Bruce Schneier schneier at SCHNEIER.COM
Fri Oct 15 01:17:12 PDT 2010


              October 15, 2010

              by Bruce Schneier
      Chief Security Technology Officer, BT
             schneier at

A free monthly newsletter providing summaries, analyses, insights, and  
commentaries on security: computer and otherwise.

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In this issue:
     Wiretapping the Internet
     Me on Cyberwar
     Putting Unique Codes on Objects to Detect Counterfeiting
     Schneier News

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     Wiretapping the Internet

In September, The New York Times reported that President Obama will seek  
sweeping laws enabling law enforcement to more easily eavesdrop on the  
internet. Technologies are changing, the administration argues, and modern 
digital systems aren't as easy to monitor as traditional telephones.

The government wants to force companies to redesign their communications  
systems and information networks to facilitate surveillance, and to  
provide law enforcement with back doors that enable them to bypass any  
security measures.

The proposal may seem extreme, but -- unfortunately -- it's not unique.  
Just a few months ago, the governments of the United Arab Emirates and  
Saudi Arabia threatened to ban BlackBerry devices unless the company made 
eavesdropping easier. China has already built a massive internet  
surveillance system to better control its citizens.

Formerly reserved for totalitarian countries, this wholesale surveillance 
of citizens has moved into the democratic world as well. Governments like 
Sweden, Canada and the United Kingdom are debating or passing laws giving 
their police new powers of internet surveillance, in many cases requiring 
communications system providers to redesign products and services they 
sell. More are passing data retention laws, forcing companies to retain 
customer data in case they might need to be investigated later.

Obama isn't the first U.S. president to seek expanded digital  
eavesdropping. The 1994 CALEA law required phone companies to build ways  
to better facilitate FBI eavesdropping into their digital phone switches. 
Since 2001, the National Security Agency has built substantial  
eavesdropping systems within the United States.

These laws are dangerous, both for citizens of countries like China and  
citizens of Western democracies. Forcing companies to redesign their  
communications products and services to facilitate government  
eavesdropping reduces privacy and liberty; that's obvious. But the laws  
also make us less safe. Communications systems that have no inherent  
eavesdropping capabilities are more secure than systems with those  
capabilities built in.

Any surveillance system invites both criminal appropriation and government 
abuse. Function creep is the most obvious abuse: New police powers, enacted 
to fight terrorism, are already used in situations of conventional 
nonterrorist crime. Internet surveillance and control will be no different.

Official misuses are bad enough, but the unofficial uses are far more  
worrisome. An infrastructure conducive to surveillance and control invites 
surveillance and control, both by the people you expect and the people you 
don't. Any surveillance and control system must itself be secured, and 
we're not very good at that. Why does anyone think that only authorized law 
enforcement will mine collected internet data or eavesdrop on Skype and IM 

These risks are not theoretical. After 9/11, the National Security Agency 
built a surveillance infrastructure to eavesdrop on telephone calls and 
e-mails within the United States. Although procedural rules stated that 
only non-Americans and international phone calls were to be listened to, 
actual practice didn't always match those rules. NSA analysts collected 
more data than they were authorized to and used the system to spy on wives, 
girlfriends and famous people like former President Bill Clinton.

The most serious known misuse of a telecommunications surveillance  
infrastructure took place in Greece. Between June 2004 and March 2005,  
someone wiretapped more than 100 cell phones belonging to members of the  
Greek government -- the prime minister and the ministers of defense,  
foreign affairs and justice -- and other prominent people. Ericsson built 
this wiretapping capability into Vodafone's products, but enabled it only 
for governments that requested it. Greece wasn't one of those governments, 
but some still unknown party -- a rival political group? organized crime? 
-- figured out how to surreptitiously turn the feature on.

Surveillance infrastructure is easy to export. Once surveillance  
capabilities are built into Skype or Gmail or your BlackBerry, it's easy  
for more totalitarian countries to demand the same access; after all, the 
technical work has already been done.

Western companies such as Siemens, Nokia and Secure Computing built Iran's 
surveillance infrastructure, and U.S. companies like L-1 Identity  
Solutions helped build China's electronic police state. The next  
generation of worldwide citizen control will be paid for by countries like 
the United States.

We should be embarrassed to export eavesdropping capabilities. Secure,  
surveillance-free systems protect the lives of people in totalitarian  
countries around the world. They allow people to exchange ideas even when 
the government wants to limit free exchange. They power citizen  
journalism, political movements and social change. For example, Twitter's 
anonymity saved the lives of Iranian dissidents -- anonymity that many 
governments want to eliminate.

