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Contents contributed and discussions participated by Paul Merrell

Paul Merrell

'Nice Internet You've Got There... You Wouldn't Want Something To Happen To It...' | Te... - 0 views

  • Last month, we wrote about Bruce Schneier's warning that certain unknown parties were carefully testing ways to take down the internet. They were doing carefully configured DDoS attacks, testing core internet infrastructure, focusing on key DNS servers. And, of course, we've also been talking about the rise of truly massive DDoS attacks, thanks to poorly secured Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and ancient, unpatched bugs.

    That all came to a head this morning when large chunks of the internet went down for about two hours, thanks to a massive DDoS attack targeting managed DNS provider Dyn. Most of the down sites are back (I'm still having trouble reaching Twitter), but it was pretty widespread, and lots of big name sites all went down. Just check out this screenshot from Downdetector showing the outages on a bunch of sites:
  • You'll see not all of them have downtime (and the big ISPs, as always, show lots of complaints about downtimes), but a ton of those sites show a giant spike in downtime for a few hours.

    So, once again, we'd like to point out that this is as problem that the internet community needs to start solving now. There's been a theoretical threat for a while, but it's no longer so theoretical. Yes, some people point out that this is a difficult thing to deal with. If you're pointing people to websites, even if we were to move to a more distributed system, there are almost always some kinds of chokepoints, and those with malicious intent will always, eventually, target those chokepoints. But there has to be a better way -- because if there isn't, this kind of thing is going to become a lot worse.
Paul Merrell

ACLU Demands Secret Court Hand Over Crucial Rulings On Surveillance Law - 0 views

  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a motion to reveal the secret court opinions with “novel or significant interpretations” of surveillance law, in a renewed push for government transparency.

    The motion, filed Wednesday by the ACLU and Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, asks the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, which rules on intelligence gathering activities in secret, to release 23 classified decisions it made between 9/11 and the passage of the USA Freedom Act in June 2015.

    As ACLU National Security Project staff attorney Patrick Toomey explains, the opinions are part of a “much larger collection of hidden rulings on all sorts of government surveillance activities that affect the privacy rights of Americans.”

    Among them is the court order that the government used to direct Yahoo to secretly scanits users’ emails for “a specific set of characters.” Toomey writes:

    These court rulings are essential for the public to understand how federal laws are being construed and implemented. They also show how constitutional protections for personal privacy and expressive activities are being enforced by the courts. In other words, access to these opinions is necessary for the public to properly oversee their government.

  • Although the USA Freedom Act requires the release of novel FISA court opinions on surveillance law, the government maintains that the rule does not apply retroactively—thereby protecting the panel from publishing many of its post-9/11 opinions, which helped create an “unprecedented buildup” of secret surveillance laws.

    Even after National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the scope of mass surveillance in 2013, sparking widespread outcry, dozens of rulings on spying operations remain hidden from the public eye, which stymies efforts to keep the government accountable, civil liberties advocates say.

    “These rulings are necessary to inform the public about the scope of the government’s surveillance powers today,” the ACLU’s motion states.

    • Toomey writes that the rulings helped influence a number of novel spying activities, including:

      • The government’s use of malware, which it calls “Network Investigative Techniques”
      • The government’s efforts to compel technology companies to weaken or circumvent their own encryption protocols
      • The government’s efforts to compel technology companies to disclose their source code so that it can identify vulnerabilities
      • The government’s use of “cybersignatures” to search through internet communications for evidence of computer intrusions
      • The government’s use of stingray cell-phone tracking devices under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
      • The government’s warrantless surveillance of Americans under FISA Section 702—a controversial authority scheduled to expire in December 2017
      • The bulk collection of financial records by the CIA and FBI under Section 215 of the Patriot Act

      Without these rulings being made public, “it simply isn’t possible to understand the government’s claimed authority to conduct surveillance,” Toomey writes.

      As he told The Intercept on Wednesday, “The people of this country can’t hold the government accountable for its surveillance activities unless they know what our laws allow. These secret court opinions define the limits of the government’s spying powers. Their disclosure is essential for meaningful public oversight in our democracy.”

Paul Merrell

Feds Claim They Can Enter a House and Demand Fingerprints to Unlock Everyone's Phones - 0 views

  • Under the Fourth Amendment, Americans are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, but according to one group of federal prosecutors, just being in the wrong house at the wrong time is cause enough to make every single person inside provide their fingerprints and unlock their phones.

    Back in 2014, a Virginia Circuit Court ruled that while suspects cannot be forced to provide phone passcodes, biometric data like fingerprints doesn’t have the same constitutional protection. Since then, multiple law enforcement agencies have tried to force individual suspects to unlock their phones with their fingers, but none have claimed the sweeping authority found in a Justice Department memorandum recently uncovered by Forbes.

