A while back I took my mom on an extended girls weekend to Paris. We had a great time! Nice food, nice shopping, breakfast at the Rue Mouffetard and all the other perks of the beautiful city of Paris.
Image credit: Janne Jäppinen
On Saturday we took the metro to get back from the great sights of the city. It was crowded and my mom had felt someone tugging her handbag a bit. When we got off the metro, she checked her bag and noticed her phone was missing! Someone had managed to slip in their hand next to the closed zipper and had taken the phone.
As soon as we got back to the hotel, my mom called my dad back at home who had the necessary info to shut down the number. She wasn’t too worried as she had acted appropriately. I did not have the heart to ruin our last night by telling her that she would most likely get a HUGE phone bill even for the short period that the number was still operational.
The next day, instead of going to see some nice art, we spent the day at a police station in the 5th “arrondissement” to report the theft. We had done everything right: we had shut down the number, we had gone to the police so it felt really unfair when we got home and a massive phone bill was waiting for my mom.
Now, what could we have done to stop my mom from getting phone stolen and receiving a big bill as thanks? Well, she could have used a more secure bag on the metro. But what if she could have locked the phone immediately after she noticed it was stolen? The thieves wouldn’t have had time to make a single call.
Before her next trip, I’m going to help mom install our Free Anti-Theft for smartphones:
Mom would most likely still need to buy a new phone, but at least she knows she won’t get any nasty, expensive surprises.
Have you or someone you know had their phone stolen? Did they have any luck getting it back?
How to balance between privacy and crime fighting? That’s one of the big questions now when we are entering the digitally connected era. Our western democracies have a set of well-established and widely accepted rules that control what authorities can and can’t do. One aspect of this has been in the headlines lately. That’s your right to “plead the Fifth”, as the Americans say. Laws are different in every country, but most have something similar to USA’s Fifth Amendment. The beef is that “No person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,…”. Or as often expressed in popular culture: “You have the right to remain silent.” With more fancy words, protection against self-incrimination. What this means in practice is that no one can force you to reveal information if authorities are suspecting you of a crime. You have the right to defend yourself, and refusal to disclose information is a legal defense tactic. But the police can search your home and vehicles for items, if they have the proper warrant, and there’s nothing you can do to stop that. In short, the Fifth Amendment protects what you know but not what you have. Sounds fair. But the problem is that there was no information technology when these fundamental principles were formed back in 1789. The makers of the Fifth Amendment, and similar laws in other countries, could not foresee that “what you know” will expand far beyond our own brains. Our mobile gadgets, social media and cloud services can in the worst case store a very comprehensive picture of how we think, whom we have communicated with, where we have been and what we have done. All this is stored in devices, and thus available to the police even if we exercise our right to remain silent. Where were you last Thursday at 10 PM? Do you know Mr John Doe? What's the nature of your relationship with Ms Jane Doe? Have you purchased any chemicals lately? Do you own a gun? Have you traveled to Boston during the last month? Have you ever communicated with email@example.com? These are all questions that an investigator could ask you. And all may still be answered by data in your devices and clouds even if you exercise your right to remain silent. So has the Fifth Amendment lost its meaning? Would the original makers of the amendment accept this situation, or would they make an amendment to the amendment? The situation is pretty clear for social media and cloud storage. This data is stored in some service provider’s data center. The police can obtain a warrant and then get your data without any help from you.(* Same thing with computers they take from your home. The common interpretation is that this isn’t covered by the Fifth Amendment. But what if you stored encrypted files on the servers? Or you use a device that encrypts its local storage (modern Androids and iPhones belong to this category). The police will in these cases need the password. This is something you know, which makes it protected. This is a problem for the police and countries have varying legislation to address the problem. UK takes an aggressive approach and makes it a crime to refuse revealing passwords. Memorized passwords are however protected in US, which was demonstrated in a recent case. Biometric authentication is yet another twist. Imagine that you use your fingerprint to unlock your mobile device. Yes, it’s convenient. But it may at the same time reduce your Fifth Amendment protection significantly. Your fingerprint is what you are, not what you know. There are cases in the US where judges have ruled that forcing a suspect to unlock a device with a fingerprint isn’t in conflict with the constitution. But we haven’t heard the Supreme Court’s ruling on this issue yet. So the Fifth Amendment, and equal laws in other countries, is usually interpreted so that it only protects information stored in your brain. But this definition is quickly becoming outdated and very limited. This is a significant ethical question. Should we let the Fifth Amendment deteriorate and give crime fighting higher priority? Or should we accept that our personal memory expands beyond what we have in our heads? Our personal gadgets do no doubt contain a lot of such information that the makers of Fifth Amendment wanted to protect. If I have the right to withhold a piece of information stored in my head, why should I not have the right to withhold the same information stored elsewhere? Is there really a fundamental difference that justifies treating these two storage types differently? These are big questions where different interests conflict, and there are no perfect solutions. So I pass the question to you. What do you think? [polldaddy poll=9102679] Safe surfing, Micke Image by OhLizz (* It is this simple if the police, the suspect and the service provider all are in the same country. But it can get very complicated in other cases. Let's not go there now as that would be beside the point of this post.
