Tag Archives: political

The problematic Wannacry North Korea attribution

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2018/01/the-problematic-wannacry-north-korea.html

Last month, the US government officially “attributed” the Wannacry ransomware worm to North Korea. This attribution has three flaws, which are a good lesson for attribution in general.

It was an accident

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.

Conclusion

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.

Supporting Conservancy Makes a Difference

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2017/12/31/donate-conservancy.html

Earlier this year, in
February, I wrote a blog post encouraging people to donate
to where I
work, Software Freedom Conservancy. I’ve not otherwise blogged too much
this year. It’s been a rough year for many reasons, and while I
personally and Conservancy in general have accomplished some very
important work this year, I’m reminded as always that more resources do
make things easier.

I understand the urge, given how bad the larger political crises have
gotten, to want to give to charities other than those related to software
freedom. There are important causes out there that have become more urgent
this year. Here’s three issues which have become shockingly more acute
this year:

  • making sure the USA keeps it commitment
    to immigrants to allow them make a new life here just like my own ancestors
    did,
  • assuring that the great national nature reserves are maintained and
    left pristine for generations to come,
  • assuring that we have zero tolerance abusive behavior —
    particularly by those in power against people who come to them for help and
    job opportunities.

These are just three of the many issues this year that I’ve seen get worse,
not better. I am glad that I know and support people who work on these
issues, and I urge everyone to work on these issues, too.

Nevertheless, as I plan my primary donations this year, I’m again, as I
always do, giving to the FSF and my
own employer, Software
Freedom Conservancy
. The reason is simple: software freedom is still
an essential cause and it is frankly one that most people don’t understand
(yet). I wrote almost
two years ago about the phenomenon I dubbed Kuhn’s
Paradox
. Simply put: it keeps getting more and more difficult
to avoid proprietary software in a normal day’s tasks, even while the
number of lines of code licensed freely gets larger every day.

As long as that paradox remains true, I see software freedom as urgent. I
know that we’re losing ground on so many other causes, too. But those of
you who read my blog are some of the few people in the world that
understand that software freedom is under threat and needs the urgent work
that the very few software-freedom-related organizations,
like the FSF
and Software Freedom
Conservancy
are doing. I hope you’ll donate now to both of them. For
my part, I gave $120 myself to FSF as part of the monthly Associate
Membership program, and in a few minutes, I’m going to give $400 to
Conservancy. I’ll be frank: if you work in technology in an industrialized
country, I’m quite sure you can afford that level of money, and I suspect
those amounts are less than most of you spent on technology equipment
and/or network connectivity charges this year. Make a difference for us
and give to the cause of software freedom at least as much a you’re giving
to large technology companies.

Finally, a good reason to give to smaller charities like FSF and
Conservancy is that your donation makes a bigger difference. I do think
bigger organizations, such as (to pick an example of an organization I used
to give to) my local NPR station does important work. However, I was
listening this week to my local NPR station, and they said their goal
for that day was to raise $50,000. For Conservancy, that’s closer
to a goal we have for entire fundraising season, which for this year was
$75,000. The thing is: NPR is an important part of USA society, but it’s
one that nearly everyone understands. So few people understand the threats
looming from proprietary software, and they may not understand at all until
it’s too late — when all their devices are locked down, DRM is
fully ubiquitous, and no one is allowed to tinker with the software on
their devices and learn the wonderful art of computer programming. We are
at real risk of reaching that distopia before 90% of the world’s
population understands the threat!

Thus, giving to organizations in the area of software freedom is just
going to have a bigger and more immediate impact than more general causes
that more easily connect with people. You’re giving to prevent a future
that not everyone understands yet, and making an impact on our
work to help explain the dangers to the larger population.

Каталуния отново каза “Да”

Post Syndicated from Йовко Ламбрев original https://yovko.net/catalonia-si/

Каталуния отново каза

Партиите, подкрепящи независимостта на Каталуния, запазиха подкрепата на избирателите си, въпреки всички противодействия срещу тях. Двете формации от бившата коалиция „Заедно за Да“ (ERC и JxC) печелят общо 66 депутатски места или с 4 повече от 2015 г., когато заложиха на коалиционния формат. Техният по-малък партньор в досегашното управление CUP губи 6 от десетте си места, но със спечелените 4 общият сбор на трите партии, които застанаха зад процеса за независимост и провъзгласиха Република Каталуния, става 70 – с две по-малко от тези, на които разчиташе досегашното управление, суспендирано от Мадрид след задействане на чл.155 от Конституцията на Испания. Но в каталунския парламент за абсолютно мнозинство са нужни 68 депутата, тъй като всички мандати са 135.

Този резултат на извънредните избори вчера има още по-голяма тежест и заради невижданата досега рекордна активност от 82% гласували. При това след безобразното насилие, което насъсканата испанска жандармерия упражни върху каталунците на 1 октомври, арестите на граждански активисти и политици, част от които още не са освободени, с кандидат и лидер на една от партиите в затвора, досегашен вицепремиер и бивш член на Европейския парламент Ориол Жункерас, друг кандидат и лидер на друга партия в изгнание и досегашен премиер Карлес Пудждемон, огромна медийна машина, която бе впрегната в пропаганда и манипулации и няколко пъти удари дъното на журналистическия морал и етика, сваляне на сайтове, медийно затъмнение по много неудобни теми, суспендирано самоуправление и военни заплахи от Мадрид.

Мариано Рахой не можеше да загуби по-звучно тези избори, които сам си свика. Народната му партия (Partido Popular) губи 8 от 11-те си депутатски места и с останалите три, които запазва, ще бъде най-малката в каталунския парламент. Шамарът за поне седемгодишното неглижиране на проблема и съзнателното му ескалиране е напълно заслужен!

[![](https://yovko.net/content/images/2017/12/Screen-Shot-2017-12-22-at-15.18.06.png)](https://yovko.net/content/images/2017/12/Screen-Shot-2017-12-22-at-15.18.06.png)
Източник: Politico.eu – Charts: How Catalonia voted – (https://goo.gl/sqbpve)

Партия Гражданите (Ciudadanos), която успя да се превъплати в основния изразител на настроенията на антииндепендистите, формално печели изборите, но с едва 37 депутати и с малкото възможни опции за коалиция шансовете им да успеят да съставят кабинет са от минимални до никакви, дори и за правителство на малцинството.

We had our hands tied behind our back, with our political leaders in jail and exile, forbidden to use even the color yellow and WE STILL WIN. Imagine how much better we would’ve done if we had been at full strength. #Catalonia

— Liz Castro (@lizcastro) December 21, 2017

Лиз е писателка и моя позната, американка, която живее в Барселона, доскоро член на секретариата на Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) – гражданската организация, която се роди от уличните демонстрации през 2010 г., и от 2011 г. е ключов фактор в каталунското движение за независимост. Днес всъщност в друг свой туит тя изказа есенцията за причината да не се допусне референдум на всяка цена и тя е, че “днес е ясно какъв винаги е бил големият проблем – референдумът за независимост може да бъде спечелен и при най-лошите условия”.

Какво следва? Развръзката очевидно няма как да намерим в резултатите от тези избори, които реално препотвърждават разпределението на силите в сходна пропорция на ситуацията от предишните такива през 2015 г. Ситуацията (и пропорцията) се повтаря от 2012 г. насам, но докато тогава активността беше 67%, през 2015 г. – 74%, сега вече 82% от хората с право на глас са политически ангажирани да заемат позиция. Което при всички случаи е позитивно, защото е знак за жив демократичен процес и за чувствителност, която не може да бъде заметена под килима, независимо какво е удобно на Мадрид или Брюксел.

Рахой разчиташе, че ескалацията на конфликта ще втвърди електората му, защото независимо че българските медии удобно пропускат да наричат националистически неговите изблици, защото са резервирали думичката само за привържениците на Пудждемон и Жункерас – те са именно такива. Народната партия от умерено дясно-консервативна се връща все повече към злокобните си корени на крайнодесния национализъм и колкото по-рано в Европа си отворим очите за това, ще е по-безопасно за всички. Рахой е онзи типаж политици, които не могат да губят. Не притежава и особен интелект или въображение. Сега, притиснат до ъгъла, може да бъде още по-опасен, особено ако ЕС продължава със стратегията на широко затворените очи.

За Юнкер, Таяни, Туск и компания ще е трудно да не признаят толкова ангажиран вот и да продължават да неглижират авторитета на каталунски лидери, които хората подкрепят дори и в затвора или в изгнание. Да пазят Рахой вече ще е с цената на собствената им репутация. Митовете, че бягството на Пудждемон зад граница е разколебало поддръжниците му или явяването на левицата на Жункерас (ERC) отделно от дясно-либералната коалиция JxC ще свие подкрепата за тях рухнаха звучно. Както и цяла купчина други легенди, съшити с бели конци…

Все още единственият рационален изход от кризата е постижим чрез преговори и дипломация – най-добре с явна посредническа роля на Европа/ЕС.

P.S. Германия най-накрая понатисна Рахой

Каталуния отново каза “Да”

Post Syndicated from Йовко Ламбрев original https://yovko.net/catalonia-si/

Каталуния отново каза

Партиите, подкрепящи независимостта на Каталуния, запазиха подкрепата на избирателите си, въпреки всички противодействия срещу тях. Двете формации от бившата коалиция „Заедно за Да“ (ERC и JxC) печелят общо 66 депутатски места или с 4 повече от 2015 г., когато заложиха на коалиционния формат. Техният по-малък партньор в досегашното управление CUP губи 6 от десетте си места, но със спечелените 4 общият сбор на трите партии, които застанаха зад процеса за независимост и провъзгласиха Република Каталуния, става 70 – с две по-малко от тези, на които разчиташе досегашното управление, суспендирано от Мадрид след задействане на чл.155 от Конституцията на Испания. Но в каталунския парламент за абсолютно мнозинство са нужни 68 депутата, тъй като всички мандати са 135.

Този резултат на извънредните избори вчера има още по-голяма тежест и заради невижданата досега рекордна активност от 82% гласували. При това след безобразното насилие, което насъсканата испанска жандармерия упражни върху каталунците на 1 октомври, арестите на граждански активисти и политици, част от които още не са освободени, с кандидат и лидер на една от партиите в затвора, досегашен вицепремиер и бивш член на Европейския парламент Ориол Жункерас, друг кандидат и лидер на друга партия в изгнание и досегашен премиер Карлес Пудждемон, огромна медийна машина, която бе впрегната в пропаганда и манипулации и няколко пъти удари дъното на журналистическия морал и етика, сваляне на сайтове, медийно затъмнение по много неудобни теми, суспендирано самоуправление и военни заплахи от Мадрид.

