Increasing Understanding of Technology and Communication

Internet Data Privacy: Europe Getting Tougher


‘Groundbreaking’ changes strengthen EU privacy protections, enshrine right to be forgotten and give regulators wide-reaching powers.  The European parliament has voted through tougher rules on data protection, aimed at boosting privacy and giving authorities greater powers to take action against companies that breach the rules.

The rules, including the much-needed General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), were four years in the making and form the new backbone of laws for data regulators to pursue companies with heavy fines – as much as 4% of annual turnover for global companies – for incidents such as data breaches, which have become increasingly common.

Viviane Reding, MEP and former vice-president of the European commission who proposed the changes in 2012, said: “This is a historic day for Europe.  This reform will restore trust in digital services today, thereby reigniting the engine for growth tomorrow.

“There can be no freedom without security, and no security without freedom.  Today’s united adoption of these three legislations sends a strong signal that national security and data protection can and must go hand in hand.”

Replacing the patchwork of national rules

The new data privacy laws encompass the GDPR, which governs the use and privacy of EU citizens’ data, and the Data Protection Directive, which governs the use of EU citizens’ data by law enforcement.

Together they aim to create strong data protection law for Europe’s 500 million citizens; streamline legislation between the 28 member states pushing a digital single market and boost police and security cooperation.  It is due to replace the outdated patchwork of national rules that have only allowed for small fines in cases of violation.

Phil Lee, a data protection partner at Fieldfisher, said: “Is this law ground-breaking? Absolutely.  Europe has created the notions of a ‘right to be forgotten’ and of ‘data portability’, and created fines for data breaches that are on a scale equivalent to fines for antitrust violations.  No other region has done that before.  (And no other country.)

“Whatever else may be said about it, the simple fact is that the global standard for data protection will now be dictated by European rules.”

The new laws have already proved controversial with companies wishing to operate with EU citizens’ data, placing an administrative burden on some, including those based outside of Europe. (Facebook)

William Long, a partner at Sidley Austin, said: “Organizations should be under no doubt that now is the time to start the process for ensuring privacy compliance with the regulations.  Importantly, companies outside of Europe, such as those in the US who offer goods and services to Europeans, will fall under the scope of this legislation and will face the same penalties for non-compliance.”

ePrivacy Directive next

The next step in strengthening of data regulation across the EU is an overhaul of the ePrivacy Directive, which will now commence in earnest, to bring it in-line with the changes laid out in the GDPR.

The European parliament also voted through the EU Passenger Name Record (PNR), which aims to aid law enforcement in tracking people’s movement across Europe.

EC’s first vice-president Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, and commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality Věra Jourová, said: “These new rules come at a time when improved cooperation in the fight against terrorism and other serious crime is more necessary than ever, as shown by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.”

Reding added: “Faced with the transnational nature of the digital revolution and the fight against terror, EU-wide rules are the only solution to our problems.

“PNR is an important tool to track terrorists flying in and out of Europe in a much wider toolkit, which should also include the systematic sharing of information in all EU databases.”

Read Article (Samuel Gibbs | | 04/14/2016)

There are normally two victims in the event of a data breach, the business and the consumer.  In the US, media and government agencies seem to treat business as the primary victim but in the EU, they definitely treat the consumer as the primary victim.

Which would you select as the primary victim in the event of a data breach, the business or the consumer?

Master Level High-Tech Webinars

FCC Crafting New Consumer Internet Privacy Rules


The Federal Communications Commission will craft new privacy rules on how Internet service providers can use customer data.  The agency voted 3-2 Thursday to develop new rules requiring Internet service providers (ISPs) to gain customer permission before using or sharing their data.  “It’s the consumers’ information,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, “and the consumer should have the right to determine how it’s used.”

New privacy regulations dovetail with last year’s passage of Open Internet, or net neutrality rules, Wheeler said in a March 10 Huffington Post editorial and a speech at Georgetown University March 21st.  He forwarded the proposal to the rest of the commission in preparation for a vote at Thursday’s regular commission meeting.

“Our ISPs handle all of our network traffic” on home and mobile networks, Wheeler said in an official statement released after the meeting.  “Even when data is encrypted, our broadband providers can still piece together significant amounts of information about us – including private information such as a chronic medical condition or financial problems – based on our online activity.”

As Wheeler envisions, customers would be able to opt out of marketing from their Internet service providers and their affiliates and must opt in for any external use of their data.  FCC staff will prepare a notice of rule-making for online publication and will then take public comments on the issue from companies, groups and individuals for +0 days after its release online, prior to crafting the rules.

Opponents to the measure, including trade groups ‘USTelecom’ and free market think-tank ‘Free State Foundation’, have argued that the FCC’s privacy provisions may be different than those the Commission uses to regulate sites and services on the Net.

“It is disappointing the FCC is pursuing a new privacy framework that will impose onerous requirements on broadband providers and will mistakenly leave consumers with the impression that they are receiving meaningful new protections," said Mobile Future Chairman Jonathan Spalter.

Commissioner Michael O’Reily, who along with fellow Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai voted against the privacy measure, said that it sets the agency off “on a statutory fishing expedition” and represents “an alarming display of doublethink.”

