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Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Amazon error allowed Alexa user to eavesdrop on another home

A user of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in Germany got access to more than a thousand recordings from another user because of “a human error” by the company.

The customer had asked to listen back to recordings of his own activities made by Alexa but he was also able to access 1,700 audio files from a stranger when Amazon sent him a link, German trade publication c’t reported.

On the recordings, a man and a female companion could be overheard in his home and the magazine was able to identify and contact him through the recorded information, according to the report.

A Future Where Everything Becomes a Computer Is As Creepy As You Feared

More than 40 years ago, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft with a vision for putting a personal computer on every desk. […] In recent years, the tech industry’s largest powers set their sights on a new target for digital conquest. They promised wild conveniences and unimaginable benefits to our health and happiness. There’s just one catch, which often goes unstated: If their novelties take off without any intervention or supervision from the government, we could be inviting a nightmarish set of security and privacy vulnerabilities into the world. And guess what. No one is really doing much to stop it. The industry’s new goal? Not a computer on every desk nor a connection between every person, but something grander: a computer inside everything, connecting everyone.

Cars, door locks, contact lenses, clothes, toasters, refrigerators, industrial robots, fish tanks, sex toys, light bulbs, toothbrushes, motorcycle helmets — these and other everyday objects are all on the menu for getting “smart.” Hundreds of small start-ups are taking part in this trend — known by the marketing catchphrase “the internet of things” — but like everything else in tech, the movement is led by giants, among them Amazon, Apple and Samsung. [American cryptographer and computer security professional Bruce Schneier] argues that the economic and technical incentives of the internet-of-things industry do not align with security and privacy for society generally. Putting a computer in everything turns the whole world into a computer security threat. […] Mr. Schneier says only government intervention can save us from such emerging calamities. “I can think of no industry in the past 100 years that has improved its safety and security without being compelled to do so by government.”

Car Manufacturers Are Tracking Millions of Cars

Millions of new cars sold in the US and Europe are “connected,” having some mechanism for exchanging data with their manufacturers after the cars are sold; these cars stream or batch-upload location data and other telemetry to their manufacturers, who argue that they are allowed to do virtually anything they want with this data, thanks to the “explicit consent” of the car owners — who signed a lengthy contract at purchase time that contained a vague and misleading clause deep in its fine-print.

Slashdot reader Luthair adds that “OnStar infamously has done this for some time, even if the vehicle’s owner was not a subscriber of their services.” But now 78 million cars have an embedded cyber connection, according to one report, with analysts predicting 98% of new cars will be “connected” by 2021. The Washington Post calls it “Big Brother on Wheels.”

“Carmakers have turned on a powerful spigot of precious personal data, often without owners’ knowledge, transforming the automobile from a machine that helps us travel to a sophisticated computer on wheels that offers even more access to our personal habits and behaviors than smartphones do.”

The “Surprisingly” Large Energy Footprint of the Digital Economy

“Our computers and smartphones might seem “clean,” but the digital economy uses a tenth of the world’s electricity—and that share will only increase, with serious consequences for the economy and the environment.

The global Information-Communications-Technologies (ICT) system now uses approximately 1,500 terawatt-hours of power per year. That’s about 10% of the world’s total electricity generation or roughly the combined power production of Germany and Japan. It’s the same amount of electricity that was used to light the entire planet in 1985. We already use 50% more energy to move bytes than we do to move planes in global aviation.

Reduced to personal terms, although charging up a single tablet or smart phone requires a negligible amount of electricity, using either to watch an hour of video weekly consumes annually more electricity in the remote networks than two new refrigerators use in a year. And as the world continues to electrify, migrating towards one refrigerator per household, it also evolves towards several smartphones and equivalent per person.”

