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Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Coding is fun! Europe Code Coding is back | 08 Oct 14 Robin Muilwijk | Opensource.com - 1 views

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    Interview with Alja Isakovic of Europe Code Week "Europe Code Week is organized by Neelie Kroes' Young Advisors with the support from DG Connect at the European Commission and runs from October 11 - 17 this year. It's a program all about teaching kids and adults how to code and understand more about technology."
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    Interview with Alja Isakovic of Europe Code Week "Europe Code Week is organized by Neelie Kroes' Young Advisors with the support from DG Connect at the European Commission and runs from October 11 - 17 this year. It's a program all about teaching kids and adults how to code and understand more about technology."
Paul Merrell

Prepare to Hang Up the Phone, Forever - WSJ.com - 0 views

  • At decade's end, the trusty landline telephone could be nothing more than a memory. Telecom giants AT&T T +0.31% AT&T Inc. U.S.: NYSE $35.07 +0.11 +0.31% March 28, 2014 4:00 pm Volume (Delayed 15m) : 24.66M AFTER HOURS $35.03 -0.04 -0.11% March 28, 2014 7:31 pm Volume (Delayed 15m): 85,446 P/E Ratio 10.28 Market Cap $182.60 Billion Dividend Yield 5.25% Rev. per Employee $529,844 03/29/14 Prepare to Hang Up the Phone, ... 03/21/14 AT&T Criticizes Netflix's 'Arr... 03/21/14 Samsung's Galaxy S5 Smartphone... More quote details and news » T in Your Value Your Change Short position and Verizon Communications VZ -0.57% Verizon Communications Inc. U.S.: NYSE $47.42 -0.27 -0.57% March 28, 2014 4:01 pm Volume (Delayed 15m) : 24.13M AFTER HOURS $47.47 +0.05 +0.11% March 28, 2014 7:59 pm Volume (Delayed 15m): 1.57M
  • The two providers want to lay the crumbling POTS to rest and replace it with Internet Protocol-based systems that use the same wired and wireless broadband networks that bring Web access, cable programming and, yes, even your telephone service, into your homes. You may think you have a traditional landline because your home phone plugs into a jack, but if you have bundled your phone with Internet and cable services, you're making calls over an IP network, not twisted copper wires. California, Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Ohio are among states that agree telecom resources would be better redirected into modern telephone technologies and innovations, and will kill copper-based technologies in the next three years or so. Kentucky and Colorado are weighing similar laws, which force people to go wireless whether they want to or not. In Mantoloking, N.J., Verizon wants to replace the landline system, which Hurricane Sandy wiped out, with its wireless Voice Link. That would make it the first entire town to go landline-less, a move that isn't sitting well with all residents.
  • New Jersey's legislature, worried about losing data applications such as credit-card processing and alarm systems that wireless systems can't handle, wants a one-year moratorium to block that switch. It will vote on the measure this month. (Verizon tried a similar change in Fire Island, N.Y., when its copper lines were destroyed, but public opposition persuaded Verizon to install fiber-optic cable.) It's no surprise that landlines are unfashionable, considering many of us already have or are preparing to ditch them. More than 38% of adults and 45.5% of children live in households without a landline telephone, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means two in every five U.S. homes, or 39%, are wireless, up from 26.6% three years ago. Moreover, a scant 8.5% of households relied only on a landline, while 2% were phoneless in 2013. Metropolitan residents have few worries about the end of landlines. High-speed wire and wireless services are abundant and work well, despite occasional dropped calls. Those living in rural areas, where cell towers are few and 4G capability limited, face different issues.
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  • Safety is one of them. Call 911 from a landline and the emergency operator pinpoints your exact address, down to the apartment number. Wireless phones lack those specifics, and even with GPS navigation aren't as precise. Matters are worse in rural and even suburban areas that signals don't reach, sometimes because they're blocked by buildings or the landscape. That's of concern to the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees all forms of U.S. communications services. Universal access is a tenet of its mission, and, despite the state-by-state degradation of the mandate, it's unwilling to let telecom companies simply drop geographically undesirable customers. Telecom firms need FCC approval to ax services completely, and can't do so unless there is a viable competitor to pick up the slack. Last year AT&T asked to turn off its legacy network, which could create gaps in universal coverage and will force people off the grid to get a wireless provider.
  • AT&T and the FCC will soon begin trials to explore life without copper-wired landlines. Consumers will voluntarily test IP-connected networks and their impact on towns like Carbon Hills, Ala., population 2,071. They want to know how households will reach 911, how small businesses will connect to customers, how people with medical-monitoring devices or home alarms know they will always be connected to a reliable network, and what the costs are. "We cannot be a nation of opportunity without networks of opportunity," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in unveiling the plan. "This pilot program will help us learn how fiber might be deployed where it is not now deployed…and how new forms of wireless can reach deep into the interior of rural America."
Gary Edwards

