Category Archives: Privacy on the Internetz

My Thoughts on the New Facebook Privacy Controls

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Ever since I started the Facebook Privacy & Security Guide back in October 2008 I knew that Facebook’s privacy settings were confusing for the average user.  Many of my concerns back then centered around friends and family that had no idea there were even privacy settings to configure on Facebook.  It has also never been in Facebook’s financial interest to *really* show you how to protect the information you post.  These are all reasons was why I started the guide and hopefully over the last few years it has helped spread some awareness on how to control the information you post a little better.  Working on the guide has been frustrating at times because Facebook would make settings more confusing, remove settings that were useful and then bring them back again in some other form.  In the latest versions of the guide I often wondered how I was going to fit all the settings and their explanations into a two-sided handout.  The handout format has always been important to me so it could be easily distributed. :-)

Jumping forward to today we see yet another iteration of these settings.  I don’t have the settings on my Facebook account yet so I haven’t updated the guide but I have read some of the information already out there.  The EFF has a good post up about the new settings.  They even have a YouTube video showing you the changes and their recommendations.  The other post you should read is one by theharmonyguy who, as always, has very good analysis of these settings and Facebook overall.

My thoughts are pretty much along the same lines as the EFF and others.  However, I will say that no matter what changes Facebook makes to their privacy settings they *will* find ways to use your information to make money.  This is Mark Zuckerberg’s business model and that won’t change anytime soon.  I will leave you with a fantastic quote that I think sums up all the media drama leading up to these new privacy controls.  This is a quote from Bruce Schneier.  It’s from an article he did for Forbes regarding statements that “Privacy is Dead”:

“It’s just not true. People, including the younger generation, still care about privacy. Yes, they’re far more public on the Internet than their parents: writing personal details on Facebook, posting embarrassing photos on Flickr and having intimate conversations on Twitter. But they take steps to protect their privacy and vociferously complain when they feel it violated. They’re not technically sophisticated about privacy and make mistakes all the time, but that’s mostly the fault of companies and Web sites that try to manipulate them for financial gain.”

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New Facebook Privacy Settings: For Better or For Worse?

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Filed under Privacy on the Internetz, Social Networks
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Everyone has probably already heard that Facebook rolled out new privacy settings today.  If you haven’t seen them or gotten the following pop-up box on login…you will soon:

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There are a great deal of articles already out about how this is such a great improvement and how these new settings give you more control over your privacy.  However, I would argue that these settings may possibly open up more issues then they are trying to prevent.  The best article on the new settings and the privacy implications is the one that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released today titled: Facebook’s New Privacy Changes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  I recommend everyone (no pun intended) read this article as it provides much more detail then I will provide in this post.

What I want to do is provide you with a summary of the good and the bad of the new privacy settings.  I also want to give a security professional’s point of view on these settings.  As a penetration tester I can tell you that my job just got way easier!  You may have read my series on Enterprise Open Source Intelligence Gathering in which I tell you how you can find information on social networks about your company and employees.  Well, searching for information on Facebook just got easier thanks to status updates being available using new technology like Google Real-time Search!  Ok, on to the better and the worse!

The Better?

  • The new way privacy settings are “managed” is a good thing.  It’s easier to find and navigate through the settings.
  • I like that they ask you for your password to change privacy settings.  It’s just another layer.  Now, this doesn’t help much if you have a keylogger installed but it seems they put this in to prevent bots that may have taken over your account access to your settings.  Again, not fool proof but another layer.
  • The ability to fully customize privacy settings on all the content you post.  So for example, you can specify if you want everyone on the Internet to view your status updates (more on that in a minute) or Friends, Friends of Friends and Custom.
  • Users are now somewhat “forced” to check out their privacy settings.  It’s more accessible that’s for sure.

The Worse?

  • Your Name, Profile Picture, Gender, Current City, Networks, Friend List, and Pages are all available to be viewed by EVERYONE on Facebook! You cannot change these settings at all.  Note, there is a way to remove your entire Friends List from your profile but it’s all or nothing!  Here is a screen shot of this. You have to set it in your profile page using the “edit” button and check the box.These changes are quite disturbing considering that you used to be able to restrict this type of information.  I really believe that Facebook has done this on purpose so *more* information is being shared about you while stating “enhanced” more granular privacy settings.  If you have been to one of my talks in the past I always mention that social networks need to find ways to make money.  The way they make money is off of the information you share!  If you don’t get a choice about the basic information anymore…that’s more money in their pocket at the expense of your privacy.
  • What about the security ramifications of this? It opens up a whole new world for cyberstalking, predators and other attackers.  If you were someone that didn’t feel comfortable sharing this information in the first place, your choice is gone.  Sure, you can lock down your profile so no one can search for you but if you do that…why are you on Facebook to begin with?  You *have* to let your real friends search for you at some point!
  • By default Facebook “suggests” that you set your status updates to “Everyone”.  Here is the thing with status updates….Everyone means everyone on the Internet!  This is where new technology like Google RTS comes into play.  Imagine how easy it will be to find the latest information on “Tiger Woods” or now everything YOU are saying on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.  Enter in some social engineering and things just got easier for attackers looking to use you or your information (which is easy to figure out now that I can see your friends, and things that interest you via the pages your a fan of).
  • Lastly, Facebook removed the ability to prevent Facebook applications your friends installed from pulling your “public” information.  That option is now gone and applications that your friends install can now view your “public” info.  Remember kids, “public” info is now: Your Name, Profile Picture, Gender, Current City, Networks, Friend List, and Pages.

One final note…be sure to double check all your privacy settings after you run the wizard.  I found a few settings that reverted back to settings I never had.  So what are your thoughts?  Will this make you lock your profile down more?  Do you care?  Is privacy dead anyway? Will Zombies destroy us all? :-)

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JanusPA – Hardware Privacy Adapter

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This is really cool. The guys that brought you the JanusVM Internet Privacy Appliance are about to release instructions on how to make a hardware privacy adapter. What is a hardware privacy adapter you ask?

Via Hack a day:

“It’s a small two port router. You just plug it in-line between your computer’s switch and your internet connection. It will then anonymize all of your traffic via the Tor network. You can also use it with OpenVPN. The hardware appears to be a Gumstix computer mounted to a daughtercard with two ethernet ports. It will have a web configuration just like a standard router. This looks like a great plug-n-play privacy device.”

Once you buy all the parts you can build your own for about $250. Not too bad for an easy way to anonymize all of your traffic over the Tor network or a VPN. Tor and Privoxy can sometimes be a real pain to configure so something like this would be fantastic to just plug in and configure once. It’s also nice that is can use OpenVPN as well.

My only issue with Tor is that it can be *really* slow for web surfing depending on what relays you connect to and there are some warnings you should be aware of. Also, your Tor installation needs to be updated frequently as the development team is always making updates and improvements. However, Tor is better then nothing if you are concerned with online anonymity.

Kudos to the JanusPA team…looks like I might have a hardware project to work on next year once the instructions get released.

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