Мариано Рахой не можеше да загуби по-звучно тези избори, които сам си свика. Народната му партия (Partido Popular) губи 8 от 11-те си депутатски места и с останалите три, които запазва, ще бъде най-малката в каталунския парламент. Шамарът за поне седемгодишното неглижиране на проблема и съзнателното му ескалиране е напълно заслужен!

[![](https://yovko.net/content/images/2017/12/Screen-Shot-2017-12-22-at-15.18.06.png)](https://yovko.net/content/images/2017/12/Screen-Shot-2017-12-22-at-15.18.06.png)
Източник: Politico.eu – Charts: How Catalonia voted – (https://goo.gl/sqbpve)

Партия Гражданите (Ciudadanos), която успя да се превъплати в основния изразител на настроенията на антииндепендистите, формално печели изборите, но с едва 37 депутати и с малкото възможни опции за коалиция шансовете им да успеят да съставят кабинет са от минимални до никакви, дори и за правителство на малцинството.

We had our hands tied behind our back, with our political leaders in jail and exile, forbidden to use even the color yellow and WE STILL WIN. Imagine how much better we would’ve done if we had been at full strength. #Catalonia

— Liz Castro (@lizcastro) December 21, 2017

Лиз е писателка и моя позната, американка, която живее в Барселона, доскоро член на секретариата на Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) – гражданската организация, която се роди от уличните демонстрации през 2010 г., и от 2011 г. е ключов фактор в каталунското движение за независимост. Днес всъщност в друг свой туит тя изказа есенцията за причината да не се допусне референдум на всяка цена и тя е, че “днес е ясно какъв винаги е бил големият проблем – референдумът за независимост може да бъде спечелен и при най-лошите условия”.

Какво следва? Развръзката очевидно няма как да намерим в резултатите от тези избори, които реално препотвърждават разпределението на силите в сходна пропорция на ситуацията от предишните такива през 2015 г. Ситуацията (и пропорцията) се повтаря от 2012 г. насам, но докато тогава активността беше 67%, през 2015 г. – 74%, сега вече 82% от хората с право на глас са политически ангажирани да заемат позиция. Което при всички случаи е позитивно, защото е знак за жив демократичен процес и за чувствителност, която не може да бъде заметена под килима, независимо какво е удобно на Мадрид или Брюксел.

Рахой разчиташе, че ескалацията на конфликта ще втвърди електората му, защото независимо че българските медии удобно пропускат да наричат националистически неговите изблици, защото са резервирали думичката само за привържениците на Пудждемон и Жункерас – те са именно такива. Народната партия от умерено дясно-консервативна се връща все повече към злокобните си корени на крайнодесния национализъм и колкото по-рано в Европа си отворим очите за това, ще е по-безопасно за всички. Рахой е онзи типаж политици, които не могат да губят. Не притежава и особен интелект или въображение. Сега, притиснат до ъгъла, може да бъде още по-опасен, особено ако ЕС продължава със стратегията на широко затворените очи.

За Юнкер, Таяни, Туск и компания ще е трудно да не признаят толкова ангажиран вот и да продължават да неглижират авторитета на каталунски лидери, които хората подкрепят дори и в затвора или в изгнание. Да пазят Рахой вече ще е с цената на собствената им репутация. Митовете, че бягството на Пудждемон зад граница е разколебало поддръжниците му или явяването на левицата на Жункерас (ERC) отделно от дясно-либералната коалиция JxC ще свие подкрепата за тях рухнаха звучно. Както и цяла купчина други легенди, съшити с бели конци…

Все още единственият рационален изход от кризата е постижим чрез преговори и дипломация – най-добре с явна посредническа роля на Европа/ЕС.

P.S. Германия най-накрая понатисна Рахой

Каталуния отново каза „Да“

Post Syndicated from Йовко Ламбрев original https://yovko.net/catalonia-si/

Партиите, подкрепящи независимостта на Каталуния, запазиха подкрепата на избирателите си, въпреки всички противодействия срещу тях. Двете формации от бившата коалиция „Заедно за Да“ (ERC и JxC) печелят общо 66 депутатски места или с 4 повече от 2015 г., когато заложиха на коалиционния формат. Техният по-малък партньор в досегашното управление CUP губи 6 от десетте си места, но със спечелените 4 общият сбор на трите партии, които застанаха зад процеса за независимост и провъзгласиха Република Каталуния, става 70 – с две по-малко от тези, на които разчиташе досегашното управление, суспендирано от Мадрид след задействане на чл.155 от Конституцията на Испания. Но в каталунския парламент за абсолютно мнозинство са нужни 68 депутата, тъй като всички мандати са 135.

Този резултат на извънредните избори вчера има още по-голяма тежест и заради невижданата досега рекордна активност от 82% гласували. При това след безобразното насилие, което насъсканата испанска жандармерия упражни върху каталунците на 1 октомври, арестите на граждански активисти и политици, част от които още не са освободени, с кандидат и лидер на една от партиите в затвора, досегашен вицепремиер и бивш член на Европейския парламент Ориол Жункерас, друг кандидат и лидер на друга партия в изгнание и досегашен премиер Карлес Пудждемон, огромна медийна машина, която бе впрегната в пропаганда и манипулации и няколко пъти удари дъното на журналистическия морал и етика, сваляне на сайтове, медийно затъмнение по много неудобни теми, суспендирано самоуправление и военни заплахи от Мадрид.

Мариано Рахой не можеше да загуби по-звучно тези избори, които сам си свика. Народната му партия (Partido Popular) губи 8 от 11-те си депутатски места и с останалите три, които запазва, ще бъде най-малката в каталунския парламент. Шамарът за поне седемгодишното неглижиране на проблема и съзнателното му ескалиране е напълно заслужен!

Източник: Politico.eu – Charts: How Catalonia voted – (https://goo.gl/sqbpve)

Партия Гражданите (Ciudadanos), която успя да се превъплати в основния изразител на настроенията на антииндепендистите, формално печели изборите, но с едва 37 депутати и с малкото възможни опции за коалиция шансовете им да успеят да съставят кабинет са от минимални до никакви, дори и за правителство на малцинството.

Лиз е писателка и моя позната, американка, която живее в Барселона, доскоро член на секретариата на Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) – гражданската организация, която се роди от уличните демонстрации през 2010 г., и от 2011 г. е ключов фактор в каталунското движение за независимост. Днес всъщност в друг свой туит тя изказа есенцията за причината да не се допусне референдум на всяка цена и тя е, че “днес е ясно какъв винаги е бил големият проблем – референдумът за независимост може да бъде спечелен и при най-лошите условия”.

Какво следва? Развръзката очевидно няма как да намерим в резултатите от тези избори, които реално препотвърждават разпределението на силите в сходна пропорция на ситуацията от предишните такива през 2015 г. Ситуацията (и пропорцията) се повтаря от 2012 г. насам, но докато тогава активността беше 67%, през 2015 г. – 74%, сега вече 82% от хората с право на глас са политически ангажирани да заемат позиция. Което при всички случаи е позитивно, защото е знак за жив демократичен процес и за чувствителност, която не може да бъде заметена под килима, независимо какво е удобно на Мадрид или Брюксел.

Рахой разчиташе, че ескалацията на конфликта ще втвърди електората му, защото независимо че българските медии удобно пропускат да наричат националистически неговите изблици, защото са резервирали думичката само за привържениците на Пудждемон и Жункерас – те са именно такива. Народната партия от умерено дясно-консервативна се връща все повече към злокобните си корени на крайнодесния национализъм и колкото по-рано в Европа си отворим очите за това, ще е по-безопасно за всички. Рахой е онзи типаж политици, които не могат да губят. Не притежава и особен интелект или въображение. Сега, притиснат до ъгъла, може да бъде още по-опасен, особено ако ЕС продължава със стратегията на широко затворените очи.

За Юнкер, Таяни, Туск и компания ще е трудно да не признаят толкова ангажиран вот и да продължават да неглижират авторитета на каталунски лидери, които хората подкрепят дори и в затвора или в изгнание. Да пазят Рахой вече ще е с цената на собствената им репутация. Митовете, че бягството на Пудждемон зад граница е разколебало поддръжниците му или явяването на левицата на Жункерас (ERC) отделно от дясно-либералната коалиция JxC ще свие подкрепата за тях рухнаха звучно. Както и цяла купчина други легенди, съшити с бели конци…

Все още единственият рационален изход от кризата е постижим чрез преговори и дипломация – най-добре с явна посредническа роля на Европа/ЕС.

P.S. Германия най-накрая понатисна Рахой

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.

Libertarians are against net neutrality

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/12/libertarians-are-against-net-neutrality.html

This post claims to be by a libertarian in support of net neutrality. As a libertarian, I need to debunk this. “Net neutrality” is a case of one-hand clapping, you rarely hear the competing side, and thus, that side may sound attractive. This post is about the other side, from a libertarian point of view.

That post just repeats the common, and wrong, left-wing talking points. I mean, there might be a libertarian case for some broadband regulation, but this isn’t it.

This thing they call “net neutrality” is just left-wing politics masquerading as some sort of principle. It’s no different than how people claim to be “pro-choice”, yet demand forced vaccinations. Or, it’s no different than how people claim to believe in “traditional marriage” even while they are on their third “traditional marriage”.

Properly defined, “net neutrality” means no discrimination of network traffic. But nobody wants that. A classic example is how most internet connections have faster download speeds than uploads. This discriminates against upload traffic, harming innovation in upload-centric applications like DropBox’s cloud backup or BitTorrent’s peer-to-peer file transfer. Yet activists never mention this, or other types of network traffic discrimination, because they no more care about “net neutrality” than Trump or Gingrich care about “traditional marriage”.

Instead, when people say “net neutrality”, they mean “government regulation”. It’s the same old debate between who is the best steward of consumer interest: the free-market or government.

Specifically, in the current debate, they are referring to the Obama-era FCC “Open Internet” order and reclassification of broadband under “Title II” so they can regulate it. Trump’s FCC is putting broadband back to “Title I”, which means the FCC can’t regulate most of its “Open Internet” order.

Don’t be tricked into thinking the “Open Internet” order is anything but intensely politically. The premise behind the order is the Democrat’s firm believe that it’s government who created the Internet, and all innovation, advances, and investment ultimately come from the government. It sees ISPs as inherently deceitful entities who will only serve their own interests, at the expense of consumers, unless the FCC protects consumers.

It says so right in the order itself. It starts with the premise that broadband ISPs are evil, using illegitimate “tactics” to hurt consumers, and continues with similar language throughout the order.

A good contrast to this can be seen in Tim Wu’s non-political original paper in 2003 that coined the term “net neutrality”. Whereas the FCC sees broadband ISPs as enemies of consumers, Wu saw them as allies. His concern was not that ISPs would do evil things, but that they would do stupid things, such as favoring short-term interests over long-term innovation (such as having faster downloads than uploads).

