March 13, 2017

Robin Hood Talk - Identity - Who am I?

Transcript of talk given in 2015 on the meaning of Identity on video here The specific question asked was, where will we be in 5 years, in 2020? I might have captured it for a purpose of my own...

There are multiple schools about Identity. Who am I? There are several schools that will tell you who I am.

The western narrative generally works around the notion that the state will register my name and therefore give me an Identity. This is one thing that states love, and if you look in the United Nations Charter for the Rights of the Child, it says in there that every child has the right to a state granted Identity, which is the most Orwellian thing Iíve ever read. It really says that every state has the right to give every child an identification number and control their lives. But the UN being the UN gets away with that sort of stuff.

Alternatively there is the psychological school of thought, which says your Identity is inside yourself. Youíve got the super-Ego, the Ego and the Id, is one particular scientific or psuedo-scientific theory, and then thereís various other things such as the development of the childís brain, which goes through various phases in which it discovers the notion -- the first thing that it discovers is that thereís something called a Mother.

It doesnít know that itís called a Mother, but Mother provides for sustenance. When it hurts, it cries. And then the second thing that it discovers is, thereís a Father, who happens to be around whenever the Mother is around. This leads to the creation within the brain that says, thereís Me, because thereís Father and Mother. The world started off with Mother, and then thereís Father, which forces the child to recognise Me. This is the beginning of a long journey as the brain learns who I am, which goes on through childhood, teenagership and so forth, which psychologists have mapped out.

Thatís a second school of thought. Then thereís a third school of thought that says, your Identity is this (holds up laptop) - the computer or smartphone - this is my Identity. On this thing which you all recognise as being a computer, is everything known about me. When I go out into social networks, when I write stuff, Iíve got all my secrets in there, all the details of my life, if I lose that, Iím screwed. Iíve got backups, sure, but itíll take me 2 months to get through them, and get them sorted out.

If you like, thereís a huge opportunity out there in the world today, where people have recognised that the states are not doing a good job at Identity, and weíre not doing a good job at our own Identity, so thereís an opportunity for corporations to come in and provide Identity.

You ask me where weíre going to be in 5 years time, the corporationsí 5 year plan, which gives them 2020 vision, is that they will place your Identity on their servers. You can see this happening with Facebook, and Amazon and Apple and Google, theyíre all competing for your Identity.

Thatís a third view, and itís fair to say weíre very uncomfortable with that, theyíre very comfortable with it, but Iím not sure they understand the endgame there.

Then thereís a fourth view, and this is to go back to what is Identity. Identity is such that me having a feeling of self is fine, but what was this thing about me seeing Mother, me seeing Father, me understanding there are several people here.

(5 mins BEEP - oh do I get an extension?)

Actually my Identity is not whatís inside me, my Identity is whatís inside you. Youíre all looking at me, youíre wondering who the hell this guy is, That is my Identity. In the sense that I can impress you by speaking good stuff, or I canít impress you, Iím speaking nonsense, that perception as a group, will carry forward as my Identity into future meetings, into future years, into future blog posts. People will say Iang said this stuff, and I remember, I saw, I heard, so my Identity is in all your heads. Itís not in my head at all.

Which brings us to, if you like, the fourth school, or possibility of what happens in the future, and that is, how do we get you as a group, how do I get you as a group, to protect and nurture and be nice to my Identity? And itís this, I think, which is the magic of the African invention of the chama, where in a low trust society Ö before we were talking about Google, Apple, Amazon, states, is that a low trust society? I think we can see it that way. Not as bad as Africa, but in a low trust society, what we do is we come together as a group, where we already trust each other, and we work to protect each other, as a group.

So how do we form those groups? Thatís the story of Africa, and I think this is going to be their biggest export in the future, how we come together as groups.

Itís interesting, if you go back and look at those various stories of Identity, I canít do this by myself because I canít store and analyse all the information. I canít put it into my brain and make it all happen as all these techies talk about it: weíve gotta store all this data and analyse it with data mining techniques, bayesian statistics. I canít do it in my brain!

The state canít do it either, because the state can only collect that which it is empowered to collect. It can trick the UN into getting the right to identify me with a number, it can do that. But what richness can it get out of that? Not very much.

