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    The Security Vulnerabilities of Message Interoperability / Schneier · 4 days ago - 18:05

Jenny Blessing and Ross Anderson have evaluated the security of systems designed to allow the various Internet messaging platforms to interoperate with each other:

The Digital Markets Act ruled that users on different platforms should be able to exchange messages with each other. This opens up a real Pandora’s box. How will the networks manage keys, authenticate users, and moderate content? How much metadata will have to be shared, and how?

In our latest paper, One Protocol to Rule Them All? On Securing Interoperable Messaging , we explore the security tensions, the conflicts of interest, the usability traps, and the likely consequences for individual and institutional behaviour.

Interoperability will vastly increase the attack surface at every level in the stack ­ from the cryptography up through usability to commercial incentives and the opportunities for government interference.

It’s a good idea in theory, but will likely result in the overall security being the worst of each platform’s security.

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    Breaking RSA with a Quantum Computer / Schneier · Tuesday, 3 January - 17:38 · 1 minute

A group of Chinese researchers have just published a paper claiming that they can—although they have not yet done so—break 2048-bit RSA. This is something to take seriously. It might not be correct, but it’s not obviously wrong.

We have long known from Shor’s algorithm that factoring with a quantum computer is easy. But it takes a big quantum computer, on the orders of millions of qbits, to factor anything resembling the key sizes we use today. What the researchers have done is combine classical lattice reduction factoring techniques with a quantum approximate optimization algorithm. This means that they only need a quantum computer with 372 qbits, which is well within what’s possible today. (IBM will announce a 1000-qbit quantum computer in a few months. Others are on their way as well.)

The Chinese group didn’t have that large a quantum computer to work with. They were able to factor 48-bit numbers using a 10-qbit quantum computer. And while there are always potential problems when scaling something like this up by a factor of 50, there are no obvious barriers.

Honestly, most of the paper is over my head—both the lattice-reduction math and the quantum physics. And there’s the nagging question of why the Chinese government didn’t classify this research.

But…wow…maybe…and yikes! Or not.

“Factoring integers with sublinear resources on a superconducting quantum processor”

Abstract: Shor’s algorithm has seriously challenged information security based on public key cryptosystems. However, to break the widely used RSA-2048 scheme, one needs millions of physical qubits, which is far beyond current technical capabilities. Here, we report a universal quantum algorithm for integer factorization by combining the classical lattice reduction with a quantum approximate optimization algorithm (QAOA). The number of qubits required is O(logN/loglogN ), which is sublinear in the bit length of the integer N , making it the most qubit-saving factorization algorithm to date. We demonstrate the algorithm experimentally by factoring integers up to 48 bits with 10 superconducting qubits, the largest integer factored on a quantum device. We estimate that a quantum circuit with 372 physical qubits and a depth of thousands is necessary to challenge RSA-2048 using our algorithm. Our study shows great promise in expediting the application of current noisy quantum computers, and paves the way to factor large integers of realistic cryptographic significance.

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    Adversarial ML Attack that Secretly Gives a Language Model a Point of View / Schneier · Thursday, 20 October - 18:57 · 3 minutes

Machine learning security is extraordinarily difficult because the attacks are so varied—and it seems that each new one is weirder than the next. Here’s the latest: a training-time attack that forces the model to exhibit a point of view: Spinning Language Models: Risks of Propaganda-As-A-Service and Countermeasures .”

Abstract: We investigate a new threat to neural sequence-to-sequence (seq2seq) models: training-time attacks that cause models to “spin” their outputs so as to support an adversary-chosen sentiment or point of view—but only when the input contains adversary-chosen trigger words. For example, a spinned summarization model outputs positive summaries of any text that mentions the name of some individual or organization.

Model spinning introduces a “meta-backdoor” into a model. Whereas conventional backdoors cause models to produce incorrect outputs on inputs with the trigger, outputs of spinned models preserve context and maintain standard accuracy metrics, yet also satisfy a meta-task chosen by the adversary.

Model spinning enables propaganda-as-a-service, where propaganda is defined as biased speech. An adversary can create customized language models that produce desired spins for chosen triggers, then deploy these models to generate disinformation (a platform attack), or else inject them into ML training pipelines (a supply-chain attack), transferring malicious functionality to downstream models trained by victims.

To demonstrate the feasibility of model spinning, we develop a new backdooring technique. It stacks an adversarial meta-task onto a seq2seq model, backpropagates the desired meta-task output to points in the word-embedding space we call “pseudo-words,” and uses pseudo-words to shift the entire output distribution of the seq2seq model. We evaluate this attack on language generation, summarization, and translation models with different triggers and meta-tasks such as sentiment, toxicity, and entailment. Spinned models largely maintain their accuracy metrics (ROUGE and BLEU) while shifting their outputs to satisfy the adversary’s meta-task. We also show that, in the case of a supply-chain attack, the spin functionality transfers to downstream models.

This new attack dovetails with something I’ve been worried about for a while, something Latanya Sweeney has dubbed “persona bots.” This is what I wrote in my upcoming book (to be published in February):

One example of an extension of this technology is the “persona bot,” an AI posing as an individual on social media and other online groups. Persona bots have histories, personalities, and communication styles. They don’t constantly spew propaganda. They hang out in various interest groups: gardening, knitting, model railroading, whatever. They act as normal members of those communities, posting and commenting and discussing. Systems like GPT-3 will make it easy for those AIs to mine previous conversations and related Internet content and to appear knowledgeable. Then, once in a while, the AI might post something relevant to a political issue, maybe an article about a healthcare worker having an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, with worried commentary. Or maybe it might offer its developer’s opinions about a recent election, or racial justice, or any other polarizing subject. One persona bot can’t move public opinion, but what if there were thousands of them? Millions?