The political depravity of the FCC’s order can be seen in this comment from one of the commissioners who voted for those rules:

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wants to increase the minimum broadband standards far past the new 25Mbps download threshold, up to 100Mbps. “We invented the internet. We can do audacious things if we set big goals, and I think our new threshold, frankly, should be 100Mbps. I think anything short of that shortchanges our children, our future, and our new digital economy,” Commissioner Rosenworcel said.

This is indistinguishable from communist rhetoric that credits the Party for everything, as this booklet from North Korea will explain to you.

But what about monopolies? After all, while the free-market may work when there’s competition, it breaks down where there are fewer competitors, oligopolies, and monopolies.

There is some truth to this, in individual cities, there’s often only only a single credible high-speed broadband provider. But this isn’t the issue at stake here. The FCC isn’t proposing light-handed regulation to keep monopolies in check, but heavy-handed regulation that regulates every last decision.

Advocates of FCC regulation keep pointing how broadband monopolies can exploit their renting-seeking positions in order to screw the customer. They keep coming up with ever more bizarre and unlikely scenarios what monopoly power grants the ISPs.

But the never mention the most simplest: that broadband monopolies can just charge customers more money. They imagine instead that these companies will pursue a string of outrageous, evil, and less profitable behaviors to exploit their monopoly position.

The FCC’s reclassification of broadband under Title II gives it full power to regulate ISPs as utilities, including setting prices. The FCC has stepped back from this, promising it won’t go so far as to set prices, that it’s only regulating these evil conspiracy theories. This is kind of bizarre: either broadband ISPs are evilly exploiting their monopoly power or they aren’t. Why stop at regulating only half the evil?

The answer is that the claim “monopoly” power is a deception. It starts with overstating how many monopolies there are to begin with. When it issued its 2015 “Open Internet” order the FCC simultaneously redefined what they meant by “broadband”, upping the speed from 5-mbps to 25-mbps. That’s because while most consumers have multiple choices at 5-mbps, fewer consumers have multiple choices at 25-mbps. It’s a dirty political trick to convince you there is more of a problem than there is.

In any case, their rules still apply to the slower broadband providers, and equally apply to the mobile (cell phone) providers. The US has four mobile phone providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint) and plenty of competition between them. That it’s monopolistic power that the FCC cares about here is a lie. As their Open Internet order clearly shows, the fundamental principle that animates the document is that all corporations, monopolies or not, are treacherous and must be regulated.

“But corporations are indeed evil”, people argue, “see here’s a list of evil things they have done in the past!”

No, those things weren’t evil. They were done because they benefited the customers, not as some sort of secret rent seeking behavior.

For example, one of the more common “net neutrality abuses” that people mention is AT&T’s blocking of FaceTime. I’ve debunked this elsewhere on this blog, but the summary is this: there was no network blocking involved (not a “net neutrality” issue), and the FCC analyzed it and decided it was in the best interests of the consumer. It’s disingenuous to claim it’s an evil that justifies FCC actions when the FCC itself declared it not evil and took no action. It’s disingenuous to cite the “net neutrality” principle that all network traffic must be treated when, in fact, the network did treat all the traffic equally.

Another frequently cited abuse is Comcast’s throttling of BitTorrent.Comcast did this because Netflix users were complaining. Like all streaming video, Netflix backs off to slower speed (and poorer quality) when it experiences congestion. BitTorrent, uniquely among applications, never backs off. As most applications become slower and slower, BitTorrent just speeds up, consuming all available bandwidth. This is especially problematic when there’s limited upload bandwidth available. Thus, Comcast throttled BitTorrent during prime time TV viewing hours when the network was already overloaded by Netflix and other streams. BitTorrent users wouldn’t mind this throttling, because it often took days to download a big file anyway.

When the FCC took action, Comcast stopped the throttling and imposed bandwidth caps instead. This was a worse solution for everyone. It penalized heavy Netflix viewers, and prevented BitTorrent users from large downloads. Even though BitTorrent users were seen as the victims of this throttling, they’d vastly prefer the throttling over the bandwidth caps.

In both the FaceTime and BitTorrent cases, the issue was “network management”. AT&T had no competing video calling service, Comcast had no competing download service. They were only reacting to the fact their networks were overloaded, and did appropriate things to solve the problem.

Mobile carriers still struggle with the “network management” issue. While their networks are fast, they are still of low capacity, and quickly degrade under heavy use. They are looking for tricks in order to reduce usage while giving consumers maximum utility.

The biggest concern is video. It’s problematic because it’s designed to consume as much bandwidth as it can, throttling itself only when it experiences congestion. This is what you probably want when watching Netflix at the highest possible quality, but it’s bad when confronted with mobile bandwidth caps.

With small mobile devices, you don’t want as much quality anyway. You want the video degraded to lower quality, and lower bandwidth, all the time.

That’s the reasoning behind T-Mobile’s offerings. They offer an unlimited video plan in conjunction with the biggest video providers (Netflix, YouTube, etc.). The catch is that when congestion occurs, they’ll throttle it to lower quality. In other words, they give their bandwidth to all the other phones in your area first, then give you as much of the leftover bandwidth as you want for video.

While it sounds like T-Mobile is doing something evil, “zero-rating” certain video providers and degrading video quality, the FCC allows this, because they recognize it’s in the customer interest.

Mobile providers especially have great interest in more innovation in this area, in order to conserve precious bandwidth, but they are finding it costly. They can’t just innovate, but must ask the FCC permission first. And with the new heavy handed FCC rules, they’ve become hostile to this innovation. This attitude is highlighted by the statement from the “Open Internet” order:

And consumers must be protected, for example from mobile commercial practices masquerading as “reasonable network management.”

This is a clear declaration that free-market doesn’t work and won’t correct abuses, and that that mobile companies are treacherous and will do evil things without FCC oversight.

Conclusion

Ignoring the rhetoric for the moment, the debate comes down to simple left-wing authoritarianism and libertarian principles. The Obama administration created a regulatory regime under clear Democrat principles, and the Trump administration is rolling it back to more free-market principles. There is no principle at stake here, certainly nothing to do with a technical definition of “net neutrality”.

The 2015 “Open Internet” order is not about “treating network traffic neutrally”, because it doesn’t do that. Instead, it’s purely a left-wing document that claims corporations cannot be trusted, must be regulated, and that innovation and prosperity comes from the regulators and not the free market.

It’s not about monopolistic power. The primary targets of regulation are the mobile broadband providers, where there is plenty of competition, and who have the most “network management” issues. Even if it were just about wired broadband (like Comcast), it’s still ignoring the primary ways monopolies profit (raising prices) and instead focuses on bizarre and unlikely ways of rent seeking.

If you are a libertarian who nonetheless believes in this “net neutrality” slogan, you’ve got to do better than mindlessly repeating the arguments of the left-wing. The term itself, “net neutrality”, is just a slogan, varying from person to person, from moment to moment. You have to be more specific. If you truly believe in the “net neutrality” technical principle that all traffic should be treated equally, then you’ll want a rewrite of the “Open Internet” order.

In the end, while libertarians may still support some form of broadband regulation, it’s impossible to reconcile libertarianism with the 2015 “Open Internet”, or the vague things people mean by the slogan “net neutrality”.

NetNeutrality vs. Verizon censoring Naral

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/11/netneutrality-vs-verizon-censoring-naral.html

People keep retweeting this ACLU graphic in support of net neutrality. It’s wrong. In this post, I debunk the second item. I debunk other items in other posts [1] [4].

Firstly, it’s not a NetNeutrality issue (which applies only to the Internet), but an issue with text-messages. In other words, it’s something that will continue to happen even with NetNeutrality rules. People relate this to NetNeutrality as an analogy, not because it actually is such an issue.

Secondly, it’s an edge/content issue, not a transit issue. The details in this case is that Verizon provides a program for sending bulk messages to its customers from the edge of the network. Verizon isn’t censoring text messages in transit, but from the edge. You can send a text message to your friend on the Verizon network, and it won’t be censored. Thus the analogy is incorrect — the correct analogy would be with content providers like Twitter and Facebook, not ISPs like Comcast.

Like all cell phone vendors, Verizon polices this content, canceling accounts that abuse the system, like spammers. We all agree such censorship is a good thing, and that such censorship of content providers is not remotely a NetNeutrality issue. Content providers do this not because they disapprove of the content of spam such much as the distaste their customers have for spam.
Content providers that are political, rather than neutral to politics is indeed worrisome. It’s not a NetNeutrality issue per se, but it is a general “neutrality” issue. We free-speech activists want all content providers (Twitter, Facebook, Verizon mass-texting programs) to be free of political censorship — though we don’t want government to mandate such neutrality.
But even here, Verizon may be off the hook. They appear not be to be censoring one political view over another, but the controversial/unsavory way Naral expresses its views. Presumably, Verizon would be okay with less controversial political content.

In other words, as Verizon expresses it’s principles, it wants to block content that drivers away customers, but is otherwise neutral to the content. While this may unfairly target controversial political content, it’s at least basically neutral.

So in conclusion, while activists portray this as a NetNeutrality issue, it isn’t. It’s not even close.

NetNeutrality vs. AT&T censoring Pearl Jam

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/11/netneutrality-vs-at-censoring-pearl-jam.html

People keep retweeting this ACLU graphic in response to the FCC’s net neutrality decision. In this post, I debunk the first item on the list. In other posts [2] [4] I debunk other items.

First of all, this obviously isn’t a Net Neutrality case. The case isn’t about AT&T acting as an ISP transiting network traffic. Instead, this was about AT&T being a content provider, through their “Blue Room” subsidiary, whose content traveled across other ISPs. Such things will continue to happen regardless of the most stringent enforcement of NetNeutrality rules, since the FCC doesn’t regulate content providers.
Second of all, it wasn’t AT&T who censored the traffic. It wasn’t their Blue Room subsidiary who censored the traffic. It was a third party company they hired to bleep things like swear words and nipple slips. You are blaming AT&T for a decision by a third party that went against AT&T’s wishes. It was an accident, not AT&T policy.
Thirdly, and this is the funny bit, Tim Wu, the guy who defined the term “net neutrality”, recently wrote an op-ed claiming that while ISPs shouldn’t censor traffic, that content providers should. In other words, he argues that companies AT&T’s Blue Room should censor political content.
What activists like ACLU say about NetNeutrality have as little relationship to the truth as Trump’s tweets. Both pick “facts” that agree with them only so long as you don’t look into them.

