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FBI, ICE plunder DMV driver database ‘gold mine’ for facial recognition scans



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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are exploiting state DMV records for facial recognition data without the knowledge or permission of drivers. 

Georgetown Law researchers, together with the Washington Post, have obtained facial recognition requests, documents, and emails which have revealed a project that uses vehicle ownership and driver license databases for surveillance purposes.

According to the publication, millions of US citizens have had their faces and photos scanned, creating a “gold mine” for the FBI and ICE’s facial recognition pursuits. 

No state or Congress decision has authorized the creation of a facial recognition system based on information harvested from state driving databases and license holders have not been asked to sign any form of waiver permitting such searches. 

The FBI conducts 4,000 facial recognition searches per month alone, and when “low-level” crimes are reported, DMV scans can be used to track down suspects in cases of criminal activity including petty theft.  

The Post says that a request to search a DMV database can be as informal as sending an email to a DMV contact. In total, 21 states permit the FBI to scan driver license photos. 

See also: San Francisco bans police from using facial recognition tech on residents

When it comes to ICE and the search for undocumented immigrants, the agency runs DMV searches in over a dozen states where these individuals are allowed permits as long as they pass in-state residency requirements and proficiency tests. As a result, information submitted by the undocumented and presumed safe in the hands of DMV can be turned against them.

Washington state is an exception to searches, as local officials require a court order before law enforcement agencies are allowed to submit facial recognition data requests. 

Project on Government Oversight counsel Jake Laperruque told the publication that the system could be considered “surveillance-first, ask-permission-later.” 

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When there appears to be a lack of consent, individual permission, waivers, and regulatory oversight in FBI and ICE facial recognition requests, casual plundering of state databases designed for other purposes are sending the US down a slippery slope in how facial recognition technology is applied. 

Consent is key for facial recognition applications, and without it, there is a serious breach of trust in a time where consumers are becoming protective of their privacy. It seems that lessons have not been learned, even considering the fallout and global outcry caused by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations concerning the US National Security Agency’s mass surveillance and data collection. 

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ICE declined to comment on the situation given the “sensitive” nature of investigations, whereas the FBI pointed towards comments made last month by Deputy Assistant Director Kimberly Del Greco, who said facial recognition technology is necessary to “preserve our nation’s freedoms, ensure our liberties are protected, and preserve our security.”

Previous and related coverage

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The Five Pillars of (Azure) Cloud-based Application Security



This 1-hour webinar from GigaOm brings together experts in Azure cloud application migration and security, featuring GigaOm analyst Jon Collins and special guests from Fortinet, Director of Product Marketing for Public Cloud, Daniel Schrader, and Global Director of Public Cloud Architecture and Engineering, Aidan Walden.

These interesting times have accelerated the drive towards digital transformation, application rationalization, and migration to cloud-based architectures. Enterprise organizations are looking to increase efficiency, but without impacting performance or increasing risk, either from infrastructure resilience or end-user behaviors.

Success requires a combination of best practice and appropriate use of technology, depending on where the organization is on its cloud journey. Elements such as zero-trust access and security-driven networking need to be deployed in parallel with security-first operations, breach prevention and response.

If you are looking to migrate applications to the cloud and want to be sure your approach maximizes delivery whilst minimizing risk, this webinar is for you.

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Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise



This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research brings together experts in data management and security, featuring GigaOm Analyst Enrico Signoretti and special guest from RackTop Systems, Jonathan Halstuch. The discussion will focus on data storage and how to protect data against cyberattacks.

Most of the recent news coverage and analysis of cyberattacks focus on hackers getting access and control of critical systems. Yet rarely is it mentioned that the most valuable asset for the organizations under attack is the data contained in these systems.

In this webinar, you will learn about the risks and costs of a poor data security management approach, and how to improve your data storage to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a compromised infrastructure.

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CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions



Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.

Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.

“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”

As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.

Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.

“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.

So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:

“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”

Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.

“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”

Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast

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