Archive for Privacy

Law Enforcement Again Finds Themselves In A Situation Where They Can’t Unlock A Mass Shooter’s Phone

Posted in Commentary with tags on November 8, 2017 by itnerd

The recent mass shooting in a Texas church has been making headlines since Sunday. But related to that is a problem that law enforcement has faced before. The inability to unlock the shooter’s phone to get to critical data that could help in their investigation. has the details on this:

An official said at a press conference Tuesday that the FBI is unable to open the phone of Devin Patrick Kelley, who killed 26 people and injured 20 more at a Texas church on Sunday. 

The phone is encrypted, meaning the information inside is unreadable without a passcode. The FBI didn’t say what kind of phone the shooter used.

“With the advance of the technology and the phones and the encryptions, law enforcement — whether at a state, local or federal level — is increasingly not able to get into these phones,” said Christopher Combs, the FBI special agent in charge.

This is the same sort of situation that the FBI found itself in with the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, which in turn led to a protracted legal battle with Apple. But in the end they unlocked the phone with the help of a third party. Not only that, but apparently the FBI has been unable to get into thousands of phones which is making it difficult for them to investigate crimes.

Now I have to admit that I struggle with this. On one hand, I see the need for law enforcement to have the ability to get into phones to help them to put bad guys in jail. But at the same time, I don’t think that anyone should have a free pass to look at anything on a phone. Nor should Apple, Google or anyone else build backdoors into their phones for law enforcement. It’s a tricky balance I admit and I am not sure how you get the balance right. But hopefully there’s reasonable discussion about this that leads to that balance.


US Border Security More Likely To Look At Your Phone And Demand Passwords…. Yikes!

Posted in Commentary with tags on September 19, 2017 by itnerd

According to a CTV News report, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien told a House of Commons committee yesterday that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers can look at mobile devices and even demand passwords under new American law:

Therrien cited statistics indicating U.S. border searches of mobile phones had increased between 2015 and 2016.

“These devices contain a lot of sensitive information,” Therrien said. “We should be very concerned.”

And it seems that when US border officials look at your phone, they can deny you entry based on what is found on it. And it doesn’t have to be related to you being a bad guy. Take for example what New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen had to say:


Cullen said one of his constituents was denied entry to the U.S. on health-related grounds because information on the person’s phone indicated a prescription for heart medication.

Now to be fair, Canadian border officials can do this as well. But….. :

Canadian law also allows border officers to inspect cell phones, since they are treated as goods, Therrien told the Commons committee on access to information, privacy and ethics.

But he noted Canada’s border agency has a policy of limiting searches to cases where an officer has grounds to do so — for instance, because a phone might contain information about contraband items.

So travelers, you now know that if you’re going to the US, you can expect that there’s a higher probability that your phone might be searched. Thus if you don’t want things to go sideways, you should likely take precautions prior to departure.

Australia to Push for Greater Powers on Encrypted Messaging at “Five Eyes” Meeting

Posted in Commentary with tags on June 26, 2017 by itnerd

There’s a group of five nations that collaborate on collecting and sharing intelligence. Known as the “Five Eyes” they are the U.S., the U.K, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Australia at a meeting this week of the “Five Eyes” will push for greater international powers to thwart the use of encrypted messaging services by terrorists and criminals. Here’s what Reuters had to say on this:

Australia has made it clear it wants tech companies to do much more to give intelligence and law enforcement agencies access to encrypted communications.

“I will raise the need to address ongoing challenges posed by terrorists and criminals using encryption,” Australian Attorney General Senator Brandis said in a joint statement.

“These discussions will focus on the need to cooperate with service providers to ensure reasonable assistance is provided to law enforcement and security agencies.”

While I fully support any and all reasonable methods for law enforcement to stop “evil doers” from doing “evil things,” this isn’t going to accomplish that goal. Simply put, those who want to inflict chaos and destruction on the world will move to unregulated open source solutions with end to end encryption which will put them out of the reach of law enforcement. Thus the only thing that will be accomplished is the weakening of security consumer devices and software that “evil doers” will move away from to stay out of the reach of the good guys. Do I have a better idea? Short of putting some sort of “backdoor” into every device and software that has encryption, no. But I do know a bad idea when I see it. And this qualifies as a bad idea.

Does Your Printer Spy On You? The EFF Can Help You Find Out….

Posted in Commentary with tags on June 12, 2017 by itnerd

Recently we’ve had the case of a woman named Reality Winner…. Yes, that is apparently her name…. being arrested for leaking sensitive info to The Intercept that the NSA had in its possession. She was apparently busted because the printers that she printed this sensitive info out from had microdots which were used to hunt her down. Now, you’re likely wondering what these microdots are and if the printer in your home or business does this or something similar. Well, the Electronic Frontier Foundation can help you find out. They’ve not only posted a document that lists printers known to do this, they’ve also got a document that explains this tracking tech. But the first document that I linked to does have this warning:

Some of the documents that we previously received through FOIA suggested that all major manufacturers of color laser printers entered a secret agreement with governments to ensure that the output of those printers is forensically traceable. Although we still don’t know if this is correct, or how subsequent generations of forensic tracking technologies might work, it is probably safest to assume that all modern color laser printers do include some form of tracking information that associates documents with the printer’s serial number.

