Spencer Ackerman has this interesting story about a guy assigned to crack down on unauthorized White House leaks. It’s necessarily light on technical details, so I thought I’d write up some guesses, either as a guide for future reporters asking questions, or for people who want to better know the risks when leak information.
It should come as no surprise that your work email and phone are already monitored. They can get every email you’ve sent or received, even if you’ve deleted it. They can get every text message you’ve sent or received, the metadata of every phone call sent or received, and so forth.
To a lesser extent, this also applies to your well-known personal phone and email accounts. Law enforcement can get the metadata (which includes text messages) for these things without a warrant. In the above story, the person doing the investigation wasn’t law enforcement, but I’m not sure that’s a significant barrier if they can pass things onto the Secret Service or something.
The danger here isn’t that you used these things to leak, it’s that you’ve used these things to converse with the reporter before you made the decision to leak. That’s what happened in the Reality Winner case: she communicated with The Intercept before she allegedly leaked a printed document to them via postal mail. While it wasn’t conclusive enough to convict her, the innocent emails certainly put the investigators on her trail.
The path to leaking often starts this way: innocent actions before the decision to leak was made that will come back to haunt the person afterwards. That includes emails. That also includes Google searches. That includes websites you visit (like this one). I’m not sure how to solve this, except that if you’ve been in contact with The Intercept, and then you decide to leak, send it to anybody but The Intercept.
By the way, the other thing that caught Reality Winner is the records they had of her accessing files and printing them on a printer. Depending where you work, they may have a record of every file you’ve accessed, every intranet page you visited. Because of the way printers put secret dots on documents, investigators know precisely which printer and time the document leaked to The Intercept was printed.
Photographs suffer the same problem: your camera and phone tag the photographs with GPS coordinates and time the photograph was taken, as well as information about the camera. This accidentally exposed John McAfee’s hiding location when Vice took pictures of him a few years ago. Some people leak by taking pictures of the screen — use a camera without GPS for this (meaning, a really old camera you bought from a pawnshop).
These examples should impress upon you the dangers of not understanding technology. As soon as you do something to evade surveillance you know about, you may get caught by surveillance you don’t know about.
If you nonetheless want to continue forward, the next step may be to get a “burner phone”. You can get an adequate Android “prepaid” phone for cash at the local Walmart, electronics store, or phone store.
There’s some problems with such phones, though. They can often be tracked back to the store that sold them, and the store will have security cameras that record you making the purchase. License plate readers and GPS tracking on your existing phone may also place you at that Walmart.
I don’t know how to resolve these problems. Perhaps the best is grow a beard and on the last day of your vacation, color your hair, take a long bike/metro ride (without your existing phone) to a store many miles away and pick up a phone, then shave and change your color back again. I don’t know — there’s a good chance any lame attempt you or I might think of has already been experienced by law enforcement, so they are likely ahead of you. Maybe ask your local drug dealer where they get their burner phones, and if they can sell you one. Of course, that just means when they get caught for drug dealing, they can reduce their sentence by giving up the middle class person who bought a phone from them.
Lastly, they may age out old security videos, so simply waiting six months before using the phone might work. That means prepaying for an entire year.
Note that I’m not going to link to examples of cheap burner phones on this page. Web browsers will sometimes prefetch some information from links in a webpage, so simply including links in this page can condemn you as having interest in burner phones. You are already in enough trouble for having visited this web page.
Burner phones have GPS. Newer the technology, like the latest Android LTE phones, have pretty accurate GPS that the police can query (without a warrant). If you take the phone home and turn it on, they’ll then be able to trace back the phone to your home. Carrying the phone around with you has the same problem, with the phone’s location correlating with your existing phone (which presumably you also carry) or credit card receipts. Rumors are that Petraeus was partly brought down by tracking locations where he used his credit card, namely, matching the hotel he was in with Internet address information.
Older phones that support 3G or even 2G have poorer GPS capabilities. They’ll still located you to the nearest cell tower, but not as accurately to your exact location.
A better strategy than a burner phone would be a burner laptop computer used with WiFi. You can get a cheap one for $200 at Amazon.com. My favorite are the 11 inch ones with a full sized keyboard and Windows 10. Better yet, get an older laptop for cash from a pawn shop.
You can install chat apps on this like “Signal Desktop”, “Wire Desktop”, or “WhatsApp” that will allow you to securely communicate. Or use “Discord”, which isn’t really encrypted, but it’s popular among gamers so therefore less likely to stand out. You can sit in a bar with free WiFi and a USB headset and talk to reporters without having a phone. If the reporter you want to leak to doesn’t have those apps (either on their own laptop or phone) then you don’t want to talk to them.
Needless to say, don’t cross the streams. Don’t log onto your normal accounts like Facebook. If you create fake Facebook accounts, don’t follow the same things. Better yet, configure your browser to discard all information (especially “cookies”) every time you log off, so you can’t be tracked. Install ad blockers, or use the “Brave” web browser, to remove even more trackers. A common trick among hackers is to change the “theme” to a red background, as a constant subliminal reminder that you using your dangerous computer, and never to do anything that identifies the real you.
Put tape over the camera. I’m not sure it’s a really big danger, but put tape over the camera. If they infect you enough to get your picture, they’ve also infected you enough to record any audio on your computer. Remember that proper encryption is end-to-end (they can’t eavesdrop in transit), but if they hack the ends (your laptop, or the reporter’s) they can still record the audio.
Note that when your burner laptop is in “sleep” mode, it can still be talking to the local wifi. Before taking it home, make sure it’s off. Go into the settings and configure it so that when the lid is closed, the computer is turned completely off.
It goes without saying: don’t use that burner laptop from home. Luckily, free wifi is everyone, so the local cafe, bar, or library can be used.
The next step is to also use a VPN or Tor to mask your Internet address. If there’s an active investigation into the reporter, they’ll get the metadata, the Internet address of the bar/cafe you are coming from. A good VPN provider or especially Tor will stop this. Remember that these providers increase latency, making phone calls a bit harder, but they are a lot safer.
Remember that Ross Ulbricht (owner of dark website market Silk Road) was caught in a library. They’d traced back his Internet address and grabbed his laptop out of his hands. Having it turn off (off off, not sleep off) when the lid is closed is one way to reduce this risk. Configuring your web browser to flush all cookies and passwords on restart is another. If they catch you in mid conversation with your secret contact, though, they’ll at least be able to hear your side of the conversation, and know who you are talking to.
The best measure, though it takes some learning, is “Tails live”. It’s a Linux distribution preconfigured with Tor and various secure chat apps that’ll boot from the USB or SD card. When you turn off the computer, nothing will be saved, so there will be no evidence saved to the disk for investigators to retrieve later.
