Boing Boing 

Cyber-crooks turn to Bitcoin extortion


Security journalist Brian Krebs documents a string of escalating extortion crimes perpetrated with help from the net, and proposes that the growth of extortion as a tactic preferred over traditional identity theft and botnetting is driven by Bitcoin, which provides a safe way for crooks to get payouts from their victims.

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Possible hidden Latin warning about NSA in Truecrypt's suicide note


When the anonymous authors of the Truecrypt security tool mysteriously yanked their software last month, there was widespread suspicion that they had been ordered by the NSA to secretly compromise their software. A close look at the cryptic message they left behind suggests that they may have encoded a secret clue in the initials of each word of the sentence ("Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues"), the Latin phrase "uti nsa im cu si" which some claim can be translated as a warning that the NSA had pwned Truecrypt.

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Anti-forensic mobile OS gets your phone to lie for you

In Android Anti-forensics: Modifying CyanogenMod Karl-Johan Karlsson and William Bradley Glisson present a version of the Cyanogenmod alternate operating system for Android devices, modified so that it generates plausible false data to foil forensic analysis by law enforcement. The idea is to create a mobile phone that "lies" for you so that adversaries who coerce you into letting them take a copy of its data can't find out where you've been, who you've been talking to, or what you've been talking about.

I'm interested in this project but wonder about how to make it practical for daily use. Presently, it maintains a hidden set of true data, and a trick set of false data intended to be fetched by forensic tools. Presumably, this only works until the forensic tools are modified to spot the real data. But you can conceptually imagine a phone that maintains a normal address book and SMS history, etc -- all the things that are useful to have in daily use -- but that, on a certain signal (say, when an alternate unlock code is entered, or after a certain number of failed unlock attempts) scrubs all that and replaces it with plausible deniability data.

Obviously, this kind of thing doesn't work against state-level actors who can subpoena (or coerce) your location data and call history from your carrier, but those people don't need to seize your phone in the first place.

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Whistleblower org says it will go to jail rather than turning over its keys


The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has told the Obama administration that its leaders will go to jail rather than respond to an extrajudicial administrative subpoena seeking the identity of whistleblowers who disclosed corruption in the Veterans' Administration.

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How can you trust your browser?


Tim Bray's Trusting Browser Code explores the political and technical problems with trusting your browser, especially when you're using it to do sensitive things like encrypt and decrypt your email. In an ideal world, you wouldn't have to trust Google or any other "intermediary" service to resist warrants forcing it to turn over your sensitive communications, because it would be technically impossible for anyone to peek into the mail without your permission. But as Bray points out, the complexity and relative opacity of Javascript makes this kind of surety difficult to attain.

Bray misses a crucial political problem, though: the DMCA. Under US law (and similar laws all over the world), telling people about vulnerabilities in DRM is illegal, meaning that a bug in your browser that makes your email vulnerable to spying might be illegal to report, and will thus potentially never be fixed. Now that the World Wide Web Consortium and all the major browser vendors (even including Mozilla) have capitulated on adding DRM to the Web, this is the most significant political problem in the world of trusting your browser.

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Time-capsule crypto to help journalists protect their sources


Jonathan Zittrain writes, "I published an op-ed in the Boston Globe today musing on the prospects for 'time capsule encryption,' one of several ways of storing information that renders it inaccessible to anyone until certain conditions -- such as the passage of time -- are met. I could see libraries and archives offering such technology as part of accepting papers and manuscripts, especially in the wake of the "Belfast Project" situation, where a library promised confidentiality for accounts of the Troubles in North Ireland, and then found itself amidst subpoenas from law enforcement looking to solve long-cold cases. But the principle could apply to any person or company thinking that there's a choice between leaving information exposed to leakage, or destroying it entirely."

I'm less enthusiastic about this than Jonathan is. I think calibrating the strength of your time-capsule is very hard. If the NSA might be an order of magnitude faster than the rest of us at brute-force cryptanalysis, that means you need to make your 10-year capsule strong enough to last for 100 years just to be on the safe side. Same goes for proof-of-work.

