Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

July 24 2015 3:36 PM

How the Secretive Market for Zero-Day Exploits Works

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The underground market for zero-day exploit sales has long been a hidden dark alley to anyone but the hackers and sellers who call it home. But the recent hack of the Italian spyware maker Hacking Team, and the subsequent dump of 400 gigabytes of its internal emails, has shone a bright light on the nature of exploit sales, how they’re negotiated, and how they’ve been kept in check by security protections.

At least three zero-day exploits have been uncovered so far among the trove of data leaked by the attacker who breached Hacking Team. Hacking Team buys zero-day exploits in order to install its spyware, known as RCS, on targeted systems. It provides both the exploits and RCS to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world, and has come under attack for selling to repressive regimes, who’ve used them to target political activists and dissidents. But more interesting than the fact that the company possessed zero days—this was already known—is the correspondence around how Hacking Team acquired these valuable tools, prized equally by criminal hackers and government intelligence agencies.

Security researcher Vlad Tsyrklevich culled through the leaked documents and says they provide one of the first extensive public case studies of the zero-day market. The emails expose a wealth of information about the going-rate for exploits, the terms-of-sale, and the parties negotiating deals with Hacking Team and other buyers.

One so-called Starlight-Muhlen exploit Hacking Team sought, for example, was going for $100,000. Exclusive iOS exploits could cost as much as half a million, according to one of Hacking Team’s sellers. It’s long been known that zero-days can sell for anywhere between $5,000 to half a million or more, but seeing the price negotiations in writing provides new insight into the fluid value of zero-days. Payments by Hacking Team were generally made in two- and three-month installments that instantly dissolved if a vulnerability the exploit targeted got discovered and patched by the software maker, eliminating its value.

The documents also help support assumptions about the effectiveness of some security controls. Hacking Team’s persistent request for exploits that could break out of sandboxes, for example, and its frustration over failed exploits, support assumptions that sandboxes are worth the effort to include them in software.

A sandbox is a security feature that’s meant to contain malware and keep it from breaking out of a browser and affecting a computer’s operating system and other applications. Sandbox vulnerabilities are highly prized because they’re hard to find and allow an attacker to escalate control of a system.

“[H]aving to buy Windows local privilege escalation [exploits] to get around Windows sandboxes is good for defenders,” Tsyrklevich told WIRED. “It’s good to know that [the security measure is] not completely trivial.”

The leaked emails are notable for another reason, however: they also show that Hacking Team struggled to find vendors willing to sell to it, since some suppliers would only sell straight to governments and refused to do business with the firm. Though Hacking Team began seeking zero days in 2009 and contacted a number of sellers over the years, it appears to have failed to secure zero days until 2013.

Furthermore, over the course of the six years that Hacking Team was in the market to purchase zero days, it appears to have only acquired about five, based on what Tsyrklevich was able to uncover in his analysis. This included three Flash zero-days, one Windows local privilege escalation/sandbox escape exploit, and one exploit for Adobe Reader.

“That’s fewer than what I think many people would have expected of them,” he told WIRED.

The emails show that in 2014, Hacking Team attended the SyScan conference in Singapore for the specific purpose of recruiting exploit developers to work directly for them and bypass the problem of reluctant sellers. They also thought it would help them avoid paying middlemen resellers who they felt were inflating prices. The strategy worked. Hacking Team met a Malaysian researcher named Eugene Ching, who decided to quit his job with D-crypt’s Xerodaylab and go solo as an exploit developer under the business name Qavar Security.

Hacking Team signed a one-year contract with Ching for the bargain price of just $60,000. He later got a $20,000 bonus for one exploit he produced, but it was a valuable exploit that Tsyrklevich notes could have sold for $80,000 alone. They also got him to agree to a three-year non-compete, non-solicitation clause. All of which suggests Ching didn’t have a clue about the market rates for zero days. Ching’s talents weren’t exclusive to Hacking Team, however. He apparently also had a second job with the Singapore Army testing and fixing zero-day exploits the military purchased,according to one email.

Others who didn’t have a problem selling to Hacking Team included the French firm VUPEN security, as well as the Singapore-based firm Coseinc, the US-based firms Netragard and Vulnerabilities Brokerage International and individual exploit developers like Vitaliy Toropov and Rosario Valotta.

