Tag Archives: voting

Propaganda and the Weakening of Trust in Government

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/11/propaganda_and_.html

On November 4, 2016, the hacker “Guccifer 2.0,: a front for Russia’s military intelligence service, claimed in a blogpost that the Democrats were likely to use vulnerabilities to hack the presidential elections. On November 9, 2018, President Donald Trump started tweeting about the senatorial elections in Florida and Arizona. Without any evidence whatsoever, he said that Democrats were trying to steal the election through “FRAUD.”

Cybersecurity experts would say that posts like Guccifer 2.0’s are intended to undermine public confidence in voting: a cyber-attack against the US democratic system. Yet Donald Trump’s actions are doing far more damage to democracy. So far, his tweets on the topic have been retweeted over 270,000 times, eroding confidence far more effectively than any foreign influence campaign.

We need new ideas to explain how public statements on the Internet can weaken American democracy. Cybersecurity today is not only about computer systems. It’s also about the ways attackers can use computer systems to manipulate and undermine public expectations about democracy. Not only do we need to rethink attacks against democracy; we also need to rethink the attackers as well.

This is one key reason why we wrote a new research paper which uses ideas from computer security to understand the relationship between democracy and information. These ideas help us understand attacks which destabilize confidence in democratic institutions or debate.

Our research implies that insider attacks from within American politics can be more pernicious than attacks from other countries. They are more sophisticated, employ tools that are harder to defend against, and lead to harsh political tradeoffs. The US can threaten charges or impose sanctions when Russian trolling agencies attack its democratic system. But what punishments can it use when the attacker is the US president?

People who think about cybersecurity build on ideas about confrontations between states during the Cold War. Intellectuals such as Thomas Schelling developed deterrence theory, which explained how the US and USSR could maneuver to limit each other’s options without ever actually going to war. Deterrence theory, and related concepts about the relative ease of attack and defense, seemed to explain the tradeoffs that the US and rival states faced, as they started to use cyber techniques to probe and compromise each others’ information networks.

However, these ideas fail to acknowledge one key differences between the Cold War and today. Nearly all states — whether democratic or authoritarian — are entangled on the Internet. This creates both new tensions and new opportunities. The US assumed that the internet would help spread American liberal values, and that this was a good and uncontroversial thing. Illiberal states like Russia and China feared that Internet freedom was a direct threat to their own systems of rule. Opponents of the regime might use social media and online communication to coordinate among themselves, and appeal to the broader public, perhaps toppling their governments, as happened in Tunisia during the Arab Spring.

This led illiberal states to develop new domestic defenses against open information flows. As scholars like Molly Roberts have shown, states like China and Russia discovered how they could "flood" internet discussion with online nonsense and distraction, making it impossible for their opponents to talk to each other, or even to distinguish between truth and falsehood. These flooding techniques stabilized authoritarian regimes, because they demoralized and confused the regime’s opponents. Libertarians often argue that the best antidote to bad speech is more speech. What Vladimir Putin discovered was that the best antidote to more speech was bad speech.

Russia saw the Arab Spring and efforts to encourage democracy in its neighborhood as direct threats, and began experimenting with counter-offensive techniques. When a Russia-friendly government in Ukraine collapsed due to popular protests, Russia tried to destabilize new, democratic elections by hacking the system through which the election results would be announced. The clear intention was to discredit the election results by announcing fake voting numbers that would throw public discussion into disarray.

This attack on public confidence in election results was thwarted at the last moment. Even so, it provided the model for a new kind of attack. Hackers don’t have to secretly alter people’s votes to affect elections. All they need to do is to damage public confidence that the votes were counted fairly. As researchers have argued, “simply put, the attacker might not care who wins; the losing side believing that the election was stolen from them may be equally, if not more, valuable.”

These two kinds of attacks — “flooding” attacks aimed at destabilizing public discourse, and “confidence” attacks aimed at undermining public belief in elections — were weaponized against the US in 2016. Russian social media trolls, hired by the “Internet Research Agency,” flooded online political discussions with rumors and counter-rumors in order to create confusion and political division. Peter Pomerantsev describes how in Russia, “one moment [Putin’s media wizard] Surkov would fund civic forums and human rights NGOs, the next he would quietly support nationalist movements that accuse the NGOs of being tools of the West.” Similarly, Russian trolls tried to get Black Lives Matter protesters and anti-Black Lives Matter protesters to march at the same time and place, to create conflict and the appearance of chaos. Guccifer 2.0’s blog post was surely intended to undermine confidence in the vote, preparing the ground for a wider destabilization campaign after Hillary Clinton won the election. Neither Putin nor anyone else anticipated that Trump would win, ushering in chaos on a vastly greater scale.

We do not know how successful these attacks were. A new book by John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck suggests that Russian efforts had no measurable long-term consequences. Detailed research on the flow of news articles through social media by Yochai Benker, Robert Farris, and Hal Roberts agrees, showing that Fox News was far more influential in the spread of false news stories than any Russian effort.

However, global adversaries like the Russians aren’t the only actors who can use flooding and confidence attacks. US actors can use just the same techniques. Indeed, they can arguably use them better, since they have a better understanding of US politics, more resources, and are far more difficult for the government to counter without raising First Amendment issues.

For example, when the Federal Communication Commission asked for comments on its proposal to get rid of “net neutrality,” it was flooded by fake comments supporting the proposal. Nearly every real person who commented was in favor of net neutrality, but their arguments were drowned out by a flood of spurious comments purportedly made by identities stolen from porn sites, by people whose names and email addresses had been harvested without their permission, and, in some cases, from dead people. This was done not just to generate fake support for the FCC’s controversial proposal. It was to devalue public comments in general, making the general public’s support for net neutrality politically irrelevant. FCC decision making on issues like net neutrality used to be dominated by industry insiders, and many would like to go back to the old regime.

Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in the Florida and Arizona votes work on a much larger scale. There are clear short-term benefits to asserting fraud where no fraud exists. This may sway judges or other public officials to make concessions to the Republicans to preserve their legitimacy. Yet they also destabilize American democracy in the long term. If Republicans are convinced that Democrats win by cheating, they will feel that their own manipulation of the system (by purging voter rolls, making voting more difficult and so on) are legitimate, and very probably cheat even more flagrantly in the future. This will trash collective institutions and leave everyone worse off.