Thus consider this to be a starting point. It will be interesting to see if any printer company fesses up to doing this now that it’s got a rather bright spotlight.

Canadian Connected Sex Toy Company Fingered For Data Mining Users Without Consent

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 14, 2017 by itnerd

Ottawa based connected sex toy company Standard Innovation who makes an apparently popular sex toy called WeVibe apparently did more than make the sex toy and the app for your phone that goes with it. It also apparently data mined users by collecting real-time data of their connected sex toys usage without the users knowledge. Clearly that’s more invasive than it should be. So it’s no surprise that when users found out about it they went to court and got a $3.75 million (CDN) settlement. The Financial Post has the intimate details:

Under the terms of the settlement, Standard Innovation Corp. has agreed to destroy the personal information it has collected from users of the vibrator and stop collecting such information from now on. The vibrator, known as the We-Vibe Rave, could be paired with a smartphone app to allow a partner to control it remotely.

About 300,000 customers purchased the vibrators, with about one-third of them using them with the app, according to the settlement agreement. App users are entitled to a share of a fund up to US$10,000 after expenses and fees, with anyone who purchased vibrator without using the app entitled to up to US$199.

The company won’t have to admit that they did anything wrong as part of this settlement.

My take on this is that in the era of the Internet of Things, you can fully expect that your data will be used in some way that you don’t expect it to. That includes what you do in your bedroom. Now the company is wrong for not telling users that they were collecting real time stats of their intimate activities. But part of me isn’t shocked by this at all as data is very valuable these days. Thus if this is the sort of thing that you’re into, because if it is there’s nothing wrong with that, you might want to keep the fact that you may not fully control the data that your activities generate in mind.

WikiLeaks Does Massive Data Dump On CIA Hacking Tools And Ops

Posted in Commentary with tags , on March 7, 2017 by itnerd

WikiLeaks today released documents that shed light on the CIA’s hacking tools and internal operations. What’s key about this is that absolutely no platform is safe from the CIA as documented by BetaNews:

WikiLeaks has unleashed a treasure trove of data to the internet, exposing information about the CIA’s arsenal of hacking tools. Code-named Vault 7, the first data is due to be released in serialized form, starting off with “Year Zero” as part one. A cache of over 8,500 documents and files has been made available via BitTorrent in an encrypted archive. The plan had been to release the password at 9:00am ET today, but when a scheduled online press conference and stream came “under attack” prior to this, the password was released early. Included in the “extraordinary” release are details of the zero day weapons used by the CIA to exploit iPhones, Android phones, Windows, and even Samsung TVs to listen in on people. Routers, Linux, macOS — nothing is safe. WikiLeaks explains how the “CIA’s hacking division” — or the Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI) as it is officially known — has produced thousands of weaponized pieces of malware, Trojans, viruses and other tools. It’s a leak that’s essentially Snowden 2.0.

I take two things out of this data dump. First, nothing is secure. Absolutely nothing. That should scare you. Second, some of these tools that are now in the public domain, really bad people are going to get their hands on them. That should scare you even more.

It should be interesting to see how this is explained by the US Government.

Spammers Have Internal Database Leak Onto The Web

Posted in Commentary with tags , on March 7, 2017 by itnerd

In an #EpicFail moment, notorious spammers River City Media (RCM) has exposed 1.37 billion email addresses after failing to password-protect a remote backup. This was discovered by Chris Vickery who is a security researcher at MacKeeper:

A cooperative team of investigators from the MacKeeper Security Research Center, CSOOnline, and Spamhaus came together in January after I stumbled upon a suspicious, yet publicly exposed, collection of files. Someone had forgotten to put a password on this repository and, as a result, one of the biggest spam empires is now falling.

Additional coverage can be seen over at CSOOnline.

The leaky files, it turns out, represent the backbone operations of a group calling themselves River City Media (RCM). Led by known spammers Alvin Slocombe and Matt Ferris, RCM masquerades as a legitimate marketing firm while, per their own documentation, being responsible for up to a billion daily email sends.

Think about that for a second. How can a group of about a dozen people be responsible for one billion emails sent in one day? The answer is a lot of automation, years of research, and fair bit of illegal hacking techniques. 

I say illegal hacking due to the presence of scripts and logs enumerating the groups’ many missions to probe and exploit vulnerable mail servers.

The game that these spammers were playing goes something like this. RCM gathered its mammoth database from people requesting credit checks, entering prize giveaways and sweepstakes and applying for education opportunities, along with techniques like co-registration in which a person’s info is shared with unnamed affiliates after clicking “submit” or “I agree” on a website. Thus, there’s a very good chance that your e-mail address is likely in this leak.

The good news is that RCM’s spamming days are over. Spamhaus has blacklisted their entire operation. The bad news is that this database has a ton of personally identifiable info. Who knows what hands that is going to end up in.