Category Archives: Security

GDPR Fine Print: 720,000 Euro Penalty for Collecting Biometrics

Fine issued for misuse of fingerprints.

The logic of this huge enforcement action was simple, biometric data was collected disproportionate to need.

Employees of a company had to have their fingerprints scanned for attendance and time registration. After investigation, the Dutch Data Protection Authority concluded that the company should not have processed employee fingerprints. The company cannot rely on an exception ground for the processing of special personal data. The company will be fined 725,000 euros for this.

Humans were at put risk because privacy wasn’t being properly minded. Attendance and time authentication were not reasonable use-cases, as they have effective ID options that do not need collection of biometrics.

Exception for collection would be made if fingerprints were an appropriate control mechanism, such as in a system protecting the user’s data by verifying them by something they are.

Over 20K Dead in NYC: 30 Days of COVID-19

The numbers are expected to go even higher, but for now the NYT has said it’s reasonable to assume 20,000 people in NYC were killed in just 30 days.

Part of the reason for the revised count has been COVID-19 visualizations that compare current death rates against historic ones.

Source: NYT

The empire state building looking thing on the right is the rate of death in NYC during COVID-19 relative to the historic rates to the left.

The Financial Times did a similar analysis globally.

Global coronavirus death toll could be 60% higher than reported: Mortality statistics show 122,000 deaths in excess of normal levels across 14 countries analysed by the FT

Source: FT

This kind of comparison of current deaths against historic averages seems an extremely wise way to estimate severity of COVID-19 right now for several reasons:

First: COVID-19 autopsies have confirmed the early signs that the virus kills people in novel ways.

We already heard that EMT crews couldn’t keep defibrillator batteries charged during a single shift because cardiac arrest calls during the pandemic suddenly tripled or higher.

EMT also reported unexpected trauma of low survival rates.

The cardiac arrests are the hardest calls right now. More than once, we have been present at the moment of capture and yet were unable to save the patient. In the past, if a patient goes into cardiac arrest and we witness it or are there within three minutes, we can often save them. We use a defibrillator to shock them and restart their hearts. But for COVID-19 patients, this is not happening. We are not getting any of them back — and now the Department of Health doesn’t want us to bring dead patients to the hospital, so we are pronouncing them dead in the field and turning the bodies over to the police who have to wait for a coroner.

Second: CDC has started to release reports that even early February deaths in California homes were from COVID-19

Officials say they originally thought that the first COVID-19 death in the [Santa Clara] county was on March 9. Autopsies were performed on two people who died on February 6 and February 17. The CDC received tissue samples from the coroner and were able to confirm that both cases were positive for SARS-CoV-2. The third individual who died on March 6 was also confirmed to have been positive for COVID-19.

That death at the start of February was a woman who had a “burst heart”, further proving the point above about novel ways of COVID-19 killing people.

County health officials have said if they knew at the time the woman had coronavirus, they might have issued shelter in place orders earlier. […] “There’s an indication the heart was weakened.” [Dr. Judy Melinek, a Bay Area forensic pathologist who reviewed the autopsy report] said “The immune system was attacking the virus and in attacking the virus it damaged the heart and then the heart basically burst.” Dowd’s husband, citing his wife’s strong exercise habits and overall good health before falling ill, had requested an autopsy.

NYC still maintains that March 11 was their first date of death for a confirmed death, which obviously will need to be changed.

Given how a healthy American abruptly died February 6th from the virus, consider also how the White House was operating at that time. Just Security provides a detailed timeline:

February 10-March 2, 2020 … five rallies across the United States, each attracting thousands of attendees in confined spaces. The rallies take place in New Hampshire (2/10), Arizona (2/19), Colorado (2/20), Nevada (2/21), South Carolina (2/28), and North Carolina (3/2).

These rallies, like a death cult gathering, will most certainly be a cause of fatalities in America.

Third: Low numbers are controversial. I’ve been tracking death rates from the NYC Department of Health since the first cases reported (tragically unreported in the JHU dashboard, as I wrote about March 3rd).

When I posted this following chart the other day, for example, I immediately heard backlash from people with family in NYC. They complained deaths were known to be very high so there was no possible way my graph could have such low numbers showing a decline let alone tapering off.

Red is death, Grey is hospitalization.