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Encrypt like a boss with the Email Self-Defense Guide


Libby writes, "Today the Free Software Foundation is releasing Email Self-Defense, a guide to personal email encryption to help everyone, including beginners, make the NSA's job a little harder. We're releasing it as part of Reset the Net, a global day of action to push back against the surveillance-industrial complex. The guide will get you encrypting your emails in under 30 minutes, and takes you all the way through sending and receiving your first encrypted email."

Email Self-Defense - a guide to fighting surveillance with GnuPG (Thanks, Libby!)

Today is the day we Reset the Net

Today is the day we Reset the Net! It's been one year since the Edward Snowden disclosures hit the news and the whole world woke up to the scale of mass, indiscriminate Internet surveillance -- a spying campaign that was only possible because our own tools leak our private information in great gouts. Reset the Net provides you with a technical, political, and social toolkit to harden our Internet against the spies; and Boing Boing is proud to be playing a role. Read the rest

Google announces end-to-end encryption for Gmail (a big deal!)

Google has announced support for end-to-end encryption with Gmail, a major step for privacy and a major blow against mass surveillance. Gmail users who install free and open Chrome plugin will be able to send and receive messages that can only be read by people who have their intended recipients' passphrase, and not Google -- meaning that even if the NSA legally or covertly taps into Google's data-centers, they won't be able to read mail that's encrypted with the End-to-End plugin.

This is marvellous news. There is already support for Gnu Privacy Guard (GPG) and Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) in Gmail, through Firefox plugin or Chrome plugin, but long experience has shown that many people are confused by PGP/GPG in its current state.

What's more, Google has explicitly tied this to the Reset the Net campaign (in which Boing Boing is a partner), a global day commemorating the Snowden leaks and calling for an Internet that is made strong and secure from mass spying.

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Engineering our way out of mass surveillance

Smári "Mailpile" McCarthy's lecture Engineering Our Way Out of Fascism sets out a set of technical, legal and social interventions we can undertake to make mass surveillance impossible, starting with this: "The goal of those interested in protecting human rights should be to raise the average cost of surveillance to $10.000 per person per day within the next five years."

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Warrantless spying makes spying-with-a-warrant impossible

Tim Bray's taxonomy of privacy levels makes a compact and compelling argument that the existence of warrantless spying and security sabotage is what drives people to adopt cryptographic techniques that can't be broken even with a warrant.

Mysterious announcement from Truecrypt declares the project insecure and dead

The abrupt announcement that the widely used, anonymously authored disk-encryption tool Truecrypt is insecure and will no longer be maintained shocked the crypto world--after all, this was the tool Edward Snowden himself lectured on at a Cryptoparty in Hawai'i. Cory Doctorow tries to make sense of it all. Read the rest

Greenwald's "No Place to Hide": a compelling, vital narrative about official criminality

Cory Doctorow reviews Glenn Greenwald's long-awaited No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. More than a summary of the Snowden leaks, it's a compelling narrative that puts the most explosive revelations about official criminality into vital context.Read the rest

You Are Not a Digital Native: on the publication of the Homeland paperback, a letter to kids

The US paperback of my novel Homeland comes out today, and I've written an open letter to teenagers for Tor.com to celebrate it: You Are Not a Digital Native. I used the opportunity to draw a connection between kids being told that as "digital natives," everything they do embodies some mystical truth about what the Internet is for, and the way that surveillance companies like Facebook suck up their personal data by the truckload and excuse themselves by saying "digital natives" have demonstrated that privacy is dead.

As researchers like danah boyd have pointed out, a much more plausible explanation for teens' privacy disclosures is that they're making mistakes, because they're teenagers, and teenagers learn to be adults by making (and learning from) mistakes. I finish the piece with a list of tools that teens can use to have a more private, more fulfilling online social life.

They say that the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II ordered a group of children to be raised without any human interaction so that he could observe their “natural” behavior, untainted by human culture, and find out the true, deep nature of the human animal.

If you were born around the turn of the 21st century, you’ve probably had to endure someone calling you a “digital native” at least once. At first, this kind of sounds like a good thing to be—raised without the taint of the offline world, and so imbued with a kind of mystic sixth sense about how the Internet should be.

