CAT | Internet
It turns out that people say nasty things under their real names, and people also say valuable things anonymously.
It is amazing how often I see respected academics and other thinkers get incredibly sloppy in their reasoning when it comes to anonymity. They frequently assume correlations for which they have no evidence, and propose solutions with no consideration of the consequences.
I appreciate the rational perspective in articles like this.
This article describes a clever attack against Secret, the “anonymous” secret sharing app.
Their technique allows the attacker to isolate just a single target, so any posts seen are known to be from them. The company is working on detecting and preventing this attack, but it is a hard problem.
In general, any anonymity system needs to blend the activity of a number of users so that any observed activity could have originated from any of them. For effective anonymity the number needs to be large. Just pulling from the friends in my address book who also use Secret is way too small a group.
A New York district judge has ruled that Microsoft must comply with US search warrants for emails stored in European data centers. The argument is that as a US company, Microsoft is subject to the order, and because it has control of its European subsidiary which in turn has control of the data center in Europe, it should therefor comply.
This will put Microsoft, and many other US Internet companies, in a tricky place. The EU data protection laws are being expanded to explicitly bar EU subsidiaries of US companies from sending data outside the EU for law enforcement or intelligence purposes.
This also further undermines confidence in the security and privacy of data held by US Internet companies.
On July 2, Google engineers discovered unauthorized certificates for Google domains in circulation. They had been issued by the National Informatics Center in India. They are a trusted sub-authority under the Indian Controller of Certifying Authorities (CCA). They in turn are part of the Microsoft Root Store of certificates, so just about any program running on Windows, including Explorer and Chrome, will trust the unauthorized certificates.
The power of this attack is that the holder of the private key to the certificate can impersonate secure Google servers. Your browser would not report any security alerts because the certificate is “properly” signed and trusted within the built in trust hierarchy.
Firefox does not have the CCA in its root certificate list and so is not affected. Likewise Mac OS, iOS, Android, and Chrome OS are safe from this particular incident as well.
It is not known exactly why these certificates were issued, but the obvious use would be national surveillance.
While this attack seems to be targeted to India and only impacts the Microsoft ecosystem, the larger problem is much more general. There is a long list of trusted certificate authorities, which in turn delegate trust to a vast number of sub-authorities, any of whom can trivially create certificates for any domain which would be trusted by your computer.
In this case the attack was detected quickly, but if it had been very narrowly targeted detection would have been very unlikely and monitoring could have continued over very long periods.
As an end user, you can install Certificate Patrol in Firefox to automatically detect when a website’s certificate is changed. This would detect this kind of attack.
On Chrome you should enable “Check for server certificate revocation” in advanced settings. That will at least allow quick protection once a certificate is compromised.
Update: Microsoft has issued an emergency patch removing trust from the compromised authority.
Continuing the pattern of Internet restrictions I talked about before, Russia has passed a new law requiring Internet companies to keep the personal data of Russians in data centers within the country. The ostensible reason for this is to protect Russians against US Government snooping (in the wake of the Snowden leaks), and against other outside threats.
The law requires that companies doing business in Russia must open data centers within the borders by 2016 or be blocked.
There are many ways for people motivated to bypass these restriction to access whatever they want, but most people will just use what is available, giving the Russian government more ability to monitor the activities of their citizens themselves.