It’s true, while the actual death rate is high, it likely is even higher than what these official NYC Department of Health numbers show. Confirmed COVID-19 test results increasingly looks like a subset of deaths far above normal trends compared to death rates of prior years.

I’m not saying the low count graph I made is wrong in terms of a trend. That trend is real and does reflect the case load on NYC services. The numbers definitely are in decline and pressure is considerably lower on EMT.

What’s surely low confidence is the daily count. When I can find the data and the time, I will add in a low/high estimate to show actual deaths daily and not just the shape of the pandemic curve.

One final thought. Often when I post a visualization of deaths some middle-aged white man invariably will come forward and say a per capita rate is the only thing that matters. Imagine a close relative dying and some random guy says to you “don’t worry, your sister’s death per capita is insignificant, given how siblings overall in this region are doing just fine”

Having to care about others drives some people to minimize human life through “per capita” models. Leaving off the per capita calculation tends to reveal callous and selfish thinking by viewers.

Per capita still has a place. Experts are good at finding ways to make different population numbers relevant (to measure likelihood or severity) yet that shouldn’t be turned by just anyone into a license to dismiss every human life as a percentages game.

The better model is vision zero, which says 40,000 American traffic deaths per year is 40,000 too many.

Replace Your Door Peephole With a DIY Thermal Camera

Source: not FLIR

In November 2019 a DIY article was posted on how to build and train an inexpensive RPi thermal camera.

Even with more complex network architectures, the optical model wouldn’t score above a 91% accuracy in detecting the presence of people, while the thermal model would achieve around 99% accuracy within a single training phase of a simpler neural network.

Despite the high potential, there’s not much out there in the market — there’s been some research work on the topic (if you google “people detection thermal camera” you’ll mostly find research papers) and a few high-end and expensive products for professional surveillance. In lack of ready-to-go solutions for my house, I decided to take on my duty and build my own solution — making sure that it can easily be replicated by anyone.

Now you can easily make one to mount on your door and give thermal readings for guests as well as announce known visitors.

The commercial FLIR thermal camera site gives this image as proof of its utility, although I expect they soon will update to reflect pandemic uses as well.

Source: FLIR

Not surprisingly, despite the long list of reasons to use thermal imaging (e.g. higher integrity of signal, more resilient to environmental interference) the EFF makes a very tone-deaf argument against its future use:

Terrorism is one thing — because it’s an ongoing problem. But there’s no reason why this kind of technology would need to stick around after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

That reads to me that the EFF believes after COVID-19 crisis is over there will no longer be any other threats, let alone a need for higher integrity in visual signals (e.g. authentication).

This Day in History: 1812 Luddites Attack a Zoom Mill

“Luddites confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called ‘a fraudulent and deceitful manner’ to get around standard labor practices. ‘They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns.’ The British authorities responded by deploying armed soldiers to crush the protests.
On this day in 1812 a group of a hundred or more (some say thousands) Luddites near Manchester attempted to enter Burton’s Mill in protest. Armed guards of the mill as well as British soldiers fired live rounds into the crowd, killing up to a dozen people.

So why were these Luddites protesting and why were they murdered for it?

There’s a common misnomer among those who say Luddites were an anti-technology group, which the Smithsonian fortunately has tried to dispel.

The label now has many meanings, but when the group protested 200 years ago, technology wasn’t really the enemy.

Let me put it like this. To say Luddites were anti-technology is like saying Robin Hood was anti-technology.

Does anyone say “that Robin Hood really hated the bow and arrow”? No. That makes no sense. His story was about the moral use of bow and arrow (disruptive technology of his day, as proven in the 1415 Battle of Agincourt).

Robin Hood was a folk hero who popularly protested the misuse of technology by elites.

Similarly to the legend of Robin Hood, a powerful Ludd character rose out of the Sherwood forest area of Nottingham to fight for morality as a crucial factor in use of technology; Luddites then demanded quality and expertise in tech to be valued above exploitation.

The Luddites therefore were experts at using technology who disliked owners using machinery in ways known to increase death and suffering.

Think of these heavily armed mill owners in 1800s, targeted by Luddites, as the Sheriff of Sherwood Forrest from 400 years earlier. Then ask who really was on the side of the Sheriff in Robin Hood’s time?