  • In the court document filed earlier this year, federal prosecutors in California argued that a warrant for a mass finger-unlocking was constitutionally sound even though “the government does not know ahead of time the identity of every digital device or every fingerprint (or indeed, every other piece of evidence) that it will find in the search” because “it has demonstrated probable cause that evidence may exist at the search location.” Criminal defense lawyer Marina Medvin, however, disagreed.

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    “They want the ability to get a warrant on the assumption that they will learn more after they have a warrant,” Medvin told Forbes. “This would be an unbelievably audacious abuse of power if it were permitted.”

    Unfortunately, other documents related to the case were not publicly available, so its unclear if the search was actually executed. Even so, Medvin believes the memorandum sets a deeply troubling precedent, using older case law regarding the collection of fingerprint evidence to request complete access to the “amazing amount of information” found on a cellphone.

Paul Merrell

Mystery Swirls Around Assange's Status At Ecuadorean Embassy - 0 views

  • Midway through releasing a series of damaging disclosures about U.S. presidential contender Hillary Clinton, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says his hosts at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London abruptly cut him off from the internet. The news adds another layer of intrigue to an extraordinary campaign.

    “We can confirm Ecuador cut off Assange’s internet access Saturday, 5pm GMT, shortly after publication of Clinton’s Goldman Sachs (speeches),” the group said in a message posted to Twitter late Monday.

Paul Merrell

Comcast hit with FCC's biggest cable fine ever - Oct. 11, 2016 - 0 views

  • Comcast is being forced to pay the largest fine the FCC has ever levied against a cable operator. Its offense: Charging customers for services and equipment they didn't ask for.

    The company agreed to pay a $2.3 million civil penalty and to submit to a "compliance plan," in which regulators will monitor Comcast for the next five years to ensure it cleans up its act.

  • The FCC said it received over 1,000 complaints from customers, who said Comcast charged them for premium channels, cable boxes, DVRs or other products that they never ordered.

    In many cases, the FCC said, customers expressly told Comcast that they didn't want the add-on options, but they were charged anyway.

    Complaints also describe how customers spent "significant time and energy to attempt to remove the unauthorized charges" and get refunds, the commission said.

    The complaints spurred the FCC to launch an investigation nearly two years ago. Today's settlement marks the conclusion of the probe.

    Under the five-year compliance plan, Comcast must begin sending customers special notifications every time a new charge or service is added to their bill. The company also has to add a way for customers to easily "block the addition of new services or equipment to their accounts," according to an FCC press release.

  • Comcast (CMCSA) will also be required to compensate or address complaints from customers who have disputed charges, and it will be barred from referring an account to collections or suspending an account that has a disputed charge.

    Comcast agreed to the fine without admitting any guilt.

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    Investigation was instigated by Sen. Ron Wyden after receiving constituent complaints.
Paul Merrell

We Need to Save the Internet from the Internet of Things | Motherboard - 0 views

  • Brian Krebs is a popular reporter on the cybersecurity beat. He regularly exposes cybercriminals and their tactics, and consequently is regularly a target of their ire. Last month, he wrote about an online attack-for-hire service that resulted in the arrest of the two proprietors. In the aftermath, his site was taken down by a massive DDoS attack.

    In many ways, this is nothing new. Distributed denial-of-service attacks are a family of attacks that cause websites and other internet-connected systems to crash by overloading them with traffic. The "distributed" part means that other insecure computers on the internet—sometimes in the millions—are recruited to a botnet to unwittingly participate in the attack. The tactics are decades old; DDoS attacks are perpetrated by lone hackers trying to be annoying, criminals trying to extort money, and governments testing their tactics. There are defenses, and there are companies that offer DDoS mitigation services for hire.

    Basically, it's a size vs. size game. If the attackers can cobble together a fire hose of data bigger than the defender's capability to cope with, they win. If the defenders can increase their capability in the face of attack, they win.

    What was new about the Krebs attack was both the massive scale and the particular devices the attackers recruited. Instead of using traditional computers for their botnet, they used CCTV cameras, digital video recorders, home routers, and other embedded computers attached to the internet as part of the Internet of Things.

    Much has been written about how the IoT is wildly insecure. In fact, the software used to attack Krebs was simple and amateurish. What this attack demonstrates is that the economics of the IoT mean that it will remain insecure unless government steps in to fix the problem. This is a market failure that can't get fixed on its own.

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    Bruce Schneier pointing to a massive security hole in the Internet of Things ("IoT").
Paul Merrell

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

  • A contractor working for the National Security Agency (NSA) was arrested by the FBI following his alleged theft of “state secrets.” More specifically, the contractor, Harold Thomas Martin, is charged with stealing highly classified source codes developed to covertly hack the networks of foreign governments, according to several senior law enforcement and intelligence officials. The Justice Department has said that these stolen materials were “critical to national security.”

    Martin was employed by Booz Allen Hamilton, the company responsible for most of the NSA’s most sensitive cyber-operations. Edward Snowden, the most well-known NSA whistleblower, also worked for Booz Allen Hamilton until he fled to Hong Kong in 2013 where he revealed a trove of documents exposing the massive scope of the NSA dragnet surveillance. That surveillance system was shown to have targeted untold numbers of innocent Americans.

