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Paul Merrell

Reset The Net - Privacy Pack - 1 views

  • This June 5th, I pledge to take strong steps to protect my freedom from government mass surveillance. I expect the services I use to do the same.
  • Fight for the Future and Center for Rights will contact you about future campaigns. Privacy Policy
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    I wound up joining this campaign at the urging of the ACLU after checking the Privacy Policy. The Reset the Net campaign seems to be endorsed by a lot of change-oriented groups, from the ACLU to Greenpeac to the Pirate Party. A fair number of groups with a Progressive agenda, but certainly not limited to them. The right answer to that situation is to urge other groups to endorse, not to avoid the campaign. Single-issue coalition-building is all about focusing on an area of agreement rather than worrying about who you are rubbing elbows with.  I have been looking for a a bipartisan group that's tackling government surveillance issues via mass actions but has no corporate sponsors. This might be the one. The reason: Corporate types like Google have no incentive to really butt heads with the government voyeurs. They are themselves engaged in massive surveillance of their users and certainly will not carry the battle for digital privacy over to the private sector. But this *is* a battle over digital privacy and legally defining user privacy rights in the private sector is just as important as cutting back on government surveillance. As we have learned through the Snowden disclosures, what the private internet companies have, the NSA can and does get.  The big internet services successfully pushed in the U.S. for authorization to publish more numbers about how many times they pass private data to the government, but went no farther. They wanted to be able to say they did something, but there's a revolving door of staffers between NSA and the big internet companies and the internet service companies' data is an open book to the NSA.   The big internet services are not champions of their users' privacy. If they were, they would be featuring end-to-end encryption with encryption keys unique to each user and unknown to the companies.  Like some startups in Europe are doing. E.g., the Wuala.com filesync service in Switzerland (first 5 GB of storage internet). Compare tha
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    "This June 5th, I pledge to take strong steps to protect my freedom from government mass surveillance. I expect the services I use to do the same."
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    I wound up joining this campaign at the urging of the ACLU after checking the Privacy Policy. The Reset the Net campaign seems to be endorsed by a lot of change-oriented groups, from the ACLU to Greenpeac to the Pirate Party. A fair number of groups with a Progressive agenda, but certainly not limited to them. The right answer to that situation is to urge other groups to endorse, not to avoid the campaign. Single-issue coalition-building is all about focusing on an area of agreement rather than worrying about who you are rubbing elbows with.  I have been looking for a a bipartisan group that's tackling government surveillance issues via mass actions but has no corporate sponsors. This might be the one. The reason: Corporate types like Google have no incentive to really butt heads with the government voyeurs. They are themselves engaged in massive surveillance of their users and certainly will not carry the battle for digital privacy over to the private sector. But this *is* a battle over digital privacy and legally defining user privacy rights in the private sector is just as important as cutting back on government surveillance. As we have learned through the Snowden disclosures, what the private internet companies have, the NSA can and does get.  The big internet services successfully pushed in the U.S. for authorization to publish more numbers about how many times they pass private data to the government, but went no farther. They wanted to be able to say they did something, but there's a revolving door of staffers between NSA and the big internet companies and the internet service companies' data is an open book to the NSA.   The big internet services are not champions of their users' privacy. If they were, they would be featuring end-to-end encryption with encryption keys unique to each user and unknown to the companies.  Like some startups in Europe are doing. E.g., the Wuala.com filesync service in Switzerland (first 5 GB of storage internet). Com
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.”
Paul Merrell

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

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

For sale: Systems that can secretly track where cellphone users go around the globe - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Makers of surveillance systems are offering governments across the world the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a cellphone, whether they are blocks away or on another continent. The technology works by exploiting an essential fact of all cellular networks: They must keep detailed, up-to-the-minute records on the locations of their customers to deliver calls and other services to them. Surveillance systems are secretly collecting these records to map people’s travels over days, weeks or longer, according to company marketing documents and experts in surveillance technology.
  • The world’s most powerful intelligence services, such as the National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ, long have used cellphone data to track targets around the globe. But experts say these new systems allow less technically advanced governments to track people in any nation — including the United States — with relative ease and precision.
  • It is unclear which governments have acquired these tracking systems, but one industry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive trade information, said that dozens of countries have bought or leased such technology in recent years. This rapid spread underscores how the burgeoning, multibillion-dollar surveillance industry makes advanced spying technology available worldwide. “Any tin-pot dictator with enough money to buy the system could spy on people anywhere in the world,” said Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, a London-based activist group that warns about the abuse of surveillance technology. “This is a huge problem.”
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  • Security experts say hackers, sophisticated criminal gangs and nations under sanctions also could use this tracking technology, which operates in a legal gray area. It is illegal in many countries to track people without their consent or a court order, but there is no clear international legal standard for secretly tracking people in other countries, nor is there a global entity with the authority to police potential abuses.
  • tracking systems that access carrier location databases are unusual in their ability to allow virtually any government to track people across borders, with any type of cellular phone, across a wide range of carriers — without the carriers even knowing. These systems also can be used in tandem with other technologies that, when the general location of a person is already known, can intercept calls and Internet traffic, activate microphones, and access contact lists, photos and other documents. Companies that make and sell surveillance technology seek to limit public information about their systems’ capabilities and client lists, typically marketing their technology directly to law enforcement and intelligence services through international conferences that are closed to journalists and other members of the public.
  • Yet marketing documents obtained by The Washington Post show that companies are offering powerful systems that are designed to evade detection while plotting movements of surveillance targets on computerized maps. The documents claim system success rates of more than 70 percent. A 24-page marketing brochure for SkyLock, a cellular tracking system sold by Verint, a maker of analytics systems based in Melville, N.Y., carries the subtitle “Locate. Track. Manipulate.” The document, dated January 2013 and labeled “Commercially Confidential,” says the system offers government agencies “a cost-effective, new approach to obtaining global location information concerning known targets.”
  • (Privacy International has collected several marketing brochures on cellular surveillance systems, including one that refers briefly to SkyLock, and posted them on its Web site. The 24-page SkyLock brochure and other material was independently provided to The Post by people concerned that such systems are being abused.)
  • Verint, which also has substantial operations in Israel, declined to comment for this story. It says in the marketing brochure that it does not use SkyLock against U.S. or Israeli phones, which could violate national laws. But several similar systems, marketed in recent years by companies based in Switzerland, Ukraine and elsewhere, likely are free of such limitations.
  • The tracking technology takes advantage of the lax security of SS7, a global network that cellular carriers use to communicate with one another when directing calls, texts and Internet data. The system was built decades ago, when only a few large carriers controlled the bulk of global phone traffic. Now thousands of companies use SS7 to provide services to billions of phones and other mobile devices, security experts say. All of these companies have access to the network and can send queries to other companies on the SS7 system, making the entire network more vulnerable to exploitation. Any one of these companies could share its access with others, including makers of surveillance systems.
  • Companies that market SS7 tracking systems recommend using them in tandem with “IMSI catchers,” increasingly common surveillance devices that use cellular signals collected directly from the air to intercept calls and Internet traffic, send fake texts, install spyware on a phone, and determine precise locations. IMSI catchers — also known by one popular trade name, StingRay — can home in on somebody a mile or two away but are useless if a target’s general location is not known. SS7 tracking systems solve that problem by locating the general area of a target so that IMSI catchers can be deployed effectively. (The term “IMSI” refers to a unique identifying code on a cellular phone.)
  • Verint can install SkyLock on the networks of cellular carriers if they are cooperative — something that telecommunications experts say is common in countries where carriers have close relationships with their national governments. Verint also has its own “worldwide SS7 hubs” that “are spread in various locations around the world,” says the brochure. It does not list prices for the services, though it says that Verint charges more for the ability to track targets in many far-flung countries, as opposed to only a few nearby ones. Among the most appealing features of the system, the brochure says, is its ability to sidestep the cellular operators that sometimes protect their users’ personal information by refusing government requests or insisting on formal court orders before releasing information.
  • Another company, Defentek, markets a similar system called Infiltrator Global Real-Time Tracking System on its Web site, claiming to “locate and track any phone number in the world.” The site adds: “It is a strategic solution that infiltrates and is undetected and unknown by the network, carrier, or the target.”
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    The Verint company has very close ties to the Iraeli government. Its former parent company Comverse, was heavily subsidized by Israel and the bulk of its manufacturing and code development was done in Israel. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comverse_Technology "In December 2001, a Fox News report raised the concern that wiretapping equipment provided by Comverse Infosys to the U.S. government for electronic eavesdropping may have been vulnerable, as these systems allegedly had a back door through which the wiretaps could be intercepted by unauthorized parties.[55] Fox News reporter Carl Cameron said there was no reason to believe the Israeli government was implicated, but that "a classified top-secret investigation is underway".[55] A March 2002 story by Le Monde recapped the Fox report and concluded: "Comverse is suspected of having introduced into its systems of the 'catch gates' in order to 'intercept, record and store' these wire-taps. This hardware would render the 'listener' himself 'listened to'."[56] Fox News did not pursue the allegations, and in the years since, there have been no legal or commercial actions of any type taken against Comverse by the FBI or any other branch of the US Government related to data access and security issues. While no real evidence has been presented against Comverse or Verint, the allegations have become a favorite topic of conspiracy theorists.[57] By 2005, the company had $959 million in sales and employed over 5,000 people, of whom about half were located in Israel.[16]" Verint is also the company that got the Dept. of Homeland Security contract to provide and install an electronic and video surveillance system across the entire U.S. border with Mexico.  One need not be much of a conspiracy theorist to have concerns about Verint's likely interactions and data sharing with the NSA and its Israeli equivalent, Unit 8200. 
Paul Merrell

