Moving Parts Unknown

It is a major challenge for businesses of all sizes, and one that will only loom larger and larger, how information technology is increasingly complex, essential, and opaque. One can read almost every day about a firm that got both more and less than in bargained for from an IT contractor. These must only be the tip of the iceberg, as you are able to read about them in the media only where they boil over into lawsuits (like Hertz v. Accenture recently) or when they are intrinsically public (as in the case of Healthcare.gov).

A recent example involving Siemens, an independent contractor, and some subsequent criminal trouble is a great case study in these challenges.

https://thenextweb.com/security/2019/07/25/siemens-contractor-pleads-guilty-to-planting-logic-bomb-in-spreadsheet-software/

The short story is that a contractor (allegedly) hid a bit of sabotage in their own code in hopes of generating more demand for follow-on work. Siemens noticed they had a problem but didn’t have a real great time figuring out what it was and they were greatly displeased when they did. This is all out in public only because of the ensuing criminal complaint against the contractor.

The idea of hiring a contractor for certain purposes, at least in spirit, is that you need some standard functionality and you don’t want to distract everyone in your organization with the details of how it is getting done under the hood. This presents some danger and requires some trust, however, as it leaves room for malicious action that will be quite difficult to detect - the metaphor “under the hood” only takes us so far and many of us are better equipped to recognize an extra widget bolted to our car engine than we are to sniff out malicious surplus code.

This an introduction to a subtle, structural challenge in cybersecurity: there are administrative and economic pressures driving decentralization in how code is generated, yet the end product can be very opaque and difficult to audit. And every indication is that these are trends which will continue for a while…

ABCs of PII

by Alexander C. Mueller

What is personally identifiable information, abbreviated P.I.I. or PII, and why is it important?

It’s easiest to break down backwards. First, it is Information, and typically the information so discussed is held by a large corporation of a government agency. Second, it Identifies some individual Person apart from the others. The term PII can sometimes refer by law to specific types of data, but the term is used broadly to refer to a broad category of data about everyday people that large organizations commonly end up storing.

Your name is the ultimate everyday example of PII. If you are standing next to someone else, a person who wanted your attention would say your name and not theirs - they’ve just used a small piece of information (your name) to identify you as one person apart from another.

Phone numbers are a bit more interesting. They do have a practical purpose, but they are also a good way to keep two people with the same name from getting confused in your database. Often, a business that collects this information on you is doing it for this sort of reason and not to actually try and call you. Phone number is thus another example of PII, information used to identify one person apart from another.

Thinking about data in this way is valuable because there are many white collar crimes and other misdeeds for which this sort of information is absolutely necessary to get started. Identity theft is the obvious and familiar example. However, there are many more scams you can only begin after you have enough information to target specific individuals and not groups of people. Imagine you are a foreign spy agency looking to recruit informants. Which is more helpful to you: 1) knowing that there are indebted people living in a particular city 2) a list of names, addresses, and phone numbers of indebted people in a particular city?

A Tale of Two Breaches

by Alexander Mueller

Much of our public conversation around cybersecurity and data loss in particular imagines one organization, usually a business, trying to defend its castle full of goodies from the barbarian hackers outside. The reality is that data gets passed around quite a bit, and in 2019 it is lost more often because of mistakes and bad practices around how it was circulated. The public has limited visibility into this circulation, and differences in regulation create drastic differences in who hears about what breach, what firms can be held liable for, and then inevitably in their information security practices and level of care.

On one end of the spectrum, industries without any regulation of their data are almost certainly breached more often than is public and more often than they know themselves. The damage of a breach is typically to consumers and not directly to the company breached, so there is a perverse incentive to avoid discovering breaches if you believe no one else will discover either. This dynamic is particular egregious around data collaboration with business partners - in principle, if I give my data to you and you lose it doing something stupid then I am liable as well, but in practice why does anyone want to maintain a bunch of records about who has what just so they can be a liability in court.

This may sound a bit jaded and conspiratorial, but the reality is that for many breaches no one can even say where the data came from originally. These breaches are also lightly publicized because there isn’t much constructive to say about them. There is this illicitly traded database of information on 200 million Americans with no clear provenance - many believe Experian lost this data originally, but this is disputed and to the knowledge of the author Experian has not been proven liable or held accountable in any way. Databases with huge amounts of personal information are often found derelict in the cloud (often with no password!) by security researchers, and invariably it is impossible to find owners for them. This database of medical information found unprotected is one of many examples.