It is notable that some Arizonan Republicans — including Martha McSally — have so far stayed firm against pressure from the White House and the Republican National Committee to claim that cheating is happening. They presumably see more long term value from preserving existing institutions than undermining them. Very plausibly, Donald Trump has exactly the opposite incentives. By weakening public confidence in the vote today, he makes it easier to claim fraud and perhaps plunge American politics into chaos if he is defeated in 2020.

If experts who see Russian flooding and confidence measures as cyberattacks on US democracy are right, then these attacks are just as dangerous — and perhaps more dangerous — when they are used by domestic actors. The risk is that over time they will destabilize American democracy so that it comes closer to Russia’s managed democracy — where nothing is real any more, and ordinary people feel a mixture of paranoia, helplessness and disgust when they think about politics. Paradoxically, Russian interference is far too ineffectual to get us there — but domestically mounted attacks by all-American political actors might.

To protect against that possibility, we need to start thinking more systematically about the relationship between democracy and information. Our paper provides one way to do this, highlighting the vulnerabilities of democracy against certain kinds of information attack. More generally, we need to build levees against flooding while shoring up public confidence in voting and other public information systems that are necessary to democracy.

The first may require radical changes in how we regulate social media companies. Modernization of government commenting platforms to make them robust against flooding is only a very minimal first step. Up until very recently, companies like Twitter have won market advantage from bot infestations — even when it couldn’t make a profit, it seemed that user numbers were growing. CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg have begun to worry about democracy, but their worries will likely only go so far. It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his business model depends on not understanding it. Sharp — and legally enforceable — limits on automated accounts are a first step. Radical redesign of networks and of trending indicators so that flooding attacks are less effective may be a second.

The second requires general standards for voting at the federal level, and a constitutional guarantee of the right to vote. Technical experts nearly universally favor robust voting systems that would combine paper records with random post-election auditing, to prevent fraud and secure public confidence in voting. Other steps to ensure proper ballot design, and standardize vote counting and reporting will take more time and discussion — yet the record of other countries show that they are not impossible.

The US is nearly unique among major democracies in the persistent flaws of its election machinery. Yet voting is not the only important form of democratic information. Apparent efforts to deliberately skew the US census against counting undocumented immigrants show the need for a more general audit of the political information systems that we need if democracy is to function properly.

It’s easier to respond to Russian hackers through sanctions, counter-attacks and the like than to domestic political attacks that undermine US democracy. To preserve the basic political freedoms of democracy requires recognizing that these freedoms are sometimes going to be abused by politicians such as Donald Trump. The best that we can do is to minimize the possibilities of abuse up to the point where they encroach on basic freedoms and harden the general institutions that secure democratic information against attacks intended to undermine them.

This essay was co-authored with Henry Farrell, and previously appeared on Motherboard, with a terrible headline that I was unable to get changed.

Buying Used Voting Machines on eBay

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/11/buying_used_vot.html

This is not surprising:

This year, I bought two more machines to see if security had improved. To my dismay, I discovered that the newer model machines — those that were used in the 2016 election — are running Windows CE and have USB ports, along with other components, that make them even easier to exploit than the older ones. Our voting machines, billed as “next generation,” and still in use today, are worse than they were before­ — dispersed, disorganized, and susceptible to manipulation.

Cory Doctorow’s comment is correct:

Voting machines are terrible in every way: the companies that make them lie like crazy about their security, insist on insecure designs, and produce machines that are so insecure that it’s easier to hack a voting machine than it is to use it to vote.

I blame both the secrecy of the industry and the ignorance of most voting officials. And it’s not getting better.

Suing South Carolina Because Its Election Machines Are Insecure

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/07/suing_south_car.html

A group called Protect Democracy is suing South Carolina because its insecure voting machines are effectively denying people the right to vote.

Note: I am an advisor to Protect Democracy on its work related to election cybersecurity, and submitted a declaration in litigation it filed, challenging President Trump’s now-defunct “election integrity” commission.

Protecting coral reefs with Nemo-Pi, the underwater monitor

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/coral-reefs-nemo-pi/

The German charity Save Nemo works to protect coral reefs, and they are developing Nemo-Pi, an underwater “weather station” that monitors ocean conditions. Right now, you can vote for Save Nemo in the Google.org Impact Challenge.

Nemo-Pi — Save Nemo

Save Nemo

The organisation says there are two major threats to coral reefs: divers, and climate change. To make diving saver for reefs, Save Nemo installs buoy anchor points where diving tour boats can anchor without damaging corals in the process.

reef damaged by anchor
boat anchored at buoy

In addition, they provide dos and don’ts for how to behave on a reef dive.

The Nemo-Pi

To monitor the effects of climate change, and to help divers decide whether conditions are right at a reef while they’re still on shore, Save Nemo is also in the process of perfecting Nemo-Pi.

Nemo-Pi schematic — Nemo-Pi — Save Nemo

This Raspberry Pi-powered device is made up of a buoy, a solar panel, a GPS device, a Pi, and an array of sensors. Nemo-Pi measures water conditions such as current, visibility, temperature, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide concentrations, and pH. It also uploads its readings live to a public webserver.

Inside the Nemo-Pi device — Save Nemo
Inside the Nemo-Pi device — Save Nemo
Inside the Nemo-Pi device — Save Nemo

The Save Nemo team is currently doing long-term tests of Nemo-Pi off the coast of Thailand and Indonesia. They are also working on improving the device’s power consumption and durability, and testing prototypes with the Raspberry Pi Zero W.

web dashboard — Nemo-Pi — Save Nemo

The web dashboard showing live Nemo-Pi data

Long-term goals

Save Nemo aims to install a network of Nemo-Pis at shallow reefs (up to 60 metres deep) in South East Asia. Then diving tour companies can check the live data online and decide day-to-day whether tours are feasible. This will lower the impact of humans on reefs and help the local flora and fauna survive.

Coral reefs with fishes

A healthy coral reef

Nemo-Pi data may also be useful for groups lobbying for reef conservation, and for scientists and activists who want to shine a spotlight on the awful effects of climate change on sea life, such as coral bleaching caused by rising water temperatures.

