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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Letters Blimey, bumper crop this Friday. So no delays, let's kick right off with your responses to Paoga's proposed solution to the problem of keeping personal data private:

Interesting, although maybe I missed something in the article... Suppose you did give me permission to look at your CV. What then stops me from spewing it all over the internet anyway now that I know the data?

Maybe I missed the point. But I for one will never put data I want kept secure anywhere on the internet..as secure encryption has such a nasty habit of actually being unsecure.

Still at least someone is trying to come up with solutions to a problem rather than the other way round.

Stephen


I don't get it. Personal data can be placed into Paoga initially, but that doesn't remove personal data from the databases that other companies have already created.

And even if you were able to magically erase that personal data, institutional users need to access that personal data occasionally. That's the whole point of controlling it, so it can be distributed. Yes, you, as the subject of the data, will be notified and must give approval when the data is requested. But what's stopping the requestors from saving the data after they've been given access, and compiling their own databases, which could then be merged with other databases and we'd be back at square one? (They may have to rekey the data, but I suspect most companies would be willing to make that effort.) It seems like after purchasing some property and going to the hospital and applying for a job, most of your personal data would have leaked out.

Paul


Paoga, meet cut-and-paste, cut-and-paste meet Paoga. Perhaps the two of you should get aquatinted.

Joe


Hmm, so Paoga plans to solve all the world's document security problems? From reading your article, I can't see how. For example, if I deposit my CV in it, then certainly I could authorise a recruitment agency to access it (the same as if I just mailed them a copy). But what stops them from forwarding a copy of the retrieved document to someone else? Or printing it out, and sending it by fax? Sounds to me like this won't work until the whole world has installed DRM-crippled Paoga clients.

Even then, show me a DRM or watermark scheme which can't be worked around. At worst, you simply read the information off the screen and type it into another window. In practice it's a lot less laborious: you run the Paoga client under a virtual machine like VMWare, capture the window contents, and convert them back to the original text using OCR, a cheap and mature technology.

Also, what's the advantage of storing birth certificates and death certificates in such a system? Surely, births and deaths are matters of public record, and anyone who wishes to inspect the relevant registers is entitled to do so. They may as well just be published on a HTTPS website.

I thought the days of raising a wacky idea involving the Internet just so that investors would throw money at it were well and truly over?

Cheers,

Brian Candler


All good points, and fairly representative of the flood of letters we had on this one. So we asked Paoga to respond, and they did. We have edited their reply for brevity:

PAOGA doesn't claim to solve all the world’s document security problems but, by giving access control and responsibility back to the individual, we can start to address the complete anarchy that exists today.

Let me take the example of the CV. At the moment the candidate has no control over the content (70% of CV data is ‘inaccurate’ according to RECS), the version (Agencies and potential employers could be storing CVs that you sent out 2 years ago), and you are not always informed who the Agency has forwarded your CV to.

The Data Protection Act attempts to exert some control over this by imposing on ‘data controllers’, such as Agencies, a process which demands that they control distribution and ask your permission in advance of submitting your CV to anyone.

In the real world, when you have posted a CV to an Agency who keep it in a filing cabinet and send out photocopies or re-key it into ‘their’ database and email it out, this is a time consuming and therefore expensive process.

PAOGA believes that the vast majority of Recruitment Agencies are honest and ethical, but we recognise that they have a business to run. PAOGAskills is NOT designed to disintermediate the Agency but to facilitate their legal compliance with regulations such as the Data Protection Act, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Recruitment Agency Act and many others. According to government research, complying with these regulations costs UK businesses £100 billion every year.

They have a much more valuable role to play by spending time with candidates and clients to really understand their needs.

But, yes, there are bad people out there who may well re-key in your information, they may well distribute or even sell it without your knowledge or permission. The responsible and trustworthy agencies and businesses will not play in this game and, by using emerging tools such as the PAOGAplatform, they will differentiate themselves from the ‘cowboys’ and earn the trust of candidates and employers.

This reflects a changing attitude which is not constrained to the recruitment industry but to all public and private organizations who recognize the need to respect the privacy of the individuals with whom they trade.

The issue you raise about information like Birth Certificates, which are publicly available, is valid. This is simply about convenience for the individual. Let me ask you a question. Where is your Birth Certificate, your Dry Rot guarantee, your degree certificate, your Will? Most people, including me, will say that that they are in the drawer, in a file, in the bank, in a shoe box under the bed - I think!

A whacky idea? Ask someone who has had to prove their identity, to produce documents to prove authority or ownership. We live in an increasingly accountable society. PAOGA makes no judgment about the rights or wrongs of this. We are simply trying to make it easier to comply with the rules so that we can all get on with the serious business of living.


