3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring

Andrew Froehlich, Network Engineer & IT Consultant | 3/18/2014 | 27 comments

Andrew Froehlich
At a recent South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Edward Snowden said the NSA is "setting fire to the future of the Internet." In light of this, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) are trying to get a handle on rampant monitoring.

On Feb. 28 and March 1, they hosted a joint workshop, STRINT: Strengthening the Internet Against Pervasive Monitoring, to identify possible solutions. As the meeting minutes for the two-day workshop show, much discussion centered on the inappropriate relationships among Internet service providers, security vendors, and other Internet-focused companies that created easy tap-in points to collect massive amounts of data.

Though interesting, this type of conversation has little to do with private businesses. But mixed in with the discussion of Prism and other NSA-type programs on pervasive monitoring, there were several key useful items proposed on how businesses can position themselves to prevent future pervasive Internet monitoring. Here are a few that I found to be most interesting.

For one thing, it's time to start encrypting all types of data transmissions -- not just the ones containing what is deemed sensitive information. So much of the traffic sent in clear text these days still contains a great deal of information that can be used to gain further access into a company's infrastructure. Encryption of all data should be considered a sound, low-hanging-fruit technique used to plug a gaping security hole. Forget about the fact that many encryption methods should no longer be considered safe. The idea right now is to get into the habit of encrypting all transmissions. More advanced encryption techniques will soon follow.

Another point made at the workshop: Pervasive monitoring is made much easier because security patches are applied far too slowly. When developers release OS and application patches, most recipients wait days, weeks, or even months before applying them on production systems. This delay often occurs so that IT staff members can perform patch testing in development environments to ensure the patches don't break application functionality when rolled out into production systems. However, this tactic is becoming a luxury that many enterprises can no longer afford if security is critical.

Lastly, a generally recurring theme at the workshop was that end users simply don't understand IT security and can't be counted on to protect themselves within an enterprise. Therefore, security protections must be separated from the user and placed on the shoulders of application developers and system administrators to implement behind the scenes. The idea when creating authentication and encryption systems should be to make them invisible to the end user. Password requirements are becoming harder for users to maintain, so other authentication methods that don't require users to remember dozens of complex passwords should be investigated.

Every enterprise leverages the Internet today in one way or another. Because of our reliance on the public Internet, we all have an interest in protecting against pervasive Internet monitoring to maintain the level of trust needed to conduct business. And though much of the work needed involves decoupling governments from their grip on encryption and Internet infrastructure backdoors, there are steps that can be made in each of our organizations today to get us closer to a more private Internet experience tomorrow.

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jastro   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/18/2014 10:07:05 AM
People and Security
>> end users simply don't understand IT security and can't be counted on to protect themselves within an enterprise.

Lee Badman talked about this idea in his E2 Radio Mobility Interop 2014 talk last week. It's important to pay attention to these recurring ideas.

I've been a part of a few start-ups designed to make "passwords obsolete" – none succeeded. In the interim, we store our passwords in the browser, or put them in a list next to our computer, while waiting for the hard work of better authentication methods to be proven. This  will be more difficult in the consumer space, possibly easier in the enterprise area where there is more control and the ability to streamline access.
zerox203   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/18/2014 3:57:48 PM
Re: 2 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring
This whole monitoring scandal has turned out to be quite an intricate web, and it reveals quite a lot about our public consciousness and character. This kind of surveillance has been going on since long before this scandal broke - and what's more, many of us in IT probably considered it a foregone conclusion that it already was. Yet, it somehow still took a notorious public scandal to spur us and the public to action, when even five years ago a quick google search could have taught you enough to realize that, yes, the government probably was spying on you. That says a lot about the level of chosen ignorance of the average person... and this ties into what the presenters are saying about users not being able to be trusted.

I agree that it might be high time for us to rethink how we do security on a day-to-day basis from the ground up. As things like two-factor authentication have dropped in accessibility and price, I become more and more surprised how many companies are using needless (and ineffective) passwords to secure things. Defense against social engineering attacks (ie: user education) are fine too, but that's a war of mitigation, not prevention. I agree with the bit about encryption as well. It seems we as an industry have a lot of misunderstandings about where our priorities should be when it comes to security... and it's finally coming back to bite us.
Andrew Froehlich   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/18/2014 4:07:06 PM
Re: People and Security
Does anyone have any insights as to why it's so difficult to find a suitable alternative to the conventional password? I feel that we should have moved beyond this by now.
User Ranking: Blogger
Zaius   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/18/2014 11:17:29 PM
Re: People and Security
@Andrew: The alternatives there but there is a fear of that new form of identification theft. For example, there are phones that can be unlocked by fingerprints. What if that fingerprint data is stolen (there are videoes on the net how people did that on iPhone). 

There are definitly two step identification, but people do not want to leave the comfort of just the password. Gettign people to enter a texted code from phone is 'too much' work for some people.

And, finally, people still feel safe just using the password. The moment people are infromed (and a demonstration is there) that passwords are not safe, then people will add the additional safety features.
Gigi   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/19/2014 5:52:03 AM
Gigi
Re: People and Security
"Does anyone have any insights as to why it's so difficult to find a suitable alternative to the conventional password? I feel that we should have moved beyond this by now."

Andrew, crypt based password systems are developed and using by certain agencies, but not for public system.
Nicky48   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/19/2014 9:50:41 AM
Re: People and Security
@Zaius - you say " The moment people are infromed (and a demonstration is there) that passwords are not safe, then people will add the additional safety features."

 

How unsafe is a coventional 4 digit password with only 10 tries before destruction?
Pedro Gonzales   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/19/2014 12:54:15 PM
Re: People and Security
I thought the was the whole purpose in using biometric devices.  They would help to decrease the use of passwords.  May be organizations have a hard time implementing it to all its users or setting up the infrastructure isn't cost effective.
Andrew Froehlich   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/19/2014 4:22:53 PM
Re: People and Security
"The moment people are infromed (and a demonstration is there) that passwords are not safe, then people will add the additional safety features." But we don't have to prove it to everyone...only decision makers, correct? Are we perhaps targeting the wrong audience?
User Ranking: Blogger
impactnow   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/19/2014 9:56:04 PM
Re: People and Security
Andrew I agree when we get conversion from those insituiting the security protocool everything else will fall into place. Unfortunatley cost often overides security.
stotheco   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/20/2014 1:45:36 AM
Re: People and Security
Obstacles exist whether it's biometrics or eye detection or whatnot. However, most of these require external or separate hardware, which comes with separate maintenance costs. At the end of the day, it would seem that the typical conventional passwords offer more advantages in terms of costs and required hardware.
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