February 19, 2017

N Reasons why Searching Electronic Devices makes Everyone Unsafe.

The current practice of searching electronic devices makes everyone less safe. Here's several reasons.

1. People's devices will often include their login parameters to online banking or <shudder> digital cash accounts such as Bitcoin. The presence of all this juicy bank account and digital cash information is going to corrupt the people doing the searching work, turning them to seizure.

In the age when security services might detain you until you decrypt your hard drive, or border guards might threaten to deny you entry until you reveal your phone’s PIN, it is only a matter of time before the state authorities discover what Bitcoin hardware wallets are (maybe they did already). When they do, what can stop them from forcing you to unlock and reveal your wallet?

I'm not saying may, I'm saying will. And before you say "oh, but our staff are honest and resistant to corruption," let me say this: you're probably wrong and you just don't know it. Most countries, including the ones currently experimenting with searching techniques, have corruption in them, the only thing that varies is the degree and location.

As we know from the war on drugs, the corruption is pretty much aligned positively with the value that is at risk. As border guards start delving into traveller's electronic devices in the constitution-free zone of the border, they're opened up the traveller's material and disposable wealth. This isn't going to end well.

2. As a response to corruption and/or perceived corruption from the ability for authorities and persons to now see and seize these funds, users or travellers will move away from the safer electronic funding systems to less safe alternates. In the extreme, cash but also consider this a clear signal to use Bitcoin, folks. People used to dealing with online methods of storing value will explore alternates. No matter what we think about banks, they are mostly safer than alternates, at least in the OECD, so this will reduce overall safety.

3. Anyone who actually intends to harm your homeland already knows what you are up to. So, they'll just avoid it. The easy way is to not carry any electronic devices across the border. They'll pick up new devices as they're driving off from the airport.

4. Boom - the entire technique of searching electronic devices is now spent on generating false positives, which are positive hits on the electronic devices of innocent travellers who want to travel not hurt. Which all brings harm to everyone except the bad guys who will be left free because there is nothing to search.

5. This is the slight flaw in my argument that everyone will be less safe: the terrorists will be safer, because they won't be being searched. But, as they intend to harm, their level of safety is very low in the long run.

6. Which will lead to border guards accusing travellers without electronics of being suspicious jihadists. Which will lead real jihadists to start carrying burner phones pre-loaded with 'legends' being personas created for the purpose of tricking border guards.

And, yes, before you ask: it's easier for bad folk to create a convincing legend than it is to spot a legend in the crush of the airport queue.

7. The security industry is already - after only 2 weeks of this crazy policy - talking about how to hide personal data from a device search.

Some of these techniques of hiding the true worth will work. OK, that's the individual's right.

8. Note how you've made the security industry your enemy. I'm not sure how this works to the benefit of anyone, but it is going to make it harder for you to get quality advice in the future.

9. Some of the techniques won't work, leading to discovery, and a presumption that a traveller has something to hide. Therefore /guilty by privacy/ will be branded on innocent people, resulting in more cost to everyone.

10. All of the techniques will lead to an arms race as border guards have to develop newer and better understanding of each dark space in each electronic device, and we the people will have to hunt around for easy dark spaces. When we could all be doing something useful.

11. All of the techniques, working or not, will lower usability and therefore result in less overall security to the user. This is called Kerchkhoffs' 6th principle of security: if the device is too hard to use, it won't be used at all, achieving zero security.

The notion that searching electronic devices could make anyone safer is based on the likelihood of a freak of accident. That is, the chance that some idiotterrorjihadist doesn't follow the instructions from on-high, and actually carries a device on a plane with some real intel on it.

This is a forgettable chance. Someone who is so dumb as to fly on a plane, carrying the plans to blow up the airport on his phone, is unlikely to get out of the bath without slipping and breaking his neck. This is not a suitable operative to deal with the intricacies of some evil plot. Terrorists will know this; they're evil but they are not stupid. They will not let someone so stupid as to carry infringing material onto the plane.

There is zero upside in this tactic. The homeland security people who have been searching electronic devices have summarily destroyed a valuable targetted technique. They have increased harm and damages to everyone, except the people who they think they are chasing, which of course increases the harm to everyone.

Posted by iang at February 19, 2017 01:35 PM

See, here's the thing.

Cops are doing a lot more spying and monitoring on an informal warrantless basis these days. Electronic devices need to be electronically monitored by the cops. You just can't lock down the security too hard.

It's a "thing of ours" for the cops.

Do I have to translate that into Italian for you?

La Cosa Nostra.

Have you heard that phrase before?


Posted by: Anonymous=e at February 21, 2017 09:02 PM
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