News from the bunker

The government is battening down the hatches and repelling all boarders, even if they have e-tickets. And not before time!

Foreign intelligence agencies are carrying out sustained cyberattacks on the UK Treasury, targeting it with malicious emails and programs designed to steal information, the Chancellor, George Osborne, has revealed. He said that government systems are the target of up to 20,000 malicious emails every month

[From Osborne: Treasury under sustained cyberattack | Technology | guardian.co.uk]

And that’s not counting the ones from taxpayers, I imagine. Setting aside how ludicrous and meaningless this figure is, there is nonetheless a serious point. If Son-of-Stuxnet crashes the Treasury, that might well be a net benefit to the economy, but if it crashes the electricity distribution network, even I won’t be laughing. We need effective cyberdefences. So what should the authorities do to bolster these defences? I would have thought that have some kind of working identity infrastructure might be a first step, and in that respect things haven’t been going to well in the UK.

The Home Office slipped out the final report of the Independent Scheme Advisory Panel (ISAP) this week, more than a year after it was written. The ostensibly independent report, which reveals how the ID system had been compromised by poor design and management, was submitted to the Home Office in December 2009.

[From Henry Porter – Home Office suppressed embarrassing ID cards report]

The report says that there were no specifications for usage or verification (which we knew – this was one of my constant complaints at the time) and, revealingly, that (in section 3.3) that “it is likely that European travel” will emerge as the key consumer benefit. This, I think, is an interesting comment. As I have pointed, what the Identity & Passport Service (IPS) delivered was, well, a passport. It had no other functionality and, given the heritage, was never going to have. Hence my idea of renaming it “Passport Plus” and selling it to frequent travellers (eg, me) as a convenience, and idea that really should have been taken more seriously by the coalition administration.

As an aside, the report also says (in section 5.5) that the “significant” number of change requests after the contracts had been awarded would likely increase risk, cost and timescale. Again, while this is a predictable comment, it is a reflection on the outdated consultation, specification and procurement processes used. Instead of a flagship government project heralding a new economy, we ended up with the usual fare: incomplete specifications, huge management consultant bills, massive and inflexible supply contracts.

The report repeated the same warnings ISAP had given the Home Office every year since the system blueprint was published in December 2006 by Liam Byrne and Joan Ryan, then Home Office Ministers, and James Hall, then head of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS).

[From Home Office suppressed embarrassing ID cards report – 1/7/2011 – Computer Weekly]

How did it all go do wrong? Liam Byrne was supposed something about IT as he used to work for Accenture, as did the James Hall (Joan Ryan was a sociology teacher who later became famous for claiming more than £170k/annum in expenses). All in all, it was a pretty disastrous period for those of us who think that identity infrastructure is crucial to the future of UK plc, let alone the UK government. This is not to say that, despite all of the evidence (including today’s fascinating FT piece on the UK government’s equally disastrous NHS infrastructure project), that the UK is uniquely hopeless at developing identity infrastructure for the 21st century.

Thai citizens who applied for their first national identity card or who applied to have their ID card renewed, have been issued with a yellow slip instead of the new microchip-embedded “smart” cards. The reason behind the problem is that the Interior Ministry refused to accept the new “smart” cards which were supplied by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, claiming that they did not meet the prescribed specifications stipulated in the ministerial regulation.

[From Bangkok Post : The silly saga of ‘smart’ cards]

Now, this may seem funny, but I ought to point out in the interests of international balance that there are, right now, in 2011, many people walking around branches of the British government with printed pictures of smart cards hanging around their necks. Yes, that’s right: pictures of smart cards, rather than actual smart cards. I’m afraid our cyberdefences are more a cyber home guard at the moment.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Mexican standoff

At last year’s conference on The Macroeconomics of Mobile Money held at Columbia University in April 2010, Carol van Cleef (a partner at Paton Boggs LLP in Washington) gave a presentation on the “Opportunities and Dangers of E-Payments”, in which she noted that the Mumbai terrorists used mobile phones and “showed themselves to be part of the mobile phone generation” (as, I imagine, they showed themselves to be part of the mass transit generation and the automatic weapons generation). She notes that the attackers were using their own phones (so the IMEIs could be tracked, making the life of law enforcement easier) and that they had purchased more than 37 SIMs in different names using false identification (so the compulsory SIM registration was shown to be pointless — although some of the SIM card sellers were arrested). She also says that the most critical tool for drug traffickers in Canada is the prepaid phone (I’m sure she’s wrong: I’ll bet it’s either cash or cars).

