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Paul Merrell

Hacking Team Asks Customers to Stop Using Its Software After Hack | Motherboard - 1 views

  • But the hack hasn’t just ruined the day for Hacking Team’s employees. The company, which sells surveillance software to government customers all over the world, from Morocco and Ethiopia to the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI, has told all its customers to shut down all operations and suspend all use of the company’s spyware, Motherboard has learned. “They’re in full on emergency mode,” a source who has inside knowledge of Hacking Team’s operations told Motherboard.
  • Hacking Team notified all its customers on Monday morning with a “blast email,” requesting them to shut down all deployments of its Remote Control System software, also known as Galileo, according to multiple sources. The company also doesn’t have access to its email system as of Monday afternoon, a source said. On Sunday night, an unnamed hacker, who claimed to be the same person who breached Hacking Team’s competitor FinFisher last year, hijacked its Twitter account and posted links to 400GB of internal data. Hacking Team woke up to a massive breach of its systems.
  • A source told Motherboard that the hackers appears to have gotten “everything,” likely more than what the hacker has posted online, perhaps more than one terabyte of data. “The hacker seems to have downloaded everything that there was in the company’s servers,” the source, who could only speak on condition of anonymity, told Motherboard. “There’s pretty much everything here.” It’s unclear how the hackers got their hands on the stash, but judging from the leaked files, they broke into the computers of Hacking Team’s two systems administrators, Christian Pozzi and Mauro Romeo, who had access to all the company’s files, according to the source. “I did not expect a breach to be this big, but I’m not surprised they got hacked because they don’t take security seriously,” the source told me. “You can see in the files how much they royally fucked up.”
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  • For example, the source noted, none of the sensitive files in the data dump, from employees passports to list of customers, appear to be encrypted. “How can you give all the keys to your infrastructure to a 20-something who just joined the company?” he added, referring to Pozzi, whose LinkedIn shows he’s been at Hacking Team for just over a year. “Nobody noticed that someone stole a terabyte of data? You gotta be a fuckwad,” the source said. “It means nobody was taking care of security.”
  • The future of the company, at this point, it’s uncertain. Employees fear this might be the beginning of the end, according to sources. One current employee, for example, started working on his resume, a source told Motherboard. It’s also unclear how customers will react to this, but a source said that it’s likely that customers from countries such as the US will pull the plug on their contracts. Hacking Team asked its customers to shut down operations, but according to one of the leaked files, as part of Hacking Team’s “crisis procedure,” it could have killed their operations remotely. The company, in fact, has “a backdoor” into every customer’s software, giving it ability to suspend it or shut it down—something that even customers aren’t told about. To make matters worse, every copy of Hacking Team’s Galileo software is watermarked, according to the source, which means Hacking Team, and now everyone with access to this data dump, can find out who operates it and who they’re targeting with it.
Paul Merrell

Here Are All the Sketchy Government Agencies Buying Hacking Team's Spy Tech | Motherboard - 0 views

  • They say what goes around comes around, and there's perhaps nowhere that rings more true than in the world of government surveillance. Such was the case on Monday morning when Hacking Team, the Italian company known for selling electronic intrusion tools to police and federal agencies around the world, awoke to find that it had been hacked itself—big time—apparently exposing its complete client list, email spools, invoices, contracts, source code, and more. Those documents show that not only has the company been selling hacking tools to a long list of foreign governments with dubious human rights records, but it’s also establishing a nice customer base right here in the good old US of A. The cache, which sources told Motherboard is legitimate, contains more than 400 gigabytes of files, many of which confirm previous reports that the company has been selling industrial-grade surveillance software to authoritarian governments. Hacking Team is known in the surveillance world for its flagship hacking suite, Remote Control System (RCS) or Galileo, which allows its government and law enforcement clients to secretly install “implants” on remote machines that can steal private emails, record Skype calls, and even monitor targets through their computer's webcam. Hacking Team in North America
  • According to leaked contracts, invoices and an up-to-date list of customer subscriptions, Hacking Team’s clients—which the company has consistently refused to name—also include Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan and many others. The list of names matches the findings of Citizen Lab, a research lab at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs that previously found traces of Hacking Team on the computers of journalists and activists around the world. Last year, the Lab's researchers mapped out the worldwide collection infrastructure used by Hacking Team's customers to covertly transport stolen data, unveiling a massive network comprised of servers based in 21 countries. Reporters Without Borders later named the company one of the “Enemies of the Internet” in its annual report on government surveillance and censorship.
  • we’ve only scratched the surface of this massive leak, and it’s unclear how Hacking Team will recover from having its secrets spilling across the internet for all to see. In the meantime, the company is asking all customers to stop using its spyware—and likely preparing for the worst.
Paul Merrell

Hacking Team: the Hack on Us Was Not Done by 'Some Random Guy' | Motherboard - 1 views

  • Almost 48 hours after an unnamed hacker announced the breach of Hacking Team, exposing more than 400GB of secrets, the Italian surveillance tech company is investigating what happened, and coming out of its radio silence. The cyberintrusion, which was “quite sophisticated,” was likely the work of people “with a lot of expertise,” according to the company spokesperson Eric Rabe, who spoke with Motherboard on the phone from Milan, where he flew after finding out about the attack.
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    Hacking Team admits that the hack occurred and that the documents are genuine.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

U.S. Congress must act on government hacking, reject Rule 41 - Access Now - 0 views

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    "Washington D.C. - Access Now today calls upon the U.S. Congress to reject a new rule that will expand the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) hacking operations. The call comes as the Supreme Court of the United States reported a change in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, specifically Rule 41, to Congress. The change enables the FBI to hack into computers regardless of where they are located, and to hack into the computers belonging to the victims of botnet operations. Access Now strongly opposes the update to Rule 41."
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    "Washington D.C. - Access Now today calls upon the U.S. Congress to reject a new rule that will expand the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) hacking operations. The call comes as the Supreme Court of the United States reported a change in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, specifically Rule 41, to Congress. The change enables the FBI to hack into computers regardless of where they are located, and to hack into the computers belonging to the victims of botnet operations. Access Now strongly opposes the update to Rule 41."
Paul Merrell

