Latitude privacy policy doesn't fess up to what Google stores

Never one to mince words, Jackson Shaw asks, “To the Google privacy core – Is it rotten?“  He writes,

“I read Kim’s post and immediately decided to turn off Google’s Latitude service on my phone but, as Kim illustrates, it probably won’t make any difference…

“I took a few minutes to check out Google’s privacy policy around Latitude and found out this much:

“If you choose to ‘Hide your location’, you can hide from your Latitude friends all at once, so they won't be able to see your location. If you hide in Latitude, we don't store your location.

“I’m not worried about hiding in Latitude. I wish I could hide from Google!”

The funny thing here is that Google already stores our residential locations through association with our devices, as indicated by its Gstumbler report, contradicting the Latitude privacy policy.

Jackson then directs us to a Wired article that is tremendously germane to this discussion – partly because of what it says about the current legal environment in the US, and partly because it reflects the very real problem that, in general, neither technologists nor policy makers understand that tapping of device identifiers is as serious as theft of content. 

See:  ”Former Prosecutor: Google Wi-Fi Snafu ‘Likely’ Illegal ” – I'll discuss it next.  

Make of it what you will

One of the people whose work has most influenced the world of security – a brilliant researcher who is also gifted with a sense of irony and humor – received this email and sent it on to a group of us.   He didn't specify why he thought we would find it useful…  

At any rate, the content boggles the mind.  A joke?  Or a metaspam social engineering attack, intended to bilk jealous boyfriends and competitors? 

Or… could this kind of… virus actually be built and… sold?  

Subject: MMS PHONE INTERCEPTOR – THE ULTIMATE SPY SOLUTION FOR MOBILE PHONES AND THE GREAT PRODUCT FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS

MMS PHONE INTERCEPTOR – The ultimate surveillance solution will enable you to acquire the most valuable information from a mobile phone of a person of your interested.

Now all you will need to do in order to get total control over a NOKIA mobile (target) phone of a person of your interest is to send the special MMS to that target phone, which is generated by our unique MMS PHONE INTERCEPTOR LOADER. See through peoples' clothsThis way you can get very valuable and otherwise un-accessible information about a person of your interest very easily.

The example of use:

You will send the special MMS message containing our unique MMS PHONE INTERCEPTOR to a mobile phone of e.g. your girlfriend

In case your girlfriend will be using her (target) mobile phone, you will be provided by following unique functions:

  • In case your girlfriend will make an outgoing call or in case her (target) phone will receive an incoming call, you will get on your personal standard mobile phone an immediate SMS message about her call. This will give you a chance to listen to such call immediately on your standard mobile phone.
  • In case your girlfriend will send an outgoing SMS message from her (target) mobile phone or she will receive a SMS message then you will receive a copy of this message on your mobile phone immediately.
  • This target phone will give you a chance to listen to all sounds in its the surrounding area even in case the phone is switched off. Therefore you can hear very clearly every spoken word around the phone.
  • You will get a chance to find at any time the precise location of your girlfriend by GPS satellites.

All these functions may be activated / deactivated via simple SMS commands.

A target mobile phone will show no signs of use of these functions.

As a consequence of this your girlfriend can by no means find out that she is under your control.

In case your girlfriend will change her SIM card in her (target) phone for a new one, then after switch on of her (target) phone, your (source) phone will receive a SMS message about the change of the SIM card in her (target) phone and its new phone number.

These unique surveillance functions of target phones may be used to obtain very valuable and by no other means accessible information also from other subjects of your interest {managers, key employees, business partners etc, too.

I like the nostalgic sense of convenience and user-friendliness conjured up by this description.  Even better, it reminds me of the comic book ads that used to amuse me as a kid.  So I guess we can just forget all about this and go back to sleep, right?

My Twitterank is 101.54

In case you need mind-stretching with regard to credulity, try out this piece from Sprout Marketing:

Madness erupted on Twitter last night, as the latest cool “app,” Twitterank, was suddenly accused of being a simple password swiping scheme. Over the past 48 hours, thousands of people were Tweeting the same message:

my Twitterank is 101.54!