“Does reading an e-book, or watching a streaming video, use more energy than reading it on paper, or buying a DVD? Does playing a video game use more energy than playing Monopoly? Does a doctor using an iPad for diagnostic advice from artificial intelligence in the Cloud use more energy than, what? Traveling for a second opinion?  The answer involves more than knowing how much electricity one iPad, PC or smartphone uses. It requires accounting for all the electricity used in the entire ICT ecosystem needed to make any of that possible, and the energy characteristics of the ICT ecosystem are quite unlike anything else built to date. Turning on a light does not require dozens of lights to turn on elsewhere. However, turn on an iPad to watch a video and iPad-like devices all over the country, even all over the world, simultaneously light up throughout a vast network. Nothing else in society operates that way. Starting a car doesn’t cause dozens of cars elsewhere to fire up.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

“You Are Already Living Inside a Computer”

“Think about the computing systems you use every day. All of them represent attempts to simulate something else. Like how Turing’s original thinking machine strived to pass as a man or woman, a computer tries to pass, in a way, as another thing. As a calculator, for example, or a ledger, or a typewriter, or a telephone, or a camera, or a storefront, or a cafe. After a while, successful simulated machines displace and overtake the machines they originally imitated. The word processor is no longer just a simulated typewriter or secretary, but a first-order tool for producing written materials of all kinds. Eventually, if they thrive, simulated machines become just machines. Today, computation overall is doing this. There’s not much work and play left that computers don’t handle. And so, the computer is splitting from its origins as a means of symbol manipulation for productive and creative ends, and becoming an activity in its own right. Today, people don’t seek out computers in order to get things done; they do the things that let them use computers.

[…]

This new cyberpunk dystopia is more Stepford Wives, less William Gibson. Everything continues as it was before, but people treat reality as if it were in a computer.”

Google forming ‘smart cities’

“An ambitious project to blanket New York and London with ultrafast Wi-Fi via so-called “smart kiosks,” which will replace obsolete public telephones, are the work of a Google-backed startup.

Each kiosk is around nine feet high and relatively flat. Each flat side houses a big-screen display that pays for the whole operation with advertising.

Each kiosk provides free, high-speed Wi-Fi for anyone in range. By selecting the Wi-Fi network at one kiosk, and authenticating with an email address, each user will be automatically connected to every other LinkNYC kiosk they get within range of. Eventually, anyone will be able to walk around most of the city without losing the connection to these hotspots.

Wide-angle cameras on each side of the kiosks point up and down the street and sidewalk, approximating a 360-degree view. If a city wants to use those cameras and sensors for surveillance, it can.

Over the next 15 years, the city will go through the other two phases, where sensor data will be processed by artificial intelligence to gain unprecedented insights about traffic, environment and human behavior and eventually use it to intelligently re-direct traffic and shape other city functions.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

The Internet of Things is a surveillance nightmare

… or a dream come true for those in power. And those in power are the same entities pushing IoT technologies.

A little background reading about JTRIG from the Snowden documents is helpful. It’s the modern-day equivalent of the Zersetzung—the special unit of the Stasi that was used to attack, repress and sabotage political opponents. A power greatly expanded with a society driven by IoT.

Full article from Daily Dot:

“In 2014, security guru Bruce Schneier said, “Surveillance is the business model of the Internet. We build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing.” The abstract and novel nature of these services tends to obscure our true relationship to companies like Facebook or Google. As the old saying goes, if you don’t pay for a product, you are the product.

But what happens when the Internet stops being just “that fiddly thing with a mouse” and becomes “the real world”? Surveillance becomes the business model of everything, as more and more companies look to turn the world into a collection of data points.

If we truly understood the bargain we were making when we give up our data for free or discounted services, would we still sign on the dotted line (or agree to the Terms and Conditions)? Would we still accept constant monitoring of our driving habits in exchange for potential insurance breaks, or allow our energy consumption to be uploaded into the cloud in exchange for “smart data” about it?

Nowhere is our ignorance of the trade-offs greater, or the consequences more worrisome, than our madcap rush to connect every toaster, fridge, car, and medical device to the Internet.

