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UK to withdraw from online porn block, censorship crusade

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With global implications, internet censorship reaches inflection point
Instead of opposing the internet barriers raised by the world’s authoritarian regimes, Silicon Valley is playing along.

When the UK government announced plans to instill Internet-wide censorship on pornography in order to prevent minors from accessing adult content, it didn’t take long for cracks to appear in the country’s proposed wall.

Due to be introduced on July 15, 2019, a date only weeks away, the barrier would force online providers to shoulder the burden — and cost — of age verification checks through means including the submission of credit card details or scanned copies of ID cards and passports in order to prove a visitor is over 18 years of age.

Websites which monetized pornography would be forced to comply or “face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK users,” according to the UK government.

The efforts were overseen by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), an organization which told ZDNet that if a website was not compliant, the BBFC would “request that they [search engines and payment providers] withdraw services.”

Request is the key phrase here, rather than demand, as attempting to regulate access to a global pornography platform is not an easy task to accomplish.

Back in April, we outlined only some of the reasons why the porn block was likely to backfire, the least of which being that the simple use of a virtual private network (VPN) or the Tor network would bypass such restrictions.

See also: Why the UK’s porn block will backfire spectacularly

Given that today’s UK teenagers have grown up with the benefit of broadband, smartphones, and tablets — rather than dial-up and PCs which came with storage numbered in the megabytes — working out how to dance around an ill-thought-out blockade would be no problem to many of them.

(It has also been shown that the most popular ways to outsource age verification checks on the market today can be circumvented in mere minutes through a quick Google search.)

Giving adult content providers the opportunity to link your credit card, ID, and porn preferences together in digital profiles, with the risk of this information being leaked through data breaches — potentially leading to subsequent blackmail in a scenario reminiscent of the Ashley Madison breach — is also of serious concern.

However, another issue which was not so easy to see on the horizon has potentially shelved the project indefinitely — a failure to comply with EU standards in launching the block.

The UK government, which has shifted its focus from attempting to thrash out an agreement with the EU for Brexit to a conservative leadership battle reminiscent of a season of Fawlty Towers, has confirmed the indefinite delay, according to the BBC.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Secretary Jeremy Wright said the project has been suspended due to a failure to keep the EU informed of key details.

TechRepublic: How AI-enhanced malware poses a threat to your organization

The irony cannot be lost here, considering the porn block would have moved the responsibility of verification to vendors with potentially severe consequences for failure, and yet, the government has not performed its own validation and legal checks ahead of the project’s launch.  

While the porn block was originally intended as a means to protect children and prevent them “stumbling across” adult material, you are far more likely to ‘stumble’ across these forms of content while on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, due to spam and bots.

Attempting to regulate these massive platforms, in the same way, would be a losing battle and the challenge of creating safety controls for major websites is simply not one that the UK government and a film classification organization have the technical expertise or influence to implement.

CNET: Your car’s data privacy comes into question in Georgia Supreme Court case

The UK government, as the creators of the Snooper’s Charter, may wish this was not the reality of the situation. However, there are more pressing matters to be handled politically, and it will likely be up to the next prime minister to choose whether to resurrect the porn block or not.

For the sake of our privacy and security at large, let us hope this is not the case. 

Previous and related coverage


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Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications

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Yes, much of the world may have moved on from email to social media and culturally dubious TikTok dances, yet traditional electronic mail remains a foundation of business communication. And sadly, it remains a prime vector for malware, data leakage, and phishing attacks that can undermine enterprise protections. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a just released report titled “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” GigaOm Analyst Simon Gibson surveyed more than a dozen enterprise-focused email security solutions. He found a range of approaches to securing communications that often can be fitted together to provide critical, defense-in-depth protection against even determined attackers.

Figure 1. GigaOm Radar for Email Phishing Prevention and Detection

“When evaluating these vendors and their solutions, it is important to consider your own business and workflow,” Gibson writes in the report, stressing the need to deploy solutions that best address your organization’s business workflow and email traffic. “For some it may be preferable to settle on one comprehensive solution, while for others building a best-of-breed architecture from multiple vendors may be preferable.”

In a field of competent solutions, Gibson found that Forcepoint, purchased recently by Raytheon, stood apart thanks to the layered protections provided by its Advanced Classification Engine. Area 1 and Zimperium, meanwhile, are both leaders that exhibit significant momentum, with Area 1 boosted by its recent solution partnership with Virtru, and Zimperium excelling in its deep commitment to mobile message security.

A mobile focus is timely, Gibson says in a video interview for GigaOm. He says companies are “tuning the spigot on” and enabling unprecedented access and reliance on mobile devices, which is creating an urgent need to get ahead of threats.

