IMSI-Catchers from Canada

IMSI-Catchers from Canada

Gizmodo is reporting that Harris Corp. is no longer selling Stingray IMSI-catchers (and, presumably, its follow-on models Hailstorm and Crossbow) to local governments:

L3Harris Technologies, formerly known as the Harris Corporation, notified police agencies last year that it planned to discontinue sales of its surveillance boxes at the local level, according to government records. Additionally, the company would no longer offer access to software upgrades or replacement parts, effectively slapping an expiration date on boxes currently in use. Any advancements in cellular technology, such as the rollout of 5G networks in most major U.S. cities, would render them obsolete.

The article goes on to talk about replacement surveillance systems from the Canadian company Octasic.

Octasic’s Nyxcell V800 can target most modern phones while maintaining the ability to capture older GSM devices. Florida’s state police agency described the device, made for in-vehicle use, as capable of targeting eight frequency bands including GSM (2G), CDMA2000 (3G), and LTE (4G).

[…]

A 2018 patent assigned to Octasic claims that Nyxcell forces a connection with nearby mobile devices when its signal is stronger than the nearest legitimate cellular tower. Once connected, Nyxcell prompts devices to divulge information about its signal strength relative to nearby cell towers. These reported signal strengths (intra-frequency measurement reports) are then used to triangulate the position of a phone.

Octasic appears to lean heavily on the work of Indian engineers and scientists overseas. A self-published biography of the company notes that while the company is headquartered in Montreal, it has “R&D facilities in India,” as well as a “worldwide sales support network.” Nyxcell’s website, which is only a single page requesting contact information, does not mention Octasic by name. Gizmodo was, however, able to recover domain records identifying Octasic as the owner.

Adapt cybersecurity programs to protect remote work environments

Earlier this year, businesses across the globe transitioned to a remote work environment almost overnight at unprecedented scale and speed. Security teams worked around the clock to empower and protect their newly distributed teams.

protect remote work

Protect and support a remote workforce

Cisco’s report found the majority of organizations around the world were at best only somewhat prepared in supporting their remote workforce. But, it has accelerated the adoption of technologies that enable employees to work securely from anywhere and on any device – preparing businesses to be flexible for whatever comes next. The survey found that:

  • 85% of organizations said that cybersecurity is extremely important or more important than before COVID-19
  • Secure access is the top cybersecurity challenge faced by the largest proportion of organizations (62%) when supporting remote workers
  • One in two respondents said endpoints, including corporate laptops and personal devices, are a challenge to protect in a remote environment
  • 66% of respondents indicated that the COVID-19 situation will result in an increase in cybersecurity investments

“Security and privacy are among the most significant social and economic issues of our lifetime,” said Jeetu Patel, SVP and GM of Cisco’s Security & Applications business.

“Cybersecurity historically has been overly complex. With this new way of working here to stay and organizations looking to increase their investment in cybersecurity, there’s a unique opportunity to transform the way we approach security as an industry to better meet the needs of our customers and end-users.”

People worried about the privacy of their tools

People are worried about the privacy of remote work tools and are skeptical whether companies are doing what is needed to keep their data safe. Despite the pandemic, they want little or no change to privacy requirements, and they want to see companies be more transparent regarding how they use their customer’s data.

Organizations have the opportunity to build confidence and trust by embedding privacy into their products and communicating their practices clearly and simply to their customers. The survey found that:

  • 60% of respondents were concerned about the privacy of remote collaboration tools
  • 53% want little or no change to existing privacy laws
  • 48% feel they are unable to effectively protect their data today, and the main reason is that they can’t figure out what companies are doing with their data
  • 56% believe governments should play a primary role in protecting consumer data, and consumers are highly supportive of the privacy laws enacted in their country

“Privacy is much more than just a compliance obligation. It is a fundamental human right and business imperative that is critical to building and maintaining customer trust,” said Harvey Jang, VP, Chief Privacy Officer, Cisco. “The core privacy and ethical principles of transparency, fairness, and accountability will guide us in this new, digital-first world.”

63 billion credential stuffing attacks hit retail, hospitality, travel industries

Akamai published a report detailing criminal activity targeting the retail, travel, and hospitality industries with attacks of all types and sizes between July 2018 and June 2020. The report also includes numerous examples of criminal ads from the darknet illustrating how they cash in on the results from successful attacks and the corresponding data theft.

attacks industries

“Criminals are not picky — anything that can be accessed can be used in some way,” said Steve Ragan, Akamai security researcher and author of the State of the Internet / Security report.

“This is why credential stuffing has become so popular over the past few years. These days, retail and loyalty profiles contain a smorgasbord of personal information, and in some cases financial information too. All of this data can be collected, sold, and traded or even compiled for extensive profiles that can later be used for crimes such as identity theft.”

Recirculating old credential lists to identify new vulnerable accounts

During the COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns in Q1 2020, criminals took advantage of the worldwide situation and circulated password combination lists, targeting each of the commerce industries featured in the report.

It was during this time that criminals started recirculating old credential lists in an effort to identify new vulnerable accounts, leading to a significant uptick in criminal inventory and sales related to loyalty programs.

Between July 2018 and June 2020, more than 100 billion credential stuffing attacks ere observed in total. In the commerce category – comprising the retail, travel, and hospitality industries – there were 63,828,642,449 recorded. More than 90% of the attacks in the commerce category targeted the retail industry.

Credential stuffing isn’t the only way that criminals target the retail, travel, and hospitality industries. They target organizations in these industries at the source using SQL Injection (SQLi) and Local File Inclusion (LFI) attacks.

Between July 2018 and June 2020, 4,375,711,860 web attacks against retail, travel, and hospitality were observed, accounting for 41% of the overall attack volume across all industries. Within this data set, 83% of those web attacks targeted the retail sector alone.

SQLi attacks are an evident favorite among criminals, accounting for just under 79% of the total web application attacks against retail, travel, and hospitality.

attacks industries

The holiday shopping season altered by the pandemic

As the global economy prepares for a holiday shopping season, it does so in an environment that has changed radically due to the pandemic. Consumers will not be standing outside of brick and mortar stores waiting for the latest deals in the same way they have in the past. They’re going to log-in, collect their reward points, and maybe use loyalty programs to gain some discounts or other perks just for being a member.

Considering everything that goes into a successful loyalty program, and the information people need to provide in order to take part, the criminals have everything they need to get started in a number of crime-related ventures, from account takeovers, to straight-up identity theft. So, while an individual’s loyalty to a merchant, airline, or hotel chain might not literally be for sale, there’s a good chance the account associated with such programs might be.

“All businesses need to adapt to external events, whether it’s a pandemic, a competitor, or an active and intelligent attacker,” Ragan concluded.

“Some of the top loyalty programs targeted require nothing more than a mobile number and a numeric password, while others rely on easily obtained information as a means of authentication. There is an urgent need for better identity controls and countermeasures to prevent attacks against APIs and server resources.”

