Consumer’s Trust in Data Protection

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The practice of buying Americans’ data has become routine, effectively hollowing out both Carpenter v. United States and privacy safeguards enacted by Congress.  Any company or government can go out and purchase customers’ data that the company has collected.  Just last year, Avast was caught selling their customers’ data for the second time1.  Their customers use their service to protect their information and prevent it from being sold, but Avast decided it was more profitable to sell that data rather than protect it.

Businesses have determined that it is more profitable to sell their customer’s data rather than protect it.  Laws like GDPR and CCPA provide the legal framework for consumer protection but more needs to be done for the business community. We need to expect more from our Technology Providers.  Customer data should be protected and should be at the core of any cybersecurity product.  The monetary value gained from selling customer’s data isn’t worth the trust that is lost once that data has been sold.  As a Public Benefit Corporation, Grey Market Labs believes protecting individual activity and organizational data is the foundation of trustworthy companies. As organizations look for companies to protect them, Public Benefit Corporations should be the first to consider, ensuring your information is kept private.

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Grey Market Labs is a Public Benefit Corporation founded with the social mission to protect life online. We build revolutionary software and hardware products, and partner with like-minded industry leaders, to create a future with “privacy-as-a-service”.

Simply: we prevent data from being compromised and protect our customers’ work, online.

Contact us to see how we can work together.

Ransomware Attacks from Critical Infrastructure to Police Departments

By | Data Protection, Information Security, Risk and Liability | No Comments

Ransomware attacks have been growing over the past three years and in just the past 2 weeks have shown how public these attacks have become.  The first attack on Washington DC (Metropolitan) Police resulted in a massive leak of internal information because they did not meet the blackmail demands1.  The second major attack was on the Colonial Pipeline, which shut down the pipeline, resulting in fuel shortages up and down the East Coast.  The Colonial Pipeline operators decided to pay the ransom of 75 Bitcoin or nearly $5 million USD2.  Government organizations can’t pay ransom per longstanding practices, but commercial groups decide to pay or not based almost purely on cost and impact to their bottom line. The latter could encourage more ransomware attacks since they are so lucrative, but there is very little to guarantee that systems or data are completely “released” once ransom payments are made. We need a better way.

Ransomware can infiltrate an organization through hacking or in the ways that a computer virus might spread. Once executed, the ransomware essentially holds your data and systems hostage. It’s rather effective because rather than attempting to steal all your data, it typically will encrypt all your data and make your systems unusable and unreadable until a ransom is paid for the decryption key.

Ransomware with the release of the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity has become a top priority of the White House. Previous attacks against police departments have resulted in cases being dropped due to the offices being locked out of their computers3.  Police departments need to protect sensitive data such as background check files by keeping them separate and ensuring that they can recover the data if they are locked out.

It’s impossible to prevent all forms of hacking. Therefore, one must also develop a strategy to mitigate the effects of an attack. As referenced in the recent Executive Order, Zero Trust is a framework that assumes you and your organization has or will be compromised is a tremendous step forward in changing how computing systems are built and how truly resilient they can be. This involves the same strategies one would implement for a disaster recovery plan, which includes taking regular backups of all the data and rebuilding the infrastructure supporting that data in a short amount of time. Isolated Secure Enclaves, provided by Grey Market Labs, are one possible solution to the problem that police departments face when trying to keep information protected, allowing sensitive forensics (e.g., exploitation reviews) to take place on modern technology and providing increased access for officers while increasing the security of all their digital work.

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Grey Market Labs is a Public Benefit Corporation founded with the social mission to protect life online. We build revolutionary software and hardware products, and partner with like-minded industry leaders, to create a future with “privacy-as-a-service”.

Simply: we prevent data from being compromised and protect our customers work, online.

Contact us to see how we can work together.

