The FBI seems to have been caught fibbing again on the topic of encrypted phones. FBI director Christopher Wray estimated in December that it had almost 7,800 phones from 2017 alone that investigators were unable to access. The real number is likely less than a quarter of that, The Washington Post reports.

Internal records cited by sources put the actual number of encrypted phones at perhaps 1,200 but perhaps as many as 2,000, and the FBI told the paper in a statement that “initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported.” Supposedly having three databases tracking the phones led to devices being counted multiple times.

Such a mistake would be so elementary that it’s hard to conceive of how it would be possible. These aren’t court notes, memos or unimportant random pieces of evidence, they’re physical devices with serial numbers and names attached. The idea that no one thought to check for duplicates before giving a number to the director for testimony in Congress suggests either conspiracy or gross incompetence.

The latter seems more likely after a report by the Office of the Inspector General that found the FBI had failed to utilize its own resources to access locked phones, instead suing Apple and then hastily withdrawing the case when its basis (a locked phone from a terror attack) was removed. It seems to have chosen to downplay or ignore its own capabilities in order to pursue the narrative that widespread encryption is dangerous without a backdoor for law enforcement.

An audit is underway at the Bureau to figure out just how many phones it actually has that it can’t access, and hopefully how this all happened.

It is unmistakably among the FBI’s goals to emphasize the problem of devices being fully encrypted and inaccessible to authorities, a trend known as “going dark.” That much it has said publicly, and it is a serious problem for law enforcement. But it seems equally unmistakable that the Bureau is happy to be sloppy, deceptive or both in its advancement of a tailored narrative.

The FBI seems to have been caught fibbing again on the topic of encrypted phones. FBI director Christopher Wray estimated in December that it had almost 7,800 phones from 2017 alone that investigators were unable to access. The real number is likely less than a quarter of that, The Washington Post reports.

Internal records cited by sources put the actual number of encrypted phones at perhaps 1,200 but perhaps as many as 2,000, and the FBI told the paper in a statement that “initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported.” Supposedly having three databases tracking the phones led to devices being counted multiple times.

Such a mistake would be so elementary that it’s hard to conceive of how it would be possible. These aren’t court notes, memos or unimportant random pieces of evidence, they’re physical devices with serial numbers and names attached. The idea that no one thought to check for duplicates before giving a number to the director for testimony in Congress suggests either conspiracy or gross incompetence.

The latter seems more likely after a report by the Office of the Inspector General that found the FBI had failed to utilize its own resources to access locked phones, instead suing Apple and then hastily withdrawing the case when its basis (a locked phone from a terror attack) was removed. It seems to have chosen to downplay or ignore its own capabilities in order to pursue the narrative that widespread encryption is dangerous without a backdoor for law enforcement.

An audit is underway at the Bureau to figure out just how many phones it actually has that it can’t access, and hopefully how this all happened.

It is unmistakably among the FBI’s goals to emphasize the problem of devices being fully encrypted and inaccessible to authorities, a trend known as “going dark.” That much it has said publicly, and it is a serious problem for law enforcement. But it seems equally unmistakable that the Bureau is happy to be sloppy, deceptive or both in its advancement of a tailored narrative.

Comcast has just been caught in a major security snafu: revealing the passwords of its customers’ Xfinity-provided wireless routers in plaintext on the web. Anyone with a subscriber’s account number and street address number will be served up the Wi-Fi name and password via the company’s Xfinity internet activation service.

Security researchers Karan Saini and Ryan Stevenson reported the issue to ZDnet.

The site is meant to help people setting up their internet for the first time: ideally, you put in your data, and Comcast sends back the router credentials while activating the service.

The problem is threefold:

  1. You can “activate” an account that’s already active
  2. The data required to do so is minimal and it is not verified via text or email
  3. The wireless name and password are sent on the web in plaintext

This means that anyone with your account number and street address number (e.g. the 1425 in “1425 Alder Ave,” no street name, city, or apartment number needed), both of which can be found on your paper bill or in an email, will instantly be given your router’s SSID and password, allowing them to log in and use it however they like or monitor its traffic. They could also rename the router’s network or change its password, locking out subscribers.

This only affects people who use a router provided by Xfinity/Comcast, which comes with its own name and password built in. Though it also returns custom SSIDs and passwords, since they’re synced with your account and can be changed via app and other methods.

What can you do? While this problem is at large, it’s no good changing your password — Comcast will just provide any malicious actor the new one. So until further notice all of Comcast’s Xfinity customers with routers provided by the company are at risk.

One thing you can do for now is treat your home network as if it is a public one — if you must use it, make sure encryption is enabled if you conduct any private business like buying things online. What will likely happen is Comcast will issue a notice and ask users to change their router passwords at large.

Another is to buy your own router — this is a good idea anyway, as it will pay for itself in a few months and you can do more stuff with it. Which to buy and how to install it, however, are beyond the scope of this article. But if you’re really worried, you could conceivably fix this security issue today by bringing your own hardware to the bargain.

I’ve contacted the company for comment and will update when I hear back.

Comcast has just been caught in a major security snafu: revealing the passwords of its customers’ Xfinity-provided wireless routers in plaintext on the web. Anyone with a subscriber’s account number and street address number will be served up the Wi-Fi name and password via the company’s Xfinity internet activation service.

Security researchers Karan Saini and Ryan Stevenson reported the issue to ZDnet.

The site is meant to help people setting up their internet for the first time: ideally, you put in your data, and Comcast sends back the router credentials while activating the service.

The problem is threefold:

  1. You can “activate” an account that’s already active
  2. The data required to do so is minimal and it is not verified via text or email
  3. The wireless name and password are sent on the web in plaintext

This means that anyone with your account number and street address number (e.g. the 1425 in “1425 Alder Ave,” no street name, city, or apartment number needed), both of which can be found on your paper bill or in an email, will instantly be given your router’s SSID and password, allowing them to log in and use it however they like or monitor its traffic. They could also rename the router’s network or change its password, locking out subscribers.

This only affects people who use a router provided by Xfinity/Comcast, which comes with its own name and password built in. Though it also returns custom SSIDs and passwords, since they’re synced with your account and can be changed via app and other methods.

What can you do? While this problem is at large, it’s no good changing your password — Comcast will just provide any malicious actor the new one. So until further notice all of Comcast’s Xfinity customers with routers provided by the company are at risk.

One thing you can do for now is treat your home network as if it is a public one — if you must use it, make sure encryption is enabled if you conduct any private business like buying things online. What will likely happen is Comcast will issue a notice and ask users to change their router passwords at large.

Another is to buy your own router — this is a good idea anyway, as it will pay for itself in a few months and you can do more stuff with it. Which to buy and how to install it, however, are beyond the scope of this article. But if you’re really worried, you could conceivably fix this security issue today by bringing your own hardware to the bargain.

I’ve contacted the company for comment and will update when I hear back.