I remember thinking when I read this at the time that this continued law enforcement focus on the prepaid phone and the prepaid card, both of which are critical tools for financial inclusion, would end up with restrictions on both that would make no difference to criminals but would make life much harder for the financially excluded, because of the strong link between identity and money.

Why do I think that? Well it is just not clear to me that demanding strong proof of identity for prepaid products will help. In Mexico there is a national registry for prepaid phones and all purchasers are recorded and fingerprinted, the operators keep calls logs, texts and voice mail for a year (in a database only accessible with a court order — or by criminals, I’d wager). All prepaid phones not in the registry were supposed to be turned off this month, although a quick round of googling and searching couldn’t tell me whether this is actually happening or not. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in the context of the Mexican government’s reward scheme for people who call in reports of money laundering:

Good luck to anyone who decides to report in person, or by telephone. SIM registration is mandatory in Mexico, which means that the money launderers will find you before the police do

[From Reputation does not depend on “real” identity]

If we focus on phones, for a moment, is it reasonable to assume that demanding identity in the purchase of phones (prepaid or otherwise) will do anything to reduce crime (or will it simply shift the crime to acquiring identities and actually raise the criminal premium on those identities?).

Eight men and one woman have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud… calling expensive premium-rate numbers owned by the fraudsters that charge up to £10 a minute… O2 had a total of £1.2m stolen through premium phone lines throughout July, with police claiming that a West African gang bought the phones from high street stores using false identities.

[From British police arrest iPhone scam gang | News | TechRadar UK]

Like many similar scams, this isn’t a mobile fraud or a payment fraud or any other kind of fraud: it’s basic identity fraud, yet again. To some extent, therefore, one has to be a tiny bit unsympathetic to O2. Clearly, if they make everyone jump through hoops to get an iPhone then they won’t sell very many of them. On the other hand, allowing people to take out contracts without really proving who they are or (and this is the commercial arrangement that is lacking) providing an identity that is underwritten by someone who will take liability for it being wrong, means accepting risk. Remember, it’s not the mobile operators, handset manufacturers or criminals who pay for the police raids, the court system, the prison time: it’s us, the taxpayer. So the distribution of risks is not aligned with the distribution of liabilities, as is so often the case in the world of identity fraud. This isn’t a UK-only problem. It is very clear that in countries without secure national identity registers (ie, almost all countries), requiring mobile operators to determine the identity of subscribers (contract or prepaid) will solve nothing. This does not, by the way, mean that it is impossible to catch criminals. Far from it.

Deputy District Attorney Mena Guirguis said that after Manunga and her former boyfriend stopped dating in 2008, she took out a pre-paid cell phone in his sister-in-law’s name, and started sending the threatening text messages to her regular cell phone… Her scheme was uncovered when the victims went to the phone store, talked with the salesman and learned that Manunga had bought the pre-paid phone under the sister-in-law’s name, Guirguis said.

They reported that information to a Costa Mesa police detective, but by then a third arrest warrant had been issued for the sister-in-law. During a follow-up investigation, the detective discovered that most of the threatening text messages were sent when the pre-paid cell phone was in close proximity to Manjunga’s home or work.

[From Woman jailed for making threats – to herself | sister, law, manunga – News – The Orange County Register]

What this story shows is that actual police work is helped by the perps using mobile phones, even if you don’t know the identity of the person using the phone, because phones mean tracking and tracing and location. We read today that iPhones keep a complete record of everywhere they’ve been…

Apple iPhone users’ movements are being tracked and stored without their knowledge in a file that could easily be accessed by a snooping employer or jealous spouse, security researchers have found.

