Why ‘EmailGate’ Isn’t Just a Problem for Clinton

The U.S. elections of 2016 have resulted in some of the most heated debates across a number of contentious issues. The personalities involved in the run up to the November presidential election are an explosive mix and the resulting accusations and mudslinging makes for great TV.  The accusations range in tone from almost playground jibes, such as the one made towards Cruz, by Trump, saying his Canadian birth could make the senator “vulnerable”, to serious accusations that could materially impact the candidate’s status. Jibes like this may muddy the electoral waters, but the more serious accusations that we’ve seen recently against Hillary Clinton, can have much further repercussions.

Hillary_Clinton_Testimony_to_House_Select_Committee_on_BenghaziHillary Clinton and ‘Those Emails…’

Around this time last year, there was a bit of a storm around Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, who had been revealed as using a private, home-based, server to manage her emails. At the time, she was accused of using this system to prevent freedom of information requests and searches. Clinton defended herself by saying the emails were not deemed as ‘classified’, something that has since been hotly disputed. The press lambasted her for creating her own, ‘homebrew’ email system; the security of which was uncertain and which gave her powers of control over her emails that rankled those wanting transparency from their politicians. This level of irritation over the use of a personal server was not unfounded. If an issue of state security did occur, it would be vital to have full disclosure of emails. We would then have to rely on Clinton’s word that she had disclosed them, or that she could prove no malicious disclosure had occurred – not an ideal situation for any government to have to deal with. Just to give you an idea of the scale of this issue, so far 1200 emails from that homebrew sever have been checked and retro-actively marked as ‘classified’.

The truth of the matter may never fully come to light, but the story of Hillary Clinton’s ‘EmailGate’, rumbles on. We are now finding out that some of those emails Clinton originally stated were not classified, were in fact, top secret emails.

Trump, a master of marketing, has of course used this to his own advantage. He is using ‘EmailGate’ to damage Clinton’s reputation because of her poor handling of security. Clinton may also find more than her reputation damaged if any subsequent issues come to light, especially around security.


Ignore Security at Your Peril

Poor security choices may well cost Clinton the presidency. But she isn’t the only one damaged by not taking security and privacy seriously. We are currently watching the world of cyber-crime explode; in fact, Senator John Kerry has described the situation as being, “…pretty much the wild west…” and stated that he fully expects the Russians and Chinese to be reading his emails.  In the last few years we have seen a general increase in the likelihood of a successful cyber-breach. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse which is a non-profit U.S. based organization, sets out to spot trends and quantifies breaches. You can go to their ‘data breaches timeline’ and see the level of breaches per year since 2005. In 2010 there were just fewer than 13 million records breached. In 2014 this figure had risen to almost 68 million breached records, and in 2015 there were a staggering 159, 436, 735 records compromised. This means an awful lot of organizations and the people who head them are seeing financial penalties and their reputations damaged.

Cyber-litigation On the Increase: Now it’s Personal

These cyber-breach figures are not only resulting in an awful lot of stolen data, they are translating into litigation. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can and does prosecute firms for poor security measures. In 2015 the FTC made a ruling that will impact all companies who are custodians of data, especially of customer data. The ruling came out of the case of the FTC vs. Wyndham Hotel and Resorts where Wyndham failed to give reasonable protection to personal customer details. The FTC can now more readily bring cybersecurity cases to court and prosecute businesses that do not put in place good measures to protect customer data.

The massive breach suffered by retailer Target has resulted not just in reputational damage, but major financial losses. Resulting lawsuits by banks and credit unions associated with the firm have amounted to $39 million; a class action by Target customers is also in progress against the retailer.

And now it’s also getting personal. There is a human impact too, above and beyond the affected customers and the class actions; Target’s CIO, Beth Jacob, ended up resigning over the cyber-breach debacle. Donna Seymour, CIO of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), who experienced a breach of around 22 million employee records last year, is now being sued because she failed to protect those individuals’ identity data. If this lawsuit is successful and chances are it will be, then we should expect to see more personal lawsuits taken out against executives of breached companies.

Reputation and Security Go Hand-in-Hand

One thing that we can be sure of in the Hillary Clinton ‘EmailGate’ case is that her reputation has been irreversibly tarnished. Reputation on both a commercial and individual level is a very delicate matter and once lost is difficult to put right. Financial losses are one thing and very damaging they can certainly be, but to lose a reputation can mean a previously shining career is ruined. We can no longer hide behind our company lawyers. As executives we need to take control of our cybersecurity strategy and ensure that from the board level downwards, everyone takes security and privacy seriously.

Hackable Houses and Compromised Cars

The following is a guest post written by Lucy C., a co-op student from Lisgar Collegiate Institute in Ottawa.