Yes, communications technologies are used by both the good guys and the  
bad guys. But the good guys far outnumber the bad guys, and it's far more 
valuable to make sure they're secure than it is to cripple them on the off 
chance it might help catch a bad guy. It's like the FBI demanding that no 
automobiles drive above 50 mph, so they can more easily pursue getaway 
cars. It might or might not work -- but, regardless, the cost to society of 
the resulting slowdown would be enormous.

It's bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to 
facilitate a police state. No matter what the eavesdroppers say, these 
systems cost too much and put us all at greater risk.

This essay previously appeared on 
It was a rewrite of a 2009 op-ed on MPR News Q.
That was based in part on a 2007 Washington Post op-ed by Susan Landau. 

News articles: 

Blackberry bans:

Eavesdropping on Bill Clinton:

Wiretapping cell phones in Greece:

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Kenzero is a Japanese Trojan that collects and publishes users' porn  
surfing habits, and then blackmails them, requiring them to pay to have  
the information removed. 
or or

There's a paper at the upcoming ACM CCS conference examining similar  
Japanese scams. 

Vulnerabilities in US-CERT network. You'd think they'd do somewhat better. 

Not answering questions at U.S. Customs. 

Police set up a highway sign warning motorists that there are random stops 
for narcotics checks ahead, but they actually search people who take the 
next exit.  Clever real-world honeypot.

A graphical representation of popular usernames and passwords.

DHS *still* worried about terrorists using Internet surveillance.

DARPA is looking for something that can automatically declassify documents. 

The master key for the High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection standard 
-- that's what encrypts digital television between set-top boxes and 
digital televisions -- has been cracked and published.  The ramifications 
are unclear. 

Good essay questioning counterterrorism policy:

This list of "Four Irrefutable Security Laws" is from Malcolm Harkins,  
Intel's chief information security officer: 1) users want to click on  
things, 2) code wants to be wrong, 3) services want to be on, and 4)  
security features can be used to harm.

Statistical distribution of combat wounds to the head.
I'm not sure it's useful, but it is interesting.

I stayed clear of Haystack -- the anonymity program that was going to  
protect the privacy of dissidents the world over -- because I didn't have 
enough details about the program to have an intelligent opinion. The 
project has since imploded, and here are two excellent essays about the 
program and the hype surrounding it. or

A new prepaid electricity meter fraud:

Evercookies: extremely persistent browser cookies.
WARNING --My blog page is safe, but when you visit the evercookie site, it 
stores an evercookie on your machine.

In an article about Robert Woodward's new book, Obama's Wars, this is  
listed as one of the book's "disclosures": "A new capability developed by 
the National Security Agency has dramatically increased the speed at which 
intercepted communications can be turned around into useful information for 
intelligence analysts and covert operators. 'They talk, we listen.  They 
move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally,' 
then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell explained to Obama at 
a briefing two days after he was elected president."  Eavesdropping is 
easy.  Getting actual intelligence to the hands of people is hard.  It 
sounds as if the NSA has advanced capabilities to automatically sift 
through massive amounts of electronic communications and find the few bits 
worth relaying to intelligence officers. 

Serious new attack against ASP.NET: 
There's a patch.

It's better to try to isolate parts of a terrorist network than to attempt 
to destroy it as a whole, at least according to this model:

The cultural cognition of risk:

Stealing money from a safe with a vacuum. 

There is an interesting list of NSA publications in this document, pages  
30b36.  This document is a bunch of pages from the NSA intranet.

This is a list of master's theses from the Naval Postgraduate School's  
Center for Homeland Defense and Security, this year.

Monitoring employees' online behavior: not their online behavior at work, 
but their online behavior in life.

I regularly say that security decisions are primarily made for  
non-security reasons.  This article about the placement of sky marshals on 
airplanes is an excellent example.  Basically, the airlines would prefer 
they fly coach instead of first class. 
When I list the few improvements to airline security since 9/11, I don't  
include sky marshals.

New research:  "Attacks and Design of Image Recognition CAPTCHAs."

The politics of allocating Homeland Security money to states.

Hacking trial breaks D.C. Internet voting system.  It was easy. 
My primary worry about contests like this is that people will think a  
positive result means something.  If a bunch of students can break into a 
system after a couple of weeks of attempts, we know it's insecure. But just 
because a system withstands a test like this doesn't mean it's secure.  We 
don't know who tried. We don't know what they tried.  We don't know how 
long they tried.  And we don't know if someone who tries smarter, harder, 
and longer could break the system.

