I don't know why the National news, or RISKS, isn't covering the electrical fires in Queens. There's been a series of power outages, exacerbated by fires that start off more fires. The news footage on NY TV stations is astonishing — burning wires in the air, and explosions in manholes. The NY Times had an article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/22/nyregion/22cnd-power.html?hp&ex=1153627200&en=c53052af5d9b3841&ei=5094&partner=homepage and there's a community paper with a scary photo at: http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=16946439&BRD=2731&PAG=461&dept_id=574903&rfi=6 but otherwise there hasn't been much or consistent coverage by the major US media (see google news: electrical fires astoria), even though thousands have been without power, now for a week. Residents, business owners, and local leaders are becoming peeved at being ignored (including by Governor Pataki who's been refusing to declare the area a disaster). [The outage lasted for about a week, but the aging underground infrastructure is most likely still fragile and vulnerable to more such outages. Some of the wiring apparently dated to the beginning of the previous century. PGN]
Greetings. I've written and spoken many times about the sensitivity of search engine query data. We all know about Google's stance in DOJ vs. Google early this year, where Google wisely attempted (for several reasons) to prevent release of such data to a government fishing expedition related to "child protection" legislation. We also know that Gonzales, et al. are merrily pushing mandated data retention laws — again mainly in the name of child protection — that would leave Internet users vulnerable to all manner of unreasonable surveillance of their Internet activities. All of this is already enough to be sounding alarm bells regarding the lack of reasonable legislated protections for such data. The AOL action in releasing the search records of a reported 500K AOL users -- assuming it took place as outlined below — is probably the most egregious violation of users' search privacy in the history of the Internet, despite the half-hearted attempt at crude anonymization. The unbelievable lack of responsibility or good judgment shown by AOL in this case should be enough to cause any remaining AOL subscribers (or users of their free services) to strongly consider ceasing any further contact with AOL. Furthermore, we need to accept the fact that search query data is incredibly sensitive and often contains extremely personal data that does not lose its potential for abuse via simplistic forms of anonymization. Nor can we necessarily depend indefinitely on some individual search engines' honest and praiseworthy desires to protect such data (e.g. Google) in the face of intense competition and intrusive government actions. Search query data can contain the sum total of our work, interests, associations, desires, dreams, fantasies, and even darkest fears. We must demand that this data be protected. --Lauren-- P.S. I have removed URL reference (3) from the forwarded message below. Anyone who tried to forward that original message to an AOL user may have been in for a surprise. At least in my experiments just now, AOL rejects that message since URL reference (3) contained a numeric IP address rather than a domain address. Ironic, isn't it? AOL "protects" users by blocking messages with IP addresses in URLs (can such addresses be suspect? Yeah, but they can easily be legit, too) — yet they happily release the most private aspects of users' search activities. It's like a Fellini movie over there, but much less amusing. Lauren Weinstein +1 (818) 225-2800 http://www.pfir.org/lauren firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com From: Seth Finkelstein <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: August 7, 2006 1:05:50 AM EDT To: Dave Farber <email@example.com> Subject: AOL Releases Search Logs from 500,000 Users [From IP] AOL Releases Search Logs from 500,000 Users  Adam D'Angelo - 8/5/2006 AOL just released the logs of all searches done by 500,000 of their users over the course of three months earlier this year. That means that if you happened to be randomly chosen as one of these users, everything you searched for from March to May (2006) is now public information on the Internet. This was not a leak - it was intentional. In their desperation to gain recognition from the research community, AOL decided they would compromise their integrity to provide a data set that might become often-cited in research papers: "Please reference the following publication when using this collection..." is the message before the download. This is a blatant violation of users' privacy. The data is "anonymized", which to AOL means that each screenname was replaced with a unique number. "It is still a research question how much information