While we are talking about Tor, it should be noted that many news organizations (NYTimes, Washington Post, The Intercept, etc.) support “SecureDrop” accessed only through Tor for receiving anonymous tips. Burner laptops you use from bars from Tails is the likely your most secure way of doing things.
The point of this post was not to provide a howto guide, but to discuss many of the technological issues involved. In a story about White House people investigating leaks, I’d like to see something in this technological direction. I’d like to know exactly how they were investigating leaks. Certainly, they were investigating all work computers, accounts, and phones. Where they also able to get to non-work computers, accounts, phones? Did they have law enforcement powers? What could they do about burner phones and laptops?
In any case, if you do want a howto guide, the discussion above should put some fear into you how easily you can inadvertently make a mistake.
Yesterday, I received an email from someone called Mayank Sinha, showing us the Raspberry Pi home security project he’s been working on. He got in touch particularly because, he writes, the Raspberry Pi community has given him “immense support” with his build, and he wanted to dedicate it to the commmunity as thanks.
Mayank’s project is named Asfaleia, a Greek word that means safety, certainty, or security against threats. It’s part of an honourable tradition dating all the way back to 2012: it’s a prototype housed in a polystyrene box, using breadboards and jumper leads and sticky tape. And it’s working! Take a look.
All the best prototypes have sticky tape or rubber bands
If the IR sensors detect motion or a broken beam, the webcam takes a photo and emails it to the build’s owner, and the build also calls their phone (I like your ringtone, Mayank). If the gas sensor detects a leak, the system activates an exhaust fan via a small relay board, and again the owner receives a phone call. The build can also authenticate users via face and fingerprint recognition. The software that runs it all is written in Python, and you can see Mayank’s code on GitHub.
Of prototypes and works-in-progess
Reading Mayank’s email made me very happy yesterday. We know that thousands of people in our community give a great deal of time and effort to help others learn and make things, and it is always wonderful to see an example of how that support is helping someone turn their ideas into reality. It’s great, too, to see people sharing works-in-progress, as well as polished projects! After all, the average build is more likely to feature rubber bands and Tupperware boxes than meticulously designed laser-cut parts or expert joinery. Mayank’s YouTube channel shows earlier work on this and another Pi project, and I hope he’ll continue to document his builds.
So here’s to Raspberry Pi projects big, small, beginner, professional, endlessly prototyped, unashamedly bodged, unfinished or fully working, shonky or shiny. Please keep sharing them all!
In our blog post on Tuesday, Cryptocurrency Security Challenges, we wrote about the two primary challenges faced by anyone interested in safely and profitably participating in the cryptocurrency economy: 1) make sure you’re dealing with reputable and ethical companies and services, and, 2) keep your cryptocurrency holdings safe and secure.
In this post, we’re going to focus on how to make sure you don’t lose any of your cryptocurrency holdings through accident, theft, or carelessness. You do that by backing up the keys needed to sell or trade your currencies.
$34 Billion in Lost Value
Of the 16.4 million bitcoins said to be in circulation in the middle of 2017, close to 3.8 million may have been lost because their owners no longer are able to claim their holdings. Based on today’s valuation, that could total as much as $34 billion dollars in lost value. And that’s just bitcoins. There are now over 1,500 different cryptocurrencies, and we don’t know how many of those have been misplaced or lost.
Now that some cryptocurrencies have reached (at least for now) staggering heights in value, it’s likely that owners will be more careful in keeping track of the keys needed to use their cryptocurrencies. For the ones already lost, however, the owners have been separated from their currencies just as surely as if they had thrown Benjamin Franklins and Grover Clevelands over the railing of a ship.
The Basics of Securing Your Cryptocurrencies
In our previous post, we reviewed how cryptocurrency keys work, and the common ways owners can keep track of them. A cryptocurrency owner needs two keys to use their currencies: a public key that can be shared with others is used to receive currency, and a private key that must be kept secure is used to spend or trade currency.
Many wallets and applications allow the user to require extra security to access them, such as a password, or iris, face, or thumb print scan. If one of these options is available in your wallets, take advantage of it. Beyond that, it’s essential to back up your wallet, either using the backup feature built into some applications and wallets, or manually backing up the data used by the wallet. When backing up, it’s a good idea to back up the entire wallet, as some wallets require additional private data to operate that might not be apparent.
No matter which backup method you use, it is important to back up often and have multiple backups, preferable in different locations. As with any valuable data, a 3-2-1 backup strategy is good to follow, which ensures that you’ll have a good backup copy if anything goes wrong with one or more copies of your data.
One more caveat, don’t reuse passwords. This applies to all of your accounts, but is especially important for something as critical as your finances. Don’t ever use the same password for more than one account. If security is breached on one of your accounts, someone could connect your name or ID with other accounts, and will attempt to use the password there, as well. Consider using a password manager such as LastPass or 1Password, which make creating and using complex and unique passwords easy no matter where you’re trying to sign in.
Approaches to Backing Up Your Cryptocurrency Keys
There are numerous ways to be sure your keys are backed up. Let’s take them one by one.
1. Automatic backups using a backup program
If you’re using a wallet program on your computer, for example, Bitcoin Core, it will store your keys, along with other information, in a file. For Bitcoin Core, that file is wallet.dat. Other currencies will use the same or a different file name and some give you the option to select a name for the wallet file.
To back up the wallet.dat or other wallet file, you might need to tell your backup program to explicitly back up that file. Users of Backblaze Backup don’t have to worry about configuring this, since by default, Backblaze Backup will back up all data files. You should determine where your particular cryptocurrency, wallet, or application stores your keys, and make sure the necessary file(s) are backed up if your backup program requires you to select which files are included in the backup.
Backblaze B2 is an option for those interested in low-cost and high security cloud storage of their cryptocurrency keys. Backblaze B2 supports 2-factor verification for account access, works with a number of apps that support automatic backups with encryption, error-recovery, and versioning, and offers an API and command-line interface (CLI), as well. The first 10GB of storage is free, which could be all one needs to store encrypted cryptocurrency keys.
2. Backing up by exporting keys to a file
Apps and wallets will let you export your keys from your app or wallet to a file. Once exported, your keys can be stored on a local drive, USB thumb drive, DAS, NAS, or in the cloud with any cloud storage or sync service you wish. Encrypting the file is strongly encouraged — more on that later. If you use 1Password or LastPass, or other secure notes program, you also could store your keys there.
3. Backing up by saving a mnemonic recovery seed
A mnemonic phrase, mnemonic recovery phrase, or mnemonic seed is a list of words that stores all the information needed to recover a cryptocurrency wallet. Many wallets will have the option to generate a mnemonic backup phrase, which can be written down on paper. If the user’s computer no longer works or their hard drive becomes corrupted, they can download the same wallet software again and use the mnemonic recovery phrase to restore their keys.
