Monthly Archives: December 2009

Relay attack featured on Dutch TV

Yesterday, the Dutch TV programme “Goudzoekers” featured Saar Drimer and me demonstrating a relay attack against the recently introduced Chip and PIN system in The Netherlands. The video can be found online, in both Windows Media or Silverlight formats as well as Flash below. The production team have published a synopsis (translated version) on their blog, and today there have been some follow-ups in the press, for example De Telegraaf (translated version).

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When is a leak not a leak ?

WikiLeaks have decided to save other people some bandwidth and make some of my powerpoint slides available on their site. Since they usually publish censored or confidential information, they’re presumably completely unaware of how these slides have been available to the public from two different websites since the day of the talk.

Remarkably similar slides (I’m often lazy!) were also presented in talks I have given this year to INEX (the Irish Internet Exchange Point) [slides here], to EuroBSDCon [slides here] and the BCS (Herts branch) [slides here].

These talks have been covered various technical aspects of the blocking of child sexual abuse images for sites that appear on the IWF list. I’ve been mentioning the blocking of Wikipedia just over a year ago, and the blocking of up to last February. However, I’ve also thrown in a couple of slides about some more recent research, yet to be published, which explores a different way of determining what is on the IWF list. That seems to have been what has interested WikiLeaks.
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Facebook tosses graph privacy into the bin

Facebook has been rolling out new privacy settings in the past 24 hours along with a “privacy transition” tool that is supposed to help users update their settings.  Ostensibly, Facebook’s changes are the result of pressure from the Canadian privacy commissioner, and in Facebook’s own words the changes are meant to be “new tools to control your experience.” The changes have been harshly criticized in a number of high-profile places:  the New York Times, Wired, CnetTechCrunch, Valleywag, ReadWriteWeb, and by the the EFF and the ACLU. The ACLU has the most detailed technical summary of changes, essentially there are more granular controls but many more things will default to “open to everyone.” It’s most telling to check the blogs used by Facebook developers and marketers with a business interest in the matter. Their take is simple: a lot more information is about to be shared and developers need to find out how to use it.

The most discussed issue is the automatic change to more open-settings, which will lead to privacy breaches of the socially-awkward variety, as users will accidentally post something that the wrong person can read. This will assuredly happen more frequently as a direct result of these changes, even though Facebook is trying to force users to read about the new settings, it’s a safe bet that users won’t read any of it. Many people learn how Facebook works by experience, they expect it to keep working that way and it’s a bad precedent to change that when it’s not necessary. The fact that Facebook’s “transition wizard” includes one column of radio buttons for “keep my old settings” and a pre-selected column for “switch to the new settings Facebook wants me to have” shows that either they don’t get it or they really don’t respect their users. Most of this isn’t surprising though: I wrote in June that Facebook would be automatically changing user settings to be more open, TechCrunch also saw this coming in July.

There’s a much more surprising bit which has been mostly overlooked-it’s now impossible for any user to hide their friend list from being globally viewable to the Internet at large. Facebook has a few shameful cop-out statements about this, stating that you can remove it from your default profile view if you wish, but since (in their opinion) it’s “publicly available information”  you can’t hide it from people who really want to see it. It has never worked this way previously, as hiding one’s friend list was always an option, and there have been many research papers, including a few by me and colleagues in Cambridge, concluding that the social graph is actually the most important information to keep private. The threats here are more fundamental and dangerous-unexpected inference of sensitive information, cross-network de-anonymisation, socially targeted phishing and scams.

It’s incredibly disappointing to see Facebook ignoring a growing body of scientific evidence and putting its social graph up for grabs. It will likely be completely crawled fairly soon by professional data aggregators, and probably by enterprising researchers soon after. The social graph is powerful view into who we are—Mark Zuckerberg said so himself—and  it’s a sad day to see Facebook cynically telling us we can’t decide for ourselves whether or not to share it.

UPDATE 2009-12-11: Less than 12 hours after publishing this post, Facebook backed down citing criticism and made it possible to hide one’s friend list. They’ve done this in a laughably ham-handed way, as friend-list visibility is now all-or-nothing while you can set complex ACLs on most other profile items. It’s still bizarre that they’ve messed with this at all, for years the default was in fact to only show your friend list to other friends. One can only conclude that they really want all users sharing their friend list, while trying to appear privacy-concerned: this is precisely the “privacy communication game” which Sören Preibusch and I wrote of in June. This remains an ignoble moment for Facebook-the social graph will still become mostly public as they’ll be changing overnight the visibility of hundreds of millions of users’ friends lists who don’t find this well-hidden opt-out.

What does Detica detect?

There has been considerable interest in a recent announcement by Detica of “CView” which their press release claims is “a powerful tool to measure copyright infringement on the internet”. The press release continues by saying that it will provide “a measure of the total volume of unauthorised file sharing”.

Commentators have divided as to whether these claims are nonsense, or whether the system must be deeply intrusive. The main reason for this is that when peer-to-peer file sharing flows are encrypted, it is impossible for a passive observer to know what is being transferred.

I met with Detica last Friday, at their suggestion, to discuss what their system actually did (they’ve read some of my work on Phorm’s system, so meeting me was probably not entirely random). With their permission, I can now explain the basics of what they are actually doing. A more detailed account should appear at some later date.
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RIP memes

There was a discussion a little while back on the UKCrypto mailing list about how the UK Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act came to be so specifically associated in the media with terrorism, when it is far more general than that ( see for example: “Anti-terrorism laws used to spy on noisy children” ).

I suggested that this “meme” might well be traced back to the Home Office website’s quick overview text which used to say (presumably before they thought better of it):

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) legislates for using various methods of surveillance and information gathering for the prevention of crime including terrorism.

Well, I’ve just noticed another source of memes (which may be new, since Google are continually experimenting with their system. or which may have been there for simply ages, unnoticed by me at least).
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