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AlertBoot offers a cloud-based full disk encryption and mobile device security service for companies of any size who want a scalable and easy-to-deploy solution. Centrally managed through a web based console, AlertBoot offers mobile device management, mobile antivirus, remote wipe & lock, device auditing, USB drive and hard disk encryption managed services.


AlertBoot Endpoint Security

AlertBoot offers a cloud-based full disk encryption and mobile device security service for companies of any size who want a scalable and easy-to-deploy solution. Centrally managed through a web based console, AlertBoot offers mobile device management, mobile antivirus, remote wipe & lock, device auditing, USB drive and hard disk encryption managed services.
  • Equifax Data Breach Continues To Bear Poisoned Fruit

    About two weeks ago, when Equifax first revealed their massive data breach, it was noted by many that the company didn't appear to be prepared nor equipped to deal with the demands of whatever contingency plans they had prepared for the day they would be hacked. That was on the first day after Equifax had gone public.
    In the two weeks since, those observations have proven to be more than prescient. Because so much has happened, I present you a list. Between then and as of September 19, 2017, the following are true:
    • The price of Equifax's stock has plunged 35% in response to the data breach and all the other news following it.
    • A couple of Equifax honcho's "retired" after the breach was made public, including the Chief Security Officer (CSO).
    • It turns out that Equifax's CSO has a bachelor's and master's degree in music.
      • It should be noted, however, that she has worked in security-related positions at other big companies.
      • Plus, plenty of programmers (security or otherwise) are music majors, philosophy majors, art majors… you get the idea. (On the other hand, this is apparently not the case for the ex-CSO, as far as one can tell).
    • More than 30 lawsuits have been filed.
    • The Federal Trade Commission announced an investigation into the data breach.
    • The US DOJ started criminal investigations to see if the three executives who recently sold nearly $2 million in stock violated federal law.
    • Security researchers found that Equifax's Argentinian branch had an employee portal that used "admin" and "admin" for the username and password.
    • Equifax initially blamed a vulnerability in Apache software for the hack. The latter immediately issued a press release pointing out that a security patch had been available since March.
    • Speaking of March, it turns out that there was an initial data breach at Equifax that occurred in that same month.
      • While currently being treated separately, it could possibly be the initial ingress into Equifax, well before the July data breach that was initially proclaimed.
    • Equifax revealed that up to 400,000 in England had been affected by the breach.
      • As well as 10,000 in Canada.
      • And let's not forget the 143 million in the USA.
    • The site Equifax set up to reveal whether a person was affected by the data breach gave inaccurate answers.
      • That site was set up outside of the main site. As certain security researchers noted, it made for easy phishing. One proved it by setting up a fake site, which ended up being passed via Twitter by whoever was managing Equifax's Twitter account.
    • Equifax tried to charge consumers for freezing their credit reports – and then announced that they wouldn't.

    Some of the reactions to the data breach are not unexpected, and yet surprising – like the lawsuits. It was expected, but thirty of them filed in less than a week? Wow.

    Other outcomes, such as charging people for freezing their credit reports, are mind-blowing. It's like no one thought to consult the PR department because… at this point, what's the use?

    The stock market seems to think that the other shoe has fallen. At the beginning of this week, Equifax's stock price stopped its losses and ever so slowly begun to rise, although some say that it's nothing but a dead cat bounce, either because the market hasn't effectively priced everything in or because there's more bad news on the horizon.

    Based on the last couple of weeks, it wouldn't be foolhardy to wait and see what other surprises spring up.  

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  • Equifax Hack Affects 143 Million SSNs

    Equifax, one of the three largest credit reporting agencies in the US, announced yesterday that they have been hacked. The leaked information includes full names, SSNs, birth dates, and addresses, among other data.
    It's not the biggest hack to date – that dubious honor goes to Yahoo, which claimed 1 billion users and 500 million users (that's right; two data breaches involving over 100 million people each).
    However, the Equifax data breach is more worrisome since it involves truly sensitive information. If Yahoo's data conundrum gave the bad guys a phishing line, Equifax equipped them with a ordnance store full of dynamite.

