Category Archives: Security

TikTok Won’t Be Shut Down Due to Ongoing Lawsuit



The U.S. Department of Commerce said that it wouldn’t enforce its order that would have forced the Chinese-owned TikTok video sharing app to shut down, The Wall Street Journal reported. The reason is due to the result of a lawsuit.

In September of 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced a prohibition on transactions relating to mobile apps WeChat and TikTok. It would have barred companies from providing internet hosting or content-delivery services to TikTok. This would have resulted in making TikTok inoperable in the United States.

In October of 2020, three popular TikTok creators, Douglas Marland, Cosette Rinab, and Alec Chambers filed a lawsuit against the Department of Commerce. TechCrunch reported that each have millions of followers on TikTok. Their argument was that banning the app would make them lose access to their followers, and impact their ability to earn a living.

U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Wendy Beetlestone granted the three TikTok creators the preliminary injunction hey asked for. According to NBC News, Judge Beetlestone also found that the government had gone beyond the authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

As a result, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that the preliminary injunction enjoined it from enforcing the prohibition on TikTok. It appears that the U.S. government intends to appeal this ruling.


CISA Says November 3rd Election was Most Secure in American History



The U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) posted a joint statement in which they declared: “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history”. This should be a big relief to those who were concerned about potential security issues, or who have become convinced that the election was “rigged”.

“When states have close elections, many will recount ballots. All of the states with close results in the 2020 presidential race have paper records of each vote, allowing the ability to go back and count each ballot if necessary. This is an added benefit for security and resilience. This process allows for the identification and correction of any mistakes and errors. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised”.

The statement also pointed out: “Other security measures like pre-election testing, state certification of voting equipment, and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) certification of voting equipment help to build additional confidence in the voting systems used in 2020.”

CISA is the nation’s risk advisor, working with partners against today’s threats and collaborating to build more secure and resilient infrastructure for the future.

The Joint Statement included people from the CISA, the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) executive committee, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission Chair, the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), the National Association of State Election Directors (NASEED), and members of the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council (SCC).

In short, this group includes people who have the job of making sure our election infrastructure is secure. Together, they have more data about this election than anyone else. Personally, I think this statement should be viewed as a major debunking of the misinformation that has been spread about this election.


U.S. Department of Commerce Prohibits WeChat and TikTok



The United States Department of Commerce announced a prohibition on transactions relating to mobile apps WeChat and TikTok. This is being done in response to President Trump’s Executive Orders that were signed on August 6, 2020. The action by the Department of Commerce describes the decision as one made “to safeguard the national security of the United States.”

Here is a small portion of the Department of Commerce’s announcement:

…While the threats posed by WeChat and TikTok are not identical, they are similar. Each collects vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories. Each is an active participant in China’s civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP. This combination results in the use of WeChat and TikTok creating unacceptable risks to our national security.

Has the U.S. government ever banned an app before? If so, I don’t remember that happening. The thing that bothers me is that there are several social media platforms that collect the same kinds of data from American users, (but are not involved with China). My concern is that the prohibition on WeChat and TikTok could be used as precedent for the Trump Administration to ban Twitter and/or Facebook.

As of September 20, 2020, the following transactions are prohibited:

  • Any provision of service to distribute or maintain the WeChat or TikTok mobile applications, constituent code, or application updates through an online mobile application store in the U.S.;
  • Any provision of services through the WeChat mobile application for the purpose of transferring funds or processing payments within the U.S.

As of September 20, 2020, WeChat, and as of November 12, 2020, for TikTok, the following transactions are prohibited:

  • Any provision of internet hosting services enabling the functioning or optimization of the mobile application in the U.S.;
  • Any provision of content delivery network services enabling the functioning or optimization of the mobile application in the U.S.
  • Any provision directly contracted or arranged internet transit or peering services enabling the function or optimization of the mobile application in the U.S.;
  • Any utilization of the mobile application’s constituent code, functions, or services in the functioning of software or services developed and/or accessible within the U.S.;

CNBC reported that WeChat is owned by the Chinese company Tencent. TikTok’s parent company is Beijing-based Byte Dance. CNBC points out that the prohibition means Apple and Google will have to pull those apps from their libraries.


Microsoft Warns of New Cyberattacks Targeting U.S. Elections



Microsoft warns that it has detected cyberattacks targeting people and organizations involved in the upcoming presidential election. This includes unsuccessful attacks on people associated with both the Trump and Biden campaigns.

The activity we are announcing today makes clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts targeting the 2020 election as had been anticipated, and is consistent with what the U.S. government and others have reported. We also report here on attacks against other institutions and enterprises worldwide that reflect similar adversary activity.

Microsoft has observed:

  • Strontium, operating from Russia, has attacked more than 200 organizations including political campaigns, advocacy groups, parties and political consultants
  • Zirconium, operating from China, has attacked high-profile individuals associated with the election, including people associated with the Joe Biden for President campaign and prominent leaders in the international affairs community.
  • Phosphorus, operating from Iran, has continued to attack the personal accounts of people associated with the Donald J. Trump for President campaign.

