The methods of securing data are robust. Your financial transactions, health records and other sensitive information are safeguarded by strong mathematical processes. You can use these same tools yourself to keep your emails private. It is not much harder than learning a new phone and installing an app.

Usually, when your personal data is exposed by organized gangs of Russian “businessmen” or the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, it because of failures in computer security allowed by weaknesses in the programs. The cell phone companies deliver records to the NSA. The NSA does not break your ciphers. As far as we know, no one has ever cracked one of the public key methods developed since 1975. Some theoretical weaknesses have been suggested. Brute force attacks by the NSA have been hinted at, but never demonstrated. The mathematics is as immutable as the Law of Identity: A is A.  It is absolutely true that 1 + 1 = 2, always and forever.

A Crazy Idea

In the early to mid-1970s, independent researchers Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman at Stanford, Ralph Merkle at Berkeley, and Ronald Rivest at MIT, along with his doctoral candidates Adi Shamir and Lenard Adelman, all sought and found ways to encrypt information that were not based on any of the historically known methods. As a result, when Ralph Merkle submitted his papers to the Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, they were rejected for denying the established wisdom of 2000 years. Working on his doctorate at Berkeley, he was told by his professors that he obviously did not know the basics of cryptography.

Codes and Ciphers

A code is a secret translation of one set of symbols for another. If we let
Handkerchief = Train
Scarf = Bus
Blouse = Plane
Red = 2:00PM
Blue = 3:00PM
Green = 3:45 PM
Then, “Thank you for the red scarf “ or “Thank you for the green blouse” could be sent via email or on a post card and the real meaning would be hidden. The weakness is in exchanging the key. Someone has to pass the translation table. However, given the security of the key table, the code is unbreakable.

A cipher is an orderly substitution. Taking the alphabet backwards, A=Z, B=Y, C=X,… turns BARACK OBAMA into YZIZCP LYZNZ. Another kind of cipher just takes the letters in turn say, every third in rotation so that HILLARY CLINTON becomes LRLTHLYIOIACNN.

Ciphers often can be broken with applied arithmetic. In English, e is the most common letter, followed by t a o i n s h r d l u… Among the complicated ciphers was the Vigenere in which a table of letter keys allowed shifting substitutions. During World War II, the Germans employed their “Engima” machine with its shifting and changeable wheels. It fell to the first of the computers, the “Bombe” of Bletchley Park and “Ultra” Project. In The Jefferson Key by Steve Berry (Ballantine Books, 2011), a supposedly unbreakable cipher finally falls to a modern-day sleuth. As constructed, it involved writing the letters vertically, then inserting random letters, then writing the letters horizontally. However, again, common arithmetic allows you to use the fact that any English word with a Q must have that letter followed by a U; and no English words have DK as a digraph. (Until DKNY, of course.) So, the cipher was broken.

Speaking to LASCON in Austin, October 23, 2014, Martin Hellman said that he and his co-workers were considered “insane” for suggesting that an encryption method could be devised in which the formulas were public. In fact, this idea had old roots.

The 19th century founder of mathematical economics, William Stanley Jevons, suggested that certain mathematical functions that were “asymmetric” could be the basis for a new kind of cryptography. Just because A=Z does not mean that Z=A. His idea did not bear fruit. However, Martin Hellman asked his colleagues in the mathematics department if they knew of any such asymmetric functions. Indeed, many exist.  They can be called “trapdoor functions” because they are easy to do in one direction, but computationally difficult in the other.  In other words, they are are unlike the four common arithmetic operations.

The Diffie-Hellman system employs modulo arithmetic.  RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) uses the totient function discovered by Leonhard Euler in 1763. In 1974, Ralph Merkle, then at Berkeley, thought of using a set of puzzles, where each one is moderately hard, but the full set of 15 becomes computationally difficult. Working together, Merkel and Hellman created a “knapsack” function in which the challenge is to put the “most important objects” (numbers) with the smallest weights (numbers) into a bag (solution set).

You can get the papers online. If you loved high school algebra, and get a kick out of crossword puzzles (especially acrostics) this will be fun. If not, just accept the fact that they work.

