Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Guns, Homicides and Data

I came across a fascinating post at Jon Udell’s blog, “Homicide rates in context ,” which starts out with this graph of 2007 data: Jon’s post says more than I care to on this subject right now, and points out questions worth asking. As I said in my post on “Thoughts on the Tragedies of […]


Emergent Effects of Restrictions on Teenage Drivers

For more than a decade, California and other states have kept their newest teen drivers on a tight leash, restricting the hours when they can get behind the wheel and whom they can bring along as passengers. Public officials were confident that their get-tough policies were saving lives. Now, though, a nationwide analysis of crash […]


Nymwars: Thoughts on Google+

There’s something important happening around Google+. It’s the start of a rebellion against the idea of “government authorized names.” (A lot of folks foolishly allow the other side to name this as “real names,” but a real name is a name someone calls you.) Let’s start with “Why Facebook and Google’s Concept of ‘Real Names’ […]


AT&T, Voice Encryption and Trust

Yesterday, AT&T announced an Encrypted Mobile Voice. As CNet summarizes: AT&T is using One Vault Voice to provide users with an application to control their security. The app integrates into a device’s address book and “standard operation” to give users the option to encrypt any call. AT&T said that when encryption is used, the call […]


Transparency, India, Voting Machines

India’s EVMs are Vulnerable to Fraud. And for pointing that out, Hari Prasad has been arrested by the police in India, who wanted to threaten and intimidate him question him about where he got the machine that he studied. That’s a shame. The correct response is to fund Hari Prasad’s work, not use the police […]


Why we need strong oversight & transparency

[The ACLU has a new] report, Policing Free Speech: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected Activity (.pdf), surveys news accounts and studies of questionable snooping and arrests in 33 states and the District of Columbia over the past decade. The survey provides an outline of, and links to, dozens of examples of Cold War-era […]



Let me tell you how it will be There’s one for you, nineteen for me Chorus: If privacy appear too small Be grateful I don’t take it all Thanks to Jim Harper for the link.


Makeup Patterns to hide from face detection

Adam Harvey is investigating responses to the growing ubiquity of surveillance cameras with facial recognition capabilities. He writes: My thesis at ITP, is to research and develop privacy enhancing counter technology. The aim of my thesis is not to aid criminals, but since artists sometimes look like criminals and vice versa, it is important to […]


How to Make Your Dating Site Attractive

There’s a huge profusion of dating sites out there. From those focused on casual encounters to christian marriage, there’s a site for that. So from a product management and privacy perspectives I found this article very thought provoking: Bookioo does not give men any way to learn about or contact the female members of the […]


Abdulmutallab/Flight 253 Airline Terror links

Air Canada is canceling US flights because of security. (Thanks, @nselby!) The New York Times reports that “Britain Rejected Visa Renewal for Suspect.” NPR reported that the State Department may have raised some sort of flag, but I don’t have a link. ABC is reporting that two of the “al Qaeda Leaders Behind Northwest Flight […]


Abdulmutallab/Flight 253 Airline Terror links

The Economist “The latest on Northwest flight 253:” “the people who run America’s airport security apparatus appear to have gone insane” and “This is the absolute worst sort of security theatre: inconvenient, absurd, and, crucially, ineffective.” Business Travel Coalition, via Dave Farber and Esther Dyson, “Aviation Security After Detroit:” “It is welcome news that President […]


New Restrictions: No Using Electronic Devices for the Last Hour

Apparently, in the wake of thousands of deaths from idiots paying more attention to GPS, cell phones, GameBoys, iPods and other such electronic devices, TSA has announced a ban on all use of such devices for the last hour of your commute. No, just kidding. Apparently, they may be imposing new secret restrictions on use […]


Fingerprinted and Facebooked at the Border

According to the Wall St Journal, “Iranian Crackdown Goes Global ,” Iran is monitoring Facebook, and in a move reminiscent of the Soviets, arresting people whose relatives criticize the regime online. That trend is part of a disturbing tendency to criminalize thoughts, intents, and violations of social norms, those things which are bad because they […]


Eight Million? Eight Million?!?!