    According to the New York Times, the theft “raises the embarrassing prospect” that an NSA insider managed to steal highly damaging secret information from the NSA for the second time in three years, not to mention the “Shadow Broker” hack this past August, which made classified NSA hacking tools available to the public.

  • Snowden himself took to Twitter to comment on the arrest. In a tweet, he said the news of Martin’s arrest “is huge” and asked, “Did the FBI secretly arrest the person behind the reports [that the] NSA sat on huge flaws in US products?” It is currently unknown if Martin was connected to those reports as well.
  • It also remains to be seen what Martin’s motivations were in removing classified data from the NSA. Though many suspect that he planned to follow in Snowden’s footsteps, the government will more likely argue that he had planned to commit espionage by selling state secrets to “adversaries.”

    According to the New York Times article on the arrest, Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are named as examples of the “adversaries” who would have been targeted by the NSA codes that Martin is accused of stealing. However, Snowden revealed widespread US spying on foreign governments including several US allies such as France and Germany. This suggests that the stolen “source codes” were likely utilized on a much broader scale.

Paul Merrell

FBI director: Cover up your webcam | TheHill - 0 views

  • The head of the FBI on Wednesday defended putting a piece of tape over his personal laptop's webcam, claiming the security step was a common sense one that most should take.  

    “There’s some sensible things you should be doing, and that’s one of them,” Director James Comey said during a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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    “You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen,” he added. “They all have a little lid that closes down on them.

    “You do that so that people who don’t have authority don’t look at you. I think that’s a good thing.”

    Comey was pilloried online earlier this year, after he revealed that he puts a piece of tape over his laptop camera to keep away prying eyes. The precaution is a common one among security advocates, given the relative ease of hacking laptop cameras.  

  • But many found it ironic for Comey, who this year launched a high profile battle against Apple to gain access to data locked inside of the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorists. Many viewed that fight as a referendum on digital privacy.

    Comey was “much mocked for that,” he acknowledged on Wednesday.

    But he still uses the tape on his laptop.

    “I hope people lock their cars,” he said. “Lock your doors at night… if you have an alarm system, you should use it.”

    “It’s not crazy that the FBI director cares about personal security as well,” the FBI director added. “So I think people ought to take responsibility for their own safety and security.”

Paul Merrell

'Pardon Snowden' Campaign Takes Off As Sanders, Ellsberg, And Others Join - 0 views

  • Prominent activists, lawmakers, artists, academics, and other leading voices in civil society, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are joining the campaign to get a pardon for National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.

    “The information disclosed by Edward Snowden has allowed Congress and the American people to understand the degree to which the NSA has abused its authority and violated our constitutional rights,” Sanders wrote for the Guardian on Wednesday. “Now we must learn from the troubling revelations Mr. Snowden brought to light. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies must be given the tools they need to protect us, but that can be done in a way that does not sacrifice our rights.”

    Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who co-founded the public interest journalism advocacy group Freedom of the Press Foundation, where Snowden is a board member, also wrote, “Ed Snowden should be freed of the legal burden hanging over him. They should remove the indictment, pardon him if that’s the way to do it, so that he is no longer facing prison.”

    Snowden faces charges under the Espionage Act after he released classified NSA files to media outlets in 2013 exposing the U.S. government’s global mass surveillance operations. He fled to Hong Kong, then Russia, where he has been living under political asylum for the past three years.

  • The Pardon Snowden campaign, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch (HRW), urgespeople around the world to write to Obama throughout his last four months in the White House.
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    If you want to take part, the action page is at https://www.pardonsnowden.org/
Paul Merrell

Long-Secret Stingray Manuals Detail How Police Can Spy on Phones - 0 views

  • Harris Corp.’s Stingray surveillance device has been one of the most closely guarded secrets in law enforcement for more than 15 years. The company and its police clients across the United States have fought to keep information about the mobile phone-monitoring boxes from the public against which they are used. The Intercept has obtained several Harris instruction manuals spanning roughly 200 pages and meticulously detailing how to create a cellular surveillance dragnet.

    Harris has fought to keep its surveillance equipment, which carries price tags in the low six figures, hidden from both privacy activists and the general public, arguing that information about the gear could help criminals. Accordingly, an older Stingray manual released under the Freedom of Information Act to news website TheBlot.com last year was almost completely redacted. So too have law enforcement agencies at every level, across the country, evaded almost all attempts to learn how and why these extremely powerful tools are being used — though court battles have made it clear Stingrays are often deployed without any warrant. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department alone has snooped via Stingray, sans warrant, over 300 times.

  • The documents described and linked below, instruction manuals for the software used by Stingray operators, were provided to The Intercept as part of a larger cache believed to have originated with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Two of them contain a “distribution warning” saying they contain “Proprietary Information and the release of this document and the information contained herein is prohibited to the fullest extent allowable by law.”