Me on the Equifax Breach

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/11/me_on_the_equif.html

Testimony and Statement for the Record of Bruce Schneier
Fellow and Lecturer, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School

Hearing on “Securing Consumers’ Credit Data in the Age of Digital Commerce”

Before the

Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection
Committee on Energy and Commerce
United States House of Representatives

1 November 2017
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Mister Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today concerning the security of credit data. My name is Bruce Schneier, and I am a security technologist. For over 30 years I have studied the technologies of security and privacy. I have authored 13 books on these subjects, including Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World (Norton, 2015). My popular newsletter CryptoGram and my blog Schneier on Security are read by over 250,000 people.

Additionally, I am a Fellow and Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government –where I teach Internet security policy — and a Fellow at the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. I am a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, AccessNow, and the Tor Project; and an advisory board member of Electronic Privacy Information Center and VerifiedVoting.org. I am also a special advisor to IBM Security and the Chief Technology Officer of IBM Resilient.

I am here representing none of those organizations, and speak only for myself based on my own expertise and experience.

I have eleven main points:

1. The Equifax breach was a serious security breach that puts millions of Americans at risk.

Equifax reported that 145.5 million US customers, about 44% of the population, were impacted by the breach. (That’s the original 143 million plus the additional 2.5 million disclosed a month later.) The attackers got access to full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers.

This is exactly the sort of information criminals can use to impersonate victims to banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, cell phone companies and other businesses vulnerable to fraud. As a result, all 143 million US victims are at greater risk of identity theft, and will remain at risk for years to come. And those who suffer identify theft will have problems for months, if not years, as they work to clean up their name and credit rating.

2. Equifax was solely at fault.

This was not a sophisticated attack. The security breach was a result of a vulnerability in the software for their websites: a program called Apache Struts. The particular vulnerability was fixed by Apache in a security patch that was made available on March 6, 2017. This was not a minor vulnerability; the computer press at the time called it “critical.” Within days, it was being used by attackers to break into web servers. Equifax was notified by Apache, US CERT, and the Department of Homeland Security about the vulnerability, and was provided instructions to make the fix.

Two months later, Equifax had still failed to patch its systems. It eventually got around to it on July 29. The attackers used the vulnerability to access the company’s databases and steal consumer information on May 13, over two months after Equifax should have patched the vulnerability.

The company’s incident response after the breach was similarly damaging. It waited nearly six weeks before informing victims that their personal information had been stolen and they were at increased risk of identity theft. Equifax opened a website to help aid customers, but the poor security around that — the site was at a domain separate from the Equifax domain — invited fraudulent imitators and even more damage to victims. At one point, the official Equifax communications even directed people to that fraudulent site.

This is not the first time Equifax failed to take computer security seriously. It confessed to another data leak in January 2017. In May 2016, one of its websites was hacked, resulting in 430,000 people having their personal information stolen. Also in 2016, a security researcher found and reported a basic security vulnerability in its main website. And in 2014, the company reported yet another security breach of consumer information. There are more.

3. There are thousands of data brokers with similarly intimate information, similarly at risk.

Equifax is more than a credit reporting agency. It’s a data broker. It collects information about all of us, analyzes it all, and then sells those insights. It might be one of the biggest, but there are 2,500 to 4,000 other data brokers that are collecting, storing, and selling information about us — almost all of them companies you’ve never heard of and have no business relationship with.

The breadth and depth of information that data brokers have is astonishing. Data brokers collect and store billions of data elements covering nearly every US consumer. Just one of the data brokers studied holds information on more than 1.4 billion consumer transactions and 700 billion data elements, and another adds more than 3 billion new data points to its database each month.

These brokers collect demographic information: names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, gender, age, marital status, presence and ages of children in household, education level, profession, income level, political affiliation, cars driven, and information about homes and other property. They collect lists of things we’ve purchased, when we’ve purchased them, and how we paid for them. They keep track of deaths, divorces, and diseases in our families. They collect everything about what we do on the Internet.

4. These data brokers deliberately hide their actions, and make it difficult for consumers to learn about or control their data.

If there were a dozen people who stood behind us and took notes of everything we purchased, read, searched for, or said, we would be alarmed at the privacy invasion. But because these companies operate in secret, inside our browsers and financial transactions, we don’t see them and we don’t know they’re there.

Regarding Equifax, few consumers have any idea what the company knows about them, who they sell personal data to or why. If anyone knows about them at all, it’s about their business as a credit bureau, not their business as a data broker. Their website lists 57 different offerings for business: products for industries like automotive, education, health care, insurance, and restaurants.

In general, options to “opt-out” don’t work with data brokers. It’s a confusing process, and doesn’t result in your data being deleted. Data brokers will still collect data about consumers who opt out. It will still be in those companies’ databases, and will still be vulnerable. It just don’t be included individually when they sell data to their customers.

5. The existing regulatory structure is inadequate.

Right now, there is no way for consumers to protect themselves. Their data has been harvested and analyzed by these companies without their knowledge or consent. They cannot improve the security of their personal data, and have no control over how vulnerable it is. They only learn about data breaches when the companies announce them — which can be months after the breaches occur — and at that point the onus is on them to obtain credit monitoring services or credit freezes. And even those only protect consumers from some of the harms, and only those suffered after Equifax admitted to the breach.

Right now, the press is reporting “dozens” of lawsuits against Equifax from shareholders, consumers, and banks. Massachusetts has sued Equifax for violating state consumer protection and privacy laws. Other states may follow suit.

If any of these plaintiffs win in the court, it will be a rare victory for victims of privacy breaches against the companies that have our personal information. Current law is too narrowly focused on people who have suffered financial losses directly traceable to a specific breach. Proving this is difficult. If you are the victim of identity theft in the next month, is it because of Equifax or does the blame belong to another of the thousands of companies who have your personal data? As long as one can’t prove it one way or the other, data brokers remain blameless and liability free.

Additionally, much of this market in our personal data falls outside the protections of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. And in order for the Federal Trade Commission to levy a fine against Equifax, it needs to have a consent order and then a subsequent violation. Any fines will be limited to credit information, which is a small portion of the enormous amount of information these companies know about us. In reality, this is not an effective enforcement regime.

Although the FTC is investigating Equifax, it is unclear if it has a viable case.

6. The market cannot fix this because we are not the customers of data brokers.

The customers of these companies are people and organizations who want to buy information: banks looking to lend you money, landlords deciding whether to rent you an apartment, employers deciding whether to hire you, companies trying to figure out whether you’d be a profitable customer — everyone who wants to sell you something, even governments.

Markets work because buyers choose from a choice of sellers, and sellers compete for buyers. None of us are Equifax’s customers. None of us are the customers of any of these data brokers. We can’t refuse to do business with the companies. We can’t remove our data from their databases. With few limited exceptions, we can’t even see what data these companies have about us or correct any mistakes.

We are the product that these companies sell to their customers: those who want to use our personal information to understand us, categorize us, make decisions about us, and persuade us.

Worse, the financial markets reward bad security. Given the choice between increasing their cybersecurity budget by 5%, or saving that money and taking the chance, a rational CEO chooses to save the money. Wall Street rewards those whose balance sheets look good, not those who are secure. And if senior management gets unlucky and the a public breach happens, they end up okay. Equifax’s CEO didn’t get his $5.2 million severance pay, but he did keep his $18.4 million pension. Any company that spends more on security than absolutely necessary is immediately penalized by shareholders when its profits decrease.

Even the negative PR that Equifax is currently suffering will fade. Unless we expect data brokers to put public interest ahead of profits, the security of this industry will never improve without government regulation.

7. We need effective regulation of data brokers.

In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission recommended that Congress require data brokers be more transparent and give consumers more control over their personal information. That report contains good suggestions on how to regulate this industry.

First, Congress should help plaintiffs in data breach cases by authorizing and funding empirical research on the harm individuals receive from these breaches.

Specifically, Congress should move forward legislative proposals that establish a nationwide “credit freeze” — which is better described as changing the default for disclosure from opt-out to opt-in — and free lifetime credit monitoring services. By this I do not mean giving customers free credit-freeze options, a proposal by Senators Warren and Schatz, but that the default should be a credit freeze.

The credit card industry routinely notifies consumers when there are suspicious charges. It is obvious that credit reporting agencies should have a similar obligation to notify consumers when there is suspicious activity concerning their credit report.

On the technology side, more could be done to limit the amount of personal data companies are allowed to collect. Increasingly, privacy safeguards impose “data minimization” requirements to ensure that only the data that is actually needed is collected. On the other hand, Congress should not create a new national identifier to replace the Social Security Numbers. That would make the system of identification even more brittle. Better is to reduce dependence on systems of identification and to create contextual identification where necessary.

Finally, Congress needs to give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to set minimum security standards for data brokers and to give consumers more control over their personal information. This is essential as long as consumers are these companies’ products and not their customers.

8. Resist complaints from the industry that this is “too hard.”

The credit bureaus and data brokers, and their lobbyists and trade-association representatives, will claim that many of these measures are too hard. They’re not telling you the truth.

Take one example: credit freezes. This is an effective security measure that protects consumers, but the process of getting one and of temporarily unfreezing credit is made deliberately onerous by the credit bureaus. Why isn’t there a smartphone app that alerts me when someone wants to access my credit rating, and lets me freeze and unfreeze my credit at the touch of the screen? Too hard? Today, you can have an app on your phone that does something similar if you try to log into a computer network, or if someone tries to use your credit card at a physical location different from where you are.

Moreover, any credit bureau or data broker operating in Europe is already obligated to follow the more rigorous EU privacy laws. The EU General Data Protection Regulation will come into force, requiring even more security and privacy controls for companies collecting storing the personal data of EU citizens. Those companies have already demonstrated that they can comply with those more stringent regulations.

Credit bureaus, and data brokers in general, are deliberately not implementing these 21st-century security solutions, because they want their services to be as easy and useful as possible for their actual customers: those who are buying your information. Similarly, companies that use this personal information to open accounts are not implementing more stringent security because they want their services to be as easy-to-use and convenient as possible.

9. This has foreign trade implications.

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation reported that 100,000 Canadians had their data stolen in the Equifax breach. The British Broadcasting Corporation originally reported that 400,000 UK consumers were affected; Equifax has since revised that to 15.2 million.

Many American Internet companies have significant numbers of European users and customers, and rely on negotiated safe harbor agreements to legally collect and store personal data of EU citizens.

The European Union is in the middle of a massive regulatory shift in its privacy laws, and those agreements are coming under renewed scrutiny. Breaches such as Equifax give these European regulators a powerful argument that US privacy regulations are inadequate to protect their citizens’ data, and that they should require that data to remain in Europe. This could significantly harm American Internet companies.

10. This has national security implications.

Although it is still unknown who compromised the Equifax database, it could easily have been a foreign adversary that routinely attacks the servers of US companies and US federal agencies with the goal of exploiting security vulnerabilities and obtaining personal data.