The ineffectiveness of vague security warnings. 
I wrote much the same thing in 2004, about the DHS's vague terrorist  
warnings and the color-coded threat advisory system.

Good article from The Economist on biometrics.
Here's my essay on biometrics, from 1999.

Remember the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh assassination last January?  The police  
identified 30 suspects, but haven't been able to find any of them. "Police 
spent about 10,000 hours poring over footage from some 1,500 security 
cameras around Dubai. Using face-recognition software, electronic-payment 
records, receipts and interviews with taxi drivers and hotel staff, they 
put together a list of suspects and publicized it."  But every trail has 
gone cold.  Seems ubiquitous electronic surveillance is no match for a 
sufficiently advanced adversary.

The FBI is tracking a college student in Silicon Valley.  He's 20,  
partially Egyptian, and studying marketing at Mission College.  He found  
the tracking device attached to his car.  Near as he could tell, what he  
did to warrant the FBI's attention was be the friend of someone who did  
something to warrant the FBI's attention.

Pen-and-paper SQL injection attack against Swedish election:

New technology that can pick a single voice out of a crowded and noisy  

India is writing its own operating system so it doesn't have to rely on  
Western technology:

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     Me on Cyberwar

During the cyberwar debate a few months ago, I said this:

    If we frame this discussion as a war discussion, then what you do
    when there's a threat of war is you call in the military and you
    get military solutions. You get lockdown; you get an enemy that
    needs to be subdued. If you think about these threats in terms of
    crime, you get police solutions. And as we have this debate, not
    just on stage, but in the country, the way we frame it, the way we
    talk about it; the way the headlines read, determine what sort of
    solutions we want, make us feel better. And so the threat of
    cyberwar is being grossly exaggerated and I think it's being done
    for a reason. This is a power grab by government. What Mike
    McConnell didn't mention is that grossly exaggerating a threat of
    cyberwar is incredibly profitable.

The debate:

The quote:

More of my writings on cyberwar are here:

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     Putting Unique Codes on Objects to Detect Counterfeiting

This will help some.

    At least two rival systems plan to put unique codes on packages
    containing antimalarials and other medications. Buyers will be
    able to text the code to a phone number on the package and get an
    immediate reply of "NO" or "OK," with the drug's name, expiration
    date, and other information.

To defeat the system, the counterfeiter has to copy the bar codes.  If the 
stores selling to customers are in on the scam, it can be the same code.  
If not, there have to be sufficient different bar codes that the store 
doesn't detect duplications.  Presumably, numbers that are known to have 
been copied are added to the database, so the counterfeiters need to keep 
updating their codes.  And presumably the codes are cryptographically hard 
to predict, so the only way to keep updating them is to look at legitimate 

Another attack would be to intercept the verification system.  A  
man-in-the-middle attack against the phone number or the website would be 
difficult, but presumably the verification information would be on the 
object itself.  It would be easy to swap in a fake phone number that would 
verify anything.

It'll be interesting to see how the counterfeiters get around this  
security measure.

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     Schneier News

On October 19, I'll be giving a keynote speech at Information Security  
Trends Meeting 2010 in Medellin, Colombia. On October 20, I'll be giving a 
keynote in BogotC!, Colombia, as part of the same conference.

I'll be speaking at the GRC Meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, on October 28.

On November 6, I'll be speaking in Milton Keynes, UK, at the annual ACCU  
Security Fundraising Conference, in support of the Bletchley Park Trust  
and The National Museum of Computing. 

I'll be speaking at the Information Security Forum Annual World Congress  
in Monaco on November 7.

I'll be speaking at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Nice on November 8.

My musical recording debut.  It's not about security.

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Computer security experts are often surprised at which stories get picked 
up by the mainstream media. Sometimes it makes no sense. Why this  
particular data breach, vulnerability, or worm and not others? Sometimes  
it's obvious. In the case of Stuxnet, there's a great story.

As the story goes, the Stuxnet worm was designed and released by a  
government--the U.S. and Israel are the most common suspects--specifically 
to attack the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. How could anyone not 
report that? It combines computer attacks, nuclear power, spy agencies and 
a country that's a pariah to much of the world. The only problem with the 
story is that it's almost entirely speculation.

