Image from EFF

Is e-mail OK for secret stuff?

Image by EFF

Image by EFF

Short answer: No. Slightly longer answer: Maybe, but not without additional protection.

E-mail is one of the oldest and most widely used services on Internet. It was developed during an era when we were comfortably unaware of viruses, worms, spam, e-crime and the NSA. And that is clearly visible in the architecture and blatant lack of security features. Without going deep into technical details, one can conclude that the security of plain e-mail is next to non-existing. The mail standards do by themselves not provide any kind of encryption or verification of the communicating parties’ identity. All this can be done with additional protection arrangements. But are you doing it and do you know how to?

Here’s some points to keep in mind.

  • Hackers or intelligence agencies may tap into the traffic between you and the mail server. This is very serious as it could reveal even your user ID and password, enabling others to log in to the server and read your stored mails. The threat can be mitigated by ensuring that the network traffic is encrypted. Most mail client programs offer an option to use SSL- or TLS-encryption for sent and received mail. See the documentation for your mail program or service provider. If you use webmail in your browser, you should make sure the connection is encrypted. See this article for more details. If it turns out that you can’t use encryption with your current service provider, then start looking for another one promptly.
  • Your mails are stored at the mail server. There are three main points that affect how secure they are there. Your own password and how secret you keep it, the service provider’s security policies and the legislation in the country where the service provider operates. Most ordinary service providers offer decent protection against hackers and other low-resource parties, but less protection against authorities in their home country.
  • Learn how to recognize phishing attacks as that is one of the most common reasons for mail accounts to be compromised.
  • There are some mail service providers that focus purely on secrecy and use some kind of encryption to keep messages secret. Hushmail (Canada) and Mega’s (New Zealand) planned service are good examples. Lavabit and Silent Mail used to provide this kind of service too, but they have been closed down under pressure from officials. This recent development shows that services run in the US can’t be safe. US authorities can walk in at any time and request your data or force them to implement backdoors, no matter what security measures the service provider is implementing. And it’s foolish to believe that this is used only against terrorists. It’s enough that a friend of a friend of a friend is targeted for some reason or that there is some business interest that competes with American interests.
  • The safest way to deal with most of the threats is to use end-to-end encryption. For this you need some additional software like Pretty Good Privacy, aka. PGP. It’s a bit of a hassle as both parties need to have compatible encryption programs and exchange encryption keys. But when it’s done you have protection for both stored messages and messages in transit. PGP also provides strong authentication of the message sender in addition to secrecy. This is the way to go if you deal with hot stuff frequently.
  • An easier way to transfer secret stuff is to attach encrypted files. You can for example use WinZip or 7-Zip to create encrypted packages. Select the AES encryption algorithm (if you have a choice) and make sure you use a hard to guess password that is long enough and contains upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Needless to say, do not send the password to the other party by mail. Agreeing on the password is often the weakest link and you should pay attention to it. Even phone and SMS may be unsafe if an intelligence agency is interested in you.
  • Remember that traffic metadata may reveal a lot even if you have encrypted the content. That is info about who you have communicated with and at what time. The only protection against this is really to use anonymous mail accounts that can’t be linked to you. This article touches on the topic.
  • Remember that there always are at least two parties in communication. And no chain is stronger than its weakest link. It doesn’t matter how well you secure your mail if you send a message to someone with sloppy security.
  • Mails are typically stored in plaintext on your own computer if you use a mail client program. Webmail may also leave mail messages in the browser cache. This means that you need to care about the computer’s security if you deal with sensitive information. Laptops and mobile devices are especially easy to lose or steal, which can lead to data leaks. Data can also leak through malware that has infected your computer.
  • If you work for a company and use mail services provided by them, then the company should have implemented suitable protection. Most large companies run their own internal mail services and route traffic between sites over encrypted connections. You do not have to care yourself in this case, but it may be a good idea to check it. Just ask the IT guy at the coffee table if NSA can read your mails and see how he reacts.

