Law and legislation

Fake Online Reviews

We’ve had means of expressing our opinions on various things for a long time.  Amazon has had reviews of the books pretty much since the beginning.  But how do we know that the reviews are real?  Virus writers took the opportunity presented by Amazon to trash my books when they were published.  (Even though they used different names, it only took a very simple form of forensic linguistics to figure out the identities.)

More recently, review spam has become more important, since many people are relying on the online reviews when buying items or booking services.  A number of “companies” have determined that it is more cost effective to have bots or other entities flood the review systems with fake positive reviews than it is to make quality products or services.  So, some nice people from Cornell university produced and tested some software to determine the fakes.

Note that, from these slides, there is not a lot of detail about exactly how they determine the fakes.  However, there is enough to indicate that sophisticated algorithms are less accurate than some fairly simple metrics.  When I teach about software forensics (aspects of which are similar to forensic lingusitics, or stylistic forensics), this seems counterintuitive and surprises a lot of students.  Generally they object that, if you know about the metircs, you should be able to avoid them.  In practice, this doesn’t seem to be the case.  Simple metrics do seem to be very effective in both forensic linguistics, and in software forensics.

REVIEW: “Inside Cyber Warfare”, Jeffrey Carr

BKCYWRFR.RVW   20101204

“Inside Cyber Warfare”, Jeffrey Carr, 2010, 978-0-596-80215-8,
%A   Jeffrey Carr
%C   103 Morris Street, Suite A, Sebastopol, CA   95472
%D   2010
%G   978-0-596-80215-8 0-596-80215-3
%I   O’Reilly & Associates, Inc.
%O   U$39.99/C$49.99 800-998-9938 fax: 707-829-0104
%O   Audience n Tech 1 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   212 p.
%T   “Inside Cyber Warfare: Mapping the Cyber Underworld”

The preface states that this text is an attempt to cover the very broad topic of cyber warfare with enough depth to be interesting without being technically challenging for the reader.

Chapter one provides examples of cyber attacks (mostly DDoS [Distributed Denial of Service]), and speculations about future offensives.  More detailed stories are given in chapter two, although the reason for the title of “Rise of the Non-State Hacker” isn’t really clear.  The legal status of cyber warfare, in chapter three, deals primarily with disagreements about military treaties.  A guest chapter (four) gives a solid argument for the use of “active defence” (striking back at an attacker) in cyber attacks perceived to be acts of war, based on international law in regard to warfare.  The author of the book is the founder of Project Grey Goose, and chapter five talks briefly about some of the events PGG investigated, using them to illustrate aspects of the intelligence component of cyber warfare (and noting some policy weaknesses, such as the difficulties of obtaining the services of US citizens of foreign birth).  The social Web is examined in chapter six, noting relative usage in Russia, China, and the middle east, along with use and misuse by military personnel.  (The Croll social engineering attack, and Russian scripted attack tools, are also detailed.)  Ownership links, and domain registrations, are examined in chapter seven, although in a restricted scope.  Some structures of systems supporting organized crime online are noted in chapter eight.  Chapter nine provides a limited look at the sources of information used to determine who might be behind an attack.  A grab bag of aspects of malware and social networks is compiled to form chapter ten.  Chapter eleven lists position papers on the use of cyber warfare from various military services.  Chapter twelve is another guest article, looking at options for early warning systems to detect a cyber attack.  A host of guest opinions on cyber warfare are presented in chapter thirteen.

Carr is obviously, and probably legitimately, concerned that he not disclose information of a sensitive nature that is detrimental to the operations of the people with whom he works.  (Somewhat ironically, I reviewed this work while the Wikileaks furor over diplomatic cables was being discussed.)  However, he appears to have gone too far.  The result is uninteresting for anyone who has any background in cybercrime or related areas.  Those who have little to no exposure to security discussions on this scale may find it surprising, but professionals will have little to learn, here.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2010     BKCYWRFR.RVW   20101204

National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace

There is no possible way this could potentially go wrong, right?

Doesn’t the phrase “Identity Ecosystem” make you feel all warm and “green”?

It’s a public/private partnership, right?  So there is no possibility of some large corporation taking over the process and imposing *their* management ideas on it?  Like, say, trying to re-introduce the TCPI?

And there couldn’t possibly be any problem that an identity management system is being run out of the US, which has no privacy legislation?

The fact that any PKI has to be complete, and locked down, couldn’t affect the outcome, could it?

There isn’t any possible need for anyone (who wasn’t a vile criminal) to be anonymous, is there?

Examining malware will be illegal in Canada

We’ve got a new law coming up in Canada: C-32, otherwise known as DMCA-lite.

