Italy To Storm Playstation Networks? The Steve Jackson Game Case Strikes Back

According to Andrea Orlando, Italian Minister of Justice, Italy plans to fight  the war on terrorism on Playstations.

In a press conference, Mr. Orlando said that new technologies are exploited by terrorists, and it is imperative to keep pace with the innovation, by allowing the capability to wiretap chat (whatever this means) and Playstations.

Apart from the merit of the issue (we might either agree or not about the strategy, but this is a horse of different colour) what matters is the clear uneasiness of the Minister in  talking about topics he’s clearly not knowledgeable in.

I really wander how the law enforcement agencies will be able to extract something useful by wiretapping network games that deal with assaults, terrorist actions, covert operation and so on.

Will they be able to sort the truth from the game?

Are we on the verge of a new Steve Jackson Games scandal?

The usual approximation showed by a politician in charge of taking the lead on technology-related issues shows that key decision on such a sensitive matters are made elsewhere, by someone else not at all well versed in the matter. And it would be interesting to know who this “Mr. Someoneelse” actually is.

To have a better grasp on the operative issues before talking to the Press,  maybe it wouldn’t had been a bad idea  for the Minister to spend some spare time playing Call of duty or Splinter cell.


My Two Cents on the Hacking Team Hack

What happened to Hacking Team neither is the first nor will be the last time a security company that lives by the sword, dies by the sword. Neither this is the first nor will be the last time that huge quantity of critical data are made available through the Internet.

So, to some extent, there is actually nothing new under the sun in the fact itself. This is why – putting aside the legal issues involved – I can hardly understand all the rants aimed at Hacking Team.

It is interesting, though, analyze the “claims” that some “expert” did about the story. To make my points, instead of talking about someone in particular, I’d rather refer in general to the accusations made against HT, so:

  1. Hacking Team has been “unethical”. A company is just supposed to be legally compliant. Ethic is a horse of different colours: it’s a personal thing, is relative and – thank to the French Revolution – is not mixed with laws. As soon as Hacking Team didn’t break any law by selling its stuff, it can’t be blamed because “money doesn’t smell”.
  2. Hacking Team sold its technology to human-rights bashing countries. While I’m in the digital rights world since 1994, I wasn’t aware that there were so much human-rights (keybord) warriors… Anyway, as soon a state has a seat in UN, and the sell is compliant to international laws and treaties (such as the Wassenaar Agreement), doing business with it shouldn’t raise any concern (as international weapon dealers are well aware of.)
  3. Hacking Team has jeopardized investigations and covert activities all around the world. No, the investigation have been jeopardized by the choice made by governments of “going private” instead of developing in house its intelligence-gathering tools, and by the lack of a “Plan B” in case things – as just happened – screwed up. In particular, is rather curious that nobody checked the fact that the HT’slicense was associated to the customer identity in clear, instead of using a nickname or a cipher.
  4. There will soon be a “black” Hacking Team’s software clone that will be used against the “good guys”. This malware is far from being the “only kid in town” and the Internet is full of brilliant (rogue) programmers able to build a “HT-like” software. So this statement is just a nonsense.
  5. The are hints suggesting that Hacking Team’s malware has been exploited to plant fake evidence in the targeted computer. So what? Blackmailing is a standard tool-of-the-trade in the intelligence world and the way this is done is irrelevant. And to shut down the disturbing voice of a political opponent it’s easier to frame him with conventional means (drugs, sex) that are cheaper while very effective, then using a costly and complex to manage application.
  6. Hacking Teams’s software is untraceable and now can and will be used without control. No, HT malware is not invincible and while it is able to fly under the antivirus’ radars, it doesn’t mean that there are no defense. Guess how you can reduce its’ might? Use pure text emails, don’t click links and attachments, check your machines and data-traffic for odd behaviours… In other words, stop using  wisthle&bell operating systems and fancy features and go back to basics. Ain’t no fancy, but is safer.
  7. Hacking Team helped intelligence agencies to gain access to everybody’s computer. Again, so what? Are intelligence agencies around the world supposed to play bridge, instead? As much as I dislike the fact, I cannot but pragmatically accept that the powers-that-be can do whatever they want, without actual accountability. They call it “democracy”.

Post Scriptum: Though I met David Vincenzetti about eighteen years ago at the Department of Computer Science in the Milan University and a couple of times in the following years, I never worked with or for him.


Does the French Intelligence Actually Have Such Big Gaps?