Operation Socialist: How GCHQ Spies Hacked Belgium's Largest Telco - 0 views

  • When the incoming emails stopped arriving, it seemed innocuous at first. But it would eventually become clear that this was no routine technical problem. Inside a row of gray office buildings in Brussels, a major hacking attack was in progress. And the perpetrators were British government spies. It was in the summer of 2012 that the anomalies were initially detected by employees at Belgium’s largest telecommunications provider, Belgacom. But it wasn’t until a year later, in June 2013, that the company’s security experts were able to figure out what was going on. The computer systems of Belgacom had been infected with a highly sophisticated malware, and it was disguising itself as legitimate Microsoft software while quietly stealing data. Last year, documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters was behind the attack, codenamed Operation Socialist. And in November, The Intercept revealed that the malware found on Belgacom’s systems was one of the most advanced spy tools ever identified by security researchers, who named it “Regin.”
  • The full story about GCHQ’s infiltration of Belgacom, however, has never been told. Key details about the attack have remained shrouded in mystery—and the scope of the attack unclear. Now, in partnership with Dutch and Belgian newspapers NRC Handelsblad and De Standaard, The Intercept has pieced together the first full reconstruction of events that took place before, during, and after the secret GCHQ hacking operation. Based on new documents from the Snowden archive and interviews with sources familiar with the malware investigation at Belgacom, The Intercept and its partners have established that the attack on Belgacom was more aggressive and far-reaching than previously thought. It occurred in stages between 2010 and 2011, each time penetrating deeper into Belgacom’s systems, eventually compromising the very core of the company’s networks.
  • Snowden told The Intercept that the latest revelations amounted to unprecedented “smoking-gun attribution for a governmental cyber attack against critical infrastructure.” The Belgacom hack, he said, is the “first documented example to show one EU member state mounting a cyber attack on another…a breathtaking example of the scale of the state-sponsored hacking problem.”
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  • When the incoming emails stopped arriving, it seemed innocuous at first. But it would eventually become clear that this was no routine technical problem. Inside a row of gray office buildings in Brussels, a major hacking attack was in progress. And the perpetrators were British government spies. It was in the summer of 2012 that the anomalies were initially detected by employees at Belgium’s largest telecommunications provider, Belgacom. But it wasn’t until a year later, in June 2013, that the company’s security experts were able to figure out what was going on. The computer systems of Belgacom had been infected with a highly sophisticated malware, and it was disguising itself as legitimate Microsoft software while quietly stealing data. Last year, documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters was behind the attack, codenamed Operation Socialist. And in November, The Intercept revealed that the malware found on Belgacom’s systems was one of the most advanced spy tools ever identified by security researchers, who named it “Regin.”
  • The revelations about the scope of the hacking operation will likely alarm Belgacom’s customers across the world. The company operates a large number of data links internationally (see interactive map below), and it serves millions of people across Europe as well as officials from top institutions including the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council. The new details will also be closely scrutinized by a federal prosecutor in Belgium, who is currently carrying out a criminal investigation into the attack on the company. Sophia in ’t Veld, a Dutch politician who chaired the European Parliament’s recent inquiry into mass surveillance exposed by Snowden, told The Intercept that she believes the British government should face sanctions if the latest disclosures are proven.
  • Publicly, Belgacom has played down the extent of the compromise, insisting that only its internal systems were breached and that customers’ data was never found to have been at risk. But secret GCHQ documents show the agency gained access far beyond Belgacom’s internal employee computers and was able to grab encrypted and unencrypted streams of private communications handled by the company. Belgacom invested several million dollars in its efforts to clean-up its systems and beef-up its security after the attack. However, The Intercept has learned that sources familiar with the malware investigation at the company are uncomfortable with how the clean-up operation was handled—and they believe parts of the GCHQ malware were never fully removed.
  • What sets the secret British infiltration of Belgacom apart is that it was perpetrated against a close ally—and is backed up by a series of top-secret documents, which The Intercept is now publishing.
  • Between 2009 and 2011, GCHQ worked with its allies to develop sophisticated new tools and technologies it could use to scan global networks for weaknesses and then penetrate them. According to top-secret GCHQ documents, the agency wanted to adopt the aggressive new methods in part to counter the use of privacy-protecting encryption—what it described as the “encryption problem.” When communications are sent across networks in encrypted format, it makes it much harder for the spies to intercept and make sense of emails, phone calls, text messages, internet chats, and browsing sessions. For GCHQ, there was a simple solution. The agency decided that, where possible, it would find ways to hack into communication networks to grab traffic before it’s encrypted.
  • The Snowden documents show that GCHQ wanted to gain access to Belgacom so that it could spy on phones used by surveillance targets travelling in Europe. But the agency also had an ulterior motive. Once it had hacked into Belgacom’s systems, GCHQ planned to break into data links connecting Belgacom and its international partners, monitoring communications transmitted between Europe and the rest of the world. A map in the GCHQ documents, named “Belgacom_connections,” highlights the company’s reach across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, illustrating why British spies deemed it of such high value.
  • Documents published with this article: Automated NOC detection Mobile Networks in My NOC World Making network sense of the encryption problem Stargate CNE requirements NAC review – October to December 2011 GCHQ NAC review – January to March 2011 GCHQ NAC review – April to June 2011 GCHQ NAC review – July to September 2011 GCHQ NAC review – January to March 2012 GCHQ Hopscotch Belgacom connections
Paul Merrell

Shaking My Head - Medium - 0 views

  • Last month, at the request of the Department of Justice, the Courts approved changes to the obscure Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which governs search and seizure. By the nature of this obscure bureaucratic process, these rules become law unless Congress rejects the changes before December 1, 2016.Today I, along with my colleagues Senators Paul from Kentucky, Baldwin from Wisconsin, and Daines and Tester from Montana, am introducing the Stopping Mass Hacking (SMH) Act (bill, summary), a bill to protect millions of law-abiding Americans from a massive expansion of government hacking and surveillance. Join the conversation with #SMHact.
  • For law enforcement to conduct a remote electronic search, they generally need to plant malware in — i.e. hack — a device. These rule changes will allow the government to search millions of computers with the warrant of a single judge. To me, that’s clearly a policy change that’s outside the scope of an “administrative change,” and it is something that Congress should consider. An agency with the record of the Justice Department shouldn’t be able to wave its arms and grant itself entirely new powers.
  • These changes say that if law enforcement doesn’t know where an electronic device is located, a magistrate judge will now have the the authority to issue a warrant to remotely search the device, anywhere in the world. While it may be appropriate to address the issue of allowing a remote electronic search for a device at an unknown location, Congress needs to consider what protections must be in place to protect Americans’ digital security and privacy. This is a new and uncertain area of law, so there needs to be full and careful debate. The ACLU has a thorough discussion of the Fourth Amendment ramifications and the technological questions at issue with these kinds of searches.The second part of the change to Rule 41 would give a magistrate judge the authority to issue a single warrant that would authorize the search of an unlimited number — potentially thousands or millions — of devices, located anywhere in the world. These changes would dramatically expand the government’s hacking and surveillance authority. The American public should understand that these changes won’t just affect criminals: computer security experts and civil liberties advocates say the amendments would also dramatically expand the government’s ability to hack the electronic devices of law-abiding Americans if their devices were affected by a computer attack. Devices will be subject to search if their owners were victims of a botnet attack — so the government will be treating victims of hacking the same way they treat the perpetrators.
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  • As the Center on Democracy and Technology has noted, there are approximately 500 million computers that fall under this rule. The public doesn’t know nearly enough about how law enforcement executes these hacks, and what risks these types of searches will pose. By compromising the computer’s system, the search might leave it open to other attackers or damage the computer they are searching.Don’t take it from me that this will impact your security, read more from security researchers Steven Bellovin, Matt Blaze and Susan Landau.Finally, these changes to Rule 41 would also give some types of electronic searches different, weaker notification requirements than physical searches. Under this new Rule, they are only required to make “reasonable efforts” to notify people that their computers were searched. This raises the possibility of the FBI hacking into a cyber attack victim’s computer and not telling them about it until afterward, if at all.
Paul Merrell

He Was a Hacker for the NSA and He Was Willing to Talk. I Was Willing to Listen. - 2 views