The Monkey On Microsoft's Back - Forbes.com - 0 views

  • The new technology, dubbed TraceMonkey, promises to speed up Firefox's ability to deliver complex applications. The move heightens the threat posed by a nascent group of online alternatives to Microsoft's most profitable software: PC applications, like Microsoft Office, that allow Microsoft to burn hundreds of millions of dollars on efforts to seize control of the online world. Microsoft's Business Division, which gets 90% of its revenues from sales of Microsoft Office, spat out $12.4 billion in operating income for the fiscal year ending June 30. Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ), however, is playing a parallel game, using profits from its online advertising business to fund alternatives to Microsoft's desktop offerings. Google already says it has "millions" of users for its free, Web-based alternative to desktop staples, including Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint software. The next version of Firefox, which could debut by the end of this year, promises to speed up such applications, thanks to a new technology built into the developer's version of the software last week. Right now, rich Web applications such as Google Gmail rely on a technology known as Javascript to turn them from lifeless Web pages into applications that respond as users mouse about a Web page. TraceMonkey aims to turn the most frequently used chunks of Javascript code embedded into Web pages into binary form--allowing computers to hustle through the most used bits of code--without waiting around to render all of the code into binary form.
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    I did send a very lenghthy comment to Brian Caulfield, the Forbes author of this article. Of course, i disagreed with his perspective. TraceMonkey is great, performing an acceleration of JavaScript in FireFox in much the same way that Squirrel Fish accelleratees WebKit Browsers. What Brian misses though is that the RiA war that is taking place both inside and outside the browser (RIA = fully functional Web applications that WILL replace the "client/server" apps model)
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-; - )”
Gary Edwards

