Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Brexit Levity

After a few "side-bar" stories, I finally got one on the Newsbiscuit front page!

Go here for the full story...

..Trouble is, given the state of Brexit, I'm not sure this is humour or irony anymore...next step: The Onion - a place for more reliable news.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Privacy Metrics

Along with a colleage - Dr. Yoan Miche - we presented a paper outlining ideas regarding using mutual information as a metric for establishing some form of  'legal compliance' for data sets. The work is far from complete and the mathematics is getting horrendous!

The paper entitled "On the Development of A Metric for Quality of Information Content over Anonymised Data-Sets" was presented at the excellent Quatic 2016 conference held in Lisbon, Sept 6-9, 2016.

We were also extremely fortunate in that a presented in our session didn't turn up and we were graciously given the full hour not just to present the paper but give a much fuller background and details of future work and the state of our current results.

Here are the slides:


We propose a framework for measuring the impact of data anonymisation and obfuscation in information theoretic and data mining terms. Privacy functions often hamper machine learning but obscuring the classification functions. We propose to
use Mutual Information over non-Euclidean spaces as a means of measuring the distortion induced by privacy function and following the same principle, we also propose to use Machine Learning techniques in order to quantify the impact of said obfuscation in terms of further data mining goals.


Ian Oliver and Yoan Miche (2016) On the Development of A Metric for Quality of
Information Content over Anonymised Data-Sets
. Quatic 2016, Lisbon, Portugal, Sept 6-9, 2016.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Requirements Engineering and Privacy

A lot of travelling this month to conferences and speaking about privacy engineering (as usual). I just spent a week in Beijing at RE'16 (Requirements Engineering 2016) where I both presented a paper on privacy requirements and participated in a panel session on digitalisation and telecommunications - more on that later.

Anyway, here are the slides from the privacy paper:

And here is the abstract:

"Any reasonable implementation of privacy requirements can not be made through legal compliance alone. The belief that a software system can be developed without privacy being an integral concept, or that a privacy policy is sufficient as requirements or compliance check is at best dangerous for the users, customers and business involved. While requirements frameworks exist, the specialisation of these into the privacy domain have not been made in such a manner that they unify both the legal and engineering domains. In order to achieve this one must develop ontological structures to aid communication between these domains, provide a commonly acceptable semantics and a framework by which requirements expressed at different levels of abstractness can be linked together and support refinement. An effect of this is to almost completely remove the terms ‘personal data’ and ‘PII’ from common usage and force a deeper understanding of the data and information being processed. Once such a structure is in place - even if just partially or sparsely populated - provides a formal framework by which not only requirements can be obtained, their application (or not) be justified and a proper risk analysis made. This has further advantages in that privacy requirements and their potential implementations can be explored through the software development process and support ideas such as agile methods and ‘DevOps’ rather than being an ‘add-on’ exercise - a privacy impact assessment - poorly executed at inappropriate times."

Ian Oliver (2016) Experiences in the Development and Usage of a Privacy Requirements Framework. Requirements Engineering 2016 (RE'16), Beijing, China, September 12-17, 2016

Friday, 26 August 2016

Aliens, Direct Advertising and ClickBait

The Internet - a way of accessing nearly all of humankind's knowledge...anyway, while reading an article about people with Rh negative blood types are descendent from aliens (spoiler, they're not) and how HAARP is causing climate change (spoiler, it's not) and other "interesting" articles (who writes this stuff?) about Freemasons from Atlantis build the Pyramids (spoiler, they didn't...well technically they did in the sense that masons build the pyramids - stonework, masons ... but they probably didn't come in spacecraft from Atlantis) etc, I do enjoy taking time to look at the direct advertising.

Geolocation of IP address is simple, which means you get clickbait such as these:

First of all two millionaires in Sipoo Finland, I think we might have heard about these especially given their willingness to appear in direct advertising, I'm sure they'd have appeared in the local press too. As for the guy with the lime green car - good luck driving that on our roads - and Diety knows where she's going to part that helicopter.

I particularly like the medical breakthrough...good thing I like eggs, though it might be a bit irresponsible showing a runny egg - those things are more dangerous than Ebola on a dark night - isn't that right Mrs. Currie!

So here we are, late 2016, vast amounts of knowledge at our fingertips and this is what we get...I mean, it isn't as if anyone could actually go and check the claims in the above advertisements is it?

