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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.

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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.

June 2018 - Posts

  • SCOTUS Says Cops Need Warrant For Location Data From Network Providers

    It's hardly a secret that the proliferation of digital devices has opened up opportunities and headaches for law enforcement. In the former camp, modern communication devices are de facto tracking devices that store and generate copious amounts of data; access to it could easily make or break a case. In the latter, the use of encryption and other security measures makes it challenging, if not impossible, to access that same data. And now the courts are making it even more onerous to obtain it.  

    Get a Warrant

    According to a recent ruling, law enforcement will "generally" require a warrant to obtain a person's location data from network providers. Before this ruling, the Third Party Doctrine stated that a person gives up their expectation of privacy when he shares information with a third party (like banks, ISPs, phone companies, etc). Hence, law enforcement could request data from these third parties without a warrant; they only had to prove that the information they were seeking could be pertinent in an investigation. For example, police could ask a bank to see a suspect's credit card transactions, since it would pinpoint a person's location at a particular time. In fact, they can still do this going forward.
    However, the Supreme Court has decided otherwise when it comes to your location as pinpointed by your cellphone, more specifically, the cellphone location data created and collected by telcos. It is hardly a surprising judgment. For example, bugging a person's vehicle with a tracker requires a court order because continuous tracking is considered a violation of privacy expectations.
    Of course, there is a difference between bugging a car and using a cell phone: be the phone dumb or smart, it's not the government doing the bugging – you're bugging yourself and paying a company every month to do so. The government could argue (and probably has) that they're merely picking up a trail that you've agreed to broadcast. It would be no different from you tossing evidence left and right as you flee from a crime scene, creating a trail to yourself as you make your getaway. There's nothing illegal in law enforcement following that trail. Indeed, they'd be remiss in not doing so.
    The thing is, though, that life for many now revolves around access to the services that telcos offer. Well over half the population is using either a dumb or smart phone, and these devices need to know your location. Otherwise, you wouldn't be able to receive calls or texts. This is also the case for accessing mobile internet.
    Furthermore, these devices are very rarely turned off, for obvious reasons. So, the data that's collected by telcos and shared with law enforcement would include information that traditionally requires a warrant anyway. The warrant requirement for bugging a vehicle was already mentioned. Even more sacrosanct is the privacy of a person in one's home, and law enforcement's incursion nearly always requires a warrant. Even pointing a thermal imaging device to a person's home without court approval is illegal, which technically does not involve "entering" the home but does involve obtaining evidence from it.
    So, an "information dump" of telco data over an extensive period would already come to loggerheads with such legal restrictions, it seems.
    However, the judges ruled, five to four, that a warrant is necessary when accessing telco location data because the data allows the type of surveillance from which the Fourth Amendment protects US citizens. Remember, the Fourth exists because the British authorities would look for evidence of wrongdoing whenever they felt like it, wherever and whomever it might be.  

    The Fourth Amendment

    The US Constitution provides protections from that sort of thing. Certainly, you could have committed a crime. And, certainly, evidence of said crime could be in your home. But, the law can only enter your home and search for that evidence, and only that evidence, if they have probable cause, which is the grounds for issuing a warrant.
    Consider, then, the aspects of the information that law enforcement claims it should be able to access without a warrant:
    • Location data is very accurate. Not as accurate as GPS but close enough – and the technology will only get better to the point that it will be just as good as GPS or better.
    • This data now covers a sizable number of the entire US population, seeing how Americans of all stripes and colors carry a cellphone.
    • The collected data is excessive. A person's location can be pinged by cell towers multiple times every minute. One can literally tell where a person is every minute of the day.
    • The data is retroactive. The location data is stored by telcos for up to five years. Change the law, and it could be ten years. Perhaps even longer if DNA storage finally happens. ('Cause, let's face it, the only reason why telcos don't want to keep this data long term is tied to storage costs).

