An Answer to Apple’s Answer about the Iphone Hack FBI’s Request

Apple addressed in a letter to its customers the issues related to the FBI’s request to be provided with Iphone cracking tools.

Here is a detailed analysis of Apple’s statement.

Why is Apple objecting to the government’s order?
First, the government would have us write an entirely new operating system for their use … It would be wrong to intentionally weaken our products with a government-ordered backdoor. If we lose control of our data, we put both our privacy and our safety at risk. …

True, but fact is that by providing unbreakable security measures Apple doesn’t need to care about data protection and privacy laws. As soon as Apple is not able to access users’ data, it is not subjected to the costly burden to comply with an (admittedly) bureaucratic and demanding (European) regulation and reduces its chance to be challenged in Court for privacy infringements.

Second, the order would set a legal precedent that would expand the powers of the government and we simply don’t know where that would lead us. Should the government be allowed to order us to create other capabilities for surveillance purposes, such as recording conversations or location tracking? This would set a very dangerous precedent.

ISPs and carriers are already forced to use devices that eases the (court authorized) wiretappings. Why Apple should be granted an exemption?

Is it technically possible to do what the government has ordered?
Yes, it is certainly possible to create an entirely new operating system to undermine our security features as the government wants. But it’s something we believe is too dangerous to do. The only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it.

The easiest pun would be: how about nukes? But (dark) humour apart, a private company has no “jurisdiction” over policy issues and cannot supersede the will of the People. In other words: it is not Apple’s job to decide what is “safe” and what is not.

Could Apple build this operating system just once, for this iPhone, and never use it again?
The digital world is very different from the physical world. In the physical world you can destroy something and it’s gone. But in the digital world, the technique, once created, could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. … Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case.

So what? A criminal investigation has its needs and can’t be stopped by the business interests of a private company.

Has Apple unlocked iPhones for law enforcement in the past?
No. … We’ve built progressively stronger protections into our products with each new software release, including passcode-based data encryption, because cyberattacks have only become more frequent and more sophisticated. As a result of these stronger protections that require data encryption, we are no longer able to use the data extraction process on an iPhone running iOS 8 or later.

Well, this raises an interesting point. If my memory still works, when, back in the days, Napster got indicted by a New York Court, it has been because the client has been designed without taking into account the involved copyright issues. In other words, the judge punished the fact that Napster was “per se” able to ease the infringement of the law. A sort of “liability by design”. So, enforcing the very same principle to the Apple’s statement, the point is that as a matter of fact IOS is deliberately designed to prevent a forensic investigation. Is this a source of liability?

The government says your objection appears to be based on concern for your business model and marketing strategy. Is that true?
Absolutely not. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is and always has been about our customers. …

I wander what Apple’s CEO would say to its stakeholders should the stocks value fall because of this refusal to comply with the FBI request. A company, and its CEO, have a duty of protection toward the people who invested its money. Sure, Apple has a terrific customer support and is – IP protection apart – a fairly open company. But this doesn’t change the fact that the business impact of a strategy is the main drive to take a decision.

Is there any other way you can help the FBI?
We have done everything that’s both within our power and within the law to help in this case. As we’ve said, we have no sympathy for terrorists. …

I’m sure Apple did. But the point is that, as I said before, that by building an unbreakable IOS version, there is little that Apple could do…

What should happen from here?
Our country has always been strongest when we come together. We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Act and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology, and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy, and personal freedoms. Apple would gladly participate in such an effort.

If the FBI’s request has been based upon a valid law there it must be acknowledged. Full stop. If the law is wrong then it will be amended or withdrawn, but until is valid, then dura lex, sed lex.

A final note.

There is an untold assumption in all these issues: that a public prosecutor is not free to investigate a crime and this is clearly not possible.

In Italy, if a prosecutor needs something like the FBI does, he has the power to order it, and the criminal corporate liability regulations punishes as a criminal offense obstructing the investigation.

There is a clear difference between the Apple refusal to comply (grounded on business concerns and not on protecting people’s rights) and the privacy talibans (who just unreasonably put privacy above everything else.)

The actual question is: why people do not trust the State and its law enforcement agencies?

If we could trust the powers-that-be, than we might accept to strike a deal with the devil for the sake of a “greater good”, but truth is that we can’t trust the Leviathan.

So, to put it short, I find both position in bad faith:)

Iphone-as-a-weapon: back to 1991 (or: why you can’t trust commercial grade security)

The Iphone vs FBI quarrel about the “need” of Apple’s support to hack into an Iphone switches back the clock to 1991, when Phil Zimmermann gave PGP to the rest of the world, infringing the US veto on encryption export. So, this Apple vs FBI thing is actually nothing new since the position of the supporter for the two arguments is still the same.