The idea of having a smart home or a smart car is extremely tempting. Being able to live in a world that is fine tuned to exactly your needs seems like a sci-fi paradise. Cars that drive and park themselves, pre-programmed with GPS systems and traffic control, so you know exactly how long your drive to work each morning will be. A home that adjusts it temperature controls depending on your body heat and doesn’t require a key for entry as it recognizes your presence. A kitchen that can cook you breakfast each morning before you awake and a pillow that wakes you up at the exact right moment in your REM cycle.

All of these features and products sound great in theory, but in practice they do have a major downfall; your privacy and security will never be more at risk. All these useful devices will be collecting a slew of personal data about every aspect of your life and if any devices were hacked and controlled by an outside source, the ramifications would be unimaginable.

With your every action tracked and recorded, companies will have all the personal data they could ever want on every consumer. Even if the system is not compromised by a hack and the data is never stolen by an outside source, there is still the lurking possibility that the company will sell your data to other enterprises or to the government, who would then know the every movement of every citizen.

This lack of privacy is accompanied by a frightening lack of security. If someone were to gain control of your smart home or smart car, they could wreak havoc on your life. You could be unable to access your home or they could gain entry to your home by simply pressing a button. It would bring a new age to terrorism, imagine the power a group would hold if they had the capability to crash every car in a city in an instant. Or lock whole cities out of all their buildings.

And the scariest part of these new smart homes and cars? So far, they are surprisingly easy to hack. There are already stories of strangers gaining access to baby monitors and being able to speak through them. The Insteon home control system, a remote control system for turning on and off electronics and controlling temperature in your home, used to be based online with only occasionally password protection, so, if you discovered one of the sites, you could turn on and off any electronics in the home and have access to all the personal data that the system had gathered.


These potentially disastrous consequences of smart homes and cars bring about a burning question: are consumers ready to part with their security and privacy just to have all these cool new personalized gadgets?

Private Discussion

User privacy is of major concern to just about everyone, because just about everyone needs some level of privacy. Google, with its massive user following and array of product offerings, has a huge responsibility to keep their users’ data confidential and safe. The Google Buzz bungle is an example of how Google’s handling of private user information doesn’t always live up to expectations.

Privacy/Data/Information commissioners from 10 countries sent a joint letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt on April 20, expressing their concern that “the privacy rights of the world’s citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications.”

The letter made various statements like Google Buzz “betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms and laws” and that “launching a product in “beta” form is not a substitute for ensuring that new services comply with fair information principles before they are introduced.” Also included were suggested principles to be used by Google to ensure user privacy, such as “collecting and processing only the minimum amount of personal information necessary to achieve the identified purpose of the product or service” and “ensuring that all personal data is adequately protected.”

While the letter seems well intentioned, its message is a bit late to the stage. U.S. congressmen John Barrow penned his own joint letter to the Federal Trade Commission at the end of March over the same Buzz/privacy issues. Congressman Barrow’s letter cites the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) previously filed complaint “alleging that Google Buzz violates federal privacy law.”  In a manner of public response, Google issued a letter to the Federal Trade Commission regarding their policies on information privacy. In this ten page letter, Google shared their efforts to “develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices.” They also stated their support for “strong industry commitments to ensure transparency, user control, and security in Internet services for consumers” as well as “strengthened protections from government intrusion.”

To demonstrate a small history of various government “intrusion”, Google created the government requests page (http://www.google.com/governmentrequests/). The page maps out content removal requests and user data requests made by government agencies for the second half of 2009.  The leaders in user data requests are Brazil (3663), the U.S. (3580), the U.K. (1166) and India (1061).


Also displayed through this map is the inclusion of  every country who signed the privacy letter to Google. Government agencies from France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Canada and the United Kingdom all scolded Google for inadvertently disclosing  personal user information, but prodded them for the same information months earlier.

Though data protection departments may not be the ones who made the requests, government is often looked at as a collective entity, causing some to consider these actions as hypocrisy. In the FAQ for the government requests page, Google says “the statistics primarily cover requests in criminal matters.”  Does this justify cooperation from Google? When is it okay to abandon privacy for the sake of law enforcement? I don’t know. It is a difficult balance for Google and world governments in protecting both privacy and national laws.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) is a key part of finding this balance. Find out more:

If you want to see what Google has on you, start with:

Matt Sully
Threat Research & Analysis

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Is your computer watching you?

SecureWorks has a posting up discussing the Ozdok/Mega-D trojan and its ability to capture screenshots on the systems it’s infected. We’ve been talking about this for months! Ozdok is certainly not the only trojan with this ability, and the researchers are specifically talking about screenshots, but what about systems with webcams?

Think the bad guys know how to turn those on?

Check out the video posted in our Facebook group and find out!