Finally. Sit down and think about what kind of mail secrecy you need. Imagine that all messages you have sent and received were made public. What harm would that cause? Would it be embarrassing to you or your friends? Would it hurt your career or employer? Would it mean legal problems for you or your associates? (No, you do not need to be criminal for this to happen. Signing a NDA may be enough.) Would it damage the security of your country?  Would it risk the life of you or others? And harder to estimate, can any of this stuff cause you harm if it’s stored ten or twenty years and then released in a world that is quite different from today?

At this point you can go back to the list above and decide if you need to do something to improve your mail security.

Safe surfing,
Micke

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Online Surfing in Different Countries

POLL: What country do you want to use for your online surfing?

Online surfing has been around for a while now, and it keeps getting better as technology continues to improve. Websites are better, responsive to different devices, more interactive, and feature a more diverse range of content. All in all, online surfing has managed to stay cool for a very long time. In fact, during a recent interview, Mikko Hypponen specified online surfing as the thing that he’d miss the most if the Internet were to suddenly disappear. The Internet may not suddenly disappear tomorrow, but it is in danger of slowly eroding. While technologies have been steadily improving what people can see and do online, other interests have been trying to develop new ways to regulate and control people’s behavior. Questions about what you can see and do online used to face technical constraints, but now these are transitioning to issues about what other people want you to see and do. Noted anthropologist and author David Graeber recently remarked in an interview with the Guardian that control has become so ubiquitous that we don’t even see it. Geo-blocking is a regulative measure that seems to confirm Graeber’s views. PC Magazine concisely defines it as the practice of preventing people from accessing web content based on where they are (determined by their IP address). Geo-blocking and other types of regional restrictions are used by both companies and governments, and for a variety of purposes (for example, enforcing copyright regimes, running regional sales promotions, censorship, etc.). Freedome is a user-friendly VPN that gives people a way to re-assert control over what they can see and do online. It encrypts communications, disables tracking software, and protects people from malware. It basically gives people the kind of protection they need to surf the web while staying safe from the more prominent forms of digital threats. It also helps people circumvent geo-blocking by letting them choose different “virtual locations”. Virtual locations let people choose where they want to appear to be when they’re surfing online. So if a user selects Canada as their location, the websites they visit will think they are located in Canada. If they select Japan, websites will think they’re in Japan. I’m sure you get the idea. Choosing different virtual locations lets web surfers bypass these geo-blocks so that their access to content remains unrestricted. They can watch YouTube videos reserved for American audiences, access Facebook or Twitter when vacationing in a country that blocks those services, and avoid other measures that attempt to prevent them from enjoying their digital freedom. Freedome recently added Belgium and Poland as new choices, giving Freedome users a total of 17 different places to surf from. But the list needs to keep expanding to keep the fight for digital freedom going, so the Freedome team wants to know: where do you want to do your online surfing? [polldaddy poll=8754876] [Image by Sari Choch-Be | Flickr ]