     Although “Stingray” has become a catch-all name for devices of its kind, often referred to as “IMSI catchers,” the manuals include instructions for a range of other Harris surveillance boxes, including the Hailstorm, ArrowHead, AmberJack, and KingFish. They make clear the capability of those devices and the Stingray II to spy on cellphones by, at minimum, tracking their connection to the simulated tower, information about their location, and certain “over the air” electronic messages sent to and from them. Wessler added that parts of the manuals make specific reference to permanently storing this data, something that American law enforcement has denied doing in the past.

  • One piece of Windows software used to control Harris’s spy boxes, software that appears to be sold under the name “Gemini,” allows police to track phones across 2G, 3G, and LTE networks. Another Harris app, “iDen Controller,” provides a litany of fine-grained options for tracking phones. A law enforcement agent using these pieces of software along with Harris hardware could not only track a large number of phones as they moved throughout a city but could also apply nicknames to certain phones to keep track of them in the future. The manual describing how to operate iDEN, the lengthiest document of the four at 156 pages, uses an example of a target (called a “subscriber”) tagged alternately as Green Boy and Green Ben:
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  • In order to maintain an uninterrupted connection to a target’s phone, the Harris software also offers the option of intentionally degrading (or “redirecting”) someone’s phone onto an inferior network, for example, knocking a connection from LTE to 2G:
  • A video of the Gemini software installed on a personal computer, obtained by The Intercept and embedded below, provides not only an extensive demonstration of the app but also underlines how accessible the mass surveillance code can be: Installing a complete warrantless surveillance suite is no more complicated than installing Skype. Indeed, software such as Photoshop or Microsoft Office, which require a registration key or some other proof of ownership, are more strictly controlled by their makers than software designed for cellular interception.
Paul Merrell

Archiveteam - 0 views

  • HISTORY IS OUR FUTURE

    Archiveteam.jpg

    And we've been trashing our history

    Archive Team is a loose collective of rogue archivists, programmers, writers and loudmouths dedicated to saving our digital heritage. Since 2009 this variant force of nature has caught wind of shutdowns, shutoffs, mergers, and plain old deletions - and done our best to save the history before it's lost forever. Along the way, we've gotten attention, resistance, press and discussion, but most importantly, we've gotten the message out: IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.

    This website is intended to be an offloading point and information depot for a number of archiving projects, all related to saving websites or data that is in danger of being lost. Besides serving as a hub for team-based pulling down and mirroring of data, this site will provide advice on managing your own data and rescuing it from the brink of destruction.

    Currently Active Projects (Get Involved Here!)

    Archive Team recruiting

  • Archive Team is a loose collective of rogue archivists, programmers, writers and loudmouths dedicated to saving our digital heritage. Since 2009 this variant force of nature has caught wind of shutdowns, shutoffs, mergers, and plain old deletions - and done our best to save the history before it's lost forever. Along the way, we've gotten attention, resistance, press and discussion, but most importantly, we've gotten the message out: IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.

    This website is intended to be an offloading point and information depot for a number of archiving projects, all related to saving websites or data that is in danger of being lost. Besides serving as a hub for team-based pulling down and mirroring of data, this site will provide advice on managing your own data and rescuing it from the brink of destruction.

    • Deathwatch is where we keep track of sites that are sickly, dying or dead.
    • Fire Drill is where we keep track of sites that seem fine but a lot depends on them.
    • Projects is a comprehensive list of AT endeavors.
    • Philosophy describes the ideas underpinning our work.

    Some Starting Points

    • Software will assist you in regaining control of your data by providing tools for information backup, archiving and distribution.
    • Formats will familiarise you with the various data formats, and how to ensure your files will be readable in the future.
    • Storage Media is about where to get it, what to get, and how to use it.
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    The Archive Team Warrior is a virtual archiving appliance. You can run it to help with the ArchiveTeam archiving efforts. It will download sites and upload them to our archive - and it's really easy to do!
    The warrior is a virtual machine, so there is no risk to your computer. The warrior will only use your bandwidth and some of your disk space. It will get tasks from and report progress to the Tracker.
    Basic usage
    The warrior runs on Windows, OS X and Linux using a virtual machine. You'll need one of:
    VirtualBox (recommended)
    VMware workstation/player (free-gratis for personal use)
    See below for alternative virtual machines

    Partners with and contributes lots of archives to the Wayback Machine. Here's how you can help by contributing some bandwidth if you run an always-on box with an internet connection.
Paul Merrell

The Million Dollar Dissident: NSO Group's iPhone Zero-Days used against a UAE Human Rig... - 0 views

  • 1. Executive Summary

    Ahmed Mansoor is an internationally recognized human rights defender, based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and recipient of the Martin Ennals Award (sometimes referred to as a “Nobel Prize for human rights”).  On August 10 and 11, 2016, Mansoor received SMS text messages on his iPhone promising “new secrets” about detainees tortured in UAE jails if he clicked on an included link. Instead of clicking, Mansoor sent the messages to Citizen Lab researchers.  We recognized the links as belonging to an exploit infrastructure connected to NSO Group, an Israel-based “cyber war” company that sells Pegasus, a government-exclusive “lawful intercept” spyware product.  NSO Group is reportedly owned by an American venture capital firm, Francisco Partners Management.

