First, Encryption, Now DNA: Annoying, Marketing, or Taunting?

March 14, 2019

I read “Home DNA-Testing Firm Will Let Users Block FBI Access to Their Data.” I came away asking myself, “Is this outfit just annoying government authorities or taunting them? Or, maybe the company wants to look good from a PR point of view?”

Australia introduced regulations which require that companies doing business in the country cooperated with law enforcement when it comes to accessing data on encrypted services. That initiative is likely to be watched closely by those in the Five Eyes. In fact, DarkCyber thinks that the Australian move is a trial balloon. Decryption is a contentious issues, and Facebook has suggested that it will embrace privacy. Some in the enforcement sector rely on Facebook data, and if those data become unreadable, that will spark some discussion. The key point is that Australia took regulatory action.

When the no DNA for the FBI story crossed my desk, I thought about the implications. China has addressed the DNA sampling issue directly. In once geographic area, people have to show up and provide a sample. Fail to cooperate? That action will not generate positive points on the individual’s social credit score.

DNA information is available or obtainable. I want to add “in one way or another.”

The issue is control and access. The use of DNA data is fairly straightforward. DNA may answer the question, “Whom should be investigate?”

The write up states:

The combination of genetic data from home DNA-testing kits and family tree databases has allowed individuals to find relatives by matching DNA, but has also opened a new way for police to solve crimes. Police used the technique last year to identify the man thought to be behind a series of murders in California during the 1970s.

But the company was cooperating. Now a “procedure” must be followed.

Mixed signals, push back, a concern for customer privacy, or PR? The more interesting question is, “Is the company poking pointy sticks into the backs of government authorities.” Will compliance regulations emerge from one of the Five Eyes?

Stephen E Arnold, March 14, 2019

Dark Web Directory: Updates Needed

February 22, 2019

If the Internet were an ocean, the Dark Web is a very shallow tide pool. While the Dark Web is shallow, we do not recommend diving in because you can still break your neck. The Dark Web has a limited number of Web sites listed on it, all of them using the .onion extension.

These Web sites are accessible using the Tor browser and you do not use a search engine to find them. Instead you rely on social media Web sites, such as reddit, forums, or the Dark Web News. The Dark Web News has the “Dark Web & Deep Web Market List With Up & Down Daily Updated Market Status.”

The market listing is described as “Are you wondering how to find deep net markets? Well, look no further! We have compiled a list of active hidden marketplaces available on the deep web.” It is followed by a guide on how to access the Dark Web, download the Tor browser, etc.

What is striking is the amount of warnings about losing your anonymity. The market listing states, no shouts, that a smart Dark Web user uses not only the Tor browser, but also has a VPN to encrypt their data.

After the anonymity warnings, there are the Dark Web market listings. Each market site is reviewed, given a small description, and its status is shared. The listings are very useful and help track the type of market you are searching for. The only downside is that it lists Silk Road and a few other places as still “open.” Methinks that the Dark Web market listing needs an update. Also they give another good warning: “Do your research before using any hidden marketplace. Reddit is a good place to start.”

The problem is that the Dark Web is not zipping along as it once was. The buying and selling action has shifted to online chat and closed discussion groups. As the Dark Web shrinks, maintaining a listing should be easier too.

Whitney Grace, February 22, 2019

Japan: A Security Clamp

February 4, 2019

We are used to Olympic athletes pushing the limit of human accomplishment, but authorities in Japan are going even further. In preparation for the 2020 Olympics, the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology has gained permission to hack into citizens’ IOT devices in order to prevent terror attacks. We learned more from a recent ZDnet story, “Japanese Government Plans to Hack into Citizens’ IOT Devices.”

According to the story:

“The plan is to compile a list of insecure devices that use default and easy-to-guess passwords and pass it on to authorities and the relevant internet service providers, so they can take measures to alert consumers and secure the devices…The survey is scheduled to kick off next month, when authorities plan to test the password security of over 200 million IoT devices, beginning with routers and web cameras.”

