Category Archives: Begriffe

Security and protection systems guard persons and property against a broad range of hazards, including crime; fire and attendant risks, such as explosion; accidents; disasters; espionage; sabotage; subversion; civil disturbances; bombings (both actual and threatened); and, in some systems, attack by external enemies. Most security and protection systems emphasize certain hazards more than others. In a retail store, for example, the principal security concerns are shoplifting and employee dishonesty (e.g., pilferage, embezzlement, and fraud). A typical set of categories to be protected includes the personal safety of people in the organization, such as employees, customers, or residents; tangible property, such as the plant, equipment, finished products, cash, and securities; and intangible property, such as highly classified national security information or “proprietary” information (e.g., trade secrets) of private organizations. An important distinction between a security and protection system and public services such as police and fire departments is that the former employs means that emphasize passive and preventive measures.

(Encyclopædia Britannica)

Verbraucherschutz für #Neuland

Wieder einmal ist ein Programm damit aufgefallen, dass es dort, wo es installiert wird, die Umgebung vandalisiert. Kristian Köhntopp fasst das Problem anschaulich zusammen und die Kommentare unter seinem Post illustrieren, dass es sich nicht um einen Einzelfall handelt. Technisch kann man das Problem im Prinzip lösen, indem man einen vertrauenswürdigen Anbieter eine geschlossene Plattform betreiben lässt, die solche Programme verhindert beziehungsweise erkennt und ausschließt. Da stecken freilich einige Annahmen drin, die nicht unbedingt erfüllt sind.

Eigentlich handelt es sich jedoch um ein ökonomisches Problem, das nach einer ökonomischen Lösung schreit: “Moral hazard occurs under a type of information asymmetry where the risk-taking party to a transaction knows more about its intentions than the party paying the consequences of the risk. More broadly, moral hazard occurs when the party with more information about its actions or intentions has a tendency or incentive to behave inappropriately from the perspective of the party with less information.” — (Wikipedia: Moral Hazard)

Produkthaftung löst das Problem nicht unbedingt, sondern führt nur zur risikominimierenden Gestaltung von Firmengeflechten. Jedes Produkt bekommt eine eigene Wegwerffirma ohne nennenswertes Vermögen, die man im Krisenfall kostengünstig opfern kann. Dieses Modell ist auch im Security-Geschäft längst erprobt (Fallstudie: DigiNotar). Man müsste die Unternehmen zwingen, Rücklagen zu bilden und in einen Haftungsfond oder so etwas einzuzahlen. Kann man tun, passt aber besser zu Atomkraftwerken.

Zwangsweise hergestellte Transparenz bietet sich als Lösungsweg an. In #Altland haben wir dafür die Stiftung Warentest, aber die hat mit ihren Vergleichstests von Sonnencreme, Fahrradhelmen und Akkuscharubern schon genug zu tun. In #Neuland glaubte man früher, das Problem mit Positivzertifizierungen lösen zu können, die einem einzelnen Produkt definierte Sicherheitseigenschaften bescheinigen. Das funktioniert nur in Nischen gut. In jüngerer Zeit gesellen sich dazu allerlei Bug Bounties und Initiativen wie das Project Zero.

Wenn ich diese Ansätze frankensteine, komme ich auf eine unabhängige und solide finanzierte Europäische Stiftung IT-Sicherheit, die sich relevante Software näher anschaut und die Ergebnisse publiziert. Gegenstand ihrer Tätigkeit wären Consumer- und Massenprodukte, die sie auf Sicherheitsmängel und überraschende Funtionen prüft. Das Verschleiern von Funktionen müsste man vielleicht noch unter Strafe stellen, damit das funktioniert. Außerdem wird man sich überlegen müssen, wie die Tester ungehinderten Zugang zu SaaS bekommen. Das sind freilich Detailprobleme; erst einmal müssen wir grundsätzlich entscheiden, wie digitaler Verbraucherschutz jenseits von Seien Sie vorsichtig mit dem Internet aussehen soll.

(Geringfügig überarbeitete Fassung eines Posts auf Google+)

OMG, public information found world-readable on mobile phones

In their Black Hat stage performance, employees of a security company showed how apps on certain mobile phones can access fingerprint data if the phone has a fingerprint sensor. The usual discussions ensued about rotating your fingerprints, biometrics being a bad idea, and biometric features being usernames rather than passwords. But was there a problem in the first place? Let’s start from scratch, slightly simplified:

  1. Authentication is about claims and the conditions under which one would believe certain claims.
  2. We need authentication when an adversary might profit from lying to us.
  3. Example: We’d need to authenticate banknotes (= pieces of printed paper issued by or on behalf of a particular entity, usually a national or central bank) because adversaries might profit from making us believe  a printed piece of paper is a banknote when it really isn’t.
  4. Authentication per se has nothing to do with confidentiality and secrets, as the banknotes example demonstrates. All features that we might use to authenticate a banknote are public.
  5. What really matters is effort to counterfeit. The harder a feature or set of features is to reproduce for an adversary, the stronger it authenticates whatever it belongs to.
  6. Secrets, such as passwords, are only surrogates for genuine authenticating features. They remain bound to an entity only for as long as any adversary remains uncertain about their choice from a vast space of possible values.
  7. Fingerprints are neither usernames nor passwords. They are (sets of) biometric features. Your fingerprints are as public as the features of a banknote.
  8. We authenticate others by sets of biometric features every day, recognizing colleagues, friends, neigbours, and spouses by their voices, faces, ways of moving, and so on.
  9. We use even weaker (= easier to counterfeit) features to authenticate, for example, police officers. If someone is wearing a police uniform and driving a car with blinkenlights on its roof, we’ll treat this person as a police officer.
  10. As a side condition for successful attack, the adversary must not only be able to counterfeit authenticating features, the adversary must also go through an actual authentication process.
  11. Stolen (or guessed) passwords are so easy to exploit on the Internet because the Internet does little to constrain their abuse.
  12. Attacks against geographically dispersed fingerprint sensors do not scale in the same way as Internet attacks.