Pattern-of-Life through Electricity Monitoring

By | Data Privacy, Information Security, Risk and Liability | No Comments

Household electricity monitoring provides insight into the usage of electronics in the home. Monitoring can be accomplished through commercial products (e.g. those described here https://www.bobvila.com/articles/best-home-energy-monitor) or through a utility provider’s service (such as the Duke Home Energy Report). These insights can help pinpoint which devices are wasting energy to help the homeowner save money. The analysis of electricity by these products or providers is so in-depth that they extract exact brand information on individual devices based on how much electricity that device is using and the unique electrical signature it produces

This information can also be used for Pattern-of-life analysis to expose the daily activities inside the home – which could be used for anything from targeted advertising to exploiting security weaknesses. It is important for homeowners to be aware of how this data is being used and what rights they have over it in order to make informed decisions when managing risk and participating in politics.

#GREYdient Score: 3/10

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Grey Market Labs is a Public Benefit Corporation founded with the social mission to protect life online. We build revolutionary software and hardware products, and partner with like-minded industry leaders, to create a future with “privacy-as-a-service”.

Simply: we prevent data from being compromised and protect our customers work, online.

Contact us to see how we can work together.

Protecting Investigators

By | Data Privacy, Data Protection | No Comments

Private, federal, and state investigators are increasing their online presence because more of their work is going online.  For the most part, investigators are not trained in cybersecurity practices.  So, when they are online looking for criminals, there is a high chance that those same criminals are looking back at them.  This puts their organization, investigation, friends, and family at risk.  Most investigators try to separate their work life from their personal life, but the internet blurs the line between personal and work.

For example, in 2018, investigators were researching sex traffickers, specifically massage parlors in Manhattan, using VPNs; however, real estate agents were still able to track down their information and call those investigators on their personal cellphones.  These investigators suddenly became aware that their online presence was able to be tied to their personal lives even with cybersecurity practices.

The separation of work and personal is key, but investigators still need to access the tools and data needed for their job.  The undercover tradecraft needs to be applied to this field to protect legal and legitimate investigations.  So how do we protect investigators?

1st: Investigators need the tradecraft and training in cybersecurity to ensure they can protect themselves.  They also need to understand what will expose them to the digital world.

2nd: They need comprehensive tools to ensure they are not exposed at the seams.  Investigators are currently using multiple tools that are not designed to work cohesively together (VPNs, burner phones, anonymous browsers).  These individual products have a marginal benefit that leaves open cracks which criminals can exploit.  There needs to be a comprehensive solution/product that can combine these disparate tools in a seamless manner and seal the current gaps.

To work towards eliminating these gaps, check out opaque.ai for more information.

Activity Tracking

By | Data Protection, Social Networking | No Comments

The concept of privacy is multifaceted and complex, a concept that has evolved over time with emerging technologies, across societies and cultures, and redefined as new domains are discovered and explored. A subset of privacy, information or data privacy, focuses on control over the collection, usage, and dissemination of people’s personal information. Boundaries for data privacy and data protection are often determined by analyzing a plurality of factors such as legal, policy, ethical, and economic considerations. Regardless of factors, the pervasiveness of data privacy-compromising methods and tools is overwhelming.

A common means of collecting personal information is through online tracking. There are numerous types of identifiers and attributes online trackers utilize. They work transparently in most cases, and their scope permeates throughout digital mediums and across sectors [1]. Each item in the list below relies on software and hardware-based methods for activity tracking:

  • Websites use browser provided information to identify and track users
  • Mobile devices have unique identifiers and numerous sensors that online trackers rely on [2]
  • Smart televisions can not only collect and disseminate what we watch, but they potentially open an attack vector for malicious actors [3]
  • Vehicles can use numerous sensors to record data on vehicle location, driver and driving characteristics, cabin environment, etc. [4]
  • Flight tracking services managed to predict significant business deals by monitoring the routes of company jets [5]

The wealth of collected data is used to build comprehensive profiles and generate insights. These profiles “can reveal our political affiliation, religious beliefs, sexual identity and activity, race and ethnicity, education level, income bracket, purchasing habits, and physical and mental health” [6]. This collected data is potentially shared and further enhanced, in some cases revealing the identity of the individuals behind the profile. Protecting life online requires a multifaceted data protection approach. To handle this evolving environment, Opaque is adaptable with security and privacy designed into its core.