  • he message arrived at night and consisted of three words: “Good evening sir!” The sender was a hacker who had written a series of provocative memos at the National Security Agency. His secret memos had explained — with an earthy use of slang and emojis that was unusual for an operative of the largest eavesdropping organization in the world — how the NSA breaks into the digital accounts of people who manage computer networks, and how it tries to unmask people who use Tor to browse the web anonymously. Outlining some of the NSA’s most sensitive activities, the memos were leaked by Edward Snowden, and I had written about a few of them for The Intercept. There is no Miss Manners for exchanging pleasantries with a man the government has trained to be the digital equivalent of a Navy SEAL. Though I had initiated the contact, I was wary of how he might respond. The hacker had publicly expressed a visceral dislike for Snowden and had accused The Intercept of jeopardizing lives by publishing classified information. One of his memos outlined the ways the NSA reroutes (or “shapes”) the internet traffic of entire countries, and another memo was titled “I Hunt Sysadmins.” I felt sure he could hack anyone’s computer, including mine. Good evening sir!
  • The sender was a hacker who had written a series of provocative memos at the National Security Agency. His secret memos had explained — with an earthy use of slang and emojis that was unusual for an operative of the largest eavesdropping organization in the world — how the NSA breaks into the digital accounts of people who manage computer networks, and how it tries to unmask people who use Tor to browse the web anonymously. Outlining some of the NSA’s most sensitive activities, the memos were leaked by Edward Snowden, and I had written about a few of them for The Intercept. There is no Miss Manners for exchanging pleasantries with a man the government has trained to be the digital equivalent of a Navy SEAL. Though I had initiated the contact, I was wary of how he might respond. The hacker had publicly expressed a visceral dislike for Snowden and had accused The Intercept of jeopardizing lives by publishing classified information. One of his memos outlined the ways the NSA reroutes (or “shapes”) the internet traffic of entire countries, and another memo was titled “I Hunt Sysadmins.” I felt sure he could hack anyone’s computer, including mine.
  • I got lucky with the hacker, because he recently left the agency for the cybersecurity industry; it would be his choice to talk, not the NSA’s. Fortunately, speaking out is his second nature.
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  • He agreed to a video chat that turned into a three-hour discussion sprawling from the ethics of surveillance to the downsides of home improvements and the difficulty of securing your laptop.
  • In recent years, two developments have helped make hacking for the government a lot more attractive than hacking for yourself. First, the Department of Justice has cracked down on freelance hacking, whether it be altruistic or malignant. If the DOJ doesn’t like the way you hack, you are going to jail. Meanwhile, hackers have been warmly invited to deploy their transgressive impulses in service to the homeland, because the NSA and other federal agencies have turned themselves into licensed hives of breaking into other people’s computers. For many, it’s a techno sandbox of irresistible delights, according to Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University who studies hackers. “The NSA is a very exciting place for hackers because you have unlimited resources, you have some of the best talent in the world, whether it’s cryptographers or mathematicians or hackers,” she said. “It is just too intellectually exciting not to go there.”
  • The Lamb’s memos on cool ways to hunt sysadmins triggered a strong reaction when I wrote about them in 2014 with my colleague Ryan Gallagher. The memos explained how the NSA tracks down the email and Facebook accounts of systems administrators who oversee computer networks. After plundering their accounts, the NSA can impersonate the admins to get into their computer networks and pilfer the data flowing through them. As the Lamb wrote, “sys admins generally are not my end target. My end target is the extremist/terrorist or government official that happens to be using the network … who better to target than the person that already has the ‘keys to the kingdom’?” Another of his NSA memos, “Network Shaping 101,” used Yemen as a theoretical case study for secretly redirecting the entirety of a country’s internet traffic to NSA servers.
  • “If I turn the tables on you,” I asked the Lamb, “and say, OK, you’re a target for all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. How do you feel about being a target and that kind of justification being used to justify getting all of your credentials and the keys to your kingdom?” The Lamb smiled. “There is no real safe, sacred ground on the internet,” he replied. “Whatever you do on the internet is an attack surface of some sort and is just something that you live with. Any time that I do something on the internet, yeah, that is on the back of my mind. Anyone from a script kiddie to some random hacker to some other foreign intelligence service, each with their different capabilities — what could they be doing to me?”
  • “You know, the situation is what it is,” he said. “There are protocols that were designed years ago before anybody had any care about security, because when they were developed, nobody was foreseeing that they would be taken advantage of. … A lot of people on the internet seem to approach the problem [with the attitude of] ‘I’m just going to walk naked outside of my house and hope that nobody looks at me.’ From a security perspective, is that a good way to go about thinking? No, horrible … There are good ways to be more secure on the internet. But do most people use Tor? No. Do most people use Signal? No. Do most people use insecure things that most people can hack? Yes. Is that a bash against the intelligence community that people use stuff that’s easily exploitable? That’s a hard argument for me to make.”
  • I mentioned that lots of people, including Snowden, are now working on the problem of how to make the internet more secure, yet he seemed to do the opposite at the NSA by trying to find ways to track and identify people who use Tor and other anonymizers. Would he consider working on the other side of things? He wouldn’t rule it out, he said, but dismally suggested the game was over as far as having a liberating and safe internet, because our laptops and smartphones will betray us no matter what we do with them. “There’s the old adage that the only secure computer is one that is turned off, buried in a box ten feet underground, and never turned on,” he said. “From a user perspective, someone trying to find holes by day and then just live on the internet by night, there’s the expectation [that] if somebody wants to have access to your computer bad enough, they’re going to get it. Whether that’s an intelligence agency or a cybercrimes syndicate, whoever that is, it’s probably going to happen.”
  • There are precautions one can take, and I did that with the Lamb. When we had our video chat, I used a computer that had been wiped clean of everything except its operating system and essential applications. Afterward, it was wiped clean again. My concern was that the Lamb might use the session to obtain data from or about the computer I was using; there are a lot of things he might have tried, if he was in a scheming mood. At the end of our three hours together, I mentioned to him that I had taken these precautions—and he approved. “That’s fair,” he said. “I’m glad you have that appreciation. … From a perspective of a journalist who has access to classified information, it would be remiss to think you’re not a target of foreign intelligence services.” He was telling me the U.S. government should be the least of my worries. He was trying to help me. Documents published with this article: Tracking Targets Through Proxies & Anonymizers Network Shaping 101 Shaping Diagram I Hunt Sys Admins (first published in 2014)
Paul Merrell

DOJ Pushes to Expand Hacking Abilities Against Cyber-Criminals - Law Blog - WSJ - 0 views

  • The U.S. Department of Justice is pushing to make it easier for law enforcement to get warrants to hack into the computers of criminal suspects across the country. The move, which would alter federal court rules governing search warrants, comes amid increases in cases related to computer crimes. Investigators say they need more flexibility to get warrants to allow hacking in such cases, especially when multiple computers are involved or the government doesn’t know where the suspect’s computer is physically located. The Justice Department effort is raising questions among some technology advocates, who say the government should focus on fixing the holes in computer software that allow such hacking instead of exploiting them. Privacy advocates also warn government spyware could end up on innocent people’s computers if remote attacks are authorized against equipment whose ownership isn’t clear.
  • The government’s push for rule changes sheds light on law enforcement’s use of remote hacking techniques, which are being deployed more frequently but have been protected behind a veil of secrecy for years. In documents submitted by the government to the judicial system’s rule-making body this year, the government discussed using software to find suspected child pornographers who visited a U.S. site and concealed their identity using a strong anonymization tool called Tor. The government’s hacking tools—such as sending an email embedded with code that installs spying software — resemble those used by criminal hackers. The government doesn’t describe these methods as hacking, preferring instead to use terms like “remote access” and “network investigative techniques.” Right now, investigators who want to search property, including computers, generally need to get a warrant from a judge in the district where the property is located, according to federal court rules. In a computer investigation, that might not be possible, because criminals can hide behind anonymizing technologies. In cases involving botnets—groups of hijacked computers—investigators might also want to search many machines at once without getting that many warrants.
  • Some judges have already granted warrants in cases when authorities don’t know where the machine is. But at least one judge has denied an application in part because of the current rules. The department also wants warrants to be allowed for multiple computers at the same time, as well as for searches of many related storage, email and social media accounts at once, as long as those accounts are accessed by the computer being searched. “Remote searches of computers are often essential to the successful investigation” of computer crimes, Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman wrote in a letter to the judicial system’s rulemaking authority requesting the change in September. The government tries to obtain these “remote access warrants” mainly to “combat Internet anonymizing techniques,” the department said in a memo to the authority in March. Some groups have raised questions about law enforcement’s use of hacking technologies, arguing that such tools mean the government is failing to help fix software problems exploited by criminals. “It is crucial that we have a robust public debate about how the Fourth Amendment and federal law should limit the government’s use of malware and spyware within the U.S.,” said Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who focuses on technology issues.
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  • A Texas judge who denied a warrant application last year cited privacy concerns associated with sending malware when the location of the computer wasn’t known. He pointed out that a suspect opening an email infected with spyware could be doing so on a public computer, creating risk of information being collected from innocent people. A former computer crimes prosecutor serving on an advisory committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference, which is reviewing the request, said he was concerned that allowing the search of multiple computers under a single warrant would violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against overly broad searches. The proposed rule is set to be debated by the Judicial Conference’s Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules in early April, after which it would be opened to public comment.
Paul Merrell