Global adoption of data and privacy programs still maturing

The importance of privacy and data protection is a critical issue for organizations as it transcends beyond legal departments to the forefront of an organization’s strategic priorities.

adoption privacy programs

A FairWarning research, based on survey results from more than 550 global privacy and data protection, IT, and compliance professionals outlines the characteristics and behaviors of advanced privacy and data protection teams.

By examining the trends of privacy adoption and maturity across industries, the research uncovers adjustments that security and privacy leaders need to make to better protect their organization’s data.

The prevalence of data and privacy attacks

Insights from the research reinforce the importance of privacy and data protection as 67% of responding organizations documented at least one privacy incident within the past three years, and over 24% of those experienced 30 or more.

Additionally, 50% of all respondents reported at least one data breach in the last three years, with 10% reporting 30 or more.

Overall immaturity of privacy programs

Despite increased regulations, breaches and privacy incidents, organizations have not rapidly accelerated the advancement of their privacy programs as 44% responded they are in the early stages of adoption and 28% are in middle stages.

Healthcare and software rise to the top

Despite an overall lack of maturity across industries, healthcare and software organizations reflect more maturity in their privacy programs, as compared to insurance, banking, government, consulting services, education institutions and academia.

Harnessing the power of data and privacy programs

Respondents understand the significant benefits of a mature privacy program as organizations experience greater gains across every area measured including: increased employee privacy awareness, mitigating data breaches, greater consumer trust, reduced privacy complaints, quality and innovation, competitive advantage, and operational efficiency.

Of note, more mature companies believe they experience the largest gain in reducing privacy complaints (30.3% higher than early stage respondents).

Attributes and habits of mature privacy and data protection programs

Companies with more mature privacy programs are more likely to have C-Suite privacy and security roles within their organization than those in the mid- to early-stages of privacy program development.

Additionally, 88.2% of advanced stage organizations know where most or all of their personally identifiable information/personal health information is located, compared to 69.5% of early stage respondents.

Importance of automated tools to monitor user activity

Insights reveal a clear distinction between the maturity levels of privacy programs and related benefits of automated tools as 54% of respondents with more mature programs have implemented this type of technology compared with only 28.1% in early stage development.

Automated tools enable organizations to monitor all user activity in applications and efficiently identify anomalous activity that signals a breach or privacy violation.

“This research revealed a major gap between mature and early stage privacy programs and the benefits they receive,” said Ed Holmes, CEO, FairWarning.

“It is exciting to see healthcare at the top when it comes to privacy maturity. However, as we dig deeper into the data, we find that 37% of respondents with 30 or more breaches are from healthcare, indicating that there is still more work to be done.

“This study highlights useful guidance on steps all organizations can take regardless of industry or size to advance their program and ensure they are at the forefront of privacy and data protection.”

“In today’s fast-paced and increasingly digitized world, organizations regardless of size or industry, need to prioritize data and privacy protection,” said IAPP President & CEO J. Trevor Hughes.

“As the research has demonstrated, it is imperative that security and privacy professionals recognize the importance of implementing privacy and data protection programs to not only reduce privacy complaints and data breaches, but increase operational efficiency.”

All Zoom users get end-to-end encryption (E2EE) option next week

Starting next week, Zoom users – both those who are on one of the paid plans and those who use it for free – will be able to try out the solution’s new end-to-end encryption (E2EE) option.

In this first rollout phase, all meeting participants:

  • Must join from the Zoom desktop client, mobile app, or Zoom Rooms
  • Must enable the E2EE option at the account level and then for each meeting they want to use E2EE for

Zoom E2EE

How does Zoom E2EE work?

“Zoom’s E2EE uses the same powerful GCM encryption you get now in a Zoom meeting. The only difference is where those encryption keys live,” the company explained.

“In typical meetings, Zoom’s cloud generates encryption keys and distributes them to meeting participants using Zoom apps as they join. With Zoom’s E2EE, the meeting’s host generates encryption keys and uses public key cryptography to distribute these keys to the other meeting participants. Zoom’s servers become oblivious relays and never see the encryption keys required to decrypt the meeting contents.”

The option will be available as a technical preview and will work for meetings including up to 200 participants. In order to join such a meeting, they must have the E2EE setting enabled.

For the moment, though, enabling E2EE for a meeting means giving up on certain features: “join before host”, cloud recording, streaming, live transcription, Breakout Rooms, polling, 1:1 private chat, and meeting reactions.

“Participants will also see the meeting leader’s security code that they can use to verify the secure connection. The host can read this code out loud, and all participants can check that their clients display the same code,” the company added.

Zoom E2EE

E2EE for everybody

In June 2020, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan announced the company’s intention to offer E2EE only to paying customers, but after a public outcry they decided to extend its benefits to customers with free accounts as well.

“Free/Basic users seeking access to E2EE will participate in a one-time verification process that will prompt the user for additional pieces of information, such as verifying a phone number via text message. Many leading companies perform similar steps to reduce the mass creation of abusive accounts,” the company reiterated again with this latest announcement.

Compliance activities cost organizations $3.5 million annually

Organizations are struggling to keep up with IT security and privacy compliance regulations, according to a Telos survey.

compliance cost

Annual compliance cost

The survey, which polled 300 IT security professionals in July and August 2020, revealed that, on average, organizations must comply with 13 different IT security and/or privacy regulations and spend $3.5 million annually on compliance activities, with compliance audits consuming 58 working days each quarter.

As more regulations come into existence and more organizations migrate their critical systems, applications and infrastructure to the cloud, the risk of non-compliance and associated impact increases.

Key research findings

  • IT security professionals report receiving an average of over 17 audit evidence requests each quarter and spend an average of three working days responding to a single request
  • Over the last 24 months, organizations have been found non-compliant an average of six times by both internal and third party auditors resulting in an average of eight fines, costing an average of $460,000
  • 86 percent of organizations believe compliance would be an issue when moving systems, applications and infrastructure to the cloud
  • 94 percent of organizations report they would face challenges when it comes to IT security compliance and/or privacy regulations in the cloud

Compliance teams are overwhelmed

“Compliance teams spend 232 working days each year responding to audit evidence requests, in addition to the millions of dollars spent on compliance activities and fines,” said Dr. Ed Amoroso, CEO of TAG Cyber. “The bottom line is this level of financial and time commitment is unsustainable in the long run.”

“As hammer, chisel and stone gave way to clipboard, paper and pencil, it’s time for organizations to realize the days of spreadsheets for ‘checkbox compliance’ are woefully outdated,” said Steve Horvath, VP of strategy and cloud at Telos.

Automation can solve numerous compliance challenges, as the data shows. It’s the only real way to get in front of curve, rather than continuing to try and keep up.”

99 percent of survey respondents indicated their organization would benefit from automating IT security and/or privacy compliance activities, citing expected benefits such as increased accuracy of evidence (54 percent), reduced time spent being audited (51 percent) and the ability to respond to audit evidence requests more quickly (50 percent).