Tsyrklevich notes that despite increasing publicity over the last few years about Hacking Team’s nefarious customers, the company suffered little blowback from exploit sellers. “In fact, by raising their profile these reports served to actually bring Hacking Team direct business,” he notes. A year after the research group at CitizenLab published a report that HackingTeam’s spy tool had been used against political activists in the United Arab Emirates, Hacking Team took on a number of new suppliers.

Among them was Vitaliy Toropov, a 33-year-old Russian exploit writer based in Moscow, who approached the company in 2013 offering a portfolio with three Flash zero-days, two Safari zero-days, and one for Microsoft’s popular Silverlight browser plug-in, which Netflix and others use for online video streaming.

His asking price? Between $30,000 and $45,000 for non-exclusive exploits—meaning they could be sold to other customers as well. Exclusive zero-days, he wrote, would cost three times this much, though he was willing to offer volume discounts.

Hacking Team had three days to evaluate exploits to determine if they worked as advertised. The company offered to fly Toropov to Milan to oversee testing, but he declined.

“Thanks for your hospitality, but this is too unexpected for me,” he wrote in an email, promising that his exploit code would lead to “fruitful collaboration.”

He turned out to be right about that. Although Hacking Team was disappointed in his offerings—the spy firm really wanted privilege-escalation and sandbox exploits that Toropov didn’t have—they were satisfied enough to buy Flash exploits from him. And when one of these got patched a month after purchase, he even gave them a replacement for free.

Another seller was the information security firm Netragard, despite the company’s stated policy against selling to anyone outside the US. Hacking Team got around the restriction by using a US middleman, Cicom USA, with Netragard’s approval. That is, until the relationship with Cicom deteriorated and Hacking Team asked to deal directly with Netragard. Netragard agreed to waive its US-only requirement, telling the Italian firm in March 2015 that it had recently begun to relax its customer policy. “We do understand who your customers are both afar and in the US and are comfortable working with you directly,” Netragard CEO Adriel Desautels told Hacking Team in an email. Netragard offered a fairly rich catalogue of exploits, but Desautels claimed in a recent tweet that his company “only ever provided one exploit to [Hacking Team] ever.”

Notably, Netragard abruptly announced last week that it was closing its exploit acquisition and sales business, following the public disclosure that it was doing business with a firm selling to repressive regimes. In a blog post, Netragard CEO Adriel Desautels wrote: “The HackingTeam breach proved that we could not sufficiently vet the ethics and intentions of new buyers. HackingTeam unbeknownst to us until after their breach was clearly selling their technology to questionable parties, including but not limited to parties known for human rights violations. While it is not a vendors responsibility to control what a buyer does with the acquired product, HackingTeam’s exposed customer list is unacceptable to us. The ethics of that are appalling and we want nothing to do with it.”

Another controversial supplier was VUPEN, a company whose sole business is selling exploits to governments. Its relationship with Hacking Team was apparently fraught with frustration, however. Hacking Team accused VUPEN of keeping its best exploits for other customers and only providing them with old or non-zero-day exploits. They also accused VUPEN of intentionally burning some exploits—for what purpose is unclear.

Altogether the trove of leaked data from Hacking Team underscores that the market for zero days is robust, but it only exposes one sector. Other more important ones remain opaque. “Hacking Team is a second-rate company that had to work hard to find people who weren’t going to treat it as such,” notes Tsyrklevich. More interesting would be comprehensive data on what the market looks like these days for the first-rate buyers who pose the greatest threat—well-resourced governments and intelligence agencies.

One good thing about the leak, however. The three zero-days exposed so far in Hacking Team’s possession have now been patched, and the leaked data contains a lot of additional information that security researchers can now use to investigate additional vulnerabilities that have never been disclosed and patched.

“There are some bugs described by these vendors (primarily VBI and Netragard) that people can audit for and fix,” Tsyrklevich told WIRED. “We can fix bugs that Hacking Team didn’t even buy!”

See also:

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July 23 2015 7:02 PM

This New Ikea Place Mat Has a Smartphone Pouch. What Is Happening?

In the 21st century there's just an obligation to "go digital." But if you're, say, a furniture company, it might not be immediately clear how to do that. Ikea for one has been trying, but so far its efforts have seemed pretty forced. And the company's new place mat, which has a pouch sewn onto it for stowing your smartphone during a meal, is not helping things.

The mats are part of a new limited-edition tableware line coming out in September called Sittning. There are bowls, platters, wine glasses, pitchers, serving spoons, you get the idea. And then there are the place mats. (Huffington Post says that they will cost about $2 each.)