Chris Soghoian, who we’ve mentioned here extensively in the past, has posted some new research around just how much electronic surveillance is really going on here in the US. Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers’ (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure of […]


Tifatul Sembiring Causes Disasters

The BBC reports that “Indonesia minister says immorality causes disasters:” A government minister has blamed Indonesia’s recent string of natural disasters on people’s immorality. Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring said that there were many television programmes that destroyed morals. Therefore, the minister said, natural disasters would continue to occur. His comments came as he […]


Toyota Stalks Woman, Claims She Consented

In a lawsuit filed Sept. 28 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Amber Duick claims she had difficulty eating, sleeping and going to work during March and April of last year after she received e-mails for five days from a fictitious man called Sebastian Bowler, from England, who said he was on the run from the […]


A Little Temporary Safety

So I saw this ad on the back of the Economist. (Click for a larger PDF). In reading it, I noticed this exhortation to “support the STANDUP act of 2009:” The STANDUP Act* (H.R. 1895) creates a National Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) law that [limits nighttime driving, reduces in-car distractions, puts a cap on the […]


BBC Video of Liquid Explosives

The BBC has some really scary video “Detonation of Liquid Explosives.” However, as I thought about it, I grow increasingly confused by what it purports to show, and the implications. At the end of the day, I think there are two possibilities: It’s a fair representation, or it’s not. I’m leaning slightly towards the second. […]


Off to the Moscone Center

Every year around this time, thousands of people converge on the Moscone Center in San Francisco for RSA. I had never given much thought to who Moscone was–some local politician I figured. I first heard about Harvey Milk in the context of the Dead Kennedys cover of I Fought The Law: The law don’t mean […]


Children, Online Risks and Facts

There’s an interesting (and long!) “Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys General of the United States.” Michael Froomkin summarizes the summary.” Adam Thierer was a member of the task force, and has extensive commentary on the primary online safety issue today […]


Crime in Barcelona

While having a wonderful time in Barcelona, I took the metro a fair amount. Over the course of 8 days, I saw 2 turnstile jumpers, (40€ fine) 3 smokers (30€ fine) and didn’t see as one friend got pick-pocketed (reported fine, one beating). So which crime annoyed me most? The apparently worthless invasion of privacy. […]


Blaming the Victim, Yet Again

John Timmer of Ars Technica writes about how we ignore dialog boxes in, “Fake popup study sadly confirms most users are idiots.” The article reports that researchers at the Psychology Department of North Carolina State University created a number of fake dialog boxes had varying sorts of clues that they were not real dialog boxes, […]


Keeping abreast of the threat

The German Bundespolizei have announced what the BBC are calling a “bullet-proof bra“. It may sound like a joke, but this is a serious matter – the policewoman who came up with the idea said normal bras can be dangerous when worn in combination with a bullet-proof vest. “The impact of a bullet can push […]


Black Hat (Live) Blog: Keynote

Ian Angell from the London School of Economics gave a great keynote on complexity in systems and how the desire to categorize, enumerate, and add technology can break things in interesting ways. An example of his: there’s an increasing desire among politicians and law enforcement to create huge DNA databases for forensic purposes, to aid […]


On Gaming Security

Adam comments on Dave Maynor commenting on Blizzard selling authentication tokens. Since I have the ability to comment here, I shall. This isn’t the case of a game having better security than most banks (as Maynor says). This is a game company leaping ahead of some banks, because they realize they have bank-like security issues. […]


L'affaire Kozinski

Kim Zetter on Threat Level has written about Larry Lessig’s comments about Judge Alex Kozinski’s problems with having files on a personal server made public. Zetter has asked to hear people’s opinions about the issue. I thought I’d just blog about mine. Basically, I agree with Lessig. The major place that I disagree with Lessig […]


Cat Le-Huy, Dubai and the moral high ground

Cat Le-Huy is a friend of friends who has been “detained” entering Dubai. I put detained in quotes, because he’s been thrown into prison, where he’s now spent a few weeks. He claims he was carrying melatonin, which is legal in Dubai, and the authorities have charged that there was .001 gram (1 milligram) of […]


What Would One Actually Do With A Persona?

