Recently, I have seen a lot of people in the InfoSec- and Online Privacy Community having lenghty discussions about which companies we can trust these days.
At the very least, since Snowden has leaked various documents, many companies have been labeled as either “trustworthy” or “not trustworthy”. These companies and services are rated by their past actions, and the main factors seem to be how they handle personal data, and how much they value their security. Let’s look at some examples:
- “GMail is a privacy nightmare but is a very secure service”
- “Yahoo was totally pwned a few Years back and the hid it for 3 YEARS! Oh and they spy on you”
- “ProtonMail is anonymous and safe”
And so on and so forth. Any discussion or article about this topic includes tons of links to all kinds of sources, personal experiences and quite often very, VERY heated tempers.
And it surely doesn’t end with E-Mail Services. VPN Providers, ISPs, Cloud Storage Providers and Server Hosts are frequently discussed in the realms I lurk around.
But, in the end, it’s all about TRUST. Yes, Yahoo is not as trustworthy as ProtonMail these days, after having every single User Account they had in 2013 being hacked, and trying to sweep it under the Rug.
Let me elaborate this with an example: Imagine we have a 50GB folder full of documents, images or otherwise valuable data on our harddrive. Now, we might back that up to an extrenal HDD, but as any responsible IT-Person would tell us, a local backup is pretty much like having no backup at all. Houses burn down, HDDs get confiscated or stolen and viruses nuke any file they come in contact with. What we need to do is a so called “offsite backup”. This means storing our data at a different physical location.
For personal use, one of the many cloud storage providers seems to be a good choice for our problem at first, but if we do some research we might notice that some of these options are pretty invasive. And even If we don’t care about the privacy aspect of it, we still have to consider that accounts can be breached, passwords hijacked and data stolen. Maybe having our vacation pictures stolen isn’t that big of a deal, but having our tax info stolen for example, can be quite a pain in the ass, as this information can be used to commit tax fraud under your name. Actually, any type of personal Information leaked might help Criminals to build a synthetic profile or even just help them answer some KBA Questions to get into other Accounts we own. What exactly can be done with our data depends entirely on the data that would actually be uploaded and differs from person to person. This is what many people refer to as a “Threat Model”.
What I am saying is: When choosing a cloud storage provider, we should think about our personal privacy and security, as these two things go hand in hand these days.
Now so far we have only built our threat model and have been getting more and more paranoid. Doesn’t exactly sound like fun to me.
At this point, one might be inclined to do some research to find the most trustworthy cloud provider. Is Google a good choice? Or use the (way more expensive) MEGA? Is DropBox even still a thing?
BUT trust is something we shouldn’t rely on. Trust is definitely not worthless¹, but its based on assumption and goodwill, not on facts. I looked up a definition in a dictionary:
TRUST – noun
reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence. confident expectation of something; hope.
I think this summarizes it pretty well. So what is the solution to our little Backup problem?
If we upload our files zipped and encrypted with a strong passphrase and decent Algorithm, we don’t need to hope that our storage provider doesn’t snoop around in the files. And if our account gets hacked, that is certainly annoying, but without the keys, the attacker will only be able to steal useless data junk from us.
Disclaimer: In theory an Attacker could, with enough sophisitication and resources, decrypt our files. If we choose a strong passphrase however, we would need to be an exceptionally high value target to justify such measures.
When we trust a service, we are giving control away. If we don’t want our data to be accesed by ANY third party, including hackers and the storage provider, the easiest way is to take matters in our own hands. By encrypting the data we want to protect.
For this specific scenario I personally use GPG with symmetric encryption, using a 200+ char long password. GPG’s default algorithm is considered safe, but it’s possible to just use AES256 or others.
For emails, one can use PGP, for websites make sure they run HTTPS. If they do, the connection to the server is encrypted. I recommend using HTTPS Everywhere to make sure all connectioons are safe. And as described in an earlier blog post of mine, I also recommend anyone to use full drive encryption in case of a stolen hard drive.
TLDR: Encrypt your shit