needs to be anonymized to protect users,"  says Abdur from AOL. Here are some examples of what you can find in the data: User 491577 searches for "florida cna pca lakeland tampa", "emt school training florida", "low calorie meals", "infant seat", and "fisher price roller blades". Among user 39509's hundreds of searches are: "ford 352", "oklahoma disciplined pastors", "oklahoma disciplined doctors", "home loans", and some other personally identifying and illegal stuff I'm going to leave out of here. Among user 545605's searches are "shore hills park mays landing nj", "frank william sindoni md", "ceramic ashtrays", "transfer money to china", and "capital gains on sale of house". Compared to some of the data, these examples are on the safe side. I'm leaving out the worst of it - searches for names of specific people, addresses, telephone numbers, illegal drugs, and more. There is no question that law enforcement, employers, or friends could figure out who some of these people are. I hope others can find more examples in the data, which is up for  download over here. The data set is very large when uncompressed which makes it pretty hard to work with, but someone should set up a web interface so people can browse it (or even 10% of it) without having to download the 400mb file. If you make a mirror or better interface to the data, or find other examples, let me know and I'll put a link up here. This is the same data that the DOJ wanted from Google back in March.  This ruling allowed Google to keep all query logs secret. Now any government can just go download the data from AOL. It's unclear if this is the type of data AOL released to the government  back when Google refused to comply. If nothing else, this should be a good example of why search history needs strong privacy protection. Thanks to Greg Linden for pointing this out  here. Update 2: The md5 of the file AOL posted (and now removed) is 31cd27ce12c3a3f2df62a38050ce4c0a. I'm posting it so you can make sure you have a valid copy, but so far none of the copies I've seen are fake. Update: Seems like AOL took it down. There are some mirrors of the data in the comments of the digg story, linked below. I estimate about 1000 people have the file, so it's definitely going to be circulated around. The  main AOL research page is still up, with some other data collections. The  google cache of the download page is still up, but you can't get the data. Here's discussion at other sites: *  siliconbeat *  techcrunch *  digg *  reddit *  zoli's blog References 1. http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~dangelo/ 2. http://research.aol.com/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Main.Home 3. [ removed to avoid AOL block ] 4. http://www.siliconbeat.com/entries/2006/08/06/aol_research_exposes_data_weve_got_a_little_sick_feeling.html 5. http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/08/06/aol-proudly-releases-massive-amounts-of-user-search-data/ 6. http://digg.com/tech_news/AOL_Releases_Search_Logs_from_500_000_Users 7. http://reddit.com/info/cfvt/comments 8. http://www.zoliblog.com/blog/_archives/2006/8/6/2204969.html 9. http://research.aol.com/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Research.500kUserQueriesSampledOver3Months 10. http://research.aol.com/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Research.500kUserQueriesSampledOver3Months 11. http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/03/judge-tells-doj-no-on-search-queries.html 12. http://www.boingboing.net/2006/01/20/aol_we_did_not_compl.html 13. http://glinden.blogspot.com/2006/08/chance-to-play-with-big-data.html Seth Finkelstein Consulting Programmer http://sethf.com Infothought blog - http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Interview: http://sethf.com/essays/major/greplaw-interview.php
Digital retouching of photos isn't unusual, whether to make a teenagers acne go away or to make a joke. It gets serious though when it's used for propaganda. Reuters yesterday withdrew photos that purported to show smoke rising from buildings in Beirut after an Israeli bombing. After bloggers showed obvious evidence of tampering (such as buildings repeated through a picture, smoke that's duplicated), Reuters investigated and admitted that "photo editing software was improperly used on this image". They have now suspended the photographer. There are allegations by bloggers of other image tampering by the same photographer, Adnan Hajj. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3286966,00.html describes the Reuters action. http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/ is one of the blogs that first reported the Photoshopping. Certainly not the first time there's been distortion in time of war; the ease of manipulations combined with the power of bloggers to reveal what's going on may be part of a balance of power.