From home security systems, to coffee pots, to doorbell cameras—these IOT tools are very vulnerable. While it’s promising to see an intelligence agency getting out ahead of a potential issue, the path to safety is fraught with potential problems. Would such a leap in privacy be acceptable in the US? We find it impossible to believe, but it’ll be interesting to see how Japan juggles this issue.

Patrick Roland, February 4, 2019

TruthFinder: Dark Web Scan Reseller

January 3, 2019

TruthFinder, founded in late 2014 or early 2015, provides background check services. We wanted to document that the firm offers Dark Web scans.

The company states:

Our new Dark Web Monitoring feature is an indispensable tool for people who want to protect their identity from data breaches. You can monitor your sensitive personal information — like your name, phone number, and even credit card number — and receive an instant notification if your data is found on the Dark Web. Cybercriminals buy and sell personal information on the Dark Web every day, but with TruthFinder, you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft.

According to the company’s Web site, these services are provided by Experian. DarkCyber believes that Experian obtains Dark Web scanning services from another third party.

The firm also provides public records data to its customers. The services are provided on a fee basis.

In an interview published by Superbcrew, TruthFinder stated:

TruthFinder is also an essential resource for online daters and those who routinely interact with strangers online. With just a quick search, online daters can make sure they’re talking to a real person and not getting catfished. People can also use this service to see if people have prior criminal records, which is one of the many ways TruthFinder helps people stay safe in the real world.

Note: A “catfish” is someone who pretends to be someone else online. The idea is that an individual adopts a persona in order to mask his or her actual identity.

A customer can search by name, phone number, email address, or physical address. The company offers reverse address lookup (who lives at this address?) and reverse phone look up (who has this phone number?).

A TruthFinder report is assembled from the data the company pulls from various data sources. A report, presumably generated by the TruthFinder system, typically offers:

  • Personal Information: Your name, known aliases, and date of birth
  • Possible Photos: TruthFinder crawls images from various social media profiles, including those you may have forgotten existed
  • Jobs and Education: A list of places you have worked and studied, including relevant dates
  • Possible Relatives: View the name, age, and location of people who may be related to you
  • Related Links: Related links may include blogs, relevant news stories, and additional social profiles
  • Contact Information: View landlines, cell phone numbers, and email addresses associated with your name
  • Location History: A list of places you have lived, including the date you were last seen at the location
  • Criminal Records: TruthFinder reports may include arrest details, the outcome of the case, and prison status, when available
  • Sex Offenders: View a map of nearby sex offenders, details of their crime, and links to view their full background report
  • Social Media Profiles: Uncover social media profiles associated with your name, including accounts you may have forgotten
  • Assets
  • Evictions
  • Business associates.

DarkCyber wants to point out that Dark Web scanning is now an item on a punch list, not a rarified service available only to law enforcement and intelligence professionals. TruthFinder’s help section states that reports begin at about $30. An annual subscription runs about $280 per year.

Kenny Toth, January 3, 2019

About Those VPNs

December 26, 2018

News and chatter about VPNs are plentiful. We noted a flurry of stories about Chinese ownership of VPNs. We receive incredible deals for VPNs which are almost too good to be true. We noted this write up from AT&T (a former Baby Bell) and its Alienvault unit: “The Dangers of Free VPNs.”

The idea behind a VPN is hiding traffic from those able to gain access to that traffic. But there is a VPN provider in the mix. From that classic man in the middle position, the VPN may not be as secure as the user thinks.

The AT&T Alienvault viewpoint is slightly different: VPNs are the cat’s pajamas as long as the VPN is AT&T’s.

We learned from the write up:

Technically, VPN providers have the capacity to see everything you do while connected. If it really wanted to, a VPN company could see what videos you watched, read emails you send, or monitor your search history.

