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Posts Tagged ‘security’

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Privacy and security: no simple solution, warns Rachel Dixon

September 18, 2018

The tide is turning when it comes to privacy and security, with Australians gradually becoming more aware of the need to protect their personal data and the risks involved in sharing it.

Rachel Dixon, privacy and data protection deputy commissioner at the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner, saysthat with public debates over My Health Record and new tech surveillance laws, the public is now more informed about these issues than ever before.

“Not that many years ago there was (a view) that privacy is dead,” she says. “That now sounds quite outdated. In some ways the conversation still does need to get more mature. But this has been a real watershed year for privacy issues making it to the mainstream.
“That’s a very good thing.”

According to Ms Dixon, the theme of the last decade broadly had been to “hoover up as much data as possible”, and that’s now shifting to a theme of “taking the data that is necessary to fulfil the function”.

“There’s been a change in people’s understanding around their privacy,” she says. “Increasingly they’re more concerned, and are less willing to hand over data in certain circumstances. A lot of the use of data now is looking at the risks involved.

“Humans historically have not been very good at calculating risk. That’s been terrific in the past, it’s allowed us to sail across oceans and go into space. But we’re not very good at it. So I want us to move to having a risk-based framework, and change the culture around assessing risk.”

Debate is currently raging as to whether Australian law enforcement agencies should have the right to decrypt smart devices to prevent and solve criminal activity, with ferocious opinions coming on both sides of the debate.

For former FBI agent Ed Stroz, the founder and co-president of Stroz Friedberg, the ability to thwart terrorist attacks is more important overall than the right to an individual’s privacy.

“You can see both sides of the issue. And it comes down to, ‘Do people have the right to privacy?’ I’m a little more sympathetic to the law enforcement side,” he says.

“People do value their privacy now, but if you have an encrypted phone held by a criminal, that creates a sacred category of evidence we’ve never had in our judicial system before. Out of the box, this engineering empowers adverse behaviour and that has big social effects.

“If we didn’t have that many adversaries around, it probably wouldn’t matter that much. But I weigh that aspect of it more heavily than valuing privacy overall. That’s a personal view that I have.”

Ms Dixon said encryption was a complex issue, and that there was no simple, obvious, single solution to the balance between privacy and security.

“If there was, we would have done it by now,” she says. “Chances are, the solution here is a combination of things. But the debate is definitely going to be messy. At least the discussion has raised some really good points. I would caution against looking for a ­simple answer or seeing the issue as binary. It’s not, these are healthy tensions between privacy, data protection and freedom of information.”

Marcin Kleczynski is chief executive of Malwarebytes, a security company he started as a 16-year-old. He saidthat while users had become more savvy about their own security and privacy, they were still generally the weak link when it comes to viruses and other attacks. “It takes a lot to always be patching your systems and keeping everything up to date,” he says. “There are so many damn security companies, I could name 60 or 70, but an attack still comes and no-one’s ready.

“I’m fairly pessimistic about this stuff. I think we still haven’t solved a lot of the basics when it comes to security. We need a lot more user awareness training about security and storing your own information, there needs to be a lot more basic hygiene in place. We’re slowly getting there.”

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venmo_pub_priv

SECURITY NEWS THIS WEEK: MAYBE GO AHEAD AND MAKE YOUR VENMO PRIVATE

July 25, 2018

THIS WEEK STARTED with a controversial, widely derided meeting between President Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and ended with… an invite for round two! And yes, all manner of craziness managed to happen in between.

That includes yet more denials on Trump’s part that Russia interfered—and continues to—with US democracy, a stance that has serious repercussions, however many times he walks it back. The Putin press conference performance also prompted concern across the aisle, as senators Marco Rubio and Mark Warner cast it as a major setback in efforts to safeguard the election. For what it’s worth, here’s what special counsel Robert Mueller’s been up to lately, and where he’ll likely go next.

The week wasn’t a total Trumpapalooza. RealNetworks offered a new facial recognition tool to schools for free, introducing a host of privacy-related concerns. And a company called Elucd is helping police better gauge how their precincts feel about them by pushing surveys out through apps.

Good news could be found as well! We talked to the Google engineers who built Secure Browsing, a suite of technologies that underpin security for a huge amount of the modern web. We profiled Jonathan Albright, the academic who has shined the brightest spotlight on Russian influence campaigns in the 2016 election and beyond. And we took a look at two tools Amazon has tested that could help its leaky cloud problem.

There’s more! As always, we’ve rounded up all the news we didn’t break or cover in depth this week. Click on the headlines to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.

Venmo’s Public Defaults Start to Cause Problems
Privacy advocate and designer Hang Do Thi Duc this week brought attention to payment app Venmo’s lack of built-in privacy. Her site, Public by Default, taps into Venmo’s API to show the latest transactions taking place on the platform. In fact, the nearly 208 million public Venmo transactions that took place in 2017 can all be viewed at this URL. But while Public by Default explores the inherent privacy issues with Venmo’s opt-in privacy in largely anonymized fashion, a bot emerged Thursday that tweets the usernames and photos of any users that appear to be buying drugs. Not ideal!

