Google

Google Accused of Showing 'Total Contempt' for Android Users' Privacy (bleepingcomputer.com) 59

On the heels of a terse privacy debate, Google may have found another thing to worry about: its attempt to rethink the traditional texting system. From a report: Joe Westby is Amnesty International's Technology and Human Rights researcher. Recently, in response to Google's launch of a new messaging service called "Chat", Westby argued that Google, "shows total contempt for Android users' privacy."

"With its baffling decision to launch a messaging service without end-to-end encryption, Google has shown utter contempt for the privacy of Android users and handed a precious gift to cybercriminals and government spies alike, allowing them easy access to the content of Android users' communications. Following the revelations by CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, end-to-end encryption has become recognized as an essential safeguard for protecting people's privacy when using messaging apps. With this new Chat service, Google shows a staggering failure to respect the human rights of its customers," Westby contended. Westby continued, saying: "In the wake of the recent Facebook data scandal, Google's decision is not only dangerous but also out of step with current attitudes to data privacy."

Censorship

Google Is Shuttering Domain Fronting, Creating a Big Problem For Anti-Censorship Tools (theverge.com) 59

"The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain fronting, which lets services use Google's network to get around state-level internet blocks," reports The Verge. While the move makes sense from a cybersecurity perspective as domain fronting is widely used by malware to evade network-based detection, it will likely frustrate app developers who use it to get around internet censorship. From the report: First spotted by Tor developers on April 13th, the change has been rolling out across Google services and threatens to disrupt services for a number of anti-censorship tools, including Signal, GreatFire.org and Psiphon's VPN services. Reached by The Verge, Google said the changes were the result of a long-planned network update. "Domain fronting has never been a supported feature at Google," a company representative said, "but until recently it worked because of a quirk of our software stack. We're constantly evolving our network, and as part of a planned software update, domain fronting no longer works. We don't have any plans to offer it as a feature."

Domain-fronting allowed developers to use Google as a proxy, forwarding traffic to their own servers through a Google.com domain. That was particularly important for evading state-level censorship, which might try to block all the traffic sent to a given service. As long as the service was using domain-fronting, all the in-country data requests would appear as if they were headed for Google.com, with encryption preventing censors from digging any deeper.
We do not yet know exactly why and when Google is shutting down the practice, but will update this post once we learn more.
The Internet

Russia Admits To Blocking Millions of IP Addresses (sfgate.com) 72

It turns out, the Russian government, in its quest to block Telegram, accidentally shut down several other services as well. From a report: The chief of the Russian communications watchdog acknowledged Wednesday that millions of unrelated IP addresses have been frozen in a so-far futile attempt to block a popular messaging app. Telegram, the messaging app that was ordered to be blocked last week, was still available to users in Russia despite authorities' frantic attempts to hit it by blocking other services. The row erupted after Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, refused to hand its encryption keys to the intelligence agencies. The Russian government insists it needs them to pre-empt extremist attacks but Telegram dismissed the request as a breach of privacy. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, said in an interview with the Izvestia daily published Wednesday that Russia is blocking 18 networks that are used by Amazon and Google and which host sites that they believe Telegram is using to circumvent the ban.
Communications

France is Building Its Own Encrypted Messaging Service To Ease Fears That Foreign Entities Could Spy on Private Conversations (reuters.com) 87

The French government is building its own encrypted messenger service to ease fears that foreign entities could spy on private conversations between top officials, the digital ministry said on Monday. From a report: None of the world's major encrypted messaging apps, including Facebook's WhatsApp and Telegram -- a favorite of President Emmanuel Macron -- are based in France, raising the risk of data breaches at servers outside the country.

About 20 officials and top civil servants are testing the new app which a state-employed developer has designed, a ministry spokeswoman said, with the aim that its use will become mandatory for the whole government by the summer. "We need to find a way to have an encrypted messaging service that is not encrypted by the United States or Russia," the spokeswoman said. "You start thinking about the potential breaches that could happen, as we saw with Facebook, so we should take the lead."