    The ensuing investigation, a collaboration between researchers from Citizen Lab and from Lookout Security, determined that the links led to a chain of zero-day exploits (“zero-days”) that would have remotely jailbroken Mansoor’s stock iPhone 6 and installed sophisticated spyware.  We are calling this exploit chain Trident.  Once infected, Mansoor’s phone would have become a digital spy in his pocket, capable of employing his iPhone’s camera and microphone to snoop on activity in the vicinity of the device, recording his WhatsApp and Viber calls, logging messages sent in mobile chat apps, and tracking his movements.  

    We are not aware of any previous instance of an iPhone remote jailbreak used in the wild as part of a targeted attack campaign, making this a rare find.

    • The Trident Exploit Chain:

      • CVE-2016-4657: Visiting a maliciously crafted website may lead to arbitrary code execution
      • CVE-2016-4655: An application may be able to disclose kernel memory
      • CVE-2016-4656: An application may be able to execute arbitrary code with kernel privileges

      Once we confirmed the presence of what appeared to be iOS zero-days, Citizen Lab and Lookout quickly initiated a responsible disclosure process by notifying Apple and sharing our findings. Apple responded promptly, and notified us that they would be addressing the vulnerabilities. We are releasing this report to coincide with the availability of the iOS 9.3.5 patch, which blocks the Trident exploit chain by closing the vulnerabilities that NSO Group appears to have exploited and sold to remotely compromise iPhones.

      Recent Citizen Lab research has shown that many state-sponsored spyware campaigns against civil society groups and human rights defenders use “just enough” technical sophistication, coupled with carefully planned deception. This case demonstrates that not all threats follow this pattern.  The iPhone has a well-deserved reputation for security.  As the iPhone platform is tightly controlled by Apple, technically sophisticated exploits are often required to enable the remote installation and operation of iPhone monitoring tools. These exploits are rare and expensive. Firms that specialize in acquiring zero-days often pay handsomely for iPhone exploits.  One such firm, Zerodium, acquired an exploit chain similar to the Trident for one million dollars in November 2015.

      The high cost of iPhone zero-days, the apparent use of NSO Group’s government-exclusive Pegasus product, and prior known targeting of Mansoor by the UAE government provide indicators that point to the UAE government as the likely operator behind the targeting.

      Remarkably, this case marks the third commercial “lawful intercept” spyware suite employed in attempts to compromise Mansoor.  In 2011, he was targeted with FinFisher’s FinSpy spyware, and in 2012 he was targeted with Hacking Team’s Remote Control System.  Both Hacking Team and FinFisher have been the object of several years of revelations highlighting the misuse of spyware to compromise civil society groups, journalists, and human rights workers.

Paul Merrell

Civil Rights Coalition files FCC Complaint Against Baltimore Police Department for Ille... - 0 views

  • This week the Center for Media Justice, ColorOfChange.org, and New America’s Open Technology Institute filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission alleging the Baltimore police are violating the federal Communications Act by using cell site simulators, also known as Stingrays, that disrupt cellphone calls and interfere with the cellular network—and are doing so in a way that has a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

    Stingrays operate by mimicking a cell tower and directing all cellphones in a given area to route communications through the Stingray instead of the nearby tower. They are especially pernicious surveillance tools because they collect information on every single phone in a given area—not just the suspect’s phone—this means they allow the police to conduct indiscriminate, dragnet searches. They are also able to locate people inside traditionally-protected private spaces like homes, doctors’ offices, or places of worship. Stingrays can also be configured to capture the content of communications.

    Because Stingrays operate on the same spectrum as cellular networks but are not actually transmitting communications the way a cell tower would, they interfere with cell phone communications within as much as a 500 meter radius of the device (Baltimore’s devices may be limited to 200 meters). This means that any important phone call placed or text message sent within that radius may not get through. As the complaint notes, “[d]epending on the nature of an emergency, it may be urgently necessary for a caller to reach, for example, a parent or child, doctor, psychiatrist, school, hospital, poison control center, or suicide prevention hotline.” But these and even 911 calls could be blocked.

  • The Baltimore Police Department could be among the most prolific users of cell site simulator technology in the country. A Baltimore detective testified last year that the BPD used Stingrays 4,300 times between 2007 and 2015. Like other law enforcement agencies, Baltimore has used its devices for major and minor crimes—everything from trying to locate a man who had kidnapped two small children to trying to find another man who took his wife’s cellphone during an argument (and later returned it). According to logs obtained by USA Today, the Baltimore PD also used its Stingrays to locate witnesses, to investigate unarmed robberies, and for mysterious “other” purposes. And like other law enforcement agencies, the Baltimore PD has regularly withheld information about Stingrays from defense attorneys, judges, and the public.

