Monthly Archives: October 2011

Will LBT be blocked?

Back in July I wrote a blog article “Will Newzbin be blocked?” which discussed the granting of an injunction to a group of movie companies to force BT to block access to “Newzbin2“.

The parties were back in court this last week to hammer out the exact details of the injunction.

The final wording of the injunction requires BT to block customer access to Newzbin2 by #1(1) rerouting traffic to relevant IPs and #1(2) applying “DPI based” URL blocking. The movie companies have to tell BT which IPs and which URLs are relevant.

#2 of the injunction says that BT can use its existing “Cleanfeed” system (which I wrote about here and at greater length in my PhD thesis here) to meet the requirements of #1, even though Cleanfeed isn’t believed to use DPI at all !

#3 and #4 of the injunction allows the parties to agree to suspend blocking and to come back to court in the future, and #5 relates to the costs of the court action.

One of the (few) upsides of this injunction will be to permit lawful experimentation as to the effectiveness of the Cleanfeed system, assuming that it is used — if the studios ask for all URLs on a website to be blocked, I expect that null routing the website entirely will be simpler for BT than redirecting traffic to the Cleanfeed proxy.

Up until now, discovering a flaw in the technical implementation of Cleanfeed would result in successful access to a child sexual abuse image website. Anyone monitoring the remote end of the connection might then draw the conclusion that images had been viewed and a criminal offence committed. Although careful experimental design could avoid law-breaking, it might be some time into the investigation process before this was properly understood by the criminal justice system, and the intervening period would be somewhat stressful for the investigator.

There is no law that prevents viewing of the contents of Newsbin2, and so the block circumvention techniques proposed over the past few years (starting of course with just using “https”) can now start to be evaluated as to their actual effectiveness.

However, there is more to #1 of the injunction, in that it applies to:

[…], its domains and sub-domains and including and any other IP address or URL whose sole or predominant purpose is to enable or facilitate access to the Newzbin2 website.

I don’t expect that publishing circumvention experience here on LBT could be seen as the predominant purpose of this blog… so I don’t really expect these pages to suddenly become invisible to BT customers. But, since the whole process has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it (someone who believes that blocking websites is possible clearly had little else to do before breakfast), it cannot be entirely ruled out.

Trusted Computing 2.1

We’re steadily learning more about the latest Trusted Computing proposals. People have started to grok that building signed boot into UEFI will extend Microsoft’s power over the markets for AV software and other security tools that install around boot time; while ‘Metro’ style apps (i.e. web/tablet/html5 style stuff) could be limited to distribution via the MS app store. Even if users can opt out, most of them won’t. That’s a lot of firms suddenly finding Steve Ballmer’s boot on their jugular.

We’ve also been starting to think about the issues of law enforcement access that arose during the crypto wars and that came to light again with CAs. These issues are even more wicked with trusted boot. If the Turkish government compelled Microsoft to include the Tubitak key in Windows so their intelligence services could do man-in-the-middle attacks on Kurdish MPs’ gmail, then I expect they’ll also tell Microsoft to issue them a UEFI key to authenticate their keylogger malware. Hey, I removed the Tubitak key from my browser, but how do I identify and block all foreign governments’ UEFI keys?

Our Greek colleagues are already a bit cheesed off with Wall Street. How happy will they be if in future they won’t be able to install the security software of their choice on their PCs, but the Turkish secret police will?

Fashion crimes: trending-term exploitation on the web

News travels fast. Blogs and other websites pick up a news story only about 2.5 hours on average after it has been reported by traditional media. This leads to an almost continuous supply of new “trending” topics, which are then amplified across the Internet, before fading away relatively quickly. Many web companies track these terms, on search engines and in social media.

However narrow, these first moments after a story breaks present a window of opportunity for miscreants to infiltrate web and social network search results in response. The motivation for doing so is primarily financial. Websites that rank high in response to a search for a trending term are likely to receive considerable amounts of traffic, regardless of their quality.

In particular, the sole goal of many sites designed in response to trending terms is to produce revenue through the advertisements that they display in their pages, without providing any original content or services. Such sites are often referred to as “Made for AdSense” (MFA) after the name of the Google advertising platform they are often targeting. Whether such activity is deemed to be criminal or merely a nuisance remains an open question, and largely depends on the tactics used to prop the sites up in the search-engine rankings. Some other sites devised to respond to trending terms have more overtly sinister motives. For instance, a number of malicious sites serve malware in hopes of infecting visitors’ machines, or peddle fake anti-virus software.

Together with Nektarios Leontiadis and Nicolas Christin, I have carried out a large-scale measurement and analysis of trending-term exploitation on the web, and the results are being presented at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS) in Chicago this week. Based on a collection of over 60 million search results and tweets gathered over nine months, we characterize how trending terms are used to perform web search-engine manipulation and social-network spam. The full details can be found in the paper and presentation. Continue reading Fashion crimes: trending-term exploitation on the web

Debate at Cambridge Festival of Ideas: Internet Freedom

In the evening of Thursday 27 October, I will be participating in a debate at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, on Internet Freedom. Other speakers include Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, Herbert Snorsson, founder of and David Clemente, Chatham House. Further details can be found on the festival website.

Attendance is free, but booking is required.