Notes on unintended security effects

I’ve been complaining about the security implications of DRM and “trusted computing” and “safe boot” for some time now. Susan Landau points out that the expansion of wiretapping has the same effect.

Such threats are not theoretical. For almost a year beginning in April 2004, more than 100 phones belonging to members of the Greek government, including the prime minister and ministers of defense, foreign affairs, justice and public order, were spied on with wiretapping software that was misused. Exactly who placed the software and who did the listening remain unknown. But they were able to use software that was supposed to be used only with legal permission.

The story is that the Greek phone system equipment provided by Erricson and managed by Vodaphone had a feature that was supposed to allow the police to tap phones. Someone who apparently was not the police found a way to use the feature and to hide traces for years. There is a good summary in the IEEE Spectrum. Landau’s point is that privacy and data security can’t just be waived for “bad guys”. Once set up the infrastructure to allow the police/NSA/whatever to listen in on any calls, even if we assume that they will only use their powers wisely and with restraint, others can make use of the same infrastructure. There is no assurance that the government will only listen to wiretaps to deter terror, no assurance that the mechanisms that open our calls to the government’s ears will only be used by the government (or authorized parts), and no assurance that DRM will only forbid use of unlicensed music.

See also here.