Mar 27, 2015
BY 
MikkotalksCeBit

5 things you need to know about securing our future

"Securing the future" is a huge topic, but our Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen narrowed it down to the two most important issues is his recent keynote address at the CeBIT conference. Watch the whole thing for a Matrix-like immersion into the two greatest needs for a brighter future -- security and privacy. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFoOvpaZvdM] To get started here are some quick takeaways from Mikko's insights into data privacy and data security in a threat landscape where everyone is being watched, everything is getting connected and anything that can make criminals money will be attacked. 1. Criminals are using the affiliate model. About a month ago, one of the guys running CTB Locker -- ransomware that infects your PC to hold your files until you pay to release them in bitcoin -- did a reddit AMA to explain how he makes around $300,000 with the scam. After a bit of questioning, the poster revealed that he isn't CTB's author but an affiliate who simply pays for access to a trojan and an exploit-kid created by a Russian gang. "Why are they operating with an affiliate model?" Mikko asked. Because now the authors are most likely not breaking the law. In the over 250,000 samples F-Secure Labs processes a day, our analysts have seen similar Affiliate models used with the largest banking trojans and GameOver ZeuS, which he notes are also coming from Russia. No wonder online crime is the most profitable IT business. 2. "Smart" means exploitable. When you think of the word "smart" -- as in smart tv, smartphone, smart watch, smart car -- Mikko suggests you think of the word exploitable, as it is a target for online criminals. Why would emerging Internet of Things (IoT) be a target? Think of the motives, he says. Money, of course. You don't need to worry about your smart refrigerator being hacked until there's a way to make money off it. How might the IoT become a profit center? Imagine, he suggests, if a criminal hacked your car and wouldn't let you start it until you pay a ransom. We haven't seen this yet -- but if it can be done, it will. 3. Criminals want your computer power. Even if criminals can't get you to pay a ransom, they may still want into your PC, watch, fridge or watch for the computing power. The denial of service attack against Xbox Live and Playstation Netwokr last Christmas, for instance likely employed a botnet that included mobile devices. IoT devices have already been hijacked to mine for cypto-currencies that could be converted to Bitcoin then dollars or "even more stupidly into Rubbles." 4. If we want to solve the problems of security, we have to build security into devices. Knowing that almost everything will be able to connect to the internet requires better collaboration between security vendors and manufacturers. Mikko worries that companies that have never had to worry about security -- like a toaster manufacturer, for instance -- are now getting into IoT game. And given that the cheapest devices will sell the best, they won't invest in proper design. 5. Governments are a threat to our privacy. The success of the internet has let to governments increasingly using it as a tool of surveillance. What concerns Mikko most is the idea of "collecting it all." As Glenn Glenwald and Edward Snowden pointed out at CeBIT the day before Mikko, governments seem to be collecting everything -- communication, location data -- on everyone, even if you are not a person of interest, just in case. Who knows how that information may be used in a decade from now given that we all have something to hide? Cheers, Sandra  