Each one of those thousands of users freely gave out their username and password to the site. In exchange, the site uses some complicated algorithm (or not, maybe it's entirely random) and out pops a rating.

Then around 3 p.m. or so, Mountain Time, PANIC broke out.

This is how e-riots start...

Within minutes, similar messages were everywhere. This is the online equivalent of an angry, confused mob [FOLLOW the incredible link - Kim] . ZDnet jumped in, along with dozens of other legitimate news sources.

News is breaking out this morning that it really isn't a scam at all. Regardless, I think there are a couple lessons here.

1. Twitter people need to be a lot more careful about their passwords. A lot of them use the same passwords across multiple sites. If the Twitterank person wanted, he could be posting to your blog while ordering expensive popcorn with your credit card.

2. How trustworthy is your brand? Do people have confidence in coming to your site that if they share personal information, it'll be protected? It took eBay and Amazon years to get to this point; they were the pioneers. There are tons of sites that do e-commerce now, thanks to Amazon.

Then you look at the Twitterank site; does it instill confidence? Kind of reminds me of an old Yahoo! Geocities page. Sure, he did it late one night for kicks, and he SAYS he won't take your password…

Apparently this was good enough for tons of people. But I bet they're rethinking that today.

The average person has no way of evaluating the extent to which their passwords are in danger, especially when presented with two related sites that perform redirection or ask for entry of passwords. 

The only safe solution for the broad spectrum of computer users is one in which they cannot give away their secrets.  In other words:  Information Cards (the advantage being they don't necessarily require hardware) or Smart Cards.   Can there be a better teacher than reality?

[Via Vu - Thanks]

Security and ContactPoint: perception is all

Given the recent theft of my identity while it was being “stewarded” by CountryWide, I feel especially motivated to share with you this important piece on ContactPoint by Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom GCMG KCVO that appeared in Britain's Ideal Government.   Sir Bonar writes:

I’m facing a blizzard of Freedom of Information requests from the self-appointed (and frankly self-righteous) civil liberties brigade about releasing details of the ContactPoint security review. Of course we’re all in favour of Freedom of Information to a point but there is a limit.

Perhaps I might point out:

The decision not to release any information about the ContactPoint security review was taken by an independent panel. I personally chaired ths panel to ensure its independence from any outside interests. I was of course not directly involved in the original requests, which were handled by a junior staff member.

The security of ContactPoint relies on nobody knowing how it works. If nobody knows what the security measures are, how can they possibly circumvent them? This is simply common sense. Details of the security measures will be shared only with the 330,000 accredited and vetted public servants who will have direct access to the database of children.

We’re hardly going to ask every Tom, Dick and Harry for how to keep our own data secure when, as you’re probably aware, our friends in Cheltenham pretty much invented the whole information security game. To share the security details with some troublemaking non-governmental organisation is merely to ask for trouble with the news media and to put us all needlessly at risk. The Department will not tolerate such risk and it is clearly not in the public interest to do so.

We did consider whether to redact and release any text.  We concluded that the small amount of text that would result after redacting text that should not be released would be incoherent and without context.  Such a release would serve no public interest.

ContactPoint is both a safe and secure system and I should remind everyone that it is fundamental to its success that it is perceived as such by parents, the professionals that use it and others with an interest in ContactPoint and its contribution to delivering the Every Child Matters agenda. Maintaining this perception of absolute “gold standard” security is why it is so important that nobody should question the security arrangements put in by our contractor Cap Gemini (whom I shall be meeting again in Andorra over the weekend).

We must guard the public mind – and indeed our own minds – against any inappropriate concerns on data security.

All this is set out on the Every Child Matters website, which includes a specific and contextual reference to the ContactPoint Data Security Review.  The content has been recently updated and can be found at: http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/deliveringservices/contactpoint/security/

Sending out our policy thinking via the medium of a Web Site is a central plank of the “Perfecting Web 1.0” aspect of our Transformational Government strategy, which is due to be complete in 2015. If interfering busybodies have any other queries about how we propose that children in Britain should be raised and protected I would refer them t that

I might add we never get this sort of trouble from the trade association Intellect, and this is why we find them a pleasure to deal with. And on the foundation of that relationship is our track record of success in government IT projects built.