Nottingham Forrest Sheriff, known for being “completely unsympathetic to the poverty of the town’s people, using immoral ways to collect taxes”

Or in today’s terms, think of this like people protesting Zoom’s immoral practices. Those (including myself) calling for Zoom usage to be ended immediately until their ethics show signs of improvement… we are not rejecting technology by holding it to a higher bar!

Luddites today would be the ones calling for and end to Zoom’s obviously deceitful and harmful business practices, to make technology safer for everyone.

Those who have been taught that Luddites didn’t like technology have been misled; don’t forget the entire point of a group who righteously protested against technology used immorally (wielded selfishly by owners and with obvious harms).

Even more tragically, people often leave out the fact that Luddites were ruthlessly murdered by factory gunmen and hanged for daring to defend society under a concept of greater good.

In truth, they inflicted less violence than they encountered. In one of the bloodiest incidents, in April 1812, some 2,000 protesters mobbed a mill near Manchester. The owner ordered his men to fire into the crowd, killing at least 3 and wounding 18. Soldiers killed at least 5 more the next day.

Earlier that month, a crowd of about 150 protesters had exchanged gunfire with the defenders of a mill in Yorkshire, and two Luddites died. Soon, Luddites there retaliated by killing a mill owner, who in the thick of the protests had supposedly boasted that he would ride up to his britches in Luddite blood. Three Luddites were hanged for the murder; other courts, often under political pressure, sent many more to the gallows or to exile in Australia before the last such disturbance, in 1816.

At least 8 killed in just one protest. Some estimates are double. But in all cases the government was using overwhelming force.

To be fair, Luddites reportedly also did commit violent acts against people, even though it ran counter their overall goals of social good.

Some claims were made that Luddites intimidated local populations into sheltering and feeding them, similar to charges against Robin Hood. That seems like dubious government propaganda, however, as Luddites were a populist movement and “melting away” was again a sign of popular support rather than violent intimidation tactics.

Indeed, more often there were accounts of Luddites sneaking into factories at night and cleverly taking soldiers’ guns away to destroy only the machines as a form of protest. People were set free and unharmed.

An exception was in the case above where a mill owner “boasted” of murdering Luddites and was arming guards and calling in the military… escalation unfortunately was set on a path where Luddites stepped up their defense/retaliation.

Don’t forget 1812 was a very violent time overall for the British, with tensions rising around inequality (food shortages) and protracted European war (1803–1815), including rising tangles with America over its relations with France.

Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, who extremely opposed the Luddites, was assassinated May 11, 1812 by a merchant named John Bellingham.

Bellingham walked up and shot Perceval point-blank, then calmly sat down on a bench nearby to wait his arrest. Conspiracy theories soon circled, suggesting American merchants and British banks were conspiring to end trade blockades with France.

A month after the May assassination was when the War of 1812 began with America.

All that being said, if you want to ensure technology improves, and doesn’t just exploit unsuspecting consumers to benefit a privileged few, read more about the populist Luddite as well as Robin Hood stories from Nottingham.

These legends represent disadvantaged groups appealing for justice against a tyranny of elites.

Also, consider how “General Ludd” was another fictional character of the Sherwood Forest by design. Here’s a quick Ludd rhyme that was turned into a ticket to entry for meetings.

“This simple stamped ticket with its message showing support for General Ludd would have allowed entrance to one of the local meetings.”

It was his (and Robin Hood’s) inauthenticity, as a face of the very real populist cause that made them impossible to kill.

The legend of Ludd kept “his” cause of justice alive despite overwhelming oppositional military forces. Allegedly British authorities invoked “posse comitatus” (it’s a thing Sheriffs are known to do) and deployed more military soldiers domestically to stop Luddites than during war with Napoleon.

Nottingham took on the appearance of a wartime garrison… authorities estimated the number of rioters at 3,000, but at any one time, no more than 30 would gather…

In American history we have similar heroes, such as the inauthentic yet also real General Tubman. She fought plantation owners in the same sense that Ludd fought mill owners; targeting the immoral use of machinery.

Surely slave owners would have called Tubman an anti-technology radical at war with their manufacturing if they could have made such absurd accusations stick (instead of her being remembered rightly as an American patriot, veteran, abolitionist and human rights champion).

Sadly people incorrectly brand Luddites as anti-technology, when in fact they very much were in favor of proper and skilled use of technology. Hopefully someday soon this chapter in history will stand corrected.