Encryption

Russia Begins Blocking Telegram Messenger (reuters.com) 59

Russia's state telecommunications regulator said on Monday it had begun blocking access to Telegram messenger after the company refused to comply with an order to give Russian state security access to its users' secret messages (encryption keys). From a report: The watchdog, Roskomnadzor, said in a statement on its website that it had sent telecoms operators a notification about blocking access to Telegram inside Russia. The service, set up by a Russian entrepreneur, has more than 200 million global users and is ranked as the world's ninth most popular mobile messaging app.
Encryption

Former FBI Director James Comey Reveals How Apple and Google's Encryption Efforts Drove Him 'Crazy' (fastcompany.com) 351

An anonymous reader shares a report: In his explosive new book, A Higher Loyalty, fired FBI director James Comey denounces President Trump as "untethered to the truth" and likens him to a "mob boss," but he also touches on other topics during his decades-long career in law enforcement -- including his strong objection to the tech industry's encryption efforts. When Apple and Google announced in 2014 that they would be moving their mobile devices to default encryption, by emphasizing that making them immune to judicial orders was good for society, "it drove me crazy," he writes. He goes on to lament the lack of "true listening" between tech and law enforcement, saying that "the leaders of the tech companies don't see the darkness the FBI sees," such as terrorism and organized crime.

He writes, "I found it appalling that the tech types couldn't see this. I would frequently joke with the FBI 'Going Dark' team assigned to seek solutions, 'Of course the Silicon Valley types don't see the darkness -- they live where it's sunny all the time and everybody is rich and smart." But Comey understood it was an unbelievably difficult issue and that public safety had to be balanced with privacy concerns.

Encryption

Lawmakers Call FBI's 'Going Dark' Narrative 'Highly Questionable' After Motherboard Shows Cops Can Easily Hack iPhones (vice.com) 69

Joseph Cox, reporting for Motherboard: This week, Motherboard showed that law enforcement agencies across the country, including a part of the State Department, have bought GrayKey, a relatively cheap technology that can unlock fully up-to-date iPhones. That revelation, cryptographers and technologists said, undermined the FBI's renewed push for backdoors in consumer encryption products. Citing Motherboard's work, on Friday US lawmakers sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, doubting the FBI's narrative around 'going dark', where law enforcement officials say they are increasingly unable to obtain evidence related to crimes due to encryption. Politico was first to report the letter. "According to your testimony and public statements, the FBI encountered 7,800 devices last year that it could not access due to encryption," the letter, signed by 5 Democrat and 5 Republican n House lawmakers, reads. "However, in light of the availability of unlocking tools developed by third-parties and the OIG report's findings that the Bureau was uninterested in seeking available third-party options, these statistics appear highly questionable," it adds, referring to a recent report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General. That report found the FBI barely explored its technical options for accessing the San Bernardino iPhone before trying to compel Apple to unlock the device. The lawmaker's letter points to Motherboard's report that the State Department spent around $15,000 on a GrayKey.
Iphone

Cops Around the Country Can Now Unlock iPhones, Records Show (vice.com) 98

Law enforcement agencies across the country have purchased GrayKey, a relatively cheap tool for bypassing the encryption on iPhones, while the FBI pushes again for encryption backdoors, Motherboard reported on Thursday. From the report: FBI Director Christopher Wray recently said that law enforcement agencies are "increasingly unable to access" evidence stored on encrypted devices. Wray is not telling the whole truth. Police forces and federal agencies around the country have bought relatively cheap tools to unlock up-to-date iPhones and bypass their encryption, according to a Motherboard investigation based on several caches of internal agency documents, online records, and conversations with law enforcement officials. Many of the documents were obtained by Motherboard using public records requests.

The news highlights the going dark debate, in which law enforcement officials say they cannot access evidence against criminals. But easy access to iPhone hacking tools also hamstrings the FBI's argument for introducing backdoors into consumer devices so authorities can more readily access their contents.