Mar 23, 2015
freedome, screenshot, freedome, VPN, best privacy

The Freedome approach to privacy

We were recently asked a series of questions about how Freedome protects private data by TorrentFreak.com. Since we believe transparency and encryption are keys to online freedom, we wanted to share our answers that explain how we try to make the best privacy app possible. 1. Do you keep ANY logs which would allow you to match an IP-address and a time stamp to a user of your service? If so, exactly what information do you hold and for how long? We do not keep any such logs. If ever required by law under a jurisdiction, we would implement such a system, but only where applicable and keeping storage time to the minimum required by law of that respective jurisdiction. Note also that no registration is required to use our service, so any log information would generally map to an anonymous, random user ID (UUID) and the user’s public IP address. 2. Under what jurisdiction(s) does your company operate? Freedome is a service provided from Finland by a Finnish company, and manufactured and provided in compliance with applicable Finnish laws. 3. What tools are used to monitor and mitigate abuse of your service? We have proprietary tools for fully automated traffic pattern analysis, including some DPI for the purpose of limiting peer-to-peer traffic on some gateway sites. Should we detect something that is not in line with our acceptable use policy, we can rate limit traffic from a device, or block a device from accessing the VPN service. All of this is automated and happens locally on the VPN gateway. 4. Do you use any external email providers (e.g. Google Apps) or support tools ( e.g Live support, Zendesk) that hold information provided by users? We do not use any external email providers, but our users can, for example, sign up for beta programs with their email address and send us feedback by email. The email addresses are used only to communicate things like product availability. In the future, paying customers can also use our support services and tools such as chat. In those cases, we do hold information that customers provide us voluntarily. This information is incident based (connected to the support request) and is not connected to any other data (e.g. customer information, marketing, licensing, purchase or any Freedome data). This data is purely used for managing and solving support cases. 5. In the event you receive a DMCA takedown notice or European equivalent, how are these handled? There is no content in the service to be taken down. Freedome is a data pipeline and does not obtain direct financial benefit from user content accessed while using the service. While some of the other liability exclusions of DMCA (/ its European equivalent) apply, the takedown process itself is not really applicable to (this) VPN service. 6. What steps are taken when a valid court order requires your company to identify an active user of your service? Has this ever happened? The law enforcement data requests can effectively be done directly only to F-Secure Corporation in Finland. If a non-Finnish authority wants to request such data from F-Secure, the request will be done by foreign authorities directly to Finnish police or via Interpol in accordance to procedures set out in international conventions. To date, this has never happened for the Freedome Service. 7. Does your company have a warrant canary or a similar solution to alert customers to gag orders? We do not have a warrant canary system in place. Instead, Freedome is built to store as little data as possible. Since a warrant canary would be typically triggered by a law enforcement request on individual user, they are more reflective on the size of the customer base and how interesting the data in the service is from a law enforcement perspective. They are a good, inventive barometer but do not really measure the risk re: specific user’s data. 8. Is BitTorrent and other file-sharing traffic allowed on all servers? If not, why? BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer file sharing is rate limited / blocked on some gateway servers due to acceptable use policies of our network providers. Some providers are not pleased with a high volume of DMCA takedown requests. We use multiple providers (see Question #12) and these blocks are not in place on all the servers. 9. Which payment systems do you use and how are these linked to individual user accounts? There are multiple options. The most anonymous way to purchase is by buying a voucher code in a retail store. If you pay in cash, the store will not know who you are. You then enter the anonymous voucher code in the Freedome application, and we will then confirm from our database that it is a valid voucher which we have given for sale to one of our retail channels. The retail store does not pass any information to us besides the aggregate number of sold vouchers, so even if you paid by a credit card, we do not get any information about the individual payment. For in-app (e.g., Apple App Store, Google play) purchases you in most cases do need to provide your details but we actually never receive those, we get just an anonymous receipt. The major app stores do not give any contact information about end users to any application vendors. When a purchase is made through our own e-store, the payment and order processing is handled by our online reseller, cleverbridge AG, in Germany. Our partner collects payment information together with name, email, address, etc. and does store these, but in a separate system from Freedome. In this case we have a record who have bought Freedome licenses but pointing a person to any usage of Freedome is intentionally difficult and against our policies. We also don’t have any actual usage log and therefore could not point to one anyway. 10. What is the most secure VPN connection and encryption algorithm you would recommend to your users? Do you provide tools such as “kill switches” if a connection drops and DNS leak protection? Our application does not provide user selectable encryption algorithms. Servers and clients are authenticated using X.509 certificates with 2048-bit RSA keys and SHA-256 signatures. iOS clients use IPSEC with AES-128 encryption. Other clients (Android, Windows, OS X) use OpenVPN with AES-128 encryption. Perfect Forward Secrecy is enabled (Diffie-Hellman key exchange). We provide DNS leak protection by default, and we also provide IPv6 over the VPN so that IPv6 traffic will not bypass the VPN. Kill switches are not available. The iOS IPSEC client does not allow traffic to flow unless the VPN is connected, or if the VPN is explicitly turned off by the user. The Android app, in “Protection ON” state keeps capturing internet traffic even if network or VPN connection drops, thus there is no traffic or DNS leaks during connection drops. If the Freedome application process gets restarted by the Android system, there is a moment where traffic could theoretically leak outside the VPN. Device startup Android 4.x requires user’s consent before it allows a VPN app to start capturing traffic; until that traffic may theoretically leak. (Android 5 changes this, as it does not forget user’s consent at device reboot.) 11. Do you use your own DNS servers? (if not, which servers do you use?) We do have our own DNS servers. 12. Do you have physical control over your VPN servers and network or are they outsourced and hosted by a third party (if so, which ones)? Where are your servers located? In most locations we utilize shared hardware operated by specialized hosting vendors, but we also have our own dedicated hardware at some locations. Providers vary from country to country and over time. In some countries we also use multiple providers at the same time for improved redundancy. An example provider would be Softlayer, an IBM company whom we use in multiple locations.

Mar 18, 2015
BY