Why the Sony hack is unlikely to be the work of North Korea. | Marc's Security Ramblings - 0 views

  • Everyone seems to be eager to pin the blame for the Sony hack on North Korea. However, I think it’s unlikely. Here’s why:1. The broken English looks deliberately bad and doesn’t exhibit any of the classic comprehension mistakes you actually expect to see in “Konglish”. i.e it reads to me like an English speaker pretending to be bad at writing English. 2. The fact that the code was written on a PC with Korean locale & language actually makes it less likely to be North Korea. Not least because they don’t speak traditional “Korean” in North Korea, they speak their own dialect and traditional Korean is forbidden. This is one of the key things that has made communication with North Korean refugees difficult. I would find the presence of Chinese far more plausible.
  • 3. It’s clear from the hard-coded paths and passwords in the malware that whoever wrote it had extensive knowledge of Sony’s internal architecture and access to key passwords. While it’s plausible that an attacker could have built up this knowledge over time and then used it to make the malware, Occam’s razor suggests the simpler explanation of an insider. It also fits with the pure revenge tact that this started out as. 4. Whoever did this is in it for revenge. The info and access they had could have easily been used to cash out, yet, instead, they are making every effort to burn Sony down. Just think what they could have done with passwords to all of Sony’s financial accounts? With the competitive intelligence in their business documents? From simple theft, to the sale of intellectual property, or even extortion – the attackers had many ways to become rich. Yet, instead, they chose to dump the data, rendering it useless. Likewise, I find it hard to believe that a “Nation State” which lives by propaganda would be so willing to just throw away such an unprecedented level of access to the beating heart of Hollywood itself.
  • 5. The attackers only latched onto “The Interview” after the media did – the film was never mentioned by GOP right at the start of their campaign. It was only after a few people started speculating in the media that this and the communication from DPRK “might be linked” that suddenly it became linked. I think the attackers both saw this as an opportunity for “lulz” and as a way to misdirect everyone into thinking it was a nation state. After all, if everyone believes it’s a nation state, then the criminal investigation will likely die.
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  • 6. Whoever is doing this is VERY net and social media savvy. That, and the sophistication of the operation, do not match with the profile of DPRK up until now. Grugq did an excellent analysis of this aspect his findings are here – http://0paste.com/6875#md 7. Finally, blaming North Korea is the easy way out for a number of folks, including the security vendors and Sony management who are under the microscope for this. Let’s face it – most of today’s so-called “cutting edge” security defenses are either so specific, or so brittle, that they really don’t offer much meaningful protection against a sophisticated attacker or group of attackers.
  • 8. It probably also suits a number of political agendas to have something that justifies sabre-rattling at North Korea, which is why I’m not that surprised to see politicians starting to point their fingers at the DPRK also. 9. It’s clear from the leaked data that Sony has a culture which doesn’t take security very seriously. From plaintext password files, to using “password” as the password in business critical certificates, through to just the shear volume of aging unclassified yet highly sensitive data left out in the open. This isn’t a simple slip-up or a “weak link in the chain” – this is a serious organization-wide failure to implement anything like a reasonable security architecture.
  • The reality is, as things stand, Sony has little choice but to burn everything down and start again. Every password, every key, every certificate is tainted now and that’s a terrifying place for an organization to find itself. This hack should be used as the definitive lesson in why security matters and just how bad things can get if you don’t take it seriously. 10. Who do I think is behind this? My money is on a disgruntled (possibly ex) employee of Sony.
  • EDIT: This appears (at least in part) to be substantiated by a conversation the Verge had with one of the alleged hackers – http://www.theverge.com/2014/11/25/7281097/sony-pictures-hackers-say-they-want-equality-worked-with-staff-to-break-in Finally for an EXCELLENT blow by blow analysis of the breach and the events that followed, read the following post by my friends from Risk Based Security – https://www.riskbasedsecurity.com/2014/12/a-breakdown-and-analysis-of-the-december-2014-sony-hack EDIT: Also make sure you read my good friend Krypt3ia’s post on the hack – http://krypt3ia.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/sony-hack-winners-and-losers/
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    Seems that the FBI overlooked a few clues before it told Obama to go ahead and declare war against North Korea. 
Paul Merrell

The Internet of Things Will Turn Large-Scale Hacks into Real World Disasters | Motherboard - 0 views

  • Disaster stories involving the Internet of Things are all the rage. They feature cars (both driven and driverless), the power grid, dams, and tunnel ventilation systems. A particularly vivid and realistic one, near-future fiction published last month in New York Magazine, described a cyberattack on New York that involved hacking of cars, the water system, hospitals, elevators, and the power grid. In these stories, thousands of people die. Chaos ensues. While some of these scenarios overhype the mass destruction, the individual risks are all real. And traditional computer and network security isn’t prepared to deal with them.Classic information security is a triad: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. You’ll see it called “CIA,” which admittedly is confusing in the context of national security. But basically, the three things I can do with your data are steal it (confidentiality), modify it (integrity), or prevent you from getting it (availability).
  • So far, internet threats have largely been about confidentiality. These can be expensive; one survey estimated that data breaches cost an average of $3.8 million each. They can be embarrassing, as in the theft of celebrity photos from Apple’s iCloud in 2014 or the Ashley Madison breach in 2015. They can be damaging, as when the government of North Korea stole tens of thousands of internal documents from Sony or when hackers stole data about 83 million customer accounts from JPMorgan Chase, both in 2014. They can even affect national security, as in the case of the Office of Personnel Management data breach by—presumptively—China in 2015. On the Internet of Things, integrity and availability threats are much worse than confidentiality threats. It’s one thing if your smart door lock can be eavesdropped upon to know who is home. It’s another thing entirely if it can be hacked to allow a burglar to open the door—or prevent you from opening your door. A hacker who can deny you control of your car, or take over control, is much more dangerous than one who can eavesdrop on your conversations or track your car’s location. With the advent of the Internet of Things and cyber-physical systems in general, we've given the internet hands and feet: the ability to directly affect the physical world. What used to be attacks against data and information have become attacks against flesh, steel, and concrete. Today’s threats include hackers crashing airplanes by hacking into computer networks, and remotely disabling cars, either when they’re turned off and parked or while they’re speeding down the highway. We’re worried about manipulated counts from electronic voting machines, frozen water pipes through hacked thermostats, and remote murder through hacked medical devices. The possibilities are pretty literally endless. The Internet of Things will allow for attacks we can’t even imagine.
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    Bruce Scneier on the insecurity of the Internet of Things, and possible consequences.
Paul Merrell

What the Hack! 56 Suspected Hackers arrested in the UK | nsnbc international - 0 views