Bleached coral

A bleached coral reef

Vote now for Save Nemo

If you want to help Save Nemo in their mission today, vote for them to win the Google.org Impact Challenge:

  1. Head to the voting web page
  2. Click “Abstimmen” in the footer of the page to vote
  3. Click “JA” in the footer to confirm

Voting is open until 6 June. You can also follow Save Nemo on Facebook or Twitter. We think this organisation is doing valuable work, and that their projects could be expanded to reefs across the globe. It’s fantastic to see the Raspberry Pi being used to help protect ocean life.

The post Protecting coral reefs with Nemo-Pi, the underwater monitor appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

The US Is Unprepared for Election-Related Hacking in 2018

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/05/the_us_is_unpre.html

This survey and report is not surprising:

The survey of nearly forty Republican and Democratic campaign operatives, administered through November and December 2017, revealed that American political campaign staff — primarily working at the state and congressional levels — are not only unprepared for possible cyber attacks, but remain generally unconcerned about the threat. The survey sample was relatively small, but nevertheless the survey provides a first look at how campaign managers and staff are responding to the threat.

The overwhelming majority of those surveyed do not want to devote campaign resources to cybersecurity or to hire personnel to address cybersecurity issues. Even though campaign managers recognize there is a high probability that campaign and personal emails are at risk of being hacked, they are more concerned about fundraising and press coverage than they are about cybersecurity. Less than half of those surveyed said they had taken steps to make their data secure and most were unsure if they wanted to spend any money on this protection.

Security is never something we actually want. Security is something we need in order to avoid what we don’t want. It’s also more abstract, concerned with hypothetical future possibilities. Of course it’s lower on the priorities list than fundraising and press coverage. They’re more tangible, and they’re more immediate.

This is all to the attackers’ advantage.

Cryptocurrency Security Challenges

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/cryptocurrency-security-challenges/

Physical coins representing cyrptocurrencies

Most likely you’ve read the tantalizing stories of big gains from investing in cryptocurrencies. Someone who invested $1,000 into bitcoins five years ago would have over $85,000 in value now. Alternatively, someone who invested in bitcoins three months ago would have seen their investment lose 20% in value. Beyond the big price fluctuations, currency holders are possibly exposed to fraud, bad business practices, and even risk losing their holdings altogether if they are careless in keeping track of the all-important currency keys.

It’s certain that beyond the rewards and risks, cryptocurrencies are here to stay. We can’t ignore how they are changing the game for how money is handled between people and businesses.

Some Advantages of Cryptocurrency

  • Cryptocurrency is accessible to anyone.
  • Decentralization means the network operates on a user-to-user (or peer-to-peer) basis.
  • Transactions can completed for a fraction of the expense and time required to complete traditional asset transfers.
  • Transactions are digital and cannot be counterfeited or reversed arbitrarily by the sender, as with credit card charge-backs.
  • There aren’t usually transaction fees for cryptocurrency exchanges.
  • Cryptocurrency allows the cryptocurrency holder to send exactly what information is needed and no more to the merchant or recipient, even permitting anonymous transactions (for good or bad).
  • Cryptocurrency operates at the universal level and hence makes transactions easier internationally.
  • There is no other electronic cash system in which your account isn’t owned by someone else.

On top of all that, blockchain, the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies, is already being applied to a variety of business needs and itself becoming a hot sector of the tech economy. Blockchain is bringing traceability and cost-effectiveness to supply-chain management — which also improves quality assurance in areas such as food, reducing errors and improving accounting accuracy, smart contracts that can be automatically validated, signed and enforced through a blockchain construct, the possibility of secure, online voting, and many others.

Like any new, booming marketing there are risks involved in these new currencies. Anyone venturing into this domain needs to have their eyes wide open. While the opportunities for making money are real, there are even more ways to lose money.

We’re going to cover two primary approaches to staying safe and avoiding fraud and loss when dealing with cryptocurrencies. The first is to thoroughly vet any person or company you’re dealing with to judge whether they are ethical and likely to succeed in their business segment. The second is keeping your critical cryptocurrency keys safe, which we’ll deal with in this and a subsequent post.

Caveat Emptor — Buyer Beware

The short history of cryptocurrency has already seen the demise of a number of companies that claimed to manage, mine, trade, or otherwise help their customers profit from cryptocurrency. Mt. Gox, GAW Miners, and OneCoin are just three of the many companies that disappeared with their users’ money. This is the traditional equivalent of your bank going out of business and zeroing out your checking account in the process.

That doesn’t happen with banks because of regulatory oversight. But with cryptocurrency, you need to take the time to investigate any company you use to manage or trade your currencies. How long have they been around? Who are their investors? Are they affiliated with any reputable financial institutions? What is the record of their founders and executive management? These are all important questions to consider when evaluating a company in this new space.

Would you give the keys to your house to a service or person you didn’t thoroughly know and trust? Some companies that enable you to buy and sell currencies online will routinely hold your currency keys, which gives them the ability to do anything they want with your holdings, including selling them and pocketing the proceeds if they wish.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever allow a company to keep your currency keys in escrow. It simply means that you better know with whom you’re doing business and if they’re trustworthy enough to be given that responsibility.

Keys To the Cryptocurrency Kingdom — Public and Private

If you’re an owner of cryptocurrency, you know how this all works. If you’re not, bear with me for a minute while I bring everyone up to speed.

Cryptocurrency has no physical manifestation, such as bills or coins. It exists purely as a computer record. And unlike currencies maintained by governments, such as the U.S. dollar, there is no central authority regulating its distribution and value. Cryptocurrencies use a technology called blockchain, which is a decentralized way of keeping track of transactions. There are many copies of a given blockchain, so no single central authority is needed to validate its authenticity or accuracy.

The validity of each cryptocurrency is determined by a blockchain. A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called “blocks”, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Blockchains by design are inherently resistant to modification of the data. They perform as an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable, permanent way. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority. On a scaled network, this level of collusion is impossible — making blockchain networks effectively immutable and trustworthy.

Blockchain process

The other element common to all cryptocurrencies is their use of public and private keys, which are stored in the currency’s wallet. A cryptocurrency wallet stores the public and private “keys” or “addresses” that can be used to receive or spend the cryptocurrency. With the private key, it is possible to write in the public ledger (blockchain), effectively spending the associated cryptocurrency. With the public key, it is possible for others to send currency to the wallet.

What is a cryptocurrency address?

Cryptocurrency “coins” can be lost if the owner loses the private keys needed to spend the currency they own. It’s as if the owner had lost a bank account number and had no way to verify their identity to the bank, or if they lost the U.S. dollars they had in their wallet. The assets are gone and unusable.