Google Responds to Warrants for “About” Searches

One of the things we learned from the Snowden documents is that the NSA conducts “about” searches. That is, searches based on activities and not identifiers. A normal search would be on a name, or IP address, or phone number. An about search would something like “show me anyone that has used this particular name in a communications,” or “show me anyone who was at this particular location within this time frame.” These searches are legal when conducted for the purpose of foreign surveillance, but the worry about using them domestically is that they are unconstitutionally broad. After all, the only way to know who said a particular name is to know what everyone said, and the only way to know who was at a particular location is to know where everyone was. The very nature of these searches requires mass surveillance.

The FBI does not conduct mass surveillance. But many US corporations do, as a normal part of their business model. And the FBI uses that surveillance infrastructure to conduct its own about searches. Here’s an arson case where the FBI asked Google who searched for a particular street address:

Homeland Security special agent Sylvette Reynoso testified that her team began by asking Google to produce a list of public IP addresses used to google the home of the victim in the run-up to the arson. The Chocolate Factory [Google] complied with the warrant, and gave the investigators the list. As Reynoso put it:

On June 15, 2020, the Honorable Ramon E. Reyes, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York, authorized a search warrant to Google for users who had searched the address of the Residence close in time to the arson.

The records indicated two IPv6 addresses had been used to search for the address three times: one the day before the SUV was set on fire, and the other two about an hour before the attack. The IPv6 addresses were traced to Verizon Wireless, which told the investigators that the addresses were in use by an account belonging to Williams.

Google’s response is that this is rare:

While word of these sort of requests for the identities of people making specific searches will raise the eyebrows of privacy-conscious users, Google told The Register the warrants are a very rare occurrence, and its team fights overly broad or vague requests.

“We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement,” Google’s director of law enforcement and information security Richard Salgado told us. “We require a warrant and push to narrow the scope of these particular demands when overly broad, including by objecting in court when appropriate.

“These data demands represent less than one per cent of total warrants and a small fraction of the overall legal demands for user data that we currently receive.”

Here’s another example of what seems to be about data leading to a false arrest.

According to the lawsuit, police investigating the murder knew months before they arrested Molina that the location data obtained from Google often showed him in two places at once, and that he was not the only person who drove the Honda registered under his name.

Avondale police knew almost two months before they arrested Molina that another man ­ his stepfather ­ sometimes drove Molina’s white Honda. On October 25, 2018, police obtained records showing that Molina’s Honda had been impounded earlier that year after Molina’s stepfather was caught driving the car without a license.

Data obtained by Avondale police from Google did show that a device logged into Molina’s Google account was in the area at the time of Knight’s murder. Yet on a different date, the location data from Google also showed that Molina was at a retirement community in Scottsdale (where his mother worked) while debit card records showed that Molina had made a purchase at a Walmart across town at the exact same time.

Molina’s attorneys argue that this and other instances like it should have made it clear to Avondale police that Google’s account-location data is not always reliable in determining the actual location of a person.

“About” searches might be rare, but that doesn’t make them a good idea. We have knowingly and willingly built the architecture of a police state, just so companies can show us ads. (And it is increasingly apparent that the advertising-supported Internet is heading for a crash.)

New Privacy Features in iOS 14

About Bruce Schneier

I am a public-interest technologist, working at the intersection of security, technology, and people. I’ve been writing about security issues on my blog since 2004, and in my monthly newsletter since 1998. I’m a fellow and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a board member of EFF. This personal website expresses the opinions of neither of those organizations.

How do I select a data storage solution for my business?

We live in the age of data. We are constantly producing it, analyzing it, figuring out how to store and protect it, and, hopefully, using it to refine business practices. Unfortunately, 58% of organizations make decisions based on outdated data.

While enterprises are rapidly deploying technologies for real-time analytics, machine learning and IoT, they are still utilizing legacy storage solutions that are not designed for such data-intensive workloads.

To select a suitable data storage for your business, you need to think about a variety of factors. We’ve talked to several industry leaders to get their insight on the topic.

Phil Bullinger, SVP and General Manager, Data Center Business Unit, Western Digital

select data storage solutionSelecting the right data storage solution for your enterprise requires evaluating and balancing many factors. The most important is aligning the performance and capabilities of the storage system with your critical workloads and their specific bandwidth, application latency and data availability requirements. For example, if your business wants to gain greater insight and value from data through AI, your storage system should be designed to support the accelerated performance and scale requirements of analytics workloads.

Storage systems that maximize the performance potential of solid state drives (SSDs) and the efficiency and scalability of hard disk drives (HDDs) provide the flexibility and configurability to meet a wide range of application workloads.

Your applications should also drive the essential architecture of your storage system, whether directly connected or networked, whether required to store and deliver data as blocks, files, objects or all three, and whether the storage system must efficiently support a wide range of workloads while prioritizing the performance of the most demanding applications.

Consideration should be given to your overall IT data management architecture to support the scalability, data protection, and business continuity assurance required for your enterprise, spanning from core data centers to those distributed at or near the edge and endpoints of your enterprise operations, and integration with your cloud-resident applications, compute and data storage services and resources.

Ben Gitenstein, VP of Product Management, Qumulo

select data storage solutionWhen searching for the right data storage solution to support your organizational needs today and in the future, it’s important to select a solution that is trusted, scalable to secure demanding workloads of any size, and ensures optimal performance of applications and workloads both on premises and in complex, multi- cloud environments.

With the recent pandemic, organizations are digitally transforming faster than ever before, and leveraging the cloud to conduct business. This makes it more important than ever that your storage solution has built in tools for data management across this ecosystem.

When evaluating storage options, be sure to do your homework and ask the right questions. Is it a trusted provider? Would it integrate well within my existing technology infrastructure? Your storage solution should be easy to manage and meet the scale, performance and cloud requirements for any data environment and across multi-cloud environments.

Also, be sure the storage solution gives IT control in how they manage storage capacity needs and delivers real-time insight into analytics and usage patterns so they can make smart storage allocation decisions and maximize an organizations’ storage budget.

David Huskisson, Senior Solutions Manager, Pure Storage

select data storage solutionData backup and disaster recovery features are critically important when selecting a storage solution for your business, as now no organization is immune to ransomware attacks. When systems go down, they need to be recovered as quickly and safely as possibly.

Look for solutions that offer simplicity in management, can ensure backups are viable even when admin credentials are compromised, and can be restored quickly enough to greatly reduce major organizational or financial impact.

Storage solutions that are purpose-built to handle unstructured data are a strong place to start. By definition, unstructured data means unpredictable data that can take any form, size or shape, and can be accessed in any pattern. These capabilities can accelerate small, large, random or sequential data, and consolidate a wide range of workloads on a unified fast file and object storage platform. It should maintain its performance even as the amount of data grows.

If you have an existing backup product, you don’t need to rip and replace it. There are storage platforms with robust integrations that work seamlessly with existing solutions and offer a wide range of data-protection architectures so you can ensure business continuity amid changes.