A significant part of the aftermath of an event is the so called “post mortem”: a thorough analysis of  what went right, what wrong and why.

While “post-mortem” is a common practice within complex organizations and helps detecting flaws to be fixed or positive actions to be standardized, it must not be confused with the “rolling-barrell” attitude of putting the load of a (ex-post proven wrong) choice on somebody else’s shoulders.

As everybody outside the intelligence’s  “inner circle” should, I neither claim to own the knowledge nor the expertise to assess the work’s quality and the assumed weakness of the French security system. But what I can say – relying upon my criminal trial lawyer experience – is that is always easier to find an explanation for something that happened once it happened, while it is very hard to “foresee” an event.

This is to say that once you know where to look for, the needle in the haystack is fairly easy to find. Or, put in other words, those who came late always look smarter than those who were there earlier: they already know where not to look at.

Whether the French intelligence services did a mistake or not, then, is of poor importance. Mistakes happens (much too) often and it wouldn’t be a surprise to discover that in the Charlie Hebdo massacre mistakes have been done.

But the best we can do is to learn from it, instead of publicly blaming people in the line of fire just for the sake of looking “smart”.

The (defunct) Data Retention Directive Still Causes Harm

Notwithstanding the Data Retention Directive has been bashed by the EUCJ Ruling, there is a wide agreement on the fact that its national implementation might still be valid if not in contrast with the main Data Protection Directive.

Just yet, neither the Italian Parliament nor the Data Protection Authority ran the “stress test”, thus leaving ISPs into a void of uncertainty.

Furthermore, the news is new as today, there is a case where the actual providing of Internet access whose contract terminated back in 2010 has been challenged in court by the former customer. Under the Italian Supreme Court jurisprudence, in this case it is the ISP who must provide the evidence that the agreement has been fulfilled. But, guess what? Under the strict (and wrong) interpretation of the Data Retention Directive this ISP deleted the log files and now has problem in supporting its defense.

True, keeping the traffic data for legitimate purposes (such as legal defense) is allowed by the Data Protection Directive.

True, the Data Retention Directive can be interpreted as an exception that doesn’t overrule the Data Protection Directive.

True, an ISP has more than a chance (in theory) to successfully support its choice of keeping the traffic data for legal defense purposes even exceeding the mandatory term seth forth by the DRD.

But all this means fighting an all-round legal battle, explaining to the Court that the traffic data have been legally retained and are, thus, valid evidence, standing against a possible Data Protection Authority investigation, and so on.

To put it short: a waste of time, money and resources, that could be spared if only the Powers-that-be had dedicated a fraction of their time to solve this riddle, instead of toying with this Internet Bill of Right nonsense.


A Homicide Investigation And The (Still Alive) Data Retention Regulation

The young girl homicide investigation I’ve talked about in a previous post reveals other interesting information, this time about the Telcos’s role in supporting the public prosecution service through the traffic data retention.

The media are reporting (italian only, sorry) that more than 120.000 single mobile calls are under scrutiny spanning from a few months before the kill. But since the fact is more than three years’old, these data aren’t even supposed to exist since the Data Retention Directive forbade its preservation once the (maximum) two-years term expired.

So, hopefully for the justice and the family of the poor girl, at the beginning of the investigation the public prosecutor, as required by law, did issue a traffic data “freezing” order or, better, seized it as dictated by the Italian Criminal Rule of Evidence.

As in the case of the DNA-based evidence, the collection of traffic data without complying the Rule of Evidence might allow the defense lawyers to challenge the reliability of these information especially because the original traffic data have (or should have been) destroyed once collected by the public prosecution service, thus preventing the possibility of double-checking during the trial their actual evidence “weight”.

Google, the European Court of Justice and the End of History

The European Court of Justice ruling against Google Spain is another step toward the deletion of the History (capital “H”) and collective memory. In the name of “privacy” the Court allowed the possibility to completely remove a lawful information from public scrutiny, as is clearly stated at the end of the ruling:

Article 12(b) and subparagraph (a) of the first paragraph of Article 14 of Directive 95/46 are to be interpreted as meaning that, in order to comply with the rights laid down in those provisions and in so far as the conditions laid down by those provisions are in fact satisfied, the operator of a search engine is obliged to remove from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of a person’s name links to web pages, published by third parties and containing information relating to that person, also in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those pages is lawful. (emphasis added)

Now, with the support of this decision, corrupts politicians, scammers, con artists, bad payers and similar breeds can easily re-gain their anonymity, and historians from the future will not be able to discover and understand how our society was working.