The write up points out without reference to lawful intercept orders, national security letters, and the ho hum everyday work in cheerful Ashburn, Virginia:

Thankfully, reputable providers don’t do this. A good provider shouldn’t take any logs of your activity, which means that although they could theoretically access your data, they discard it instead. These “no-log” companies don’t keep copies of your data, so even if they get subpoenaed by a government agency, they have no data that they can hand over. VPN providers may take different types of logs, so you need to be careful when reading the fine print of any potential provider. These logs can include your traffic, DNS requests, timestamps, bandwidth and IP address.

The write up includes a “How do I love thee” approach to the dangers of free VPNs.

Net net: Be scared. Just navigate to this link. AT&T provides VPN service with the goodness one expects.

By the way, note the reference to “logs.” Many gizmos in a data center offering VPN services maintain logs. Processing these auto generated files can yield quite useful information. Perhaps that’s why there are free and low cost services.

Zero logs strikes Beyond Search as something that is easy to say but undesirable and possibly difficult to achieve.

Are VPNs secure? Is Tor?

In January 2019, Beyond Search will cover more dark cyber related content. More news is forthcoming. Let’s face it enterprise search is a done deal. The Beyond Search goose is migrating to search related content plus adjacent issues like AT&T promoting its cheerful, unmonitored, we’re really great approach to online.

Stephen E Arnold, December 26, 2018

Search for a Person in China: Three Seconds and You Are Good to Go

December 26, 2018

I read “Welcome to Dystopia : China Introduces AI Powered Tracking Uniform in Schools.” The article explains that “China has started to introduce school uniforms which track pupils all the time.”

The “all” is problematic. A student equipped with the new uniform has to take it off, presumably for normal body maintenance and the inevitable cleaning process.

The overstatement, I assume, is designed to make the point that China is going to keep social order using smart software and other tools.

The new uniform  “comes with two chips embedded in the shoulder areas and works with an AI-powered school entrance system, which is equipped with facial recognition cameras.”

Combined with other monitoring gizmos, the question, “Where’s Wong? can be answered in a jiffy. The write up explains:

The entrance system, powered by facial recognition camera, can capture a 20-second-long video of each pupil going in or coming out of the school. The footage will be uploaded onto an app in real time for teachers and parents to watch.An alarm will go off if the school gate detects any pupil who leaves the school without permission,

The article suggests that location and identification takes seconds.

One presumes the search results will be objective and ad free.

Stephen E Arnold, December 26, 2018

Google Privacy Stumbles Over a New Hurdle

November 28, 2018

Out of the frying pan and into the fire for the world’s biggest search engine. The more Google tries to grow, the more it seems to stub its toe on privacy issues. We were treated to the latest episode of this soap opera recently when we read a Next Web story, “Google’s Ethical Black Hole Swallows Deepmind’s Best Intentions.”

In short, healthcare startup, Deepmind, was sold to Google. Despite Deepmind’s promise that client info would not be sold, experts are not convinced that they can trust Google yet.

“There’s good reason for privacy advocates to be concerned, but perhaps the news would be received differently if Google hadn’t spent all year destroying the consumer trust it’s cultivated over the past decade…DeepMind, for its part, says the private data won’t end up connected to Google accounts.”

Additional criticism of Google appears in Fortune Magazine’s “Google Is Accused of ‘Tricking’ Users Into Sharing Location Data Under the EU’s Strict New Privacy Laws.” The magazine reports that a document prepared by the Norwegian Consumer Council explains some of Google’s more interesting methods of obtaining information about a user’s behavior. The tracking vector makes use of Android, Google Maps, and some technical ornaments.

If you want to read the full report, navigate to this link. Fortune included many ads in its short write up, but managed to leave out the link to the source document.

Ah, modern “real” journalists. Ah, Google, always eager to give users control and ways to improve one’s experience.