Tunio Zafer, CEO, pCloud

select data storage solutionBear in mind: your security team needs to assist. Answer these questions to find the right solution: Do you need ‘cold’ storage or cloud storage? If you’re looking to only store files for backup, you need a cloud backup service. If you’re looking to store, edit and share, go for cloud storage. Where are their storage servers located? If your business is located in Europe, the safest choice is a storage service based in Europe.

Best case scenario – your company is going to grow. Look for a storage service that offers scalability. What is their data privacy policy? Research whether someone can legally access your data without your knowledge or consent. Switzerland has one of the strictest data privacy laws globally, so choosing a Swiss-based service is a safe bet. How is your data secured? Look for a service that offers robust encryption in-transit and at-rest.

Client-side encryption means that your data is secured on your device and is transferred already encrypted. What is their support package? At some point, you’re going to need help. A data storage service with a support package that’s included for free, answers in up to 24 hours is preferred.

Cybersecurity practices are becoming more formal, security teams are expanding

Organizations are building confidence that their cybersecurity practices are headed in the right direction, aided by advanced technologies, more detailed processes, comprehensive education and specialized skills, a research from CompTIA finds.

cybersecurity practices

Eight in 10 organizations surveyed said their cybersecurity practices are improving.

At the same time, many companies acknowledge that there is still more to do to make their security posture even more robust. Growing concerns about the number, scale and variety of cyberattacks, privacy considerations, a greater reliance on data and regulatory compliance are among the issues that have the attention of business and IT leaders.

Elevating cybersecurity

Two factors – one anticipated, the other unexpected – have contributed to the heightened awareness about the need for strong cybersecurity measures.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been the primary trigger for revisiting security,” said Seth Robinson, senior director for technology analysis at CompTIA. “The massive shift to remote work exposed vulnerabilities in workforce knowledge and connectivity, while phishing emails preyed on new health concerns.”

Robinson noted that the pandemic accelerated changes that were underway in many organizations that were undergoing the digital transformation of their business operations.

“This transformation elevated cybersecurity from an element within IT operations to an overarching business concern that demands executive-level attention,” he said. “It has become a critical business function, on par with a company’s financial procedures.”

As a result, companies have a better understanding of what do about cybersecurity. Nine in 10 organizations said their cybersecurity processes have become more formal and more critical.

Two examples are risk management, where companies assess their data and their systems to determine the level of security that each requires; and monitoring and measurement, where security efforts are continually tracked and new metrics are established to tie security activity to business objectives.

IT teams foundational skills

The report also highlights how the “cybersecurity chain” has expanded to include upper management, boards of directors, business units and outside firms in addition to IT personnel in conversations and decisions.

Within IT teams, foundational skills such as network and endpoint security have been paired with new skills, including identity management and application security, that have become more important as cloud and mobility have taken hold.

On the horizon, expect to see skills related to security monitoring and other proactive tactics gain a bigger foothold. Examples include data analysis, threat knowledge and understanding the regulatory landscape.

Cybersecurity insurance is another emerging area. The report reveals that 45% of large companies, 41% of mid-sized firms and 37% of small businesses currently have a cyber insurance policy.

Common coverage areas include the cost of restoring data (56% of policy holders), the cost of finding the root cause of a breach (47%), coverage for third-party incidents (43%) and response to ransomware (42%).

NIST crowdsourcing challenge aims to de-identify public data sets to protect individual privacy

NIST has launched a crowdsourcing challenge to spur new methods to ensure that important public safety data sets can be de-identified to protect individual privacy.

NIST crowdsourcing challenge

The Differential Privacy Temporal Map Challenge includes a series of contests that will award a total of up to $276,000 for differential privacy solutions for complex data sets that include information on both time and location.

Critical applications vulnerability

For critical applications such as emergency planning and epidemiology, public safety responders may need access to sensitive data, but sharing that data with external analysts can compromise individual privacy.

Even if data is anonymized, malicious parties may be able to link the anonymized records with third-party data and re-identify individuals. And, when data has both geographical and time information, the risk of re-identification increases significantly.

“Temporal map data, with its ability to track a person’s location over a period of time, is particularly helpful to public safety agencies when preparing for disaster response, firefighting and law enforcement tactics,” said Gary Howarth, NIST prize challenge manager.

“The goal of this challenge is to develop solutions that can protect the privacy of individual citizens and first responders when agencies need to share data.”

Protecting PII

Differential privacy provides much stronger data protection than anonymity; it’s a provable mathematical guarantee that protects personally identifiable information (PII).

By fully de-identifying data sets containing PII, researchers can ensure data remains useful while limiting what can be learned about any individual in the data regardless of what third-party information is available.

The individual contests that make up the challenge will include a series of three “sprints” in which participants develop privacy algorithms and compete for prizes, as well as a scoring metrics development contest (A Better Meter Stick for Differential Privacy Contest) and a contest designed to improve the usability of the solvers’ source code (The Open Source and Development Contest).

The Better Meter Stick for Differential Privacy Contest will award a total prize purse of $29,000 for winning submissions that propose novel scoring metrics by which to assess the quality of differentially private algorithms on temporal map data.

The three Temporal Map Algorithms sprints will award a total prize purse of $147,000 over a series of three sprints to develop algorithms that preserve data utility of temporal and spatial map data sets while guaranteeing privacy.

The Open Source and Development Contest will award a total prize purse of $100,000 to teams leading in the sprints to increase their algorithm’s utility and usability for open source audiences.

70% of consumers would cut ties with doctors over unprotected health data

There are growing privacy concerns among Americans due to COVID-19 with nearly 70 percent citing they would likely sever healthcare provider ties if they found that their personal health data was unprotected, a CynergisTek survey reveals.

unprotected health data

Privacy concerns

And as many employers seek to welcome staff back into physical workplaces, nearly half (45 percent) of Americans expressed concerns about keeping personal health information private from their employer.

“With the enactment of key regulations including CCPA and GDPR, we are seeing the convergence of security and privacy come to the forefront at national, state and corporate levels.

“As healthcare systems and corporations continue to grapple with data challenges associated with COVID-19 – whether that’s more sophisticated, targeted cyber-attacks or the new requirements around interoperability and data sharing, concerns around personal data and consumer awareness of privacy rights will only continue to grow,” said Caleb Barlow, president and CEO of CynergisTek.

Patients contemplate cutting ties over unprotected health data

While many still assume personal data is under lock and key, 18 percent of Americans are beginning to question whether personal health data is being adequately protected by healthcare providers. In fact, 47.5 percent stated they were unlikely to use telehealth services again should a breach occur, sounding the alarm for a burgeoning telehealth industry predicted to be worth over $260B by 2026.

