Research in Motion has a problem. For years they promoted themselves as a top-notch mobile security company. During those initial years most of their products were pitched at enterprise users.
Then RIM got into the consumer market.
Most consumers equate RIM’s products with security, email, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), and a tepid suite of other smartphone features. Most of the people who report on the company tend to agonize over the fact that RIM complies with government surveillance laws. Such reports inevitably emerge each time that the public realizes that RIM meets its lawful access requirements for consumer-line products.
In this post, I want to briefly address some of the BBM-related security concerns and try to (again) correct the record surrounding the security promises of the messaging service. After outlining the deficits of consumer BBM products I briefly argue that we need to avoid fetishizing technology, encryption, or the law, and should instead focus on the democratic implications of the lawful access-style laws that governments use to access citizens’ communications.
In the interest of full disclose: I have family and friends who work at Research In Motion. I haven’t spoken to any of them concerning this post or its contents. None directly work on either BBM or RIM’s encryption systems.
Online voting is a serious issue that Canadians need to remain aware of and/or become educated about. I’ve previously written about issues surrounding Internet-based voting, and was recently interviewed about online elections in light of problems that the National Democratic Party (NDP) had during their 2012 leadership convention. While I’m generally happy with how the interview played out – and thankful to colleagues for linking me up with the radio station I spoke on – there were a few items that didn’t get covered in the interview because of time limitations. This post is meant to take up those missed items, as well as let you go and listen to the interview for yourself.
Public Dialogue Concerning the NDP Leadership ‘Attack’
There are claims that the attacks against the NDP’s online voting system were “sophisticated” and that “the required organization and the demonstrated orchestration of the attack indicates that this was a deliberate effort to disrupt or negate the election by a knowledgeable person or group.” Neither of these statements are entirely fair or particularly accurate. Publicly disclosed information indicates that around 10,000 IP addresses were used to launch a small Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack against the voting system used during the NDP’s convention. To be clear: this is a relatively tiny botnet.
While such a botnet might justifiably overwhelm some small business networks, or other organizations that haven’t seen the need to establish protections against DDoS scenarios, it absolutely should not be capable of compromising an electoral process. Such a process should be significantly hardened: scalable infrastructure ought to have been adopted, and all services ought to be sitting behind a defensible security perimeter. To give you an understanding of just how cheap a botnet (of a much larger size) can be: in 2009, a 80,000-120,000 machine botnet would run around $200/day. You even got a 3-minute trial window! In 2010, VeriSign’s iDefence Intelligence Operations Team reported that a comparable botnet would run around $9/hr or $67/day.
If a few Google searches and a couple hundred dollars from a Paypal account can get you a small botnet (and give you access to technical support to help launch the attack, depending on who you rent your bots from) then we’re not dealing with a particularly sophisticated individual or group, or an individual or group that necessarily possesses very much knowledge about this kinds of attacks. Certainly the action of hiring a botnet demonstrates intent but it’s an incredibly amateurish attempt, and one that should have been easily stopped by the vendor in question.
The Government of Canada has, at least temporarily, backed away from pushing through its tabled lawful access legislation. While many critiques of the legislation abound – some of which I’ve recently noted surrounding warrantless access to subscriber information – there have been limited critiques of the actual financial costs associated with the bill. While some public commentators have suggested that the legislation will threaten small Internet service providers’ financial viability, there has yet to be a formal, detailed, and public financial accounting of lawful access-related costs.
I’m incapable of offering this accounting. The same is true for every other Canadian, whether they are a government bureaucrat, private citizen, corporate agent, or government Minister, because the legislation itself remains murky. Thus, rather than suggest that the legislation will cost X dollars, in this post I outline why people cannot cost out the bill if they solely rely on existing public information.
I begin this post by quickly outlining what the Canadian government suggests that the legislation will cost. Having done so, I move to critique the origins of the government’s numbers. This entails first examining the issue of interception capabilities, second, of storage costs, and third, of the status of Telecommunication Service Providers’ existing lawful access capacities. I conclude by noting the lack of clarity surrounding C-30’s breadth and the need for clarity during the legislative, rather than regulation-setting, stage of the bill’s development.
The (Un)Lawful Access event takes place tomorrow (March 8, 2012) at the Fraser Building, room 157, on the University of Victoria Campus. It should be a really interesting discussion; Michael Vonn is one of the sharpest people in Canada on lawful access, and I’ll be addressing some of the technical and international characteristics of lawful access legislation. All are welcome, and it will take place between 12:30-1:30pm. There’s a Facebook event page for the event where you can register or learn more.