The most hated proposal in the country ever. This will probably get more people angry than the idea of ID cards. Yes, we're talking pay-as-you-go road tax. You can hear the ministerial thought process: "What a good idea. Bound to be popular." D'oh.

Vehicle tagging is a form of ID cards for our cars. This is a horrendous system that will strip away many of our few remaining civil liberties.

Darrin


You know, I definitely feel like I'm living in Looking Glass world. How is GPS tracking going to work for cars? There will be a significant financial incentive for the GPS signals to be lost, which is easily achieved. The enforcement aspects of this are a nightmare.

The installation aspects are just as hard. How far will you get if you tell Jeremy Clarkson that you're going to drill a hole in the roof of his new Ford GT and install a GPS receiver (no doubt with an NHS-style black bakelite antenna)?

There must be thousands of people like me across the UK today scratching their heads in puzzlement. The politicians are yakking like this is some kind of solved technology and now is the time for brave political decision taking.

Whenever satellite tracking is mentioned the mainstream media reports it like Brains from Thunderbirds is up there in a space station with a telescope trained on us all. In reality, GPS tracking is hard enough to get working reliably when the trackee wants to be tracked (like in commercial fleet management). When they don't want to be tracked it's next to impossible to get it to work.

It's just like the oh-so-hopeless ID card scheme, the tracking of pedos and terrorists. The current bunch of politicians have such touching faith in technology. It brings to mind black-and-white film of pipe-smoking tweed-jacketed types telling us how cracking the atom will lead to a utopian future where we speed around in our flying electric cars.

Gah. Instead of writing this I ought to be setting up a consultancy and milking these dupes for millions before they wise up.

K.


One of the few things that's positive about the current system is that fuel duty relates your tax payable to the actual efficiency of your vehicle, one of the few taxes to have a specific link to environmental standards. People driving cars with stupid sized engines, or those who don't keep them maintained, use more fuel and pay more duty. The current proposals as outlined seem to indicate that this link at least will be lost, as it's suggested that simply the road rather than the fuel usage will be taxed. That is another element, as well as the potential for us sleepwalking into a surveillance society (how about everyone in the vehicle having to register their ID card with the satellite tracker before the car can move?) which would have to be addressed before this could be implemented.

Andrew


There are so many different points on which to strongly object to these proposed measures I do not know where to start... Neither do I know whether I am feeling very angry, or very sad.

From a civil liberties angle alone, has no-one realised that the price of living in a free society is to allow for the possibility of crime to be committed? If our movements, MOT / tax status, speeding, etc can be tracked at all times, wholesale loss of freedom with be the unavoidable side effect of owning a vehicle.

The truly demoralising thing is that proposals like this one are announced and we actually take it! Some even think them a great idea! Over ID cards, road pricing and many other intrusions into privacy and attacks on our liberty, we should be storming the Houses of Commons! Maybe we deserve these obsessive control of all aspects of our lives... Otherwise, how could the spineless, sad creatures we have become be trusted to function in the Orwellian dream society of Mr Blair & Co?

Please keep up the good work - El Reg rules!

N.

We do try. <blushes>


Security Focus argued this week that Windows 2000 was Microsoft's most successful failure. You said: Eh?

Being "a little bit insecure" is very much like being "a little bit pregnant". Unfortunately, Mark's effort to see grey in a black-and-white situation has resulted in an article which varies from being completely incoherent to making just enough sense to actively contradict itself.

Case in point: "Windows 2000 was meant to be their most secure operating system ever but it turned out to be an absolute security disaster. Somehow Microsoft managed to not only recover from that disaster but also to turn security into one of their greater assets. It turns out, then, that Windows 2000 was their most successful failure so far."

You've been selling blivets to politicians for far too long if you think a phrase like "most successful failure" makes any sense at all. That phrase should have been shot on sight, but perhaps your copyeditor doesn't believe in mercy killings...?

Here's another good one: "Microsoft's problems didn't only benefit Microsoft; we're all a bit smarter nowadays."

Keep telling yourself that the security problems with Windows are a benefit, if you like, but I do not think that word means what you think it means. The conclusion that people are all a bit smarter as a result is, with apologies to Vizzini, "inconceivable". Speaking of which, how long did you say it takes for an unpatched Windows box directly on the Internet to be compromised, Mark?

-Chuck


"It may take another decade and a few more product versions before Microsoft can finally claim victory over security issues, but they now have the infrastructure, the experience, and the momentum to make those changes."

To paraphrase: "Maybe they can catch up with Unix by 2015" But of course Linux will have moved on by then (and hopefully Unix will have moved on, too, and still be a viable concern)

Steve


What will be interesting going forward is how Microsoft addresses the issue of "root trust" and the ability to establish a chain of trust to the application and then finally extend that to the "occasionally connected computer".

