Forget TikTok. Feebly Secured Infrastructure Is Our Real Problem

from the missing-the-broader-context dept

One of the dumber aspects of press coverage of the TikTok kerfuffle is the lack of broader context. How, exactly, does banning a Chinese-owned teen dancing app solve our security and privacy headaches in a world where apps and services everywhere are collecting most of the same data, if not more? And why the myopic focus on just TikTok when Americans attach millions of totally unsecured Chinese-made "smart" IOT devices to their home and business networks with reckless abandon? If you're going to freak out about U.S. consumer privacy and internet security -- why not focus on actually shoring up overall U.S. consumer privacy and security?

Many press outlets and analysts have innately bought into the idea that banning TikTok somehow seriously thwarts the Chinese government's spying efforts. In reality, China's spying capabilities, fueled by an unlimited budget, have no limit of potential other ways to get far more data thanks to United States' lax privacy and security standards. Case in point, last week in the midst of TikTok hysteria, a report quietly emerged showing that the U.S. satellite communications networks have the security of damp cardboard:

"More than a decade has passed since researchers demonstrated serious privacy and security holes in satellite-based Internet services. The weaknesses allowed attackers to snoop on and sometimes tamper with data received by millions of users thousands of miles away. You might expect that in 2020—as satellite Internet has grown more popular—providers would have fixed those shortcomings, but you’d be wrong."

The security researcher in question showcased how it wasn't particularly difficult to hack into these satellite networks to observe all manner of online activity, from airliners receiving unencrypted navigation data in flight, to utility administrators managing wind turbines. Many of these vulnerabilities have been known about for fifteen years yet still haven't been fixed:

“There are still many satellite Internet services operating today which are vulnerable to their [the previous researchers’] exact attacks and methods—despite these attacks having been public knowledge for more than 15 years at this point,” Pavur told me ahead of Wednesday’s talk. “We also found that some newer types of satellite broadband had issues with eavesdropping vulnerabilities as well."

Which is all to say: if you're going to freak out about TikTok, why not at least spend some of those calories discussing actually trying to fix our broader cybersecurity and privacy problems? Why not create systems that are simply resilient, transparent, and accountable by design?

The U.S. still doesn't have even a basic privacy law for the internet era, companies routinely face no serious penalty for privacy missteps, our privacy regulators are routinely kneecapped and under-funded, consumer data is routinely left open on the cloud, a new hack is revealed at least once a week, and nobody wants to spend the funds necessary to upgrade older infrastructure because doing so simply isn't sexy. To ignore this, then become utterly hysterical because the Chinese government might get some teen phone data, seems divorced from the broader context.

Yet most of the biggest pearl clutchers about the dangers of TikTok have been utterly absent from this broader reality.

They were nowhere to be found among efforts to fix a massive SS7 flaw that makes our cellular infrastructure vulnerable. They were dead quiet as folks tried to hold the cellular industry accountable for selling everybody's location data to any nitwit with a nickel. In fact, most of the folks that have hyperventilated the most about TikTok have repeatedly shot down attempts at internet-era privacy laws and fought against funding to secure U.S. elections. Why, it's almost as if many of them don't actually care about U.S. privacy and security, and instead are performatively upset about TikTok for xenophobic, financial, and political reasons.

Seriously concerned about U.S. cybersecurity and privacy issues? Why not work to actually try to fix those problems instead of engaging in histrionics about a teenage dancing app? Because it only takes a few hours of reading about the U.S. cybersecurity and privacy incompetence before you come to realize that TikTok is among the very least of this country's problems on that front.

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Filed Under: china, infrastructure, iot, privacy, surveillance
Companies: tiktok


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  • icon
    Koby (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 6:30am

    Tech Monopoly

    And why the myopic focus on just TikTok when Americans attach millions of totally unsecured Chinese-made "smart" IOT devices to their home and business networks with reckless abandon?

    Because tech monopolies are the biggest threat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2020 @ 6:40am

      Re: Tech Monopoly

      Well that lets TikTok off the hook then.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 6:46am

      Re: Tech Monopoly

      "Because tech monopolies are the biggest threat."

      Going by your posting history, you're probably talking about TikTok when you say this (which is hilarious since you're usually whining about their competitors. which by definition means they're not monopolies), but if so it's equally funny that you don't think IoT device manufacturers can be tech monopolies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ryuugami, 11 Aug 2020 @ 7:05am

      Re: Tech Monopoly

      Because if there's one thing that's gonna fix a monopoly, it's... banning an emerging competitor.