The phrase can be used by anyone to recover the keys, so it must be kept safe. Mnemonic phrases are an excellent way of backing up and storing cryptocurrency and so they are used by almost all wallets.
A mnemonic recovery seed is represented by a group of easy to remember words. For example:
The first four letters are enough to unambiguously identify the word.
Similar words are avoided (such as: build and built).
Bitcoin and most other cryptocurrencies such as Litecoin, Ethereum, and others use mnemonic seeds that are 12 to 24 words long. Other currencies might use different length seeds.
4. Physical backups — Paper, Metal
Some cryptocurrency holders believe that their backup, or even all their cryptocurrency account information, should be stored entirely separately from the internet to avoid any risk of their information being compromised through hacks, exploits, or leaks. This type of storage is called “cold storage.” One method of cold storage involves printing out the keys to a piece of paper and then erasing any record of the keys from all computer systems. The keys can be entered into a program from the paper when needed, or scanned from a QR code printed on the paper.
Printed public and private keys
Some who go to extremes suggest separating the mnemonic needed to access an account into individual pieces of paper and storing those pieces in different locations in the home or office, or even different geographical locations. Some say this is a bad idea since it could be possible to reconstruct the mnemonic from one or more pieces. How diligent you wish to be in protecting these codes is up to you.
Mnemonic recovery phrase booklet
There’s another option that could make you the envy of your friends. That’s the CryptoSteel wallet, which is a stainless steel metal case that comes with more than 250 stainless steel letter tiles engraved on each side. Codes and passwords are assembled manually from the supplied part-randomized set of tiles. Users are able to store up to 96 characters worth of confidential information. Cryptosteel claims to be fireproof, waterproof, and shock-proof.
Cryptosteel cold wallet
Of course, if you leave your Cryptosteel wallet in the pocket of a pair of ripped jeans that gets thrown out by the housekeeper, as happened to the character Russ Hanneman on the TV show Silicon Valley in last Sunday’s episode, then you’re out of luck. That fictional billionaire investor lost a USB drive with $300 million in cryptocoins. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to you.
Encryption & Security
Whether you store your keys on your computer, an external disk, a USB drive, DAS, NAS, or in the cloud, you want to make sure that no one else can use those keys. The best way to handle that is to encrypt the backup.
With Backblaze Backup for Windows and Macintosh, your backups are encrypted in transmission to the cloud and on the backup server. Users have the option to add an additional level of security by adding a Personal Encryption Key (PEK), which secures their private key. Your cryptocurrency backup files are secure in the cloud. Using our web or mobile interface, previous versions of files can be accessed, as well.
Our object storage cloud offering, Backblaze B2, can be used with a variety of applications for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. With B2, cryptocurrency users can choose whichever method of encryption they wish to use on their local computers and then upload their encrypted currency keys to the cloud. Depending on the client used, versioning and life-cycle rules can be applied to the stored files.
Other backup programs and systems provide some or all of these capabilities, as well. If you are backing up to a local drive, it is a good idea to encrypt the local backup, which is an option in some backup programs.
Some experts recommend using a different address for each cryptocurrency transaction. Since the address is not the same as your wallet, this means that you are not creating a new wallet, but simply using a new identifier for people sending you cryptocurrency. Creating a new address is usually as easy as clicking a button in the wallet.
One of the chief advantages of using a different address for each transaction is anonymity. Each time you use an address, you put more information into the public ledger (blockchain) about where the currency came from or where it went. That means that over time, using the same address repeatedly could mean that someone could map your relationships, transactions, and incoming funds. The more you use that address, the more information someone can learn about you. For more on this topic, refer to Address reuse.
Note that a downside of using a paper wallet with a single key pair (type-0 non-deterministic wallet) is that it has the vulnerabilities listed above. Each transaction using that paper wallet will add to the public record of transactions associated with that address. Newer wallets, i.e. “deterministic” or those using mnemonic code words support multiple addresses and are now recommended.
There are other approaches to keeping your cryptocurrency transaction secure. Here are a couple of them.
Multi-signature refers to requiring more than one key to authorize a transaction, much like requiring more than one key to open a safe. It is generally used to divide up responsibility for possession of cryptocurrency. Standard transactions could be called “single-signature transactions” because transfers require only one signature — from the owner of the private key associated with the currency address (public key). Some wallets and apps can be configured to require more than one signature, which means that a group of people, businesses, or other entities all must agree to trade in the cryptocurrencies.
Deep Cold Storage
Deep cold storage ensures the entire transaction process happens in an offline environment. There are typically three elements to deep cold storage.
First, the wallet and private key are generated offline, and the signing of transactions happens on a system not connected to the internet in any manner. This ensures it’s never exposed to a potentially compromised system or connection.
Second, details are secured with encryption to ensure that even if the wallet file ends up in the wrong hands, the information is protected.
Third, storage of the encrypted wallet file or paper wallet is generally at a location or facility that has restricted access, such as a safety deposit box at a bank.
Deep cold storage is used to safeguard a large individual cryptocurrency portfolio held for the long term, or for trustees holding cryptocurrency on behalf of others, and is possibly the safest method to ensure a crypto investment remains secure.
Keep Your Software Up to Date
You should always make sure that you are using the latest version of your app or wallet software, which includes important stability and security fixes. Installing updates for all other software on your computer or mobile device is also important to keep your wallet environment safer.
One Last Thing: Think About Your Testament
Your cryptocurrency funds can be lost forever if you don’t have a backup plan for your peers and family. If the location of your wallets or your passwords is not known by anyone when you are gone, there is no hope that your funds will ever be recovered. Taking a bit of time on these matters can make a huge difference.
To the Moon*
Are you comfortable with how you’re managing and backing up your cryptocurrency wallets and keys? Do you have a suggestion for keeping your cryptocurrencies safe that we missed above? Please let us know in the comments.
*To the Moon — Crypto slang for a currency that reaches an optimistic price projection.
Bad software is everywhere. One can even claim that every software is bad. Cool companies, tech giants, established companies, all produce bad software. And no, yours is not an exception.
Who’s to blame for bad software? It’s all complicated and many factors are intertwined – there’s business requirements, there’s organizational context, there’s lack of sufficient skilled developers, there’s the inherent complexity of software development, there’s leaky abstractions, reliance on 3rd party software, consequences of wrong business and purchase decisions, time limitations, flawed business analysis, etc. So yes, despite the catchy title, I’m aware it’s actually complicated.
But in every “it’s complicated” scenario, there’s always one or two factors that are decisive. All of them contribute somehow, but the major drivers are usually a handful of things. And in the case of base software, I think it’s the fault of technical people. Developers, architects, ops.