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You can’t read the notification, but you’re still distracted by it!

Photo by Joakim Kroger/Ikea

The mats have a pretty loose weave so you can see when your phone lights up. This seems like a problem, though, because you can't read what the screen says, but you can still be distracted by the light. I guess you could put your phone facedown in the pocket. Mashable, which spotted the mats, reports that they're going to be called “Logged out.Oof.

The most painful thing about this pouch is that I can see people (myself included) using it. If it's tucked away, your phone won't dig into your leg from inside your pants pocket and you won't get food on it. But to be clear, I can also see people not using the pouch. You may have already seen this happening all the time. We get by just fine stowing our phones in bags and pockets, or on surfaces that aren’t for food.

If we even need our place mats to give aesthetic and functional nods to electronics, we may officially be too obsessed. I wouldn't be surprised if a whole etiquette evolves around using the pouches, and that makes me sad.

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Spotted in the wild.

Photo by Joakim Kroger/Ikea

July 23 2015 12:08 PM

Google’s Eerie Patent for a Human Memory Device Is Straight Out of Black Mirror

Liam Foxwell is a young lawyer who becomes convinced his wife is cheating on him. What begins as a fleeting curiosity—seeing her smile familiarly at a man he doesn’t recognize—curdles into a gnawing, all-out obsession. Soon he’s spending hours each day overanalyzing that single moment, and any other moment that might hint his suspicions are true. He quite literally can’t get them out of his head: In this world, most people have a digital device implanted in their brains that allows them to record and instantly replay every single memory they ever make, essentially canceling out the human ability to forget. Liam’s escalating torment makes up the whole 45 minutes of “The Entire History of You,” one of the most memorable episodes of Channel 4's dystopian tech drama Black Mirror. The episode’s premise, of a world in which even the most mundane memories can be stored and infinitely revisited, has unnerved many.

In a review, the A.V. Club noted that the most frightening thing about the episode is that it “centers around a piece of equipment that is horrifyingly easy to imagine catching on.” Well, here we are. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Google a patent this week for a digital camera that records live experiences and organizes them into a searchable database for later playback. The camera mounts onto a “wearable computing device,” which would likely be Google’s troubled but definitely-already-existing Glass headset. After recording all day, the camera would store its footage online for easy browsing.

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A sketch of the mounted camera device in Google's patent.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

The patent explains that this online index would be searchable through user queries, such as “Who were the people at the business lunch this afternoon?” or “How many books did I read in May?” One could even make queries for the histories of multiple users if they decided to share their memories with others—so a user would be able to ask the index, “Where were my friends last night?” Fans of the speculative British sci-fi show may find that all of this sounds awfully familiar, and awfully unappealing.

Of course, Google’s hypothetical memory-storing product isn’t actually the intrusive, literally-embedded-in-your-brain technology with which Black Mirror is concerned. It’s a wearable camera that users can take on and off at will, and it requires an external screen to view content. As a recording tool, it could be quite convenient. And while it’s important to remember that patents don’t always indicate exactly what a company is realistically working on, this kind of technology is right up Google’s alley: It's famous for its quirky experiments with über-futuristic technologies that aim to make people’s lives both easier and cooler.

Just look at its history. A few months ago, Google announced its interest in making couch cushions that can remotely control cellphones and light switches. It’s also looking into a radar detector that allows people to use computers by rubbing their fingers together. At one point, the company was considering making elevators to space. For a while now, it’s been testing ways of predicting the future. And let’s not forget Google’s casual ongoing mission to radically extend human life.

So the memory camera in Google’s latest patent is actually well within the company’s regular R&D interests. But that really doesn’t make the idea itself less scary. While many of the company’s experiments dramatically improve everyday life, a device that can replay every single moment of a person’s day might not sit in that category. If “The Entire History of You” teaches us anything, it’s that the ability to forget exists for a reason: Our brains aren’t meant to have everlasting memory. No one really wants to know the answer to questions like “Where were my friends last night,” lest it lead them down exactly the sort of psychological rabbit hole that dystopian science fiction so urgently warns us to avoid.

July 22 2015 3:24 PM

This Data-Protection Company Once Again Failed at Its One Job: Protecting Data

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Customers who hired the infamous ID theft-protection firm Lifelock to monitor their identities after their data was stolen in a breach were in for a surprise. It turns out Lifelock failed to properly secure their data.