Congress directed the FCC to create privacy regulations for traditional phone companies and now must do so for Internet connectivity, said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.  "There is absolutely no comparison" between the information that could be gathered by today's ISPs and traditional phone companies, she said.  "Times have changed and we need to ensure that our rules are updated to reflect these technological transformations," she said.

The commission also voted 3-2 along political lines – with Democrats Clyburn, Wheeler and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in favor – to expand the Lifeline program, which for more than 30 years has provided discounted telephone service to low-income Americans, to include mobile or fixed broadband service.

Read Article (Mike Snider | | 03/31/2016)

I just got a notice from AT&T about the privacy of my customer proprietary network information they’re going to share with their affiliates. To allow this requires no action on my part, but if I don’t want my information shared I must submit a form or call a number. This is backwards, “silence” should not be used as consent.

Statistics show that only 1 in 10 will “go to the trouble” of not allowing this to happen, and they know this statistic very well.  I, for one, am not going to allow it.

Master Level High-Tech Webinars

Verizon Anti-Hacker Unit 1.5M Customers Hacked


In San Francisco, California, records for more than 1.5M customers of Verizon Enterprise Solutions – Computer Security Wing – appeared for sale earlier this week.  This Verizon unit aids large corporations when they’ve been the victims of a hack, now the unit itself has been breached.

According to Brian Krebs, a respected computer security writer, the entire database was offered up for $100,000 on a “closely guarded underground cybercrime forum,” or in increments of 100,000 records for $10,000 apiece.  Buyers were also offered the option to purchase information about security vulnerabilities in Verizon’s Website.

In an emailed statement, the company said, “Verizon Enterprise Solutions recently discovered and fixed a security vulnerability on our enterprise client portal.  Our investigation to date found an attacker obtained basic contact information on a number of our enterprise customers.”

The company noted that no data about consumer customers was involved.

It’s ironic that, each year, Verizon Enterprise Solutions writes one of the most widely-read annual data breach investigation reports, and this event will be scrutinized by the computer security community.

The attack “shows that even those that report security vulnerabilities are susceptible to exploits,” said Brad Bussie, director of product management for STEALTHbits Technologies.

“With 99% of the Fortune 500 using Verizon Enterprise Solutions, the compromise of 1.5 million customers’ contact details could prove a huge payday for hackers.  Stealing contact information doesn’t have the immediate payoff of a credit card number, but in the long term can be extremely lucrative if leveraged correctly,” said Vishal Gupta, CEO of the security company Seclore.

While the breach only included basic contact information about Verizon Enterprise Solutions customers, it’s of concern because of who those customers were, said Dodi Glenn, vice president of cyber security at PC Pitstop.

“A lot of Fortune 500 companies use Verizon Enterprise Solutions – makes you wonder if some of those who purchased the data may have plans to use the information to start phishing attacks, since it contains information from companies with lots of money,” he said.

Read Article (Elizabeth Weise | | 03/25/2016)

Obviously, some of the largest enterprises and companies have maintained an “invincibility” complex, even in the face of breaches over recent years.  Businesses should not subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” saying and be more proactive about their security.

Master Level High-Tech Webinars

Cyberwarfare is Anonymous and Here to Stay


Last week, The New York Times revealed that the Obama administration had prepared a cyberattack plan to be carried out against Iran in the event diplomatic negotiations failed to limit that country’s nuclear weapons development.

The plan, code-named Nitro-Zeus, was said to be capable of disabling Iran’s air defenses, communications system and parts of its electrical grid.  An option was also included, to introduce a computer worm into the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, to disrupt the creation of nuclear weapons.  In anticipation of the need, U.S. Cyber Command placed hidden computer code in Iranian computer networks.  According to The New York Times, President Obama saw Nitro Zeus as an option for confronting Iran that was “short of a full-scale war.”

The report, if true (unconfirmed), reflects a growing trend in the use of computers and networks to conduct military activity.

The United States is of course, not the only practitioner of this digital methodology.  One notable example from recent history involves the apparent Russian assault on the transportation and electrical grid in Ukraine.  That attack, which appended late in 2015, was a “first of its kind” cyber-assault that severely disrupted Ukraine’s power system, affecting many innocent Ukrainian civilians.  It bears noting that vulnerabilities in Ukraine’s power system is not unique – they exist in power grids across the globe, including the U.S. and other major industrial countries.

Built-in vulnerabilities

The vulnerabilities of digital networks are, in many ways, an inevitable consequence of how the Internet was built.  As then-Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn put it in a 2011 speech announcing our military strategy for operating in cyberspace: “The Internet was designed to be open, transparent and interoperable.  Security and identity management were secondary objectives in system design.  This lower emphasis on security … gives attackers a built-in advantage.”

Among these factors, two in particular contribute to the growing sense of unease.

One is the problem of anonymity.  Those who seed to do harm can easily do so at a distance, cloaked in the veil of anonymity behind false or shielded identities in the vastness of the web.  With no built-in identity verification, pretending to be someone else is as easy as getting a new email address or registering a pseudonymous Facebook account.