We don’t seem to care about best practices. And I’ll do some nasty generalizations here, but bear with me. We can spend hours arguing about tabs vs spaces, curly bracket on new line, git merge vs rebase, which IDE is better, which framework is better and other largely irrelevant stuff. But we tend to ignore the important aspects that span beyond the code itself. The context in which the code lives, the non-functional requirements – robustness, security, resilience, etc.
We don’t seem to get security. Even trivial stuff such as user authentication is almost always implemented wrong. These days Twitter and GitHub realized they have been logging plain-text passwords, for example, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Too often we ignore the security implications.
“But the business didn’t request the security features”, one may say. The business never requested 2-factor authentication, encryption at rest, PKI, secure (or any) audit trail, log masking, crypto shredding, etc., etc. Because the business doesn’t know these things – we do and we have to put them on the backlog and fight for them to be implemented. Each organization has its specifics and tech people can influence the backlog in different ways, but almost everywhere we can put things there and prioritize them.
The other aspect is testing. We should all be well aware by now that automated testing is mandatory. We have all the tools in the world for unit, functional, integration, performance and whatnot testing, and yet many software projects lack the necessary test coverage to be able to change stuff without accidentally breaking things. “But testing takes time, we don’t have it”. We are perfectly aware that testing saves time, as we’ve all had those “not again!” recurring bugs. And yet we think of all sorts of excuses – “let the QAs test it”, we have to ship that now, we’ll test it later”, “this is too trivial to be tested”, etc.
And you may say it’s not our job. We don’t define what has do be done, we just do it. We don’t define the budget, the scope, the features. We just write whatever has been decided. And that’s plain wrong. It’s not our job to make money out of our code, and it’s not our job to define what customers need, but apart from that everything is our job. The way the software is structured, the security aspects and security features, the stability of the code base, the way the software behaves in different environments. The non-functional requirements are our job, and putting them on the backlog is our job.
You’ve probably heard that every software becomes “legacy” after 6 months. And that’s because of us, our sloppiness, our inability to mitigate external factors and constraints. Too often we create a mess through “just doing our job”.
And of course that’s a generalization. I happen to know a lot of great professionals who don’t make these mistakes, who strive for excellence and implement things the right way. But our industry as a whole doesn’t. Our industry as a whole produces bad software. And it’s our fault, as developers – as the only people who know why a certain piece of software is bad.
In a talk of his, Bob Martin warns us of the risks of our sloppiness. We have been building websites so far, but we are more and more building stuff that interacts with the real world, directly and indirectly. Ultimately, lives may depend on our software (like the recent unfortunate death caused by a self-driving car). And I’ll agree with Uncle Bob that it’s high time we self-regulate as an industry, before some technically incompetent politician decides to do that.
How, I don’t know. We’ll have to think more about it. But I’m pretty sure it’s our fault that software is bad, and no amount of blaming the management, the budget, the timing, the tools or the process can eliminate our responsibility.
Why do I insist on bashing my fellow software engineers? Because if we start looking at software development with more responsibility; with the fact that if it fails, it’s our fault, then we’re more likely to get out of our current bug-ridden, security-flawed, fragile software hole and really become the experts of the future.
In November 2013, the first commercially available helium-filled hard drive was introduced by HGST, a Western Digital subsidiary. The 6 TB drive was not only unique in being helium-filled, it was for the moment, the highest capacity hard drive available. Fast forward a little over 4 years later and 12 TB helium-filled drives are readily available, 14 TB drives can be found, and 16 TB helium-filled drives are arriving soon.
Backblaze has been purchasing and deploying helium-filled hard drives over the past year and we thought it was time to start looking at their failure rates compared to traditional air-filled drives. This post will provide an overview, then we’ll continue the comparison on a regular basis over the coming months.
The Promise and Challenge of Helium Filled Drives
We all know that helium is lighter than air — that’s why helium-filled balloons float. Inside of an air-filled hard drive there are rapidly spinning disk platters that rotate at a given speed, 7200 rpm for example. The air inside adds an appreciable amount of drag on the platters that in turn requires an appreciable amount of additional energy to spin the platters. Replacing the air inside of a hard drive with helium reduces the amount of drag, thereby reducing the amount of energy needed to spin the platters, typically by 20%.
We also know that after a few days, a helium-filled balloon sinks to the ground. This was one of the key challenges in using helium inside of a hard drive: helium escapes from most containers, even if they are well sealed. It took years for hard drive manufacturers to create containers that could contain helium while still functioning as a hard drive. This container innovation allows helium-filled drives to function at spec over the course of their lifetime.
Checking for Leaks
Three years ago, we identified SMART 22 as the attribute assigned to recording the status of helium inside of a hard drive. We have both HGST and Seagate helium-filled hard drives, but only the HGST drives currently report the SMART 22 attribute. It appears the normalized and raw values for SMART 22 currently report the same value, which starts at 100 and goes down.
To date only one HGST drive has reported a value of less than 100, with multiple readings between 94 and 99. That drive continues to perform fine, with no other errors or any correlating changes in temperature, so we are not sure whether the change in value is trying to tell us something or if it is just a wonky sensor.
Helium versus Air-Filled Hard Drives
There are several different ways to compare these two types of drives. Below we decided to use just our 8, 10, and 12 TB drives in the comparison. We did this since we have helium-filled drives in those sizes. We left out of the comparison all of the drives that are 6 TB and smaller as none of the drive models we use are helium-filled. We are open to trying different comparisons. This just seemed to be the best place to start.
The most obvious observation is that there seems to be little difference in the Annualized Failure Rate (AFR) based on whether they contain helium or air. One conclusion, given this evidence, is that helium doesn’t affect the AFR of hard drives versus air-filled drives. My prediction is that the helium drives will eventually prove to have a lower AFR. Why? Drive Days.
Let’s go back in time to Q1 2017 when the air-filled drives listed in the table above had a similar number of Drive Days to the current number of Drive Days for the helium drives. We find that the failure rate for the air-filled drives at the time (Q1 2017) was 1.61%. In other words, when the drives were in use a similar number of hours, the helium drives had a failure rate of 1.06% while the failure rate of the air-filled drives was 1.61%.
Helium or Air?
My hypothesis is that after normalizing the data so that the helium and air-filled drives have the same (or similar) usage (Drive Days), the helium-filled drives we use will continue to have a lower Annualized Failure Rate versus the air-filled drives we use. I expect this trend to continue for the next year at least. What side do you come down on? Will the Annualized Failure Rate for helium-filled drives be better than air-filled drives or vice-versa? Or do you think the two technologies will be eventually produce the same AFR over time? Pick a side and we’ll document the results over the next year and see where the data takes us.