According to EDRIGRAM, the on-line newsletter of "European Digital Rights", number 4.14: On 4 July 2006, the Irish Commission on Electronic Voting released its second report on the secrecy and accuracy of the e-voting system purchased by the Irish Government. The summary remarks at the beginning of the 200 page report say: "The Commission concludes that it can recommend the voting and counting equipment of the chosen system for use at elections in Ireland, subject to further work it has also recommended, but that it is unable to recommend the election management software for such use." The "further work" includes, among others: 1) add a voter verified audit trail; 2) replace the election management software (which prepares election data, reads votes from "ballot modules", and calculates results) with a version that is developed to mission critical standards; 3) modify the embedded software within the voting machines to bring it up to mission critical standard; 4) make certain modifications to the machines themselves; 5) test all components to mission critical standard; 6) modify the specification for the PC that is to be used for vote management; 7) test the system as a whole (including end-to-end testing) to mission critical standard; 8) rectify the security vulnerabilities identified in the way data is transferred within the system. This is quite a mouthful. In particular, the "mission critical standards" may be quite difficult to achieve as a retrofit. The article speculates that the responsible minister, who declares his intention to continue the project, "may not realize the extent of the changes required". [Or is it a polite way of saying "No thank you"? -EK] Full article at http://www.edri.org/edrigram/number4.14/evotingireland The article includes several links, including a link to the full report. As far as I can make out from various sources, the voting machines in question are essentially the same as the Nedap machines used in The Netherlands for years. Little public criticism of these machines appears in the general press. But they do, indeed, have problems: According to the "Bits of Freedom" newsletter: In a local election, one candidate got 1, 3, 7, and 181 votes, respectively, in the 4 polling stations where he was a candidate. The candidate not only was en election official in the high-vote station, he operated the machine! Peter Knoppers, according to the article an expert on voting machines, is quoted saying that manipulation of the machine by a voting official is "a piece of cake". For example, if a key is turned at the exact moment of the vote being acknowledged by the voter, the vote will not be counted. The missed votes can then be added manually at a later time, for any candidate of your choice. Full story (in Dutch) at http://www.bof.nl/nieuwsbrief/nieuwsbrief_2006_14.html This article also has several links, all in Dutch.
Apparently the Dutch energy supplier Eneco send an invoice for **euro 2.144.607 and 90 cents [which in the US would be written as 2,144,607.90] to a man for his two month energy usage. The man would have used **20.000.000 kW electricity and 102.284 m3 gas. When he called the energy supplier the call-center operator replied with: "It can be that this invoice isn't correct sir. We can sort it out, but you will have to pay the bill first. We can setup a payment arrangement if you like." The cause of the error remains unknown.
The city of Hoboken, New Jersey owns a parking garage with an automated car-parking system. The software that runs the hardware is licensed from Robotic Parking of Clearwater, Florida. Following a recent contract dispute, the software license was allowed to expire and hundreds of cars were trapped in the garage for several days. More details here: http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,71554-0.html?tw=wn_index_1 Steve Klein, Your Mac Expert Phone: (248) YOUR-MAC or (248) 968-7622
When the German Toll Collect system was put into operation in January 2005, it was accompanied by a law regulating the use of the data that is collected for billing. In particular, the system takes photographs of vehicles passing the scaffolds on which cameras and reading devices are mounted. According to this law, passing that information on to government agencies other than customs and the "Federal Agency for Commercial Transport" is illegal. This applies — for now — especially to the police, who cannot use the data for criminal prosecution. This is in accordance with German privacy regulations demanding that data collection has to serve a well-defined and well-stated purpose and cannot be done for future, yet unknown needs, such as not yet committed crimes. It seems that a current case might turn that law upside down rather sooner than later. After an 18-year old female student was found dead in a Autobahn parking lot, it