When the Fair Credit Reporting Act was passed in 1970, the concern was that the credit bureaus might misuse our data. That is still a concern, but the world has changed since then. Credit bureaus and data brokers have far more intimate data about all of us. And it is valuable not only to companies wanting to advertise to us, but foreign governments as well. In 2015, the Chinese breached the database of the Office of Personal Management and stole the detailed security clearance information of 21 million Americans. North Korea routinely engages in cybercrime as way to fund its other activities. In a world where foreign governments use cyber capabilities to attack US assets, requiring data brokers to limit collection of personal data, securely store the data they collect, and delete data about consumers when it is no longer needed is a matter of national security.

11. We need to do something about it.

Yes, this breach is a huge black eye and a temporary stock dip for Equifax — this month. Soon, another company will have suffered a massive data breach and few will remember Equifax’s problem. Does anyone remember last year when Yahoo admitted that it exposed personal information of a billion users in 2013 and another half billion in 2014?

Unless Congress acts to protect consumer information in the digital age, these breaches will continue.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I will be pleased to answer your questions.

LOIC Download – Low Orbit Ion Cannon DDoS Booter

Post Syndicated from Darknet original https://www.darknet.org.uk/2017/10/loic-download-low-orbit-ion-cannon-ddos-booter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=darknetfeed

LOIC Download – Low Orbit Ion Cannon DDoS Booter

LOIC Download below – Low Orbit Ion Cannon is an Open Source Stress Testing and Denial of Service (DoS or DDoS) attack application written in C#.

It’s an interesting tool in that it’s often used in what are usually classified as political cyber-terrorist attacks against large capitalistic organisations. The hivemind version gives average non-technical users a way to give their bandwidth as a way of supporting a cause they agree with.

Read the rest of LOIC Download – Low Orbit Ion Cannon DDoS Booter now! Only available at Darknet.

Nazis, are bad

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/08/13/nazis-are-bad/

Anonymous asks:

Could you talk about something related to the management/moderation and growth of online communities? IOW your thoughts on online community management, if any.

I think you’ve tweeted about this stuff in the past so I suspect you have thoughts on this, but if not, again, feel free to just blog about … anything 🙂

Oh, I think I have some stuff to say about community management, in light of recent events. None of it hasn’t already been said elsewhere, but I have to get this out.

Hopefully the content warning is implicit in the title.


I am frustrated.

I’ve gone on before about a particularly bothersome phenomenon that hurts a lot of small online communities: often, people are willing to tolerate the misery of others in a community, but then get up in arms when someone pushes back. Someone makes a lot of off-hand, off-color comments about women? Uses a lot of dog-whistle terms? Eh, they’re not bothering anyone, or at least not bothering me. Someone else gets tired of it and tells them to knock it off? Whoa there! Now we have the appearance of conflict, which is unacceptable, and people will turn on the person who’s pissed off — even though they’ve been at the butt end of an invisible conflict for who knows how long. The appearance of peace is paramount, even if it means a large chunk of the population is quietly miserable.

Okay, so now, imagine that on a vastly larger scale, and also those annoying people who know how to skirt the rules are Nazis.


The label “Nazi” gets thrown around a lot lately, probably far too easily. But when I see a group of people doing the Hitler salute, waving large Nazi flags, wearing Nazi armbands styled after the SS, well… if the shoe fits, right? I suppose they might have flown across the country to join a torch-bearing mob ironically, but if so, the joke is going way over my head. (Was the murder ironic, too?) Maybe they’re not Nazis in the sense that the original party doesn’t exist any more, but for ease of writing, let’s refer to “someone who espouses Nazi ideology and deliberately bears a number of Nazi symbols” as, well, “a Nazi”.

This isn’t a new thing, either; I’ve stumbled upon any number of Twitter accounts that are decorated in Nazi regalia. I suppose the trouble arises when perfectly innocent members of the alt-right get unfairly labelled as Nazis.

But hang on; this march was called “Unite the Right” and was intended to bring together various far right sub-groups. So what does their choice of aesthetic say about those sub-groups? I haven’t heard, say, alt-right coiner Richard Spencer denounce the use of Nazi symbology — extra notable since he was fucking there and apparently didn’t care to discourage it.


And so begins the rule-skirting. “Nazi” is definitely overused, but even using it to describe white supremacists who make not-so-subtle nods to Hitler is likely to earn you some sarcastic derailment. A Nazi? Oh, so is everyone you don’t like and who wants to establish a white ethno state a Nazi?

Calling someone a Nazi — or even a white supremacist — is an attack, you see. Merely expressing the desire that people of color not exist is perfectly peaceful, but identifying the sentiment for what it is causes visible discord, which is unacceptable.

These clowns even know this sort of thing and strategize around it. Or, try, at least. Maybe it wasn’t that successful this weekend — though flicking through Charlottesville headlines now, they seem to be relatively tame in how they refer to the ralliers.

I’m reminded of a group of furries — the alt-furries — who have been espousing white supremacy and wearing red armbands with a white circle containing a black… pawprint. Ah, yes, that’s completely different.


So, what to do about this?

Ignore them” is a popular option, often espoused to bullied children by parents who have never been bullied, shortly before they resume complaining about passive-aggressive office politics. The trouble with ignoring them is that, just like in smaller communitiest, they have a tendency to fester. They take over large chunks of influential Internet surface area like 4chan and Reddit; they help get an inept buffoon elected; and then they start to have torch-bearing rallies and run people over with cars.

4chan illustrates a kind of corollary here. Anyone who’s steeped in Internet Culture™ is surely familiar with 4chan; I was never a regular visitor, but it had enough influence that I was still aware of it and some of its culture. It was always thick with irony, which grew into a sort of ironic detachment — perhaps one of the major sources of the recurring online trope that having feelings is bad — which proceeded into ironic racism.

And now the ironic racism is indistinguishable from actual racism, as tends to be the case. Do they “actually” “mean it”, or are they just trying to get a rise out of people? What the hell is unironic racism if not trying to get a rise out of people? What difference is there to onlookers, especially as they move to become increasingly involved with politics?

It’s just a joke” and “it was just a thoughtless comment” are exceptionally common defenses made by people desperate to preserve the illusion of harmony, but the strain of overt white supremacy currently running rampant through the US was built on those excuses.


The other favored option is to debate them, to defeat their ideas with better ideas.

Well, hang on. What are their ideas, again? I hear they were chanting stuff like “go back to Africa” and “fuck you, faggots”. Given that this was an overtly political rally (and again, the Nazi fucking regalia), I don’t think it’s a far cry to describe their ideas as “let’s get rid of black people and queer folks”.

This is an underlying proposition: that white supremacy is inherently violent. After all, if the alt-right seized total political power, what would they do with it? If I asked the same question of Democrats or Republicans, I’d imagine answers like “universal health care” or “screw over poor people”. But people whose primary goal is to have a country full of only white folks? What are they going to do, politely ask everyone else to leave? They’re invoking the memory of people who committed genocide and also tried to take over the fucking world. They are outright saying, these are the people we look up to, this is who we think had a great idea.

How, precisely, does one defeat these ideas with rational debate?

Because the underlying core philosophy beneath all this is: “it would be good for me if everything were about me”. And that’s true! (Well, it probably wouldn’t work out how they imagine in practice, but it’s true enough.) Consider that slavery is probably fantastic if you’re the one with the slaves; the issue is that it’s reprehensible, not that the very notion contains some kind of 101-level logical fallacy. That’s probably why we had a fucking war over it instead of hashing it out over brunch.

…except we did hash it out over brunch once, and the result was that slavery was still allowed but slaves only counted as 60% of a person for the sake of counting how much political power states got. So that’s how rational debate worked out. I’m sure the slaves were thrilled with that progress.


That really only leaves pushing back, which raises the question of how to push back.

And, I don’t know. Pushing back is much harder in spaces you don’t control, spaces you’re already struggling to justify your own presence in. For most people, that’s most spaces. It’s made all the harder by that tendency to preserve illusory peace; even the tamest request that someone knock off some odious behavior can be met by pushback, even by third parties.

At the same time, I’m aware that white supremacists prey on disillusioned young white dudes who feel like they don’t fit in, who were promised the world and inherited kind of a mess. Does criticism drive them further away? The alt-right also opposes “political correctness”, i.e. “not being a fucking asshole”.

God knows we all suck at this kind of behavior correction, even within our own in-groups. Fandoms have become almost ridiculously vicious as platforms like Twitter and Tumblr amplify individual anger to deafening levels. It probably doesn’t help that we’re all just exhausted, that every new fuck-up feels like it bears the same weight as the last hundred combined.

This is the part where I admit I don’t know anything about people and don’t have any easy answers. Surprise!


The other alternative is, well, punching Nazis.

That meme kind of haunts me. It raises really fucking complicated questions about when violence is acceptable, in a culture that’s completely incapable of answering them.

America’s relationship to violence is so bizarre and two-faced as to be almost incomprehensible. We worship it. We have the biggest military in the world by an almost comical margin. It’s fairly mainstream to own deadly weapons for the express stated purpose of armed revolution against the government, should that become necessary, where “necessary” is left ominously undefined. Our movies are about explosions and beating up bad guys; our video games are about explosions and shooting bad guys. We fantasize about solving foreign policy problems by nuking someone — hell, our talking heads are currently in polite discussion about whether we should nuke North Korea and annihilate up to twenty-five million people, as punishment for daring to have the bomb that only we’re allowed to have.

But… violence is bad.

That’s about as far as the other side of the coin gets. It’s bad. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Also, guess who we bombed today?

I observe that the one time Nazis were a serious threat, America was happy to let them try to take over the world until their allies finally showed up on our back porch.

Maybe I don’t understand what “violence” means. In a quest to find out why people are talking about “leftist violence” lately, I found a National Review article from May that twice suggests blocking traffic is a form of violence. Anarchists have smashed some windows and set a couple fires at protests this year — and, hey, please knock that crap off? — which is called violence against, I guess, Starbucks. Black Lives Matter could be throwing a birthday party and Twitter would still be abuzz with people calling them thugs.

Meanwhile, there’s a trend of murderers with increasingly overt links to the alt-right, and everyone is still handling them with kid gloves. First it was murders by people repeating their talking points; now it’s the culmination of a torches-and-pitchforks mob. (Ah, sorry, not pitchforks; assault rifles.) And we still get this incredibly bizarre both-sides-ism, a White House that refers to the people who didn’t murder anyone as “just as violent if not more so“.


Should you punch Nazis? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m extremely dissatisfied with discourse that’s extremely alarmed by hypothetical punches — far more mundane than what you’d see after a sporting event — but treats a push for ethnic cleansing as a mere difference of opinion.

The equivalent to a punch in an online space is probably banning, which is almost laughable in comparison. It doesn’t cause physical harm, but it is a use of concrete force. Doesn’t pose quite the same moral quandary, though.

