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Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Three fights Big Telecom is losing - and what that might mean for IT | Telecom World - 1 views

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    "It's been an unusually tough few months for Big Telecom. The industry, which enjoys a generally friendly regulatory climate, has plenty of influence in Congress and with state and local governments across the country. Featured Resource Presented by Citrix Systems 10 Essential Elements for a Secure Enterprise Mobility Strategy With enhanced mobility and work flexibility comes increased security risk. Explore the security Learn More On three big issues, however, the outlook is fairly grim for America's biggest Telecom companies. First, "
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    "It's been an unusually tough few months for Big Telecom. The industry, which enjoys a generally friendly regulatory climate, has plenty of influence in Congress and with state and local governments across the country. Featured Resource Presented by Citrix Systems 10 Essential Elements for a Secure Enterprise Mobility Strategy With enhanced mobility and work flexibility comes increased security risk. Explore the security Learn More On three big issues, however, the outlook is fairly grim for America's biggest Telecom companies. First, "
Paul Merrell

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

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

European Lawmakers Demand Answers on Phone Key Theft - The Intercept - 0 views

  • European officials are demanding answers and investigations into a joint U.S. and U.K. hack of the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile SIM cards, following a report published by The Intercept Thursday. The report, based on leaked documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, revealed the U.S. spy agency and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, hacked the Franco-Dutch digital security giant Gemalto in a sophisticated heist of encrypted cell-phone keys. The European Parliament’s chief negotiator on the European Union’s data protection law, Jan Philipp Albrecht, said the hack was “obviously based on some illegal activities.” “Member states like the U.K. are frankly not respecting the [law of the] Netherlands and partner states,” Albrecht told the Wall Street Journal. Sophie in ’t Veld, an EU parliamentarian with D66, the Netherlands’ largest opposition party, added, “Year after year we have heard about cowboy practices of secret services, but governments did nothing and kept quiet […] In fact, those very same governments push for ever-more surveillance capabilities, while it remains unclear how effective these practices are.”
  • “If the average IT whizzkid breaks into a company system, he’ll end up behind bars,” In ’t Veld added in a tweet Friday. The EU itself is barred from undertaking such investigations, leaving individual countries responsible for looking into cases that impact their national security matters. “We even get letters from the U.K. government saying we shouldn’t deal with these issues because it’s their own issue of national security,” Albrecht said. Still, lawmakers in the Netherlands are seeking investigations. Gerard Schouw, a Dutch member of parliament, also with the D66 party, has called on Ronald Plasterk, the Dutch minister of the interior, to answer questions before parliament. On Tuesday, the Dutch parliament will debate Schouw’s request. Additionally, European legal experts tell The Intercept, public prosecutors in EU member states that are both party to the Cybercrime Convention, which prohibits computer hacking, and home to Gemalto subsidiaries could pursue investigations into the breach of the company’s systems.
  • According to secret documents from 2010 and 2011, a joint NSA-GCHQ unit penetrated Gemalto’s internal networks and infiltrated the private communications of its employees in order to steal encryption keys, embedded on tiny SIM cards, which are used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the world. Gemalto produces some 2 billion SIM cards a year. The company’s clients include AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and some 450 wireless network providers. “[We] believe we have their entire network,” GCHQ boasted in a leaked slide, referring to the Gemalto heist.
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  • While Gemalto was indeed another casualty in Western governments’ sweeping effort to gather as much global intelligence advantage as possible, the leaked documents make clear that the company was specifically targeted. According to the materials published Thursday, GCHQ used a specific codename — DAPINO GAMMA — to refer to the operations against Gemalto. The spies also actively penetrated the email and social media accounts of Gemalto employees across the world in an effort to steal the company’s encryption keys. Evidence of the Gemalto breach rattled the digital security community. “Almost everyone in the world carries cell phones and this is an unprecedented mass attack on the privacy of citizens worldwide,” said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a non-profit that advocates for digital privacy and free online expression. “While there is certainly value in targeted surveillance of cell phone communications, this coordinated subversion of the trusted technical security infrastructure of cell phones means the US and British governments now have easy access to our mobile communications.”
  • For Gemalto, evidence that their vaunted security systems and the privacy of customers had been compromised by the world’s top spy agencies made an immediate financial impact. The company’s shares took a dive on the Paris bourse Friday, falling $500 million. In the U.S., Gemalto’s shares fell as much 10 percent Friday morning. They had recovered somewhat — down 4 percent — by the close of trading on the Euronext stock exchange. Analysts at Dutch financial services company Rabobank speculated in a research note that Gemalto could be forced to recall “a large number” of SIM cards. The French daily L’Express noted today that Gemalto board member Alex Mandl was a founding trustee of the CIA-funded venture capital firm In-Q-Tel. Mandl resigned from In-Q-Tel’s board in 2002, when he was appointed CEO of Gemplus, which later merged with another company to become Gemalto. But the CIA connection still dogged Mandl, with the French press regularly insinuating that American spies could infiltrate the company. In 2003, a group of French lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to create a commission to investigate Gemplus’s ties to the CIA and its implications for the security of SIM cards. Mandl, an Austrian-American businessman who was once a top executive at AT&T, has denied that he had any relationship with the CIA beyond In-Q-Tel. In 2002, he said he did not even have a security clearance.
  • AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon could not be reached for comment Friday. Sprint declined to comment. Vodafone, the world’s second largest telecom provider by subscribers and a customer of Gemalto, said in a statement, “[W]e have no further details of these allegations which are industrywide in nature and are not focused on any one mobile operator. We will support industry bodies and Gemalto in their investigations.” Deutsche Telekom AG, a German company, said it has changed encryption algorithms in its Gemalto SIM cards. “We currently have no telecom that this additional protection mechanism has been compromised,” the company said in a statement. “However, we cannot rule out this completely.”
  • Update: Asked about the SIM card heist, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he did not expect the news would hurt relations with the tech industry: “It’s hard for me to imagine that there are a lot of technology executives that are out there that are in a position of saying that they hope that people who wish harm to this country will be able to use their technology to do so. So, I do think in fact that there are opportunities for the private sector and the federal government to coordinate and to cooperate on these efforts, both to keep the country safe, but also to protect our civil liberties.”
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    Watch for massive class action product defect litigation to be filed against the phone companies.and mobile device manufacturers.  In most U.S. jurisdictions, proof that the vendors/manufacturers  knew of the product defect is not required, only proof of the defect. Also, this is a golden opportunity for anyone who wants to get out of a pricey cellphone contract, since providing a compromised cellphone is a material breach of warranty, whether explicit or implied..   
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