Privacy Concerns in BlockChain

There are discussions about BlockChain technology. Normally, when we talk about BlockChain, it reminds people of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin which is based on BlockChain technology. However, BlockChain could be used in other applications. BlockChain introduced concept of node for store and transferring data. Normally, when we want to transfer data in the internet, we need several servers which manage storage and transfer of data and we communicate through those servers. But in BlockChain, every PC could be considered as node and they contribute in a big system where all node together involve in storing and transferring of data. BlockChain brings high level of transparency, meaning that everyone in node will know about everything and people could easily join node. There is something known as private BlockChain where we limit access to all nodes and only nodes which we want would be part of BlockChain. Transparency is good but it should be controlled otherwise it is risk to privacy. Consider example of public and private profile in social networks like Facebook or Instagram. We might share some photos for everyone, but we share some photos with only specific people like our close friends and close family and we might have some photos which are private only for us. This is why we need servers and not nodes to protect our privacy. When we talk about servers, people who are working in data center have been verified and are being monitored. For example in Microsoft and Google Data Centers, only people who have been verified by company and government are allowed to work in data center , so we never expect to have black hacker in data center. In addition, there are protection mechanism like they couldn’t just login to a PC and they wouldn’t know which server is processing what data. If government ever need access to data for national security reason or to investigate crime, they need to go through legal procedure and they are force to adhere with privacy law and if you are citizen of country where GDPR is being enforced, you will get transparency report and you have control over your data and privacy is regulated.

However, in BlockChain the story is different, since you don’t have central server, we need relay on nodes and we need a lot of nodes. This means many people and devices which we don’t know would have access to everything. For example in BitCoin, all transactions are publicly available to all people in BlockChain. Node might belongs to hacker, cybercriminals, and bad guys and so on. Imagine, you are doing anonymous transaction with large amount of BitCoin and no one knows who you are. But they will know you have a lot of bitcoin and if they keep investigate, it won’t be hard to find you. For this reason, it is not recommended to use BlockChain for transferring sensitive data like PII (name, address, phone number, etc.). Even if all data are fully encrypted, are you trusting your personal data being shared with millions of PC? Then the idea of private blockchain come to picture. In this case, if we want to make sure privacy is fully preserved, then we need to define qualification criteria for devices. For example only devices with updated Anti-Malware and BitLocker and the one which has been approved by special privacy team allowed to be part of node. Implementing such model could build BlockChain with privacy but it would be costly and it would be better to use server instead where we have better protection and control. Instead of controlling one million trusted nodes why not control few thousands trusted server in a known location.

BlockChain is good when we need to have high degree of transparency and we don’t need to be worry about privacy. But when it comes to privacy, BlockChain is real challenge and building privacy-enable BlockChain would be expensive and difficult. Actually, I don’t see any logical argument to enforce BlockChain for sensitive data. It could be possible, but hard to manage and costly and it would be cheaper to use servers to manage everything instead of using nodes in BlockChain. When it comes to privacy we need to answer who access data (in BlockChain it is hard to find and manage who is access data). Where are my data located physically? (In BlockChain , they could be anywhere). Choosing between using centralized and server based model and BlockChain model, required you to see whether you will need transparency or privacy and then decide on which one would be more suitable.

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Microsoft & GDPR

Recently the European Union, introduced new regulation which enhance protection of users within the EU. This regulation is known as GDPR and practically it succeeds the Privacy Regulation and it is new opportunity to have a better control and protection over users’ privacy and it enforce all companies and organizations and everyone who is dealing with data involving the EU citizens or companies must adhere this new regulation or they will face penalty and they have to response if they are not being compliance. Being compliance with such regulation is actually a way to protect human right and it is right to privacy but being compliance with regulation is costly and difficult for companies. It is not only about understanding the GDPR and how it works but it is about how to adapt it in the real environment. Hopefully, Microsoft is among the first companies which fully compliance with GDPR and it prepared tools for users to get ready for GDPR even before it comes into action. If you are using Microsoft Cloud technologies like Azure, Office365 and others, you cloud is fully compliance with GDPR and you could use Microsoft tools to adapt compliance easier. If you are in charge of development of application on cloud, you have to be careful about your software design and that is another issue. Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 also giving you tools which help you to be more compliance with GDPR. Adapting GDPR would required privacy assessment and expert knowledge on field but you will come into technical issues to adapt and implement it and it is where features inside Windows and Windows Server could come and help you. If you are using Microsoft Technologies and you are in EU or you are dealing with EU, take a look at following resources:

https://blogs.windows.com/windowsexperience/2017/09/25/windows-resources-to-help-support-your-gdpr-compliance/

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/security/gdpr/gdpr-winserver-whitepaper

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/privacy/gdpr-win10-whitepaper

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/trustcenter/compliance/complianceofferings

I wish you all to have a safe GDPR journey and be ready to protect your users and customers.