While 3 out of 4 Americans still largely trust their data is properly protected by their healthcare provider, tolerance is beginning to wane with 67 percent stating they would change providers if it was found that their data was not properly protected. When drilling deeper into certain age groups and health conditions, the survey also found that:

  • Gen X (73 percent) and Millennials (70 percent) proved even less tolerant compared to other demographics when parting ways with their providers due to unprotected health data.
  • 66 percent of Americans living with chronic health conditions stated they would be willing to change up care providers should their data be compromised.

Data shows that health systems who have not invested the time, money and resources to keep pace with the ever-changing threat landscape are falling behind. Of the nearly 300 healthcare facilities assessed, less than one half met NIST Cybersecurity Framework guidelines.

Concern about sharing COVID-19 health data upon returning to work

As pressures mount for returning employees to disclose COVID-19 health status and personal interactions, an increasing conflict between ensuring public health safety and upholding employee privacy is emerging.

This is increasingly evident with 45 percent stating a preference to keep personal health information private from their employer, shining a light on increased scrutiny among employees with over 1 in 3 expressing concerns about sharing COVID-19 specific health data, e.g. temperature checks. This highlights that office openings may prove more complicated than anticipated.

“The challenges faced by both healthcare providers and employers during this pandemic have seemed insurmountable at times, but the battle surrounding personal health data and privacy is a challenge we must rise to,” said Russell P. Branzell, president and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

“With safety and security top of mind for all, it is imperative that these organizations continue to take the necessary steps to fully protect this sensitive data from end to end, mitigating any looming cyberthreats while creating peace of mind for the individual.”

Beyond unwanted employer access to personal data, the survey found that nearly 60 percent of respondents expressed anxieties around their employer sharing personal health data externally to third parties such as insurance companies and employee benefit providers without consent.

A stark contrast to Accenture’s recent survey which found 62 percent of C-suite executives confirmed they were exploring new tools to collect employee data. A reminder to employers to tread lightly when mandating employee health protocols and questionnaires.

“COVID-19 has thrown many curveballs at both healthcare providers and employers, and the privacy and protection of critical patient and employee data must not be ignored,” said David Finn, executive VP of strategic innovation of CynergisTek.

“By getting ahead of the curve and implementing system-wide risk posture assessments and ensuring employee opt-in/opt-out functions when it comes to sharing personal data, these organizations can help limit these privacy and security risks.”

MatRiCT: A quantum-safe and privacy-preserving blockchain protocol

Researchers from CSIRO’s Data61 and the Monash Blockchain Technology Centre have developed the world’s most efficient blockchain protocol that is both secure against quantum computers and protects the privacy of its users and their transactions.

MatRiCT

The technology can be applied beyond cryptocurrencies, such as digital health, banking, finance and government services, as well as services which may require accountability to prevent illegal use.

The protocol — a set of rules governing how a blockchain network operates — is called MatRiCT.

Cryptocurrencies vulnerable to attacks by quantum computers

The cryptocurrency market is currently valued at more than $325 billion, with an average of approximately $50 billion traded daily over the past year.

However, blockchain-based cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are vulnerable to attacks by quantum computers, which are capable of performing complex calculations and processing substantial amounts of data to break blockchains, in significantly faster times than current computers.

“Quantum computing can compromise the signatures or keys used to authenticate transactions, as well as the integrity of blockchains themselves,” said Dr Muhammed Esgin, lead researcher at Monash University and Data61’s Distributed Systems Security Group. “Once this occurs, the underlying cryptocurrency could be altered, leading to theft, double spend or forgery, and users’ privacy may be jeopardised.

“Existing cryptocurrencies tend to either be quantum-safe or privacy-preserving, but for the first time our new protocol achieves both in a practical and deployable way.”

The MatRiCT protocol is based on hard lattice problems, which are quantum secure, and introduces three new key features: the shortest quantum-secure ring signature scheme to date, which authenticates activity and transactions using only the signature; a zero-knowledge proof method, which hides sensitive transaction information; and an auditability function, which could help prevent illegal cryptocurrency use.

Blockchain challenged by speed and energy consumption

Speed and energy consumption are significant challenges presented by blockchain technologies which can lead to inefficiencies and increased costs.

“The protocol is designed to address the inefficiencies in previous blockchain protocols such as complex authentication procedures, thereby speeding up calculation efficiencies and using less energy to resolve, leading to significant cost savings,” said Dr Ron Steinfeld, associate professor, co-author of the research and a quantum-safe cryptography expert at Monash University.

“Our new protocol is significantly faster and more efficient, as the identity signatures and proof required when conducting transactions are the shortest to date, thereby requiring less data communication, speeding up the transaction processing time, and reducing the amount of energy required to complete transactions.”

“Hcash will be incorporating the protocol into its own systems, transforming its existing cryptocurrency, HyperCash, into one that is both quantum safe and privacy protecting,” said Dr Joseph Liu, associate professor, Director of Monash Blockchain Technology Centre and HCash Chief Scientist.

85% of COVID-19 tracking apps leak data

71% of healthcare and medical apps have at least one serious vulnerability that could lead to a breach of medical data, according to Intertrust.

COVID-19 tracking apps leak data

The report investigated 100 publicly available global mobile healthcare apps across a range of categories—including telehealth, medical device, health commerce, and COVID-tracking—to uncover the most critical mHealth app threats.

Cryptographic issues pose one of the most pervasive and serious threats, with 91% of the apps in the study failing one or more cryptographic tests. This means the encryption used in these medical apps can be easily broken by cybercriminals, potentially exposing confidential patient data, and enabling attackers to tamper with reported data, send illegitimate commands to connected medical devices, or otherwise use the application for malicious purposes.

Bringing medical apps security up to speed

The study’s overall findings suggest that the push to reshape care delivery under COVID-19 has often come at the expense of mobile application security.

“Unfortunately, there’s been a history of security vulnerabilities in the healthcare and medical space. Things are getting a lot better, but we still have a lot of work to do.” said Bill Horne, General Manager of the Secure Systems product group and CTO at Intertrust.

“The good news is that application protection strategies and technologies can help healthcare organizations bring the security of their apps up to speed.”

The report on healthcare and medical mobile apps is based on an audit of 100 iOS and Android applications from healthcare organizations worldwide. All 100 apps were analyzed using an array of static application security testing (SAST) and dynamic application security testing (DAST) techniques based on the OWASP mobile app security guidelines.

COVID-19 tracking apps leak data

Report highlights

  • 71% of tested medical apps have at least one high level security vulnerability. A vulnerability is classified as high if it can be readily exploited and has the potential for significant damage or loss.
  • The vast majority of medical apps (91%) have mishandled and/or weak encryption that puts them at risk for data exposure and IP (intellectual property) theft.
  • 34% of Android apps and 28% of iOS apps are vulnerable to encryption key extraction.
  • The majority of mHealth apps contain multiple security issues with data storage. For instance, 60% of tested Android apps stored information in SharedPreferences, leaving unencrypted data readily readable and editable by attackers and malicious apps.
  • When looking specifically at COVID-tracking apps, 85% leak data.
  • 83% of the high-level threats discovered could have been mitigated using application protection technologies such as code obfuscation, tampering detection, and white-box cryptography.