The first article in this series described the interface to the “rhashtable” resizable hash-table abstraction in Linux 4.15. While a knowledge of the interface can result in successful use of rhashtables, it often helps to understand what is going on “under the hood”, particularly when those details leak out through the interface, as is occasionally the case with rhashtable. The centerpiece for understanding the implementation is knowing exactly how the table is resized. So this follow-on article will explain that operation; it will also present the configuration parameters that were skimmed over last time and discuss how they affect the implementation.
User authentication is the functionality that every web application shared. We should have perfected that a long time ago, having implemented it so many times. And yet there are so many mistakes made all the time.
Part of the reason for that is that the list of things that can go wrong is long. You can store passwords incorrectly, you can have a vulnerably password reset functionality, you can expose your session to a CSRF attack, your session can be hijacked, etc. So I’ll try to compile a list of best practices regarding user authentication. OWASP top 10 is always something you should read, every year. But that might not be enough.
So, let’s start. I’ll try to be concise, but I’ll include as much of the related pitfalls as I can cover – e.g. what could go wrong with the user session after they login:
Store passwords with bcrypt/scrypt/PBKDF2. No MD5 or SHA, as they are not good for password storing. Long salt (per user) is mandatory (the aforementioned algorithms have it built in). If you don’t and someone gets hold of your database, they’ll be able to extract the passwords of all your users. And then try these passwords on other websites.
Use HTTPS. Period. (Otherwise user credentials can leak through unprotected networks). Force HTTPS if user opens a plain-text version.
Mark cookies as secure. Makes cookie theft harder.
Use CSRF protection (e.g. CSRF one-time tokens that are verified with each request). Frameworks have such functionality built-in.
Logout – let your users logout by deleting all cookies and invalidating the session. This makes usage of shared computers safer (yes, users should ideally use private browsing sessions, but not all of them are that savvy)
Session expiry – don’t have forever-lasting sessions. If the user closes your website, their session should expire after a while. “A while” may still be a big number depending on the service provided. For ajax-heavy website you can have regular ajax-polling that keeps the session alive while the page stays open.
Remember me – implementing “remember me” (on this machine) functionality is actually hard due to the risks of a stolen persistent cookie. Spring-security uses this approach, which I think should be followed if you wish to implement more persistent logins.
Forgotten password flow – the forgotten password flow should rely on sending a one-time (or expiring) link to the user and asking for a new password when it’s opened. 0Auth explain it in this post and Postmark gives some best pracitces. How the link is formed is a separate discussion and there are several approaches. Store a password-reset token in the user profile table and then send it as parameter in the link. Or do not store anything in the database, but send a few params: userId:expiresTimestamp:hmac(userId+expiresTimestamp). That way you have expiring links (rather than one-time links). The HMAC relies on a secret key, so the links can’t be spoofed. It seems there’s no consensus, as the OWASP guide has a bit different approach
One-time login links – this is an option used by Slack, which sends one-time login links instead of asking users for passwords. It relies on the fact that your email is well guarded and you have access to it all the time. If your service is not accessed to often, you can have that approach instead of (rather than in addition to) passwords.
Limit login attempts – brute-force through a web UI should not be possible; therefore you should block login attempts if they become too many. One approach is to just block them based on IP. The other one is to block them based on account attempted. (Spring example here). Which one is better – I don’t know. Both can actually be combined. Instead of fully blocking the attempts, you may add a captcha after, say, the 5th attempt. But don’t add the captcha for the first attempt – it is bad user experience.
Don’t leak information through error messages – you shouldn’t allow attackers to figure out if an email is registered or not. If an email is not found, upon login report just “Incorrect credentials”. On passwords reset, it may be something like “If your email is registered, you should have received a password reset email”. This is often at odds with usability – people don’t often remember the email they used to register, and the ability to check a number of them before getting in might be important. So this rule is not absolute, though it’s desirable, especially for more critical systems.
Consider using a 3rd party authentication – OpenID Connect, OAuth by Google/Facebook/Twitter (but be careful with OAuth flaws as well). There’s an associated risk with relying on a 3rd party identity provider, and you still have to manage cookies, logout, etc., but some of the authentication aspects are simplified.
For high-risk or sensitive applications use 2-factor authentication. There’s a caveat with Google Authenticator though – if you lose your phone, you lose your accounts (unless there’s a manual process to restore it). That’s why Authy seems like a good solution for storing 2FA keys.
I’m sure I’m missing something. And you see it’s complicated. Sadly we’re still at the point where the most common functionality – authenticating users – is so tricky and cumbersome, that you almost always get at least some of it wrong.
The Linux Foundation and Nitrokey have announced a program whereby anybody who appears in the kernel’s MAINTAINERS file or who has a kernel.org email address can obtain a free Nitrokey Start crypto card. The intent, of course, is that kernel developers will use these devices to safeguard their GnuPG keys and, as a result, improve the security of the kernel development process as a whole. “A digital smartcard token like Nitrokey Start contains a cryptographic chip that is capable of storing private keys and performing crypto operations directly on the token itself. Because the key contents never leave the device, the operating system of the computer into which the token is plugged in is not able to retrieve the private keys themselves, therefore significantly limiting the ways in which the keys can be leaked or stolen.”
When Spectre and Meltdown were first announced earlier this year, pretty much everyone predicted that there would be many more attacks targeting branch prediction in microprocessors. Here’s another one:
In the new attack, an attacker primes the PHT and running branch instructions so that the PHT will always assume a particular branch is taken or not taken. The victim code then runs and makes a branch, which is potentially disturbing the PHT. The attacker then runs more branch instructions of its own to detect that disturbance to the PHT; the attacker knows that some branches should be predicted in a particular direction and tests to see if the victim’s code has changed that prediction.
The researchers looked only at Intel processors, using the attacks to leak information protected using Intel’s SGX (Software Guard Extensions), a feature found on certain chips to carve out small sections of encrypted code and data such that even the operating system (or virtualization software) cannot access it. They also described ways the attack could be used against address space layout randomization and to infer data in encryption and image libraries.
Amazon S3 provides comprehensive security and compliance capabilities that meet even the most stringent regulatory requirements. It gives you flexibility in the way you manage data for cost optimization, access control, and compliance. However, because the service is flexible, a user could accidentally configure buckets in a manner that is not secure. For example, let’s say you uploaded files to an Amazon S3 bucket with public read permissions, even though you intended only to share this file with a colleague or a partner. Although this might have accomplished your task to share the file internally, the file is now available to anyone on the internet, even without authentication.
