The challenge in the information security field today does not usually lie in the transmission; instead, it lies in securing the end points. There is a lot of mainstream press about Switzerland’s approach to securing their electronic elections by using quantum cryptography. Most of the press touts the Swiss’ decision to "use ‘unbreakable’ encryption method in upcoming elections" as the solution to all of the recent woes in securing electronic elections. The Swiss will use individual particles of light — or quantum technology — to encrypt election results as they are sent for central processing.
That sounds great, and many of the news stories seem to suggest that the Swiss have found the silver bullet to having secure elections. This cannot be further from the truth and many of the news accounts are misleading at best. What the Swiss did was to find another (fancy-sounding) way of transmitting data securely. But this is not what bothers security researchers and governments wishing to conduct electronic elections. It is not the transmission, it is the endpoints that are causing the most security breaches. There are various (and pretty decent) solutions for securing traffic - PGP, SSL, SSH, VPN - but few good solutions of securing the actual voting machine. In fact, by writing about the ‘unbreakable’ security of the Swiss voting, the press does a disservice to anybody but the folks who are trying (and maybe succeed) to penetrate a voting machine.
The Swiss should be given credit for trying to strengthen the transmission security. But the press should tell the whole story.
Eric Goldman writes about how Federal Courts calculate spam damages for federal sentencing purposes. Interesting reading, considering that such spam damages are very difficult to attribute to a party. Is it the spam recipient’s damage from having to delete the emails, is it the ISP having to block or investigate complaints, or is it the spammer’s profits that should guide the damages? The number under each category can vary significantly, so this case is important.
In US v. Kilbride, 2007 WL 2774487 (D. Ariz. Sept. 21, 2007) the the judge ignores any alleged harm to end user-recipients because there was no evidence that the individuals suffered a pecuniary loss. Second, the court ignores the government’s argument that the loss should be measured by the defendants’ gain (over $1.1M in profits attributed to the spamming). Instead, the judge only gives credit to the evidence showing that the ISP (AOL) suffered less than $10,000 of "loss" from the spam, computed by AOL’s cost to investigate complaints over the spam (the government did not present evidence for other email service providers).
The Wall Street Journal reports on a troubling new vector of cyber attacks - emails carrying Trojan-infected Microsoft Word attachments directed to senior executives in major corporations. The emails purported to be from an employment service and offered attachments supposedly containing information on potential job candidates. Luckily for these executives, the emails were captured by MessageLabs, an email security company, which monitors the incoming email traffic of its clients for spam and viruses.
According to MessageLabs, during a two-hour period on June 24, 514 messages tailored to senoir executives were captured. On Sep. 12 and 13, the company captured 1,100 messages in a 16-hour period. Although email security experts are well familiar with phishing, this form of attack seems to go beyond the mass-scale fraudulent emailing with the hope that even a very low response rate would yield some personal information. The new email attack has been seen in the past but in smaller numbers and mainly directed to sensitive personnel in government or military. The new attacks suggest that a fairly low-tech attack can yield an open-door access to a major executive’s computer and all the information stored on it. This potentially places high-value information, such as incoming deals, regulatory or other action, at the hands of criminals who can abuse it directly or profit from it by trading securities before the news reaches the public.
All major news sources this morning are running the story of Jammie Thomas, the Minnesota woman who was the first to take the RIAA illegal file sharing accusations to court, and the jury judgment of $220,000 against her and in favor of the recording industry. [WaPo]
I will not comment on the merits of this lawsuit. Instead, I will mention one of Ms. Thomas’ defenses and its merits. During trial, Thomas defended on the ground that someone else was using her Internet connection. Her lawyer suggested in his questioning that someone other than Thomas — someone outside her window, or a neighbor — could have been responsible if she used a wireless router. That could have allowed anyone nearby to utilize her Internet connection, using the same IP address that led the record companies to Thomas.
If the jury had believed this possibility, they would not have found against Thomas. And this may be because of the specifics of this case - Thomas used the same login name in her P2P file sharing software as she used to login to her computer and myspace. If you are a neighbor stealing bandwidth, would you still use your neighbor’s unique login name to connect to file sharing services? Would you even know what the login name is? In theory, this information should be easily obtainable but I cannot think of a good motive to use such login name except maybe malice.
Seems like the "open wireless" defense becomes a staple for all cybercrime defense lawyers - it casts a shadow of a doubt on whether the defendant was the one actually using the connection at the time of the alleged wrongdoing. Almost every home now has a wireless router and there are statistics out there suggesting that a large portion of them have no or weak protection at all. (See more on wireless protection here.) But the Minnesota case shows that not every case is appropriate for this defense. In addition, at some point courts and juries may decide that if it is your wireless access point, you are responsible for what goes through it, with or without your knowledge. Currently the state of law is such that we are far from wireless point strict liability, but after a sufficient number of cases where such this defense is rejected, its usefulness may be zero.
There are many ways, but one is, by not filing a federal lawsuit against Google alleging that plaintiff’s Social Security number, turned upside-down, spells "Google" and violates plaintiff’s right to privacy. Publishing your Social Security number and other personal information in a (quite unusual) public filing against one of the most famous brands in the world is probably one of the most effective ways to undermine your privacy.
Personal information on a few thousand ABM Amro Mortgage Group (unit of Citigroup) customers has been leaked out to anybody in the world through a peer-to-peer (P2P) software. The names, Social Security numbers, and mortgage information of some 5,200 people which was stored on an employee laptop was shared via the LimeWire P2P software.
While it is unclear how many times the information has been downloaded over the P2P network, the fact that a computer containing a large amount of personal information was allowed to run P2P software is inexcusable. In all likelihood, Citigroup (or ABM Amro Mortgage) have some sort of restrictions (administrative policy or an IT set of software restrictions) which prohibit P2P sharing in general and in all likelihood the employee who used the laptop in question did so without authorization. Even so, the problem remains at Citi and their IT security personnel for failing to prevent or detect such software earlier. Placing the blame on the individual user is not an excuse as it is Citi’s reputation (and possibly checkbook after claims by these 5,200 affected people are filed) on the line.
According to Pike & Fischer, in testimony at a July House subcommittee hearing on P2P risks, LimeWire Chairman Mark Gorton said that a "small fraction" of users override safe default settings that come with the program, despite the company’s warnings and precautions. The company is working on a "new generation of user interfaces and tools designed with neophyte users in mind," making it "even easier for users to see which files they are sharing and to intuitively understand the controls available to them," he said.
Even if LimeWire is successful in preventing users from ‘inadvertently’ sharing their business documents folders, a company which takes its intellectual property and information security and privacy seriously should, in most cases, take proactive steps to weed out P2P software from its networks.