Yesterday I received the NSA award for the Best Scientific Cybersecurity Paper of 2012 for my IEEE Oakland paper “The science of guessing.” I’m honored to have been recognised by the distinguished academic panel assembled by the NSA. I’d like to again thank Henry Watts, Elizabeth Zwicky, and everybody else at Yahoo! who helped me with this research while I interned there, as well as Richard Clayton and Ross Anderson for their support and supervision throughout.
On a personal note, I’d be remiss not to mention my conflicted feelings about winning the award given what we know about the NSA’s widespread collection of private communications and what remains unknown about oversight over the agency’s operations. Like many in the community of cryptographers and security engineers, I’m sad that we haven’t better informed the public about the inherent dangers and questionable utility of mass surveillance. And like many American citizens I’m ashamed we’ve let our politicians sneak the country down this path.
In accepting the award I don’t condone the NSA’s surveillance. Simply put, I don’t think a free society is compatible with an organisation like the NSA in its current form. Yet I’m glad I got the rare opportunity to visit with the NSA and I’m grateful for my hosts’ genuine hospitality. A large group of engineers turned up to hear my presentation, asked sharp questions, understood and cared about the privacy implications of studying password data. It affirmed my feeling that America’s core problems are in Washington and not in Fort Meade. Our focus must remain on winning the public debate around surveillance and developing privacy-enhancing technology. But I hope that this award program, established to increase engagement with academic researchers, can be a small but positive step.
July 19th, 2013 at 18:21 UTC
We have a vacancy for a postdoc to work on the psychology of cybercrime and deception for two years from October. It might suit someone with a PhD in psychology or behavioural economics with a specialisation in deception, fraud or online crime; or a PhD in computer science with a strong interest in psychology, usability and security.
This is part of a cross-disciplinary project involving colleagues at Portsmouth, Newcastle and UCL. It will build on work we’ve been doing in the psychology of security over the past few years.
July 18th, 2013 at 13:12 UTC
Privacy activists have complained for years that the Information Commissioner is useless, and compared him with captured regulators like the FSA and the Financial Ombudsman. However I’ve come across a paper by a well-known anthropologist that gives a different take on the problem.
Alan Fiske did fieldwork among a tribe in northern Nigeria that has different boundaries for which activities are regulated by communal sharing, authority, tit-for-tat or monetary exchange. For example,labour within the village is always communal; you expect your neighbours to help you fix your house, and you later help them fix theirs. (This exasperated colonialists who couldn’t get the locals to work for cash; the locals for their part imagined that Europeans must present their children with an itemised bill for child-rearing when they reached adulthood.) He has since written several papers on how many of the tensions in human society arise on the boundaries of these domains of sharing, authority, tit-for-tat and the market. The boundaries can vary by culture, by generation and by politics; libertarians are happy to buy and sell organs for transplant, where many people prefer communal sharing, while radical socialists object to some routine market transactions. Indeed regulatory preferences may drive political views.
So far so good. Where it gets interesting is his extensive discussion of taboo transactions across a variety of cultures, and the institutions created to mitigate the discomfort that people feel when something affects more than one sphere of regulation: from extreme cases such as selling a child into slavery so you can feed your other children, through bride-price and blood money, to such everyday things as alimony and deconsecrating a cemetery for development. It turns out there’s a hierarchy of spheres, with sharing generally taking precedence over authority and authority over tit-for-tat, and market pricing following along last. This ordering makes “downhill” transactions easier. Alimony works (you once loved me, so pay me money!) but buying love doesn’t. Continue Reading
July 15th, 2013 at 13:38 UTC
I was intrigued this morning to see on the front page of the Guardian newspaper a new revelation by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: a US eavesdropping technique “DROPMIRE implanted on the Cryptofax at the EU embassy [Washington] D.C.”. I was even more intrigued by an image that accompanied the report (click for higher resolution):
Having done many experiments to eavesdrop on office equipment myself, the noisy image at the bottom third of the picture above looked instantly familiar: it is what you might get from listening with a radio receiver on the compromising emanations of a video signal of a page of text. Continue Reading
July 1st, 2013 at 14:55 UTC
I’m at SARMAC, a conference with a number of research papers on the psychology of lying and lie detection. I’ll liveblog the relevant sessions in followups.
