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Privacy

Public Knowledge Blasts Latest Privacy Meltdown, This One at Instagram Affiliate Hyp3r

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Photo from Hyp3r's Twitter stream.

WASHINGTON, August 8, 2019 – News of another data breach at Facebook marketing partner Hyp3r on Thursday prompted more demands for federal privacy legislation.

According to the non-profit group Public Knowledge, Hyp3r collected public records of Instagram users’ geolocation, personal bios, followers, metadata and photos – all without users’ consent.

“It’s well past time for Congress to enact strong, comprehensive federal privacy legislation,” said Dylan Gilbert, policy fellow at Public Knowledge.

As long as companies operate free of strong consumer privacy and security laws, he said, companies will continue to turn a blind eye to user privacy and security violations.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it has terminated its partnership with Hyp3r. Hyp3r had been using data harvesting tools to download users’ Instagram stories that are supposed to auto-delete after 24 hours.

Hyp3r also reportedly took advantage of a security lapse in the Instagram app to harvest posts tagged with geofenced locations. In both cases, only public accounts were compromised.

In the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, Instagram had begun disabling parts of its API, including location tools. However, Instagram’s faulty implementation of API rollbacks prompted Hyp3r to create tools that take advantage of these discrepancies, according to a report in  Gizmodo.

Hyp3r saved the content and then used the information to build and sell extensive profiles of users’ daily lives, said Gilbert. While this was done in violation of Instagram’s rules, Hyp3r appears to have been free of any meaningful oversight from Instagram or Facebook.

Rules should be put in place that will empower consumers to better control their data, said Gilbert. The situation is also unsurprising, given that Facebook likely indirectly profited from Hyp3r’s data collection via the Facebook ad manager tool.

(Photo from Hyp3r’s Twitter stream.)

Robocall

FCC Cracks Down on Straight-to-Voicemail Robocalls

The commission’s ruling follows a notice of inquiry the agency approved last month.

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Photoillustration of a mobile phone, used with permission

WASHINGTON, November 21, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Monday took another step to combat telephone spammers by ruling that straight-to-voicemail robocalls are “call(s)” under the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act and will be subject to the law’s consumer protections.

According to the TCPA, before any call using an automatic dialing system or artificial or prerecorded voice is made to a wireless number, the recipient must provide affirmative consent. In 2017, All About the Message – the owner of a proprietary ringless, straight-to-voicemail calling software – petitioned the FCC to allow its software to operate outside of TCPA’s constraints. After the FCC received more than 8,000 comments and replies on the matter, nearly all opposing the petition, All About the Message sought to withdraw its request.

The FCC pushed forward, nonetheless. “Because the Petition drew substantial attention from commenters and members of Congress, and the applicability of the TCPA to ringless voicemail technology has been the subject of considerable recent litigation,” Monday’s ruling read, “We believe this declaratory ruling is necessary to resolve a controversy and remove uncertainty about ringless voicemail.”

“Imagine finding robocallers leaving junk voicemails on your phone without it ever having rung.” said FCC ChairwomanJessica Rosenworcel. “It’s annoying and it’s happening to too many of us.  Today we’re taking action to ensure these deceptive practices don’t find a way around our robocall rules and into consumers’ inboxes.”

The FCC’s ruling follows an anti-robocall notice of inquiry the agency approved last month. The commission is exploring how best to crack down on illegal robocalls occurring over non–internet protocol networks, which are technologically incompatible with the prevailing STIR/SHAKEN protocol.

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China

Report Urges States, Local Governments Follow Federal Rules on Prohibited Equipment Purchases

Only a handful of states have crafted their purchasing decisions after federal rules banning certain companies’ equipment.

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Members of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University

WASHINGTON, November 14, 2022 – A think tank is recommending state and local governments align their rules on buying technology from companies with federal guidelines that prevent agencies from purchasing certain prohibited foreign technology, such as ones from Chinese companies.

The Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University notified the Federal Communications Commission late last month of a report released that month regarding what it said was a concerning trend of state and local governments having outdated procurement policies that are seeing them purchase equipment banned for federal purchase.

“State and local policymakers should not be expected to independently analyze and address the threats posed by foreign technology, but it would behoove them to align their own procurement practices with the rules set by the federal government,” the report recommends.