Unmasking attackers is possible, but requires a significant investment of time and resources.  It also often requires the “good guys” to use “bad guy” techniques to track the wrongdoers, because they need to hack the hackers to find out who they are.  It took a Canadian company, using hacker techniques, more than a year to find out who hacked the Dalai Lama’s official computers – it was the Chinese.

In effect, this anonymity prevents targets from retaliating against attackers.  Though most observers think Russia is behind the Ukrainian assault, there is no truly conclusive proof.  It is very difficult to deter an unknown attacker.  In addition, international coordination to respond to attacks that threaten global stability can be stymied without solid proof of the source of an assault.

A new definition of war

Second, and perhaps more significant, the online world changes the boundaries of war. President Obama seems to think that cyberattacks are less than full-scale war (or so the Times reports).  Is that realistic?  Consider the following hypotheticals – all of which are reasonably plausible.

An adversary of the United States (known or unknown):

  • Disrupts the stock exchanges for two days, preventing any trading;
  • Uses a digital attack to take offline a radar system intended to provide early warning of an aerial attack on America;
  • Steals the plans to the F-35 fighter;
  • Disrupts the Pentagon’s communication system;
  • Introduces a latent piece of malware (a piece of malicious software that can be activated at a later date, sometimes called a “logic bomb”) into a radar station that can disable the station when triggered, but doesn’t trigger it just yet;
  • Makes a nuclear centrifuge run poorly in a nuclear production plant, eventually causing physical damage to the centrifuge; or
  • Implants a worm that slowly corrupts and degrades data on which certain military applications rely (such as GPS location data).

Some acts, like stealing plans for a new jet fighter, won’t be considered an act of war.  Others, like disrupting our military command and control systems, looks just like what has been thought of as an act of war.

Introducing uncertainty

But what about the middle ground?  Is leaving a logic bomb behind in a radar station like espionage, or is it similar to planting a mine in another country’s harbor as a preparation for war?  What about the computer code Nitro Zeus allegedly placed in the Iranian electric grid?  And what if that code is still there?

Those who want both ubiquity and security are asking to have their cake and eat it, too.  So long as this Internet is “The Internet,” vulnerability is here to stay.  It can be managed, but it can’t be eliminated.  And that means that those who bear responsibility for defending the network have a persistent challenge of great complexity.

Read Article (Paul Rosenzweig | | 02/24/2016)

The online world ‘does’ change the boundaries of war, at least to date, there hasn’t been the loss of life.  That’s realistic and why the president understands that cyberattacks are less than full-scale war, like most of us.

Also, today Nitro Zeus is not an option (whether it existed or not), otherwise we would not be reading about it.

Master Level High-Tech Webinars

Invitation to Legally Hack the U.S. Pentagon


Ok, everyone just calm-down, this is an invitation only event.  On Wednesday the Pentagon invited outside hackers, who have been vetted, to test the cyber security of some public U.S. Defense Department websites as part of a pilot project next month, the first such program ever by the federal government.

“Hack the Pentagon” is modeled after similar competitions known as “bug bounties” conducted by many large U.S. companies, including United Continental holdings Inc (UAL.N), to discover security gaps in their networks.

Such programs allow cyber experts to find and identify problems before malicious hackers can exploit them, saving money and time in the event of damaging network breaches.  “I am confident that this innovative initiative will strengthen our digital defenses and ultimately enhance our national security,” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a statement unveiling the pilot program.

He told reporters it was time for the Pentagon to learn from best practices across industry, especially since the military was “not getting good grades across the enterprise” for its level of cyber security.

“We can’t just keep doing what we’re doing.  The world changes too fast; our competitors change too fast,” he said during a public discussion at the RSA conference.

DJ Patel, the White House’s chief data scientist and a former executive with eBay and LinkedIn, said bounties had become the fastest and most efficient way of securing networks at a time when software was becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to test.  He went on to say, other federal agencies were watching the Pentagon project and could follow suit, which would further enhance collaboration and result in greater economies of scale.

“When people hear ‘bug bounty,’ they think we are just opening ourselves to attack, but what people forget is, we are always under attack these days,” he said.  “By bringing crowds to the problem … you’re getting a jump on the curve.”

The Pentagon has long tested its own networks using internal “red teams,” but this initiative would open at least some of its vast network of computer systems to cyber challenges from across industry and academia.

Participants must be U.S. citizens and will have to submit to a background check (and marijuana test) before being turned loose on a predetermined public-facing computer system. The Pentagon said other more sensitive networks or key weapons programs would not be included, at least initially.

The initiative is being led by the Pentagon’s defense Digital Service, set up last November to bring experts from the tech sector into the military for short stints.

Read Article (Andrea Shalal | | 03/02/2016)

I truly hope the system enhancements are a success.  But enhancements to federal computer systems alone do not appear to be enough to meet the challenges of our world class competitors’ hackers.

The Digital Era is all pervasive; effecting Cultural, National & International laws as well as the General Public, Governments, Government Officials and even Law Enforcement.  It’s up to each individual to get a little Tech-savvy for their own wellbeing and that of their loved ones.

We provide assistance in this endeavor, but need your funding support to do so.

Master Level High-Tech Webinars