Last month, I used up a good chunk of text talking about how much I’ve come to enjoy using Android-powered smartphones. Unfortunately, a story I ran across over at Wired has convinced me that, at least for the time being, spending significantly more time with my iPhone 6 Plus might be a good idea.
According to the report, for many Android users, it’s not necessary to download an altered .APK file from a shady torrenting website or click an email link that’ll fill your handset up with malware in order to compromise your smartphone’s security. Twenty-five different Android smartphone models, made by well-known manufacturers and available across North America, have been found to be full of security flaws and other exploitable nightmares baked into them. The most frustrating part of it all: none of the exploits detailed in the story would be there if the manufacturers had their shit together
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The potential outcomes of the vulnerabilities range in severity, from being able to lock someone out of their device to gaining surreptitious access to its microphone and other functions. They all share one common trait, though: They didn’t have to be there.
Instead, they’re a byproduct of an open Android operating system that lets third-party companies modify code to their own liking. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; it allows for differentiation, which gives people more choice. Google will release a vanilla version of Android Pie this fall, but it’ll eventually come in all kinds of flavors.
Those modifications lead to headaches, though, including the well-established problem of delays in shipping security updates.
In a paper published by the International Association for Cryptologic Research, a group of Harvard and MIT cryptographers demonstrate that even if the government were to backdoor encryption and lock up anyone who used non-backdoored systems, people could still hide undetectable, secure, private messages within the messages sent over the compromised systems.
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In a new white paper, Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports) looks at the "consumer stake in the encryption debate": they note that governments want to ban working cryptography so that cops can spy on crooks, but the reprt does an excellent job enumerating all the applications for crypto beyond mere person to person communications privacy.
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This week, German authorities will introduce a law that will allow law enforcement agencies to order companies to insert back doors into their products to assist in law enforcement queries; the law is backed by Thomas de Maizière, Germany's Interior Minister.
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The Queensland Police have asked the Australian Parliament to give them the right to covertly install malicious software on your home devices in order to conduct mass surveillance during times of "national emergency" Read the rest
Germany's interior ministry has announced sweeping new surveillance powers ahead of the coming national election, which would include the right to infect residents' computers with malware in order to spy on their encrypted communications (shades of the illegal Bundestrojaner program), ordering tech companies to deliberately introduce defects into their cryptography, and fingerprinting children as young as 6. Read the rest
One of UK Prime Minister Theresa May's government ministers told a reporter from The Sun that the government is planning on invoking the "Technical Capabilities Orders" section of the Snoopers Charter, a 2016 domestic spying bill; the "orders" allow the government to demand that companies cease using working cryptography in their products and services, substituting it with deliberately defective code that can be broken. Read the rest
Facebook spokespeople and cryptographers say that Facebook's decision to implement Open Whisper Systems' end-to-end cryptographic messaging protocol in such a way as to allow Facebook to decrypt them later without the user's knowledge reflects a "limitation" -- a compromise that allows users to continue conversations as they move from device to device -- and not a "defect." Read the rest
Update: Be sure to read the followup discussion, which explains Facebook's point of view, that this is a deliberate compromise, and not a defect, that makes the app more usable for a wide variety of users, while putting them to little additional risk (namely, that Facebook might change its mind; or be forced to spy on its users; or suffer a security breach or internal rogue employee).
When Facebook implemented Open Whisper Systems' end-to-end encrypted messaging protocol for Whatsapp, they introduced a critical flaw that exposes more than a billion users to stealthy decryption of their private messages: in Facebook's implementation, the company can force Whatsapp installations to silently generate new cryptographic keys (without any way for the user to know about this unless a deep settings checkbox had been ticked), which gives the company the ability to decrypt user messages, including messages that have already been sent in the past.. Read the rest
On Dec 15, an amendment to Thailand's 2007 Computer Crime Act passed its National Legislative Assembly -- a body appointed by the country's military after the 2014 coup -- unanimously, and in 180 days, the country will have a new internet law that represents a grab bag of the worst provisions of the worst internet laws in the world, bits of the UK's Snooper's Charter, America's Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the dregs of many other failed laws. Read the rest
Last month, Melbourne's Deakin University published Car Wars, a short story I wrote to inspire thinking and discussion about the engineering ethics questions in self-driving car design, moving beyond the trite and largely irrelevant trolley problem. Read the rest
Three posts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation dispassionately recount the on-the-record policies of Trump and his advisors on issues that matter to a free, fair and open internet: net neutrality; surveillance, encryption and cybersecurity; free speech and freedom of the press. Read the rest
1. Fight the fights (against more government and commercial surveillance; backdoors, government hacking); 2. Prepare for those fights (push companies to delete those logs; remind everyone that security and privacy can peacefully co-exist); 3. Lay the groundword for a better future (figure out non-surveillance internet business models, privacy-respecting law enforcement, and limits on corporate surveillance); 4. Continue to solve the actual problems (cybercrime, cyber-espionage, cyberwar, the Internet of Things, algorithmic decision making, foreign interference in our elections). Read the rest
Thijs Broenink audited the AnalyticsCore.apk app that ships pre-installed on all Xiaomi phones (Xiaomi has their own Android fork with a different set of preinstalled apps) and discovered that the app, which seemingly serves no useful purpose, allows the manufacturer to silently install other code on your phone, with unlimited privileges and access. Read the rest
Despite all the scare talk from the FBI and the US intelligence services about terrorists "going dark" and using encrypted communications to talk with one another, the reality is that criminals are using crypto less than ever, according to the DoJ's own numbers. Read the rest
A pending "anti-terrorism" bill in the Duma would require all apps to contain backdoors to allow the secret police to spy on the country's messaging, in order to prevent teenagers from being "brainwashed" to "murder police officers." Read the rest
The Members of Parliament voted in favour of the far-ranging, massively invasive spying bill after the Tories agreed to minor improvements, like dropping the requirement for mandatory crypto backdoors if they would be infeasible or expensive to implement. Read the rest