Guest Post: NSA Reform - The Consequences of Failure | Just Security - 0 views

  • In the absence of real reform, people and institutions at home and abroad are taking matters into their own hands. In America, the NSA’s overreach is changing the way we communicate with and relate to each other. In order to evade government surveillance, more and more Americans are employing encryption technology.  The veritable explosion of new secure messaging apps like Surespot, OpenWhisper’s collaboration with WhatsApp, the development and deployment of open source anti-surveillance tools like Detekt, the creation of organizationally-sponsored “surveillance self-defense” guides, the push to universalize the https protocol, anti-surveillance book events featuring free encryption workshops— are manifestations of the rise of the personal encryption and pro-privacy digital resistance movement. Its political implications are clear: Americans, along with people around the world, increasingly see the United States government’s overreaching surveillance activities as a threat to be blocked.
  • The federal government’s vacuum-cleaner approach to surveillance—manifested in Title II of the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act, and EO 12333—has backfired in these respects, and the emergence of this digital resistance movement is one result. Indeed, the existence and proliferation of social networks hold the potential to help this movement spread faster and to more of the general public than would have been possible in decades past. This is evidenced by the growing concern worldwide about governments’ ability to access reams of information about people’s lives with relative ease. As one measure, compared to a year ago, 41% of online users in North America now avoid certain Internet sites and applications, 16% change who they communicate with, and 24% censor what they say online. Those numbers, if anywhere close to accurate, are a major concern for democratic society.
  • Even if commercially available privacy technology proves capable of providing a genuine shield against warrantless or otherwise illegal surveillance by the United States government, it will remain a treatment for the symptom, not a cure for the underlying legal and constitutional malady. In April 2014, a Harris poll of US adults showed that in response to the Snowden revelations, “Almost half of respondents (47%) said that they have changed their online behavior and think more carefully about where they go, what they say, and what they do online.” Set aside for a moment that just the federal government’s collection of the data of innocent Americans is itself likely a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Harris poll is just one of numerous studies highlighting the collateral damage to American society and politics from NSA’s excesses: segments of our population are now fearful of even associating with individuals or organizations executive branch officials deem controversial or suspicious. Nearly half of Americans say they have changed their online behavior out of a fear of what the federal government might do with their personal information. The Constitution’s free association guarantee has been damaged by the Surveillance State’s very operation.
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  • The failure of the Congress and the courts to end the surveillance state, despite the repeated efforts by a huge range of political and public interest actors to effect that change through the political process, is only fueling the growing resistance movement. Federal officials understand this, which is why they are trying—desperately and in the view of some, underhandedly—to shut down this digital resistance movement. This action/reaction cycle is exactly what it appears to be: an escalating conflict between the American public and its government. Without comprehensive surveillance authority reforms (including a journalist “shield law” and ironclad whistleblower protections for Intelligence Community contractors) that are verifiable and enforceable, that conflict will only continue.
Paul Merrell

Spies and internet giants are in the same business: surveillance. But we can stop them | John Naughton | Comment is internet | The Guardian - 0 views

  • On Tuesday, the European court of justice, Europe’s supreme court, lobbed a grenade into the cosy, quasi-monopolistic world of the giant American internet companies. It did so by declaring invalid a decision made by the European commission in 2000 that US companies complying with its “safe harbour privacy principles” would be allowed to transfer personal data from the EU to the US. This judgment may not strike you as a big deal. You may also think that it has nothing to do with you. Wrong on both counts, but to see why, some background might be useful. The key thing to understand is that European and American views about the protection of personal data are radically different. We Europeans are very hot on it, whereas our American friends are – how shall I put it? – more relaxed.
  • Given that personal data constitutes the fuel on which internet companies such as Google and Facebook run, this meant that their exponential growth in the US market was greatly facilitated by that country’s tolerant data-protection laws. Once these companies embarked on global expansion, however, things got stickier. It was clear that the exploitation of personal data that is the core business of these outfits would be more difficult in Europe, especially given that their cloud-computing architectures involved constantly shuttling their users’ data between server farms in different parts of the world. Since Europe is a big market and millions of its citizens wished to use Facebook et al, the European commission obligingly came up with the “safe harbour” idea, which allowed companies complying with its seven principles to process the personal data of European citizens. The circle having been thus neatly squared, Facebook and friends continued merrily on their progress towards world domination. But then in the summer of 2013, Edward Snowden broke cover and revealed what really goes on in the mysterious world of cloud computing. At which point, an Austrian Facebook user, one Maximilian Schrems, realising that some or all of the data he had entrusted to Facebook was being transferred from its Irish subsidiary to servers in the United States, lodged a complaint with the Irish data protection commissioner. Schrems argued that, in the light of the Snowden revelations, the law and practice of the United States did not offer sufficient protection against surveillance of the data transferred to that country by the government.
  • The Irish data commissioner rejected the complaint on the grounds that the European commission’s safe harbour decision meant that the US ensured an adequate level of protection of Schrems’s personal data. Schrems disagreed, the case went to the Irish high court and thence to the European court of justice. On Tuesday, the court decided that the safe harbour agreement was invalid. At which point the balloon went up. “This is,” writes Professor Lorna Woods, an expert on these matters, “a judgment with very far-reaching implications, not just for governments but for companies the business model of which is based on data flows. It reiterates the significance of data protection as a human right and underlines that protection must be at a high level.”
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  • This is classic lawyerly understatement. My hunch is that if you were to visit the legal departments of many internet companies today you would find people changing their underpants at regular intervals. For the big names of the search and social media worlds this is a nightmare scenario. For those of us who take a more detached view of their activities, however, it is an encouraging development. For one thing, it provides yet another confirmation of the sterling service that Snowden has rendered to civil society. His revelations have prompted a wide-ranging reassessment of where our dependence on networking technology has taken us and stimulated some long-overdue thinking about how we might reassert some measure of democratic control over that technology. Snowden has forced us into having conversations that we needed to have. Although his revelations are primarily about government surveillance, they also indirectly highlight the symbiotic relationship between the US National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ on the one hand and the giant internet companies on the other. For, in the end, both the intelligence agencies and the tech companies are in the same business, namely surveillance.
  • And both groups, oddly enough, provide the same kind of justification for what they do: that their surveillance is both necessary (for national security in the case of governments, for economic viability in the case of the companies) and conducted within the law. We need to test both justifications and the great thing about the European court of justice judgment is that it starts us off on that conversation.
Paul Merrell

Internet users raise funds to buy lawmakers' browsing histories in protest | TheHill - 0 views