June 27th, 2013 at 08:47 UTC
The Internet is and has always been a space where participants battle for control. The two core protocols that define the Internet – TCP and IP – are both designed to allow separate networks to connect to each other easily, so that networks that differ not only in hardware implementation (wired vs. satellite vs. radio networks) but also in their politics of control (consumer vs. research vs. military networks) can interoperate easily. It is a feature of the Internet, not a bug, that China – with its extensive, explicit censorship infrastructure – can interact with the rest of the Internet.
Today we have released an open-access collection (also published as a special issue of IEEE Internet Computing), of five peer reviewed papers on the topic of Internet censorship and control, edited by Hal Roberts and myself (Steven Murdoch). The topics of the papers include a broad look at information controls, censorship of microblogs in China, new modes of online censorship, the balance of power in Internet governance, and control in the certificate authority model.
These papers make it clear that there is no global consensus on what mechanisms of control are best suited for managing conflicts on the Internet, just as there is none for other fields of human endeavour. That said, there is optimism that with vigilance and continuing efforts to maintain transparency the Internet can stay as a force for increasing freedom than a tool for more efficient repression.
June 19th, 2013 at 08:05 UTC
I’m liveblogging WEIS 2013, as I did in 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009. This is the twelfth workshop on the economics of information security, and the sessions are being held today and tomorrow at Georgetown University. The panels and refereed paper sessions will be blogged in comments below this post (and there’s another liveblog by Vaibhav Garg).
June 11th, 2013 at 13:10 UTC
I’m liveblogging the Workshop on Security and Human Behaviour which is being held at USC in Los Angeles. The participants’ papers are here; for background, see the liveblogs for SHB 2008-12 which are linked here and here. Blog posts summarising the talks at the workshop sessions will appear as followups below. (Added: there is another liveblog by Vaibhav Garg.)
June 3rd, 2013 at 17:09 UTC
Today we’ve published a paper showing that Bell’s inequality is violated in fluid mechanics. What has this to do with computing or security? Well, when we posted a paper back in February pointing out that hydrodynamic models of quantum physics raise questions about the scalability of quantum computing, a number of people asked for a better explanation of how this squares with the Bell tests. John Bell proved an inequality in 1964 that applies to classical particles but that is broken by quantum mechanical ones. In today’s paper we show that Bell’s inequality does not hold in classical fluid dynamics, as angular momentum and energy are delocalised in the fluid.
This may have implications for engineering, science and philosophy. On the engineering front, nine-figure sums have been poured into developing quantum computers, but even advocates of quantum computing admit they don’t really work. As our February paper argued, a hydrodynamic interpretation of quantum mechanics may suggest reasons why.
On the scientific front, the Bell tests are commonly seen as excluding not just local hidden-variable models of quantum mechanics, but local realism too. Our paper shows that the two are distinct, and thus leaves more room for research on quantum foundations. It also shows that we should be more careful in our use of terms such as ‘local’ – which might be of interest to the philosophers; the Bell tests do not draw quite as clear a dividing line between the quantum and classical worlds as many have believed.
May 30th, 2013 at 12:57 UTC
Today at W2SP I presented a new paper making the case for distributing security policy in hyperlinks. The basic idea is old, but I think the time is right to re-examine it. After the DigiNotar debacle, the community is getting serious about fixing PKI on the web. It was hot topic at this week’s IEEE Security & Privacy (Oakland), highlighted by Jeremy Clark and Paul van Oorschot’s excellent survey paper. There are a slew of protocols under development like key pinning (HPKP), Certificate Transparency, TACK, and others. To these I add s-links, a complementary mechanism to declare support for new proposals in HTML links. Continue Reading
May 24th, 2013 at 22:31 UTC