 

Google Can Read Your Mind!

I don’t think there is anyone who is using internet but they won’t do their job using Google, except for certain countries like China which Google is filtered or their own search engine is more popular. However, this is applicable to all search engines which are storing search results. Google is the most popular search engine in the world and it could read your minds. When you perform a search, what you have been searched will be stored in Google data center and it is associated with your IP address. If you already login with Google Account, it is associated with your Google Account too. This is not a bad thing and it is not intended to be a bad thing, it help advertisement to find right people to advertise their product and it also help you as a user to get right result and advertisement. For example, you might have notice this that when you keep searching for specific terms in Google like you are searching for cybersecurity, ethical hacking, it shows advertisement for bestselling books or course in these areas. IT is good for you because you will find what you want fast and for this reason we are actually using Google and advertisement will find a right target which has high likelihood of sale their products.

Storing our data and associate with IP or Account, could help Google to see what your interest are and help Google to give you what you want. However, the dark side of it is that they will know what you think, what are your interest are? And they could get complete profile of you. Of course, collection of such data is under Google Privacy statement but in the same privacy statement, Google mentions with authorization of government we shall share data, if warrant has been presented. This is great risk for national security of a country. Let say there is a country which is consider enemy nation to the United State, like North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Syria. They want to do harm to these countries and to do that, they will just ask Google tell us what people of Syria or Iran are thinking right now? Google need to check IP range for that country and see what trending search are there and based on those search trend come up with policy to harm that country. Getting warrant for enemy nation is not that hard. However, it is risk for ally too. Governments would love data, and let say government of United State want to know what people of Germany are thinking? They could get same data but not to harm Germany but to make sure during negotiations, everything will go in their interest. Like what are problems of people in Germany and what they are interested in. For example, they might see what people of Germany are interested about United State and create policies to make sure more people travel there and this is indirect way of transfer fund from Germany to United State. One good approach would be having data center inside country and under government control. United State couldn’t gain access to data in European countries easily, because data center located in Germany and is under control of German governments. Reading minds is no longer a theory, it is possible through cyberspace. Google could read your mind from what you search. Even if you enter fake data or use VPN, they could identify you by seeing what your search for and from your searching behaviors. So be careful while you are searching.

 

Machine Learning Damaging Our Privacy

In order to build any model based in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, it is required to collect a lot of data and to get accurate model, we need accurate data. For this reason, companies force to collect a lot of data from users and they send it to their big model for process and then hand it over to machine learning and AI experts to create model for prediction. The main problem is to satisfy the model, we need a lot of data and these data is being stored somewhere. We might say, it is being processed automatically and no human has access to them, but when researchers want to verify something, then they might force to read those personal information, authorities force to take a look at suspicious content and this collection, would put our privacy at risk. Because models relays on AI and Machine Learning, normally, they won’t delete data. For these reasons, I call Machine Learning and AI, one of the biggest enemy of privacy. It force researchers to collect a lot of data, but there is no sufficient information, about protecting those data. Many people argue, we are doing this to protect users, for example in spamming, we need to collect big set of email (but we won’t read them) and mark which email is spam and which is not and we are leaving this to users to classify it and we only care about text and count of words and structure of text. For those who are expert in security, will know that easily we could bypass any email spam, with our tricks, which I don’t want to explain here, because people might abuse it. Anti-Spam could block known spams and those create with semi-professional security guys, but it is helpless for experts. We are collecting a lot of data, spending so much money on servers to collect and process these data, spend so much money on universities and researchers to play around with complex math formula, just to come up with a system, which is helpless in front of experts. Some people argue, that well we have other methods, other protection ways and not everything is based on AI and Machine Learning which is true. But what, we would like to argue is why we are spending so much on this? We might deal with problem of Spam through criminal intelligence analysis, policy data center and monitoring and response team. These methods are a lot cheaper and more efficient. Of course we need spend some money to enhance them, but once we reach to the right place, we could use them to combat against cybercrimes. When we discuss with those who call themselves security experts in university, they always say, sorry we are only care about Machine Learning (because they only care about publication and not national or international security in cyberspace). When we talk with experts in criminology, they say it is interesting topic, but we are only care about law and legal issues. So we are collecting so much data, spending so much money, for unreliable systems.