But children aren’t mystic innocents. They’re young people, learning how to be adult people, and they learn how to be adults the way all humans learn: by making mistakes. All humans screw up, but kids have an excuse: they haven’t yet learned the lessons the screw-ups can impart. If you want to double your success rate, you have to triple your failure rate.

The problem with being a “digital native” is that it transforms all of your screw-ups into revealed deep truths about how humans are supposed to use the Internet. So if you make mistakes with your Internet privacy, not only do the companies who set the stage for those mistakes (and profited from them) get off Scot-free, but everyone else who raises privacy concerns is dismissed out of hand. After all, if the “digital natives” supposedly don’t care about their privacy, then anyone who does is a laughable, dinosauric idiot, who isn’t Down With the Kids.

You Are Not a Digital Native: Privacy in the Age of the Internet

Edward Snowden hosted a cryptoparty and ran a Tor exit node

Before Edward Snowden went on the run and effected the first-ever leak of documents from the NSA, he threw a cryptoparty in Hawai'i, coordinating with Runa Sandvik from the Tor Project and Asher Wolf from the Cryptoparty movement to plan an event where everyday people were taught to use crypto. He gave a lecture for his neighbors on Truecrypt, and told people that he ran at least two Tor exist nodes to help people keep their anonymous traffic moving (Boing Boing also runs a Tor exit node). Apparently, his girlfriend videoed the event -- I'd love to see it!

Snowden used the Cincinnatus name to organize the event, which he announced on the Crypto Party wiki, and through the Hi Capacity hacker collective, which hosted the gathering. Hi Capacity is a small hacker club that holds workshops on everything from the basics of soldering to using a 3D printer.

“I’ll start with a casual agenda, but slot in additional speakers as desired,” write Cincinnatus in the announcement. “If you’ve got something important to add to someone’s talk, please share it (politely). When we’re out of speakers, we’ll do ad-hoc tutorials on anything we can.”

When the day came, Sandvik found her own way to the venue: an art space on Oahu in the back of a furniture store called Fishcake. It was filled to its tiny capacity with a mostly male audience of about 20 attendees. Snowden spotted her when she walked in and introduced himself and his then-girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who was filming the event. “He was just very nice, and he came to the door and introduced himself and talked about how the event was going to run,” Sandvik says.

They chatted for a bit. Sandvik asked Snowden where he worked, and after hemming and hawing, he finally said he worked for Dell. He didn’t let on that his work for Dell was under an NSA contract, but Sandvik could tell he was hiding something. “I got the sense that he didn’t like me prying too much, and he was happy to say Dell and move on,” she says.

Sandvik began by giving her usual Tor presentation, then Snowden stood in front of the white board and gave a 30- to 40-minute introduction to TrueCrypt, an open-source full disk encryption tool. He walked through the steps to encrypt a hard drive or a USB stick. “Then we did an impromptu joint presentation on how to set up and run a Tor relay,” Sandvik says. “He was definitely a really, really smart guy. There was nothing about Tor that he didn’t already know.”

Snowden’s First Move Against the NSA Was a Party in Hawaii [Kevin Poulsen/Wired]

(Image: a downsized thumbnail of a photo by Bart Gellman/Getty)

Kafka, meet Orwell: Lavabit's founder explains why he shut down his company

Writing in the Guardian, Lavabit founder Ladar Levison recounts the events that led to his decision to shutter his company in August 2013. Lavabit provided secure, private email for over 400,000 people, including Edward Snowden, and the legal process by which the FBI sought to spy on its users is a terrifying mix of Orwell -- wanting to snoop on all 400,000 -- and Kafka -- not allowing Levison legal representation and prohibiting him from discussing the issue with anyone who might help him navigate the appropriate law.

Levison discloses more than I've yet seen about the nature of the feds' demands, but more important are the disclosures about the legal shenanigans he was subjected to. In fact, his description of the legal process is a kind of bas relief of the kind of legal services that those of us fighting the excesses of the global war on terror might need: a list of attorneys who are qualified to represent future Lavabits, warrant canaries for the services we rely upon; and, of course, substantive reform to the judicial processes laid out in the Patriot Act.

