Ben Laurie blathering

25 Oct 2010

Firesheep: Session Hijacking for Morons

Filed under: Crypto,Privacy,Security — Ben @ 13:35

OK, we’ve all known forever that using any kind of credential over an unencrypted connection is a Bad Idea(tm). However, we also know that pretty much every website does an Obi-wan over session cookies, which typically travel over HTTP. “These are not the credentials you are looking for” they tell us.

Firesheep proves that comprehensively wrong. Surf your favourite login-requiring site on an open network, and *BANG*, you’re pwned. Awesome piece of work. Eric Butler, the author, says

Websites have a responsibility to protect the people who depend on their services. They’ve been ignoring this responsibility for too long, and it’s time for everyone to demand a more secure web. My hope is that Firesheep will help the users win.

19 Oct 2010

Phished by Visa: The Aftermath

Filed under: Security — Ben @ 12:18

Well over a year ago I wrote about how stupid the Verified by Visa program is. Apparently the mainstream press have now caught up as fraudsters gear up to exploit this fantastic piece of security design. I particularly like the claim from a UK Cards Association representative that VbV reduces fraud (at around 2:30) – immediately after a victim explains that her bank refused to even investigate the possibility of fraud.

This is, of course, in line with the modern banking strategy for fraud: shift all blame to the customer.

2 Oct 2010

Aims not Mechanisms

Filed under: Privacy,Rants — Ben @ 22:18

I’m a big fan of the EFF, so it comes as a bit of a surprise when I see them say things that don’t make any sense.

A while back the EFF posted a bill of privacy rights for social network users. Whilst I totally sympathise with what the EFF is trying to say here, I’m disappointed that they head the way of policymakers by ignoring inconvenient technical reality and proposing absurd policies.

In particular, I refer you to this sentence:

The right to control includes users’ right to decide whether their friends may authorize the service to disclose their personal information to third-party websites and applications.

In other words, if I post something to a “social network” (whatever that is: yes, I have an informal notion of what it means, and I’m sure you do, too, but is, say, my blog part of a “social network”? Email?) then I should be able to control whether you, a reader of the stuff I post, can do so via a “third-party application”. For starters, as stated, this is equivalent to determining whether you can read my post at all in most cases, since you do so via a browser, which is a “third-party application”. If I say “no” to my friends using “third-party applications” then I am saying “no” to my friends reading my posts at all.

Perhaps, then, they mean specific third-party applications? So I should be able to say, for example, “my friends can read this with a browser, but not with evil-rebroadcaster-app, which not only reads the posts but sends them to their completely public blog”? Well, perhaps, but how is the social network supposed to control that? This is only possible in the fantasy world of DRM and remote attestation.

Do the EFF really want DRM? Really? I assume not. So they need to find a better way to say what they want. In particular, they should talk about the outcome and not the mechanism. Talking about mechanisms is exactly why most technology policy turns out to be nonsense: mechanisms change and there are far more mechanisms available than any one of us knows about, even those of us whose job it is to know about them. Policy should not talk about the means employed to achieve an aim, it should talk about the aim.

The aim is that users should have control over where their data goes, it seems. Phrased like that, this is clearly not possible, nor even desirable. Substitute “Disney” for the “the users” and you can immediately see why. If you solve this problem, then you solve the DRM “problem”. No right thinking person wants that.

So, it seems like EFF should rethink their aims, as well as how they express them.

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