Category Archives: Security & privacy

Google adds two-factor authentication

Google is introducing two-factor authentication to its Google Apps products. This means that in order to access the enterprise services (mail, documents, etc.) the Google user will have to know their password and also supply a one-time verification code. That code will be sent to your cell phone, or generated by a special application on the smart phone.

The approach is not novel, and does not provide 100% security, but it is notable because of Google’s size and influence. Having such a large player adopt stronger authentication can only help to speed the adoption by other organizations, and that is a good thing.

By doing this now, and previously making https the default in gmail, Google is demonstrating that better security can be done on a large scale, with general users.

Privacy research positions at CMU

There are two research positions open at CMU in the area of privacy decision making. One is at the Post-Doc level and the other is for Ph.D. students. The principle investigator is Alessandro Acquisti.

The project aims at investigating the role of soft paternalistic approaches in assisting users who face privacy-sensitive trade-offs. Such privacy “nudges” will be incorporated into policy proposals as well as tools and technologies to be developed by other members of the project.

Biometric waste in Iraq

fingerprintThe US military has been collecting millions of biometric samples from Iraqi citizens, both good guys and bad guys. Now that the US is leaving, what should be done with the biometric waste? There are real risks that the records could be used to determine who worked with the US forces during the occupation, or to identify members of rival tribes. And can the new Iraqi government be trusted to use the records properly?

As the war draws down, however, the collection of so much personal information has raised questions about how data gathered during wartime should be used during times of peace, and with whom that information should be shared.

via Questions arise about use of data gathered in Iraq war – The Boston Globe.

Security skills in demand

Employers are looking for specific skills when hiring security professionals, and these mirror the most common issues are threats seen today.

So what do employers in the federal and private sectors want in a security pro today? The most in-demand qualifications basically mirror the types of attacks, breaches, and threats these organizations face today, as well as the regulations that help dictate their defenses: They’re looking for experience in incident-handling and response, compliance, risk management, business-side acumen, security clearance for sensitive government work, and leadership.

Researchers hack car computer systems

Researchers will be presenting a paper at the IEEE security conference in Oakland next week that demonstrates various attacks against the computer systems in modern cars. These attacks allow someone to control a variety of systems, including the breaks, and even erase all evidence of the attacks. We know a lot about building safety critical systems, but we seem to also be good at ignoring the lessons.

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. We find that it is possible to bypass rudimentary network security protections within the car, such as maliciously bridging between our car’s two internal subnets.

The paper is available here.

Media coverage can be read here.

Denial-of-Phone While Draining Accounts

telephoneHere is an interesting attack method: launch a denial-of-phone attack to prevent communication with a bank while draining the accounts. Apparently, fake VoIP accounts were setup to phone the victim repeatedly while the bad guys transferred thousands of dollars out of the accounts. This is an example of a cross-over attack using different types of technologies to perform the fraud.

The FBI says the calls were a diversionary tactic, meant to tie up Thousand’s line so that Ameritrade couldn’t reach him to authenticate the money transfer requests.

via Leave a comment

Fake Bomb Detectors

A military supplier has been making lots of money selling dowsing-like devices to troops in Iraq that are supposed to detect explosives and other nasty materials. They devices come equipped with different programming cards to customize the substances they search for.

There has been speculation that the devices are fake and the programming cards don’t do anything. Now comes an analysis of the cards by careful dis-assembly, and the results are predictable…

There is no way in which this device could be programmed to distinguish the many different substances that the ADE651 manufacturer claimed it could, not to mention that any useful interaction with such an LC circuit would require a transmitter antenna, a power source, and lots of other components that the ADE651 appears to lack.

Funding available for privacy research in Canada

My new employer, The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, is again calling for research and public education proposals for its contributions programs.

Research into the privacy implications of information technologies is one of the four priority areas for funding support under this year’s program. Emerging information technologies can threaten the privacy of Canadians or enhance it – and sometimes both simultaneously. For that reason, the Office is especially interested in receiving funding applications from researchers examining, from a scientific or technical standpoint, the impact of information technologies on privacy.

Not-for-profit organizations, including education institutions, industry and trade associations, consumer, voluntary and advocacy organizations are all eligible under the program. Up to $50,000 is available for successful projects. The deadline for submitting applications is February 26, 2010.

More information is available at:

Phishing Attacks Rarely Work, But Still Worth Millions

A new report from Trusteer has shown that phishing attacks are rarely successful, but still worth millions of dollars to the attackers.

Trusteer makes a browser plugin called Rapport which is given away for free to customers of certain banks (including some Canadian banks). The plugin monitors for phishing attacks and can detect when someone is submitting login information to a false banking site. Rapport has been installed on about 3 million computers in Europe and North America, and data collected by the plugin provides a valuable look into the damage caused by phishing attacks.

In the recent study, Trusteer monitored the data from the Rapport plugin during a three month period, and in that time it analyzed phishing attacks against 10 large banks in the US and Europe. The key findings were:

  • each bank was targeted by an average of 16 phishing attacks per week (or about 832 attacks per year)
  • out of every million bank customers, about 12 (0.00125%) are lured into visiting each false web site that was studied. This is a very low success rate, but…
  • given that a bank experiences many phishing attacks in a year, about 1.04% of it customers were lured to one of the false web sites each year
  • once people were lured to a false web site, about 50% of the time they entered and submitted their login information
  • doing the math, this means that about 0.47% of a banks customers revealed their login information to criminals each year
  • if the losses from stolen login information total $2,000 per case, then a bank with a million customers lost about $9.4 million per year
  • …and that money is going to criminals

Whoever said that crime does not pay did not try phishing.

Swapping fingerprints to fool immigration

A Chinese woman managed to enter Japan illegally by having plastic surgery to alter her fingerprints, thus fooling immigration controls, police claim.

This is a case of a woman who underwent surgery to alter her fingerprints in order to get past Japanese immigration procedures. Apparently, the measures worked and she was only found out when arrested on an unrelated charge.

The surgery switched the fingerprints of the thumbs and index fingers between the two hands, presumably to allow the person to present the original or modified fingerprint when given the option of which hand to present to a scanner.

It makes me wonder if fingerprint transplants between people are also a viable threat. It is also not clear how 10-print systems that record fingerprints from all the fingers, such as those now used by US immigration, who handle such finger swapping.