According to a complaint filed in court today by the Federal Trade Commission, Lifelock has failed to adhere to a 2010 order and settlement that required the company to establish and maintain a comprehensive security program to protect sensitive personal data users entrust to the company as part of its identity-theft protection service.

This is ironic, of course, because Lifelock promotes its services to companies that experience data breaches and urges them to offer a complimentary Lifelock subscription to people whose data has been compromised in a breach. To properly monitor victims’ credit accounts to protect them against ID theft, Lifelock requires a wealth of sensitive data, including names and addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and bank card information.

Protecting that data should be a primary concern to Lifelock, particularly in light of the fact that many of its customers have already been victims of a breach. But the FTC found in 2010 that the company had failed to provide “reasonable and appropriate security to prevent unauthorized access to personal information stored on its corporate network,” either in transit through its network, stored in a database, or transmitted over the internet.

Lifelock had been ordered to remedy that situation, but according to the complaint filed today, it has failed to do so. The complaint is currently sealed, but the previous finding from 2010 provides insight into the company’s security failures.

The CEO OF Lifelock, Todd Davis, became famous for advertising his Social Security number on television ads and billboards, offering a $1 million guarantee to compensate customers for losses incurred if they became a victim of identity theft after signing up for the company’s services.

For an annual subscription fee, Lifelock promised customers that it would place fraud alerts on their credit accounts with the three credit reporting agencies. As a result, the company said, thieves would not be able to open unauthorized credit or bank accounts in their name.

“In truth, the protection they provided left such a large hole … that you could drive that truck through it,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in 2010, referring to a Lifelock TV ad showing a truck painted with the CEO’s Social Security number driving around city streets.

Leibowitz said the promises were deceptive because thieves could still rack up unauthorized charges on existing accounts—the most common type of identity theft. It also couldn’t prevent thieves from obtaining a loan in a Lifelock customer’s name.

In fact, Lifelock CEO Davis was the victim of identity theft in 2007 when a thief used his widely advertised Social Security number to obtain a $500 loan in Davis’ name.

Lifelock also promised customers that sensitive data they provided the company to perform its protection services would be encrypted and protected in other ways on Lifelock’s servers and accessed only by authorized employees on a need-to-know basis.

“Your documents, while in our care, will be treated as if they were cash,” the company promised.

But it turned out that none of that data was encrypted. The company also had poor password management practices for employees and vendors who accessed the information, and Lifelock failed to limit access to sensitive data to only people who needed access.

What’s more, the company failed to apply critical security patches and updates to its network and “failed to employ sufficient measures” to detect and prevent unauthorized access to its network, “such as by installing antivirus or antispyware programs on computers used by employees to remotely access the network or regularly recording and reviewing activity on the network,” the FTC found.

“As a result of these practices, an unauthorized person could obtain access to personal information stored on defendants’ corporate network, in transit through defendants’ corporate network or over the internet, or maintained in defendants’ offices,” the FTC said in 2010.

Lifelock’s stock price dropped 50 percent, from $16 to $8, following news of the FTC’s new complaint against the company.

See also:

July 22 2015 1:18 PM

Let Cats Guide You Through Art History With This New Chrome Extension

It is a tired maxim that the Internet basically exists to help us find pictures of cats. That particular search just got a lot easier—and a lot classier—thanks to Meow Met, a new Chrome extension. Designed by Emily McAllister for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Media Lab, Meow Met shows you a cat-related picture from the museum’s collection every time you open up a new tab. As Hyperallergic’s Claire Voon writes, the extension makes ordinary browser usage “into an enjoyable learning experience.”

Among other things, Meow Met offers an important reminder that our contemporary passion for depictions of our feline friends has deep historical origins. Most of the pictures it presents derive from the 19th century, but a few are much, much older. Those of more recent provenance vary delightfully in style and approach, from a charming Qing dynasty scroll of a cat pawing at butterflies to a more sinister oil painting by Gwen John.

As Voon notes, the extension doesn’t resize the artworks to fit within the browser window. It does, however, crop them in a way that almost always spotlights the cat (or cats! or kittens!), ensuring that users never come away from a new tab disappointed. What’s more, clicking on the work’s title pulls up its entry in the Met’s digital catalog, offering a fuller view for those unsatisfied with adorable fragments.

As Olivia B. Waxman notes in an article on Meow Met for Time, “The plug-in is the latest example of how museums have taken to curating cat art to attract snake person visitors.” Wait, snake person? That can’t be right. I think I may have too many Chrome extensions installed.