Welcome to the Internet of Things, what Schneier calls “the World Size Web,” already growing around you as we speak, which creates such a complete picture of our lives that Dr. Richard Tynan of Privacy International calls them “doppelgängers”—mirror images of ourselves built on constantly updated data. These doppelgängers live in the cloud, where they can easily be interrogated by intelligence agencies. Nicholas Weaver, a security researcher at University of California, Berkeley, points out that “Under the FISA Amendments Act 702 (aka PRISM), the NSA can directly ask Google for any data collected on a valid foreign intelligence target through Google’s Nest service, including a Nest Cam.” And that’s just one, legal way of questioning your digital doppelgänger; we’ve all heard enough stories about hacked cloud storage to be wary of trusting our entire lives to it.

 
But with the IoT, the potential goes beyond simple espionage, into outright sabotage. Imagine an enemy that can remotely disable the brakes in your car, or (even more subtly) give you food poisoning by hacking your fridge. That’s a new kind of power. “The surveillance, the interference, the manipulation … the full life cycle is the ultimate nightmare,” says Tynan.

The professional spies agree that the IoT changes the game. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” then CIA Director David Petraeus told a 2012 summit organized by the agency’s venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft,” according to Wired.

Clandestine tradecraft is not about watching, but about interfering. Take, for example, the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), the dirty tricks division of GCHQ, the British intelligence agency. As the Snowden documents reveal, JTRIG wants to create “Cyber Magicians” who can “make something happen in the real…world,” including ruining business deals, intimidating activists, and sexual entrapment (“honeypots”). The documents show that JTRIG operatives will ignore international law to achieve their goals, which are not about fighting terrorism, but, in fact, targeting individuals who have not been charged with or convicted of any crime.

The Internet of Things “is a JTRIG wet dream,” says security researcher Rob Graham. But you don’t have to be a spy to take advantage of the IoT. Thanks to widespread security vulnerabilities in most IoT devices, almost anyone can take advantage of it. That means cops, spies, gangsters, anyone with the motivation and resources—but probably bored teenagers as well. “I can take any competent computer person and take them from zero to Junior Hacker 101 in a weekend,” says security researcher Dan Tentler. The security of most IoT devices—including home IoT, but also smart cities, power plants, gas pipelines, self-driving cars, and medical devices—is laughably bad. “The barrier to entry is not very tall,” he says, “especially when what’s being released to consumers is so trivial to get into.”

That makes the IoT vulnerable—our society vulnerable—to any criminal with a weekend to spend learning how to hack. “When we talk about vulnerabilities in computers…people are using a lot of rhetoric in the abstract,” says Privacy International’s Tynan. “What we really mean is, vulnerable to somebody. That somebody you’re vulnerable to is the real question.”

“They’re the ones with the power over you,” he added. That means intelligence agencies, sure, but really anyone with the time and motivation to learn how to hack. And, as Joshua Corman of I Am the Cavalry, a concerned group of security researchers, once put it, “There are as many motivations to hacking as there are motivations in the human condition. Hacking is a form of power.”

The authorities want that power; entities like JTRIG, the NSA, the FBI and the DOJ want to be able to not just surveil but also to disrupt, to sabotage, to interfere. Right now the Bureau wants to force Apple to create the ability to deliver backdoored software updates to iPhones, allowing law enforcement access to locally stored, encrypted data. Chris Soghoian, a technologist at the ACLU, tweeted, “If DOJ get what they want in this Apple case, imagine the surveillance assistance they’ll be able to force from Internet of Things companies.”

“The notion that there are legal checks and balances in place is a fiction,” Tynan says. “We need to rely more on technology to increase the hurdles required. For the likes of JTRIG to take the massive resources of the U.K. state and focus them on destroying certain individuals, potentially under flimsy pretenses—I just can’t understand the mentality of these people.”

Defending ourselves in this new, insecure world is difficult, perhaps impossible. “If you go on the Internet, it’s a free-for-all,” Tentler says. “Despite the fact that we have these three-letter agencies, they’re not here to help us; they’re not our friends. When the NSA and GCHQ learn from the bad guys and use those techniques on us, we should be worried.”

