Apple are right and wrong

I’m sure you’ve all seen this story by now.

Thousands of iPhone 6 users claim they have been left holding almost worthless phones because Apple’s latest operating system permanently disables the handset if it detects that a repair has been carried out by a non-Apple technician.

From ‘Error 53’ fury mounts as Apple software update threatens to kill your iPhone 6 | Money | The Guardian

Now, when I first glanced at this story on Twitter, my immediate reaction was to share the natural sense of outrage expressed by other commentators. After all, it seems to be a breach of natural justice that if you have purchased a phone and then had it repaired, it is still your phone you should still be able to use it.

I have my Volvo fixed by someone who isn’t a Volvo dealer and it works perfectly. The plumber who came round to fix the leak in our bathroom a couple of weeks ago doesn’t work for the company that built the house, nor did he install the original pipes and he has never fixed anything in or house before. (He did an excellent job, by the way, so hats off to British Gas HomeCare).

If you read on however, I’m afraid the situation is not so clear-cut and I have some sympathy for Apple’s actions, even though I think they chose the wrong way to handle the obvious problem. Obvious problem? Yes.

The issue appears to affect handsets where the home button, which has touch ID fingerprint recognition built-in, has been repaired by a “non-official” company or individual.

From ‘Error 53’ fury mounts as Apple software update threatens to kill your iPhone 6 | Money | The Guardian

Now you can see the obvious problem. If you’re using your phone to make phone calls and the screen is broken then what does it matter who repairs the screen as long as they repair it properly. But if you’re using your phone to authenticate access to financial services using touch ID then it’s pretty important that no one has messed around with the touch ID sensor to, for example, store copies of your fingerprint templates for later replay under remote control. The parts of the phone that other organisations are depending on as part of their security infrastructure (e.g., the SIM) are not just components of the phone like any other component because they feature in somebody else’s risk analysis. In my opinion, Apple is right to be concerned. Charles Arthur just posted a detailed discussion of what is happening.

TouchID (and so Apple Pay and others) don’t work after a third-party fix that affects TouchID. The pairing there between the Secure Element/Secure Enclave/TouchID, which was set up when the device was manufactured, is lost.

From Explaining the iPhone’s #error53, and why it puts Apple between conspiracy and rock-hard security | The Overspill: when there’s more that I want to say

Bricking people’s phones when they detect an “incorrect” touch ID device in the phone is the wrong response though. All Apple has done is make people like me wonder if they should really stick with Apple for their next phone because I do not want to run the risk of my phone being rendered useless because I drop it when I’m on holiday need to get it fixed right away by someone who is not some sort of official repairer.

 What Apple should have done is to flag the problem to the parties who are relying on the risk analysis (including themselves). These are the people who need to know if there is a potential change in the vulnerability model. So, for example, it would seem to me to be entirely reasonable in the circumstances to flag the Simple app and tell it that the integrity of the touch ID system can no longer be guaranteed and then let the Simple app make its own choice as to whether to continue using touch ID (which I find very convenient) or make me type in my PIN, or use some other kind of strong authentication, instead. Apple’s own software could also pick up the flag and stop using touch ID. After all… so what?

Touch ID, remember, isn’t a security technology. It’s a convenience technology. If Apple software decides that it won’t use Touch ID because it may have been compromised, that’s fine. I can live with entering my PIN instead of using my thumbprint. The same is true for all other applications. I don’t see why apps can’t make their own decision.

Apple is right to take action when it sees evidence that the security of the touch ID subsystem can no longer be guaranteed, but surely the action should be to communicate the situation and let people choose how to adjust their risk analysis?

Everybody panic, part 97: contactless cards

Oh no! Shock horror! Something must be done! It’s an outrage! Thank goodness we have a free press to expose this egregious, calamitous, nefarious episode! Questions must be asked in Parliament. Yes, it turns out that a famous author (J. K. Rowling who wrote the tedious “Harry Potter” series of children’s books) has been trimming her hedge.

Shock! Horror!

Oh, and on the front page the non-issue of contactless card security has come up once again, following a report from the consumer organisation “Which?”. They reported that contactless cards work according to their specifications. Using a standard reader they were able to interrogate standard cards and obtain the standard details, which do not include either the cardholder’s name or the security code. You cannot use the details to make a clone contactless card or a clone chip and PIN card or a counterfeit magnetic stripe card.

Yet the Which? researchers managed to buy a £3,000 TV set using one of the cards.