Saturday, 20 August 2016

A Philosophy of Riding

Been thinking about this for a while, but:

  • A good horse rider has only four problems: hands, legs, body and mind
  • A excellent horse rider tries to address the above
  • A bad rider believes they have less than four problems
  • A horse only has one problem: the rider

Friday, 5 August 2016

Privacy Engineering Procedures and Ebola

A seemingly unlikely combination: privacy engineering and ebola, though I guess there are similarities by which viruses spread with how personal data spreads around a company - another time and another study I think.

OK, so what the zark do these things have in common - the answer is via a convoluted path and actually is more related to how we react to an incident: privacy or medical (and we're back to safety-critical systems again).

Bit of background first: I've been reading about Marburg and Ebola recently - both are fascinating (and frightening) themselves, but what is more interesting from a procedural point of view is how they were discovered, researched and ultimately how we as a species react to them.

Ebola (via Wikipedia and CDC)
Now the procedural stuff, the CDC have a response plan for Ebola entitled: Identify, Isolate and Inform: Emergency Department Evaluation and Management for Patients Under Investigation for Ebola Virus Disease.

Worth reading just to understand how the CDC explain how to plan your due diligence - something we're exceptionally bad at in privacy ... we just scream PIA and COMPLIANCE !

The point here is that if privacy engineering is to emerge as a discipline we need to address our culture in how we react to incidents and even react in general. Learning from a discipline that already has to face critical incidents is a good start.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

S-Group and Customer Data Collection

Have't written here for a while, but as luck would have it here's a privacy story from Finland.

The supermarket chain S-Group are updating their customer loyalty scheme to make it more relevant for their customers, ie: direct advertising. The basic idea is that they'll make fine grained data collection from the various shops and services in the S-Group. Such data include the specific purchases as well as, of course, time stamps, locations, identity etc.

While various consumer organisations are incensed by this obvious infringement of people's privacy, the danger is really elsewhere.

For a start we have the classic massive data collection from which we can make all kinds of inferences - ostensibly the what, where, when and intriguingly why of consumer purchases. Down this road we see the also classic direct advertising mistakes - you bought milk last week so you'll buy milk this week ... seriously if a supermarket can't work this out without "BigData" then they have problems.

There's also the issue that inferences can have other unforseen effects:

How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did
Kashmir Hill, Forbes
Feb 16, 2012
"Every time you go shopping, you share intimate details about your consumption patterns with retailers. And many of those retailers are studying those details to figure out what you like, what you need, and which coupons are most likely to make you happy. Target, for example, has figured out how to data-mine its way into your womb, to figure out whether you have a baby on the way long before you need to start buying diapers."

That's really going to go down well with the Finnish regulators...

The part that really worry me is where S-Market states that it will keep the data for future usages. As I wrote in Privacy Engineering, any time you see a future use of data this should start alarm bells ringing. It means that you have no clear use case, no clear set of users of that data and are in effect over-collecting data on a whim. Collecting and keeping data for future use is a very high risk activity.

Nothing is mentioned in their literature about security, location of data etc - though I guess the standard "industry standard" answer (Tesco anyone?) will be used. Hint: I worked on those industry standards...they set out some of the base, good practices only.

I constructed a data flow model of as much as I understand about the system at the moment. It isn't much but over each of those flows is going your personal data. The dashed lines represent return data flows, the dashed circles represent "unknown" participants. Question: does this data get sold to 3rd parties?

Inferred DFD

In defence of S-Group they have announced this to all customers of their bonus scheme - though the language is a little flowery in places (did you know that their bonus scheme has won a prize?!).
Details can be found here and here, and you can obtain your data that is held in their customer registry, though I assume not the inferences made from that data. You can see this data from your S-Kanava account; also in writing though only once per year without charge.  You can opt-out whenever you want (though the opt-out is not retroactive as far as I can see) by calling +358 (0)10 76 5858 (calls cost 0.088eur/min - why not free if you were serious about privacy?)

As this scheme is not in operation yet obviously I can't comment on what data I will be able to see and control. I might for myself let it run for a month and then see what data I can get out of the system. I assume I will get the time, location and itemised list of products from every transaction I make; hopefully also the mechanism how I paid the particular cashier (at least till number) and so on.

Another final point is that all bonus money collected by customers is paid to an account in S-Pankki, but that's another story about compliance and interpreting the law.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

So, the UK's referendum on whether it should leave the EU or not is today.