The salient facts remain: the cipher system is clearly described, yet stands cryptographically secure.   That is a mandate called “Kerckhoffs Law” named for Auguste Kerckhoffs, a 19th century Dutch linguist. A cryptographic system should remain secure, even if everything about it is known, except the key. Thus, in our time, you can find the mathematical theorems and computer code for public key systems. You can download almost instantly clickable applications to secure your email.

Pretty Good Privacy
A hundred years ago, codes and ciphers and the study of cryptography all were controlled by the secret services of governments. In our time, academic theoreticians publish papers. To be patented, a device must be published. And so, Phil Zimmermann took the mathematical theorems and processes of the RSA encryption algorithm and recoded them from scratch to create a new system, just as powerful, but available to anyone without need for a license. Zimmermann was threatened with lawsuits and such, but he prevailed. Today, PGP is a free product offered by software sales giant Symantec on their website here. It is something a “loss leader” for Symantec. You can get PGP from other places as well, see here.

With it, you can encrypt your emails. Know, however, that (1) you would need to be “approved” by another PGP user (easy enough) and that (2) anyone you send emails to with this also needs it to read your emails to them. Be that as it may, it is no harder than setting up a really cool Facebook page, just a bit of work and some close focus.

Someone Could Control Your Car from the Outside

Posted: October 18, 2014 by uszik11 in Uncategorized

If you have a late model car, someone could disable the brakes, command the steering wheel, set the speed, open the doors, disable the airbags, or explode them, all from a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Perhaps the modern icon is the General Motors OnStar system. Everyone knows it; it shows up in movies and TV as commonly as orange juice or dogs. OnStar was launched in 1995 and went from analog to completely digital in 2006. (Wikipedia here.)  Now, such radio systems are a standard feature on common makes and models. The radios are called “transceivers” for “transmitter and receiver”, that is, a “walkie-talkie” or two-way radio, in other words, a cell phone that is always on. With that link someone can take control of your car.

Computers in cars go back to the 1978 Cadillac Seville. The chip was a Motorola 6800, used also in early personal computers. It ran the car’s onboard display that provided eleven outputs such as fuel economy, estimated time of arrival, and engine speed. By the turn of the Millennium, upscale BMWs and Mercedes boasted 100 processors. Even the low-tech Volvo now has 50. (Automotive Mileposts website here and Embedded website here. Note that “embedded” systems are computer controllers that built into other machines for control or diagnostics. Embedded systems is a branch of computing.)

However, the older your car, the safer you are. A vehicle from the 1980s or 1990s will have electronic controls, but they will be less open to attack from the outside.  Without a radio link such as OnStar, there is no way to control the car from the outside. Also, the older processors were more often dedicated to reporting things such as gas mileage or fuel economy. Electronic fuel ignition replaced carburetors, but, again, was a simple, stand-alone controller that could not be compromised from the outside.

Over the past few years, two different security projects have been reported in which “white hat hackers” (good guys) investigated ways to take control of different models of automobile.

models-panelbg-001

The little antenna on the Prius is not just for the FM radio.

 In 2011, Car and Driver told about the work of the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security, a collaboration between academics from the University of Washington and California State University at San Diego. First, they plugged their own device under the dashboard to compromise the on-board diagnostic computer. (Anyone who can get to your car could do that the next time you take in for an oil change or other routine service.) In the second phase, they figured out how to do that remotely.

According to Car and Driver: “Such breaches are possible because the dozens of  independently operating computers on modern vehicles are all connected through an in-car communications network known as a controller-area-network bus, or CAN bus.  Even though vital systems such as the throttle, brakes, and steering are on a separate part of the network that’s not directly connected to less secure infotainment and diagnostic systems, the two networks are so entwined that an entire car can be hacked if any single component is breached.”  (“Hack to the Future” Car and Driver July 2011 by Keith Barry here.)  The original research from the academics is posted online as PDFs.  (See below).