XML Production Workflows? Start with the Web and XHTML - 0 views

  • Challenges: Some Ugly Truths The challenges of building—and living with—an XML workflow are clear enough. The return on investment is a long-term proposition. Regardless of the benefits XML may provide, the starting reality is that it represents a very different way of doing things than the one we are familiar with. The Word Processing and Desktop Publishing paradigm, based on the promise of onscreen, WYSIWYG layout, is so dominant as to be practically inescapable. It has proven really hard to get from here to there, no matter how attractive XML might be on paper. A considerable amount of organizational effort and labour must be expended up front in order to realize the benefits. This is why XML is often referred to as an “investment”: you sink a bunch of time and money up front, and realize the benefits—greater flexibility, multiple output options, searching and indexing, and general futureproofing—later, over the long haul. It is not a short-term return proposition. And, of course, the returns you are able to realize from your XML investment are commensurate with what you put in up front: fine-grained, semantically rich tagging is going to give you more potential for searchability and recombination than a looser, more general-purpose approach, but it sure costs more. For instance, the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is the grand example of pouring enormous amounts of energy into the up-front tagging, with a very open-ended set of possibilities down the line. TEI helpfully defines a level to which most of us do not have to aspire.[5] But understanding this on a theoretical level is only part of the challenge. There are many practical issues that must be addressed. Software and labour are two of the most critical. How do you get the content into XML in the first place? Unfortunately, despite two decades of people doing SGML and XML,
  • Practical Challenges In 2009, there is still no truly likeable—let alone standard—editing and authoring software for XML. For many (myself included), the high-water mark here was Adobe’s FrameMaker, substantially developed by the late 1990s. With no substantial market for it, it is relegated today mostly to the tech writing industry, unavailable for the Mac, and just far enough afield from the kinds of tools we use today that its adoption represents a significant hurdle. And FrameMaker was the best of the breed; most of the other software in decent circulation are programmers’ tools—the sort of things that, as Michael Tamblyn pointed out, encourage editors to drink at their desks. The labour question represents a stumbling block as well. The skill-sets and mind-sets that effective XML editors need have limited overlap with those needed by literary and more traditional production editors. The need to think of documents as machine-readable databases is not something that comes naturally to folks steeped in literary culture. In combination with the sheer time and effort that rich tagging requires, many publishers simply outsource the tagging to India, drawing a division of labour that spans oceans, to put it mildly. Once you have XML content, then what do you do with it? How do you produce books from it? Presumably, you need to be able to produce print output as well as digital formats. But while the latter are new enough to be generally XML-friendly (e-book formats being largely XML based, for instance), there aren’t any straightforward, standard ways of moving XML content into the kind of print production environments we are used to seeing. This isn’t to say that there aren’t ways of getting print—even very high-quality print—output from XML, just that most of them involve replacing your prepress staff with Java programmers.
  • Why does this have to be so hard? It’s not that XML is new, or immature, or untested. Remember that the basics have been around, and in production, since the early 1980s at least. But we have to take account of a substantial and long-running cultural disconnect between traditional editorial and production processes (the ones most of us know intimately) and the ways computing people have approached things. Interestingly, this cultural divide looked rather different in the 1970s, when publishers were looking at how to move to digital typesetting. Back then, printers and software developers could speak the same language. But that was before the ascendancy of the Desktop Publishing paradigm, which computerized the publishing industry while at the same time isolating it culturally. Those of us who learned how to do things the Quark way or the Adobe way had little in common with people who programmed databases or document-management systems. Desktop publishing technology isolated us in a smooth, self-contained universe of toolbars, grid lines, and laser proofs. So, now that the reasons to get with this program, XML, loom large, how can we bridge this long-standing divide?
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  • Using the Web as a Production Platform The answer, I think, is right in front of you. The bridge is the Web, a technology and platform that is fundamentally based on XML, and which many publishers are by now comfortably familiar with. Perhaps not entirely comfortably, but at least most publishers are already working with the Web; they already either know or have on staff people who understand it and can work with it. The foundation of our argument is this: rather than looking at jumping to XML in its full, industrial complexity, which seems to be what the O'Reilly-backed StartWithXML initiative[6] is suggesting, publishers instead leverage existing tools and technologies—starting with the Web—as a means of getting XML workflows in place. This means making small investments and working with known tools rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars on XML software and rarefied consultants. It means re-thinking how the existing pieces of the production toolchain fit together; re-thinking the existing roles of software components already in use. It means, fundamentally, taking the Web seriously as a content platform, rather than thinking of it as something you need to get content out to, somehow. If nothing else, the Web represents an opportunity to think about editorial and production from outside the shrink-wrapped Desktop Publishing paradigm.