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Movie plot threat semifinalists announced

Bruce Schneier has announced the semifinalists in his seventh annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest, wherein contestants dream up implausible reasons to justify extreme surveillance and other lawless policing techniques like torture and indefinite detention. My favorite: Homeopathic Factoring, "The NSA, through the White House's Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives formed a partnership with Zicam Digital to explore and exploit homeopathic techniques for advanced cryptanalysis."

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IETF declares war on surveillance


The Internet Engineering Task Force has published RFC 7258, which is a bombshell whose title is: "Pervasive Monitoring Is an Attack." It represents the outcome of a long argument about whether the Internet's technical architecture should take active countermeasures to fight mass surveillance, which Tim Bray summarizes. I especially like his rejoinder to people who argue against this because there are places where it's legitimate to monitor communications, like prisons: "We don't want an In­ter­net optimized for prisons."

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Clapper's ban on talking about leaks makes life difficult for crypto profs with cleared students

When James Clapper banned intelligence agency employees from discussing or acknowledging the existence of leaked docs (including the Snowden docs), he made life very hard for university professors like Matt Blaze, a security expert whose classes often have students with security clearance.

My own books -- which deal with leaks like these -- are taught at West Point at a course whose instructors include a member of US Cyber Command. I imagine a rule like this would make future inclusion on the curriculum difficult, if not impossible.

You are a Gmail user


For years, Benjamin Mako Hill has paid to host his own mail, as a measure to enhance his privacy and independence from big companies. But a bit of clever analysis of his stored mail reveals that despite this expense and effort, he is a Gmail user, because so many of his correspondents are Gmail users and store copies of his messages with Google. And thanks to an archaic US law, any message left on Gmail for more than six months can be requested by police without a warrant, as it is considered "abandoned."

Mako has posted the script he used to calculate how much of his correspondence ends up in Google's hands.

I host my own mail, too. I'm really looking forward to Mailpile, which should make this process a lot easier, and also make keeping all my mail encrypted simpler. Knowing that Google has a copy of my correspondence is a lot less worrisome if they can't read it (though it's still not an ideal situation).

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Forged certificates common in HTTPS sessions

In Analyzing Forged SSL Certificates in the Wild [PDF] a paper authored by researchers at CMU and Facebook, we learn that "a small but significant percentage" of HTTPS connections are made using forged certificates generated by adware and malware. Disturbingly, some of this malware may be working by attacking anti-virus software and stealing its keys, and the authors also speculate that anti-virus authors may be giving their keys out to governments in order to allow police to carry out man-in-the-middle attacks.

The researchers used a technique to detect forged-cert connections that has post-Heartbleed applications, since it would allow sites to discover whether their visitors are being man-in-the-middled through keys stolen before Heartbleed was widely known. This all points to a larger problem with HTTPS, which has been under increased scrutiny since Heartbleed, but whose defects were well understood within the security community for a long time. I co-wrote this editorial for Nature with Ben Laurie in 2012 describing a system called "Certificate Transparency" that makes it easier to audit and remediate problems with SSL certificates, which Google is now adding to Chrome.

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Tor: network security for domestic abuse survivors


Michael from Beta Boston writes, "The privacy protections offered by tools like Tor aren't just for journalists and spies; they're important for everyone. Almost every modern abusive relationship has a digital component, from cyberstalking to hacking phones, emails, and social media accounts, but women's shelters increasingly have found themselves on the defensive, ill-equipped to manage and protect their clients from increasingly sophisticated threats. Recently the Tor Project stepped in to help change that, and we took a long look at the work cut out for them."

This is an important point: when you make it so that no one can keep secrets from the state and its enforcement arm, you also make it so that no one can keep secrets from crooks, thugs, stalkers, and every other kind of bad guy.

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TAILS: Snowden's favorite anonymous, secure OS goes 1.0


TAILS -- The Amnesiac Incognito Live System -- is a highly secure operating system intended to be booted from an external USB stick without leaving behind any trace of your activity on either your computer or the drive. It comes with a full suite multimedia creation, communications, and utility software, all configured to be as secure as possible out of the box.