The Cryptocurrency Wallet

Given the importance of these keys, and lack of recourse if they are lost, it’s obviously very important to keep track of your keys.

If you’re being careful in choosing reputable exchanges, app developers, and other services with whom to trust your cryptocurrency, you’ve made a good start in keeping your investment secure. But if you’re careless in managing the keys to your bitcoins, ether, Litecoin, or other cryptocurrency, you might as well leave your money on a cafe tabletop and walk away.

What Are the Differences Between Hot and Cold Wallets?

Just like other numbers you might wish to keep track of — credit cards, account numbers, phone numbers, passphrases — cryptocurrency keys can be stored in a variety of ways. Those who use their currencies for day-to-day purchases most likely will want them handy in a smartphone app, hardware key, or debit card that can be used for purchases. These are called “hot” wallets. Some experts advise keeping the balances in these devices and apps to a minimal amount to avoid hacking or data loss. We typically don’t walk around with thousands of dollars in U.S. currency in our old-style wallets, so this is really a continuation of the same approach to managing spending money.

Bread mobile app screenshot

A “hot” wallet, the Bread mobile app

Some investors with large balances keep their keys in “cold” wallets, or “cold storage,” i.e. a device or location that is not connected online. If funds are needed for purchases, they can be transferred to a more easily used payment medium. Cold wallets can be hardware devices, USB drives, or even paper copies of your keys.

Trezor hardware wallet

A “cold” wallet, the Trezor hardware wallet

Ledger Nano S hardware wallet

A “cold” wallet, the Ledger Nano S

Bitcoin paper wallet

A “cold” Bitcoin paper wallet

Wallets are suited to holding one or more specific cryptocurrencies, and some people have multiple wallets for different currencies and different purposes.

A paper wallet is nothing other than a printed record of your public and private keys. Some prefer their records to be completely disconnected from the internet, and a piece of paper serves that need. Just like writing down an account password on paper, however, it’s essential to keep the paper secure to avoid giving someone the ability to freely access your funds.

How to Keep your Keys, and Cryptocurrency Secure

In a post this coming Thursday, Securing Your Cryptocurrency, we’ll discuss the best strategies for backing up your cryptocurrency so that your currencies don’t become part of the millions that have been lost. We’ll cover the common (and uncommon) approaches to backing up hot wallets, cold wallets, and using paper and metal solutions to keeping your keys safe.

In the meantime, please tell us of your experiences with cryptocurrencies — good and bad — and how you’ve dealt with the issue of cryptocurrency security.

The post Cryptocurrency Security Challenges appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Securing Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This essay originally appeared in the Guardian.

Performing Unit Testing in an AWS CodeStar Project

Post Syndicated from Jerry Mathen Jacob original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/performing-unit-testing-in-an-aws-codestar-project/

In this blog post, I will show how you can perform unit testing as a part of your AWS CodeStar project. AWS CodeStar helps you quickly develop, build, and deploy applications on AWS. With AWS CodeStar, you can set up your continuous delivery (CD) toolchain and manage your software development from one place.

Because unit testing tests individual units of application code, it is helpful for quickly identifying and isolating issues. As a part of an automated CI/CD process, it can also be used to prevent bad code from being deployed into production.

Many of the AWS CodeStar project templates come preconfigured with a unit testing framework so that you can start deploying your code with more confidence. The unit testing is configured to run in the provided build stage so that, if the unit tests do not pass, the code is not deployed. For a list of AWS CodeStar project templates that include unit testing, see AWS CodeStar Project Templates in the AWS CodeStar User Guide.

The scenario

As a big fan of superhero movies, I decided to list my favorites and ask my friends to vote on theirs by using a WebService endpoint I created. The example I use is a Python web service running on AWS Lambda with AWS CodeCommit as the code repository. CodeCommit is a fully managed source control system that hosts Git repositories and works with all Git-based tools.

Here’s how you can create the WebService endpoint:

Sign in to the AWS CodeStar console. Choose Start a project, which will take you to the list of project templates.

create project

For code edits I will choose AWS Cloud9, which is a cloud-based integrated development environment (IDE) that you use to write, run, and debug code.

choose cloud9

Here are the other tasks required by my scenario:

  • Create a database table where the votes can be stored and retrieved as needed.
  • Update the logic in the Lambda function that was created for posting and getting the votes.
  • Update the unit tests (of course!) to verify that the logic works as expected.

For a database table, I’ve chosen Amazon DynamoDB, which offers a fast and flexible NoSQL database.

Getting set up on AWS Cloud9

From the AWS CodeStar console, go to the AWS Cloud9 console, which should take you to your project code. I will open up a terminal at the top-level folder under which I will set up my environment and required libraries.

Use the following command to set the PYTHONPATH environment variable on the terminal.

export PYTHONPATH=/home/ec2-user/environment/vote-your-movie

You should now be able to use the following command to execute the unit tests in your project.

python -m unittest discover vote-your-movie/tests

cloud9 setup

Start coding

Now that you have set up your local environment and have a copy of your code, add a DynamoDB table to the project by defining it through a template file. Open template.yml, which is the Serverless Application Model (SAM) template file. This template extends AWS CloudFormation to provide a simplified way of defining the Amazon API Gateway APIs, AWS Lambda functions, and Amazon DynamoDB tables required by your serverless application.

AWSTemplateFormatVersion: 2010-09-09
Transform:
- AWS::Serverless-2016-10-31
- AWS::CodeStar

Parameters:
  ProjectId:
    Type: String
    Description: CodeStar projectId used to associate new resources to team members

Resources:
  # The DB table to store the votes.
  MovieVoteTable:
    Type: AWS::Serverless::SimpleTable
    Properties:
      PrimaryKey:
        # Name of the "Candidate" is the partition key of the table.
        Name: Candidate
        Type: String
  # Creating a new lambda function for retrieving and storing votes.
  MovieVoteLambda:
    Type: AWS::Serverless::Function
    Properties:
      Handler: index.handler
      Runtime: python3.6
      Environment:
        # Setting environment variables for your lambda function.
        Variables:
          TABLE_NAME: !Ref "MovieVoteTable"
          TABLE_REGION: !Ref "AWS::Region"
      Role:
        Fn::ImportValue:
          !Join ['-', [!Ref 'ProjectId', !Ref 'AWS::Region', 'LambdaTrustRole']]
      Events:
        GetEvent:
          Type: Api
          Properties:
            Path: /
            Method: get
        PostEvent:
          Type: Api
          Properties:
            Path: /
            Method: post