In the words of the researchers:  “We demonstrate that an attacker who is able to infiltrate virtually any Electronic Control Unit (ECU) can leverage this ability to completely circumvent a broad array of safety-critical systems. Over a range of experiments, both in the lab and in road tests, we demonstrate the ability to adversarially control a wide range of automotive functions and completely ignore driver input—including disabling the brakes, selectively braking individual wheels on demand, stopping the engine, and so on.”  (Published as “Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile” by

Karl Koscher, Alexei Czeskis, Franziska Roesner, Shwetak Patel, Tadayoshi Kohno, Stephen Checkoway, Damon McCoy, Brian Kantor, Danny Anderson, Hovav Shacham, Stefan Savage.
 IEEE Symposium on Security andPrivacy, Oakland, CA, May 16–19, 2010. Available as a PDF from the authors here.)

Then, having figured out how to install their own controller into a car under the dashboard, they turned to the problem of remote control.

“Modern automobiles are pervasively computerized, and hence potentially vulnerable to attack. However, while previous research has shown that the internal networks within some modern cars are insecure, the associated threat model—requiring prior physical access—has justifiably been viewed as unrealistic. Thus, it remains an open question if automobiles can also be susceptible to remote compromise. Our work seeks to put this question to rest by systematically analyzing the external attack surface of a modern automobile. We discover that remote exploitation is feasible via a broad range of attack vectors (including mechanics tools, CD players, Bluetooth and cellular radio), and further, that wireless communications channels allow long distance vehicle control, location tracking, in-cabin audio exfiltration and theft. Finally, we discuss the structural characteristics of the automotive ecosystem that give rise to such problems and highlight the practical challenges in mitigating them.”  (Published as “Comprehensive Experimental Analyses of Automotive Attack Surfaces” by Stephen Checkoway, Damon McCoy, Brian Kantor, Danny Anderson, Hovav Shacham, and Stefan Savage (University of California, San Diego) and Karl Koscher, Alexei Czeskis, Franziska Roesner, and Tadayoshi Kohno (University of Washington). Available as a PDF from the authors here.)

Two years later, Andy Greenberg, who reports on technology for Forbes, filed a story about Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek who carried out their own car hacking research with a government grant.

“Miller, a 40-year-old security engineer at Twitter, and Valasek, the 31-year-old director of security intelligence at the Seattle consultancy IOActive, received an $80,000-plus grant last fall from the mad-scientist research arm of the Pentagon known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to root out security vulnerabilities in automobiles.” (Forbes, August 12, 2013 here. This story includes a video of the event. They took Greenberg for a ride that ended in a crash despite everything he could do to fight for control of the car. The 5 mph roll out finally stopped in some high grass. )

 

 

Information Leakage …

Posted: September 29, 2014 by IntentionalPrivacy in Identity theft, Tips, Vulnerabilities
Tags: , ,

Information leakage: what is it? It’s the unauthorized flow of information from a source to a recipient. Although unauthorized, it is not necessarily malicious, but it can still be detrimental.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Our credit union is, in most cases, very accommodating. However, when it comes to paying bills online either through Bill Pay or the creditor’s site, I argued with them about printing my social security number on my account statement when I paid my Sally Mae loan.When I paid my credit card online, they printed my entire credit card number on my account statement. I called and talked to a  credit union customer service rep and could not convince her how bad using these numbers was. I wrote a letter to the credit union, the credit card company, and Sallie Mae, and Sallie Mae changed my account number (which they should have done in the first place). However, I could not convince the credit union to only print the last four digits of the card number.

Think about how many people could possibly see those numbers: database analysts, print and fold operators, customer service reps, postal clerks if the envelope rips … and if the credit union gets hacked, well, who knows?

I finally wrote letters to each member of the credit union board of directors, and voilà! The number displayed on my account statement is now only the last four digits.

Be persistent when this type of thing happens! It’s your information, and nobody else will care as much as you when your identity gets stolen. And other people’s information will be safer also.