So put that in your collective pipe and smoke it, naysayers. Now is not the time to ask difficult questions. We have to get on with the job of restoring order.

 

Where is your identity more likely to be stolen?

 From the Economist:

Internet users in Britain are more likely to fall victim to identity theft than their peers elsewhere in Europe and North America. In a recent survey of 6,000 online shoppers in six countries by PayPal and Ipsos Research, 14% of respondents in Britain said that they have had their identities stolen online, compared with only 3% in Germany. More than half of respondents said that they used personal dates and names as passwords, making it relatively easy for scammers to gain access to accounts. The French are particularly cavalier, with two-thirds using easily guessed passwords and over 80% divulging personal data, such as birthdays, on social-networking sites.

Of course, my identity was stolen (and apparently sold) NOT because of inadequate password hygiene, but just because I was dealing with Countrywide - a company whose computer systems were sufficiently misdesigned to be vulnerable to a large-scale insider attack.  So there are a lot of things to fix before we get to a world of trustworthy computing.

 

Students enlist readers’ assistance in CardSpace “breach”

Students at Ruhr Universitat Bochum in Germany have published an account this week describing an attack on the use of CardSpace within Internet Explorer.  Their claim is to “confirm the practicability of the attack by presenting a proof of concept implementation“.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time reproducing and analyzing the attack.  The students were not actually able to compromise my safety except by asking me to go through elaborate measures to poison my own computer (I show how complicated this is in a video I will post next).  For the attack to succeed, the user has to bring full administrative power to bear against her own system.  It seems obvious that if people go to the trouble to manually circumvent all their defenses they become vulnerable to the attacks those defenses were intended to resist.  In my view, the students did not compromise CardSpace.

DNS must be undermined through a separate (unspecified) attack

To succeed, the students first require a compromise of a computer’s Domain Name System (DNS).  They ask their readers to reconfigure their computers and point to an evil DNS site they have constructed.  Once we help them out with this, they attempt to exploit the fact that poisoned DNS allows a rogue site and a legitimate site to appear to have the same internet “domain name” (e.g. www.goodsite.com) .  Code in browser frames animated by one domain can interact with code from other frames animated by the same domain.  So once DNS is compromised, code supplied by the rogue site can interfere with the code supplied by the legitimate site.  The students want to use this capability to hijack the legitimate site’s CardSpace token.

However, the potential problems of DNS are well understood.  Computers protect themselves from attacks of this kind by using cryptographic certificates that guarantee a given site REALLY DOES legitimately own a DNS name.  Use of certificates prevents the kind of attack proposed by the students.

The certificate store must also ”somehow be compromised”

But this is no problem as far as the students are concerned.  They simply ask us to TURN OFF this defense as well.  In other words, we have to assist them by poisoning all of the safeguards that have been put in place to thwart their attack.  

Note that both safeguards need to be compromised at the same time.  Could such a compromise occur in the wild?  It is theoretically possible that through a rootkit or equivalent, an attacker could completely take over the user’s computer.  However, if this is the case, the attacker can control the web browser, see and alter everything on the user’s screen and on the computer as a whole, so there is no need to obtain the CardSpace token.

I think it is amazing that the Ruhr students describe their attack as successful when it does NOT provide a method for compromising EITHER DNS or the certificate store.  They say DNS might be taken over through a drive-by attack on a badly installed wireless home network.  But they provide no indication of how to simultaneously compromise the Root Certificate Store. 

In summary, the students’ attack is theoretical.  They have not demonstrated the simultaneous compromise of the systems necessary for the attack to succeed.

The user experience

Because of the difficulty of compromising the root certificate store, let’s look at what would happen if only DNS were attacked.

Internet Explorer does a good job of informing the user that she is in danger and of advising her not to proceed. 

First the user encounters the following screen, and has to select “Continue to the website (not recommended)”:


 
If recalcitrant, the user next sees an ominous red band warning within the address bar and an unnaturally long delay:

The combined attacks require a different yet coordinated malware delivery mechanism than a visit to the phishing site provides.  In other words, accomplishing two or more attacks simultaneously greatly reduces the likelihood of success.