We’ll use Python’s boto3 library to connect to AWS services. And we’ll use Python’s mock library to mock AWS service calls for our unit tests.
Use the following command to install these libraries:

pip install --upgrade boto3 mock -t .

install dependencies

Add these libraries to the buildspec.yml, which is the YAML file that is required for CodeBuild to execute.

version: 0.2

phases:
  install:
    commands:

      # Upgrade AWS CLI to the latest version
      - pip install --upgrade awscli boto3 mock

  pre_build:
    commands:

      # Discover and run unit tests in the 'tests' directory. For more information, see <https://docs.python.org/3/library/unittest.html#test-discovery>
      - python -m unittest discover tests

  build:
    commands:

      # Use AWS SAM to package the application by using AWS CloudFormation
      - aws cloudformation package --template template.yml --s3-bucket $S3_BUCKET --output-template template-export.yml

artifacts:
  type: zip
  files:
    - template-export.yml

Open the index.py where we can write the simple voting logic for our Lambda function.

import json
import datetime
import boto3
import os

table_name = os.environ['TABLE_NAME']
table_region = os.environ['TABLE_REGION']

VOTES_TABLE = boto3.resource('dynamodb', region_name=table_region).Table(table_name)
CANDIDATES = {"A": "Black Panther", "B": "Captain America: Civil War", "C": "Guardians of the Galaxy", "D": "Thor: Ragnarok"}

def handler(event, context):
    if event['httpMethod'] == 'GET':
        resp = VOTES_TABLE.scan()
        return {'statusCode': 200,
                'body': json.dumps({item['Candidate']: int(item['Votes']) for item in resp['Items']}),
                'headers': {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}}

    elif event['httpMethod'] == 'POST':
        try:
            body = json.loads(event['body'])
        except:
            return {'statusCode': 400,
                    'body': 'Invalid input! Expecting a JSON.',
                    'headers': {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}}
        if 'candidate' not in body:
            return {'statusCode': 400,
                    'body': 'Missing "candidate" in request.',
                    'headers': {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}}
        if body['candidate'] not in CANDIDATES.keys():
            return {'statusCode': 400,
                    'body': 'You must vote for one of the following candidates - {}.'.format(get_allowed_candidates()),
                    'headers': {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}}

        resp = VOTES_TABLE.update_item(
            Key={'Candidate': CANDIDATES.get(body['candidate'])},
            UpdateExpression='ADD Votes :incr',
            ExpressionAttributeValues={':incr': 1},
            ReturnValues='ALL_NEW'
        )
        return {'statusCode': 200,
                'body': "{} now has {} votes".format(CANDIDATES.get(body['candidate']), resp['Attributes']['Votes']),
                'headers': {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}}

def get_allowed_candidates():
    l = []
    for key in CANDIDATES:
        l.append("'{}' for '{}'".format(key, CANDIDATES.get(key)))
    return ", ".join(l)

What our code basically does is take in the HTTPS request call as an event. If it is an HTTP GET request, it gets the votes result from the table. If it is an HTTP POST request, it sets a vote for the candidate of choice. We also validate the inputs in the POST request to filter out requests that seem malicious. That way, only valid calls are stored in the table.

In the example code provided, we use a CANDIDATES variable to store our candidates, but you can store the candidates in a JSON file and use Python’s json library instead.

Let’s update the tests now. Under the tests folder, open the test_handler.py and modify it to verify the logic.

import os
# Some mock environment variables that would be used by the mock for DynamoDB
os.environ['TABLE_NAME'] = "MockHelloWorldTable"
os.environ['TABLE_REGION'] = "us-east-1"

# The library containing our logic.
import index

# Boto3's core library
import botocore
# For handling JSON.
import json
# Unit test library
import unittest
## Getting StringIO based on your setup.
try:
    from StringIO import StringIO
except ImportError:
    from io import StringIO
## Python mock library
from mock import patch, call
from decimal import Decimal

@patch('botocore.client.BaseClient._make_api_call')
class TestCandidateVotes(unittest.TestCase):

    ## Test the HTTP GET request flow. 
    ## We expect to get back a successful response with results of votes from the table (mocked).
    def test_get_votes(self, boto_mock):
        # Input event to our method to test.
        expected_event = {'httpMethod': 'GET'}
        # The mocked values in our DynamoDB table.
        items_in_db = [{'Candidate': 'Black Panther', 'Votes': Decimal('3')},
                        {'Candidate': 'Captain America: Civil War', 'Votes': Decimal('8')},
                        {'Candidate': 'Guardians of the Galaxy', 'Votes': Decimal('8')},
                        {'Candidate': "Thor: Ragnarok", 'Votes': Decimal('1')}
                    ]
        # The mocked DynamoDB response.
        expected_ddb_response = {'Items': items_in_db}
        # The mocked response we expect back by calling DynamoDB through boto.
        response_body = botocore.response.StreamingBody(StringIO(str(expected_ddb_response)),
                                                        len(str(expected_ddb_response)))
        # Setting the expected value in the mock.
        boto_mock.side_effect = [expected_ddb_response]
        # Expecting that there would be a call to DynamoDB Scan function during execution with these parameters.
        expected_calls = [call('Scan', {'TableName': os.environ['TABLE_NAME']})]

        # Call the function to test.
        result = index.handler(expected_event, {})

        # Run unit test assertions to verify the expected calls to mock have occurred and verify the response.
        assert result.get('headers').get('Content-Type') == 'application/json'
        assert result.get('statusCode') == 200

        result_body = json.loads(result.get('body'))
        # Verifying that the results match to that from the table.
        assert len(result_body) == len(items_in_db)
        for i in range(len(result_body)):
            assert result_body.get(items_in_db[i].get("Candidate")) == int(items_in_db[i].get("Votes"))

        assert boto_mock.call_count == 1
        boto_mock.assert_has_calls(expected_calls)