  • The UK National Crime Agency arrested 56 suspected hackers, including one 23-year-old male who allegedly attempted to hack his way into the U.S.’ Department of Defense in 2014. Not attempting to minimize the potential risks of hacking but how much does cyber-crime actually cost, what are the risks and what about those who hack the data of billions of internet users per day to, allegedly, “keep all of us safe?”
  • Besides the 23-year-old who allegedly attempted to hack his way into the a U.S. Department of Defense site, the other detainees allegedly were members of the hacking collectives Lizard Squad and D33DS which are being accused of fraud, money laundering and Denial of Service and Distributed Denial of Service (DOS & DDOS) attacks.  D33DS stands accused of having stolen data of some 450,000 Yahoo users. The arrests followed the recent announcement about the so-called FREAK security vulnerability that was leaving thousands of SSL sites unprotected. The arrest of the 56 hackers in the UK was reported as the National Crime Agency’s way of “sending a clear message” to the hacker community.
  • The U.S. DoD’s cyber-security functioned, obviously. A recent article by Benjamin Dean entitled “Hard Evidence: How much is cybercrime really costing us” suggests that the money spent on cyber-security per year is disproportional to the harm that is being caused by cyber-crime. Dean, who is a Fellow for Internet Governance and Cyber-security at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University would conclude that: There are numerous competing budgetary priorities at any one time and limited funds to spend on meeting all these needs. How much money does it make sense to invest in bolstering cybersecurity, relative to the losses? …In the hysteria created in the wake of the hacks of 2014, we risk making the wrong choice simply because we don’t know what the current sums of money are being spent on.
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  • Meanwhile, NSA whitleblower Edward Snowden (think about him what you want), would reveal that the NSA and the GCHQ hacked themselves into the possession of the encryption codes of the world’s largest SIM card manufacturer Gemalto. Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program wouldn’t come as a surprise to those who have known about the United States’ and allies mutual spying network Echelon for decades.
Paul Merrell

Commentary: Don't be so sure Russia hacked the Clinton emails | Reuters - 0 views

  • By James Bamford Last summer, cyber investigators plowing through the thousands of leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee uncovered a clue.A user named “Феликс Эдмундович” modified one of the documents using settings in the Russian language. Translated, his name was Felix Edmundovich, a pseudonym referring to Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, the chief of the Soviet Union’s first secret-police organization, the Cheka.It was one more link in the chain of evidence pointing to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the man ultimately behind the operation.During the Cold War, when Soviet intelligence was headquartered in Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow, Putin was a KGB officer assigned to the First Chief Directorate. Its responsibilities included “active measures,” a form of political warfare that included media manipulation, propaganda and disinformation. Soviet active measures, retired KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin told Army historian Thomas Boghart, aimed to discredit the United States and “conquer world public opinion.”As the Cold War has turned into the code war, Putin recently unveiled his new, greatly enlarged spy organization: the Ministry of State Security, taking the name from Joseph Stalin’s secret service. Putin also resurrected, according to James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, some of the KGB’s old active- measures tactics. On October 7, Clapper issued a statement: “The U.S. Intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.” Notably, however, the FBI declined to join the chorus, according to reports by the New York Times and CNBC.A week later, Vice President Joe Biden said on NBC’s Meet the Press that "we're sending a message" to Putin and "it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact." When asked if the American public would know a message was sent, Biden replied, "Hope not." Meanwhile, the CIA was asked, according to an NBC report on October 14, “to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging ‘clandestine’ cyber operation designed to harass and ‘embarrass’ the Kremlin leadership.”But as both sides begin arming their cyberweapons, it is critical for the public to be confident that the evidence is really there, and to understand the potential consequences of a tit-for-tat cyberwar escalating into a real war. 
  • This is a prospect that has long worried Richard Clarke, the former White House cyber czar under President George W. Bush. “It’s highly likely that any war that began as a cyberwar,” Clarke told me last year, “would ultimately end up being a conventional war, where the United States was engaged with bombers and missiles.”The problem with attempting to draw a straight line from the Kremlin to the Clinton campaign is the number of variables that get in the way. For one, there is little doubt about Russian cyber fingerprints in various U.S. campaign activities. Moscow, like Washington, has long spied on such matters. The United States, for example, inserted malware in the recent Mexican election campaign. The question isn’t whether Russia spied on the U.S. presidential election, it’s whether it released the election emails.Then there’s the role of Guccifer 2.0, the person or persons supplying WikiLeaks and other organizations with many of the pilfered emails. Is this a Russian agent? A free agent? A cybercriminal? A combination, or some other entity? No one knows.There is also the problem of groupthink that led to the war in Iraq. For example, just as the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the intelligence establishment are convinced Putin is behind the attacks, they also believed it was a slam-dunk that Saddam Hussein had a trove of weapons of mass destruction. Consider as well the speed of the political-hacking investigation, followed by a lack of skepticism, culminating in a rush to judgment. After the Democratic committee discovered the potential hack last spring, it called in the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in May to analyze the problem.
  • CrowdStrike took just a month or so before it conclusively determined that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, and the Russian military intelligence organization, GRU, were behind it. Most of the other major cybersecurity firms quickly fell in line and agreed. By October, the intelligence community made it unanimous. That speed and certainty contrasts sharply with a previous suspected Russian hack in 2010, when the target was the Nasdaq stock market. According to an extensive investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2014, the NSA and FBI made numerous mistakes over many months that stretched to nearly a year. “After months of work,” the article said, “there were still basic disagreements in different parts of government over who was behind the incident and why.”  There was no consensus­, with just a 70 percent certainty that the hack was a cybercrime. Months later, this determination was revised again: It was just a Russian attempt to spy on the exchange in order to design its own. The federal agents also considered the possibility that the Nasdaq snooping was not connected to the Kremlin. Instead, “someone in the FSB could have been running a for-profit operation on the side, or perhaps sold the malware to a criminal hacking group.” Again, that’s why it’s necessary to better understand the role of Guccifer 2.0 in releasing the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails before launching any cyberweapons.
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  • t is strange that clues in the Nasdaq hack were very difficult to find ― as one would expect from a professional, state-sponsored cyber operation. Conversely, the sloppy, Inspector Clouseau-like nature of the Guccifer 2.0 operation, with someone hiding behind a silly Bolshevik cover name, and Russian language clues in the metadata, smacked more of either an amateur operation or a deliberate deception.Then there’s the Shadow Brokers, that mysterious person or group that surfaced in August with its farcical “auction” to profit from a stolen batch of extremely secret NSA hacking tools, in essence, cyberweapons. Where do they fit into the picture? They have a small armory of NSA cyberweapons, and they appeared just three weeks after the first DNC emails were leaked. On Monday, the Shadow Brokers released more information, including what they claimed is a list of hundreds of organizations that the NSA has targeted over more than a decade, complete with technical details. This offers further evidence that their information comes from a leaker inside the NSA rather than the Kremlin. The Shadow Brokers also discussed Obama’s threat of cyber retaliation against Russia. Yet they seemed most concerned that the CIA, rather than the NSA or Cyber Command, was given the assignment. This may be a possible indication of a connection to NSA’s elite group, Tailored Access Operations, considered by many the A-Team of hackers.“Why is DirtyGrandpa threating CIA cyberwar with Russia?” they wrote. “Why not threating with NSA or Cyber Command? CIA is cyber B-Team, yes? Where is cyber A-Team?” Because of legal and other factors, the NSA conducts cyber espionage, Cyber Command conducts cyberattacks in wartime, and the CIA conducts covert cyberattacks. 
  • The Shadow Brokers connection is important because Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, claimed to have received identical copies of the Shadow Brokers cyberweapons even before they announced their “auction.” Did he get them from the Shadow Brokers, from Guccifer, from Russia or from an inside leaker at the NSA?Despite the rushed, incomplete investigation and unanswered questions, the Obama administration has announced its decision to retaliate against Russia.  But a public warning about a secret attack makes little sense. If a major cyber crisis happens in Russia sometime in the future, such as a deadly power outage in frigid winter, the United States could be blamed even if it had nothing to do with it. That could then trigger a major retaliatory cyberattack against the U.S. cyber infrastructure, which would call for another reprisal attack ― potentially leading to Clarke’s fear of a cyberwar triggering a conventional war. President Barack Obama has also not taken a nuclear strike off the table as an appropriate response to a devastating cyberattack.
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    Article by James Bamford, the first NSA whistleblower and author of three books on the NSA.
Paul Merrell