  • If more than 50% of the electorate who cast a vote for remaining then it is fairly obvious what happens next with a small caveat (see below).
  • If more then 50% of the electorate who case a vote for leaving then the theoretical process is that the UK has 2 years to negotiate its leaving of the EU - trade agreements, human rights, workers rights, environmental rights etc. Whatever is left over after the 2 years is "free game" and the UK would be a complete outsider with regards to its bargaining position.

Now the caveats:

  1. Under UK Referendum Law, referenda are not legally binding which means that the result could be annulled, ignored or reversed.
  2.  A majority of MPs in the UK Parliament could band together and cause the result to be annulled, reversed or ignored. This is actually likely as there would have to be a vote on the clauses in UK Law relating to EU membership. What happens if a majority of MPs vote to ignore/annul/reverse the referendum result?
  3. Given the level of division in the UK's Conservative Party, if the result is to remain then what happens to those MPs in the Conservative Party who campaigned against the PM?
  4. If the UK votes to leave, then the PM will more then likely be challenged by the remain faction of the Conservative Party: a) the PM will likely resign in this case, b) would a general election be called
  5. If a general election is called: a) what happens if the country votes in a government that is pro-EU but the referendum delivers a leave result? b) vice versa of (a) or c) what happens if the UK gets a hung parliament with a mix of pro and anti-EU factions?

Given the caveats, this probably isn't the best environment for any UK-EU negotiations and would actually take up time from repealing the various UK Laws on EU membership and the 2 years negotiation time.

Then just a final remark on the arguments of sovereignty and democracy.
Apparently Britain has a 1000 years of history...apart from the 3000 years or so of Celtic/Briton history before that.

If we stay in the EU we lose our "Britishness" - whatever that is? Personally I notice the Finns are just as Finnish, the French, Germans, etc similarly. Anyway the UK is made of four different countries each with their own identities anyway.

Sovereignty of Parliament lies with Parliament anyway. At any point in time the UK Parliament could repeat the laws relating the EU membership; though no-one really knows what this means anyway.

The EU Parliament is an elected body by the universal suffrage - you do know who your MEP is don't you?

EU Laws/Directives/Recommendations must be ratified not only by the democratically elected EU Parliament, but also by each country's parliament after going through a process in which each country separately decides how to implement each law/directive/recommendation.

This latter point is important: EACH COUNTRY INDEPENDENTLY DECIDES HOW TO IMPLEMENT EU LAWS/DIRECTIVES/RECOMMENDATIONS. This means that a country (Finland - looking at you here) can implement huge restrictions on things and then "blame" EU Law - whereas often it was just a directive stating some basic ideals.

Finally immigration: which immigrants are we talking about?

  1. EU migrants - the EU upholds a basic right that any EU citizen can work and live in any EU country according to a basic set of minimal rights. Some countries impose additional restrictions but the basic right of free movement is EU Law.
  2. Non-EU migrants - decided broadly by national parliaments and the EU.
  3. Refugees - there are strict criteria set by the EU, UN and national parliaments on who can be a refugee. The EU has set out a basic set of rights and a mechanism by which countries in the EU "share" refugees. 
Whatever happens today the result will be either a very bad mess for the Conservatives or an extremely bad mess for the whole UK. But therein lies the problem, that the vote is no longer about the EU but about the future of the UK Conservative and Unionist Party and the power brokerage of various players within this.

It is just extremely sad that there has been no intelligent discourse on the subject - primarily due to the lack of knowledge and education of not just how the EU works but how the UK's whole system of government works. I fear this is quite deliberate.

The whole debate has been riddled with fear and hate which unfortunately has also led to the death of an MP. For all the debate about sovereignty and democracy, is this what it the whole EU debate is about?

Finally I don't care whether you are pro or anti-EU, I would like some idea of what will happen in the case of either a remain or leave result. So far, there has been even less discussion of what happens next than there has been of what the EU and UK mean to each other.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

2nd IW5GS - Programme

The 2nd International Workshop on 5G Security


Xi'an, China

June 19, 2016


IW5GS-01: (June 19, 2016, Sunday, 10: 30 – 12:30, Room B)

Session Chair: Valtteri Niemi (Email: valtteri.niemi@helsinki.fi)
Keynote 1: 5G Security for IoT
Speaker: Dr. Zhiyuan Hu, Nokia Shanghai Bell  (zhiyuan.hu@alcatel-sbell.com.cn)
Keynote 2: 5G Security: Forward Thinking
Speaker: Bo Zhang, Huawei (liufei19@huawei.com)