I asked Bob Blakley and Mike Neuenschwander some questions about Limited Liability Personae. Rather than focusing on the implementation, I wanted to talk about the high level purposes, as well as concerns that most people have with the idea of a persona. Whenever I discuss personae, there are issues that frequently come up, for example: […]


Trespass and Forgiveness

A man in the UK has been arrested somewhat dramatically for illegally using a WiFi connection. The BBC reports it here as “Man arrested over wi-fi ‘theft’” and El Reg as “Broadbandit nabbed in Wi-Fi bust.” Each is worth reading. The police statement is worrying. El Reg says: Despite not having secured a conviction yet […]


Obscenities in Passwords

El Reg reports that “Pipex invites customer to get ‘c**ted’” in which the generated passwords that the Pipex system suggested contained a rude word. A screenshot is available on the Register article. There is, however, a second obscenity here that is far more subtle. That obscenity is in the password selection advice and suggestions. The […]


Food and Bacterial Risk Assessment

How clean is that piece of food that you dropped on the floor? Do you really want to eat it? Harold McGee explores the five-second rule in the New York Times. Personally, I always heard it as the thirty-second rule. I guess that it’s a good thing I have a strong immune system.


Rootkit on a Stick

The SnoopStick offers full realtime monitoring of another computer. It’s Vista-ready, too, which perhaps says something about Vista security, or perhaps about people who have had trouble working with Vista, or both. Any time you want to see what web sites your kids or employees are visiting, who they are chatting with, and what they […]


Information Leaks

I was on the last flight back west on a Friday night, glad that it looked likely I was going to get home. Even better, I’d been upgraded. I flopped into my seat, pulling out the noise-canceling headphones, laptop power adapter, books, and all that other stuff that makes a long flight an oasis of […]


There are three types of authentication

They are: Something you’ve lost, Something you’ve forgotten, and Something you used to be. Here is a sad tale of a man who has a failure on (3), realizes he’s done (2), and his solution to the problem. It’s a classic tale of how more is often less when it comes to security. Lest you […]


Information Security Needs

The NYT reports, “Rough Treatment for 2 Journalists in Pakistan” and indeed reporting is dangerous in countries where they do not respect the sort of basic rights we in the civilized world have championed for nigh 800 years. However, a computer was seized, sources were roughed up and possibly jailed or killed: Since then it […]


What Congress Can Do To Prevent Identity Theft

Seventy Percent of Americans think we need more laws to protect them from identity theft and all that. I can think of a situation we need protection from. Here is a scenario. Let us take the case of a lender, Larry. We need a law to make it so that if Larry lends money to […]


Gifts for the Cryptological Mind

Cryptological in this case meaning those who like thinking about the hidden. Authorized Da Vinci Code Cryptex from The Noble Collection. It’s very nice, made of good, solid brass. It avoids many combination lock issues. I tried some obvious ways you can cheat a letter from such a device and it was well-made enough that […]


Two On Identity

There’s the Budapest Declaration on Machine Readable Travel Documents: By failing to implement an appropriate security architecture, European governments have effectively forced citizens to adopt new international Machine Readable Travel Documents which dramatically decrease their security and privacy and increases risk of identity theft. Simply put, the current implementation of the European passport utilises technologies […]


Inconceivable Levels of Destruction

There’s been a great deal of talk around the London plot about the impact of the destruction of ten airliners. Senior US officials called it inconceivable. Now, destroying 10 planes might be murder on the scale of 9/11. It would certainly be shocking and despicable. I’d like to point out that the Iraqi people can […]


Nasty, Poor, Brutish and Short: Somalia

Life in Somalia seems truly awful, and, like Hobbes, many are willing to turn to a very powerful government to fix it. See Ethan Zuckerman’s “Somalia Update,” which points to “The Path to Ruin” in the Economist.


Birthday paradox bites FEMA

Via the SacBee: WASHINGTON (AP) – FEMA will replace locks on as many as 118,000 trailers used by Gulf Coast hurricane victims after discovering the same key could open many of the mobile homes. One locksmith cut only 50 different kinds of keys for the trailers sold to FEMA, officials said Monday The article continues: […]



Is that enough acronyms yet? In Adam’s previous post, Justin Mason commented: There’s another danger of this — even if the number is an opaque ID, the *presence* of the RFID chip means than an attacker can remotely detect the presence of an I-94, therefore a foreign passport, therefore a tourist ripe for a mugging […]


Attack of the Clones?