The New Snowden? NSA Contractor Arrested Over Alleged Theft Of Classified Data - 0 views

  • A contractor working for the National Security Agency (NSA) was arrested by the FBI following his alleged theft of “state secrets.” More specifically, the contractor, Harold Thomas Martin, is charged with stealing highly classified source codes developed to covertly hack the networks of foreign governments, according to several senior law enforcement and intelligence officials. The Justice Department has said that these stolen materials were “critical to national security.” Martin was employed by Booz Allen Hamilton, the company responsible for most of the NSA’s most sensitive cyber-operations. Edward Snowden, the most well-known NSA whistleblower, also worked for Booz Allen Hamilton until he fled to Hong Kong in 2013 where he revealed a trove of documents exposing the massive scope of the NSA dragnet surveillance. That surveillance system was shown to have targeted untold numbers of innocent Americans. According to the New York Times, the theft “raises the embarrassing prospect” that an NSA insider managed to steal highly damaging secret information from the NSA for the second time in three years, not to mention the “Shadow Broker” hack this past August, which made classified NSA hacking tools available to the public.
  • Snowden himself took to Twitter to comment on the arrest. In a tweet, he said the news of Martin’s arrest “is huge” and asked, “Did the FBI secretly arrest the person behind the reports [that the] NSA sat on huge flaws in US products?” It is currently unknown if Martin was connected to those reports as well.
  • It also remains to be seen what Martin’s motivations were in removing classified data from the NSA. Though many suspect that he planned to follow in Snowden’s footsteps, the government will more likely argue that he had planned to commit espionage by selling state secrets to “adversaries.” According to the New York Times article on the arrest, Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are named as examples of the “adversaries” who would have been targeted by the NSA codes that Martin is accused of stealing. However, Snowden revealed widespread US spying on foreign governments including several US allies such as France and Germany. This suggests that the stolen “source codes” were likely utilized on a much broader scale.
Paul Merrell

What to Do About Lawless Government Hacking and the Weakening of Digital Security | Ele... - 0 views

  • In our society, the rule of law sets limits on what government can and cannot do, no matter how important its goals. To give a simple example, even when chasing a fleeing murder suspect, the police have a duty not to endanger bystanders. The government should pay the same care to our safety in pursuing threats online, but right now we don’t have clear, enforceable rules for government activities like hacking and "digital sabotage." And this is no abstract question—these actions increasingly endanger everyone’s security
  • The problem became especially clear this year during the San Bernardino case, involving the FBI’s demand that Apple rewrite its iOS operating system to defeat security features on a locked iPhone. Ultimately the FBI exploited an existing vulnerability in iOS and accessed the contents of the phone with the help of an "outside party." Then, with no public process or discussion of the tradeoffs involved, the government refused to tell Apple about the flaw. Despite the obvious fact that the security of the computers and networks we all use is both collective and interwoven—other iPhones used by millions of innocent people presumably have the same vulnerability—the government chose to withhold information Apple could have used to improve the security of its phones. Other examples include intelligence activities like Stuxnet and Bullrun, and law enforcement investigations like the FBI’s mass use of malware against Tor users engaged in criminal behavior. These activities are often disproportionate to stopping legitimate threats, resulting in unpatched software for millions of innocent users, overbroad surveillance, and other collateral effects.  That’s why we’re working on a positive agenda to confront governmental threats to digital security. Put more directly, we’re calling on lawyers, advocates, technologists, and the public to demand a public discussion of whether, when, and how governments can be empowered to break into our computers, phones, and other devices; sabotage and subvert basic security protocols; and stockpile and exploit software flaws and vulnerabilities.  
  • Smart people in academia and elsewhere have been thinking and writing about these issues for years. But it’s time to take the next step and make clear, public rules that carry the force of law to ensure that the government weighs the tradeoffs and reaches the right decisions. This long post outlines some of the things that can be done. It frames the issue, then describes some of the key areas where EFF is already pursuing this agenda—in particular formalizing the rules for disclosing vulnerabilities and setting out narrow limits for the use of government malware. Finally it lays out where we think the debate should go from here.   
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    "In our society, the rule of law sets limits on what government can and cannot do, no matter how important its goals. "
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    It's not often that I disagree with EFF's positions, but on this one I do. The government should be prohibited from exploiting computer vulnerabilities and should be required to immediately report all vulnerabilities discovered to the relevant developers of hardware or software. It's been one long slippery slope since the Supreme Court first approved wiretapping in Olmstead v. United States, 277 US 438 (1928), https://goo.gl/NJevsr (.) Left undecided to this day is whether we have a right to whisper privately, a right that is undeniable. All communications intercept cases since Olmstead fly directly in the face of that right.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

FBI's Tor Hack Shows the Risk of Subpoenas to Security Researchers | WIRED - 0 views

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    "Computer security researchers who expose hackable vulnerabilities in digital products face plenty of occupational hazards: They can have their work censored by threats of lawsuits from the companies whose products they hack, or they can even be criminally indicted if their white-hat hacking runs afoul of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But one still-mysterious encounter between security researchers and the law points to a newer, equally troubling possibility: They can have their work subpoenaed in a criminal investigation and used as a law enforcement tool."
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

5 signs your Web application has been hacked | ITworld - 0 views

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    "hacked FREE Become An Insider Sign up now and get free access to hundreds of Insider articles, guides, reviews, interviews, blogs, and other premium content from the best tech brands on the Internet: CIO, CSO, Computerworld, InfoWorld, IT World and Network World Learn more. Other Insider Recommendations Java 101 primer: Composition and inheritance 6 simple tricks for protecting your passwords Free course: "JavaScript: The Good Parts" Free Course: The Dark Side of Technology Careers Website defacements? Database dumps? Mysterious files? Here's how to tell if your Web application has been hacked -- and how to secure it once and for all"
Paul Merrell

Google, ACLU call to delay government hacking rule | TheHill - 0 views

  • A coalition of 26 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Google, signed a letter Monday asking lawmakers to delay a measure that would expand the government’s hacking authority. The letter asks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump voices confidence on infrastructure plan GOP leaders to Obama: Leave Iran policy to Trump GOP debates going big on tax reform MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidNevada can’t trust Trump to protect public lands Sanders, Warren face tough decision on Trump Google, ACLU call to delay government hacking rule MORE (D-Nev.), plus House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanTrump voices confidence on infrastructure plan GOP leaders to Obama: Leave Iran policy to Trump GOP debates going big on tax reform MORE (R-Wis.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to further review proposed changes to Rule 41 and delay its implementation until July 1, 2017. ADVERTISEMENTThe Department of Justice’s alterations to the rule would allow law enforcement to use a single warrant to hack multiple devices beyond the jurisdiction that the warrant was issued in. The FBI used such a tactic to apprehend users of the child pornography dark website, Playpen. It took control of the dark website for two weeks and after securing two warrants, installed malware on Playpen users computers to acquire their identities. But the signatories of the letter — which include advocacy groups, companies and trade associations — are raising questions about the effects of the change. 
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    ".. no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Fourth Amendment. The changes to Rule 41 ignore the particularity requirement by allowing the government to search computers that are not particularly identified in multiple locations not particularly identifed, in other words, a general warrant that is precisely the reason the particularity requirement was adopted to outlaw.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Exposed: NSA program for hacking any cell phone network, no matter where it is | Ars Te... - 1 views

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    "The National Security Agency has spied on hundreds of companies and groups around the world, including in countries allied with the US government, as part of an effort designed to allow agents to hack into any cellular network, no matter where it's located, according to a report published Thursday."
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    "The National Security Agency has spied on hundreds of companies and groups around the world, including in countries allied with the US government, as part of an effort designed to allow agents to hack into any cellular network, no matter where it's located, according to a report published Thursday."
Paul Merrell