  • Is the Web made of Real XML? At this point some predictable objections can be heard: wait a moment, the Web isn’t really made out of XML; the HTML that makes up most of the Web is at best the bastard child of SGML, and it is far too flaky/unstructured/underpowered to be taken seriously. We counter by arguing that although HTML on the Web exists in a staggering array of different incarnations, and that the majority of it is indeed an unstructured mess, this does not undermine the general principle that basic, ubiquitous Web technologies can make a solid platform for content management, editorial process, and production workflow.
  • With the advent of a published XML standard in the late 1990s came the W3C’s adoption of XHTML: the realization of the Web’s native content markup as a proper XML document type. Today, its acceptance is almost ubiquitous, even while the majority of actual content out there may not be strictly conforming. The more important point is that most contemporary Web software, from browsers to authoring tools to content management systems (from blogs to enterprise systems), are capable of working with clean, valid XHTML. Or, to put the argument the other way around, clean, valid XHTML content plays absolutely seamlessly with everything else on the Web.[7]
  • The objection which follows, then, will be that even if we grant that XHTML is a real XML document type, that it is underpowered for “serious” content because it is almost entirely presentation (formatting) oriented; it lacks any semantic depth. In XHTML, a paragraph is a paragraph is a paragraph, as opposed to a section or an epigraph or a summary.
  • n contrast, more “serious” XML document types like DocBook[8] or DITA-derived schemas[9] are capable of making semantic distinctions about content chunks at a fine level of granularity and with a high degree of specificity.
  • So there is an argument for recalling the 80:20 rule here. If XHTML can provide 80% of the value with just 20% of the investment, then what exactly is the business case for spending the other 80% to achieve that last 20% of value? We suspect the ratio is actually quite a bit steeper than 80:20 for most publishers.
  • Furthermore, just to get technical for a moment, XHTML is extensible in a fairly straightforward way, through the common “class” attribute on each element. Web developers have long leveraged this kind of extensibility in the elaboration of “microformats” for semantic-web applications.[10] There is no reason why publishers shouldn’t think to use XHTML’s simple extensibility in a similar way for their own ends.
  • XHTML, on the other hand, is supported by a vast array of quotidian software, starting with the ubiquitous Web browser. For this very reason, XHTML is in fact employed as a component part of several more specialized document types (ONIX and ePub among them).
  • Why re-invent a general-purpose prose representation when XHTML already does the job?
  • It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the role of XHTML in the ePub standard for ebook content. An ePub file is, anatomically, a simply disguised zip archive. Inside the zip archive are a few standard component parts: there are specialized files that declare metadata about the book, and about the format of the book. And then there is the book’s content, represented in XHTML. An ePub book is a Web page in a wrapper.
  • To sum up the general argument: the Web as it already exists presents incredible value to publishers, as a platform for doing XML content management with existing (and often free) tools, and without having to go blindly into the unknown. At this point, we can offer a few design guidelines: prefer existing and/or ubiquitous tools over specialized ones wherever possible; prefer free software over proprietary systems where possible; prefer simple tools controlled and coordinated by human beings over fully automated (and therefore complex) systems; play to our strengths: use Web software for storing and managing content, use layout software for layout, and keep editors and production people in charge of their own domains.
  • Putting the Pieces Together: A Prototype
  • At the SFU Master of Publishing Program, we have been chipping away at this general line of thinking for a few years. Over that time, Web content management systems have been getting more and more sophisticated, all the while getting more streamlined and easier to use. (NB: if you have a blog, you have a Web content management system.) The Web is beginning to be recognized as a writing and editing environment used by millions of people. And the ways in which content is represented, stored, and exchanged online have become increasingly robust and standardized.
  • The missing piece of the puzzle has been print production: how can we move content from its malleable, fluid form on line into the kind of high-quality print production environments we’ve come to expect after two decades of Desktop Publishing?
  • Anyone who has tried to print Web content knows that the existing methods leave much to be desired (hyphenation and justification, for starters). In the absence of decent tools for this, most publishers quite naturally think of producing the print content first, and then think about how to get material onto the Web for various purposes. So we tend to export from Word, or from Adobe, as something of an afterthought.
  • While this sort of works, it isn’t elegant, and it completely ignores the considerable advantages of Web-based content management.
  • Content managed online is stored in one central location, accessible simultaneously to everyone in your firm, available anywhere you have an Internet connection, and usually exists in a much more fluid format than Word files. If only we could manage the editorial flow online, and then go to print formats at the end, instead of the other way around. At SFU, we made several attempts to make this work by way of the supposed “XML import” capabilities of various Desktop Publishing tools, without much success.[12]
  • In the winter of 2009, Adobe solved this part of the problem for us with the introduction of its Creative Suite 4. What CS4 offers is the option of a complete XML representation of an InDesign document: what Adobe calls IDML (InDesign Markup Language).
  • The IDML file format is—like ePub—a simply disguised zip archive that, when unpacked, reveals a cluster of XML files that represent all the different facets of an InDesign document: layout spreads, master pages, defined styles, colours, and of course, the content.
