Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Sony hack: passwords vs. financial details

Sometime last week, Sony discovered that up to 77 M accounts on its PlayStation Network were compromised. Sony’s network was down for a week before they finally disclosed details yesterday. Unusually, there haven’t yet been any credible claims of responsibility for the hack, so we can only go on Sony’s official statements. The breach included names and addresses, passwords, and answers to personal knowledge questions, and possibly payment details. The risks of leaking payment card numbers are well-known, including fraudulent payment transactions and identity theft. Sony has responded by offering to provide free credit checks for affected customers and notifying major credit ratings bureaus with a list of affected customers. This hasn’t been enough for many critics, including a US Senator.

Still, this is far more than Sony has done regarding the leaked passwords. The risks here are very real—hackers can attempt to re-use the compromised passwords (possibly after inverting hashes using brute-force) at many other websites, including financial ones. There are no disclosure laws here though, and Sony has done nothing, not even disclosing the key technical details of how passwords were stored. The implications are very different if the passwords were stored in cleartext, hashed in a constant manner, or properly hashed and salted. Sony customers ought to know what really happened. Instead, towards the bottom of Sony’s FAQ they trail off mid sentence when discussing the leaked passwords:

Additionally, if you use the same user name or password for your PlayStation Network or Qriocity service account for other [no further text]

As we explored last summer, this is a serious market failure. Sony’s security breach has potentially compromised passwords at hundreds of other sites where its users re-use the same password and email address as credentials. This is a significant externality, but Sony bears no legal responsibility, and it shows. The options are never great once a breach has occurred, but Sony should at a minimum have promptly provided full details about their password storage, gave clear instructions to users to change their password at other sites, and notified at least the email providers of each account holder to instruct a forced password reset. The legal framework surrounding password breaches must catch up to that for financial breaches.

Resilience of the Internet Interconnection Ecosystem

The Internet is, by very definition, an interconnected network of networks. The resilience of the way in which the interconnection system works is fundamental to the resilience of the Internet. Thus far the Internet has coped well with disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina – which have had very significant local impact, but the global Internet has scarcely been affected. Assorted technical problems in the interconnection system have caused a few hours of disruption but no long term effects.

But have we just been lucky ? A major new report, just published by ENISA (the European Network and Information Security Agency) tries to answer this question.

The report was written by Chris Hall, with the assistance of Ross Anderson and Richard Clayton at Cambridge and Panagiotis Trimintzios and Evangelos Ouzounis at ENISA. The full report runs to 238 pages, but for the time-challenged there’s a shorter 31 page executive summary and there will be a more ‘academic’ version of the latter at this year’s Workshop on the Economics of Information Security (WEIS 2011).
Continue reading Resilience of the Internet Interconnection Ecosystem

Securing and Trusting Internet Names (SATIN 2011)

The inaugural SATIN workshop was held at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) on Monday/Tuesday this week. The workshop format was presentations of 15 minutes followed by 15 minutes of discussions — so all the 49 registered attendees were able to contribute to success of the event.

Many of the papers were about DNSSEC, but there were also papers on machine learning, traffic classification, use of names by malware and ideas for new types of naming system. There were also two invited talks: Roy Arends from Nominet (who kindly sponsored the event) gave an update on how the zone will be signed, and Rod Rasmussen from Internet Identity showed how passive DNS is helping in the fight against eCrime. All the papers, and the presenters slides can be found on the workshop website.

The workshop will be run again (as SATIN 2012), probably on March 22/23 (the week before IETF goes to Paris). The CFP, giving the exact submission schedule, will appear in late August.

The PET Award: Nominations wanted for prestigious privacy award

The PET Award is presented annually to researchers who have made an outstanding contribution to the theory, design, implementation, or deployment of privacy enhancing technology. It is awarded at the annual Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium (PETS).

The PET Award carries a prize of 3000 USD thanks to the generous support of Microsoft. The crystal prize itself is offered by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canada.

Any paper by any author written in the area of privacy enhancing technologies is eligible for nomination. However, the paper must have appeared in a refereed journal, conference, or workshop with proceedings published in the period from August 8, 2009 until April 15, 2011.

The complete award rules including eligibility requirements can be found under the award rules section of the PET Symposium website.

Anyone can nominate a paper by sending an email message containing the following to

  • Paper title
  • Author(s)
  • Author(s) contact information
  • Publication venue and full reference
  • Link to an available online version of the paper
  • A nomination statement of no more than 500 words.

All nominations must be submitted by April 15th, 2011. The Award Committee will select one or two winners among the nominations received. Winners must be present at the PET Symposium in order to receive the Award. This requirement can be waived only at the discretion of the PET Advisory board.

More information about the PET award (including past winners) is available at

More information about the 2011 PET Symposium is available at