These are chatbots on a very small scale. They would participate in small forums around the Internet: hobbyist groups, book groups, whatever. In general they would behave normally, participating in discussions like a person does. But occasionally they would say something partisan or political, depending on the desires of their owners. Because they’re all unique and only occasional, it would be hard for existing bot detection techniques to find them. And because they can be replicated by the millions across social media, they could have a greater effect. They would affect what we think, and—just as importantly—what we think others think. What we will see as robust political discussions would be persona bots arguing with other persona bots.

Attacks like these add another wrinkle to that sort of scenario.

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    Websites that Collect Your Data as You Type / Schneier · Wednesday, 18 May, 2022 - 20:29 · 1 minute

A surprising number of websites include JavaScript keyloggers that collect everything you type as you type it, not just when you submit a form.

Researchers from KU Leuven, Radboud University, and University of Lausanne crawled and analyzed the top 100,000 websites, looking at scenarios in which a user is visiting a site while in the European Union and visiting a site from the United States. They found that 1,844 websites gathered an EU user’s email address without their consent, and a staggering 2,950 logged a US user’s email in some form. Many of the sites seemingly do not intend to conduct the data-logging but incorporate third-party marketing and analytics services that cause the behavior.

After specifically crawling sites for password leaks in May 2021, the researchers also found 52 websites in which third parties, including the Russian tech giant Yandex, were incidentally collecting password data before submission. The group disclosed their findings to these sites, and all 52 instances have since been resolved.

“If there’s a Submit button on a form, the reasonable expectation is that it does something — that it will submit your data when you click it,” says Güneş Acar, a professor and researcher in Radboud University’s digital security group and one of the leaders of the study. “We were super surprised by these results. We thought maybe we were going to find a few hundred websites where your email is collected before you submit, but this exceeded our expectations by far.”

Research paper .

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    Using Pupil Reflection in Smartphone Camera Selfies / Schneier · Tuesday, 3 May, 2022 - 16:17

Researchers are using the reflection of the smartphone in the pupils of faces taken as selfies to infer information about how the phone is being used:

For now, the research is focusing on six different ways a user can hold a device like a smartphone: with both hands, just the left, or just the right in portrait mode, and the same options in horizontal mode.

It’s not a lot of information, but it’s a start. (It’ll be a while before we can reproduce these results from Blade Runner .)

Research paper .

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    Video Conferencing Apps Sometimes Ignore the Mute Button / Schneier · Friday, 29 April, 2022 - 14:18 · 1 minute

New research: “ Are You Really Muted?: A Privacy Analysis of Mute Buttons in Video Conferencing Apps “:

Abstract: In the post-pandemic era, video conferencing apps (VCAs) have converted previously private spaces — bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens — into semi-public extensions of the office. And for the most part, users have accepted these apps in their personal space, without much thought about the permission models that govern the use of their personal data during meetings. While access to a device’s video camera is carefully controlled, little has been done to ensure the same level of privacy for accessing the microphone. In this work, we ask the question: what happens to the microphone data when a user clicks the mute button in a VCA? We first conduct a user study to analyze users’ understanding of the permission model of the mute button. Then, using runtime binary analysis tools, we trace raw audio in many popular VCAs as it traverses the app from the audio driver to the network. We find fragmented policies for dealing with microphone data among VCAs — some continuously monitor the microphone input during mute, and others do so periodically. One app transmits statistics of the audio to its telemetry servers while the app is muted. Using network traffic that we intercept en route to the telemetry server, we implement a proof-of-concept background activity classifier and demonstrate the feasibility of inferring the ongoing background activity during a meeting — cooking, cleaning, typing, etc. We achieved 81.9% macro accuracy on identifying six common background activities using intercepted outgoing telemetry packets when a user is muted.

The paper will be presented at PETS this year.

News article .

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    Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Filmed Changing Color for Camouflage Purposes / Schneier · Monday, 25 April, 2022 - 19:43

Video of oval squid ( Sepioteuthis lessoniana ) changing color in reaction to their background. The research paper claims this is the first time this has been documented.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here .

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    Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Skin–Inspired Insulating Material / Schneier · Thursday, 7 April, 2022 - 14:34

Interesting :

Drawing inspiration from cephalopod skin, engineers at the University of California, Irvine invented an adaptive composite material that can insulate beverage cups, restaurant to-go bags, parcel boxes and even shipping containers.


“The metal islands in our composite material are next to one another when the material is relaxed and become separated when the material is stretched, allowing for control of the reflection and transmission of infrared light or heat dissipation,” said Gorodetsky. “The mechanism is analogous to chromatophore expansion and contraction in a squid’s skin, which alters the reflection and transmission of visible light.”

Chromatophore size changes help squids communicate and camouflage their bodies to evade predators and hide from prey. Gorodetsky said by mimicking this approach, his team has enabled “tunable thermoregulation” in their material, which can lead to improved energy efficiency and protect sensitive fingers from hot surfaces.

Research paper .

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here .