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Paul Merrell

Canada Casts Global Surveillance Dragnet Over File Downloads - The Intercept - 0 views

  • Canada’s leading surveillance agency is monitoring millions of Internet users’ file downloads in a dragnet search to identify extremists, according to top-secret documents. The covert operation, revealed Wednesday by CBC News in collaboration with The Intercept, taps into Internet cables and analyzes records of up to 15 million downloads daily from popular websites commonly used to share videos, photographs, music, and other files. The revelations about the spying initiative, codenamed LEVITATION, are the first from the trove of files provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to show that the Canadian government has launched its own globe-spanning Internet mass surveillance system. According to the documents, the LEVITATION program can monitor downloads in several countries across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and North America. It is led by the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, Canada’s equivalent of the NSA. (The Canadian agency was formerly known as “CSEC” until a recent name change.)
  • The latest disclosure sheds light on Canada’s broad existing surveillance capabilities at a time when the country’s government is pushing for a further expansion of security powers following attacks in Ottawa and Quebec last year. Ron Deibert, director of University of Toronto-based Internet security think tank Citizen Lab, said LEVITATION illustrates the “giant X-ray machine over all our digital lives.” “Every single thing that you do – in this case uploading/downloading files to these sites – that act is being archived, collected and analyzed,” Deibert said, after reviewing documents about the online spying operation for CBC News. David Christopher, a spokesman for Vancouver-based open Internet advocacy group OpenMedia.ca, said the surveillance showed “robust action” was needed to rein in the Canadian agency’s operations.
  • In a top-secret PowerPoint presentation, dated from mid-2012, an analyst from the agency jokes about how, while hunting for extremists, the LEVITATION system gets clogged with information on innocuous downloads of the musical TV series Glee. CSE finds some 350 “interesting” downloads each month, the presentation notes, a number that amounts to less than 0.0001 per cent of the total collected data. The agency stores details about downloads and uploads to and from 102 different popular file-sharing websites, according to the 2012 document, which describes the collected records as “free file upload,” or FFU, “events.” Only three of the websites are named: RapidShare, SendSpace, and the now defunct MegaUpload.
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  • “The specific uses that they talk about in this [counter-terrorism] context may not be the problem, but it’s what else they can do,” said Tamir Israel, a lawyer with the University of Ottawa’s Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. Picking which downloads to monitor is essentially “completely at the discretion of CSE,” Israel added. The file-sharing surveillance also raises questions about the number of Canadians whose downloading habits could have been swept up as part of LEVITATION’s dragnet. By law, CSE isn’t allowed to target Canadians. In the LEVITATION presentation, however, two Canadian IP addresses that trace back to a web server in Montreal appear on a list of suspicious downloads found across the world. The same list includes downloads that CSE monitored in closely allied countries, including the United Kingdom, United States, Spain, Brazil, Germany and Portugal. It is unclear from the document whether LEVITATION has ever prevented any terrorist attacks. The agency cites only two successes of the program in the 2012 presentation: the discovery of a hostage video through a previously unknown target, and an uploaded document that contained the hostage strategy of a terrorist organization. The hostage in the discovered video was ultimately killed, according to public reports.
  • LEVITATION does not rely on cooperation from any of the file-sharing companies. A separate secret CSE operation codenamed ATOMIC BANJO obtains the data directly from internet cables that it has tapped into, and the agency then sifts out the unique IP address of each computer that downloaded files from the targeted websites. The IP addresses are valuable pieces of information to CSE’s analysts, helping to identify people whose downloads have been flagged as suspicious. The analysts use the IP addresses as a kind of search term, entering them into other surveillance databases that they have access to, such as the vast repositories of intercepted Internet data shared with the Canadian agency by the NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters. If successful, the searches will return a list of results showing other websites visited by the people downloading the files – in some cases revealing associations with Facebook or Google accounts. In turn, these accounts may reveal the names and the locations of individual downloaders, opening the door for further surveillance of their activities.
  • Canada’s leading surveillance agency is monitoring millions of Internet users’ file downloads in a dragnet search to identify extremists, according to top-secret documents. The covert operation, revealed Wednesday by CBC News in collaboration with The Intercept, taps into Internet cables and analyzes records of up to 15 million downloads daily from popular websites commonly used to share videos, photographs, music, and other files. The revelations about the spying initiative, codenamed LEVITATION, are the first from the trove of files provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to show that the Canadian government has launched its own globe-spanning Internet mass surveillance system. According to the documents, the LEVITATION program can monitor downloads in several countries across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and North America. It is led by the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, Canada’s equivalent of the NSA. (The Canadian agency was formerly known as “CSEC” until a recent name change.)
Paul Merrell