Conclusion: Not every combination of patterns-we-saw-in-security-problems makes a security problem. We are leaving fingerprints on everything we touch, they never were and never will be confidential.

The Uncertainty Principle of New Technology

Security, privacy, and safety by design sounds like a good idea. Alas, it is not going to happen, at least not with innovative technology. Collingridge’s dilemma gets in the way: When a technology is new and therefore easy to shape, we do not understand its downsides – and the non-issues to be – well enough to make informed design decisions, and once we understand the problems, changing the now established and deployed technology fundamentally becomes hard. Expressed in terms of the Cognitive Dimensions framework, technology design combines premature commitment with high viscosity later on.

With digital technology evolving at high pace, we are continually facing Collingridge’s dilemma. Big data and Internet-scale machine learning, the Internet of everything, self-driving cars, and many inventions yet to come challenge us to keep things under control without knowing what to aim for. Any technology we never created before is subject to the dilemma.

A tempting but fallacious solution is the (strong) precautionary principle: to take all possible risks seriously and treat whatever we cannot rule out as a problem. This approach is fallacious because it ignores the cost of implementation. Every possible risk is not the same as every likely risk. Trying to prevent everything that might go wrong one will inevitably end up spending too much on some possible but unlikely problems. Besides, Collingridge’s dilemma may apply to the chosen treatments as well.

As an alternative we might try to design for corrigibility so that mistakes can be easily corrected once we learn about them. With respect to the information technology domain this idea seems to echo what David Parnas proposed in his seminal paper On the criteria to be used in decomposing systems into modules (DOI: 10.1145/361598.361623). Parnas argues in this paper that software modules should hide design decisions from their surroundings, so that the inner workings of a module can be modified without affecting dependent modules. Constructs supporting this found their way into modern-day programming paradigms and languages; object-oriented programming is the most abvious application of Parnas’ idea.

But the dilemma is not that easily solved. First, software design is too narrow a scope. Technology is more than just software and can become quite viscous regardless of how easily the software is changed. Just think of the Internet and its core protocol, IP. Most operating systems come with support for IPv4 and IPv6 and there are many good reasons to move on to the new protocol version. Yet we are still waiting for the day when the Internet will abandon IPv4 in favor of IPv6. The Internet as a system is really hard to change. Nevertheless, modularity helps. When attacks against Internet banking users became widespread starting ca. 10 years ago, for example, banks in Germany managed to update their authorization mechanisms and increase security in relatively short time and with few troubles for their customers.

In their recent paper Cyber Security as Social Experiment (NSPW’14, DOI: 10.1145/2683467.2683469), Wolter Pieters, Dina Hadžiosmanović  and Francien Dechesne argue that experimentation could help us to learn more about the side effects of new technology. Since people are part of any interesting system, this amounts to running social experiments. If we do not care and just deploy a technology, this is an experiment as well, just less controlled and systematic. Particular to cyber security is the challenge of involving adversaries as they are the root of all security threats. The general challenge is to run social experiments responsibly within ethical bounds.

Even with experiments, some negative consequences will likely escape our attention. Some effects take too long before they show or show only after a technology has been deployed at a global scale. Could James Watt have thought of climate change due to the burning of fossil fuel? Probably not. But at least we understand what the meta-problem is.

Morgen kann vielleicht etwas passieren

»Ich will jedenfalls auf dieses Problem aufmerksam machen: Sicherheitsbedürfnisse sind strukturell unstillbar. Es ist gegen das Argument ‘Morgen kann vielleicht etwas passieren’ kein Kraut gewachsen.«

— Winfried Hassemer im Streitgespräch mit Wolfgang Schäuble (via Telepolis)

Zu kurz gedacht wäre allerdings, dies – und die Schlussfolgerung, dass man Grenzen setzen müsse – nur auf staatliche Sicherheitsgesetze, -behörden und -projekte zu beziehen. Der Satz gilt in alle Richtungen und für alle Sicherheitsbedürfnisse, also auch zum Beispiel für den Ruf nach mehr Datenschutz, mehr Verschlüsselung, weniger NSA und so weiter.

Morgen kann vielleicht etwas passieren. Das ist kein ausreichender Grund, auf Segnungen des Internet-Zeitalters zu verzichten, auch wenn sie Google, Facebook oder Cloud Computing heißen. Es ist nicht mal ein ausreichender Grund, sich anders zu verhalten und etwa amerikanische Dienstleister zu meiden, öfter zu verschlüsseln oder Datenpakete anders zu routen.

Morgen kann vielleicht etwas passieren. Etwas dagegen zu tun lohnt sich nur, wenn man sein individuelles Risiko nennenswert reduziert und der Aufwand im Verhältnis zur Risikoreduktion steht. Deswegen erlaube ich mir, die Snowden-Enthüllungen mit Interesse zur Kenntnis zu nehmen, in meinem alltäglichen Verhalten aber nicht weiter darauf zu reagieren. Ich habe keinerlei Anhaltspunkte dafür, dass die NSA mein Leben beeinflusst, folglich lohnt es sich auch nicht, individuelle Maßnahmen zu ergreifen.