July 22 2015 11:22 AM

This Computer Program Says It Can Decode Your Emotions by Reading Your Emails. Is It Right?

IBM Watson—AI extraordinaire, Jeopardy world champion, student of hedonic psychophysics—may not have the warm corporality of his crime-solving namesake, but he’s working to acquire the social intuition. Last week the computing company rolled out its Tone Analyzer tool, which harnesses “cloud-based linguistic analysis” to decode the feels roiling beneath your email correspondence or any other text you want to input. The program interprets the writing sample on three levels: emotional tone (angry, cheerful, or negative); social tone (agreeable, conscientious, or open); and writing tone (analytical, confident, or tentative). It assigns to every word it recognizes a color based on that word’s affective tenor. If you click on a particular word, Watson offers up synonyms that might increase agreeability, openness, conscientiousness, or cheer. Meanwhile, a rainbow-hued bar at the top of the page tells you what percentage of the sample language contributes to the overall emotion, social persona, or writerly disposition.

I can’t predict how useful the Tone Analyzer will prove in a business setting—I’d guess that only a small number of managers don’t realize whence the vitriol comes in a sentence like Your presentation was a disaster—but it’s fun to play with. You can reverse-engineer Watson’s color-coded verdicts, using words like punish or stupid to envelop your text in an angry red, or opting for super-duper exciting to sound pink and cheerful. Unpleasant words—worry, fail, decay—boost your negativity score, while neutral nouns and adjectives (project, lunch, timely) weirdly get an “agreeable” label, “conscientiousness” is mostly measured in conjunctions and other syntactical helpmates, and “open” words are … to be honest, I’m not sure. (They include this, away, and murdered.) There’s the “analytical” category, which latches onto thinking verbs like wonder and decide, and the “confident” one, which encompasses emphatic descriptors like any and exactly, and the “tentative” one, which hedges with terms like some and maybe. It all seems a bit scattershot—either Watson’s cloud-based exegesis has a few kinks to work out, or it runs on logical rails too baroque and ethereal for this lowly meat sack. Oh well. I was pleased, at least, to feed the program some work emails and learn that my colleagues and I are all, in Watson’s estimation, agreeable mensches. “You’re no Sherlock, but I like you,” I typed into the feedbox afterward. It replied that I was cheerful and conscientious.

The Tone Analyzer’s a tool, not an English professor, so unsurprisingly it feels less suited to revealing all the emotional subtleties in a piece of writing and more helpful as a kind of spellcheck for being an asshole. Wondering how to make your memo to staff sound less angry? Watson will trace that nebulous rage vibe to a few problem words and suggest gentler replacements. Hoping to strike the perfect chord of confidence and humility in your cover letter? Watson will ferret out your overweening nevers, your diffident sort ofs. True, homographs occasionally baffle the supercomputer. I served it one of the ghastliest passages I could think of from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road—“People sitting on the sidewalk in the dawn half immolate smoking in their clothes. Like failed sectarian suicides … The screams of the murdered. By day the dead impaled on spikes”—and it approved of the happy word like. So too context: I told it I was “obsessed” with hound dogs and it chided me for negativity (probably picturing an anguished Bassett-stalking scenario). Also, I submitted the last page of The Great Gatsby, one of the most emotionally soaring blocks of prose-poetry ever written in English, and Watson gave it a 0 percent emotion tone. “Let’s agree to disagree!” I wrote. “Differ,” the computer corrected gently.

Watson-baiting will only get you so far. By the time I was inputting, at various co-workers’ suggestions, passages from Fifty Shades of Grey and Naked Lunch, the novelty of the exercise had worn off. (Fun fact: Watson prefers peter to penis.) Agreeability, conscientiousness, and anger are just not very revelatory dimensions along which to assess most pieces of writing, it turns out. That’s because, in an ideal world, all office communications sound vaguely alike: congenial, competent, engaged, and helpful. But beyond the cubicle, so much of our language use expresses singularity rather than convention, treading into other affective realms entirely.

That’s obvious, as is the maxim that there’s no science—no specific goals, no rules, and certainly no shortcuts—to conjuring emotions out of articulated noise. Yet sentiment analysis continues to entrance linguists and computer developers. In the early aughts, Eudora’s email service came with an automated function that assessed the various feelings reflected in each message. Like the Tone Analyzer, the software was rudimentary and easily misled. (Jokes circulated about a math teaching assistant who got dinged for negativity after repeatedly referencing his students’ “problems.”) Academic studies also make use of “opinion mining” computer programs to “identify and extract subjective information from source materials.” The Cyberemotions project, from 2013, for instance, tried to understand how angry-, happy-, or sadness-tinged language drove the formation of online communities. The new iteration of sentiment analysis with IBM raises the question: Why do we keep tilting at this particular windmill?

