TAG | surveillance
Arstechnica reports on the discovery of signed malware designed for surveillance on the Mac laptop of an Angolan activist.
The malware was a trojan that the activist obtained through a spear phishing email attack. The news here is that the malware was signed with a valid Apple Developer ID.
The idea is that having all code signed should substantially reduce the amount of malware on the platform. This works because creating a valid Apple Developer ID requires significant effort, and may expose the identity of the hacker unless they take steps to hide their identity. This is not trivial as the Developer ID requires contact information and payment of fees.
The second advantage of signed code is that the Developer’s certificate can be quickly revoked, so the software will be detected as invalid and automatically blocked on every Mac world wide. This limits the amount of damage a given Malware can do, and forces the attacker to create a new Apple Developer ID every time they are detected.
This has been seen to work fairly well in practice, but it is not perfect. If a target is valuable enough, a Developer ID can be set up just to go after that one person or small group. The malware is targeted to just them, so the likelihood of detection is low. In this case, it would continue to be recognized as a legitimates signed valid application for a very long time.
In the case of the Angolan activist, it was discovered at a human rights conference where the attendees were learning how to secure their devices against government monitoring.
The ACLU just posted an article about a recent federal magistrate judge’s ruling. It is a somewhat bizarre case.
The DEA had an arrest warrant for a doctor suspected selling prescription pain killer drugs for cash. They then requested a court order to obtain his real time location information from his cell provider.
The judge went along, but then published a 30 page opinion stating that no order or warrant should have been required for the location information because the suspect had no expectation of location privacy. If he wanted privacy, all he had to have done is to turn off his phone (which would have prevented the collection of the information at all, not just established his expectation).
So, if this line of reasoning is picked up and becomes precedent, it is clear than anyone on the run needs to keep their phone off and / or use burner phones paid for with cash.
My concern is that, if there is no expectation of privacy, is there anything preventing government entities from requesting location information on whole populations without any probable cause or court order.
While I think that the use of location information in this case was completely appropriate, I would sleep better if there was the check and balance of the need for a court order before getting it.
This is another situation where technology has run ahead of the law. The Fourth Amendment was written in a time where information was in tangible form, and the only time it was generally in the hands of third parties, was when it was in the mail. Therefor search of mail in transit was specially protected.
Today, cloud and telecommunication providers serve much the same purpose as the US Postal Service, and are used in similar ways. It is high time that the same protection extended to snail mail be applied to the new high tech communications infrastructures we use today.
There is a lot of buzz right now about how Google Glass will lead to some kind of universal George Orwell type surveillance state.
I think this misses the point. We are going there without Google Glass. Private surveillance is becoming ubiquitous. Any place of business is almost certain to have cameras. After the Boston bombings, we are likely to see the same proliferation of street cameras that has already happened in London any many other places.
The meteor in russia earlier this year made me aware of just how common personal dash board cameras are in Russia. It seems likely that they will be common everywhere in no too many years.
Smart phone cameras are already doing an amazing job of capturing almost any event that takes place anywhere in the world.
So, you are probably being filmed by at least one camera at almost all times any time you are away from your house.
David Brin and others have been arguing for “sousveillance”. If surveillance is those with power looking down from above, sousveillance is those without power looking back. It tends to have a leveling effect. Law enforcement officers are less likely to abuse their power if they are being recorded by private cameras. Similarly and simultaneously they are protected against false claims of abuse from citizens.
I would rather see ubiquitous private cameras than ubiquitous government cameras. If there is a major incident, the public will send in requested footage, but it would make broad drift net fishing, and facial recognition based tracking more difficult.
An interesting counter trend may be in the creation of camera free private spaces. Private clubs, restaurants, gyms, etc. may all differentiate themselves in part based on their surveillance / sousveillance policies.
Welcome to episode 7 of The Privacy Blog Podcast.
In April’s episode, we’ll be looking at the blacklisting of SSL certificate authorities by Mozilla Firefox – Specifically, what this complex issue means and why Mozilla chose to start doing this.
In more breaking online privacy news, I will be discussing the security implications of relying on social media following the hacking of the Associated Press Twitter account earlier this week.
Next, I’ll chat about the “right to be forgotten” on the Internet, which hinges on the struggle between online privacy and free speech rights. In a closely related topic and following Google’s release of the new “Inactive Account Manager,” I will discuss what happens to our social media presence and cloud data when we die. It’s a topic none of us likes to dwell on, but it’s worth taking the time to think about our digital afterlife.
The Register has an article on Firefox black listing an SSL Certificate authority.
Certificates and certificate authorities are the underpinnings of our secure web infrastructure.
When you see the lock on your browser, it means that the session is encrypted and the site has presented a valid site certificate (so it is who it claims to be).
That site certificate is signed by one of many certificate authorities.
I see 86 certificate issuing authorities in my Firefox now.
Many of those certificate authorities have multiple signing certificates.
Additionally the certificate authorities can delegate to subordinate certificate authorities to sign site certificates.
Any certificate signed by any of these authorities or subordinate authorities is recognized as valid.
These entities are located all over the world, many under the control of oppressive governments (however you define that).
Certificate authorities can create certificates to enable man in the middle attacks, by signing keys purporting to be for a given website, but actually created and held by some other entity.
There are plugins like certificate patrol for Firefox that will tell you when a site you have visited before changes certificates or certificate authorities. Unfortunately this happens fairly frequently for legitimate reasons, such as when renewing certificates every year or few years.
Some certificate authorities are known or suspected to be working with various law enforcement entities to create false certificate for surveillance.
Here is how it works:
The government has certificate authority create a new certificate for a website.
The government then intercepts all sessions to that site with a server (at national level routers for example).
The server uses real site certificate to communicate with the real website securely.
The server uses the new fake certificate to communicate with user securely.
The server then has access to everything in the clear as it shuttles data between the two secure connections..
It can read and/or modify anything in the data stream.
Firefox is removing TeliaSonera’s certificate authority from the list in Firefox for this reason. Going forward no certificate issued by them will be recognized as valid. This will impact a large number of legitimate websites that have contracted with TeliaSonera, as well as preventing the fake certificates.
There is a lot of controversy about this. What is appropriate cooperation with law enforcement vs. supporting and enabling dictators.
In any case, this is a failure of the protocol. If the browser shows a certificate as valid when it has not come from the real website, then there has been a security failure.
The SSL key infrastructure is showing its age. It was “good enough” when there were only one or two certificate authorities and the certificates were not actually protecting anything of great importance. Now everyone relies heavily on the security of the web. Unfortunately, while it is broken, it is very hard to replace.
In the short term, installing a certificate checker like certificate patrol is probably a good idea, despite the number of false positives you will see.
In the longer term, there is a really hard problem to solve.