Jun 04 2018

A host of new security enhancements is coming to iOS and macOS

(credit: Nathan Mattise)

Apple on Monday previewed a variety of security and privacy features it plans to add to macOS and iOS operating systems, including encrypted Facetime group calls, password-management tools, and camera and microphone protections. The company also released a beta version of the upcoming iOS 12 that, according to Motherboard, all but kills off two iPhone unlocking tools used by police forces around the world.

The feature, known as USB Restricted Mode, requires that users unlock their iPhone with a password when connecting to it a USB device. Motherboard said the beta requires a password each time a phone that hasn’t been unlocked in the past hour tries to connect to a device using a Lightning connection. The password requirement largely neutralizes iPhone unlocking tools provided by companies called Cellebrite and GrayShift, which reportedly use USB connectivity to bypass iOS restrictions on the number of incorrect PIN guesses can be entered into an unlocked iPhone. With those limitations removed, police can make an unlimited number of PIN guesses when attempting to unlock a confiscated iPhone.

Previous iOS betas had USB restrictions that required the entering of a password when it hadn’t been unlocked for seven days. Those USB Restricted Modes were later removed before Apple issued final versions of iOS. The restrictions this time around are much more stringent, because police would have no more than 60 minutes between the time they obtain an iPhone and connect it to an unlocking tool. Readers should remember that Apple has previously removed USB Restricted Mode before releasing final versions and may do so again with iOS 12.

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Jun 04 2018

A host of new security enhancements is coming to iOS and macOS

(credit: Nathan Mattise)

Apple on Monday previewed a variety of security and privacy features it plans to add to macOS and iOS operating systems, including encrypted Facetime group calls, password-management tools, and camera and microphone protections. The company also released a beta version of the upcoming iOS 12 that, according to Motherboard, all but kills off two iPhone unlocking tools used by police forces around the world.

The feature, known as USB Restricted Mode, requires that users unlock their iPhone with a password when connecting to it a USB device. Motherboard said the beta requires a password each time a phone that hasn’t been unlocked in the past hour tries to connect to a device using a Lightning connection. The password requirement largely neutralizes iPhone unlocking tools provided by companies called Cellebrite and GrayShift, which reportedly use USB connectivity to bypass iOS restrictions on the number of incorrect PIN guesses can be entered into an unlocked iPhone. With those limitations removed, police can make an unlimited number of PIN guesses when attempting to unlock a confiscated iPhone.

Previous iOS betas had USB restrictions that required the entering of a password when it hadn’t been unlocked for seven days. Those USB Restricted Modes were later removed before Apple issued final versions of iOS. The restrictions this time around are much more stringent, because police would have no more than 60 minutes between the time they obtain an iPhone and connect it to an unlocking tool. Readers should remember that Apple has previously removed USB Restricted Mode before releasing final versions and may do so again with iOS 12.

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Jan 11 2018

Skype finally getting end-to-end encryption

Enlarge (credit: Skype)

Since its inception, Skype has been notable for its secretive, proprietary algorithm. It's also long had a complicated relationship with encryption: encryption is used by the Skype protocol, but the service has never been clear exactly how that encryption was implemented or exactly which privacy and security features it offers.

That changes today in a big way. The newest Skype preview now supports the Signal protocol: the end-to-end encrypted protocol already used by WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Google Allo, and, of course, Signal. Skype Private Conversations will support text, audio calls, and file transfers, with end-to-end encryption that Microsoft, Signal, and, it's believed, law enforcement agencies cannot eavesdrop on.

Presently, Private Conversations are only available in the Insider builds of Skype. Naturally, the Universal Windows Platform version of the app—the preferred version on Windows 10—isn't yet supported. In contrast, the desktop version of the app, along with the iOS, Android, Linux, and macOS clients, all have compatible Insider builds. Private Conversations aren't the default and don't appear to yet support video calling. The latter limitation shouldn't be insurmountable (Signal's own app offers secure video calling). We hope to see the former change once updated clients are stable and widely deployed.

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Sep 14 2017

Azure Confidential Computing will keep data secret, even from Microsoft

Enlarge / The Trusted Execution Environment means that, even if the application and operating system are compromised, the green code and data can't be accessed. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft announced today a new feature coming to its Azure cloud platform named "Confidential Compute." The feature will allow applications running on Azure to keep data encrypted not only when it's at rest (in storage) or in transit (over a network) but when it's being computed on in-memory. This ability to encrypt data when it's in-use means that it can be kept secure even from Microsoft's administrators, government warrants, and hackers.

Confidential Computing will have two modes: one is built on virtual machines, while the other uses the SGX ("Software Guard Extensions") feature found in Intel's recently introduced Skylake-SP Xeon processors. Both modes will allow applications to ringfence certain parts of their code and data so that they operate in a "trusted execution environment" (TEE). Code and data that are inside a TEE cannot be inspected from outside the TEE.

The virtual machine mode uses the Virtual Secure Mode (VSM) functionality of Hyper-V that was introduced in Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016. With VSM, most parts of an application will run in a regular virtual machine atop a regular operating system. The protected, TEE parts will run in a separate virtual machine containing only a basic stub operating system (enough that it can communicate with the regular VM) and only those parts of the application code that need to handle the sensitive data.

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