IW5GS-02: (June 19, 2016, Sunday, 14: 00 – 16:30, Room B)

Session Chair: Siddharth Prakash Rao (Siddharth.rao@aalto.fi); Ian Oliver (ian.oliver@nokia.com)
Paper 1: Protecting IMSI and User Privacy in 5G Networks
Karl Norrman, Elena Dubrova, Mats Näslund
Paper 2: Privacy of the Long-Term Identities in Cellular Networks
Philip Ginzboorg, Valtteri Niemi
Paper 3: Error-Correcting Message Authentication for 5G
Elena Dubrova, Mats Näslund, Göran Selander, Karl Norrman
Paper 4: Privacy in LTE networks
Siddharth Prakash Rao, Bhanu Teja Kotte, Silke Holtmanns
Paper 5: A Survey on Software-Defined Networking Security
Shanshan Bian, Peng Zhang, Zheng Yan
Paper 6: Designing Hybrid Cloud Computing Framework using OpenStack for Supporting Multimedia with Security and Privacy
Isaac Cushman, Lei Chen, Danda B. Rawat, and Nhien-An Le-Khac

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Preparing your children for total surveillance

I noticed these in a book shop today:

What they do is project a "soothing picture" onto the wall or ceiling at night - ostensibly to help your child sleep. What struck me was the similarly in their design to a surveillance camera, so I guess there's no better time that early childhood to start preparing your child to be oblivious to such devices in everyday life.

Remember, total surveillance is for your safety and security...

Go figure...

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Agile is dead

This is an excellent post, though some might consider it a rant, about how Agile wasn't really nor became what Agile should it should have...

Agile is Dead

"Are you an IT consultant or contractor? Agile Software Development work is dead. If you practice that, you are a doorstop. If you manage that way, you are a boat-anchor. The wave has ended, it is over, and if you went for the head-fake and bought certifications, you wasted some money. Soon recruiters will be putting your resume in the circular storage container. I have been warning you for some time, and the day is here. Hah, you should have listened. Move along."

But here's the best quote:

The moral of this part of the story is that if you produce some compact politicised ideology (manifesto) consisting of principles and rules there will be unintended consequences.  Success creates a religion or cult, and defeat is being ignored.  No such doctrine is perfect.  Thinking you will change the world with a manifesto is naive, and if you succeed you may not have improved the world.

To me, given the problems that Privacy by Design has caused with privacy officers believing in some mythical "compliance" without any consideration of the software engineering or cultural aspects of developing information systems, this sums it up quite nicely!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Information wants to be free...?

I both like and dislike the quote "information wants to be free", mainly because it opens up a very nice philosophical discussion on what 'free' means but also because - and this is part I hate - it is some damned meaningless without any grounding in any form of semantics; and we've seen this before!

For the first part, this statement treats information in an anthropomorphic manner. Is it really information itself that has the need to be free? Let's assume that it does, though in a very fairy tale like way, it seems to me.

So let's then look at the word 'free', which I assume does not mean 'free' as in 'without cost' in the sense that someone has to pay for it. Though this is a curious idea in that information is somehow prostituting itself and despite all attempts someone (the information's pimp perhaps?) insists on controlling things. I guess this is the idea that information is going through some pre-1960's sexual revolution...
Rather I think the word 'free' refers to 'freedom' albeit in a Western sense of the word. Think of the use of the concept freedom as used in the US Declaration of Independence.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all information is created equal, that it is endowed by its Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"
...or should that be Existence, Communication and Semantics perhaps....?

Let's stick with the word 'freedom' and its naive or common-sense meaning. What does it mean to be free? We can turn further to the the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights for further clarification, though here I'm sure we go into more of a legal-political debate more than anything. Evidently freedom means either the right to do or be something or the right to be protected from something.

So the question is, if information want to be free:

  • What does information want the freedom to do/be?
  • What does information want the freedom from?

Under the first question, the freedom to be 'free' as in 'without cost' certainly falls. What about the freedom to be private, or the freedom not to be abused - as in excessive privacy violations? Do we further need a notion of agency - does information have an owner or provenance?

Without answering those - I don't think I can give a definitive answer anyway - here's another thought. Given that matter = energy, isn't the use of the term information quite literally another way of saying 'humans' (or 'men' as in the Declaration of Independence). In which case the question 'information wants to be free' is just an expression of man's desire to define what freedom is - ostensibly in terms of freedom to do/be and freedom from.

