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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Hospice_Houngbo   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/20/2014 8:59:42 PM
Re: Getting ridiculous
@kstaron: This means that George Owell's vision of the future is accurate. Anyway, no matter how sophisticated the encryption technology might be, it can never guarantee a 100 percent data protection.
LuFu   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/20/2014 6:47:21 PM
Ours is not to reason why...
Pervasive (sometimes insidious?) Internet monitoring seems to be the rule of the day. Within an organization, the IT department is tasked to establish network security and enforce proper procedures for password protection and encryption. Unfortunately, those within IT take it seriously whereas I'm guessing non-IT department personnel are concerned with their own particular function's task. Any complex encryption or added procedures from the IT department are probably viewed as added nuisances that just slow down productivity. In general, I'd say IT faces internal resistance for every added security notch they put in place.
kstaron   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/20/2014 5:09:52 PM
Getting ridiculous
Why is it every time things like this are brought up I can only think of the book 1984? When regular transmissions need to be coded and even the cryptograms are not thought of as secure what's next, hand scribble notes by carrier pigeon to protect data from the spying of eyes of... everyone?
MDMConsult   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/20/2014 8:37:28 AM
Re: Update Anyone ?
Google has been active also in the acknowledgement of privacy and security concerns. Google advocates and partners with companies, offering resources to its users promoting data security. Google shares tools and knowledge about how to stay safe online with other companies, and works with individuals and website owners to help keep the web a safe place for everyone. The company also works with experts on online security and family safety to help provide advice.
Technocrat   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/20/2014 8:21:14 AM
Update Anyone ?
"....Pervasive monitoring is made much easier because security patches are applied far too slowly."

Found this statement to really hit home.  How many times has one updated and rebooted only to find another new set of updates ready to be installed ?   Need I say this is annoying ?  

It causes many to ignore carrying out updates until you have an afternoon to devote to it.  So please (MS) do more than provide new interfaces to your OS, make updates easy !    I don't understand why they are not.
Gigi   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/20/2014 5:03:28 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."

Stotheco, conventional password methods are simple and cost effective. At the same it is prone to all sorts of hacking and tampering. For simple applications, where datas are not sensitive, this type of encryption is enough. But for financial and sensitive data, it has to protect by a highly encrypted password system.
stotheco   3 Ways to Handle Pervasive Internet Monitoring   3/20/2014 1:46:36 AM
Re: People and Security
I agree with you, Pedro. Biometrics is a suitable alternative but it might not be practical for all applications. For example, for construction sites or other related on-location purposes where the workers might have messy fingers, the hardware might be more prone to malfunction. That would create many problems in the long run.
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.
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.
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?
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