Next up: our insurance company, who thinks it’s safe to use my social security number as our account number, as long as they add a three-digit number to it. Now my number is available to doctors, nurses, receptionists, technicians, customer service reps … the list goes on and on. Nobody will guess. Yup. The thinly-disguised-number-is-secure trick.

Shellshock (CVE-2014-6271 and CVE-2014-7169) is the name of a bug affecting the Gnu Bash (Bourne-again shell) command-line shell, which can be used on many Linux and UNIX operating systems, as well as Mac OS X. It does not affect Windows computers unless you’ve installed Bash with something like Cygwin. While it’s unlikely that most consumer computers will be targeted, it’s a good idea to watch for updates for operating systems, firewalls, routers, switches, modems, printers, and household items that can be assessed over the Internet–TVs, thermostats, IP cameras, and other items.

It is already being exploited by worms and other malware.

Cisco, Red Hat, Debian, and Ubuntu have already issued updates. The first patch issued did not completely fix the problem, so make sure you update to the version that addresses CVE-2014-7169 as well as CVE-2014-6271. Apple has not issued any updates as of September 28, 2014.

This bug has been around for a very long time; the latest (safe) Bash version is 3.2.53.  Brian J. Fox wrote Bash in 1987 and supported it for five years, and then Chet Ramey took over support–his unpaid hobby. Mr. Ramey thinks Shellshock was accidentally added in 1992.

We have a Macbook that was running a vulnerable version of Bash. I manually updated Bash per this article.

According to Qualys, here’s how to test for the vulnerabilities; at the command line, paste the following line (make sure this line is exact):

env var=’() { ignore this;}; echo vulnerable’ bash -c /bin/true

If you have a vulnerable version of bash, the screen will display “vulnerable.” Just to be safe after updating, check the bash version by typing:

bash –version

Vulnerable versions will be before 3.2.53.

If you applied a patch before Friday, you might have a less-serious version of the error, which you can check by typing the following:

env X=’(){(a)=>\’ bash -c “echo date”; cat echo; rm -f echo

This line will display the date if bash has not been completely patched.  After patching, you will get an error when running this command.

According to KrebsOnSecurity.com, Jimmy Johns aren’t the only restaurants to get caught in this breach, which lasted from June 16 through mid-September (dates vary at some locations). Many small restaurants use Signature Systems PDQPOS point-of-sale systems. A total of 216 Jimmy Johns and 108 other restaurants are affected because “an authorized person gained access to a user name and password that Signature Systems used to remotely access POS systems.” This access allowed the attacker to install malware to steal payment card data, containing the cardholder’s name, card number, expiration date, and verification code from the magnetic stripe of the card.

I wonder if Signature Systems changed their passwords on a regular basis? Probably not. Did they use two-factor authentication? Long and strong passwords? Did they conduct employee training on anti-phishing techniques?

Unfortunately, as of October 28, 2013, PDQPOS was only acceptable for pre-existing deployments. So it’s possible that some of these restaurants may receive fines if the system was installed after that date.

They’ve all had recent breaches.

How many well-known and large breaches have we had in the past year? A bazillion! Please see the page I’ve posted that shows a list of recent breaches.

What should you do if you’ve used a payment card–debit or credit–at a store with a recent breach?

  1. Check your financial statement to confirm that you used the card within the time period breached.
  2. If you have unauthorized charges, notify your financial institution immediately.
  3. Even if you don’t have unauthorized charges, ask your bank or credit union to replace your card.
  4. If the breached company is offering identity protection, sign up for it.
  5. If your identity has been stolen, this FTC site–Create an Identity Theft Report–will help you create documents for the various places you will need to contact.
  6. Don’t shop with a debit card online.
  7. Use the credit card option when shopping with a debit card.

KrebsOnSecurity stated last week that banks are seeing fraudulent ATM withdrawals from debit cards stolen in the Home Depot breach. Be vigilant!

The last thing to think about, if a company has a breach and only has a news release. Two recent examples include Dairy Queen and Jimmy John’s. There’s no additional information on their website, not even an apology! Should you continue to visit their establishment?  How do you know they’ve even cleaned up their payment systems?