became clear through DNA testing that the murderer is actually a serial killer who is wanted for a murder in 2003 and an attempted murder in 2004. As he is suspected to be a truck driver, the Toll Collect recordings may give a clue on his identity. However, the police is not allowed to get their hands on that data. This case has sparked off a lively discussion in the political scene. Some (mostly right-wing politicans and police officials) say, the Toll Collect data should be used freely by police to investigate crimes. Others, such as data protection officers, reject that on grounds of data protection and privacy. As an obvious risk, they see the freedom of communication (which includes anonymous mobility) endangered by tendencies to promote surveillance. There are also some moderate voices who do not rule out the passing of data fundamentally but require high legal standards to do so. Members of the left-right coalition currently running the German federal government have announced to pursue a change in the aforementioned law that would allow to use the data for prosecution. Apparently, police are currently trying to exploit a loophole in the system. While they are not allowed to use the Toll Collect data directly, police have asked shipping companies to look through their own files and report truck drivers that may have passed the parking lot during the night of the murder. If they comply, this would yield basically the same information to the police. Interestingly, some politicians seem not so much concerned about the privacy of citizens, but rather whether there will be enough money left for building new roads after the Toll Collect infrastructure is extended into a surveillance tool. Today, the system is already very costly — a quarter of the collected money is spent on its operation — and would be even more if continuous surveillance was in operation. This money would then be lacking in the maintenance and building of roads. It seems the risk here is that a road surveillance tool could be created for which there exist no roads to monitor.
This doesn't seem to have been covered in the media yet and I don't have full details, but according to an acquaintance who just traveled through there, a computer or computers unknown at Newark airport this morning (2006-07-21) mysteriously started selecting 20% of passengers for the random intensive security screening, instead of the normal 2%. No one felt authorized to countermand the computer's selections, so screeners were compelled to carry out all the excessive screenings, resulting in huge delays and many missed flights. A small glitch in a random selection process can have large and unexpected consequences.
Hi Dave, remember a couple of years ago when you said you wanted to clone and repeat RFIDs - apparently someone has built the system to it. -brad http://www.engadget.com/2006/07/24/verichips-human-implatable-rfid-chips-clonable-sez-hackers/ VeriChip's human-implatable RFID chips clonable, sez hackers Posted Jul 24th 2006 4:14PM by Donald Melanson Filed under: Misc. Gadgets, Wireless [Note: "implatable" is "mispelt" in both the URL and the title of the article, but the URL works as of when I am putting out this issue, and "implantable" is used in the text of the article! PGN] In case anyone needed more proof that we're all living in a Philip K. Dick novel, a pair of hackers have recently demonstrated how human-implantable RFID chips from VeriChip can be easily cloned, effectively stealing the person's identity. Annalee Newitz and Jonathan Westhues showed off their handiwork at the HOPE Number Six conference in New York City this weekend, with Newitz herself playing the role of guinea pig, implanting a VeriChip RFID chip in her right arm. To clone the chip, Westhues first red Newitz's arm with a standard RFID reader, then scanned it again with a homebrew antenna connected to his laptop, which recorded the signal off the chip. He then used the same RFID reader to read the signal from his laptop, which promptly spit out Newtiz's supposedly unique ID. For its part, VeriChip has only said they haven't yet had a chance to review the evidence but still insist that "it's very difficult to steal a VeriChip." IP Archives at: http://www.interesting-people.org/archives/interesting-people/
The story mentions that the IBM 1401 computer "Can't Add Doesn't Even Try". This is the wrong computer. The IBM 1620 is the computer that "Can't Add...". The computer museum has a working example. Later the IBM 1620, Model 2 could add, but still needed a table to multiply (but knew that multiplying by zero was a simpler operation). I can't vouch for the operations in the IBM 1401, as I haven't used the machine, but I am very familiar with the IBM 1620. Both machines hit the streets in the 1959-1960 time frame. Not very Risks oriented, but a bit of history.
