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Self defence

I am certain it comes as no surprise to Samizdata readers that States are interested in penetrating your computers and stealing private communications without bothering about the legal niceties of search warrants issued by judges whom they do not own. But some things come as a surprise to even those of us who watch such things. I had not heard of this particular attack before. Spoofing, in conjunction with other attacks to pin down the real source while the spoofer gets in, have been around awhile. Some were dependant on analysis of the generated packet sequence numbers to allow a complete hijack.

None seem as practical as the web page substitution technique discussed in this Wired article. It is somewhat technical but useful reading if you want to keep up with what the enemies of liberty and rule of law are up to. Even more importantly, the article shows there are ways of keeping the bad guys out of your computers. The method may not be as satisfying as dropping a nuke on the SOB’s, but hey, you work with what you got.

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14 comments to Self defence

  • I tried setting up Snort once, it’s a bit involved. I could probably get it to work if I had more spare time. There are probably other things to do first, though.

    The article doesn’t mention HTTPS. Normally if you are connecting to a site with HTTPS the attacker won’t have the secret key belonging to the real web site. So you should check for “https” in the URL and the little padlock symbol in your browser that tells you that the site you are visiting is using credentials that are signed by a trusted certificate authority. It’s possible the NSA can get the secret keys, though.

    Quantum insertion might be one good technique, but there are any number of ways that malware could be installed on your computer. Malware might log your keypresses so attackers can find out your passwords. A token like the Barclays PINSentry offers some protection. Google Authenticator does a similar job, though it only works if your phone hasn’t also been hacked. I rather like devices that can’t connect to the Internet like the YubiKey NEO, which works just like Google Authenticator except that the secrets are not stored on your phone — you have to tap it against your phone every time you want to log in.

    We are also at risk of bad policies by the companies we deal with. One victim found that Amazon could be made to display the last 4 digits of a credit card number, while Apple asked for the same digits as a security question. I don’t like the way a lot of “I forgot my password” systems work.

    What to do? Think seriously about your own personal trade-off between security and convenience. When doing so, think about the effort involved in changing all your passwords or the cost of losing access to your email for a few days. Realise that it will probably happen to you at some point, no matter how careful you are: you have to get it right all the time, they only have to get it right once. Do the Google security check-up once in a while. Do a credit check on yourself once in a while. Change passwords sometimes. Don’t install dodgy software. Use two-factor authentication when it is available. Factory reset your phone or re-install your laptop’s operating system from scratch sometimes. Keep good backups of your family photos.

    Maybe then figure out how to use Snort.

  • “the cost of losing access to your email for a few days”: I made this sound a bit trivial. Realise that every other online service will want to send you emails to confirm that you want to change your password. So access to email can mean access to all your other secrets, as well as the ability to delete emails and hide security warnings and password change notifications that are sent by email. If you use web email at all, max out the security settings on this before doing anything else.

  • Dale Amon

    One of the best ways of dealing with the email issue is to have your own server and handle your own DNS. It’s something Hillary and I have in common and why I’ll never fault her for doing precisely what I am doing and have been harping on for a decade. Control your own infrastructure. Force the bad guys to get a real search warrant and present you with it to get access to the items specifically named in a proper 4th Amendment warrant.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    You’re kind of right, Dale, except you have to factor in the risk that you’ll cock it up because running an email server is not what you do every day.

  • Laird

    I do fault Hillary for that, Dale, because: (a) she is totally incompetent to run an email server and I even doubt her competence to hire someone who is (as is evidenced by the fact that she thinks that having Secret Service agents guard the machine somehow makes it “secure”); and (b) it is blatantly illegal. But hey, otherwise, no problem.

  • Dale Amon

    I’ll tell you why I disagree. It is the metacontext. I believe that every human being has a right to privacy in their affairs, their persons, property and data, regardless of who they are. No exceptions. The US Constitution provides a very specific, controlled and limited means to violate this privacy: the Fourth Amendment. It requires a search warrant, signed by a judge and naming the item or items being searched for, and with probable cause for expecting to find them, signed by a judge and presented to the person whose property is being searched. I consider *ANY* search of seizure of property or wiretapping or whatever that is done without following the 4th amendment as a criminal act whose perpetrator, regardless of rank or excuse, should be tried in a court and sent to jail.