  • House passes bill undoing Obama internet privacy rule House passes bill undoing Obama internet privacy rule TheHill.com Mesmerizing Slow-Motion Lightning Celebrate #NationalPuppyDay with some adorable puppies on Instagram 5 plants to add to your garden this Spring House passes bill undoing Obama internet privacy rule Inform News. Coming Up... Ed Sheeran responds to his 'baby lookalike' margin: 0px; padding: 0px; borde
  • Great news! The House just voted to pass SJR34. We will finally be able to buy the browser history of all the Congresspeople who voted to sell our data and privacy without our consent!” he wrote on the fundraising page.Another activist from Tennessee has raised more than $152,000 from more than 9,800 people.A bill on its way to President Trump’s desk would allow internet service providers (ISPs) to sell users’ data and Web browsing history. It has not taken effect, which means there is no growing history data yet to purchase.A Washington Post reporter also wrote it would be possible to buy the data “in theory, but probably not in reality.”A former enforcement bureau chief at the Federal Communications Commission told the newspaper that most internet service providers would cover up this information, under their privacy policies. If they did sell any individual's personal data in violation of those policies, a state attorney general could take the ISPs to court.
Paul Merrell

Cy Vance's Proposal to Backdoor Encrypted Devices Is Riddled With Vulnerabilities | Just Security - 0 views

  • Less than a week after the attacks in Paris — while the public and policymakers were still reeling, and the investigation had barely gotten off the ground — Cy Vance, Manhattan’s District Attorney, released a policy paper calling for legislation requiring companies to provide the government with backdoor access to their smartphones and other mobile devices. This is the first concrete proposal of this type since September 2014, when FBI Director James Comey reignited the “Crypto Wars” in response to Apple’s and Google’s decisions to use default encryption on their smartphones. Though Comey seized on Apple’s and Google’s decisions to encrypt their devices by default, his concerns are primarily related to end-to-end encryption, which protects communications that are in transit. Vance’s proposal, on the other hand, is only concerned with device encryption, which protects data stored on phones. It is still unclear whether encryption played any role in the Paris attacks, though we do know that the attackers were using unencrypted SMS text messages on the night of the attack, and that some of them were even known to intelligence agencies and had previously been under surveillance. But regardless of whether encryption was used at some point during the planning of the attacks, as I lay out below, prohibiting companies from selling encrypted devices would not prevent criminals or terrorists from being able to access unbreakable encryption. Vance’s primary complaint is that Apple’s and Google’s decisions to provide their customers with more secure devices through encryption interferes with criminal investigations. He claims encryption prevents law enforcement from accessing stored data like iMessages, photos and videos, Internet search histories, and third party app data. He makes several arguments to justify his proposal to build backdoors into encrypted smartphones, but none of them hold water.
  • Before addressing the major privacy, security, and implementation concerns that his proposal raises, it is worth noting that while an increase in use of fully encrypted devices could interfere with some law enforcement investigations, it will help prevent far more crimes — especially smartphone theft, and the consequent potential for identity theft. According to Consumer Reports, in 2014 there were more than two million victims of smartphone theft, and nearly two-thirds of all smartphone users either took no steps to secure their phones or their data or failed to implement passcode access for their phones. Default encryption could reduce instances of theft because perpetrators would no longer be able to break into the phone to steal the data.
  • Vance argues that creating a weakness in encryption to allow law enforcement to access data stored on devices does not raise serious concerns for security and privacy, since in order to exploit the vulnerability one would need access to the actual device. He considers this an acceptable risk, claiming it would not be the same as creating a widespread vulnerability in encryption protecting communications in transit (like emails), and that it would be cheap and easy for companies to implement. But Vance seems to be underestimating the risks involved with his plan. It is increasingly important that smartphones and other devices are protected by the strongest encryption possible. Our devices and the apps on them contain astonishing amounts of personal information, so much that an unprecedented level of harm could be caused if a smartphone or device with an exploitable vulnerability is stolen, not least in the forms of identity fraud and credit card theft. We bank on our phones, and have access to credit card payments with services like Apple Pay. Our contact lists are stored on our phones, including phone numbers, emails, social media accounts, and addresses. Passwords are often stored on people’s phones. And phones and apps are often full of personal details about their lives, from food diaries to logs of favorite places to personal photographs. Symantec conducted a study, where the company spread 50 “lost” phones in public to see what people who picked up the phones would do with them. The company found that 95 percent of those people tried to access the phone, and while nearly 90 percent tried to access private information stored on the phone or in other private accounts such as banking services and email, only 50 percent attempted contacting the owner.
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  • Vance attempts to downplay this serious risk by asserting that anyone can use the “Find My Phone” or Android Device Manager services that allow owners to delete the data on their phones if stolen. However, this does not stand up to scrutiny. These services are effective only when an owner realizes their phone is missing and can take swift action on another computer or device. This delay ensures some period of vulnerability. Encryption, on the other hand, protects everyone immediately and always. Additionally, Vance argues that it is safer to build backdoors into encrypted devices than it is to do so for encrypted communications in transit. It is true that there is a difference in the threats posed by the two types of encryption backdoors that are being debated. However, some manner of widespread vulnerability will inevitably result from a backdoor to encrypted devices. Indeed, the NSA and GCHQ reportedly hacked into a database to obtain cell phone SIM card encryption keys in order defeat the security protecting users’ communications and activities and to conduct surveillance. Clearly, the reality is that the threat of such a breach, whether from a hacker or a nation state actor, is very real. Even if companies go the extra mile and create a different means of access for every phone, such as a separate access key for each phone, significant vulnerabilities will be created. It would still be possible for a malicious actor to gain access to the database containing those keys, which would enable them to defeat the encryption on any smartphone they took possession of. Additionally, the cost of implementation and maintenance of such a complex system could be high.
  • Privacy is another concern that Vance dismisses too easily. Despite Vance’s arguments otherwise, building backdoors into device encryption undermines privacy. Our government does not impose a similar requirement in any other context. Police can enter homes with warrants, but there is no requirement that people record their conversations and interactions just in case they someday become useful in an investigation. The conversations that we once had through disposable letters and in-person conversations now happen over the Internet and on phones. Just because the medium has changed does not mean our right to privacy has.
  • In addition to his weak reasoning for why it would be feasible to create backdoors to encrypted devices without creating undue security risks or harming privacy, Vance makes several flawed policy-based arguments in favor of his proposal. He argues that criminals benefit from devices that are protected by strong encryption. That may be true, but strong encryption is also a critical tool used by billions of average people around the world every day to protect their transactions, communications, and private information. Lawyers, doctors, and journalists rely on encryption to protect their clients, patients, and sources. Government officials, from the President to the directors of the NSA and FBI, and members of Congress, depend on strong encryption for cybersecurity and data security. There are far more innocent Americans who benefit from strong encryption than there are criminals who exploit it. Encryption is also essential to our economy. Device manufacturers could suffer major economic losses if they are prohibited from competing with foreign manufacturers who offer more secure devices. Encryption also protects major companies from corporate and nation-state espionage. As more daily business activities are done on smartphones and other devices, they may now hold highly proprietary or sensitive information. Those devices could be targeted even more than they are now if all that has to be done to access that information is to steal an employee’s smartphone and exploit a vulnerability the manufacturer was required to create.
  • Vance also suggests that the US would be justified in creating such a requirement since other Western nations are contemplating requiring encryption backdoors as well. Regardless of whether other countries are debating similar proposals, we cannot afford a race to the bottom on cybersecurity. Heads of the intelligence community regularly warn that cybersecurity is the top threat to our national security. Strong encryption is our best defense against cyber threats, and following in the footsteps of other countries by weakening that critical tool would do incalculable harm. Furthermore, even if the US or other countries did implement such a proposal, criminals could gain access to devices with strong encryption through the black market. Thus, only innocent people would be negatively affected, and some of those innocent people might even become criminals simply by trying to protect their privacy by securing their data and devices. Finally, Vance argues that David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Opinion, supported the idea that court-ordered decryption doesn’t violate human rights, provided certain criteria are met, in his report on the topic. However, in the context of Vance’s proposal, this seems to conflate the concepts of court-ordered decryption and of government-mandated encryption backdoors. The Kaye report was unequivocal about the importance of encryption for Free speech and human rights. The report concluded that:
  • States should promote strong encryption and anonymity. National laws should recognize that individuals are free to protect the privacy of their digital communications by using encryption technology and tools that allow anonymity online. … States should not restrict encryption and anonymity, which facilitate and often enable the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. Blanket prohibitions fail to be necessary and proportionate. States should avoid all measures that weaken the security that individuals may enjoy online, such as backdoors, weak encryption standards and key escrows. Additionally, the group of intelligence experts that was hand-picked by the President to issue a report and recommendations on surveillance and technology, concluded that: [R]egarding encryption, the U.S. Government should: (1) fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards; (2) not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial software; and (3) increase the use of encryption and urge US companies to do so, in order to better protect data in transit, at rest, in the cloud, and in other storage.
  • The clear consensus among human rights experts and several high-ranking intelligence experts, including the former directors of the NSA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and DHS, is that mandating encryption backdoors is dangerous. Unaddressed Concerns: Preventing Encrypted Devices from Entering the US and the Slippery Slope In addition to the significant faults in Vance’s arguments in favor of his proposal, he fails to address the question of how such a restriction would be effectively implemented. There is no effective mechanism for preventing code from becoming available for download online, even if it is illegal. One critical issue the Vance proposal fails to address is how the government would prevent, or even identify, encrypted smartphones when individuals bring them into the United States. DHS would have to train customs agents to search the contents of every person’s phone in order to identify whether it is encrypted, and then confiscate the phones that are. Legal and policy considerations aside, this kind of policy is, at the very least, impractical. Preventing strong encryption from entering the US is not like preventing guns or drugs from entering the country — encrypted phones aren’t immediately obvious as is contraband. Millions of people use encrypted devices, and tens of millions more devices are shipped to and sold in the US each year.
  • Finally, there is a real concern that if Vance’s proposal were accepted, it would be the first step down a slippery slope. Right now, his proposal only calls for access to smartphones and devices running mobile operating systems. While this policy in and of itself would cover a number of commonplace devices, it may eventually be expanded to cover laptop and desktop computers, as well as communications in transit. The expansion of this kind of policy is even more worrisome when taking into account the speed at which technology evolves and becomes widely adopted. Ten years ago, the iPhone did not even exist. Who is to say what technology will be commonplace in 10 or 20 years that is not even around today. There is a very real question about how far law enforcement will go to gain access to information. Things that once seemed like merely science fiction, such as wearable technology and artificial intelligence that could be implanted in and work with the human nervous system, are now available. If and when there comes a time when our “smart phone” is not really a device at all, but is rather an implant, surely we would not grant law enforcement access to our minds.
  • Policymakers should dismiss Vance’s proposal to prohibit the use of strong encryption to protect our smartphones and devices in order to ensure law enforcement access. Undermining encryption, regardless of whether it is protecting data in transit or at rest, would take us down a dangerous and harmful path. Instead, law enforcement and the intelligence community should be working to alter their skills and tactics in a fast-evolving technological world so that they are not so dependent on information that will increasingly be protected by encryption.
Paul Merrell