I’m voting with my feet and I will never buy anything from either Jimmy Johns or Dairy Queen again.

More on the Target breach …

Posted: December 29, 2013 by IntentionalPrivacy in Uncategorized

According to the NY Times, Target is partnering with a Verizon forensic team to investigate the breach, as well as the Secret Service and the Justice Department.

If you would like to learn more about PIN number analysis, read this article http://www.datagenetics.com/blog/september32012/. Nick Berry, the president of Datagenics, also gave a speech on July 23, 2013, on Ted Talks about how to use passwords and be safer on the Internet.

 

I shop at Target about once a week. Last Saturday, I was dismayed to discover that an estimated 40 million debit and credit cards used at Target had been stolen. This isn’t the first time my card number has been stolen, and it probably won’t be the last, unfortunately.

Many of those cards will be duplicate numbers, so the total number of cards stolen will probably be fewer than 40 million. Still, it is a very large breach, the second largest to date. The biggest breach—90 million credit/debit account numbers!—in the US occurred at TJX over a period of 18 months and was discovered on December 18, 2006 (TJX data theft).

First, let’s look at what happened:

  • On December 15, 2013, malware was discovered on Target’s point-of-sale systems at US stores. Target eliminated the malware, and notified card processors and payment card networks.
  • According to some sources (a Reuters story posted on Yahoo!), Target did not find the breach; it was discovered by a security researcher. That is worrisome.
  • According to Target, the issue only affected US stores; purchases made online at Target.com or in Canada were not part of the breach.
  • In their statement, Target explains the breach occurred between 11/27/2013 and 12/15/2013.
  • PIN data was stolen (Reuters - Target says PINs stolen, but confident data secure), but not the key, which according to Target’s statement, resides at the external card processing center. They are not giving out the name of their processing center. The PIN data is encrypted with Triple DES encryption.  To decrypt the PIN data, the thieves need the key.
  • There are 2 types of security codes used with credit/debit cards. Each card issuer calls the security codes by different names.
    • The first code is embedded in the magnetic stripe of the card and is used when you present the card to a merchant; it’s often called the CVV code. This one was included in the stolen data.
    • The second number, often called the CVV2 code, is not included in the magnetic stripe data and therefore was not stolen. This is the number used when you make card-not-present transactions, such as online or over the phone. American Express prints the four-digit number they use on the front side of the card, while most other issuers use a three-digit code printed on the back of the card next to the signature area.
  • The US Secret Service is investigating, as well as an unnamed outside investigator.
  • Stay tuned for more details. I don’t think investigators have a good handle on this theft yet, so the details are likely to change.

Note: PINs are not the safest way to protect your financial information; there are only 10,000 combinations (0000 to 9999). Europe uses electronic chips in their cards; another method is a dynamic pin generated through a text message or some other media, such as an RSA token. The problem with dynamic pins is that they’re slow and expensive.

According to Krebs on Security, stolen Target credit/debit card numbers are already being sold in underground black markets in batches of one million cards.

What to do?

  1. Monitor any account(s) used at Target at least daily for evidence of tampering.
  2. Check out the Target breach details.
  3. Get a copy of your credit report. You get 1 free credit report from each credit agency per year. https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action
  4. Target says they will pay for credit reporting; they will have more details later.
  5. Replace your card:
    • If you use a Target REDcard, contact Target for a replacement card.
    • Ask your bank or credit union to replace each card used at Target during the dates the breach occurred.
  6. If you choose not to replace your card, at least change your PIN number.
  7. When you choose a PIN, do not use your birth date or consecutive digits, such as “1234.”
  8. Some cards allow you to add an alert when it’s used; check with your card issuer to find out if they have this feature. The Target REDcard does give you this ability.
  9. Do not respond to any scam emails, texts, or phone calls asking for your PIN or your social security number or your credit card number.
  10. Some people suggest buying a prepaid credit card or using cash instead of using credit/debit cards. I’ve never used one, so I don’t know anything about costs, but I’m going to look into it.