      The real reason is, of course, that TikTok users embarrassed the Thin-Skin-in-Chief.

      I'm only surprised it took the Orange One about a month, when he needed only a couple of days when Twitter annoyed him. Maybe that month was what they needed to find the flimsy legal justification they used instead of the last time's clear-cut breaking of the Constitution.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Bobvious, 11 Aug 2020 @ 2:34pm

        Re: TikTok users embarrassed the Thin-Skin-in-Chief.

        This is probably the main reason that it has such a high profile at the moment. Also, I don't think selling it to Micro$oft (cue the "I stab at thee" response) will be the panacea that the petulant man-child thinks it will be. It's entirely likely that M$ will be M$ and users will simply migrate away from Ti¢k To¢k to its replacement.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 10:10am

      Re: Tech Monopoly

      But,
      But,
      They are OUR companies. They wouldnt Cheap out on things would they?
      They wouldnt over price things Just to have more money?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2020 @ 3:10pm

      Re: Tech Monopoly

      Tech monopolies that have brand recognition, you mean? And how are any of the ones to which you refer a monopoly? Tiktok has a monopoly on... Tiktok?

      Completely different from corporate trusts like the petrochemical industry for the last 80+ years, i'm sure, which are fine.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Aug 2020 @ 12:59am

      Re: Tech Monopoly

      "Because tech monopolies are the biggest threat."

      And that's why you are aiming your slings and barbs at the emerging competitor to those "monopolies" you usually harp about?

      Make up your mind, Koby.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 12 Aug 2020 @ 1:23am

        Re: Re: Tech Monopoly

        "And that's why you are aiming your slings and barbs at the emerging competitor to those "monopolies" you usually harp about?"

        Koby and his ilk seem to have some problems dealing with the market logically and consistently. Firstly, they feel the need to define competition very narrowly. If someone he agrees with politically gets kicked off of Twitter, his argument falls apart when you look at them as general "social media" because they have a lot of competitors. So, he has to define things so that Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, LinkedIn, Mastadon, YouTube and a whole host of other services don't count as competition. If he defines things so that only the services that use the same gimmick for social networking "count" as competition, then he can pretend there's something unfair because nobody's joining his friends at Gab.

        So, with this mindset, he doesn't understand (or pretends not to understand) that all of those services are also competitors to TikTok. He has to pretend that the video services provided by YouTube, Instagram and Twitter don't count because they're not the focus of the service, so that he can then point to the relatively high market penetration of TikTok and pretend that it's justifiable that Trump is forcing the company's US division to be sold at personal profit

        In other words, as he insists on doing in Twitter threads, he's carefully constructing his argument so that he can support the seizure of private property by the state because they disagree with the speech of the owners, but still pretend he's not calling for fascism and communism

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 Aug 2020 @ 12:10am

          Re: Re: Re: Tech Monopoly

          "In other words, as he insists on doing in Twitter threads, he's carefully constructing his argument so that he can support the seizure of private property by the state because they disagree with the speech of the owners, but still pretend he's not calling for fascism and communism"

          I've noticed. I'm torn between two theories;

          That "Koby" deliberately migrates between trying to display common sense on issues he's not invested in to establish credibility for the topics where he's emotionally invested and debates in bad faith - usually in trying to pound out the argument that it's somehow a bad thing that the majority refuses to allow unpopular minorities like neo-nazis onto their private property.

          Or that he's brainwashed himself to the point where he's running full compartmentalization on his pet peeves and truly, honestly, is unable to perceive that one set of arguments he's running are in direct logical conflict with every other argument he has.

          I'd discount the second theory as unlikely if it weren't for the fact that I've personally encountered STEM MSc degree students who were functionally creationist despite successfully studying for a Master's in Biology.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 13 Aug 2020 @ 12:29am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Tech Monopoly

            My observation is that while he occasionally seems to make reasonable points on anything non-political, he very often resorts to widely debunked or even illogical arguments when things turn remotely political. For example, the recent thread where he's attacking left-wing bias of Facebook on an article about how it's confirmed they're biased toward right wing content.

            On the odd occasion where he reveals where he's getting his information from, this makes sense as he's basically parroting the arguments they make. He just seems to be another person who spends way too much time in the right-wing echo chamber, and is incapable of forming his own arguments, or even noticing the contradictions in the arguments he'd being fed. Then gets confused when he gets actual arguments in response, which is presumably why he rarely comes back to a thread on a following day.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 11 Aug 2020 @ 6:54am

    Why TikTok?