I’d argue that people interested in artificial intelligence might also be interested in the proposition that the consciousness embedded in and delivered by a passage of writing can be broken down into discrete, understandable parts. Sentiment analysis enacts the mind-body problem, but for texts. Is the tone of a sentence some eerie, soul-like emergent property, or just a sum of processes you can ask a computer to model? I actually posed that question to Watson and was unsurprised when he told me I sounded “tentative.” The human race gets the last laugh, however. He didn’t even recognize the word “computer.”

July 21 2015 7:05 PM

Lindsey Graham Uses a Flip Phone and Memorizes Phone Numbers. That’s a Great Way to Live.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump gratuitously revealed Sen. Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number to an audience in South Carolina. He did this hours after Graham implored Trump to “stop being a jackass”; Graham, himself a Republican candidate for president, responded to the campaign-trail doxing by tweeting, “Probably getting a new phone. iPhone or Android?” I thought this was sort of funny, but when I read that Graham still uses a flip phone—and, moreover, that he chooses to memorize phone numbers rather than store them in his phone—I was shocked. I still use a flip phone, too—and, what’s more, I also choose to memorize key phone numbers rather than store them in my phone. Am I actually Lindsey Graham? It’s very possible. What I can say for sure is that flip phones and memorized phone numbers are the best, and unless the day comes when I literally have no choice but to do so, I will never, ever change my ways. I hope Graham doesn’t, either.

My willful Luddism may not come as a surprise, given that I’ve previously blogged about how I still use Winamp, and how I like to write out my blog posts longhand in a notebook. My insistence on using a 12-year-old flip phone might be the apotheosis this antediluvian tendency. I use a Motorola v60s flip phone that dates back to at least 2003. It’s a great phone: It both sends and receives phone calls and text messages, and it makes a very satisfying “click” when I shut it. (Seriously, you can’t put a price on that click.) Like cockroaches, plastic six-pack rings, and the Canyonero, my phone is virtually indestructible. You cannot break it—and I have tried. What’s more, it’s a conversation starter nonpareil. The following scenario plays out about once a week: I’ll be sitting at a bar, fiddling with my phone, and some talkative lush will see me and say something like, “Wow, I had that phone back in 2004.” And then I say something like, “Ha ha, yeah, I still do,” and inevitably there’s a weird pause as my interlocutor tries to decide whether my telephonic primitivism is interesting or just plain weird.

As an icebreaker, my phone is great. As a telephone, the v60s leaves much to be desired. It doesn’t really get reception indoors, which means I have to stand on the street outside my apartment if I want to talk on the phone. It only stores 200 text messages at a time, and tends to freeze up whenever I receive several texts in rapid succession. Sending texts is a chore, too; for one thing, I have to press the number 1 exactly 17 times in order to get an apostrophe. My phone doesn’t have any games. It can’t connect to the Internet. It loses its charge after like 45 minutes of use—and now that RadioShack is out of business I can’t easily buy a replacement battery.

And yet it’s among my most cherished possessions. I am an easily distracted person who spends about 12 hours per day in front of his computer, and usually wastes about 10 of those hours frantically refreshing his email or looking up meaningless baseball statistics —Did you know that 36-year-old Eric Davis had a surprisingly good year for the Orioles in 1998? Neither did I until this morning!—or otherwise drowning in the digital deluge. I love the Internet very much, but I’m well aware that 20 years of prolonged exposure to it has decimated my attention span and my capacity for sustained contemplation. The only opportunities that I actually have to think are when I’m walking around in public or taking a shower, and if I could bring my laptop into the shower with me, I probably would.

Having an extremely dumb phone allows me to walk around in public and think without feeling compelled to check my email or keep up with sports scores that I don’t actually care about. If I had a smartphone, I’d lose that built-in respite from the state of perpetual connectivity in which we are all encouraged to live. Sticking with my old-ass flip phone is a means of mental self-preservation. The same goes for my insistence on memorizing important phone numbers. I’ve got about 15 or 20 of my most-called phone numbers committed to memory, which isn’t very many in absolute terms, but which makes me a regular Kevin Trudeau compared to most of you chumps. Doing so isn’t hard, and it makes me feel slightly less reliant on technology, and slightly more able to manage and control my daily life.