Lemme quote you a section:

29.22 (1) It is not an infringement of copyright for an individual to reproduce a work or other subject-matter or any substantial part of a work or other subject-matter if
(c) the individual, in order to make the reproduction, did not circumvent, as defined in section 41, a technological protection measure, as defined in that section, or cause one to be circumvented.

Now, of course, if you want to examine a virus, or other malware, you have to make a copy, right?  So, if the virus writer has obfuscated the code, say by doing a little simple encryption, obviously he was trying to use a “technological protection measure, as defined in that section,” right?  So, decrypting the file is illegal.

Of course, it’s been illegal in the US for some years, now …


Miranda minged?

I came across a very interesting article today.

It relates to the Miranda decision and warning.  Although this is American case law everybody knows about it, since it is the basis of the warning, on every cop show and movie, that the suspect has “the right to remain silent” etc.

This comes from a decision in 1966 that police must ensure a suspect understands his rights (not to incriminate himself) and waives them only “knowingly and intelligently.”

Now comes a case where a suspect was warned, and was then questioned for nearly three hours, during which time he said almost nothing. A detective then began asking the suspect about his religious beliefs: “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?”  The suspect said, “Yes,” but refused to make any further confession. The prosecution introduced the statement as evidence, and a jury convicted.

The case was appealed and went to the US Supreme Court.

Four justices held that allowing the statement turns Miranda upside down and that criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent—which, counterintuitively, requires them to speak.

However, five justices held that after giving a Miranda warning, police may interrogate a suspect who has neither invoked nor waived his rights.

So, I guess the right not to incriminate, in the US, is now opt-in only.

Privacy via lawsuit (vs security)

Interesting story about collecting data from Facebook.  I wonder if he would have had the same trouble if he had written the utility as a Facebook app, since apps are able to access all data from any user that runs them.  Maybe he could talk to the Farmville people, and collect everthing on pretty much every Facebook user.

All kinds of intriguing questions arise:

Has Facebook threatened to sue Google?  If they did, who has the bigger legal budget?

With all the embarrassing leaks, why doesn’t Facebook simply do some decent security, and set proper permissions?  (Oh, sorry.  I guess that’s a pretty stupid question.)

Does the legal concept of “community standards” apply to assumed technical standards such as robots.txt?  If nobody tests it in court, does any large corporation with a large legal budget get to rewrite the RFCs?

If you don’t get noticed, is it OK?  Does this mean that the blackhats, who try hard to stay undetected, are legally OK, and it’s only people who are working for the common good who are in trouble?

Wikipedia as IP theft enabler?

I am not a huge fan of Wikipedia, in terms of tech accuracy, as I’ve noted before.  For a quick idea of a new term it’s great: beyond that, watch out.

However, Charles Muller has pointed out something I hadn’t considered:  that, given it’s popularity, Wikipedia is a prime vector for losing control of your intellectual property.  As one who has had masses of work ripped off by others, I have to be sympathetic to his argument.  He’s got a couple more good points in this quick little piece.

Security Seal company sued by FTC

Lets start with the proper disclosure; we provide a Web Site Security Seal service which competes with ControlScan’s. That said, I’m not about to bash ControlScan but rather the poor practices of security seal companies giving out seals to whoever pays them without the proper security checks.

Some background: The FTC sued ControlScan for $750,000 for giving out security seals while not really checking the security of the web sites. This lawsuit and its verdict are good news: It means that services that give out seals need to be responsible for their actions; no more “scanless PCI” badges: if you give out a seal (and I’m looking at all you large domain resellers) that needs to stand for something – when customers see a seal that says “secure site” they need to know the site is secure.

Before you take out the pitchforks, sure – there is no way to verify with 100% certainty that the web site is “secure”. But vulnerability scanning is at a stage today where you can run automated scans and make sure the web site is “secure enough” – meaning it does not have any known vulnerabilities, doesn’t suffer from SQL injections or cross site scripting. If there is a zero day vulnerability in apache, I doubt it will be used against an e-commerce site – it is more likely to be used against a bank or the government. Fact is, over 90% of successful attacks use known vulnerabilities that would have been detected by any competent scanner. If the site is properly scanned and no vulnerabilities are found, this is probably as good as it’s ever going to get; and is definitely better than the chances of your credit card being stolen at a brick-and-mortar store.

What will happen with ControlScan is not really important. What’s important is that security seal providers will now have to stand behind their claims – the fact that the FCC went after a case like this, which is normally way below their threshold, probably means that someone is applying pressure on them; hopefully that will help clean up the act of some online scanning vendors.

Note: Complaint, Exhibits and final judgment here.