On Executive Order 12333

On Executive Order 12333

Mark Jaycox has written a long article on the US Executive Order 12333: “No Oversight, No Limits, No Worries: A Primer on Presidential Spying and Executive Order 12,333“:

Abstract: Executive Order 12,333 (“EO 12333”) is a 1980s Executive Order signed by President Ronald Reagan that, among other things, establishes an overarching policy framework for the Executive Branch’s spying powers. Although electronic surveillance programs authorized by EO 12333 generally target foreign intelligence from foreign targets, its permissive targeting standards allow for the substantial collection of Americans’ communications containing little to no foreign intelligence value. This fact alone necessitates closer inspection.

This working draft conducts such an inspection by collecting and coalescing the various declassifications, disclosures, legislative investigations, and news reports concerning EO 12333 electronic surveillance programs in order to provide a better understanding of how the Executive Branch implements the order and the surveillance programs it authorizes. The Article pays particular attention to EO 12333’s designation of the National Security Agency as primarily responsible for conducting signals intelligence, which includes the installation of malware, the analysis of internet traffic traversing the telecommunications backbone, the hacking of U.S.-based companies like Yahoo and Google, and the analysis of Americans’ communications, contact lists, text messages, geolocation data, and other information.

After exploring the electronic surveillance programs authorized by EO 12333, this Article proposes reforms to the existing policy framework, including narrowing the aperture of authorized surveillance, increasing privacy standards for the retention of data, and requiring greater transparency and accountability.

Large vendor ecosystems and low visibility increase third-party cyber risk

80% of organizations experienced a cybersecurity breach that originated from vulnerabilities in their vendor ecosystem in the past 12 months, and the average organization had been breached in this way 2.7 times, according to a BlueVoyant survey.

budgets third-party cyber risk

The research also found organizations are experiencing multiple pain points across their cyber risk management program as they aim to mitigate risk across a network that typically encompasses 1409 vendors.

The study was conducted by Opinion Matters and recorded the views and experiences of 1505 CIOs, CISOs and Chief Procurement Officers in organizations with more than 1000 employees across a range of vertical sectors including business and professional services, financial services, healthcare and pharmaceutical, manufacturing, utilities and energy. It covered five countries: USA, UK, Mexico, Switzerland and Singapore.

Third-party cyber risk budgets and other key findings

  • 29% say they have no way of knowing if cyber risk emerges in a third-party vendor
  • 22.5% monitor their entire supply chain
  • 32% only re-assess and report their vendor’s cyber risk position either six-monthly or less frequently
  • The average headcount in internal and external cyber risk management teams is 12
  • 81% say that budgets for third-party cyber risk management are increasing, by an average figure of 40%

Commenting on the research findings, Jim Penrose, COO BlueVoyant, said: “That four in five organizations have experienced recent cybersecurity breaches originating in their vendor ecosystem is of huge concern.

“The research clearly indicated the reasons behind this high breach frequency: only 23% are monitoring all suppliers, meaning 77% have limited visibility and almost one-third only re-assess their vendors’ cyber risk position six-monthly or annually. That means in the intervening period they are effectively flying blind to risks that could emerge at any moment in the prevailing cyber threat environment.”

Multiple pain points exist in third-party cyber risk programs as budgets rise

Further insight into the difficulties that are leading to breaches was revealed when respondents were asked to identify the top three pain points related to their third-party cyber risk programs, in the past 12 months.

The most common problems were:

  • Managing the volume of alerts generated by the program
  • Working with suppliers to improve security performance, and
  • Prioritizing which risks are urgent and which are not.

However, overall responses were almost equally spread across thirteen different areas of concern. In response to these issues, budgets for third-party cyber risk programs are set to rise in the coming year. 81% of survey respondents said they expect to see budgets increase, by 40% on average.

Jim Penrose continues: “The fact that cyber risk management professionals are reporting difficulties across the board shows the complexity they face in trying to improve performance.

“It is encouraging that budget is being committed to tackling the problem, but with so many issues to solve many organizations will find it hard to know where to start. Certainly, the current approach is not working, so simply trying to do more of the same will not shift the dial on third-party cyber risk.”

Variation across industry sectors

Analysis of the responses from different commercial sectors revealed considerable variations in their experiences of third-party cyber risk. The business services sector is suffering the highest rate of breaches, with 89% saying they have been breached via a weakness in a third-party in the past 12 months.

The average number of incidents experienced in the past 12 months was also highest in this sector, at 3.6. This is undoubtedly partly down to the fact that firms in the sector reported working with 2572 vendors, on average.

In contrast, only 57% of respondents from the manufacturing sector said they had suffered third-party cyber breaches in the past 12 months. The sector works with 1325 vendors on average, but had a much lower breach frequency, at 1.7.

“Thirteen percent of respondents from the manufacturing sector also reported having no pain points in their third-party cyber risk management programs, a percentage more than twice as high as any other sector.

Commenting on the stark differences observed between sectors, Jim Penrose said: “This underlines that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing third-party cyber risk.

“Different industries have different needs and are at varying stages of maturity in their cyber risk management programs. This must be factored into attempts to improve performance so that investment is directed where it has the greatest impact.”

Mix of tools and tactics in play

The survey investigated the tools organizations have in place to implement third-party cyber risk management and found a mix of approaches with no single approach dominating.

Many organizations are evolving towards a data-driven strategy, with supplier risk data and analytics in use by 40%. However static, point-in-time tactics such as on-site audits and supplier questionnaires remain common.

Jim Penrose concludes: “Overall the research findings indicate a situation where the large scale of vendor ecosystems and the fast-changing threat environment is defeating attempts to effectively manage third-party cyber risk in a meaningful way.

“Visibility into such a large and heterogenous group of vendors is obscured due to lack of resources and a continuing reliance on manual, point-in-time processes, meaning real-time emerging cyber risk is invisible for much of the time.

“For organizations to make meaningful progress in managing third-party cyber risk and reduce the current concerning rate of breaches, they need to be pursuing greater visibility across their vendor ecosystem and achieving better context around alerts so they can be prioritized, triaged and quickly remediated with suppliers.”

iOS 14: New privacy and security features

Apple has released iOS 14, with a bucketload of new and improved functional features and a handful of privacy and security ones.

iOS 14 privacy security

New privacy and security features in iOS 14

The new iOS will tell you when an app is using your camera or microphone

It will show an indicator dot (green for when camera or camera+microphone is in use, orange for microphone) in the top right part of the device’s screen.

iOS 14 privacy security

The downside is that it’s fairly small and you might miss it if other things are happening on the screen. The upside is that you can check which app most recently used your camera or microphone via the Control Center.

Of course, you can deny access to your camera and microphone to any app through the Privacy settings.

