While development of TrueCrypt has ended in rather mysterious and abrupt manner, during its lifetime program became much more than just another encryption utility. The reason for its popularity and status could summarised in one word: unbreakable. While TrueCrypt was just a method of applying AES, it became synonymous with the encryption that protects you from police raiding your hard drives. Indeed it was impossible to find more polished, user-friendly and available full disc encryption solution. Furthermore encryption solution crawled out of hard drives and in newest development Google and Apple declared that companies will not decrypt devices even at government’s request. Law enforcement, as it could be expected, declared such attitude will make it impossible to solve certain cases and compared encryption to ‘house or safe that cannot be searched’. Unfortunately officials failed to provide precise examples and argumentation of cost/benefit analysis regarding evidence collection and right to privacy, instead using common ‘think of the children’ emotional appeal and absurd hyperboles such as ‘Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile’ . What is even more interesting while FBI officials were opposed to the idea, ACLU said that it is a move in right direction and will greatly increase personal privacy. What about internet browsing? Mozilla hinted at default integration of Tor into Firefox, certainly bold move that, depending on relay and exit nodes support, could be a gamechanger for both Tor and internet anonymity.
Nowadays it is hard to find a place with less than 3 WiFi networks in range of our network card. Even though most of the access points are already protected by WPA, occasionally some are either not secured at all, or are secured by WEP (basically they are not secured either). When visiting a new place, or using laptop beyond reach of our internet access it is especially tempting to ‘perform penetration testing’ of such networks and eg check email. While most of these incidents will go unnoticed by owner of the access point and does little harm – which means that there is no enough reason to involve law enforcement resources and criminal prosecution – sometimes it turns into outright stealing of bandwidth and ‘free’ source of internet. Unfortunately it is hard to define what exactly constitutes of unauthorised access as well as proving guilt of perpetrator.
Most jurisdictions, as well as convention on cybercrime, includes crime of unauthorised access to computer network. Using often included very broad definitions, which commonly states that computer network is group of interconnected devices which perform automated data processing it is easy to say that accessing someone’s WiFi falls under this definition. The problem that arises is that most of the time stealing wireless connection is completely different felony that ‘unauthorised access to computer network’. It rarely includes breaking into other machines connected to hotspot and intercepting or altering data stored there – the very core of ‘hacking’. As a result either sanctions defined in statues have to be very broad to include all possible situations on the spectrum, or adequately high punishment could be applied to rather petty crime. Much more problems in this case however rises the very definition of unauthorised.
There are few topics as controversial and unambiguous at the same time as child pornography. While everyone agrees that sexual exploitation of children is heinous crime and lot of resources has to be concentrated on ending it, questions of what exactly constitutes of child pornography, how to fight to what extend it should be prohibited (production? possession or just gaining access?) remains unanswered. Furthermore due to sensitivity of subject it often causes knee jerk reaction and stream of emotional, rather than rational, arguments which is visible especially in public legislation debates. After all who would ever oppose laws that enables law enforcement to fight child pornography more efficiently, even if civil liberties are left behind in the process. However, even putting aside this aspect, laws often goes to far within their own frameworks or lack coordination between various bills that tries to grasp their straws. That was the case with convention on cybercrime as well as number of national laws.
Convention on cybercrime, signed in 2001 and effective for 10 years now, contains title on child pornography, defined as ‘content related offence’. Furthermore legislators went as far as providing definition of what is child pornography, definition which is rather strict as it includes “a person appearing to be a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct” and “realistic images representing a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct”. While reasoning behind such wording is not hard to explain – often it is hard to judge if person is really minor, the implications are quite serious. First of all, it is possible to prosecute someone for producing computer images of child pornography, which might be morally questionable but certainly no children are harmed in the process. Problem becomes even more complex given that many jurisdictions omits ‘realistic’ part in their statues. Case in Sweden, which reached Supreme Court, concerned manga translator who was fined for downloading drawings presenting minors in sexual context. As the case made its way through appeal process, important aspect was whether drawn figures could classified as a person. Prosecution argued that even specific characteristic which were common for manga characters (huge eyes, distinctive anatomy) did not change the overall qualification. While court of appeal upheld this line of reasoning, ultimately supreme court overruled the verdict, saying that drawings were not realistic enough to fall under legal definition. On the other in the US, man was given 15 moths in federal prison after pleading guilty to possession animated pornographic images of minors. While drawings were not manga characters there were not far off in terms of realism. As it is stated in plea agreement one of them depicted “Bart Simpson cartoon character (a minor) standing up and receiving oral sex from the Maggie Simpson cartoon character (a toddler) who is also nude“. Important to note that it is still plea agreement – not unlikely signed due to fear of harsher sentence. Similarly manga collection was ruled to be child pornography, after defendant entered plea bargain under advice of his lawyer. Attorney reasoned that due to obscenity of images he would be found guilty by jury (problem of entering plea bargains out of fear is a topic for another article). These examples from two sides of the Atlantic shows how important might be such distinction. The problem of stricter approach is obvious – people have gone to jail due to committing an act where no one was even remotely harmed. Furthermore it should be questioned what such statues aims to achieve. Is it in place to catch potential child abusers – which is a stretch and in many countries probably unconstitutional one, or perhaps even thoughts about intercourse with minors deserve punishment. However if the latter is the case, even leaving out thought crime aspect, why laws are limited to drawings? Would literary description be treated the same. Ultimately victimless crime aspect makes such provisions most disturbing, and it is hard not to think about slippery slope aspect.