    Moreover, according to the FCC complaint, the Baltimore PD’s use of Stingrays disproportionately impacts African American communities. Coming on the heels of a scathing Department of Justice report finding “BPD engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law,” this may not be surprising, but it still should be shocking. The DOJ’s investigation found that BPD not only regularly makes unconstitutional stops and arrests and uses excessive force within African-American communities but also retaliates against people for constitutionally protected expression, and uses enforcement strategies that produce “severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans.”

  • Adding Stingrays to this mix means that these same communities are subject to more surveillance that chills speech and are less able to make 911 and other emergency calls than communities where the police aren’t regularly using Stingrays. A map included in the FCC complaint shows exactly how this is impacting Baltimore’s African-American communities. It plots hundreds of addresses where USA Today discovered BPD was using Stingrays over a map of Baltimore’s black population based on 2010 Census data included in the DOJ’s recent report:
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  • The Communications Act gives the FCC the authority to regulate radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable communications in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. This includes being responsible for protecting cellphone networks from disruption and ensuring that emergency calls can be completed under any circumstances. And it requires the FCC to ensure that access to networks is available “to all people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.” Considering that the spectrum law enforcement is utilizing without permission is public property leased to private companies for the purpose of providing them next generation wireless communications, it goes without saying that the FCC has a duty to act.
  • But we should not assume that the Baltimore Police Department is an outlier—EFF has found that law enforcement has been secretly using stingrays for years and across the country. No community should have to speculate as to whether such a powerful surveillance technology is being used on its residents. Thus, we also ask the FCC to engage in a rule-making proceeding that addresses not only the problem of harmful interference but also the duty of every police department to use Stingrays in a constitutional way, and to publicly disclose—not hide—the facts around acquisition and use of this powerful wireless surveillance technology. 

    Anyone can support the complaint by tweeting at FCC Commissioners or by signing the petitions hosted by Color of Change or MAG-Net.

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    An important test case on the constitutionality of stingray mobile device surveillance.
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

NSA's use of software flaws to hack foreign targets posed risks to cybersecurity - The ... - 0 views

  • To penetrate the computers of foreign targets, the National Security Agency relies on software flaws that have gone undetected in the pipes of the Internet. For years, security experts have pressed the agency to disclose these bugs so they can be fixed, but the agency hackers have often been reluctant.

    Now with the mysterious release of a cache of NSA hacking tools over the weekend, the agency has lost an offensive advantage, experts say, and potentially placed at risk the security of countless large companies and government agencies worldwide.

    Several of the tools exploited flaws in commercial firewalls that remain unpatched, and they are out on the Internet for all to see. Anyone from a basement hacker to a sophisticated foreign spy agency has access to them now, and until the flaws are fixed, many computer systems may be in jeopardy.

    The revelation of the NSA cache, which dates to 2013 and has not been confirmed by the agency, also highlights the administration’s little-known process for figuring out which software errors to disclose and which to keep secret.

Paul Merrell

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

  • Disaster stories involving the Internet of Things are all the rage. They feature cars (both driven and driverless), the power grid, dams, and tunnel ventilation systems. A particularly vivid and realistic one, near-future fiction published last month in New York Magazine, described a cyberattack on New York that involved hacking of cars, the water system, hospitals, elevators, and the power grid. In these stories, thousands of people die. Chaos ensues. While some of these scenarios overhype the mass destruction, the individual risks are all real. And traditional computer and network security isn’t prepared to deal with them.

    Classic information security is a triad: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. You’ll see it called “CIA,” which admittedly is confusing in the context of national security. But basically, the three things I can do with your data are steal it (confidentiality), modify it (integrity), or prevent you from getting it (availability).

  • So far, internet threats have largely been about confidentiality. These can be expensive; one survey estimated that data breaches cost an average of $3.8 million each. They can be embarrassing, as in the theft of celebrity photos from Apple’s iCloud in 2014 or the Ashley Madison breach in 2015. They can be damaging, as when the government of North Korea stole tens of thousands of internal documents from Sony or when hackers stole data about 83 million customer accounts from JPMorgan Chase, both in 2014. They can even affect national security, as in the case of the Office of Personnel Management data breach by—presumptively—China in 2015.

    On the Internet of Things, integrity and availability threats are much worse than confidentiality threats. It’s one thing if your smart door lock can be eavesdropped upon to know who is home. It’s another thing entirely if it can be hacked to allow a burglar to open the door—or prevent you from opening your door. A hacker who can deny you control of your car, or take over control, is much more dangerous than one who can eavesdrop on your conversations or track your car’s location.