    So, we're talking about data that's akin to what would be generated if you implanted a tracking chip on most Americans and let them go about their lives. And because the government didn't force anyone to do this, and third parties are involved, a warrant shouldn't be necessary when trying to get a hold of this data. This, in a nutshell, was their (very dystopian) argument.

    The courts (barely) disagreed.

    However, it follows a number of rulings over recent years where the courts have upheld privacy interests over law enforcement. It seems that slowly, but surely, as the effects and impact of technology begins to leave an imprint upon all – as opposed to the young or the hip or the tech-savvy – people are beginning to have a better understanding of what's at stake.  

     

    Related Articles and Sites:
    https://gizmodo.com/cops-need-a-warrant-to-collect-your-phone-location-data-1827050891

     
  • Yahoo Penalized £250,000 By UK Information Commissioner's Office

    It was reported this week that the United Kingdom's Information Commissioner – the person whose department is in charge of upholding the nation's data privacy laws – has penalized Yahoo! UK Services Limited with the amount of £250,000.
    The penalty is in response to the global data breach Yahoo experienced, and hid, for over two years. Approximately 500,000 accounts in the UK were affected.
    Knowing what we do of the Yahoo breach, and keeping in mind that the ICO can issue a monetary penalty of up to £500,000, it sounds like a woefully inadequate amount. For example, the US's SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, fined Yahoo $35 million, a little over 10 times the ICO's penalty.  

    Data Breach Not the Issue?

    According to cnet.com, Yahoo UK was not fined for the data breach. Apparently, what the ICO views as problematic is the long delay in notifying people of the data breach (two years!).
    Which is crazy if it's true.
    There was no "delay." Yahoo didn't fail to alert users of the data breach "in a timely manner." The company, for all intents and purposes, appears to have actively hid the data breach – which is the real scandal; data breaches involving hundreds of millions of people are not a rarity anymore, and neither is going public with the fact at the speed of molasses – of which not alerting affected users is a key component. To fine Yahoo UK for taking longer than usual in notifying people of a data breach is bonkers.
    Thankfully, it seems that the ICO took more than the so-called delay into account:
    • Yahoo! UK Services Ltd failed to take appropriate technical and organisational (sic) measures to protect the data of 515,121 customers against exfiltration by unauthorized persons;
    • Yahoo! UK Services Ltd failed to take appropriate measures to ensure that its data processor – Yahoo! Inc – complied with the appropriate data protection standards;
    • Yahoo! UK Services Ltd failed to ensure appropriate monitoring was in place to protect the credentials of Yahoo! employees with access to Yahoo! customer data;
    • The inadequacies found had been in place for a long period of time without being discovered or addressed.
    Still, the explanation doesn't quite make sense. In the past, the ICO has issued penalties as high as £400,000 for data breaches, as well as other violations of the Data Protection Act. Considering only instances involving data breaches, aside from Yahoo, none of the companies have swept incidences under the rug. They were accused of being technically negligent (same as Yahoo); of having financial, technical, and other means to ensure better data security (same as Yahoo); of not being aware that they were hacked, when they could easily have figured that out (same as Yahoo); etc. In most cases, if not all, less people were affected than in the Yahoo breach.
    So why is Yahoo UK's penalty so much lower? Especially considering that the other companies do not have the dubious reputation of actively hiding the fact that they were hacked? If anything, you would think Yahoo UK's penalty would have hit a new high in the history of ICO monetary penalties to date.
     