The FCC has a list of companies, as required by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019, that it updates on a rolling basis through commission votes that it says pose a national security threat to the country’s networks. It last updated the list in September, when it added Pacific Network Corp. and China Unicom Operations Ltd. to the growing list that already includes Huawei and ZTE.

Chinese companies and following Communist Party directions

U.S. officials and experts have warned that Chinese companies operating anywhere in the world must follow directions of the Chinese Communist Party, which they say could mean anything from surveillance to American data falling into the hands of that government.

The report notes at least six state governments had their networks breached by a state-sponsored Chinese hacking group between May 2021 and February 2022.

The only states that have enacted local regulations aligned with federal provisions are Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Vermont, the report said. Provisions in Georgia and Texas prohibit private companies from entering into agreements with the covered companies. Vermont, Texas and Florida provisions block state entities from purchasing equipment from countries like China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria. Louisiana and Georgia provisions ban public-funded schools from buying prohibited technology.

The remaining 45 states do not explicitly target the equipment and services they produce, nor are they directly responsible for following federal provisions, the report said, leaving state entities vulnerable in obtaining equipment from third party contractors that could pose a security risk.

“Many government entities also lack the in-house technical expertise and procedures to understand and address such threats in the first place, and those that do may prioritize addressing immediate threats like ransomware over the more abstract risks posed by foreign ICTS,” the report said.

Section 889 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act is one out of four federal provisions addressing the issue, prohibiting federal agencies from using equipment and services from Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Dahua and Hytera as well as working with contractors that use the equipment.

Prohibited products finding their way in

In some cases, the report said, the listed companies will sell their products to third party contractors that are not listed on Section 889 to bypass regulations, according to the report. Due to the low cost of Chinese equipment, public schools and local governments will purchase from the third-party entities that are unknowingly selling prohibited equipment, it added.

“These ‘middle-man’ vendors can mask the origin of their products, which creates major challenges for organizations aiming to keep certain equipment and services off their networks”, the report reads.

“Currently, contractors are responsible for self-certifying that their products and internal networks do not contain covered [products]” and “… inspecting the IT infrastructure—equipment, services, and components – of every contractor that does business with the federal government would require a staggering level of resources, making it difficult for agencies to conduct effective oversight.”

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Cybersecurity

Internet of Things Devices May Provide a Weak Point for Cybersecurity, Says CableLabs

But every device is a potential way into its network, and the recent explosion of IoT devices presents security risks.

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Screenshot of Brian Scriber, vice president of security and privacy technologies at CableLabs.

WASHINGTON, November 9, 2022 – Since Internet-of-Things appliances are prime “landing spot[s]” for cyber-attackers looking for network access, industry standards and open-source resources are important to maintaining cybersecurity at the device level, said Brian Scriber, vice president of security and privacy technologies at CableLabs, a non-profit the innovation arm of the cable industrylab.

“The mark that we’re really shooting for is how do we get some industry-led initiatives to really make a difference on the… supply” (of IoT devices),” Scriber said Tuesday on during a cybersecurity panel at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

IoT refers to network-connected devices that can interact with their environments. IoT devices can be refrigerators, thermostats, home-security systems, health-monitoring devices, and much else. But every device is a potential way into its network, and the recent explosion of IoT devices presents security risks.

“If you are an attacker, finding a vulnerable device like a lightbulb is fantastic because it has power constantly, it has the computational ability to be able to engage, you gave it network credentials when you brought it on your network,” Scriber argued. And e

Even a secure network can’t protect against the cyber risks associated with vulnerable devices, he added.

In addition to device security, overall network security is crucial and can be enhanced by limiting communication between devices, suggested said Katerina Megas, program manager of the Cybersecurity for Internet of Things Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency responsible for technical calibration and standard-setting.

“There has to be an ecosystem approach,” Megas said.

In October, President Joe Bidens administration announced preliminary steps towards a cybersecurity labeling system for IoT devices.

By developing and rolling out a common label for products that meet by U.S. Government standards and are tested by vetted and approved entities, we will help American consumers easily identify secure tech to bring into their homes,” the White House said.

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