This Blog




AlertBoot offers a cloud-based full disk encryption and mobile device security service for companies of any size who want a scalable and easy-to-deploy solution. Centrally managed through a web based console, AlertBoot offers mobile device management, mobile antivirus, remote wipe & lock, device auditing, USB drive and hard disk encryption managed services.


AlertBoot Endpoint Security

AlertBoot offers a cloud-based full disk encryption and mobile device security service for companies of any size who want a scalable and easy-to-deploy solution. Centrally managed through a web based console, AlertBoot offers mobile device management, mobile antivirus, remote wipe & lock, device auditing, USB drive and hard disk encryption managed services.

March 2017 - Posts

  • New Mexico Now Has A Data Breach Notification Bill

    New Mexico will be the latest US state to add a data breach notification law to its books. Once the bill officially becomes a law, only two states – Alabama and South Dakota – will remain outsiders to the crazy idea that people should be notified if their personal data is hacked.

    You can read the bill in all its glory at this link (it's a PDF file), but the introduction to it gives you a good idea of what's up:


    Possibly Problematic

    There is a potential problem, though. One of the definitions (my emphasis for the below) for the purposes of the bill:
    "personal identifying information": (1) means an individual's first name or first initial and last name in combination with one or more of the following data elements that relate to the individual, when the data elements are not protected through encryption or redaction or otherwise rendered unreadable or unusable: [redacted]

    In the above, an effort is being made to preclude what is not personal information. For example, your SSN that was encrypted is not personal identifying information, and so its loss would be excluded from the data breach notification requirements.

    The problem lies in the passage "otherwise rendered unreadable or unusable," which could very well work against the spirit of the law. For example, the process of hashing data with a known one-way function renders information unreadable in a very technical sense. However, data transformed in this fashion is not considered secure because extracting usable information can be quite easy.

    You're probably very aware that there have been many data breaches in the last ten years or so. In most cases where stolen passwords were involved, the "security" behind said passwords was a hash – and, with the exception of a handful of instances, security professionals agreed that people needed to change their passwords ASAP, especially if the password was re-used at other sites.

    Why? Because hashing, unlike encryption or redaction (read: deleting stuff), can be defeated with enough trial and error. And computers are great at trial and error.

    The fact that the controversial passage is attached to the definition of personal identifying information, as opposed to the definition of encryption, doesn't change the situation because it leads to the same problem: since personal data that is "otherwise…unreadable" is not legally personal identifying information, it can be argued that hashed personal info (just like encrypted personal info) can be excluded from the purview of this law.  


    At Least They Got Encryption Right

    Including self-defeating language like this to the books is disappointing, especially when the drafters of the bill went through the trouble of defining encryption correctly:
    "encrypted" means rendered unusable, unreadable or indecipherable to an unauthorized person through a security technology or methodology generally accepted in the field of information security

    When data breach notification laws were passed in the past, there were instances where encryption was defined in such a way that equated it with hashing. Doing so is a security faux pas because companies could argue that their hashed data was "encrypted" per the legal definition, and thus be excluded from notifying customers.

    It bears repeating, hashing is not considered a proper security mechanism in the event of a data breach – it isn't "a security technology or methodology generally accepted in the field of information security."

    As time went by and lawmakers gained more experience and knowledge, the law correctly began to reflect what was and wasn't proper data security.

    It looks like we need to do better, however.


    Related Articles and Sites:

  • WikiLeaks Shows That Encryption Works, Even Against Spooks

    Last week, the world saw another bombshell announcement from WikiLeaks. Per their tweets and resulting confidential data dump, it was readily apparent that the CIA had amassed techniques for breaking into many kinds of digital devices imaginable: smartphones and computers, yes, but also things connected to the internet, like smart TVs (perhaps they've looked into hacking internet-connected refrigerators as well).
    But, unlike the initial announcements that were passed around like crazy, it looks like the CIA does not have easy access to the encrypted data. If anything, one could say that a large reason why Langley has so many hacking tools is that they need to get around encryption somehow. Seeing how encryption is nearly impossible to break – it is possible, apparently, but a number of conditions must be met, including the physical presence of the device – it becomes easier to hit cryptography where it is weakest: before the data is encrypted (or once it's decrypted).

