Archive for January, 2008

Jan 31, '08

This morning Jane Badger was acquitted of fraud at Birmingham Crown Court. The judge found there was no case to answer.

Her case was remarkably similar to that of John Munden, about whom I wrote here (and in my book here). Like John, she worked for the police; like John, she complained to a bank about some ATM debits on her bank statement that she did not recognise; like John, she was arrested and suspended from work; like John, she faced a bank (in her case, Egg) claiming that as its systems were secure, she must be trying to defraud them; and like John, she faced police expert evidence that was technically illiterate and just took the bank’s claims as gospel.

In her case, Egg said that the transactions must have been done with the card issued to her rather than using a card clone, and to back this up they produced a printout allocating a transaction code of 05 to each withdrawal, and a rubric stating that 05 meant “Integrated Circuit Card read – CVV data reliable” with in brackets the explanatory phrase “(chip read)”. This seemed strange. If the chip of an EMV card is read, the reader will verify the signature on the certificate; if its magnetic strip is read (perhaps because the chip is unserviceable) then the bank will check the CVV, which is there to prevent magnetic strip forgery. The question therefore was whether the dash in the above rubric meant “OR”, as the technology would suggest, or “AND” as the bank and the CPS hoped. The technology is explained in more detail in our recent submission to the Hunt Review of the Financial Services Ombudsman (see below). I therefore advised the defence to apply for the court to order Egg to produce the actual transaction logs and supporting material so that we could verify the transaction certificates, if any.

The prosecution folded and today Jane walked free. I hope she wins an absolute shipload of compensation from Egg!

Jan 28, '08

The British Journal of General Practice has just published an editorial I wrote on Patient confidentiality and central databases. I’m encouraging GPs to make clear to patients that it’s OK to opt out – that they won’t incur the practice’s disapproval. Some practices have distributed leaflets from www.TheBigOptOut.org while others – such as The Oakland practice – have produced their own leaflets. These practices have seen the proportion of patients opting out rise from about 1% to between 6% and 19%. The same thing happened a few years ago in Iceland, where GP participation led to 11% of the population opting out of a central database project, which as a result did not become universal. GPs can help patients do the same here.

Jan 23, '08

I appeared on “You and Yours” (Radio 4) today at 12.35 with an official from the Financial Ombudsman Service, after I coauthored a FIPR submission to a review of the service which is currently being conducted by Lord Hunt.

Our submission looks at three cases in particular in which the ombudsman decided in favour of the banks and against bank customers over disputed ATM transactions. We found that the adjudicators employed by the ombudsman made numerous errors both of law and of technology, and concluded that their decisions were an affront to reason and to justice.

One of the cases has already appeared here on lightbluetouchpaper; the other two cardholders appeared on an investigation into card fraud on “Tonight with Trevor MacDonald”, and their case papers are included, with their permission, as appendices to our submission. These papers are damning, but the Hunt review’s staff declined to publish them on the somewhat surprising grounds that the information in them might be used to commit identity theft against the customers in question. Eventually they published our submission minus the two appendices of case papers. (If knowing someone’s residential address and the account number to a now-defunct bank account is enough for a criminal to steal money from you, then the regulatory failures afflicting the British banking system are even deeper than I thought.)

The Financial Ombudsman Service, and its predecessor the Banking Ombudsman, have for many years found against bank customers and in favour of the banks. In the early-to-mid 1990s, they upheld the banks’ outrageous claim that mag-stripe ATM cards were invulnerable to cloning; this led to the court cases described here and here. That position collapsed when ATM criminals started being sent to prison. Now we have another wave of ATM card cloning, which we’ve discussed several times: we’ve shown you a chip and PIN terminal playing Tetris and described relay attacks. There’s much more to come.

The radio program is online here (the piece starts 29 minutes and 40 seconds in). We clearly have them rattled; the ombudsman was patronising and abusive, and made a number of misleading statements. He also said that the “independent” Hunt review was commissioned by his board of directors. I hope it turns out to be a bit more independent than that. If it doesn’t, then consumer advocates should campaign for the FOS to be abolished and for customers to be empowered to take disputes to the courts, as we argue in section 31-32 of our submission.

Jan 17, '08

A new UK website, launched today, has a subtly (and I think importantly) different “spin” on online security.

The site is www.e-victims.org, where the emphasis is not so much on offering up-front security advice (for that, the UK-oriented site I’d recommend is www.getsafeonline.org), and not on reporting incidents to the police (who probably don’t have the capability to investigate anyway), but on offering practical down-to-earth advice on your rights and your next steps in complaining or getting recompense.

In many cases, you’re in trouble — pay for a cheap camera from China using Western Union or a debit card, and you’re going to have to chalk it up to experience. However, if you order from a UK company with your credit card and the goods arrive damaged then this is the site for you [contact the seller, not the courier company to deal with the damage; the Sale of Goods Act means that what you receive must be of satisfactory quality; and if you spent between 100 and 30000 pounds then the Consumer Credit Act means that the credit card company should reimburse you].

The site has launched with content for e-shopping victims (no Virginia, not that sort of victim) — and over the coming year will add more topics (phishing is specifically mentioned). If the site continues to give clear and down-to-earth advice as to whether or not you’ll be able to do anything about your problem, and if so what, then it will serve a very useful purpose indeed. Bookmark it for when you need it!

ObDisclaimer: The site is run by people I’ve known for decades, and I was so enthusiastic that I’ve been asked onto their Advisory Council. So you’d expect me to be enthusiastic here as well!

Jan 9, '08

At this year’s Chaos Communication Congress (24C3), I presented some work I’ve been doing with Saar Drimer: implementing a smart card relay attack and demonstrating that it can be prevented by distance bounding protocols. My talk (abstract) was filmed and the video can be found below. For more information, we produced a webpage and the details can be found in our paper.

[ slides (PDF 9.6M) | video (BitTorrent -- MPEG4, 106M) ]

Update 2008-01-15:
Liam Tung from ZDNet Australia has written an article on my talk: Bank card attack: Only Martians are safe.

Other highlights from the conference…


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