The students’ paper proposes adding a false root certificate that will suppress the Internet Explorer warnings.  As is shown in the video, this requires meeting an impossibly higher bar.  The user must be tricked into importing a “root certificate”.  This by default doesn’t work – the system protects the user again by installing the false certificate in a store that will not deceive the browser.  Altering this behavior requires a complex manual override.

However, should all the planets involved in the attack align, the contents of the token are never visible to the attacker.  They are encrypted for the legitimate party, and no personally identifying information is disclosed by the system.  This is not made clear by the students’ paper.

What the attempt proves 

The demonstrator shows that if you are willing to compromise enough parts of your system using elevated access, you can render your system attackable.   This aspect of the students’ attack is not noteworthy. 

There is, however, one interesting aspect to their attack.  It doesn’t concern CardSpace, but rather the way intermittent web site behavior can be combined with DNS to confuse the browser.  The student’s paper proposes implementing a stronger “Same Origin Policy” to deal with this (and other) possible attacks.  I wish they had concentrated on this positive contribution rather than making claims that require suspension of disbelief. 

The students propose a mechanism for associating Information Card tokens with a given SSL channel.   This idea would likely harden Information Card systems and is worth evaluating.

However, the students propose equipping browsers with end user certificates so the browsers would be authenticated, rather than the sites they are visiting.  This represents a significant privacy problem in that a single tracking key would be used at all the sites the user visits.  It also doesn’t solve the problem of knowning whether I am at a “good” site or not.  The problem here is that if duped, I might provide an illegitimate site with information which seriously damages me.

One of the most important observations that must be made is that security isn’t binary – there is no simple dichotomy between vulnerable and not-vulnerable.  Security derives from concentric circles of defense that act cumulatively and in such a way as to reinforce one another.  The title of the students’ report misses this essential point.  We need to design our systems in light of the fact that any system is breachable.  That’s what we’ve attempted to do with CardSpace.  And that’s why there is an entire array of defenses which act together to provide a substantial and practical barrier against the kind of attack the students have attempted to achieve.

Satisfaction Guaranteed?

Francois Paget, an investigator at McAfee Avert Labs, has posted a detailed report on a site that gives us insight into the emerging international market for identity information.   He writes:

Last Friday morning in France, my investigations lead me to visit a site proposing top-quality data for a higher price than usual. But when we look at this data we understand that as everywhere, you have to pay for quality. The first offer concerned bank logons. As you can see in the following screenshot, pricing depends on available balance, bank organization and country. Additional information such as PIN and Transfer Passphrase are also given when necessary:

null

For such prices, the seller offers some guaranties. For example, the purchase is covered by replacement, if you are unable – within the 24 hours – to log into the account using the provided details.

The selling site also proposes US, Austria and Spanish credit cards with full information…

It is also possible to purchase skimmers (for ATM machine) and “dump tracks” to create fake credit cards. Here too, cost is in touch with the quality:

null

Many other offers are available like shop administrative area accesses (back end of an online store where all the customer details are stored – from Name, SSN, DOB, Address, Phone number to CC) or UK or Swiss Passport information:

null

Read the rest of Francois’ story here.  Beyond that, it's well worth keeping up with the Avert Labs blog, where every post reminds us that the future of the Internet depends on fundamentally increasing its security and privacy.   [Note:  I slightly condensed Francois' graphics...]

Flickr, Windows Live ID and Phishing

We talk a lot in the identity milieu about opening up the “walled Gardens” that keep our digital experiences partitioned between Internet portals.  Speaking as a person who dabbles in many services, it would be really great if I could reuse information rather than entering it over and over again.  I think as time goes on we will get more and more fed up with the friction that engulfs our information.   Over time enough people will feel this way that no portal will be able to avoid ”data portability” and still attract usage.

Even so, many have argued that today’s business models don’t allow more user-centric services to evolve.  That’s why it has been fascinating to read about the new Flickr Friend Finder.  I think it is tremendously significant to see organizations of the stature of Flickr, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft working closely together so people can easily associate their pictures on one site with their friends and colleagues from others.