In this blog post, we show you how to prevent your Amazon S3 buckets and objects from allowing public access. We discuss how to secure data in Amazon S3 with a defense-in-depth approach, where multiple security controls are put in place to help prevent data leakage. This approach helps prevent you from allowing public access to confidential information, such as personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI).
Preventing your Amazon S3 buckets and objects from allowing public access
Every call to an Amazon S3 service becomes a REST API request. When your request is transformed via a REST call, the permissions are converted into parameters included in the HTTP header or as URL parameters. The Amazon S3 bucket policy allows or denies access to the Amazon S3 bucket or Amazon S3 objects based on policy statements, and then evaluates conditions based on those parameters. To learn more, see Using Bucket Policies and User Policies.
With this in mind, let’s say multiple AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) users at Example Corp. have access to an Amazon S3 bucket and the objects in the bucket. Example Corp. wants to share the objects among its IAM users, while at the same time preventing the objects from being made available publicly.
To demonstrate how to do this, we start by creating an Amazon S3 bucket named examplebucket. After creating this bucket, we must apply the following bucket policy. This policy denies any uploaded object (PutObject) with the attribute x-amz-acl having the values public-read, public-read-write, or authenticated-read. This means authenticated users cannot upload objects to the bucket if the objects have public permissions.
“Deny any Amazon S3 request to PutObject or PutObjectAcl in the bucket examplebucket when the request includes one of the following access control lists (ACLs): public-read, public-read-write, or authenticated-read.”
Remember that IAM policies are evaluated not in a first-match-and-exit model. Instead, IAM evaluates first if there is an explicit Deny. If there is not, IAM continues to evaluate if you have an explicit Allow and then you have an implicit Deny.
The above policy creates an explicit Deny. Even when any authenticated user tries to upload (PutObject) an object with public read or write permissions, such as public-read or public-read-write or authenticated-read, the action will be denied. To understand how S3 Access Permissions work, you must understand what Access Control Lists (ACL) and Grants are. You can find the documentation here.
Now let’s continue our bucket policy explanation by examining the next statement.
This statement is very similar to the first statement, except that instead of checking the ACLs, we are checking specific user groups’ grants that represent the following groups:
AuthenticatedUsers group. Represented by http://acs.amazonaws.com/groups/global/AuthenticatedUsers, this group represents all AWS accounts. Access permissions to this group allow any AWS account to access the resource. However, all requests must be signed (authenticated).
AllUsers group. Represented by http://acs.amazonaws.com/groups/global/AllUsers, access permissions to this group allow anyone on the internet access to the resource. The requests can be signed (authenticated) or unsigned (anonymous). Unsigned requests omit the Authentication header in the request.
Now that you know how to deny object uploads with permissions that would make the object public, you just have two statement policies that prevent users from changing the bucket permissions (Denying s3:PutBucketACL from ACL and Denying s3:PutBucketACL from Grants).
Below is how we’re preventing users from changing the bucket permisssions.
As you can see above, the statement is very similar to the Object statements, except that now we use s3:PutBucketAcl instead of s3:PutObjectAcl, the Resource is just the bucket ARN, and the objects have the “/*” in the end of the ARN.
In this section, we showed how to prevent IAM users from accidently uploading Amazon S3 objects with public permissions to buckets. In the next section, we show you how to enforce multiple layers of security controls, such as encryption of data at rest and in transit while serving traffic from Amazon S3.
Securing data on Amazon S3 with defense-in-depth
Let’s say that Example Corp. wants to serve files securely from Amazon S3 to its users with the following requirements:
The data must be encrypted at rest and during transit.
The data must be accessible only by a limited set of public IP addresses.
All requests for data should be handled only by Amazon CloudFront (which is a content delivery network) instead of being directly available from an Amazon S3 URL. If you’re using an Amazon S3 bucket as the origin for a CloudFront distribution, you can grant public permission to read the objects in your bucket. This allows anyone to access your objects either through CloudFront or the Amazon S3 URL. CloudFront doesn’t expose Amazon S3 URLs, but your users still might have access to those URLs if your application serves any objects directly from Amazon S3, or if anyone gives out direct links to specific objects in Amazon S3.
A domain name is required to consume the content. Custom SSL certificate support lets you deliver content over HTTPS by using your own domain name and your own SSL certificate. This gives visitors to your website the security benefits of CloudFront over an SSL connection that uses your own domain name, in addition to lower latency and higher reliability.
To represent defense-in-depth visually, the following diagram contains several Amazon S3 objects (A) in a single Amazon S3 bucket (B). You can encrypt these objects on the server side or the client side. You also can configure the bucket policy such that objects are accessible only through CloudFront, which you can accomplish through an origin access identity (C). You then can configure CloudFront to deliver content only over HTTPS in addition to using your own domain name (D).
Defense-in-depth requirement 1: Data must be encrypted at rest and during transit
Let’s start with the objects themselves. Amazon S3 objects—files in this case—can range from zero bytes to multiple terabytes in size (see service limits for the latest information). Each Amazon S3 bucket includes a collection of objects, and the objects can be uploaded via the Amazon S3 console, AWS CLI, or AWS API.
If you choose to use server-side encryption, Amazon S3 encrypts your objects before saving them on disks in AWS data centers. To encrypt an object at the time of upload, you need to add the x-amz-server-side-encryption header to the request to tell Amazon S3 to encrypt the object using Amazon S3 managed keys (SSE-S3), AWS KMS managed keys (SSE-KMS), or customer-provided keys (SSE-C). There are two possible values for the x-amz-server-side-encryption header: AES256, which tells Amazon S3 to use Amazon S3 managed keys, and aws:kms, which tells Amazon S3 to use AWS KMS managed keys.
The following code example shows a Put request using SSE-S3.
PUT /example-object HTTP/1.1
Date: Wed, 8 Jun 2016 17:50:00 GMT
Authorization: authorization string
[11434 bytes of object data]
If you choose to use client-side encryption, you can encrypt data on the client side and upload the encrypted data to Amazon S3. In this case, you manage the encryption process, the encryption keys, and related tools. You encrypt data on the client side by using AWS KMS managed keys or a customer-supplied, client-side master key.
Defense-in-depth requirement 2: Data must be accessible only by a limited set of public IP addresses
At the Amazon S3 bucket level, you can configure permissions through a bucket policy. For example, you can limit access to the objects in a bucket by IP address range or specific IP addresses. Alternatively, you can make the objects accessible only through HTTPS.
The following bucket policy allows access to Amazon S3 objects only through HTTPS (the policy was generated with the AWS Policy Generator). Here the bucket policy explicitly denies ("Effect": "Deny") all read access ("Action": "s3:GetObject") from anybody who browses ("Principal": "*") to Amazon S3 objects within an Amazon S3 bucket if they are not accessed through HTTPS ("aws:SecureTransport": "false").
