Lockstep

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Guilty until proven innocent

Once again, in relation to charges levelled against their own, politicians have claimed that like everyone else, they deserve the presumption of innocence. But the old saw "innocent until proven guilty" is no universal human right. It is merely a corollary of the 18th century Blackstone's Formulation: "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".

For persons in positions of trust -- politicians, police officers, customs officers, judges and so on -- different calculations apply. The community cuts public officers less slack, because the consequences of their misconduct are far reaching. When only one bad apple can spoil the barrel, Blackstone's Formulation patently does not apply. It is probably better that 10 innocent politicians (or police officers or airport baggage handlers) lose their jobs than for one wrongdoer to stay in place.

If politicians agree to be held to higher standards than members of the public, then as part of the bargain, they cede the presumption of innocence.

Posted in Culture, Security

Photo data as crude oil

It's been said that "data is the new oil". The immense stores of Personal Information gifted to Facebook, Google et al by their users are like crude oil reserves: raw material to be tapped, refined, processed and value-added.

[ Update 19 Dec 2012: Instagram has predictably revised its Privacy Policy and Terms of Use to integrate with better Facebook. They put it this way: "As part of our new collaboration, we've learned that by being able to share insights and information with each other, we can build better experiences for our users" (emphasis added). Of course it was inevitable that they would lubricate the disclosure of Instagram pictures with their owners and beyond. Facebook didn't buy them for nothing. ]

[ Update 8 Dec 2012: Some have poo-poohed the comparison with crude oil, including the New York Times' Jer Thorp. No metaphor is ever complete, and this one might distract some people, but the idea is not meant to be about fossil fuels and finite resources. Rather it alludes to the undifferentiated nature of raw data and the high tech ways in which Big Data is refined to create wondrous new products. I like the historical and political context of the oil metaphor too. Right now we are at a historical point comparable to that of the Black Gold prospectors of the 1800s; new supply chains and business models are being devised to exploit this new bounty. The parallels with the oil industry remind us that Big Data is Big Business! ]

I'm especially interested in photo data, and the rapid evolution of tools for monetising it. These tools range from embedded metadata in the uploded photos, through to increasingly sophisticated object recognition and facial recognition algorithms.

Image analysis can extract place names and product names from photos, and recognise objects. It can re-identify faces using biometric templates that users have helpfully created by tagging their friends in entirely unrelated images. Image analysis lets social media companies work out what you're doing, when and where, and who you're doing it with. If Facebook can work out from a photo that you're enjoying a coffee at a recognisable retail outlet, they don't need you to expressly "Like" it. Nor do you have to actively check in to the cafe when most phones tag their photos with geolocation data. Instead, Facebook will automatically file away another little bit of Personal Information, to be melded into the amazingly rich picture they're relentlessly building up.

The ability to extract value from photo data defines a new black-gold rush. Like petroleum engineering, Image Analysis is high tech stuff. There is extraordinary R&D going on in face recognition and object recognition, and the "infomopolies" like Apple, Google and Facebook pay big bucks for IP and startups in this space.

I think there is only one way to look at Facebook's acquisition of Instagram. With 250 million new pictures being added everyday, Instagram is like an undeveloped crude oil field. As such, a billion dollars seems like a bargain.

So Facebook's core business isn't all of a sudden photo sharing. It always was and always will be PI refining.

Oil cracking
Image Analysis As Cracking Tower (0 1)


Posted in Social Media, Privacy, Big Data

Killing two frauds with one chip

Last week saw the biggest credit card data breach for a while, with around 1.5 million card numbers being stolen by organised crime from processor Global Payments [updated figures per Global Payments investor conference call, Apr 2nd].

So now there will be another few rounds of debate about how to harden these cardholder databases against criminal infiltration, and whether or not the processor was PCI-DSS compliant. Meanwhile, stolen card numbers can be replayed with impugnity and all the hapless customers can do is monitor their accounts for suspicious activity -- which can occur years later.

These days, the main use for stolen payment card data is Card Not Present (CNP) fraud. Traditional "carding" -- where data stolen by skimming is duplicated onto blank mag stripe cards to fool POS terminals or ATMs -- has been throttled in most places by Chip-and-PIN, leaving CNP as organised crime's preferred modus operandi. CNP fraud now makes up three quarters of all card fraud in markets like Australia, and is growing at 40-50% p.a.

All card fraud exploits a specific weakness in the Four Party card settlement system shown below. The model is decades old, and remains the foundation of internationally interoperable cards. In a triumph of technology neutrality, the four party arrangement was unchanged by the advent of e-commerce. The one problem with the system is that merchants accepting card numbers may be vulnerable to stolen numbers. Magnetic stripe terminals and Internet servers are unable to tell original cardholder data from copies replayed by fraudsters.

Blog Card Fraud 120401  SLIDE 1 Four Party


The most important improvment to the payments system was and still is to make card numbers non-replayable. Chip-and-PIN stops carding thanks to cryptographic processes implemented in hardware (the chip) where they cannot be tampered with, and where the secret keys that criminals would need are inaccessible. In essence, a Chip-and-PIN card encrypts customer data within the secure chip (actually, digitally signs it) using keys that never leave the confines of the integrated circuit. Even if a criminal obtains the card holder data, they are unable to apply the additional cryptographic transformations to create legible EMV card-present transactions. This is how Chip-and-PIN stemmed skimming and carding.

Blog Card Fraud 120401  SLIDE 2 Mag Stripe


CNP fraud is just online carding, fuelled by industrial scale theft of customer records by organised crime, like the recent Global Payments episode. While the PCI-DSS regime reduces accidental losses and amateur attacks, it remains powerless to stop determined criminals, let alone corrupt insiders. When card numbers are available by the tens of millions, and worth several dollars each ($25 or more for platinum cards) truly nothing can stop them from being purloined.

The best way to tackle CNP fraud is to leverage the same hardware based cryptography that prevents skimming and carding.

Blog Card Fraud 120401  SLIDE 3 CNP


Lockstep Technologies has developed and proven such a solution. Our award winning Stepwise digitally signs CNP transactions within an EMV chip, rendering card details sent to the merchant non-replayable. The merchant server checks a Stepwise CNP transaction using standard public key libraries; a valid Stepwise transaction can only have come from a genuine Chip-and-PIN card under the control of its holder.

All serious transaction and payments systems use hardware cryptography. The classic examples include mobile telephones' SIM cards, EMV chips, the Hardware Security Modules mandated by financial regulators in all ATMs, and the "secure elements" of NFC devices. With well designed hardware security, we gain a robust upper hand in the cybercrime arms race. So let's stop struggling with flabby distracting systems like 3D Secure, and let's stop pretending that PCI-DSS audits will stop organised crime getting hold of card numbers by the million. Instead, let's kill two birds with one stone and use chips to secure both card present and CNP transactions.

Stepwise creates uniquely secure, fast and easy-to-use CNP payments. It has zero impact on the security certifications of digital signature capable EMV chips, and zero impact on existing four party card processing arrangements.

For more details, please see http://lockstep.com.au/technologies/stepwise.

Posted in Smartcards, Payments, Fraud