If the Internet is a free-for-all, and with the Internet of Things we’re putting the entire world on the Internet, what does that make us?

“Fish in a barrel?”

Police request Echo recordings for investigation

“You have the right to remain silent — but your smart devices might not.

Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot are in millions of homes now, with holiday sales more than quadrupling from 2015. Always listening for its wake word, the breakthrough smart speakers boast seven microphones waiting to take and record your commands.

Now, Arkansas police are hoping an Echo found at a murder scene in Bentonville can aid their investigation.

First reported by The Information, investigators filed search warrants to Amazon, requesting any recordings between November 21 and November 22, 2015, from James A. Bates, who was charged with murder after a man was strangled in a hot tub.

While investigating, police noticed the Echo in the kitchen and pointed out that the music playing in the home could have been voice activated through the device. While the Echo records only after hearing the wake word, police are hoping that ambient noise or background chatter could have accidentally triggered the device, leading to some more clues.

Amazon stores all the voice recordings on its servers, in the hopes of using the data to improve its voice assistant services. While you can delete your personal voice data, there’s still no way to prevent any recordings from being saved on a server.

[…]

Even without Amazon’s help, police may be able to crack into the Echo, according to the warrant. Officers believe they can tap into the hardware on the smart speakers, which could “potentially include time stamps, audio files or other data.”

The investigation has focused on other smart devices as well. Officers seized Bates’ phone but were unable to break through his password, which only served to delay the investigation.

”Our agency now has the ability to utilize data extraction methods that negate the need for passcodes and efforts to search Victor and Bates’ devices will continue upon issuance of this warrant.”

Police also found a Nest thermostat, a Honeywell alarm system, wireless weather monitoring in the backyard and WeMo devices for lighting at the smart home crime scene.

Ultimately, it might have been information from a smart meter that proved to be the most useful. With every home in Bentonville hooked up to a smart meter that measures hourly electricity and water usage, police looked at the data and noticed Bates used an “excessive amount of water” during the alleged drowning.”

Surveillance cameras sold on Amazon infected with malware

“Security researcher Mike Olsen has warned that some products sold through the Amazon marketplace are habouring a dark secret — malware.

Olsen said in a blog post that while scouring Amazon for a decent set of outdoor surveillance cameras for a friend, he came across a deal for 6 PoE cameras and recording equipment.

The seller, Urban Security Group, had generally good reviews and was offering a particular Sony setup on sale.

After purchasing the kit, Olsen started setting up the surveillance system, logging into the administrator panel to configure it.

While the page hosted the camera feed, no “normal controls or settings were available,” according to the researcher.

”Being one of those guys who assumes bad CSS, I went ahead and opened up developer tools,” Olsen said.

”Maybe a bad style was hiding the options I needed. Instead what I found tucked at the bottom of the body tag was an iframe linking to a very strange looking host name.”

Further investigation revealed the host name, Brenz.pl, is linked to malware distribution.

According to cybersecurity firm Securi, Brenz was first spotted distributing malware back in 2009 before being shut down, but reemerged in 2011. Compromised domains link to the address through malicious iFrames for the purpose of distributing malware hosted on the website.

VirusTotal recognizes the web domain as a malicious source and scans reveal that Trojans and viruses may be hosted by Brenz.pl.

If the device’s firmware links to this domain, malware can be downloaded and installed, potentially leading to unlawful surveillance and data theft.

The problem was also recently brought up in a forum post on the SC10IP firmware, which is used in commercial products and also links to Brenz.pl.

Threats do not just come from dodgy social media links, phishing campaigns or social engineering — firmware can host malware, too.

The take-home from this is that any device, especially when it contains networking or Internet capabilities, can harbour threats to personal safety and data security, and while the average person is unlikely to do a full-scale code search, checking reviews and alerts for such products online is worthwhile — even if the platform is trusted.

”Amazon stuff can contain malware,” Olsen said.”