    With the advent of the Internet of Things and cyber-physical systems in general, we've given the internet hands and feet: the ability to directly affect the physical world. What used to be attacks against data and information have become attacks against flesh, steel, and concrete.

    Today’s threats include hackers crashing airplanes by hacking into computer networks, and remotely disabling cars, either when they’re turned off and parked or while they’re speeding down the highway. We’re worried about manipulated counts from electronic voting machines, frozen water pipes through hacked thermostats, and remote murder through hacked medical devices. The possibilities are pretty literally endless. The Internet of Things will allow for attacks we can’t even imagine.

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    Bruce Scneier on the insecurity of the Internet of Things, and possible consequences.
Paul Merrell

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

  • In our society, the rule of law sets limits on what government can and cannot do, no matter how important its goals. To give a simple example, even when chasing a fleeing murder suspect, the police have a duty not to endanger bystanders. The government should pay the same care to our safety in pursuing threats online, but right now we don’t have clear, enforceable rules for government activities like hacking and "digital sabotage." And this is no abstract question—these actions increasingly endanger everyone’s security
  • The problem became especially clear this year during the San Bernardino case, involving the FBI’s demand that Apple rewrite its iOS operating system to defeat security features on a locked iPhone. Ultimately the FBI exploited an existing vulnerability in iOS and accessed the contents of the phone with the help of an "outside party." Then, with no public process or discussion of the tradeoffs involved, the government refused to tell Apple about the flaw. Despite the obvious fact that the security of the computers and networks we all use is both collective and interwoven—other iPhones used by millions of innocent people presumably have the same vulnerability—the government chose to withhold information Apple could have used to improve the security of its phones.

    Other examples include intelligence activities like Stuxnet and Bullrun, and law enforcement investigations like the FBI’s mass use of malware against Tor users engaged in criminal behavior. These activities are often disproportionate to stopping legitimate threats, resulting in unpatched software for millions of innocent users, overbroad surveillance, and other collateral effects. 

    That’s why we’re working on a positive agenda to confront governmental threats to digital security. Put more directly, we’re calling on lawyers, advocates, technologists, and the public to demand a public discussion of whether, when, and how governments can be empowered to break into our computers, phones, and other devices; sabotage and subvert basic security protocols; and stockpile and exploit software flaws and vulnerabilities.  

  • Smart people in academia and elsewhere have been thinking and writing about these issues for years. But it’s time to take the next step and make clear, public rules that carry the force of law to ensure that the government weighs the tradeoffs and reaches the right decisions.

    This long post outlines some of the things that can be done. It frames the issue, then describes some of the key areas where EFF is already pursuing this agenda—in particular formalizing the rules for disclosing vulnerabilities and setting out narrow limits for the use of government malware. Finally it lays out where we think the debate should go from here.   

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    It's not often that I disagree with EFF's positions, but on this one I do. The government should be prohibited from exploiting computer vulnerabilities and should be required to immediately report all vulnerabilities discovered to the relevant developers of hardware or software.

    It's been one long slippery slope since the Supreme Court first approved wiretapping in Olmstead v. United States, 277 US 438 (1928), https://goo.gl/NJevsr (.) Left undecided to this day is whether we have a right to whisper privately, a right that is undeniable. All communications intercept cases since Olmstead fly directly in the face of that right.
Paul Merrell

US groups want presidential candidates to answer 20 science questions | us-presidential... - 0 views

  • A coalition of US groups representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers published 20 questions on Wednesday they want every US presidential candidate to answer ahead of November’s vote.

    The questions range from how to support vaccine science, to defining the scope of America’s goals in space, to the candidates’ views on climate change and what would they would do about it.

    Stances on nuclear power, protecting the world’s oceans, reducing the human and economic costs of mental illness, and the controversy over visa programs that allow highly skilled immigrants into the United States also feature in the list, made public by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

  • The full list is available at ScienceDebate.org/20qs.

    The 56 groups that helped create the list by crowd sourcing the questions has asked for the candidates to answer the questions by September 6.

    All are described by AAAS as non-partisan groups, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, the American Chemical Society and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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    Includes question about cyber-security and privacy.
Paul Merrell

Microsoft Pitches Technology That Can Read Facial Expressions at Political Rallies - 0 views

  • On the 21st floor of a high-rise hotel in Cleveland, in a room full of political operatives, Microsoft’s Research Division was advertising a technology that could read each facial expression in a massive crowd, analyze the emotions, and report back in real time. “You could use this at a Trump rally,” a sales representative told me.

    At both the Republican and Democratic conventions, Microsoft sponsored event spaces for the news outlet Politico. Politico, in turn, hosted a series of Microsoft-sponsored discussions about the use of data technology in political campaigns. And throughout Politico’s spaces in both Philadelphia and Cleveland, Microsoft advertised an array of products from “Microsoft Cognitive Services,” its artificial intelligence and cloud computing division.