    Nearly Half the US Population Affected, Took 2 Months to Raise Alert

    Per Equifax's admission, approximately 143 million Americans were affected by this data breach. Taking into consideration that the US population is somewhere around 300 million people, it means that nearly 50% of the entire US has been touched by this latest hack.
    And, when you consider that people are married, live together, etc, it wouldn't be surprising to find that close to 100% of American households are affected.
    Even more shocking: Equifax discovered the hack on July 29 (the hack itself was in May). It took them nearly a month to go public with the information. And while that's probably within the legal boundaries, Equifax more than other companies, probably knows that going public with the admission sooner would have been better.
    It is, after all, one of the go-to guys for other companies when they experience a data breach. One can only assume that Equifax knows all the ins and out of what to do when data breaches strike; they probably developed marketing and services around it. (Which brings up an interesting question: will Equifax, with a straight face, offer their own credit monitoring and identity protection services to 143 million people, "out of an abundance of caution," as the industry saying goes?)
    There are even reports that credit card numbers (for approximately 200,000 people) were also stolen in the hack. Which is weird because you're not supposed to be storing such data, at least not without encryption.

    Stock Down 12% After Hours, Insider Trading Accusations

    The news didn't go well. Aside from all the major (and minor) news networks reporting on this latest data incidence, people with access to after hours stock trading managed to push the price down by 12% (and today's pre-market is pushing it further down).
    This probably wasn't helped by reports that three executives sold $1.8 million worth of shares shortly after the data breach was discovered. It could very well have been "innocent" (the sales were not pre-scheduled) but such news incentivizes outsiders to start dumping shares now, ask questions later.
    All in all, these are not the actions of an organization prepared to meet head-on the demands of a data contingency plan.
    Which is surprising.
    Equifax and other similar companies know they are hacking targets for the digital data that they possess. They are the mother lode, so to speak. One would have expected them to plan accordingly, but if you look at tweets and whatnot, it's beginning to look like they were caught with their pants down in every aspect.
    For example, someone managed to reach Equifax's help, and the person on the end of the line admitted being hired outside help and not having access to a database for checking whether the caller was affected or not by the data breach. More than one month into discovering the data breach.

    The Silver Lining

    Can any good come out of this? When you consider that half of the US is affected, you just know that government officials are going to be swept up in this. Perhaps enough P.O.'ed congresspeople will lead to something (finally).
    But, if the past is the guide to the future, you're best off betting that remarkably little will change.
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  • Delaware Updates Data Breach Notification Rules

    Delaware, the second-smallest state but the leader in business incorporations, at least within the USA, has updated its legal framework regarding data breach notifications. Beginning on August 14, 2018, companies that experience a data breach must notify any affected individuals in Delaware within 60 days. In addition, credit monitoring – free of charge, of course – is now a legal requirement, not a "favor" or "show of goodwill" on the part of the companies.

    And there's more, much more.  

    Changes, Long Time Coming

    Delaware is famous for being a pro-business state; there's a reason why over 60% of Fortune 500 business are legally incorporated there. Indeed, it's so pro-business that sometimes it seems that Delaware residents take a back seat to their "legally-people" brethren. Case in point: the original data breach laws Delaware passed in 2005, and all the problems it had.

    Well, in less than one year, real people will see their rights elevated:

    • Reasonable protection of personal information.
      • Includes an update on the definition of "encryption."
      • A change in the language so that, if encryption is compromised in the data breach, encryption as safe harbor doesn't kick in.
    • Updated definition of "personal information."
      • Under the new law, medical information; biometric data; user names and passwords; health insurance policy numbers; passport numbers; financial account routing numbers; and individual taxpayer identification numbers, among others, have been added as personal information.
    • Notification to residents within 60 days of a data breach.
    • Notification to the Attorney General if more than 500 people are affected.
    • Free credit monitoring for one year.
    Obviously, the above doesn't cover everything. The legislature included a handy synopsis in the bill, copied verbatim below. As you read over the list, you'll notice that an effort was made to remove certain things, which is interesting as well.
    This Act revises HB 180 to reflect input from a wide group of stakeholders. This Substitute Act differs from HB 180 as follows:
    • Terminology has been revised to be more accurate and consistent.
    • A definition of "person" is added and includes government, consistent with current law.
    • A definition of “determination of breach of security” is added.
    • Marriage certificates, full birth dates and birth certificates, shared secrets and security tokens, and digital or electronic signatures are removed from the definition of "personal information."
    • An application for health insurance is removed from the definition of personal information because all of the information in an application that is of concern is separately listed in the definition of personal information.
    • Removes the requirement that the Department of Justice develop regulations and a model form of notice.
    • Clarifies how to provide notice if a breach involves login credentials of an email account that is the basis of the breach.
    • Clarifies that notice of a breach can be provided after 60 days from discovery when it is determined at a later time that the breach includes additional residents.
    • Provides examples of federal laws that can be complied with to constitute compliance with this chapter.
    • Removes the private right of action for the failure of a person to provide notice under this chapter. The Common Law cause of action for actual damages as a result of a breach is unaffected by this change.