Defense-in-depth requirement 3: Data must not be publicly accessible directly from an Amazon S3 URL
Next, configure Amazon CloudFront to serve traffic from within the bucket. The use of CloudFront serves several purposes:
CloudFront is a content delivery network that acts as a cache to serve static files quickly to clients.
Depending on the number of requests, the cost of delivery is less than if objects were served directly via Amazon S3.
Objects served through CloudFront can be limited to specific countries.
Access to these Amazon S3 objects is available only through CloudFront. We do this by creating an origin access identity (OAI) for CloudFront and granting access to objects in the respective Amazon S3 bucket only to that OAI. As a result, access to Amazon S3 objects from the internet is possible only through CloudFront; all other means of accessing the objects—such as through an Amazon S3 URL—are denied. CloudFront acts not only as a content distribution network, but also as a host that denies access based on geographic restrictions. You apply these restrictions by updating your CloudFront web distribution and adding a whitelist that contains only a specific country’s name (let’s say Liechtenstein). Alternatively, you could add a blacklist that contains every country except that country. Learn more about how to use CloudFront geographic restriction to whitelist or blacklist a country to restrict or allow users in specific locations from accessing web content in the AWS Support Knowledge Center.
Defense-in-depth requirement 4: A domain name is required to consume the content
To serve content from CloudFront, you must use a domain name in the URLs for objects on your webpages or in your web application. The domain name can be either of the following:
The domain name that CloudFront automatically assigns when you create a distribution, such as d111111abcdef8.cloudfront.net
Your own domain name, such as example.com
For example, you might use one of the following URLs to return the file image.jpg:
You use the same URL format whether you store the content in Amazon S3 buckets or at a custom origin, like one of your own web servers.
Instead of using the default domain name that CloudFront assigns for you when you create a distribution, you can add an alternate domain name that’s easier to work with, like example.com. By setting up your own domain name with CloudFront, you can use a URL like this for objects in your distribution: http://example.com/images/image.jpg.
Let’s say that you already have a domain name hosted on Amazon Route 53. You would like to serve traffic from the domain name, request an SSL certificate, and add this to your CloudFront web distribution. The SSL offloading occurs in CloudFront by serving traffic securely from each CloudFront location. You also can configure CloudFront to deliver your content over HTTPS by using your custom domain name and your own SSL certificate. Serving web content through CloudFront reduces response from the origin as requests are redirected to the nearest edge location. This results in faster download times than if the visitor had requested the content from a data center that is located farther away.
In this post, we demonstrated how you can apply policies to Amazon S3 buckets so that only users with appropriate permissions are allowed to access the buckets. Anonymous users (with public-read/public-read-write permissions) and authenticated users without the appropriate permissions are prevented from accessing the buckets.
We also examined how to secure access to objects in Amazon S3 buckets. The objects in Amazon S3 buckets can be encrypted at rest and during transit. Doing so helps provide end-to-end security from the source (in this case, Amazon S3) to your users.
If you have feedback about this blog post, submit comments in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about this blog post, start a new thread on the Amazon S3 forum or contact AWS Support.
The kernel stack is a small, frequently reused region of memory in each thread’s address space. That reuse allows for efficient memory use and good performance as a result of cache locality, but it also presents a problem: data left on the stack can also end up being reused in ways that were not intended. The PaX patch set contains a mechanism designed to clear that data from the stack and prevent leaks, but an attempt to merge that code into the kernel has run into a snag.
Abstract: Smart contracts — stateful executable objects hosted on blockchains like Ethereum — carry billions of dollars worth of coins and cannot be updated once deployed. We present a new systematic characterization of a class of trace vulnerabilities, which result from analyzing multiple invocations of a contract over its lifetime. We focus attention on three example properties of such trace vulnerabilities: finding contracts that either lock funds indefinitely, leak them carelessly to arbitrary users, or can be killed by anyone. We implemented MAIAN, the first tool for precisely specifying and reasoning about trace properties, which employs inter-procedural symbolic analysis and concrete validator for exhibiting real exploits. Our analysis of nearly one million contracts flags 34,200 (2,365 distinct) contracts vulnerable, in 10 seconds per contract. On a subset of 3,759 contracts which we sampled for concrete validation and manual analysis, we reproduce real exploits at a true positive rate of 89%, yielding exploits for 3,686 contracts. Our tool finds exploits for the infamous Parity bug that indirectly locked 200 million dollars worth in Ether, which previous analyses failed to capture.
The cybersecurity company McAfee recently uncovered a cyber operation, dubbed Operation GoldDragon, attacking South Korean organizations related to the Winter Olympics. McAfee believes the attack came from a nation state that speaks Korean, although it has no definitive proof that this is a North Korean operation. The victim organizations include ice hockey teams, ski suppliers, ski resorts, tourist organizations in Pyeongchang, and departments organizing the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Meanwhile, a Russia-linked cyber attack has already stolen and leaked documents from other Olympic organizations. The so-called Fancy Bear group, or APT28, began its operations in late 2017 – according toTrend Micro and Threat Connect, two private cybersecurity firms — eventually publishingdocuments in 2018 outlining the political tensions between IOC officials and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officials who are policing Olympic athletes. It also released documents specifying exceptions to anti-doping regulations granted to specific athletes (for instance, one athlete was given an exception because of his asthma medication). The most recent Fancy Bear leak exposed details about a Canadian pole vaulter’s positive results for cocaine. This group has targeted WADA in the past, specifically during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Assuming the attribution is right, the action appears to be Russian retaliation for the punitive steps against Russia.
A senior analyst at McAfee warned that the Olympics may experience more cyber attacks before closing ceremonies. A researcher at ThreatConnect asserted that organizations like Fancy Bear have no reason to stop operations just because they’ve already stolen and released documents. Even the United States Department of Homeland Security has issued a notice to those traveling to South Korea to remind them to protect themselves against cyber risks.
One presumes the Olympics network is sufficiently protected against the more pedestrian DDoS attacks and the like, but who knows?
This story of leaked Australian government secrets is unlike any other I’ve heard:
It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.
The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.
They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.
Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.
The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.
Nearly all the files are classified, some as “top secret” or “AUSTEO”, which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.
Yes, that really happened. The person who bought and opened the file cabinets contacted the Australian Broadcasting Corp, who is now publishing a bunch of it.
There’s lots of interesting (and embarassing) stuff in the documents, although most of it is local politics. I am more interested in the government’s reaction to the incident: they’re pushing for a law making it illegal for the press to publish government secrets it received through unofficial channels.
“The one thing I would point out about the legislation that does concern me particularly is that classified information is an element of the offence,” he said.
