defense, we cannot do it alone.

“We’ve run up a legal bill of over $100,000 to date. We’re David, and they are four Goliaths with practically unlimited resources. If we lose, it will mean that new case law is made, case law that could mean increased censorship of the internet.”

In the hope of getting support, TVAddons has launched a fundraiser campaign and in the meantime, a new version of the site is back on a new domain, TVAddons.co.

Given TVAddons’ line of defense, the nature of both the platform and Kodi addons, and the fact that there has already been a serious abuse of process during evidence preservation, this is now one of the most interesting and potentially influential copyright cases underway anywhere today.

TVAddons is being represented by Éva Richard , Hilal Ayoubi and Karim Renno in Canada, plus Erin Russell and Jason Sweet in the United States.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Top Ten Ways to Protect Yourself Against Phishing Attacks

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/top-ten-ways-protect-phishing-attacks/

It’s hard to miss the increasing frequency of phishing attacks in the news. Earlier this year, a major phishing attack targeted Google Docs users, and attempted to compromise at least one million Google Docs accounts. Experts say the “phish” was convincing and sophisticated, and even people who thought they would never be fooled by a phishing attack were caught in its net.

What is phishing?

Phishing attacks use seemingly trustworthy but malicious emails and websites to obtain your personal account or banking information. The attacks are cunning and highly effective because they often appear to come from an organization or business you actually use. The scam comes into play by tricking you into visiting a website you believe belongs to the trustworthy organization, but in fact is under the control of the phisher attempting to extract your private information.

Phishing attacks are once again in the news due to a handful of high profile ransomware incidents. Ransomware invades a user’s computer, encrypts their data files, and demands payment to decrypt the files. Ransomware most often makes its way onto a user’s computer through a phishing exploit, which gives the ransomware access to the user’s computer.

The best strategy against phishing is to scrutinize every email and message you receive and never to get caught. Easier said than done—even smart people sometimes fall victim to a phishing attack. To minimize the damage in an event of a phishing attack, backing up your data is the best ultimate defense and should be part of your anti-phishing and overall anti-malware strategy.

How do you recognize a phishing attack?

A phishing attacker may send an email seemingly from a reputable credit card company or financial institution that requests account information, often suggesting that there is a problem with your account. When users respond with the requested information, attackers can use it to gain access to the accounts.

The image below is a mockup of how a phishing attempt might appear. In this example, courtesy of Wikipedia, the bank is fictional, but in a real attempt the sender would use an actual bank, perhaps even the bank where the targeted victim does business. The sender is attempting to trick the recipient into revealing confidential information by getting the victim to visit the phisher’s website. Note the misspelling of the words “received” and “discrepancy” as recieved and discrepency. Misspellings sometimes are indications of a phishing attack. Also note that although the URL of the bank’s webpage appears to be legitimate, the hyperlink would actually take you to the phisher’s webpage, which would be altogether different from the URL displayed in the message.

By Andrew Levine – en:Image:PhishingTrustedBank.png, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=549747

Top ten ways to protect yourself against phishing attacks

  1. Always think twice when presented with a link in any kind of email or message before you click on it. Ask yourself whether the sender would ask you to do what it is requesting. Most banks and reputable service providers won’t ask you to reveal your account information or password via email. If in doubt, don’t use the link in the message and instead open a new webpage and go directly to the known website of the organization. Sign in to the site in the normal manner to verify that the request is legitimate.
  2. A good precaution is to always hover over a link before clicking on it and observe the status line in your browser to verify that the link in the text and the destination link are in fact the same.
  3. Phishers are clever, and they’re getting better all the time, and you might be fooled by a simple ruse to make you think the link is one you recognize. Links can have hard-to-detect misspellings that would result in visiting a site very different than what you expected.
  4. Be wary even of emails and message from people you know. It’s very easy to spoof an email so it appears to come from someone you know, or to create a URL that appears to be legitimate, but isn’t.

For example, let’s say that you work for roughmedia.com and you get an email from Chuck in accounting ([email protected]) that has an attachment for you, perhaps a company form you need to fill out. You likely wouldn’t notice in the sender address that the phisher has replaced the “m” in media with an “r” and an “n” that look very much like an “m.” You think it’s good old Chuck in finance and it’s actually someone “phishing” for you to open the attachment and infect your computer. This type of attack is known as “spear phishing” because it’s targeted at a specific individual and is using social engineering—specifically familiarity with the sender—as part of the scheme to fool you into trusting the attachment. This technique is by far the most successful on the internet today. (This example is based on Gimlet Media’s Reply All Podcast Episode, “What Kind of Idiot Gets Phished?“)

  1. Use anti-malware software, but don’t rely on it to catch all attacks. Phishers change their approach often to keep ahead of the software attack detectors.
  2. If you are asked to enter any valuable information, only do so if you’re on a secure connection. Look for the “https” prefix before the site URL, indicating the site is employing SSL (Secure Socket Layer). If there is no “s” after “http,” it’s best not to enter any confidential information.
By Fabio Lanari – Internet1.jpg by Rock1997 modified., GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20995390
  1. Avoid logging in to online banks and similar services via public Wi-Fi networks. Criminals can compromise open networks with man-in-the-middle attacks that capture your information or spoof website addresses over the connection and redirect you to a fake page they control.
  2. Email, instant messaging, and gaming social channels are all possible vehicles to deliver phishing attacks, so be vigilant!
  3. Lay the foundation for a good defense by choosing reputable tech vendors and service providers that respect your privacy and take steps to protect your data. At Backblaze, we have full-time security teams constantly looking for ways to improve our security.
  4. When it is available, always take advantage of multi-factor verification to protect your accounts. The standard categories used for authentication are 1) something you know (e.g. your username and password), 2) something you are (e.g. your fingerprint or retina pattern), and 3) something you have (e.g. an authenticator app on your smartphone). An account that allows only a single factor for authentication is more susceptible to hacking than one that supports multiple factors. Backblaze supports multi-factor authentication to protect customer accounts.

Be a good internet citizen, and help reduce phishing and other malware attacks by notifying the organization being impersonated in the phishing attempt, or by forwarding suspicious messages to the Federal Trade Commission at [email protected]. Some email clients and services, such as Microsoft Outlook and Google Gmail, give you the ability to easily report suspicious emails. Phishing emails misrepresenting Apple can be reported to [email protected].

Backing up your data is an important part of a strong defense against phishing and other malware

The best way to avoid becoming a victim is to be vigilant against suspicious messages and emails, but also to assume that no matter what you do, it is very possible that your system will be compromised. Even the most sophisticated and tech-savvy of us can be ensnared if we are tired, in a rush, or just unfamiliar with the latest methods hackers are using. Remember that hackers are working full-time on ways to fool us, so it’s very difficult to keep ahead of them.

The best defense is to make sure that any data that could compromised by hackers—basically all of the data that is reachable via your computer—is not your only copy. You do that by maintaining an active and reliable backup strategy.

Files that are backed up to cloud storage, such as with Backblaze, are not vulnerable to attacks on your local computer in the way that local files, attached drives, network drives, or sync services like Dropbox that have local directories on your computer are.

In the event that your computer is compromised and your files are lost or encrypted, you can recover your files if you have a cloud backup that is beyond the reach of attacks on your computer.

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