Somewhere in the middle is the currently popular pastime of doxxing (doxxxxxxing) people spotted at the rally in an attempt to get them fired or whatever. Frankly, that skeeves me out, though apparently not enough that I’m directly chastizing anyone for it.


We aren’t really equipped, as a society, to deal with memetic threats. We aren’t even equipped to determine what they are. We had a fucking world war over this, and now people are outright saying “hey I’m like those people we went and killed a lot in that world war” and we give them interviews and compliment their fashion sense.

A looming question is always, what if they then do it to you? What if people try to get you fired, to punch you for your beliefs?

I think about that a lot, and then I remember that it’s perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay in half the country. (Courts are currently wrangling whether Title VII forbids this, but with the current administration, I’m not optimistic.) I know people who’ve been fired for coming out as trans. I doubt I’d have to look very far to find someone who’s been punched for either reason.

And these aren’t even beliefs; they’re just properties of a person. You can stop being a white supremacist, one of those people yelling “fuck you, faggots”.

So I have to recuse myself from this asinine question, because I can’t fairly judge the risk of retaliation when it already happens to people I care about.

Meanwhile, if a white supremacist does get punched, I absolutely still want my tax dollars to pay for their universal healthcare.


The same wrinkle comes up with free speech, which is paramount.

The ACLU reminds us that the First Amendment “protects vile, hateful, and ignorant speech”. I think they’ve forgotten that that’s a side effect, not the goal. No one sat down and suggested that protecting vile speech was some kind of noble cause, yet that’s how we seem to be treating it.

The point was to avoid a situation where the government is arbitrarily deciding what qualifies as vile, hateful, and ignorant, and was using that power to eliminate ideas distasteful to politicians. You know, like, hypothetically, if they interrogated and jailed a bunch of people for supporting the wrong economic system. Or convicted someone under the Espionage Act for opposing the draft. (Hey, that’s where the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” line comes from.)

But these are ideas that are already in the government. Bannon, a man who was chair of a news organization he himself called “the platform for the alt-right”, has the President’s ear! How much more mainstream can you get?

So again I’m having a little trouble balancing “we need to defend the free speech of white supremacists or risk losing it for everyone” against “we fairly recently were ferreting out communists and the lingering public perception is that communists are scary, not that the government is”.


This isn’t to say that freedom of speech is bad, only that the way we talk about it has become fanatical to the point of absurdity. We love it so much that we turn around and try to apply it to corporations, to platforms, to communities, to interpersonal relationships.

Look at 4chan. It’s completely public and anonymous; you only get banned for putting the functioning of the site itself in jeopardy. Nothing is stopping a larger group of people from joining its politics board and tilting sentiment the other way — except that the current population is so odious that no one wants to be around them. Everyone else has evaporated away, as tends to happen.

Free speech is great for a government, to prevent quashing politics that threaten the status quo (except it’s a joke and they’ll do it anyway). People can’t very readily just bail when the government doesn’t like them, anyway. It’s also nice to keep in mind to some degree for ubiquitous platforms. But the smaller you go, the easier it is for people to evaporate away, and the faster pure free speech will turn the place to crap. You’ll be left only with people who care about nothing.


At the very least, it seems clear that the goal of white supremacists is some form of destabilization, of disruption to the fabric of a community for purely selfish purposes. And those are the kinds of people you want to get rid of as quickly as possible.

Usually this is hard, because they act just nicely enough to create some plausible deniability. But damn, if someone is outright telling you they love Hitler, maybe skip the principled hand-wringing and eject them.

Query name minimization

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/08/query-name-minimization.html

One new thing you need to add your DNS security policies is “query name minimizations” (RFC 7816). I thought I’d mention it since many haven’t heard about it.

Right now, when DNS resolvers lookup a name like “www.example.com.”, they send the entire name to the root server (like a.root-servers.net.). When it gets back the answer to the .com DNS server a.gtld-servers.net), it then resends the full “www.example.com” query to that server.

This is obviously unnecessary. The first query should be just .com. to the root server, then example.com. to the next server — the minimal amount needed for each query, not the full query.

The reason this is important is that everyone is listening in on root name server queries. Universities and independent researchers do this to maintain the DNS system, and to track malware. Security companies do this also to track malware, bots, command-and-control channels, and so forth. The world’s biggest spy agencies do this in order just to spy on people. Minimizing your queries prevents them from spying on you.

An example where this is important is that story of lookups from AlfaBank in Russia for “mail1.trump-emails.com”. Whatever you think of Trump, this was an improper invasion of privacy, where DNS researchers misused their privileged access in order to pursue their anti-Trump political agenda. If AlfaBank had used query name minimization, none of this would have happened.

It’s also critical for not exposing internal resources. Even when you do “split DNS”, when the .com record expires, you resolver will still forward the internal DNS record to the outside world. All those Russian hackers can map out the internal names of your network simply by eavesdropping on root server queries.

Servers that support this are Knot resolver and Unbound 1.5.7+ and possibly others. It’s a relatively new standard, so it make take a while for other DNS servers to support this.

Book Review: Twitter and Tear Gas, by Zeynep Tufekci

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/07/book_review_twi.html

There are two opposing models of how the Internet has changed protest movements. The first is that the Internet has made protesters mightier than ever. This comes from the successful revolutions in Tunisia (2010-11), Egypt (2011), and Ukraine (2013). The second is that it has made them more ineffectual. Derided as “slacktivism” or “clicktivism,” the ease of action without commitment can result in movements like Occupy petering out in the US without any obvious effects. Of course, the reality is more nuanced, and Zeynep Tufekci teases that out in her new book Twitter and Tear Gas.

Tufekci is a rare interdisciplinary figure. As a sociologist, programmer, and ethnographer, she studies how technology shapes society and drives social change. She has a dual appointment in both the School of Information Science and the Department of Sociology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Her regular New York Times column on the social impacts of technology is a must-read.

Modern Internet-fueled protest movements are the subjects of Twitter and Tear Gas. As an observer, writer, and participant, Tufekci examines how modern protest movements have been changed by the Internet­ — and what that means for protests going forward. Her book combines her own ethnographic research and her usual deft analysis, with the research of others and some big data analysis from social media outlets. The result is a book that is both insightful and entertaining, and whose lessons are much broader than the book’s central topic.

“The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest” is the book’s subtitle. The power of the Internet as a tool for protest is obvious: it gives people newfound abilities to quickly organize and scale. But, according to Tufekci, it’s a mistake to judge modern protests using the same criteria we used to judge pre-Internet protests. The 1963 March on Washington might have culminated in hundreds of thousands of people listening to Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, but it was the culmination of a multi-year protest effort and the result of six months of careful planning made possible by that sustained effort. The 2011 protests in Cairo came together in mere days because they could be loosely coordinated on Facebook and Twitter.

That’s the power. Tufekci describes the fragility by analogy. Nepalese Sherpas assist Mt. Everest climbers by carrying supplies, laying out ropes and ladders, and so on. This means that people with limited training and experience can make the ascent, which is no less dangerous — to sometimes disastrous results. Says Tufekci: “The Internet similarly allows networked movements to grow dramatically and rapidly, but without prior building of formal or informal organizational and other collective capacities that could prepare them for the inevitable challenges they will face and give them the ability to respond to what comes next.” That makes them less able to respond to government counters, change their tactics­ — a phenomenon Tufekci calls “tactical freeze” — make movement-wide decisions, and survive over the long haul.

Tufekci isn’t arguing that modern protests are necessarily less effective, but that they’re different. Effective movements need to understand these differences, and leverage these new advantages while minimizing the disadvantages.

To that end, she develops a taxonomy for talking about social movements. Protests are an example of a “signal” that corresponds to one of several underlying “capacities.” There’s narrative capacity: the ability to change the conversation, as Black Lives Matter did with police violence and Occupy did with wealth inequality. There’s disruptive capacity: the ability to stop business as usual. An early Internet example is the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. And finally, there’s electoral or institutional capacity: the ability to vote, lobby, fund raise, and so on. Because of various “affordances” of modern Internet technologies, particularly social media, the same signal — a protest of a given size — reflects different underlying capacities.

This taxonomy also informs government reactions to protest movements. Smart responses target attention as a resource. The Chinese government responded to 2015 protesters in Hong Kong by not engaging with them at all, denying them camera-phone videos that would go viral and attract the world’s attention. Instead, they pulled their police back and waited for the movement to die from lack of attention.

If this all sounds dry and academic, it’s not. Twitter and Tear Gasis infused with a richness of detail stemming from her personal participation in the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, as well as personal on-the-ground interviews with protesters throughout the Middle East — particularly Egypt and her native Turkey — Zapatistas in Mexico, WTO protesters in Seattle, Occupy participants worldwide, and others. Tufekci writes with a warmth and respect for the humans that are part of these powerful social movements, gently intertwining her own story with the stories of others, big data, and theory. She is adept at writing for a general audience, and­despite being published by the intimidating Yale University Press — her book is more mass-market than academic. What rigor is there is presented in a way that carries readers along rather than distracting.

The synthesist in me wishes Tufekci would take some additional steps, taking the trends she describes outside of the narrow world of political protest and applying them more broadly to social change. Her taxonomy is an important contribution to the more-general discussion of how the Internet affects society. Furthermore, her insights on the networked public sphere has applications for understanding technology-driven social change in general. These are hard conversations for society to have. We largely prefer to allow technology to blindly steer society or — in some ways worse — leave it to unfettered for-profit corporations. When you’re reading Twitter and Tear Gas, keep current and near-term future technological issues such as ubiquitous surveillance, algorithmic discrimination, and automation and employment in mind. You’ll come away with new insights.

Tufekci twice quotes historian Melvin Kranzberg from 1985: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” This foreshadows her central message. For better or worse, the technologies that power the networked public sphere have changed the nature of political protest as well as government reactions to and suppressions of such protest.

I have long characterized our technological future as a battle between the quick and the strong. The quick — dissidents, hackers, criminals, marginalized groups — are the first to make use of a new technology to magnify their power. The strong are slower, but have more raw power to magnify. So while protesters are the first to use Facebook to organize, the governments eventually figure out how to use Facebook to track protesters. It’s still an open question who will gain the upper hand in the long term, but Tufekci’s book helps us understand the dynamics at work.

This essay originally appeared on Vice Motherboard.

The book on Amazon.com.

[$] Guarding personally identifiable information

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/724672/rss

There is no viable way to prevent data from being collected about us in the
current age of computing. But if institutions insist on knowing our
financial status, purchasing habits, health information,
political preferences, and so on, they have a responsibility to keep this
data—known as personally identifiable information (PII)—from leaking to
unauthorized recipients. At the 2017 Strata data
conference
in London, Steve Touw presented a session
on privacy-enhancing technologies
. In a fast-paced 40 minutes he
covered the EU regulations about privacy, the most popular technical
measures used to protect PII, and some pointed opinions about what works
and what should be thrown into the dustbin.