The US is Losing Control of the Internet…Oh, Really? | Global Research - 2 views

  • All of the major internet organisations have pledged, at a summit in Uruguay, to internet themselves of the influence of the US government. The directors of ICANN, the internet Engineering Task Force, the internet Architecture Board, the World Wide Web Consortium, the internet Society and all five of the regional internet address registries have vowed to break their associations with the US government. In a statement, the group called for “accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing”. That’s a distinct change from the current situation, where the US department of commerce has oversight of ICANN. In another part of the statement, the group “expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance”. Meanwhile, it was announced that the next internet Governance Summit would be held in Brazil, whose president has been extremely critical of the US over web surveillance. In a statement announcing the location of the summit, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff said: “The United States and its allies must urgently end their spying activities once and for all.”
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Protect your freedom and privacy; join us in creating an free that's safer from surveillance - free Software Foundation - working together for free software - 0 views

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    "by Zak Rogoff - Published on Jul 18, 2013 05:10 PM eyes learing at emails Mass-scale surveillance like PRISM is disturbing, but is an unsurprising effect of how centralized the Web is today. "
Paul Merrell

'Manhunting Timeline' Further Suggests US Pressured Countries to Prosecute WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief - Shadowproof - 0 views

  • An entry in something the government calls a “Manhunting Timeline” suggests that the United States pressured officials of countries around the world to prosecute WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, in 2010. The file—marked unclassified, revealed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and published by The Intercept—is dated August 2010. Under the headline, “United States, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Iceland” – it states: The United States on 10 August urged other nations with forces in Afghanistan, including Australia, United Kingdom and Germany, to consider filing criminal charges against Julian Assange, founder of the rogue WikiLeaks Internet website and responsible for the unauthorized publication of over 70,000 classified documents covering the war in Afghanistan. The documents may have been provided to WikiLeaks by Army Private First Class Bradley Manning. The appeal exemplifies the start of an international effort to focus the legal element of national power upon non-state actor Assange and the human network that supports WikiLeaks. Another document—a top-secret page from an internal wiki—indicates there has been discussion in the NSA with the Threat Operations Center Oversight and Compliance (NOC) and Office of General Counsel (OGC) on the legality of designating WikiLeaks a “malicious foreign actor” and whether this would make it permissible to conduct surveillance on Americans accessing the website. “Can we treat a foreign server who stores or potentially disseminates leaked or stolen data on its server as a ‘malicious foreign actor’ for the purpose of targeting with no defeats?” Examples: WikiLeaks, thepiratebay.org). The NOC/OGC answered, “Let me get back to you.” (The page does not indicate if anyone ever got back to the NSA. And “defeats” essentially means protections.)
  • GCHQ, the NSA’s counterpart in the UK, had a program called “ANTICRISIS GIRL,” which could engage in “targeted website monitoring.” This means data of hundreds of users accessing a website, like WikiLeaks, could be collected. The IP addresses of readers and supporters could be monitored. The agency could even target the publisher if it had a public dropbox or submission system. NSA and GCHQ could also target the foreign “branches” of the hacktivist group, Anonymous. An answer to another question from the wiki entry involves the question, “Is it okay to query against a foreign server known to be malicious even if there is a possibility that US persons could be using it as well? Example: thepiratebay.org.” The NOC/OGC responded, “Okay to go after foreign servers which US people use also (with no defeats). But try to minimize to ‘post’ only for example to filter out non-pertinent information.” WikiLeaks is not an example in this question, however, if it was designated as a “malicious foreign actor,” then the NSA would do queries of American users.
  • Michael Ratner, a lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) who represents WikiLeaks, said on “Democracy Now!”, this shows he has every reason to fear what would happen if he set foot outside of the embassy. The files show some of the extent to which the US and UK have tried to destroy WikiLeaks. CCR added in a statement, “These NSA documents should make people understand why Julian Assange was granted diplomatic asylum, why he must be given safe passage to Ecuador, and why he must keep himself out of the hands of the United States and apparently other countries as well. These revelations only corroborate the expectation that Julian Assange is on a US target list for prosecution under the archaic “Espionage Act,” for what is nothing more than publishing evidence of government misconduct.” “These documents demonstrate that the political persecution of WikiLeaks is very much alive,”Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish former judge who now represents the group, told The Intercept. “The paradox is that Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks organization are being treated as a threat instead of what they are: a journalist and a media organization that are exercising their fundamental right to receive and impart information in its original form, free from omission and censorship, free from partisan interests, free from economic or political pressure.”
Paul Merrell

Google Chrome Listening In To Your Room Shows The Importance Of Privacy Defense In Depth - 0 views