Anonymous Donates Rare Film to Bletchley Park

Codebreakers seen working at Bletchley Park in rare old film reel recently revealed.

Big news from the Park itself:

Dr. David Kenyon, Research Historian at Bletchley Park highlights the rarity of this find: “No other film footage of a site intimately connected with Bletchley Park exists. We don’t know who filmed it and the footage doesn’t gives away any state secrets or any clues about the work the people in it are doing. If it fell into the wrong hands, it would have given little away, but for us today, it is an astonishing discovery and important record of one of the most secret and valuable aspects of Bletchley Park’s work.”

The reel of wartime footage, preserved in its original canister, has been donated to Bletchley Park by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

A 5 minute documentary about the new film already has been posted to YouTube

White House Reveals Secret Head of COVID-19 Policy

In a breathtaking move of transparency, the White House has come forward to reveal the head of its COVID-19 policy and response coordination all along.

Behind the scenes, held as a tight secret until now, was the highly decorated and very well known General Buck Turgidson. The General formerly had led efforts to drive the world towards global cyber annihilation.

The American government plan to delay its COVID-19 response is said now to have been intentional, pushing to the highest death rates in the world within just one month.

Source: Johns Hopkins

Mass casualties was estimated to have the effect of positioning US government as the most helpless victim, to set up vicious attack campaigns and fire angry missives against China and WHO.

Proud of delays and confusion of the American people, that led so quickly to tens of thousands killed, the White House posted also the following example of detailed analysis from the General:

Mr. President. I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops.

General Buck Turgidson in mid-January, advising White House to wait on #covid19 response and then launch attack campaigns against China and WHO

Simple Illustration of Zoom Encryption Failure

Zoom engineering management practices have been exposed as far below industry standards of safety and product security. They have been doing a terrible job, and it is easy now to explain how and why. Just look at their encryption.

The Citizen Lab April 3rd, 2020 report broke the news on Zoom practicing deception with weak encryption and gave this top-level finding:

Zoom documentation claims that the app uses “AES-256” encryption for meetings where possible. However, we find that in each Zoom meeting, a single AES-128 key is used in ECB mode by all participants to encrypt and decrypt audio and video. The use of ECB mode is not recommended because patterns present in the plaintext are preserved during encryption.

It’s a long report with excellent details, definitely worth reading if you have the time. It even includes the famous electronic codebook (ECB) mode penguin, which illustrates why ECB is considered so broken for confidentiality that nobody should be using it.


I say famous here because anyone thinking about writing software to use AES surely knows of or has seen this image. It’s from an early 2000s education campaign meant to prevent ECB mode selection.

There’s even an ECB Penguin bot on Twitter that encrypts images with AES-128-ECB that you send it so you can quickly visualize how it fails.

A problem is simply that using ECB means identical plaintext blocks generate identical ciphertext blocks, which maintains recognizable patterns. This also means when you decipher one block you see the contents in all of the identical blocks. So it is very manifestly the wrong choice for streams of lots of data intended to be confidential.

However, while Citizen Lab included the core image to illustrate this failure, they also left out a crucial third frame on the right that can drive home what industry norms are compared to Zoom’s unfortunate decision.

The main reason this Linux penguin image became famous in encryption circles is because it shows huge weakness faster than trying to explain ECB cracking. It makes it obvious why Zoom really screwed up.

Now, just for fun, I’ll still try to explain here the old-fashioned way.

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) algorithm for encryption.

Here’s our confidential message that nobody should see:


Here’s our secret (passphrase/password) we will use to generate a key:


Conversion of password from ASCII to Hex could simply give us a 128 bit block (16 bytes of ASCII into 32 HEX characters):

77 68 79 77 6f 75 6c 64 79 6f 75 75 73 65 45 43

Yet we want to generate a SHA256 hash from our passphrase to get ourselves a “strong” key (used here just as another example of poor decision risks, since PBKDF2 is a far safer choice to generate an AES key):


We then take our plaintext “zoom” and use our key to generate the following ciphertext blocks (AES block size is always 128 bit — 32 Hex characters — even when keys used are longer such as AES-256, which uses 256 bit keys):



I’ve kept the 128 bit blocks separate above and highlighted the middle two because you can see exactly how “zoom” repetitive plaintext is reflected by two identical blocks.