Who Are the Shadow Brokers?

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/05/who_are_the_sha.html

In 2013, a mysterious group of hackers that calls itself the Shadow Brokers stole a few disks full of NSA secrets. Since last summer, they’ve been dumping these secrets on the Internet. They have publicly embarrassed the NSA and damaged its intelligence-gathering capabilities, while at the same time have put sophisticated cyberweapons in the hands of anyone who wants them. They have exposed major vulnerabilities in Cisco routers, Microsoft Windows, and Linux mail servers, forcing those companies and their customers to scramble. And they gave the authors of the WannaCry ransomware the exploit they needed to infect hundreds of thousands of computer worldwide this month.

After the WannaCry outbreak, the Shadow Brokers threatened to release more NSA secrets every month, giving cybercriminals and other governments worldwide even more exploits and hacking tools.

Who are these guys? And how did they steal this information? The short answer is: we don’t know. But we can make some educated guesses based on the material they’ve published.

The Shadow Brokers suddenly appeared last August, when they published a series of hacking tools and computer exploits­ — vulnerabilities in common software — ­from the NSA. The material was from autumn 2013, and seems to have been collected from an external NSA staging server, a machine that is owned, leased, or otherwise controlled by the US, but with no connection to the agency. NSA hackers find obscure corners of the Internet to hide the tools they need as they go about their work, and it seems the Shadow Brokers successfully hacked one of those caches.

In total, the group has published four sets of NSA material: a set of exploits and hacking tools against routers, the devices that direct data throughout computer networks; a similar collection against mail servers; another collection against Microsoft Windows; and a working directory of an NSA analyst breaking into the SWIFT banking network. Looking at the time stamps on the files and other material, they all come from around 2013. The Windows attack tools, published last month, might be a year or so older, based on which versions of Windows the tools support.

The releases are so different that they’re almost certainly from multiple sources at the NSA. The SWIFT files seem to come from an internal NSA computer, albeit one connected to the Internet. The Microsoft files seem different, too; they don’t have the same identifying information that the router and mail server files do. The Shadow Brokers have released all the material unredacted, without the care journalists took with the Snowden documents or even the care WikiLeaks has taken with the CIA secrets it’s publishing. They also posted anonymous messages in bad English but with American cultural references.

Given all of this, I don’t think the agent responsible is a whistleblower. While possible, it seems like a whistleblower wouldn’t sit on attack tools for three years before publishing. They would act more like Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, collecting for a time and then publishing immediately­ — and publishing documents that discuss what the US is doing to whom. That’s not what we’re seeing here; it’s simply a bunch of exploit code, which doesn’t have the political or ethical implications that a whistleblower would want to highlight. The SWIFT documents are records of an NSA operation, and the other posted files demonstrate that the NSA is hoarding vulnerabilities for attack rather than helping fix them and improve all of our security.

I also don’t think that it’s random hackers who stumbled on these tools and are just trying to harm the NSA or the US. Again, the three-year wait makes no sense. These documents and tools are cyber-Kryptonite; anyone who is secretly hoarding them is in danger from half the intelligence agencies in the world. Additionally, the publication schedule doesn’t make sense for the leakers to be cybercriminals. Criminals would use the hacking tools for themselves, incorporating the exploits into worms and viruses, and generally profiting from the theft.

That leaves a nation state. Whoever got this information years before and is leaking it now has to be both capable of hacking the NSA and willing to publish it all. Countries like Israel and France are capable, but would never publish, because they wouldn’t want to incur the wrath of the US. Country like North Korea or Iran probably aren’t capable. (Additionally, North Korea is suspected of being behind WannaCry, which was written after the Shadow Brokers released that vulnerability to the public.) As I’ve written previously, the obvious list of countries who fit my two criteria is small: Russia, China, and­ — I’m out of ideas. And China is currently trying to make nice with the US.

It was generally believed last August, when the first documents were released and before it became politically controversial to say so, that the Russians were behind the leak, and that it was a warning message to President Barack Obama not to retaliate for the Democratic National Committee hacks. Edward Snowden guessed Russia, too. But the problem with the Russia theory is, why? These leaked tools are much more valuable if kept secret. Russia could use the knowledge to detect NSA hacking in its own country and to attack other countries. By publishing the tools, the Shadow Brokers are signaling that they don’t care if the US knows the tools were stolen.

Sure, there’s a chance the attackers knew that the US knew that the attackers knew — ­and round and round we go. But the “we don’t give a damn” nature of the releases points to an attacker who isn’t thinking strategically: a lone hacker or hacking group, which clashes with the nation-state theory.

This is all speculation on my part, based on discussion with others who don’t have access to the classified forensic and intelligence analysis. Inside the NSA, they have a lot more information. Many of the files published include operational notes and identifying information. NSA researchers know exactly which servers were compromised, and through that know what other information the attackers would have access to. As with the Snowden documents, though, they only know what the attackers could have taken and not what they did take. But they did alert Microsoft about the Windows vulnerability the Shadow Brokers released months in advance. Did they have eavesdropping capability inside whoever stole the files, as they claimed to when the Russians attacked the State Department? We have no idea.

So, how did the Shadow Brokers do it? Did someone inside the NSA accidentally mount the wrong server on some external network? That’s possible, but seems very unlikely for the organization to make that kind of rookie mistake. Did someone hack the NSA itself? Could there be a mole inside the NSA?

If it is a mole, my guess is that the person was arrested before the Shadow Brokers released anything. No country would burn a mole working for it by publishing what that person delivered while he or she was still in danger. Intelligence agencies know that if they betray a source this severely, they’ll never get another one.

That points to two possibilities. The first is that the files came from Hal Martin. He’s the NSA contractor who was arrested in August for hoarding agency secrets in his house for two years. He can’t be the publisher, because the Shadow Brokers are in business even though he is in prison. But maybe the leaker got the documents from his stash, either because Martin gave the documents to them or because he himself was hacked. The dates line up, so it’s theoretically possible. There’s nothing in the public indictment against Martin that speaks to his selling secrets to a foreign power, but that’s just the sort of thing that would be left out. It’s not needed for a conviction.

If the source of the documents is Hal Martin, then we can speculate that a random hacker did in fact stumble on it — ­no need for nation-state cyberattack skills.

The other option is a mysterious second NSA leaker of cyberattack tools. Could this be the person who stole the NSA documents and passed them on to someone else? The only time I have ever heard about this was from a Washington Post story about Martin:

There was a second, previously undisclosed breach of cybertools, discovered in the summer of 2015, which was also carried out by a TAO employee [a worker in the Office of Tailored Access Operations], one official said. That individual also has been arrested, but his case has not been made public. The individual is not thought to have shared the material with another country, the official said.

Of course, “not thought to have” is not the same as not having done so.

It is interesting that there have been no public arrests of anyone in connection with these hacks. If the NSA knows where the files came from, it knows who had access to them — ­and it’s long since questioned everyone involved and should know if someone deliberately or accidentally lost control of them. I know that many people, both inside the government and out, think there is some sort of domestic involvement; things may be more complicated than I realize.

It’s also not over. Last week, the Shadow Brokers were back, with a rambling and taunting message announcing a “Data Dump of the Month” service. They’re offering to sell unreleased NSA attack tools­ — something they also tried last August­ — with the threat to publish them if no one pays. The group has made good on their previous boasts: In the coming months, we might see new exploits against web browsers, networking equipment, smartphones, and operating systems — Windows in particular. Even scarier, they’re threatening to release raw NSA intercepts: data from the SWIFT network and banks, and “compromised data from Russian, Chinese, Iranian, or North Korean nukes and missile programs.”

Whoever the Shadow Brokers are, however they stole these disks full of NSA secrets, and for whatever reason they’re releasing them, it’s going to be a long summer inside of Fort Meade­ — as it will be for the rest of us.

This essay previously appeared in the Atlantic, and is an update of this essay from Lawfare.

Security and Human Behavior (SHB 2017)

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/05/security_and_hu_6.html

I’m in Cambridge University, at the tenth Workshop on Security and Human Behavior.

SHB is a small invitational gathering of people studying various aspects of the human side of security, organized each year by Ross Anderson, Alessandro Acquisti, and myself. The 50 or so people in the room include psychologists, economists, computer security researchers, sociologists, political scientists, political scientists, neuroscientists, designers, lawyers, philosophers, anthropologists, business school professors, and a smattering of others. It’s not just an interdisciplinary event; most of the people here are individually interdisciplinary.

The goal is maximum interaction and discussion. We do that by putting everyone on panels. There are eight six-person panels over the course of the two days. Everyone gets to talk for ten minutes about their work, and then there’s half an hour of questions and discussion. We also have lunches, dinners, and receptions — all designed so people from different disciplines talk to each other.

It’s the most intellectually stimulating conference of my year, and influences my thinking about security in many different ways.

This year’s schedule is here. This page lists the participants and includes links to some of their work. As he does every year, Ross Anderson is liveblogging the talks.

Here are my posts on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth SHB workshops. Follow those links to find summaries, papers, and occasionally audio recordings of the various workshops.

I don’t think any of us imagined that this conference would be around this long.

Ransomware and the Internet of Things

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/05/ransomware_and_.html

As devastating as the latest widespread ransomware attacks have been, it’s a problem with a solution. If your copy of Windows is relatively current and you’ve kept it updated, your laptop is immune. It’s only older unpatched systems on your computer that are vulnerable.

Patching is how the computer industry maintains security in the face of rampant Internet insecurity. Microsoft, Apple and Google have teams of engineers who quickly write, test and distribute these patches, updates to the codes that fix vulnerabilities in software. Most people have set up their computers and phones to automatically apply these patches, and the whole thing works seamlessly. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s the best we have.

But it is a system that’s going to fail in the “Internet of things”: everyday devices like smart speakers, household appliances, toys, lighting systems, even cars, that are connected to the web. Many of the embedded networked systems in these devices that will pervade our lives don’t have engineering teams on hand to write patches and may well last far longer than the companies that are supposed to keep the software safe from criminals. Some of them don’t even have the ability to be patched.

Fast forward five to 10 years, and the world is going to be filled with literally tens of billions of devices that hackers can attack. We’re going to see ransomware against our cars. Our digital video recorders and web cameras will be taken over by botnets. The data that these devices collect about us will be stolen and used to commit fraud. And we’re not going to be able to secure these devices.

Like every other instance of product safety, this problem will never be solved without considerable government involvement.