Once people decide to share information between their services, we run smack dab into the “how” of it all.  In the past, some sites actually asked you to give them your username and password, so they could essentially become you.  Clearly this was terrible from a security and identity point of view.  The fact is, sharing requires new technology approaches.

Windows Live has moved forward in this area by developing a new “Contacts API“.  Angus Logan gave us a great overview on his blog recently, taking us through the whole experience.  I recommend you look at it – the design handles a lot of fascinating issues that we’ll be encountering more and more.  I’ll just pick up on the first couple of steps:

Go to the Friend finder

image

Select Windows Live Hotmail (you can also select Yahoo! Mail and GMail) – I’d imagine soon there will be Facebook / LinkedIn / insert social network here.

 image

If you aren’t already authenticated, use your Windows Live ID to sign in (IMPORTANT: Notice how you are not sharing your Windows Live ID secret credential pair with Flickr – this is a good thing!)

image

If you have followed my work on the problems with protocols that redirect users across web contexts, you will see there is a potential problem here.  

If Flickr plays by the rules, it will not learn your username and password, and cannot “become you”.  It really is a step forward.

But if a user gets used to this behavior, an unreputable site can pretend to send her to Windows Live by putting up a fake page.  The fake can look real enough that the user gives away her credentials.

A user called davidacoder called this out on Angus’ blog:

I think this whole approach will lead to many, many, many hacked Windows Live ID accounts. If you guys seriously believe that average users will be able to follow the rule “only type in your credentials on login.live.com” your are just naive. AND your own uber-security guy Kim Cameron is telling that very story to the world for years already. I wouldn’t mind so much if a Live ID was a low-value asset, but you bring people to associate some of their most valuable assets with it (email, calendar, contacts). I find the whole approach irresponsible. I just hope that at some point, if someone looses his credentials this way, he will sue you and present Kim Cameron’s blog as evidence that you were perfectly aware in what danger you bring your users. And to make a long story short, I think the Live ID team should fix the phising problem first (i.e. implement managed infocards), before they come up with new delegation stuff etc that will just lead to more attack surface. Very bad planning.

I admire David’s passion, although I’d prefer not to be used in any law suits if that is OK with everyone.  Let’s face it.  There are two very important things to be done here. 

One is to open up the portals so people can control their information and use it as they see fit  I totally endorse Angus’ work in this regard, and the forward-looking attitude of the Windows Live team.  I urge everyone to give them the credit they deserve so they’ll continue to move in this positive direction.

The other is to deal with the phishing problems of the web. 

And let me be clear.  Information sharing is NOT the only factor heightening the need for stronger Internet identity.  It is one of a dozen factors.  Perhaps the most dangerous of these is the impending collision between the security infrastructure of the Internet and that of the enterprise.  But no one can prevent this collision – or turn back the forces of openness.  All we can do is make sure we apply every effort to get stronger identity into place.

On that front, today Neelamadhaba Mahapatro (Neel), who runs Windows Live ID, put up a post where he responds to David’s comment:

Earlier this week a comment was left on Angus Logan’s blog, it got me thinking, and I want to share what we are doing to create phishing resistant systems.

  • We are absolutely aware of the dangers of phishing on the Internet.
  • We understand the probability of attack goes up when the value of the asset that is being protected is higher than the strength of authentication protecting that asset – watch this video by Kim Cameron to see OpenID phished.
  • We have put certain measures in place to counteract phishing attempts which are listed below.

Self Issued InfoCards

In August 2007 we announced beta support for self issued InfoCards with Windows Live ID (instead of username/password). The Windows Live ID team is working closely with the Windows CardSpace team to ensure we deliver the best solution for the 400 million+ people who use Windows Live ID monthly. Angus’s commentor, davidacoder, also asked for the Windows Live ID service to become a Managed InfoCard provider – we have been evaluating this; however we have nothing to announce yet.

Authenticating to Windows Live ID with CardSpace.