Pete Klammer writes about losing email due to spam blacklisting due to the IEEE forwarding service's use of BrightMail. His analysis is that BrightMail is an "unaccountable third party" because IEEE could supposedly not obtain confirmation, logs, or rule sets describing the lossage of his messages. But the other involved mail carriers, such as his ISP, IEEE, or even his own desktop software are all potentially filtering by using blacklist databases and rules which may be inscrutable. The problem is the unavailability of an audit trail. The victimhood tone of the story and the suggestion that society is placing undue trust in third parties fails to identify a more straightforward accountability problem. His forwarding service (IEEE) has contracted with BrightMail for filtering services, but is then dismissing him when there's a problem with the forwarding service. This is simply poor customer service, and tantamount to "blaming the computer" as was very common in the 1970s. In the unlikely scenario that BrightMail customers cannot get the necessary information, then what's happened is that IEEE made poor contract with that vendor. But I am pretty sure that BrightMail is not such a black box, and does indeed have the necessary audit trails. So the most likely explanation is that the IEEE folks were just too inept, lazy, or otherwise disinterested to bother accessing those resources when asked to investigate the problem. This does not call for the elimination of a system in which third parties can be contracted for valuable email processing services. BrightMail is no more a "third party" in this scenario than IEEE. The risk is that if a computer is involved, people will accept lame blame-passing excuses from their various service providers.
BKSYOSPS.RVW 20060615 "Symbian OS Platform Security", Craig Heath, 2006, 0-470-01882-8, U$70.00/C$90.99 %A Craig Heath %C 5353 Dundas Street West, 4th Floor, Etobicoke, ON M9B 6H8 %D 2006 %G 0-470-01882-8 %I John Wiley & Sons, Inc. %O U$70.00/C$90.99 416-236-4433 fax: 416-236-4448 %O http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0470018828/robsladesinterne http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0470018828/robsladesinte-21 %O http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0470018828/robsladesin03-20 %O Audience a Tech 2 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation) %P 249 p. %T "Symbian OS Platform Security" Part one is an introduction to the Symbian mobile (cellular) phone operating system, and particularly its security provisions. Chapter one examines the reasons for the emphasis on security in a mobile phone: the users' perception of it as a more personal (and therefore more trusted) device and the acceptability of remote network installations and administration. Therefore, the developers of Symbian were faced with the challenge of creating an "open" development platform, while implementing security constraints. "Platform Security Concepts," in chapter two, presents an interesting basic catalogue, but concentrates on capability lists. (In this, the term may not be used in a standard manner: the capabilities appear to be preset, rather than being taken from the calling capability.) Part two looks at application development for platform security. Chapter three describes the basic functions of the Symbian security environment. A decent, basic list of suggestions for writing secure applications is in chapter four, but there are few details. How to write secure servers (common processes), in chapter five, provides only generic advice, and has oddly little information that is distinctive to Symbian. Chapter six, on the development of plug-ins, is more code and architecture specific. The safe sharing of data, in chapter seven, is addressed with a useful list of threats and countermeasures, and an outline of various security related components and provisions. Part three deals with the management of platform security attributes. Chapter eight examines the native software installer, concentrating on encryption key certificates. How developers obtain and use these certificates is reviewed in chapter nine. Some of the public key infrastructure behind the system can be inferred from the description (by those familiar with the concepts) but little detail is provided. Part four, on the future of mobile device security, consists of chapter fourteen, which mentions a variety of potential functions for mobile phones. For those wanting an introduction to the security provisions of the Symbian operating system, this work provides a useful starting guide. Developers, however, may need a bit more. For example, the statement is made that the platform is "less prone" to buffer overflows, but there is no discussion of why this is so, how it is achieved, or to what extent a developer can rely upon the operating system to protect against the problem of buffer overflows (or other types of malformed data). Given that most Symbian security is based on capability tables and certificates (and particularly with a somewhat non-standard definition of capabilities) these concepts, and their limits, should probably be explained more fully. copyright Robert M. Slade, 2006 BKSYOSPS.RVW 20060615 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev/rms.htm
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