There is no need to collect so much information and even, if there is a need to collect them, there is no need to keep those information forever. These problems with privacy raised, because everyone force themselves into Machine Learning and AI. If they think about something else or they let others to investigate in these areas, we could protect privacy of our users and enhance their security. As it already been mentioned, policy management, is the recommended solution and there is no need to collect so much data and even if we do, we could delete them later or let users to control their data, instead of collecting them. For these reason, I am requesting cybersecurity experts, to move away from Machine Learning and AI (I don’t say everyone should leave it, but we need people to think in different direction). Universities should open doors to young people who love cybersecurity but they prefer methods without mathematic and AI. Professors don’t understand these methods and they force everyone to follow AI direction and this put our privacy at risk. We need to open new doors to develop expertise in policy management, rather than unreliable math formulas and forcing people to use AI.

 

Why Data is being Collected in Windows 10?

There are many discussions about privacy issue with Windows 10 and people claiming by installing Windows 10, Microsoft steals your data and hand them over to national security agency and the U.S. government. It also gives opportunity to Linux fans and they posting articles saying that if you want privacy, you better use Linux. In this post, these issues will be analyzed. I would like to start with story why companies or governments need to collect data. Let’s go back to the time when computer and internet doesn’t exist. During those time governments still collect data on paper. When new baby born into hospital, his or her parent need to fill up some form including the place of birth, parents, given name, national id number and so on. All of these was inside a piece of paper (before computer and IT come to picture). And our government would have access to these data. So, they will know who are citizens of a country, so they would grand them special benefits which wasn’t available to people who aren’t citizen and if someone born into a country but doesn’t have any national card, then they would ask for one and at some point, of life, people must share some data with governments. Then another scenario come into picture when people would want to travel to travel to other country and stay there for longer time. In this time diplomacy come into picture and passports created. In this case, when you wanted to enter to another country, you should share some details about yourself, like place of birth, date of birth, passport number and so on. If you required to get visa, you need to share more data with the embassy of foreign country. It makes like a bit difficult for many citizens (and still people are suffering because of diplomatic conflicts). Therefore, new systems come into place, where governments could share data easily through fast and secure diplomacy protocols. Consider Schengen system for example, countries under Schengen agreement would get special carts for their citizens and they could use it to travel in other countries borders. No one asking you any question or ask you to submit tons of documents to embassies so they could figure out whether grand you a visa or not. Why? Because, whenever there is problem, they just get your ID Card and insert through IT system, they will know whether you are legal traveler and in case of crime, they could quickly investigate the all your crime activities across Schengen areas. Europol doing great job with providing powerful IT infrastructure. And if you are able to travel across countries without staying in long lines for interview and visa, because your governments doing great job in diplomacy by protecting national security and sharing data when needed and it is all thanks to IT.

When we talk about privacy, it means we are sharing data, so a system give us certain benefits and they are protecting our data and there are certain rules there and if we break those rules, then we are in trouble. For example, when you are communicating through your mobile phone, then your telecommunication company would have ability to trace your location but they never do it unless if you are wanted by police or legal authorities or you are threat to your country. If you are not breaking any law or you are not in watch list, then nobody would trace you. Even if you are living in no digital environment, so you don’t have any phone or communication devices, governments still could collect data through your friends or by sending someone to watch you over. They will do they job but with different methods.

Microsoft like all other companies does collect some data and all these have been discussed in Privacy Statement. And all data there are being collected to help users. For example, consider case of Windows Update, they need to collect data like what version of Windows you are using and what updates has been installed so far. If this mechanism is not in place, then Microsoft need to release all updates for Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016 and so on. And whether you got your PC today and need to install tons of updates and someone who just check for update yesterday both would have get gigs of update and many of those updates would have been failed. Therefore, you need to share these data to automated server and it will offer you updates which you will need. In government agency and when privacy is their main concern, they have local deployment of update, so when new update released, they will test it to make sure it is safe and they IT admin check systems to see what version of Windows are there and what updates do they need and then deploy those updates. So, they won’t share data with Microsoft and these data shared with their internal server. If they need their private email server, they won’t setup Office365 but they create their own email storage and use Exchange Server, OneDrive for Business and other private cloud services.

In higher level governments also get involve, so for example in European Union, data from citizen of these countries will be kept inside a server inside the EU, so even if U.S. government want to access data of any European citizen, they need to ask permission from EU government and those governments protect privacy of people. Same scenario is applicable for Linux, it also collects data for example to check for update and there are several things which it won’t collect, because it doesn’t private services where Microsoft provide to users. For example, when error detect in Windows, it asks users to send more data anonymously, so people in Windows team investigate the problem and release a fix for it. And you could disable this feature. In Linux, you need to share your error to public forum and keep share them to everyone and maybe you find some fix or you force to reinstall it. I addition, if U.S. government want to access your Linux PC, do you think, is that difficult task for them? Several security features in Windows are not available in Linux and someone with basic hacking knowledge could break into Linux system easily and collect all data. Even if you are not connecting to internet, they could send someone to steal your device. You just make things harder for them and yourself but you won’t stop them.