Secret 'BADASS' Intelligence Program Spied on Smartphones - The Intercept - 0 views

  • British and Canadian spy agencies accumulated sensitive data on smartphone users, including location, app preferences, and unique device identifiers, by piggybacking on ubiquitous software from advertising and analytics companies, according to a document obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The document, included in a trove of Snowden material released by Der Spiegel on January 17, outlines a secret program run by the intelligence agencies called BADASS. The German newsweekly did not write about the BADASS document, attaching it to a broader article on cyberwarfare. According to The Intercept‘s analysis of the document, intelligence agents applied BADASS software filters to streams of intercepted internet traffic, plucking from that traffic unencrypted uploads from smartphones to servers run by advertising and analytics companies.
  • Programmers frequently embed code from a handful of such companies into their smartphone apps because it helps them answer a variety of questions: How often does a particular user open the app, and at what time of day? Where does the user live? Where does the user work? Where is the user right now? What’s the phone’s unique identifier? What version of Android or iOS is the device running? What’s the user’s IP address? Answers to those questions guide app upgrades and help target advertisements, benefits that help explain why tracking users is not only routine in the tech industry but also considered a best practice. For users, however, the smartphone data routinely provided to ad and analytics companies represents a major privacy threat. When combined together, the information fragments can be used to identify specific users, and when concentrated in the hands of a small number of companies, they have proven to be irresistibly convenient targets for those engaged in mass surveillance. Although the BADASS presentation appears to be roughly four years old, at least one player in the mobile advertising and analytics space, Google, acknowledges that its servers still routinely receive unencrypted uploads from Google code embedded in apps.
Paul Merrell

Use Tor or 'EXTREMIST' Tails Linux? Congrats, you're on the NSA's list * The Register - 0 views

  • Alleged leaked documents about the NSA's XKeyscore snooping software appear to show the paranoid agency is targeting Tor and Tails users, Linux Journal readers – and anyone else interested in online privacy.Apparently, this configuration file for XKeyscore is in the divulged data, which was obtained and studied by members of the Tor project and security specialists for German broadcasters NDR and WDR. <a href="http://pubads.g.doubleclick.net/gampad/jump?iu=/6978/reg_security/front&sz=300x250%7C300x600&tile=3&c=33U7ZK6qwQrMkAACSrTugAAAP1&t=ct%3Dns%26unitnum%3D3%26unitname%3Dwww_top_mpu%26pos%3Dtop%26test%3D0" target="_blank"> <img src="http://pubads.g.doubleclick.net/gampad/ad?iu=/6978/reg_security/front&sz=300x250%7C300x600&tile=3&c=33U7ZK6qwQrMkAACSrTugAAAP1&t=ct%3Dns%26unitnum%3D3%26unitname%3Dwww_top_mpu%26pos%3Dtop%26test%3D0" alt=""></a> In their analysis of the alleged top-secret documents, they claim the NSA is, among other things:Specifically targeting Tor directory servers Reading email contents for mentions of Tor bridges Logging IP addresses used to search for privacy-focused websites and software And possibly breaking international law in doing so. We already know from leaked Snowden documents that Western intelligence agents hate Tor for its anonymizing abilities. But what the aforementioned leaked source code, written in a rather strange custom language, shows is that not only is the NSA targeting the anonymizing network Tor specifically, it is also taking digital fingerprints of any netizens who are remotely interested in privacy.
  • These include readers of the Linux Journal site, anyone visiting the website for the Tor-powered Linux operating system Tails – described by the NSA as "a comsec mechanism advocated by extremists on extremist forums" – and anyone looking into combining Tails with the encryption tool Truecrypt.If something as innocuous as Linux Journal is on the NSA's hit list, it's a distinct possibility that El Reg is too, particularly in light of our recent exclusive report on GCHQ – which led to a Ministry of Defence advisor coming round our London office for a chat.
  • If you take even the slightest interest in online privacy or have Googled a Linux Journal article about a broken package, you are earmarked in an NSA database for further surveillance, according to these latest leaks.This is assuming the leaked file is genuine, of course.Other monitored sites, we're told, include HotSpotShield, FreeNet, Centurian, FreeProxies.org, MegaProxy, privacy.li and an anonymous email service called MixMinion. The IP address of computer users even looking at these sites is recorded and stored on the NSA's servers for further analysis, and it's up to the agency how long it keeps that data.The XKeyscore code, we're told, includes microplugins that target Tor servers in Germany, at MIT in the United States, in Sweden, in Austria, and in the Netherlands. In doing so it may not only fall foul of German law but also the US's Fourth Amendment.
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  • The nine Tor directory servers receive especially close monitoring from the NSA's spying software, which states the "goal is to find potential Tor clients connecting to the Tor directory servers." Tor clients linking into the directory servers are also logged."This shows that Tor is working well enough that Tor has become a target for the intelligence services," said Sebastian Hahn, who runs one of the key Tor servers. "For me this means that I will definitely go ahead with the project.”
  • While the German reporting team has published part of the XKeyscore scripting code, it doesn't say where it comes from. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden would be a logical pick, but security experts are not so sure."I do not believe that this came from the Snowden documents," said security guru Bruce Schneier. "I also don't believe the TAO catalog came from the Snowden documents. I think there's a second leaker out there."If so, the NSA is in for much more scrutiny than it ever expected.
Paul Merrell

