CAT | Email Security
A reader of this blog recently emailed me to ask:
What s/w do you recommend to keep anonymous while using Gmail, IE, Outlook, and Facebook on a laptop?
This is actually a very tricky question because the nature of all of these tools, except Internet Explorer (IE), is to be associated with a visible and discoverable account and identity in the “cloud”. I will discuss IE last and separately.
Gmail ties to your gmail and other Google accounts. Outlook ties to some existing email account at some email provider. Facebook is tied to your Facebook account and is explicitly designed for making your information public.
The profound question here is, what do we even mean by being anonymous using these services? I would argue that the best one can manage is to be pseudonymous; that is to maintain a persistent and visible pseudonym / alias which, while discoverable, is not associated with your true identity.
Fortunately Gmail and Facebook are free and typically do not require any real credentials to set up an account, and many of the free email providers work similarly. Using Anonymizer Universal (AU), and a browser with no history or cache to set up the accounts would ensure they were not connected to your real identity. It is important that the accounts never be accessed in any way except through AU, or they will be forever after associated with your real IP address. Furthermore, it is critical that the browser used is never used for any activity connected to your real identity, or the cookies and other digital detritus in your browser may allow these sites (or other folks) to tie the pseudonym to your other real name accounts.
IE is in many ways the easiest because there is no underlying account, but all the same rules apply. You need to ensure that you isolate your anonymous or pseudonymous activity from your real name activity.
For all of this activity a virtual machine can be a very effective tool. For example, if you use a Mac you can use a virtual machine running Windows or Linux for all of your alias activities and use the normal operating system for your real name activities. Similar tools exist for other operating systems.
The announcement provides very little information about what RIM did to avert the ban, whether they made significant changed (compromises) to their system, or whether the UAE blinked and backed down from the threatened ban.
1 Comment · Posted by lance in Computer Security, Cryptography, Email Security, Internet, legal, Legislation, National Security, Online Privacy, Personal Privacy, Security Breaches, Stupidity, Surveillance
This NYTimes article discusses a bill which the Obama administration is proposing to submit to congress. The general background of the bill is that evolving technology has made it more difficult for law enforcement to conduct effective wiretaps and other intercepts because much of the targeted communication now takes place on the Internet and is often encrypted.
The actual text of the proposed bill does not appear to be available, but the article lists the following likely requirements.
- Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.
- Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.
- Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.
The first of these is similar to the CALEA law which requires telecommunications carriers to design their services to enable automated real time intercepts. While this generally sounds reasonable when “we” say it, the idea is more ominous when coming from some other governments.
The third proposal is completely outrageous. In effect it says that I may not speak in a way which is unintelligible to the wire tappers. As a colleague quipped “I am hiring Navajo code talkers.” This would require a back door be inserted in to cryptography tools. Experience shows that any crypto system with such a back door will be breached and then left vulnerable to the enormous number of criminal hackers on the Internet today.
In 1993 the US Government proposed a system called the “Clipper Chip” which would provide all encryption for personal computers, but to which the US Government would have back door access. This was a terrible idea then, it was widely ridiculed, and suffered a well justified death by 1996. This third proposal would be much worse. It is asking huge numbers of non-crypto experts to build back doors in to their systems. Frankly, the cryptography in most software is already badly broken in many cases. Something as subtle and complex as a secure and effective law enforcement back door would be far beyond their abilities and render currently poor security completely untrustworthy.
All this is not to mention the potential abuse by oppressive regimes, who will pounce on the capability to further crush dissent within their countries. Finally, it will be largely ineffective against serious threats. Very strong and easy to use cryptography is already available world wide, for free (GPG, ZPhone, TrueCrypt, etc.). This is a classic case of damaging the innocent while leaving the guilty and dangerous unaffected.
It seems to me that there is a pendulum swing to these things. Technology cuts both ways. Some times it favors the interceptor and some times it favors the communicator. In most ways the Internet has been a fantastic boon to law enforcement. Cloud computing, email hosts, social networking, open WiFi, and huge hard drive that encourage people to save everything all provide law enforcement with enormous amounts of information they could never have collected in the past.
It may not be shocking to anyone that there is no federal push to make that more difficult to access while pushing to enhance their ability to intercept encrypted communications.
All this is argument about a bill we have not seen yet. Let us hope that the furor that has swirled around it will cause it to be retraced or modified significantly before it is actually delivered to congress.
There has been a lot of media coverage of the threats of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to shut down BlackBerry connectivity in their countries unless RIM (the maker of BlackBerry) introduces a back door so they can monitor communications.
I have been following this story closely, but wanted to wait until I had all the facts before blogging about it. At this point I don’t think I am going to get the whole story. The statements I am seeing are absolutely contradictory and the whole thing is getting really fishy.
UAE/SA say that they need to be able to access BlackBerry communications, but they can’t.
RIM says that their technology makes interception impossible because the communications are encrypted end to end between the BES server (located at the users place of business) and the handset. RIM claims not to have access to the decryption keys.
Third parties claim that RIM has arrangements with other countries (including the US and Russia) which allows such access.
RIM responds that this is false and that they don’t have this ability.
It looks like RIM and UAE/SA will come to an agreement while both continue to claim that they have not compromised their positions.
The moral of this story is that you should not trust security you can not fully analyze yourself. Anonymizer Universal uses strongly encrypted L2TP VPN technology to secure your information so even if your telecommunications provider is cooperating with surveillance they still can’t read the contents of your messages.
Unfortunately Anonymizer Universal does not support BlackBerry yet, but iPhone, Windows, and Mac users are protected.
Cnet (among others) reports on Google’s interception of personal information from open WiFi nodes, including passwords and e-mail.
Clearly it was poor practice for Google to be capturing and recording such information as they drove around, but the real news should be that the information was there to be captured. The intent of the monitoring of WiFi seems to be collecting the locations of WiFi base stations to improve enhanced GPS location services. This works by having your device upload a list of all the WiFi base stations it can see (along with signal strength) which the service then looks up in a database to determine your location. This requires the service to have a database of the physical location of an enormous number of WiFi base stations.
To do this, all Google would have needed to capture was the hardware address of each device. Instead they captured some of the actual data being sent back and forth as well.
It turns out that this is incredibly easy. With many of the WiFi chipsets built in to personal computers, laptops and USB adapters, one can easily download free software that will start intercepting open WiFi traffic with a single click.
The shocking news should not be that Google accidentally got this information but that anyone with bad intent could do it to you. Anonymizer will soon be releasing a video we did a few weeks back showing how someone could take control of your Facebook account using an open WiFi and almost no technical expertise at all.
If the connection between you and a website, email server, or other service is un-encrypted, then anyone near you can intercept it if you are using an open WiFi.
To be clear, open WiFi means that the underlying connection is un-encrypted. Many public WiFi sites have a login page. This is to manage usage, and provides no security to you at all.
If you get a connection before you type in a password, especially if you see a web page before you type a password, then you should assume you are on an insecure connection and therefor vulnerable.