Here's what we do know: Stuxnet is an Internet worm that infects Windows  
computers. It primarily spreads via USB sticks, which allows it to get  
into computers and networks not normally connected to the Internet. Once  
inside a network, it uses a variety of mechanisms to propagate to other  
machines within that network and gain privilege once it has infected those 
machines. These mechanisms include both known and patched vulnerabilities, 
and four "zero-day exploits": vulnerabilities that were unknown and 
unpatched when the worm was released. (All the infection vulnerabilities 
have since been patched.)

Stuxnet doesn't actually do anything on those infected Windows computers, 
because they're not the real target. What Stuxnet looks for is a particular 
model of Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) made by Siemens (the press 
often refers to these as SCADA systems, which is technically incorrect). 
These are small embedded industrial control systems that run all sorts of 
automated processes: on factory floors, in chemical plants, in oil 
refineries, at pipelines--and, yes, in nuclear power plants. These PLCs are 
often controlled by computers, and Stuxnet looks for Siemens SIMATIC 
WinCC/Step 7 controller software.

If it doesn't find one, it does nothing. If it does, it infects it using  
yet another unknown and unpatched vulnerability, this one in the  
controller software. Then it reads and changes particular bits of data in 
the controlled PLCs. It's impossible to predict the effects of this  
without knowing what the PLC is doing and how it is programmed, and that  
programming can be unique based on the application. But the changes are  
very specific, leading many to believe that Stuxnet is targeting a  
specific PLC, or a specific group of PLCs, performing a specific function 
in a specific location--and that Stuxnet's authors knew exactly what they 
were targeting.

It's already infected more than 50,000 Windows computers, and Siemens has 
reported 14 infected control systems, many in Germany. (These numbers were 
certainly out of date as soon as I typed them.) We don't know of any 
physical damage Stuxnet has caused, although there are rumors that it was 
responsible for the failure of India's INSAT-4B satellite in July. We 
believe that it did infect the Bushehr plant.

All the anti-virus programs detect and remove Stuxnet from Windows systems.

Stuxnet was first discovered in late June, although there's speculation  
that it was released a year earlier. As worms go, it's very complex and  
got more complex over time. In addition to the multiple vulnerabilities  
that it exploits, it installs its own driver into Windows. These have to  
be signed, of course, but Stuxnet used a stolen legitimate certificate.  
Interestingly, the stolen certificate was revoked on July 16, and a  
Stuxnet variant with a different stolen certificate was discovered on July 

Over time the attackers swapped out modules that didn't work and replaced 
them with new ones--perhaps as Stuxnet made its way to its intended target. 
Those certificates first appeared in January.  USB propagation, in March.

Stuxnet has two ways to update itself. It checks back to two control  
servers, one in Malaysia and the other in Denmark, but also uses a  
peer-to-peer update system: When two Stuxnet infections encounter each  
other, they compare versions and make sure they both have the most recent 
one. It also has a kill date of June 24, 2012. On that date, the worm will 
stop spreading and delete itself.

We don't know who wrote Stuxnet. We don't know why. We don't know what the 
target is, or if Stuxnet reached it. But you can see why there is so much 
speculation that it was created by a government.

Stuxnet doesn't act like a criminal worm. It doesn't spread  
indiscriminately. It doesn't steal credit card information or account  
login credentials. It doesn't herd infected computers into a botnet. It  
uses multiple zero-day vulnerabilities. A criminal group would be smarter 
to create different worm variants and use one in each. Stuxnet performs 
sabotage. It doesn't threaten sabotage, like a criminal organization intent 
on extortion might.

Stuxnet was expensive to create. Estimates are that it took 8 to 10 people 
six months to write. There's also the lab setup--surely any organization 
that goes to all this trouble would test the thing before releasing it--and 
the intelligence gathering to know exactly how to target it. Additionally, 
zero-day exploits are valuable. They're hard to find, and they can only be 
used once. Whoever wrote Stuxnet was willing to spend a lot of money to 
ensure that whatever job it was intended to do would be done.

None of this points to the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, though.  
Best I can tell, this rumor was started by Ralph Langner, a security  
researcher from Germany. He labeled his theory "highly speculative," and  
based it primarily on the facts that Iran had an unusually high number of 
infections (the rumor that it had the most infections of any country seems 
not to be true), that the Bushehr nuclear plant is a juicy target, and that 
some of the other countries with high infection rates--India, Indonesia, 
and Pakistan--are countries where the same Russian contractor involved in 
Bushehr is also involved. This rumor moved into the computer press and then 
into the mainstream press, where it became the accepted story, without any 
of the original caveats.