Second, thinking about convention on cybercrime, essential is that in many cases law enforcement is solely responsible for discovering internet child pornography rings, way before public prosecution comes into action. In such scenario it is often up to computer forensic technicians to decided whether person depicted is minor or not. Also if person has to just ‘appear’ to be minor, what about professional pornography labelled as ‘schoolgirs’ and ‘teens’. Does fact that everybody really knows that porn stars are over 18, makes it exception to the law? Danger of this kind of approach is uncertainty of law and putting too wide interpretation margins in judiciary process. In case of criminal law, where convictions significantly burdens convicted it is unacceptable, especially that there are little advantages resulting from it. Finally the very inclusion of child pornography in cybercrime convention is questionable, and in my opinion is example of poor legislation. Catalogue of ‘cybercrimes’ could extended ad infinitum, by just adding ‘committed using computer’. While it could be argued that crime such as fraud significantly changed its structure and form by including computers, in case of distributing child pornography, other than scale of possible distribution, there is hardly difference between video tape, dvd, and hosting a hidden service. Bottom line is whether there is a point in adding another piece of legislation. If the aim of convention would be to harmonize legislation of different countries, than it has to be noted that there is already in place Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. Which does include its own articles on child pornography. Furthermore in case of convention on cybercrime, there is possibility of opting out of the ‘generated images’, ‘appearing as minor’, ‘possessing child pornography in a computer system or on a computer-data storage medium’ and ‘ procuring child pornography through a computer system for oneself or for another person’ parts which make it rather poor instrument of harmonization.
Unfortunately it seems that sensitive nature of the problem seriously hinders putting effective laws in place. Moral panic which leads to convicting people of possession manga certainly does not help with adequate distribution of law enforcement resources, always limited in case of computer crimes. Also it seems unlikely that significant changes will happen in near future, as once laws are in place there are few people who would try to soften them. The sad truth is that such process is counter productive to crime detection, something that we cannot afford in this case.
Recent report by Washington Post brings two equally strong feelings – one – kind of outrage diluted by number of earlier revelations about the scope of NSA surveillance program and – two – marvel that it is actually possible to store every phone call in the country (not metadata) and have the ability to rewind them whole month back and have effective search engine in place. Of course last part is somehow made up, one have to assume that there is actually some kind tool to browse such, for lack of better word, gianormous amount of data in order to bring any effectiveness to such infrastructure. However looking closer at the information, things get less sensationalistic, first of all which country are we talking about? The article lacks this crucial aspect – important to note – it is not US. It is needless to say that storing calls from Monaco, or Afghanistan (which might quite likely be the target) is much different that storing calls from France or Russia. Second while the premise looks impressive at first glance, the closer we look the things get more complex.
Unfortunately I had to significantly throttle down creating this blog recently – this is partially due to stacking up of ‘usual’ responsibilities, but also partially due to the fact that I’m involved in organization of law / IT conference – Net Attacks 2014 which happens at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun. It might be the only event in Poland that enables discussion between lawyers, netsec professionals and government agencies – be sure to check it out at http://www.atakisieciowe.umk.pl/. Beside taking part in organizing I’m also preparing lecture on law enforcement’s struggle with anonymity provide by Tor. Here I’d like to present sneak peak of my research combined with some thoughts that probably won’t make it to the final cut of the lecture / article.