  • IDML is a well thought-out XML standard that achieves two very different goals simultaneously: it preserves all of the information that InDesign needs to do what it does; and it is broken up in a way that makes it possible for mere mortals (or at least our Master of Publishing students) to work with it.
  • Integrating with CS4 for Print Adobe’s IDML language defines elements specific to InDesign; there is nothing in the language that looks remotely like XHTML. So a mechanical transformation step is needed to convert the XHTML content into something InDesign can use. This is not as hard as it might seem.
  • We would take clean XHTML content, transform it to IDML-marked content, and merge that with nicely designed templates in InDesign.
  • The result is an almost push-button publication workflow, which results in a nice, familiar InDesign document that fits straight into the way publishers actually do production.
  • Tracing the steps To begin with, we worked backwards, moving the book content back to clean XHTML.
  • The simplest method for this conversion—and if you want to create Web content, this is an excellent route—was to use Adobe’s “Export to Digital Editions” option, which creates an ePub file.
  • Recall that ePub is just XHTML in a wrapper, so within the ePub file was a relatively clean XHTML document. It was somewhat cleaner (that is, the XHTML tagging was simpler and less cluttered) than InDesign’s other Web-oriented exports, possibly because Digital Editions is a well understood target, compared with somebody’s website.
  • In order to achieve our target of clean XHTML, we needed to do some editing; the XHTML produced by InDesign’s “Digital Editions” export was presentation-oriented. For instance, bulleted list items were tagged as paragraphs, with a class attribute identifying them as list items. Using the search-and-replace function, we converted such structures to proper XHTML list and list-item elements. Our guiding principle was to make the XHTML as straightforward as possible, not dependent on any particular software to interpret it.
  • We broke the book’s content into individual chapter files; each chapter could then carry its own basic metadata, and the pages conveniently fit our Web content management system (which is actually just a wiki). We assembled a dynamically generated table of contents for the 12 chapters, and created a cover page. Essentially, the book was entirely Web-based at this point.
  • When the book chapters are viewed online, they are formatted via a CSS2 stylesheet that defines a main column for content as well as dedicating screen real estate for navigational elements. We then created a second template to render the content for exporting; this was essentially a bare-bones version of the book with no navigation and minimal styling. Pages (or even the entire book) can be exported (via the “Save As...” function in a Web browser) for use in either print production or ebook conversion. At this point, we required no skills beyond those of any decent Web designer.
  • What this represented to us in concrete terms was the ability to take Web-based content and move it into InDesign in a straightforward way, thus bridging Web and print production environments using existing tools and skillsets, with a little added help from free software.
  • Both XHTML and IDML are composed of straightforward, well-documented structures, and so transformation from one to the other is, as they say, “trivial.” We chose to use XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transforms) to do the work. XSLT is part of the overall XML specification, and thus is very well supported in a wide variety of tools. Our prototype used a scripting engine called xsltproc, a nearly ubiquitous piece of software that we found already installed as part of Mac OS X (contemporary Linux distributions also have this as a standard tool), though any XSLT processor would work.
  • In other words, we don’t need to buy InCopy, because we just replaced it with the Web. Our wiki is now plugged directly into our InDesign layout. It even automatically updates the InDesign document when the content changes. Credit is due at this point to Adobe: this integration is possible because of the open file format in the Creative Suite 4.
  • We wrote an XSLT transformation script[18] that converted the XHTML content from the Web into an InCopy ICML file. The script itself is less than 500 lines long, and was written and debugged over a period of about a week by amateurs (again, the people named at the start of this article). The script runs in a couple of seconds, and the resulting .icml file can then be “placed” directly into an InDesign template. The ICML file references an InDesign stylesheet, so the template file can be set up with a house-styled layout, master pages, and stylesheet definitions for paragraphs and character ranges.
  • The result is very simple and easy to use. Our demonstration requires that a production editor run the XSLT transformation script manually, but there is no reason why this couldn’t be built directly into the Web content management system so that exporting the content to print ran the transformation automatically. The resulting file would then be “placed” in InDesign and proofed.
  • It should be noted that the Book Publishing 1 proof-of-concept was artificially complex; we began with a book laid out in InDesign and ended up with a look-alike book laid out in InDesign. But next time—for instance, when we publish Book Publishing 2—we can begin the process with the content on the Web, and keep it there throughout the editorial process. The book’s content could potentially be written and edited entirely online, as Web content, and then automatically poured into an InDesign template at proof time. “Just in time,” as they say. This represents an entirely new way of thinking of book production. With a Web-first orientation, it makes little sense to think of the book as “in print” or “out of print”—the book is simply available, in the first place online; in the second place in derivative digital formats; and third, but really not much more difficult, in print-ready format, via the usual InDesign CS print production system publishers are already familiar with.
  • Creating Ebook Files Creating electronic versions from XHTML source is vastly simpler than trying to generate these out of the existing print process. The ePub version is extremely easy to generate; so is online marketing copy or excerpts for the Web, since the content begins life Web-native.