It’s not as obvious as the penguin, but you still kind of see the point, right?

If we string these blocks together, as if sending over a network, to the human eye it is deceptively random-looking, like this:


And back to the key, if we run decryption on our stream, we see our confidential content padded out in blocks uniformly sized:


You also probably noticed at this point that if anyone grabs our string they can replay it. So using ECB also brings an obvious simple copy-and-paste risk.

A key takeaway, pun intended of course, is that Zoom used known weak and undesirable protection by choosing AES-128 ECB. That’s bad.

It is made worse because they told customers it was AES-256; they’re not disclosing their actual protection level and calling it something it’s not. That’s misleading customers who may run away when they hear AES-128 ECB (as they probably should).

Maybe run away is too strong, but I can tell you all the cloud providers treat AES-256 as a minimum target (I’ve spent decades eliminating weak cryptography from platforms, nobody today wants to hear AES-128). At least two “academic” attacks have been published for AES-128: “key leak and retrieval in cache” and “finding the key four times faster“.

And the NSA published a revealing doc in 2015 saying AES-256 was their minimum guidance all the way up to top secret information.

On top of all that, the keys for Zoom were being generated in China even for users in America not communicating with anyone in China.

Insert conspiracy theory here: AES-128 was deemed unsafe by NSA in 2015 and ECB has been deemed unsafe for streams by everyone since forever… and then Zoom just oops “accidentally” generates AES-128 ECB keys on Chinese servers for American meetings? Uhhhh.

It’s all a huge mess and part of a larger mismanagement pattern, pun intended of course. Weak confidentiality protections are pervasive in Zoom engineering.

Here are some more examples to round out why I consider it pervasive mismanagement.

Zoom used no authentication for their “record to cloud” feature, so customers were unwittingly posting private videos onto a publicly accessible service with no password. Zoom stored calls with a default naming scheme that users stored in insecure open Amazon S3 “buckets” that could be easily discovered.

Do you know what encrypted video that needs no password is called? Decrypted.

If someone chose to add authentication to protect their recorded video, the Zoom cloud only allowed a 10 character password (protip: NIST recommends long passwords. 10 is short) and Zoom had no brute force protections for these short passwords.

They also used no randomness in their meeting ID, kept it a short number and left it exposed permanently on the user interface.

Again all of this means that Zoom fundamentally didn’t put the basic work in to keep secrets safe; didn’t apply well-known industry-standard methods that are decades old. Or to put it another way, it doesn’t even matter that Zoom chose broken unsafe encryption routed through China and lied about it when they also basically defaulted to public access for the encrypted content!

Zoom sold you an unsafe barn AND forgot to put doors on. Any reasonable person should be very surprised to find horses inside.

It would be very nice, preferred really, if there were some way to say these engineering decisions were naive or even accidental.

However, there are now two major factors prohibiting that comfortable conclusion.

  1. The first is set in stone: Zoom CEO was the former VP of engineering at WebEx after it was acquired by Cisco and tried to publicly shame them for using his “buggy code“. He was well aware of both safe coding practices as well as the damage to reputation from bugs, since he tried to use that as a competitive weapon in direct competition with his former employer.
  2. The second is an entirely new development that validates why and how Zoom ended up where they are today: the CEO announced he will bring on board the ex-CSO of Facebook (now working at Stanford, arguably still for Facebook) to lead a group of CSO. The last thing Zoom needs (or anyone for that matter) is twelve CSO doing steak dinners and golf trips while chatting at the 30,000 foot level about being safe (basically a government lobby group). The CEO needs expert product security managers with their ear to the ground, digging through tickets and seeing detailed customer complaints, integrated deep into the engineering organization. Instead he has announced an appeal-to-authority fallacy (list of names and associations) with a very political agenda, just like when tobacco companies hired Stanford doctors to tell everyone smoking is now safe.

Here’s the garbage post that Zoom made about their future of security, which is little more than boasting about political circles, authority and accolades.

…Chief Security Officer of Facebook, where he led a team charged with understanding and mitigating information security risks for the company’s 2.5 billion users… a contributor to Harvard’s Defending Digital Democracy Project and an advisor to Stanford’s Cybersecurity Policy Program and UC Berkeley’s Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. He is also a member of the Aspen Institute’s Cyber Security Task Force, the Bay Area CSO Council, and the Council on Foreign Relations. And, he serves on the advisory board to NATO’s Collective Cybersecurity Center of Excellence.