It’s indisputable that Tor bundle changed fundamentally access to Internet anonymity. Ease of use and almost foolproof mechanism were the elements which guaranteed massive popularity, as well as made it perfect platform for some forms of criminal activity. Drug dealing and child pornography exchange are primary examples of such use. Level of protection delivered by Tor is more than enough to evade law enforcement and with minimal additional knowledge and care render conventional investigation techniques completely useless. In this circumstances LEA are basically left with three options: leveraging very design of Tor, utilize 0-day exploits on software of Tor bundle and basically hack the machines of criminals or use social engineering combined with leveraging carelessness of users to gain data sufficient to capture criminals. However, it is important to remember that law enforcement is bind by law which in many cases is far behind bleeding edge of technology. This situation is especially apparent in civil law countries where often every action taken by LEA have to be strictly detailed in law acts with very little room to adjust to changing situation. Of course it is equally important to keep in mind civil liberties and human rights aspect. Such detailed instruction makes all the operations very transparent and keep agents from abusing their power. On the other hand perhaps more relaxed in terms of legislation, but based on court warrants system allows better adaptation to specific cases.
Two greatest ‘weakness by design’ aspects of Tor are vulnerability to global passive adversary and lack of encryption of data leaving exit nodes. First still seems to remain in the realm of theory and it’s not likely it will become significant option for law enforcement. Even though experiments prove their effectiveness, resources required to pull such operation off and need for basically blanket approval to sniff on extremely large chunks of network make it impossible to use in any country with even elemental privacy safeguards. Second option (exit node eavesdropping) is definitely more interesting both in technical and legal terms. First of all it does work great! Experiment presented by Swedish researcher Dan Egerstad proved that setting up even small exit nodes in various locations can yield amazing results with captured emails from various embassies and government agencies. Furthermore Egerstad claimed that both some of these accounts were already compromised be people using similar technique and that some large exit nodes are just to conveniently placed in places like Washington D.C. and have to large bandwidth not to be set up by the government. And while up to this point everything sounds great it is still probably poor method for crime fighting. First of all blatant capture and analysis of all data that leaves certain node in on par with massive blanket surveillance that we are aware of now, after Snowden’s revelation. As such it should be discouraged, and if used will face the same problems with using it as evidence as NSA programs are facing now. Also let’s not omit the fact than exit node sniffing does not reveal IP addresses, only messages sent.
However, FBI took entirely different route when trying to break child pornography circles. After capturing creator of Freedom Hosting, and at the same time gaining control of its servers, agents injected malware on services hosted by FH. Malware wasn’t anything spectacular and required carelessness on the side of Tor user, but proved to be good enough for its job. At the same time though, it opens the discussion about limits of tools LEA can use. The exploit used was a 0 day for Firefox, using it meant basically exposing every other browser with the same configuration and same version to be attacked. On the other hand exploit was already outdated when released since latest release of Firefox was already patched against it. Since use of such technologies is relatively new it is not surprising that law is far behind. In Poland doing anything similar would be probably impossible to do, not even due to harsh restrains on LEAs but because there is nothing even remotely similar discussed in Polish legislation.
Finally there is a case of Dread Pirate Robers and whole series of events that lead to his identification. However if you would like to hear about that please join me at Net Attacks 2014 🙂
Recent EP directive which replaced Council Framework Decision 2005/222/JHA at first glance doesn’t seem too differ much than retired document – specifically it attempts to push the law into territory of more sophisticated attacks without tinkering too much with already set guidelines and nomen omen framework. Most significant is probably mention of botnets. Approach to up-to-date network security problems gives hope of reasonable and professional law. Unfortunately, the directive copies many troubling solutions that were part of the original document.
Some attention should be paid to preamble, which in most cases is – and let’s face it – padding. Here however, it is important to get a grasp of thought process behind the law, as unfortunately its purpose is not always obvious. First of all, lot of pressure is directed towards larger scale, more economically damaging attacks, including mentioned botnets. It seems that current trend of cybercrime prevention will be set more to protect enterprise targets rather than individual, ‘private’ networks. Even though it might seem almost cliche – big corporation gets more from law than common citizens, it is hard not to agree with the assessment. Attacks on single computers are common and almost impossible to trace most of the time. Furthermore in purely quantitative terms, damages to economy are certainly more significant when companies are affected. It is almost needles to say that in modern times, with increasing reliance on digital services a successful breach can disable smaller company. Second, as usual with EP directives, need of harmonization is emphasized. Again, it is quite obviously fair point, especially because of borderless nature of cybercrimes. Perhaps more important point is underlining importance of providing adequate training for law enforcement and judiciary. In Poland problem of lack of qualifications becomes especially visible when dealing with lesser crimes. These are reported to local police stations, where common officers does not even know how to approach the subject. Observing current situation it becomes obvious that significant shift in policy is required – it is no longer possible to afford not to train every policeman in at least basics of cybercrime. Finally, compared to earlier act, part about respecting privacy and protecting fundamental rights has been extended. To what degree is it reaction to NSA leaks remains open case.