  • Since an ePub file is essentially XHTML content in a special wrapper, all that is required is that we properly “wrap” our XHTML content. Ideally, the content in an ePub file is broken into chapters (as ours was) and a table of contents file is generated in order to allow easy navigation within an ebook reader. We used Julian Smart’s free tool eCub[19] to simply and automatically generate the ePub wrapper and the table of contents. The only custom development we did was to create a CSS stylesheet for the ebook so that headings and paragraph indents looked the way we wanted. Starting with XHTML content, creating ePub is almost too easy.
  • today, we are able to put the process together using nothing but standard, relatively ubiquitous Web tools: the Web itself as an editing and content management environment, standard Web scripting tools for the conversion process, and the well-documented IDML file format to integrate the layout tool.
  • Our project demonstrates that Web technologies are indeed good enough to use in an XML-oriented workflow; more specialized and expensive options are not necessarily required. For massive-scale enterprise publishing, this approach may not offer enough flexibility, and the challenge of adding and extracting extra semantic richness may prove more trouble than it's worth.
  • But for smaller firms who are looking at the straightforward benefits of XML-based processes—single source publishing, online content and workflow management, open and accessible archive formats, greater online discoverability—here is a way forward.
  • Rather than a public-facing website, our system relies on the Web as a content management platform—of course a public face could easily be added.
  • The final piece of our puzzle, the ability to integrate print production, was made possible by Adobe's release of InDesign with an open XML file format. Since the Web's XHTML is also XML, is can be easily and confidently transformed to the InDesign format.
  • Such a workflow—beginning with the Web and exporting to print—is surely more in line with the way we will do business in the 21st century, where the Web is the default platform for reaching audiences, developing content, and putting the pieces together. It is time, we suggest, for publishers to re-orient their operations and start with the Web.
  • Using the Web as a Production Platform
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    I was looking for an answer to a problem Marbux had presented, and found this interesting article.  The issue was that of the upcoming conversion of the Note Case Pro (NCP) layout engine to the WebKit layout engine, and what to do about the NCP document format. My initial reaction was to encode the legacy NCP document format in XML, and run an XSLT to a universal pivot format like TEI-XML.  From there, the TEI-XML community would provide all the XSLT transformation routines for conversion to ODF, OOXML, XHTML, ePUB and HTML/CSS. Researching the problems one might encounter with this approach, I found this article.  Fascinating stuff. My take away is that TEI-XML would not be as effective a "universal pivot point" as XHTML.  Or perhaps, if NCP really wants to get aggressive; IDML - InDesign Markup Language. The important point though is that XHTML is a browser specific version of XML, and compatible with the Web Kit layout engine Miro wants to move NCP to. The concept of encoding an existing application-specific format in XML has been around since 1998, when XML was first introduced as a W3C standard, a "structured" subset of SGML. (HTML is also a subset of SGML). The multiplatform StarOffice productivity suite became "OpenOffice" when Sun purchased the company in 1998, and open sourced the code base. The OpenOffice developer team came out with a XML encoding of their existing document formats in 2000. The application specific encoding became an OASIS document format standard proposal in 2002 - also known as ODF. Microsoft followed OpenOffice with a XML encoding of their application-specific binary document formats, known as OOXML. Encoding the existing NCP format in XML, specifically targeting XHTML as a "universal pivot point", would put the NCP Outliner in the Web editor category, without breaking backwards compatibility. The trick is in the XSLT conversion process. But I think that is something much easier to handle then trying to
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    I was looking for an answer to a problem Marbux had presented, and found this interesting article.  The issue was that of the upcoming conversion of the Note Case Pro (NCP) layout engine to the WebKit layout engine, and what to do about the NCP document format. My initial reaction was to encode the legacy NCP document format in XML, and run an XSLT to a universal pivot format like TEI-XML.  From there, the TEI-XML community would provide all the XSLT transformation routines for conversion to ODF, OOXML, XHTML, ePUB and HTML/CSS. Researching the problems one might encounter with this approach, I found this article.  Fascinating stuff. My take away is that TEI-XML would not be as effective a "universal pivot point" as XHTML.  Or perhaps, if NCP really wants to get aggressive; IDML - InDesign Markup Language. The important point though is that XHTML is a browser specific version of XML, and compatible with the Web Kit layout engine Miro wants to move NCP to. The concept of encoding an existing application-specific format in XML has been around since 1998, when XML was first introduced as a W3C standard, a "structured" subset of SGML. (HTML is also a subset of SGML). The multiplatform StarOffice productivity suite became "OpenOffice" when Sun purchased the company in 1998, and open sourced the code base. The OpenOffice developer team came out with a XML encoding of their existing document formats in 2000. The application specific encoding became an OASIS document format standard proposal in 2002 - also known as ODF. Microsoft followed OpenOffice with a XML encoding of their application-specific binary document formats, known as OOXML. Encoding the existing NCP format in XML, specifically targeting XHTML as a "universal pivot point", would put the NCP Outliner in the Web editor category, without breaking backwards compatibility. The trick is in the XSLT conversion process. But I think that is something much easier to handle then trying to
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. 
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