  • Yesterday, news broke that Google has been stealth downloading audio listeners onto every computer that runs Chrome, and transmits audio data back to Google. Effectively, this means that Google had taken itself the right to listen to every conversation in every room that runs Chrome somewhere, without any kind of consent from the people eavesdropped on. In official statements, Google shrugged off the practice with what amounts to “we can do that”.It looked like just another bug report. "When I start Chromium, it downloads something." Followed by strange status information that notably included the lines "Microphone: Yes" and "Audio Capture Allowed: Yes".
  • Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room.A brief explanation of the Open-source / Free-software philosophy is needed here. When you’re installing a version of GNU/Linux like Debian or Ubuntu onto a fresh computer, thousands of really smart people have analyzed every line of human-readable source code before that operating system was built into computer-executable binary code, to make it common and open knowledge what the machine actually does instead of trusting corporate statements on what it’s supposed to be doing. Therefore, you don’t install black boxes onto a Debian or Ubuntu system; you use software repositories that have gone through this source-code audit-then-build process. Maintainers of operating systems like Debian and Ubuntu use many so-called “upstreams” of source code to build the final product.Chromium, the open-source version of Google Chrome, had abused its position as trusted upstream to insert lines of source code that bypassed this audit-then-build process, and which downloaded and installed a black box of unverifiable executable code directly onto computers, essentially rendering them compromised. We don’t know and can’t know what this black box does. But we see reports that the microphone has been activated, and that Chromium considers audio capture permitted.
  • This was supposedly to enable the “Ok, Google” behavior – that when you say certain words, a search function is activated. Certainly a useful feature. Certainly something that enables eavesdropping of every conversation in the entire room, too.Obviously, your own computer isn’t the one to analyze the actual search command. Google’s servers do. Which means that your computer had been stealth configured to send what was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your consent or knowledge, an audio transmission triggered by… an unknown and unverifiable set of conditions.Google had two responses to this. The first was to introduce a practically-undocumented switch to opt out of this behavior, which is not a fix: the default install will still wiretap your room without your consent, unless you opt out, and more importantly, know that you need to opt out, which is nowhere a reasonable requirement. But the second was more of an official statement following technical discussions on Hacker News and other places. That official statement amounted to three parts (paraphrased, of course):
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  • 1) Yes, we’re downloading and installing a wiretapping black-box to your computer. But we’re not actually activating it. We did take advantage of our position as trusted upstream to stealth-insert code into open-source software that installed this black box onto millions of computers, but we would never abuse the same trust in the same way to insert code that activates the eavesdropping-blackbox we already downloaded and installed onto your computer without your consent or knowledge. You can look at the code as it looks right now to see that the code doesn’t do this right now.2) Yes, Chromium is bypassing the entire source code auditing process by downloading a pre-built black box onto people’s computers. But that’s not something we care about, really. We’re concerned with building Google Chrome, the product from Google. As part of that, we provide the source code for others to package if they like. Anybody who uses our code for their own purpose takes responsibility for it. When this happens in a Debian installation, it is not Google Chrome’s behavior, this is Debian Chromium’s behavior. It’s Debian’s responsibility entirely.3) Yes, we deliberately hid this listening module from the users, but that’s because we consider this behavior to be part of the basic Google Chrome experience. We don’t want to show all modules that we install ourselves.
  • If you think this is an excusable and responsible statement, raise your hand now.Now, it should be noted that this was Chromium, the open-source version of Chrome. If somebody downloads the Google product Google Chrome, as in the prepackaged binary, you don’t even get a theoretical choice. You’re already downloading a black box from a vendor. In Google Chrome, this is all included from the start.This episode highlights the need for hard, not soft, switches to all devices – webcams, microphones – that can be used for surveillance. A software on/off switch for a webcam is no longer enough, a hard shield in front of the lens is required. A software on/off switch for a microphone is no longer enough, a physical switch that breaks its electrical connection is required. That’s how you defend against this in depth.
  • Of course, people were quick to downplay the alarm. “It only listens when you say ‘Ok, Google’.” (Ok, so how does it know to start listening just before I’m about to say ‘Ok, Google?’) “It’s no big deal.” (A company stealth installs an audio listener that listens to every room in the world it can, and transmits audio data to the mothership when it encounters an unknown, possibly individually tailored, list of keywords – and it’s no big deal!?) “You can opt out. It’s in the Terms of Service.” (No. Just no. This is not something that is the slightest amount of permissible just because it’s hidden in legalese.) “It’s opt-in. It won’t really listen unless you check that box.” (Perhaps. We don’t know, Google just downloaded a black box onto my computer. And it may not be the same black box as was downloaded onto yours. )Early last decade, privacy activists practically yelled and screamed that the NSA’s taps of various points of the Internet and telecom networks had the technical potential for enormous abuse against privacy. Everybody else dismissed those points as basically tinfoilhattery – until the Snowden files came out, and it was revealed that precisely everybody involved had abused their technical capability for invasion of privacy as far as was possible.Perhaps it would be wise to not repeat that exact mistake. Nobody, and I really mean nobody, is to be trusted with a technical capability to listen to every room in the world, with listening profiles customizable at the identified-individual level, on the mere basis of “trust us”.
  • Privacy remains your own responsibility.
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    And of course, Google would never succumb to a subpoena requiring it to turn over the audio stream to the NSA. The Tor Browser just keeps looking better and better. https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html.en
Paul Merrell

Utah lawmaker questions city water going to NSA - 0 views

  • SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah lawmaker concerned about government spying on its citizens is questioning whether city water service should be cut off to a massive National Security Agency data storage facility outside Salt Lake City.Republican Rep. Marc Roberts, of Santaquin, said there are serious questions about privacy and surveillance surrounding the center, and several Utah residents who spoke at a legislative committee hearing Wednesday agreed.During the last legislative session, lawmakers opted to hold off on Roberts' bill to shut off the facility's water and decided to study it during the interim."This is not a bill just about a data center. This is a bill about civil rights," web developer Joe Levi said. "This is a bill that needs to be taken up and needs to be taken seriously."Pete Ashdown, founder of Salt Lake City-based Internet provider XMission, called the center a stain upon the state and its technology industry. "I do encourage you to stand up and do something about it," he said.Lawmakers said they aren't considering shutting down $1.7 billion facility, but the committee chair acknowledged the concerns and said there might be another way to get the point across. "We may look at some type of a strong message to give our representatives to take back to Congress," said Republican Sen. David Hinkins, of Orangeville.
  • The NSA's largest data storage center in the U.S. was built in Utah over 37 other locations because of open land and cheap electricity. The center sits on a National Guard base about 25 miles south of Salt Lake City in the town of Bluffdale.NSA officials said the center is key to protecting national security networks and allowing U.S. authorities to watch for cyber threats. Beyond that, the agency has offered few details.The center attracted much discussion and concern after revelations last year that the NSA has been collecting millions of U.S. phone records and digital communications stored by major Internet providers.
  • Cybersecurity experts say the nondescript Utah facility is a giant storehouse for phone calls, emails and online records that have been secretly collected.Outside the computer storehouses are large coolers that keep the machines from overheating. The coolers use large amounts of water, which the nearby city of Bluffdale sells to the center at a discounted rate.City records released earlier this year showed monthly water use was much less than the 1 million gallons a day that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted the center would need, causing some to wonder if the center was fully operational.NSA officials have refused to say if the center is up and running after its scheduled opening in October 2013 was stalled by electrical problems.City utility records showed the NSA has been making monthly minimum payments of about $30,000 to Bluffdale. The city manager said that pays for more water than the center used.The state of Nevada shut off water to the site of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in 2002, after months of threats.The project didn't run dry because the Energy Department built a 1-million-gallon tank and a small well for the site. Department officials said the stored water, plus 400,000 gallons stored in other tanks at the Nevada Test Site, provided time for scientists to continue experiments and design work at the site.
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  • SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah lawmaker concerned about government spying on its citizens is questioning whether city water service should be cut off to a massive National Security Agency data storage facility outside Salt Lake City.Rep
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    Hey, go for their electricity too! But what do we do with the Bluffdale facility after we abolish the NSA? Turn it over to Internet Archives, with a $1 billion endowment for maintenance? Internet and permanent web sites for everyone?  
Paul Merrell