At the other end of the spectrum, firms holding regulated data are in a really painful position because of the data they must share for unavoidable business needs and the difficulty of ensuring that 100% of their data partners are responsible. Good regulations often require firms to maintain records on to whom data is given (HIPAA requires this for example). It is becoming increasingly burdensome for many firms to find enough responsible partners - the nature of your business requires you to share data with partners and if someone else loses it, you are still liable. Cybersecurity in one organization is hard enough!

A great example from just the past few weeks was the data breach at Quest Diagnostics, or perhaps we should say the breach at AMCA. The first breach of the affair to be announced was at the laboratory testing company Quest, but unmentioned or buried but deep in many articles was that the breach had actually occurred at AMCA, a collections agency Quest employed. Days later, with considerably less publicity, a larger story emerged about the many firms caught up in the breach that centered on AMCA. Yet it will still be true going forward that Quest will get a big share of attention related to the incident as they are the largest firm involved, the most visible, and the one who originally collected the data from consumers.

At one end of the market, more regulation is sorely needed. At the other end, we must confront the unique and subtle challenges of securing data not just in a firm but across an ecosystem of many firms that must share data as an essential part of their operations. At Capnion we believe that emerging technologies like homomorphic encryption and zero-knowledge are a hand-in-glove solution to helping this latter group of firms collaborate - don’t share more than you need, don’t share anything in the clear, set up a system with just enough information in it for your business process and nothing else.

Save the Deal!

by John Senay

The modern business development manager’s greatest frustration? The inability to share data with a customer.

You spent months looking for new prospect that could benefit from your company’s product.

Your company has used internal resources at great cost to design and provide the ultimate solution for the prospect to turn them into a high margin customer.

Both your company and your soon-to-be high margin customer see the value of the relationship and need to move forward.

Let’s get the deal done!!

To get the deal done a great amount of data needs to be shared, exchanged, and tracked between your company and the new customer.  To complicate the work flow, the high-margin customer has stated that for the deal to work, certain data has to be shared with 3 different partners in the supply chain with accompanying security and compliance issues.

The above scenario is all too familiar to the business development manager.  In this day and age, business to business sales are complicated by the requirements of sharing of data.  What information do your partners have to have access to?  And who is going to control what, where, and how the 3 different partners use the data?

This situation is becoming the norm for contract acceptance and completion.   

To get the contract signed the someone has to find a way to provide the data needed for the contract terms.   

Is there a way to provide the required data in a safe, secure manner for all parties involved in the contract that all the companies IT groups can agree upon?

Yes there is!!

Capnion has a suite of cutting-edge encrypted data-in-use tools that allows specific, agreed upon data to be exchanged with all parties involved.   Using our specially generated Answer Keys the appropriate parties can verify or analyze specific data without any need of decrypting it.  At no time does the data ever need to be in plaintext!

Please contact sales@capnion.com for more information on how to meet contract clause for data sharing obligations.

Get that deal signed today!!

Thanks for reading.


Protect your data everywhere: at rest, in transit, in use, even in use by 3rd parties

by John Senay

Some good news for everybody: Capnion is proud to announce the private BETA release of Ghost PII. The goal of Ghost PII is to protect YOUR data while in use.

In the next few posts, I will give a high-level overview on how Ghost PII works and present a few application scenarios.

…So lets get started. Ghost PII actually uses a 2 step process to secure plaintext data. The first process used is called a One-Time Pad, or OTP for short. OTP was invented in 1882 by Frank Miller.  That’s right - Ghost PII is built on a process that is over 137 years old! Why? In 1949 (70 years ago!) Claude Shannon proved mathematically that OTP is unbreakable when truly random numbers are used to generate the key. Why is this important? Quantum computing is on the horizon. QC will provide unparalleled computational power that can break most existing encryption methods. These computers can run unique algorithms and their speed is increasing, with QC firm D-Wave recently announcing they had doubled the power of their previous generation of hardware.  No matter how much computational power is used, with truly random numbers, OTP is unbreakable.

How does Ghost PII generate truly random numbers? And how does Ghost PII make your encrypted data easy to work with?  (Hint: it includes an emerging technology called homomorphic encryption). Sounds like a great pair of lead-ins for another post.

To learn more, contact sales@capnion.com.