The Doomed Quest For The Golden Key | TechCrunch - 0 views

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    " ... The genie of strong encryption is long, long out of the proverbial bottle. Earlier this week, Open WhisperSystems released Signal 2.0 for iOS, offering free, cross-platform, extremely secure end-to-end-encrypted voice calls and text messages to anyone with either an Android or an iPhone. What's more, all of their code is open-source; anyone can roll their own customized version. ..."
Gary Edwards

Wary of Upsetting Mighty Microsoft, Acer Limits Use Android for Phones, Not Netbooks. - 0 views

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    "For a netbook, you really need to be able to view a full Web for the total Internet experience, and Android is not that yet," Jim Wong, head of Acer's IT products, said Tuesday while introducing a new line of computers."

    Right. Android runs the webkit/Chromium browser based on the same WebKit code base used by Apple iPhone/Safari, Google Chrome, Palm Pre, Nokia s60 and QT IDE, 280 Atlas WebKit IDE, SproutCore-Cocoa project, KOffice, Sun's javaFX, Adobe AiR, and Eclipse "Blinki", Eclipse SWT, Linux Midori, and the Windows CE IRiS browser - to name but a few. Other Open Web browsers Opera and Mozilla Firefox have embraced the highly interactive and very visual WebKit document and application model. Add to this WebKit tsunami the many web sites, applications and services that adopted the WebKit document model to become iPhone ready.

    Finally there is this; any browser, application or web server seekign to pass the ACiD-3 test is in effect an effort to become fully WebKit compliant.

    Maybe Mr. Wong is talking about the 1998 Internet experience supported by IE8? Or maybe there is a secret OEM agreement lurking in the background here. The kind that was used by Microsoft to stop Netscape and Java way back when.

    The problem for Microsoft is that, when it comes to smartphones, countertops and netbooks at the edge of the Web, they are not competing against individual companies pushing device and/or platform specific services. This time they are competing against the next generation Open Web. An very visual and interactive Open Web defined by the surge the WebKit, Firefox and the many JavaScript communities are leading.

    ge
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    The Information Week page bookmarked says "NON-WORKING URL! The URL (Web address) that has been entered is directing to a non-existent page" Try this instead http://www.informationWeek.com/news/hardware/handheld/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=216403510 Acer To Use Android For Phones, Not Netbooks April 8, 2009
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    Microsoft conspiracies have happened in the past and we should watch for them. However, another explanation is that Android does not (yet) support many browser plugins. No doubt that is what the Microsoft drones remind Acer each time they meet with them, along with a pitch for Silverlight 2 !! For me, Silverlight 2 is so rare that I would not, personally, make it a requirement for a "full web". A non-Android Linux distribution on a netbook that ran Adobe Flash, Acrobat Reader, OpenOffice.org and AIR when necessary would suit me fine. One day Android may do all these things to, but for now Google has bigger fish to fry!
Paul Merrell

The NSA Leak Is Real, Snowden Documents Confirm - 0 views

  • On Monday, a hacking group calling itself the “ShadowBrokers” announced an auction for what it claimed were “cyber weapons” made by the NSA. Based on never-before-published documents provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, The Intercept can confirm that the arsenal contains authentic NSA software, part of a powerful constellation of tools used to covertly infect computers worldwide. The provenance of the code has been a matter of heated debate this week among cybersecurity experts, and while it remains unclear how the software leaked, one thing is now beyond speculation: The malware is covered with the NSA’s virtual fingerprints and clearly originates from the agency. The evidence that ties the ShadowBrokers dump to the NSA comes in an agency manual for implanting malware, classified top secret, provided by Snowden, and not previously available to the public. The draft manual instructs NSA operators to track their use of one malware program using a specific 16-character string, “ace02468bdf13579.” That exact same string appears throughout the ShadowBrokers leak in code associated with the same program, SECONDDATE.
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

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

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

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

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

The People and Tech Behind the Panama Papers - Features - Source: An OpenNews project - 0 views