DNS: Still Insecure By Default

By | Data Privacy, Data Protection, Information Security | No Comments

The use of encryption on the internet has grown tremendously over the past decade; HTTPS has quickly shifted from a technology used primarily to protect e-commerce, to an industry standard for website development.[1]  Many users now know to look for the padlock in their browser’s address bar to confirm that their connection is securely established via HTTPS.  But that padlock is not telling the whole story.

Before your computer ever establishes a connection with a website, it must translate the website address into an IP address.  Your operating system typically handles this task, asking a Domain Name System (DNS) server to look up the address, much like a phonebook.   Unfortunately, the DNS system has changed relatively little since it was originally designed for the needs of the 1980’s internet, when there was little consideration for security or privacy.

Even now, most devices by default will pass these queries to the DNS server configured by the network operator or ISP that you are connected to – and in nonencrypted plain text!   While DNS queries do not expose the content of your internet activity, they do expose which sites you connect to, and when.  Anyone eavesdropping on DNS traffic can ascertain someone’s general browsing history, learn a lot about the device they are using, and the patterns of how they use it.  There is also a potential to block or change DNS records, preventing access to certain web addresses or redirecting your browser to malicious endpoints.  The collection of this data is a huge risk to privacy; earlier this year, a Thai ISP accidentally leaked an astounding 8 billion DNS records they collected about their customers’ internet usage. [2]

Luckily, the industry is starting to address these weaknesses by implementing support for newer DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) and DNS-over-TLS (DoT) standards, both of which encrypt your DNS queries while in transit.  The latest versions of macOS and iOS have added support for encrypted DNS using both protocols [3], and Microsoft is currently testing DoH support for Windows 10 [4].  Unfortunately, these solutions are not turned on by default, and they still assume ultimate trust in the DNS provider, but they are a step in the right direction when configured properly with a provider you trust.

Today, Cloudflare announced a new proposed standard: Oblivious DoH (ODoH) [5].  This proposal takes DoH one step further, by adding a proxy between your device and the DNS server.  This approach aims to further increase privacy by hiding the identity of the request from the DNS server.  But, like any new internet protocol, it will likely be years before we see widespread adoption.

DNS is a foundational part of the internet and is critical to its security and privacy.  At Grey Market Labs, we think it is important to build solutions with security and privacy by design, and we hope to see the industry do the same with DNS.

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Grey Market Labs is a Public Benefit Corporation founded with the social mission to protect life online. We build revolutionary software and hardware products, and partner with like-minded industry leaders, to create a future with “privacy-as-a-service”.

Simply: we prevent data from being compromised and protect our customers work, online.

Contact us to see how we can work together.

 

 

The New Dirty Word: Default

By | Data Privacy, Information Security | No Comments

It’s 10PM and you’re ending your day but hackers are just getting started. Maybe a cup of brute-force strength hacking techniques to start their day? Before you drift to sleep, you can’t help but start thinking about that new corporate application you installed today. Did you configure everything correctly with the right passwords, settings, and certificates? You can check tomorrow but business doesn’t stop and with employees working from home, “business hours” are a thing of the past. Besides, everything you tested worked great and did what it was supposed to do so you know things will probably work fine. And they do for months… until something strange starts happening and you see that new competitors are taking your business by selling a product that looks eerily similar to yours. How could they have copied it so well? You suspect that you may have a mole in your organization and so you begin analyzing the network traffic of all your employees. But what you end up seeing is something unexpected, outside traffic not tied to any of your users is coming in and stealing your internal corporate data. How is this happening? After much investigation and discussions with the provider of the application, you discover that there were default settings you had to change and you are told it’s your fault for not changing them.