    ## Test the HTTP POST request flow that places a vote for a selected candidate.
    ## We expect to get back a successful response with a confirmation message.
    def test_place_valid_candidate_vote(self, boto_mock):
        # Input event to our method to test.
        expected_event = {'httpMethod': 'POST', 'body': "{\"candidate\": \"D\"}"}
        # The mocked response in our DynamoDB table.
        expected_ddb_response = {'Attributes': {'Candidate': "Thor: Ragnarok", 'Votes': Decimal('2')}}
        # The mocked response we expect back by calling DynamoDB through boto.
        response_body = botocore.response.StreamingBody(StringIO(str(expected_ddb_response)),
                                                        len(str(expected_ddb_response)))
        # Setting the expected value in the mock.
        boto_mock.side_effect = [expected_ddb_response]
        # Expecting that there would be a call to DynamoDB UpdateItem function during execution with these parameters.
        expected_calls = [call('UpdateItem', {
                                                'TableName': os.environ['TABLE_NAME'], 
                                                'Key': {'Candidate': 'Thor: Ragnarok'},
                                                'UpdateExpression': 'ADD Votes :incr',
                                                'ExpressionAttributeValues': {':incr': 1},
                                                'ReturnValues': 'ALL_NEW'
                                            })]
        # Call the function to test.
        result = index.handler(expected_event, {})
        # Run unit test assertions to verify the expected calls to mock have occurred and verify the response.
        assert result.get('headers').get('Content-Type') == 'application/json'
        assert result.get('statusCode') == 200

        assert result.get('body') == "{} now has {} votes".format(
            expected_ddb_response['Attributes']['Candidate'], 
            expected_ddb_response['Attributes']['Votes'])

        assert boto_mock.call_count == 1
        boto_mock.assert_has_calls(expected_calls)

    ## Test the HTTP POST request flow that places a vote for an non-existant candidate.
    ## We expect to get back a successful response with a confirmation message.
    def test_place_invalid_candidate_vote(self, boto_mock):
        # Input event to our method to test.
        # The valid IDs for the candidates are A, B, C, and D
        expected_event = {'httpMethod': 'POST', 'body': "{\"candidate\": \"E\"}"}
        # Call the function to test.
        result = index.handler(expected_event, {})
        # Run unit test assertions to verify the expected calls to mock have occurred and verify the response.
        assert result.get('headers').get('Content-Type') == 'application/json'
        assert result.get('statusCode') == 400
        assert result.get('body') == 'You must vote for one of the following candidates - {}.'.format(index.get_allowed_candidates())

    ## Test the HTTP POST request flow that places a vote for a selected candidate but associated with an invalid key in the POST body.
    ## We expect to get back a failed (400) response with an appropriate error message.
    def test_place_invalid_data_vote(self, boto_mock):
        # Input event to our method to test.
        # "name" is not the expected input key.
        expected_event = {'httpMethod': 'POST', 'body': "{\"name\": \"D\"}"}
        # Call the function to test.
        result = index.handler(expected_event, {})
        # Run unit test assertions to verify the expected calls to mock have occurred and verify the response.
        assert result.get('headers').get('Content-Type') == 'application/json'
        assert result.get('statusCode') == 400
        assert result.get('body') == 'Missing "candidate" in request.'

    ## Test the HTTP POST request flow that places a vote for a selected candidate but not as a JSON string which the body of the request expects.
    ## We expect to get back a failed (400) response with an appropriate error message.
    def test_place_malformed_json_vote(self, boto_mock):
        # Input event to our method to test.
        # "body" receives a string rather than a JSON string.
        expected_event = {'httpMethod': 'POST', 'body': "Thor: Ragnarok"}
        # Call the function to test.
        result = index.handler(expected_event, {})
        # Run unit test assertions to verify the expected calls to mock have occurred and verify the response.
        assert result.get('headers').get('Content-Type') == 'application/json'
        assert result.get('statusCode') == 400
        assert result.get('body') == 'Invalid input! Expecting a JSON.'

if __name__ == '__main__':
    unittest.main()

I am keeping the code samples well commented so that it’s clear what each unit test accomplishes. It tests the success conditions and the failure paths that are handled in the logic.

In my unit tests I use the patch decorator (@patch) in the mock library. @patch helps mock the function you want to call (in this case, the botocore library’s _make_api_call function in the BaseClient class).
Before we commit our changes, let’s run the tests locally. On the terminal, run the tests again. If all the unit tests pass, you should expect to see a result like this:

You:~/environment $ python -m unittest discover vote-your-movie/tests
.....
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Ran 5 tests in 0.003s

OK
You:~/environment $

Upload to AWS

Now that the tests have passed, it’s time to commit and push the code to source repository!

Add your changes

From the terminal, go to the project’s folder and use the following command to verify the changes you are about to push.

git status

To add the modified files only, use the following command:

git add -u

Commit your changes

To commit the changes (with a message), use the following command:

git commit -m "Logic and tests for the voting webservice."

Push your changes to AWS CodeCommit

To push your committed changes to CodeCommit, use the following command:

git push

In the AWS CodeStar console, you can see your changes flowing through the pipeline and being deployed. There are also links in the AWS CodeStar console that take you to this project’s build runs so you can see your tests running on AWS CodeBuild. The latest link under the Build Runs table takes you to the logs.

unit tests at codebuild

After the deployment is complete, AWS CodeStar should now display the AWS Lambda function and DynamoDB table created and synced with this project. The Project link in the AWS CodeStar project’s navigation bar displays the AWS resources linked to this project.

codestar resources

Because this is a new database table, there should be no data in it. So, let’s put in some votes. You can download Postman to test your application endpoint for POST and GET calls. The endpoint you want to test is the URL displayed under Application endpoints in the AWS CodeStar console.

Now let’s open Postman and look at the results. Let’s create some votes through POST requests. Based on this example, a valid vote has a value of A, B, C, or D.
Here’s what a successful POST request looks like:

POST success

Here’s what it looks like if I use some value other than A, B, C, or D:

 

POST Fail

Now I am going to use a GET request to fetch the results of the votes from the database.

GET success

And that’s it! You have now created a simple voting web service using AWS Lambda, Amazon API Gateway, and DynamoDB and used unit tests to verify your logic so that you ship good code.
Happy coding!

Zeynep Tufekci on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/03/zeynep_tufekci_.html

Zeynep Tufekci is particularly cogent about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

Several news outlets asked me to write about this issue. I didn’t, because 1) my book manuscript is due on Monday (finally!), and 2) I knew Zeynep would say what I would say, only better.