EKR is the voice of reason when he points out that of course RFID passports are clonable, when he responds to all the press brouhaha about, Lukas Grunwald’s demonstration at Black Hat showing that an RFID passport can be duplicated using off the shelf parts. This outcome is hardly surprising, this is yet another side […]


Breach Notification, the New Normal, and a New Metaphor

Ever wonder if banks are required to tell customers when their systems are hacked? You may be shocked to learn that they are not. Wow. Fifteen months since Choicepoint, and that’s being written? There’s a new set of expectations out there, and it hasn’t taken long to set. Thank you, Choicepoint. The quote leads an […]


Code Name: Miranda

I admit it, probably ten or more years ago I actually signed up for a supermarket affinity card. Of course, I promptly lost it during the great migration to the suburbs, and for a good while I would simply claim to have left it at home and the cashier would cheerfully use a “store card”, […]


Salesman uses credit application to stalk and rape customer

Police say a convicted murderer used his job as a car salesman in Sandy to track a female customer to her home and rape her. Cleon Jones, 34, was arrested Wednesday on multiple first-degree felonies and remains in the Salt Lake County Jail without bail. Authorities allege Jones tracked down his victim by using her […]


New Passports More Secure than Wet Paper Bags (Barely)

Remember the US Government plan to put a radio chip in your passport? The one whose security has never been seriously studied, whose justification seemed to boil down to a hope that it would speed processing, but even that was wrong? The one whose security gets worse every time anyone competent looks at it? Well, […]


The Trouble With Illicit

[Update: I meant to tie this more closely to “Illicit” book review, because I think this illustrates those hard choices.] There’s some fascinating competing legal goals on display in the Washington Post story “Area Police Try to Combat a Proliferation of Brothels:” “Sometimes it takes five or six interviews to break these girls [sic], to […]


Anonymous Blogging Wiki!

The Blog Safer Wiki was announced by the Spirit of America’s Anonymous Blogging project. There’s a lot of technology know how, and a lot of cultural issues that go into this, and Curt is doing a great job at bringing the technical knowledge to those who need it, and helping them help each other: Spirit […]


Identity Theft Poster Girl

..may just have been found! The Associated Press reports that Fashion model Beverly Peele was arrested on identity theft charges for allegedly buying around $10,000 worth of housewares, appliances and furniture by using credit card numbers without permission, authorities said Friday. […] The complaint filed against the 30-year-old alleges she charged furniture, a refrigerator, a […]


WMF Vuln fix

Courtesy of IDA Pro developer Ilfak Guilfanov. Details are available via his web log, the existence of which I learned via the seemingly indefatigable Thomas Ptacek of Matasano.


EPIC on RFID Passports

According to documents (pdf) obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act, a government report found significant problems with new hi-tech passports. Tests conducted last year revealed that “contactless” RFID passports impede the inspection process. At a meeting of a Privacy Advisory Committee today in Washington, EPIC urged (pdf) the Department of Homeland Security […]


Defensive driving

As most parents of young children would no doubt attest, when driving with “precious cargo” — lives you particularly want to protect — you typically take extra precautions. Special safety seats with five point harnesses, specialized mounting hardware, taking that bit of extra care that maybe you wouldn’t if driving alone. Well, that may all […]


London, Perspective

At the end of a long, thoughtful post, Thurston writes: One final thought. Four bombings in London are front-page, stop-the-presses news for two days straight. If that was Baghdad, only four bombings would have been a slow day. What message does that send the the Third World?


Small Segments Stolen From Some People Surnamed "S"

The first two are from Scrivener, because he’s going on vacation, they’re good, and I’m shameless. “Iraq Swede vows to catch kidnappers, reports “The Local:” A Swede held hostage in Iraq for 67 days and released a month ago has vowed to take revenge on his captors and has hired bounty hunters to capture them, […]


Small Bits: Adam Sah on Startups, RECon, Irony and Biometrics

Adam Sah (hi Adam!) has a great page of startup advice I hadn’t seen before. Presentations from RECon are now online. The University of Connecticut will be offering a Masters in Homeland Security. That’s a database I’d like to steal. Thanks to Chris Walsh for pointing it out. I’ve been meaning to followup on Juxtaposition’s […]


Undertow of Totalism

Orcinus has a great, long post on “Undertow Of Totalism.” He starts with Two Minutes Hate, and goes from there. Read it, and then ask yourself, does your blood boil when someone mentions Ann Coulter? Michael Moore? If it’s one or the other, ask yourself if you’re being played, and stop. Pay no attention. Participate […]


A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

I’ve briefly mentioned the story of a fellow getting his finger hacked off so the thieves could make off with his S-Class Mercedes. But images are far more powerful than words. Google claims that the German reads “Forest worker…or S-Class owner?” I’d love it if someone could offer a translation of the German text in […]