Google can store huge amounts of data, it can store all the data, but it can only store what I can give it for free. The same with Apple, Amazon, Facebook. Only that which we can store up there for free, information that is valued at approximately zero, can then be collated to be approximately slightly more valuable.

So we have a conundrum. I canít do it, the state canít do it, Google canít do it. But a group could do it. If a group had the software, that collected information, if I was part of a group and I willingly gave them valuable information about me, myself, and the group protected that information -- because itís my group and weíre all members of the same group -- then I could build a situation where I would be comfortable inside my group. My group would be comfortable with me. And we can work together.

And I think that is the opportunity. In five years time, we will know whether we got the mega-corporations holding my Identity or whether we managed to take it back.

Posted by iang at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2017

Today Iím trying to solve my messaging problem...

Financial cryptography is that space between crypto and finance which by nature of its inclusiveness of all economic activities, is pretty close to most of life as we know it. We bring human needs together with the net marketplace in a secure fashion. Itís all interconnected, and Iím not talking about IP.

Today Iím trying to solve my messaging problem. In short, tweak my messaging design to better supports the use case or community I have in mind, from the old client-server days into a p2p world. But to solve this I need to solve the institutional concept of persons, i.e. those who send messages. To solve that I need an identity framework. To solve the identity question, I need to understand how to hold assets, as an asset not held by an identity is not an asset, and an identity without an asset is not an identity. To resolve that, I need an authorising mechanism by which one identity accepts another for asset holding, that which banks would call "onboarding" but it needs to work for people not numbers, and to solve that I need a voting solution. To create a voting solution I need a resolution to the smart contracts problem, which needs consensus over data into facts, and to handle that I need to solve the messaging problem.


A solution cannot therefore be described in objective terms - it is circular, like life, recursive, dependent on itself. Which then leads me to thinking of an evolutionary argument, which, assuming an argument based on a higher power is not really on the table, makes the whole thing rather probabilistic. Hopefully, the solution is more probabilistically likely than human evolution, because I need a solution faster than 100,000 years.

This could take a while. Bugger.

Posted by iang at 01:13 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2017

SHA1 collision attack - FINALLY after TWELVE years

Timeline on a hash collision attack:

1993 SHA0 published
1995 SHA1 published due to weaknesses found
2001 SHA2 published due to expectations of weakness in SHA1
2005 Shandong team MD5 attacked, SHA1 worried
2009? RocketSSL breached for using MD5
2014 Chrome responds and starts phasing out SHA1
2017 CWI & Google announce collision attack on SHA1

The point I wish to make here is that SHA1 was effectively deprecated in 2001 with the publication of SHA2. If you are vulnerable to a collision attack, then you had your moment of warning sixteen years ago.

On the other hand, think about this for a moment - in 2005 the Shandong shot was heard around the cryptographic world. Everyone knew! But we now see that SHA1 lasted an additional 12 years before it crumbled to a collision attack. That shows outstanding strength, an incredible run.

On the third hand, let's consider your protocol. If your protocol is /not/ vulnerable to a collision attack then SHA1 is still good. As is SHA0 and MD5. And, as an aside, no protocol should be vulnerable to a collision attack - such weakness is probably a bug.

So SHA1 is technically only a problem if you have another weakness in your protocol. And if you have that weakness, well, it's a pretty big one, and you should be worried for everything, not just SHA1.

On the fourth hand, however, institutions are too scared to understand the difference, and too bureaucratic to suggest better practices like eliminating collision vulnerabilities. Hence, all software suppliers have been working to deprecate SHA1 from consideration. To show you how asinine this gets, some software suppliers are removing older hash functions so, presumably you can't use them - to either make new ones or check old ones. (Doh!)

Security moves as a herd not as a science. Staying within the herd provides sociability in numbers, but social happiness shouldn't be mistaken for security, as the turkey well knows.

Finally, on the fifth hand, I still use SHA1 in Ricardo for naming Ricardian Contracts. Try for the life of me, and I still can't see how to attack it with collisions. As, after all, the issuer signs his own contract, and if he collides, he's up for both contracts, and there are copies of both distributed...

There is no cause for panic, if you've done your homework.

Posted by iang at 01:47 PM | Comments (0)

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 phoneís 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 01:35 PM | Comments (1)