Mozilla Offers Free Secure File-Sharing Service

Mozilla on Tuesday announced Firefox Send, a free encrypted file-sharing service that works in any browser.

To share a file, you simply visit the Send site and drag your file to a box on the Web page. Unregistered users may upload up to 1 gigabyte in files, while registered users have a 2.5 GB allowance.

After uploading your files, you choose an expiration time for the link used to share them. Expirations can be set for number of downloads — one to five, 50 or 100 — or in increments of time, from five minutes to one hour, one day, or seven days.

You can protect the link with a password.

You then click the upload button, and you’re given a URL. The URL contains a link to the file and a key for decrypting it.

The person receiving the URL can click on it to download the file, decrypt it, and store it on a computer — or on a mobile phone when the Send app for Android becomes available. It is currently in beta.

There are no hoops for recipients to jump through, noted Nick Nguyen, Mozilla’s vice president of product strategy.

“They simply receive a link to click and download the file,” he wrote in an online post. “They don’t need to have a Firefox account to access your file. Overall, this makes the sharing experience seamless for both parties, and as quick as sending an email.”

Ephemeral Storage

A service like Send has a number of uses for consumers.

“Imagine the last time you moved into a new apartment or purchased a home and had to share financial information like your credit report over the Web. In situations like this, you may want to offer the recipient one-time or limited access to those files,” wrote Nguyen.

“With Send, you can feel safe that your personal information does not live somewhere in the cloud indefinitely,” he added.

There are other services for sharing files — notably, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive — but they don’t have the ephemeral quality of Send.

“They’re geared toward more permanent file storage,” said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City.

“They’re trying to get you to pay for more permanent storage,” he told TechNewsWorld. “That’s how they make money, so they don’t have much interest in helping you effectively manage your space.”

Niche Targeted

There are other cloud services similar to Send, Nguyen conceded, but not with Mozilla’s commitment to privacy and security.

“We know there are several cloud sharing solutions out there, but as a continuation of our mission to bring you more private and safer choices, you can trust that your information is safe with Send,” he wrote.

“As with all Firefox apps and services, Send is Private By Design, meaning all of your files are protected and we stand by our mission to handle your data privately and securely,” Nguyen continued.

The privacy issue will draw some people to Send, observed San Jose, California-based Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“Firefox is going after a niche audience that doesn’t trust the larger corporate cloud services,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s not going to pose much of a threat to companies focusing on the transfer of large files, but it is a good alternative to consumers looking for an easy way to send files securely,” added Reticle’s Rubin.

“There have been free tools to secure files for a long time,” he continued, “but they haven’t been easy to use or from a source that consumers know and trust.”

While Send may not threaten the bigger players in the market, it could open an opportunity for Mozilla.

“They could partner with mail providers to provide a way for them to handle larger attachments,” Rubin suggested.

Complacent About Security

Because Send works inside any browser, it makes things easier to organize and send, noted Tanner Johnson, a senior analyst at IHS Markit, a research, analysis and advisory firm headquartered in London.

That doesn’t mean that consumers will be rushing to share their files securely, however.

“Unfortunately, we live in a very complacent society, security-wise,” Johnson told TechNewsWorld, “so a lot of these services — unless they’re very user-friendly and require little input and setup from the user — won’t be adopted quickly.”

“You’d be surprised how many people refuse to enact two-factor authentication on their devices because setting up the account and configuration is just too taxing,” he said, “so they throw their hands in the air and just give up.”

One drawback to Send is that when recipients have an unencrypted copy of a file, they can do anything with it.

“You need to trust the individual you’re sending the information to,” Johnson said. “If you have something you want to conceal or keep private, you have to trust that person won’t turn around and share it with someone else.”

Foiling Middleman

Send is designed to foil a man-in-the-middle attack, in which an unauthorized person snatches a message from a sender before it reaches a recipient.

With Send, “even if a message is intercepted, it’s illegible because it’s encrypted,” Johnson explained.

While secure file-sharing hasn’t gained wide consumer acceptance, demand for it has been growing, he noted.

“As more stories appear about mismanagement of data,” Johnson continued, “visibility will grow, which will drive adoption.”

Send will attract security-minded individuals, as well as those concerned with basic, digital security hygiene.

“It’s an interesting product,” said Phil Zimmermann, creator of PGP encryption and an associate professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

“It’s certainly better than a service that uploads files without encryption,” he told TechNewsWorld, “or uploads encrypted files with the key to decrypt them.”

Although Mozilla’s browser fortunes have been declining, Send is an example of its strategy to remain relevant.

“At Mozilla, we are always committed to people’s security and privacy,” wrote Nguyen. “We are continually looking for new ways to fulfill that promise, whether it’s through the browser, apps or services.

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admin March 20, 2019 0 Comments

Court: Cops Can’t Compel the Use of Body Parts to Unlock Phones

Authorities can’t force people to unlock their biometrically secured phones or other devices, a federal judge in California ruled Thursday.