You can share with apps your approximate location instead of the precise one

Go to Settings > Privacy and Location Services > Location Services, and you can configure for each app whether you want it to access your device’s location “only while the app is in use”, “always”, “never”, or you want the app to ask you for permission each time you run it (then you get the option to give it permission to access your location “Only once”).

When you allow location access for an app, you’ll get the option to provide your precise location or leave it to the app to determine your approximate location (the latter is good enough for apps that show local news or weather).

You can choose to share with apps just some photos

Under Privacy > Photos you can see which apps have requested access to your photos and you can choose to restrict each app’s access just to selected photos or photo albums (or none).

You can limit tracking

Each time you connect to a Wi-Fi network your phone will show a different MAC address. This is to prevent ISPs and advertisers to track your movements (i.e., see when and where you connect to a network), and this option is on by default.

In Settings > Privacy > Tracking, you can choose to not allow apps to send you a request to track you. If you do that, “any app that attempts to ask you for your permission will be blocked from asking and automatically informed that you have requested not to be tracked. In addition, all apps, other than those that you have previously given permission to track, will be blocked from accessing the device’s Advertising Identifier.”

If you allow tracking, tracking permissions can also be controlled on a per-app basis.

It has to be pointed out, though, that these app tracking options will start working as intended in early 2021, when these privacy controls become mandatory for developers.

“We want to give developers the time they need to make the necessary changes, and as a result, the requirement to use this tracking permission will go into effect early next year,” Apple explained.

Facebook complained earlier this year that these new privacy requirements would have a significant negative impact on its advertising business.

You will be able to see a summary of an app’s privacy practices before you download it from the App Store

You still can’t see these because app developers have yet to roll them out, but when they are ready, you’ll be able to peruse these summaries through a “App Privacy” button on the listing in the store, and they will look something like this:

iOS 14 privacy security

You’ll be able to see which tracking cookies have been blocked

The Safari mobile browser has been updated to show a Privacy Report, which shows all the cross-site tracking cookies it has blocked in the last 30 days if you turned on Prevent Cross-Site Tracking in Safari’s Privacy and Security Settings.

The report is accessible from the AA menu in the browser’s address bar.

You’ll be notified if a password you stored in the iCloud Keychain has been spotted in a known data breach

To turn this option on, go to Settings > Passwords > Security Recommendations and toggle on Detect Compromised Passwords. For the secure password monitoring to work, iCloud Keychain has to be enabled.

Fixed vulnerabilities

In iOS 14, Apple has also fixed a number of security vulnerabilities, including:

  • A vulnerability in an integrated drive electronics (IDE) component that could allow a remote authenticated attacker to execute arbitrary code on a paired device during a debug session over the network (CVE-2020-9992), and a
  • A logic issue affecting the sandbox that may allow a malicious application to access restricted files (CVE-2020-9968)

Secure data sharing in a world concerned with privacy

The ongoing debate surrounding privacy protection in the global data economy reached a fever pitch with July’s “Schrems II” ruling at the European Court of Justice, which struck down the Privacy Shield – a legal mechanism enabling companies to transfer personal data from the EU to the US for processing – potentially disrupting the business of thousands of companies.

The plaintiff, Austrian privacy advocate Max Schrems, claimed that US privacy legislation was insufficiently robust to prevent national security and intelligence authorities from acquiring – and misusing – Europeans’ personal data. The EU’s top court agreed, abolishing the Privacy Shield and requiring American companies that exchange data with European partners to comply with the standards set out by the GDPR, the EU’s data privacy law.

Following this landmark ruling, ensuring the secure flow of data from one jurisdiction to another will be a significant challenge, given the lack of an international regulatory framework for data transfers and emerging conflicts between competing data privacy regulations.

This comes at a time when the COVID-19 crisis has further underscored the urgent need for collaborative international research involving the exchange of personal data – in this case, sensitive health data.

Will data protection regulations stand in the way of this and other vital data sharing?

The Privacy Shield was a stopgap measure to facilitate data-sharing between the US and the EU which ultimately did not withstand legal scrutiny. Robust, compliant-by-design tools beyond contractual frameworks will be required in order to protect individual privacy while allowing data-driven research on regulated data and business collaboration across jurisdictions.

Fortunately, innovative privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) can be the stable bridge connecting differing – and sometimes conflicting – privacy frameworks. Here’s why policy alone will not suffice to resolve existing data privacy challenges – and how PETs can deliver the best of both worlds:

A new paradigm for ethical and secure data sharing

The abolition of the Privacy Shield poses major challenges for over 5,000 American and European companies which previously relied on its existence and must now confront a murky legal landscape. While big players like Google and Zoom have the resources to update their compliance protocols and negotiate legal contracts between transfer partners, smaller innovators lack these means and may see their activities slowed or even permanently halted. Privacy legislation has already impeded vital cross-border research collaborations – one prominent example is the joint American-Finnish study regarding the genomic causes of diabetes, which “slowed to a crawl” due to regulations, according to the head of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

One response to the Schrems II ruling might be expediting moves towards a federal data privacy law in the US. But this would take time: in Europe, over two years passed between the adoption of GDPR and its enforcement. Given that smaller companies are facing an immediate legal threat to their regular operations, a federal privacy law might not come quickly enough.

Even if such legislation were to be approved in Washington, it is unlikely to be fully compatible with GDPR – not to mention widening privacy regulations in other countries. The CCPA, the major statewide data protection initiative, is generally considered less stringent than GDPR, meaning that even CCPA-compliant businesses would still have to adapt to European standards.

In short, the existing legislative toolbox is insufficient to protect the operations of thousands of businesses in the US and around the world, which is why it’s time for a new paradigm for privacy-preserving data sharing based on Privacy-Enhancing Technologies.

The advantages of privacy-enhancing technologies

Compliance costs and legal risks are prompting companies to consider an innovative data sharing method based on PETs: a new genre of technologies which can help them bridge competing privacy frameworks. PETs are a category of technologies that protect data along its lifecycle while maintaining its utility, even for advanced AI and machine learning processes. PETs allow their users to harness the benefits of big data while protecting personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive information, thus maintaining stringent privacy standards.

One such PET playing a growing role in privacy-preserving information sharing is Homomorphic Encryption (HE), a technique regarded by many as the holy grail of data protection. HE enables multiple parties to securely collaborate on encrypted data by conducting analysis on data which remains encrypted throughout the process, never exposing personal or confidential information. Through HE, companies can derive the necessary insights from big data while protecting individuals’ personal details – and, crucially, while remaining compliant with privacy legislation because the data is never exposed.

Jim Halpert, a data regulation lawyer who helped draft the CCPA and is Global Co-Chair of the Data Protection, Privacy and Security practice at DLA Piper, views certain solutions based on HE as effective compliance tools.

“Homomorphic Encryption encrypts data elements in such a way that they cannot identify, describe or in any way relate to a person or household. As a result, homomorphically encrypted data cannot be considered ‘personal information’ and is thus exempt from CCPA requirements,” Halpert says. “Companies which encrypt data through HE minimize the risk of legal threats, avoid CCPA obligations, and eliminate the possibility that a third party could mistakenly be exposed to personal data.”