But there is a new perspective, though, that worth to be considered and that wasn’t that spread at Zimmermann’s time: the role of non-for-profit, personal encryption.

A company, like Apple, sooner or later will comply with the disclose/hack support order by a court. It is just matter of finding a way to minimize the sales impact of such compliance.

Open-source, NGO, non-for-profit created encryption, on the contrary, has neither an “owner” nor a “CEO” who can be ordered to do something “nasty”. Furthermore, open-source based encryption already gives “the good guys” all the information they need to break the ciphers that endanger their investigation.

The point, though, is another: the FBI didn’t ask for the Iphone security’s blueprints. They just wanted a “tool” to exploit the gimmick, with no actual need to understand how would it works. And to me this is a nightmare scenario. I might trust a forensic expert who does his job in a lab, but I have some “problem” acknowledging the fact that every single law enforcement agent, with no actual competence, might have such a powerful tool to be used without actual supervision.

Again, we go back in time: who will watch the watchers?

Is The IPhone Criminals’ Weapon of Choice?

According to NBC, Apple has been ordered by a federal judge to support the FBI in decrypting the Iphone used by the people accused of having slaughtered 14 people in San Bernardino, California, last December, 2, 2015. The court order has been necessary since Apple refused to voluntarily provide such support.

These are the bare facts, that have been turned into a horse of different colours by  bad-faith anti and pro encryption activist. The former sang the usual song “Strong Encryption Smooths Criminals”(FBI Records), while the latter waged the old flag “Weak Encryption Affects Civil Rights”.

The federal court neither asked for a backdoor nor for the enforcement  of a weaker Iphone security, but just said Apple to support the after-crime investigation. This court order doesn’t hampers people’s legal right to strong encryption, because the justice said something like “you have the right to own a strong safe, but the State has the right to try to open it whatever the mean in case of a criminal investigation”. In this context, then, the fact that Apple has been ordered to provide support to the FBI is not constitutionally illegal.

I still support strong encryption for the masses (and for companies too), but I don’t think that making a case out of this court order might help the civil right cause. It only works as as a (maybe unintended) advertising stunt for Apple that can portray itself as a “privacy shield”.

Italian Digital Signature Software Exposed to Man-in-the-middle Attack?

An independent researcher compiled a list of known Apple OSX-related vulnerabilities, including one that affects the Sparkle Updater Framework.

I’ve just checked my Mac with this command

find /Applications -name Sparkle.framework

and found that DikeX, the old version of the digital-signature tool released by Infocert S.p.a., uses Sparkle. I don’t know if the software is plagued by the bug, but this is exactly the point: nobody from Infocert just warned users with a single word about.

Why Him? (Marco Carrai, Matteo Renzi and Cybersecurity in Italy)

The appointment made by Italian PM Matteo Renzi of Marco Carrai as head of the Italian cybersecurity raised a storm of criticism and concern among the IT Security “professionals” that started complaining about his lack of competence, conflict of interest and so on.

Many of the complaints (a few of them I’ve heard privately, from people that called me for that purpose), though look more like a “why him and not me?” or “what does he have more than me?” instead of a serious analysis of Carrai’s adequacy-for-the-job.

He might not be the right person for such a role, but he is trusted by the prime minister and that is all that matters.

Not the first time, not the last time but – above all – not the first critical sector where such things happens.

 

Become an IT security guru in 10 steps

Become a legal IT security expert doesn’t need a lot of effort and, with the due care, you can build your legend in a short time-frame following ten easy steps:

  1. learn the lingo (security is a process, not a product; don’t use simply-to-guess password, is your company ISO-27000-1 compliant? and so on),
  2. give yourself an “authoritative” demeanor and look (always talk in a “visionary” way, making people feel like they still live in the stone age) and dress accordingly,
  3. Talk legalese with techies, technical with lawyers,
  4. attend (possibly) international IT technical, legal/management conferences and try to get as much pictures as possible  of you with reputable people although they don’t know you, and regularly update your facebook/google+/blog with those pictures,
  5. try to give a speech at some university students association, so you can claim to be an “invited speaker” at the university (without mentioning the name, of course),
  6. create your own “digital-something organization”, become its chairman (and sole member, BTW) and champion for digital human rights,
  7. flood the newspapers with press-releases that will be regularly ignored until some journalist that is out of time to finish an article stumbles upon your statement, thus promoting you at the level of “source”
  8. try to catch-up with some low-level civil servant involved in trivial stuff related to the trade, give him some vapourware hint that makes him look smart at work, and use him as a source of petty-information that let you look like you’re part of the “inner circle”,
  9. try to have as much as possible Linkedin connection,
  10. get the European Computer Driving License (at least, you must know how to switch on a computer to work in this field, don’t you?)