It was recently reported by Hacker News that over 200,000 businesses were susceptible to being hacked because of not changing a default setting in Fortigate VPN.  Customers have been told that it’s unfortunate they didn’t follow instructions but nothing is going to change.  “For its part, Fortinet said it has no plans to address the issue, suggesting that users can manually replace the default certificate and ensure the connections are safe from MitM attacks.”  I don’t know about you but if I have 200,000 clients buying a VPN that can be hacked because my clients aren’t aware of what they need to configure, then something needs to change. “‘The Fortigate issue is only an example of the current issues with security for the small-medium businesses, especially during the epidemic work-from-home routine,’ Hertz and Tashimov noted.  ‘These types of businesses require near enterprise grade security these days, but do not have the resources and expertise to maintain enterprise security systems. Smaller businesses require leaner, seamless, easy-to-use security products that may be less flexible, but provide much better basic security.’”

This is akin to the early days of home Wi-Fi where every router was public and not password protected. A common tactic of wardriving forced the consumer router industry to wake up and make their routers private and put default random passwords on the box like happypuppy632.  Perhaps this bad publicity will force a change to the default behavior for Fortigate VPN but that remains to be seen. For liability, Fortinet may publicly be pushing a hard line but perhaps changes will be quietly made in future releases. It defeats the purpose of an application explicitly designed for privacy to be insecure out of the box when so many will just plug it in and start using it while unaware of the dangers.

 

At Grey Market Labs we believe you shouldn’t need a computer science degree to be safe online. That’s why our solutions are built with Security and Privacy by Design, striving toward our mission to protect life online. Our products accelerate your business and work online and in the cloud, making you more productive and ensuring privacy and security especially with in a world of remote work.

Simply: we prevent data from being compromised and protect our customers work, online.

Contact us to see how we can work together.

Not all Scraping is Created Equal

By | Data Privacy | No Comments

CREXi and CoStar Group both sell real estate information to help customers follow trends and more accurately value properties. Having the right information when buying or selling a commercial property worth $100M can make or break a deal and shift profits into the hands of those with more knowledge.

These companies have trade secrets on how they gather the information, aggregate it, model with it, and produce recommendations, charts, reports, etc. Recently, CoStar Group sued CREXi for “massive” copyright infringement and intellectual property theft [1]. It is alleged that CREXi employees were creating fake accounts to access CoStar’s data. Generally, creating a “fake” account is a violation of the terms of service. It’s even more egregious if it is being done to steal (or scrape) data and reuse/sell it for profit.

In a similar manner, Google scrapes many sites at varying intervals. They keep the news results fairly up to date, and when displaying things like the news, they have advertisements. Is Google stealing someone else’s copyrighted works so they can sell ads? Google has a News Initiative [2] that is drawing attention from France and Australia [3], to name a few. Selling someone else’s news is illegal in some countries and jurisdictions. There’s got to be a limit to what one can “borrow” from another before it’s the equivalent of stealing, copyright infringement, or just not classic “fair use.”  Is it OK for Google to scrape a news site for information that it then monetizes indirectly (via advertisements) but not OK for CREXi to scrape CoStar’s website and resell that information directly? There’s clearly a difference, but like many of these differences, they’re not black or white; context is required, and they’re usually a shade of grey.

 

Grey Market Labs is a Public Benefit Corporation founded with the social mission to protect life online. We build revolutionary software and hardware products, and partner with like-minded industry leaders, to create a future with “privacy-as-a-service”.

Simply: we prevent data from being compromised and protect our customers work, online.

Contact us to see how we can work together.

Do you control YOUR data and how exactly do you “control” it?

By | Data Privacy, Data Protection | No Comments

Privacy legislation has been on the horizon for almost as long as security legislation. Every year, digital tracking techniques get better (or creepier, depending on your perspective).  What if all these privacy rules/regulations actually came to fruition? What does “controlling your data” really mean – for the end user and corporations alike?

It’s hard to imagine what the internet would be like without advertisement supported projects like the Google search engine. That search engine is good because it uses data from a variety of sources to improve it. Microsoft uses data from Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) and its operating systems (e.g. Windows 10) to “improve user experience.” LinkedIn uses data about users to bolster professional networks (and in many cases social networks). What if all the data about your enterprise – including all your users—was configurable by you, and Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, nation states, hackers, data brokers, etc. couldn’t see any of it. Maybe you’ve never thought you could control your enterprise user data to that extent … but we help make that happen.

