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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

EFF Pries More Information on Zero Days from the Government's Grasp | Electronic Fronti... - 0 views

  • Until just last week, the U.S. government kept up the charade that its use of a stockpile of security vulnerabilities for hacking was a closely held secret.1 In fact, in response to EFF’s FOIA suit to get access to the official U.S. policy on zero days, the government redacted every single reference to “offensive” use of vulnerabilities. To add insult to injury, the government’s claim was that even admitting to offensive use would cause damage to national security. Now, in the face of EFF’s brief marshaling overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the charade is over. In response to EFF’s motion for summary judgment, the government has disclosed a new version of the Vulnerabilities Equities Process, minus many of the worst redactions. First and foremost, it now admits that the “discovery of vulnerabilities in commercial information technology may present competing ‘equities’ for the [government’s] offensive and defensive mission.” That might seem painfully obvious—a flaw or backdoor in a Juniper router is dangerous for anyone running a network, whether that network is in the U.S. or Iran. But the government’s failure to adequately weigh these “competing equities” was so severe that in 2013 a group of experts appointed by President Obama recommended that the policy favor disclosure “in almost all instances for widely used code.” [.pdf].
  • The newly disclosed version of the Vulnerabilities Equities Process (VEP) also officially confirms what everyone already knew: the use of zero days isn’t confined to the spies. Rather, the policy states that the “law enforcement community may want to use information pertaining to a vulnerability for similar offensive or defensive purposes but for the ultimate end of law enforcement.” Similarly it explains that “counterintelligence equities can be defensive, offensive, and/or law enforcement-related” and may “also have prosecutorial responsibilities.” Given that the government is currently prosecuting users for committing crimes over Tor hidden services, and that it identified these individuals using vulnerabilities called a “Network Investigative Technique”, this too doesn’t exactly come as a shocker. Just a few weeks ago, the government swore that even acknowledging the mere fact that it uses vulnerabilities offensively “could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.” That’s a standard move in FOIA cases involving classified information, even though the government unnecessarily classifies documents at an astounding rate. In this case, the government relented only after nearly a year and a half of litigation by EFF. The government would be well advised to stop relying on such weak secrecy claims—it only risks undermining its own credibility.
  • The new version of the VEP also reveals significantly more information about the general process the government follows when a vulnerability is identified. In a nutshell, an agency that discovers a zero day is responsible for invoking the VEP, which then provides for centralized coordination and weighing of equities among all affected agencies. Along with a declaration from an official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, this new information provides more background on the reasons why the government decided to develop an overarching zero day policy in the first place: it “recognized that not all organizations see the entire picture of vulnerabilities, and each organization may have its own equities and concerns regarding the prioritization of patches and fixes, as well as its own distinct mission obligations.” We now know the VEP was finalized in February 2010, but the government apparently failed to implement it in any substantial way, prompting the presidential review group’s recommendation to prioritize disclosure over offensive hacking. We’re glad to have forced a little more transparency on this important issue, but the government is still foolishly holding on to a few last redactions, including refusing to name which agencies participate in the VEP. That’s just not supportable, and we’ll be in court next month to argue that the names of these agencies must be disclosed. 
Paul Merrell

Leaked docs show spyware used to snoop on US computers | Ars Technica - 0 views

  • Software created by the controversial UK-based Gamma Group International was used to spy on computers that appear to be located in the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia, Iran, and Bahrain, according to a leaked trove of documents analyzed by ProPublica. It's not clear whether the surveillance was conducted by governments or private entities. Customer e-mail addresses in the collection appeared to belong to a German surveillance company, an independent consultant in Dubai, the Bosnian and Hungarian Intelligence services, a Dutch law enforcement officer, and the Qatari government.
  • The leaked files—which were posted online by hackers—are the latest in a series of revelations about how state actors including repressive regimes have used Gamma's software to spy on dissidents, journalists, and activist groups. The documents, leaked last Saturday, could not be readily verified, but experts told ProPublica they believed them to be genuine. "I think it's highly unlikely that it's a fake," said Morgan Marquis-Bore, a security researcher who while at The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto had analyzed Gamma Group's software and who authored an article about the leak on Thursday. The documents confirm many details that have already been reported about Gamma, such as that its tools were used to spy on Bahraini activists. Some documents in the trove contain metadata tied to e-mail addresses of several Gamma employees. Bill Marczak, another Gamma Group expert at the Citizen Lab, said that several dates in the documents correspond to publicly known events—such as the day that a particular Bahraini activist was hacked.
  • The leaked files contain more than 40 gigabytes of confidential technical material, including software code, internal memos, strategy reports, and user guides on how to use Gamma Group software suite called FinFisher. FinFisher enables customers to monitor secure Web traffic, Skype calls, webcams, and personal files. It is installed as malware on targets' computers and cell phones. A price list included in the trove lists a license of the software at almost $4 million. The documents reveal that Gamma uses technology from a French company called Vupen Security that sells so-called computer "exploits." Exploits include techniques called "zero days" for "popular software like Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and many more." Zero days are exploits that have not yet been detected by the software maker and therefore are not blocked.
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  • Many of Gamma's product brochures have previously been published by the Wall Street Journal and Wikileaks, but the latest trove shows how the products are getting more sophisticated. In one document, engineers at Gamma tested a product called FinSpy, which inserts malware onto a user's machine, and found that it could not be blocked by most antivirus software. Documents also reveal that Gamma had been working to bypass encryption tools including a mobile phone encryption app, Silent Circle, and were able to bypass the protection given by hard-drive encryption products TrueCrypt and Microsoft's Bitlocker.
  • The documents also describe a "country-wide" surveillance product called FinFly ISP which promises customers the ability to intercept Internet traffic and masquerade as ordinary websites in order to install malware on a target's computer. The most recent date-stamp found in the documents is August 2, coincidung with the first tweet by a parody Twitter account, @GammaGroupPR, which first announced the hack and may be run by the hacker or hackers responsible for the leak. On Reddit, a user called PhineasFisher claimed responsibility for the leak. "Two years ago their software was found being widely used by governments in the middle east, especially Bahrain, to hack and spy on the computers and phones of journalists and dissidents," the user wrote. The name on the @GammaGroupPR Twitter account is also "Phineas Fisher." GammaGroup, the surveillance company whose documents were released, is no stranger to the spotlight. The security firm F-Secure first reported the purchase of FinFisher software by the Egyptian State Security agency in 2011. In 2012, Bloomberg News and The Citizen Lab showed how the company's malware was used to target activists in Bahrain. In 2013, the software company Mozilla sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company after a report by The Citizen Lab showed that a spyware-infected version of the Firefox browser manufactured by Gamma was being used to spy on Malaysian activists.
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