NSA Director Finally Admits Encryption Is Needed to Protect Public's Privacy - 0 views

  • NSA Director Finally Admits Encryption Is Needed to Protect Public’s Privacy The new stance denotes a growing awareness within the government that Americans are not comfortable with the State’s grip on their data. By Carey Wedler | AntiMedia | January 22, 2016 Share this article! https://mail.google.com/mail/?view=cm&fs=1&to&su=NSA%20Director%20Finally%20Admits%20Encryption%20Is%20Needed%20to%20Protect%20Public%E2%80%99s%20Privacy&body=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mintpress
  • Rogers cited the recent Office of Personnel Management hack of over 20 million users as a reason to increase encryption rather than scale it back. “What you saw at OPM, you’re going to see a whole lot more of,” he said, referring to the massive hack that compromised the personal data about 20 million people who obtained background checks. Rogers’ comments, while forward-thinking, signify an about face in his stance on encryption. In February 2015, he said he “shares [FBI] Director [James] Comey’s concern” about cell phone companies’ decision to add encryption features to their products. Comey has been one loudest critics of encryption. However, Rogers’ comments on Thursday now directly conflict with Comey’s stated position. The FBI director has publicly chastised encryption, as well as the companies that provide it. In 2014, he claimed Apple’s then-new encryption feature could lead the world to “a very dark place.” At a Department of Justice hearing in November, Comey testified that “Increasingly, the shadow that is ‘going dark’ is falling across more and more of our work.” Though he claimed, “We support encryption,” he insisted “we have a problem that encryption is crashing into public safety and we have to figure out, as people who care about both, to resolve it. So, I think the conversation’s in a healthier place.”
  • At the same hearing, Comey and Attorney General Loretta Lynch declined to comment on whether they had proof the Paris attackers used encryption. Even so, Comey recently lobbied for tech companies to do away with end-to-end encryption. However, his crusade has fallen on unsympathetic ears, both from the private companies he seeks to control — and from the NSA. Prior to Rogers’ statements in support of encryption Thursday, former NSA chief Michael Hayden said, “I disagree with Jim Comey. I actually think end-to-end encryption is good for America.” Still another former NSA chair has criticized calls for backdoor access to information. In October, Mike McConnell told a panel at an encryption summit that the United States is “better served by stronger encryption, rather than baking in weaker encryption.” Former Department of Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, has also spoken out against government being able to bypass encryption.
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  • Regardless of these individual defenses of encryption, the Intercept explained why these statements may be irrelevant: “Left unsaid is the fact that the FBI and NSA have the ability to circumvent encryption and get to the content too — by hacking. Hacking allows law enforcement to plant malicious code on someone’s computer in order to gain access to the photos, messages, and text before they were ever encrypted in the first place, and after they’ve been decrypted. The NSA has an entire team of advanced hackers, possibly as many as 600, camped out at Fort Meade.”
  • Rogers statements, of course, are not a full-fledged endorsement of privacy, nor can the NSA be expected to make it a priority. Even so, his new stance denotes a growing awareness within the government that Americans are not comfortable with the State’s grip on their data. “So spending time arguing about ‘hey, encryption is bad and we ought to do away with it’ … that’s a waste of time to me,” Rogers said Thursday. “So what we’ve got to ask ourselves is, with that foundation, what’s the best way for us to deal with it? And how do we meet those very legitimate concerns from multiple perspectives?”
Paul Merrell

From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users' Online Identities - 1 views