    At one exhibit, titled “Realtime Crowd Insights,” a small camera scanned the room, while a monitor displayed the captured image. Every five seconds, a new image would appear with data annotated for each face — an assigned serial number, gender, estimated age, and any emotions detected in the facial expression. When I approached, the machine labeled me “b2ff” and correctly identified me as a 23-year-old male.

  • “Realtime Crowd Insights” is an Application Programming Interface (API), or a software tool that connects web applications to Microsoft’s cloud computing services. Through Microsoft’s emotional analysis API — a component of Realtime Crowd Insights — applications send an image to Microsoft’s servers. Microsoft’s servers then analyze the faces and return emotional profiles for each one.

    In a November blog post, Microsoft said that the emotional analysis could detect “anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, neutral, sadness or surprise.”

    Microsoft’s sales representatives told me that political campaigns could use the technology to measure the emotional impact of different talking points — and political scientists could use it to study crowd response at rallies.

  • Facial recognition technology — the identification of faces by name — is already widely used in secret by law enforcement, sports stadiums, retail stores, and even churches, despite being of questionable legality. As early as 2002, facial recognition technology was used at the Super Bowl to cross-reference the 100,000 attendees to a database of the faces of known criminals. The technology is controversial enough that in 2013, Google tried to ban the use of facial recognition apps in its Google glass system.

    But “Realtime Crowd Insights” is not true facial recognition — it could not identify me by name, only as “b2ff.” It did, however, store enough data on each face that it could continuously identify it with the same serial number, even hours later. The display demonstrated that capability by distinguishing between the number of total faces it had seen, and the number of unique serial numbers.

    UniqueFaces-e1470257178350-3

    Photo: Alex Emmons

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  • Instead, “Realtime Crowd Insights” is an example of facial characterization technology — where computers analyze faces without necessarily identifying them. Facial characterization has many positive applications — it has been tested in the classroom, as a tool for spotting struggling students, and Microsoft has boasted that the tool will even help blind people read the faces around them.

    But facial characterization can also be used to assemble and store large profiles of information on individuals, even anonymously.

  • Alvaro Bedoya, a professor at Georgetown Law School and expert on privacy and facial recognition, has hailed that code of conduct as evidence that Microsoft is trying to do the right thing. But he pointed out that it leaves a number of questions unanswered — as illustrated in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

    “It’s interesting that the app being shown at the convention ‘remembered’ the faces of the people who walked by. That would seem to suggest that their faces were being stored and processed without the consent that Microsoft’s policy requires,” Bedoya said. “You have to wonder: What happened to the face templates of the people who walked by that booth? Were they deleted? Or are they still in the system?”

    Microsoft officials declined to comment on exactly what information is collected on each face and what data is retained or stored, instead referring me to their privacy policy, which does not address the question.

    Bedoya also pointed out that Microsoft’s marketing did not seem to match the consent policy. “It’s difficult to envision how companies will obtain consent from people in large crowds or rallies.”

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    But nobody is saying that the output of this technology can't be combined with the output of facial recognition technology to let them monitor you individually AND track your emotions. Fortunately, others are fighting back with knowledge and tech to block facial recognition. http://goo.gl/JMQM2W
Paul Merrell

EU-US Personal Data Privacy Deal 'Cracked Beyond Repair' - 0 views

  • Privacy Shield is the proposed new deal between the EU and the US that is supposed to safeguard all personal data on EU citizens held on computer systems in the US from being subject to mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency. The data can refer to any transaction — web purchases, cars or clothing — involving an EU citizen whose data is held on US servers.

    Privacy groups say Privacy Shield — which replaces the Safe Harbor agreement ruled unlawful in October 2015 — does not meet strict EU standard on the use of personal data. Monique Goyens, Director General of the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) told Sputnik:

    “We consider that the shield is cracked beyond repair and is unlikely to stand scrutiny by the European Court of Justice. A fundamental problem remains that the US side of the shield is made of clay, not iron.”

  • The agreement has been under negotiation for months ever since the because the European Court of Justice ruled in October 2015 that the previous EU-US data agreement — Safe Harbor — was invalid. The issue arises from the strict EU laws — enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union — to the privacy of their personal data.
  • The Safe Harbor agreement was a quasi-judicial understanding that the US undertook to agree that it would ensure that EU citizens’ data on US servers would be held and protected under the same restrictions as it would be under EU law and directives. The data covers a huge array of information — from Internet and communications usage, to sales transactions, import and exports.
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  • The case arose when Maximillian Schrems, a Facebook user, lodged a complaint with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, arguing that — in the light of the revelations by ex-CIA contractor Edward Snowden of mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) — the transfer of data from Facebook’s Irish subsidiary onto the company’s servers in the US does not provide sufficient protection of his personal data.

    The court ruled that: “the Safe Harbor Decision denies the national supervisory authorities their powers where a person calls into question whether the decision is compatible with the protection of the privacy and of the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals.”

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    Off we go for another trip to the European Court of Justice.
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