The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Mid-week link roundup

Lots of things popped up in my browser today:

And now, back to work.

File that under "B" for "Bad OpSec"

Via Bruce Schneier (and other sources), the Australian government suffered one of its worst-ever disclosures of secrets caused by not looking through used furniture:

It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.

The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.

They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.

Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.

The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.

Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

But the ex-government furniture sale was not limited to Australians — anyone could make a purchase.

And had they been inclined, there was nothing stopping them handing the contents to a foreign agent or government.

The found documents ranged from embarrassing (to both major Australian parties) to seriously top secret (troop deployments, police investigations). In response, the Australian government is calling for increased penalties for publishing or even possessing secret documents—but as Schneier points out, in this case that would have made the breech immeasurably worse for Australia:

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government's perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.

In all, it's a reminder of the security adage that no security system can completely protect against human stupidity.

American mobile phone customers, do this now

I got a weird text from T-Mobile a few minutes ago:

T-Mobile Alert: We have identified an industry-wide phone number port out scam and encourage you to add account security. Learn more: t-mo.co/secure

Well, that does not sound good.

And it's not. Apparently thieves have found that American mobile phone providers are unusually helpful when it comes time to steal mobile phone numbers (called "SIM hijacking") or to port those numbers to third-party mobile providers. In both cases, the thieves now have a way to bypass any three-factor authentication (TFA) you may have set up with, for example, your bank.

T-Mobile at least offers a service called "Port Authentication" which lets you set up a 6- to 16-digit PIN that you must have to make any changes to your account—like, for example, getting a new SIM. After getting the text alert, and validating it with trusted online sources, I immediately called 611 and set up port authentication.

There are a couple of other things you should do:

  • Lock your phone all the time, with something very hard to subvert, like a strong password. If you must use a convenience feature like iris or fingerprint authentication, make sure the phone still requires a password on reboot.
  • Set your phone up so that it doesn't display the contents of texts or IMs when your phone is locked.
  • Encrypt your phone, so that even if all your other security is bypassed, you won't be stuck.

Seriously, this all costs you nothing and can save you a fortune.

Feeling warm and secure

As part of my current project's non-technical requirements, I've just completed 5 hours of anti-terrorism and security training. Biggest takeaway: bullets ricochet down, grenade shrapnel goes up. Also, don't put random CDs in your computer. Oh, and I have to repeat about 3 hours of it a year from now.

Today is actually a company holiday but I've got a lot of work to do, including this training. Also we've gotten about 60 mm of snow today with more coming down. So steps go down, heating bill goes up.

Who is Reality Winner?

Kerry Howley, writing for New York Magazine, profiles the "terrorist [with] a Pikachu bedspread:"

In those first months on the job, the country was still adjusting to Trump, and it seemed possible to some people that he would be quickly impeached. Reality listened to a podcast called Intercepted, hosted by the left-wing anti-security-state website the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill and featuring its public face, Glenn Greenwald, and listened intensely enough to email the Intercept and ask for a transcript of an episode. Scahill and Greenwald had been, and continue to be, cautious about accusations of Russian election meddling, which they foresee being used as a pretext for justifying U.S. militarism. “There is a tremendous amount of hysterics, a lot of theories, a lot of premature conclusions being drawn around all of this Russia stuff,” Scahill said on the podcast in March. “And there’s not a lot of hard evidence to back it up. There may be evidence, but it’s not here yet.”

There was evidence available to Reality.

The document was marked top secret, which is supposed to mean that its disclosure could “reasonably be expected” to cause “exceptionally grave damage” to the U.S. Sometimes, this is true. Reality would have known that, in releasing the document, she ran the risk of alerting the Russians to what the intelligence community knew, but it seemed to her that this specific account ought to be a matter of public discourse. Why isn’t this getting out there? she thought. Why can’t this be public? It was surprising to her that someone hadn’t already done it.

The classified report on the Russian cyberattack was not a document for which Reality had a “need to know,” which is to say she wasn’t supposed to be reading it in her spare time, let alone printing it, and were she to print it for some reason, she was required to place it in a white slatted box called a “burn bag.”

Why do I have this job, Reality thought, if I’m just going to sit back and be helpless?

Reality folded up the document, stuffed it in her pantyhose, and walked out of the building, its sharp corners pressing into her skin. Later that day, President Trump fired James Comey, who had been leading an investigation into Russian election-meddling. Reality placed the document in an envelope without a return address and dropped it in a standing mailbox in a strip-mall parking lot. Court documents suggest she also sent a copy to another outlet, though which one we don’t know.

For a bad decision she made at 25, she may spend most of her productive years in prison. And in the current climate of secrecy and surveillance, it's hard to see how she can even defend herself against the charges.

Her trial is set for March.

Welcome to the 2010s!

I'm on a train, using my mobile phone to tether my laptop to the Intertubes. I know this is an old technology, and also the reason I have unlimited data on my mobile, but I still love this stuff.

Things I'm reading:

Now approaching...Highwood! And soon off to my meeting.

Blah day

I'm under the weather today, probably owing to the two Messiah performances this weekend and all of Parker's troubles. So even though I'm taking it easy, I still have a queue of things to read:

I will now...nap.

Citizen Lab Security Planner

Via Bruce Schneier, an advisor to the project, Citizen Lab has created an online tool to help you stay safe online:

Security Planner is a custom security advice tool from Citizen Lab. Answer a few questions, and it gives you a few simple things you can do to improve your security. It's not meant to be comprehensive, but instead to give people things they can actually do to immediately improve their security. I don't see it replacing any of the good security guides out there, but instead augmenting them.

The advice is peer reviewed, and the team behind Security Planner is committed to keeping it up to date.

Some of the recommendations are simple: use Chrome; use https:// whenever it's available; use your computer's built-in encryption (BitLocker on Windows and FileVault on Mac). Some are a little more complex: use two-factor authentication; set up a password manager.

I recommend anyone who uses computers do a quick self-exam with the tool—especially if you aren't that experienced with security.

Foreign intelligence's best asset

The unsurprising news that President Trump tweeted about something that his son found out only minutes before back in June shows just how foreign governments can use his impulsiveness and stupidity to play him:

Seeing Assange prompt a Trump tweet, via Don Jr, is I suspect only the first and clearest of many examples. Who told Trump what? In a lot of cases Trump’s tweets will likely tell us. Trump’s October 12th Wikileaks tweet was totally opaque until we found out about Don Jr’s DMs with Assange a few minutes before. Trump’s tweets are impulsive, immediate, unvarnished. They amount to realtime surveillance of what he was thinking and what he knew at key points of the campaign. They just require the fruits of the ongoing investigations to decipher what they mean.

Some day, we'll find out (perhaps through a Truth & Reconciliation Committee) just how badly this man has hurt the country.

My favorite article of the day

I'm chilling in my hotel room on the second day of my trip, not sure how much longer I'll remain awake. (Waking up at 5am sucks, even more so when it's 4am back home.) This is a problem in that I need to write some code before tomorrow.

So I've spent a few minutes perusing the blog feeds and news reports that came in today, and I have a favorite. The favorite is not:

No, though all of those brought little flutters of joy to my heart, the story that London is going to make Oxford Street a pedestrian utopia by 2020 really got my interest. Since I have never driven a car anywhere in Zone 1 and have no intention of ever doing so, I think blocking 800 meters of Oxford Street to cars is fookin' brilliant.