    Some Controversy

    On providing credit monitoring for free, some have pointed out the potential outsized effect on small and medium sized businesses.

    In this day and age when it's easier than ever to compile extremely large databases, even for the smallest mom-and-pop store, the concerns are more than valid. Indeed, when you think about it, many things work against small businesses, especially when it comes to data security. For example, they ostensibly have less money than a megacorporation, meaning they cannot afford the best digital security on offer. Nor can they afford to upgrade their existing security as often. Nor can they guarantee access to dedicated IT professionals who could potentially lower the risk of a data breach in their day-to-day jobs.

    On the other hand, hackers don't give breaks just because you happen to be an SMB. And, at the end of the day, if 100,000 people (or more!) are affected by a data breach, the damage is the same whether the breached entity is a business operated by two people or twenty-thousand people.


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  • NIST Guy Who Came Up With Hair-Tearing Password Requirements Says He's Sorry

    The "NIST midlevel manager" who came up with the crazy password requirements – well, technically, recommendations. You know, must include special characters, uppercase and lower case letters, alphanumeric – says that he's sorry and that "much of what [he] did [he] now regret[s]."
    As the Wall Street Journal explains, Bill Burr was a manager at the NIST – not a security researcher – who was under a deadline to produce a document on password security. In addition to not being a security researcher, he was also hampered in his efforts by the lack of and access to data. In the end, he based his guide on an outdated white paper.
    And ever since, people all over the world have been struggling with passwords.  

    It Doesn't Work (But For the Lack of Trying… and Not)

    Burr should give himself a break. The reason why his requirements don't work is because people are quite tenacious when it comes to abusing loopholes in the digital realm. That, and the inexorable progress when it comes to the speed of computing hardware.
    The NIST document made its debut in 2003. We're living in 2017. When you consider that Moore's Law – the one regarding computer processing power, that it doubles every two years or so – is still valid as of right now, it means that today's processors are 128 times faster than those of 2003; password lengths, though, have barely budged from between 8 and 12 characters long.
    In addition, in the realm of brute-forcing passwords, pure CPU processing power has been surpassed by other approaches. GPUs have left them in the dust, as have distributed and parallel processing. In the face of tremendous brute-force processing power, there's only a handful ways to ensure that a password can retain its integrity in the face of attacks:
    1. Make the password longer,
    2. Increase the number of values for each character (e.g., lowercase alphabet is 26 values; upper and lowercase is 52 values; the addition of numbers to that is 62 values; etc.),
    3. Change your password frequently, or
    4. Slow down how quickly a password is processed (e.g., even if hardware can run through a gazillion passwords per second, the system is designed so that it can check one password per second).
    Data breaches the world over have shown that certain passwords are used over and over. Regardless of how long or crazily complicated a password is, if a sizable sample of the population uses the same passwords, #1 through #3 become meaningless.
    And, #4 becomes meaningless when you have data breaches the world over.
    People may complain that frequent password changes, complex passwords, etc. "don't work" but what's the option? Never change passwords? Make passwords as simple as possible?  

    Regarding That XKCD Comic…

    And, of course, the WSJ made a reference to the classic XKCD strip regarding "correcthorsebatterystaple" as a password.
    The problem with creating passwords using this approach is that, when enough people in the population start using it, it will become the weak link of passwords.
    As noted in the comic strip (which is a bit dated, from 2011), correcthorsebatterystaple has 44 bits of entropy, which is based on 4 words randomly chosen from a list of 2048 common words. It notes that it would take hundreds of years to break.
    A comparable way of looking at this is that it offers the same level of protection of a password that is 8 characters long, each character chosen from a list that is made from lower and uppercase alphabet letters; all numbers from 0 to 9; and four special characters.
    Here's the thing: researchers have shown that they can brute-force passwords with 10 characters or less within a couple of weeks. Indeed, passwords have to be about 22 characters long or so to pass muster.
    So, hitting on correcthorsebatterystaple wouldn't take hundreds of years; I doubt if it would take a week – using an iPhone, no less. Could people use words from a bigger, thicker dictionary? Sure. But they won't. Mesothelioma will show up – and its spelling be correctly recollected from memory – as often as Tr0ub4dor&3 (There is the advantage, though, that mesothelioma can be looked up in a dictionary).
    Of course, you could also use the same 2048 words but make the password longer (more than 4 random words)…but the equivalent to the 22 characters I mentioned above would be 12 randomly picked words. All of a sudden, it's not so easy to remember anymore.
    Take a bow, Mr. Burr. It's not that your guidelines don't work; it's just that technology razes everything in its path, and most humans are terrible at remembering anything that is unfamiliar and beyond a certain length