When it comes to privacy, governments must build powerful regulation to collect and protect data and build trust between people and government. People should have right to complain when their privacy broken and get response from government. It is job of government to create law so data protection and privacy is in place for their people like Privacy Shield in EU which did a great job. Switching to different operating system and spreading groundless rumor about companies stealing data won’t solve problem with privacy. We need to come up with some evidence and propose solutions to protect our people’s privacy. If you have knowledge of using Windows, you could take complete control of your privacy and create your own private cloud where no date being shared with Microsoft but for this you need to purchase your own data center and tools and spend more time on it. You actually, should do a job which Microsoft is doing for you as part of Windows warranty.

 

Privacy in Windows 10

Some people complain about privacy in Windows 10 and some even claim Microsoft steal data and abuse them. What is really interesting, those who claiming just talk based on assumptions and their feeling rather than tangible evidence or proof and they never read the Microsoft Privacy Statement even once. Microsoft has a dedicated site contains detail description of privacy statements which is Microsoft Privacy Statement. It contains information related to all Microsoft products. However, if are looking for privacy statement specifically for Windows 10, take a look at Windows 10 Privacy.

This how it works, you have control over your privacy, you could set whether share information with Microsoft or not. Sharing information is not a bad thing, for example, when your location is being share, it is automatic service which could suggest services around your location. So when you travel to another country, it won’t display restaurant in your home country. But you could disable this if you want. You may also choose to use Microsoft Account for login or use Local Account. So if you are using Microsoft Account, you have ability to share your setting across devices. In this case, you are sharing settings but you are getting services for that. However, you have option to set Windows to share nothing or share some of your data and everything which is being share will be store and process automatically.

However, in sensitive cases like military, government agency, they might consider share nothing but get receive some services. For example, instead of using Microsoft Account to share setting, they could login to their local Domain Account and do the same thing but their data being store and process locally in their data center. Instead of using OneDrive to share their data in Microsoft data center, they may share their data locally in their own data center and manage by OneDrive for Business.

Therefore, in area of privacy in Windows 10, you have transparency to see what information are being share, why they are being shared and benefit of sharing data. You also have control, so you may choose not to use specific service and don’t share your data. Or you may go for private cloud scenario where a trusted administrator would have power over control and manage your data.

 

 

Privacy Rules for Software Engineers

Privacy plays important rule in software development. When building a software system, we should consider privacy as one of the key features of our requirements during requirement engineering process. There are several rules which should take into consideration to implement privacy in software system and they are as follow:

  1. No Admin Rule: Administrator has the full control over a software system, however there should be definition and areas in the system which administrator won’t have a direct access to a system. For example, one administer should be able to reset the password for an account but he or she shouldn’t see the new password and shouldn’t be able to access to the account.
  2. Identity Verification Rule: Many of you have a mean to identify yourself through legal documents issued by authorities, it could be your national ID card, passport, etc. This is your identity in the physical world. There should be a mean or ways to identify you as authenticate user in virtual word. There must be a mean to verify your physical identity with virtual identify, so no one could use your identity in your place. 
  3. Storage Box Rule: In most systems, there are many information being stored in storage, commonly it is a database. The database should be designed in a way when information for users store in places and it is not accessible by the database administrator.  
  4. Create/Delete Rule: When something is being created, it should be removable. So if a user register for an account, it should be closable too. When installing an application and it is in the history, it should be removed from the history too. In case of audit and when such actions need to be monitor or information should remain for certain period, these should be clearly state in the privacy statement. 
  5. Warrant Rule: When government need to look into certain information for purpose of investigation. There should be a process to verify the warrant and it has to be for individuals and defined group of people who involved and not the whole people. When the case involved people who are citizen of other countries or data belongs to people from other countries, then additional warrant required from the respective country and data should never disclosed without permission of their respective countries. 
  6. Private Cloud Rule: Everything which is possible in public cloud, should be done in private cloud too. For example, if someone request for a public cloud service using one specific email, the email service should available as private cloud too.
  7. Government Identity Control: Information related to identity of individual should be stored within the government of citizenship or resident. Government of the respective person should be the place to store personal information. Information storage should be handle the way which passport system is being implement and with direct control of the respective government within international law.