We are thrilled to have Alex on board. He is a fan of our platform…

None of that, not one sentence is a positive sign for customers. It’s no different, as I said above in point two, from tobacco companies laying out a PR campaign that they’ve brought on board a Stanford or Harvard doctor to be on a payroll to tell kids to smoke.

Even worse is that the CEO admits he can’t be advised on privacy or security by anyone below a C-level

…we are establishing an Advisory Board that will include a subset of CISOs who will act as advisors to me personally. This group will enable me to be a more effective and thoughtful leader…

If that doesn’t say he doesn’t know how to manage security at all, I’m not sure what does. He’s neither announcing promotion of anyone inside the organization, nor is he announcing a hire of someone to lead engineering who he will entrust with day-to-day transformation… the PR is all about him improving his own skills and reputation and armoring against critics by buying a herd to hide inside.

This is not about patching or a quick fix. It really is about organizational culture and management theory. Who would choose ECB mode for encryption, would so poorly manage the weak secrets making bad encryption worse, and after all that… be thrilled to bring on board the least successful CSO in history? Their new security advisor infamously pre-announced big projects (e.g. encryption at Yahoo in 2014) that went absolutely nowhere (never even launched a prototype) is accused of facilitating atrocities and facing government prosecution for crimes, and who demonstrably failed to protect customers from massive harms.

Zoom just hired the ECB of CSOs, so I’m just wondering how and when everyone will see that fact as clearly as with the penguin image. Perhaps it might look something like this.

Update April 12: Jitsi has posted a nice blog entry called “This is what end-to-end encryption should look like!” These guys really get it, so if you ask me for better solutions, they’re giving a great example. Superb transparency, low key modest approach. Don’t be surprised instead when Zoom rolls out some basic config change like AES-256-GCM by default and wants to throw itself a ticker-tape parade for mission accomplished. Again, the issue isn’t a single flaw or a config, it’s the culture.

Update April 13: a third-party ( security assessment of the Zoom linux client finds many serious and fundamental flaws, once again showing how terrible general Zoom engineering management practices have been, willfully violating industry standards of safety and product security.

It lacks so many base security mitigations it would not be allowed as a target in many Capture The Flag contests. Linux Zoom would be considered too easy to exploit! Perhaps Zoom using a 5 year out of date development environment helps (2015). It’s not hard to find vulnerable coding in the product either. There are plenty of secure-coding-101 flaws here.

These are really rube, 101-level, flaws that any reasonable engineering management organization would have done something about years ago. It is easy to predict how this form of negligence turns out, so ask why did Zoom believe they could get away with it?

Murder Your Darlings

Despite my best efforts to stop the practice of using such a phrase, I find people sometimes still say cloud computing is all about “cows not pets”. What they mean to say is in the harsh world of cloud you shoot the vulnerable instead of caring for them.

The truth about cows is the opposite, however. Ranchers spend a ton of money on veterinarian science and care about cattle health improving because if they can fix one they can translate that to tens or hundreds of thousands of others saved.

It’s a lot of money on the line when looking at cattle health because typically there are many cows to one owner, just like cloud but not in the way expressed.

The economics of investing to keep cows alive is very unlike pets where most people have a few at most and put them down before they’d spend $500 on care.

It’s a harsh truth but proof of it is in how little is actually known about domestic cat health.

Unlike cattle health being rigorously studied in universities around the world and funded for obvious macro economic reasons, researchers rarely if ever find a pet owner willing to pay for science studies that would improve the lives of cats… owned individually by other people.

Anyway, while the cows not pets saying drags on incorrectly in tech circles, I ran across a Cambridge lecture by Arthur Quiller-Couch in January 1914 (“On the Art of Writing”) that has a particularly famous phrase in it:

If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

Suddenly a thought occurred to me… instead of trying to untangle economics about cows and pets I should instead propose people adopt this Quiller-Couch phrase to explain cloud.

Comparison of WebEx Security Versus Zoom Shady Practices

Recently I pointed out in a blog post that the Zoom CEO was the VP of Engineering at Cisco who left to start a direct competitor because, according to him, he was unhappy about the speed he could operate at.