In a very minor way, it also makes me feel good about myself, much like figuring out directions based on instinct and memory rather than relying on GPS does the same. Figuring out street directions isn’t hard, people! Most street systems are grids! And don’t get me started on Venmo. Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned checkbooks?

I don’t know what Lindsey Graham thinks about street grids or checkbooks. (The Lindsey Graham for President 2016 website is surprisingly devoid of information about his policies on those issues—and definitely does not accept Bitcoin donations.) But I truly hope he doesn’t actually upgrade to an iPhone or Android. Being a senator and presidential candidate is probably even more stressful than being an online journalist—and even more so than I am, Graham is probably overwhelmed by the myriad pieces of information competing for his attention. If anything, more public servants ought to create opportunities for themselves to take periodic mental breaks. Plus, I’m just saying, Graham’s flip phone will make a really great conversation starter on the ol’ campaign trail.

July 21 2015 6:45 PM

Are Current Cybersecurity Measures Enough? Professionals Can’t Agree.

With all the high-profile hacks being disclosed lately, it certainly seems like both public and private cybersecurity protections are lacking. But two surveys of security professionals reveal widely varied views on whether companies and networks are prepared to deal with digital attacks.

In the "Critical Infrastructure Readiness Report" from McAfee, the Aspen Institute, and Intel, almost 75 percent of the 625 respondents said they were confident or extremely confident in their organization's framework for identifying intrusions. Sixty-eight percent said they were confident that they could deal with attacks. Sounds great, let's all go home.

Seventy percent of the same survey respondents, though, said that there were more and more threats out there. And a vast majority reported at least one cyberattack on their organization's system, with the median number of attacks at 20 per year. Respondents said that these hacks resulted in service interruptions, data breaches, and even physical damage.

The survey notes:

Those who have endured a higher number of successful attacks and confirmed damage feel more vulnerable than the rest; this suggests that as the number of attacks on all organizations continues to increase, the confidence levels reported in the survey may erode.

The most incredible and concerning stat from the report is probably that 48 percent of the cybersecurity professionals surveyed said that they think it's likely that a hack will compromise critical infrastructure "with potential loss of life." These are the same people who feel confident that their organizations are secure!

Released last week, the 2015 Black Hat Attendee Survey polled a more pessimistic group of 460 security professionals. Seventy-three percent said they thought their organizations would suffer a data breach at some point in the next 12 months, but only 27 percent said that the group would be able to handle it. Similarly, just 27 percent said they had enough people working on security to address everything. "The survey indicates that most enterprises are not spending their time, budget, and staffing resources on the problems that most security-savvy professionals consider to be the greatest threats," the report said.

July 21 2015 11:46 AM

Senators Introduce Legislation to Protect Your Car From Being Hacked

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A few years ago, the notion of hacking a car or truck over the Internet to control steering and brakes seemed like a bad plot point from CSI: Cyber. Today, the security research community has proven it to be a real possibility, and it’s one that at least two U.S. senators won’t wait to see play out with real victims.

On Tuesday morning, Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal plan to introduce new legislation that’s designed to require cars sold in the U.S. to meet certain standards of protection against digital attacks and privacy. The legislation, as described to Wired by a Markey staffer, would call on the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to together create new standards that automakers would be required to meet in terms of both their vehicles’ defenses from hackers and how the companies safeguard any personal information such as location records collected from the vehicles they sell.

Until now, car hacking has remained a largely theoretical threat, despite some instances when thieves have disabled cars’ door locks with wireless attacks or when a disgruntled dealership employee used a tool designed to enforce timely car payments to remotely brick more than one hundred vehicles.

But the security industry has demonstrated that vehicles’ increasing connections to the internet create new avenues for attack. Earlier Tuesday morning, in fact, Wired revealed that two security researchers have developed and plan to partially release a new attack against hundreds of thousands of Chrysler vehicles that could allow hackers to gain access to their internal networks. As part of the same demo, those researchers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, also demonstrated to Wired that they could use the attack to wirelessly control the steering, brakes, and transmission of a 2014 Jeep Cherokee over the Internet. (A Markey spokesperson insists that the bill’s release wasn’t timed to Wired’s story.)