'Let's Encrypt' Project Strives To Make Encryption Simple - Slashdot - 0 views

  • As part of an effort to make encryption a standard component of every application, the Linux Foundation has launched the Let's Encrypt project (announcement) and stated its intention to provide access to a free certificate management service. Jim Zemlin, executive director for the Linux Foundation, says the goal for the project is nothing less than universal adoption of encryption to disrupt a multi-billion dollar hacker economy. While there may never be such a thing as perfect security, Zemlin says it's just too easy to steal data that is not encrypted. In its current form, encryption is difficult to implement and a lot of cost and overhead is associated with managing encryption keys. Zemlin claims the Let's Encrypt project will reduce the effort it takes to encrypt data in an application down to two simple commands. The project is being hosted by the Linux Foundation, but the actual project is being managed by the free Security Research Group. This work is sponsored by Akamai, Cisco, EFF, Mozilla, IdenTrust, and Automattic, which all are Linux Foundation patrons. Visit Let's Encrypt official website to get involved.
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    The blurb is a bit misleading. This is a project that's been under way since last year; what's new is that they're moving under the Linux Foundation umbrella for various non-technical suoport purposes. By sometime this summer, encrypting web site data and broadcasting it over https is  slated to become a two-click process. Or on the linux command line: $ sudo apt-get install lets-encrypt $ lets-encrypt example.com This is a project that grew out of public disgust with NSA surveillance, designed to flood the NSA (and other bad actors) with so much encrypted data that they will be able to decrypt only a tiny fraction (decryption without the decryption key takes gobs of computer cycles).  The other half of the solution is already available, the HTTPS Everywhere extension for the Chrome, FIrefox, and Opera web browsers by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the TOR Project that translates your every request for a http address into an effort to connect to an https address preferentially before establishing an http connection if https is not available. HTTPS Everywhere is fast and does not noticeably add to your page loading time. If you'd like to effortlessly imoprove your online security and help burden NSA, install HTTPS Everywhere. Get it at https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere
Paul Merrell

Internet privacy, funded by spooks: A brief history of the BBG | PandoDaily - 0 views

  • For the past few months I’ve been covering U.S. government funding of popular Internet privacy tools like Tor, CryptoCat and Open Whisper Systems. During my reporting, one agency in particular keeps popping up: An agency with one of those really bland names that masks its wild, bizarre history: the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG. The BBG was formed in 1999 and runs on a $721 million annual budget. It reports directly to Secretary of State John Kerry and operates like a holding company for a host of Cold War-era CIA spinoffs and old school “psychological warfare” projects: Radio Internet Europe, Radio Internet Asia, Radio Martí, Voice of America, Radio Liberation from Bolshevism (since renamed “Radio Liberty”) and a dozen other government-funded radio stations and media outlets pumping out pro-American propaganda across the globe. Today, the Congressionally-funded federal agency is also one of the biggest backers of grassroots and open-source Internet privacy technology. These investments started in 2012, when the BBG launched the “Open Technology Fund” (OTF) — an initiative housed within and run by Radio Internet Asia (RFA), a premier BBG property that broadcasts into communist countries like North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, China and Myanmar. The BBG endowed Radio Internet Asia’s Open Technology Fund with a multimillion dollar budget and a single task: “to fulfill the U.S. Congressional global mandate for Internet Internetdom.”
  • Here’s a small sample of what the Broadcasting Board of Governors funded (through Radio Free Asia and then through the Open Technology Fund) between 2012 and 2014: Open Whisper Systems, maker of Free encrypted text and voice mobile apps like TextSecure and Signal/RedPhone, got a generous $1.35-million infusion. (Facebook recently started using Open Whisper Systems to secure its WhatsApp messages.) CryptoCat, an encrypted chat app made by Nadim Kobeissi and promoted by EFF, received $184,000. LEAP, an email encryption startup, got just over $1 million. LEAP is currently being used to run secure VPN services at RiseUp.net, the radical anarchist communication collective. A Wikileaks alternative called GlobaLeaks (which was endorsed by the folks at Tor, including Jacob Appelbaum) received just under $350,000. The Guardian Project — which makes an encrypted chat app called ChatSecure, as well a mobile version of Tor called Orbot — got $388,500. The Tor Project received over $1 million from OTF to pay for security audits, traffic analysis tools and set up fast Tor exit nodes in the Middle East and South East Asia.
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    But can we trust them?
Paul Merrell

How to Encrypt the Entire Web for Free - The Intercept - 0 views

  • If we’ve learned one thing from the Snowden revelations, it’s that what can be spied on will be spied on. Since the advent of what used to be known as the World Wide Web, it has been a relatively simple matter for network attackers—whether it’s the NSA, Chinese intelligence, your employer, your university, abusive partners, or teenage hackers on the same public WiFi as you—to spy on almost everything you do online. HTTPS, the technology that encrypts traffic between browsers and websites, fixes this problem—anyone listening in on that stream of data between you and, say, your Gmail window or bank’s web site would get nothing but useless random characters—but is woefully under-used. The ambitious new non-profit Let’s Encrypt aims to make the process of deploying HTTPS not only fast, simple, and free, but completely automatic. If it succeeds, the project will render vast regions of the free invisible to prying eyes.
  • Encryption also prevents attackers from tampering with or impersonating legitimate websites. For example, the Chinese government censors specific pages on Wikipedia, the FBI impersonated The Seattle Times to get a suspect to click on a malicious link, and Verizon and AT&T injected tracking tokens into mobile traffic without user consent. HTTPS goes a long way in preventing these sorts of attacks. And of course there’s the NSA, which relies on the limited adoption of HTTPS to continue to spy on the entire internet with impunity. If companies want to do one thing to meaningfully protect their customers from surveillance, it should be enabling encryption on their websites by default.
  • Let’s Encrypt, which was announced this week but won’t be ready to use until the second quarter of 2015, describes itself as “a free, automated, and open certificate authority (CA), run for the public’s benefit.” It’s the product of years of work from engineers at Mozilla, Cisco, Akamai, Electronic Frontier Foundation, IdenTrust, and researchers at the University of Michigan. (Disclosure: I used to work for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and I was aware of Let’s Encrypt while it was being developed.) If Let’s Encrypt works as advertised, deploying HTTPS correctly and using all of the best practices will be one of the simplest parts of running a website. All it will take is running a command. Currently, HTTPS requires jumping through a variety of complicated hoops that certificate authorities insist on in order prove ownership of domain names. Let’s Encrypt automates this task in seconds, without requiring any human intervention, and at no cost.
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  • The benefits of using HTTPS are obvious when you think about protecting secret information you send over the internet, like passwords and credit card numbers. It also helps protect information like what you search for in Google, what articles you read, what prescription medicine you take, and messages you send to colleagues, friends, and family from being monitored by hackers or authorities. But there are less obvious benefits as well. Websites that don’t use HTTPS are vulnerable to “session hijacking,” where attackers can take over your account even if they don’t know your password. When you download software without encryption, sophisticated attackers can secretly replace the download with malware that hacks your computer as soon as you try installing it.
  • The transition to a fully encrypted web won’t be immediate. After Let’s Encrypt is available to the public in 2015, each website will have to actually use it to switch over. And major web hosting companies also need to hop on board for their customers to be able to take advantage of it. If hosting companies start work now to integrate Let’s Encrypt into their services, they could offer HTTPS hosting by default at no extra cost to all their customers by the time it launches.
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    Don't miss the video. And if you have a web site, urge your host service to begin preparing for Let's Encrypt. (See video on why it's good for them.)
Paul Merrell