For years, I have been calling for more regulation to improve security in the face of this market failure. In the short term, the government can mandate that these devices have more secure default configurations and the ability to be patched. It can issue best-practice regulations for critical software and make software manufacturers liable for vulnerabilities. It’ll be expensive, but it will go a long way toward improved security.

But it won’t be enough to focus only on the devices, because these things are going to be around and on the Internet much longer than the two to three years we use our phones and computers before we upgrade them. I expect to keep my car for 15 years, and my refrigerator for at least 20 years. Cities will expect the networks they’re putting in place to last at least that long. I don’t want to replace my digital thermostat ever again. Nor, if I ever need one, do I want a surgeon to ever have to go back in to replace my computerized heart defibrillator in order to fix a software bug.

No amount of regulation can force companies to maintain old products, and it certainly can’t prevent companies from going out of business. The future will contain billions of orphaned devices connected to the web that simply have no engineers able to patch them.

Imagine this: The company that made your Internet-enabled door lock is long out of business. You have no way to secure yourself against the ransomware attack on that lock. Your only option, other than paying, and paying again when it’s reinfected, is to throw it away and buy a new one.

Ultimately, we will also need the network to block these attacks before they get to the devices, but there again the market will not fix the problem on its own. We need additional government intervention to mandate these sorts of solutions.

None of this is welcome news to a government that prides itself on minimal intervention and maximal market forces, but national security is often an exception to this rule. Last week’s cyberattacks have laid bare some fundamental vulnerabilities in our computer infrastructure and serve as a harbinger. There’s a lot of good research into robust solutions, but the economic incentives are all misaligned. As politically untenable as it is, we need government to step in to create the market forces that will get us out of this mess.

This essay previously appeared in the New York Times. Yes, I know I’m repeating myself.

The Future of Ransomware

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/05/the_future_of_r.html

Ransomware isn’t new, but it’s increasingly popular and profitable.

The concept is simple: Your computer gets infected with a virus that encrypts your files until you pay a ransom. It’s extortion taken to its networked extreme. The criminals provide step-by-step instructions on how to pay, sometimes even offering a help line for victims unsure how to buy bitcoin. The price is designed to be cheap enough for people to pay instead of giving up: a few hundred dollars in many cases. Those who design these systems know their market, and it’s a profitable one.

The ransomware that has affected systems in more than 150 countries recently, WannaCry, made press headlines last week, but it doesn’t seem to be more virulent or more expensive than other ransomware. This one has a particularly interesting pedigree: It’s based on a vulnerability developed by the National Security Agency that can be used against many versions of the Windows operating system. The NSA’s code was, in turn, stolen by an unknown hacker group called Shadow Brokers ­ widely believed by the security community to be the Russians ­ in 2014 and released to the public in April.

Microsoft patched the vulnerability a month earlier, presumably after being alerted by the NSA that the leak was imminent. But the vulnerability affected older versions of Windows that Microsoft no longer supports, and there are still many people and organizations that don’t regularly patch their systems. This allowed whoever wrote WannaCry ­– it could be anyone from a lone individual to an organized crime syndicate — to use it to infect computers and extort users.

The lessons for users are obvious: Keep your system patches up to date and regularly backup your data. This isn’t just good advice to defend against ransomware, but good advice in general. But it’s becoming obsolete.

Everything is becoming a computer. Your microwave is a computer that makes things hot. Your refrigerator is a computer that keeps things cold. Your car and television, the traffic lights and signals in your city and our national power grid are all computers. This is the much-hyped Internet of Things (IoT). It’s coming, and it’s coming faster than you might think. And as these devices connect to the Internet, they become vulnerable to ransomware and other computer threats.

It’s only a matter of time before people get messages on their car screens saying that the engine has been disabled and it will cost $200 in bitcoin to turn it back on. Or a similar message on their phones about their Internet-enabled door lock: Pay $100 if you want to get into your house tonight. Or pay far more if they want their embedded heart defibrillator to keep working.

This isn’t just theoretical. Researchers have already demonstrated a ransomware attack against smart thermostats, which may sound like a nuisance at first but can cause serious property damage if it’s cold enough outside. If the device under attack has no screen, you’ll get the message on the smartphone app you control it from.

Hackers don’t even have to come up with these ideas on their own; the government agencies whose code was stolen were already doing it. One of the leaked CIA attack tools targets Internet-enabled Samsung smart televisions.

Even worse, the usual solutions won’t work with these embedded systems. You have no way to back up your refrigerator’s software, and it’s unclear whether that solution would even work if an attack targets the functionality of the device rather than its stored data.

These devices will be around for a long time. Unlike our phones and computers, which we replace every few years, cars are expected to last at least a decade. We want our appliances to run for 20 years or more, our thermostats even longer.

What happens when the company that made our smart washing machine — or just the computer part — goes out of business, or otherwise decides that they can no longer support older models? WannaCry affected Windows versions as far back as XP, a version that Microsoft no longer supports. The company broke with policy and released a patch for those older systems, but it has both the engineering talent and the money to do so.

That won’t happen with low-cost IoT devices.

Those devices are built on the cheap, and the companies that make them don’t have the dedicated teams of security engineers ready to craft and distribute security patches. The economics of the IoT doesn’t allow for it. Even worse, many of these devices aren’t patchable. Remember last fall when the Mirai botnet infected hundreds of thousands of Internet-enabled digital video recorders, webcams and other devices and launched a massive denial-of-service attack that resulted in a host of popular websites dropping off the Internet? Most of those devices couldn’t be fixed with new software once they were attacked. The way you update your DVR is to throw it away and buy a new one.

Solutions aren’t easy and they’re not pretty. The market is not going to fix this unaided. Security is a hard-to-evaluate feature against a possible future threat, and consumers have long rewarded companies that provide easy-to-compare features and a quick time-to-market at its expense. We need to assign liabilities to companies that write insecure software that harms people, and possibly even issue and enforce regulations that require companies to maintain software systems throughout their life cycle. We may need minimum security standards for critical IoT devices. And it would help if the NSA got more involved in securing our information infrastructure and less in keeping it vulnerable so the government can eavesdrop.

I know this all sounds politically impossible right now, but we simply cannot live in a future where everything — from the things we own to our nation’s infrastructure ­– can be held for ransom by criminals again and again.

This essay previously appeared in the Washington Post.

Extending the Airplane Laptop Ban

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/05/extending_the_a.html

The Department of Homeland Security is rumored to be considering extending the current travel ban on large electronics for Middle Eastern flights to European ones as well. The likely reaction of airlines will be to implement new traveler programs, effectively allowing wealthier and more frequent fliers to bring their computers with them. This will only exacerbate the divide between the haves and the have-nots — all without making us any safer.

In March, both the United States and the United Kingdom required that passengers from 10 Muslim countries give up their laptop computers and larger tablets, and put them in checked baggage. The new measure was based on reports that terrorists would try to smuggle bombs onto planes concealed in these larger electronic devices.

The security measure made no sense for two reasons. First, moving these computers into the baggage holds doesn’t keep them off planes. Yes, it is easier to detonate a bomb that’s in your hands than to remotely trigger it in the cargo hold. But it’s also more effective to screen laptops at security checkpoints than it is to place them in checked baggage. TSA already does this kind of screening randomly and occasionally: making passengers turn laptops on to ensure that they’re functional computers and not just bomb-filled cases, and running chemical tests on their surface to detect explosive material.

And, two, banning laptops on selected flights just forces terrorists to buy more roundabout itineraries. It doesn’t take much creativity to fly Doha-Amsterdam-New York instead of direct. Adding Amsterdam to the list of affected airports makes the terrorist add yet another itinerary change; it doesn’t remove the threat.

Which brings up another question: If this is truly a threat, why aren’t domestic flights included in this ban? Remember that anyone boarding a plane to the United States from these Muslim countries has already received a visa to enter the country. This isn’t perfect security — the infamous underwear bomber had a visa, after all — but anyone who could detonate a laptop bomb on his international flight could do it on his domestic connection.

I don’t have access to classified intelligence, and I can’t comment on whether explosive-filled laptops are truly a threat. But, if they are, TSA can set up additional security screenings at the gates of US-bound flights worldwide and screen every laptop coming onto the plane. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had additional security screening at the gate. And they should require all laptops to go through this screening, prohibiting them from being stashed in checked baggage.

This measure is nothing more than security theater against what appears to be a movie-plot threat.

Banishing laptops to the cargo holds brings with it a host of other threats. Passengers run the risk of their electronics being stolen from their checked baggage — something that has happened in the past. And, depending on the country, passengers also have to worry about border control officials intercepting checked laptops and making copies of what’s on their hard drives.

Safety is another concern. We’re already worried about large lithium-ion batteries catching fire in airplane baggage holds; adding a few hundred of these devices will considerably exacerbate the risk. Both FedEx and UPS no longer accept bulk shipments of these batteries after two jets crashed in 2010 and 2011 due to combustion.

Of course, passengers will rebel against this rule. Having access to a computer on these long transatlantic flights is a must for many travelers, especially the high-revenue business-class travelers. They also won’t accept the delays and confusion this rule will cause as it’s rolled out. Unhappy passengers fly less, or fly other routes on other airlines without these restrictions.

I don’t know how many passengers are choosing to fly to the Middle East via Toronto to avoid the current laptop ban, but I suspect there may be some. If Europe is included in the new ban, many more may consider adding Canada to their itineraries, as well as choosing European hubs that remain unaffected.

As passengers voice their disapproval with their wallets, airlines will rebel. Already Emirates has a program to loan laptops to their premium travelers. I can imagine US airlines doing the same, although probably for an extra fee. We might learn how to make this work: keeping our data in the cloud or on portable memory sticks and using unfamiliar computers for the length of the flight.

A more likely response will be comparable to what happened after the US increased passenger screening post-9/11. In the months and years that followed, we saw different ways for high-revenue travelers to avoid the lines: faster first-class lanes, and then the extra-cost trusted traveler programs that allow people to bypass the long lines, keep their shoes on their feet and leave their laptops and liquids in their bags. It’s a bad security idea, but it keeps both frequent fliers and airlines happy. It would be just another step to allow these people to keep their electronics with them on their flight.

The problem with this response is that it solves the problem for frequent fliers, while leaving everyone else to suffer. This is already the case; those of us enrolled in a trusted traveler program forget what it’s like to go through “normal” security screening. And since frequent fliers — likely to be more wealthy — no longer see the problem, they don’t have any incentive to fix it.

Dividing security checks into haves and have-nots is bad social policy, and we should actively fight any expansion of it. If the TSA implements this security procedure, it should implement it for every flight. And there should be no exceptions. Force every politically connected flier, from members of Congress to the lobbyists that influence them, to do without their laptops on planes. Let the TSA explain to them why they can’t work on their flights to and from D.C.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

EDITED TO ADD: US officials are backing down.