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  • Customs and Border Protection Admits They Cannot Search Remote Data

    Earlier this week, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) responded to Senator Ron Wyden's inquiries regarding electronic device searches at US borders (more specifically, airports). As numerous media outlets have relayed, CBP "admitted" that they do not have the authority to search data that is "solely" in the cloud, data that is not the on a device itself but could easily be accessed via a smartphone.
    The implication, it appears, is that CBP does not want to risk accessing information that could exist in servers located on proper US or foreign soil – that is, outside of their own jurisdiction – and which could require a proper warrant.
    But aside from that, CBP reiterated that they have the right to conduct searches on data storage devices. The inclusion of the word "solely" in the response, experts surmise, means that emails, text messages, and other information that exist both in the cloud and a device is fair game.
    In addition, CBP apparently admitted:
    that travelers can refuse to unlock their devices or hand over their passwords, but if they do so, CBP officials have the right to detain the device. []

    A Couple of Things of Note

    As interesting as the above may be, taking a look at the actual letter(PDF) had plenty of surprising things to reveal that wasn't covered elsewhere.
    To begin with, it appears that CBP can search your belongings for absolutely no reason ("do not require a warrant or suspicion") – it wasn't "just a feeling" that they were doing it, it's actual policy. In addition, they will limit when they'll search a device's contents based on geographic location. In a footnote, the following can be found:
    Border searches of electronic devices do not require a warrant or suspicion, except that following the decision in Cotterman v. United States, 709 F.3d 952 (9th Cir.2013), certain searches undertaken in the Ninth Circuit require reasonable suspicion of activities in violation of a law enforced or administered by CBP.
    The implication here is that, somehow, entering the US via the west coast guarantees a little more rule of law than entering the US from elsewhere (the Ninth Circuit is comprised of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Washington, as well as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands).
    In addition, the letter pointed out that searches of devices are "exceedingly rare… less than one-hundredth of one percent of travelers arriving" to the US.
    This means that devices searches are less than one in 10,000 (which translates to 0.0001 or 0.01%); it also implies that searches are somewhere close to this number. That does seem rare indeed. Except, let's put that in context, shall we?
    According to the US's own government data (PDF), 77.51 million international visitors traveled to the US in 2015. For Americans going abroad, it was 32.78 million; one assumes most of them will return. Applying that 1 in 10,000 figure above, it translates to approximately 11,000 devices searched. It might be relatively small to the number of people entering the US, but it's a pretty big number in its own right. I mean, can you imagine 11,000 phones laid side by side? Where do they even store all this stuff?
    For an everyday comparison, take the instance of car crashes. According to this site, over 37,000 people die in road crashes each year. There are about 323 million people in the US. That means 1.15 in 10,000 people die in car crashes every year in the US. Those figures are pretty close to the number of devices searched by CBP.
    Now, ask yourself, does it feel to you as if car crash deaths are exceedingly rare in the US?  

    One Final Thing

    In a question, the Senator asked whether (my emphasis) "CBP is required to first inform the traveler that he or she has the right to refuse to disclose a social media or email account password or device PIN or password"?
    The CBP's answer, while long, does not address the issue. It would appear that the answer is "no, there is no such requirement."
    Not sure why you'd perform verbal jujitsu instead of coming right out and saying it. It wouldn't be unexpected of people who can perform "border searches of electronic devices [that] do not require a warrant or suspicion."
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  • Australia Looking To Compel Electronic Message Decryption

    Last week, Reuters and other sources reported that the Australian government has proposed laws that would compel companies to provide access to encrypted information. Obviously, asking for such data is conditional upon taking all the proper legal steps.  

    A Growing Demand

    Governments the world over have been clamoring for access to encrypted data for years now, for decades if you want to be technical about it: ever since the "encryption wars" of the 1990s. But, demands have particularly intensified in recent years, usually under the banner of "we can't tell what terrorists are doing," an argument maintained by upstanding democracies as well as disreputable nation states.

    Some propose the inclusion of backdoors to encryption, which is universally rejected by security professionals: in an era when even unwitting mistakes can be leveraged to break into encryption, a purposefully built-in cryptographic defect will undoubtedly create bigger problems – especially if it's known, without a doubt, that there is one to be exploited.