Election Security

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/02/election_securi_2.html

I joined a letter supporting the Secure Elections Act (S. 2261):

The Secure Elections Act strikes a careful balance between state and federal action to secure American voting systems. The measure authorizes appropriation of grants to the states to take important and time-sensitive actions, including:

  • Replacing insecure paperless voting systems with new equipment that will process a paper ballot;
  • Implementing post-election audits of paper ballots or records to verify electronic tallies;

  • Conducting “cyber hygiene” scans and “risk and vulnerability” assessments and supporting state efforts to remediate identified vulnerabilities.

    The legislation would also create needed transparency and accountability in elections systems by establishing clear protocols for state and federal officials to communicate regarding security breaches and emerging threats.

Facebook Will Verify the Physical Location of Ad Buyers with Paper Postcards

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/02/facebook_will_v.html

It’s not a great solution, but it’s something:

The process of using postcards containing a specific code will be required for advertising that mentions a specific candidate running for a federal office, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global director of policy programs, said. The requirement will not apply to issue-based political ads, she said.

“If you run an ad mentioning a candidate, we are going to mail you a postcard and you will have to use that code to prove you are in the United States,” Harbath said at a weekend conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State, where executives from Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google also spoke.

“It won’t solve everything,” Harbath said in a brief interview with Reuters following her remarks.

But sending codes through old-fashioned mail was the most effective method the tech company could come up with to prevent Russians and other bad actors from purchasing ads while posing as someone else, Harbath said.

It does mean a several-days delay between purchasing an ad and seeing it run.

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.

Join us for an evening of League of Legends

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/league-of-legends-evening/

Last month, we shared the news that Riot Games is supporting digital literacy by matching 25% of sales of Championship Ashe and Championship Ward to create a charity fund that will benefit the Raspberry Pi Foundation and two other charities.

Raspberry Pi League of Legends Championship Ashe Riot Games

Vote for the Raspberry Pi Foundation

Riot Games is now calling for all League of Legends players to vote for their favourite charity — the winning organisation will receive 50% of the total fund.

By visiting the ‘Vote for charity’ tab in-client, you’ll be able to choose between the Raspberry Pi Foundation, BasicNeeds, and Learning Equality.

Players can vote only once, and your vote will be multiplied based on your honour level. Voting ends on 5 November 2017 at 11:59pm PT.

League of Legends with Riot Gaming

In honour of the Riot Games Charity Fund vote, and to support the work of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, KimmieRiot and M0RGZ of top female eSports organisation Riot Gaming (no relation to Riot Games) will run a four-hour League of Legends live-stream this Saturday, 21 October, from 6pm to 10pm BST.

Playing as Championship Ashe, they’ll be streaming live to Twitch, and you’re all invited to join in the fun. I’ll be making an appearance in the chat box as RaspberryPiFoundation, and we’ll be giving away some free T-shirts and stickers during the event — make sure to tune in to the conversation.

In a wonderful gesture, Riot Gaming will pass on all donations made to their channel during the live-stream to us. These funds will directly aid the ongoing charitable work of Raspberry Pi and our computing education programmes like CoderDojo.

Make sure to follow Riot Gaming, and activate notifications so you don’t miss the event!

We’re blushing

Thank you to everyone who buys Championship Ashe and Championship Ward, and to all of you who vote for us. We’re honoured to be one of the three charities selected to benefit from the Riot Games Charity Fund.

And a huge thank you to Riot Gaming for organising an evening of Raspberry Pi and League of Legends. We can’t wait!

The post Join us for an evening of League of Legends appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Students Overwhelmingly Vote Pirate Party in Simulated “General Election”

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/students-overwhelmingly-vote-pirate-party-in-simulated-general-election-171007/

While millions of people have died throughout history fighting for the right to vote, there is a significant wave of apathy among large swathes of the population in democracies where the ballot box is taken for granted.

With this in mind, an educational project in the Czech Republic aims to familiarize high school students with basic democratic principles, acquaint them with the local electoral system, while promoting dialog among students, teachers, and parents. The main goal is to increase participation of young people in elections.

In line with this project, young students across the country are invited to take part in a simulated general election, to get a taste of what things will be like when they reach voting age. This year, these Student Elections took place over two days starting October 3 in secondary schools across the Czech Republic.

Under the One World Education Program at People in Need, a nonprofit that implements educational and human rights programs in crisis zones, 40,068 students from 281 schools cast their votes for political parties, movements and coalition candidates standing for the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament in the upcoming real elections.

Students 15-years-old and above were eligible to vote and when they were all counted, the results were quite something for any follower of the worldwide Pirate Party movement.

Of all groups, the Czech Pirate Party won a decisive victory, netting 24.5% of the overall vote, double that achieved by the ANO movement (11.9%) and the right-wing TOP 09 (11.8%). The fourth and fifth-placed candidates topped out at 7.76% and 6.33% respectively.

“The results of the Student Elections will be compared to the results of the election in a couple of weeks. It is certain they will vary greatly,” says Karel Strachota, director of the One World at School Education Program and the person who launched the Student Election project seven years ago.

“At the same time, however, the choice of students seems to indicate a certain trend in the development of voter preferences. From our teachers and school visits, we know that, as in the past, most of the pupils have been able to choose responsibly.”

According to Prague Monitor, opinion polls for the upcoming election (October 20-21) place the ANO movement as the clear favorites, with the Pirates having “a big chance to succeed” with up to 7% of the vote. Given the results of the simulation, elections in coming years could be something really special for the Pirates.

The full results of the Student Elections 2017 can be found on the One World website here. Meanwhile, Czech Pirate Party President Ivan Bartos sings to voters in the pre-election video below, explaining why Pirates are needed in Parliament in 2017.

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

Inside the MPAA, Netflix & Amazon Global Anti-Piracy Alliance

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/inside-the-mpaa-netflix-amazon-global-anti-piracy-alliance-170918/

The idea of collaboration in the anti-piracy arena isn’t new but an announcement this summer heralded what is destined to become the largest project the entertainment industry has ever seen.

The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) is a coalition of 30 companies that reads like a who’s who of the global entertainment market. In alphabetical order its members are:

Amazon, AMC Networks, BBC Worldwide, Bell Canada and Bell Media, Canal+ Group, CBS Corporation, Constantin Film, Foxtel, Grupo Globo, HBO, Hulu, Lionsgate, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Millennium Media, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount Pictures, SF Studios, Sky, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Star India, Studio Babelsberg, STX Entertainment, Telemundo, Televisa, Twentieth Century Fox, Univision Communications Inc., Village Roadshow, The Walt Disney Company, and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The aim of the project is clear. Instead of each company considering its anti-piracy operations as a distinct island, ACE will bring them all together while presenting a united front to decision and lawmakers. At the core of the Alliance will be the MPAA.