[From Apple iPhone tracks users’ location in hidden file – Telegraph]

Surely it would be better to have criminals running around with iPhones, sending money to each other using mobile networks and generally becoming data points in the internet of things than to set rigorous, quite pointless identity barriers to keep them hidden.

Moving transactions online

[Dave Birch] Well I managed to get myself invited to the launch of Forum friend Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom‘s new book. As the government’s technology outreach czar, he makes a point of having his personal assistant Patricia use all forms of new information and communication technology. He has, of late, been dictating tweets for her to place on the Twitter and now, to ensure that these valuable insights into the heart of British government IT policy are preserved for posterity, they have been gathered together in “The Twitters of Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom“. I wasn’t sure about the current regulations concerning the photographing of key civil servants, but I managed to sneak a few pictures and have put them on Flickr for the general public to peruse. Here are a few of them so that you can see what was going on (I spotted known activists in the crowd and am perfectly prepared to hand my footage over to the relevant authorities on the condition of pseudonymity).

Given Sir Bonar’s famous “ring of soup” formulation for government identity management services, I was keen to ask him how he sees the evolving balance between privacy and surveillance. In particular, I was curious about his views on Umair Haque succinct note that

The internet itself isn’t disempowering government by giving voices to the traditionally voiceless; it’s empowering authoritarian states to limit and circumscribe freedom by radically lowering the costs of surveillance and enforcement.

[From The Social Media Bubble – Umair Haque – Harvard Business Review]

Unless we take steps to build an identity infrastructure that embodies certain protections, encodes certain balances, then I think it is perfectly reasonable to anticipate a path whereby governments become authoritarian by default, simply becuase they can and not because of any directed or debated policy. I don’t think that you have to be some kind of privacy nutter to find this a concern: unfortunately, I was not able to put this point to Sir Bonar because he had to leave for a pressing bottle of claret, but I perhaps I will be able to catch up with him again in the not-too-distant future.

Vote “no” to yesterday’s technology

[Dave Birch] The recent Pew report on the Future of the Internet makes the same point that I have been droning on about for ages. Looking at PCs and the web doesn’t tell you anything about the future, because the future is mobile.

“Clearly, in the long run, mobile wins,” says Consult Hyperion’s Birch. “For most people, in most of the world, most of the time, the mobile phone is the most important device.”

[From FST]

Now, in some advanced countries, it is seen as natural to being to transfer applications that hinge on identity over to the most personal interweb interface, the mobile phone. An interesting case study is Estonia. We’ve looked before at Estonia’s use of new technology and they are back at the forefront this month:

Lawmakers approved a measure Thursday allowing citizens to vote by mobile phone in the next parliamentary elections in 2011… The mobile-voting system, which has already been tested, requires that voters obtain free, authorized chips for their phones, said Raul Kaidro, spokesman of the SK Certification Center, which issues personal ID cards in Estonia.

[From Estonia to vote by mobile phone in 2011 – International Herald Tribune]

This is a similar architecture to that being deployed in Turkey, where the key pair at the heart of scheme is stored in the SIM and the on-board application uses it for digital signatures.

Business and identity cards

[Dave Birch] We've decided to run a number of events linking the Digital Identity Forum to sister organisations with shared interests. The first of these will be joint seminar with EEMA at the British Computer Society in London on January 29th next year. This seminar, sponsored by Consult Hyperion, will be looking at the business opportunities that might arise from the introduction of the UK national identity card. You can register for the seminar at the EEMA web site. IPS will be presenting and we're hoping that all of their prime contractors will join an expert panel to share ideas on how British businesses can create new value around the scheme. We'll have an in-depth case study from Belgium to examine the business ecosystem that has grown up around the smart identity card introduced there. Look forward to seeing you there.


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