Court gave NSA broad leeway in surveillance, documents show - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Virtually no foreign government is off-limits for the National Security Agency, which has been authorized to intercept information “concerning” all but four countries, according to top-secret documents. The United States has long had broad no-spying arrangements with those four countries — Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — in a group known collectively with the United States as the Five Eyes. But a classified 2010 legal certification and other documents indicate the NSA has been given a far more elastic authority than previously known, one that allows it to intercept through U.S. companies not just the communications of its overseas targets but any communications about its targets as well.
  • The certification — approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and included among a set of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — lists 193 countries that would be of valid interest for U.S. intelligence. The certification also permitted the agency to gather intelligence about entities including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The NSA is not necessarily targeting all the countries or organizations identified in the certification, the affidavits and an accompanying exhibit; it has only been given authority to do so. Still, the privacy implications are far-reaching, civil liberties advocates say, because of the wide spectrum of people who might be engaged in communication about foreign governments and entities and whose communications might be of interest to the United States.
  • That language could allow for surveillance of academics, journalists and human rights researchers. A Swiss academic who has information on the German government’s position in the run-up to an international trade negotiation, for instance, could be targeted if the government has determined there is a foreign-intelligence need for that information. If a U.S. college professor e-mails the Swiss professor’s e-mail address or phone number to a colleague, the American’s e-mail could be collected as well, under the program’s court-approved rules
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  • On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a transparency report stating that in 2013 the government targeted nearly 90,000 foreign individuals or organizations for foreign surveillance under the program. Some tech-industry lawyers say the number is relatively low, considering that several billion people use U.S. e-mail services.
  • Still, some lawmakers are concerned that the potential for intrusions on Americans’ privacy has grown under the 2008 law because the government is intercepting not just communications of its targets but communications about its targets as well. The expansiveness of the foreign-powers certification increases that concern.
  • In a 2011 FISA court opinion, a judge using an NSA-provided sample estimated that the agency could be collecting as many as 46,000 wholly domestic e-mails a year that mentioned a particular target’s e-mail address or phone number, in what is referred to as “about” collection. “When Congress passed Section 702 back in 2008, most members of Congress had no idea that the government was collecting Americans’ communications simply because they contained a particular individual’s contact information,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has co-sponsored ­legislation to narrow “about” collection authority, said in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “If ‘about the target’ collection were limited to genuine national security threats, there would be very little privacy impact. In fact, this collection is much broader than that, and it is scooping up huge amounts of Americans’ wholly domestic communications.”
  • The only reason the court has oversight of the NSA program is that Congress in 2008 gave the government a new authority to gather intelligence from U.S. companies that own the Internet cables running through the United States, former officials noted. Edgar, the former privacy officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said ultimately he believes the authority should be narrowed. “There are valid privacy concerns with leaving these collection decisions entirely in the executive branch,” he said. “There shouldn’t be broad collection, using this authority, of foreign government information without any meaningful judicial role that defines the limits of what can be collected.”
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