“That is to say, if you’ve got a filing cabinet that is full of classified information … that means all the Crown has to prove if they’re prosecuting you is that it is classified nothing else.
“They don’t have to prove that you knew it was classified, so knowledge is beside the point.”
Many groups have raised concerns, including media organisations who say they unfairly target journalists trying to do their job.
But really anyone could be prosecuted just for possessing classified information, regardless of whether they know about it.
That might include, for instance, if you stumbled across a folder of secret files in a regular skip bin while walking home and handed it over to a journalist.
This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government’s perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.
The proposed law is older than this leak, but the leak is giving it new life. The Australian opposition party is being cagey on whether they will support the law. They don’t want to appear weak on national security, so I’m not optimistic.
EDITED TO ADD (2/8): The Australian government backed down on that new security law.
The most important fact about Wannacry is that it was an accident. We’ve had 30 years of experience with Internet worms teaching us that worms are always accidents. While launching worms may be intentional, their effects cannot be predicted. While they appear to have targets, like Slammer against South Korea, or Witty against the Pentagon, further analysis shows this was just a random effect that was impossible to predict ahead of time. Only in hindsight are these effects explainable.
We should hold those causing accidents accountable, too, but it’s a different accountability. The U.S. has caused more civilian deaths in its War on Terror than the terrorists caused triggering that war. But we hold these to be morally different: the terrorists targeted the innocent, whereas the U.S. takes great pains to avoid civilian casualties.
Since we are talking about blaming those responsible for accidents, we also must include the NSA in that mix. The NSA created, then allowed the release of, weaponized exploits. That’s like accidentally dropping a load of unexploded bombs near a village. When those bombs are then used, those having lost the weapons are held guilty along with those using them. Yes, while we should blame the hacker who added ETERNAL BLUE to their ransomware, we should also blame the NSA for losing control of ETERNAL BLUE.
A country and its assets are different
Was it North Korea, or hackers affilliated with North Korea? These aren’t the same.
It’s hard for North Korea to have hackers of its own. It doesn’t have citizens who grow up with computers to pick from. Moreover, an internal hacking corps would create tainted citizens exposed to dangerous outside ideas. Update: Some people have pointed out that Kim Il-sung University in the capital does have some contact with the outside world, with academics granted limited Internet access, so I guess some tainting is allowed. Still, what we know of North Korea hacking efforts largley comes from hackers they employ outside North Korea. It was the Lazurus Group, outside North Korea, that did Wannacry.
Instead, North Korea develops external hacking “assets”, supporting several external hacking groups in China, Japan, and South Korea. This is similar to how intelligence agencies develop human “assets” in foreign countries. While these assets do things for their handlers, they also have normal day jobs, and do many things that are wholly independent and even sometimes against their handler’s interests.
For example, this Muckrock FOIA dump shows how “CIA assets” independently worked for Castro and assassinated a Panamanian president. That they also worked for the CIA does not make the CIA responsible for the Panamanian assassination.
That CIA/intelligence assets work this way is well-known and uncontroversial. The fact that countries use hacker assets like this is the controversial part. These hackers do act independently, yet we refuse to consider this when we want to “attribute” attacks.
Attribution is political
We have far better attribution for the nPetya attacks. It was less accidental (they clearly desired to disrupt Ukraine), and the hackers were much closer to the Russian government (Russian citizens). Yet, the Trump administration isn’t fighting Russia, they are fighting North Korea, so they don’t officially attribute nPetya to Russia, but do attribute Wannacry to North Korea.
Trump is in conflict with North Korea. He is looking for ways to escalate the conflict. Attributing Wannacry helps achieve his political objectives.
That it was blatantly politics is demonstrated by the way it was released to the press. It wasn’t released in the normal way, where the administration can stand behind it, and get challenged on the particulars. Instead, it was pre-released through the normal system of “anonymous government officials” to the NYTimes, and then backed up with op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The government leaks information like this when it’s weak, not when its strong.
The proper way is to release the evidence upon which the decision was made, so that the public can challenge it. Among the questions the public would ask is whether it they believe it was North Korea’s intention to cause precisely this effect, such as disabling the British NHS. Or, whether it was merely hackers “affiliated” with North Korea, or hackers carrying out North Korea’s orders. We cannot challenge the government this way because the government intentionally holds itself above such accountability.
We believe hacking groups tied to North Korea are responsible for Wannacry. Yet, even if that’s true, we still have three attribution problems. We still don’t know if that was intentional, in pursuit of some political goal, or an accident. We still don’t know if it was at the direction of North Korea, or whether their hacker assets acted independently. We still don’t know if the government has answers to these questions, or whether it’s exploiting this doubt to achieve political support for actions against North Korea.
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.
Abstract: This report assesses the impact disclosure of data breaches has on the total returns and volatility of the affected companies’ stock, with a focus on the results relative to the performance of the firms’ peer industries, as represented through selected indices rather than the market as a whole. Financial performance is considered over a range of dates from 3 days post-breach through 6 months post-breach, in order to provide a longer-term perspective on the impact of the breach announcement.
While the difference in stock price between the sampled breached companies and their peers was negative (1.13%) in the first 3 days following announcement of a breach, by the 14th day the return difference had rebounded to + 0.05%, and on average remained positive through the period assessed.
For the differences in the breached companies’ betas and the beta of their peer sets, the differences in the means of 8 months pre-breach versus post-breach was not meaningful at 90, 180, and 360 day post-breach periods.
For the differences in the breached companies’ beta correlations against the peer indices pre- and post-breach, the difference in the means of the rolling 60 day correlation 8 months pre- breach versus post-breach was not meaningful at 90, 180, and 360 day post-breach periods.
In regression analysis, use of the number of accessed records, date, data sensitivity, and malicious versus accidental leak as variables failed to yield an R2 greater than 16.15% for response variables of 3, 14, 60, and 90 day return differential, excess beta differential, and rolling beta correlation differential, indicating that the financial impact on breached companies was highly idiosyncratic.
Based on returns, the most impacted industries at the 3 day post-breach date were U.S. Financial Services, Transportation, and Global Telecom. At the 90 day post-breach date, the three most impacted industries were U.S. Financial Services, U.S. Healthcare, and Global Telecom.
The market isn’t going to fix this. If we want better security, we need to regulate the market.
Note: The article is behind a paywall. An older version is here. A similar article is here.
A focus on privacy is a key feature being touted by a number of different projects these days—from KDE to Tails to Nextcloud. One of the biggest privacy leaks for most people is their phone, so it is no surprise that there are projects looking to address that as well. A new entrant in that category is eelo, which is a non-profit project aimed at producing not only a phone, but also a suite of web services. All of that could potentially replace the Google or Apple mothership, which tend to collect as much personal data as possible.
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