    Whether Hillary did anything wrong or not is no more relevant to me than if the 4th amendment was violated to catch a murderer. The violation is WRONG. If you allow a police state mindset to grow, if you allow people to believe that they gain something or are made safer by violating this important protection, we are destroying the village to save it.

    We do not want a world in which there is a presumption that running your own server and securing it means you are ‘bad’ or doing something wrong. We want a world in which the presumption is that if you are not doing so, you are being foolish. We want the presumption to be that doing things to defend your privacy are RIGHT. We want the protections of that right to have teeth and if some tiny minority of people ‘get away’ with something… well, that’s just too bad. No world is perfect, but a freer world with respect for privacy is a much better one.

    I am not going to throw my liberty under the bus to ‘get Hillary’. It is a very, very bad trade.

  • I am not going to throw my liberty under the bus to ‘get Hillary’. It is a very, very bad trade.

    For once I must disagree with you. Politicians tend to think the law should be applied differently to them. And I agree. But whereas they think it must be looser and more nuanced, I think it must be draconian and to-the-letter in the case of the people who have the police and nuclear weapons at their disposal.

    If Hillary wants to be the POTUS but will not obey the law regarding her damn e-mail, then it is imperative to keep her away from power. Indeed it is terrifying she (and so many others) already have the power they do.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Very well said, Dale.

  • Laird

    Dale, I agree with everything you said except for one caveat: Hillary illegally maintained her private email system while she was a senior government official. Private citizens have a right to privacy; government officials do not (at least, not with respect to government business). That just comes with the job; if you don’t want the scrutiny don’t take the job. Period.

    She had an absolute legal obligation to conduct all government business on the government’s servers. She did not do so. She should be prosecuted criminally for it.

  • Dale Amon (Belfast, Northern Ireland/Laramie, Wy)

    My point is being missed. So let me state it another way with an imaginary tale. Hillary Clumpton has been accused of bringing documents home from her State Department job and storing them in file boxes in her garage. The media has got wind of it and is having a field day noting that she has a garage. After all, why would anyone own a garage unless it was to carry out nefarious actions like storing secret documents? It is known that others use garages to store stolen goods; to illegally modify car computers, remove pollution control devices, modify VIN numbers or chop and part out stolen vehicles; or to make guns and run 3D printers to build who knows what awful, illegal, un-green or unapproved things. Why, they even put GrowLites in them and sell crops of illegal drugs! Garages are for bad people! Hillary has a garage! She must be a bad person for that alone! We need legislation to control the use of garages and perhaps ban them or force them to be all glass so that everything going on inside them can be observed!

    Beware those terrible garage owners! They are up to no good!

    The answer is, of course, that if a criminal act is suspected, the answer is the same whether it is a garage, a storage unit, an attic or a mail server. Police go to a judge with probable cause, specify the item or items they are searching for, and the judge signs a warrant that allows them to search for and seize those items and only those items.

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  • Dale, your point is clear and valid. But the other point is that the rules under which Hillary Clumpton is employed in the State Department do not prohibit her from having a garage in her home, they prohibit her from storing documents relating to her job in such a garage. She is only allowed to store such documents in a garage provided by her employer.

  • Dale Amon (Belfast, Northern Ireland/Laramie, Wy)

    And my answer to that is in the above as well. If she is accused of violating the rules under which she is working for the government, then a case should be made and a legal 4th Amendment search warrant issued to obtain the items which the accusers claim she has stashed in her garage. At no point should a statement be made that there is anything unusual or bad about stashing papers in your garage… so long as they are YOUR papers. At no time should anyone make a statement that having a garage in itself is a bad thing or indicative of an intent to do bad things. Having a garage is normal. Having a mail server is normal. Breaking the State Department rules as alleged is on the other, just another crime to be investigated and Hillary is just another alleged perpetrator who has exactly the same legal and constitutional protections as I do. The law MUST be blind, and it must stay within the Constitution.

  • Sure, no disagreement there.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Politicians tend to think the law should be applied differently to them. And I agree. But whereas they think it must be looser and more nuanced, I think it must be draconian and to-the-letter in the case of the people who have the police and nuclear weapons at their disposal.

    As an aside, this should also be true of police, judges, prosecutors, and many other government officials. It seldom is, though.