Court upholds NSA snooping | TheHill - 0 views

  • A district court in California has issued a ruling in favor of the National Security Agency in a long-running case over the spy agency’s collection of Internet records.The challenge against the controversial Upstream program was tossed out because additional defense from the government would have required “impermissible disclosure of state secret information,” Judge Jeffrey White wrote in his decision.ADVERTISEMENTUnder the program — details of which were revealed through leaks from Edward Snowden and others — the NSA taps into the fiber cables that make up the backbone of the Internet and gathers information about people's online and phone communications. The agency then filters out communications of U.S. citizens, whose data is protected with legal defenses not extended to foreigners, and searches for “selectors” tied to a terrorist or other target.In 2008, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the government over the program on behalf of five AT&T customers, who said that the collection violated the constitutional protections to privacy and Internet speech.
  • But “substantial details” about the program still remain classified, White, an appointee under former President George W. Bush, wrote in his decision. Moving forward with the merits of a trial would risk “exceptionally grave damage to national security,” he added. <A HREF="http://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?rt=tf_mfw&ServiceVersion=20070822&MarketPlace=US&ID=V20070822%2FUS%2Fthehill07-20%2F8001%2Fdffbe72d-f425-4b83-b07e-357ae9d405f6&Operation=NoScript">Amazon.com Widgets</A> The government has been “persuasive” in using its state secrets privilege, he continued, which allows it to withhold evidence from a case that could severely jeopardize national security.   In addition to saying that the program appeared constitutional, the judge also found that the AT&T customers did not even have the standing to sue the NSA over its data gathering.While they may be AT&T customers, White wrote that the evidence presented to the court was “insufficient to establish that the Upstream collection process operates in the manner” that they say it does, which makes it impossible to tell if their information was indeed collected in the NSA program.  The decision is a stinging rebuke to critics of the NSA, who have seen public interest in their cause slowly fade in the months since Snowden’s revelations.
  • The EFF on Tuesday evening said that it was considering next steps and noted that the court focused on just one program, not the totality of the NSA’s controversial operations.“It would be a travesty of justice if our clients are denied their day in court over the ‘secrecy’ of a program that has been front-page news for nearly a decade,” the group said in a statement.“We will continue to fight to end NSA mass surveillance.”The name of the case is Jewel v. NSA. 
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    The article should have mentioned that the decision was on cross-motions for *partial* summary judgment. The Jewel case will proceed on other plaintiff claims. 
Paul Merrell

Internet Giants Erect Barriers to Spy Agencies - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • As fast as it can, Google is sealing up cracks in its systems that Edward J. Snowden revealed the N.S.A. had brilliantly exploited. It is encrypting more data as it moves among its servers and helping customers encode their own emails. Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo are taking similar steps.
  • After years of cooperating with the government, the immediate goal now is to thwart Washington — as well as Beijing and Moscow. The strategy is also intended to preserve business overseas in places like Brazil and Germany that have threatened to entrust data only to local providers. Google, for example, is laying its own fiber optic cable under the world’s oceans, a project that began as an effort to cut costs and extend its influence, but now has an added purpose: to assure that the company will have more control over the movement of its customer data.
  • A year after Mr. Snowden’s revelations, the era of quiet cooperation is over. Telecommunications companies say they are denying requests to volunteer data not covered by existing law. A.T.&T., Verizon and others say that compared with a year ago, they are far more reluctant to cooperate with the United States government in “gray areas” where there is no explicit requirement for a legal warrant.
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  • Eric Grosse, Google’s security chief, suggested in an interview that the N.S.A.'s own behavior invited the new arms race.“I am willing to help on the purely defensive side of things,” he said, referring to Washington’s efforts to enlist Silicon Valley in cybersecurity efforts. “But signals intercept is totally off the table,” he said, referring to national intelligence gathering.“No hard feelings, but my job is to make their job hard,” he added.
  • In Washington, officials acknowledge that covert programs are now far harder to execute because American technology companies, fearful of losing international business, are hardening their networks and saying no to requests for the kind of help they once quietly provided.Continue reading the main story Robert S. Litt, the general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all 17 American spy agencies, said on Wednesday that it was “an unquestionable loss for our nation that companies are losing the willingness to cooperate legally and voluntarily” with American spy agencies.
  • Many point to an episode in 2012, when Russian security researchers uncovered a state espionage tool, Flame, on Iranian computers. Flame, like the Stuxnet worm, is believed to have been produced at least in part by American intelligence agencies. It was created by exploiting a previously unknown flaw in Microsoft’s operating systems. Companies argue that others could have later taken advantage of this defect.Worried that such an episode undercuts confidence in its wares, Microsoft is now fully encrypting all its products, including Hotmail and Outlook.com, by the end of this year with 2,048-bit encryption, a stronger protection that would take a government far longer to crack. The software is protected by encryption both when it is in data centers and when data is being sent over the Internet, said Bradford L. Smith, the company’s general counsel.
  • Mr. Smith also said the company was setting up “transparency centers” abroad so that technical experts of foreign governments could come in and inspect Microsoft’s proprietary source code. That will allow foreign governments to check to make sure there are no “back doors” that would permit snooping by United States intelligence agencies. The first such center is being set up in Brussels.Microsoft has also pushed back harder in court. In a Seattle case, the government issued a “national security letter” to compel Microsoft to turn over data about a customer, along with a gag order to prevent Microsoft from telling the customer it had been compelled to provide its communications to government officials. Microsoft challenged the gag order as violating the First Amendment. The government backed down.
  • Hardware firms like Cisco, which makes routers and switches, have found their products a frequent subject of Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, and their business has declined steadily in places like Asia, Brazil and Europe over the last year. The company is still struggling to convince foreign customers that their networks are safe from hackers — and free of “back doors” installed by the N.S.A. The frustration, companies here say, is that it is nearly impossible to prove that their systems are N.S.A.-proof.
  • In one slide from the disclosures, N.S.A. analysts pointed to a sweet spot inside Google’s data centers, where they could catch traffic in unencrypted form. Next to a quickly drawn smiley face, an N.S.A. analyst, referring to an acronym for a common layer of protection, had noted, “SSL added and removed here!”
  • Facebook and Yahoo have also been encrypting traffic among their internal servers. And Facebook, Google and Microsoft have been moving to more strongly encrypt consumer traffic with so-called Perfect Forward Secrecy, specifically devised to make it more labor intensive for the N.S.A. or anyone to read stored encrypted communications.One of the biggest indirect consequences from the Snowden revelations, technology executives say, has been the surge in demands from foreign governments that saw what kind of access to user information the N.S.A. received — voluntarily or surreptitiously. Now they want the same.
  • The latest move in the war between intelligence agencies and technology companies arrived this week, in the form of a new Google encryption tool. The company released a user-friendly, email encryption method to replace the clunky and often mistake-prone encryption schemes the N.S.A. has readily exploited.But the best part of the tool was buried in Google’s code, which included a jab at the N.S.A.'s smiley-face slide. The code included the phrase: “ssl-added-and-removed-here-; - )”
Paul Merrell

NSA Spying Inspires ProtonMail 'End-to-End' Encrypted Email Service | NDTV Gadgets - 0 views

  • ne new email service promising "end-to-end" encryption launched on Friday, and others are being developed while major services such as Google Gmail and Yahoo Mail have stepped up security measures.A major catalyst for email encryption were revelations about widespread online surveillance in documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor."A lot of people were upset with those revelations, and that coalesced into this effort," said Jason Stockman, a co-developer of ProtonMail, a new encrypted email service which launched Friday with collaboration of scientists from Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the European research lab CERN.Stockman said ProtonMail aims to be as user-friendly as the major commercial services, but with extra security, and with its servers located in Switzerland to make it more difficult for US law enforcement to access.
  • "Our vision is to make encryption and privacy mainstream by making it easy to use," Stockman told AFP. "There's no installation. Everything happens behind the scenes automatically."Even though email encryption using special codes or keys, a system known as PGP, has been around for two decades, "it was so complicated," and did not gain widespread adoption, Stockman said.After testing over the past few months, ProtonMail went public Friday using a "freemium" model a basic account will be free with some added features for a paid account.
  • As our users from China, Iran, Russia, and other countries around the world have shown us in the past months, ProtonMail is an important tool for freedom of speech and we are happy to finally be able to provide this to the whole world," the company said in a blog post.Google and Yahoo recently announced efforts to encrypt their email communications, but some specialists say the effort falls short."These big companies don't want to encrypt your stuff because they spy on you, too," said Bruce Schneier, a well-known cryptographer and author who is chief technology officer for CO3 Systems."Hopefully, the NSA debate is creating incentives for people to build more encryption."Stockman said that with services like Gmail, even if data is encrypted, "they have the key right next to it if you have the key and lock next to each other, so it's pretty much useless."
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  • By locating in Switzerland, ProtonMail hopes to avoid the legal woes of services like Lavabit widely believed to be used by Snowden which shut down rather than hand over data to the US government, and which now faces a contempt of court order.Even if a Swiss court ordered data to be turned over, Stockman said, "we would hand over piles of encrypted data. We don't have a key. We never see the password."
  • Lavabit founder Ladar Levison meanwhile hopes to launch a new service with other developers in a coalition known as the "Dark Mail Alliance."Levison told AFP he hopes to have a new encrypted email system in testing within a few months and widely available later this year."The goal is to make it ubiquitous, so people don't have to turn it on," he said.But he added that the technical hurdles are formidable, because the more user-friendly the system becomes, "the more susceptible it is to a sophisticated attacker with fake or spoofed key information."Levison said he hopes Dark Mail will become a new open standard that can be adopted by other email services.
  • on Callas, a cryptographer who developed the PGP standard and later co-founded the secure communications firm Silent Circle, cited challenges in making a system that is both secure and ubiquitous."If you are a bank you have to have an email system that complies with banking regulations," Callas told AFP, which could allow, for example, certain emails to be subject to regulatory or court review."Many of the services on the Internet started with zero security. We want to start with a system that is totally secure and let people dial it down."The new email system would complement Silent Circle's existing secure messaging system and encrypted mobile phone, which was launched earlier this year."If we start competing for customers on the basis of maximum privacy, that's good for everybody," Callas said.
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    They're already so swamped that you have to reserve your user name and wait for an invite. They say they have to add servers. Web site is at https://protonmail.ch/ "ProtonMail works on all devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. It's as simple as visiting our site and logging in. There are no plugins or apps to install - simply use your favorite web browser." "ProtonMail works on all devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Paul Merrell