Encryption

Researchers Devise a Way To Generate Provably Random Numbers Using Quantum Mechanics (newatlas.com) 139

No random number generator you've ever used is truly, provably random. Until now, that is. Researchers have used an experiment developed to test quantum mechanics to generate demonstrably random numbers, which could come in handy for encryption. From a report: The method uses photons to generate a string of random ones and zeros, and leans on the laws of physics to prove that these strings are truly random, rather than merely posing as random. The researchers say their work could improve digital security and cryptography. The challenge for existing random number generators is not only creating truly random numbers, but proving that those numbers are random. "It's hard to guarantee that a given classical source is really unpredictable," says Peter Bierhorst, a mathematician at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where this research took place. "Our quantum source and protocol is like a fail-safe. We're sure that no one can predict our numbers." For example, random number algorithms often rely on a source of data which may ultimately prove predictable, such as atmospheric noise. And however complex the algorithm, it's still applying consistent rules. Despite these potential imperfections, these methods are relied on in the day-to-day encryption of data. This team's method, however, makes use of the properties of quantum mechanics, or what Einstein described as "spooky action at a distance." Further reading: Wired, LiveScience, and CNET.
United States

Emergency Alert Systems Used Across the US Can Be Easily Hijacked (helpnetsecurity.com) 44

A vulnerability affecting emergency alert systems supplied by ATI Systems, one of the leading suppliers of warning sirens in the USA, could be exploited remotely via radio frequencies to activate all the sirens and trigger false alarms. From a report: "We first found the vulnerability in San Francisco, and confirmed it in two other US locations including Sedgwick County, Wichita, Kansas," Balint Seeber, Director of Threat Research at Bastille, told Help Net Security. "Although we have not visited other locations to confirm the presence of the vulnerability, ATI Systems has customers in the US and overseas from the military, local government, educational and energy sectors.

"ATI features customers on its website around the US including One World Trade Center, WestPoint Military Academy and Entergy Nuclear Indian Point which are all in New York State, UMASS Amherst in Massachusetts, Eastern Arizona College, University of South Carolina and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, amongst others." The vulnerability stems from the fact that the radio protocol used to control the sirens is not secure: activation commands are sent "in the clear," i.e. no encryption is used.

Mozilla

Firefox Follows Chrome and Blocks the Loading of Most FTP Resources (bleepingcomputer.com) 89

Mozilla says it will follow in the steps of Google Chrome and start blocking the loading of FTP subresources inside HTTP and HTTPS pages. From a report: By FTP subresources, we refer to files loaded via the FTP protocol inside img, script, or iframe tags that have a src="ftp://". FTP links placed inside normal angle bracket links or typed directly in the browser's address bar will continue to work. The reasoning is that FTP is an insecure protocol that doesn't support modern encryption techniques and will inherently break many other built-in browser security and privacy features, such as HSTS, CSP, XSA, or others. Furthermore, many malware distribution campaigns often rely on compromising FTP servers and redirecting or downloading malware on users' computers via FTP subresources. Mozilla engineers say FTP subresource blocking will ship with Firefox 61, currently scheduled for release on June 26.
Communications

Russia Files Lawsuit To Block Telegram Messaging App (reuters.com) 70

Russia's state communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has filed a lawsuit to block Telegram in the country because the instant messaging company has refused to hand over the encryption keys that would allow Russian authorities to read messages sent using the service. From a report: Ranked as the world's ninth most popular mobile messaging app, Telegram is widely used in countries across the former Soviet Union and Middle East. Active users of the app reached 200 million in March. As part of its services, Telegram allows users to communicate via encrypted messages which cannot be read by third parties, including government authorities. But Russia's FSB Federal Security service has said it needs access to some messages for its work, including guarding against terrorist attacks. Telegram has refused to comply with its demands, citing respect for user privacy.
Communications

WhatsApp Public Groups Can Leave User Data Vulnerable To Scraping (venturebeat.com) 18

An anonymous reader writes: WhatsApp differentiates itself from parent company Facebook by touting its end-to-end encryption. "Some of your most personal moments are shared with WhatsApp," the company writes on its website, so "your messages, photos, videos, voice messages, documents, and calls are secured from falling into the wrong hands." But WhatsApp members may not be aware that when using the app's Group Chat feature, their data can be harvested by anyone in the group. What is worse, their mobile numbers can be used to identify and target them.