Gibson’s conclusion in the report? He singles out three things: Defense in depth, awareness of existing patterns and infrastructure, and a healthy respect for the “human factor” that can make security so hard to lock down.

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When Is a DevSecOps Vendor Not a DevSecOps Vendor?

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DevOps’ general aim is to enable a more efficient process for producing software and technology solutions and bringing stakeholders together to speed up delivery. But we know from experience that this inherently creative, outcome-driven approach often forgets about one thing until too late in the process—security. Too often, security is brought into the timeline just before deployment, risking last minute headaches and major delays. The security team is pushed into being the Greek chorus of the process, “ruining everyone’s fun” by demanding changes and slowing things down.

But as we know, in the complex, multi-cloud and containerized environment we find ourselves in, security is becoming more important and challenging than ever. And the costs of security failure are not only measured in slower deployment, but in compliance breaches and reputational damage.

The term “DevSecOps” has been coined to characterize how security needs to be at the heart of the DevOps process. This is in part principle and part tools. As a principle, DevSecOps fits with the concept of “shifting left,” that is, ensuring that security is treated as early as possible in the development process. So far, so simple.

From a tooling perspective, however, things get more complicated, not least because the market has seen a number of platforms marketing themselves as DevSecOps. As we have been writing our Key Criteria report on the subject, we have learned that not all DevSecOps vendors are necessarily DevSecOps vendors. Specifically, we have learned to distinguish capabilities that directly enable the goals of DevSecOps from a process perspective, from those designed to support DevSecOps practices. We could define them as: “Those that do, and those that help.”

This is how to tell the two types of vendor apart and how to use them.

Vendors Enabling DevSecOps: “Tools That Do”

A number of tools work to facilitate the DevSecOps process -– let’s bite the bullet and call them DevSecOps tools. They help teams set out each stage of software development, bringing siloed teams together behind a unified vision that allows fast, high-quality development, with security considerations at its core. DevSecOps tools work across the development process, for example:

  • Create: Help to set and implement policy
  • Develop: Apply guidance to the process and aid its implementation
  • Test: Facilitate and guide security testing procedures
  • Deploy: Provide reports to assure confidence to deploy the application

The key element that sets these tool sets apart is the ability to automate and reduce friction within the development process. They will prompt action, stop a team from moving from one stage to another if the process has not adequately addressed security concerns, and guide the roadmap for the development from start to finish.

Supporting DevSecOps: “Tools That Help”

In this category we place those tools which aid the execution, and monitoring, of good DevSecOps principles. Security scanning and application/infrastructure hardening tools are a key element of these processes: Software composition analysis (SCA) forms a part of the development stage, static/dynamic application security testing (SAST/DAST) is integral to the test stage and runtime app protection (RASP) is a key to the Deploy stage.

Tools like this are a vital part of the security layer of security tooling, especially just before deployment – and they often come with APIs so they can be plugged into the CI/CD process. However, while these capabilities are very important to DevSecOps, they can be seen in more of a supporting role, rather than being DevSecOps tools per se.

DevSecOps-washing is not a good idea for the enterprise

While one might argue that security should never have been shifted right, DevSecOps exists to ensure that security best practices take place across the development lifecycle. A corollary exists to the idea of “tools that help,” namely that organizations implementing these tools are not “doing DevSecOps,” any more than vendors providing these tools are DevSecOps vendors.

The only way to “do” DevSecOps is to fully embrace security at a process management and governance level: This means assessing risk, defining policy, setting review gates, and disallowing progress for insecure deliverables. Organizations that embrace DevSecOps can get help from what we are calling DevSecOps tools, as well as from scanning and hardening tools that help support its goals.

At the end of the day, all security and governance boils down to risk: If you buy a scanning tool so you can check a box that says “DevSecOps,” you are potentially adding to your risk posture, rather than mitigating it. So, get your DevSecOps strategy fixed first, then consider how you can add automation, visibility, and control using “tools that do,” as well as benefit from “tools that help.”

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High Performance Application Security Testing

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research. It is hosted by an expert in Application and API testing, and GigaOm analyst, Jake Dolezal. His presentation will focus on the results of high performance testing we completed against two security mechanisms: ModSecurity on NGINX and NGINX App Protect. Additionally, we tested the AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF) as a fully managed security offering.

While performance is important, it is only one criterion for a Web Application Firewall selection. The results of the report are revealing about these platforms. The methodology will be shown with clarity and transparency on how you might replicate these tests to mimic your own workloads and requirements.

Register now to join GigaOm and sponsor NGINX for this free expert webinar.

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