Reading about Anker’s recent security issues has been interesting. In reading I came across this great comment on The Verge’s article :
“why did this happen at all when Anker said these cameras were exclusively local and end-to-end encrypted?” and “why did it first lie and then delete those promises when we asked those questions?”
As a software developer, I can tell you with about 95% certainty what happened. The Anker software team screwed up and didn’t know about this security hole. They didn’t test this scenario. They just didn’t know. They probably don’t have enough security engineers and checks. It’s probably not a huge company.
As for the lies, the Anker PR/marketing people you talked to have no clue. They are probably just fed information from whoever in the company. They probably didn’t “lie”. Maybe the engineers were still investigating and weren’t sure so they told them that “no chance there’s a security hole”. Maybe a dev manager wanted to cover his/her ass and said, “there’s no way we didn’t test this”. Whatever the case, there’s a gap between reality (i.e. source code) and how the product that the marketing team is responsible for selling (welcome to software development!).
So yes… it’s fun to think of conspiracy theories like the Chinese government ordering Anker to leave a backdoor so that it could keep an eye on the front porch of Americans… but Occam’s razor chalks this up as careless software development and unresponsive marketing/PR(likely both a result of being a small’ish company).
This. Yes, this right here is in my own personal belief the true reality of the situation.
Mindgrub is not a huge company, but we spend a lot of time focused on the processes we need to create secure and scalable applications. We manage to do this because we are an engineering team of scale, and that requires us to set rules from branching strategy to mature continuous integration policies that our engineers can embrace as they move from project to project.
These processes are pretty good but nowhere near perfect, and I can tell you that the way we build applications is light years beyond many organizations I have worked with in the past.
Why? Because many best practices collapse when not run at scale. A singular developer can not peer review his or her own code. When you take any 2-4 person internal development shop 95% of the time you find cowboy coding happening on a regular basis. As all humans, we all make mistakes regardless of how amazing we may be as a singular developer. I can’t begin to tell you how often under a basic audit of code, infrastructure, or process that it becomes immediately obvious that this approach has created a technical debt of huge magnitudes.
What is more common in almost every one of these situations is a rift between the appointed chief engineer(s) and other teams like marketing and sales. Terms you may hear are this is what the customer really wants, we had to build it this way, or if you only understood how it worked.
Keep an eye out friends.
Every year all Mindgrub employees are required to complete our annual security training. This year we switched it up and moved to the well-received KnowBe4 training curriculum.
Watching and completing the ~45 min eLearning session seemed a bit surreal this holiday season. After all, LastPass completely failed, a house representative-elect lied about everything, and Anker was caught lying about its local-only cameras actually connecting to the cloud. All this without mentioning the many issues still circulating FTX being hacked and its founder running a billion-dollar company with little to know processes in place.
It really makes you stop and realize how hard it increasingly is to keep yourself safe. It’s one thing when we know we need to protect ourselves from those we might label as unsavory, but it becomes much more difficult to protect ourselves from the entities that we expect to protect us.
When I arrived at Mindgrub we made heavy use of LastPass. While we liked the tool, we found it lacked certain enterprise features we wanted and migrated to a different enterprise password manager. That tool is the password manager that, combined with our security processes, helps us limit access to only those who need it while also preventing team members from sharing passwords as text in tools like Slack or email.
Having a tool like LastPass hacked to a point that so many are at the mercy of a master password that now is a gatekeeper that hopefully can survive brute force attacks is a pill that is difficult to swallow. LastPass’s customers did everything right and trusted a company whose charter is securing your data better than your own.
The thing is, LastPass is just the most recent of these types of companies to let us down. Y’all remember Equifax, YouTube, Facebook, Marriott, Verizon, …? What is crazy is this is the list we know, and having spent decades working with security specialists, I can absolutely promise you that a very small percentage of companies ever publicly report most security incidents.
What we are facing is the reality that security is a team sport, and heck, maybe a village or country-wide sport. You or I can do everything correctly, however, as has been the case our entire lives, we all have dependencies on people, products, businesses, or governments, and we are all susceptible to the weakest link in this list. Just one chink in our combined armor, and the impacts are tremendous.
So consider this a reminder for all of us to keep being serious about the importance of security in our lives. Be diligent and make sure that we hold our IT and development teams to the security standards we expect of ourselves. Are you a developer? Find a security framework and make sure you and your team follow it.