Ideally, Venmo would go ahead and make transactions private by default. But because it’s structured as something of a social network—peeping other people’s emoji transaction descriptions is part of the appeal—that’s unfortunately unlikely. Instead, to better protect yourself, open the app, tap the hamburger menu in the upper left corner, tap Privacy, and select Private. You’re welcome!

The DOJ Will Make Foreign Interference Public
In a departure from current policy, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein Thursday said that the government will let American groups and individuals know when they are the subject of an effort to subvert US democracy. The Obama administration notably didn’t do so in 2016, fearing that going public with Russia’s actions would appear politically motivated. It’s unclear exactly how the new policy will play out in practice, given that those sorts of disclosures will require a “high confidence” in attribution—tricky, especially in the digital sphere—and that the DOJ presumably won’t make any disclosures that would threaten ongoing investigations. Still, it would at least presumably prevent the current administration from trying to downplay or cover up any intrusions in the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential campaigns.

Ransomware Attacks Plague Medical Companies
A pair of high-profile attacks hit sensitive health care targets this week. Ontario-based CarePartners got hit with ransomware that locked out medical histories and contact info for as many as tens of thousands of patients, and apparently credit card numbers and other sensitive information as well. And the same SamSam malware that hobbled Atlanta struck LabCorp, a major lab services provider. Hackers apparently demanded $52,500 to free up the affected machines, but LabCorp appears inclined to simply replace them instead. Either way, it’s a good reminder that ransomware targets hospitals and other health care targets disproportionally, precisely because the stakes are so much higher.

A Robocall Firm Exposed Data of Thousands of US Voters
As if the scourge of robocalls weren’t bad enough already, a company called Robocent left hundreds of thousands of voter records, spread across 2,600 files, exposed on the open web. The data appears to have comprised mostly addresses and demographic information, but if nothing else it’s a reminder that the cloud needs better tools to keep this sort of thing from happening basically every week.

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imrs

SECURITY NEWS THIS WEEK: CARRIERS STOP SELLING LOCATION DATA IN A RARE PRIVACY WIN

June 26, 2018

WHAT’S THAT? A week with nearly as much good news as bad in the world of privacy and security? It’s true! Especially the privacy part.

On Friday, the Supreme Court issued a hotly anticipated ruling in Carpenter v. United States, establishing that the government will need to get a warrant if it wants to track your location with cell sites. Meanwhile in California, it looks like residents might soon benefit from a privacy law that grants unprecedented power—in the US, anyway—over what data companies collect and what they do with it. And while this isn’t privacy related, strictly speaking, Apple’s new partnership with startup RapidSOS will push iPhone owners’ locations to dispatchers during 911 calls, saving first responders valuable minutes and almost certainly saving lives.

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, of course. The same hacker group that meddled with the PyeongChang Olympics appears to be back, this time swinging at biochem labs in Europe. The hacking threat from China has escalated in step with trade war rhetoric. Pretty much every streaming device is vulnerable to the same type of DNS rebinding attack. Iran’s ban of encrypted messaging app Telegram has had a serious, layered impact on the country’s citizens. And deep fakes will make the already complicated issue of Twitter mob justice even more so.

But wait, there’s more! As always, we’ve rounded up all the news we didn’t break or cover in depth this week. Click on the headlines to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.

The Major Mobile Carriers Stop Selling Location Information
After a public blow-up around the sharing of location data with third parties—and pressure from senator Ron Wyden—all four major US carriers have pledged to stop the practice. The change won’t happen overnight; all of these companies have long-term contracts to unwind. But it’s a rare bit of good privacy news at a time when that has seemed increasingly hard to come by.

Alleged Vault 7 Leaker Indicted
Former CIA employee Joshua Adam Schulte was indicted this week; authorities allege that he was responsible for the devastating Vault 7 leak that revealed many of the agency’s hacking secrets. Schulte had previously been held on child pornography charges. The indictment also alleges that Schulte had surprisingly lax security practices for a CIA vet; he apparently reused a less secure password from his cell phone to protect the encrypted materials on his computer as well. He faces up to 135 years in prison.

VirusTotal Monitor Should Help Keep Apps From Getting Flagged as Malware
In 2012, Google acquired VirusTotal, a site that scans online malware and viruses. This week, it announced a new spinoff product, VirusTotal Monitor, that will help app developers avoid being accidentally flagged as malware. VirusTotal already aggregates what over 70 antivirus vendors consider malware, so devs can how compare their apps against that list for a little peace of mind.

Google Makes It Easier to Check Your Privacy and Security
While not exactly offering you higher levels of security, the new Google Account panel on Android—to be followed later on iOS and desktop—does make it easier to see exactly what your settings are, along with a “privacy checkup” and “security setup” that nudge you toward a more locked-down online experience. It also introduces a search function to make it easier to find whatever specific aspect of your account you want to vet.

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Tech Giant Intel Partners With DApp Platform Enigma on Privacy Research

June 21, 2018

Decentralized application (DApp) platform Enigma will partner with Intel on privacy research as it prepares to launch its blockchain testnet, the two companies confirmed June 20.