    Because Trump badly needs a distraction. "See, I'm taking on big bad China! Hey, ignore those dead bodies all around me...China! China! China! TikTok, TikTok" waves hands "See it all just disappeared!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 7:07am

      Re: Why TikTok?

      Well, there's a few reasons. One is that neither he nor his fan base are capable of understanding complex issues, and "TikTok = China = bad" is much easier to digest than explaining why the IoT components within "American" products are a security problem.

      Second is that his ego was bruised by the Tulsa rally, and since TikTok was partially credited with making it a disaster for him, he wants revenge. Thirdly, of course, any decision he makes is transactional and he believes he can make a profit from forcing TikTok to be sold to Microsoft (both for the country and personally, as the grifter wants his cut).

      The facts that this moderately detracts from the pandemic and that it's another "blame China" vector are icing on the cake, but it's really about a simplistic idea that he can gain from personally.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 10:17am

      Re: Why TikTok?

      well, lets ask questions..
      USA still owes china, money because the gov. borrowed Tons from China to goto war..That should have ended 6 month after it started.
      NOw to save the corps abit of money and maybe the citizens, Lets Stop paying? because in the end, its our people paying for it. and after we CUT all these corp taxes...
      HOw can we Impress this on China?

      Lets stop all imports.
      Oh, Wow, who is this hurting? NOT CHINA. Every corp in the USA that had sold goods incoming. Which is 99% of them. As all Imports Stopped.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 8:25am

    Safe Internet is the antithesis of what they want

    Fixing Internet infrastructure to make it more secure would have an adverse effect on the ability of the various 3 letter agencies to glean their nefarious bits. Those nefarious bits help to identify freedom loving peons who present a danger to the control freaks running this here hotel, and keeps 'enforcers' busy. No matter how much they say they want a safe Internet, they don't really, or they wouldn't be so up front about messing with encryption (that they absolutely know will be harmful, but deny that they know that because it suits their actual purpose).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    rangda (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 9:42am

    I assume that your question is purely rhetorical because you already know the answer.

    And elected official's job is to get re-elected. Solving large scale problems often requires complex, nuanced solutions, and frequently comes with some sort of cost that someone will perceive as negative. Fulfilling your job requirements of getting re-elected doesn't actually require you to solve problems, in fact actually solving them will probably piss some people off so it's actually detrimental to your employment. Instead you just have to make people think you are solving problems. So the theater is far more important than the action. And if you can lash out at the platform whose users put a damper on one of your rally's, hey, that's a win-win.

    Also keep in mind that a secondary career objective for an elected official is to ensure a soft landing spot in the private sector if/when you finally leave office. So if any of your theater can benefit someone that might be a future employer that's great too.

    And frequently ego comes into play as well. You want to make sure that you are always the most important person in the room (as long as you can do so while getting re-elected). This is particularly important with our current president, who I suspect prioritizes ego masturbation over re-election (and anything else).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 10:44am

    Im right, you are wrong, attitudes. Just cause.

    The Drama is abundant.
    I cant tell how much is or isnt anymore.

    Look up the Charles Lieber case.
    There is so much BS around everything, I could open a World wide Fertilizer corp.

    I cant for the life of me, understand the Animosity, between the USA and China. Is it that they are doing better, then a nation the same size, and with 1/10 the population?? Is it the spy's we sent to all the nations after WWII?? Is it the Corps that want into every country to control them?
    You would think that Capitalists would LOVE a communist nation, and take advantage of it, not having everything. But China took the advantage and the WORK force AND is making everything to take advantage of consumerism in the USA.

    Well, its not China..not really. its hong kong and the Corporate center of the world. China lets it be there, just to capture the wealth coming from it...LOVE those taxes.

    Who needs TV, this is real TV. And didnt we find other spies in the USA in the last 20 years?? isnt this the idea that the USA claims to own everything?? Or at least no other nation that isnt White? Considered White? we hate tan lines.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2020 @ 11:00am

    The one legit concern I have heard about TikTok was on the Stratechery podcast, and it's not really about spying. It's the ability for China to manipulate the algorithm to funnel the conversation in CCP-approved directions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    charliebrown (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 6:57pm

    Tiktok Alternatives?

    Whatever happened to VINE?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymou5 Coward, 11 Aug 2020 @ 11:20pm

      Re: Tiktok Alternatives?

      "Whatever happened to VINE?"

      People decided not to stay withered.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 11:27pm

      Re: Tiktok Alternatives?

      It was bought by Twitter, then shut down. One of Vine's founders has been working on a similar service named Byte, and there's another Chinese app named Likee, but they haven't had the massive number of users that TikTok attracts for various reasons.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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