    The Inherent "Weakness" in Encryption

    There is an inherent "weakness" in cryptography: encrypted data cannot be read by human beings (or machines, for that matter) in encrypted form. The information has to be decrypted at some point if it's to be useful to someone; that is, so it can be read, copied and pasted, processed, etc.
    And that's where the CIA are targeting their efforts: since the encrypted data has to be decrypted at some point, let's read it then but no sooner. Mind you, other intelligence agencies around the world are probably doing this as well; it can't only be the guys in Langley, especially when you consider that they're one of the best financed and equipped SIGINT bodies in the world, and they are having problems breaking encryption.
    This is good news and bad news. It's good news because you know that encryption works. Your encrypted laptop was stolen at the airport, and the device contained sensitive information? You can rest easy, knowing the odds of a data breach are at the nanoscale end of things.

    Lack of Transparency is a Net Negative for All

    At the same time, it's bad news because, for the CIA to do their job, they can't reveal the software weaknesses they're exploiting; doing so would lead to companies patching up these problems.
    Considering that exploiting these weaknesses is technically the easier way to spy on someone's communications, logic dictates that others must be taking advantage of this weakness as well; people tend to go for the low-hanging fruit.
    This, in an indirect manner, makes the CIA complicit in weakening security for all Americans, because, undoubtedly, the same weaknesses they're hiding from the public is being used by others to spy on Americans, more specifically Americans in power. (Sure, officials at the highest echelons of government have to have their devices vetted – but the past couple of years have shown this is not how it actually works in real life, a fact that reached a fervor this past US election).

    This is Why Backdoors are a Bad Idea

    The silver-lining on all of this may be that the government is nailing the coffin on a contentious issue: encryption backdoors.
    The CIA's actions prove what academics have argued for nearly three decades, if not more: a security weakness is an invitation to be exploited. The hardware and software industry did not tell the CIA about the security defects in its products; rather, the agency just knew there must be some (because there's always a weakness somewhere) and found them on its own.
    The above is your proverbial search for a needle in a haystack (or needles in haystacks), except that you don't know whether said needles exist. You make an assumption that they do and go from there. If after some time you don't find any needles, you move to the next haystack.
    Now imagine what would happen if the US government had succeeded in requiring, by law, a backdoor in encryption. You know that backdoor is somewhere. If you will, the US required that needle to be placed in the haystack. It's a matter of time until you find it; time spent looking for it is not time wasted.
    Thankfully, the nonsense regarding backdoors was quickly laid to rest. Now, if only the CIA would agree that keeping known vulnerabilities a secret is a bad idea… just like they did when it comes to encryption backdoors.
    Related Articles and Sites:
  • Michaud Case In Playpen Hack Gets Dropped By Feds

    One of the most controversial US legal actions in the past couple of years, arguably, is the FBI's approach in arresting hundreds of child pornographers who were frequenting a site in the Dark Web. Because surfing the nether regions of the internet requires the use of a special, secure browser called Tor, the FBI exploited a weakness in the Tor browser to identify the site's frequenters.
    The security flaw remains a closely guarded secret, unknown outside specific law enforcement circles. While the FBI is loath to classify it as such, making use of the flaw has the underpinnings of a malware installation. The authorities prefer to call it a "network investigative technique" (NIT). Needless to say, there's a debate on the legality of exploiting the security loophole.
    More than 100 people are being prosecuted as part of the FBI's sting operation. One of them was Jay Michaud, whose case is possibly the first to have spotlighted the situation. Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that they are dropping their case against Michaud, whose lawyers strongly contested the legality of the FBI's tactics. Not surprisingly, this latest development is attracting controversy as well.  