If you notice fraudulent activity in your account:

  1. Notify your card issuer immediately at the number on the back of your card and cancel your card. This greatly limits the payment portion of fraud you’re responsible for.
  2. Put a block on your credit report at one of the three credit reporting agencies:
  3. Read the FTC’s tips for “Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM, and Debit Cards.”

Who pays the costs?

While it’s true that the banks and the merchant eat the losses initially; ultimately, we all pay the price of such theft through higher costs.

Codes and Ciphers

Posted: December 23, 2013 by uszik11 in Uncategorized

Codes and ciphers are about more than sending secret messages, though there is that.  When the first public key cryptosystems were being publicized in the 1970s, authentication was a suggested application.  How do you validate a digital signature?  If you have the answer to the public key question, then you must hold the authenticating string. Although the first Diffie-Hellman knapsack system was later exposed for weaknesses, the problem itself and the algorithms for instantiating it remain as possible platforms. Others have been invented since.

Whether or not you rely on cryptography, and independent of which (if any) system(s) you choose, codes and ciphers are in and of your daily world. They make credit card transactions and cellphone handshaking possible.  They allow the efficient compression of messages. In fact, the common zip command on your computer is one way to encipher any message. It is easy to break, but the message is no longer in plaintext. Many other simple systems are available, no better or worse than the Yale or Schlage lock on your front door, they do stop all honest people and many who are not.

This week, news about more of Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed that RSA (now an EMC label) took $10 million from the NSA and installed weaknesses to allow backdoors to its encryption.

Of all the secret messages from World War II, many remain unbroken. The need is gone. A code or cipher only needs to be as good as it needs to be.  Of all the “unbreakable” codes, the one-time pad and the dictionary code remain easy and effective.

Book cover "The Code Book" gray and black. Just words with random numbers no pictures.

All About Unbreakable Codes (1983)

 In the University of Texas library stacks, looking for the early history of word processors, I was in the Zs and discovered that my book on codes and ciphers was actually checked out.  It took three editions to get it right.  The first 3000 years were easy enough to understand. I wrote programs in Basic that transposed and substituted right up through the Playfair and Vigenere ciphers.  RSA was a tough nut to crack; and I finally just cut-and-pasted one of their own graphics and quoted their own abstract.

As the IBM-PC finally overtook the TRS-80, other amateur cryptographers published more complete books of programs for personal computers.  By 1993 or so, with Phil Zimmermann’s PGP becoming common in sig lines and footers, applied personal cryptography sped light years past high school algebra in Basic. PGP is now part of the Symantec suite.

- Michael E. Marotta (uszik11@gmail.com)

More websites that value privacy are shutting down … Groklaw, Lavabit, and Silent Circle.

While I agree with much of what Pamela Jones said in this article, http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20130818120421175, I can’t agree with her conclusion to get off the Internet. “They” win then, don’t they?

I also have to agree with PandoDaily’s Adam L. Penenberg that their owners shutting down these 3 websites in particular was not such a great idea. http://pandodaily.com/2013/08/20/why-shutting-down-groklaw-lavabit-and-silent-circle-was-a-bad-move/  Like the guy said in The Godfather, “Go to the mattresses!” Keep people interested in fighting for their rights.

Now, back to the usual type of privacy-impacting shenanigans this website looks at. This article talks about how stores want to personalize your shopping experience for your shopping habits, kinda like Amazon already does. http://pandodaily.com/2013/08/23/customer-stalking-coming-soon-to-a-store-near-you/

I like coupons as well as the next person, but … it’s c-r-e-e-p-y! Facial recognition software, emotion-sensing technology … Carmel Deamicis calls it customer stalking and I don’t want to be stalked. Next thing you know, I’m gonna have one of those coffee machines that brews individual cups of coffee at a bazillion dollars per cup sitting in my kitchen and I’m going to feel bad every time I throw one of those little cups away. And, besides which, the type of coffee that goes in them is kinda nasty.

I don’t like it when Amazon tells me what I’ve looked at and what I’ve bought and what somebody else that bought what I bought bought … Geez, is that even grammatical?!

But what I do know is this: It’s creepy.