It's my belief that without root trust and a subsequent chain of trust no system will ever be made secure. Too many lines of code run at PLO and there is no defense in depth strategy with simply using 2 privilege levels.

Future operating systems must use a minimum of 4 levels of privilege, be able to compartmentalize and protect executable code and must reveal the contents of all the code running at PLO - anything less and it's simply not secure.

All the best,

Peter J. Cranstone


Wow, that is undoubtedly the most amusing thing I've read all day. Microsoft getting better, hah, good one.

Craig


Another problem with bluetooth has prompted some of you to start planning funerals for the poor little protocol:

Stupid overly-complex unreliable protocol that is (we know now) riddled with security bugs. Never liked it anyway. In most cases it's quicker to use infrared to beam contacts and move files than suffer the endless "connection refused" error messages, lost pairings, inexplicable delays when searching for devices, etc. etc.

"Bluetooth. Born May 20 1998. Died June 6 2005. Not sadly missed. Service to be held at MobiSys Seattle. No flowers."

Ken


Am I the only one surprised that a "Shaked-Wool Exploit" came out of Israel? Call me crazy, but I can think of a few other places that I'd more expect to hear about sheep-shagging assaults from.

Something-less-than-sincerely,

Arah


A follow up to one of Tuesday's letters:

In the 7 June "Bird flu" letters / article, someone named Larry attempted to correct your previous article on the Phoenix Mars lander, but just made things more muddied. Since I worked on the Odyssey & Mars Surveyor '98 missions, and have close compatriots at my office that are working on the Phoenix project itself, I'll attempt to finish this discussion off.

The Mars Surveyor '98 mission originally included an orbiter, lander, and rover. After some program restructuring due to cost issues, the Mars Surveyor '98 Lander was renamed the Mars Polar Lander (MPL), the Mars Surveyor '98 Orbiter was renamed the Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO), and the Mars Surveyor '98 Rover was delayed till 2001 and changed to a lander combining the original rover imaging system with the Surveyor '98 Lander platform (including the arm). It was then named the Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander.

This is about half true. The Mars Surveyor Program (MSP) '98 mission from the start consisted of just an orbiter & lander. A rover wasn't part of the lander's science package since the MSP'98 missions were selected while the Mars Pathfinder program was still in development (so no one yet knew how well Pathfinder's Sojourner rover would work, or whether it would be scientifically useful given its small size).

Note that NASA tends not to give spacecraft formal names until launch is near and essentially assured (no sense wasting a perfectly good name on something that won't ever fly). So for nearly their whole development, the MSP'98 orbiter and lander were referred to as just that -- "the MSP'98 orbiter" and "the MSP'98 lander." The MCO / MPL names were assigned to the spacecraft a few months before launch.

As for the rover, I think Larry is getting things confused with MSP'01. Originally the 2001 mission consisted of an orbiter, and a lander with a small (Pathfinder / Sojourner sized) rover. Then the rover folks added functionality, and added, and added... and soon the 2001 rover had grown too large / heavy / expensive to fly on the 2001 lander. After being divorced from the 2001 program, the rover design continued to grow (including a stint as a rover for a proposed sample return mission) until it became the MER rover design, currently rolling around Mars as the twins Opportunity and Spirit.

As with the MSP'98 spacecraft, the MSP'01 spacecraft had no official names until months before launch. The MSP'01 orbiter was named "Odyssey," the lander was stopped (before it could be formally named) in pre-launch testing due to its perceived risk after the MPL loss. Essentially, legged landers fell out of favor vs. airbag landers.

For what it's worth, the Odyssey orbiter is essentially a beefed-up MCO (what MCO would have been if we'd had the time / money in 1995 - 1998) with different science instruments. Similarly, the MSP'01 lander design was an improved version of the MPL; it used some spare parts from MPL, but was largely a new (if highly derivative) design.

Larry said: "Phoenix is simply a refly of the Mars Polar Lander utilizing existing hardware from MPL mission spares where possible. As such, it incorporates the remains of only *one* failed mission"

Not true. After the MSP'01 lander effort was cancelled, the lander sat (complete but for science instruments and post-assembly testing) in a big box in Denver while it was fought over as the potential basis for a variety of landing mission proposals. In the meantime, various parts were cannibalized for other NASA programs as they started up.

Eventually, the Phoenix mission was selected for flight, based on use of what was left of the MSP'01 lander. Things that were picked off are being replaced, a few items upgraded, and new science instruments selected (many of which are based to some degree or another on MPL instruments). So, really, the NASA press release and the original Register article were accurate, if a bit too concise.

