What Happens When Governments Serve a Warrant on Signal?

Signal posted a summary of what happened when it receive a search warrant from Santa Clara County requesting data on one of its users.

Because everything in Signal is end-to-end encrypted by default, the broad set of personal information that is typically easy to retrieve in other apps simply doesn’t exist on Signal’s servers. Once again, this request sought a wide variety of information we don’t have, including the user’s name, address, correspondence, contacts, groups, call records.

As usual, we couldn’t provide any of that. It’s impossible to turn over data that we never had access to in the first place. Signal doesn’t have access to your messages; your chat list; your groups; your contacts; your stickers; your profile name or avatar; or even the GIFs you search for. As a result, our response to the subpoena will look familiar. It’s the same set of “Account and Subscriber Information” that we can provide: Unix timestamps for when each account was created and the date that each account last connected to the Signal service.

That’s it.

Discovering If An Email Address Is Associated With A Google Account

For Google accounts, users can set up an alternate email address which Google explains can be used . . .

to sign in to your account. They can also be used to reach you in case you get locked out.

There is an odd feature about those alternate emails, however, which is buried in Google’s Account Help documentation–Google will, in some cases, publicly associate/reveal the alternate email address with the Google account.

When people might see your Gmail address instead of your alternate email address

When people share things with your alternate email address, they will sometimes see your primary Google Account email (Gmail) address listed instead. Some examples include:

– Google Docs: When someone shares content, like a document, with your alternate email address, your Gmail address will show instead of the alternate address.

– Google Sites: When someone shares a site with your alternate email address, your Gmail address will show instead of your alternate address.

– Calendar: When you respond to invitations forwarded from your alternate address, the event organizer will see the responses come from your Gmail address.

– Google Keep: When someone shares a note with your alternate email address, your Gmail address will show instead of your alternate address.

– Google Groups: If you remove an alternate email address that was part of a group, your Gmail address might show up instead.

– Google Ads: When you accept an invitation to use a Google Ads account with your alternate email address, your Gmail address and your alternate email address will show on the account access page.

This post at subfn.net notes that it is possible to use Google Analytics to determine if a given email address is an alternate email for any Google account.

1. Log into Google Analytics

2. Navigate to Admin > Account User Management > Add user

3. At this point, enter an email address. If the email is a backup email of a Google account, the primary Google email (e.g. the Google login email) will be disclosed

This seems like something that Google should make a lot clearer to users adding alternate emails.

Privacy Pass Extension for Chrome and Firefox

Privacy Pass is an extension for Chrome and Firefox that reduces the number of CAPTCHAs users are presented with while browsing.

Privacy Pass interacts with supporting websites to introduce an anonymous user-authentication mechanism. In particular, Privacy Pass is suitable for cases where a user is required to complete some proof-of-work (e.g. solving an internet challenge) to authenticate to a service. In short, the extension receives blindly signed ‘passes’ for each authentication and these passes can be used to bypass future challenge solutions using an anonymous redemption procedure. For example, Privacy Pass is supported by Cloudflare to enable users to redeem passes instead of having to solve CAPTCHAs to visit Cloudflare-protected websites.

The blind signing procedure ensures that passes that are redeemed in the future are not feasibly linkable to those that are signed. We use a privacy-preserving cryptographic protocol based on ‘Verifiable, Oblivious Pseudorandom Functions’ (VOPRFs) built from elliptic curves to enforce unlinkability. The protocol is exceptionally fast and guarantees privacy for the user. As such, Privacy Pass is safe to use for those with strict anonymity restrictions.

The developers wrote a 2018 paper describing in detail how the protocol works to preserve user privacy while not compromising the security of sites that rely on CAPTCHAs to limit brute force and DDOS attacks.

Cloudflare Wants to Replace CAPTCHAs with FIDO Keys

Cloudflare is testing a system to allow users to use FIDO keys to skip CAPTCHAs.