WhatsApp groups are designed to enable groups of up to 256 people to join a shared chat without having to go through a central administrator. Group originators can add contacts from their phones or create links enabling anyone to opt-in. These groups, which can be found through web searches, discuss topics as diverse as agriculture, politics, pornography, sports, and technology. Not all groups have links, but in those that do, anyone who finds the link can join the group. While all new joining members are announced to the group, they are not required to provide a name or otherwise identify themselves. This design could leave inattentive members open to targeting, as a new report from European researchers shows.
WhatsApp is used by more than 1.2 billion users worldwide.
Communications

Tor Winds Down Its Encrypted Messenger App 3 Years After Launch (venturebeat.com) 21

The Tor Project has announced that it's winding down its privacy-focused Tor Messenger chat program, nearly three years after its beta debut. From a report: Tor, an acronym of "The Onion Router," is better known for its privacy-focused browser that directs traffic through a volunteer-run network of relays to prevent any untoward eavesdropping on users' online activity. Indeed, the Tor Browser is often used by activists, whistleblowers, and anyone wishing to remain anonymous, and major companies -- such as Facebook -- have embraced Tor over the years.

The people behind the anonymity network started working on Tor Messenger in early 2014, launched it in alpha a year later, before rolling out the beta version in October 2015, where it has remained since -- though there have been more than 10 separate beta releases. [...] In terms of why Tor Messenger is being sunsetted, well, there are a number of reasons. Arguably the most important of the reasons is that uptake wasn't quite where Tor wanted it to be at to justify working on it, while it also realized that it wasn't the perfect private messaging client due to its metadata problem.

Microsoft

Microsoft's Windows 7 Meltdown Fixes From January and February Made PCs More Insecure (theregister.co.uk) 84

Microsoft's January and February security fixes for Intel's Meltdown processor vulnerability opened up an even worse security hole on Windows 7 PCs and Server 2008 R2 boxes. From a report: This is according to researcher Ulf Frisk, who previously found glaring shortcomings in Apple's FileVault disk encryption system. We're told Redmond's early Meltdown fixes for 64-bit Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 left a crucial kernel memory table readable and writable for normal user processes. This, in turn, means any malware on those vulnerable machines, or any logged-in user, can manipulate the operating system's memory map, gain administrator-level privileges, and extract and modify any information in RAM. The Meltdown chip-level bug allows malicious software, or unscrupulous logged-in users, on a modern Intel-powered machine to read passwords, personal information, and other secrets from protected kernel memory. But the security fixes from Microsoft for the bug, on Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2, issued in January and February, ended up granting normal programs read and write access to all of physical memory.
Security

macOS High Sierra Logs Encryption Passwords in Plaintext for APFS External Drives (bleepingcomputer.com) 62

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: macOS High Sierra users are once again impacted by a major APFS bug after two other major vulnerabilities affected Apple's new filesystem format in the last five months. This time around, according to a report from Mac forensics expert Sarah Edwards, recent versions of macOS High Sierra are logging encryption passwords for APFS-formatted external drives in plaintext, and storing this information in non-volatile (on-disk) log files.

The issue, if exploited, could allow an attacker easy access to the encryption password of encrypted APFS external volumes, such as USB thumb drives, portable hard drives, and other external storage mediums. This bug goes against all well-established Apple development and security rules, according to which apps and utilities should use the Keychain app to store valuable information, and should definitely avoid storing passwords in cleartext.
Video 1, and 2.
Government

FBI Had No Way To Access Locked iPhone After Terror Attack, Watchdog Finds (zdnet.com) 126

The FBI did not have the technical capability to access an iPhone used by one of the terrorists behind the San Bernardino shooting, a Justice Department watchdog has found. ZDNet: A report by the department's Office of Inspector General sheds new light on the FBI's efforts to gain access to the terrorist's phone. It lands almost exactly a year after the FBI dropped a legal case against Apple, which had refused a demand by the government to build a backdoor that would've bypassed the encryption on the shooter's iPhone. Apple said at the time that if it was forced to backdoor one of its products, it would "set a dangerous precedent." Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in the southern Californian town in December 2015. The 11-page report said that the FBI "had no such capability" to access the contents of Farook's encrypted iPhone, amid concerns that there were conflicting claims about whether the FBI may have had techniques to access the device by the time it had filed a suit against Apple. Those claims were mentioned in affidavits in the court case, as well as in testimony by former FBI director James Comey.
The Internet

IETF Approves TLS 1.3 As Internet Standard (bleepingcomputer.com) 84

An anonymous reader writes: The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the organization that approves proposed Internet standards and protocols, has formally approved TLS 1.3 as the next major version of the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol. The decision comes after four years of discussions and 28 protocol drafts, with the 28th being selected as the final version. TLS 1.3 is now expected to become the standard method in which a client and server establish an encrypted communications channel across the Internet -- aka HTTPS connections.

