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News, Information and Updates on Hardware and IT Tools to help improve your Medical practice
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A government key to unlock your encrypted messages has major problems and security experts are up in arms

A government key to unlock your encrypted messages has major problems and security experts are up in arms | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Top computer scientists and security experts are warning that government proposals to gain special access to encrypted communications could result in significant dangers. 

A consortium of world-renowned security experts has penned a report detailing the harm that regulating encryption would cause, writes the New York Times


Hard encryption — which global authorities are now trying to combat — is a way to mathematically cipher digital communications and is widely considered the most secure way to communicate online to avoid external snooping. 


This follows news last week that British Prime Minister David Cameron made a proposal to ban encryption as a way to "ensure that terrorists do not have a safe space in which to communicate."  


Since then, experts have begun weighing in about the effect of such drastic measures. This includes well-known cryptographer Bruce Schneier, who told Business Insider that such a strong encryption ban would "destroy the internet."

The new report, which was released today, takes a similarly hard stance. "The complexity of today’s Internet environment, with millions of apps and globally connected services, means that new law enforcement requirements are likely to introduce unanticipated, hard to detect security flaws," it writes. Not only that, but federal authorities have yet to explain exactly how they planned to gain "exceptional access" to private communications.


The report concludes, "The costs would be substantial, the damage to innovation severe, and the consequences to economic growth difficult to predict." In short, the experts believe that trying to put limitations on encrypted communications would create myriad problems for everyone involved. 


This sort of fissure between security experts and federal authorities isn’t new. In fact, a similar proposal was made by the Clinton Administration in 1997 that also took aim at hard cryptography. Back then, a group of experts — many of whom are authors on this new report — also wrote critically about the anti-encryption efforts.

In the end, the security experts prevailed. 


Now, it’s not so certain. FBI director James Comey has joined the ant-encryption brigade, saying that "there are many costs to [universal strong encryption.]"

He and the US deputy attorney general Sally Quillan Yates are scheduled to testify before Senate tomorrow to defend their views, the New York Times reports.

The question now is whether other federal officials will side with people like Comey and Cameron or the group of security experts. 

In the paper's words, creating such back-door access to encrypted communications "will open doors through which criminals and malicious nation-states can attack the very individuals law enforcement seeks to defend."

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Google has delayed its Android encryption plans because they're crippling people's phones

Google has delayed its Android encryption plans because they're crippling people's phones | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Google is delaying plans to encrypt all new Android phones by default, Ars Technica reports, because the technical demands of encryption are crippling people's devices.

Encryption slowed down some phones by 50% or more, speed tests show. 

In September 2014, Google — along with Apple — said that it planned to encrypt all new devices sold with its mobile OS by default. This means that unless a customer opted out, it would be impossible for anyone to gain access to their device without the passcode, including law enforcement (or Google itself).

This hardened stance on encryption from tech companies came after repeated revelations about the NSA, GCHQ and other government spy agencies snooping on ordinary citizens' data.

Default encryption has infuriated authorities. One US cop said that the iPhone would become "the phone of choice for the paedophile" because law enforcement wouldn't be able to access its contents. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has floated the idea of banning strong encryption altogether — though the proposal has been slammed by critics as technically unworkable.

Apple rolled out default-on encryption in iOS 8 back in September. Google's Android Lollipop system was first released in November — but because the phone manufacturers, rather than Google itself, are responsible for pushing out the update, it can take months for a new version of the OS to reach the majority of consumers.

But as Ars Technica reports, Lollipop smartphones are now finally coming to the market, and many do not have default-on encryption. So what's the reason? The devices couldn't actually handle it.

Speed tests show that even Google's flagship phone, the Google Nexus 6, suffers serious slowdown when encryption is turned on. A "random write" test measuring writing data to memory showed that the Nexus 6 performed more than twice as fast with encryption switched off — 2.85MB per second as compared with 1.41 per second with it on. The difference was even more striking in a "sequential read" test to measure memory reading speeds. An unecrypted device achieved 131.65MB/s; the encrypted version managed just 25.36MB/s. That's a third of even the Nexus 5, the previous model, which came in at 76.29MB/s.

As such, Google is now rowing back on its encryption stance. Its guidelines now say that full-disk encryption is "very strongly recommended" on devices, rather than the necessary requirement promised. Users can still encrypt their devices (even if it slows them down), but it won't happen by default.

Google says it still intends to force it in "future versions of Android".


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Apple and Google ask Obama to leave smartphone security alone

Apple and Google ask Obama to leave smartphone security alone | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

FBI director James Comey has asked Congress for help getting around the upgraded encryption on Apple's smartphone, something he believes is creating too high a hurdle for law enforcement. It's not clear if his calls for new legislation have much chance for success, but they are clearly causing ripples in Silicon Valley. In a letter obtained by The Washington Post, tech heavyweights like Apple and Google call on President Obama to reject any new laws that would weaken security.

Better domestic surveillance is not an easy sell


There have been laws kicking around Congress for a while that would create the kind of backdoors Comey and other security hawks have been pushing for. CALEA II is one such bill, but it trips over all the outsized fears about government surveillance that the public has long held, even more so in the wake of Edward Snowden and revelations about just how much of our everyday communication is being vacuumed up by the NSA.