    Drop Charges vs. Reveal Exploit

    Why did the DOJ drop their case against Michaud? As the prosecutor for the DOJ noted, to avoid disclosing how the NIT works:
    "The government must now choose between disclosure of classified information and dismissal of its indictment," Annette Hayes, a federal prosecutor, wrote in a court filing on Friday. "Disclosure is not currently an option. Dismissal without prejudice leaves open the possibility that the government could bring new charges should there come a time within the statute of limitations when and the government be in a position to provide the requested discovery."
    In May 2016, the judge overseeing the case ordered the government to reveal the source code behind the NIT.
    This week, the government has decided that letting a "suspected" child pornographer go – possibly temporarily; dismissing a case "without prejudice" means that the same case can be brought back in front of a judge – is a better deal than revealing how the FBI is doing what they do. This decision has caused a lot of talk and speculation, including:
    • The NIT is used extensively in everything, including foreign spying. They're letting the small fish go so they can keep pursuing the really big fish.
    • The FBI and DOJ don't know what they're doing: what is the use of a tool that lets criminals walk because of the same tool that led to their identification and arrest?
    • The guys behind the Tor browser will find the security flaw before the statute of limitations runs out. The government can then reveal the flaw they exploited and once again pursue their cases.
    They all sound plausible, but that last one sounds like a pretty good strategy because, when it comes to child porn, there is no federal statute of limitations (and supposedly the majority of such cases are prosecuted at the federal level). In other words, the government could wait as long as necessary before bringing Michaud to court, be it a month or a decade.
    They could even pursue other cases, possibly set precedent that benefits the DOJ, and come back for Michaud.
    In the meantime, over 100 people have pleaded guilty to charges related to child porn regardless of the legal status of the NIT– and, the thinking probably goes, even more will do so down the line, as long as the NIT can be used. In which case, it's obvious that the DOJ knows exactly what it is doing.
    Related Articles and Sites:
  • Data Breach Results In Loss Of $350 Million in Yahoo-Verizon Deal

    Last week, Verizon finally decided to go forward with the acquisition of Yahoo, the perennial would-be comeback internet search and media company.
    The deal, announced last year, saw an unusual delay when Yahoo revealed that it had been hacked, the largest data breach in history as of then. This was followed a couple of months later by the discovery and announcement of another internet intrusion and data theft at Yahoo. And thus, the internet's Purple One is now the dubious record holder of two of the biggest data breaches in US history.
    Yahoo's revelation of the hack has been accompanied by rumors that the top brass had known about the intrusion for years and declined to announce it, in an effort to maintain its public image.  

    Due Diligence or Lax Security Management?

    The timing of the breach announcement certainly was conspicuous. It could be read as either (a) Yahoo happening upon the data breach as they carried out their day-to-day operations or (b) that either Yahoo or Verizon found out about it as they were doing their due diligence as part of the acquisition or (c) Yahoo was finally forced to give up the ghost on the situation.
    While nothing has been proven yet, there are currently twenty-plus lawsuits, plus an SEC investigation that is currently under way.
    In addition, one cannot forget the fact that the US does not have a federal law governing data breaches and the notification thereof. Instead, laws that cover such issues exist at the state level, for approximately 45 states. The FTC has also been known to pursue internet-related data breaches with a certain level of enthusiasm. And let's not forget the state Attorney Generals who have taken a great interest in such issues as well.
    Basically, if the allegations that Yahoo sat on the data breach and did nothing for years is revealed as true, there's is no lack of potential ways for Yahoo (or its reincarnation) to be in trouble.  

    $350 Million Discount

    Which appears to have worried Verizon greatly. For months now, there were rumors that the communications company would nix the deal. Last week, though, Verizon announced they'd go ahead with the acquisition provided that they get a steep discount ($350 million) and that most of the lawsuits' burden is shouldered by what remains of Yahoo when the business is concluded.
    For investors, this is better than nothing, of course. As a business concern, Yahoo has been treading water for years now and investors have been anxious for a way to unload their shares (other than selling it in the open market, that is). But, Verizon's discount represents close to a 10% haircut. That's a huge number in financial circles. Undoubtedly, there are many angry investors with deep pockets who will be looking to recover their perceived losses one way or another. If the allegations about management's collusion are revealed to be true… well, let's just say that it's not going to be pretty.  

    Another First

    This is one of the few cases where a data breach has directly affected a company's financial well-being. That is, it's not due to a civil lawsuit, or the authorities bringing an action against a company, or a situation where a company announces a data breach and people don't care; like at Target, which hasn't been affected by its "greatest hack in history" data breach. The same customers continue to shop there.
    Nope, this is a clear-cut case where a company has a data breach (two, to be exact) and is directly penalized for it.
    You can expect to hear more from this fiasco.
    Related Articles and Sites: