Are we all RoboCops in the future?

7457645618_1c7dcd0523_oInternet together with small and inexpensive digital cameras have made us aware of the potential privacy concerns of sharing digital photos. The mobile phone cameras have escalated this development even further. Many people are today carrying a camera with ability to publish photos and videos on the net almost in real-time. Some people can handle that and act in a responsible way, some can’t. Defamatory pictures are constantly posted on the net, either by mistake or intentionally. But that’s not enough. Now it looks like the next revolution that will rock the privacy scene is around the corner, Google Glass.

Having a camera in your phone has lowered the threshold to take photos tremendously. It’s always with you and ready to snap. But you still have to take it out of the pocket and aim it at your object. The “victim” has a fair chance to notice that you are taking photos, especially if you are working at close distance.

Google Glass is a smartphone-like device that is integrated in a piece of headgear. You wear it all the time just like ordinary glasses. The screen is a transparent piece in your field of view that show output as an overlay layer on top of what’s in front of you. No keyboard, mouse or touchscreen. You control it by voice commands. Cool, but here comes the privacy concern. Two of the voice commands are “ok, glass, take a picture” and “ok, glass, record a video”. Yes, that’s right. It has a camera too.

Imagine a world where Google Glasses are as common as mobile phones today. You know that every time you talk to someone, you have a camera and microphone pointed at you. You have no way of knowing if it is recording or not. You have to take this into account when deciding what you say, or run the risk of having an embarrassing video on YouTube in minutes. A little bit like in the old movie RoboCop, where the metallic law enforcement officer was recording constantly and the material was good to use as evidence in court. Do we want a world like that? A world where we all are RoboCops?

We have a fairly clear and good legislation about the rules for taking photos. It is in most countries OK to take photos in public places, and people who show up there must accept to be photographed. Private places have more strict rules and there are also separate rules about publishing and commercial use of a photo. This is all fine and it applies to any device, also the Google Glass. The other side of the coin is peoples’ awareness of these laws, or actually lack thereof. In practice we have a law that very few care about, and a varying degree of common sense. People’s common sense do indeed prevent many problems, but not all. It may work fairly OK today, but will it be enough if the glasses become common?

I think that if Google Glass become a hit, then it will force us to rethink our relationship to photo privacy. Both as individuals and as a society. There will certainly be problems if 90% of the population have glasses and still walk around with only a rudimentary understanding about how the law restricts photography. Some would suffer because they broke the law unintentionally, and many would suffer because of the published content.

I hope that our final way to deal with the glasses isn’t the solution that 5 Point Cafe in Seattle came up with. They became the first to ban the Google Glass. It is just the same old primitive reaction that has followed so many new technologies. Needless to say, much fine technology would be unavailable if that was our only way to deal with new things.

But what will happen? That is no doubt an interesting question. My guess is that there will be a compromise. Camera users will gradually become more aware of what boundaries the law sets. Many people also need to redefine their privacy expectation, as we have to adopt to a world with more cameras. That might be a good thing if the fear of being recorded makes us more thoughtful and polite against others. It’s very bad if it makes it harder to mingle in a relaxed way. Many questions remain to be answered, but one thing is clear. Google Glass will definitively be a hot topic when discussing privacy.


PS. I have an app idea for the Glass. You remember the meteorite in Russia in February 2013? It was captured by numerous car cameras, as drivers in Russia commonly use constantly recording cameras as measure against fraudulent accusations. What if you had the same functionality on your head all the time? There would always be a video with the last hour of your life. Automatically on all the time and ready to get you out of tricky situations. Or to make sure you don’t miss any juicy moments…

Photo by zugaldia @ Flickr


More posts from this topic


Why Cameron hates WhatsApp so much

It’s a well-known fact that UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron doesn’t care much about peoples’ privacy. Recently he has been driving the so called Snooper’s Charter that would give authorities expanded surveillance powers, which got additional fuel from the Paris attacks. It is said that terrorists want to tear down the Western society and lifestyle. And Cameron definitively puts himself in the same camp with statements like this: “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read? No, we must not.” David Cameron Note that he didn’t say terrorists, he said people. Kudos for the honesty. It’s a fact that terrorist blend in with the rest of the population and any attempt to weaken their security affects all of us. And it should be a no-brainer that a nation where the government can listen in on everybody is bad, at least if you have read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. But why does WhatsApp occur over and over as an example of something that gives the snoops grey hair? It’s a mainstream instant messenger app that wasn’t built for security. There are also similar apps that focus on security and privacy, like Telegram, Signal and Wickr. Why isn’t Cameron raging about them? The answer is both simple and very significant. But it may not be obvious at fist. Internet was by default insecure and you had to use tools to fix that. The pre-Snowden era was the golden age for agencies tapping into the Internet backbone. Everything was open and unencrypted, except the really interesting stuff. Encryption itself became a signal that someone was of interest, and the authorities could use other means to find out what that person was up to. More and more encryption is being built in by default now when we, thanks to Snowden, know the real state of things. A secured connection between client and server is becoming the norm for communication services. And many services are deploying end-to-end encryption. That means that messages are secured and opened by the communicating devices, not by the servers. Stuff stored on the servers are thus also safe from snoops. So yes, people with Cameron’s mindset have a real problem here. Correctly implemented end-to-end encryption can be next to impossible to break. But there’s still one important thing that tapping the wire can reveal. That’s what communication tool you are using, and this is the important point. WhatsApp is a mainstream messenger with security. Telegram, Signal and Wickr are security messengers used by only a small group people with special needs. Traffic from both WhatsApp and Signal, for example, are encrypted. But the fact that you are using Signal is the important point. You stick out, just like encryption-users before. WhatsApp is the prime target of Cameron’s wrath mainly because it is showing us how security will be implemented in the future. We are quickly moving towards a net where security is built in. Everyone will get decent security by default and minding your security will not make you a suspect anymore. And that’s great! We all need protection in a world with escalating cyber criminality. WhatsApp is by no means a perfect security solution. The implementation of end-to-end encryption started in late 2014 and is still far from complete. The handling of metadata about users and communication is not very secure. And there are tricks the wire-snoops can use to map peoples’ network of contacts. So check it out thoroughly before you start using it for really hot stuff. But they seem to be on the path to become something unique. Among the first communication solutions that are easy to use, popular and secure by default. Apple's iMessage is another example. So easy that many are using it without knowing it, when they think they are sending SMS-messages. But iMessage’s security is unfortunately not flawless either.   Safe surfing, Micke   PS. Yes, weakening security IS a bad idea. An excellent example is the TSA luggage locks, that have a master key that *used to be* secret.   Image by Sam Azgor

November 26, 2015
Secure Wordpress site, mobile blogging, tablet by the bay

This is why you need to protect your WordPress username and password

If you run a Wordpress site, you know that criminals around the world would love to use it to spread malware. Last month, F-Secure Labs spike in "Flash redirectors" that automatically redirect the visitor to a site with the goal of infecting them with malware, in this case the Angler exploit kit. The source was compromised websites -- specifically Wordpress sites. This isn't a new find for the Labs but what is unique is one of the tactics of the attack -- seeking out Wordpress usernames. Why? "After obtaining the username, the only thing that the attacker would need to figure out is the password," Patricia from The Labs explains. "The tool used by the attacker attempted around 1200 passwords before it was able to successfully login." If you happen to have one of those passwords, bam. You site is serving up malware, which is not only harmful to your visitors, it can cost you tons of traffic as Google delists you. Keeping your server and plugins up to date is essential for avoiding most attacks. Beyond that, this attack points to the need to both protect your Wordpress username AND always use a unique, strong password. "Furthermore, in order to defend against this kind of WordPress attack, you should not use a WordPress admin account for publishing anything," Patricia notes. You can also protect your server from enumeration attacks that discover the usernames of your bloggers. To see how to do that, visit our News from the Labs blog. It's pretty amazing what people can figure out about you with just your login and password. But when you're running a website, which can be part or all of your livelihood, the only way to keep from handing criminals the key to your front door is to make sure your password can't be figured out by anyone but you. And turn on two-step authentication if you haven't already. Cheers, Jason

November 26, 2015

POLL – Is it OK for security products to collect data from your device?

We have a dilemma, and maybe you want to help us. I have written a lot about privacy and the trust relationship between users and software vendors. Users must trust the vendor to not misuse data that the software handles, but they have very poor abilities to base that trust on any facts. The vendor’s reputation is usually the most tangible thing available. Vendors can be split into two camps based on their business model. The providers of “free” services, like Facebook and Google, must collect comprehensive data about the users to be able to run targeted marketing. The other camp, where we at F-Secure are, sells products that you pay money for. This camp does not have the need to profile users, so the privacy-threats should be smaller. But is that the whole picture? No, not really. Vendors of paid products do not have the need to profile users for marketing. But there is still a lot of data on customers’ devices that may be relevant. The devices’ technical configuration is of course relevant when prioritizing maintenance. And knowing what features actually are used helps plan future releases. And we in the security field have additional interests. The prevalence of both clean and malicious files is important, as well as patterns related to malicious attacks. Just to name a few things. One of our primary goals is to guard your privacy. But we could on the other hand benefit from data on your device. Or to be precise, you could benefit from letting us use that data as it contributes to better protection overall. So that’s our dilemma. How to utilize this data in a way that won’t put your privacy in jeopardy? And how to maintain trust? How to convince you that data we collect really is used to improve your protection? Our policy for this is outlined here, and the anti-malware product’s data transfer is documented in detail in this document. In short, we only upload data necessary to produce the service, we focus on technical data and won’t take personal data, we use hashing of the data when feasible and we anonymize data so we can’t tell whom it came from. The trend is clearly towards lighter devices that rely more on cloud services. Our answer to that is Security Cloud. It enables devices to off-load tasks to the cloud and benefit from data collected from the whole community. But to keep up with the threats we must develop Security Cloud constantly. And that also means that we will need more info about what happens on your device. That’s why I would like to check what your opinion about data upload is. How do you feel about Security Cloud using data from your device to improve the overall security for all users? Do you trust us when we say that we apply strict rules to the data upload to guard your privacy?   [polldaddy poll=9196371]   Safe surfing, Micke   Image by  

November 24, 2015