As we wrote back in October of 2014, that means "Comey's left exactly where we started, making ominous noises and generating headlines favorable to the FBI, but not actually doing anything. It's a bluff, a way to nudge public opinion without committing the bureau to anything. This isn't a crypto war — it's a pageant."


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How NSA Hacked North Korean Hackers

How NSA Hacked North Korean Hackers | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

The U.S. government's attribution of the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack attack to North Korea stems, in part, from the U.S. National Security Agency having infected a significant number of North Korean PCs with malware, which the intelligence agency has been using to monitor the country's hacking force.


So says The New York Times, which bases its report, in part, on interviews with unnamed former U.S. and foreign officials, as well as a newly leaked NSA document. The document, published Jan. 17 by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel - and obtained via former NSA contractor Edward Snowden - details how the NSA worked with South Korea - and other allies - to infiltrate North Korea. The agency reportedly infiltrated at least some of these computers by first exploiting systems in China and Malaysia that help manage and administer North Korea's connection to the Internet.

According to the Times report, the hacked computers have given the NSA an "early warning radar" against attacks launched by the Pyongyang-based government of North Korea. Related intelligence gathered by the NSA also reportedly helped convince President Obama that North Korea was behind the Sony Pictures hack.

North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau intelligence service, as well as its Bureau 121 hacking unit, control the vast majority of the country's 6,000-strong hacking force, some of which operates from China, according to news reports.

Fourth Party Collection

Some of the evidence of the NSA's ability to monitor North Korean systems comes from a leaked NSA document, which appears to be a transcript of an internal NSA question-and-answer discussion that's marked "top secret" and is restricted to the U.S. and its Five Eyes spying program partners: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The document refers to the NSA's practice of "fourth party collection," which involves hacking into someone else's hack, according to a Der Spiegel report.

The document relays an episode that involves North Korea: "We found a few instances where there were NK [North Korea] officials with SK [South Korea] implants [malware] on their boxes, so we got on the exfil [data exfiltration] points, and sucked back the data," the document reads.

Der Spiegel reports that this practice, which is employed by the NSA's Tailored Access Operations team, has been used extensively to undermine many hack attacks emanating from Russia and China and has allowed the NSA to obtain the source code for some Chinese malware tools.

But some attacks against U.S. systems did succeed, and one leaked NSA document says that as of several years ago, 30,000 separate attacks had been detected against U.S. Defense Department systems, 1,600 systems had been hacked, and related "damage assessment and network repair" costs had exceeded $100 million.

The NSA document also discloses that South Korea in recent years has begun attempting to hack into some U.S. government systems.

The FBI has previously said that its attribution of the Sony Pictures hack was based in part on intelligence shared by the NSA, although that attribution did not single out the North Korean government, thus leaving open the possibility that pro-Pyongyang hackers or even mercenaries may have also been involved.

The Role of Botnets

On the attribution front, meanwhile, documents newly published by Der Spiegel - and leaked by Snowden - have detailed an NSA program, code-named "Defiantwarrior," which involves the NSA using infected nodes - or zombies - in a botnet. When such nodes are traced to U.S. computers, the FBI reportedly uses the information to help shut down those parts of the botnet. But when nodes are discovered on computers in countries outside the Five Eyes program, the NSA - according to the leaked documents - may use these to launch attacks against targets. While such attacks might be traced back to the botnet node, this practice reportedly helps the agency launch attacks that are difficult - if not impossible - to attribute back to the NSA.

Did NSA Keep Quiet?

The report that the NSA had hacked into many of the systems employed by the North Korean military, and was monitoring them, has prompted information security experts to question whether the agency knew about the Sony Pictures hack and failed to stop it.

"If the NSA were secretly spying so comprehensively on the networks used by North Korea's hackers, how come they didn't warn Sony Pictures?" asks independent security expert Graham Cluley in a blog post.

If the NSA did detect signs of the Sony hack planning, reconnaissance and actual attack unfolding, however, then it might have declined to warn the television and movie studio to avoid compromising that monitoring ability, says Europol cybersecurity adviser Alan Woodward, who's a visiting computing professor at the University of Surrey in England. Similar questions have been raised in the past, for example, over the World War II bombing of Coventry, England, by the Germans, and why - if the British had cracked the Nazis' secret Enigma codes - the U.K. government didn't evacuate the city.

Another outstanding question is the extent to which the leadership of North Korea suspected - or knew - that their computer systems may have been infiltrated by foreign intelligence services. "Presumably, the cat is now out of the bag," Cluley says. "These news stories may take some of the heat off the [United] States from some of those in the IT security world who were skeptical about the claims of North Korean involvement, but it also tips off North Korea that it may want to be a little more careful about its own computer security."


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Szymon Mantey's curator insight, January 19, 2015 2:28 PM

Poradnik w jak łatwy sposób zostac shakowanym przez skośnookich  w ktorym to kradną nasze dane osobowe a NSA nie ejst wstanie nic z tym zrobić...