There are speculations on what the technology landscape could look like when you start to control your own data, including this recent article from CMS Wire. The author mentions that some cookies are on the chopping block (3rd party cookies specifically). Fortunately for big tech they already have workarounds. Facebook has been allowing 1st party cookies for a while now but back-end data sharing agreements (which you probably agreed to with the Terms of Service) will continue to be a ripe source of data. Unfortunately for the end users, there’s really no functional change in the data that is exposed, stored, mined and monetized — even with GDPR and CCPA in full effect.

Truly controlling your enterprise data, including effectively masking your external enterprise footprint, is what we at Grey Market Labs enable with our Opaque platform. We expose privacy controls that administrators can understand and integrate with your existing infrastructure. Opaque is your “easy button” for digital privacy to the outside world (i.e. outside your corporate footprint).  Sometimes you need to control what users within and outside your organization have access to. We recently announced a partnership with Virtru to bring their TDF-enabled encryption and access controls to Opaque. Share data from within our platform to a user in another cloud, manage their access as desired, and get full audit of when they access it. If you need more granular controls (such as preventing a user from copying text you shared) you can share the data to have it open within Opaque directly – completely clientless. Our Virtru integration is a welcome layer of our defense in depth strategy.

Grey Market Labs® and Virtru Partner to Deliver Secure Analytics

By | Data Privacy, Data Protection | No Comments

Even with technological advancements in data processing, machine learning, and other analytics, organizations face challenges when sharing valuable data with collaborators due to a lack of transparency and ownership of data once it leaves its source point. Enterprises and agencies often rely on virtual machines to safely collaborate on their most sensitive information without losing control and giving up access to third parties, but existing solutions restrict the ways in which data can be classified, protected, audited, and shared across different platforms.

Grey Market Labs® and Virtru solve this problem by enabling data owners to maintain full lifecycle control over their sensitive information and securely share it for approved analysis. Grey Market Labs®’ Opaque platform offers patented secure virtual environments in which individuals can view and manipulate their TDF-protected data without ever having to expose this sensitive information.

Virtru’s Trusted Data Platform (TDP) is powered by the Trusted Data Format (TDF)—an open standard for object-level encryption created by Virtru Co-Founder and CTO, Will Ackerly, that keeps data protected and under the owner’s control. This technology ensures that companies can send information in a secure way that limits exposure risks.  Combined with the Opaque platform collaborators can have the assurance that content will always remain under their ownership, protected from misuse or unauthorized access.

Together, Virtru and Grey Market Labs® provide the ability to:

  • Share data more securely by adding persistent protections and attribute-based access control (ABAC). The Opaque platform uses TDF protections to ensure the integrity of sensitive data as it is shared from its original owner, so it can be trusted to inform business decisions and remain protected regardless of how it is analyzed or manipulated. Data owners can revoke, expire, or audit access to information at any point in its lifecycle, making it easier to share and collaborate with multiple parties. With ABAC, data created by different organizations in different applications can carry the same protections and access policies—whether the content is being collaborated on within a secure enclave, shared in transit, or brought outside of Opaque for offline consumption.
  • Improve performance with expanded access to analytic tools. By enabling granular audit of users and data activity, Opaque makes it easy for organizations to provide assurances that information can securely travel across environments and systems it might not otherwise be permitted to reach. As a result, end-users can ingest and analyze their most sensitive data using a broad array of collaboration and analytic tools, whether desktop, web-based, or cloud-based. Each Opaque virtual environment can be preloaded with the applications needed for an individual data analyst to perform his or her work and since each environment is isolated, owners are granted administrative rights to their virtual environments enabling them to safely configure instances on-demand.
  • Increase data transparency and accountability. By increasing transparency into where and how data is being shared, organizations can enhance trust and ensure they are safeguarding private information while providing the defensible audit of data to ensure regulatory compliance or third-party audits.

For more information, please contact Kris Schroeder, CEO at Grey Market Labs.