  • Then we put the data up, but the problem with Solr was it didn’t have a user interface, so we used Project Blacklight, which is open source software normally used by librarians. We used it for the journalists. It’s simple because it allows you to do faceted search—so, for example, you can facet by the folder structure of the leak, by years, by type of file. There were more complex things—it supports queries in regular expressions, so the more advanced users were able to search for documents with a certain pattern of numbers that, for example, passports use. You could also preview and download the documents. ICIJ open-sourced the code of our document processing chain, created by our web developer Matthew Caruana Galizia. We also developed a batch-searching feature. So say you were looking for politicians in your country—you just run it through the system, and you upload your list to Blacklight and you would get a CSV back saying yes, there are matches for these names—not only exact matches, but also matches based on proximity. So you would say “I want Mar Cabra proximity 2” and that would give you “Mar Cabra,” “Mar whatever Cabra,” “Cabra, Mar,”—so that was good, because very quickly journalists were able to see… I have this list of politicians and they are in the data!
  • Last Sunday, April 3, the first stories emerging from the leaked dataset known as the Panama Papers were published by a global partnership of news organizations working in coordination with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, or ICIJ. As we begin the second week of reporting on the leak, Iceland’s Prime Minister has been forced to resign, Germany has announced plans to end anonymous corporate ownership, governments around the world launched investigations into wealthy citizens’ participation in tax havens, the Russian government announced that the investigation was an anti-Putin propaganda operation, and the Chinese government banned mentions of the leak in Chinese media. As the ICIJ-led consortium prepares for its second major wave of reporting on the Panama Papers, we spoke with Mar Cabra, editor of ICIJ’s Data & Research unit and lead coordinator of the data analysis and infrastructure work behind the leak. In our conversation, Cabra reveals ICIJ’s years-long effort to build a series of secure communication and analysis platforms in support of genuinely global investigative reporting collaborations.
  • For communication, we have the Global I-Hub, which is a platform based on open source software called Oxwall. Oxwall is a social network, like Facebook, which has a wall when you log in with the latest in your network—it has forum topics, links, you can share files, and you can chat with people in real time.
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  • We had the data in a relational database format in SQL, and thanks to ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load) software Talend, we were able to easily transform the data from SQL to Neo4j (the graph-database format we used). Once the data was transformed, it was just a matter of plugging it into Linkurious, and in a couple of minutes, you have it visualized—in a networked way, so anyone can log in from anywhere in the world. That was another reason we really liked Linkurious and Neo4j—they’re very quick when representing graph data, and the visualizations were easy to understand for everybody. The not-very-tech-savvy reporter could expand the docs like magic, and more technically expert reporters and programmers could use the Neo4j query language, Cypher, to do more complex queries, like show me everybody within two degrees of separation of this person, or show me all the connected dots…
  • We believe in open source technology and try to use it as much as possible. We used Apache Solr for the indexing and Apache Tika for document processing, and it’s great because it processes dozens of different formats and it’s very powerful. Tika interacts with Tesseract, so we did the OCRing on Tesseract. To OCR the images, we created an army of 30–40 temporary servers in Amazon that allowed us to process the documents in parallel and do parallel OCR-ing. If it was very slow, we’d increase the number of servers—if it was going fine, we would decrease because of course those servers have a cost.
  • For the visualization of the Mossack Fonseca internal database, we worked with another tool called Linkurious. It’s not open source, it’s licensed software, but we have an agreement with them, and they allowed us to work with it. It allows you to represent data in graphs. We had a version of Linkurious on our servers, so no one else had the data. It was pretty intuitive—journalists had to click on dots that expanded, basically, and could search the names.
Paul Merrell

China Pressures U.S. Companies to Buckle on Strong Encryption and Surveillance - 0 views

  • Before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits President Obama, he and Chinese executives have some business in Seattle: pressing U.S. tech companies, hungry for the Chinese market, to comply with the country’s new stringent and suppressive Internet policies. The New York Times reported last week that Chinese authorities sent a letter to some U.S. tech firms seeking a promise they would not harm China’s national security. That might require such things as forcing users to register with their real names, storing Chinese citizens’ data locally where the government can access it, and building government “back doors” into encrypted communication products for better surveillance. China’s new national security law calls for systems that are “secure and controllable”, which industry groups told the Times in July means companies will have to hand over encryption keys or even source code to their products. Among the big names joining Xi at Wednesday’s U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum: Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft.
  • The meeting comes as U.S. law enforcement officials have been pressuring companies to give them a way to access encrypted communications. The technology community has responded by pointing out that any sort of hole for law enforcement weakens the entire system to attack from outside bad actors—such as China, which has been tied to many instances of state-sponsored hacking into U.S systems. In fact, one argument privacy advocates have repeatedly made is that back doors for law enforcement would set a dangerous precedent when countries like China want the same kind of access to pursue their own domestic political goals. But here, potentially, the situation has been reversed, with China using its massive economic leverage to demand that sort of access right now. Human rights groups are urging U.S. companies not to give in.
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.
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