    (On a societal level, backdoors present a different problem to governments supposedly accountable to the people they represent: your government officials proposing to force companies to secretly build a way to spy on people. Even if the government were to follow all protocol when doing the spying, it would be hard to shake off comparisons to ***, fascists, Cold War-era Eastern Europe, North Korea, etc. because legal protocols were followed in these cases, too).  

    Not a Back Door, But Security Suffers Nonetheless

    Australia's proposed legislation is heavily based on the United Kingdom's "Snooper's Charter." However, it differs in its decryption requirement, with the UK's version not having such a clause.

    Thankfully, back doors are not required to meet the rule of law. For example, a copy of each message ever sent via an encrypted app could be kept stored somewhere. The encryption engine used in the apps could remain intact, ensuring that messages that are intercepted cannot be cracked. This means, however, that the app provider would have to act as a middle man, and that the message would be encrypted twice: once when being sent to the app provider and again when the latter sends the message to the recipient.

    If the provider is subpoenaed, it's a matter of producing the decrypted message to the authorities. (One assumes that these messages will be stored in an encrypted state until necessary).

    This, however, introduces a second problem: knowing that perfect security is impossible, the provider is charged with the unachievable duty of protecting every single one of those messages from hackers, be they internal, external, or government-sanctioned (foreign or otherwise).

    Furthermore, it does nothing to address the original problem that started this entire "encrypt everything" mindset: finding out that governments, Australia included, have been collecting, processing, mining, and generally spying on people. What's even more suspicious is that, when challenged or about to be challenged about these practices, the programs were shut down.

    Sounds like something out of the Bourne Trilogy.  

    Short-lived Gains

    Looking at the long-term consequences, it looks like the law will be for naught. The argument for favoring the law is that governments are having a hard time finding, tracking, and neutralizing terrorist activities; and that it's not the government's intention to pry into private lives on a massive, automated scale.

    Fair enough.

    But, aren't terrorists using these encrypted apps because they're encrypted? It's not as if they chose a communication app for its choice of emoticons and stickers and, as a happy coincidence, it also features end-to-end encryption.

    Consequently, if governments the world over decide to enact similar laws to Australia's proposed, wouldn't it force terrorists to use something else? Perhaps create an encryption app of their own that can be side-loaded on a smartphone? It wouldn't necessarily be easy, but with enough resources, it's not impossible. For example, Mexican drug cartels have been known to build their own cellular network; creating a private communications app would be less daunting and cheaper… and its operation would be harder to detect.

    So, the end result would still be the same – governments having a hard time finding, tracking, and neutralizing terrorist activities – but with increased costs to providers and increased security risks for law-abiding people all around.

    This, however, does not seem to faze the Australian government. Assuming, of course, that they've even considered it at depth. Australian Prime Minister Turnbull had this to say regarding math and cryptography:

    "Well the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia," he said.
    This was later clarified:
    "I'm not a cryptographer, but what we are seeking to do is to secure [technology companies'] assistance. They have to face up to their responsibility. They can't just wash their hands of it and say it's got nothing to do with them."
    Of course, tech companies are not saying that, that "it's got nothing to do with them." If anything, tech companies are essentially stating the obvious. In terms of an analogy, they're saying that they cannot create a gun that only shoots the bad guys, and when trained on the good guys, the gun won't work. Encryption is the same, and the moment you start making compromises on how it works, it's bound to create other problems. Regarding guns, it would be limited and minimal, but when it comes to encryption, the effects could be global.  

    Two Moves Ahead?

    However, perhaps the end game to the legislation is forcing criminals off well-protected, well-financed apps and devices.

    Some of the brightest minds in the world are working on or contributing towards the security efforts of companies whose lifeblood is the internet. Criminals' technical knowhow and financial resources are microscopic in comparison to what these companies can marshal for data security. Piggybacking on their efforts, and for gratis to boot, is a win-win for bad guys.

    Understandably, governments should be incensed. It would be preferable that those in the shadows use their (comparatively paltry) resources on creating "top-notch" security – thus shifting funds away from, say, weapons – than getting it for free.

    And, while creating a communications app might be relatively easy, creating a secure means of communication with perfect privacy is not. If the best minds in the world are not involved, there's a very good chance that easily exploitable flaws will be found… and that's familiar ground for intelligence organizations.

    So, even if criminals and terrorists do veer off towards uncompromised encrypted communications because of the law, the end result could very well not be the same.

    The only problem? You can't legislate math and science; in the long run, they win. The problems pointed out by mathematicians, scientists, cryptologists, data security professionals, and others will rear their ugly heads sooner or later.

    The question is whether it will have been worth it.


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