[From Banks want us all to have ‘tap and pay’ cards even though they’re a godsend to fraudsters | Daily Mail Online]

No, they didn’t. They did not use one of the cards. What they did was to use the card number and expiry date with a merchant who does not check the name, address or security code. Retailers are entirely free to do this, it’s up to them. The point of the card system is to protect consumers, not retailers. If retailers decide to deliver a £3,000 TV to a block of flats in Hoxton on the basis of a card number and expiry date (without checking the name, address or security code) then that is their look out. The customer will spot the unusual transaction and charge it back. The bank will charge it back to the merchant. The merchant will be out of £3,000. But it was their choice, so who cares? Anyway, the researchers were surprised that some merchants would behave in this fashion.

We doubted we’d be able to make purchases without the cardholder’s name or CVV code, but we were wrong.

[From Thieves use scanners to steal account details even when contactless card is in your wallet | Daily Mail Online]

Remember, this is the same information that a fraudster could obtain just by looking at your card. Luckily, the newspapers have also had some useful advice for customers concerned about card security.

James keeps his debit card at home and the PIN is still in the sealed letter. That way, if a fraudster takes money from his account, he can easily prove to the bank that he hasn’t used it.

[From There’s nothing James Freedman doesn’t know about fraud … so why won’t HE use contactless cards? | This is Money]

Had the researchers glanced at any or our blog posts about contactless security, starting back in 2006, they would have known about this uninteresting risk. It isn’t news. I’ve suggested before that rather than panic about the non-issue of contactless security, their energies might be better directed toward educating the public about the technology and the distribution of liabilities.

The traditional way of educating the mass market in the UK about anything is to pester the BBC to include it as an EastEnders story line.

[From Crime and contactless]

You may think that I was being flippant with that remark last year but I wasn’t. In fact, the soap opera route has been tried, albeit on the other side.

Coronation Street and Emmerdale will feature Visa’s contactless payment technology from February.

[From TV signs Visa product placement deal for Coronation Street and Emmerdale – Coronation Street News – Soaps – Digital Spy]

Sadly, I have never watched either Coronation Street or Emmerdale, although I know what they are because Harry Hill used to make fun of them on “TV Burp”, so I’m not best-placed to suggest appropriate plot lines. But perhaps one of the characters spotting a £3,000 charge to Currys on their statement and then charging it back might be far too dull.

Now, you might imagine that these stories are so trivial as to be utterly uninteresting. And on the one hand they are. But on the other hand I find them intensely annoying, because they are so insulting. “Fraud alert” over a payment architecture that has been under development for a decade? That’s a headline that suggests that I am a moron. As are the experienced risk analysis and payments architecture experts at Consult Hyperion. As are the risk management experts at retail banks. As are the strategists at Visa and MasterCard.

What are the media thinking? That there is no point over the past decade when it occurred to anybody that because the EMV standard involves the passing of unencrypted data between the card and the point of sale terminal that anyone with a standard reader would be able to obtain the card number and expiry date? That the thousands of people involved in the planning, design, launch and management of contactless cards were as thick as planks? That the issuing banks were so dumb to accept full liability for the fraudulent use of contactless cards that they are going to go out of business? That merchants who accept card numbers and expiry dates without a valid cardholder name or address are simply too dense to understand the liability shift?

Just to be clear. The actual figures (from the UK Cards Association) are that fraud losses from contactless cards are less than for contact cards, for the obvious reason that card numbers are, by and large, stolen online in vast bulk (see, in the Daily Mail, for example “Benson bought stolen credit card details from Russian gangsters”) and not obtained by individual fraudsters waving phones around peoples’ arses (although that would work, as this video shows).

You can tell from the Nokia 6131 used in that video that it was made a good few years ago but, as yet, the gangs of pickpockets in London seem to prefer the old fashioned methods, so you’re much better off carrying a contactless card (that can be refunded in the event of loss) rather than cash (which cannot).

Don’t panic. Unless you spot someone holding their mobile phone a little too close to my backside on the tube, that is.

Doing something about cybercrime, cyberterrorism and cybersubversion (not)

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Cybercrime, cyberterrorism, cybersubversion and so forth are all serious issues. Defending critical infrastructure from attackers ranging from Eastern European gangsters to agents of foreign powers and from management consultants to the HR department is obviously crucial to organisations that want to prosper in the digital economy. But we need new tools to help.


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