The protocol has several advantages over its previous version -- TLS 1.2. The biggest feature is that TLS 1.3 ditches older encryption and hashing algorithms (such as MD5 and SHA-224) for newer and harder to crack alternatives (such as ChaCha20, Poly1305, Ed25519, x25519, and x448). Second, TLS 1.3 is also much faster at negotiating the initial handshake between the client and the server, reducing the connection latency that many companies cited when justifying not supporting HTTPS over HTTP.

Browsers like Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Pale Moon have already rolled out support for earlier versions of the TLS 1.3 draft, and are now expected to update this support to the official standard.

Security

Cops Are Now Opening iPhones With Dead People's Fingerprints (forbes.com) 212

An anonymous reader shares a report: In November 2016, around seven hours after Abdul Razak Ali Artan had mowed down a group of people in his car, gone on a stabbing spree with a butcher's knife and been shot dead by a police officer on the grounds of Ohio State University, an FBI agent applied the bloodied body's index finger to the iPhone found on the deceased. The cops hoped it would help them access the Apple device to learn more about the assailant's motives and Artan himself.

This is according to FBI forensics specialist Bob Moledor, who detailed for Forbes the first known case of police using a deceased person's fingerprints in an attempt to get past the protections of Apple's Touch ID technology. Unfortunately for the FBI, Artan's lifeless fingerprint didn't unlock the device. In the hours between his death and the attempt to unlock, when the feds had to go through legal processes regarding access to the smartphone, the iPhone had gone to sleep and when reopened required a passcode, Moledor said. He sent the device to a forensics lab which managed to retrieve information from the iPhone, the FBI phone expert and a Columbus officer who worked the case confirmed. That data helped the authorities determine that Artan's failed attempt to murder innocents may have been a result of ISIS-inspired radicalization.

Where Moledor's attempt failed, others have succeeded. Separate sources close to local and federal police investigations in New York and Ohio, who asked to remain anonymous as they weren't authorized to speak on record, said it was now relatively common for fingerprints of the deceased to be depressed on the scanner of Apple iPhones, devices which have been wrapped up in increasingly powerful encryption over recent years. For instance, the technique has been used in overdose cases, said one source. In such instances, the victim's phone could contain information leading directly to the dealer.

Encryption

Justice Department Revives Push To Mandate a Way To Unlock Phones (nytimes.com) 171

"FBI and Justice Department officials have been quietly meeting with security researchers who have been working on approaches to provide such 'extraordinary access' to encrypted devices," reports The New York Times (alternative source), citing people familiar with the matter. Justice Department officials believe that these "mechanisms allowing access to the data" exist without weakening the devices' security against hacking. Slashdot reader schwit1 shares the report: Against that backdrop, law enforcement officials have revived talks inside the executive branch over whether to ask Congress to enact legislation mandating the access mechanisms. The Trump White House circulated a memo last month among security and economic agencies outlining ways to think about solving the problem, officials said. The FBI has been agitating for versions of such a mandate since 2010, complaining that the spreading use of encryption is eroding investigators' ability to carry out wiretap orders and search warrants -- a problem it calls "going dark." The issue repeatedly flared without resolution under the Obama administration, peaking in 2016, when the government tried to force Apple to help it break into the iPhone of one of the attackers in the terrorist assault in San Bernardino, Calif. The debate receded when the Trump administration took office, but in recent months top officials like Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and Christopher A. Wray, the FBI director, have begun talking publicly about the "going dark" problem. The National Security Council and the Justice Department declined to comment about the internal deliberations. The people familiar with the talks spoke on the condition of anonymity, cautioning that they were at a preliminary stage and that no request for legislation was imminent. But the renewed push is certain to be met with resistance.

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