Who do you trust?

Comment

Image Credits: Max Pixel (opens in a new window) under a CC0 Public Domain license.

Another week, another high-profile hack. This week it was (checks notes) Reddit. What makes this one marginally more interesting is that the victims were using two-factor authentication, i.e. SMS codes texted to them to verify their identities when their accounts were accessed — which turned out to be little more than a speed bump for the attackers.

This surprised exactly zero (good) security people. It has long been known that your phone service can be hacked either via SS7, the ancient and insecure system used to interconnect the planet’s phone networks, or by the more old-fashioned but even more effective method of walking into a store and talking a callow undertrained clerk into transferring your number to the attacker’s phone. Phone companies are trying to remediate both of these attack vectors, but you can’t trust them to protect you; not yet, and possibly not ever.

But you have to trust someone to protect all the things you hide behind passwords. You have no real choice but to implicitly trust your network, and your phone’s manufacturer, and the manufacturer of its baseband chip, and the whole basic stack from your BIOS to your browser.

You can choose Apple over Android, or Pixel over third-party Androids. But whichever choice you make, you are basically pledging your trust in all that you hold dear to Apple or Google. It’s sad to say, in an era when the tech giants are already too powerful and growing moreso every day, but from a security perspective, that is, for most people, probably currently the right thing to do.

Google’s security team is probably the best on the block, and its Pixel phones are more secure than other Androids, partly because they get the latest updates first, partly because they’re free of possibly vulnerable or even malicious pre-installed bloatware. I don’t like Apple’s hegemonic attitude towards software, philosophically; but its security people know what they are doing, and its strict gatekeeping of its App Store has very real security benefits.

But wait: this trust in those twin giants probably needs to extend beyond your phones to your computers and your emails, too. We’ve all been told again and again: don’t open email attachments. They’re not safe. And we are all told again and again, probably on a daily basis, by our family and/or co-workers, who may or may not have just been hacked themselves: open this email attachment, it’s something important you need to deal with right now. How to deal with this conundrum? The answer is, essentially: GMail, Google Docs, and Google Drive, on an Apple device or a Chromebook.

The new new security message is: “don’t use SMS authentication.” (Mind you, most Americans have never even heard of two-factor authentication full stop, and SMS two-factor is still better than one-factor, modulo the false sense of security it may instill.) What to do instead? Well, you could buy a Yubikey or a SecurID token, which is insanely, ludicrously, non-starter inconvenient for most people. Or you could use a phone app, such as, most commonly — yep, you guessed it; Google Authenticator.

Over the last few decades the tech industry has built systems so fundamentally insecure, so rotten to their core, that we now have no real choice but to trust its largest and most powerful companies to protect us. I’m all too aware of the grim irony. (Though in fairness the telecom industry has much to answer for too.) Things weren’t supposed to be this way; things didn’t have to be this way; but here we are.

More TechCrunch

OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT after users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday. The voice, called Sky, is…

OpenAI is removing ChatGPT’s AI voice that sounds like Scarlett Johansson

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft Build 2024: All the AI and hardware products Microsoft announced

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says