The same principle applies to GDPR, which requires any personally identifiable information to be protected.

HE is applicable to any industry and activity which requires sensitive data to be analyzed by third parties; for example, research such as genomic investigations into individuals’ susceptibility to COVID-19 and other health conditions, and secure data analysis in the financial services industry, including financial crime investigations across borders and institutions. In these cases, HE enables users to legally collaborate across different jurisdictions and regulatory frameworks, maximizing data value while minimizing privacy and compliance risk.

PETs will be crucial in allowing data to flow securely even after the Privacy Shield has been lowered. The EU and the US have already entered negotiations aimed at replacing the Privacy Shield, but while a palliative solution might satisfy business interests in the short term, it won’t remedy the underlying problems inherent to competing privacy frameworks. Any replacement would face immediate legal challenges in a potential “Schrems III” case. Tech is in large part responsible for the growing data privacy quandary. The onus, then, is on tech itself to help facilitate the free flow of data without undermining data protection.

Former NSA Director Keith Alexander Joins Amazon’s Board of Directors

About Bruce Schneier

I am a public-interest technologist, working at the intersection of security, technology, and people. I’ve been writing about security issues on my blog since 2004, and in my monthly newsletter since 1998. I’m a fellow and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a board member of EFF. This personal website expresses the opinions of neither of those organizations.

Improving privacy of a global genomic data sharing network

A Case Western Reserve University computer and data sciences researcher is working to shore up privacy protections for people whose genomic information is stored in a vast global collection of vital, personal data.

genomic data sharing network

Erman Ayday pursued novel methods for identifying and analyzing privacy vulnerabilities in the genomic data sharing network known commonly as “the Beacons.”

Personal genomic data refers to each person’s unique genome, his or her genetic makeup, information that can be gleaned from DNA analysis of a blood test, or saliva sample.

Ayday plans to identify weaknesses in the beacons’ infrastructure, developing more complex algorithms to protect against people or organizations who share his ability to figure out one person’s identity or sensitive genomic information using publicly available information.

Doing that will also protect the public – people who voluntarily shared their genomic information to hospitals where they were treated – with the understanding that their identity or sensitive information would not be revealed.

“While the shared use of genomics data is valuable to research, it is also potentially dangerous to the individual if their identity is revealed,” Ayday said. “Someone else knowing your genome is power – power over you. And, generally, people aren’t really aware of this, but we’re starting to see how genomic data can be shared, abused.”

Other research has shown that “if someone had access to your genome sequence–either directly from your saliva or other tissues, or from a popular genomic information service – they could check to see if you appear in a database of people with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung cancer, or autism.”

Human genomic research

Genomics may sometimes be confused or conflated with genetics, but the terms refer to related, but different fields of study:

  • Genetics refers to the study of genes and the way that certain traits or conditions are passed down from one generation to another. It involves scientific studies of genes and their effects. Genes (units of heredity) carry the instructions for making proteins, which direct the activities of cells and functions of the body.
  • Genomics is a more recent term that describes the study of all of a person’s genes (the genome), including interactions of those genes with each other and with the person’s environment. Genomics includes the scientific study of complex diseases such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and cancer because these diseases are typically caused more by a combination of genetic and environmental factors than by individual genes.

There has been an ever-growing cache of genomic information since the conclusion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, the 13-year-long endeavor to “discover all the estimated 20,000-25,000 human genes and make them accessible for further biological study” as well as complete the DNA sequencing of 3 billion DNA subunits for research.

Popular genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe rely on this information–compared against their own accumulation of genetic information and analyzed by proprietary algorithms–to discern a person’s ancestry, for example.

Ayday said companies, government organizations and others are also tapping into genomic data. “The military can check the genome of recruits, insurance companies can check whether someone has a predisposition to a certain disease,” he said. “There are plenty of real life examples already.”

Scientists researching genomics are accessing shared DNA data considered critical to advance biomedical research. To access the shared data, researchers send digital requests (“queries”) to certain beacons, each specializing in different genetic mutations.

What are ‘the Beacons?’

The Beacon Network is an array of about 100 data repositories of human genome coding, coordinated by the Global Alliance for Genomics & Health (in collaboration with a Europe-based system called ELIXIR).

And while “queries do not return information about single individuals,” according to the site, a scientific study in 2015 revealed that someone could infer the membership of a particular beacon by sending that site an excessive number of queries.

“And then we used a more sophisticated algorithm and showed that you don’t need thousands of queries,” Ayday said. “We did it by sending less than 10.”

Then, in a follow-up study, Ayday and team showed that someone could also reconstruct the entire genome for an individual with the information from only a handful of queries.

“That’s a big problem,” Ayday said. “Information about one, single individual should not be that easily found out.”

Safari 14: New privacy and security features

Apple has released Safari 14, which features many functional improvements, a Privacy Report that shows all the trackers the browser has neutralized, and and does not support Adobe Flash anymore.

Safari 14 privacy

New features

Safari 14 sports a redesign of the tab bar, which now displays site favicons by default and previews of the contents of some pages (when the user hovers over a tab), and a customizable start page.

It also features improved extension support, as Apple has already put things in motion to allow app developers to easily convert their existing extension into a Safari web extension or build a new one, and support for.

But on to the Safari 14 privacy and security additions:

Privacy Report

The Privacy Report shows the cross-site trackers that Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) prevented from accessing identifying information, and how many and which trackers the visited websites sport. It also shows which entity is behind each tracker.

ITP uses on-device machine learning to identify and block the trackers, and known trackers are independently verified by DuchDuckGo. Safari blocks trackers only if the “Prevent cross-site tracking” option is turned on, and the Privacy Report can only be compiled if users have turned ITP on.

Safari 14 privacy

The report is accessible through the “Safari” tab, via the start page, and via the shield-style icon to the left of the browser’s address bar.

Secure password monitoring

Safari 14 will notify users when one of their saved passwords in iCloud Keychain has shown up in a data breach (iCloud Keychain has to be enabled, of course).

It will also allow them to immediately change the password by pointing them to the correct page for each website (if the admin has specified the page’s URL in the web server’s .well-known directory).

Removed support for Adobe Flash for improved security

Adobe Flash has been a thorn in security-minded users’ and cybersecurity professionals’ side for many years, as its vulnerabilities were often exploited by attackers.

Three years ago, browser makers have announced that they would drop Flash support by the end of 2020, and now the time has come for the move. Adobe Flash will reach end-of-life on December 31, 2020.

Fixed vulnerabilities

Apple has fixed four WebKit vulnerabilities in Safari 14. All can be triggered by the browser processing maliciously crafted web content and three could lead to arbitrary code execution.

More information about and a PoC for the one discovered by Marcin “Icewall” Noga of Cisco Talos can be found here.