Enigma, which completed a $45 mln Initial Coin Offering (ICO) in September of last year, said the collaboration would focus on “research and development efforts to advance development of privacy preserving computation technologies.”

The platform aims to provide the first environment for scalable end-to-end DApps using bespoke privacy technology to protect data “while still allowing computation” on top of it.

“Enigma is excited to continue collaborating with Intel to advance our protocol and privacy technologies for public blockchains, as well as expanding and strengthening our working relationship,” the post adds, hinting further partnership details would follow.

Ahead of Intel plugging Enigma’s privacy developments at the Cyber Week 2018 event in Tel Aviv next this week, Rick Echevarria, vice president of the corporation’s software and services group and general manager, platforms security division, appeared likewise upbeat at the prospect of improving that area of blockchain.

“Security is pivotal to our company’s strategy and a fundamental underpinning for all workloads, especially those that are as data-centric as AI and blockchain,” he wrote in a separate post from Intel, continuing:

“We will continue to innovate and make our silicon an active participant in the threat defense lifecycle.”

The move marks a further step in Intel’s blockchain involvement, this already spanning multiple industries, including healthcare, and partnerships, such as with virtual currency hardware firm Ledger.

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SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 24:  Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, delivers his keynote address at the CTIA WIRELESS I.T. & Entertainment 2007 conference October 24, 2007 in San Francisco, California. The confernence is showcasing the lastest in mobile technology and will run through October 25.  (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images)

Google and Facebook are watching our every move online. It’s time to make them stop

January 31, 2018

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, left, and Google CEO Larry Page
To make any real progress in advancing data privacy this year, we have to start doing something about Google and Facebook. Not doing so would be like trying to lose weight without changing your diet. Simply ineffective.

The impact these two companies have on our privacy cannot be understated. You may know that hidden trackers lurk on most websites you visit, soaking up your personal information.

What you may not realize, though, is 76 percent of websites now contain hidden Google trackers, and 24 percent have hidden Facebook trackers, according to the Princeton Web Transparency & Accountability Project. The next highest is Twitter with 12 percent. It is likely that Google or Facebook are watching you on many sites you visit, in addition to tracking you when using their products.

As a result, these two companies have amassed huge data profiles on each person, which can include your interests, purchases, search, browsing and location history, and much more. They then make your sensitive data profile available for invasive targeted advertising that can follow you around the Internet.

This advertising system is designed to enable hyper-targeting, which has many unintended consequences, such as the ability for bad actors to use the system to influence the most susceptible or to exclude groups in a way that facilitates discrimination.

“These two companies have amassed huge data profiles on each person, which can include your interests, purchases, search, browsing and location history, and much more.”
Because of their entrenched positions in a wide array of Internet services, each collecting personal information that together combine into these massive digital profiles, Google and Facebook can offer hyper-targeting much better than the competition.

As a result, they now make up 63 percent of all digital advertising, and accounted for 74 percent of this market’s growth in 2017, according to eMarketer. Together they form a tight digital advertising duopoly, showing no signs of abating.

Google and Facebook also use your data as input for increasingly sophisticated AI algorithms that put you in a filter bubble — an alternate digital universe that controls what you see in their products, based on what their algorithms think you are most likely to click on.

These echo chambers distort people’s reality, creating a myriad of unintended consequences such as increasing societal polarization. On their unending march to profit from more and more personal information, Google and Facebook have shown little regard for all the negative consequences of their runaway algorithms.

So how do we move forward from here?

Don’t be fooled by claims of self-regulation, as any useful long-term reforms of Google and Facebook’s data privacy practices fundamentally oppose their core business models: hyper-targeted advertising based on more and more intrusive personal surveillance. Change must come from the outside.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen relatively little from Washington. Congress and federal agencies need to take a fresh look at what can be done to curb these data monopolies. They first need to demand more algorithmic and privacy policy transparency, so people can truly understand the extent of how their personal information is being collected, processed and used by these companies. Only then can informed consent be possible.

They also need to legislate that people own their own data, enabling real opt-outs. Finally, they need to restrict how data can be combined including being more aggressive at blocking acquisitions that further consolidate data power, which will pave the way for more competition in digital advertising.

Until we see such meaningful changes, consumers should vote with their feet. DuckDuckGo found that about a quarter of American adults are already taking significant actions to take back their privacy. Helping in this effort are seamless browser add-ons that will block Google and Facebook’s hidden trackers across the Internet, as well as more private alternatives to their core services. I can say from my own experience, you can indeed live Google and Facebook free.

If we do nothing about Google and Facebook, we will get more of the same: more hyper-targeting, more algorithmic bias, less competition and the further erosion of collateral industries, like media. Enough is enough.

The complete loss of personal privacy in the Internet age is not inevitable. Through thoughtful regulation and increased consumer choice, we can choose a brighter path. I hope to look back at 2018 as a turning point in data privacy, where we awoke to the unacceptable implications of two companies controlling so much of our digital future.

Commentary by Gabriel Weinberg, CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo, which makes online privacy tools, including an alternative search engine to Google. Follow him on Twitter @yegg .

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

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