By following these steps you start a loop where your legend become more and more solid up to a moment when you will be considered a “guru” and nobody will ever check your actual background.

And don’t worry, if you ever get a client, as soon as you stay stick to these ten commandments you’re safe: nobody will ever challenge the outcome (if any) of your work, because nobody will ever admit to having being fooled into hiring a fake…

Why Italy Already Lost the World(Cyber)War

We (Italians) can of course continue to lure ourselves into believing that dealing with “password policies”, “critical infrastructure committees” and “mandatory security measures” – just to name a few buzzwords – is enough to grant a decent level of security for our networks.

We can continue, after twenty years, to listen at – and say – the very same bull… stuff we used to say in the pre-internet era about ICT security (don’t use easy passwords, don’t write it on a post-it, use an anti-virus, etc.)

We can, definitely, keep going in waiting for the next “IT guru” or “magic box” that will make the bad guys disappear from our computers.

But we still continue using flawed software and operating systems without making the software houses pay for their faults (disguised as “features”.)

We still buy things and boxes (read: hardware) believing that just because of that “we are safe”.

And we still keep a blind eye to the actual quality of the IT security in public institutions.

Two options as a conclusion: we’re either stronger than we appear to be or we are incredibly lucky.

But luck doesn’t last forever, and we need to be lucky every single minute of the day, while the attackers, just once.

The Web is ISIS’s Nuclear Bomb

The Web is ISIS’s Nuclear Bomb. This is what Loretta Napoleoni, author of books on the economic side of terrorism, wrote in an article for the leftwinger Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.

Napoleoni claims that – as the Marxist ideology did in the past with the “word-of-mouth” or, better, “word-of-book” – ISIS’s propaganda gets its power from a new “ideology-spreading-tool”: the Internet, and thank to the Internet will last, no matter what:

Even though, hypothetically, we should succeed in taking out all of ISIS’s warriors by bombing them and killing al Baghdadi, the ideology that these people have created and their universal message will last on the Internet. 1

I don’t have enough authority to challenge the curious association Napoleoni did between Karl Marx philosophy and ISIS’s vision of the Islamic religion, but I find grossly superficial and offensive for the victims of (every) war to compare “the Web” to a nuclear bomb.

As I wrote in a post, war is made of bullets, and bullets hurt as do (nuclear) bombs. Bombs make carnage, slaughters, shred a human being in pieces, burn, annihilate, vaporize, wipe communities, blindly kill innocents, pollute lands for centuries or millennia (ask Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors for additional info, just in case.) E-mail, newsgroups, chats, FTP (yes, Napoleoni, the Internet is not only made by HTTP) are tool of freedom designed by free people to give humans a free chance to communicate with no physical and social barrier.

Those like Napoleoni – and her cultural associates, member of the “Internet-as-a-threat Club” – should simply accept the fact that ideas are countered (and sometimes, fought) with ideas and that the worst way to challenge a disturbing statement is to censor it.

The idea that a sole statement might change somebody’s personal philosophy up to turning him into a human bomb carrier is simply wrong. Change of mind happens by way of  tragedies, loneliness, apartheid and injustice and not because of a tweet.

As per the “Internet Patrolling” advocated (not only) by Napoleoni – though sadly labelled by her as ineffective – again, let’s go back to basics: as the East Germany, Russian and Italian political police history show, to fight an enemy and prevent attacks there is no substitute for an actual, massive, ruthless and pervasive physical control. But t this is disturbing and, rightly so, nobody in the Western world is available to give a government so much power.

And here comes the brilliant solution: let’s fall back on the Internet and blame “the Web” as a radicalization tool.

No, Napoleoni, ideologies will not last because of a blog. They will stand until there will be inequality in world, it means until the end of time.

  1. Orginal text in Italian: Anche se, ipoteticamente, riuscissimo a stanare con le bombe tutti i guerrieri dello Stato Islamico e a far fuori al Baghdadi, l’ideologia che costoro hanno creato ed il loro messaggio universale in rete rimarrà

War is fought with bullets

True, the monumental unscrupulousness of the ICT business (which sells systems
without concerns for the security side), and the naïveté of its clients (trusting hardware instead of good practice and appropriate security processes) built today’s western digital infrastructure as a Colossus with feet of clay.

True, this made the Western World a soft target for computer-related criminals and terrorists.

True, a lot of damage can be done in a short time by a committed digital strike.

But don’t forget that war is fought with bullets, real bullets.

And bullets do hurt.

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.