“The Government may not compel or otherwise utilize fingers, thumbs, facial recognition, optical/iris, or any other biometric feature to unlock electronic devices,” Magistrate Judge Kandis A. Westmore wrote in an opinion for the U.S. District Court for Northern California.

An attempt by law enforcement authorities in Oakland, California, to force two suspected extortionists to unlock their mobile phones with biometrics violated Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination, Westmore found.

Passcodes used to unlock devices already are protected by the Fifth Amendment, which prevents the government from forcing people to testify against themselves, she explained.

“Biometric features serve the same purpose of a passcode, which is to secure the owner’s content, pragmatically rendering them functionally equivalent,” Westmore wrote. “It follows, however, that if a person cannot be compelled to provide a passcode because it is a testimonial communication, a person cannot be compelled to provide one’s finger, thumb, iris, face, or other biometric feature to unlock that same device.”

More Than Physical Evidence

While compelling someone to give up their fingerprints or DNA to law enforcement is an accepted practice, Westmore argued they’re not the same as compelling someone to unlock a phone with a biometric security feature.

“Requiring someone to affix their finger or thumb to a digital device is fundamentally different than requiring a suspect to submit to fingerprinting,” she wrote.

“A finger or thumb scan used to unlock a device indicates that the device belongs to a particular individual. In other words, the act concedes that the phone was in the possession and control of the suspect, and authenticates ownership or access to the phone and all of its digital contents,” Westmore noted.

“The act of unlocking a phone with a finger or thumb scan far exceeds the ‘physical evidence’ created when a suspect submits to fingerprinting to merely compare his fingerprints to existing physical evidence (another fingerprint) found at a crime scene, because there is no comparison or witness corroboration required to confirm a positive match,” she wrote.

“Instead, a successful finger or thumb scan confirms ownership or control of the device, and, unlike fingerprints, the authentication of its contents cannot be reasonably refuted,” Westmore found.

Step Forward for Privacy Rights

The protection of personal phone data and control over biometric information are two of the most important emerging privacy issues in the criminal justice system, said Alan Butler, senior counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

“The decision from the Northern District of California is an important step forward for constitutional privacy rights,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“The judge rightly recognized that traditional constitutional principles must be adapted as technology changes in order to preserve privacy and other rights ensured by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments,” Butler said.

“Law enforcement officials are charged with upholding the Constitution and cannot act contrary to its limitations, so there cannot be any legitimate law enforcement activity that violates these important Constitutional rights,” he maintained. “The government must use legitimate means subject to proper judicial oversight if they want to obtain evidence for an investigation.”

Think Outside the Phone

Although Westmore rejected law enforcement’s reasoning for forcing suspects to unlock their phones by using a part of their anatomy, she wasn’t insensitive to law enforcement’s position.

“While the Court sympathizes with the Government’s interest in accessing the contents of any electronic devices it might lawfully seize, there are other ways that the Government might access the content that do not trample on the Fifth Amendment,” she wrote.

In the case before the court, Facebook Messenger was used in a suspected extortion attempt. Law enforcement officials could have obtained the information they wanted from Facebook under the federal Stored Communications Act or through a warrant based on probable cause, Westmore suggested.

“While it may be more expedient to circumvent Facebook, and attempt to gain access by infringing on the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination, it is an abuse of power and is unconstitutional,” she wrote.

“Law enforcement is creative and diligent,” said Justin Kay, an attorney in the Chicago law office of Drinker Biddle & Reath.

“Law enforcement will find a way to get in even when they can’t get in through cooperation,” he told TechNewsWorld.


Although Westmore’s opinion doesn’t have the weight of a higher court decision, it could be very influential.

“Defendants and potential defendants are going to be citing this,” Kay said, “and other courts will invoke its reasoning.”

For the most part, the issue of passwords and unlocking electronic devices has been kicking around lower federal courts and state courts — but that could change.

“As the judge in this case acknowledges, there have been other decisions concerning compelled disclosure of passwords, and this decision is consistent with many earlier judgments,” EPIC’s Butler observed.

“However, this issue does come up more frequently each year, given the widespread use of mobile devices with biometric locks,” he observed. “So I would expect that courts of appeals — and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court — will weigh in on this in the near future.”

Legislative Inertia

The reason the courts have had to take an aggressive stance on electronic device privacy is that lawmakers have failed to address the problem.

“Our legislative system is not keeping up with the rate of technological change,” said French Caldwell, CFO of The Analyst Syndicate, an IT research and analysis group based in Washington, D.C.

“The courts are saying, ‘We can’t wait for the legislature to sort all this out,’ so they’re being forced into a position of creating new law because there’s no law on this,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The issue eventually will land before the Supreme Court, Caldwell sid, and “it’s going to take a long time before it gets to the Supreme Court, which gives legislators time to act.”

Aside from protecting citizens’ rights, there may be a security lesson to be learned from Westmore’s decision.

“Biometric authentication is just one layer in what should be multifactor authentication,” said Drinker Biddle’s Kay. “The technology should be used with a passcode. It should be used to make sure that the person inputting the passcode is the person that should be inputting the passcode.” 

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admin March 20, 2019 0 Comments