RFID Kills

The US Government is pushing a plan to add radios to every passport in the world. These radios will broadcast all the information in your passport to any immigration officer, id thief, or terrorist who wants it. Want to see if there are more Americans on the right or left side of the plaza? No […]


1,700 Drivers Licenses stolen

The theft occurred early Monday in a remote industrial area, authorities said. The thieves took blank licenses and laminated covers, a digital license camera, a camera computer and a license printer. … “It’s been pondered that this has national security interests,” [police spokesman Tim] Bedwell said. “But it’s easier to pass a fake ID to […]


(T)ourism (S)uppression (A)gency

Webflyer has a good post about the economics of new security rules that the TSA wants to impose: Requiring information to be submitted an hour before flight takeoff involves a full 75 minutes greater notice than currently provided. This will mean passengers turning up at the airport at least an additional hour in advance of […]


Two Minutes Hate

So everyone seems to be accepting at face value the claim that Choicepoint was scammed by Olatunji Oluwatosin and colleagues not yet named. But let’s step back, and ask, was there a scam? Why did these folks need to cheat? Was it habit, or necessity? What was really needed to get a Choicepoint account of […]


The Open Passport

Third, this may be all moot if the government takes the easy step of giving citizens a passport cover made of aluminum foil. According to one article “Even Schneier agrees that a properly shielded passport cover should solve the problem. He wonders why this wasn’t included in the original plans for the new passports.” writes […]


Small Bits of Chaos: Passports, Financial Crypto

Ryan Singel has a good post on chipped passports: Bailey is right that the new passport will be harder to forge with the inclusion of RFID chips, especially since the chip would be digitally signed to prevent changes to the data in the chip. That’s a solid security measure. But, the chips create a new […]


US National ID Card

This was first created in December 2004’s Intelligence bill, loosely called the Patriot II act because it snuck in provisions like this without the Representatives knowing it. The deal is basically a no-option offer to the states: either you issue all your state citizens with nationally approved cards, or all federal employees are instructed to […]


"Just the Standard Rhetoric"

…Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Muslims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Rushdie was an apostate whose killing would be authorised by Islam, according to the Iranian media. How very reassuring and level-headed of the British to respond by saying: The Foreign Office said: “The key thing from our point of view […]


Small Bits of Chaos

The Globe and Mail has a good story on how copyright law is preventing the re-release of “Eyes On the Prize:” The makers of the series no longer have permission for the archival footage they previously used of such key events as the historic protest marches or the confrontations with Southern police. Given Eyes on […]


Small Bits of Chaos

Scrivner points out a basic lack of agreement amongst the pundits: Damn that Bush, cleverly whipping up this fantasy of a threat to scare people into voting for him. … Damn that Bush, ineptly bungling America’s defense against the most dangerous threat Ian has a post about Ron Paul trying to ban the government issuance […]


Hotel Rwanda

I saw Hotel Rwanda this weekend. It’s a true story of a hotel manager who saved over 1,000 people from genocide. If you’ll allow me a moment of disgusted sarcasm, I look forward to the sequel, Hotel Darfur, now in pre-production. The story is the same: No one is bothering to intervene in African genocide, […]



A sophisticated computer hacker had access to servers at wireless giant T-Mobile for at least a year, which he used to monitor U.S. Secret Service e-mail, obtain customers’ passwords and Social Security numbers, and download candid photos taken by Sidekick users, including Hollywood celebrities, SecurityFocus has learned. … T-Mobile, which apparently knew of the intrusions […]


Ban Windows, Not Cell Phones

Scrivner has another great post, this one to a study at Virginia Commonwealth University. (My link is to the study, not the press summary Scrivner links.) The press summary claims that rubbernecking accounts for 16% of accidents, looking at scenery or landmarks 10%, while cell phones account for only 5%. Clearly the answer is to […]


DNA Dragnet

The city of Truro, Massachusetts is trying to collect DNA from all 790 residents to solve a crime, reports the New York Times. Its not clear why they believe that residents are more likely to be the criminal than non-residents, and it is clear that they don’t get the 4th amendment, against dragnet searches, or […]


Educated Pat-Downs

Eric Rescorla has two good posts on screening at Educated Guesswork. I’d still like to expand the range of questions, and ask, is intense personal screening effective or needed? Can we use air marshals, different aircraft designs, and armed pilots so that we don’t need to compare rub-downs to millimeter-wave xrays?