Being secure, to be frank, is about flaw management practices such as transparency and handling much more than being devoid of flaws. How one educates users about a serious bug should be in the spotlight right now and Zoom is failing catastrophically.

Reading between the lines it looks a bit like the CEO didn’t like being told to do the right thing (follow safety processes) by Cisco management, and he allegedly saw it as an opportunity to exit and do a much easier thing — get rich doing what’s wrong, then apologize and hope for no accountability.

So let’s put this business management theory to a simple product security management test.

Here is a 2020 WebEx security vulnerability advisory:

I’d rate that security page and overall site as excellent and extremely useful to keeping everyone safe.

It stems from the main page, where you can easily query and sort on WebEx vulnerabilities.

Let’s now compare that level of transparency and operational excellence to the Zoom outfit, run by the celebrated billionaire CEO.

First, the page is a lot of marketing material fluff. We know already that these marketing materials are deceptive (e.g. end-to-end encryption is claimed, yet in reality it’s client server using a shared key that’s half the strength claimed and distributed in China…but I digress).

You have to scroll all the way to the bottom (it’s long) to find anything about security practices, like patches and advisories. Even then, security practices appear at first glance to be severely lacking, hosted at this oddly complicated US support URL.

Second, I will test this support page using Patrick Wardle’s announcement (“The ‘S’ in Zoom, Stands for Security: uncovering [local] security flaws in Zoom’s latest macOS client“) from March 30, 2020.

Patrick kindly has updated his own announcement page in April that “Zoom has patched both bugs in Version 4.6.9 (19273.0402)”. Was the Zoom response well done? No.

Look very closely and very carefully at the Zoom security practices page:

A huge security news story, details about the vulnerability, announcement of the patch… none of it, nothing at all can be found anywhere in this support page or the top-level security page.

How would you know to update for a security flaw or even who it affects and how bad it is when it doesn’t appear anywhere except an obscure security researcher’s personal blog page?

I’d rate that as awful, and way below industry practices (again, look above at WebEx). This company supposedly obsessed with technology being “easy and fast to use” has a terribly convoluted hidden security site with CVE tossed in like a mixed bag among some random thoughts by their support team that hasn’t been updated in half a year.

It’s April 2020 and given the news so far this year there should be far more CVE on this page (even if only placeholders, we’ve seen one for Windows and one for OSX).

That’s just to begin with, as this really should elevate to a URL and be easily sorted and searched as well as linked to product release/fix notes. I would imagine a truly sorry CEO would put up a giant box on the top level security page that says the industry standard WARNING: SECURITY FLAW.

Do it now Zoom, if you really are interested in moving fast.

Third, pop over to the release notes for the version Patrick mentions, which aren’t even linked from this page, you won’t find the word security mentioned anywhere.

This is unbelievable levels of bad management practice. Both the security page and the release page are far below acceptable. The practices are truly below baseline and should fail regulations and audits.

Please, anyone, someone explain to me why these release notes don’t use the word security anywhere, let alone don’t have a CVE with details and aren’t connected to the security advisory page.

There’s really not a need at this point for me to get into interesting and messy details of CVE, CWE, CVSS, etc when it’s obvious just how far below a safe baseline Zoom is operating.

I’ve shown enough already how Zoom practices may be a danger to society.

My take on this is the CEO has not enabled his security team (buried in US support), is not listening to his security critics (2020 vulnerabilities not listed), and does not yet take security seriously (sends out apologies to get sympathy without making necessary changes).

I may be forced to look further.

It’s like watching a dumpster burning and hard for me to take my eyes off at this point. Ok, ok let’s go just a little bit onward.

Fourth, I drop down into Security: CVE-2019-13450 shows Zoom has a severity score of 3.1 out of 10 (CVSS:3.0/AV:N/AC:H/PR:N/UI:R/S:U/C:L/I:N/A:N):

HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS everyone because… wait for it… NIST shows this vulnerability officially filed as 6.5 out of 10 (CVSS:3.0/AV:N/AC:L/PR:N/UI:R/S:U/C:H/I:N/A:N), more than double what Zoom wrote on their security support pages!