    Related Articles and Sites:
    https://www.cnet.com/news/yahoo-fined-334000-in-the-uk-for-failing-to-disclose-2014-hack/
    https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/standing-up-for-the-data-rights-of-our-citizens/
     
  • FBI Inflated Encrypted Smartphone Count

    Over a number of years, the FBI kept making the case for an encryption backdoor to smartphones. Of course, because "encryption backdoor" is a charged term, they said that they didn't need a backdoor per se, just a (secret) reliable way to get into encrypted devices when they obtained a warrant.
    This twisting of words is risible because "a reliable way to get into encrypted devices" is kind of the definition of a backdoor. Even the passwords set by smartphone owners are not reliable in the vein that the FBI wants them to be since people are prone to forgetting passwords: What if you went on a digital detox for a month and you actually did forget it? What if you changed it while drunk? What if you had a concussion? So, if you're looking for a method that will work 100% of the time, well… it's got to be a backdoor.
    As part of their case for notbackdoors, the FBI quoted the number of inaccessible devices that were at the center of unsolved crimes. In January 2018, the Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, emphasized in a speech at a cyber-security conference that nearly 7800 devices could not be accessed in 2017.
    Last week, the Washington Post wrote that the figure was inflated, which was confirmed by the FBI. The actual number of devices that are inaccessible has not been released as of yet, but it's believed to be between 1000 to 2000, a range that is more in line with the 2016 figure: 880 encrypted devices.
    Why the sudden decrease? The FBI says they made an error when compiling their data, a result of having the data in three separate databases instead of one, central one.  

    Credibility Issues

    The FBI has credibility issues. In areas other than encryption, it could be because they're victims of concerted political smear campaigns. Who knows, really. But when it comes to encryption, the Bureau keeps painting itself into a corner.
    This month, it was the revelation of overinflated figures.
    In 2016, the FBI took Apple to court, arguing that they had exhausted all avenues for accessing a terrorist's encrypted iPhone. Towards the end of the legal battle, most experts were learning towards the opinion that the FBI would lose. Coincidentally, or not, the Bureau dropped their lawsuit at the eleventh hour, saying that they had found a third party that could crack open the phone's contents for them.
    Later that same year, the Office of the Inspector General reported that an internal miscommunication led the FBI to conclude that they had tried everything to crack the iPhone's encryption… but they hadn't. (So, technically somehow, the FBI wasn't lying when they said they had).
    And earlier this year, a second company announced discovering ways around iPhone encryption and began selling these techniques to law enforcement. At relatively affordable prices, one might add. So. Over the last couple of years, the FBI has essentially:
    • Mislead the public and Congress, probably not on purpose;
    • Tried to force a company to redesign a key component of their profit driver under the auspices of national security, as if we were living in a Soviet-era communist nation, despite the fact that said company hadn't done anything illegal (because, otherwise, why'd they drop the case? They should have continued even if they eventually found a way into the iPhone);
    • Passive-aggressively insinuated that the entire tech community is a group that encourages and enables criminals, evidenced by its unwillingness (and not mathematical impossibility) to create an encryption backdoor that's not a backdoor, because, you know, that's not what the FBI wants. This, despite the NSA and the CIA issuing declarations that backdoors and other forms of intentionally crippling security are a bad idea.
    The above, of course, does not cover scandals that involve the FBI that are not tied to encryption. It's becoming very hard not to view the FBI's action through a cynical lens.  

    Future Tools

    One has to admit that the problem of "going dark" is real. While it's anyone's guess how big a problem it currently is, it undoubtedly will grow bigger as time goes by. A solution may present itself in quantum computers.
    IBM warned earlier this year that advances in quantum computing could mean that today's ubiquitous encryption can be easily broken in five years' time. Their cost could ensure that only governments and large organizations can afford them for the foreseeable future – just like only they can afford supercomputers – satisfying the goal of not hamstringing cryptography as well as only allowing "the good guys" to break encryption when needed (and authorized).  
     
    Related Articles and Sites:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/05/30/the-fbi-blunder-on-phone-encryption-explained/
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/fbi-repeatedly-overstated-encryption-threat-figures-to-congress-public/2018/05/22/5b68ae90-5dce-11e8-a4a4-c070ef53f315_story.html
    https://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/raising-our-game-cyber-security-in-an-age-of-digital-transformation
    https://www.lawfareblog.com/fbi-director-christopher-wrays-remarks-encryption-international-conference-cyber-security
    https://www.wired.com/story/significant-fbi-error-reignites-data-encryption-debate/