And, to some extent, this wouldn’t be a bad thing…

The Italian Data Protection Authority to start a code reviewing investigation

Better late then ever: a press release from the Italian Data Protection Authority  advertises the data-protection oriented review of a certain number of apps.

This initiative should be a major concern for the (yet unaware) software industry, whose intellectual and industrial property might be endangered by a deep peep into its well protected secrets. Neither are clear the criteria that will lead to the app selection, nor whether or not the DPA will asks the developers for source code access.

Unless this IDPA investigation is just an empty PR stunt, it should be carried on by accessing the source code or reverse-engineering the executables: but doing so without signing NDAs and/or provide guarantees of non exploitation is an approach that the industry will likely reject.

Furthermore, if the software check will target only a certain kind of companies, leaving the other players of the same market safe from the scrutiny, this might be held as an unfair alteration of the market dynamics. And things might be much worse if the targeted companies are the smallest one, instead of the big fishes in the pond.

Mind, the lack of data-protection compliant programming isn’t a new or unforeseen issue – as the history of software can witness – but the IDPA never actually cared that much. For instance, it didn’t move a finger when back in 2002 ALCEI (a civil-rights Italian NGO) asked in vain the IDPA to check the claims of the existence of hidden features of a certain series of Telindus routers that posed significant threats to the users’ data protection.



Data Protection and Right of Defense. Stating the Obvious

Yet more evidence that Data Protection is not an absolute right. On the contrary, as the Italian Supreme Court decision n. 7783/14 said 1 a few days ago:

the interest to the protection of personal data must step back when confronted by true defense needs and other legally relevant interests, such as the fair and coherent enforcement of the right of defense in court.

  1. Unofficial Translation

Statute of limitation and Data Retention Corporate Policies

There is a common opinion that personal data should be deleted almost immediately and, anyway, as soon as they become useless: a sensitive problem in particular under the (now defunct) Data Retention Directive, once the mandatory retention period expired.

This position is not correct since a company has a legitimate motive – and a legal obligation – to preserve whatever information, including personal data, that are necessary to abide the law and to protect both its right of defense and the right to a due process. This means that under the term set forth by the Statute of limitation a company might, at its own will, choose to continue retaining personal data of its customer base.

In Italy, the ordinary Statute of limitation is ten years. So companies can be sued by customers and tax authorities for alleged charges that go way back into the past. This is what happened in a court case tried in front of the Justice of peace of Grosseto (Tuscany) that on January 2014 ruled a quarrel started in 2011 between a telecom company and a client. The ruling said that, under the rule of evidence for civil trials, the telecom company has the duty to provide evidence of having actually delivered its services and that this duty is fulfilled by showing the traffic-data log.

It is clear that by interpreting the Italian Data Protection Act in a way that forces the deletion of the traffic data after a few months, an ISP or a telecom operator wouldn’t be able to defend itself if the trial starts within the Statute of limitation term but after the traffic data have been deleted.

A similar situation might happens in the antitrust field and in case of investigations run by the Italian Internal Revenue Service, so the conclusion is that the Data Protection Legal Framework cannot be interpreted in such a strict manner to endanger the legitimate rights of a company.

The Impact of the Data-Retention ECJ Ruling on the Law Enforcement Activities

From the Law Enforcement perspective, the ECJ ruling that on Apr. 8, 2014 declared invalid the Data Retention Directive didn’t harm its investigation to such a greater extent as somebody has claimed. There are, indeed, other legal tools that can be used to fit the purpose of getting traffic data of interest.

First, ISPs and telco operators might still retain traffic data for other legitimate purposes and for longer periods than the six months “sponsored” by the ECJ. This can happens either with the consent of the customer (for marketing and commercial purposes) or without (in case the traffic data have to be retained to meet under a statutory term (in Italy, ten years) the legal obligation to provide evidence to the tax authorities that the billed services have actually been provided and that the ISP is not involved in a money laundering activity. Thus as soon as some data – though not all the one retained under the now defunct DRD – are available, a prosecutor can always seize it.

Second, the Budapest Convention on cybercrime allows the public authorities to issue a “data-freeze” order to avoid the deletion. Again, this might be a second best solution, but it is currently working and viable.

Third, the national Data Protection Authorities have the power, under the Directive 95/46, to issue orders to “customize” the implementation of this legal instrument so to match the requirements of the ECJ, thus legally keeping alive, though maybe partially, the intrinsic admissibility of the data-retention as such under the current European Data Protection legal framework.