Patrick Roland, November 23, 2018

Tor: A Reason for Enthusiastic Discussion

October 21, 2018

The Tor Web browser was designed by the Naval Research Institute to protect journalists, human rights activists, and freedom fighters avoid detection in authoritarian governments. However, bad actors also use the browser to power the Dark Web to sell drugs, child pornography, weapons, illegal goods, participate in human trafficking, offer assassination services, and more. Homeland Security investigates in the story, “Is Tor Doing More Harm Than Good? Experts Weigh Costs Of Dark Web.

In May 2018, Virginia Tech held a Dark Web forum that discussed Tor’s impact and whether it was a force for good or bad. The Tor browser is very much like the Internet. When the Internet was first launched it was lauded as a force for good, increasing access to information, communication between people, and more. With the good came the bad, including a new level of crime soon dubbed cyber crimes ranging from child pornography to selling illegal goods. Sound familiar? The Tor Project is supposed to be a force for good and the US State Depart, National Science Foundation, and individuals fund it. Is it worth continuing

“ ‘It’s becoming a place where certain classes of criminals can act with impunity,’ said Gareth Owenson, a senior lecturer in the School of Computing at the University of Portsmouth. ‘At the moment, the U.S. government funds Tor because it believes it is a force for good, that it is promoting human rights in other countries. My view, having studied it for almost five years now, is that overwhelmingly the harm outweighs the good.’”

Eighty percent of the Dark Web sites are dedicated to child pornography in 2014, but it has been reduced to forty percent as of 2018. Bitcoin and other crypto currencies also power the Dark Web. Anonymity is the big draw to the Tor browser and crypto currencies.

Is Tor able to deliver anonymous Web browsing? Sure it is.

Whitney Grace, October 21, 2018

Google: Privacy May Be a Relative Concept

October 3, 2018

Google is concerned about its users privacy. It has options for users to turn off data sharing to protect their privacy. Google says it has these options…supposedly. Fortune shares how Google is breaking its privacy promises in the article, “Google Admits That It Lets Outside Services Share Your Gmail Data.” Google said last year that it would stop scanning users’ emails for keywords to use for targeted ads, but they lied.

When confronted with the deception, Google admitted to the subterfuge and also that they allow third parties to share user information with other third parties. The third parties are supposed to alert users how their information is being used. Does that happen? Probably not.

We learned:

“As Google explained in a blog post following the initial story, the kinds of third-party services that it allows to plug into Gmail include email clients, trip planners and customer relationship management systems. These services, which Google claims to thoroughly vet, typically read emails in an automated way, although humans do sometimes read them too. Users need to actively permit the apps to access their Gmail accounts, and they can revoke permission afterwards. However, Google’s blog post did not talk about the possibility of those third-party services sharing users’ data with other third parties.”

Users apparently had no idea that their data was being shared and Google did not inform them. Google’s privacy policy is broken and they might get away with it in the US, but Europe requires way more transparency. Once again this more proof that the almighty dollar trumps user protection.

Whitney Grace, October 3, 2018

Web Search with Privacy: SearX

August 24, 2018

For far too long we have been living in the Wild West of search: there are too few rules and personal data has been far too fluid. While we wait for the Googles of the world to change their policies (fat chance!) the time has come to find alternatives for those of us who care about keeping their privacy a top priority. We learned more about this revolution from a Make Use Of story, “Avoid Google and Bing: 7 Alternative Search Engines That Value Privacy.”

According to the story:

“Functionally, SearX is a metasearch engiyne, meaning it aggregates data from a number of other search engines then provides you with the best mix available. Results from several of the other search engines on this list—including DuckDuckGo, Qwant, and StartPage—are available. You can customize the engines that SearX uses to find results in the Preferences menu.”

Is a new search engine the answer? Probably not likely. In another time, we might point to the idea that the world has room for more search engines, but with the rise of voice search and the amount of money needed to research this type of thing, the odds of a new search engine taking over for Google or the like is very much impossible. There are other privacy centric Web search systems; for example, Unbubble.

The question becomes, “Are these systems private, or are the data available to authorities with the proper documentation?” Marketing is different from privacy for some people.

Patrick Roland, August 24, 2018

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