We have written a lot about how companies treat you as an asset. A source of data that can be monetized in a variety of ways. Spotify did recently change their terms and ensured that this topic stays in the headlines. They want to collect information stored on your mobile device, such as contacts, photos and media files. No thanks! My Spotify app plays music just nicely even if it doesn’t have access to pictures and contacts. And their new terms did backfire big time! Spotify's response: Sorry! Spotify is not the only one. A lot of companies are dependent on user data, from Facebook and Google to utility developers. So this is really a significant privacy challenge. But we have privacy legislation. It’s supposed to protect us and set limits for what data Spotify et al can scoop up and how they can use it. Right? Well, that line of defense has unfortunately fallen already. Yes, there is legislation. But it’s your data and you can decide what to do with it. You are free to sign away your rights to it, and that is utilized by many companies. I bet you have signed a lot of user agreements without reading the fine print legalese. That’s where you disable most of the protection the law could have offered. But there is fortunately a second line of defense, and it’s much stronger. Your Spotify app can only upload data it has access to. Mobile operating systems, like iOS and Android, were designed during an era when we already were aware of the privacy threats. They have several security benefits over desktop systems, but the app permissions is definitively one of the most important. In short, it means that apps you install can’t access everything on the device by default. They must ask for permissions, and you can decide what data and functions a certain app shall have access to. This is your last best hope to keep your private data private. So you better learn the importance of app permissions! They are fortunately very easy to use. And you have already used them. After installing you almost always get a prompt telling that the new app want permission to do something. The most important advice is to stop and think at this point! Don’t let these app permissions be just another boring thing you click through. Your last line of privacy defense falls if you do that. Common sense is enough to use app permissions. Just think about what the app is supposed to do. In Spotify I search for music or start a playlist. Neither action is depending on where I am, so the Spotify app has no real need to access my location. An app that helps me call the emergency number is a totally different cup of tea. It can upload my exact location to the operator, and that is as a matter of fact the main reason for implementing it as an app. So it is natural that this app has a legit reason to access my location. And neither of those apps need to paw through my contacts, so any request to access contacts should be denied. This is the kind of thinking you need to learn. iPhone is currently better on app permissions than Android. Android apps declare what they want and you can review the list before installing the app. That sounds great, but is not so good in practice. The main problem is that it is take it or leave it for you. Your only option is to reject the whole list if you dislike one thing the app want to do, which usually means that the app refuse to install. App developers can sneak in a lot of extra permissions because rejecting the list isn’t a true option in most cases. Android app permissions have actually become just like user license agreements, only a few pay any attention to them. iPhone is smarter. Apps install without any questions about permissions. But the system asks the user when the app tries to access restricted content. The app can’t pressure the user to grant unnecessary permissions by threatening to not install at all. And the user has granular control over permissions, it’s not take it or leave it. Every sensitive content or service is handled separately. This is clearly a better approach. Actually so much better that the next Android, Marshmallow, will copy this system. Moral of the story. App permissions is your friend. And you definitively need allies to help protecting your privacy. Safe surfing, Micke [caption id="attachment_8440" align="aligncenter" width="240"] My Facebook permissions. Location is a no-no. And I don't want to shoot pictures from the app. But access to the photos is needed to post shots.[/caption] Pictures: twitter.com and iPhone screenshots
Kaisu who is working for us is also studying tourism. Her paper on knowledge of and behavior related to information security amongst young travelers was released in May, and is very interesting reading. The world is getting smaller. We travel more and more, and now we can stay online even when travelling. Using IT-services in unknown environments does however introduce new security risks. Kaisu wanted to find out how aware young travelers are of those risks, and what they do to mitigate them. The study contains many interesting facts. Practically all, 95,7%, are carrying a smartphone when travelling. One third is carrying a laptop and one in four a tablet. The most commonly used apps and services are taking pictures, using social networks, communication apps and e-mail, which all are used by about 90% of the travelers. Surfing the web follows close behind at 72%. But I’m not going to repeat it all here. The full story is in the paper. What I find most interesting is however what the report doesn’t state. Everybody is carrying a smartphone and snapping pictures, using social media, surfing the web and communicating. Doesn’t sound too exotic, right? That’s what we do in our everyday life too, not just when travelling. The study does unfortunately not examine the participants’ behavior at home. But I dare to assume that it is quite similar. And I find that to be one of the most valuable findings. Traveling is no longer preventing us from using IT pretty much as we do in our everyday life. I remember when I was a kid long, long ago. This was even before invention of the cellphone. There used to be announcements on the radio in the summer: “Mr. and Mrs. Müller from Germany traveling by car in Lapland. Please contact your son Hans urgently.” Sounds really weird for us who have Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Skype installed on our smartphones. There was a time when travelling meant taking a break in your social life. Not anymore. Our social life is today to an increasing extent handled through electronic services. And those services goes with us when travelling, as Kaisu’s study shows. So you have access to the same messaging channels no matter where you are on this small planet. But they all require a data connection, and this is often the main challenge. There are basically two ways to get the data flowing when abroad. You can use data roaming through the cellphone’s ordinary data connection. But that is often too expensive to be feasible, so WiFi offers a good and cheap alternative. Hunting for free WiFi has probably taken the top place on the list of travelers’ concerns, leaving pickpockets and getting burnt in the sun behind. Another conclusion from Kaisu’s study is that travelers have overcome this obstacle, either with data roaming or WiFi. The high usage rates for common services is a clear indication of that. But how do they protect themselves when connecting to exotic networks? About 10% are using a VPN and about 20% say they avoid public WiFi. That leaves us with over 70% who are doing something else, or doing nothing. Some of them are using data roaming, but I’m afraid most of them just use whatever WiFi is available, either ignoring the risks or being totally unaware. That’s not too smart. Connecting to a malicious WiFi network can expose you to eavesdropping, malware attacks, phishing and a handful other nasty tricks. It’s amazing that only 10% of the respondents have found the simple and obvious solution, a VPN. It stands for Virtual Private Network and creates a protected “tunnel” for your data through the potentially harmful free networks. Sounds too nerdy? No, it’s really easy. Just check out Freedome. It’s the super-simple way to be among the smart 10%. Safe surfing, Micke PS. I recently let go of my old beloved Nokia Lumia. Why? Mainly because I couldn’t use Freedome on it, and I really want the freedom it gives me while abroad. Image by Moyan Brenn