Apple Flexes Its Privacy Muscles

Apple events follow a very consistent pattern, which rarely changes beyond the details of the content. This consistency has gradually become its own language. Attend enough events and you start to pick up the deliberate undertones Apple wants to communicate, but not express directly. They are the facial and body expressions beneath the words of the slides, demos, and videos. Five years ago I walked out of the WWDC keynote with a feeling that those undertones were screaming a momentous shift in Apple’s direction. That privacy was emerging as a foundational principle for the company. I wrote up my thoughts at Macworld, laying out my interpretation of Apple’s privacy principles. Privacy was growing in importance at Apple for years before that, but that WWDC keynote was the first time they so clearly articulated that privacy not only mattered, but was being built into foundational technologies. This year I sat in the WWDC keynote, reading the undertones, and realized that Apple was upping their privacy game to levels never before seen from a major technology company. That beyond improving privacy in their own products, the company is starting to use its market strength to pulse privacy throughout the tendrils that touch the Apple ecosystem. Regardless of motivations – whether it be altruism, the personal principles of Apple executives, or simply shrewd business strategy – Apple’s stance on privacy is historic and unique in the annals of consumer technology. The real question now isn’t whether they can succeed at a technical level, but whether Apple’s privacy push can withstand the upcoming onslaught from governments, regulators, the courts, and competitors. Apple has clearly explained that they consider privacy a fundamental human right. Yet history is strewn with the remains of well-intentioned champions of such rights. How privacy at Apple changed at WWDC19 When discussing these shifts in strategy, at Apple or any other technology firm, it’s important to keep in mind that the changes typically start years before outsiders can see them, and are more gradual than we can perceive. Apple’s privacy extension efforts started at least a couple years before WWDC14, when Apple first started requiring privacy protections to participate in HomeKit and HealthKit. The most important privacy push from WWDC19 is Sign In with Apple, which offers benefits to both consumers and developers. In WWDC sessions it became clear that Apple is using a carrot and stick approach with developers: the stick is that App Review will require support for Apple’s new service in apps which leverage competing offerings from Google and Facebook, but in exchange developers gain Apple’s high security and fraud prevention. Apple IDs are vetted by Apple and secured with two-factor authentication, and Apple provides developers with the digital equivalent of a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on whether the request is coming from a real human being. Apple uses the same mechanisms to secure iCloud, iTunes, and App Store purchases, so this seems to be a strong indicator. Apple also emphasized they extend this privacy to developers themselves. That it isn’t Apple’s business to know how developers engage with users inside their apps. Apple serves as an authentication provider and collects no telemetry on user activity. This isn’t to say that Google and Facebook abuse their authentication services, Google denies this accusation and offers features to detect suspicious activity. Facebook, on the other hand, famously abused phone numbers supplied for two-factor authentication, as well as a wide variety of other user data. The difference between Sign In with Apple and previous privacy requirements within the iOS and Mac ecosystems is that the feature extends Apple’s privacy reach beyond its own walled garden. Previous requirements, from HomeKit to data usage limitations on apps in the App Store, really only applied to apps on Apple devices. This is technically true for Sign In with Apple, but practically speaking the implications extend much further. When developers add Apple as an authentication provider on iOS they also need to add it on other platforms if they expect customers to ever use anything other than Apple devices. Either that or support a horrible user experience (which, I hate to say, we will likely see plenty of). Once you create your account with an Apple ID, there are considerable technical complexities to supporting non-Apple login credentials for that account. So providers will likely support Sign In with Apple across their platforms, extending Apple’s privacy reach beyond its own platforms. Beyond sign-in Privacy permeated WWDC19 in both presentations and new features, but two more features stand out as examples of Apple extending its privacy reach: a major update to Intelligent Tracking Prevention for web advertising, and HomeKit Secure Video. Privacy preserving ad click attribution is a surprisingly ambitious effort to drive privacy into the ugly user and advertising tracking market, and HomeKit Secure Video offers a new privacy-respecting foundation for video security firms which want to be feature competitive without the mess of building (and securing) their own back-end cloud services. Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a Safari feature to reduce the ability of services to track users across websites. The idea is that you can and should be able to enable cookies for one trusted site, without having additional trackers monitor you as you browse to other sites. Cross-site tracking is endemic to the web, with typical sites embedding dozens of trackers. This is largely to support advertising and answer a key marketing question: did an ad lead to you visit a target site and buy something? Effective tracking prevention is an existential risk to online advertisements and the sites which rely on them for income, but this is almost completely the fault of overly intrusive companies. Intelligent Tracking Prevention (combined with other browser privacy and security features) is a stick and privacy preserving ad click attribution is the corresponding carrot. It promises to enable advertisers to track conversion rates without violating user privacy. An upcoming feature of Safari, and a proposed web standard, Apple promises that browsers will remember ad clicks for seven days. If

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DisruptOps: The Security Pro’s Quick Comparison: AWS vs. Azure vs. GCP

I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of questions about cloud providers beyond AWS over the past year, especially in recent months. I decided to write up an overview comparison over at DisruptOps. This will be part of a slow-roll series going into the differences across the major security program domains – including monitoring, perimeter security, and security management. Here’s an excerpt: The problem for security professionals is that security models and controls vary widely across providers, are often poorly documented, and are completely incompatible. Anyone who tells you they can pick up on these nuances in a few weeks or months with a couple training classes is either lying or ignorant. It takes years of hands-on experience to really understand the security ins and outs of a cloud provider. … AWS is the oldest and most mature major cloud provider. This is both good and bad, because some of their enterprise-level options were basically kludged together from underlying services weren’t architected for the scope of modern cloud deployments. But don’t worry – their competitors are often kludged together at lower levels, creating entirely different sets of issues. … Azure is the provider I run into the most when running projects and assessments. Azure can be maddening at times due to lack of consistency and poor documentation. Many services also default to less secure configurations. For example if you create a new virtual network and a new virtual machine on it, all ports and protocols are open. AWS and GCP always start with default deny, but Azure starts with default allow. … Like Azure, GCP is better centralized, because many capabilities were planned out from the start – compared to AWS feature which were only added a few years ago. Within your account Projects are isolated from each other except where you connect services. Overall GCP isn’t as mature as AWS, but some services – notably container management and AI – are class leaders. Share:

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