  • HERE WAS A SIMPLE AIM at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.” Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs. The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The revelations about the scope of the British agency’s surveillance are contained in documents obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Previous reports based on the leaked files have exposed how GCHQ taps into Internet cables to monitor communications on a vast scale, but many details about what happens to the data after it has been vacuumed up have remained unclear.
  • Amid a renewed push from the U.K. government for more surveillance powers, more than two dozen documents being disclosed today by The Intercept reveal for the first time several major strands of GCHQ’s existing electronic eavesdropping capabilities.
  • The surveillance is underpinned by an opaque legal regime that has authorized GCHQ to sift through huge archives of metadata about the private phone calls, emails and Internet browsing logs of Brits, Americans, and any other citizens — all without a court order or judicial warrant
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  • A huge volume of the Internet data GCHQ collects flows directly into a massive repository named Black Hole, which is at the core of the agency’s online spying operations, storing raw logs of intercepted material before it has been subject to analysis. Black Hole contains data collected by GCHQ as part of bulk “unselected” surveillance, meaning it is not focused on particular “selected” targets and instead includes troves of data indiscriminately swept up about ordinary people’s online activities. Between August 2007 and March 2009, GCHQ documents say that Black Hole was used to store more than 1.1 trillion “events” — a term the agency uses to refer to metadata records — with about 10 billion new entries added every day. As of March 2009, the largest slice of data Black Hole held — 41 percent — was about people’s Internet browsing histories. The rest included a combination of email and instant messenger records, details about search engine queries, information about social media activity, logs related to hacking operations, and data on people’s use of tools to browse the Internet anonymously.
  • Throughout this period, as smartphone sales started to boom, the frequency of people’s Internet use was steadily increasing. In tandem, British spies were working frantically to bolster their spying capabilities, with plans afoot to expand the size of Black Hole and other repositories to handle an avalanche of new data. By 2010, according to the documents, GCHQ was logging 30 billion metadata records per day. By 2012, collection had increased to 50 billion per day, and work was underway to double capacity to 100 billion. The agency was developing “unprecedented” techniques to perform what it called “population-scale” data mining, monitoring all communications across entire countries in an effort to detect patterns or behaviors deemed suspicious. It was creating what it said would be, by 2013, “the world’s biggest” surveillance engine “to run cyber operations and to access better, more valued data for customers to make a real world difference.”
  • A document from the GCHQ target analysis center (GTAC) shows the Black Hole repository’s structure.
  • The data is searched by GCHQ analysts in a hunt for behavior online that could be connected to terrorism or other criminal activity. But it has also served a broader and more controversial purpose — helping the agency hack into European companies’ computer networks. In the lead up to its secret mission targeting Netherlands-based Gemalto, the largest SIM card manufacturer in the world, GCHQ used MUTANT BROTH in an effort to identify the company’s employees so it could hack into their computers. The system helped the agency analyze intercepted Facebook cookies it believed were associated with Gemalto staff located at offices in France and Poland. GCHQ later successfully infiltrated Gemalto’s internal networks, stealing encryption keys produced by the company that protect the privacy of cell phone communications.
  • Similarly, MUTANT BROTH proved integral to GCHQ’s hack of Belgian telecommunications provider Belgacom. The agency entered IP addresses associated with Belgacom into MUTANT BROTH to uncover information about the company’s employees. Cookies associated with the IPs revealed the Google, Yahoo, and LinkedIn accounts of three Belgacom engineers, whose computers were then targeted by the agency and infected with malware. The hacking operation resulted in GCHQ gaining deep access into the most sensitive parts of Belgacom’s internal systems, granting British spies the ability to intercept communications passing through the company’s networks.
  • In March, a U.K. parliamentary committee published the findings of an 18-month review of GCHQ’s operations and called for an overhaul of the laws that regulate the spying. The committee raised concerns about the agency gathering what it described as “bulk personal datasets” being held about “a wide range of people.” However, it censored the section of the report describing what these “datasets” contained, despite acknowledging that they “may be highly intrusive.” The Snowden documents shine light on some of the core GCHQ bulk data-gathering programs that the committee was likely referring to — pulling back the veil of secrecy that has shielded some of the agency’s most controversial surveillance operations from public scrutiny. KARMA POLICE and MUTANT BROTH are among the key bulk collection systems. But they do not operate in isolation — and the scope of GCHQ’s spying extends far beyond them.
  • The agency operates a bewildering array of other eavesdropping systems, each serving its own specific purpose and designated a unique code name, such as: SOCIAL ANTHROPOID, which is used to analyze metadata on emails, instant messenger chats, social media connections and conversations, plus “telephony” metadata about phone calls, cell phone locations, text and multimedia messages; MEMORY HOLE, which logs queries entered into search engines and associates each search with an IP address; MARBLED GECKO, which sifts through details about searches people have entered into Google Maps and Google Earth; and INFINITE MONKEYS, which analyzes data about the usage of online bulletin boards and forums. GCHQ has other programs that it uses to analyze the content of intercepted communications, such as the full written body of emails and the audio of phone calls. One of the most important content collection capabilities is TEMPORA, which mines vast amounts of emails, instant messages, voice calls and other communications and makes them accessible through a Google-style search tool named XKEYSCORE.
  • As of September 2012, TEMPORA was collecting “more than 40 billion pieces of content a day” and it was being used to spy on people across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, according to a top-secret memo outlining the scope of the program. The existence of TEMPORA was first revealed by The Guardian in June 2013. To analyze all of the communications it intercepts and to build a profile of the individuals it is monitoring, GCHQ uses a variety of different tools that can pull together all of the relevant information and make it accessible through a single interface. SAMUEL PEPYS is one such tool, built by the British spies to analyze both the content and metadata of emails, browsing sessions, and instant messages as they are being intercepted in real time. One screenshot of SAMUEL PEPYS in action shows the agency using it to monitor an individual in Sweden who visited a page about GCHQ on the U.S.-based anti-secrecy website Cryptome.
  • Partly due to the U.K.’s geographic location — situated between the United States and the western edge of continental Europe — a large amount of the world’s Internet traffic passes through its territory across international data cables. In 2010, GCHQ noted that what amounted to “25 percent of all Internet traffic” was transiting the U.K. through some 1,600 different cables. The agency said that it could “survey the majority of the 1,600” and “select the most valuable to switch into our processing systems.”
  • According to Joss Wright, a research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, tapping into the cables allows GCHQ to monitor a large portion of foreign communications. But the cables also transport masses of wholly domestic British emails and online chats, because when anyone in the U.K. sends an email or visits a website, their computer will routinely send and receive data from servers that are located overseas. “I could send a message from my computer here [in England] to my wife’s computer in the next room and on its way it could go through the U.S., France, and other countries,” Wright says. “That’s just the way the Internet is designed.” In other words, Wright adds, that means “a lot” of British data and communications transit across international cables daily, and are liable to be swept into GCHQ’s databases.
  • A map from a classified GCHQ presentation about intercepting communications from undersea cables. GCHQ is authorized to conduct dragnet surveillance of the international data cables through so-called external warrants that are signed off by a government minister. The external warrants permit the agency to monitor communications in foreign countries as well as British citizens’ international calls and emails — for example, a call from Islamabad to London. They prohibit GCHQ from reading or listening to the content of “internal” U.K. to U.K. emails and phone calls, which are supposed to be filtered out from GCHQ’s systems if they are inadvertently intercepted unless additional authorization is granted to scrutinize them. However, the same rules do not apply to metadata. A little-known loophole in the law allows GCHQ to use external warrants to collect and analyze bulk metadata about the emails, phone calls, and Internet browsing activities of British people, citizens of closely allied countries, and others, regardless of whether the data is derived from domestic U.K. to U.K. communications and browsing sessions or otherwise. In March, the existence of this loophole was quietly acknowledged by the U.K. parliamentary committee’s surveillance review, which stated in a section of its report that “special protection and additional safeguards” did not apply to metadata swept up using external warrants and that domestic British metadata could therefore be lawfully “returned as a result of searches” conducted by GCHQ.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, GCHQ appears to have readily exploited this obscure legal technicality. Secret policy guidance papers issued to the agency’s analysts instruct them that they can sift through huge troves of indiscriminately collected metadata records to spy on anyone regardless of their nationality. The guidance makes clear that there is no exemption or extra privacy protection for British people or citizens from countries that are members of the Five Eyes, a surveillance alliance that the U.K. is part of alongside the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. “If you are searching a purely Events only database such as MUTANT BROTH, the issue of location does not occur,” states one internal GCHQ policy document, which is marked with a “last modified” date of July 2012. The document adds that analysts are free to search the databases for British metadata “without further authorization” by inputing a U.K. “selector,” meaning a unique identifier such as a person’s email or IP address, username, or phone number. Authorization is “not needed for individuals in the U.K.,” another GCHQ document explains, because metadata has been judged “less intrusive than communications content.” All the spies are required to do to mine the metadata troves is write a short “justification” or “reason” for each search they conduct and then click a button on their computer screen.
  • Intelligence GCHQ collects on British persons of interest is shared with domestic security agency MI5, which usually takes the lead on spying operations within the U.K. MI5 conducts its own extensive domestic surveillance as part of a program called DIGINT (digital intelligence).
  • GCHQ’s documents suggest that it typically retains metadata for periods of between 30 days to six months. It stores the content of communications for a shorter period of time, varying between three to 30 days. The retention periods can be extended if deemed necessary for “cyber defense.” One secret policy paper dated from January 2010 lists the wide range of information the agency classes as metadata — including location data that could be used to track your movements, your email, instant messenger, and social networking “buddy lists,” logs showing who you have communicated with by phone or email, the passwords you use to access “communications services” (such as an email account), and information about websites you have viewed.
  • Records showing the full website addresses you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk/what_we_do — are treated as content. But the first part of an address you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk — is treated as metadata. In isolation, a single metadata record of a phone call, email, or website visit may not reveal much about a person’s private life, according to Ethan Zuckerman, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media. But if accumulated and analyzed over a period of weeks or months, these details would be “extremely personal,” he told The Intercept, because they could reveal a person’s movements, habits, religious beliefs, political views, relationships, and even sexual preferences. For Zuckerman, who has studied the social and political ramifications of surveillance, the most concerning aspect of large-scale government data collection is that it can be “corrosive towards democracy” — leading to a chilling effect on freedom of expression and communication. “Once we know there’s a reasonable chance that we are being watched in one fashion or another it’s hard for that not to have a ‘panopticon effect,’” he said, “where we think and behave differently based on the assumption that people may be watching and paying attention to what we are doing.”
  • When compared to surveillance rules in place in the U.S., GCHQ notes in one document that the U.K. has “a light oversight regime.” The more lax British spying regulations are reflected in secret internal rules that highlight greater restrictions on how NSA databases can be accessed. The NSA’s troves can be searched for data on British citizens, one document states, but they cannot be mined for information about Americans or other citizens from countries in the Five Eyes alliance. No such constraints are placed on GCHQ’s own databases, which can be sifted for records on the phone calls, emails, and Internet usage of Brits, Americans, and citizens from any other country. The scope of GCHQ’s surveillance powers explain in part why Snowden told The Guardian in June 2013 that U.K. surveillance is “worse than the U.S.” In an interview with Der Spiegel in July 2013, Snowden added that British Internet cables were “radioactive” and joked: “Even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.”
  • In recent years, the biggest barrier to GCHQ’s mass collection of data does not appear to have come in the form of legal or policy restrictions. Rather, it is the increased use of encryption technology that protects the privacy of communications that has posed the biggest potential hindrance to the agency’s activities. “The spread of encryption … threatens our ability to do effective target discovery/development,” says a top-secret report co-authored by an official from the British agency and an NSA employee in 2011. “Pertinent metadata events will be locked within the encrypted channels and difficult, if not impossible, to prise out,” the report says, adding that the agencies were working on a plan that would “(hopefully) allow our Internet Exploitation strategy to prevail.”
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