Here are the calculations side-by-side, which shows how Zoom ended up publishing a false score in their useless security page (Attack Complexity High, Confidentiality Low) while everyone in the world will pull an official higher risk number from NIST’s database:

Zoom: CVSS:3.0/AV:N/AC:H/PR:N/UI:R/S:U/C:L/I:N/A:N

Look, I’ve spent a lot, and I mean a lot, of time inside the sausage factories called software development working on CVSS scores like these. There can be endless debates and fights and it isn’t always easy. I get that, trust me. I even established one of the first 70 CVE Numbering Authority (CNA) in the world for a major software vendor to pump out vulnerabilities that had been obscured.

But I will tell you right now that Zoom claiming complexity is high and confidentiality is low is completely and utterly wrong. It’s deceptive and it’s harmful. Here is the excellent NIST text explaining a CVSS score of 6.5:

…attackers can force a user to join a video call with the video camera active. This occurs because any web site can interact with the Zoom web server on localhost port 19421 or 19424. NOTE: a machine remains vulnerable if the Zoom Client was installed in the past and then uninstalled…

That is a text book case of high confidentiality loss. Does it really get any higher than to be spied on from your camera? And it has a reliable service (text book case of low complexity) that remains vulnerable even after a user tries to remove it? Come on Zoom people.

From there I drop into another CVE they have listed and another, and see problems everywhere…

Their last update on vulnerabilities is from six months ago called “Security: 2019-11 Zoom Connector for Cisco, Poly, and Lifesize” which has a CVSS of 8.1 and no CVE number assigned. I get that they might not be a CNA, or have trouble getting a CVE, but it doesn’t say anything at all.

In the meantime, with no CVE and no advisories page and no links from the main security pages, who exactly is expected to know they need to patch a CVSS 8.1 from October 2019?

There are a million more examples I could give but honestly it’s just so bad I think people need to understand that a major product security and safety overhaul is overdue at Zoom.

I’m not saying anyone should use WebEx, but at least take a look at what they’re doing right to understand just how far off the mark Zoom is. I do not see anything approaching a safe product with proper management practices at Zoom.

And I don’t know if any of this yet means the CEO has to go, or that the AG and FTC should be breathing fire.

However, I can tell you as a long-time product security leader that so far everything I’m looking at from my perspective shows very broken software lifecycle; it’s substantial evidence of misleading and deceptive practices, which clearly harm customers.

Only YOU can prevent video conferencing fires.

COVID19 Security Slogans

Years ago I won the TSA competition for security slogans.

I’m not proud, especially because I didn’t enter it and nobody told me my slogan had won until an external investigator pointed out that someone borrowed it from my 2006 blog post and claimed the prize for themselves.

Anyway I’ve written a little here about the strange dearth of security slogans, a missed opportunity, during COVID-19.

Now I’m really getting curious why US officials are trying to encourage things like mask wearing, yet nobody has come up with basic jingles to promote it.

A quick search has only turned up a 1918 example from San Francisco.

Obey the laws, and wear the gauze. Protect your jaws from septic paws.

Seems applicable today. If I don’t find posters of this soon I may just start making them myself. With luck, someone at TSA will notice and then submit to their next competition as their own.

Speaking of being owned, while reading the news about security flaws in popular video conferencing my mind wandered onto the rhyme… gloom and doom for a chat room vacuum. How soon could it ruin the zoom boom?

Not quite “loose lips sink ships” but maybe if I work at it a little I could get closer with chat room vacuum ruins zoom boom. The problem is it’s too specific to one company, but hopefully you get my drift.

Speaking of drift, the US Naval History Blog in 2019 posted a very graphic warning about pandemic risks, and it starts by quoting a 1918 children’s rhyme:

I had a little bird,
And its name was Enza.
I opened the window
And in-flu-enza.

Ok, I couldn’t resist. Here’s a simple security education poster from WWII, which I’ve updated simply to reflect COVID-19:

It’s become infuriating to me every time I hear someone say they’ve seen 0 deaths so far, or who ask why worry if they don’t know someone personally affected. Education campaigns are sorely missing here.

Security professionals ought to be good at predicting likelihood and severity of harms. Prediction is what the industry is supposed to be doing in order to put controls in before it’s too late (as well as clean up afterwards, but let’s not go there). So let’s have some slogans going and get word out maybe?

A simple viz shows why the 0-deaths-so-far-crowd need quickly to get a clue, but it doesn’t make for a pithy phrase or poster.

Let me know if you can think of any good way to condense that graphic into a rhyme…