I hope this helps clear things up a bit more (and my apologies for the length of this "note"),

Eric


The FBI says NO! to mobile phones on planes. Could leave us all vulnerable to terrorist attacks, or something:

Interesting objection, especially in the light of what prevented further US damage during 9/11. If it hadn't been for mobile use on planes, passengers would not have been aware of the bigger picture and taken fairly heroic action..

Not sure I quite agree with you re. use of mobiles on planes in US. Last time I was there (admittedly a while back) it appeared I was about the only one switching off on regional flights, and the crew didn't appear to mind.

P


Does this mean that if the Feds get their plane wire tap powers they'll be letting the terrorists get onto the planes, just so they can listen to their conversations?

I'm confused.

Paul


Suffolk MP Bob Blizzard got in a strop with BT this week, accusing the phone giant of pulling the plug on a children's charity support group:

Maybe Bob Blizzard ought to be talking to his ministers rather than complaining about BT. Under the terms of the company's license, it has no choice but to collect cash from people who for whatever reason dial premium-rate numbers, and pass that cash on to whoever runs the numbers. If BT doesn't pass the cash on, it could find itself being sued by the operators of the numbers.

But of course it's always easier for an Ingsoc MP to get headlines moaning at a big company rather than by insisting that the Government change BT's license to remove the obligation to pass the cash on...

Tony


Some of you wondered about the timing of the arrest of Gary McKinnon (39, from Wood Green), suspected of hacking into numerous US military and NASA computers. He's looking at extradition to the US:

This is a weird story. He was arrested in March 2002 for this. Why is he being arrested again? Could it be that since 2002 the new 2003 Extradition Act came into force which allows the US to drag anyone across the Atlantic without showing any prima facie evidence? And that they couldn't provide this evidence before?

The only thing the US authorities now have to do (other than promise not to fry the prisoner) is to show the court that the person picked up is the one they accuse. Not much of a burden of proof, is it?

This is tyranny. Some DA with political aspirations in some shit kicking state could take offence at something you wrote on The Register and have you hoiked to the US on trumped up charges only to let you go in a years time after a trial (assuming your public defender didn't fall asleep).

We urgently need to restore the requirement for the US to show prima facie evidence before moving British citizens into places where the standards of justice fall below what we would expect here.

Ken


Is global warming a figment of our imagination, or is it worth our while trying to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases? Well, sort of depends on who you ask, really, but if you ask an ex-oil-industry lobbyist, we bet you can guess the answer. So, would you let the same chap edit reports from the White House? Wouldja?

Global warming is preposterous! The Great Architect responsible for the Intelligent Design would never allow it. It's all part of a cunning plan.

Jaccopo


Not really surprising, is it? I don't believe it's that GWB is trying to ignore the truth, but that he's surrounded by people who tell him the evidence is doubtful. Unfortunately, the evidence in such things is never 100% certain. Even though sensible scientists now describe it as 'highly likely' it's still not certain per se, so it is, technically, 'doubtful'.

The difference is that most people would view a potential threat to the stability of our climate as something worth acting on it even if it's not 100% certain, while on the other hand those in charge of the world's largest economy see action as a threat to that economy. The choice is either real and present but comparatively harmless action now that will be political suicide in the USA, or a far off and more nebulous consequence of global proportions that current politicians are likely never to see themselves.

The choice may seem clear to us who don't have to make the decisions, but it isn't that simple.

Having said that, they're all a bunch of nutters who can't see the woods from the trees, and I say invade and once again raise the British flag in our errant colony across the Atlantic. I reckon we can take em - just airdrop in free heroin and cocaine into the barracks the day before we attack.

On a more positive note, your readers may be interested to hear that there are energy companies now providing real and sustainable alternatives putting electricity into the grid. Every individual now has a choice to use environmentally friendly sources of energy for just a couple of quid more per month. For example www.good-energy.co.uk is one.

Have fun,

David


Finally, the rather less serious business of a daft domain name case. Yes, Air France Sucks. Oh, sorry. Dot com. This turned up a rather alarming response from some of you, our beloved readers:

"Samuels, an intellectual property professor at Akron University, Ohio, accepted that not all internet users will be familiar with the pejorative nature of the term 'sucks.' But he added: "it is likely that a substantial percentage of potential customers of Air France are familiar with the English language and, thus, would be aware of the pejorative nature of 'sucks.'" "

Especially since "Air" and "France" are english and not the french equivalent.

What a maroon.

Mark


So, non-English speakers will be confused by: Air - An English word France - Also an English word Sucks - ditto. Funny that.

Owen

Do tell, then, Mark or Owen. What is the French for France? Tut tut...

Enjoy the weekend, one and all. ®

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