Additional Protection through Extended Validation Certificates

To further reduce the risk of phishing, we have implemented Extended Validation certificates to prove that the login.live.com site is trustworthy. I do however think more education for internet users is required to help drive the understanding of what it means when the address bar turns green (and what to do when it doesn’t). When authenticating in a web browser, Microsoft will only ask for your Windows Live ID credential pair on login.live.com – nowhere else! (See this related post).

login.live.com with the Extended Validation certificate. 

Neel continues by showing a number of other initiatives the group has taken - including the Windows Live Sign-in Assistant and “roaming tiles”.  He concludes:

We’re constantly looking for ways to balance end-user security/privacy and user experience. If the barrier to entry is too high or the user experience is poor, the users will revolt. If it is too insecure the system becomes an easy target. A balance needs to be struck Using Windows CardSpace is definitely a move forward from usernames & passwords but adoption will be the critical factor here.

And he’s right.  Sites like Windows Live can really help drive this, but they can’t tell users what to do.  The important thing is to give people the option of using Information Cards to prevent phishing.  Beyond that, it is a matter of user education. One option would be for systems like Live ID to automatically suggest stronger authentication to people who use features like data sharing and off-portal authentication - features that put password credentials more at risk.

Not the browser!

Google's Ben Laurie bookends our dialog (work back from here) with a really clear statement:

Kim correctly observes that the browser is not the place to be typing your password. Indeed. I should have mentioned that.

Clearly any mechanism that can be imitated by a web page is dead in the water. Kim also wants to rule out plugins, I take it, given his earlier reference to toolbar problems. I’m OK with that. We want something that only a highly trusted program can do. That’s been so central to my thinking on this I forgot to mention it. Sorry.

This sounds really positive.  Now, just so I don't end up with a different security product from every big web site, I hope Ben's work will include integration with the CardSpace framework.  I'm certainly open to discussions about ways we might evolve CardSpace to facilitate this.

Ben Laurie's “Single Passwords”

Given his latest post, I guess I got the gist of Ben Laurie's proposal for using what I'll call “Single Passwords” rather than “Single Signon”:  

“Kim Cameron, bless him, manages to interpret one of my most diabolical hungover bits of prose ever. I am totally with him on the problem of pharming, but the reality is that the average Cardspace user authenticated with nothing better than a password (when they logged into Windows).

Wow.  I appreciate the blessing from Father Laurie, but this is kind of a “We're going to die one day, so who cares if we die tomorrow?” type of argument – surprising for a priest. 

While it's true that pharming is a challenge for the operating system as well as the browser, let's not seriously equate the dangers of entering passwords into browsers (a malleable experience, the goal of which is to be infinitely and easily modified by anyone) with those involved in booting up your PC (a highly controlled environment designed to allow no modification and use a secure desktop).  It's true that both involve passwords.  But the equation is simplistic, best summed up as: “Tables have legs, people have legs, therefore tables are people.”

Anyway, I'm sympathetic to Ben's concerns about portability:

“Furthermore, if you are going to achieve portability of credentials, then you can either do it in dreamland, where all users carry around their oh-so-totally-secure bluetooth credential device, or you can do it in the real world, where credentials will be retrieved from an online store secured by a password.

I don't dismiss dreamland – isn't that what iPhones want to be?  But we do need lightweight roaming.  Using an online vault secured by a passphrase is a reasonable way to bootstrap a secret onto a machine.

But not the browser! 

The rub is:  once a user gets into the habit of typing this secret into the browser, she's ready to be tricked.  I'll go further.  If  the vault one day accrues enough value, a browser-based system WILL fail the user - sooner or later.   

Ben concludes:

“If you believe the Cardspace UI can protect people’s credentials, then surely it can protect a password?

“If it really can’t (that is, we cannot come up with UI that people will reliably identify and eschew all imitations), then how will we ever have a workable, scalable system that includes recovery of credentials after loss or destruction of their physical goods?”

There's food for thought here.  Start to take advantage of the engineering in CardSpace, and you inherit significant protection in terms of both phishing and pharming.  So if Ben implements his “Single Password” this way, he could start to be reasonably confident that the “function of the password” is what is released, while the password is guarded.