“ACE, with its broad coalition of creators from around the world, is designed, specifically, to leverage the best possible resources to reduce piracy,”
outgoing MPAA chief Chris Dodd said in June.

“For decades, the MPAA has been the gold standard for antipiracy enforcement. We are proud to provide the MPAA’s worldwide antipiracy resources and the deep expertise of our antipiracy unit to support ACE and all its initiatives.”

Since then, ACE and its members have been silent on the project. Today, however, TorrentFreak can pull back the curtain, revealing how the agreement between the companies will play out, who will be in control, and how much the scheme will cost.

Power structure: Founding Members & Executive Committee Members

Netflix, Inc., Amazon Studios LLC, Paramount Pictures Corporation, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc., Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Universal City Studios LLC, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, are the ‘Founding Members’ (Governing Board) of ACE.

These companies are granted full voting rights on ACE business, including the approval of initiatives and public policy, anti-piracy strategy, budget-related matters, plus approval of legal action. Not least, they’ll have the power to admit or expel ACE members.

All actions taken by the Governing Board (never to exceed nine members) need to be approved by consensus, with each Founding Member able to vote for or against decisions. Members are also allowed to abstain but one persistent objection will be enough to stop any matter being approved.

The second tier – ‘Executive Committee Members’ – is comprised of all the other companies in the ACE project (as listed above, minus the Governing Board). These companies will not be allowed to vote on ACE initiatives but can present ideas and strategies. They’ll also be allowed to suggest targets for law enforcement action while utilizing the MPAA’s anti-piracy resources.

Rights of all members

While all members of ACE can utilize the alliance’s resources, none are barred from simultaneously ‘going it alone’ on separate anti-piracy initiatives. None of these strategies and actions need approval from the Founding Members, provided they’re carried out in a company’s own name and at its own expense.

Information obtained by TorrentFreak indicates that the MPAA also reserves the right to carry out anti-piracy actions in its own name or on behalf of its member studios. The pattern here is different, since the MPAA’s global anti-piracy resources are the same resources being made available to the ACE alliance and for which members have paid to share.

Expansion of ACE

While ACE membership is already broad, the alliance is prepared to take on additional members, providing certain criteria are met. Crucially, any prospective additions must be owners or producers of movies and/or TV shows. The Governing Board will then vet applicants to ensure that they meet the criteria for acceptance as a new Executive Committee Members.

ACE Operations

The nine Governing Board members will meet at least four times a year, with each nominating a senior executive to serve as its representative. The MPAA’s General Counsel will take up the position of non-voting member of the Governing Board and will chair its meetings.

Matters to be discussed include formulating and developing the alliance’s ‘Global Anti-Piracy Action Plan’ and approving and developing the budget. ACE will also form an Anti-Piracy Working Group, which is scheduled to meet at least once a month.

On a daily basis, the MPAA and its staff will attend to the business of the ACE alliance. The MPAA will carry out its own work too but when presenting to outside third parties, it will clearly state which “hat” it is currently wearing.

Much deliberation has taken place over who should be the official spokesperson for ACE. Documents obtained by TF suggest that the MPAA planned to hire a consulting firm to find a person for the role, seeking a professional with international experience who had never been previously been connected with the MPAA.

They appear to have settled on Zoe Thorogood, who previously worked for British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Money, money, money

Of course, the ACE program isn’t going to fund itself, so all members are required to contribute to the operation. The MPAA has opened a dedicated bank account under its control specifically for the purpose, with members contributing depending on status.

Founding/Governing Board Members will be required to commit $5m each annually. However, none of the studios that are MPAA members will have to hand over any cash, since they already fund the MPAA, whose anti-piracy resources ACE is built.

“Each Governing Board Member will contribute annual dues in an amount equal to $5 million USD. Payment of dues shall be made bi-annually in equal shares, payable at
the beginning of each six (6) month period,” the ACE agreement reads.

“The contribution of MPAA personnel, assets and resources…will constitute and be considered as full payment of each MPAA Member Studio’s Governing Board dues.”

That leaves just Netflix and Amazon paying the full amount of $5m in cash each.

From each company’s contribution, $1m will be paid into legal trust accounts allocated to each Governing Board member. If ACE-agreed litigation and legal expenses exceed that amount for the year, members will be required to top up their accounts to cover their share of the costs.

For the remaining 21 companies on the Executive Committee, annual dues are $200,000 each, to be paid in one installment at the start of the financial year – $4.2m all in. Of all dues paid by all members from both tiers, half will be used to boost anti-piracy resources, over and above what the MPAA will spend on the same during 2017.

“Fifty percent (50%) of all dues received from Global Alliance Members other than
the MPAA Member Studios…shall, as agreed by the Governing Board, be used (a) to increase the resources spent on online antipiracy over and above….the amount of MPAA’s 2017 Content Protection Department budget for online antipiracy initiatives/operations,” an internal ACE document reads.

Intellectual property

As the project moves forward, the Alliance expects to gain certain knowledge and experience. On the back of that, the MPAA hopes to grow its intellectual property portfolio.

“Absent written agreement providing otherwise, any and all data, intellectual property, copyrights, trademarks, or know-how owned and/or contributed to the Global Alliance by MPAA, or developed or created by the MPAA or the Global Alliance during the Term of this Charter, shall remain and/or become the exclusive property of the MPAA,” the ACE agreement reads.

That being said, all Governing Board Members will also be granted “perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive licenses” to use the same under certain rules, even in the event they leave the ACE initiative.

Terms and extensions

Any member may withdraw from the Alliance at any point, but there will be no refunds. Additionally, any financial commitment previously made to litigation will have to be honored by the member.

The ACE agreement has an initial term of two years but Governing Board Members will meet not less than three months before it is due to expire to vote on any extension.

To be continued……

With the internal structure of ACE now revealed, all that remains is to discover the contents of the initiative’s ‘Global Anti-Piracy Action Plan’. To date, that document has proven elusive but with an operation of such magnitude, future leaks are a distinct possibility.

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