And here comes the practical part, which freedoms to do/be or from do we allow or deny in order to be "free"?

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Privacy Lectures @ University of Iowa

I'm giving two lectures at the University of Iowa on the 21st and 22nd of April as part of the Iowa Informatics Showcase Symposium.

The two lectures are:

The Iowa Informatics Showcase Symposium will focus on new directions in informatics research and involve talks from external and internal scholars. It will also include an informatics fair with a poster session, and booths highlighting research centers, core facilities, centers and institutes. Saturday Workshops will be conducted as part of the symposium with topics including software basics, GIS, mapping and visualization, statistical packages, and others.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Brussels - something to think about

The Independent is running a story today:

Brussels attacks: Security officials accused of missing a string of opportunities to stop suicide bombers
Accomplices still on the run after day of conflicting reports and confusion

The following paragraphs are deeply troubling given the emphasis on "banning" encryption and the need for total surveillance:
The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, who laid a wreath at the underground station close to the European Commission headquarters where more than 20 people died, said that EU nations had to invest “massively” in their security systems. 
The most direct criticism came from Turkey, which has previously criticised France for what it said was a failure to heed a prior warning about one of the suicide attackers involved in last year’s attack in Paris in which 130 people were killed. 
Turkish officials have previously said that French authorities were warned twice by Turkey about one of the assailants in the attacks on Paris in November. A senior government source told The Independent: “We had warned France before the Paris attacks, now this. It’s ridiculous.” 
The two brothers had been known to police in Belgium for years, and operated in some of the marginalised communities in the capital that had avoided close attention from the intelligence agencies despite problems of jihadist recruitment and terrorist links. 
The Belgian federal prosecutor, Frederic van Leeuw, told reporters that the two brothers, Brussels-born Belgian citizens, had “extensive” criminal records but they were not related to terrorism.
So, ultimately the failure was both of communication between intelligence and police agencies *and* a failure to listen. Worse is that the terrorists involved were already known (last paragraph above). If the signals of possible trouble were not seen in the above then the problem certainly does not lie with extensive data collection. In fact the perpetrators actually gained privacy by effectively hiding in plain sight.

The trouble is that now politicians are in the "do something" mode of operation, where doing anything, regardless of effectiveness, is far better than actually thinking and doing the right thing.

I had the pleasure of speaking with some security experts in counter-terrorism a while back. They effectively said that politicians want more security just to be seen to be doing something - this is why we've ended up with airport security that concentrates on bottles of water but not on mitigating the real risks - queues, delays, bottlenecks. The question of profiling, as seen in Israeli aviation security is too much for the politicians to risk their careers on so everyone will suffer under increasingly intrusive and increasingly ineffective security.

Finally this quote by Simon Jenkins of The Guardian:

Those who live under freedom know it demands a price, which is a degree of risk. We pay the state to protect us – but calmly, without constant boasting or fearmongering. We know that, in reality, life in Britain has never been safer. That it suits some people to pretend otherwise does not alter the fact. 
In his admiral manual, Terrorism: How to Respond, the Belfast academic Richard English defines the threat to democracy as not the “limited danger” of death and destruction. It is the danger “of provoking ill-judged, extravagant and counterproductive state responses”.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

NSA, BigData and Privacy

We all know that BigData is good and that more data is better. In fact if you could collect everything then you could potentially stop all crimes, stop terrorism, save the World, freedom, puppies...literally do anything and everything!

Except, as most organisations should have realised (ordinary businesses take note!!) that having huge amounts of data doesn't really help you if you have no idea of what you have, what it means and how to actually extract the data you want.

Its worse when you have so much that even running the queries that might extract the right piece of data becomes so complex that you may as well just give up.

Pity the NSA then:


NSA is so overwhelmed with data, it's no longer effective, says whistleblower
One of the agency's first whistleblowers says the NSA is taking in too much data for it to handle, which can have disastrous -- if not deadly -- consequences.
So, we have a paradox in the sense that the more data we get the better we can hide...

Its funny but about 2 years ago there was an idea called the "Slow Data Movement" whose aim was to save the World from BigData madness but concentrating on what you actually need...

In fact we've even heard the argument that mass surveillance is no where as effective as "good old fashioned police work".

In fact, it even seems that the recent attacks in Belgium relied upon unencrypted communications ... which should have been easily spotable, unless of course you've got politicians obsessed with the evils of encryption and too much data to even see the weak signals of ordinary, unencrypted data.