This Week in Cybercrime: Judge Upholds LinkedIn's "If You Put It on Our Site, Don't Blame Us If It Gets Out"

LinkedIn Not Liable

Earlier this week, a U.S. District Court in Northern California dismissed a class action lawsuit accusing LinkedIn of failing to deliver the level of security the plaintiffs say the social networking site’s privacy policy promised. A June 2012 data breach resulted in more than 6 million LinkedIn passwords being posted online. A few weeks later, a woman from Illinois and a woman from Virginia filed the suit—after learning that LinkedIn had encrypted the passwords with an outdated algorithm. Judge Edward Davila noted that the suit should not proceed to trial for several reasons. The plaintiffs, he said, wrongfully assumed that by paying for the site’s premium upgrade, they were entitled to a higher level of encryption for their data than users of the free version. Davila pointed out that, although the accusers admittedly never read the site’s privacy policy, it read,

“…we cannot ensure or warrant the security of any information you transmit to LinkedIn. There is no guarantee that information may not be accessed, disclosed, altered, or destroyed by breach of any of our physical, technical, or managerial safeguards. It is your responsibility to protect the security of your login information.”

The judge also failed to see how the posting of the passwords had, as the plaintiffs claimed, caused any economic harm or put them at future risk of identity theft.

Google’s Ups and Downs

It seems that the one-year anniversary of Google Play is not turning out to be the auspicious occasion Google had likely imagined. On Wednesday, the KrebsonSecurity.com blog reported that a new botkit is being used to trick Android users into downloading fraudulent banking apps capable of intercepting multifactor authentication messages from banks. The apps then send text messages with the purloined login credentials to the phony apps’ creators. That news appeared in the context of data that Google itself released on the Android developer blog showing that Android users can’t help but be plagued by malware. Google admitted that, based on data gleaned from mobile devices that accessed its app store during the two-week period that ended on Monday, only 16 percent of Android users have bothered to update their operating systems to the newest, safest versions. More than 40 percent of people with Android mobile devices still run a two-year old version known as Gingerbread. Kaspersky Lab, which keeps track of attempted malware installations on Android, reported that as of the end of 2012, Gingerbread was the most commonly targeted version of Google’s OS. (A SecurityLedger.com article notes that Apple, by contrast, has no such migration problems with its gadgets; 98 percent of all iPhone and iPad users run one or the other of the latest two iterations of iOS.)

The news isn't all bad about Google, though. The search-and-now-just-about-everything-else company did something this week for which it should be lauded. It struck a blow against the U.S. government surveillance program that has expanded rapidly since the passage of special laws that allow agencies such as the FBI to much more easily demand information from Internet service providers, credit bureaus, banks, and businesses like Google—all without a warrant. The demands for information, called National Security Letters (NSLs), come with a built-in gag order barring the companies receiving them form even mentioning that they’ve received them. But on Tuesday, Google became the first company to give a hint of the extent to which the FBI uses this authority. It published a document giving ballpark figures for the number of accounts for which it turned over information in a given year. For instance, it reported that in 2010 it divulged information on “2000–2999” customers; in 2009, 2011, and 2012, the range was “1000–1999.”

Although the U.S. Congress requires the FBI to disclose the number of times it issues NSLs (it sent out more than 16 000 in 2011), Google didn’t report exact numbers. “This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations,” Richard Salgado, a Google legal director, wrote in a blog post. But at least the existence of the NSLs and the potential for abuse is out in the open. The FBI continues to have this power to say information about you is “relevant” to an investigation and get unquestioned access to records—even after a 2007 Justice Department inquiry revealed that after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the FBI regularly ran afoul of the relaxed rules regarding the acquisition of evidence.

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