Once a theory takes hold, though, it's easy to find more evidence. The  
word "myrtus" appears in the worm: an artifact that the compiler left,  
possibly by accident. That's the myrtle plant. Of course, that doesn't  
mean that druids wrote Stuxnet. According to the story, it refers to Queen 
Esther, also known as Hadassah; she saved the Persian Jews from genocide in 
the 4th century B.C. "Hadassah" means "myrtle" in Hebrew.

Stuxnet also sets a registry value of "19790509" to alert new copies of  
Stuxnet that the computer has already been infected. It's rather obviously 
a date, but instead of looking at the gazillion things--large and 
small--that happened on that the date, the story insists it refers to the 
date Persian Jew Habib Elghanain was executed in Tehran for spying for 

Sure, these markers could point to Israel as the author. On the other  
hand, Stuxnet's authors were uncommonly thorough about not leaving clues  
in their code; the markers could have been deliberately planted by someone 
who wanted to frame Israel. Or they could have been deliberately planted by 
Israel, who wanted us to think they were planted by someone who wanted to 
frame Israel. Once you start walking down this road, it's impossible to 
know when to stop.

Another number found in Stuxnet is 0xDEADF007. Perhaps that means "Dead  
Fool" or "Dead Foot," a term that refers to an airplane engine failure.  
Perhaps this means Stuxnet is trying to cause the targeted system to fail. 
Or perhaps not. Still, a targeted worm designed to cause a specific 
sabotage seems to be the most likely explanation.

If that's the case, why is Stuxnet so sloppily targeted? Why doesn't  
Stuxnet erase itself when it realizes it's not in the targeted network?  
When it infects a network via USB stick, it's supposed to only spread to  
three additional computers and to erase itself after 21 days--but it  
doesn't do that. A mistake in programming, or a feature in the code not  
enabled? Maybe we're not supposed to reverse engineer the target. By  
allowing Stuxnet to spread globally, its authors committed collateral  
damage worldwide. From a foreign policy perspective, that seems dumb. But 
maybe Stuxnet's authors didn't care.

My guess is that Stuxnet's authors, and its target, will forever remain a 

This essay originally appeared on 

My alternate explanations for Stuxnet were cut from the essay.  Here they 

1. A research project that got out of control.  Researchers have  
accidentally released worms before.  But given the press, and the fact  
that any researcher working on something like this would be talking to  
friends, colleagues, and his advisor, I would expect someone to have outed 
him by now, especially if it was done by a team.

2. A criminal worm designed to demonstrate a capability.  Sure, that's  
possible.  Stuxnet could be a prelude to extortion.  But I think a cheaper 
demonstration would be just as effective.  Then again, maybe not.

3. A message.  It's hard to speculate any further, because we don't know  
who the message is for, or its context.  Presumably the intended recipient 
would know.  Maybe it's a "look what we can do" message.  Or an "if you 
don't listen to us, we'll do worse next time" message. Again, it's a very 
expensive message, but maybe one of the pieces of the message is "we have 
so many resources that we can burn four or five man-years of effort and 
four zero-day vulnerabilities just for the fun of it."  If that message 
were for me, I'd be impressed.

4. A worm released by the U.S. military to scare the government into  
giving it more budget and power over cybersecurity.  Nah, that sort of  
conspiracy is much more common in fiction than in real life.

Note that some of these alternate explanations overlap. 

Good technical info on Stuxnet: 

Ralph Langner:

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Since 1998, CRYPTO-GRAM has been a free monthly newsletter providing  
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otherwise.  You can subscribe, unsubscribe, or change your address on the 
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CRYPTO-GRAM is written by Bruce Schneier.  Schneier is the author of the  
best sellers "Schneier on Security," "Beyond Fear," "Secrets and Lies,"  
and "Applied Cryptography," and an inventor of the Blowfish, Twofish,  
Threefish, Helix, Phelix, and Skein algorithms.  He is the Chief Security 
Technology Officer of BT BCSG, and is on the Board of Directors of the 
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).  He is a frequent writer and 
lecturer on security topics.  See <>.

Crypto-Gram is a personal newsletter.  Opinions expressed are not  
necessarily those of BT.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Bruce Schneier.

----- End forwarded message -----
Eugen* Leitl <a href="">leitl</a>
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820
8B29F6BE: 099D 78BA 2FD3 B014 B08A  7779 75B0 2443 8B29 F6BE

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