From a user perspective, a Cryptographic Attestation of Personhood works as follows:

1. The user accesses a website protected by Cryptographic Attestation of Personhood, such as cloudflarechallenge.com.

2. Cloudflare serves a challenge.

3. The user clicks I am human (beta) and gets prompted for a security device.

4. User decides to use a Hardware Security Key.

5. The user plugs the device into their computer or taps it to their phone for wireless signature (using NFC).

6. A cryptographic attestation is sent to Cloudflare, which allows the user in upon verification of the user presence test.

Completing this flow takes five seconds. More importantly, this challenge protects users’ privacy since the attestation is not uniquely linked to the user device. All device manufacturers trusted by Cloudflare are part of the FIDO Alliance. As such, each hardware key shares its identifier with other keys manufactured in the same batch (see Universal 2nd Factor Overview, Section 8). From Cloudflare’s perspective, your key looks like all other keys in the batch.

Cloudflare says it is primarily interested in reducing the amount of time users spend on CAPTCHAs, which it estimates currently take up 500 years of user time every day.

CAPTCHAs are certainly frustrating, and anything that can be done to replace them while still mitigating brute force and DDOS attacks is great. But it would also be great to see FIDO keys become more accepted and normalized across the Internet.

Bellingcat: US Soldiers Inadvertently Leaked Nuclear Security Secrets via Flashcard Apps


For US soldiers tasked with the custody of nuclear weapons in Europe, the stakes are high. Security protocols are lengthy, detailed and need to be known by heart. To simplify this process, some service members have been using publicly visible flashcard learning apps — inadvertently revealing a multitude of sensitive security protocols about US nuclear weapons and the bases at which they are stored.

. . .

However, the flashcards studied by soldiers tasked with guarding these devices reveal not just the bases, but even identify the exact shelters with “hot” vaults that likely contain nuclear weapons.

They also detail intricate security details and protocols such as the positions of cameras, the frequency of patrols around the vaults, secret duress words that signal when a guard is being threatened and the unique identifiers that a restricted area badge needs to have.

The entire article is well worth a read, especially for the sheer amount of information Bellingcat uncovered, including locations of cameras and backup generators at specific sites, detailed information on equipment carried on bases, and schedules for checking aircraft shelters containing nuclear weapons vaults.

This information was publicly searchable because most of the flashcard/quizzing tools that the soldiers used made content public by default. This is similar to how credentials are inadvertently leaked on Github by developers apparently unaware or misunderstanding the implications of hosting those on public repositories.

One change that would help a lot would be if online applications start defaulting to private and requiring users to enable public access, rather than the current approach of defaulting to public and requiring the user to intervene to make content private.

For example, although Github has been the source of numerous credential links, all new personal repositories default to “Public.” The user has to choose the “Private” option manually. This practically guarantees a high level of ongoing leaks at sites such as Github.

Github did make a change in July 2020 so that all repositories created by users accessing Github via an organizational SSO service will be defaulted to private. So they realize that defaulting to public is a problem. Yet, they decided to stick with that behavior for personal repositories, even though a huge segment of Github-related credential leaks are from individuals using personal repositories.

This should be unacceptable given the well known security and privacy problems with this practice.

Notion Is Unusable and Unsafe

I am a sucker for new note-taking and productivity applications, so a couple of years ago, I started using Notion. I still keep logging into it for a very specific purpose, but in general, Notion is largely unusable.

This anonymous post outlining Notion’s usability experience “disaster” does a good job of cataloging all of the ways that Notion is largely unusable. If you read any Notion community groups for any length of time, it quickly becomes clear that Notion is the tool of choice for the sorts of folks who enjoy tinkering around with their productivity systems rather than actually getting things done.

As if the user interface isn’t horrific enough, it has become apparent over the past couple of years that the developer’s behind Notion either a) don’t care or b) don’t know how to make their application secure.

As this Reddit post points out, simply inviting a guest to edit a page grants that guest a large amount of private information that they do not and should not have access to. Stuff like this crops up all the time. It is clear there are almost no privacy or security protections built into Notion.

I still use Notion, but largely because I’ve built an extensive inventory of my action figure collection within Notion. That’s the only sort of data I would trust to Notion as it is today.