“Drivers shouldn’t have to choose between being connected and being protected,” Markey wrote in a statement shared with Wired. “Controlled demonstrations show how frightening it would be to have a hacker take over controls of a car. We need clear rules of the road that protect cars from hackers and American families from data trackers.”

Markey and Blumenthal’s bill will have three major points, according to a spokesperson’s description. First, it will require the NHTSA and the FTC to set security standards for cars, including isolating critical software systems from the rest of a vehicle’s internal network, penetration testing by security analysts, and the addition of on-board systems to detect and respond to malicious commands on the car’s network. Second, it will ask those same agencies to set privacy standards, requiring carmakers to inform people of how they collect data from vehicles they sell, letting drivers opt out of that data collection and restricting how the information can be used for marketing. And finally, it will require manufacturers to display window stickers on new cars that rank their security and privacy protections.

Automakers have gotten hints for months that legislation was in the works. In February, Markey’s office released the results of a series of questions it had sent to 20 carmakers, quizzing them on their handling of digital security and privacy. The 16 companies that responded gave answers that weren’t reassuring. Nearly all of them said their vehicles now include wireless connections like cellular service, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi–the means by which remote hacking can occur. Only seven said they used independent security testing to check their vehicles’ security. Only two said they had tools in place to stop a hacker intrusion. And an “overwhelming majority” collected location information about their customers’ vehicles, in many cases offering only ambiguous claims about encrypting the collected data.

In May, members of the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee followed up with their own set of even more detailed questions for 17 automakers and the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration. “While threats to vehicle technology currently appear isolated and disparate, as the technology becomes more prevalent, so too will the risks associated with it,” read the letter.

Car hacking has emerged as an increasingly crowded field of study for digital security researchers. In 2011, academic researchers from the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego, published a study in which they remotely hijacked an unnamed sedan via its wireless connections to disable its door locks and brakes. In 2013 the same security researchers Miller and Valasek who hacked the Jeep pulled off a series of similar attacks against a Toyota Prius and a Ford Escape (also with me behind the wheel), though their laptops were wired at the time into the vehicles’ dashboards via their OBD2 ports. At the Black Hat hacker conference in August Miller and Valasek plan to reveal the full details of their latest car attack, the over-the-internet compromise of a Jeep Cherokee.

Despite that growing drum beat of warnings about digital attacks on cars, however, not everyone in the security community is so excited about legislation. Josh Corman, one of the co-founders of the security industry group I Am the Cavalry, which is focused on protecting things like medical devices and automobiles, was wary of a possible bill when he spoke with Wired about the possibility earlier this month.

Corman worried that the ensuing law could be comparable to payment card industry rules that are widely seen as outmoded and ineffective. Instead, he said he hoped the auto industry could be nudged into innovating security features on its own in the same sort of competition that currently exists for traditional safety features.

“Laws are ill-suited for a dynamic space like this,” Corman said at the time. “If this can catalyze [the industry] standing up straighter and getting a plan in place, that’s great. If it makes them less responsive in the face of new adversaries, that could be very bad.”

Whether through legislation or industry competition, however, the pressure on carmakers to protect vehicles from hackers is growing. “If consumers don’t realize this is an issue, they should, and they should start complaining to carmakers,” says Miller. “Cars should be secure.”

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July 21 2015 11:18 AM

Download This Windows Patch Right Now

On Wednesdays we wear pink, and on Tuesdays Microsoft pushes big patch packages to correct problems. But Thursday the company disclosed a vulnerability in its system for displaying custom fonts and Monday the company released a patch in its security bulletin. Since neither of those days were Tuesdays, you know that this is serious. Also, Microsoft is calling the update "critical," so that might also be a tipoff.

Researchers looking through documents leaked in the breach of Hacking Team, an Italian company that sells surveillance technology, discovered a vulnerability in the Windows Adobe Type Manager Library. Basically if you open a document or Web page that has custom fonts built to exploit the flaw, a bad actor could run code of their choosing on your computer. That would be bad!

A remote code execution vulnerability exists in Microsoft Windows when the Windows Adobe Type Manager Library improperly handles specially crafted OpenType fonts. An attacker who successfully exploited this vulnerability could take complete control of the affected system. An attacker could then install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.

The patch applies to all supported versions of Windows (Vista on) plus as yet unreleased Windows 10. If you have automatic updates set up on your Windows machine, the patch has probably already been applied without you noticing, especially because it doesn't require a restart. But if you keep automatic updating off or you want to be sure, you can download the patch here. Do it.

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