It was Edward Snowden's tradecraft tool of choice for harvesting and exfiltrating NSA documents. Yesterday, it went 1.0. If you need to turn a computer whose operating system you don't trust into one that you can use with confidence, download the free disk image. (Note: TAILS won't help you defend against hardware keyloggers, hidden CCTVs inside the computer, or some deep malware hidden in the BIOS). It's free as in speech and free as in beer, and anyone can (and should) audit it.

Effectively, this is the ParanoidLinux I fictionalized in my novel Little Brother.

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NZ Greens unveil Internet Rights and Freedoms bill

Andrew writes, "The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand has launched their Internet Rights and Freedoms Bill. The Bill was launched on a crowdsourced platform where members of the public are given the opportunity to shape these emerging rights and freedoms. This is the first time a Bill has been crowdsourced by a political party in New Zealand. The Internet Rights and Freedoms Bill proposes:"

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Yahoo beefs up security in two meaningful and important ways

Yahoo has taken some serious steps towards protecting user-privacy, writes the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Seth Schoen. After revelations that the NSA and GCHQ had hacked its services, intercepted private video-chats, and harvesting mass data from its fiber optic links, the company has added forward secrecy and STARTTLS to its roster of default-on security measures. Of the two, forward secrecy is the most interesting, as it protects the privacy of old intercepted Yahoo data even if the company loses control of its keys. Bravo, Yahoo!

Michigan's Penguicon will focus on crypto and privacy this year

Scott sez, "Privacy and security has been a huge problem since the Snowden revelations, and midwest SF/open source software convention Penguicon [ed: near Detroit!] wants to be part of the solution. With Guest of Honor Eva Galperin from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Cory Doctorow returning as Guest Emeritus, much of their tech track is focused on finding answers to the recent privacy problems highlighted by Snowden. Pre-registration tickets are available until April 1st. Programming was just announced." (Thanks, Scott!)

Self-directed Crypto 101 online course

Crypto 101 is a free online course on practical, applied cryptography: " everything you need to understand complete systems such as SSL/TLS: block ciphers, stream ciphers, hash functions, message authentication codes, public key encryption, key agreement protocols, and signature algorithms."

Australian attorney general wants the power to launch man-in-the-middle attacks on secure Internet connections


The Australian attorney general has mooted a proposal to require service providers to compromise their cryptographic security in order to assist in wiretaps. The proposal is given passing mention in a senate submission from the AG's office, where it is referenced as "intelligibility orders" that would allow "law enforcement, anti-corruption and national security agencies" to secure orders under which providers like Google, Facebook and Yahoo would have to escrow their cryptographic keys with the state in order to facilitate mass surveillance.

Edward Snowden referenced this possibility in his SXSW remarks, pointing out that any communications that are decrypted by service providers are vulnerable to government surveillance, because governments can order providers to reveal their keys. This is why Snowden recommended the use of "end-to-end" security, where only the parties in the discussion -- and not the software vendor -- have the ability to spy on users.

The "intelligibility order" is the same kind of order that led to the shutdown of Lavabit, the secure email provider used by Snowden, whose creator shut the service down rather than compromising his users' security.

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Kickstarting an Arduino-based Enigma machine

ST Geotronics have exanded their Instructables project for building your own Arduino-based Enigma and turned it into a Kickstarter. $40 gets you some boards you can kit-bash with; $125 gets you the full kit; $300 gets you the whole thing, beautifully made and fully assembled.

The Open Enigma Project (Thanks, Tina!)

EFF's HTTPS Everywhere + Firefox = most secure mobile browser

Peter from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "Over at EFF, we just released a version of our HTTPS Everywhere extension for Firefox for Android. HTTPS Everywhere upgrades your insecure web requests to HTTPS on many thousands of sites, and this means that Firefox on Android with HTTPS Everywhere is now by far the most secure browser against dragnet surveillance attacks like those performed by the NSA, GCHQ, and other intelligence agencies."

I installed it today.

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