Microsoft believes that more federal funding is needed in the U.S. so states can better protect their election infrastructure. The company encourages Congress to move forward with additional funding to the states and provide them with what they need to protect the vote and our democracy.

Based on what Microsoft observed, it would be a good idea to stay vigilant when online. Shenanigans are happening that could affect the outcome of the upcoming election. We all need to take a step back and question election-related social media posts before spreading what might be misinformation from a foreign country.


Zoom Expands to Smart Displays at Home



Zoom announced that they are rolling out support for Portal from Facebook, Amazon Echo Show, and Google Nest Hub Max. This will make interactive video meetings as easy as the touch of a button or the sound of your voice. Zoom also points out that this feature can be used to connect by video to family and friends.

I can see where this could be useful for people who have disabilities that make it difficult for them to use their hands. Being able to attend a Zoom meeting by using voice controls would make the experience more accessible. It could also be good for people who need help setting up Zoom on their computer or laptop, and who may find it difficult to log in when they need to.

There are many reasons not to trust Zoom. They have a history of security failures, including a problem that allowed Zoom to enable a user’s camera without the users permission. At the time, uninstalling Zoom did not fix the problem. In June of this year, Zoom decided to limit end-to-end encrypting only to paid users – which they later opened up to free accounts after backlash.

The reality is that there are many people who are working from home and who are required to use Zoom for work meetings. One advantage of using Zoom on a smart display is the option to take Zoom off your computer or laptop. A Zoom Meetings user could log into one of the smart devices that are supported by Zoom, and integrate their calendar, status, and meeting settings.

Zoom will be rolling out to Portal from Facebook in select regions in September. It will roll out to Amazon Echo Show devices in the United States later this year, beginning with Echo Show 8. Zoom will roll out to Nest Hub max later this year.


Zoom will add End-to-End Encryption to Free Accounts



As you may recall, earlier this month Zoom revealed that it would only enable end-to-end encryption on paid accounts. The free accounts were not going to get that protection. After public outcry (and, I suspect, loss of customers), Zoom now says it will add end-to-end encryption for all users starting in July of 2020.

Since releasing the draft design of Zoom’s end-to-end encryption (E2EE) on May 22, we have engaged with civil liberties organizations, our CISO council, child safety advocates, encryption experts, government representatives, our own users, and others to gather feedback on this feature. We have also explored technologies to enable us to offer E2EE to all tiers of users.

Zoom has released an updated E2EE design on GitHub.

In its blog post, Zoom states that the updated E2EE design “balances the legitimate right of all users to privacy and the safety of users on our platform.” In addition, Zoom says the new design will enable them to “maintain the ability to prevent and fight abuse” on their platform.

There is a bit of a “catch”, however. Free/Basic users will not automatically have the E2EE applied. In order to get it, these users must give Zoom a verifying phone number via a text message.

In other words, users have to give Zoom more information before they can get E2EE protections. I’m not sure how many people trust Zoom with their phone number, considering (as TechCrunch reported in April) Zoom routed some calls made in North America through China – along with encryption keys.

Zoom says the early beta of the E2EE feature will begin in July of 2020. Betas are known to be a bit wonky, as users discover “bugs” and other problems. I wouldn’t consider a beta of E2EE to offer much protection.

Hosts of Zoom calls will be able to toggle E2EE on or off on a per-meeting basis. Account administrators will also be able to enable and disable E2EE at the account and group level. To me, it sounds like people using a free Zoom account will be told they have E2EE protection (sometime after the beta ends). But, they won’t really have it if their employer can turn it off.


BBC Omits Central Database in Contact Tracing App Story



With the UK’s NHS Contract Tracing app being tested in the Isle of Wight this week, the BBC ran a story on how the app works in the evening news today. While the lovely graphics illustrated how the app worked, the story conveniently forgot to mention that all the contact data collected goes back to a central database.

Unlike much of the free world, instead of adopting the Google-Apple decentralised approach, the NHS has gone ahead with its plans to base its tracking on a central database – there’s more at The Register and The Guardian newspaper. Simplistically, while both versions use Bluetooth proximity to detect others nearby, in the Google-Apple model only the phones know with whom you have been in contact. In the NHS version, the contact data is passed back to a central server for contact matching. This is manna from heaven for a UK government which has a reputation for increasing levels of privacy abuse.

So it’s all very handy then that the BBC omitted to mention that all the app users’ contact tracing information, which will likely include location data, will be neatly shuffled back to a central server for review and matching by the NHS. Yes, it’s anonymised but it doesn’t take much to figure out who someone is if night-after-night they go back to the same address.

The programme is here but I’m not sure how long it will stay online for or if it’s available worldwide. Look at around the 7 minutes 45 seconds. There’s no mention of the central database in either the narrative or the infographics.

Sorry, NHS, I’ll not be downloading your app. BBC, stop lying by omission.

Update 4/5/20: The BBC has produced a more balanced article here.