BitTorrent Sync creates private, peer-to-peer Dropbox, no cloud required | Ars Technica - 6 views

  • BitTorrent today released folder syncing software that replicates files across multiple computers using the same peer-to-peer file sharing technology that powers BitTorrent clients. The free BitTorrent Sync application is labeled as being in the alpha stage, so it's not necessarily ready for prime-time, but it is publicly available for download and working as advertised on my home network. BitTorrent, Inc. (yes, there is a legitimate company behind BitTorrent) took to its blog to announce the move from a pre-alpha, private program to the publicly available alpha. Additions since the private alpha include one-way synchronization, one-time secrets for sharing files with a friend or colleague, and the ability to exclude specific files and directories.
  • BitTorrent Sync provides "unlimited, secure file-syncing," the company said. "You can use it for remote backup. Or, you can use it to transfer large folders of personal media between users and machines; editors and collaborators. It’s simple. It’s free. It’s the awesome power of P2P, applied to file-syncing." File transfers are encrypted, with private information never being stored on an external server or in the "cloud." "Since Sync is based on P2P and doesn’t require a pit-stop in the cloud, you can transfer files at the maximum speed supported by your network," BitTorrent said. "BitTorrent Sync is specifically designed to handle large files, so you can sync original, high quality, uncompressed files."
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    Direct P2P encrypted file syncing, no cloud intermediate, which should translate to far more secure exchange of files, with less opportunity for snooping by governments or others, than with cloud-based services. 
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    Hey Paul, is there an open source document management system that I could hook the BitTorrent Sync to?
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    More detail please. What do you want to do with the doc management system? Platform? Server-side or stand-alone? Industrial strength and highly configurable or lightweight and simple? What do you mean by "hook?" Not that I would be able to answer anyway. I really know very little about BitTorrent Sync. In fact, as far as I'd gone before your question was to look at the FAQ. It's linked from . But there's a link to a forum on the same page. Giving the first page a quick scan confirms that this really is alpha-state software. But that would probably be a better place to ask. (Just give them more specific information of what you'd like to do.) There are other projects out there working on getting around the surveillance problem. I2P is one that is a farther along than BitTorrent Sync and quite a bit more flexible. See . (But I haven't used it, so caveat emptor.)
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    There is a great list of PRISM Proof software at http://prism-break.org/. Includes a link to I2P. I want to replace gmail though, but would like another Web based system since I need multi device access. Of course, I need to replace my Google Apps / Google Docs system. That's why I asked about a PRISM Proof sync-share-store DMS. My guess is that there are many users similarly seeking a PRISM Proof platform of communications, content and collaborative computing systems. BusinessIndiser.com is crushed with articles about Google struggling to squirm out from under the NSA PRISM boot-on-the-back-of-their-neck situation. As if blaming the NSA makes up for the dragnet that they consented/allowed/conceded to cover their entire platform. Perhaps we should be watching Germany? There must be tons of startup operations underway, all seeking to replace Google, Amazon, FaceBook, Microsoft, Skype and so many others. It's a great day for Libertyware :)
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    Is the NSA involvement the "Kiss of Death"? Google seems to think so. I'm wondering what the impact would be if ZOHO were to announce a PRISM Proof productivity platform?
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    It is indeed. The E.U. has far more protective digital privacy rights than we do (none). If you're looking for a Dropbox replacement (you should be), for a cloud-based solution take a look at . Unlike Dropbox, all of the encryption/decryption happens on your local machine; Wuala never sees your files unencrypted. Dropbox folks have admitted that there's no technical barrier to them looking at your files. Their encrypt/decrypt operations are done in the cloud (if they actually bother) and they have the key. Which makes it more chilling that the PRISM docs Snowden link make reference to Dropbox being the next cloud service NSA plans to add to their collection. Wuala also is located (as are its servers) in Switzerland, which also has far stronger digital data privacy laws than the U.S. Plus the Swiss are well along the path to E.U. membership; they've ratified many of the E.U. treaties including the treaty on Human Rights, which as I recall is where the digital privacy sections are. I've begun to migrate from Dropbox to Wuala. It seems to be neck and neck with Dropbox on features and supported platforms, with the advantage of a far more secure approach and 5 GB free. But I'd also love to see more approaches akin to IP2 and Bittorrent Sync that provide the means to bypass the cloud. Don't depend on government to ensure digital privacy, route around the government voyeurs. Hmmm ... I wonder if the NSA has the computer capacity to handle millions of people switching to encrypted communication? :-) Thanks for the link to the software list.
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    Re: Google. I don't know if it's the 'kiss of death" but they're definitely going to take a hit, particularly outside the U.S. BTW, I'm remembering from a few years back when the ODF Foundation was still kicking. I did a fair bit of research on the bureaucratic forces in the E.U. that were pushing for the Open Document Exchange Formats. That grew out of a then-ongoing push to get all of the E.U. nations connected via a network that is not dependent on the Internet. It was fairly complete at the time down to the national level and was branching out to the local level and the plan from there was to push connections to business and then to Joe Sixpack and wife. Interop was key, hence ODEF. The E.U. might not be that far away from an ability to sever the digital connections with the U.S. Say a bunch of daisy-chained proxy anonymizers for communications with the U.S. Of course they'd have to block the UK from the network and treat it like it is the U.S. There's a formal signals intelligence service collaboration/integration dating back to WW 2, as I recall, among the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Don't remember its name. But it's the same group of nations that were collaborating on Echelon. So the E.U. wouldn't want to let the UK fox inside their new chicken coop. Ah, it's just a fantasy. The U.S. and the E.U. are too interdependent. I have no idea hard it would be for the Zoho folk to come up with desktop/side encryption/decryption. And I don't know whether their servers are located outside the reach of a U.S. court's search warrant. But I think Google is going to have to move in that direction fast if it wants to minimize the damage. Or get way out in front of the hounds chomping at the NSA's ankles and reduce the NSA to compost. OTOH, Google might be a government covert op. for all I know. :-) I'm really enjoying watching the NSA show. Who knows what facet of their Big Brother operation gets revealed next?
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    ZOHO is an Indian company with USA marketing offices. No idea where the server farm is located, but they were not on the NSA list. I've known Raju Vegesna for years, mostly from the old Web 2.0 and Office 2.0 Conferences. Raju runs the USA offices in Santa Clara. I'll try to catch up with him on Thursday. How he could miss this once in a lifetime moment to clean out Google, Microsoft and SalesForce.com is something I'd like to find out about. Thanks for the Wuala tip. You sent me that years ago, when i was working on research and design for the SurDocs project. Incredible that all our notes, research, designs and correspondence was left to rot in Google Wave! Too too funny. I recall telling Alex from SurDocs that he had to use a USA host, like Amazon, that could be trusted by USA customers to keep their docs safe and secure. Now look what i've done! I've tossed his entire company information set into the laps of the NSA and their cabal of connected corporatists :)
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